Wednesday 29 April 2015

Hate speech ... free speech

In the UK, as in many other countries, we believe in freedom of speech. And if you wander down to Speaker's Corner  you can see that in action. I've been there, it's great fun. because the freedom of speech isn't just for people who stand on a soap box; the audience can, and do, answer back.

But today, in the UK, and in many other countries, something called hate speech has been criminalised.

What is hate speech?

The law in the UK "forbids communication which is hateful, threatening, abusive, or insulting and which targets a person on account of skin colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation". All of which sounds cosy, until you look at it more closely. And the part of it that's most worrying, is the parts about "insulting". and the part about "religion". Because all the above categories are involuntary (you can't choose your skin colour) except religion. You can choose your religion.

There are many religions. And they can't all be true, because they contradict each other. If you say that a particular religion "isn't true", that could be construed as "insulting". Because what is an insult? And if you're an atheist, then they're all not true, so by saying "I'm an atheist", I'm insulting all religions. The penalty for breaking this law is fines, imprisonment, or both.

I think we've gone too far here. I want the freedom to insult. I want to be able to say that adults who believe that the Easter Bunny will leave sixpence under their pillow if they clap their hands and say "I do believe in fairies", are stupid, deluded and would benefit from having it explained to them.

Although, by the way, I do think it's a good idea to convince children of the existence of Santa Claus, because when the find out the truth (and they always do), they learn the important lesson that adults lie to them about the existence of invisible friends.

More importantly, I want schools to put a lot more effort into teaching critical thinking; people need to think for themselves, and not blindly accept that an offer of $3,800,000 by a bank clerk in Ruritania, is going to be a scam aiming to relieve you of as much of your money as they can. Nor will you get into heaven by pretending that you have any particular belief, because although you can certainly pretend, you can't actually have that sort of control over what you believe.

I do have that sort of control over my fingers; I can make them dance on the keyboard and type this blog entry. I don't have that sort of control over my beliefs; I can't suddenly decide, "Oh, Pascal's Wager, so I'll believe in a god". Pascal thought that acting as if you believe, makes you believe. But that's obviously nonsense. Suppose I wanted to believe that batteries last for ever. Then my action would be "never change a battery". But that wouldn't cause a belief in the infinite life of batteries, especially as my disbelief would be constantly reinforced by the occasional battery failure.

Critical thinking helps you avoid scams such as the 419 scam. And it will help you stay clear of false religions, of which there are many, and some are more harmful than the internet scams.

But to say so, means you have to insult them. And we really shouldn't be criminalising the criticism of religions.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Banbury bike ride

North West to Banbury today, for two circuits. Fifty caches done, despite the attempted obstruction by fifty bullocks.

I visited a war memorial; it's in the middle of nowhere, the sort of thing you'd never know about unless you're a cacher.

I didn't find the cache, though.

Fifty caches done today, and a few DNFs. Eight hours on the bike, and that, it seems is just about all I can handle.

Monday 27 April 2015

Eyes and elbows

My left elbow is still making progress. I can now pick up a mug of coffee without it hurting.

Even better news - I went for an eye tast; I had high pressure in my left eye, but I've been taking drops for it, and today, the pressure in both eyes is good. But the doctor told me that the drops had made the skin under my left eye go darker. She said that's not a problem, it's just cosmetic. Since ladysolly hasn't point this out to me, the efect must be slight, so I won't need to start wearing makeup just yet.

Saturday 25 April 2015


Back when I wasn't as obscure as I am now, I attended daughter.2's school play. I think it was "Jack and the beanstalk". One of the players, she couldn't have been more than 10, came up to me and said "I know who you are". I wasn't entirely surprised that my fame had spread as far as Chesham Bois School, but my delight was punctured when she said "You're Angie's dad!"

Ever since then, whenever my head has threatened to required doors to be widened, ladysolly reminds me of this.

