Money, money, money …

IMG_20191028_152021455_HDRYou’ll be pleased to hear that I’m off my high horse. Although, now we know there’s an election in December, it is tempting to rattle off my prediction: it’ll be a hung parliament, with Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Brexit all getting seats, but no majority. The question then is, noting where we are with Brexit, who might form a majority coalition? The problem is that Corbyn is such a weak leader (and his politics are left of Stalin) that I can see a Tory/Brexit party thing happening and us leaving the EU with Johnson’s deal.

Ho hum?

Other than that …

I’ve been feeling just off par. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but after a couple of decent runs I’m not quite myself. Oh well.

We’ve had some admin days. I’ve descaled Doris’s water heater. That requires ten litres of water, two litres of white vinegar and a wet suit. It, as always, didn’t quite go to plan and there was a lot of mopping up to do. You put 1:5 ratio of vinegar to water into the system and then heat it up … just like you would a kettle. But I don’t want any vinegar in


wet suit required

the main tank and so always pull the pump out and put it in a bowl of water. Which often means that more ends up on the floor than in the tank. Anyhow, you heat the water, leave it for a couple of hours and then rinse the system. Which I did. Hopefully all is well … and the smell of vinegar in Doris gets toned down with age.

We’re still uming and ahhing about going away for a week (Tunisia/Turkey) at the end of next week. It is possible – that’s the beauty of our flexibility. Although the diary is filling up. I might have a couple of days work with the Civil Service (leadership consultancy) between now and Christmas and possibly a little bit more school work. Which is all good – provided it doesn’t get ahead of itself.

And I completed our self-assessment tax returns and sorted my state pension. (eh – yippee.)

Now you will probably know this. And I did, but it’s taken me some time to sort. If you earn less than the top rate of income tax – £50k (pick me) – and your spouse earns less than the introductory rate – £12.5k (pick C) – then she can gift you 10% of her personal allowance, which is about £250 in cash. Well, when I was completing last year’s return yesterday, the lovely lady on the phone said she’d sort it for us. So, not only will we pay £250 less tax this year, we are likely to get up to four years rebate. Hurrah!

Insofar as pension, this is also interesting. Even though us military types paid national insurance, we don’t get the full pension allowance. Which means we are short on years for a full state pension. Me: 7 years short, that’s a prediction of £5k a year rather than £8k. Originally, I was looking to buy back those years (you can only buy back the last 3 years, apparently), but they cost £780 a year – a figure which rises with inflation. However … and my son-in-law’s dad told me this … because I am self employed I can pay Class II national insurance. Which I sort of knew, and I thought I was. But I had never formally registered.

As of yesterday I’m registered. And let me tell you that Class II NI is £140 a year, not £780. Phew. (It does go up if you earn more than £6k a year, and I’m not sure by how much.) So, I’ve paid last year as part of my self-assessment and will pay for the next six years … and hey presto!

Anyhow, Jen has been with us for a couple of days. She wanted to go shopping in Cribbs with C – and James came with her last night for supper.


Jen = Cassie as well

Next? I’m off to Bristol first thing tomorrow to meet up with Elizabeth, my old boss, for coffee. And we’re travelling to C’s sister on Friday to watch the rugby (Saturday) and then to Mary’s to go/take her to a party on Sunday.

As always, it’s all go here.

In our time

I/we’ve just watched For Sama, on catch up. It was shown on C4 last night and my Twitter feed said it was a must see.

I’m not going to review it – it is beyond comment. It’s an hour and a half’s journey of a female reporter and her doctor husband living in Aleppo, Syria. From the start of the uprising until, eventually five years later, the city fell to Syrian regime/Russian advance. It is an extraordinary film and you must watch it. In fact every school in the UK should show it to their students.

If a truck-load of dead Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants didn’t horrify you enough, then this film will. And, for anyone out there who – even in the slightest – feels that we shouldn’t be helping refugees from these war-torn and poverty-stricken countries, I would hope that this film and the refrigerated truck melts your hearts. I don’t want to hear: well, they shouldn’t have made the journey. I don’t want to hear it. We are infinitely lucky. We have been born somewhere unblighted by war and massive poverty. And every day we should be thankful for that.

And Trump’s glorification – almost computer game description – of the death of Abu Bakt al-Baghdadi and his three children hasn’t helped my mood. I am in no doubt that ISIS’s leader needed to be removed. But to detail the operation and the many deaths as he did (in almost an hour’s press conference), where there was no reverence, no humility, is as shocking as anything I have heard recently. For a man who bowed out of Vietnam when others, less fortunate, were fighting – and dying – on his behalf.


