The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Why bother paying for "professional" advice!

And so, the ongoing saga of how much tax I will be liable for on my lump sum continues! I mentioned previously that I was expecting to pay 7.5% tax on my lump sum and then the guy I consulted on tax matters (before handing in my notice) dropped the bomb shell on me that there was another tax - called "CSG" - payable on top. First it was an additional 8.8%, then it was an additional 17.2%, then it was .... Lord alone knows!!! Eventually, based on what he had told me, I was expecting to pay 7.5% tax and an additional 8.8% CSG! Even with that "clarified" I still couldn't figure out the figures he sent me after our meeting. So I went back and forth with him, and a colleague - who is soon to be in the same situation as me - went back and forth with our local tax authorities, who basically told her my guy didn't know his a$$ from a hole in the ground! Anyway, I was supposed to be attending a pre-retirement course up at the International Labour Organizition (which I have now missed due to workload) and wanted to put this question directly to their expert so it would be sorted once and for all. With that in mind, last night I sent my guy an email basically saying, "I understand the €22,000 tax on the lump sum - no problem. I get the €8,000 tax on the pension - no problem. But can you please explain to me exactly where the additional €9,000 comes in!" And then, this morning, I get an email from him to the effect "well maybe the 17.2% isn't correct - you should check with the tax authorities when it comes time to do your taxes"!!!! What the flip! That is why I paid him isn't it - to get "expert"advice!

Anyway, in the meantime my colleague forwarded my exchange of email with this guy to the tax authorities who said that he had totally got his knickers in a twist and was quoting figures based on such things as tax charged on rental property income and so on - which is not my case!!!! The tax lady again confirmed that the only tax to which I would be liable on the lump sum would be 7.5%!!! So my tax liability went from €37,000, down to €24,450 and then down (finally?) to €11,250 (which was the figure I was expecting to pay from the very beginning) and all that in the space of about four emails!!! So, like a €25,000 difference from one email to the next!  This lady said she would be more than happy to speak to me but I don't have the time at the moment. I am working late every night and need time to get my thoughts together, so maybe I will stop in and see her after I retire, since the tax will only be payable in 2020!  What a bloody mess, and can anyone tell me why one pays for "expert advice" only to find out that he is no expert! I sincerely hope this lady is right (I think she is - she works for the tax office after all and it would seem to confirm what other people have told me) but really!!!!!!

In other news, I thought the ceremonies to honour the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 were beautiful. Moreover it was sunny in London so it was more moving than usual, especially seeing the "old soldiers" marching by!  I don't usually like to bring politics up on my blog but I didn't believe even Trump could sink any lower - and then he exceeded all expectations by refusing to attend the ceremony in honour of the US marines who had died "because of the rain". Oh FFS!!!! Even assuming his helicopter couldn't make the trip, it was a one hour trip by car!!! I really, really didn't think he could sink any lower but .... he continues to surprise and disgust!

And talking of "idiots", my ex recently posted on FB a photo of two female military personnel in uniform with a caption underneath saying "can I get a thumbs up, a share and an ooooorrraaaaah for the good ole U S of A"!!!! Which was fine until somebody pointed out that they were Israeli solders! I mean, even I had spotted that but hey, if I ever go into stand-up comedy he would be comedy gold!