So I was visiting the daughters last week, and daughter.2 mentioned to me all the free meals, holidays, and other goodies she gets offered, on account of her luxury life-style blog Silverspoon London. So many, that she turns down most of them.

She's won numerous awards for her blog, She has 767 friends on Facebook, 5000 Twitter followers,  1352 on Instagram. And she's probably attached to loads of other social media things that I wot not about.

And I just realised that this must mean; daughter.2 is a celebrity.

Friday 24 April 2015


Ladysolly and I had a discussion about abortion recently. I can't remember how it came up; no, she isn't pregnant.

Her memory is *much* better than mine. Actually, pretty much everyone has a better memory than I do. My brain seems to be mostly about processing, not memory. But I have a strategy that deals with that; I use a pencil and paper, a calendar and a computer. Anyway, she said that 50 years ago, I was against abortion, and she was in favour. Now, I'm still against, and she is too. That, of course, is vastly oversimplifying our positions; both of us did, and still do, take the position that "it depends".

Both of us are atheists, so this isn't a religously inspired position. And in my mind, if you frame it as a matter of "women's reproductive rights", then that's the wrong frame. In my mind, it's to do with "what is the definition of murder", which is an issue that everyone can legitimately have input to. Certainly every society has laws against murder, but different societies define murder differently.

Because "it depends", it's very difficult to make generalisations; every case can be different. But some generalisations can be made. For example, if the pregnancy threatens the life of mother, baby, or both, then abortion should be legal, although whether it's advisable in any particular case would depend on questions like "what's the likelihood of each outcome", which is a medical question, and so should be a question within the scope of the doctors on the case. Another example, if the abortion is requested on account of the baby isn't the desired gender, then that's bad. And yes, this does happen.

The natural ratio of boys to girls at birth, is 106 boys per 100 girls, although there's natural variance from 103 up to 107. In China, it's 118 (as of 2010), although it was a more natural ratio in 1960. In parts of India, it's up to 120. By the way, in the drsolly family, it's 0 boys per 2 girls, although if you include the next generation, that changes to 1 boy to 2 girls. This disparity leads to various social pressures; in parts of India and China, there's a "wife shortage". In the drsolly family, there was an excessive wedding cost issue.

Abortion, in the UK, is mostly not a contentious issue. Certainly, I'd be very surprised to see people waving placards and demonstrating in this country. But in America, there seems to be two significantly opposed camps. Pro-abortion (who self-identify as "pro-choice", which excludes framing the issue as "definition of murder") and anti-abortion (who self-identify as "pro-life", which also excludes my preferred framing). Both of these self-identifications are attempts to frame the discussion, and so I'll ignore them, because I frame the discussion as "what's the definition of murder". And although I can see why the two sides would want to frame the discussion in the way they do, it seems to me that if you accept either frame, it's hard to have any sort of discussion. How can anyone be "anti-life"? How can anyone be "anti-choice"?

The pro-abortion people seem mostly to talk about "women's reproductive rights"; the anti-abortion people seem mostly to talk about "religious objections". Both sides seem, to me, to be taking absolute positions, and both sides abjure "it depends". Maybe it's inevitable that such a polarisation would happen in non-thinking people, but I notice even people who I'd regard as thoughtful, accept one or the other frame. And I've noticed that this can depend on whether they self-identify as "liberal" or as "religious".

On the anti-abortion side, the most extreme position seems to be taken by the catholic church, who are anti-contraception; every sperm is sacred, because it's a potential soul. On the pro-abortion side, the most extreme position seems to be taken by those feminists who seem to stop short of approving infanticide, but only just.

I think that most Americans are somewhere in the middle. I think that most Americans are pretty sensible about this important issue, but as in many arenas, the extremists make the most noise. Maybe those of us who think "it depends" should get out there and wave some placards. I'd suggest a placard that says "It depends".

Thursday 23 April 2015


I'm baffled.

