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by SixFigureStart | March 17, 2009

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LONDON, UK: For Londoners like me old enough to remember the last recession, the signs are all too familiar: two-for-one offers at restaurants; forests of To Let (for rent) signs lining the city’s residential streets; familiar bars and shops closing down by the day (where to buy a reasonably-priced brown earthenware teapot now that Woolworth’s has gone out of business?); less of a fight to get a seat on the tube in the morning; and ridiculous recession-busting tips in the newspapers.

The home gym is my favorite so far: Why sign up to a costly health club when you can use your garden and substitute sandbags for weights?, asked the (clearly barmy) writer. Because I don’t have a garden or sandbags is why. And because the cute receptionist at my gym smiles at me, sometimes.

So far it doesn’t seem as bad here as it does in New York. Or is that just because we prefer not to talk about it so much? After all, it is a trifle embarrassing.

I don’t actually know anyone who has lost his or her job, but then again, most of the people I know are self-employed media types who spend their days in coffee shops chatting on their mobiles and tapping away at their laptops. How is one supposed to tell whether they are gainfully employed or begging their parents for another loan?

One pal, a heretofore hot TV director, has had no work for six months. Not that surprising, since British telly, once the envy of the world, is reduced to showing endless reruns of Friends and Frasier. So my friend is diverting his considerable creative energies into the most ambitious home improvement scheme in London. This from a man who previously couldn’t change a light bulb without electrocuting himself.

An architect friend with his own practice has had to “let some people go,” to use the charming English euphemism for axing his staff.

If you have been canned, having a former empire and a peripatetic tradition comes in very handy. A friend in Cape Town has become a one-woman recruitment agency. Yes, the salaries are much lower in South Africa than they are in London, but the sun shines all day long, the beach is a 10 minute drive from the office and the wine is as cheap as chips.

Four of the 50 candidates short-listed to look after a tropical Australian island for a year are Brits, a fifth is Irish. Let’s hope none of them gets the job: by the end of the first week he or she will be burnt to a crisp, will have antagonized the local sharks and will be begging for “a nice cup of tea.”

Perhaps that’s too harsh, the English are nothing if not adaptable. The company I work for has just hired a former investment banker as its head of research, at a fifth of his previous salary. See him squirm as he places his expensively be-suited arse on our stained chairs; watch him wince as makes instant coffee in our grotty kitchenette; hear him sneeze as he passes our dust-encrusted 20th century PCs.

Get used to it mate, you’re lucky to have a job at all.

On the bright side, craft goods, cloth, and sewing machine sales are all up, as people turn to making their own cushions, dresses, and gifts. Sales of British comfort foods are up, too: Bisto gravy, swiss rolls, jam sandwiches and beans on toast. I realise none of this means anything to you, but imagine you are starring in a film set in post-war London: Kate Winslett, looking ‘plain’ in a washed-out yellow housecoat spreads margarine on a dry white loaf; a kid in a sleeveless Fair Isle jumper looks up expectantly from his Dan Dare comic book; the brown earthenware teapot I can longer buy from Woolworths has pride of place on the kitchen table…

You get the picture.

--Posted by London Jack, RecessionWire.com

Recession Briefing 3.17
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