Moving on.

For the record we had Richard and Andrea round for lunch on Friday – lovely to see them. And yesterday, having watched the rugby (yippee), we popped up to Jen’s for the day. Today C and I have both run, I’ve written another 1500 words (pretty close to 40/120k words now and still loving it) and Mrs Sun – who has been warming another planet – came an said hello.


(I look drunk) The paperback proof of Unsuspecting Hero edition 2 has arrived – and its now published – hurrah”

I understand she’ll be around for a bit this week. That’s fabulous news!



taking mum shopping at M&S on Monday. ‘Old enough to wear purple …’

It’s that time of year again. The dreaded tax return. I’ve been doing ours since we’ve had rental property, going on 30 years. I am not a tax dodger. I fill the forms in (for both of us) as accurately as possible – I do put some of my overseas travel (just flights) on the bill [the Bahamas and SE Asia] as those trips definitely appear in the Sam Green novels. And I pay the bill at the end of the period. I suppose the question is, if I paid (about £300?) an accountant to do the job for me, would they save me £300 in tax? I’m not convinced, but I could well be proved wrong. I don’t find the forms tricky, even though I we have multiple sources of income. And the tax man has never questioned what I’m up to.

Of course, self-help is in vogue. Over the past couple of years we have picked up some real quality items in charity shops. I have three Lowe Alpine jackets/fleeces, all of them in very good order – as they do last forever. And, yesterday, C picked up a really good quality Weird Fish fleece for herself and a Rohan waterproof jacket for me. (£4.99 – yippee!). We do buy full price clothes when we need too … but, as is the trend, don’t avoid charity shops as there are some real bargains.


boot and bikes day … when Mrs Sun eventually joined us

And the same thing applies to all of our stuff. I was servicing the bikes yesterday and C came out and said, ‘you enjoy doing that, don’t you?’. And the answer to that question was, ‘Yes, of course’. It’s about owning something good – and the bikes were top of the range when we bought them six years ago – and getting the longest life out of them. We have cycled thousands of miles on them, and whilst C needed a new front wheel and we have changed the tyres and the brake pads – oh, and C’s battery needed replacing (£250 – yikes), they work like new. And they look good as well. Anyhow, a bucketful of oil later and they’re on their way.

It’s the same for Doris and the Focus. Yesterday I did Doris’s boot. I try to clean and oil everything once a year. And a couple of weeks ago I did all of the keys and locks for the house and garage.

I know. How sad am I. And, I hear you say, you have the time! This is true. But as we get older … and time is something we have on our hands … is there a better way to make use of it? We both enjoy having nice things. We both enjoy having nice things that work. And neither of us like throwing things away. So, oily fingers it is, then.

Finally, I am still cracking on with book 6. Another 1,700 words yesterday. That takes me to around 32/120k words. And, so far, it’s fun. It’s different and exciting (I hope) and there are some interesting dynamics this time round. I think I can see a way that it comes together … but I’m never sure until its there.

Anyhow. Enough drivel from me. We have friends coming to lunch on Friday, we’re at Jen’s on Saturday and then another week of pottering, and writing. Book sales continue at about 1 a day (might break 40 this month) which is pleasing, but still nowhere near 10 a day, which remains the ambition. I must get onto some marketing!


I almost forgot to mention that I have updated the paperback version of Unsuspecting Hero, Hurrah!

We’re all tired

I know we’re all tired. Even I was resigned to parliament voting for Johnson’s deal yesterday. I thought then we could pick up the pieces and try to glue the vase back together. But, no. More delay. Of course, whilst the press report that it’s all a disaster and everyone hates everyone else, they’re secretly loving it … and whipping it into a frenzy.

My view? How can you expect to review a document of this importance in a matter of hours? Leaving aside the fact that there could be a major hit to our GDP, the deal softens protection on workers’ rights and food regulations – which means that our government can reduce the cost of goods by cutting workers’ protection and delivering cheaper food by cutting corners on how it is grown, which will also open up our doors for cheaper imports. I don’t pretend to understand how this all works, but I believe it’s a big thing. Among many others.

Let’s see what this week brings.

I have to say we are both a bit tired. Paris was fun, but it was travel. It was lovely to see R&C, but it was more travel. And now we’re with Mum (who is fine, thanks for asking),


Kent looking fabulous between the storms

which is more travel. We intend to stay here until after supper tomorrow. And then a bit more travel … home. Phew.

