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  Opinion   Oped  06 Jan 2020  As Boris holidays economy class; shutdowns loom on high streets

As Boris holidays economy class; shutdowns loom on high streets

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.
Published : Jan 6, 2020, 2:32 am IST
Updated : Jan 6, 2020, 2:32 am IST

Sometimes you don’t need enemies of the state to hack into accounts and reveal personal details.

Boris Johnson
 Boris Johnson

It looks as though Prime Minister Boris Johnson is out finally to enjoy himself! While US-Iran tensions escalate, he is on holiday on the gorgeous island of Mustique — perhaps just as well, as we do not want another war, and it will be good if the PM remains incommunicado. Even if the US President calls, he could possibly just use the sylvan surroundings as an excuse. After all, it costs a reported £20,000 a week to stay here, as it is usually occupied by the who’s who.

But to be fair, while we have no photographs of him at the super luxury resort, we must also point out that pictures were tweeted showing him travelling along with girlfriend Carrie Symonds to the resort, economy class. So at least we know that they tried to save some money.

And there is no doubt that Carrie is genuinely thrifty! After Boris was banned, due to security reasons, from riding his bike (as foreign secretary and as Prime Minister), he must have missed his dose of exercise. But now he has been given a second-hand motorcycle by Symonds and all are guessing where he could possibly ride it? Perhaps Chequers, the prime ministerial estate, is the reasonable guess.

Sometimes you don’t need enemies of the state to hack into accounts and reveal personal details. Often, the government can do this all by itself, thank you very much. When the New Year Honours List was published recently, online, it catastrophically included the addresses of more than 1,000 awardees. That would have been disastrous for many like Elton John who would value their privacy. This blunder was perhaps made in the excitement of the moment — but an inquiry has been instituted into it. The truth is that anyone curious enough to have opened the website would have got access to all the addresses. Knowing how smart people are these days, the list could have even been sold for profit. Conservative Party leader Ian Duncan Smith or the cricketer Ben Stokes may not have been amused at this faux pas.

But importantly the Honours List had a very interesting mix of the famous and the not so well known. It included a young lad, 13-year-old Ibrahim Yousaf, who has been steadily raising money for charities for the last one year, and has managed to donate £2,000 towards worthy causes. It is these kinds of stories which make the Honours List very special. And let’s not forget that among the oldest recipients was a 99-year-old war veteran, Wilf Oldham, who had witnessed the Second World War and survived.

Among the well-known personalities were directors Sam Mendes and Steve McQueen, who got knighthoods, and actress Olivia Newton John, who got a Damehood.

These are awards that are taken seriously by all concerned.

But none of them would have possibly liked to share their addresses with the world at large! Unless the error was made deliberately, one must remember to pause and read carefully before bashing the “send” button.

I am going to miss some more of my favourite department stores, as they shut down one by one! Last year, House of Frasers announced that it was closing down some branches and this year it is Debenhams which says it will close down 19 stores. The competition from online shoppers is becoming intense, leading to other stores such as John Lewis also announcing a dire future. For those of us who could spend many days in the various department stores and their lovely restaurants, this really comes as gloomy news. I am still of the old school, and I love to see and touch the products that I buy. But for those in a rush, online always makes more sense.

The closing down obviously means there are going to be job losses as well. This does not bode well for the Debenham chain, which has new owners-cum-investors who are trying to see if the store could be made profitable by eliminating those sites that are not doing well. They are also re-negotiating the rent on some of the other premises. But we have seen the face of the high street change dramatically over the past few years, and it is likely that more change is in the offing.

Hurrah! Thus far it has always been the Presidents, Prime Ministers and eminent personalities who get their portraits printed on currency. Things are changing gradually as we did see a prettied up picture of Jane Austen appearing on a £5 note. Obviously, as a literary country, it is widely accepted that changemakers often are writers — and so the new £2 coin will commemorate the centenary of Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. And on the coin are engraved a handgun, a dagger, a bottle of poison and other deadly symbols culled from her very successful career. She continues to command a vast readership even after her death.

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