What a choice

IMG_20191112_124851643_BURST001I think this will be a short catch up. We are all a little on tenterhooks over Jen’s hospital appointment on Friday and so our minds have been on other things.

Politics, hey? The choice between bad and badder, if you stick to a two party system. Two recent tweets caught my attention. The first was along the lines: we can cope in a general election when one of the two main parties is in meltdown, but we’ve never had to do this when both are. The second: this may well be the last general election when, due to climate change, we’re not unified in fighting for our lives. Let’s enjoy hating each other whilst we have the chance.

The last was from Danny Boyle.

Is it that bad? I think it is. There are so many reasons for this, many of them decades old – including the Middle Eastern wars and the ensuing migrant crisis, the greed that led to the 2008 crash and austerity that followed. Popularism was the answer, on both sides of the aisle, and you can see why. And we, as a county, are now at the pinnacle of that mountain. We face a decision based on over a decade of stuff that was just rubbish, where the only answer is downhill.

But it’s not the right decision. We shouldn’t have to wait another five years to tackle the greatest challenge to face you and me. A challenge so big it will blight the world for our grandchildren.

And, so, just now, I despair at our political landscape. I really can’t cope with Johnson, Gove, R-M and that group. I can’t hear truth from that corner – anywhere. I don’t like what they stand for and I don’t trust them. And, whilst I do believe Corbyn is an honourable man – a man of principle – I’m not happy with many of those principles and am incredibly wary of the power behind that throne.

That leaves Jo Swinton and Caroline Lucas. Neither of whom have a chance of becoming PM. I am a liberal at heart and I so wish the Lib Dems had chosen a leader I could warm to. Alas, I cannot. Caroline Lucas, or someone like her, will be the person we turn to after it’s too late. That’s a scary thought.

What a choice.

Ho hum.

Thankfully, we have the John Lewis advert: John Lewis Advert

Not such a great week …

It’s been a bit of a week. Our Jen has been through the mill it’s true to say for quite a while. She suffers from mental health issues and at the end of last year was diagnosed with ME. As part of the investigations into her health a CT scan discovered a cyst on her pancreas. Now, I have a cyst on one of my kidneys. That was found almost twenty years ago and I had a number of yearly ultrasounds to check that it wasn’t growing. Apparently it’s ok to have something the size of a golf ball in your abdomen. And I’m happy with that.

Unfortunately for Jen pancreatic cysts are more tricky … and the experts want to see her next Friday. Of course all sorts of scenarios are possible – one or two of them really unpleasant, and we will have to wait and see what they say. We are, needless to say, going up together.

Then, last night, she was involved in a car accident. She was a passenger in a car that flipped, just up from where we live. There were three in the car – other than some bruises, none were hurt – but they couldn’t get out. Anyhow, she phoned me – still stuck in the car, just before five fire engines, two ambulances and four police cars turned up. C and I got in our car and 15 minutes later we were at the scene of a disaster movie. There were more flashing lights than an 80s disco.

The good news is, they’re all ok. We now wait for Friday’s meeting with the medical experts. Thankfully we didn’t fly to Tunisia for the week.

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poor bike …

There’s more. I went into Bristol on Thursday to meet someone about the work I’m doing for the civil service in early December. I went down on the trike and I hit the kerb (which was in the middle of the road – what was it doing there?) and got a flat. Somehow I managed to stay on the bike .The good news is, you can drive a Piaggio MP3 home with a flat front tyre. And, having taken the wheel off, it was only a £60 job to get a new tyre fitted. Ho hum.

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Bradley Stoke non-military, but vaguely military Remembrance parade. Love it!

Other news? We went to Bradley Stoke Remembrance Service today, which is held in the open air in the ‘town square’ (which is more circle, than square). The poster badged the event as ‘non-military’, which made me smile. But there were plenty there, including a really decent brass band, and actually it was quite military with a man with medals (I didn’t wear mine) calling us all to order, last post and bugler.

We love Bradley Stoke!

Writing continues. My pal two doors down has just got himself a Tesla 3, so I spent half an hour today playing with all the gadgets. I’m not envious, though. We always knock our car within a month of buying it, so we’ll stick with second hand for now …

Till mid-week, then.

The weather continues to be …

We did the lunch party with Mary, all the way to a wonderful old farmhouse in East Sussex. And then back here for, well, more writing (now well over 50k words), replacing the pump in Doris and other bits and pieces. Last night we popped out to the local pub (The Three Brooks) for comfort food. And today we popped up to Jen’s.

