With the recent closure of a manageable, medium-sized supermarket, for the redevelopment of the block, my part of London has become what I think is called a "food desert". The choice is between a few high-priced corner shops, which have a few fusty potatoes and carrots, and a slew of equally high-priced snack bars and coffee shops. If you want to buy fresh food to cook, as Jamie and others keep telling us to do, you're not going to find it around here. Which may be one reason why all manner of people, from besuited civil servants to mums in grey tracksuits with prams, traipse back from the coffee shops of a morning, with prepared beverages at £2-plus a go.
Yet it could have been different. The supermarket concerned submitted a planning application for a new store of a similar size just a couple of streets away. But it was turned down after locals complained about potential nuisance and noise. Unfortunately, only immediate neighbours have a say in planning applications, not the many a little further away who also have an interest. I wonder now whether elderly people, in particular, are having second thoughts about their protest, as a coffee shop won't supply you with dinner.
But there is, or could be, another approach, which would focus on removing the nuisance from huge lorries in residential and city-centre neighbourhoods. I routinely watch juggernauts trying to inch their way down quite unsuitable streets, then parking to unload, creating an instant traffic jam. But why is this allowed?
In many continental cities, including Paris, goods have to be transferred to smaller vehicles, often no bigger than internet delivery vans. And if you don't object to the Sainsbury's/Tesco/Waitrose van delivering groceries to your door, you shouldn't mind a similar-sized van supplying your local store. The trouble is our slavish attitude to haulage.
Returning from France the week before Easter, I drove on lorry-free motorways (a few perishables are allowed) on a Sunday. In Luxembourg this was extended to Saturday, so on crossing the border, phalanxes of huge vehicles obediently turned into the service area until the restrictions ended (after dark). The objection is always made that Britain could not ban lorries from motorways at weekends and bank holidays because it would put up prices and reduce efficiency. Which seems strange, because neither France nor Luxembourg seems to suffer food shortages for lack of deliveries outside weekends.
The NHS needs joined-up thinking
On my work table are three fat invitations, with pages of information attached. They're not, alas, summoning me to any parties, but to cancer-screening appointments. In one way, it is rather touching that the NHS sets so much store by screening programmes, which have been attracting increasingly mixed reviews, as possibly spreading more alarm than accurate early warnings. But if they want to screen me, I'll do my best to comply; after all, it's the responsible thing to do, and someone out there probably recoups some payment for meeting targets.
The arrival of these invitations so close together may have something to do with age, or perhaps pure coincidence. But it should also give pause to even the fiercest opponent of NHS reform (which I'm not). For these invitations – for a bowel-cancer screening, for a mammogram and for a cervical smear – come from different addresses, representing presumably different bureaucracies, and require me to go to different clinics. Is it so unreasonable to hope that one day there might be a single screening authority, and that we, who have busy lives, too, could drop in for all the tests at one time and in one place, with the results, and any counselling, available at once?