Archive for the ‘About me’ Category


A worried academic writes…

March 27, 2015

Apparently civil servants can’t have contact with the media any more.  It’s here in the Civil Service Code, under “Integrity” – fifth bullet:

‘Ensure you have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.’

I’m a bit worried about this.  I mean, I’m a retired tax inspector and I think of myself as an academic, mostly, these days, but I also publish a blog – does that make me a member of the media?

Well, no, I suppose not.  A blog is singular.  That’s one medium.  I’ve written for a couple of other blogs, too: Huffington Post, Ekklesia, Guerrilla Policy… they don’t pay, but they are plural: media, not medium.  Does that count?

I make a few quid on the side by writing articles too, when I can.  I’ve been on the Guardian website a couple of times.  I sold a couple of pieces to Pay and Benefits magazine.  And, although most of what I’ve written for Taxation is behind a paywall, including this week’s cover story, there’s this one which isn’t.  If I hadn’t already got a civil service pension, I wouldn’t have had to pay tax on my freelance earnings because they’re barely enough to pay my PhD fees, but does THAT make me a member of the media?

Because, if it does and I am, well, I’m a bit worried.

Because, you know, I used to be a Civil Servant.  For more than twenty years in fact, so it’s not surprising that I know people who are still there.  Do they have to have Ministerial permission to meet with me?  If so, it’s going to be a serious problem when I get to the next stage of my PhD research and start looking for current and former civil servants to interview about impact assessments.

No, it’s a serious question anyway.  The Civil Service Code says very clearly that (except under the whistle blowing provisions) they have to ensure they have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.

If I’m ringing up to talk to someone for an article I’m writing for a magazine, then I’m acting as a journalist and I’d expect the rules to apply.  That’s why I wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that – I’d ring the press office and ask them instead, d’oh.  But am I “media” when I’m writing my PhD?  When I’m watching television?  When I’m asleep?

So the next time I go down to London should my friends be sending the Exchequer Secretary a note asking if it’s all right for them to have a cup of coffee and a catch up with me?  If  I’m not writing an article?  If I promise that I don’t have my “journalist” hat on?  Well, all right, if I go and buy a hat that says “journalist” on it and then leave it at home?  Is THAT all right?  I just want to say hello to my friends, but I don’t want to get them into trouble.

And it’s my birthday this weekend.  Tomorrow, in fact.  How about coming out for birthday drink; does that count as contact?  What about contributing to my birthday present?  Does the Minister need to give approval in writing before any of them thinks of sending me a birthday card?

Can they still friend me on FaceBook and follow me on twitter, or does “contact” mean we have to be in the same room?  What about telephone calls?  Can I still go to the Treasury Book Club and if so do the books have to be vetted by the Minister?  Can they contact me by email on their personal accounts to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch’s delivery of the poem at Richard IIIs reinterment yesterday?

Can I wave at them if they’re passing by on a train?  Can we play video games together if we’re in different cities and we confine ourselves to non-verbal signals while we’re killing orcs?  Is playing bridge all right if we stick to Acol and there’s no chit chat over the sandwiches?  How do we feel about co-located activity with an etch-a-sketch?



November 30, 2014

So why am I sitting here on a Sunday evening reading Research Methodologies in EU and International Law?

Because it’s the last day of November, and so it’s the last day of my AcWriMo challenge.  I’m doing my last bit of the “do some academic work every day” pledge that I made to myself at the start of the month.

It’s been a tough month – I’ve been teaching a subject that’s required a significant amount of preparatory reading, my cold turned into a chest infection, and for the first time I had to go to the funeral of someone who was both a contemporary and a close friend.  But I made it to the end.  I have done some academic work aimed at my own PhD (even if it was reading on the kindle for twenty minutes at midnight before I fell asleep) every day.

This persistence was largely fuelled by some kind people who cheerleaded for me and pledged support for my modest aim to raise the funds to keep the Cavendish Cancer Charity’s premises open for an hour.  So thank you, those lovely people who have already contributed.  And if you feel moved to help me make it to the last few quid, the JustGiving page is here.  Please.

And thank you, all.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.


AcWriMo Week 1 update

November 10, 2014

Just a quick update: I have been keeping up my AcWriMo challenge, just about, for a week now (go to the website here if you want to encourage me with a donation for the Cavendish cancer charity). It’s been a difficult week, culminating in the news that a former colleague and good friend died suddenly on Thursday evening. So I am still working, but it’s not my focus at present, sorry.


On Hiatus

July 21, 2014

The internet can make you crazy.  I’m house-sitting and taking a writing retreat for the next couple of weeks, and taking the opportunity to have a simultaneous digital detox.  In other words, it’s radio silence from me until August.  Play nicely while I’m gone!


Happy Easter

April 18, 2014

Quiet, isn’t it?  I’m off for a few days at a convention in my other persona, in pursuit of science fiction.  After I am done living in the future I will catch up with the outstanding tax consultations in a week or two.  Play nicely while I’m gone!


Catching up

March 24, 2014

So I got my tax repayment on Friday, so I don’t have to spend the day on the phone tomorrow following up on my “chase repayment” phone call.  Well, I say I got my repayment – I got the money in my bank account, and the paperwork will (presumably) follow?  All I’ve had so far is a bill for the trivial amount of tax for 2012-13 which they had automatically repaid when I put in my return, which has presumably been paid from the rather larger amount they have repaid from the carry back of losses to 2011-12 which they have now actioned.  But, fair’s fair, if it’s a choice between getting the money and getting the paperwork, I know which one I’d prioritise.

And then there is my complaint…

I made a complaint.  HMRC grudgingly agreed I was correct (or at least that they wouldn’t try to collect the disputed amount) and then tried to collect the disputed amount via my tax code anyway.  So I had to make a second complaint.

Now I have a letter from the same complaint handler as the first time, apologising for the incorrect code and offering me £25 compensation.  Again, I haven’t had either the £25 or the revised coding notice.  But, again, it’s a timing issue and I’m prepared to believe they mean it this time.

But, be careful out there!


*edited Monday lunchtime 24 March 2014.  The postman called… and brought me my new tax code.  And it’s right!  Hurrah!  Well done complaints handler!


The Neverending Story

February 10, 2014

Remember when I had to make a formal complaint to HMRC? And they wrote a rather annoying letter full of blah-blah-blah but then in the final paragraph basically agreed I was right and they wouldn’t try to collect the disputed two hundred quid from my tax code? Today I got my new tax code… do I have to go on?


(And, er, remind me how you appeal against a notice of coding, again?)