On a more positive note, a few months ago I bought four tickets to see the Glen Miller Orchestra at Geneva's Hotel Kempinski and what a fabulous evening that turned out to be. We are usually three friends who go to these kinds of event but I bought an extra ticket as a treat for my neighbour, since she had said ages ago how much she likes that kind of music. So on the Thursday night I went round to tell her that I had bought a ticket as a treat for her but she told me she couldn't go as she wasn't well!  Frankly she is (genuinely) never well and it is so sad to see. I love her to bits but I find her to be a very, very sad woman! She is (in her own words) an unhappily married woman, married to a domineering man. Now I believe you can only be "dominated" if you allow yourself to be dominated but after so many years married I feel she has had all the spunk worn out of her! Don't get me wrong, I don't live in that house and I don't know "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" but for various reasons I am inclined to believe her. Truth, of course, is subjective and that may be the truth as she sees/experiences it, but while her husband is lovely to me and always popping in to do favours and so on, I really do believe he treats her with complete contempt and disdain. He has had affairs in the past as a younger man and I think that marriage died a death then but I like them both. They are good neighbours to me but she is my friend.  The poor thing has spent her entire life living on cigarettes and coffee so she doesn't get fat because "M doesn't like fat women"!!! He doesn't??? Hey I've got a pair of knockers on me and they don't seem to bother him. My feeling is if my body offends you then don't bloody look! I won't go into detail but I have had occasion to put him firmly back in his place before and after he apologized for being out of line we are now back on a good footing. Anyway, as I said, the long and short of it is that she is a sad woman and a nervous wreck and I honestly think all those years of consuming cigarettes and coffee in a bid to stay slim are catching up with her. She is always ill with some ailment or other and a permanent hacking cough. As I say, I love her to bits but I honestly don't think she will make old bones!

The upshot is that she genuinely couldn't go to the concert so since her husband also liked Glen Miller he asked if he could use the ticket - no problem! So the three of us had an evening out with her husband (with her blessing) at a fabulous concert, after which we were literally "buzzing", they were that good. So, if you ever get a chance to see them and you like that kind of music - go for it, you won't regret it!

Friday, 9 November 2018

This and that!

It's been a little while since I posted (well apart from the farting video) but I have been frantically busy, this week in particular, getting home anywhere between 9-10 p.m. I honestly don't mind because I know this is my busy period in any case and there is a feeling of satisfaction when things start falling into place! That being said, I'm pretty tired right now so I haven't been online much lately.

Even though I have been working late and you would expect traffic to be easier by virtue of missing the rush hour, traffic is still just as awful as ever. In fact on Tuesday night I must have left here around 8 p.m. and it still took me 90 minutes to get home because, yet again, there was an accident in the run up to the toll booth. There were only two cars involved from what I could see but one was pranged and had ended up across the right-hand lane - very dangerous. They had it signaled and the emergency services were just making their way there but it would have been very, very easy indeed for another car to plough into them. I tell you, I won't miss that madness at all!

And talking of "that madness", I have just - about 10 minutes ago - sent another mail to HR asking where the heck my paperwork is, noting that my resignation letter was dated 1 October so we are looking at six weeks and counting! When I was in HR I could have all the paperwork prepared in one afternoon and even if we were busy nobody waited more than a couple of days. I am just itching to get my resignation/retirement signed, sealed and delivered.

Oh, and did you like yesterday's video post - that made me giggle so bad! Just my schoolboy-ish sense of humour I guess. I was watching TV the other night and that's what made me think of that video. Well let's back up a bit here shall we. I seem to have phases where I tend to watch certain types of TV programmes. For the longest time it was cookery programmes (because I was obviously going to become a world-famous cook), then there were the "Place in the Sun" type programmes where I was obviously going to up-sticks and move somewhere sunny. Oops, been there, done that - got the T-shirt. Then there would be the "renovate an old farmhouse" kind of programmes because I was obviously going to do that too. Then I moved on to "Snapped/Killer Women" because I was obviously going to .... oooooops, better not even go there I suppose, but suffice it to say I am very happily divorced! Anyway, at the moment it is all about emergency services, be it air ambulance, regular ambulance or ER kinds of programmes. Well, the other night I was watching an ambulance-type programme which was based in the West Midlands, so it was all the more interesting to me because I knew the places involved. What these programmes do for me is highlight the excellent emergency services that we have in the U.K. and this despite the fact that the NHS is slowly being crippled and these people are seriously underpaid. I mean, seriously! But what leaps out of the TV is the compassion that they have for their charges. The highlight of this one particular episode was when two lady paramedics were called out to an elderly gent complaining of pain which had moved up from his knee to his chest. He lived alone and had pancreatic cancer so they were aware that he was already on morphine but ran various tests on him and determined that his pain did not come from his heart. To the camera one of the ladies said that in many cases these people are frightened and lonely and don't always necessarily need much more than medical reassurance but sometimes maybe just a smile and a chat. So they went into the kitchen and made him a cup of tea (the solution to all ills!) and sat and chatted with him for 20 minutes, making sure that he understood that he had to go and see his GP on the Monday morning. By the end of their visit he was visibly improved even though they had not actually administered any medical treatment. As they headed towards the door he got up to accompany them out and to lock the door behind them, when all of a sudden he let out a prolonged, high-pitched ("alto" I think) fart that I swear lasted five seconds. They all burst out laughing, to which one of the paramedics said "problem solved" then! Ah, bless his heart!

