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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.

 

Iceland

My sister decided that she wanted to spend a few days in Iceland for a big birthday, with the bonus of being able to scarf down some puffin, so it was off on easyjet then a bus to the air b’n’b apartment we had booked. It, along with everything else, was delightful.

Everyone we met was delightful, everywhere we went was clean and close by (Reykjavik is tiny). On the first night we had booked onto a Northern Lights bus tour which took us out to Þingvellir. It was bitterly cold, so we were grateful for our thermals and ski jackets, and there were some lights in the sky. There was some arching, but it was quite pale (more easily picked up using cameras). On the way back into Reykjavik the Lights really kicked off brightly and we pulled over for a more impressive display. We only had our camera phones, which weren’t picking up anything, but our tour guide took photos of us in front of the Lights and we were able to grab them from facebook (she gave permission for us to download them).

The following day it was out on a Golden Circle tour. Lots more photos, including of a wonderfully active geyser (very little waiting), and a surprise trip to a horse farm (as the road to the church which we were supposed to visit was impassable). An evening of pizza and Cards Against Humanity to celebrate the actual birthday.

We had hummed and hawed about going to the Blue Lagoon on the Saturday, and it was a cold run across the decking to get into the water, but definitely worth it. So incredibly relaxing and we were glad we had decided to get the slightly later bus back. We eventually managed to drag ourselves out though, and when we got back into town we headed out to the Icelandic bar for delicious burgers and the much awaited Puffin (which was apparently very tender, more like a paste).

I managed to get my daily runs in early on the Friday and Saturday. They were quite slow as not all of the pavements are salted, but I had taken my trail shoes for this very reason.

I would quite happily go back, and recommend anyone who can to get out there. There were lots of opportunities to buy handmade sweaters, but I find Icelandic wool a bit scratchy against my skin and object to buying anything I can make myself. Instead I treated myself to a woven (and non-scratchy) blanket, and a pair of socks knit at a finer gauge than I have the patience for. Click on photo for full Iceland album:

Day 342/365

I somehow have to squeeze some mileage in around a trip away at the end of the week, so went out for a 10km along by the riverside. It was only slightly squelchy, but the sun was a bit bright (shouldn’t grumble, there won’t be much sun where I am going).

Heartbroken

Some people might think that it is unnecessary or overly emotional to be heartbroken by the death of a pet, but Phoebe had been my companion for over 10 years. She had been with me through divorce, the death of both of my parents, my grandmother dying 10 days after my mother, the loss of various friends, moving house, the year of being employed by Deloitte.

She wasn’t a cuddly cat. It took a year before she purred or walked onto my lap (she had been mistreated before I got here). She rarely played, only occasionally chasing a ball around or kicking three bells out of a catnip infused soft toy. But she did enjoy lying out in the sunshine, either indoors or on the neighbour’s shed roof. She would spend most evenings taking advantage of the undercat heating afforded by a lap with a blanket on it. She was tremendously spoiled with radiator beds, enclosed houses, fake sheepskin beds and blankets to sleep on and in, even getting us to make her a nest at night by placing a blanket over the corner of the sofa.

She wasn’t the brightest cat in the world. If a ball bounced off a door, she would look behind it instead of where it rebounded to. She would wait by the patio door to be let back in, in a place where she couldn’t be seen. She even rolled off the bed once while stretching.

She was always around though, and that may be the hardest thing to get used to. She had access to all parts of the house (joining me in the bathroom when I got up in the morning, walking along the edge of the bath and rubbing up against the shower screen), so that every part of it has memories of her (and a layer of cat hair). That includes all parts of the sofa, under the dining chairs, on top of the dining table, underneath shelves in the office, on the office chair, inside the futon, on the bedroom window seat, on the spare bed, underneath the drinks cabinet, inside boxes and bags, under the bed, on the linen chest of drawers, halfway up the stairs, or just stretched out on the landing by the radiator.

