AS I’VE probably mentioned before, people sometimes approach me and ask questions when I’m out and about, usually when I’m having a relaxing drink.

“Why are your eyes looking in different directions?” they inquire.

Or: “Why do you seem to be swatting frantically at small, flying creatures which nobody else can see?”

Sometimes, what with me being a journalist, they ask me about an item in the news.

Over the last few days, quite a few have asked me about fly-tipping. Specifically they’ve asked me why there’s talk in Government circles of fining householders 400 quid if they fail to make sure the person they hire to take away their rubbish isn’t a fly-tipper.

The answer to this question is fairly simple.

You see, fly-tippers are generally quite clever. They realise that most of us would be horrified at the thought of our garden waste, knackered old sofas and whatnot ending up dumped on the verges of country lanes, in woodland, in children’s playgrounds or on some other patch of public land unprotected by CCTV.

That is why only those without access to a suitable vehicle tend to use the services of household waste disposal firms.

Therefore, if flytippers wish to make a success of the flytipping lark, they have to use subterfuge.

They must, for example, leaflet neighbourhoods with professionally-printed material which gives the impression of a legitimate business.

They must devise fake yet plausible business addresses and include them in publicity material and adverts, they must ensure their vehicles are emblazoned with respectable-looking logos and information, and they must bank on their customers being too busy to smell a rat. Above all, fly-tippers must have a thorough knowledge of suitable dumping areas and the times when they are least likely to be seen.

All of these factors make catching the criminals very hard for the authorities.

Catching and fining their unsuspecting victims, however, would be very easy for the authorities.

A stray letter with an address would be all that was needed to trace the dumped items back to their original owner.

It would then be a simple matter to tell the hapless householder that because they had failed to carry out an exhaustive forensic background check on the waste disposal company they were clearly guilty of an offence.

The next step, of course, would be to tell them that unless they coughed up 400 quid they’d be dragged through the court system, forced to pay exorbitant costs, be publicly shamed, be splattered all over local media and quite possibly be threatened with unspeakable tortures by deranged keyboard warriors from all over the planet. The householders, being innocent people rather than criminals, would be unlikely to put up much of a fight, let alone take legal advice. Meanwhile the fly-tippers would long since have vanished, probably to come back under another name.

Would the whole sorry procedure do a single thing to combat the disgraceful scourge which is fly-tipping?

Of course not.

Would it allow the authorities to proclaim they were doing something about fly-tipping, not to mention enabling them to gouge yet more cash from us?

You betcha.

Just a thought, and maybe I’m being a bit controversial here, but wouldn’t a fairer approach be to punish the actual fly-tippers properly instead of using their often unwitting clients as cash cows?

A month’s nick per kilo might be a good starting point.

When PFI was the best thing since sliced bread

I SEE Great Western Hospital is expected to pay out about £12.5 million this year as part of the three-decade PFI deal signed at the end of the last century.

All sorts of worthy people apparently agree that the deal, signed with good old Carillion, might not have been such a good idea.

In fact, there’s a growing school of thought that says the NHS would have been a lot better off building its own hospitals, instead of saddling the places with year upon year of nightmarish debt which ultimately has horrible knock-on implications for patient care, staff welfare, and so on.

If only the great and the good had been so perceptive before we got into this terrible mess.

Either I’m getting old and misplacing a marble or two, but I’m pretty sure that at the time when the deal was under discussion, just about everybody in a position of authority said PFI was the best thing since sliced bread.

Indeed, I’m pretty sure that this newspaper ran page after page of interviews with assorted important folk of the day, all of whom proclaimed not only that PFI was the best thing since sliced bread, but that objecting to the Swindon deal was the moral equivalent of chucking patients out on the streets.

I also seem to remember their saying that Great Western Hospital would never be overcrowded, and that likely increases in demand had been fully included in all the necessary calculations.

I’m sure I’m misremembering; if I’m not, that can only mean all of those important people sold us a load of nonsense, either through blinkered ideology or simply because they weren’t very good at their jobs.

I’d better have a look through our archives and get back to you.