An apology to the world

I’m sorry. It’s a phrase we say a lot of as Brits, but I’m going to have to say it some more. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that with this vote we have allowed anti-intellectualism and petty nationalism to win. I’m not sure how it happened, but dismissing expert opinion and listening to your gut has taken priority over research and critical thinking.

I’m sorry that with this vote we have made every immigrant in the country feel unwelcome, whether they have fled a warzone, followed a loved one, or just taken an opportunity to live in another country.

I’m sorry that with this vote, in committing political and economic suicide we will also drag down the global economy and political situation, potentially breaking apart our own union of nations as well as the European Union.

I’m sorry that with this vote, the poorest in our society (who already suffer the greatest) are going to put at an even greater disadvantage.

I’m sorry that with this vote the futures of our young people have become less bright.

I’m sorry that with this vote the NHS will be put under even greater strain as people are forced into economically motivated poor diet choices and increased stress levels.

I’m sorry that with this vote I will no longer be in a financial position to support local and independent businesses.

I’m sorry.


Tax: avoidance vs evasion

Tax has been in the news a lot lately, and as it used to be my living for 10 years (but I am now no longer qualified, so don’t take anything I say as tax advice), I thought I would weigh in with the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Tax avoidance is the reduction of a tax bill through legal means, whilst tax evasion is the non-payment of tax that is legally due.

I have a somewhat biased view of tax avoidance given that it was my job for 10 years, first (and last) by reducing the amount businesses had to pay over to the tax authorities in relation to employees they sent overseas on assignment, then working on behalf of high net worth non-doms to lower their worldwide tax liabilities. All tax planning was done within the laws of all countries involved.

I have also experienced (and participate in) first-hand tax avoidance. I paid money into my employer’s pension scheme (thereby legally reducing my taxable income and reducing my tax liability). I have used an ISA and Premium Bonds for savings (whose earnings are tax free). I used to (when I still paid tax) tick the gift aid box on charitable contributions (thereby extending my basic rate band and reducing my tax liability). My parents gave me cash gifts in line with the annual allowances while they were still alive in order to reduce their inheritance tax liabilities. I claim my personal allowance when I file my tax return, as well as allowable expenses against income. All of these are legal ways to reduce your tax liability – or to put it more sensationally ‘tax avoidance’.

What I find more interesting is some of the details of the tax returns that have recently been published.

For 2014/15 George Osborne reported £3 gross bank interest. The current rate of interest is 0.5%, which means that he only had £600 gaining interest over the year. His taxable income was £198,738. Where was that money being squirreled away to? It certainly wasn’t sitting in a current or savings account earning 0.5%.

Jeremy Corbyn (who handwrote his tax return and didn’t answer all of the questions or file on time), didn’t earn any bank interest at all, even though he earned £70,795 in the year.

In contrast, my income is beneath the personal allowance most years these days, and yet I managed to earn £1.46 on my measly savings account in 2014/15.

If you are looking for tax evasion, then by definition you are not going to find it directly by looking at someone’s tax return (unless it’s a case of purely not paying the tax listed as being due there). Tax evasion will involve hiding income away and not reporting it on the tax return. All a tax return will tell you is what source of income or capital gains someone has reported to HMRC for the year, and what legal deductions they applied in calculating the amount of tax due. It might tell you about what sorts of investments someone holds, but only in terms of how much and what type of income has been paid out in that year (or losses taken/carried forwards).

If you want to use the ‘receiving a benefit from an offshore company’ rule, then anybody who has ever bought anything from Starbucks, or Amazon, or Asda, or Dell, etc. has received a benefit from an offshore company in the lower price they paid as a customer.

Governments run a fine line, they want to encourage certain types of investments and so offer things such as lower capital gains tax rates if you hold shares for a longer period, or lower rates of tax on income from dividends to encourage (potentially risky) investments in companies. They want to encourage people to pay into pensions and to give to charities, so they offer tax breaks around that. Internationally they want companies to come to their country and so compete over corporation tax and business rates. The problems (as I see it) are when they don’t apply the rules that already exist. I just can’t cry ‘tax avoidance’ over a parent giving a child a gift and then trying to live 7 years to reduce the inheritance tax due when they die, when transfer pricing agreements still (even after the law re-write) allow large corporations to move profits around to lower tax regimes. This is hardly surprising given the large job losses in HMRC. There just aren’t enough people who understand the law in order to assess it all.

What I used to do (certainly the high net worth non-dom stuff) was highly specialised and there were probably 1 or maybe 2 HMRC inspectors to every 30 people who worked on the ‘other side’, and there weren’t very many of us. Instead of using resources to catch benefit ‘cheats’, why not instead train those people in the tax laws so that they can spot where the big money is being lost, in corporate tax returns.


