A ridiculous 24 hours of media tarting finishes at lunchtime today, when I make a brief appearance on BBC2's Working Lunch to talk about O2's new European-wide roaming tariff. As usual, I'd talked about what I was going to say with the researcher beforehand — the way presenters seem so well informed is because they've often been told what to say by their interviewees first, even if the interviewee doesn't realise this. However, the rest of the programme overruns and I'm left with two minutes of what was going to be an nice five-minute chat about the European Commission, the rapacity of mobile phone companies, and how to avoid being ripped off by them when abroad.
The reason things are so rushed is that Working Lunch has found itself riding a wave of one particular story, and is devoting a lot of time to both the story and the direct effect it's having on their audience. That story is one that everyone whom you and I know will have mostly ignored — the collapse of Christmas hamper company Farepak, in unusual circumstances that remain unexplained.
I was surprised that such things still went on — Christmas savings companies that collect money over the year and send off a hamper at the end — but with hundreds of thousands of customers putting in hundreds or thousands of pounds, they are substantial concerns. The impact of the company's failure on its clientele is also substantial: these are people who use the schemes precisely because they need to ring-fence money in order to budget for Christmas. With that gone, so are the festivities — and those Farepak customers who are also agents, selling the service on to friends and family, have an extra burden of guilt and disappointment.
And a lot of those affected are natural Working Lunch viewers — the programme's about finance, but it's on in the middle of the day so it's skewed heavily towards the retired and those who are otherwise at home. That demographic is largely invisible to those planning products and services, but it's huge, economically active and deserves attention. Working Lunch was feeling the effects of being one of the few places that could effectively represent and serve that group: the emails were pouring in, the phones ringing and the stories harrowing.
I'm guilty of assuming that everything I write about is part of some youngish, metropolitanish, well-heeled continuum. In the words of The Hitch Hiker's Guide, "Everyone was rich and nobody was poor. At least, nobody who mattered." That's wrong, caustically so, and cuts off a whole range of potentials and responsibilities — in all sorts of ways.