Tag Archives: life the universe and everything

Broken

Although the title could fit me—though it is fair to say I’m not as broken as I thought I might be after recent national and international events—this is about this blog.

I’ve been busy at the workbench, with little time to sit at my computer. After my last entry here, back in March, I made the mistake of updating the main WordPress software and plugins. One of the most useful plugins, though, breaks the site. I simply am unable to access anything, presented with a white blank page. To gain access to the dashboard, I have to log into the nether regions of the control panel, rename or delete a folder, and then the site comes back to life for me.

The problem is the plugin is one of the most useful, and to pile agony further it’s made by WordPress themselves! Jetpack handles things like cross-posting links to my social media, notifying me if there’s been a comment, and lots of other handy things. Only it’s broken. Numerous updates have been and gone, yet it’s still broken. I can’t be the only person affected by this, can I? Sadly, it seems I am. There’s nothing recent on the WP web site itself. I’ve asked a question of the WP gurus, but I don’t expect a straightforward answer, if an answer is forthcoming at all.

So, I’m left with the annoyance that my blog is somewhat broken. I’m hoping this issue will be resolved in due course, but I’m not holding out any hope. Normal service may be resumed at some point.

The Kipper House of Lies | Robininces Blog

This struck me when I read it.

We share so much, but we seem to understand each other less and less.

Source: The Kipper House of Lies | Robininces Blog

Read it in context of the whole post, too. Hopefully, you will agree as well. It’s something I have come to realise about the whole social media and, indeed, world wide web experiment. The more information freely available to everyone the less everyone seeks out the information that enriches and educates them. Which is kind of sad, when you think about it.

Sophie-puss

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In November 2013 we said goodbye to Penny-puss. Penny and Sophie were homed as a pair of rescue cats from our local branch of Cats Protection. All of our cats have come from CP. When Penny left us, Sophie became Top Cat.

We had originally thought both moggies were of similar ages, but it turned out Sophie was a bit younger than her chum. We didn’t know how many years we would have left to share with Sophie.

Penny was always the quiet one, but it was fairly obvious she kept Sophie in her place. With the Strong Paw of The Law out of the way, Sophie could fulfil her potential. That was to occupy any and every lap that came into the house, often times without asking permission first!

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Being a black cat, she always felt she should be the centre of attention, at all times, no matter how inconvenient. Cuddles came first, second and third, and more so once Penny had died. Sophie would be the one to get up to mischief, climbing onto wardrobes and disappearing behind settees. On one occasion, while we were having the central heating serviced, Sophie went to find out what was going on behind the hot water tank. She emerged, wreathed in cobwebs, looking like a feline Miss Havisham.

Sophie 36

Being a black cat, she was also notoriously difficult to capture in photographs. The best photos I have are when she was gallivanting on our large shed roof, where I was low enough to capture playful moments with her.

She had started calling plaintively and loudly, soon after Penny’s death. At first we thought it was just calling for her friend, but it soon became evident she was letting the world know, at volume and at length, what she had just been up to.

“I’ve just used the litter tray … I’d give it a few minutes if I were you … I even impressed myself with that one … No, don’t thank me, it was my pleasure …”

“I’ve just been out in the garden … it was a bit parky out there … I’m back in for a warm … any grub going?”

… and so on.

Cuddles and laps were the order of the day. Sophie and I would often end up having a bit of a tussle on the settee should I be so bold as to insist my lap be reserved for other uses.

Sophie 73

Old age catches up with us all eventually, and it was no different for Sophie-puss. When we homed her it was thought she might be eight years old. She’d been with us nine years, all but. That would make her not far off 18 years old, or around 70 in human years. A good age for a domestic moggie.

Sophie started having little collapses where her back legs gave out and she would soil herself. She would usually recover in a couple of minutes, and dash off to the food bowl as if nothing happened. The collapses started happening more regularly. Then she didn’t look well at all. Her breathing was shallow, and anything mildly strenuous would leave her out of breath for several minutes. We took her to the vet, fully expecting not to bring her home again. The diagnosis was heart failure—she’d always had a heart murmur—with the chest cavity full of fluid, and the collapses might be due to partial fainting, or possibly blood clots. The vet gave Sophie a vitamin injection, and prescribed some pills to help flush fluid out of her chest cavity and also help with the back legs.

