?Our columnist ponders the different character of Gloucestershire's biggest towns

CHELTENHAM and Gloucester are like an elderly, long-divorced couple.

She – for Cheltenham must be a woman – has seen better days, days of endless parties and poke bonnets, of dukes and dandies and women with histories.

As the late, great Humphrey Littleton said, it was Cheltenham where the Duke of Wellington popularised his footwear, Lord Sandwich invented the leading convenience food, and Viscount Picnic introduced the two.

Cheltenham, like any proud and stately matriarch, can put on the slap, squeeze herself into a still-good frock and put on a good show.

Across the county her ex-husband, with whom she has always had an uncomfortable relationship, each believing themselves to be the superior whereas they are simply different, is experiencing a fresh surge of energy and rejuvenation.

The problem that Gloucester faces is that each downturn in the economy hits a city like Gloucester harder than most places.

So, armed with my new spirit of consulting the public, or at least the public I meet in my bubble of a privileged life, I have been asking people what they think.

Gloucester or Cheltenham? What do you use them for?

The young don't seem drawn to them at all, preferring both Swindon and Bristol for shopping and nightlife.

For the others, Cheltenham is seen as glamorous, with a few shops and restaurants, tightly placed, where ladies who shop and lunch will fare well. And the races, of course.

But Gloucester is the more interesting. It's working and practical, they say, with historic buildings, a Roman and medieval presence and now a realisation of the importance of its historic place on the river.

It has guts, said one gentleman, whereas the other place has garters.

There has been talk of 'merging' the two and I have been following the conversations between businesses.

Setting aside that there seem to me to be an inordinate amount of talking and 'presentations' these days, and my heart is with the suffragette slogan of 'action, not words'. My view is that merger seldom works.

Back to my analogy of marriage. One person joining with another should bring strength. So often in marriage, one plus one barely makes two let alone three.

576 businesses in Gloucester city centre pledged £2.5million to put back into the city.

It is aglow with improvements and energy. Plans include a rotating and pivoting giant television screen.

Gosh! I never think if one person prospers it is necessarily at the expense of another so I predict a boom to both. I love the new Ivy at Cheltenham and the fresh look around Gloucester Cathedral.

I shall use both and anything else they have to offer. Vive la difference, as says one of the countries we have decided to distance ourselves from.