Editor-At-Large: The have-it-all days are over. We're back to austerity and thrift

Hard times are upon us, so we should rediscover the forgotten skills of patching, mending and growing our own vegetables
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The Independent Online

As oil prices hit record levels and the cost of food increases by an estimated 20 per cent this year we're going to have to face up to the fact that it's time to learn the long-forgotten art of living frugally. Credit card bills, bank overdrafts and mortgage repayments have all increased – we're trying to economise, but it's a bit like learning a new language. It doesn't come easily.

This weekend, garden centres will be packed with people – they'll mostly be buying tomato plants and lettuce seeds, not shrubs: the sale of vegetable seeds and plants now exceeds that of flowers. It reminds me of when I was young and money was short – Dad decided to dig up our tiny lawn and plant potatoes. The shame of it – our friends had borders full of pansies and salvias; we had onions and carrots.

I can see now that my father was ahead of his time. These days, waiting lists for allotments run at several years in urban areas. Resourceful gardening experts are churning out books telling city dwellers how to turn the pots on their window ledges into a cornucopia of rocket, courgettes and Italian lettuces. You can even send off for a chicken coop for your balcony, if you can face the clucking first thing in the morning.

Trying to re-educate binge- drinking obese Britain in the do-it-yourself ways exemplified by the telly series The Good Life is going to be a tricky business for any political party. Our mantra for so many years has been: "I'm having it because I'm worth it, and sod the cost." That applied to everything from £300 shoes to cars and glamorous new kitchens. Those Sex And the City girls with their designer clothes and swanky bags were our icons. And when it came to the joys of home-cooked suppers, we bought all the Gordon Ramsay cookery books, but relegated them to bedtime reading: food porn.

Schools still don't teach our chubby kids how to cook and buy healthy food as part of their essential skills for life. How can we grown-ups be re-educated in the art of living with minimal shopping on joyous treats such as champagne and ready meals?

There are real concerns that the old and the poor will skimp on food in order to pay for heating and petrol. The people who will be hit the hardest are those living in rural areas, who have no public transport and rely on a car to get them to work and oil to heat their homes.

The worst credit crisis in a generation in financial markets has seen house prices start to drop month on month to more realistic levels, with mortgages more expensive and harder to get. Time to learn how to extend, improve and revamp the homes we're already in. Time for a smart government to make repairs zero VAT rated. Time to buy a sewing machine and start doctoring that wardrobe of designer frocks, or sign up for pattern-cutting classes at the local college. Or pay a local dressmaker to turn what you've already got into something fresh and desirable once more.

When the Prime Minister tells us that he understands how we feel, we respond by voting for the opposition. Quite simply, we don't believe he's experiencing our pain at the checkout and the petrol pump, as the landslide victory for the Tories in Crewe confirms.

Whoever is in power, the unavoidable recession will still affect every family in Britain. All the same, I'm sure that there will be some positive side effects. By turning down people for credit cards, banks could be teaching us how to live within our means. We might learn that it's far easier to feed a family on a budget if you know how to cook. We might start supporting local shopkeepers and farmers' markets if it's cheaper than driving miles to a supermarket where prices aren't much of a bargain.

We might even start talking to each other and playing card games at home instead of going out to supper or the movies.

After the Second World War, the plucky Brits proved they could manage on a shoestring: they ate less, and walked more, while mum knew how to sew and mend. It's easy to sneer at these skills today, but we'd better start relearning them if we want to weather what lies ahead.

By the way, back then recycling was called going to a jumble sale.

It's never too late to be a femme fatale

This weekend most of us will be spending our time relaxing in what I call pod-wear, comfy tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts. But let's give up a cheer for a couple of middle-aged women who spend up to four hours getting ready to look completely fabulous – I know it takes that long, because I've been there. Hair, make-up, underwear that holds in the flabby bits, a manicure, the right accessories – nightmare!

Fifty-year-old Sharon Stone and 49-year-old Madonna were in Cannes last week, dressed to the nines, Sharon in a gorgeous Cavalli dress and Madonna in a black leather coat, flashing her thighs while wearing weird fingerless gloves à la Karl Lagerfeld.

This is a difficult time of year: our legs are like white sticks, and no matter what fashion editors say, there's nothing glamorous about a cardigan when the evenings are chilly. I admire anyone who can look as great as this. What's the alternative – the Amy Winehouse look, complete with fag packet tucked in those shocking, filthy shorts?

Our barmy Ministry of Futile Tasks is at it again

The Government is considering creating a database designed to store full details of every phone call made, every text message and email sent, and every single website visited by the population.

The Home Office has already contacted internet service providers and telecom companies to explore the idea, claiming that it is essential to "fight terrorism". If the plan were included in the Communications Bill, set to be published later this year, companies would be required to hand over full details of customer accounts.

We are already the most monitored society in Europe, and recent figures proved that all the CCTV surveillance in city centres hasn't actually been responsible for a reduction in street crime. Given that the Government's track record with computer technology is lamentable, one can only marvel at their wishful thinking.

They've already managed to lose the benefits details of every family in Britain with a child under 16. Last year, 57 billion texts were sent and three billion emails are sent every single day – most of them utter drivel. Can you imagine the size of the workforce of civil servants required to monitor all this cyber-rubbish?

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