This column contains no advice about how to reduced your energy bills – even though the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, reckons there are garments called "sweaters" you can put on when you can't afford to turn on the central heating. Apparently they have two arms and a hole to put your head through. How very practical!
As millions of households face energy bills of more than £1,500 for the first time, Public Health England has issued guidelines to help us cope with cold weather – we must wear lots of thin layers, heat the living room during the day and the bedroom just before going to bed. Have plenty of hot food and drinks … and consider wearing slippers.
This banal twaddle is obviously directed at the elderly, but they are the most sensible, practical and knowledgeable section of the population, the ones who struggled through the war, rationing, austerity in the Fifties and who are brilliant at scrimping. Instead of running expensive ad campaigns, and self-importantly articulating the obvious, every public health body should donate a large percentage of their budget towards installing free insulation in the homes of the eldest and the poorest. The Government should divert the money it raises from "green" energy charges to make up the shortfall.
The other day on the radio, I heard an elderly man describe how he managed to use just £8 worth of gas a year, but was hit with a £100 standing charge – that reduced me to tears. I hope he wrote and told Mr Davey where to shove his woollie. What none of us need from public servants and politicians is advice about how to cope. Sadly, for the last decade, we have been plagued by a stream of directives issued by a nanny state, few of which have had any discernible impact on our behaviour.
The five-a-day fruit and veg campaign cost £4m between 2006 and 2011, but the number of adults eating five portions a day dropped during that time from 30 per cent to 26 per cent – a million less healthy eaters. A study of half a million Europeans found that eating the right amount of fruit and veg had little impact on reducing cancer.
Then we've had all the directives about exercise – expensive online and television campaigns urging us to walk regularly and get fitter in the process. Walking – that activity where you put one foot in front of the other, in case you didn't know. Last August a study found that 80 per cent of us were not achieving these targets and a whopping 10 per cent hadn't even managed to walk five minutes without stopping in the previous month. Now, there's a new debate about how much exercise we really need to be fit – Norwegians reckon as little as three intensive bouts of four minutes a week is plenty. Last week, another quango, Nice, declared that parents of fat children should set an example by eating a healthy diet and exercising more. As if that would make a blind bit of difference. As if a teenager would do anything mum and dad favoured.
All this goes to prove that governments should stay well away from telling us how to behave, because it is pointless and wastes valuable public funds that could be put to better use.
Summoning the energy companies to parliament for a public dressing down will achieve nothing either. Ofgem is supposed to act on behalf of the consumer but it's a toothless watchdog, exactly like its rail counterpart. Just scrap it. To cut our bills, we need to shop around and swap suppliers – and civil servants should be dreaming up ways of visiting the elderly at home (who may not be online) and helping them do just that. We moaned about banking – but 90 per cent of us have never switched banks, even when it was made easier. Old habits die hard. Simple tariffs will be introduced later this year – will the 40 per cent of us who have never switched energy supplier be prepared to do so? That will achieve more than popping on a pullover.
They are charming, the group of girls, aged from 10 to 17, whose fathers are serving in the armed forces who have been chosen at auditions to record a fundraising single for the British Legion's Poppy Appeal. Megan, Bethany, Alice, Florence and Charlotte sing "The Call (No Need to Say Goodbye)" by Regina Spektor, originally used in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. All the girls have lovely voices and I am sure the single, to be released on Remembrance Sunday, 10 November, will be a hit. My only quibble is that they are all peas in a pod - all white, with straight brown and blonde hair. Hardly representative of the true mix of men and women who represent our country.
A class act, at last
The scandal of the huge, derelict and unloved Battersea power station – a blot on the capital's skyline right on the Thames – has gone on too long, but the news that one of the greatest living architects, Frank Gehry, is to design part of the site, could mean London will get a world-class attraction.
Forget anodyne macho towers like the Shard and the Gherkin: Frank designs sexy and unforgettable buildings, but all he's ever managed to build here is a hospice for cancer sufferers. A residential scheme in Brighton never got off the ground, although he designed a temporary pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in 2008.
Frank and Richard Rogers will work under Rafael Vinoly, who designed the vulgar Walkie Talkie building in the City, and create a shopping street with 1,200 homes, restaurants and a hotel.
Meanwhile, London has plenty of billionaires like John Caudwell (who co-founded the Phones 4U chain) who don't invest in modern architecture, but buy undistinguished mansions and tunnel downwards to create vulgar palaces that offer nothing to our cityscape. Mr Caudwell has submitted plans to turn two houses in Mayfair into a 50,000sq ft residence, with a 14,000sq ft basement extension. Why can't these rich men see that commissioning a modern architect would be a better memorial?
Leaves me cold
Could the common cuppa be due a makeover? With coffee shops on every high street, Starbucks is expanding into the world of tea, opening its first tea house – in New York.
It paid more than $600m (£370m) for the Teavana chain, which has 300 outlets, last year. Buying a simple cup of coffee has become a minefield with dozens of options from beans to non-milk milk, so the chance to make millions out of bunging hot water on fashionable tea leaves was too attractive to pass up.
Starbucks will be selling something called "tea fusion beverages", tea lattés and iced tea, all of which leave me underwhelmed. In many trendy hotels and restaurants now, camomile is infused with spices and oils and it's hard to get green tea that hasn't been "improved" with lemon or orange zest. I travel with my own teabags, and I don't want to know the altitude of the bush they came from, thanks very much.Reuse content