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at the pub …

The weather continues to be poor and, when we can, we watch ‘A New Life In The Sun’, and ‘Escape to The Chateau DIY’. I know, I know, it’s all pretty banal and confected TV.  But, for me, it’s a substitute for doing the real thing. The first of the programmes looks at couples or families who have moved to France and Spain with the aim of working – not just retiring. It is something we have spoken about a lot but, now that we can, we are less inclined to for a number of reasons.

I still see myself running a small, seasonal cafe somewhere in SE Spain. Nothing big, nothing grand. Just somewhere where I can be rude to the customers and watch the world go by. C, unsurprisingly, is less interested. We have thought about a place in the French Pyrenees with Gites attached and running some summer lettings (I still like the cafe idea). We wouldn’t go for Chambres D’Hotes (B&B) or a hotel, that’s too much like hard work. It’s all a thought.

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But then again, we don’t need to work. Not really. And so we could just buy a place in either country and do it up. Anything is possible, although there are some constraints. We’ll see. Or, we could just continue to do what we do and take Doris to those places and spend months on end in the winter enjoying Mrs Sun … and writing my books.

Which continues to focus my mind. Proofreader Rosie is rereading Unsuspecting Hero, edition 2. And she’s already spotted a mistake … which we both missed. So, I’ve updated that. Also Kindle (I don’t know how or why) sent me a message that there are some mistakes in For Good Men To Do Nothing. So I have updated those.

And the writing. The 1000 words a day is working – really well. Apart from two days I am writing well over 1000 words – today I polished off 2500. Which means my ambition to finish the book by Christmas might be on the cards … and that would be fab. And I love it. Almost all the time. Almost. Starting off is always a struggle. But, when I’m motoring, I love it. It’s just that initial hump. I guess this is the same for all writers.

No block, though. Which is a bonus.

Anyhow. It seems v unlikely that we will fly anywhere on Friday. More like we might take Doris away. Or nothing … we’ll see.

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Steve and Rebecca in Korea! (Still)

Well done South Africa

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the face of a man who has been for a run and written 1500 words before 10.30

A busy day today. I was up at 7.00, a run around the park and then 1500 words of book 6. I’m now on Chapter 8/22. My new plan is to finish the first draft by Christmas Day – which would be a helluva thing. The problem is we’ve squashed a few things into the diary between now and then. It looks like I’ve got four days additional work coming up – some pretty big stuff, with me presenting or facilitating on those days, one of which is in London. Of course, there things don’t just happen so I’ve probably got to find the same amount of time in preparation.

I also have two more half days at the school, I need to get to Mum’s this month (we’re up with her for Christmas) and we’re with Mary at least one more time – we’re here now. All of this is good stuff, but it does mean I’m squeezing the writing in as and when. But, you know what?, I think the quality is still there – I loved what I have written today. Doubtless you’ll tell me.

We were with C’s sister, Annie, Friday night and yesterday, to watch the rugby. Now, I’m probably in a minority of one when I say that, whilst I would have cheered if we had

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C’s sister, Annie = at least 2 jack russells

won, South Africa definitely need it more than we do. And well done them. They were immense, much as we were against New Zealand last week. It was a great game, a great tournament and now that it’s over, we can focus back on the last races of the Grand Prix, the Premiership, England cricket team in New Zealand and all the other sports that keep us entertained. Hurrah!

We’re fine. Still in two minds over Tunisia for next Friday, although that trip is now unlikely I feel. It’s not for lack of ambition or, indeed, price, it’s about whether or not it’s worth the effort. I think we will not go, which will give me more time to sort out my work. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Is this what I want? If more work comes from this, do I want it?

The answer to that question is, I don’t know. The three of you who have stayed with me over the past six years know that, insofar as possessions, C and I live modest lives. Yes, Doris is worth a small bomb, but everything else we have – especially where we live – is designed to have a small footprint and provide us with enough spare cash to do our travelling. With the books providing nothing more than enough for a cup of coffee every day, clearly working for a living provides a really nice additional income. It also gives me a little bit of a buzz, a bit like getting a couple of decent book reviews. I don’t advertise for my consultancy work – and yet (a few) people ask for me. And ask again.

I guess we will know more by Christmas when this new patch of work is over. I’m determined not to let the preparation take over our lives, and I am equally determined to enjoy what I do. It will be clear if I’ve managed that by the time we eat our turkey. I’ll let you know.

Anyhow. We’re off to a lunch party in East Grinstead now, so I’d better sign off. I hope you all not too disappointed with the rugby result. In the end, it’s only a game. And, you have to agree that South Africa needed something to rally round. And to be slightly contentious, perhaps the last thing we need just now is a wave of St George’s flags to complement the already over-jingoistic population. Don’t @ me …

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up on the Downs with the dogs after the rugby. Much windier than it looks!

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

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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.

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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.

Shocking.

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.

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(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!

Self-help

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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.

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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!

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