Will our pubs go the same way?

SO long old friend. Woolworths, a mainstay of our high street for as long as most of us can remember, as familiar and reliable as a comfy pair of old slippers, closes for good on Monday.

SO long old friend. Woolworths, a mainstay of our high street for as long as most of us can remember, as familiar and reliable as a comfy pair of old slippers, closes for good on Monday.

As predicted, its collapse marked the start of a domino effect of retail closures with more fears for more household names to fold and disappear before the end of the year?

It's hard to be cheerful and hopeful about a new year that starts with the closure of our Woollies.

The prospect of boarded up empty shops where flourishing retailers used to stand is grime.

In a trice, a nation of shoppers who once treated shopping like a religion and a national hobby is witnessing the swift decline of their once Mecca.

The poor staff - who could ever have blamed a Woollies worker for believing they had a job for life? - out on their ears, even the fixtures and fittings being sold around them to vulture-like bargain hunters.

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Woollies was once on every high street. Just like the trusty old British pub, also fighting for survival as bars are empty and takings plummet.

A Britain without pubs is as unthinkable as a Britain without Woolworth's - but this time last year we thought Woolworth's was here forever.

The traditional British pub, spit and sawdust, gastro pub or family-based, is a unique part of our history, entrenched enough in our culture to be romanticised by our American visitors who can't get enough of them.

Villages, communities, estates and suburbs revolve - or used to revolve - around their pubs, the hubs of communities.

For how much longer? Pubs are closing every week, landlords buckling under the pressure of rising rents, dropping takings and cheap supermarket booze and the smoking ban.

Fast forward a few years and the landscape of our communities will look very different.

No small post offices, no pubs, no corner shops, and just sprawling developments of houses. Everyone will have to drive miles to a Tesco hypermarket as the company takes over the world.

We must fight to keep our pubs. Just like we fight for the survival of small post offices.

Without them communities die bringing isolation and loneliness for so many who rely on their existence, not just for services, but for company and a lifeline.

It's not coincidence that every soap revolves around the pub, Queen Vic in Eastenders, Coronation Street's Rovers Return and the Woolpack in Emmerdale. Soap writers should use their power to ram home the plight of the British publican today and how hard it is to make a living.

Supermarkets and the Government are the criminals in the decline of the pub. Supermarket cut-price alcohol is driving pubs out of business. Money is tight so people buy in bulk and stay at home or drink before they go out.

Smokers stay at home since the Government saw fit to hammer the first nail in the pubs' coffins with the smoking ban, leaving publicans powerless to entice in smokers.

And landlords who have shifted emphasis to food face the same crisis, as people can't afford to eat out so much anymore.

Our pubs are under as big a threat as our shops and once they're gone, they're gone. It's a brave person now who would take on a new pub now. Thank goodness the brave are out there.

Perhaps if we all made an effort, just once a week, it might make a difference to the future of our historic trade. But is it too late to save them?

Goodbye Woollies, we'll miss you - and we'll miss our pubs just as much, if not more.

Everyone has a Woollies memory.

My father remembers seeing the first bars of chocolate in the old south Lowestoft Woollies soon after the war.

Soon the word went round and the shop was packed with people marvelling at the new arrivals.

Woolworth's wasn't just a shop, it was part of our history and its passing will be log mourned.

Topless model-turned-actress Linda Lusardi has caused a stir amongst the constables by daring to dial 999 after getting stuck in heavy traffic on her way to a pantomime appearance.

Ms Lusardi called emergency services to ask if she could drive on the M25's hard shoulder so she could reach the High Wycombe theatre in time for curtain up.

Quite rightly, she was sent away with a flea in her ear but we might have a smidgen of sympathy with Ms Lusardi seeking emergency permission.

After all, Waity Katy Middleton had a police escort to work - when she did work - because a few photographers were hanging around outside her home.

Officers guarded her door and others escorted her car in a patrol car.

At least Lusardi had paying customers in an audience waiting to see her and a real reason not to be late.

An unfortunate coincidence of news stories at the weekend.

On one newspaper page dog owners were told not to have fun throwing sticks for their dogs as a game because it was dangerous, laden with hazards of injuries, choking and infections.

