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Your reading for October, by Susan Keefe

Halloween Howler (Super Speed Sam Book 10)

by Monty J. McClaine
 
My little granddaughter and I just love the Super Speed Sam stories which feature Sam the superhero basset hound and his family, dad, Marty ( I mean Monty) McClaine, his wife, their young son Jack whose always getting into trouble, and little Molly, Jack’s younger sister.
 
This special Halloween Howler story brings all the excitement of Halloween, and the theatrical abilities of Super Speed Sam together in a story which will captivate every child who reads it, just like it captivated my granddaughter when she visited the other day.
 
The stage is set straight from the start for an exciting Halloween night in the McClaine household, all the family are cleverly dressed in suitably scary costumes, and their English neighbour, after telling them about the tradition of Guy Fawkes in the UK have promised some amazing fireworks.
 
Everyone is looking forward to a fun evening, however Sam is a little sad at being kept indoors. The family know that fireworks will scare him and it is for his own good, however he decides to watch the proceedings from Jack’s bedroom window, and it is a good job he does…
 
Times have been hard for the wolf pack which live in the local woodlands, and hunger has forced them into the outskirts of the town. Keeping to the shadows the wolf pack nervously creep about searching for something to eat. Of course, they don’t know its Halloween night, and they can’t know the difference between the sound of fireworks going off, and sound of the guns which cruelly hunt and kill them.
 
When they unwittingly arrive in the McClaine garden, scared and very defensive, Sam is instantly alerted to his family’s danger, but what can he do, and will his super powers be enough to overcome these wild animals and save his family?
Excitement and fun is the name of the game in this wonderful children’s book which celebrates this special ‘scary’ night of the year.
 

THE STARLIGHT CLUB 10: LOVE, ROMANCE, AND MURDER IN ANAHEIM 

by Joe Corso
 
THE STARLIGHT CLUB 10:: LOVE, ROMANCE, AND MURDER IN ANAHEIM by [CORSO, JOE]Bobby has driven up from Florida to spend Christmas with his daughter Lynn, her husband Ted, and their three children in Connecticut. These are special times as the years go by for Lynn and Bobby to spend time together, and for Lyn to hear tales of the glory days of the famous Starlight Club in Brooklyn, New York.
 
This story begins in 1962 with an unpleasant patron causing Ernie the bartender to take physical action against him. However, it appears that there is more to this incident that at first meets the eye, and when Red hears who is behind the problems and that the reason behind it is money laundering, he realises that it is time to take the matter in hand. Surrounded by loyal men who do what they must do in this underground world, Red realises that it is also important to keep the police and judicial system happy with pay-outs to smooth over any problems, even if is becoming increasingly expensive.
 
Meanwhile Joey is asked to once again look after movie mogul daughter June Morganstein in Los Angeles, something he is happy to do as he is madly in love with her. After an attempt on her life, Joey gets to the bottom of the mystery of why she needs protection and discovers that she has a gambling addiction which has got out of control. However, calling for assistance from other members of Red’s workforce unveils dirty deeds at the gambling club she frequents, and the owner’s alliances with villains and a Mexican drug cartels.  Seizing the opportunity to nip trouble in the bud Red and his men take matters into their own control, with the unofficial backing of the new Captain of the 10th Precinct Captain Lou Garner.
 
Reading the Starlight Club series is a real delight, within the pages of each of the books you are transported back in time to Brooklyn, and into a world where crime bosses rule the streets and yet are respected, even by the law. Through Red, Trenchie, Joey and all the characters who have been so important to the structure of the stories the everyday lives, loves, dangers and even celebrities of the time come alive. The comradeship these brothers in arms share, dangerous and often deadly activities, and underhand dealings are revealed. However, running through every story are strong veins of loyalty and respect which span generations.
 
Whether you are looking to read a really good story, love crime and gangster novels, or enjoy this period of history, I can guarantee you will not want to put down this exciting story, and it will leave you wanting more.
 

Swampwise

by Okefenokee Joe
 
When I finished reading this incredible book, I turned to my husband and said, “WOW, how can a review ever give this book the acclamation it deserves?”
 
The author had his first real taste of nature and the natural world when he was sent aged 9 to the YMCA Camp Carson, in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. At first he missed his mum and dad, however, before long, it was the wildness and natural world of Camp Carson he craved when back home. He loved being amongst the natural world, discovered a fascination for it — especially snakes. With this came, a deeper understanding of God’s work in giving us the wonderful natural world, which is all around us.
 