In other news, this Sunday is Armistice Day of course, and the 100th year anniversary of the end of WWI. Traditionally in the UK for around 10 days prior we wear poppies in remembrance, the sale of  which allows the amazing British Legion to collect millions of pounds in aid of war veterans (from all conflicts) and their families. I am usually able to buy a poppy through a colleague who gets them from the British Consulate here in Geneva but this year I thought I would like something prettier and longer-lasting. So I decided to buy a poppy broach through the British Legion that I could wear every year and simply donate money at collection time. Anyway, I went onto their site and I don't know if it was just submerged by enquiries (hopefully for them) or whether my geriatric computer was about to give up the ghost, but every time I tried to put my selected broach "into the basket" it wouldn't let me. So after about 10 minutes of this I decided to give them a call - which of course took around 15 minutes to be answered. So much the better as far as I'm concerned because that hopefully meant they were selling-out! Anyway, in the end I got through to a very nice lady and placed my order for one broach at £15 with an additional £15 for postage! That's a lot of money for postage but, again, if it's for the British Legion, I have no problem with that. Buuuuuuuttt, just as we were finishing up I happened to glance at my computer and every "click to put in basket" seemed to have gone through all at once, leaving me with a total of 15 poppies at £15 each plus (I imagine) £15 each for postage! Yikes, while I'm more than happy to support the British Legion I hadn't planned on spending £450!!!! Not to worry, of course, because in the end I was able to empty that basket and hopefully will get my one-and-only poppy in time for the ceremony here in France on Sunday.
This is the broach I chose!

Friday, 26 October 2018

Ouch! Brrrrr! And I wish they'd make up their bloody minds!

Ouch! Well first of all, as in the past three years, two days ago I was able to pay a further 10% extra off my mortgage. I think I've explained before that the only time I can pay extra off my mortgage is if I pay 10% of the initial sum (obviously they don't want people to do this), so in my case it means I have somehow to cobble together 33,000 Swiss francs. This will be the fourth year in a row that I have been able to make this extra payment on top of my regular mortgage payments and I thank God I have been able to do it because that is what is going to allow me to retire at Christmas!

I always keep a copy of my original mortgage amortization schedule in my diary on the date the mortgage falls due (I pay every three months) and from that I can see that by doing this I have knocked an extra 114,000 Swiss francs (£89,000 or $114,000) off where my mortgage would have stood had I not made these extra payments! Yay me! I realize, of course, that I have been very fortunate to be able to do that but I'm just so, so glad that I knuckled down and threw (almost) everything I had at it! Not everything of course because I have still travelled but as I mentioned in a recent post, I cut everything else back as far to the bone as possible in order to be able to sock that money away!

On the "brrrrrr" side, we have been having glorious weather here still - no rain, and you can still easily go outside in the sunshine without your coats on (well the Brits can - everyone else seems to think it's "cold" enough to wear coats. What a bunch off wimps!!!!) Buuuuuttttt, apparently as from Saturday we are heading for fairly constant rain for a few days so I imagine the snow won't be too far behind. I'm just so glad that when I got my car serviced the other week I had them put my winter tyres on because as soon as the first snow flurries come the garages are swamped with people rushing to do the same, so again "yay me"!

