The Check (or Cheque)

I went to my bank this lunchtime here in Brno in the Czech Republic with something I haven’t seen in quite a while – a paper cheque. Actually, it was a paper check as it originated in the good old US of A. I took it to the cashier and she took it and looked at it carefully. “What is it?” she asked. “A check,” said I, with a smile. I was asked to take my check and take a seat.

About five minutes later, one of the ladies from the back office came looking for the ‘American with the paper check’. I’m unsure as to which was more unusual – the American (naturalized) or the paper check!

We sat down at her desk and she pulled out a huge manual. Thumbing her way expertly through this massive tome she evidently found what it was she was looking for….that part of the system manual that told her how to deal with those archaic financial instruments – paper cheques. Within a few minutes, three ladies stood around the screen muttering to each other and trying to actually capture my check deposit in their system while yet a fourth held my check in the air and examined it suspiciously and closely all the while comparing it to photographs of various checks from various institutions. She and the other three then compared notes and with some satisfaction, were able to identify it to the system as a US Treasury check. After presenting passport and signing photocopies of said check and passport copy, navigating through multiple screens in their system, I was informed that my check would probably take around a month to show up in my account and that there would be a 500CZK fee ($25) for handling it. The ladies looked as if they had accomplished something and apologized to me for taking so much time…. “You see, we barely ever see paper checks here anymore…” one kindly explained to me.

 I left the bank feeling very old.

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Currency Blues and Other Topics

So these days I get paid in the (not so) mighty Dollar. Right now, the USD is falling against most other currencies due to the US Government shutdown. It is now below 19CZK – $1 which just a couple of months ago it was 20CZK per USD. This is not at all good news as for every 1CZK it slips, I would lose 5% of my income in CZK……. The US shutdown is costing me money….

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Meanwhile, inflation here continues.

In fact, everything I earn more or less is in USD compounding the issue. Even the books are mostly sold in Dollars.

I had decided to go out and buy an exercise bike. One that had the heart rate program to try to lose some of the weight I appear to be gaining steadily and surely. Of course, said bikes are made in Germany – a Euro country and so, you guessed, its price is moving steadily upwards because the CZK is weak against the Euro.

I feel squeezed by the currency blues!

currency squeeze

I Don’t Believe You!

I went to CNN briefly this morning, glanced at the headlines and suddenly realized something. I don’t believe the stuff you write CNN or BBC or any of the other mainstream and controlled outlets. I don’t believe you Mr. Cameron, Mr. Clegg, Mr. Milliband, Mr. Obama. I don’t believe a word you all say. This is a sad development because there was a time that I did.

What is published on CNN and BBC isn’t news. Its opinion. It’s spoon feeding the masses what someone wants them to believe. It doesn’t matter much what the story is it will have an angle. Its insidious and its increasingly obvious. Truth be told – and I am shocked by this myself – I would believe the Russian news service before I believed the western media. If they aren’t creating doom, gloom and fear then they are reporting on the ridiculous – celebrity nonsense. Anything to keep us all docile.

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The politicians are the same. There is no substance, no worthwhile research (except what might make them popular at the polls), no real expertise among this group of 40 something idiots. Strong word isn’t it ‘Idiot’ but unless they can prove to me otherwise, that is exactly what they are – selfish, grabbing, look at me, idiots. I don’t care what the label says in terms of political party – Labour, Democrat, Tory, Republican – is there actually a difference? There used to be but not anymore. It’s all about maximizing their personal wealth while taking short-term nonsensical decisions.

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Nope. I don’t believe any of you and none of you have the answers anymore. It’s a corrupt system full of puppets reassuring us all they know what they are doing. They haven’t a clue and it shows.

The answer to all of this is that we must all think harder about what we are being told. We must act on our instincts and feelings – our intuition if you will. We must be active. We must create our own reality by visualizing it and acting it out. I don’t mean violence. I mean knowing ourselves, taking and accepting responsibility for ourselves and doing or not doing as the case may be.

We must be vocal. We must say – not shout – what we think. We must speak our minds via the channels we have at our disposal – social media. We should ignore the BBC and CNN and The Daily Mail etc. and we shouldn’t encourage the politicians – let’s all stay home on polling day, if you are a member of a party then let it lapse and don’t show them any interest – it just encourages them.

Disinterest and action to do the right thing. This is how we should create a new reality. It’s time to let these institutions and people know – its over. We decided to end your attempts to control us and now we are taking responsibility. accepting the responsibility to create the kind of world we want.