After a successful career as a singer/songwriter/entertainer for over twenty years, burnt out and tired of the Nashville scene, his marriage in tatters, he cancelled his remaining shows. A broken man, at the age of 41, in desperation, while others would have started on the way to ruin, he remembered those years he had spent at camp in childhood, and the love he had of camping. Searching for answers and with only a tent and other essentials provided by a friend, he set off in his jeep into the swamps of South Central Florida. Alone with his thoughts, he began to ask God for guidance and became one with nature. He learned how to trap and sell snakes, surviving by his skills, he was beginning to find inner peace.
 
It was the offer of work by another friend who managed the famous Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross in Georgia which was to take him onto the next stage of his life.
 
The great Okefenokee Swamp is in the south east of Georgia. It is not really a swamp and contains many small islands. Covering about seven hundred and fifty square miles, it is a large designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, and is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with all its wildlife protected by law. Heaven indeed, and the place which the author would call home for the next nine years. And what an interesting nine years they were.
 
Through the vividly descriptive writing of this talented man, we the readers are treated to some amazing stories and observations about the animals who live with, and around him. We discover how he befriends the abandoned dog, who is to become his canine companion Swampy before he moved to the park in South Central Florida, and how the next day Swampy appeared in the jeep ready to go with him on the adventure to his new home. Indeed, it is Swampy who finds the little calico kitten Skeeter, who becomes part of their small family, in the picnic area of the park.
 
However, we also learn through these tales of the animals, which are truly wild and live alongside him, and through his example realize that their territory is not automatically ours to walk over and claim. As he says, true wild animals are born to be self-reliant and self-sufficient; it is the way God intended them to be.
 
I loved the way that throughout this amazing book the emphasis is on understanding nature, living with it, respecting it, and recognizing that the creatures around us have just as much right to be on this earth as we do. There is so much to learn at the turn of every page, and even more if you read between the lines and take away from it the understanding that the natural world is out there for all to enjoy.
 
However, in the natural world there is also cruelty, and the author doesn’t hide this side from his readers; after all, ‘nature is not cruel, it is just sublimely indifferent’ as anyone with a pet cat will tell you.
 
After over nine years at the Okefenokee Swamp Park, ‘Okefenokee Joe’ as he had become known decided to spread the word, and for over four decades he has done just that. He has delivered his “Earth Day Every Day” message to school children of all ages, bringing along with him a selection of native venomous and non-venomous snakes, to help as visual aids, and in teaching the children to be ‘swampwise.’ He has written, recorded and sang songs praising all God’s creations, and now he has written this truly amazing book, and I for one am in total awe of what this man has achieved.
 
The author has also released an audiobook “Swampwise Secrets Songs and Stories from the Land of the Trembling Earth!” and will soon be releasing “Snake Hunter Snake Talk.”
 
In Summary: Throughout this amazing period of his life the author learned how to be ‘swampwise’ – really looking at, studying and taking notice of his surroundings. In this modern world, where ‘Mindfullness’ is very much the ‘in’ word, how I wish more people could be like the author and learn to appreciate the amazing natural world around us the same way. Highly Recommended!
 

I Is God: The Journey Begins

by Geir Gigja
 
I Is God: The Journey Begins by [Gigja, Geir]This deeply psychological book, is the methodical reinterpretation of the metaphor of the Bible. The author Geir Gigja was born in Iceland, a country known since ancient times as the land of fire and ice, the gateway to heaven and hell, the beginning and the end. Since childhood he has had a fascination with language, its influences on the bible and Icelandic sagas, and the different meanings which can be attributed to words. Then as a young man an accident resulted in him being in a coma, that period of time, when he was aware yet unable to communicate led him to a lifetime’s journey of discovery and to the meaning of ‘I,’ and the culmination of this is this book, I IS God.
 
The author believes that ‘I’ is our inner spirit, the ‘us’ which makes each one of us unique, even before consciousness, when we were in a state of oblivion, the time when we were a very small child, that time when we existed, but before our state of awareness arrived.
 
By explaining why I IS God, the author believes that his readers will be able to use their new awareness and understanding to discover for themselves the true meanings of some of the classic biblical stories such as the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, the Flood of Noah, and the Tower of Babel.
 
Because the uniqueness of each person’s I, no one can see the I which lies within every one of us, it is our very being, our essence. He explains that all everyone or thing else sees as us, is in fact simply our image, a representation of us and not who we are really are.  Its presence is with us always as we evolve throughout our lives, awakening our minds, making us conscious of the decisions we make, and of the resulting consequences of them, and in doing so it continually influences our destiny, making us the people we are.
 