Turn the page and there was Prince Edward apparently beating a black Labrador with a big stick when he was out shooting.

I know which story we should make a fuss about,

I've heard many excuses for many different misdemeanors but the explanation of the gormless charmless British 'businessman', whatever that might mean, convicted of having sex on a Dubai beach takes the biscuit.

Caught in a compromising position with a British woman he blamed his predicament on being 'in the wrong place at the wrong time.'

That's one way of putting it, mate.

In a world where trends come and go faster than the change in the weather how can it be that Barbie has stayed the course for a full 50 years - and is still as popular today as she ever was?

It's a great mystery of our time how an unfeasibly shaped blonde male fantasy figure has remained a best seller through feminism fights both sides of the Atlantic, the rise in equality and women smashing through glass ceilings in industry, politics and business.

But Barbie, with her pert bust, miniscule waist and bimbo hair, shows no signs of going away, even as she reaches 50 this year with all her bits still intact.

Worth $3 billion a year, three Barbies are sold every second and there are more Barbie dolls in America than people. Aaargh. A scary thought.

As a daughterless mother, I've never had to have one in the house, thank goodness, or face the argument about why we shouldn't have one, all that bubble gum pink and plastic rubbish.

But you've got to hand it to her, she's a tough old boot to see off her critics and stay on top through everything, bewitching new generations of little girls all the time.

She's a Barbie girl in a Barbie world - and it's the only one that looks buoyant at the moment.

Women keep their favourite piece of clothing on average for longer than their husband.

I love that statistic.

Husbands come and go but a cashmere cardi is for life.

Women keep their best garment for 12 years - a little longer than the 11.7 years that the Office for National Statistics says the average failed marriage lasts.

And that cardi is probably more use, costs less, keeps you warm and cheers you up. No competition really.

We're a boring lot when it comes to naming our children.

The top names of 2008 list from Bounty is much like the list of 2007, 2006 and every year since 2000.

Jack and Olivia are the top names, with Oliver and Ruby second and Harry and Grace, third. No boat rockers there.

And I'm as guilty as the rest, not wanting to saddle my first-born with a daft, embarrassing even, name to carry through life. Something traditional, manly and sensible, I said.

A name that you can imagine as Prime Minister, husband said, as we gazed at our wrinkled little bundle.

1996. We settled on William - or Will, as he is known.

But playing safe has its disadvantages.

Now at senior school, he's one of a football team of Will's - every other boy seems to be called Will, so there's Will J, Will E, Will B et al.

Watching a rugby match the other day, it sounded they were trying to confuse their opponents by calling every team member Will. Shout Will and an army looked round.

My second son won't have that problem. Teddy or Ted - his father insisted he was Edward was on his birth certificate if he should ever become Prime Minister.

Now, inspired by him, there are about five other Teddies a year or so younger. So even trying to be different can backfire when people copy.

How can we have faith in a health service when A & E staff blatantly ignore a letter from a GP demanding a patient is given immediate treatment?

Father -of-two Stuart Fleming, just 37, died after a six-hour wait in A & E.

He went to his GP with a virus ravaging his body, followed the procedure of visiting his GP first not wanting to clog up A & E like so many time wasters

Obviously not one to make a fuss, he sat patiently in the waiting room, feeling increasingly ill, as A & E staff took three hours to decide if he was a 'priority case.'

The letter from his GP counted for nothing. His doctor had even telephoned the hospital to say Mr Fleming was on his way but the poor man had to wait six hours on a hard chair as his body started to close down.

This case is a scandal and probably not unique. Two young children are left without a father and a widow mourns her strong, polite husband who played by the system's rules.

He didn't make a scene, screamed, shouted or threatened at hospital staff. He waited his turn - and died for his patience.

Explanation for cases like this is always large numbers of admissions and not enough beds. What has happened to al those hospital planners who allowed new hospitals to be built with reduced beds in an increasingly ageing population?

Retired with handsome pensions and pay-offs and many working as private consultants taking even more money out of the NHS. Our money, by the way, the suckers left to die in their system.