Nova Scotian Fieldwork

I was lucky enough to visit Nova Scotia three years running for 6-weeks at a time between 1981 and 1983 to do geological fieldwork there. Actually, I spent most of my time on Cape Breton Island in and around Sydney – a coal mining region as well as a little time in Joggins of which more later. I also managed to get to Montreal on one trip and Ottawa on another ostensibly to visit museums and examine specimens there.

The trip in 1981 will always stay in my memory. I had to hurriedly pass my driving test in the UK to go because I would need a rental car to get around. With just 3-weeks to take off, I failed. For undue hesitation I recall! The instructor might have considered my hesitation undue but the Mark 1 Ford Cortina I was driving simply didn’t go very fast and the hesitation wasn’t mine but my vehicles. Luckily, I got another test two-weeks later and passed no problem wisely renting my instructors car for the test.

The train journey to London Heathrow was exciting enough never mind my first flight in a plane. I was nervous. At Kings Cross, I jumped the underground out to LHR – it seemed to take forever and I did start worrying I would miss the flight. As the plane took off I didn’t quite know what to expect but within seconds of take off, we all lit up on our cigarettes and shortly sucked on our gin and tonics and all was well. I don’t recall the kind of plane it was but it did have a stand up bar with circular tables you could stand at and smoke and drink. How times have changed!

On landing, I was met by Professor McDuff, my supervisor and head of Applied Geology at Strathclyde University. We spent a week together looking at cliffs and beaches and hammering out fossils. I was then on my own for five-weeks..bliss. All of the work I was doing was so new it was more or less publishable and publish I did. Here is an example if anyone is interested. By the time I wrote up my thesis, I had published so much of it that no one would refuse granting me a PhD as it had already been ‘peer-reviewed’.

Cape Breton is amazingly beautiful. It has a sort of Scottish coal mining heritage mixed somewhat bizarely with north American culture. An interesting mix. Hamburgers and beer at the ceilidh! People were friendly and interested and the girls were bedazzled by the accent and the ‘look’. In those days, I dressed a lot like the Police. Spikey blond hair, tight leather or denim trousers, tight white T-shirt, ear ring in one ear. Sydney had seen nothing like it. They thought I was a pop star! I had a great time.

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My visit to Joggins is also worthy of a mention as there they have the most amazing tides. Literally, the tide would come in as a standing two-foot or higher wave. For people like me who clambered about remote areas of coast line looking at rocks it meant that you really had to be vigilant or you could be in some trouble and danger.

The bus from Sydney to halifax airport took almost 6-hours meandering around and stopping everywhere. When I finally got to the airport and through check in (I don’t recall any security whatsoever come to think about it), I sat at the bar with several hours to wait. I soon got talking to another student also waiting for the flight and we got talking about all things occult and esoteric. We sat together on the plane and talked and talked all the way home. We swapped phone numbers and I duly never heard a thing from him. A year later, having taken the same bus and sitting in the same bar to our mutual amazement we saw each other again. Same routine but this time discussing what a coincidence it was….

My time in Nova Scotia created many ripples in my life. The biggest one was that I was in awe of that American culture. There was something magical about the place compared to Hull, Birmingham and Glasgow. I knew that one day, I wanted to return to north America and live there.

Just A Dream

The just over two weeks in Florida and NY now seem like a dream. If it wasn’t for the photographs I might even believe that it was a dream. But good vacations always have that dreamlike quality don’t they? Now it is back to the real world – jobs, bills, tidying and so on.

Our vacation started more like a bad dream however as our daughter immediately started with a fever, stomach pain and diarrhea more or less on arrival at Disney World. Once the diarrhea turned bloody it was time to deal with US healthcare. The hospital was just outside of Disney in Celebration, FL and it was palatial – I am not surprised after being presented with the bill for around 4-hours cooped up there, one saline drip and a few samples analyzed later. I was insured. I was insured very well. The problem was that somehow the insurance started 2-days after our arrival! Somewhere, I screwed up I guess and it cost me right royally. Thank goodness I had relented and ordered a credit card prior to the trip. Of course, peace of mind is priceless when it comes to your daughter’s health.

Deni struggled on. She wanted to enjoy herself so much but that little pale face, inability to eat or be more than a dash away from a bathroom, limited our Disney adventure somewhat. She did however, get to meet all the main characters and she did enjoy the Test Track ride in Epcot. By our last day in Disney (Day 5), she was actually no better. I called the hospital to find that the sample showed she had a bacterial infection and needed antibiotics – why they didn’t call us immediately is beyond me.