In conclusion: This is an extremely thought provoking and enlightening book. “I IS God” is the first book in a series, and I eagerly await its sequel which is called “Out of The Mist: The Story of Abraham and the Twelve Tribes.”
 

Odell’s Fall

by Norman Bacal
 
As soon as I opened the first page of this exciting legal thriller I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down. Straight away the lead character Odell Moore’s incredible presence and power as one of New York’s most successful lawyers captured my attention. Little did I realise that underneath the formidable, confident, presence which is Odell’s face to the world, lies a much more complex character, one which continues to unravel and offer new surprises right until the very last page.
 
The story begins with a celebration, it’s champagne all around as the lawyers at the prestigious international firm TGO congratulate themselves on having won the “Bounty” deal, and as their leader Odell Moore, affectionately known as The General, must celebrate this a major victory with them.
 
However today Odell’s mind is elsewhere, it is with his new wife, beautiful southern belle Dee. The couple have just returned from their secret wedding in Vegas and Dee is on her way to break the news of their marriage to her parents. How will her mother react, and what impact will their marriage have on her father, a deeply racist Alabama senator, when he learns her new husband is an African American?
 
Odell’s rise to the top of his profession has been achieved by sheer determination and he has fought for recognition and respect every step of the way. This is the way it is if you want to succeed in this business, in a profession which is ruthless, cut throat even. However, Odell is not the only one fired with a deep hunger and ambition. Jackson Sherman, Odell’s young underling, is hungry for success, sure of his own potential and unwilling to let anything get in his way. His rise through the ranks at TGO seems destined to succeed, but will it? When the seeds of doubt are planted in Jackson’s mind he discovers his darker side, a side which will stop at nothing in order to succeed.
 
The author’s best-selling first book “Breakdown” told the story of the rise and fall of the iconic Canadian law firm Heenan Blaikie, and in this his first work of fiction he uses his vast experience in the world of law to treat his readers into a glimpse of what life is really like for these high achievers, the glitzy and glamor, the toll on relationships, and what really happens in their lives both inside and outside the boardroom.
 
This story is a modern day take on Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Othello, and Odell like Othello  is soon to learn that you can trust no-one, and when you are sitting high up on your pedestal, there are plenty of people who are watching, and waiting for you to fall.
 
I just loved this exciting fast-paced thriller. Right from the first page there’s a wonderful mix of excitement, revelation and expectation as the plot evolves and new discoveries about the characters are made. Highly recommended!
 
 

Barbecue Blunder (Super Speed Sam Book 8)

 
by Monty J. McClaine
 
Barbecue Blunder (Super Speed Sam Book 8) by [Monty.J.McClaine, Monty J McClaine]Everyone loves a barbecue, and what’s more fun than a barbecue party? This is what the McClaine family thought, although the barbecue they were arranging was for a sad reason, they were saying goodbye to their good neighbours Pete and Sally Johnstone, and their five year old son Matthew, who were moving away.

After all the busy preparations, the day arrived, the barbecue was set up, and mum had made her special burgers. Dad Monty was of course in charge of the barbecue, and the guests were arriving bringing their contributions to the event.

What a lovely atmosphere, the adults were laughing and talking, and the children playing at the bottom of the garden and drinking soda, everything was perfect! The only one who was a bit sad was Sam their basset hound, his young master was busy playing with the other children, not him. So, as dogs do, he settled down in a shaded area for a nap.

However, we all know that dogs have a sixth sense, and sure enough, when harmless playing led to a dangerous situation Sam was awake in a flash. Jack was in danger, what could he do?

Now we’re great fans of Super Speed Sam in our family, but new readers are about to discover that this is no ordinary basset hound (If there is such a thing.) Sam is a superhero, with powers given to him one Christmas Eve night when he helped Santa Claus, but that story is in book 5 and is called Santa’s Rescue Dog. In a flash, the clever canine susses out the situation, acts, and saves the day!

However, as can often be the case, things happen so quickly that Sam’s actions are misread and instead of hero, he becomes a villain who injured his young master. Luckily though, their neighbour Pete had seen what really happened, and he puts the record straight, earning the canine hero a magnificent treat!

My granddaughter just loved this book, yet another wonderful story in the Super Sam Series which never fail to amuse her, and yet subtly impart important life lessons. Highly recommended.
 

Publishing on 1 October 2019: Issue 91 – Free Subscription

When is your tax freedom day?

By Rob Kay, Senior Partner, Blevins Franks

How long does it take to earn money for yourself instead of the taxman? “Tax freedom day” varies greatly by country, but good tax planning can help reduce your burden, wherever you live.

