Be a local hero and go shopping on the great British high street

IT seems impossible to believe, but lockdown’s very nearly over. It’s time to start preparing.

After a year of elbow bumping, I’m re-learning how to shake hands (I’ve stuck a glove on a mop and I’m practising on that).

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My dog Rocco is helping me fine-tune my dinner party chat and — in anticipation of a summer of romance — I’m bulk-buying tight jeans and lip balm.

Before we know it, it’ll be time to get back into the world.

But I’ve got a real worry about what we’ll find waiting for us when we get there . . . because one of the places that should be at the heart of our post-Covid lives — the great British high street — is in serious jeopardy.

It’s unutterably sad.

This particular crisis should be no surprise, our high streets were in trouble before anyone had stockpiled their first loo roll or donned their debut facemask.

Pre-pandemic it felt like not a week went by without hearing how some cherished old shop, run by the same family for a century, had closed its doors for ever.

I’d see it too whenever I travelled round the country — desolate stretches of £1 stores, pawn shops and boarded-up windows where once there would have been bustling bakers’ and butchers’ and cafes. But if the situation was bad before, now it’s catastrophic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those nostalgia junkies who automat-ically think things were better back in the old days. Rose-tinted spectacles don’t go with any of my outfits.

But when I see the cheerless wastelands at the centre of so many towns, I find myself recalling some of the local establishments that have been such a big part of my life.

I remember being 13 and going to our neighbourhood Italian with my first girlfriend (I know, I know . . . ).

The owner knew us both, and steered us through our awkward vongole like a maestro. Or the splendid Greek deli that sold bagels to so many nearby Jewish mums that it basically became an outpost of our synagogue.

Or the wonderful corner shop that seemed to me like Harrods Food Hall, where they let me indulge my ice-lolly addiction all day long, and politely put every lime Calippo on my mum’s bill.


There are a dozen others I could name, and I count myself very lucky to have known them. They added texture to my life and pride to our area in a way no strip-lit megastore ever could. A self-checkout will never ask how your mum’s been or tell you your favourite pickles have arrived.

Of course, in the ritzy bits of London there’s enough money to maintain hundreds of charming little shops. In the swankier postcodes, where the poshos live, you’ll find more gorgeous cheesemongers and swanky butchers than you can shake a stick at.

I’m not complaining, they’re delightful. The staff are friendly, the windows beautiful and the produce exquisite. I’ve seen sausages that would reduce you to tears.

But it doesn’t seem fair that something so special should become the preserve of the elite. We all deserve a great high street. So, with that in mind, there are two big things I think we should try to do.

First, there have to be more incentives for local businesses and independent traders.

Whether it’s in the form of tax breaks or rent holidays or other commercial arrangements, we just have to make life a little less brutal for them. It’ll take some creative thinking and a bit of political will, but it can and should be done.

Second, it’s what we — the shoppers — can do. Yes, the supermarket and the internet will always play an important role in our lives. But, whenever we can, we should try to support individual retailers with regular custom.

We’ll happily spend a little more for Fairtrade coffee or cruelty-free eggs, surely we can try to spend a little more to keep a friendly local business going?

Pop in when you see them and then actually buy something.

In fact, buy two. Introduce yourself as well, and get to know the people working there. Let joy re-enter shopping.

A thriving high street can be the life and soul of any neighbourhood, some-thing that knits everyone, young and old, together.

It’ll be a bit of a fight to keep them, but it’s a fight worth winning.

Get him a bob or two

London 2012 long jump champion, ginger stallion, twinkle-toed dancer and father to my godchild, otherwise known as Greg Rutherford, is coming out of retirement in order to become the first Briton ever to win medals at the summer and Winter Olympics.

He is planning to hurtle himself down an ice track in a thin metal bobsleigh at 90 miles per hour, all in the name of glory.

Typical him!

I am certain he will get into the team and I pray that he wins. He is a nuclear-powered sulk-bomb if he loses at anything.

The only thing the team needs now – apparently – is a new bobsleigh, so if there’s a sponsor out there, do be a love and get them one.

Musos take note

It’s wonderful to see parks opening up and people out enjoying each other’s company over picnics and pints.

But what’s not wonderful is folk playing loud music when everyone else is there to chill.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a discotheque as much as the next man.

What I don’t like is banging choons, not of my choosing, permeating my aural cavities through a tinny iPhone speaker when I’m trying to relax with my pals.

It feels like I’m in a nightmarish holiday Kids’ Club from my childhood, where all they did was play the Macarena on repeat.

So please, if you do insist on DJing from your phone in the park, at least take my requests.

It’s all gong wrong

I can’t stand award shows unless I’m nominated, in which case I love them.

So when the Bafta nominations were published this week I pretended not to care as I stared at the shortlist and found that – despite receiving critical acclaim – my documentary series had been unceremoniously snubbed.

“Whatever,” I thought, “there’s no free goody-bag, open-bar live event this year, it’s not about the gongs – and look at all the other wonderful nominees.”

This altruistic zen lasted about four minutes, then I spent the rest of the day in a filthy mood.

Of course, the mega-privileged awarding the mega-mega-privileged silver plated, sex toy-shaped statuettes while lecturing the public about global warming is an indefensible pageant of shallowness.

But the truth is that I would have been perfectly prepared to put up with a little air-kissing hypocrisy if I had been invited.

Unlike others in the alphabet spaghetti of celebrity, I’m perfectly willing to admit it.

Anyway, thank goodness it’s not about the gongs and look at all the other wonderful nominees.

Oh, and thank goodness I’m not missing out on the goody bag or the open bar.

Bl-hair scare

I’ve been far too busy shopping online at John Lewis this week to jump on any political bandwagons.

But I couldn’t help noticing that Tony Blair appeared the other day looking like he’d been mugged by one of Tolkien’s terrifying orcs.

I feel sure the ex-PM just needs a light spot of redecorating, and it won’t cost much.

Perhaps he could borrow the money if he’s hard up?

Bitter trolls take the shine off Emerald’s glittering prize

Emerald Fennell aka Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown, was riding high this week after winning a best screenplay Oscar for her truly brilliant film Promising Young Woman, left, which she also directed.

Yet her world-class talent wasn’t enough for some of the po-faced Twitter mob who, within seconds of Emerald’s mercifully sweet acceptance speech, were griping about how she got there because of her “rich” dad and keyboard raging that she was an underserving “toff” who had been – horror of horrors – privately educated.

I know (I really do) that young people with no access to cash or a network of open doors have it tougher than ever and that social mobility is in terminal decline.

And yes, unless we address this tragic reality we will never hear or see the work of thousands of potentially great artists.

We need to do all we can to empower and enable those who didn’t have Emerald’s start in life.

But nothing will be achieved by throwing shade on her sparkle.

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