Clogg’s Bag Tax

In a remarkable policy directive, Nick Clogg has announced a 5p tax on plastic bags in large supermarkets with effect from 2015. Stores will be asked to donate the proceeds to charity – on a voluntary basis. Oh, right!

What a body blow! For years I’ve taken their supply for granted. And I’ve acted responsibly – recycling them for shopping, lining waste bins and packing liquids in suitcases. Not until a bag is ruined do I discard it to landfill. Honestly!

To me the use of plastic bags is under control, not just through my valiant efforts but with new technology. Bags are being made with landfill in mind – the Co-op’s compostable ones even instruct you to send them there. Yet Cloggers is adamant that a Bag Tax should become the lasting record of his spell as Camshaft’s personal assistant. I don’t see why I should pay the price for this bureaucratic balderdash, so I’ve looked at the alternatives and made a plan.Plastic Bags

I considered getting a so-called Bag for Life made of thicker plastic. With care this would last longer. But in the end it too would need disposing of and wouldn’t break down as fast as a skinny one.

I thought about a wheelie bag – with a tartan design. Or a hessian bag or wicker basket, though I’d need four or five for a weekly shop. And these all have man-image problems. A wheeled suitcase was a possibility – to stir up interest with far-flung stories about my adventures in Manchuria and The Gabon.

I ruled out rummaging for bags in litter bins – not good in a small town – but did briefly toy with using cardboard boxes again. When I started running a B&B in Shropshire, I was obsessed with keeping costs down. In my memoir, Utterly Undiscovered, I show how I saved a fortune by avoiding parking charges, walking a mile every week laden with boxes. Here’s what happened:

Kwik Save doesn’t have plastic bags; empty boxes for customers to self-pack are in a large bin by the checkout. So every week I take a pleasant stroll across the park with a cardboard box.

After we get a second cat, I can easily buy enough to fill two boxes, peering round the carefully balanced duo to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. People turn to follow my progress across the park as if I’m a straggler in some sort of triathlon.

As spring turns to summer, business picks up and I need three boxes. No longer able to see round the tower, I follow the tarmac path below as best I can. Word has spread, and small groups gather in anticipation every Thursday, their smiles and cheers spurring me on.

In time, it becomes a continuous throng, two or three deep, lining the road much as they do The Mall when royalty is due to pass. From the park gates I can hear the hum of the waiting crowd – women with children, joggers, dog walkers and shop workers using lunch breaks to witness the shopping phenomenon. Council gardeners lean on their hoes, and the ice cream man has a perfect view from the raised window of his van.

As I stagger past, applause ripples down the rows like a Mexican wave. If I falter with a particularly heavy load, someone from the crowd steps alongside to steer me towards the squeaky bridge. A small girl darts from the front to retrieve a can of Felix that topples from the overfilled top box, and has fun looping it back in. What a story to tell her grandma!

That really was hard work, and it wasn’t long before I started shopping at Tesco’s, parking outside like everyone else.

With the Bag Tax only applying to stores of more than 250 employees, I wondered about shopping at a smaller supermarket or calling in to grab a handful of their bags on the way to a larger store. Bit unfair, I thought.

But I like plastic bags and want to stick with them. So here’s my plan. I’m acquiring bags literally for life. Given that I may live to 95, I’ll have 28 shopping years left after the tax comes in. I normally get through about 10 new plastic bags a week, so over 28 years I’ll need 14,560 plastic bags. Which means I need to stock up with 187 new bags a week in the remaining 78 tax-free weeks to avoid being stung for tax.

Plastic Bags

With stealth, a good deal of double-bagging and only one item per bag, I think I can do it. Okay, there’ll be a storage problem. Like most people’s understairs cupboards mine bulges with screwed-up bags, and 187 a week will make the door even harder to close, and probably break the lock. But it’ll be worth it to avoid Clogg’s Bag Tax.

And in case I don’t reach 95, I’ve provided in my will for the remaining stock to go to family. At 5p a bag there’s money under the stairs! The solicitor can sort out the inevitable dispute.

So here I am, three weeks into the New Year, with 561 bags already bowing the cupboard door. It’s going very well – I’m on target and determined!  I do wonder what state the country would be in if no-one attended to environmental issues seriously like this?

Paul Costello © January 2014


Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!


Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions


Postcard from Gatwick

Dear Uncle Harry

The Europa Hotel, Gatwick. I’m reluctant to run it down – it’s doing this pretty well by itself.

Part of the Britannia Hotels chain, it thrives on one-nighters flying to and from Gatwick Airport. Were it not for this assured trade and cheap prices, it might have fallen by the wayside some time ago – once the hotel inspector got stuck in, that is.

At £79 for a room, including 15 days parking, it stood out attractively in the online comparison sites. But the Europa’s shortfalls struck home within ten minutes of arriving. Despite my engaging manner, the polite but mechanical receptionist directed us to Room 1139 where we gratefully dropped cases and coats. My well-travelled joints were ready for respite as I lowered myself to the edge of the bed. But relief there was not. As if sitting on a blancmange, the mattress fell away to nothing, its springs bulged through the flimsy material and I was ejected bottom-first to the floor. A more thorough test confirmed we’d bought into a bouncy castle, and with me a restless sleeper and my friend having a bad cough, we were guaranteed a night of trampoline-like proportions.

Further inspection of 1139 showed that the bathroom, although fully functioning, had long lost its sparkle, the sanitary and chrome fittings retaining no semblance of shine and the whistling extractor fan hanging loose from its circular cut-out on the wall.

In the poorly lit bedroom the ancient, bulky TV offered the usual channels, but the remote control, whose missing back cover meant the batteries kept dropping out, would not connect to the Programme Guide or any function except volume control and channel switching.

But it was only for one night, and we were off to Gran Canaria. We could brave it! A drink at the hotel bar would sort it out. I diverted briefly to Reception to check if there might be another room available with something more closely resembling a mattress.

‘Hello, could you please tell me if you have rooms with firmer mattresses?’ I asked. ‘Only the one in 1139 is terribly soft and you can feel the springs,’ I continued, in the absence of a reply. ‘Or are they all the same?’ I said, resigning myself to a one-way conversation.

‘Oh no, they’re all the same!’ said the receptionist, sounding surprised.

Nothing for it but to head past the two non-functioning public computers, across the badly marked carpet, for a well-earned pint. Plonking myself on the comfy but flaking, stripped-leather-effect easy chair I tucked into my San Miguel, assuming it would clear as the froth subsided. It never did – and the taste matched the colour.

‘What do you want me to do?’ asked the young barperson, clearly as ill-equipped as the receptionist to deal with non-routine matters. Eventually a supervisor appeared and replaced the drink. We resisted the hotel food, much of which seemed already to have found its way onto the well-thumbed bar snack menu.

Next morning, I browsed the hotel brochure which proudly boasted conferences, banquets and weddings. Large display screens in the foyer told what joy there would be choosing the Europa for your wedding reception, though I sensed it would only appeal to the undiscerning or a mischievous groom-to-be on TV’s Don’t Tell the Bride.

The hotel reminded me of guest houses still occasionally found in the side streets of Victorian seaside towns that have seen better times; where implied criticism is usually passed off with: ‘Nobody has ever complained before’.

The Europa’s crowning glory was a paper notice roughly Sellotaped to the reception counter:

Payment by Debit Card – 50p

This alone told me all was not well.

See you soon,


Paul Costello © January 2014



Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!


Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions