Helen Martin: Send the pesky bags packing

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WITH a price tag of an extra £6.5 million – dear God, hasn’t the building cost enough already? – the new security extension on the Scottish Parliament which is already under construction seems to have been rubber-stamped, had its funding approved and building work started in record time, despite it being in breach of building codes.

I find it frustrating that if I decided to put PVC double glazing in my wee house in a conservation area the planners would descend like vultures, yet when the parliament wants to break the rules with allegedly dangerous potential, it just breezes ahead with impunity.

But at least one good thing has come out of the stooshie. A security expert has suggested a cheaper option would be sniffer dogs and . . . banning backpacks.

Now there’s a man after my own heart. I am definitely in favour of banning backpacks – everywhere. I loathe and detest the things.

It starts at home with Himself who, in fairness, often uses a backpack rather than a normal bag because he zips round town on a scooter. But he dons it before leaving the house, often with tennis racquet handles sticking out of it, leaving black, rubbery streaks on the walls in his wake.

People queueing for buses, trains or planes with backpacks are lethal, oblivious that when they wheel round suddenly they are going to knock someone out.

There’s little point in wearing a backpack unless you are going to, well, pack it. That’s especially true of modern air travel when – for the meantime – you can save yourself the suitcase charge by cramming everything into your bag. But at least have the sense to take it off your shoulders before you board rather than punching everyone else’s lights out as you try to wriggle out of the straps and stuff it in the overhead locker.

The return journey can be even worse. I admit the most terrifying use of a backpack is by a suicide bomber carrying explosives, but a close second is a young man without a suitcase returning from a fortnight’s holiday with a backpack full of smelly, unwashed socks, underpants and sweaty T-shirts – especially if he’s in front of you in the queue.

Certainly the worst offenders are those dedicated “expert” campers or trekkers whose massive rucksacks should come with a licence and wing mirrors. Claiming they have the most lightweight, state-of-the-art gear but puce-faced and bent double under a tubular framework loaded with tent, sleeping bag, foam roll, camping stove, metal mugs, spare hiking socks and maps, they might be a free spirit in the Great Glen, but on a Number 23 bus they’re a damn 

Banning backpacks is one way the Scottish Parliament could lead the world.

Claus call

THE disappearance of Santa’s Grotto from Jenners this year is no “ho-ho-ho” matter. Apparently 80 years of tradition have been swept aside because of “a change in the store layout in the children’s wear department” – a pretty lame excuse. Who’s running the store? The Grinch? Abu Hamza?

If product layout is so important, maybe it’s time they got rid of the 40ft-high tree as well which must be taking up space that could otherwise be utilised by piles of woolly jumpers or stacks of gents eau de toilette, or snowflake socks, each of which could turn a tidy profit.

This decision will come at a price.

Quality department stores have always had a Santa. Jenners doesn’t any more. And it’s strangely coincidental that when I rang Fraser’s flag-ship store in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, which is built and laid out in similar style to Jenners with a great hall in the middle, I was told Santa has also been given the bum’s rush there for the first time in living memory. No twaddle about children’s wear layout, though.

Despite Fraser’s denials that this devastating decision is based on money, one can’t help wondering if Santa, elves, queues of children and parents plus gifts were just too much bother and expense for the Bah Humbug Fraser’s management. So hit ’em where it hurts – buy the Christmas toys somewhere else and perhaps Santa will be back next year . . .

Foul play

BEFORE the Scottish Government proceeds with plans to force retailers to charge 5p for plastic bags, they might want to deliberate on dog poo.

Retailers say the charge will cause problems and increase shopping bills. It will also discourage less responsible dog owners from picking up, especially if they have to buy compostable bags at over £3 a roll. Edinburgh already receives more complaints about dog fouling than anywhere else in the country – and it’s hard to catch the human culprits.

Sad I know, but I’ve even done the maths. With an average of three to four dumps a day from our hound, it would cost almost £73 a year for 1456 bags at 5p each, more for compostables. We’d pay up. Many wouldn’t.