If you ever had the feeling that you have spent half your working life just paying tax, you are not far wrong. What with income tax, national insurance/social security, capital gains tax, VAT, council tax, excise duties and so on, a considerable amount of our income goes straight to the taxman each year.

Even if you are retired, you are still faced with tax on savings, investments and pensions, not to mention the amount payable in VAT each year. Having paid so many taxes all your life, you will not want to pay more than necessary – that’s why tax planning plays such an important part in protecting your wealth.

Defining the tax burden of typical workers in the EU

For the last ten years, the Institut Economique Molinari has been measuring taxes payable across the 28 EU member states. While it focuses on employees and the tax and social security they pay, it illustrates the general tax burden of each country and how they compare to each other.

The study calculates a “tax liberation day” for each member state – the date on which an employee has earned enough to pay off all taxes for the year. It also identifies the average “real tax rate” for typical workers in each country (gross salary minus all tax liabilities).

2019’s report reveals the average tax freedom day across the EU was 12 June, but results ranged from 8 April to 19 July – a disparity of over 14 weeks! Meanwhile, the difference between the lowest and highest real tax rate was more than double. Remaining at 44.5%, this year’s average rate broke a four-year trend of slightly declining taxes.

How did France?

For the fourth year running, France has the dubious honour of holding the latest tax freedom day – on 19 July. However, thanks in part to 2019’s reduced social contributions, this is the earliest it has been since the study began – eight days earlier than last year, and ten days sooner than in 2017.

This still means the symbolic date when French workers stopped paying their tax is over halfway through the year – and more than three months behind top-placed Cyprus! French employees worked for 200 days of the year just to pay their tax bill.

France also retains the highest real tax rate of 54.73%. The average gross average salary is relatively high at €55,158, but after taxes workers are only left with €24,970 to spend on themselves and their families.

Despite these results, with good financial planning France can actually be a very tax-efficient place to live, especially for retirees with capital to invest.

Cyprus continues to have the earliest tax freedom day on 8 April, nine days ahead of runner-up Malta on 17 April, with Ireland taking third place at 26 April. When it comes to the lowest real tax rate, Cyprus leads at 26.6% with Malta following at 29.3%.

What about the UK?

According to the study, the UK’s tax freedom day again comes fourth, landing on 8 May, with a real tax rate of 34.94%.

However, many think tanks undertake their own research to calculate their country’s tax freedom day, using different methodologies. While the Institut Economique Molinari looks at income tax, social security contributions and VAT, the UK’s Adam Smith Institute (ASI) measures the entire tax take, including taxes that do not come directly out of the earner’s pocket.

The ASI’s approach places the UK’s 2019 date three weeks later, on 30 May. One day later than 2018’s result, this is the latest date since comparable records began in 1995.

What does this mean for taxpayers?

The Institut’s overall outlook is that ageing populations are putting pressure on pension and healthcare spending for governments throughout the bloc. This does not bode well for future tax cuts; as the population ages and fewer people are actively employed, taxpayers are required to plug the gap. With under half of the EU’s 513 million citizens in the labour force, the report concludes that “economic growth remains European workers’ best hope against tax increases in the near term”.

These therefore remain taxing times for taxpayers, and not just for workers, as retirees are also faced with higher taxes. Of course, the research is just indicative of the average taxpayer in each country – higher earners will generally have a later tax freedom day.

In many cases, there are steps you can take to lighten your tax burden, especially on your capital investments and pensions. While we all have to pay our share of taxes, cross-border taxation is highly complex; do not risk getting it wrong or paying more than you have to. Take personalised, specialist advice on the compliant tax mitigation opportunities available in France and the UK – you may be surprised at how you can improve your tax situation.

All advice received from Blevins Franks is personalised and provided in writing. This article, however, should not be construed as providing any personalised taxation or investment advice.
You can find other financial advisory articles by visiting our website here

Publishing on 1st September – Issue 90

Free subscription at: subscribe.MonOc@Living-in-France.com

Book Reviews for September by Susan Keefe

Searching for Family and Traditions at the French Table, Book One

(Champagne, Alsace, Lorraine, and Paris regions) (The Savoring the Olde Ways Series)

by Carole Bumpus

Carole Bumpus a retired family therapist and the author of this absorbing book has within its pages shared her abundance of experiences which she and her husband Winston enjoyed whilst travelling from Paris in the Île-de-France, through the Champagne, Alsatian and Lorraine regions, and then returning to Paris.

