Marks & Spencer is closing – time to panic (not)

By Wilfred Goodhart

Every day our world is ravaged by a new disaster of some kind.

In Myanmar, the mass genocide mercilessly rages on, forcing desperate Rohingya Muslims to flee from their homes in seek of refuge. In Libya, men are still being auctioned as slaves in scenes which would scarcely seem believable to you and me if we were to witness these horrors. In Yemen, war has inflicted starvation and disease upon approximately ten million innocent people creating an unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe. In Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, conflicts have left, and continue to leave, families brutally torn apart and governments without a glimpse of stability. In Durham, Marks & Spencer is shutting down.

It has recently been announced that a number of Marks & Spencer stores, including the one in Durham city centre, will be closing down in an attempt to boost the iconic store’s future economic prosperity. This has sparked outrage amongst Durham students. And rightly so.

In Myanmar, genocide rages; in Durham, M&S is closing down

Durham students will soon be brutally subjected to rival stores Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which will inevitably induce food poisoning, malnutrition and scurvy; I hear their products contain no traces of vitamin C whatsoever. The meat sold at these stores will be so contaminated that it will create an epidemic of salmonella, with the potential to exterminate an entire body of students. Durham as we know it will be on the verge of destruction.

Last, but by no means least, Hatfield students will no longer be able to pop down the Bailey to acquire their weekly bag of Percy Pigs.

Durham as we know it will be on the verge of destruction

Perspective is a wonderful thing. We can all be guilty of worrying tirelessly over small problems, fearing that they are entirely inescapable. However, when we proceed to suffer another, much more severe, problem, we realise the triviality of the previous issue. When you begin to consider the scale of other peoples’ suffering, you realise that it is in fact not a problem at all. We become so caught up in our bubble that we forget how lucky we are.

For example, in the past year, we have been so worried as a nation about Brexit that it has come up in the news as regularly as Donald Trump says something stupid. This is rather ironic because I am about to make yet another small reference to Brexit.

Where will Hatfield students get their weekly bag of Percy Pigs?

Now, I fully understand the potential implications of a bad Brexit. Economically, the UK could become less attractive to foreign direct investment (FDI) because of uncertainty and reduced access to the single market. Bilateral trade flows between Ireland and the UK are likely to significantly reduce. The imposition of passport control at the Northern Ireland border would be a regressive step for facilitating co-operation between the two countries.

However, as a nation, we have become prolific worriers. Let’s be honest, economists make more mistakes than an England goalkeeper at a major football tournament. Irving Fisher, a great American economist, famously said in October 1929 that he believed equities had reached a “permanently high plateau”. I can’t quite remember how that one turned out.

Students’ anger at this closure will aggravate the city’s class divisions

So, for those of us who can do absolutely nothing to rectify this potentially world-destroying-catastrophe that looms over us, let’s not worry about it. Who knows, it will probably turn out fine. I am not at all saying that we should disregard our problems because they are on a radically different scale to other people’s. I am saying that we should not worry as much as we do. We certainly shouldn’t be fretting about the closing down of Marks & Spencer.

Student anger at this decision aggravates the class divisions that run through this city like fault lines, lying dormant for long periods until they are sparked by certain events, such as the Trevelyan Rugby social. This was a deeply insensitive reminder of the devastation inflicted upon Durham County, which was hit hard by the pit closures instigated by Thatcher. Now, our anger at the closure of this store must send a minor shudder through those very fault lines.

Although many local residents were annoyed by Marks & Spencer’s decision, this outcry must intensify their dislike of students, who are kicking up such a fuss over a luxury food chain.

Photograph: Allen Watkin via Flikr

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