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Monday Memories – A New Direction

My boss, the Chief Engineer, was heavily invested in the waste burning project. My council workload was becoming a problem for him. He came to discuss the situation with me, saying he was finding that when he needed to discuss work with me I was not around. Could we come to an arrangement whereby my council business would be confined to specific days of the week? I should point out that, up to this point, the company had been extremely generous in allowing me time off with pay for these duties, subject to my returning the council attendance allowance to them.

A subsequent meeting with the Site Director resulted in the suggestion that a voluntary redundancy package could be put together should I wish to leave. For me the suggestion was welcome, provided the terms were right. It would enable me to embark on my preferred career as a writer and/or politician. When the terms were put to me, they were indeed generous. A tax free lump sum, roughly equivalent to two years salary. In addition, my qualifying service for my future pension would be increased from 18 to 20 years and the pension would be paid from age 60, not 65.

Coincidentally, the company’s pension had been a subject I had addressed in an article for the Senior Staff Association magazine a few years before. A number of the members were exercised about what seemed like inadequate communication between the executive and the membership. I and one of the Chemists from the R&D department in Coventry had, independently of each other, proposed that a members’ newsletter or magazine was needed. “Why don’t the pair of you get together and produce it?” was the challenging response, and we did.

There was a general feeling that Courtaulds’ staff pension scheme did not measure up to those offered by the civil service and other “blue chip” companies. I investigated and concluded that our scheme was – I think my words were – “disappointingly average,” backing that conclusion with data gleaned from various sources. You could call it my first piece of investigative journalism! The basic principle of all such schemes, based on rules established by the tax authorities because the contributions were tax exempt, was that the pension earned by the combined contributions of employer and employee, extending over 40 years, should not exceed 2/3 of your final salary.

More than 30 years later, now that I have been in receipt of a pension from the scheme for 17 years, I have to say I am grateful to have been a member whilst I was an employee.

To her credit Freda supported my decision to leave my safe, secure job. Ian was now well settled in his position as a student nurse, living in Lincoln and making new friends. It would not be easy living on the meagre attendance allowance and Freda’s salary from the Spastics’ Society, but the lump sum redundancy payment would yield some income if wisely invested and I hoped to be able to generate some additional income from writing.

I left Courtaulds shortly before my 45th birthday in November 1986. One of the first things I bought on the strength of my severance package was a Word Processor. Since the early 1980s I had had access to an Apple 2 desk top computer at work and, more recently, this had been replaced by a Hewlett Packard PC which was networked with new HP mainframe computers.

Image shows an early desk top computer with separate keyboard and small printer.
An Amstrad 512 kb word processor/computer like the one I purchased on leaving Courtaulds. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amstrad_PCW

The Amstrad Word Processor came in two versions – the basic 256 kb machine with one built-in floppy disc drive and the larger 512 kb machine with two disc slots. I opted for the 512. The main advantage of this being that you did not have to keep swapping discs. To explain that properly, it is necessary to realise that neither 256 nor 512 kb of on-board memory allowed for any software to be permanently installed. You used one disc to load the software, then saved the files you created to a separate floppy disc. This was infinitely easier with two discs than with one.

I had become quite accomplished at using Lotus 123 spreadsheets for work so my colleagues purchased, as their leaving gift for me, a spreadsheet programme that would run on the Amstrad. Because of the limited on-board memory you had to create your spreadsheet from scratch, defining how many columns and lines you would need. A long way from the seemingly infinite number of columns, lines and sheets that can be utilised on present day spreadsheets!

World Book Day – Going Wide

android-app-kindle-alternatives-intro

Image found at makeuseof.com, original attribution unknown.

Those of us who have little hope of ever getting a contract with a traditional publisher have two viable alternatives. There is, of course, the route of ‘vanity publishing’ in which you are offered a contract that requires you to shell out large sums in order to have your book published. That is something to be avoided unless you have deep pockets and little faith in the value of your work. There is, too, the option of engaging a local printer and launching the book in your home town. I know several people who have done that with considerable success. It is especially appropriate if your book has local interest but limited appeal in the wider market.

If, however, you want your work to be made available to a world wide readership, the options are Amazon exclusivity or something that has come to be known throughout the independent publishing community as ‘going wide’.

