No home, no tax return

Recently the government revealed that they attempted to fine a homeless man for not submitting his tax return. At the appeal tribunal HMRC argued that the individual’s circumstances were not special. The judge called them ridiculous and it is hard to disagree.

HMRC automatically fine those who don’t submit a tax return when asked to do so. They have the power to waive the requirement to submit a return and to cancel penalties and do not pursue every case through the courts. Decisions are made on an individual basis as to what constitutes a reasonable excuse and what does not.

In this instance the trader lost his records after being evicted and did not receive letters sent to his old address. Clearly it was unreasonable to demand payment of the fines, especially as the return was eventually completed.

What is really ridiculous is the Self-Assessment tax system. Ineffective when introduced in the days of post and paper, it is totally absurd in the immediate digital age.


Easy Genealogy

Once a man called John Smith decided to trace his family tree. He knew nothing about genealogy but had a credit card which brought a subscription to a popular website with templates to populate. He could remember where and when he was born and knew details of his immediate family. Beyond that he was reliant on the records that the system recommended. There were hundreds, waiting to be carefully checked but John did not have time for that.

Many other people called Smith had already built their family trees on the website. Some did not make them confidential, so John was allowed full access. Delighted that someone had done the hard work for him, he exported the data and soon had a complete tree going back two centuries. Proudly he emailed it to all his surviving relatives.

Within minutes he was bombarded with replies about dates and names being incorrect and questions asking how it was possible for ancestors to marry before they were born and to give birth in different countries at the same time.  John didn’t understand the errors, so he blamed the website and cancelled his subscription. His tree remains online to confuse serious researchers.


Finding the best sellers

When I was a child you could identify the best-selling books by looking at a display in your local book store. In America there was also the option of checking the list in the New York Times. Today it is the Amazon best seller lists which give the best indication of a book’s popularity but the top ones aren’t necessarily those which have sold the most.

If volumes of historical sales were used to determine ranking, The Bible, the Quran, Harry Potter, and the Lord of the Rings would dominate for years. Amazon offset this by using a formula that gives heavier weighting to recent sales. This allows classics such as The Great Gatsby to stand in the top 50 alongside new releases. They don’t reveal the exact calculations, and nor do they state the volume sold.

Looking at today’s top 50  in all categories I was surprised by some of the titles, and the lack of fiction, but encouraged to see that many of them are also bestsellers in the New York Times.



Show don’t tell

Show don’t tell is advice usually given to writers, but it should also apply to those starting new jobs. As an applicant you summarise your past experiences and describe the most suitable in the interview. Then, when you start, it’s all irrelevant. Your new colleagues, and managers, aren’t interested in anecdotes of previous glories. They want to see your skills in the current role.

This is illustrated by the constant movement of football managers. Success at one club usually earns an offer at another but often is not replicated. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is that the manager, like Brian Clough at Leeds or Jose Mourinho, at Manchester United, rely on reputation rather than taking time to understand the different culture and structure in their new role.

It’s natural for us to speak proudly of our greatest career achievements, but we should save the memories for reunions and concentrate on creating new ones.

Too late to say no

Members of the British Parliament are leading a global trend of poor decision making. This week 432 (66%) of them voted against the Brexit Deal. Some are whinging about the confusion and chaos, without acknowledging that they caused it.

On 9 June 2015 544 MPs (83%), many the same ones who rejected the deal, voted in favour of holding a referendum on leaving the European Union. It is estimated that 70% of them wanted to remain so why did they give an option to leave? As we know the people accepted that option, without the referendum being legally binding.

Brexit formally began on 29 March 2017 when withdrawal was formally notified. That happened because on 8 February 2017 494 MPs (68%) voted to pass the European Union Notice of Withdrawal Act.

Parliament made Brexit possible and declined an opportunity to stop it.  The MPs are responsible for the seemingly inevitable no-deal exit and need to deal with the consequences of their decisions.

Farewell to the Village Boozer

Once there was a country pub that made a small profit. Everyone in the community drank there and nobody misbehaved because they knew that the landlord would ban them. Along came the government with an increase in alcohol duty. The landlord hired someone who could use a microwave and offered food to break even. Along came the government with a ban on drink driving. The landlord pleaded for a bus service, but the government said there was insufficient demand.

The pub lost customers and money. It closed, putting all the staff out of work. People gathered in the car park to drink and annoy pedestrians. Crime increased as neighbours stopped knowing each other. Some complained to the government about that and unemployment. As it was a marginal constituency the government hired an expensive committee to analyse the problem. The committee did not consider reopening the pub or improving public transport. Instead it recommended alcohol management courses and hired the former landlord to run them.

Drink responsibly folks, whilst you’re still allowed to.


2019 Reading List

Ten years ago, a British pensioner possibly set a record by borrowing 25,000 books from her local library in weekly installments of first six then twelve. An average person is expected to read twelve books a year, and a voracious reader reach 5000 in a lifetime.  Like most people I don’t keep records, but Amazon tells me that I placed 28 orders for myself in 2018 which added to those reread and purchased elsewhere suggests between 40 and 45.

It’s a good time to look back on what books influenced me in 2018 and which ones I’m looking forward to in 2019. Last year my favorite first time reads were The Man from the Train, The Havant Boy Murderer, Jack the Ripper Suspect: Dr Francis Tumblety, and  Lethbridge-Stewart The New Unusual. My favorite repeated read was Fahrenheit 451.

Unsurprisingly, given ongoing research, true crime features high in the 2019 list. There’s Jack and the Thames Torso Murders A New Ripper?,  a new and updated edition of the Jack the Ripper A-Z, The Five, the Untold Lives of the Women killed by Jack the Ripper, and on the fiction front  Doctor Who Meets Scratchman. For a repeat, the best of the Bond Novels.

Whatever you read in 2019, I hope that you enjoy it and learn from the experience.