Cafe culture to save our shops Try it on a wet night in Hull . . .



22:17 GMT, 1 April 2012

Save our High Streets Boarded up, patrolled by drunks, beggars and security men, festooned with litter flapping in the breeze, and crippled by outrageous parking charges.

Why would anyone bother to visit their local town centre — this is a patient in terminal decline.

Last year, more shops closed than opened and every week another well-known name hits the buffers. Shopping guru Mary Portas was asked by the Government to come up with radical proposals to save our town centres — where up to a third of the shops now lie empty — and last week the Government published its response. Don’t hold your breath.

Save our high streets: Mary Portas with Prime Minister David Cameron

Save our high streets: Mary Portas with Prime Minister David Cameron, the shopping guru was asked by the Government to come up with radical proposals to save our town centres

Plans to hold a national market day on June  23 followed by a National Markets fortnight will not make an iota of difference. We’ll be encouraged to rent a stall for a tenner to ‘try out’ business ideas while shops will be encouraged to stay open later to create ‘vibrant European-style evening economies’.

There’s a world of difference between going to an evening gastronomic market in the Dordogne as I did last summer, where you sit at trestle tables in the setting sun and scoff delicious local delicacies listening to a jazz band, and what we can expect in bankrupt, windswept Britain. Can Hull, Cumbernauld, Maidstone or Wandsworth compete

Our city centres were not designed for convivial evenings sipping vino alfresco — they are full of dog mess, ugly traffic signs, one-way systems that no one can understand, and smelly, underground car parks. Our climate is so capricious that eating outside is a lottery — you end up in a wind tunnel.

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The whole idea of promoting ‘European-style’ anything smacks of trendy Whitehall thinking from policy wonks who holiday in swanky bits of France and Italy. Remember Labour’s big idea Twenty-four-hour drinking was meant to re-create a continental cafe culture in our city centres — instead, it resulted in ugly scenes of puking and excess.

Grant Shapps, the Housing and Local Government minister who commissioned Mary’s report, said: ‘I want people to come together to form their own town teams and turn their creative ideas into reality.’

What a load of hot air — and he’s launching a ‘consultation’ on abolishing minimum parking charges. What’s to consult about Parking is the single reason we don’t shop locally.

More importantly, Mr Shapps refused to adopt Mary’s sensible proposal that the Government should have the final say in any new out-of-town shopping developments.

Now, 80 per cent of all new grocery stores are located away from town centres, systematically sucking the life out of communities all over the country. A few market stalls won’t make a blind bit of difference.

In fact, the future of shopping doesn’t even involve getting in the car and driving to a superstore — online shopping is booming: we spent 6 billion in January alone, that’s 118 per person, 16 per cent more than last year, at a time when household spending has seen the biggest annual fall since 1997.

With less cash, we’re even less inclined to spend money on fuel and parking — bad news for retailers.

I’m not mourning the demise of the High Street. In places like Margate in Kent, where over a third of shops are empty, the old town has small, quirky individual retailers. The main street is horrible, and Primark has closed.

The best thing to revitalise Margate’s centre would be affordable housing, community centres, facilities for residents, and sheltered housing for the elderly where they can people-watch. The traditional town centre has had its day.

Camilla's very own Sarah Lund sweater

Was it my recommendation that resulted in Camilla becoming a huge fan of Danish thriller The Killing

Souvenir: The Duchess of Cornwall receives a replica jumper from The Killing actress Sophie Grabol when taking a tour of the set in Denmark

Souvenir: The Duchess of Cornwall receives a replica jumper from The Killing actress Sophie Grabol when taking a tour of the set in Denmark

On a royal trip to Denmark, she requested a trip to the set to meet its star, Sofie Grabol, and was thrilled to receive a special souvenir — her very own Sarah Lund sweater.

Take my advice, Camilla, and never put it on. A chunky knit looks good only on a skinny woman. You’ll look like a tea cosy.

Beyond the veil

The Archbishop of Canterbury says wearing a veil gives Muslim women ‘strength’ and helps them assert themselves.

I can’t see how covering your entire body in a hot, shapeless piece of cloth is any step forward for womankind, particularly when many influential Muslims believe there is nothing in the Koran that stipulates a woman must cover her entire body and face. I’ve never seen Rowan Williams as much of a feminist — if he cares so much about empowering women, how come he’s dragged his feet for years over appointing female bishops

There’s equal rights in the real world — but the Church of England prefers to look the other way. Meanwhile, it’s losing support by the month.

Donna the airhead . . .
Acquitted: Presenter Donna Air was let off over parking permit offences

Acquitted: Presenter Donna Air was let off over parking permit offences

It’s illegal to have a resident’s parking permit for more than one London borough — and when television presenter Donna ‘Air-Head’ was found to have two — for both Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, she was charged with fraud.

Donna isn’t short of a bob or two —
she has properties in both boroughs, but I’m sure she didn’t mean to
break the law. She admitted her mistake in court, claiming she had asked
her mother’s help to fill in the form, which she signed.

Her defence She’s a single working mum who is ‘always in a rush’.

week, after a couple of days in court (photographed looking very
glamorous and humble), she was acquitted and her large legal costs will
have to be paid by council tax payers. If she were not blonde,
attractive and simpering, would she have got off If I had been charged
with the same offence, I guarantee I would have been found guilty.

Her own legal team claimed her head was full of ‘air’. So she won’t be up for presenting Mastermind, then.

This ‘journey’ is just pants

Let’s ban the inappropriate use of the word journey — every day gormless reality show participants blub about their ‘journey’ and they don’t mean on the bus. Once you got the sack, had a baby, dumped your partner, now it’s part of your unique journey through life. And fashion has joined the journey bandwagon.

Each pair of Huit jeans, made in Wales, comes with a unique number, and buyers can log on to the website to see pictures of their numbered pair being made. They can also add pictures of their own, and then when they pass the jeans on, future owners can follow their ‘journey’ online.

Sorry, I can’t equate a pair of battered jeans with a painting, a print or a wonderful old teapot. If my jeans could record their ‘journey’, I’d be keeping that story under lock and key.

Diminutive man, giant ego

Jamie Cullum — diminutive man, giant ego. The hugely talented pianist was a guest on Desert Island Discs last week. Having been a Castaway myself, I know whittling down your favourite tracks to eight without sounding pretentious is a tough job.

In a first for the show, recorded in Bristol at the BBC’s More Than Words Festival, Jamie performed songs by his favourite artists, including Elton John and Randy Newman.

Choosing three of his own versions of these classic songs tells us an awful lot about Mr Cullum — presumably he never gets tired of the sound of his own voice. He also chose a pencil and paper as his luxury item — possibly for a few self-portraits