There seems to be a general consensus that it's bad to "be judgemental". But I'm going to rephrase that - is it bad to use your judgement?

Here's a quote straight from Facebook. "I don't want to be judgemental, but how am supposed to take your claim seriously ("homeless, single mother, anything helps, God bless", when I just saw you take a break and use your cell phone. I find it insulting to homeless single mothers."

Why doesn't he want to be judgemental? It's good to use your judgement to weigh evidence and have that affect your beliefs about what is happening around you. And when you talk to people about "being judgemental", you'll find that, even though they claim to be against being judgemental, they actually use their judgement all the time. Of course they do!

People who don't use their judgement, leap out into the road without checking the traffic, eat food that tastes bad and trust people who are obviously untrustworthy.

I get a lot of emails offering me huge sums of money - I'm sure you do too. Not all of them are from Nigerian princes; many of them are from lawyers, bankers and devout Christians, or at least, that's what they tell me.

I'm judgemental. I don't send them money.

Spam kills

The sad case of the woman killed by "diet pills"  wasn't the first. She probably wasn't even the first person killed by spam. But since she bought the deadly pills online, it's obvious to me that she most likely heard about it from spam; I get dozens of slimming cure spams sent to me each day. It's almost as if they somehow know that I'm overweight!

What can be done about this?

Education isn't going to help. You can tell people until you're blue in the face "Don't believe emails from people you don't know" - they aren't listening. And anyway, modern spam can masquerade as an email from someone you do know.

You can tell people until you're blue in the face "If something sounds too good to be true, then it usually is", but the problem is, people are conditioned from an early age to believe things that are too good to be true, such as the promise of eternal bliss if you just have faith in a god. Faith is, by many, considered to be a good thing. But faith is a synonym for gullibility, a willingness to believe what we want to be true, on no evidence. Like being able to lose weight by taking a pill, without any evidence that it works and won't kill you.

What we need to do, is teach critical thinking, and we need to teach it from an early age. Critical thinking, is where you don't just believe what you're told. You try to assess the evidence for what you're told, and if there isn't any, you don't believe it.

And here's one of the problems. Faith schools. Faith schools teach the exact opposite of critical thinking, they teach gullibility. And worse - they teach divisiveness; think about protestant and catholic schools in Northern Ireland - was that ever a good idea? So why are we doing exactly that in England?

But I'd go further than critical thinking. I'd advocate critical speaking. When you see something that seems to you to be wrong, speak out against it, and say why. Because perhaps if more of us who can think critically, were also to speak critically, then maybe some people who currently don't bother with thinking, will be incentivised to try it.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Warwick wander

Up the M40 today, and as I went north, there was a terrible traffic jam on the southbound lanes.

I found a good place to park, almost on top of the M40, and did a morning loop to the south of where I was, and then an afternoon loop to the north. 46 caches found, and a few DNFs.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Who to vote for?

Sturgeon says that she'll join with Miliband to form a government; Miliband hasn't said yes, but neither has he said no. If that happens, then the ScotNat tail will wag the Labour dog. We'll see all sorts of policies favouring increased benefits to the Scots, and don't be surprised if there's another "once in a generation" referendum on Scots independence in a few years. Ugh. So I'm not keen on Miliband.

Farage's party seems to lurch from one scandal to another. Their policy on free university education for STEM subject is a great idea, but A) their party seems to have just too many loonies, and B) they want to leave the EC.

Nick Clegg - who knows what their policies are. Sure, you can read their manifesto, but based on past performance, that will be flushed away as soon as anyone invites him to dance.

I have no comment on the Welsh or Scots Nats, because I doubt if they'll be fielding a candidate in Buckinghamshire. The Green seem to be lurching further and further in the direction of the Raving Loony party but without the streak of sensibility, and they sadly aren't standing in my constituency.

Which leaves Cameron.

Who announced on March 6th, that he wants to repeal the fox hunting ban.