Body image and running

I have been one of those people who have never (to date) had to really watch what I eat. Whilst my mother was obsessed with her weight and seemed to try every fad diet going (there were a lot of diet books around the house growing up), it was never an issue for me. I ate what I wanted and stayed the same size and shape. I was always pretty comfortable with how I looked and never really thought about trying to change it.

I took up running (and exercise in general) in 2011 after 10 years in a sedentary job post-university. At university, the only exercise I got was walking to and from campus (I was too cheap to pay the bus fare), and jumping around on nights out. During my office years this was much the same as I walked to and from first the office and then the train station. I still jumped around on nights out and attended occasional dance classes (mostly ceroc).  My reasons for starting to run and exercise were that I had run out of excuses not to and I wanted to get my body fitter and healthier than it was (a number of deaths in quick succession reminded me of my mortality and how I wanted to extend my pleasurable time on this planet). I was never motivated by what the container looked like, just what the contents could do.

This is just as well, as having been exercising fairly regularly for the last 5 years (at least 3 times a week), my body shape has changed very little. All of my clothes still fit the same with one exception: a ballgown that I wore to a film premiere back in 2003 will no longer do up as I now have some back and shoulder muscles. And I am still pretty happy with how I look.

I am self conscious about a couple of things that I have noticed in photos of me running: my upper arms can look slightly flabby from some angles when I am wearing a straight-cut vest, and when wearing a low-rise pair of shorts then my cheese stomach can make an appearance.

Both of these issues are easily solved by sticking to either racer-back vests or t-shirts as much as possible, and wearing either longer tops or higher-rise shorts to keep the cheese stomach hidden/under control.

My comfort with my body was challenged recently at the England Athletics South West Cross Country Championships in Bicton. The standard was high, and I came in 26th out of 47, 9th in my age category. I didn’t really notice it at the time, but as photos of the event came out afterwards it became obvious that my thighs were twice the size of some of the other competitors. This bothered me more than I was comfortable with.

I reminded myself, however, that unlike many of the other competitors I am primarily a recreational runner, and one that has been running for under 5 years. Dropping some weight would mean that I had less of it to manoeuvre around and would probably lead to an increase in my speed, but at what cost? Sure, I could probably cut out cheese and reduce my sugar intake (which isn’t huge), but life is short and I really like cheese. I don’t want to be like my mother, hyper-aware of how many calories every item she ate contained, weighing herself daily (I don’t own a set of scales, I only know my weight because my GP has me weighed once a year) and depriving herself of foods that she enjoyed.

My clothes fit me, my body does what I ask it to do (for the most part, sometimes it complains), I am happy with what I see in the mirror. I may still grimace slightly when I see photos of myself that I consider unflattering, but I am not going to let them stop me running, or hide myself away as a vision of black in an effort to look smaller (give me bright colours and lots of them, probably all at the same time). I am going to remind myself to judge my body by what it can do, rather than what it looks like. Could I deprive myself of some foods, hit the gym more and get a washboard set of abs? Probably, but I’d rather be able to eat cheese when I want to and just be that little bit slower. I’m still going to run and exercise at the gym, but I’m doing it for the same reasons that I started – to be fitter and healthier (with an added goal of getting faster now that I have caught the running bug), not to change what I look like.

Life’s short – enjoy it.





2015 – a year in running

So, 2015. The year I set myself the challenge of running at least 5km every day, aiming to hit 2,015km for the year. Also the year I joined Bristol and West Athletic Club and actually did some track sessions, and long run training with people instead of doing all of my runs on my own (excluding races).

January – the year started with a parkrun double: Chipping Sodbury followed by Pomphrey Hill, and continued with daily 5kms (even after gym classes, which were exceptionally hard going), fitting in my first long run with the Long Ashton group at the earliest opportunity and the third race in the 2014/15 Skyline Series. 226.33km run.

February – my first cross-country run for the club and the fourth of the 2014/15 Skyline Series races accounted for the fast stuff while I continued to dip my toe into Monday evening sessions with the club, but sticking to the social run rather than those energetic track sessions. All of it was building up as training for the Bath Half marathon. 193.21km run (419.54km).

March – started with a half marathon pb at the Bath Half where I was beaten over the line by Russell bloody Howard, and continued with my first of many track sessions at WISE. It also included a spot of tourism at a short Barnsley parkrun where I came in first lady. 226.54km run (646.08km).