Her travels through these eastern regions of France enjoying the food, and experiences of their local inhabitants were enhanced immeasurably by the presence of her French Californian friend and translator Josiane Selvage.

From the first page, this book is packed to bursting point with information, details of the villages they visited, the history of the regions, and the lives of the families they were welcomed into. Reading through it, the impact WWI and WWII had on family life and circumstances is clearly apparent. However throughout the centuries, ‘family favourites’ have, for the most part been conceived through necessity of one kind or another, either because of food shortages (whether it be conflict or caused through natural events,) or quite simply the necessity to create good, tasty, family food using the vegetable and fruit produce and the animals which are abundant where they live. As the years have passed these dishes may have been embellished by food companies and sold for the masses frozen, bottled or canned, but it is in the family kitchen that the best versions are made, with love, and with fondness because of the memories they evoke. For those readers who are keen cooks traditional recipes from each of the regions can be found at the end.

Living in France and enjoying sharing the last 16 years with our neighbours has taught my husband and I about the closeness of French families, and the importance of food and ‘family time.’   These values are wonderfully apparent in this book, and I am looking forward to book two in the series which is due to be released in August 2020. In it the author completes her journey, beginning again in Paris, and then heading north into Pas-de-Calais, Normandy, Brittany, to the Loire, my chosen region, and then completing the tour in the Auvergne.

Highly recommended: This book is compelling reading, its pages overflow with memorable moments, family secrets, and delicious recipes, and it will hold a prized place on the bookshelf of readers who love France, its food, people and history.

Available from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Searching-Traditions-Champagne-Lorraine-Savoring-ebook/dp/B07H1BHPJH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Searching+for+Family+and+Traditions+at+the+French+Table&qid=1566810578&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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I BELIEVE: I Can Learn to Draw and Paint, Just Like Sara, the Golden Mare

by Suzanne Mondoux

I think we should always encourage creativity, and build self-esteem in our children and grandchildren, and this is why I love the ‘I Believe’ series of children’s books.

In this the third book in the series, two brave horses, Teddy and Carlo, decide to go on an adventure and visit the desert. When they arrive they are amazed at its size and beauty. However, they are even more surprised when the most beautiful horse which has golden hair and a silver mane comes over to say hello, with her friends the Mustangs.

The horse is called Sara and she’s very friendly. As they talk together Sara tells them about her life when she ran wild, before she met the Mustangs. She explains that now they all look after the desert, and the rich diversity of wildlife which live in it.

When she discovers that Teddy and Carlo don’t know how to draw or paint she offers to teach them, explaining that when she arrived she didn’t know either, but that with encouragement and practice it is easy to get better, and have great fun doing so.

At this stage the wonderful interactive part of this book really comes to life. It starts with a follow the numbers dot to dot to complete of a desert bird, which can then be coloured in, and then the author encourages children experiment with mixing colours and doing finger painting. This really appealed to my granddaughter, we had great fun discovering what colours different combinations made, and inventing a few of our own.

Then children are encouraged to first draw a Mountain Lion, colour it in, and then use their imagination to draw an animal a day for 30 days, and create scenes with people helping them. This is a lovely way for children to learn about animals, be creative, but also to think about animals, their needs, and how we can help them.

The author, in this interactive book has, by showing children simple skills, and inspiring, them through a lovely story, used positive reinforcement to empower them to have confidence in their own ability to draw and paint.

Available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Believe-Learn-Draw-Paint-Golden/dp/1982222530/ref=sr_1_4?qid=1566486516&refinements=p_27%3ASuzanne+Mondoux&s=books&sr=1-4&text=Suzanne+Mondoux

Six tips for getting your pensions strategy right, first time

By Rob Kay, Senior Partner, Blevins Franks

 With so many options for UK pensions, it can be difficult to know what to do to achieve a financially secure retirement. The ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit and political volatility in the UK also raises questions about how long we can expect today’s opportunities for expatriates to last.

Any financial transaction brings a degree of risk, but as pensions are often especially valuable and critical in providing a comfortable retirement, making the wrong decision here can be disastrous. This is therefore an area where quality, expert advice is vital.

These six tips can help you avoid costly mistakes and establish the right pensions approach for you.

  1. Check your pension adviser is regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)

Regulated financial companies must meet certain standards and act in the best interests of their clients. While taking regulated advice is compulsory for people looking to transfer ‘final-salary’ pension benefits worth £30,000+ a year, the FCA strongly recommends it for anyone considering their pension options. A simple online search of a provider’s full name plus ‘FCA’ should reveal more about their relationship with the regulator and link to their record in the Financial Services Register.

