PLEASE indulge me for a moment.

I need your reassurance that I haven’t slipped into an alternate universe without noticing.

There was an article in the Swindon Advertiser the other day about the Averies brothers and their rubbish tips which went up in flames and spewed filthy, stinking smoke across the town.

Towards the end of that article was a quote from the Environment Agency which ran: “If we, and other incident responders, had not taken the action we did then the impact on people, the environment and local infrastructure could have been catastrophic.”

This is why I need your reassurance. You see, I’ve always thought that when we said something was catastrophic, we meant that it was a disaster, a calamity, a very bad thing which had far-reaching and overwhelming negative effects. So for example, if a huge pall of smoke from a vast heap of burning, stinking garbage blanketed entire neighbourhoods, left large numbers of people feeling very poorly, ruined much of a summer by forcing people to cower indoors, left local businesses counting the cost of decreased custom and generally caused a vast swathe of misery, I’d say that was pretty damned catastrophic.

The Environment Agency doesn’t seem to agree.

In addition, I’ve always been given to understand that the duties of the Environment Agency include – but are not limited to – ensuring that private garbage dump operators do not allow vast heaps of highly-combustible material to pile up unchecked to dangerous levels on their premises.

There seems to have been no mention of such a duty in the statement issued by the agency.

There are only two conclusions I can draw. One is that the strange scientific theory of a multiverse is true, and I’ve inadvertently passed into another dimension, a strange dimension where an environmental catastrophe isn’t an environmental catastrophe and the Government agency with the word ‘Environment’ in its name has no responsibility for preventing environmental catastrophes.

I need you to reassure me, as I’m a bit scared to leave the house in case I discover something weird, such as the Nazis having won World War Two, the Roman Empire never having declined or the dinosaurs never having become extinct. There might be good things about whatever dimension this one is, though. Are the Beatles still together or did they split up after Let It Be?

Have we worked out that nobody in the world needs to be at war or in poverty and changed things accordingly?

Is there an election for leader of the free world going on today? Are the candidates nice, honest people or is the choice between a pair of mad-eyed, power-crazed rich folk, one with a big Weetabix on his head and the other looking a bit like Ken Dodd’s evil twin?

I’ve peered out of my living room window and things seem normal, but I have to be sure. Please help me.

If it turns out that this is the same old dimension as always, of course, then the Environment Agency must be congratulated on what must surely be the most magnificent piece of spin in its history.

In fact, the Environment Agency could drum up extra funds by offering spin services to others.

Potential clients might include chronically forgetful people who are for some reason given the responsibility of locking a stable door before the horse bolts.

Show us this truanting evidence

I SEE the borough council has made a hundred grand by taking people to court for letting their kids truant.

There are claims that much of the cash is raked in from decent people who take their kids out of school for the odd holiday or to attend a family gathering.

The local authority insists it only takes action when parents fail to keep their children’s attendance regular.

That being the case, I’m sure it’ll be eager to dispel any confusion by telling us how many cases of almost 2,000 over the last year or so involve family gatherings or a few days’ holiday.

It might answer some other questions, too, such as what evidence it has that a kid with, say, an attendance record of 95 percent or better has their education harmed by a short unauthorised absence.

For that matter, does the council believe short absences every year or two are more or less harmful to children’s education and welfare than certain other things?

Wiping out children’s centres, for example.

Or shutting down almost every library in the borough.

If every day at school is so crucial, we can no doubt look forward to home tutors being provided if children have to be sent home this winter because their school’s heating system breaks down, or because a teacher is off sick and the place is too shortstaffed for anybody to fill in.

  • ANOTHER Swindon slum landlord was in court the other week for offences including having part of his house accessible only by ladder.

    He ended up paying more than £7,000 in fines and costs.

    In view of the very real danger to public safety, it’s time we gave the law relating to private lettings a bit of a makeover.

    I suggest fines and guidance for a first offence and much bigger fines for a second.

    For a third? How about simple confiscation of the house in question, with revenues from subsequent sale or letting used to fund further inspection and enforcement work?