Friday, March 18, 2005

No Cheltenham for me this year

So Corus has finally returned a profit. The group, which recently returned to the FTSE 100, posted a pre-tax profit of £559m against a loss of £255m for the previous year. Turnover was up 17pc at £9.33billion helped by strong demand from Asia. It is Corus' first annual profit since it was formed in 1999 by the merger of Dutch company Hoogovens and British Steel.

Whilst the group has been undergoing a re-structuring exercise some time now, rationalising and cutting jobs, there is no doubt that incredibly strong demand from Asia played a large part in the steel industries ability to push through significant price increases. Whilst demand in Europe and the USA seems to have weakened, China in particular continues to grow, although there is now speculation that by the end of the year, new facilities nearing completion could reverse the situation and make China a net exporter.

Its’ the Gold cup at Cheltenham today. In the past this occasion has been somewhat eventful for me. There was a tradition amongst Steel Service Centres of making this a day out and an occasion for employees to meet customers away from the normal work-day environment. Now until more recent “Politically correct” times this offered the steel industry and their buyers the opportunity to pursue a favourite pastime, mainly that of drinking excessive volumes of alcohol. Our day would start at seven thirty with a hearty breakfast “washed down” with Champagne. Upon arrival we would relax and mingle in the ambient atmosphere of the Guinness marquee, and then on to our private box for lunch (with wine of course). Well a constantly well stocked and free bar, combined with the company of a coach load of similarly minded individuals has I fear lead to the odd occasion of over-indulgence on my part.

The last time I was invited, I had been given the task of entertaining a group of customers at the close of the day, and we had all been ensconced in a Hotel in Bromsgrove. The evening went well and despite being somewhat inebriated (dare I say completely pissed), I managed to eventually persuade the merry little band to leave the bar and head for their rooms, and then to retire myself. Sometime during the early hours I awoke with an urgent need to use the bathroom and stumbled around in the darkness until I found the door. Upon entering I discovered that I had in fact found the corridor, and my shock was compounded as it closed with an ominous click. The door was locked I was naked, with a bursting bladder in unfamiliar but rather public surroundings!

If I had been thinking clearly I should have woken my neighbour and asked him to summon the night porter, to let me back in to my room, but instead I shuffled down to the reception (not a pretty sight I fear), and got a duplicate key.

I don’t know how my colleagues heard about the unfortunate event, but upon my return to the office the next day, there was a very convincing looking fax from the hotel groups’ head office asking for an explanation of the security camera footage of my naked night time adventure. It did turn out to be a fake, but that did nothing to pacify my ex who had been by the fax machine when it had arrived. She never did appreciate my hobbies.

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