  1. Consider all the available options

Many expatriates transfer UK pension funds to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) to unlock benefits such as flexibility to withdraw euros or sterling and more freedom to pass benefits to heirs other than your spouse. However, a QROPS will not suit everyone and is not always the most tax-efficient solution. Pension funds can potentially be restructured in arrangements that provide better tax benefits for French, so make sure you explore the alternative options.

  1. Don’t overlook cross-border tax issues

The French tax treatment of pensions is complex and wholly different to the UK’s. While UK-based pension advisers may have some understanding of French taxation, they are unlikely to have the full expertise to consider issues such as French succession tax and income tax mitigation in the context of your overall situation. This could mean the difference between paying as little as 7.5% tax or as much as 45% income tax on your pensions.

A locally-based, UK-regulated adviser is best placed to establish the most tax-efficient approach for your particular circumstances and goals.

  1. Beware of pension scams and unregulated investments

Be extremely cautious of advice from a company that has cold-called you, and never sign anything under pressure. Be especially wary of claims of unusually high or guaranteed returns, and opportunities to access your pension before the age of 55. Once you transfer your pension, it is too late; you could end up losing some or even all of your pension funds, and face a large UK tax bill as well as penalty fees.

Also, take note that many companies offering pension services are unregulated. Whether they aim to defraud you or not, these are unprotected investments that risk losing your money with no opportunity for compensation if things go wrong.

Protect your pension benefits by checking your provider’s credentials, including their understanding of French taxation and its interaction with UK rules.

  1. Research other peoples’ experience

Even amongst regulated providers, check for quality. Testimonials, particularly word-of-mouth recommendations from people you trust, can provide reassurance and indicate that your provider is meeting the needs and expectations of their clients. Look for consumer reviews, ask around your local community and follow up references where possible. Be mindful, however, that other peoples’ situations might be quite different to yours – what works for them may not necessarily work for you.

  1. Look at the whole picture

Pensions should form just part of your overall financial plan. Your adviser should look at your pensions in the context of your unique circumstances, risk appetite and wider situation – including residency, your other assets, tax and estate planning – to help secure the best outcome for you and your family.

Deciding what to do with your pension could be one of the most important financial decisions you make. While you should take the time to get it right, keep the Brexit countdown in mind. With many predicting that the UK could introduce tax penalties on overseas transfers and limit how expatriates in the EU can access their UK pensions post-Brexit, now is the time to review how you can best secure a prosperous retirement in France.

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.

You can find other financial advisory articles by visiting our website here

How do you solve a problem like  . . .  Box Moths  ?

By Kathryn Bradley-Hole

The box moth, Cydalima perspectalis, and its caterpillars quickly destroy box plants. Here’s how to combat these pests.

This is a tale of woe, but it has a happy ending and is, I think, helpful for anyone wanting to continue growing box plants in their garden in the future.

One of the things my friend Bill looks forward to most in spring is the emergent foliage on the many box plants in his garden. In April and May, box has a soft, bright freshness which seems to encompass the essence of the new growing season and is a particularly lovely backdrop to his tulips. Last spring was like any other, Bill recalls, with the new box growth firming and darkening as summer arrived.

Suddenly, in the space of what seemed no more than a week or two, the flowing rivers and shapes of box that are important presences throughout his garden appeared to be ailing. They looked puzzlingly faded and desiccated. Close inspection revealed stems being systematically shredded and defoliated by very hungry caterpillars; too many to count, he says.

The box moth, Cydalima perspectalis, is a recent alien import, whose natural home is East Asia. It’s spread across Europe in the past 10 years; its damage to British gardens was first reported in 2011, although adult moths had already been seen at large in 2008. I had heard about serious, localised eruptions of box-moth damage in the past few years, but hadn’t seen its full-on powers of destruction until it devastated Bill’s garden. It was as if a swarm of locusts had passed through.

In areas where the moth is active, garden centres have done brisk trade in the pesticide Bayer Provado Ultimate Bug Killer, but the evidence suggests it isn’t up to seeing off box moths.

Part of the trouble is that this moth has a clever way of hiding in concealed foliage, looped and tied with a webbing of silk that gives the offspring safe haven. The caterpillars themselves are leafy green and even the pupae are box-green and glue themselves to the branches, looking for all the world like box leaves, while they mature into yet more moths, which will lay hundreds more eggs.

Adult moths, pure white with a brown margin all around the wings, are skittish and hide on many different garden plants as well as in the box itself. Numerous generations will hatch and flourish across the season, so that chemical insecticide spraying is an expensive and ineffective method of control—as well as being potentially harmful to other creatures.

