It’s only October and yet Christmas is already being thrust upon us. As the people of Leeds prepare for darker nights and colder days, Neil Hudson looks at things likely to tip us over the edge in the run up to the festive season
It’s coming. We can all feel it. It’s that brooding, over-arching sense of panic just waiting for the right moment to slip into your waking mind and assert with complete authority that unless you give in, you’re doomed.
Christmas toys are already on the shelves in some shops and theatres are preparing festive pantos. We’ve all barely just had chance to recover from our “summer” holidays and now we’re supposed to start considering Christmas?
Before all that nonesense, though, we’ve other things to contend with. In less than four weeks, the clocks will go back and Britain will be plunged into six months of gloom, of watery headlamps, chilling rain and the unwelcome respite of power-saving lightbulbs.
Even if we do venture out, it’s odds on we’ll either spend hours stuck in traffic jams or be pounced upon by the ‘charity muggers’, added to which we’re still in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the miners’ strike. If it snows, things will get even worse.
Leeds Metropolitan University sociologist Dan Laughey said: “There’s lot of things that wind me up. People who buy stress balls as Christmas pressies and battery-powered pressies but forget the batteries, the pile of junk mail blocking up my front door, people dressed as Santa who are younger than me, kids who think they’re clever for saying Santa doesn’t exist, January sales that start before Christmas and queues wherever you go, especially when the line of people next to you is moving faster and some smart Alec who started queuing at the same time overtakes you and keeps turning back with a smirk on his face, doing everything but stick two fingers up.”
But there’s also...
The hell of high street shopping epitomised by ‘chuggers’
The word ‘chuggers’ is an amalgam of ‘charity muggers’, and is used to refer to people employed by charities to stand in our high streets and attempt to get passers-by to donate money to their particular cause.
They used to be seldom-seen but, like unchecked weeds on a pavement, they have multiplied in recent years so that now it seems the average Joe cannot step onto the high street without being accosted.
Indeed, so proliferate have ‘chuggers’ become, that in August the Public Fundraising Regularoty Authority (PFRA) issued new guidelines prohibiting them from following a person more than three paces, standing within three metres of a cashpoint, shop doorway, pedestrian crossing or station entrance, and banning them from approaching anyone who is working, such as newspaper vendors or tour guides.
In addition they must “always terminate an engagement when they are clearly and unambiguously asked, by speech or body language.”
The rules have been on trial for a year – fundraising bodies which fail to follow the rules can be fined.
Sally de la Bedoyere, chief executive of PFRA said: “For a form of fundraising so regularly in the limelight, it is vitally important fundraisers work to the highest possible standards in order to maintain the confidence of the public, media and central and local government.
“The new commitment made by all our charity and agency members to conform to these new special standards is testament to the seriousness with which charities take their best practice obligations.”
In Leeds, four fundraisers are allowed to work on Albion Street, two in Lands Lane and four on Briggate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while on Tuesdays and Thursdays four fundraisers can work on each of Albion Place and Commercial Street.
Dark nights closing in
Just in case you had forgotten, the clocks go back on October 28, which means we’ll all once again be living in the land of darkness. With many people going to work before the sun rises and going home after sunset, few of us will see proper daylight until well into next year, apart from at weekends, which will, in the main be characterised by dull grey skies, wind, rain or snow.
There’s even a name for the phenomenon which results from a lack of exposure to daylight.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is commonly called the Winter Blues, and is officially recognised by doctors and psychiatrists as a medical condition. It is thought to affect two million people in the UK and Ireland, and over 12 million people across northern Europe.
Symptoms include lethargy, a lack of energy, the inability to carry out a normal routine, sleeping problems, finding it hard to stay awake during the day but having disturbed nights and loss of libido.
It is thought the phenomenon is fairly modern, as more and more of us have moved to working in offices, thereby reducing the amount of time we spend outdoors, which gives us exposure to the natural light, which the body requires.
It is estimated that 200 years ago, 75 per cent of the population worked outdoors but today only 10 per cent do so. Coupled with the widespread use of artificial light, it is thoerised that people’s internal body clocks no longer function normally, leading many to feel anxious and depressed.
Ground down by gridlock
Time was you could jump in your car on a Sunday and not pass more than a handful of other motorists, but these days Sunday is as busy as any other – if not busier (thanks to the relaxation of Sunday trading laws).
Traffic is so relentless that there sometimes seems to be no difference between the traditional ‘rush hour’ and those in between.
Finding a solution to gridlock in Leeds has long been a hot topic and the recent trolleybus announcement has polarised views, with some arguing it will cause more gridlock as the big vehicles take up road space.
Transport enthusiast William McKinnon from Leeds has researched two schemes which he thinks would solve Leeds’s car chaos overnight and he believes they are more apt than ever.
He said: “Had the 1930s scheme been proceeded with, we wouldn’t have gridlock today. The Government is spending £32bn on the high speed rail link HS2 and gave a billion pounds to India this year, which has four underground systems and is building seven more.”
East Leeds Labour MP George Mudie said when he was leader of Leeds City Council in the 1990s they seriously considered an underground and light-railway scheme, adding: “The Government is looking for infrastructure projects, it’s always bothered me how other cities in the world have subways but we do not. I think it would be a great idea.”
Sales starting early
We’re barely into October but already some retailers are stocking their shelves with Christmas goodies, possibly in the hope the well organised will seize the opportunity to get the inevitable done early and thereby save themselves some stress come December 24. For the rest of us, however, it’s just another financial chain around our necks and for those with young children, a daily battle with the phrase “I want that.”
These days it seems there’s no gap between annual events such as Easter, Hallowe’en, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, St George’s Day and Christmas.
Some supermarkets have even started selling mince pies.
Marketing expert John Temperley, who lectures at Leeds Metropolitan University, said that while it was not unexpected, it was also irritating.
He said: “I’ve just come back from Spain and the contrast between there and here is stark. They don’t do the Christmas thing until the last minute, whereas here there is a tendency to bring sales forward.
“Perhaps they are now bringing them too far forward, there is a fine line to be walked.
“The reason they do it is because for many retailer the Christmas market is make or break – perfume is a classic example, because it’s a gift and Christmas is the main period during which retailers make their sales.
“To just come back from holiday and be confronted with Christmas marketing is a little bit overwhelming.
“I think what we are likely to see this year is people in the main ignoring it and doing their Christmas shopping at the last minute.”
Early pantos a bad idea? Oh no they’re not
Christmas pantomimes seem to begin earlier each year – a production of Dick Whittington and His Cat will begin this weekend at The Carriageworks in Leeds and will run until after the new year.
Panto veteran Billy Pearce, who will be starring in Cinderella at Bradford’s Alhambra from December 15 to February 13, said there was nothing wrong in early pantos.
He said: “There’s a lot of doom and gloom about at the moment and I think people like to be cheered up. Pantomime is good family fun. The people who run these shows, they obviously make money for them, so there’s a market for them. In the past pantos used to run for much longer, certainly in Scotland where some would run until April. Even today places like Butlins will put them on in the summer, because people like them.
“They are great for the kids. it’s an ever-popular format and it doesn’t matter whether it’s an amateur production in a church hall or something more professional, you get the same feeling.”
“This year we’ve had a number of events which have been good for the country as a whole, namely the Olympics and the Diamond Jubillee, but neither of those have been particularly good for theatres and the like, because they have kept people aware from them.
“At the moment, I think people are glad of the chance to go and see something which is funny and entertaining and ultimately uplifting and good for all the family. It’s the one time of the year you can all go to see a variety show.”