That was about three months ago. The medication helped, when Sophie would eat the food containing it. In the past couple of weeks, her back legs had shown signs of some improvement. We had a new back door fitted in March, with a cat flap. After a little persuasion, Sophie decided she liked this innovation, and provided it was unlocked she would let herself in and out to her heart’s content. As the weather got warmer, she spent more and more time in the garden, following the sunny spots around during the day.

Accidents happened, usually involved missing the litter tray. We got used to cleaning up after Sophie. She was getting old, and we have to expect these things.

This week, though, things began to change. She was getting more confused. She managed to get herself on the garage roof, but couldn’t remember how to get back down. We had to effect a rescue with a ladder. Her eyesight wasn’t as good as it used to be, leaving her blundering into doors if she wasn’t careful. She didn’t want to sit on my lap at all—unheard of. Then she found a convenient low shelf near my workbench where she could curl up and sleep. That’s not usually a good sign. Cats are generally known to find somewhere they can hide when they think their time is nearly up. I made up a little nest of a blanket and some soft things for her.

Yesterday she barely moved. She did totter out to the kitchen for a drink, but tottered straight back to her little nest. She didn’t eat at all. She responded with a purr if she was stroked, but it was obvious she wasn’t really happy. We decided to leave her alone, monitor the situation and decide whether to make That Call to the vet in the morning.

We hoped nature might take its course overnight, but it didn’t. When she showed little signs of improvement, an appointment to have Sophie put to sleep was made for this afternoon. We went out to do our grocery shop, and when we got home, Sophie had died. We think she had either had a seizure or slipped and had a heart attack struggling to right herself. Either way, we hope she didn’t suffer unduly.

Sophie-puss has gone to join Penny-puss, and Snowy and Bootsie from next door. Perhaps even our old Tom and Misty will be there. Thanks for the cuddles and fun, Sophie. Yes, I shouted at you when you insisted on making a racket. Yes, you did like to land on my head if you felt it was time for breakfast. But we still loved you to bits, Charlie. You will be missed, especially on cold evenings when you warmed my lap while we watched telly together. Farewell, furry friend.

As has become traditional after the loss of a cat, we made our way straight to CP to see what new furry friends might want to make a home with us. We plan to go back on Sunday for a proper look, but we might have one likely candidate already. We’ll see.

 

Exercise

I am no spring chicken. I am well aware of this fact. I am also becoming aware I really should have taken a bit more care of myself when I was younger.

I have an active brain. It’s always churning away on something. Some nights it keeps me awake because it won’t let go of something. I may be worrying over how to accomplish a task on a model build currently on the workbench, or I may be reliving some disaster in the previous day or so and how I could have either prevented it or retained more dignity than perhaps I may have managed at the time. I think it’s fair to say my brain is the most active part of me!

As I grow older, it is becoming more critical that I begin to take an active, albeit belated, interest in looking after myself. I need to lose weight, and I need to do some exercise.

I bought a bike a few years ago. For a while I was riding it every day or so, building up stamina, feeling better for moving various bits of me that don’t customarily move quite that much. Then we had some bad weather, and the bike stayed in the shed longer. Winters and springs came and went, and the bike remained locked away. A pang of guilt strikes every time I venture into the shed to retrieve something or other. There’s my bike, sitting there, patiently. I will often flick the bell on the handle bars, for old time’s sake. Perhaps this year, I think to myself. Perhaps I will get back on the bike.

I see people running, or pounding away on machines at leisure centres and gyms, and I wonder what they see in it. What is going on in their heads while their body burns the calories? Could their lives be so empty that they actually get pleasure from physical exercise? I know exercise releases chemicals into the brain that makes you feel better, so perhaps that’s it. After a while, it must become an addiction.

Last year I had a run in with the medical world, as we tried to find out why my heart was seemingly skipping a beat or three very frequently. Again, the rejoinder was to change lifestyle, get more exercise, lose weight. If only it was that simple. Now, it seems, my blood pressure has decided it needs to be higher than normal. My body may be ganging up on my brain after all!

The trouble is I’m a lazy sod. I know I need to exercise more. I realise it’s for my own good. But that active brain of mine keeps nagging at me that if I start walking every day, or—heaven forfend—break out the bike again, it’s time away from productive work. Walking anywhere without a purpose, or riding up and down the same bit of road, just for the sake of burning calories and building up muscles is not my idea of time well spent. The simple fact is I find exercise the most tedious waste of time. I don’t, I tell myself, have time to spend away from things that might be much more interesting, or even making some kind of living.

