Because NTI isn’t based anywhere close to where bad drunken people dance in the streets after 10pm, share mouthwashes in student digs or partake in other transmissible activity, we are permitted to have Sunday lunch with old friends. Thank heavens for that, as it means today two of the greatest chums of the newsroom can pop over for a chat over a non-vegan slice, with gravy and plenty of veg. By chance, both of them are in the headlines today, to boot.
One is the adorable Mike Ashley, who always brings with him stories of activity in the retail sector and today’s promise to be an absolute hoot. Ashes will no doubt regale us with tales of the latest pursuit of his favourite plaything, Debenhams. Followers of the newsroom will recall that he owned almost 30% of the chain and lost about £150 million when it was taken over by its lenders last year. He had tried to install himself as chief executive, but the restructuring fates were not kind to him, so instead he amused himself by seeking to disrupt an emergency refinancing, tabling indicative takeover offers and bombarding the board with legal threats.
You will also remember that Lazard are running the auction of the veteran department store, ever conscious that Hilco are in the wings sharpening their Liquidation pencils, and spotted Mike’s hand in the air at the back of the trading room, as he made his latest bid. This was an improved offer, and Mr Ashley has plans to open Sports Direct stores in some of the sites and convert others to Frasers, his reputedly ‘more upmarket brand’.
Mike, always the entertainer, will no doubt make us roll around the dining room floor with his stories, maybe putting them to music and focusing on the third note in the octave scale; ‘me me me’.
We are doubly blessed today, as another of our dining chairs will meet the backside of none other than Mr Philip Day who will fight Mike for airspace with his latest stories about the ‘rescue’ of his Peacocks brand. We want him to tell us all about his latest plans to jettison the failing Edinburgh Woollen Mill stores, following the lead of most of its customer base decades ago, in order to resuscitate Peacocks.
You will recall that here in the NTI newsroom we reported, what is it nine days ago now?, that Phil’s EWM Group, the care home of ‘vintage’ brands such as Peacocks, Jaeger, the deciduous Austin Reed and something called (we think) ‘Ponden Home’, filed notice of its intention to appoint Administrators. This notice is due to expire on Thursday.
Our great friends as FRP Advisory are the Administrators and despite us being really, really nice to them failed to give us the heads-up that Phil and his ill-clad mob plan to raise Peacocks from the very nearly dead, kick the Woollen Mill towards the pasture, get rid of all of that nasty debt and run the new store alongside Bonmarché, a chain that Phil bought earlier this year.
We are going to do our best to shut Neil up over lunch, but we know (as we are sure many of you do) that the literal translation of bon marché into English is ‘cheap’. It seems the restructuring apple does not fall far from the Liquidation tree.
We are gutted, but the one person not able to make lunch this Sunday is a man who just defies death throughout the Galaxy, the almost literally timeless William Shatner. That’s right, the original captain of the Star Ship Enterprise who turned 137 this year was invited, but cannot make it, as he is in a bit of a strop with us Brits. (By the way we cannot believe that many of our regular Sunday readers will now be scratching their heads and tapping ‘Shatner’ into their favourite search engine. Do you have no shame? Captain James T. Kirk? No? Really?)
He has threatened to stop selling merchandise from his online store to the UK because of ‘costly red tape’. Apparently, and we kid you not, he won’t sell over here in Britain because VAT charges would amount to almost £1,000 a year. Count the zeros.
We are mortified as, given the style and grace of our other lunch guests, it would have brought a whole new level of bonmarché, but not cheerful, to our table.