And on the "I wish they'd make up their bloody minds" part, I had spoken to a colleague who lives near me (in France) and was telling her about the horrendous tax I was going to pay on the lump sum. In any case, I have resigned myself to paying it but the thought of it is more than a little painful, I can tell you. Anyway, since she will also be retiring shortly she contacted our local tax office and they basically said the info my tax guy had given me was baloney, and that the tax on the lump sum would work out at about 15% instead of the 22% he was talking about. So I forwarded to my colleague the explanations my guy had given me and she then "played tax ping-pong" with the tax authorities, which eventually led to the lady there basically saying that my guy "doesn't know his a$$ from a hole in the ground" (only she put it more politely) and offering to bring him up to speed!!!!! Sooooo, I have the name of another tax person that I intend to talk to and I will shortly be going on a pre-retirement course to be held in one of the large international organizations here where they bring in tax people from both Switzerland and France to talk about these issues (amongst other things), so I intend to put my case to them (in front of about 500 people I guess). Crikey! In any case, I have/had resigned myself to paying around 22% of my lump sum in tax so if I can get that down to around 15% I will be well pleased, but don't you think everyone should be "singing from the same song sheet on this matter"!!!!

And finally, on Wednesday night I went with Thérèse, the "Présidente" of our sewing club for the last 22 years, to the annual meeting of the local community centre groups. I was surprised to find out that there are about 14 groups in total who use the facilities donated by this particular commune for free (and who also receive a small subsidy from the commune) and we are, therefore, obliged to have a yearly meeting where each club must submit its accounts! That's a bit of a joke to me at least because I am the treasurer of the second-hand bookshop that we run in aid of various charities and for me that just means tracking spending/receipts and keeping any remaining cash in a tin under my bed! Still, this has to be done properly and it was pretty nice to find out more of what kinds of groups it is possible to join (you know, when you're not putting in 12-hour days working/commuting). Anyway, the big joke is that I am now the "Présidente" (so a little respect is in order don't you think) of our sewing club (despite not being able to sew!!!! - I do a bit of patchwork when I go, but can't sew) but then they only need someone to do the administrative work in any case! After the meeting everyone crashed out of the meeting room for drinks and snacks, but as it was nearly 10 p.m. and I hadn't even been home yet I bowed out (this time). So there you, go - another feather to add to my hat (and CV) when I finally get round to asking for French citizenship! I hope they are impressed!

Monday, 22 October 2018

This and that!

There's not a lot going on here at the moment. Well I am actually pretty busy at work but it's all routine stuff. There's not a lot of interesting stuff going on, is what I suppose I mean. I had another bloody awful few days' commute though. On Friday (12 October) I again took three hours to get to work. There was an accident on the motorway (turns out it was a four-car accident) which I saw ahead of time so decided to take the back road. Problem was, everyone and his dog decided to do the same thing so I ended up crawling to work yet again, getting in at 10 a.m. after leaving home at 7 a.m.!!! Aaargh! What is especially frustrating though is that although there were four cars involved in the accident, it was (seemingly) just a prang and no-one was hurt (thankfully) and so it was cleared pretty quickly. Had I stayed on the motorway I probably would have been in at least an hour earlier but who can know that in advance eh! Then on the following Monday and Tuesday central Geneva was blocked by a construction workers' strike, yet again causing me (and thousands of others this time) to be late for work. Double aaaarrggghhh!! Now I actually have some sympathy for them because the gist of what I can understand of their complaints is that when they get to 55 on a regular contract they then acquire the right (assuming certain conditions are met) to retire at 60, so what happens is that many, many construction companies effectively fire them at age 55 and take them back on as temporary staff, thus screwing them out of their guaranteed retirement rights. It isn't right or fair of course and I understand their frustration because goodness knows any long-time construction worker who makes it to 60 in that kind of hard, physical job, in my opinion, deserves to retire. That being said, this constant drip, drip, drip of commuting delays is doing my head in. Yet again, I am sooooo grateful to have put my notice in you wouldn't believe it, as I don't really see the traffic situation improving any time soon!

