Joia Shillingford: So this is Christmas: 'tis the season to be lazy

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The Independent Online

How much does Christmas-itis cost Britain? Not just the people getting off to a slow start after a hard night's partying, but also the employees who feel that simply showing up in the office any day after 10 December is enough.

Last week I dealt with three organisations that I imagine would be more effective any other month of the year. One girl set up a meeting, saying happily: "I'm off on holiday tomorrow yippee, can't wait, my colleague will get back to you with the details of the meeting. It'll be somewhere in Covent Garden."

Of course, no one got back to me till the call came through asking where I was. I feel a bit sorry for her client, who had flown in from China the night before to meet UK journalists.

She wasn't the worst of the three: at least she managed to make contact, even if the location was a bit of a mystery.

The London Tube also seems to be suffering from Christmas-itis, with Transport for London reeling off the names of four or five lines affected by delays, but saying it is otherwise running a "good service". Well, good-ish there aren't that many lines left.

I've no problem with the occasional Christmas hangover, but the idea is, although you might be suffering, you still make an effort. If you are doing nothing at all, you are in effect stealing money from your employer.

One might think that in Canary Wharf, with the spectre of P45s as banks tighten their belts, there might be a more sombre atmosphere. But hapless bankers were spotted vomiting in Canary Wharf shopping malls.

Set Khodorkovsky free

A rock-bottom experience, but not as bad as that of former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is still rotting in a Russian jail after a show trial that accused his old company, the oil giant Yukos, of massive unpaid taxes.

Should one worry more about a rich person denied justice than a poor one? No, but in a country where even the wealthy cannot get justice, it is highly unlikely the poor are enjoying the full smorgasbord of civil liberties.

Dmitry Medvedev, named by Vladimir Putin as the candidate he will back in Russia's presidential election in March, could show he believes in democracy by reviewing the Khodorkovsky case and setting him free.

There may indeed be different flavours of democracy that suit different countries, but a good insight into democracy Russian style is provided in murdered journalist Anna Politkov-skaya's last book, A Russian Diary.

To the banks' rescue

Meanwhile, it is the question of cash and cashflow that mostly troubles some of the wealthiest denizens of the free world, the central banks and the bulge-bracket investment banks.

There were two dramatic developments last week involving billions. First was the announcement on Wednesday that many of the world's central banks would work together to make it easier for banks to get access to reasonably priced loans.

This was encouraging but also worrying. If three bodies in Britain the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority could not co-operate fast enough to avert the Northern Rock crisis, how come so many central banks could get it together to come up with a deal so fast?

The answer is probably that they had to, to avert another, much larger crisis. The end of the year is a critical time for banks as they have to settle up with other banks. If some had not been able to find the cash to do so, we could have seen more failures. Not a good Christmas present for them or for consumer confidence.

Citigroup has given itself a present but not one it wanted. It has taken its structured investment vehicles, worth $49bn (24bn), on to its balance sheet instead of keeping them separate and using loans to fund them.

This is presumably because of the difficulty of finding loans to fund the SIVs, which were heading for a credit downgrade.

Good 'Times'

A better Christmas present went to The Times, which on losing one good editor in Robert Thomson seems to have found another.

I know James Harding slightly from working at the FT and he is no apparatchik. He didn't have time to meet me for a job interview when I was being recruited, so interrogated me over the phone instead. Only it was more of a social chat. I thought I might have said the wrong thing when mentioning how there used to be kerb crawling in my square, but he had the dangerous knack of putting people at their ease.

My other memory was when he was meant to be filing a story for the Companies & Markets desk and it did not arrive.

Someone rang him up and asked where it was. He said, "I didn't write it because it was too boring." Not something I would normally admire, but in the context of the FT it showed a lot of chutzpah. Of course, if it had been a case of Christmas-itis, I would have felt differently.

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