Then again, I can’t afford to be ill. I am just going to have to find the time to get a little fitter. It looks like the bike will see daylight once again. The time has come, it seems, to take my lifestyle by the throat and give it a good shaking. Wish me luck.

I know, I know…

I am sorry. There, I said it. I’m sorry I don’t have time to make copious posts here like I used to. Obviously, when I worked at a computer nearly all day it was easier to open a tab and pour forth. Now I am making models for a living I don’t have nearly as much computer time as I used to.

There’s also an awful lot I could be writing about. The political scene, the NHS, the world’s inexorable spin into death and destruction… There’s too much to be annoyed about, too much to offer my opinion about, and what good would it do anyway? Just another scream into the void.

It’s easy to be negative, and I try not to be as often as I can. Sometimes, though, looking around at the state of the world, one can’t help but wonder how we have let things get quite so bad.

I have had an idea for a couple of ranty historical posts about the recent rebirth of the Flying Scotsman, and celebrating an 80th anniversary of the Spitfire’s first flight but ignoring the Hurricane’s 80th last year. I may still work something up, but I’m only typing now because today is a fallow day for domestic and medical stuff to be done. Normally I’d be ankle-deep in metal filings by now!

So, I apologise for being quiet. I’ll try to make amends soon. Possibly.

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing

Readers of a certain age will recall the title of this piece was a slogan coined by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs for an advertising campaign some years ago. They were trying to explain that dealing with your tax affairs needn’t be a complex thing—and to an extent, over the past few years or so, this has proved to be the case.

I am self-employed. I’m a sole trader. I have been such on and off for the past 16 years or so. As one of this growing band of entrepreneurs I must fill out a self-assessment tax form each year. Should I be so lucky as to have had a good financial year and ticked over the minimum income tax threshold, then I dutifully cough up what I owe—as well as half of what HMRC think I might owe next year. Don’t ask.

Anyway, the current bunch of cretins in charge of this fair country decided it would be a spiffing wheeze if we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types should perform the annual tax return ritual four times a year. You can type the words “tax returns four times a year” into your preferred search engine to find any number of stories about it. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a lot of we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types were a little upset by the notion, and an online petition was started. Of course I signed it.

Anyway, this last week the signatories received the following email from the Powers That Be:

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Scrap plans forcing self employed & small business to do 4 tax returns yearly”.

Government responded:

Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.

These reforms will not mean that businesses have to provide the equivalent of four tax returns every year. Updating HMRC through software or apps will deliver a light-touch process, much less burdensome and time-consuming than it is today.

At the March 2015 Budget the government committed to transform the tax system by introducing simple, secure and personalised digital tax accounts, removing the need for annual tax returns.

At the 2015 Spending Review the government announced it would invest £1.3bn in HMRC to make this vision a reality, transforming HMRC into one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.

One element of this vision will be asking most businesses, self-employed people and landlords to keep track of their tax affairs digitally and update HMRC at least quarterly via their digital tax account.

Many taxpayers have told HMRC that they want more certainty over their tax bill, and don’t want to wait until the end of the year, or even longer, before knowing where they stand with their taxes.

We also estimate that £6.5bn in tax goes unpaid every year because of mistakes made when filling in tax returns. These reforms will make it easier for taxpayers to maintain accurate and up-to-date tax affairs, reducing the scope for error.

With businesses keeping track of their tax affairs digitally, quarterly updates will be fundamentally different from filling out an annual tax return in a number of crucial respects:

  • Quarterly updates will not involve all the complexity of a full tax return. The updates will be generated from existing digital business records. In most cases, little or no further entry of information will be needed. It will be much quicker to complete than the current tax return.
  • As part of the process the business owner or individual will receive a developing in-year picture of their tax position, helping people have greater certainty about what they owe, allowing them to plan their finances more effectively. This differs from the current system where many taxpayers are caught out by their tax bill when it finally arrives.
  • In-year updates will not be subject to the same sanctions for lateness or inaccuracies as apply now to the year-end position. HMRC will consult during 2016 on what sanctions might be appropriate for a more digital tax administration.

The government has already announced that these measures will not apply to individuals in employment or pensioners, unless they have secondary incomes of more than £10,000 per year from self-employment or property.

The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.

HMRC will ensure support is available for people to get online if they need it. We will also provide alternatives for those who genuinely cannot use digital tools, like telephone filing. This will build on our Needs Extra Support service, which has gone from strength to strength in helping more vulnerable customers.