To me, this is entirely a cruelty to animals issue. Yes, I do understand that lots of people love being cruel to animals, and that some people's income depends on being cruel to animals, and that some people think that they should have the freedom to be cruel to animals. But to me, if you want to dress up, ride horses, and follow a pack of hounds, then you should choose one of the members of your club, give him a sack of something that dogs like to follow (aniseed?) and maybe a few pounds of sausages to give the dogs if they cath him, and away you go - fun for all, without cruelty to animals. Likewise cockfighting, dogfighting and bear baiting.

And then he changed his mind.

And then he changed his mind again. Although I don't regard the Daily Mirror as being the most reliable source of information. However, page 23 of the Conservative manifesto says
A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote

Could this lose him the election? Probably not, I doubt if most people would get terribly worked up about it. And I thnk that a free vote will continue to ban fox hunting. But it leaves me worried about what sort of idiot we have leading the Tories.

But the worst Tory policy, in my view, is the one to have a referendum on leaving the EC.  This will lead to business uncertainty for a long time, friction with our European friends because we'll be trying to twist their arms for concessions, and in the worst case, could lead to our leaving the EC.

So who to vote for?

Oh, Sutch, where are you when we need you?

Newspapers are useless

So is the TV news, and radio. And we all know how accurate the internet is.

Here's how I know this. Sometimes, there's a news story covering something where I actually know what's going on. And the reporting is totally wide of the mark; this tells me that in fields where I don't know what's actually going on, the same is probably true.

Here's a good example.

"The coastguard had to be called out after 15 people got stuck in mud while taking part in a hi-tech seaside treasure hunt."

No, they didn't have to be called out. They were called out, but not by the people that the newspaper reported as "stuck", they were called out by "Two motorcyclists", and since they were on motorbikes, they would have been quite a long way away. And they weren't stuck in the mud. 13 of the 15 refused any assistance - they weren't stuck. So I very much doubt if the other two were actually stuck.

" The group been geocaching, which uses a mobile phone signal to hunt for buried treasures."

No, it doesn't use a mobile phone signal, it uses the GPS signal, which is completely different. And geocaches are never buried.

The report came originally from the Western Morning News, written by Davis Wells. The Telegraph report looks like a word-for-word copy of that piece, presumably with their permission, but without attribution. The Evening Standard also carried an almost-identical report.

Here's the cache  and you can read about what actually happened in the logs dated April 18, 2015.

So what do we learn from this?

Major national newspapers are willing to reprint stories from local newspapers without any additional input or editing. And that reporters at local newspapers don't really think about what they're writing.

Now back to the usual election coverage, which is likely to be as inacccurate and ill-informed as the above, plus an extra dose of bias according to the agenda of the medium reporting it.

Friday 17 April 2015

Around the Ashorne

Up the M40 again today, to Ashorne and suchlike. I did a morning circuit of 26 caches, and another 35 in the afternoon, Quite a few DNFs, but nothing memorable about the day.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Ladysolly bounces back

Her ankle is much better, so she's gone down to London for her hairdresser appointment.

All fall down

Here's some important advice for when you get past the age of 60 - don't fall down. Because if you do, A) it hurts and B) it takes a long time before it stops hurting.

Ladysolly fell down today; she slipped on a wet floor and went over. She hurt her knee, and her ankle, and by this evening, she could barely walk, even using a walking pole. She's planning to go to London tomorrow, however, for an urgent appointment with her hairdresser (another thing that happens as you get over 60, is dreadful things happen to your hair, even I have a few grey hairs). I told her not to go, but she's determined. However, when tomorrow comes, her ankle might be good to go, or it might be telling her in no uncertain terms "no way". I'll leave the final decision to her ankle.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Bike maintenance

Regular readers of this blog know that I see bike maintenance as something to enjoy, not a chore. While I was out yesterday, my odometer informed me that I've done 1000 kilometers since I installed the two-speed motor, so I used this as an excuse for a bit of maintenance.

