New Post – New Host

Hello, and thanks for stopping by this quiet backwater of the internet. Those who are regular visitors will have noticed a new look to the blog including a new title.

Why move to WordPress? What was wrong with Blogger?

Whoa one at a time. Blogger was fine for a while but it didn’t allow me the flexibility that I wanted in regard to the look of the site. I just couldn’t quite get it looking like I thought I wanted it to look. So I’ve moved to WordPress which does.

In all honesty I would, and should, have moved before but I found WordPress a steeper learning curve than Blogger so I kept putting it off but eventually like a trip to the dentist it just had to happen. I hope you like the new look, and that you visit often. You could even, if you were feeling really daring, sign up to follow by email.

The picture at the top is from a photo I took on the Oxford canal a few years ago. I put it through a nifty piece of free software called Fotosketcher on the water colour setting. As the astute might notice the boat’s in the middle of the canal just before it goes round the bend. Welcome to my world.

If you’ve got this far why don’t you take a look at my début novel –  Coming Home


Caveat Emptor

  Something in my soul jibes at being cheated. It first came to my notice as a young teenager that people would try and put one over you if they could, and you let them. I’d saved my paper round earnings to buy a bike from a lad down the road. It wasn’t a fantastic bike, it only had 3 gears, but it was a lot better than the one I had before. I negotiated a price with him, and once I’d saved enough money I went to buy the bike.
  As I rode away from his house I noticed something wrong; I couldn’t change gear. It soon became apparent that I’d been cheated; that he’d swapped the rear wheel. I turned round and pedalled back to his house my temperature rising a point for every yard cycled.
  He was waiting for me with a grin on his face. He told me I’d bought the bike sold as seen and it wasn’t his fault if I didn’t check before I handed over the money. All very true, but it wasn’t in the same condition as when I’d checked it over a month before when I agreed to buy it. 
  After a short period of negotiation, which consisted of me hitting him, he agreed to put the original wheel back on. I cycled happily away for the second time on my new bike having learnt a valuable lesson. 
  So the ban on displaying tobacco comes into force today, meaning that cigarettes and other products will need to be kept under the counter, or behind the closed doors of former display cabinets.
  The ban will only apply to large shops and supermarkets, with smaller shops being exempt until 2015.
  Apparently, according to public health minister Anne Milton, young people are recruited into smoking by colourful, eye-catching, cigarette displays. Really?
  I’m no great expert on these matters but I’d always assumed that young people smoked because their friends did.
  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an apologist for smoking – it’s a filthy disgusting life threatening addiction but is this really the best way of tackling the problem?
  What about obesity? That’s quite a large (pun intended) problem as well. I think the government have missed a trick here, at the same time as the tobacco display ban they should also have banned the display of sweets, chocolate, and other confectionery from all shops everywhere.
  This would do wonders for the future health of young children, and earn the undying gratitude of harassed mothers throughout the land