I expect that I will miss her and be looking around for her for a long time to come. I am hoping that the memories of her at the vet’s, and the vet coming in to say that she didn’t think that she would make it will fade soon, to be replaced by the happier images which I have compiled and put on an electronic photo frame (which I am turning on and off depending on whether it brings me comfort or makes me feel sad).

I currently feel guilty.

Guilty that I was not there when she was taken ill.
Guilty that my phone was on silent during a gym class so that I did not get the messages until 45 minutes later.
Guilty that I let her out that morning and exposed her to whatever it was that poisoned her (if that is what it was).
Guilty that I did not take her to the vet when she had what I thought was a stuck hairball a few months ago (that she seemed fully recovered from the following morning, but maybe it was related).
Guilty that her last hour or so of life was spent in distress and was not longer (she was only about 12).
Guilty that my first instinct at the bill for the vet’s attempts to save her life was ‘ouch’.
Guilty that I did not warn my neighbours (who both have cats) until this morning that there might be something toxic in the neighbourhood.
Guilty that I am so upset by the loss of of an animal when there are so many other terrible things happening in the world (and that have happened to people I know).
Guilty that I so quickly moved her things out of sight (too painful to see, but kept for any cats I might have in the future).

Hopefully as I grieve these feelings of guilt will pass as the shock diminishes and I will just be grateful for the time I had with her. I would like to think that I gave her a comfortable life in the main and that she was content. But I will miss her.

Day 283/365 – a run of two halves

No parkrun this morning per coach’s orders (since it is Gwent League tomorrow), which was just as well as it was the dreaded ‘B’ course due to BikeFest. So instead I ran there at long-run pace, marshalled, had some cake and tea, then ran home at around about marathon pace.

It was the last run for my purple 1080v3 shoes. They will now get a scrub before being sent over to Kenya. I’m down to just the 5 pairs of running shoes now: two pairs of road shoes, two pairs of trail shoes, and a pair of cross-country spikes.

The 100 points I got for volunteering nicely consolidated my second place in the points table as Becci wasn’t running today.

Day 269/365 – Ashton Court parkrun and then some

I am planning on running the Mells Scenic 7 tomorrow as it marks Jim Plunkett-Cole’s 1,000th day of running at least 10k, so had to get my long run in today. This meant running to Ashton Court, running the parkrun (my 100th at Ashton Court), then running home (via the bank). You therefore get to spot the Ashton Court parkrun course in the middle (hopefully there is an uptick in pace). This means I had no idea what time I ran the parkrun in and had to wait for my official result to find out.

I was 57th out of 305 parkrunners with a time of 23:19, 3rd lady and 2nd in my age category. With the 100 points from volunteering last week, this puts me 3rd in the points table.

Day 240/365 – Goodbye To You & Livin’ On A Prayer

Today was the first tempo run where I wasn’t worried that I would be able to make the pace and was only worried about the distance. I used my 10k playlist in-between Zombies, Run! mission updates, just to make sure I kept that pace up, so ended up averaging a bit faster than I should have (it should have been 8:23 min/mile). Two missions completed: Goodbye To You and Livin’ On A Prayer. A 270 ‘epic suffer score’ according to Strava. This was after I adjusted my heart rate zones slightly having actually measured my resting heart rate at 53 bpm instead of assuming the 60 bpm it always used to be.

Day 123/365

A pleasing length of run at 18.18km on day 123 and it would have been a lovely long run through woods still filled with bluebells if it were not for the dog attack on one of our number as we were travelling through one of the woods. We got it cleaned up a bit when we got back and it didn’t look very deep, but was obviously a shock and probably worth a tetanus jab. First time out in road shoes on the trails. Things have dried up a lot since the Winter but there were still some squishy bits and the wet grass meant that you couldn’t hear the clicking of the joints in my feet over the squelching of my shoes. I had brought dry clothes to change into for drinks and they were much appreciated.