We did have a great time with R&C. Richard and I sorted out his greenhouse and we watched the rugby. Between those two events (oh, and C and I both ran) we did what we always do: discussed this and that, including Brexit. Neither of us arrived at any conclusion, other than it was all a load of rubbish.

Part of the issue for me is the 1,000 words a day. It’s not an issue at home … I do what I do. When I’m away from home, trying to find two hours to write is a struggle. Currently I’m penning this at Mum’s – with the TV on. Which is fine for the blog (sorry everyone), but not so good for writing a novel. I think I’ll be writing when Mum’s gone to bed late tonight. Ho hum.

So … sorry. Not much from us today. Hopefully more mid-week. 



Gay Paris

I am not going to write anything about politics. I am not. Not Trump and Syria. Or 6.7% hit to GDP – the projected cost of Johnson’s plan to leave the EU. That’s without any bribe we may have to give to the DUP so they vote for a deal – that puts a customs border in the Irish Sea (said to be billions).

I’m not going to talk about that.


So, let me talk about Paris. First our journey, which was a very long taxi ride and then Eurostar. Between the two halves, outside of St Pancras, my glasses fell off and bounced around a bit (I was watching them carefully – from a hazy distance) until they fell down the only glasses-sized crack in a drain. Argghh! You may remember that I lost my previous glasses on a beach in Tunisia – and I didn’t have a spare set with me. I spent over half of that holiday looking like an sex-offender, wearing my prescription sunglasses around the hotel at night. At that point I made myself promise that I would bring a spare pair of glasses with me whenever I went away …

… a promise I clearly reneged on.

Anyhow, we were running a little late and I could see my glasses, which was in itself a neat trick at the distance they were from my eyes, but my hand wouldn’t fit into the glasses-sized gap. C had a go (both on our knees, on a dirty road), but I stopped her for fear that she would get her hand stuck. Anyhow, miracles of miracles, Mary had a wire coat hanger in her bag … and two minutes later, shamelessly dirty-kneed, I was all a-focus again. Hurrah!

Eurostar has moved. Not physically, although the trains do motor, but more sophisticatedly. And not in the best direction. When we originally travelled, I guess we felt like the first people to get onto a plane in the 50s. It was an adventure, from the moment you got to the quite fabulous St Pancras, all the way under the tunnel until you hopped off at Gare du Nord – with the faint smell of onions and angry waiter wafting from the Seine.

Now it’s like a cattle market. The queues are akin to an EasyJet experience: St Pancras like Luton Airport on any Saturday in August. And whilst you do get a seat, everything feels a little more squashed. Which is a shame.

But Paris is as Paris was. Yes, Notre Dame has no roof to speak of. And yesterday the Gendarme were chasing the ‘Pompiers’ (firemen, who were on strike) around the Arc de Triompe [indeed there are so many police and Army patrols in the city, it is both confidence-filling and unnerving at the same time.] But, apart from that …

We did La Defence, the business district on top of the hill, which has the huge skyscraper arch that matches the Arc de Triompe (in disposition) miles away down one of the city’s

long boulevards. We caught the lift to the top, and the views are fab … but so much better was the photo gallery that celebrates photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand (until Christmas). Well worth a visit.

We graced Sacre-Coeur with our presence and had a look round the fabulously small Saint-Chapelle, with its glorious stained glass.

And I’ve run … (C did yesterday, as well). And we’ve eaten too much and drank more than we should. But I have written my 1,000 words a day – religiously. And that, my readers, is turning into a v interesting little book – let me tell you!

Next stop, Mary’s, then R&C’s for Friday and Saturday. It’s non-stop here!


exhibition at the top of La Defence


me looking all Michel Houellebecq

Just checking …


on the road again …

Well, that’s been a couple of days.

I can’t remember how it all started, but we came down to Mary’s on Thursday. I worked at the school on Friday (some one-to-ones, a middle-leaders course [session 2], and a discussion about maybe doing some work with the support staff – we’ll see). Then I get a message from the civil servant procurement group who I gave a one-hour presentation to a couple of months ago – they’d like me to run a full-day leadership course for their senior team (could be up to 20) sometime between now and Christmas. OK then. I’ll do that.

I got Unsuspecting Hero back from proofer, Rosemary, on Saturday – her comments need incorporating into the rewrite. And, throughout this, I’m still determined to write 1,000 words a day on book six, which is getting far too complicated for its own good.

