Half a dozen hairdryers to help the bio-digester

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AS I sit to write this column (a little early to meet New Year deadlines) I don’t yet know what is in store over the Christmas period weather-wise. Things got worse here following my last column, and I arrived in a very large local supermarket one morning at 5am to buy as many cheap hairdryers as I could get my hands on.

Getting some funny looks as I paid for half a dozen Chinese hairdryers (at only £3 each), I skidded most of the way home on the snow and ice, and we strapped them strategically on the bio-digester, to keep the sensors warm. It seems to have done the trick so far.

I have also been shopping for food prior to Christmas, and again I marvel at the amazing choice available in the big stores.

I was after some ingredients that I thought would be a struggle to find, but in fact there were choices of everything I was looking for; remarkable.

Again, as I always do, I was surprised at how cheap food really is, but shocked at the till when the bill was presented- surely a mistake had been made? I pored over the till roll on my return home, I can’t be the only one to do this, and I found the answer. It’s the shampoo and all that sort of stuff that costs a fortune. Cleaning products; amazingly expensive.

This is where the money goes and they are essentials too, but the food element of the total bill was very reasonable, and we can live on that.

A recent survey carried out by Southampton University showed that supermarkets are beneficial to market towns. Professor Neil Wrigley found that supermarkets built in town centres or edge-of-town, meant that fewer residents actually leave the town to go shopping.

There is also a significant degree of ‘spill-over’ of local activity to independent shops when a new store is opened, he says.

In what the University says is the first significant study for more than a decade, a survey was carried out on the ‘before’ and ‘after’ in six towns.

They also had two ‘control towns, where no supermarket opened.

For example, in Ilminster in Somerset, some 9.1 per cent of consumers used small town centre shops for their main food shopping a year after the new store opened, whereas only 3.8 per cent did so pre-opening. The survey also shows that two thirds of consumers think the super-store is beneficial.

Professor Wrigley stated that the debate on the impact of supermarkets on small towns has become ‘highly polarised’, where as the rigorous and transparent report challenges many of the popularly held beliefs that supermarkets decimate town centres.

This report has been carried out over the last three years and has involved 8000 consumers and 1000 traders in small market towns.

What about the trends for 2011? The IGD (The Institute of Grocery Distribution) suggest that rather than trade down, ‘savvy shopping’ is the key trend to emerge from the recession, as shoppers have sought to economise on their grocery shopping without compromising on quality or values.

The next step in the evolution of ‘George Osbourne austerity shopping’, could be a drive for simplicity, with 36 per cent of consumers already focusing on reducing food and packaging waste (I am still amazed at the level of packaging on food), whilst 22 per cent are going back to a simple diet, involving a limited range of straightforward meals.

The increase in VAT could be a further catalyst for shoppers to strip out unnecessary complexity in their consumption and eating habits.

We end 2010 on a bright note for British farmers, as The Greater London Authority Group has announced that it will be procuring food to the same London 2012 standards which is a step to a lasting Olympic legacy.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced plans to use the Red Tractor Scheme as a minimum standard for farm produce, as well as another range of commitments for livestock, poultry and eggs, fish and other products in all GLA catering contracts.

The GLA group includes fire brigade, Metropolitan police and transport for London. This is a great step for British agriculture, and we hope it will be emulated by many other public authorities.

After failing to read a Christmas cracker joke in poor light recently, passing it on to someone much younger, muttering that it was too poor an attempt at a joke to read out, I realized that I am truly getting on.

What to do? Being a man, this is always a problem, and there are no simple answers.

My daughter persuaded me to go for an eye test, and it was a revelation.

I now know that the truth costs £32 - a small price to pay for highly technical expertise, some reassurance and ‘shrink’ like confidence building, and an end to the myths that surround our eyes, and what is bad for them.

‘Don’t strain your eyes’, was a constant warning when I was a child, reading in poor light, or in bed with a torch (lights out was a rule at home).

Now I know that our eyes are fantastic devices, so complex, yet robust. Poor light? No problem.

Computer screens? No problem although they might give you headaches; indeed I now know that computer games are used to correct some deficiencies in children’s eyesight. How about that?

After an array of devices that at various stages made me feel like a fighter pilot, I was told that my eyesight was fantastic, but the muscles were struggling to focus on the smaller print.

This arrives with age I was told. Options? Struggle on, or get some reading glasses. I left on cloud nine, until my Lorayne commented that she knew all this and she had told me so, and it didn’t cost £32.

I then showed off with my new found knowledge and questioned her endlessly until she got one question wrong. Vindicated,

I must thank the man in Midhurst, not only for the amazing service, but for telling me that I would be perfectly all right with a two and sixpence pair of reading glasses; it’s not often you get such honesty.

A happy New Year to all our readers and I hope 2011 will be all you have hoped for.