First, the inner tube on the back wheel. The valve should be at right angles to the rim; if it's at an angle, that's not good, because if the angle is extreme, it can damage the valve, letting all the air out of the tire. That happened to me once; I set off on a circuit knowing that the angle was pretty bad, and while I was in the middle of nowhere, it let me down. Luckily (it isn't luck, of course) I was carrying a spare inner tube and all the tools I needed to replace it, so after maybe 30 minutes, I was on my way again. Better, of course, is if this doesn't happen.
So I turned the bike upside down, let all the air out of the tube, squeezed it and tugged it until the valve was right angles, then re-inflated it. It looks good now.

The left pedal has been giving a problem. It gets stiff, then stiffer, and eventually won't rotate on its spindle. Oiling it has freed it in the past, but it soon seizes up again. A pair of pedals is only £6.80, so I decided to replace that pedal. Then I checked the other one, and the bearings were badly worn, so I've replaced that too. I suppose at £6.80 per pair, you can't expect durability. I'm happy with how long it lasted.

And I checked the brakes. The way I ride, it's my rear brake that gets most of the wear; I use that for slowing down, and only use the front brake when I need to stop abruptly - for example, when the PDA falls out of its holder and bounces to the ground. I replaced the rear brake pads very recently, so they were fine. The front brakes were good too, so I just did a slight adjustment.

The PDA holder has been a bit wobbly. The problem is, the bit that grips the PDA, has a loose mating with the bit that attaches to the bike. I looked at it to see if there was any way I could tighten it up, but after a bit of thought, I've replaced the bit that attaches to the bike, and now the connection is nice and solid. But when the holder breaks (the plastic really isn't strong enough), that's the part that goes. So I'll add the replaced part to my standard kit of tools that I carry on the bike, so that next time it breaks, I might not need to improvise with a few rubber bands.

I've added a hand pump to the in-car tool kit. Because if the battery-operated pump ran out of juice, it would mean I wouldn't have to rely on the rather small pump that I carry on the bike. And a bike pump isn't exactly heavy for a car to carry.

I also did a bit of reparative work on my bike helmet. I've taped a bit of foam to the front, where my forehead goes. That had come loose, so I duct taped it. The foam is there to give a little bit of extra padding in case of accident, although in all my years of biking, I've never (thank Ceiling Cat) been in an accident where a bike helmet came into play. Usually, I just fall off the bike and hurt my arm, shoulder or hip. That hasn't happened for a while, thank Flying Spaghetti Monster

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Moreton Pinkney

I went down the M40 today to do the Despicable series, which is very new. 50-odd caches in a circuit. I found a place to start, such that I could bomb out halfway round, get back to the car for lunch, coffee, a bit of a rest and a battery change. So I did 32 caches before lunch, and 28 more after.

There were some very horrible tracks; chewed up very badly by horses (perhaps that should be hoofed up) and rather muddy, so I was wheeling the bike more than I'd hoped. At one point, I emerged into a field, where there were three hares cavorting. And I saw lots of lambs frisking around. The whole outing took 8 hours.

Monday 13 April 2015

What kills you?

Lots of things. Cars, cancer, cigarettes, cops. Cops?

There's been a few high-profile police shootings recently. In the USA, of course. So I looked up the statistics for police killings, and apparently in 2014, the total was 593, and each year before that, the number is in the hundreds. No doubt some of those were unavoidable; if someone is trying to kill an officer, then a couple of rounds in return seems like reasonable use of the cop's gun. But a disturbing number of police shootings seem to be completely unjustified. Should you shoot in the back and kill an unarmed man running away after a traffic stop?

So I looked at the UK; not a comparable country, but it's where I live, and the figure isn't just for shootings, it's for killings by whatever means. In 2014, one. In 2013, none. One in 2012, one in 2011, ... you get the idea.

Of course, police here don't routinely carry guns, except in airports and places where a terrorist attack is conceivable. So let's look at Germany, whee the police do carry guns.

