Saturday 19 January 2019

A Winter Walk

One of the nice things about living near Edinburgh is that it doesn't take us very long to get out into the countryside. There are all kinds of river walks and disused railway lines that have been turned into bicycle and walking trails.

Today B.A. and I went for a long country walk, ending up in the town of Dalkeith. Unfortunately, I spent the first two miles or so having a meltdown about double-taxation. We are hoping to pay off the mortgage early and invest for retirement with my salary, but so far my salary seems to be subject to the taxes of two countries, plus National Insurance contributions for them both.

My meltdown was caused by B.A.'s tax statement, which said that both he AND his employer had contributed to the National Insurance, the combined sum being larger than his taxes. As my North American employer, obviously, doesn't contribute to the British NI, how much NI am I going to have to pay?

It makes me frightened and angry and sure something must be wrong. Canada and the UK have a tax treaty, apparently to prevent people like me from being taxed twice. I got an (expensive) accountant to cope with the UK tax laws, and now I think I'll have to get a (guaranteed less expensive) tax firm in Canada to wrestle my money back from Revenue Canada.

Meanwhile B.A. swears up and down that the UK National Pension will not disappear when we are old and that being a pensioner is not the same thing as being on "benefits" (i.e. welfare). "We're paying into the system, and it's our money," he says.

B.A. clearly has never tried to draw on unemployment insurance, which I used to believe was "our money". I have, in Canada, and it was an utterly humiliating experience. I also worked in a Canadian welfare office, and I probably signed a confidentiality agreement*, so all I'll say about that is that you never, ever, ever, want to be dependent on The State for food, warmth, and a roof over your head.

Meanwhile, ending up in a nursing home can also be very unpleasant, not only because of neglect but also because of this.

Anyway, B.A. begged me to stop ruining our country walk with catastrophic thinking, so I turned off that part of my brain. Naturally I wish I hadn't stopped caring about money when I went to theology school, but regrets don't reduce taxes.

It was cold, but the countryside was nevertheless green and beautiful, for this is Scotland after all, and eventually I cheered up. We reached Dalkeith (chipped but charming to Canadian eyes) and looked around for somewhere to get bacon rolls. Greasy spoons being absent from the High Street, we investigated the in-store cafe of Morrisons, which is a national cut-price grocery chain. Result! Morrisons was serving breakfast items (like bacon rolls) until 3 PM.

We got our bacon rolls, a pot of tea, and a mug of cappuccino for the low, low price of £7.60 ($13 Canadian), which might not strike you as a low, low price, but this is the UK. And the amusing thing, when we looked around, was the large number of couples also amiably munching on breakfast items and drinking from mugs. Many were old, but some were middle-aged, and it struck us that this could be the Saturday afternoon "dating" venue of choice for the married denizens of Dalkeith.

I didn't think it was a particularly tasty bacon roll, but I did enjoy the idea that married couples can contentedly eat out as cheaply as possible whereas dating people have to stick to sophisticated joints, so as not to look cheap, or indeed like the sort of boring people who will end up eating bacon rolls in Morrisons.

(Incidentally, the next-door-neighbours, who are long-term renters, are loudly singing pop songs again. It must be Saturday night.)

Anyway, as B.A. says, we have at least another 20 years of employment before us, so I should not worry about being taxed into poverty or sexually assaulted in a U.K. nursing home before I am inevitably euthanised.  Also I admit that getting the old-age pension from the government cannot really be like collecting Canadian unemployment insurance benefits because nobody chivvies the elderly to go back to work ASAP.

Bus fare home was £3.40 (£5.80 Canadian).

*Update: Worst memories from working in welfare office:

5. A  male cop supervising cheque day told me that one of our clients, a pleasant woman, used to be a "crack whore."

4. A man I knew was on trial for murder that day showed up at my window. (Manager: "So why do you need a break now?")

3. Realising that the shell of a woman at my window was the mother of a famous murder victim.

2. A formerly employed, formerly solvent woman, now very ill, saying over the phone, "But that was my nest-egg" after learning that as a dependent on the state she wasn't allowed to keep it.

1. A female cop screaming at a lunatic to "apologise to these ladies" for his bad language when we had the situation well at hand, thank you very much.

We dealt with homeless people, mentally ill people and actual crooks all the time, but the only client who upset me as much as those two cops was the killer. (He was acquitted--to the shock of almost all involved--minutes before he arrived at my window.)

Update 2. The killer suddenly died a year to the day of his acquittal, I have just discovered.

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