On another note, I got my latest electric bill plan for the upcoming year and it has gone down by €10 per month so that can't be bad given that EDF (the French electric company) have just put their prices up! Which got me to thinking, when my ex was still living with me, our electricity bill was €344 per month!!!! Yes, you read that right! About $400 or £300 per month!!!! I found out after he had gone that he had fixed the water heater to be on 24/7 and routinely left heaters running all day and night even when we were not home (and despite the fact that we have oil central heating)!!!! So my new bill works out at €80/month! Not bad really for this area and given the size of my house. Then there was the home telephone bill. €266/month ($300/£236/month)!!!! Yep great! I think I mentioned before that when I called the telephone company they explained to me that he had set up a contract for unlimited calls to the U.S. for €150/month plus €70/month to Canal+ (the French cable TV company) "just in case there were any good concerts on"!!! For Pete' sake, we could have afforded to fly all over the world to different concerts for that amount of money, and in any case he only called his parents about once every two months to the tune of about €30! I now have my house phone bill (plus Wifi) down to about €25/month so just by cutting those two bills down I was saving around €500/month! Of course, that's without his mobile phone bills, his car insurance (drink drivers pay horrendous insurance bills - that's if they can even get insurance afterwards). Yep, one time after we had separated our finances he had a mobile phone bill of €1,200/month and a home phone bill of about €800/month (in the same month). Add in the car insurance of €500/month as a "high risk" driver and I'm sure you can imagine how much I saved just by having him leave me!!!!

Actually, I called his mom last night as it was her birthday last week and I wanted to wish her a happy birthday. I was pretty fond of my in-laws and I occasionally call her just for a chat. Well we were on the phone for about 1 1/2 hours but I don't mind that at all (and in any case it doesn't cost €266 does it!). I never ask about him but I do get to hear how the rest of the family is doing, and occasionally to hear about him as she tells me some stuff - like the fact that he just bought himself a new, top of the range phone (so nothing's changed there then) and was pissed off when she didn't want his old one. She was then talking about her other son who is on invalidity and how she gets him to come up and help her with her garden (for which she pays him!!!!! - she is 83!!!!) but she has to be very careful what she says to him because "his eyes go black and he explodes into a fury"! So just like his brother then! The brother hasn't worked for years, lives with a woman who has had three kids by three different men and whose 25 year old daughter also lives with them and doesn't work either. In fact, they all live with her granddad (who is 94) and basically sponge off him, although what will happen to them when he pops off this mortal coil God only knows. So no-one works, no-one cooks, no-one cleans and the washing machine is broken and there's no replacement in sight because granddad won't buy a new one. What a lovely picture that paints. To be honest though, my ex is retired and why he can't go up and take care of his mother's lawn (they have a riding lawn mower) is beyond me, but then why would he treat her any better than he treated me. He never cut our lawn either - my neighbour always did it - and I did everything else!!!!! Uuuuurggghhh, I'm so glad I'm divorced. She was also telling me about a cousin of his who (seemingly) had a good marriage but then the husband took to drinking, lost his job and was rolling in at all hours of the night drunk, and (I'm guessing) aggressive since the cousin has now left and moved in with her mother!!! So I just said, "yeah, I know that feeling too, dreading the sound of that key in the lock". Now I don't really mean to pile it on but I think she deserves to know what kind of sons she produced. I have no idea how, actually, since my in-laws were decent, hard-working, church-going people and definitely did not raise their boys to be like that. Buuuuut, they all had those stinking tempers and I guess alcohol never did any of them any favours in that department as the sons are both evil drunks (even though mom didn't drink and dad only rarely)!

So eventually I got around to telling her about my decision to retire at Christmas, despite losing quite a bit of money by taking a lump sum to pay off my mortgage. So she asked "what mortgage - didn't P give you the house in the divorce?" HA! So that's what he's been telling them all Stateside then - what an evil, money-grabbing bitch I am I suppose. Oh man, oh man! Anyway, like I say, I was very fond of my in-laws and am happy to chat with her occasionally, but some of the stuff she comes out with never ceases to surprise me!