The problem with incorporating edits is that it’s like working with a booby-trapped bomb. As you alter it, and before you move on, you have to check what you’ve written carefully – and twice, maybe three times. Because once it’s altered, there’s no going back. People are going to buy the book with the changes you’ve made. It’s all very unnerving.


still running (slowly)

Anyhow, I get Rosie’s comments at 11 o’clock on Saturday morning. And I’m determined to get them incorporated before close of play Sunday, as that’s the night before we get a 7 am taxi to London, to catch the Eurostar to Paris. And I don’t want to be taking my


final, final check of Unsuspecting Hero (Edition 2)

editing laptop to Paris. And I don’t want to be editing for any longer than I need to, as I want to write book six. Having two plots, both of which are 6 years apart, is very confusing.

So, I work and work. Triple checking all the time. And, as I look through Rosie’s comments I find elements of tone that I want to change. Argh! It’s a never ending cycle. Then C tells me we’re out to supper with Steve and Pam on Sunday night (thank you Steve and Pam), and didn’t I know that? Argh squared!

Breathes deeply.

Well, I’m done. Unsuspecting Hero [Edition 2]  is out there now: e-book only. I’ll let you know when the paperback is ready. And I have managed 1,000 words a day on book six. And I have run three times. And … having just got back from Steve and Pam’s (thanks again Steve and Pam), I’m writing the blog. Because I always do that on a Sunday.

Paris tomorrow, though. Back on Thursday. How lucky are we?

Me, with my reputation?

I’m not doing politics. Sorry. I know you want me to. But if I start …


have car, will write

I’m sat in the car in central Bristol. C’s having her eyes looked at. Initially we were going to come down on the trike, but the weather is so blooming rubbish we brought the car. Which is OK, because it means I can write this, rather than hang about on a street corner getting wet and cold. C’s phoned me to say they’re running 45 minutes late. Which is fine. I’m parked up in a loading bay just short of the eye hospital. If I have to move on, I will.

It is the calm before the storm. I think I’ve already described our itinerary for the next 10 days, but in case you’ve forgotten it does include three nights in Paris. How lucky are we? We are. And we know it. If I squint my eyes and look to the future I can see a week in Tunisia in November, skiing in January, a slab of time in Doris in Spain/Portugal/Morocco in the Spring. Our Jen has booked us into Centres Parks for a week in May. And, the latest of latest plans, C and I intend to drive to Baku (Azerbaijan – Caspian Sea) in September.

The latter little excitement is car based. Our brilliant Ford Focus will soon be on 100,000 miles and possibly due replacement – we need to get the most out of it. So, with a pin and a large map, I chose Baku (it was also one of the stops on ‘Race Across The World’). I know you can drive there as my mate Kenn, who I had brunch with today, went there by motorbike earlier this year. We’d take a tent and a stove, with the aim of staying in hotels when the price dropped to an acceptable level. C’s v excited. So am I. It’s all part of our 5-year plan to do something a little bit different every year for five years … and then take stock. This year it was SE Asia. Next, central Asia. 2021? Who knows?

How lucky are we? Indeed.


I’ve been wearing this to bed (ran out of proper nightshirts). It’s over 20 years old. What a time that was!

Oh. I almost forgot. On Monday we drove to Cornwall so I could be ‘author in residence’ at a book club – they had read Unsuspecting Hero which, as you know, I have just rewritten but not republished (yet).  The club was held in a very posh house overlooking a steep valley with one of the Cornish rivers running to a ria. Having got a drink, and following 11 ladies into a beautifully decorated sitting room, C said to me, ‘Are you going to be OK?’ To which my reply was, ‘Eleven women, and me talking about myself? With my reputation?.’

It was a fab night and whilst I never asked the direct question, they all seemed to like the book (at least one of the ladies was already onto book three, The Innocence of Trust). A number of them promised to pen a review, which is great. We drove home that night – five hours in the car all told. My bum is now permanently Focus shaped.

Finally book 6. It is all consuming, as I thought it would. C’s idea of locking me in Doris so I can write has worked really well. The exclusion helps and I am already (an excited) 14/120k words in. And loving it. It is different again. But, of course, at some point you’ll tell me what you think.

Next stop Mary’s. And then Paris. Hurrah!


popped up to Jen’s on Tuesday. Cassie is out there in the rain somewhere.

The joys of living in a fantasy world

Screenshot_20191001-090438_2First may I introduce you to veteran, Chris Lewis. He’s an ex-paratrooper and is walking the coast of the UK. It’s a remarkable story. Homeless and mentally not in great shape, over two years ago he picked up a rescue dog, Jet, and started an 18,000 mile journey around our coastline. His aim is to raise £100,000 for #SSAFA, the military charity. He reckons he has another year or so to go to finish the journey. His #justgiving site is here: ChrisWalks. Please help where you can.