Sick Deni the space girl

Sick Deni the space girl

Goofy!

Goofy!

Mickey!

Mickey!

The antibiotics were a miracle. Within hours of the first dose, we could see the improvement and her last day at Disney was somewhat enjoyable. More importantly, by Day 6 and our arrival on Anna Maria Island, she would be allowed to swim. And swim she did….. like the Dolphins that she fell in love with. 8 Days of bliss on the beach, by the pool and at the outlet center! (shopping bliss for Gabriela).

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach

The Beach

The Beach

The Pool

The Pool

Deni's favorite - Dolphins

Deni’s favorite – Dolphins

Looking for Dolphins

Looking for Dolphins

Deni

Deni

Deni Was Here!

Deni Was Here!

Two days in New York staying on the 38th floor of a downtown Manhattan hotel and toured around by my eldest son – Paul – who lives there and it was finally time to go home.

Central Park

Central Park

One more curved ball.

When we arrived at JFK our flight had been cancelled. No one bothered to tell us. We had been re-booked on the direct flight to Prague – a blessing I suppose, but we would need to wait an extra 5 hours in the airport….. oh well, time for a few beers and last minute gift shopping.

Next year, by popular demand, it seems Florida will again be our destination if pocketbooks allow…. Meanwhile, we will dream.

The Dreaded Lurgy

Just about now, we should be headed down the runway of Charles De Gaulle en route for Detroit and later, Orlando. Tomorrow we had planned a morning by the pool before picking up a rental car and heading to Santa Anna Island. Dreams just dreams. Instead, we are sat at home with our 5-year old who is covered in the blisters of Chickenpox but is otherwise fine and, as usual, full of beans. We are all a bit disappointed to say the least but what will be will be.

pox

There was moment yesterday when I still believed this wasn’t chickenpox breaking out in front of our eyes. The hospital doctor soon put paid to that forlorn hope. Then there was the momentary temptation to follow the advice of many of our friends and go anyway. The spots weren’t obvious. But, chickenpox can be a killer to people with low immune systems and unborn babies whose mothers haven’t had it. Then what would we do if things got worse mid-Atlantic? Nope, the trip was off and so I started calling hotels, travel agents, car rentals etc. and trying to unwind the whole thing. So far, all but the hotel at Santa Anna has agreed to refund in full. I am also insured and on Monday morning will start the process of filing the claim.

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We are now looking at going on the 16th July albeit for a large fee with the airline (it’s peak period now…). So all will need to be re-booked – except that hotel in Santa Anna – if they don’t refund I am damned if I am going to stay there! Hopefully, we will actually make it next time.

Meanwhile, I am afraid for you all it means another 2+ weeks of spamming about my book and stuff…… sorry folks!

The FBAR – One of the Joys of Keeping US Citizenship

I got an email reminder from my accountant this morning…. oh joy of joys, it is FBAR time. Just to remind everyone what this is it is a report required of all US citizens living abroad (commonly known as tax evading criminals). I reproduce his email below just so you can see what all is involved in that invasion of my privacy by the US Government…. The bolding is mine…

The Foreign Bank Account Report, or TDF 90-22.1 is due to be received by the Department of the Treasury no later than the 30th of June, 2013. Please remember that the FBAR requires you to present information about all non-US bank accounts, brokerage accounts or life insurance/pension insurance securities accounts in which you have a > 50% financial interest, or over which you have signature authority. This includes: own bank accounts, joint accounts with spouse (regardless of whether you file your spouse on the US return), accounts owned by companies you own > 50% of (including companies you own with your spouse), accounts in the name of your children or relatives where you have signature authority.

Furthermore, if you have signature authority over accounts owned by your employer, you will need to provide the Department of the Treasury the full name, address and US tax ID number, if any of your employer (no other information is required.)

I remind you that though the IRS currently has a policy of amnesty for late filing, they are permitted by law to assess penalties of $10.000-$50.000 for late or noncompliant submissions. The IRS has intensified its interest in foreign financial accounts over the last year with the rollout of FATCA legislation … you can find more information on the FBAR here: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/FAQs-Regarding-Report-of-Foreign-Bank-and-Financial-Accounts-(FBAR).

The problem is that there aren’t enough US citizens living overseas to influence anyone to change this but it really rankles me that my privacy is invaded and I am treated as a criminal… so much for my rights!!

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