DESPERATE times call for desperate measures and in the retail business times are getting pretty desperate. Booming Hong Kong, economic miracle that it is, seems to be having difficulty doing what it used to do best - selling things. Retailers across the territory are desperately slashing costs in an attempt to offset the pressures of massive rents, reduced consumer spending and high staff costs. We already are seeing major retailers sacking permanent staff and replacing them with casual employees - always a sign that a company is seeing harder times. But we have been forwarded a fascinating letter from reader John Bryant, a director of Foreign Press Distributors, which is owed money by retailer USA & Co, and wanted to draw attention to this innovative method of cost control. In what amounts to a sob story, this letter provides an interesting insight into what the retail environment is really like out there. It reads: 'The combination of high rents and soft retail environment has made it very difficult for us this year. We have had difficulty in achieving our sales targets. Therefore our cash flow has been affected negatively as well. 'Although we have cut our operating and overhead costs further by reducing additional head counts and rental reductions from landlords, we are having problems dealing with past due liabilities which have accumulated.' So, that's the nature of the problem. Now for the solution. The letter begins by pointing out that Hongkong Bank is a 'secured lender with a floating charge on all . . . assets' and added further that it believed the bank will 'take the necessary action to protect their interest if other creditors did not co-operate. If that were to happen nothing will be left for other creditors and shareholders'. Translated, that means unless we can do something pretty drastic, pretty quickly, we could be in interesting times. Having set the stage, the letter finally gets down to the nitty-gritty. 'In the spirit of keeping the company going forward, we would like to ask you for your co-operation in accepting a one-time discount of your current outstanding debt balance by 50 per cent as settlement in full for your account.' In other words, we are only going to pay you half what you are owed and you had better accept it or you may get nothing. Mr Bryant was quite curt in rejecting the offer. Just a quickie LAI See likes a good wedding. Fantastic as it is to see two people tie the knot, it is primarily the free booze which keeps us interested. Which is why we would never have attended the wedding between two people called Kirkhope and Bremner last Saturday. An advertisement announcing the nuptials not only revealed a strange nick-name for the groom, but indicated it was set to be the dullest - and driest - wedding ever. The advert read: 'Wedding. On Saturday 5th August, in Birkenhead, Scotland, Graeme (Puker) Kirkhope to Samantha Bremner. Followed by reception at the Hobbit House with open bar from 5pm to 5.10pm.' Light penalty LAI See sends maximum respect to reader Glenn Berkey. Driving innocently around Hong Kong with a friend, Mr Berkey reached a junction and, out of familiar territory, didn't know whether they had to turn left or right. He leapt out of the car to check things out, ran to the junction and leapt back in the car. They moved off only to see a flashing blue light in the rear-view mirror. They were pulled over and Mr Berkey was charged for 'picking up/setting down passengers in a restricted area' and now faces a $450 fine for the privilege. Apparently it took a van load of the members of the constabulary to process the ticket. Mr Berkey said: 'While drug dealers, pimps, murderers, rapists, thieves, the Wo Hop To, the Wo Shing Wo, the 14K and the Sun Yee On roam the streets of this city, law enforcement officials are busy issuing $450 citations to people who get out of their cars for 10 seconds to see if they should turn right or left. 'Damn good thing we are putting these insidious vermin in their place, huh?' Mr Berkey intends to pay up like the good citizen he is. He's happy to be paying his fine in cash . . . in 10 cent pieces, of course.