Benefitting from filling in a Tax Return

Tax retrunFor those of you who are employed or retired on an employer’s pension, theTaxman may not require the completion of an annual return but for some of us this is a painful time of year.  The deadline for a Self Assessment Tax Return is the end of January.

Ah, you might be thinking, serves you right for having extra income, of course you should do your duty, fill in the form and pay your dues.

I am retired and have no income other than pension; I’ve not even sold anything on EBay – and the taxman did once write to me to say that a Tax Return was no longer required.  My reprieve didn’t last long and within a few days I had another letter telling me I had to submit one after all.  I suspect it was my wife’s fault.

In theory anyone who earns (or collects) even one penny of additional income has a duty to declare it by filling in a Tax Return, even if the Taxman hasn’t asked you to.  But of course there are exceptions to what constitutes taxable income and in practice the Taxman could not cope with a high volume of trivial submissions, so they let lots of people off the hook.

For example if you have money in a building society which attracts interest, it gets taxed continues………

Happy New Biking Year

happy new yearWell, 2013, whether good or bad for you, is now over and you get to start again.

In reality it’s merely another dawning of another day – and a winter’s day at that.  But it’s an occassion when lots of people have gone partying late into the night and a new generation of childen got to stay up really late for the first time, and it keeps happening.

Jolly good luck to them all;  we’re staying in Suffolk at the moment, where life moves slowly and although there was a golf club do we could have gone to, leaving the young ones to it and having a quiet night at home was somehow more in tune.  Our dog is a lively creature and during daytime is always up for another walk – and especially for a run along Southwold Beach – but come 10 o’clock she’s already had her evening snooze while we’re watching telly and her tummy tells her its time for her nightime biscuit and then to be left in peace on the settee.

I have no motorbike here, so the question of a New Year ride this morning doesn’t arise, but I like to think there are Wingers somewhere in UK who were setting out to brave the weather while I was enjoying bacon and eggs.  I usually make resolutions about losing weight about this time of year but this year I’ll make one about riding my GoldWings – and especially about resurrecting Edward the Executive from his damaged state during 2014.

You may have noticed that the Light Parade Website is up and running again, with a total of four events to look forward to in 2014, including two completely new venues.  If not then pay it a visit and start the year with something GoldWing to look forward to on this wet winter’s day.

So here’s wishing a Happy New Year to all my readers; I hope this year turns out to be a good one for you.

Happy Christmas Everyone
Sergeant Blackman - a "Class Act"

Sergeant Blackman – a “Class Act”

Please spare a thought for the family of Marine A who are without their Dad because he is currently in prison.

A Royal Pardon was granted yesterday to a man who broke the  law as it was at the time, but had previously served his Country well and for this reason he was singled out for a pardon.

I think that Sergeant Blackman deserves similar special consideration.  He has distinguished service and was described by his superiors as a “Class Act”.  He made a mistake by finishing off a Taliban fighter in cold blood on the battlefield in Afghanistan and he has acknowledged this.  Unfortunately at the moment our law does not distinguish between a mistake of this kind and common murder.

There is a Government E Petition for Blackman’s immediate release which you can sign if you think he should be at home with his family today rather than in prison, as lots of other people do.  It will take you less than a minute to sign it.

A Three Network Problem Part 2
Unless of course you exhaust your allowance, then you pay premium rates

Unless of course you exhaust your allowance, then you pay premium rates










I was away from home, dependent on my smartphone for internet access, and I had inexplicably run out of mobile data allowance only twelve days into the month.  I was also getting text messages from Three telling me I was clocking up excess data charges at an alarming rate.  Something didn’t make sense.  It was time to ring my Service provider, the Three Network.

Fortunately my wife’s smartphone was still within its modest monthly data allowance so I used it to find out how to contact Three.  On their website was an 0843 number, so it was going to cost me but needs must, so I rang them.  (I’d forgotten that you can ring 333 to contact customer services free of charge from any Three Network phone.)

I was connected almost immediately to a man with an Asian accent, who turned out to be in Bombay, or Mumbai as they now call it.  I explained what had happened and asked him to look up my usage to see whether (and if so how) I had used up my allowance to quickly.  I really couldn’t see how this would have been possible unless there was an error of some sort at their end.

He was very polite but it became clear that he was talking more or less from a script and continues………

Killing the Enemy
Hot, dirty and extremely dangerous

Hot, dirty and extremely dangerous

He didn’t know the victim personally, as most murderers do.

The victim was a member of an enemy force which he was there to fight.   Those enemy forces had committed many underhand attacks and brutal killings; they would certainly have been cruel to him if he were caught alive by them.  They would very probably finish him off having tortured him for information first.  They had been hanging body parts of British soldiers in trees to celebrate their achievements.

This enemy fighter was seriously wounded, maybe dying.   Even if he could have been given western-style rescue and medical services quickly, as we try to do for our own and often for the enemy too, it might not have made any difference.  But our soldier decided to finish him off and he took some trouble to avoid being found out while he did so.