 One in 2015. One in 2013. Four in 2012. Three in 2011, three in 2010, one in 2009. You get the idea.

I'm *so* glad I live here!

Hearing aid

My hearing has never been wonderful, except that I'm pretty good at not hearing things, especially when I don't want to. But sometimes that's not so good.

And sometimes, I hear a sentence that someone just spoke, and it just doesn't make sense, and I have to replay it in my head until it "comes into focus" as it were; I realise that what I thought was a P was actually a T, and what I thought was an A was actually an E, and I try different ways of dividing up the sound into separate words, and then it makes sense.

Or sometimes it doesn't, and I have to ask for a repeat.

And as I get older, this is only going to get worse - my hearing isn't going to improve.

Recently someone asked me "what would Google Glass be useful for?" And I can think of several things, but the first and most useful to me, would be voice recognition.

Siri can do it. Google can do it on my iPhone; I can say a query, and Google hears what I say, turns it into words, and does it. The technology resembles magic, as all sufficiently advanced technology should.

So what I'd like, is to be able to replay something that someone just said (and some television programs are especially bad) but for Google Glass to give me its best guess, in words on the screen, of what was just said.

Friday 10 April 2015

Haynes hike

I went to Haynes today, near Bedford. I started off with 30-odd caches on a very good track and on a road, and even though a couple of them took me a fair while to find, I still managed to do 30 caches in two hours!

I'd parked at the village hall, which is often a good place to establish a base, it's usually free, there's usually plenty of room, and I can trundle around on the bike all day. I got back for lunch, changed battery, and then went out to do more caches, govomg ,e a total of 79 for the day, quite a good number! And, of course, leaving me quite knackered, but that's part of the point of doing this.

I had some excellent views of the airship hangars.

And while doing a cache I did near the end of the day, I was being watched by this house.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Oven cleaners direct

I was cold called from 01704 293093 - they're offering to clean my oven. I told them that our oven has a wonky door, can they fix that? They said they'll call me back, and of course, they won't.

So I called them and asked for their address. They wouldn't give it, and hung up on me.

So I've reported them to the Telephone Preference Service.

Maybe one day the TPS will have some teeth.

Tuesday 7 April 2015


I went to Old today. I did 30 caches in the morning, got back to the car for lunch, then 30 more in the afternoon, and I'm completely cream crackered. My legs hurt, by back hurts, my arms hurt, and I'm getting up late tomorrow!

Monday 6 April 2015

Fliegles again

I'm pleased to say they're much improved. The right one is pretty good now. The left one still hurts when I lift a large cup of coffee at full stretch, but it should be good enough to go tomorrow, when I'm planning to go out cachng along a route that might require some lifting of the bike.

Another cold caller

This one pretended to be doing a survey. He asked for me by name, yes that's me. And he asked me to confirm my  address, so I gave him the address of a recent spammer, and we spent a while spelling out the post code. Then we got down to the meat of it. "Are in you one of the following age groups, 18-25, 26-35, 36-45, 46-55, 56-65, over 65"?

"No," I replied.

So he tried again. "No." So then he tried "Are you over 65?" "No." "Are you 56 to 65?" "No" and this went on for a short while, until he said, "Well how old are you?" "Seventeen," I lied. "Seventy?" He said. "No, seventeen," I said.

And he hung up.

Now that we can take our pension pots and put it into any unwise scheme we want, I'm expecting loads of cold calls on that.

Thursday 2 April 2015

The cuckoo trail

It was as good as I expected! I parked roughly in the middle, at Hailsham, loaded up the bike and set off north. When I reached the northernmost cache, I turned round and sprinted south, with a short diversion to pick up a few extras. I was on tarmac the whole day, so I could go quite fast.

I got back to the car at about 2:30, had lunch, swapped batteries, and did he same thing, only south.

