And so it’s begun – three and a half intense weeks of emails from PR firms and analysts, newsflashes from business information companies with data to share, “live” TV segments in the wee hours (when no one else can be bothered to drag themselves into a TV studio in the ass-end of nowhere) with random retail journalists, vox-pops from soggy shopping streets and overlit malls, and phone-in radio shows only ever heard from the back seat of a taxi. Everyone wants to tell their little story about how they’re weathering the Christmas spending season and how well their particular patch of the market is doing things.
On one side of town (in fact, it’s normally the centre) you’ve got the traditionalists talking about their later opening hours, free Christmas wrapping and the spirit of the season.
On the other side of town (usually under an approach path to a large airport) you have the mall developers talking up the new luxury village they’ve built, all that free parking and the spirit of the season captured in a tinny soundtrack piped through their shopping concourses.
On the far side of the world (the US west coast) you have the people who think they’ve single-handedly reinvented retail chattering on about the armchair convenience of ordering online, the free shipping and the very bland “happy celebration” card that will be included with every item purchase.
No, gentle reader, there is no Santa Claus – just a lot of noise from people sticking their shovels in and trying to tell you why their form of retail is the best.
But wait. What’s that hovering in the sky high above the Baltic? It looks like it’s coming this way. Could it be? Yes, perhaps it is. No, it’s not a Scandinavian Airlines plane full of jolly crew – those disappeared a long time ago, the jolly passengers too. No, it’s tiny and moving slightly erratically but somehow staying on course. Look, look – it seems to be making a straightish track for London (don’t worry, it’ll be coming to your city too). Is it a new UPS cargo drone that will fire presents at front doors? Or is it one of those Chinese planes that irritates the heavens with chemicals in order to create precipitation? Has it been chartered by mall owner Westfield to bring snowy chaos to London’s outdoor shopping streets? It seems to be circling and gearing up for some kind of final approach. But where will it land?
It seems to be avoiding the wide-open expanses of Hyde Park and is steering well clear of Oxford Street. Maybe it will land on Regent Street or flutter down on top of Selfridges? No, it seems to be turning north. Goodness, it’s heading straight for my office. I can see it very clearly now – chubby man, red get-up, a very fancy-looking sled that looks like it might have been designed by Alvar Aalto and some muscular snorting deer that look like they would be good for a tasty stew and 48 pairs of cosy slippers. Oh my, he’s landed in my courtyard.
There’s a good chance that by the time you read this, Santa Claus from Rovaniemi, Finland (as if he lived anywhere else) will have taken up residence at Midori House (my company’s HQ in the heart of W1) and will be handing out treats, chattering away in various languages and generally spreading Christmas cheer with a very heavy side order of Finnish irony. Thanks to the very fun ambassador at Finland’s embassy in London (I’ve yet to take him up on his offer for an afternoon of sauna time at their mission) they managed to get Santa to put in an appearance this weekend at the Christmas market that Monocle is hosting, and while I don’t think he came in with reindeer (more likely on Finnair), it is something of a diplomatic coup that we got him to leave Finland’s high north at this time of year.
As readers often ask why there aren’t more events at which they can meet Weekend FT columnists, I decided to do my bit for this part of the page and look forward to saying hello and introducing you to Santa if you happen to be in my stretch of London this weekend (1 Dorset Street). Along with Finland’s biggest export, my colleagues have flown in a favourite DJ from Japan, Sweden is contributing a special choir, the Swiss are laying on raclette and wine, Daunt will have a special selection of books, some fine ladies from Wales will be selling handicrafts and chef Bill Granger will be cooking up some of his treats. All in all, it should make for a very cosy affair – especially if the weather shapes up to be as cold as predicted, the glögg stays just the right side of piping hot, the reindeer behave (there’ll be two on hand for petting and feeding) and Santa is well tended to by his battalion of Finnish elves.
Of course, all of this is for a very good cause. Door takings will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organisation dedicated to the defence of press freedom. Yes, gentle reader, even journalists need looking after – now more than ever.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at www.ft.com/brule