Bill needed help. My searches online indicated the only product that truly controls box moth is Bacillus thuringiensis var Kurstaki, a natural bacterium (not a chemical insecticide) often sold as DiPel or Lepinox. Organic farmers use it to stop butterfly caterpillars demolishing their brassicas.

Although it used to be available in small sachets for gardeners’ use many years ago, subsequent tighter restrictions mean that, recently, it’s only been available to farmers and landscape professionals, with a caveat that training in the use of spraying is required. (This is sensible because DiPel kills all moth and butterfly cater- pillars, not just the ‘baddies’, so extremely disciplined and focused use is required.)

As I’ve done the training and used DiPel in a small way many years ago, I acquired enough of the product online to deal with Bill’s problem. The results were rapidly apparent. Within three days, the caterpillars had gone; within a week, new, unharmed leaf growth was springing up on the treated plants, after just one application.

You need to continue respraying very thoroughly every 7–10 days, however, to deal with later hatchings and break the cycle, until cold weather arrives. Also, shake out and pick off debris on the plants (there’s lots of it) and sweep up under them, as pupae can overwinter.

Instead of grubbing up and burning thousands of pounds’ worth of box, Bill has found that his plants’ rapid willingness to regrow has saved his garden— and lifted his beleaguered spirits.

Box has been hit by various ailments in the past couple of decades, the most serious being box blight, Cylindrocladium buxicola. Numerous gardens that previously boasted fine parterres have been decimated by blight. Now there’s hope for this problem, too, via Topbuxus Health Mix(developed in Holland but easily available online and at some garden centres), which is proving to be helpful in eradicating blight diseases.

‘We dare to claim that we have the worldwide solution for Boxblight,’ declares the topbuxus.comwebsite. It also has its own brand of DiPel: Topbuxus XenTari.

If you have treasured box plants that have been ailing, these days, there’s no need to dig out and burn.

Editor: In Francethe moths seem to be smaller than last year, perhaps indicating that the scarcity of food from box is depleting the pest. However we’ve been plagued with clouds of moths some days that are as bad as a snow storm. They are attracted to the lavender flowers here. Pheromone traps might do the trick – but that’d be a drop in the ocean, and we’d loose the more attractive insects.

 

Living, Stores and Sports

Left to live  

Much of the public rhetoric on the Housing Crisis revolves around ‘greedy developers’ setting prices too high for local people to afford. Those in the property industry know that it isn’t as simple as that. Most sites are sold prior to development.

The purchaser is inevitably the highest bidder, and the price they pay dictates a need to create value from the end sales. So what can be done about this? Government intervention, either through land taxation, planning controls, or the release of their own land for less than market value is an option. Another is to bring down the costs and specification of the product to be able to sell at a lower price point whilst preserving margin.

As operators such as Lidl have proved, bringing down costs, doesn’t need to mean bringing down quality. Rather you need to have a view on which costs add value to the consumer. IKEA are well practised at this in their furniture business and are now using similar techniques to do the same in their resi JV with Skanska, ‘BloKlok’. In their first UK outing BloKlok has secured consent for an apartment scheme in Worthingunder which 30% of units will be affordable and 70% will be priced at a ‘left to live’ affordability model. This involves a calculation of what a typical resident can afford to offer based on typical mortgage pricing and living costs. They achieve this in part through a pre-fabricated design process, which brings down the unit costs and abbreviates the build to just a single day per apartment. In turn this allows them to target a wider demand segment, which takes some of the risk out of the sales.

 Convenience and experience

One of the appeals of the online store is its functional convenience. You can browse the store in seconds and effect your transaction in a similar amount of time. For a consumer this makes it a very efficient experience.

However, with efficiency comes some trade-offs for the retailer. Firstly, purchases that are arrived at in this manner tend to be priced at a well-researched level. Secondly, a very directed search doesn’t leave a lot of space for serendipitous / unexpected purchases and upselling, which is often where the higher margins are earned. This is an area where a well laid out store still holds a competitive advantage.

Unlike in cyber space people need to move around stores, bumping into products that might not match the algorithm. However, the online environment is evolving.

Last month fashion blog Man Repellerhas launched its own e-commerce site using a gamified web interface. Rather than being an efficient sales journey, the site deliberately meanders through interactive / sensory experiences that allow customers to discover products rather than move straight to an intended purchase. Take a look here.