I found most of the caches, but there were a few tree climbs that I bottled out of; I'm not a athletic as some.

56 caches found today, and some of them were very clever.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Things to look forward to

1. Tomorrow, I'm going to bike the Cuckoo Trail. It's a disused railway, so excellent for biking. I've done it before, but now there's a new set of caches along it.

2. Saturday is Seder night. Yes, I'm an atheist, but gastronomically, I'm jewish. Or perhaps I should say, I'm a person of jewishness, because I know people set great store by the exact wording of such statements. We're going to sister.1, and she always makes a great spread - there will be chicken soup with kneidlach, and possibly lockshen too, followed by chopped liver, one of my absolute favourites (ladysolly hates it). And then the table will be filled with Sephardi dishes, because she married a Sephardi. The Sephardis were in Spain until the Spanish got unfriendly, then migrated to various places - my brother-in-law's family went to Asia. So there will be dishes that are a bit curried, and rice, and potatoes, and chicken, and so on and so on.

Yes, I know you're not allowed to drive a car on the Shabbas, but like I said, I'm an atheist.

3. Friday is another Seder night; there's two Seder nights. In Israel, there's one, but elsewhere there's two. Why is this? Because religion. Actually, on the Seder night you're supposed to ask the difficult questions like this, so I'll be putting this one to the assembled minds. We're going to ladysolly's brother.1, and does a first class chicken soup, I have great hopes of chopped liver again (because my preferences are well known) and this will be followed by a meal of Ashkenazi dishes; the Ashkenazis come from Central and Eastern Europe.

In my experience, no two seders are the same anyway, no two Haggadahs are the same, and every family has their own particular customs.

It's great fun! And you can have a seder even if you aren't a person of jewishness. Just make sure you include chopped liver.


On January 1, 2015, the Vat rules changed. Whereas in the past, if you made a sale over the internet to a person in Germany, the Vat was charged at the UK rate. After that date, Vat is charged at the German rate (and the same for the other EC countries). Fortunately, I found out about this, quite by accident, on 30 December 2014, and I was able to change my billing software to deal with it. I don't know how many other businesses didn't find out about it.

My last Vat period was Dec 2014 to Feb 2015, and we did our Vat return as per normal then. At the end of March was the first quarter under the new rules. I registered on the HMRC Vat Moss site, and got stuck in.

For each of 27 countries (that's the EC 28, without UK) I had to fill in my sales over that period, look up the Vat rate for that country and fill that in. That gave me a total figure of Vat owed over the period. But this can't be right, I thought, I've already paid Vat for Jan and Feb under the old method - this would be double paying. So I phoned up the help line, 0300 200 3700. I listened to 20 minutes of music, then spoke to a human.

I was right. Double paying. So how to sort this out? I needed to download form VAT 652, and fill it in.

First, I had to work out how much had been double-paid. That would be the Vat paid for the 27 countries (EC minus UK), for January and February. I worked that out with my spreadsheet, and then I could fill in Form 652. But what do I do with that form? The web site gave me no clue, so I phoned up again, listened to 20 minutes more music, and spoke to a guy who told me the address to post it to. He also told me how to claim back the overpayment - I do it by adding to the "line 4" number on the usual Vat form. So, hopefully, that's sorted now.

In future, I'll only declare the Vat for UK sales on the usual Vat form, four times per year. And sales to the other EC countries will be done via the Vat MOSS form, also four times per year, but whereas the usual Vat is done on months Dec-Feb, Mar-May, Jun-Aug and Sep-Nov, the Vat MOSS is done Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep and Oct-Dec. Annoying.

The impression I have is that HMRC are getting deluged with calls for help on dealing with Vat MOSS, but I suppose they'd have the same problem whenever the tax system changes. And that's some comfort to me, because although I don't exactly welcome paying tax, I really hate it when they change the system, especially when they don't tell me about it and I find out a couple of days before the system changes.

I wonder how many small businesses are struggling with this new system?