It only occurred to us this afternoon that when we type a 'D' into any of our PCs here in the NTI newsroom we are automatically predicted as seeking the word 'Debenhams', so often have we used the D-word over the past couple of years. Almost as interestingly, Billy started to type the word 'twig' as part of our 'essence of trees' series, had typed the letters 'TW' and up came the prediction, 'Mike Ashley' (which is a little more understandable).
With the grinning gormandiser fawning over the spoils of Jaeger and Austin Reed, as reported on this very screen yesterday, it is easy to forget that he has history with a Debenhams chain so beleaguered it is hard to imagine it otherwise than perpetually in the past tense. However, prospective buyers, including Mr Corpulent, have been given until the middle of this week to make a £300 million rescue bid for the chain.
Put Up or Shut (...) Up. How many reprieves can 12,000 long-suffering staff hope for, and over how long? If Debenhams was a horse it would have been shot a year ago.
Frasers, headed by Ashley, is understood to have tabled an offer for the chain of about £125 million, but is thought to have doubts about the value of stock and a perceived lack of transparency in trading and store closures. It also lost £150 million in the debt-for-equity swap in April 2019, so the area around which the negotiations are taking place is a little sore.
In September Mark Gifford, the current chair of Debenhams, had to have his temperature checked five times having said that he did not think Debenhams was on a 'cliff edge', and people started to look at him in the same way as they do a person who has mistaken the door of a launderette as one to a restaurant. It is to his credit that he ignored those looks and requested his management team to work on a restructuring plan that could lead to its present owners keeping hold of the business, although with significantly fewer stores.
Meanwhile Ashley has talked openly about wanting to retain some of the stores for 'Flannels', a business he regards as an 'upmarket' chain named after a damp cloth used to clean children's mouths at picnics, as well as a smattering of Sports Direct outlets.
Suitors now have to make a binding bid by Wednesday ... or walk away. Will it be like the end of 'Lost', that some of us forced ourselves to watch having been hopelessly disappointed by what came before? Will there really be a conclusion this week? We will finally know why a polar bear appeared for no good reason in the middle of series one? Or will Mike Ashley still be grinning that 'smack you in the face with a brick grin' this time next week?