We’re introducing these reforms gradually. We’ve been in discussion with stakeholders since March 2015 and will be consulting on the details of the proposals throughout 2016.

We will use volunteers to test the new tools and processes and give us feedback. Quarterly updates will be introduced for some from 2018, and will be phased in fully by 2020, giving taxpayers time to adapt.

We want to work with all stakeholders to ensure these changes work for them. For more information about the proposed reforms please search for ‘Making Tax Digital’ on Gov.UK or use the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/making-tax-digital

HMRC

That’s a lot of words effectively saying “stop your whinging and just get on with it”.

In case you glazed over, the important bit—for me at least—was this: “Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.“.

Oh, okay. So what they’re saying is I will have to actually start keeping proper accounts with proper software, rather than maintaining a simple spreadsheet and a box full of receipts which has hitherto been quite adequate. Am I expected to spend money on this software?

“The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.”

Fair enough, I suppose. However, this still expects me to sit down every bloody quarter and punch in some figures to an online account of my taxes. Just so you know, I haven’t managed earned enough to pay income tax for several years. I don’t find an annual return at all burdensome, and doesn’t actually take me more than a couple of hours with my accountant and about 20 minutes online to complete.

Incidentally, who are these “stakeholders” that have been consulted? I’ve not been asked my opinion on this.

Rather than cutting red tape and the burden of the state, this government seems intent on doing exactly the opposite. (Surprise!) Far from a “light touch” I think it’s going to cause more annoyance than anything else. I’ve got better things to be doing than submitting quarterly updates on my lack of tax-earning ability. Why the hell would I want to keep up with my tax affairs like that anyway?

I guess it’s going to happen whatever we do. My ranting about it isn’t going to change it, so in five years I shall be grumbling about it again as the free software fails to connect to my digital tax account for the umpteenth time because I haven’t updated it or because I’ve had to dig out an old PC to run it because Mac OS or iOS aren’t supported. My guess is it’ll be like every other government IT scheme. It’ll crash and burn, and cost billions to implement, saving nothing in the long run.

This rant is brought to you by HMRC’s web site’s failure to recognise Best Beloved’s online account this year, requiring a postal password reset because he doesn’t have a registered email address with the system. It bodes well, doesn’t it?

Motivation

Me and my shadow

There are times when being self-employed is a curse. Yes, there is all that “being your own boss” malarkey, and my hours are set to suit me. The thing is, motivation is hard work: sometimes you need someone else to drive you.

As I type I have two shelves full of commissioned models to build, and the workbench is home to three partially-built models. I currently have enough work to keep me going well into next year. By most measures I seem to be pretty successful and have plenty of work to be doing.

So why can’t I get on with it? There’s the million dollar question.

It is true that some builds do hit snags, and have to be sidelined for a spell. Usually I will pick up another model and let the snags resolve themselves in their own good time. There are times when real life has to be dealt with, such as medical appointments or car servicing.

There are also times when the mood just isn’t right. You may scoff, but building models isn’t simply about following instructions, wielding tools and miniature engineering. There is also art involved, and when the Modelling Muse bimbles off somewhere more interesting I can be left with no choice but to seek other things to do.

Last week was supposed to be busy; I had loads of workbench stuff to get on with, at any rate. On Monday I had an appointment around midday, so the morning and afternoon were sufficiently disrupted as to stop meaningful work. Tuesday, I was struck by some sort of malaise which left me moping around the house trying not to be annoyed at everyone and everything. Experience tells me best not to tackle anything involving sharp tools in that kind of mood. Wednesday saw our weekly shop a day earlier than normal—a knocked-on disruption from a short break a month ago. Best Beloved also decided he wanted some new electronic toy (a printer), and that ended up with me sorting out a rat’s nest of cables and installing software across our various computers for the rest of the day. Thursday appeared to have trickled away with nothing constructive being achieved. Friday vanished into a miasma of nothing much.

I suppose I could blame the season and the weather. It is November, after all, and looking from my window into the near-darkness more rain has set in, with its close colleague wind not far behind. It’s a singularly depressing time of the year, despite the glorious leaf colours on a bright and sunny day. It’s all too short, though, and already the talk is of Christmas.

Ah, Christmas. Here it comes again. It is true what they say. The years fly by faster as you get older. And on that happy note, I think it’s time for me to do some other displacement activity to avoid actually working.