Maybe he had old scores to settle of his own, friends killed by the enemy, that sort of thing.  Maybe was just trying to look tough in front of his patrol.  For whatever reason and knowing he was acting illegally, but probably believing he was acting properly and would escape justice if he was careful, he shot the victim in the chest and finished him off.

This sort of thing must happen when fighting forces are deployed against an enemy in the field, especially if there is reason to think the enemy are a cruel and ruthless lot.  It certainly happened on both sides in World War Two.  You are bearing arms and you are there to kill people if necessary, rather than to be nice to them. You are a soldier and you are trained to be tough and ruthless in your mission.  You are expected to demonstrate toughness to your patrol when you lead one.  This is not, or at least this part is not, a “hearts and minds” mission.

But there are still rules and you are expected to obey them.  Maybe the rules don’t require continues………

Remembrance Day and The Military Covenant

remembrance1Remembrance Day was first led by King George V on 11th November 1919, a year after Armistice Day on which, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, fighting stopped on the Western Front of World War One.

The Queen leads an act of remembrance every year on the same day at Whitehall in London.  The last three veterans from World War One attended in 2008 and they all died during the following year but Remembrance Day continues to remind us of  the sacrifices of that War and all others since then.

Afterwards there is a march past by veterans – of World War II, Korea, the Falklands, the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq, other past conflicts and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.  Remembrance Day gatherings take place at the same time all over the UK, throughout the Commonwealth, and everywhere where UK Armed Services are currently serving abroad.

We are less than a year from the centenary of the start of World War One, which began on 28th July 1914.  It went on for over four years and over nine million combatants were killed.  Over 70 million combatants were mobilised.   It was the first global war.

Only twenty years later there was another World War, this time involving over 30 countries and more than 100 million in uniform and there were between 50 and 85 million deaths.  As well as many military casualties there were widespread and sustained attacks on cities and many civilian deaths, including the Holocaust, a mass extermination of 6 million Jews and 5 million others.  It was a fight for freedom but it was total war.    Many types of new weapons were employed including the first use of nuclear weapons, which were so destructive that except for tests and to exist as deterents, none have been used since.

Since then there have however been many episodes of international tension and many continues………

Are British Police still trustworthy?
Nostalgic illusions?

Nostalgic illusions?

A recent news story, widely covered and still running, has raised concerns about dishonesty by police officers, some of whom are suspected of trying to stitch up a Cabinet Minister, some trying to add fuel to the fire and some of covering up.  The episode has backfired on the police in a very big way, not least because four police forces are now involved, and three Chief Constables have been eating humble pie to Parliament already.

And the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has just taken the exceptional step of announcing that the person who will be conducting their enquiries is an experienced investigator but he has never been in the police.

The episode is clearly escalating, as is the scope for conspiracy theories.  There are so many potential conspiratorial players that there’s got to be the basis for a movie script in there somewhere.  So far it’s not looking at all good for the police because there are no “good guy” police angles to this so far, unless those who arrested their Met colleagues turn out to be the ones who moved without undue delay and played with a straight bat, which is a possibility.

Eight Metropolitan Police Officers have been arrested and a file has gone to the CPS to decide whether they get prosecuted.  The CPS seem to be really taking their time.  Three Police Federation Representatives (from three police forces in the Midlands, the politician’s constituency area) took it upon themselves to be interviewed on TV immediately after a meeting with the Cabinet Minister and have been revealed to have told lies because unknown to them the meeting was recorded.  Their three Chief Constables had their conduct investigated and overruled the Investigating Officer by effectively letting them off, on the basis that they had merely exercised “poor judgement”.  They too were called up to answer to a Parliamentary Committee to justify their actions.

The IPCC is now firmly on the case, having already said that the Federation Representatives should, on the basis of the Investigation Officer’s findings, have faced more serious charges than he was recommending.  The IPCC have now started their own formal investigation.

Despite concerns being expressed about undue delay, the CPS have yet to decide about continues………

Customer Experience – and a Three Network story
Good network, what about customer experience?

Good network, what about customer experience?

Sorry this Blog has been so quiet of late; I have been busy with other things but I now hope to get back to regular articles.  This one is only vaguely about motorcycles but hopefully you will find it a good read.

Customer Experience, as the term is used these days, isn’t the same thing as customer service.   It means recognising that businesses, whether their products are physical objects or their services are remote and electronic, are really selling a customer experience.  If they want repeat business, which most businesses do, they need to make sure that their customers feel good about dealing with them, that they have positive customer experiences, otherwise they will go elsewhere.

These days a well-run big businesses will employ specialists to design good customer experience into their package of services or product delivery; there is a new breed of business specialists called Customer Experience people; they get paid well and they carry a lot of clout.  Getting customer experience right is becoming recognised as having strategic as well as tactical importance to a business.  Getting your customer experience right is by no means just a question of training your call centre staff to be friendly and helpful.