Us? Well, nothing anywhere near as heroic, I’m afraid. It’s been a week of getting stuff done, mostly focused on an autumn clean of Doris. I’ve finished the electrics in the front cabinet and C surprised me the other day by taking everything out of the van and the pair of us blitzing her. I’ve still got a good number of jobs I need to sort, but we have made good progress.

As such it’s been a bit of an interregnum. Tomorrow we start on a whirlwind two weeks. First we’re off down to Cornwall tomorrow for a book club (an old Wells friend has offered Unsuspecting Hero for her club and I’ve been asked to come down for the debrief. I’ve done three of these before, and they’ve all been different!). On Thursday we’re off to Mary’s. I’ve got work on Friday; the rewrite of Unsuspecting Hero should be in my hands from Rosie, the proofreader, at the weekend. And then we’re going to Paris for three nights with Mary … which will be a fabulous break. We did the same thing last year, and apart from the cold weather, we had a blast.

We come back from Paris and head down to R&C’s for the weekend, and then to Mum’s for a couple of nights. It’s going to be non-stop.


ticking along nicely

And, throughout, I’m on book 6 duty. I set myself a target of 1,000 words a day (about two pages of A4) for 120 days, which should get me through to the end of January for the first draft. I was really unsure how this would go, and I am still not as comfortable as our usual 6-week dash to the south of France in Doris where I can easily push out three-quarters of a book. Anyhow, I’ve been in this regime for 5 days, starting writing between 4 and 6 pm, some more after 10 pm and a trash edit first thing in the morning before C gets up.

I’m on 9,000 words already, that’s 1,500 words a day, which I’m pleased with. Being ahead does give me the ability to have a day off – for example, when we go to Cornwall tomorrow. We’ll see.

For the record I wrote a scene the other day which had nothing to do with the plot, or sub-plot, that I have vaguely hatched in my head. It just seemed like a nice thing to write. So I now have a new character and a new sub-plot which could be going anywhere.

Oh well. The joys of living in a fantasy world.

I’m tired …

I’m pretty tired of all the external forces pressing in on our life at the mo. Much of it my own fault. I’m following politics in the UK and the US closely and, let’s face it, it’s more emotionally charged than a teenager loading the dishwasher. [It’s the deceit that gets me, but you know that.]

The other thing is that I follow people with motorhomes and a couple of them are currently somewhere hot, with all the accoutrements of cafe culture and no additional responsibility. The timing isn’t great either. We are normally heading down to the south of France now, or, if nothing else, preparing to go. That’s the 6-week period where I get the bulk of my pending novel written. Away from the distractions; fuelled by sun, sea and sand. I bet Hemingway never had this problem.

P1640636.JPGHowever, I have made a start. Other than the interlude where I re-publish the rewritten Unsuspecting Hero in a couple of weeks, I have a target of 1,000 words a day. If I stick to that number, and I am v good at holding myself to a plan, I should have a decent first draft by the end of January – and that’s without breaking myself. I still reckon I’ll be able to turn it round by July next year … so I’ll be back on track.

Humorous factoid about my writing? Well, I have finished the Prologue – which I had in my head, with its little twist. I did that on Tuesday. Then, yesterday, the start of Chapter 1. Normally my chapters are around 6,000 words long and broken into 3 or 4 scenes. I know I have to kick off Sam/Frank … and, no spoilers, I need a new character who runs a sub-plot until they and Sam meet sometime in the future (Unsuspecting Hero,  it was Henry Middleton; Fuelling the Fire, it was Wolfgang; Innocence of Trust, it was Vlad and then, I forget her name, it was the American senator’s daughter? … somebody please remind me; For Good Men To Do Nothing, it was Austin, the father of the American drone pilot; and for On The Back Foot To Hell, it was Gareth, the Welsh undergrad in Naples). Anyhow I have that person and I know I will kick off that story soon …


and so it begins

… but, as I sit down yesterday to write Chapter One a thought comes into my head about an additional character – a CIA case-officer – working out of Zagreb. And he’s meeting an agent in that abandoned coastal resort which C and I visited a couple of years ago. Yes! That will be fab. And one of them dies! Great. So, three hours and 2,000 words later I have a subplot which has no relevance to the main conspiracy … which I now need to mix into the book. Brilliant (he adds sarcastically).

Anyhow. I must get on and pen another 1,000 words.

As a recap. on Monday we drove to Dorset to see C’s middle sister and her husband and Tuesday was a day pottering, Wednesday we popped up to see Jen and had lunch out, and today I have worked in Doris sorting out some electrics. Now … I must write.