Taxing Times

    “Forgive me father for I have sinned.” I said through the grill.
I heard an exhalation that I took for a sigh, and then, “What is it this time child?”
  Okay it didn’t actually happen like that but I do confess that I’ve always had a secret interest in politics. There will now be an interlude while you mutter something along the lines of, “crazy fool.”
  I have a sneaking suspicion that this fascination came from my maternal grandfather who was an ardent trades unionist back in the day when the unions were a powerful force.
  I’ve voted in every general election since 1976; more often than not voting for the party that eventually formed the government. I don’t claim any special power that enables me to predict these things; I just get fed up of the mob in power at the same time as lots of other people.
  I’ve always occupied the middle ground of British politics; occasionally veering to the right, before swinging to the left for a while. We won’t mention the disastrous flirtation with the Social Democrats, or the Liberals.
  I’ve never studied this but I’ve always subscribed to the theory that people, when they vote, follow the money; I certainly have. When I was poor and impoverished in my teens and early twenties I was a socialist; the poorer I was, the redder I became. Conversely, when I became a bit better off in my thirties and forties I swung the other way, becoming a rabid Thatcherite. Now, in my fifties and poor once again I feel the socialist in me bubbling to the surface.
  In line with these thoughts I’ve been giving some thoughts to the taxation system in the UK. I don’t know how it is in other countries but here in the UK we seem to be taxed on just about anything and everything. Apart from the standard income tax and national insurance – despite the name – a tax, we have VAT, council tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, stamp duty, car tax, crossing the road tax. Okay I made the last one up but we do have air passenger tax, and insurance premium tax. I’m just scraping the surface here and could go on for hours, but I’m sure you get the picture.
  Now to my mind the first principle of any taxation system should be that it’s fair and equitable. In my opinion the UK taxation system is anything but. If you have enough money you can employ tax accountants to drive a coach and horses through all the loopholes that a complicated tax system leaves in its wake.
  Bearing in mind that if the benefits system is means tested then why shouldn’t the taxation system be likewise. Therefore my solution to the problem would be: if you’re unemployed you don’t pay any tax at all. That’s right – none, on anything. If you’re employed but don’t earn enough to pay income tax then the only other tax you would be obliged to pay would be VAT at a rate of 5%. If you earn enough to pay income tax but less than £20k pa, then you would pay the full range of taxes but at 50% of the full rate. There would be a sliding scale of tax eligibility rising to an income of £50k pa where the tax rates would be a lot higher than they are now; e.g. VAT at 30%. The simple principle being: the more you earn, the more you pay.
  Of course I reserve the right to alter it should I ever win the lottery! 
    As much as I don’t mind slating Tory politicians I find myself struggling to understand how Francis Maude can be blamed for the terrible tragedy that befell the woman in York who was pouring PETROL, (GAS for American readers)from a jerry can into a glass jug. 
    According to a report from the Mail Online, Mr Maude, the Cabinet Office minister said: People need to be aware there is a risk to supplies. When it makes sense, a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take.’
    Sometimes people do stupid things for a variety of reasons; stress, tiredness, forgetfulness, but it’s stretching it quite a lot to blame a hapless politician for this poor woman’s accident.
    I asked my children aged 9 and 11 what they knew about petrol. They both told me that it was extremely dangerous if handled incorrectly and that it could burn and explode. When I further asked if they thought it a good idea to pour some from a can to a jug in the kitchen next to the gas cooker while I was boiling a pan of water they both looked at me as if I were mad.
      I suspect they occasionally think that of me anyway, but if I did that they’d be right.
    When my wife and I were casting round for a way of economising a few days ago and she suggested cutting my hair I thought she was joking, until I saw the look of intent on her face. It was unlikely to save much I protested; after all I only have a hair cut every three months. That’s four times a year, and at £10 a pop it’s not exactly breaking the bank. I didn’t like to suggest we’d save far more if chocolate was never bought again – ever!
    When nothing happened immediately I thought I’d got away with it, but I should have know better. Fast forward to Saturday night; nothing worth watching on the TV – when is there ever – and she said, ‘Come on I’ll cut your hair.’
    I know, I know, I could have said no; feigned some illness, but in truth the TV was really boring, so I agreed.
    I was a little nervous at first, especially when I saw what scissors she was using; they were little blue ones the kids use in craft activities. Still they were sharp, and to be fair they weren’t the ones that cut paper in wavy lines.
    I’ve never known a hair cut last so long though; I swear I fell asleep for a while. It was snip here, snip there, for well over thirty minutes. She kept standing back and assessing, then there’d be another little flurry of snips.
    Still, we had a laugh; although she found it far more amusing than I did, judging by the way she chuckled every time she stepped back for a clearer look.
    ‘What’s the difference between Harrison Ford and Catweazle? She asked at one point. I told her I didn’t know. ‘I can’t see one either.’ Was her enigmatic reply.
    Eventually I was allowed to look in the mirror, and it was, well… unlike any haircut that I’ve ever had before. Well maybe it was a little bit like the one done by the drunken barber thirty years ago who managed to cut both sides of my hair a different length. No, I think it was better than that! 
    All I have to do now is decide what to spend the £40 a year on that I’m going to be saving.
    Having been compared by two different reviewers of my debut novel, Coming Home, to Alan Sillitoe, and Evelyn Waugh, surely I could be forgiven for basking in the warm glow of popular acclaim?
    I thought so; at least for a short while anyway. I wouldn’t get too carried away; I wouldn’t immediately dash out and proclaim from the rooftops: ‘Hey, guess what! I’m the new Alan Sillitoe, or, depending on the rooftop, I’m the new Evelyn Waugh.’ I wouldn’t puff up my new found peacock feathers too much; rather I’d just quietly savour the feeling.
    That wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Well, apparently it was.
    A different reviewer, whilst not actually saying my novel was crap, managed to give me that impression in her review. This left me with a major problem. Do I now not read any reviews, or do I start reading and if they look favourable carry on, and if not stop. Or, do I take the more mature approach, and read all reviews, glow or sulk for a while depending on content, and then forget and move on?
  Alternatively, I could read all reviews, focus on any negatives, analysing the points being made, and if I agreed, learn from them. Having decided to approach them this way I took a deep breath and approached the crap review quietly from behind in order to take it unawares. And found that, she’d picked up on exactly the same points about my novel that I was unhappy with myself. Okay, she’d also disliked some of the things about it that I really liked. But hey, we’re being mature here.
    I knew really all the time that my novel wasn’t perfect; that the three five stars out of five bestowed on it by other reviewers were overly generous. I was just miffed that someone I didn’t know on another continent had only given it two out of five when I considered it worthy of three.
    Still, you can always download it, read it, and then give your own opinion, bearing in mind that anything less than three out of five and I’ll sending the boys round.