Mortality

I think it’s fair to say I’ve passed one of those significant milestones in my life. Although mentally I still feel like I am thirty, physically it is becoming apparent I am starting on the downhill side of life. Things are wearing out, falling out and generally aching. I groan when I stand up, I can’t kneel properly any more, and the old back aches and twinges more frequently.I am beginning to feel my age. There is a slow dawning that I am mortal, a realisation that one day I shall no longer be around.

Many of my friends and loved ones are older than me. Best Beloved is a full quarter century older than me, interestingly more or less the same age as my parents. There are not many of my friends—not counting those online and spread across the planet—who are actually younger than me. I also don’t have children, and neither does my younger sister. These are lifestyle choices we made, but it means we don’t actually have direct relatives to take on whatever we leave behind. I assume my sister will outlive me, but one can never be sure of these things. Will she even want to deal with the detritus of another life?

In short, I am going to have to think carefully how my property and, if you will forgive the pomposity, my legacy will be handled once I am reduced to a forgotten bag of ashes. I am also having to consider how I will approach the closing of my life. I suppose it is pretty obvious that I will be alone at the end. Will I be able to control my decline, to keep some dignity at the end, to be able to dispose of possessions to people who might care about them before it’s too late? Should I begin to organise my affairs now, before senility sets in?

Sobering thoughts, and not a little depressing. Still, I suppose that’s life.

Life goes on

Once again, I find the old blog has been neglected. Reasons for this are several: time, lack of; worthwhile, nothing to say that’s; way, life getting in the.

The workbench is busy. Having said that there isn’t much to actually show for it. Several client builds have reached an odd kind of stasis where there’s ongoing work but not much to see. The photo shows five part-built models, but doesn’t show four others I’ve started, or the growing pile of unstarted models! I’ve begun a process of building up some of my own models that have been in storage for some years, with the idea of using them to populate my table when I demonstrate at model exhibitions. You see, I’ve built some lovely models over the past few years but they don’t hang around once they’re completed, tending to go to their owners, so I can’t show them off to a wider public. Having a semi-permanent collection of various models will be useful, I think.

In other news, a general election has come and gone. After one of the dirtiest, fib-ridden and frankly far too long campaigns, the result, as you might expect, was not quite what I had hoped for. In fact, it took me rather badly—yes, even cynical old me—with the result that I’ve been trying very hard to not fall ill over it. I’m currently undergoing a battery of tests to see what might be wrong with me, but so far nothing has surfaced.

The election results have also prompted some serious discussions at Snaptophobic Towers about moving somewhere else. It seems neither Best Beloved nor myself hold out much hope of things improving round here. Of course, I could get off my backside and actually try and do something about it, but there’s that thing called “lack of time”. Well, it’s an excuse anyway.

On the up side, it’s encouraged us to do all the things round the house and garden that we’ve been putting off for so long, with a view to improving likely selling prospects. Even if we never sell up and move out, we’ve made where we live nicer.

Photography. Now, there’s a thing. I haven’t been out for a proper photo expedition for ages. The passion has simply wandered off, and is probably doing something more interesting without me. I very nearly decided to sell all the gear a while ago. I know. It shocked me, too. I need something to give me a kick up the arse and to encourage me to blow the dust off the gear, and to get out there to explore again.

So, here we are, half-way through 2015. This year is simply flying by, and if I’m not careful I might miss it!

L’Atomo di Forza, ė morte

L'Atomo

It had to happen eventually. There have been some reliability issues surrounding my little red motor car of late. Despite a faultless journey from Kent to Somerset and back via Dorset the other week, a day out to a model railway get-together in Buckinghamshire proved too much.

Essentially, despite precautions, l’Atomo did a boiling kettle impression on the M25 near Godstone. He had to be hauled home rather ignominiously on the back of a lorry. Currently, he sits, looking rather forlorn, on our drive. I don’t want to try and drive him again, for fear of repeating the damage that cost me so much a few years back, so I will have to call a mechanic who can visit here—hopefully to give an honest opinion about the likelihood of repairs.

Ironically, we had planned a replacement car purchase later in the year. Whether l’Atomo can be fixed or not, he’s due for retirement. The latest escapade has kind of forced our hand, so today I have been trawling the various sales sites for likely vehicles. In an odd kind of way, I quite enjoy car shopping. Let’s just hope we can find a good, reliable, comfortable successor to My First Fiat™.