If you don't know what you're doing, then tackling a litter-lout is a most depressing business. At the very least, you're going to be abused. You'll probably be sworn at and you may even be showered in spittle, as happened to the TV presenter Nicky Campbell.
But here's what I know: with just a little practice, dealing with litter-louts can be a truly rewarding experience. Hell - it's way better than that. It's THRILLING! It can perk up your whole day.
And all it takes is some chutzpah and just a bit of brains. You've got to be smart. And what that means is... You've got to pick your battles.
I really, really hate litter-louts. But that does not mean that I'm charging in willy-nilly against every creep who tosses a crisp packet into the gutter. No way! I might get beaten up! I might get knifed!
So if it came to taking on five or six teenagers who were kicking around bags of rubbish - as happened to my dear old running buddy Nicky - then I think it'd probably be best to keep your mouth shut. Not that it's impossible to win against a group of kids. But it's difficult. I'll come back to this later.
The one thing you've got to get firmly in your head is that litter-louts are, well... LOUTS. They are yobs. They do not deserve courtesy or genteel manners. What they in fact deserve is a bucket of shit in the face.
And I'm the guy who's giving it to them.
Now, I am generally very polite. Doors being held open: I'm your man. 'Pleases' and 'Thank yous' - I love those too. You will not find a perkier little sunbeam than me; I am a very model of deportment.
However: when it comes to litter-louts, the good manners have to take a back-seat.
And then, for a little while, this vituperative New York cabbie seems to take control. It is just great!
But, just like everything else, it takes practice. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
Here's how it's done.
A couple of days back, I'm walking home with my nine-year-old son Geordie. We're on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, it's a fantastically sunny day, and then this crumpled fag packet is tossed right in front of me.
I look to see who's thrown it, and it's a scrawny guy in his 40s, shaven headed, black leathers, a little bit grungy. He's sitting on a bench with his girlfriend and he is, of all things, transferring his cigarettes into a silver cigarette case.
I stoop down and pick up the cigarette packet. "Hey - you want this back?" I say.
"No, you can keep it," says the guy as he languidly reverts to his little cigarette case.
Without even breaking stride, I fired an absolutely zinging shot at him. The cigarette packet pinged nicely off the top of his shiny head.
The lout looks up, slightly surprised.
And then I give it to him. And this is what you've got to do with litter louts - get the abuse in first. They're louts. They're going to swear at you! So go for the pre-emptive strike: abuse them first!
"Have your litter back, you bald bloody lout!" I said - and by now, I'm walking on. As to the actual fag packet - well I don't know what happened to that. It doesn't really matter. The general principle is not necessarily to clean up this single piece of litter. What you're doing is sticking it to the litter-louts. Believe me, it is the only thing that will ever make them think twice about littering in the future.
By now I've walked on a few yards.
The lout calls out to me. "Hey - just chill, man!" he says.
This jerk wants me to "just chill"? Well there are a lot of things I could have said to that - but here's the second point about dealing with litter-louts. You do not engage. You give them one stinging insult, which preferably includes something about their appearance - their hair, their spots, their clothes - and then you walk on.
And that should have been that - should have been that. Except Geordie then decides to step into the fray. My nine-year-old turns to the guy and does that thing that you do to gurgling babies - he flicks his lips with his finger and goes "Bibble-bibble-bibble."
The bald litter-lout is out for the count - floored by a nine-year-old!
But I'd picked my battle. If this guy had been some huge beef-cake, then I'd probably have thought twice. If we hadn't been on the very busy Royal Mile, then that might also have given me pause for thought. But as it was... I could take the guy on with impunity.
The first time you try it, it feels deeply unnatural. For probably the first time in your life, you are swearing at a complete stranger. Second time, it gets easier. And by the fifth time... it can really put a spring in your stride. Soon you'll be licking your lips at the prospect of tackling your next litter-lout.
Here's another cracking example of how to deal with litter-louts. This is an absolute beauty. Works every single time.
It's what you do with people who chuck litter out of their cars. Now Nicky Campbell has also had some experience of this one. He had a go remonstrating with some woman who'd thrown a couple of bags out of her car window. Nicky went up to the driver and asked her what sort of example she was setting to her kids; she drove off without even a backward glance.
Nicky! Nicky, Nicky, Nicky! What you did was admirable. But this is not the way to deal with litter-louts. They're louts! So give it them both barrels.
The first time I took on a litter-lout driver was about two years ago just outside the Balmoral Hotel in the centre of Edinburgh. I was on my bike, waiting at the lights, and just in front of me was a man in a white van.
As he waited for the lights to turn green, he decided to have a little clear out. He started tossing all this stuff out of the window - paper, fag packets, fast-food wrappers, all the usual junk.
I pedalled up alongside him, picked up the rubbish and then hurled the whole lot right back through the window and into the van. And this time, since I wasn't with Geordie, I didn't even have to tone down my language: "Have your shit back, you f***ing lout!"
Job done, I quietly pedalled on my way (though admittedly keeping a wary eye out for the van-driver just in case he tried to run me over).
So let me repeat. There is no point whatsoever in giving litter-louts your calm, soothing voice of reason. Forget it! You must be mad! You'll just get a volley of abuse, and it will leave you all steamed up for the rest of the day.
But if you give it to them... well firstly they're going to be a little bit stunned. In all their years of littering, nobody's ever done this to them before.
And secondly... it's a brilliant way of venting. Most days, most weeks, we spend our lives being the human sponges that we are, soaking it up and generally fuming.
But sticking it to a litter-lout is the PERFECT opportunity to blow your top. Just the one choice insult and the one swear-word, mind. Remember: DO NOT ENGAGE! Insult them - and walk on by.
Now, finally, here's how to deal with a gang of litter-louts. This is not at all easy - but, very occasionally, if the circumstances are right, you can stick it to them.
A while back, I was on my bike (again) in Edinburgh, and these four louts, teenagers, were kicking a bag of rubbish around on the pavement. One of them had booted a can into the road.
Normally, I'd have ignored them - well there were four of them to one of me. But seeing as I was on my bike, and seeing as I was pedalling downhill, I had the perfect opportunity to off-load.
"You're a f***king load of Neds!" I called out as I majestically swept past.
The can-kicker instantly tried to chase me down - he was running after me! I jeered at him and gave him the finger; after 20 yards he gave up.
And that, my friend, is how to deal with litter-louts. Abuse the bastards!Suggest a correction