Honda pays a lot of attention to what goes on in its chain of dealership these days and requires the reporting back of a great deal of information about customer footfall times and volumes – and a really detailed breakdown of what customers were looking for and whether they got it.  Both the dealerships and the customers are under surveillance and the dealerships certainly feel the pressure of it – and Honda aren’t just being nosey, there are business reasons for focusing closely and continuously on your customers.

At the forefront of what has become known as “customer experience” are those big businesses which have had special reason to see the need early.  The obvious example is the banks, which currently have an image problem to remedy.  Ripping people off by selling them PPI cover as a condition of a loan or when they were otherwise over a barrel in some way was once easy to get away within the privacy within which banking was conducted but the spotlight came on to them and they are paying a big price.

Even without such a history or pressures, other companies have been clever enough to recognise the business value of getting customer experience right.  When well-run businesses plan for the future these days, they build customer experience into the heart of the process.  It’s that’s how important this new business skill has become.

Which for us customers is of course very good news.  Businesses still aim to make profits from us of course, but they have learned that they must leave us feeling good about our experience dealing with them rather than leave us feeling taken for granted (or even worse exploited) or future profits will be seriously compromised.  Going, if not yet gone, are the days when big businesses will contrive to screw you as best they can whenever they can (for example by setting traps for gathering excess charges) without considering the medium and long term customer experience consequences. continues………

Engine and Leisure Batteries – testing and buying
My gel-type leisure batteries have lasted seven years so far - and so did my engine start battery

My gel-type leisure batteries have lasted seven years so far – and so did my engine start battery

Even GoldWings don’t have separate leisure batteries, although I have occassionally explained light-heartedly to admiring members of the public that one saddlebag contains the dishwasher and the other one the generator necessary to power it.

But leisure batteries are common enough as part of a Winger’s camping kit to be worth a mention here – and I’ve recently had to replace an engine start battery on my motorhome when it failed suddenly (after seven years service, so no complaints really) and I’ve been doing the relevant homework about the life expectancy of the equally long-serving leisure batteries, so why not turn it into an article for this Blog?

Some Wingers will use a leisure battery as a source of power in a tent or more likely in a camping trailer but motorhomes are not uncommon either, and I’ve used a motorhome to tow my motorcycle to good riding areas like the French Alps as well as to camping events in UK.  Combining motorcycling with motorhoming has worked well for me so eat your hearts out you purist tent dwellers, it’s a matter of choice and I’ve chosen.

Batteries, and especially the duration of their service lives, have come on a long way during the past thirty years and the engineering is still developing – for example with the appearance recently of the new calcium-type lead acid batteries.  Decent batteries do a decent job these days; there’s no doubt about that.  Lead acid batteries of various sorts have been in use since 1859 and the clever ways in which the fundamental design has been refined and adapted to a variety of uses almost boggles the mind.  Providing you choose the right type and take the necessary care while using it, which isn’t all that much these days, a modern lead acid battery will do you very good service indeed.

But my motorhome, and therefore the leisure batteries which came with it,  are now seven years old, so they must therefore be getting somewhere near the end of their service life.  Currently they are still working well and they will be expensive to replace, so I’m not rushing into it in advance of a clearer indication of impending failure.  But the motorhome’s engine starting battery, also seven years old, failed suddenly on a recent holiday abroad – so could that happen to the leisure batteries too I wondered?  Time to do some homework.

There is a lot of fanciful guff written about batteries on the internet and maybe the experts will consider this amateur attempt to cover the subject to be another example.  At least I’ve done the reading and I’m not promoting any particular product, so hopefully this article will help at least some people.  There isn’t one correct answer to every battery scenario, so you do have to try to understand the subject to some extent – and then you make a personal choice. continues………

The law is sometimes right
An unenviable position to be in

An unenviable position to be in

This article has been updated since it was published.

The white volunteer patrolman of a residential area in Florida who shot an unarmed black youth last year was aquitted of his murder recently and there were immediately widespread protests against the verdict in America, seemingly based on a perception of racial bias.

Some people are convinced that the unarmed youth must have been the victim of murder because he was unarmed, a relative lightweight and he had a right to be where he was, walking back to where he was staying.  Some people see him as a victim because he was black and the shooter wasn’t.

On the other hand some people think the shooter was within his rights to defend himself by using his gun because Florida has a “stand your ground” law, which empowers self-defence shootings.  Some people probably think he was being prosecuted mainly because the man he shot was black.

I was in America when this case was first reported last year and it was very obviously going to become a contentious matter, especially  if it ever came to court, of which there was doubt at the time because the police didn’t seem to want to prosecute.

The evidence hasn’t been reported in any detail here in UK and I wouldn’t dream of second-guessing the jury which heard all of it first hand anyway, so I don’t have a view about whether the jury was right or wrong in this particular case, although plenty of people, especially in America, have.  President Obama has urged calm because a jury has spoken and the rule of law requires us to respect that.  The basis of American justice (and also of UK criminal law) is to trust a jury to get the judgement of the facts right.

A jury has the job of deciding the matter and they won’t have volunteered to be there, so continues………

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