We are just emerging from the longest Christmas holiday anyone can remember, and it's not only waistbands that have expanded. On a drive through Britain last week, every lane had piles of smelly black sacks and ranks of over-stuffed wheelie bins. We might have sent fewer cards, but we didn't make less trash.
You start the festive season with good intentions, refusing the plastic carriers with your supermarket delivery, cramming the ham and organic veg into cloth bags better suited to a couple of books. You spend hours washing out yoghurt and cream containers. You collect bottles, taking them to recycling bins every couple of days – at night so neighbours can't see how much is being drunk at your house. You stagger to the dump with unwanted gadgets, the old car battery, that blender that doesn't work. But somehow, no matter how hard you tried, you end up with a pile of waste sitting by the road waiting for someone else to deal with.
Last year was the year most of us bought into the need to go green. Millions of shoppers dumped plastic carrier bags for ever – well done! The braver among us started leaving packaging behind at the checkout. The Government didn't need to spend millions on ad campaigns, as it has with obesity, telling us to recycle: a large proportion of the public willingly embraced and altered their lifestyles to accommodate it.
We went along with councils' complicated recycling schemes, sorting rubbish into different categories, reading the calendars listing what waste would be collected on what day for the year ahead. We squashed squash bottles, folded up papers and envelopes, and crammed them into clear plastic bags. We made sure our weeds fitted into green garden waste bags we'd been ordered to purchase. We bought compost bins. In short, we felt quite virtuous, because we'd tried to be environmentally aware in our own small way. And what happened?
In short, we were too good at being green. The councils that collected our sorted trash on alternate weeks saw an astonishing 10 per cent increase on average in the stuff they could recycle to meet the targets set by the EU, which wants to see landfill waste halved by 2013. Ten years ago, the amount of household rubbish designated recyclable was less than 10 per cent; now it's risen to a third. But only half of all the paper we save is processed in the UK. Same with glass and plastic, which is sent to countries such as China to be recycled. Shipping rubbish around the globe doesn't sound that green. The companies that collect waste from councils for reprocessing have increased their prices too – charging up to £20 a ton to collect paper.
Many local councils have rejected a plan to charge us according to how much rubbish we produce, because the economics of waste collection don't currently stack up. The answer would be for us to use our rubbish for local energy-generating schemes, which countries such as Denmark are very good at. Of course, no one wants giant chimneys and incinerators in their backyards. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers recently asked the Government to prioritise turning landfill waste into energy. If local people could be involved in designing and siting schemes, it could work. But retailers still need to cut down on packaging, and no matter how loudly they trumpet their new-found green credentials, they've a long way to go.
And we have to stop being Nimbys and accept that the only way to deal with rubbish is closer to home.
Rollers rock: Three cheers for cool Coleen in her curlers
Snobs might sneer at super-WAG Coleen Rooney, née McLoughlin, who spent two hours at the hair salon on New Year's Eve and emerged to face the paparazzi sporting a full set of jumbo rollers in her hair, but she's smarter than you think. By allowing herself to be photographed like this (and it's not the first time – there was a curler-girl moment on her wedding day in Italy), she's sending a message loud and clear to the outside world: I truly don't give a stuff, and you are not important in my world. Coleen's elaborate hairdo was unveiled later that evening for the benefit of a select gathering at the private New Year's Eve celebrations she and Wayne hosted at their home outside Liverpool. They invited 100 friends and family for champagne and fireworks.
This sounds a whole lot more sensible than another famous footballer who earlier in the week celebrated with the public in a local nightclub, only to have the evening end with some revellers spending the night in a police cell facing charges of assault and affray.
A caring NHS helps families too
We now have a two-tier NHS in the UK, after the Scottish Parliament voted to abolish hospital parking charges. In spite of the charges being one of the biggest causes of public dissatisfaction, the English branch of the NHS says it has no plans to follow its Scottish counterparts, which also abolished prescription charges.
When a family member is seriously ill, I fail to see why next of kin cannot be offered free parking during a patient's care. Why should we have to take public transport, when NHS top brass and surgeons have designated parking bays? One angry NHS customer reckoned her family spent £500 in parking charges watching her dad die. A story that is sadly all too common. The NHS wants nurses to show more "compassion"; how about considering patients' relatives too?
Pain can be all in the mind
In 2006, 'Riverdance' star Michael Flatley was struck down by a debilitating virus leaving him unable to perform. Doctors were unable to discover a cure. Now he's fit again, and claims it's all down an "energy healer" based in the west of Ireland. Normally I'd be cynical about his claims that a healer has restored his health, except exactly the same thing happened to me. Years ago, while making a television series in Australia, my joints started to seize up. I couldn't walk up the stairs or sleep without terrible pain. Like Flatley, I had every test going – and no joy. Then, back in the UK a friend suggested a healer. I spent four hours with this man – I've never seen him since – and the symptoms vanished the next day. Some pain is psychological, and you can get rid of it if you truly want to.