Amazon currently has abut 70% of the market for digital books. Its Kindle, in its various versions, is the most popular of all e-readers. It is possible to publish with Amazon without having an exclusivity clause, but the big advantage of KDP Select, the exclusive option, is that your book is available free to anyone who subscribes to Amazon’s ‘Unlimited’ reader programme which for a $9.99 monthly fee (plus local taxes), enables a reader to download up to 10 books. If you want more you have to return one for each new one you choose. Writers are rewarded according to the number of pages read. There are other advantages, like the ability to offer discounts or free books for a few days every 3 months. And that’s not really an advantage at all, since outside of KDP Select you can vary your price whenever you want by as much as you deem appropriate.

But what about the other 30% of the market? The market served by Apple, Barnes & Noble and four or five other distributors of digital books? What about people who do not own a Kindle but are able to read books on their tablet or one of the other e-reading devices like the Nook? To make your book available to those people it is necessary to upload your book to an alternative platform.

There are several, none of which requires you to remove your book from Amazon’s standard publishing programme, though, of course, Amazon does not permit you to publish anywhere else whilst you are in its exclusive ‘Select’ plan. Smashwords is one of the oldest, and I published my first book there, along with most others, before I published with Amazon. More recently I tried the Amazon exclusive option and archived my titles at Smashwords.

After having Summer Day there for 9 months and A Purgatorry of Misery for 3, I have decided to ‘go wide’ once again. This time with a platform called Draft2Digital. This gives me access to half a dozen or more potential outlets, including Apple and subscription services like Scribd. Draft2Digital has a sister site, Books2Read, which shows readers all the different channels where a book is available.

Here are the Books2Read links for the 4 books of mine currently available there.

Strongbow’s Wife

Summer Day

Transgression

A Purgatory of Misery

The important thing is that you don’t have to have a Kindle to read these books digitally. You can read them on your iPad or other tablet, or, if you have one, your Nook, Kobo or other e-reader. They are priced the same as at Amazon, but watch this space because I’m going to have some special offers later this month to celebrate going wide.

And for those of you who prefer the look, feel and smell of paper, all 4 are available in print via Amazon’s Creatspace. You will find more information about all my books, with a full set of book links, on my Publications page.

Apple’s €13 billion: Yours? Mine? Whose?

Following the EU Commission’s findings released on 29th August, Irish politicians and commentators, as well as some further afield, have struggled to find the correct response. In the end the Irish government agreed to join Apple in lodging an appeal against the findings.

The methods that Apple, and some other large corporations, use in order to avoid paying tax are well enough documented. A complex series of financial transfers enables Apple to show the greater portion of its profits as eligible for tax in a jurisdiction where the tax rate is zero. It pays tax in Ireland at 12.5% on the tiny residual profit left after deducting the ‘expense’ of paying its parent company, registered in a tax haven, for the use of intellectual property owned by the parent.

Such schemes are widely regarded as immoral or unethical. I think there is another way of looking at it, especially with regard to this case and any others like it. The $14.5 billion tax bill with which Apple has been presented by the EU is retrospective. That is to say it relates to past business transactions. And that means the money has already been spent. Apple will now have to set aside a special fund of $14.5 billion in order to cover the possibility that its appeal might fail and that it will eventually have to pay up.

It will probably appear in Apple’s accounts as a ‘provision’ for future liability.

Over-taxed Irish citizens

The actual $14.5 billion that was not paid in taxes in past years was, of course, spent: in payments to suppliers and contractors, to employees, and as dividends to share holders. Each of these paid tax on that income. Some of them are Irish citizens. Like most Irish citizens they probably believe they are over-taxed, especially as they have to pay for some services that are free at the point of delivery elsewhere, notably in their close neighbour Britain. They might now believe that, had Apple and other large corporations paid more tax, they would have paid less. Is it really that simple?

Let’s start from the assertion that all money is nothing more than a token acknowledging someone’s work. So that $14.5 billion represents work undertaken by Apple employees, their suppliers, or contractors in various parts of the world, and their share-holders. Had they paid it over to the Irish government, the government would have used it to pay it’s employees, suppliers and contractors; to make welfare payments to its senior citizens, the unemployed and those on government sponsored work schemes. But Apple would have had less money available to pay to its employees, suppliers and share-holders.

So we come down to the question of which is the greater good? The private, corporate sector producing all the modern conveniences we take so much for granted, or the public sector? And what is the proper balance between the two? It’s a question that has formed the basis of election manifestos for many generations and that will not go away any time soon.

Ireland is presently in the throes of an escalating series of public sector pay disputes. No doubt some of those public servants who believe themselves to be under-rewarded would be delighted to get their hands on a share of the €13 billion, should it one day arrive in the government’s coffers. But then, I guess there are governments in other jurisdictions, not least the USA, who believe that a share of Apple’s unpaid tax properly belongs to them