SAD state of affairs in the gloomy City

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2008, 12:00am


There is a trendy poster and T-shirt doing the rounds in London. Rekindling a mantra from the second world war's darkest days, it says: 'Keep calm and carry on.'

The mantra couldn't be more apt for Londoners now.

Although the capital had its first sunny weekend for months, the gloom descended again on Monday.

Another phrase sums up the problem - 'When New York sneezes, London catches a cold.' Some 5,000 jobs went after Lehman Brothers at Canary Wharf told staff to hop it. Its demise signals tougher times ahead for restaurants, high-end shops and the London real estate market, all driven by City earnings.

New York is irking the London fashion world, too, with news last weekend that the Big Apple wants to stretch its fashion week to eight days. London, sandwiched by New York and Milan, fears its shows may shrink to four days so as not to clash. Some fear the event may cease to exist, with press and buyers heading straight to Milan from Manhattan. Such a 'calamity', say some, would cost London GBP150 million (HK$2 billion).

Another teenager was stabbed to death last weekend, again in Croydon, south London. This time a 19-year-old football player with north London League Two side Barnet, Oliver Kingonzila, died. Community leaders warn that although he was the 26th teenage victim this year, the deadly trend is the start of a spiral, not the end.

Even escaping the gloom has just got more fraught for Londoners, with Eurostar train services to Paris on hold after a fire in the Channel Tunnel. Londoners are not in the mood to take a flight, either, given fears of airline insolvency sparked by the collapse last week of travel giant XL, which left tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad. West Ham, the East End football club, whose team were sponsored by XL, was also left stranded. On Saturday, they played in shirts with the sponsor blanked out by hastily sewn patches of claret material. They lost 3-2.

Mid-September also ushers in the arrival of SAD - aka seasonal affective disorder, a condition in which sufferers feel depressed and lethargic due to autumn's diminishing natural light. SAD apparently wreaks havoc with sex drive, appetite, energy and mood, says The Guardian newspaper. The only prescription is more light, a tad difficult when London has just suffered its least sunny August on record.

A light box, which sprays 10 times the amount of a light bulb at sufferers for daily 45-minutes bursts can help, but given rising energy bills and how to cut power usage are topics du jour, few may want to switch on a power-hungry device.

With the heat rising against Gordon Brown, too, the prime minister did what any sensible leader would do and announced short-term measures to help householders cut energy bills. All homes in England - 25 million in all - will receive discounts on loft and wall insulation. To push home the plan, he left cosy 10 Downing Street to visit a couple in Balham, south London, now heralded as a model to cut energy use.

Not that Sue and Tom Sheehan are doing anything extreme. The couple now use 40 per cent less energy through methods seen as common sense only a generation ago: replacing window blinds with curtains and drawing them every night at dusk; closing windows; turning off lights when leaving a room; putting a curtain over the draughty Victorian front door; and blocking every small gap, such as where pipes pop through floorboards.

All this allowed them to turn the heating down to 18 degrees Celsius in winter. Next they plan to put special balloons up their chimney to stop heat escaping.

The 40 per cent cut is not to be sniffed at - it saves GBP400 a year. Equivalent to a one-week foreign holiday, the Sheehans told the Evening Standard. That's if the Channel Tunnel is up and running and at least one airline isn't grounded.