20 July 2020 Business

'There will be no hurricane'

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: Gareth Ward takes heed from the story of St Swithin.

St Swithin’s Day fell last week. For centuries it has been one of the prime days for weather forecasting in the British calendar. Should it rain on that day, the deluge will continue for 40 days and nights; if sunny, the fine weather would prevail for the same period, courtesy of the saint. In reality it is a prediction that relies on many years of observation, that by mid July the pattern for the summer’s weather will have set in. This year the main feature of that pattern is its unsettled nature.

As humans we like patterns, often seeing them where none actually exist. Patterns help us predict the future if only to a limited extent. And so help with decision making. Hence the heap of predictions, forecasts and guesses that seem to spiral around what will happen in the post pandemic economy: will there be a second wave, why are people avoiding shops and restaurants, which city will be next to suffer a local lockdown. The reality of experience may show the futility of many of these opinions as the virus proves impervious to righteous order, despite the googols of data that have been collected.

This makes the task of the printer harder still. In normal times there is a pattern to the print year: report and account season in the spring, books printed during August, a shortage of perfect binding capacity in September when catalogue printing is at its height. This year, and perhaps beyond, the rhythm has been disrupted. Decision makers cannot depend on what has happened before but must remain alert and swift to act as they feel appropriate. Data can hep, but agility will be the order of the day. Or as St Swithin himself might have said: Always carry an umbrella.

Gareth Ward