Signs of the Times: Store says "Shop, Damn It, Shop"

(Reuters) - The global recession manifests itself in big and small ways, most gloomy, some quirky and often reflecting the inventive human spirit. Here is a look at some signs of the times.

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* The crisis has brought a disastrous holiday season for many retailers, who depend on the frenzy to buy Christmas presents to push them into the black for the year. For its window display, a shop in London adapted a classic World War One recruiting poster in which a steely-eyed mustachioed general points at passers-by above the words “Your Country Needs You.” The new admonishment is: “Shop, Damn It, SHOP.”

* If your pockets are almost empty and you want a decadent holiday meal, what about lobster? In Boston, fish merchants are selling 1-1/4 pound (0.6 kilogram) lobsters for $5.99 a pound, 33 percent down on last year. “Usually it’s very expensive right now,” said John Mulkerrin, sales manager at James Hook & Co, a Boston fish merchant that sells about 50,000 pounds (23,000 kilograms) of lobster each week.

Lobstermen in Maine, source of much of the U.S. catch, are not so happy. Prices at the harbor are down by over 40 percent. Canadian lobster processors, who typically buy much of the catch, found themselves unable to get credit. They had relied on Icelandic banks, which ran out of money.

* The Irish government, driven partly by a rise in aggressive panhandling as people struggle to get by, is reforming its begging laws. Begging is set to become an offense when it is accompanied by harassment or intimidation. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said of the visible increase in begging: “There is some evidence that this is just not for begging sake, because of extreme poverty, it’s because to a certain extent a fairly substantial income can be garnered from it.”

* As many as 4,000 patients were expected to converge on the 50 offices of Comfort Dental in Colorado for free cleaning and fillings in what was expected to be a record turnout for the company’s annual Christmas Eve offer of free dental care for the poor. “This will be our 25th year of doing it, but it will be far and away our busiest,” Norton said. “We’re seeing quite a few people losing their jobs, losing their insurance, anticipating some belt-tightening.”

* An Overland Park, Kansas, school teacher, Kim Hahn and her husband are forgoing traditional Christmas gifts and instead paying for each other’s medical bills. “We maxed out our insurance,” said Hahn. “For Christmas, my present to my husband is to pay for his root canal. His present to me is to pay for my colonoscopy. How romantic.”

* With capitalist Washington forced to buy shares of major banks to stop them going bust after years of loose regulation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany, was quoted in Focus magazine telling her Cabinet the following joke: “What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism? Answer: The Communists nationalized all the companies first -- and then ruined them.”

* Big, really big, news from Tokyo. Kyodo news agency said a tour of sumo wrestlers to London planned for next October is being canceled after sponsors balked at the costs, which had risen by about 60 percent because of the rising yen.

* America’s most popular television show, “American Idol,” will not next year hold the charity special “Idol Gives Back,” which raised $120 million, mostly from the 30 million viewers, in 2007 and 2008. “With what’s happening in the world, I personally don’t think it feels right to be telling people who’ve got problems with mortgages etc. that they’ve got to start donating money to charities when they have enough problems at home,” “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell said.

* In the gloom of financial distress, what little indulgence are YOU never, ever going to give up? The New York Times asked six of its writers to describe in the Sunday Style section the one little spice in their life they would cling to: They chose: A seat at the Christmas performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, a glass of fine single malt Scotch whisky, the pleasure of sending out a high quality, hand-written Christmas card, a freshly shucked oyster, a day at the beach and starting the day with two cups of Coca Cola at the neighborhood MacDonalds.

Compiled by David Storey in Washington; Reporting by Julie Mollins in London, Scott Malone in Boston, Jonathan Saul in Dublin, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo, Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles, Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Editing by Eddie Evans