Gerry Farrell: Drinks companies haven’t got the bottle

File picture: Robert Perry
File picture: Robert Perry
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HAVE you ever seen a reverse vending machine? You bring back your empty plastic, glass and metal drinks containers, stick them in the machine and it gives you money. It’s called a Deposit Return System or DRS.

The Scottish Environment Minister Richard Lochhead is considering introducing it here. The Scottish Government would add 10p or 20p deposit to the price of soft drinks, water or alcohol. You’d get that money back only when you brought back your empty containers to the shop you bought them from. Norway’s had this system for 17 years – you don’t see discarded drink containers anywhere there, either in the countryside or in the towns. I like the sound of that. Everywhere I look in Edinburgh, there are beer bottles, Irn-Bru cans and empty plastic water bottles littering the streets. In Norway over 90 per cent of those containers are returned to shops. Littering is virtually eliminated.

You’d think the big brands would be eager to help fund a scheme like this. You’d be wrong. Coca-Cola, AG Barr, Red Bull, Tennent Caledonian have come out hard against the Deposit Return System. Irn-Bru have just got rid of their refundable glass bottle. You think that’s bad? Guess who supports these huge vested interests – our national anti-litter charity Keep Scotland Beautiful. And guess why? Because they are part-funded by the drinks companies, the big retailers and the packaging industry. Where else in the world would you find an organisation supposedly dedicated to removing rubbish from the highways and byways of this beautiful country, taking money from the major producers of litter and speaking out against a proven method of eliminating it?

Incredible, isn’t it? It isn’t the first time we’ve heard corporate interests squealing about a proposal that would reduce litter. They did it before when the Scottish Government brought in the 5p levy on plastic bags. They described it as “a frivolous distraction” and fought it tooth and nail. In fact, it reduced disposable bag use by 80 per cent, taking tonnes of waste out of the system. Industry fought it. The public accepted it. Well, it’s time our voice was stronger than the voices of vested interests. A publicity picture in the papers of an Irn-Bru can with “Keep Scotland Brutiful” on the side does nothing to get AG Barr’s cans and plastic bottles off our streets. A deposit return system just might do the trick.

Be a Valentine, not a philistine

On St Valentine’s Day a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived at our address. Neither of us had sent them. We finally got hold of the girl to whom they were addressed. Far from being moved or excited, she said: “You keep them. I don’t want them.” I felt sorry for the guy who sent them. He’d taken the plunge but he’d never know how badly he’d failed to win his woman’s heart.

Valentine’s Day gets a bad press. The haters attack it from all sides. “Sheer commercialism, corporate exploitation.” The singletons hate it because when they go out for a meal, the restaurants are full of couples looking through flickering candle-flames into each other’s eyes and the menus have been changed to offer courses like “Lover’s Linguine” and heart-shaped pizzas. The tightfisted get really p****d off; they’re expected to fork out £7.99 for a bunch of filling station forecourt roses. The biggest sneer comes from women who find the whole thing offensive and patronising “because you should treat your partner like that every day”.

But most of us like it. It’s a chance to organise a wee surprise, drink three quarters of a bottle of champagne (“you have the rest dear, one glass makes me sleepy”) and cook something special. This time last year, I found an online deal for Monachyle Mhor, the luxurious boutique hotel on the banks of Loch Voil in Perthshire. Only £80 for a room that normally costs three times that – and they had a room free on Valentine’s Day, too.

This year we were feeling a bit burnt out by work so we lit out for the Summer Isles, a corner of Scotland that tugs at my heart every year since I fished most of its lochs with friends. We booked into the Old Schoolhouse at Badenscallie for four nights, packed the champagne and our thermals and walking boots and hit the road. All the way up the A9 the trees and mountaintops were shining with snow. The sky was blue and the puddles glinted, hard with ice. We stopped off at the House of Bruar – or House of Poorer as I call it. A bacon roll there sets you back £4. If you’ve got another £40 spare, you can invest in a pair of cashmere socks. Zsuzsa had never been down ‘The Wee Mad Road’ that takes you off the A835 to Achiltibuie. It zig-zags like an adder through the heather-clad mountains, following the course of the wee river, Abhainn Oscaig, that links three lochs and brings the salmon and sea-trout up from Garvie Bay.

It was dark when we finally arrived at our home from home. The bed was comfy and we fell into the Sleep Of The Dead. When we woke 12 hours later, the noise was startling. Nothing but birdsong. The garden was full of chirpy chirpy cheep cheeps. There were chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, coal tits, blue tits, great tits, robins, blackbirds and sparrows. We walked down to the seashore. Wheeling above us, silhouetted against snowy mountains were two sea-eagles riding the thermals. Back in the sunroom I whipped out the champagne, the garage forecourt tulips and a wee card. Instead of a lover’s blush, I had the flaming cheeks known in these parts as a “Scottish suntan”. You can keep Paris. You can keep your oysters. We had cornflakes and champagne in the middle of nowhere and it couldn’t have been more romantic.

Stark choice first thing in the morning

When my pal Theresa’s husband retired she found it difficult to have him under her feet all day so she came up with a clever scheme to get the house to herself.

She would nudge him awake in the morning and whisper lovingly in his ear “Golf course or intercourse?”

“You’ve never seen a 60-year-old man move so fast”, she told me. “His feet were in his golf shoes before you could say ‘hole in one’.”