Waste not, want not. (Or buy a shredder)

We cheat. We sneak down at dead of night and put our rubbish in other people's dustbins
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The Independent Online

Ever since Cifas, the fraud protection agency, published alarming figures abut the 60 per cent rise in identity theft and credit card fraud last year and advised how careful we should be about putting old letters and documents into the dustbin, all my friends have turned into shredders. They shred everything. "Surely that's going a bit far," I remarked to a friend busily shredding her three-year-old daughter's birthday cards. "Better to be safe than sorry," she replied shoving images of Teletubbies and puppies wearing bonnets into her new desktop zapper.

Ever since Cifas, the fraud protection agency, published alarming figures abut the 60 per cent rise in identity theft and credit card fraud last year and advised how careful we should be about putting old letters and documents into the dustbin, all my friends have turned into shredders. They shred everything. "Surely that's going a bit far," I remarked to a friend busily shredding her three-year-old daughter's birthday cards. "Better to be safe than sorry," she replied shoving images of Teletubbies and puppies wearing bonnets into her new desktop zapper.

I have twice had my credit cards compromised, as the assistant from the bank put it. Once to buy internet porn and a year later to withdraw £500 worth of Deutschmarks from a hole-in-the-wall in Düsseldorf but no one, so far at least, has attempted to impersonate any of my dead relatives. I would be interested to see my father, the late Morny McHarg, reincarnated, possibly by someone wishing to pass himself off a sober Scottish bank manager whose real name was Mornington. It was too, and what a preposterous name but then again exactly the sort of stuffy, important-sounding sobriquet that an impressionable young Burmese mother anxious to please her serious Scottish husband might give her eldest son.

He wasn't actually her husband, by the way. He had a wife and kids back in England who knew nothing of this illicit liaison with a beautiful young Burmese maiden called Ma Khin Oo, Miss Beautiful Love, whom he had chanced upon during a working trip to the teak forests of the Upper Shan States. My grandfather William Thomas Townley McHarg was a government forest officer in Burma circa 1900. The impossible Mornington soon became Morny to his father and Maung-Ni to his mother, the Burmese for red boy. Red was my father's favourite colour.

If I do get round to buying a shredder it will not be because I'm worried about my father being impersonated or some sad case in Ontario trying to download smut on the World Wide Web. It will be because the people who go through my bin liners (and, believe me, dozens of people regularly ransack our bin liners) won't be able to find out who we are and where we live and report us to the council.

I don't know what your rubbish collection arrangements are, but in central London trying to find somewhere to put your trash is harder than coming across a mermaid on top of a No 11 bus with a rose between her teeth. In our street we have two collections a week, on Monday and Wednesday, and if you haven't got your bin bags outside the door by 5am forget it. So put it out at five the previous evening, you say, which sounds reasonable until I tell you that we live across the road from a pub. For some unaccountable reason people who have spent all night knocking back lagers and lime like nothing better than to kick the hell out of a neat row of bulging bin bags and then scatter the contents all over the street.

Even if we do get our rubbish down in time, Wednesday to Monday is a long time to wait for another collection, especially when it's hot. Our hall is stacked with piles of black bags full of fish bones, the remains of Indian takeaways, rotting vegetables and worse, emitting the sort of smell you would normally associate with the open sewer in a Moroccan souk.

So we cheat. We sneak down at dead of night and put our rubbish in other people's dustbins or in huge municipal vats outside offices that say NO UNAUTHORISED RUBBISH or builders' skips next to multimillion-pound houses undergoing multier million-pound refurbishment. When these too are all full I resort to stuffing my sacks into public litterbins beside bus stops intended only for ice-cream wrappers and fag ends. To the untutored eye they are impregnable, having only a narrow slit at the top, but if you know what you are doing there's a secret handle halfway down enabling you to heave open the whole top and dump your loot.

Like Fagin teaching Oliver Twist and his other protégés how to pick pockets, we have taught our kids where to find the likeliest repositories for unauthorised rubbish. Alas times are changing; people are getting wise to our tricks. They open our bags and look for incriminating documents bearing our names and addresses.

Then they telephone us to complain, often quite rudely. I've lost count how many times I've rung the council to ask if we can have more collections. In your dreams, they say. The answer is not to produce so much rubbish, but when two cereal packets and a few milk containers fill up a bin bag what can you do? I'd better get shredding quick.

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