The biggest villains during the Christmas holidays were the banks, only open for two days in a ten-day spell. This caused us a major security problem, with large amounts of money either remaining in stores, uninsured, or sitting in bank night safes. The final insult came when we found that one of the local banks was opening late for a staff training session on the first day back after Christmas; it normally does this on a Wednesday. The flu epidemic has caused our stores considerable problems. Of greatest frustration has been our inability to secure the necessary stocks of medicines for our customers. We usually expect stock availability to be very poor for the first fortnight in January. I would urge all suppliers, particularly medicine suppliers, to shorten the Christmas holiday to ensure better availability. You cannot create efficient delivery systems then expect your customers to abandon them at the busiest time of the year by taking an additional three weeks' stock of key lines. We do not have the space or the necessary cash flows. In 2000, we plan a number of major innovations, many of which I have outlined in this column before. Most of all I am looking forward to my alpine skiing holiday. Happy New Year. {{NEWS }}