Older readers may remember Izal medicated loo roll – the tracing paper-type toilet paper impregnated with disinfectant that was a feature of local-authority institutions, such as schools and hospitals. While its effectiveness is questionable – it did a rather better job at smearing than absorbing – each of its greasy sheets carried the printed instruction: "Now Wash Your Hands."
These words had replaced earlier wartime cartoon illustrations of Adolf Hitler and were also terrifying in their own way. But they were also effective in making sure even the grubbiest schoolkid had hands that smelled of institutional soap products after a trip to the loo – even if the state of their arse (and, on occasion, lower back) was rather sorrier.
And so having stripped the shelves of my local Sainsbury’s of "luxury" quilted loo roll and dried pasta – following a scrap with a stick-wielding old-age pensioner – in a fit of panic buying, thoughts must turn to where to replenish the essentials when supermarkets begin to resemble those of the former German Democratic Republic. Maybe a trip to raid a local school of its stocks of Izal might be a solution.
For property managers and resources teams, the issue of coronavirus is proving a major headache, with stocks of hand sanitiser rationed and loo-roll supplies commanding a premium. Meanwhile, the Competition & Markets Authority has said it has been monitoring sales and pricing practices, and would take action against those who break the law in order to prevent retailers from exploiting fears. Amazon, an organisation that has often been accused of having a moral compass that does not always point to true north, has said it had banned more than one million products that claimed to protect against the coronavirus – or even cure it.
Naturally, some unscrupulous advertisers have sought to make money out of the situation and two companies – Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd and Novads OU – have had ads for face masks banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for breaching its code. The regulator ruled that the ads were "misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason". It’s a great business sometimes, isn’t it?
While the impact of coronavirus on UK industry (and therefore on agencies) has yet to be fully felt, a feeling of paralysis strikes the country while we all try to remember to sing Happy birthday to You twice over and with Izal’s words ringing loudly in our ears.