Other than that, the weather is glorious here, warm and not a spot of rain. We actually have a hosepipe ban in place - not that anybody would be watering their plants I guess, but no washing of cars and so on. Since I have come back from Sicily it has rained briefly one time and other than that I would say it hasn't rained for about three months! It's not good for the crops and our water levels are running really low, but for the moment I am enjoying this glorious Indian summer!

And finally, yesterday a friend and I went to town for the now-annual "Creative Hobbies Fair". We walked there and back, thereby getting in a good 90 minutes of walking, and yet again it was lovely, although I resisted the urge to spend on all  the beautiful items they had for crafting, particularly since I haven't even started the embroidery projects I bought there last year!!! They had put the entrance price up to €7.50, which I thought was a bit expensive for a small, small-town fair, but luckily I had received two free tickets so I was well pleased. They had also increased the parking to €2.50 from €2 (although, like I said, we walked) and the drinks and refreshments prices were also pretty steep, but all in all it was a pleasant way to kill a few hours, and the quilt display at the entrance was, as always, pretty impressive. That'll be me some day!

Monday, 15 October 2018

Our latest board game evening - and just too much partying for this old bird!

On Saturday night we had our latest, monthly board game evening at my neighbours' house. There were only eight of us there this time as quite a few of our group already had plans and I did wonder if it would be as much fun as usual - but it was every bit as much fun, probably because we could all easily play the same game. Yet again there was way too much food, although I found that we were very reasonable in the wine department, thankfully. We spent most of the evening playing a game called "Time's Up" where we split into four teams of two and each had to get our team mate to say certain words or phrases, either by giving clues or by miming, all the while being up against the clock! It wasn't easy as many of the answers were very "French-specific" - by which I mean French culture, TV, expressions and so on. I don't even have French TV so a lot of it went straight over my head but on occasion we stumbled across a few anglophone answers which tended to make up for all the "Frenchie" stuff. For instance, what is the name of the main character in The Big Bang Theory (answer: Sheldon Cooper - hope you got that one!).

Anyway, at one point I had to get D, my English friend, to say "Harrison Ford". Easy right! Well bugger me but do you think I could think of the name "Indiana Jones". It went straight out my mind. I seriously couldn't be on a programme like "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" because even if I knew the answers (unlikely, I admit) my brain just doesn't fire properly when I'm under pressure! So my solution to getting her to say "Ford" was to start singing "climb every mountain, FORD every stream"!!! Seriously! The French just looked at me like I was mad!! So Jen, my daughter-in-law (to be) suggested she say the word "hedgehog" in French - i.e. "hérisson" - which, for some reason, to Jen, sounded like "Harrison". OK, I can go with that I suppose, but I can't say we were on the same wavelength really. Then she asked D what make of car I drive - to which somebody yelled out "Toyota" (I drive a Ford). So in the end, "Harrison Ford" ended up coming out like "Hedgehog Toyota"! I guess you had to be there but I was doubled up, it was so funny! I also had to get her to say "Claude Monnet", so just said "how do you say "argent" in English?" and she stared at me and said "money"! I took that one as a win even if D had no idea what I was talking about!

We finally finished that game around 1 a.m. when Isabelle, our hostess, suggested another game - "Six qui prend" - a rather good card game which was new to me but good fun anyway. I ended up trudging home exhausted (all 20 metres of it) at around 2.30 a.m.!!!! Goodness, I'm too old for this partying malarky, I was so out of it the next day that I had to have a three hour siesta! The sooner I retire the better, I must say, if I'm going to keep partying like this!

Isabelle - miming God alone knows what!

A "smaller" mime obviously!

Jen - either with her swag bag or being Father Christmas!

Not sure what Philippe was miming with such gay abandon!

Jordan all smiley-faced!

Isabelle - looks like she's singing opera!

Friday, 12 October 2018

If there were ever any doubt ...

... that I made the right choice to hand my notice in, that doubt disappeared this morning when it took me three hours to get to work!!!