As both the physical and digital worlds start to compete on experience, the bar is lifted for the consumer, and the difference between the two channels starts to fade. The opposite end of this telescope is the high street retailers using technology to improve the efficiency of the in-store experience. This includes navigation apps such as Target’s floorplan-based app that guides you towards sales items, and the now ubiquitous in store iPad which allows you to browse the full stock range.

Game, set and match  

Most of us know someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sports results. However, in the modern age of big data is this person becoming redundant?

Historic sports results are now catalogued and openly available; and large data models are used to predict match results based on specific player attributes. For instance, tennis players are analysed on factors such as service consistency, ability to hold break points, and unforced errors on each surface type. That’s obviously helpful for bookies, but the same systems are now reportedly being used by the players to gain advantage.

Analysis of past performance for instance allows this year’s Wimbledon contestants to know when to play to the backhand, when to hit a topspin return, and when to lob a serve-and-volley attempt, with a different strategy for each opponent. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the All England Lawn Tennis Club has some enviable data of its own. In a typical year, spectators drink 303,277 glasses of Pimms, whereas players eat 2,195kg of bananas and 166,055 portions of strawberries and cream are sold, each costing £2.50. This price, which has not changed since 2010, compares with an increase in the prize fund over the same period of 148%, making them the best-served treat any weekend.

Richard Pickering Head of Futures Strategy  Cushman & Wakefield

Picking Watermelons . . . The Girls are Juicier . . . Fact!

From Javea Connect

When you see a slice of the perfect watermelon your mouth is probably drooling!

But before this wonderful fruit lands on your plate, there is a story behind that you probably should know.

There are a few signs you should pay attention to when choosing the right one. Look at the field spot, the place where the watermelon was touching the ground. Also, the webbing indicates pollination from bees and that’s an indicator of sweetness. Check the shape if you’re searching for the watery ones and watch out for the tail as well, it tells you something about the ripeness. Remember that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better!

Find out more about these 5 key tips to picking the perfect watermelon in the following…

1. Webbing

These weblike brown spots on the watermelon mean that bees touched the pollinating parts of the flower many times. The more pollination, the sweeter the fruit is.

2. Field Spot

The perfect watermelon will have a dark, large field spot.

3 Genders?

You may have not known this, but watermelons have genders. The ‘boy’ watermelons, are taller and more elongated, while the “girl” watermelons are more round and stout. The boy watermelons are more watery, while the girl watermelons are sweeter!

4. SizeMatters?

Our common sense tells us that bigger is better. But the best watermelons are average-sized. So yes, size matters.

5. Tail

A dried tail indicates that the watermelon is ripe. A green tail indicates that it was picked too soon and will not taste as good. Go for the watermelons that have dried tails for the best taste.

Coco the cock is being taken to court

The Gallic rooster is an eternal symbol of France, but not air stewardesses.

His name is Coco and he’s recently made the headlines not only in France but all over the world. National papers like the Guardian and the New York Times reported the story behind this preposterous lawsuit.

You’d probably assume that Coco is an extraordinary bird with superpowers but . . . he’s just an ordinary cock living peacefully in his henhouse on the Oléron Island, just off Rochefort.

But he’s not letting the people living around him have any peace! Because as you would expect, each dawn, Coco does what he does best: he crows.

                        C O C O R I C O ! 

A wake-up call that is not at all to the liking of one of nearest neighbours.

A retired couple bought a holiday home there and they cannot bear to be awakened in the morning by Coco’s gracious song.

Coco’s owner received a legal notice claiming the noise was a health risk.Another neighbour, a stewardess, who could not recover from his offbeat and often restrictive schedules explained that she could no longer sleep during the day because she was too often awakened by the rooster.

The mayor of the island is on Coco side “I consider we are in a rural setting here. The crowing of the cockerel is part of that setting.” Put simply, “I will protect the cockerel in order to defend our way of life.”

But this did not convince the plaintiffs and they brought the case to Court.

Nicolas Boucher, the owner, said that the municipal police and a judge came to see the vocal abilities of the rooster. Result: crowing 23 times in 26 minutes.

“There is even a judge who came to enjoy the rooster’s song, I could not believe it, the public money seems a little wasted. It demoralizes me, I am already at more than 2,000€ of legal fees in this business, they are finishing me financially”, laments Nicolas Boucher, who complied with the judgment by taking Maurice to live with a friend. “I moved Coco to the city center, there he is not bothered … I’m going to see him every day, I hope I’m going to win the judgment, that he can find his chicken coop”

Pending the appeal judgment, Boucher launched a Facebook page , as well as an online petition which has already collected more than 50,000 signatures because 2,000€ is an awful lot of eggs . . .