April – a quiet month with mostly minimum distance runs and a rather hilly Frenchay 10k race which I got talked into running the day before after parkrun. It also saw the first week in which I did track sessions at both Whithall and Wise (something I hope to do more of in 2016). I set my first official (non parkrun) 5k time at Aztec West, taking a minute off my previous best over that distance. 206.94km run (853.02km).

May – race season started to kick off in earnest with the first of the TACH races (hillier than I was expecting), the first Self-Transcendence race (exceptionally friendly and good distribution of medals), the second of the Aztec West series (another 5k pb), ending with the Bristol 10k and another pb. I also ran my 100th parkrun, qualifying for a new black -shirt. 246.89km run (1,099.91km).

June – the races just kept coming in June sometimes with two in one week such as with the Burrington Blaster and the Bradley Stoke 10k (where I came in 2nd lady) or the second in the Self-Transcendence series and the Chew Valley 10k. I also took on a leg of the Cotswold Way relay as part of the winning ladies team for Bristol and West. It finished with the 3rd of the Aztec West series races. 254.47km run (1,354.38km).

July – daily runs had to be fitted around a week-long residential school as part of my OU degree, but there was still time to fit in some more races (Dundry Thunder, Self-Transcedence race 3, the Towpath Mobmatch with a new 10k pb, Self-Transcendence relay with ice-cream, the fourth Aztec West 5k race with another pb, and the Purdown Pursuit). 232.35km run (1,586.73km).

August – marathon training began, but as the mileage increased (and I had to work out how to switch my Garmin into miles from km) I still managed to fit in a 5km race for the club as part of the Avon Road relay, picking up a medal for 3rd ladies team. There were also a couple of very early starts required in order to travel for the start of the Ashes tests at Trent Bridge (yes I was there) and the Oval. 317.63km run (1,904.36km).

September – the peak in my monthly mileage for the year and marathon training really kicked in. I still managed to set a new half marathon pb (not running flat out, so there is still room for improvement) at the Bristol half, as well as taking part in the Uphill to Wells relay and racing the first Weston Prom race of the winter series and the Mells Scenic 7 where Jim Plunkett-Cole (who spearheaded the 365 challenge) ran his 1,000th day of at least 10km. 421.52km run (2,325.88km).

October – marathon, marathon, marathon, and the small matter of the final exam of my OU degree. Before M day though there was time for another cross-country race for the club, the second Weston Prom race, and a virtual 5k race (the day before the big one, maybe not the best timing). But the 25th saw me undertake my longest run ever, with the hope of getting under 4 hours. I surprised everyone (myself especially) by coming home in a London marathon qualifying good-for-age time of 3:41:21 for my first ever marathon. 334.72km run (2,660.60km).

November – time to rest and recover after the Big One, but I still launched myself into the Sodbury Slog (once may well be enough for that race) and was back up to speed at the third of the Weston Prom races. With nothing specific to train for, boredom with running every day was starting to become an issue. I staved it off a little by working my way through the Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. 255.61km run (2,916.21km).

December – my challenge was re-energised by the Marcothon challenge, which many of my new running friends were taking part in. Seeing as how I was going to be running every day anyway, I figured I would join them. Races included another cross-country outing at Blaise Castle, the Weston Christmas Cracker whilst dressed as a Christmas pudding, the fourth of the Weston prom series (with a new pb), and being throughly outclassed at the South West Athletics cross country championships (the things I do for my club). 223.39km (3,139.60km).

Total distance run (per Garmin, Strava has it as slightly less and with 482 runs listed I am not about to go hunt it down) – 3,139.60km.

PBs set in the year:

  • 2 miles – 13:36
  • 5km – 20:51
  • 10km – 43:37 (not recognised, officially 44:42)
  • Half marathon – 1:42:45
  • Marathon – 3:40:21

Here’s to an even faster 2016 when I can make use of those elusive rest days to train hard and race harder.

Day 364/365

Up early after a late night and it was out into the dark with a head torch before I even had any breakfast. Fairly blustery and there was a fair amount of dodging recycling which had been put out early and was being redistributed around the neighbourhood.

One more.

Day 362/365

I made good use of the lunch break in the cricket to go out for the daily run. I seem to have skipped the snotty stage of a cold and jumped straight to the slight cough part. It was good to clear the pipes with a run along by the river (which was highish). Stopped off to make a fuss of a cat with a runny nose on my return (washed my hands carefully when I got home). Almost there.

Day 361/365

My body seems determined to try and fight off this cold rather than succumb to it, so I am giving it the best chance possible by not forcing it out of bed at a set time as I usually would on a Sunday. Instead I took myself off down the railway path, doing just enough to meet my weekly Strava goal for distance, as well as hitting 200km and 1,500m elevation for the month.