Saturday, 19 September 2015


OK, so what did Greenbelt hold for me this year? Well it was different to recent festivals, mainly because the financial problems from last year changed the nature of the festival. Not necessarily for the worse, but there did feel like it was less exuberant than it has been. Maybe that is a good thing, in truth.

Well, Friday evening was enjoyable - the Worry Dolls and Rosalind Peters were pleasant and enjoyable, and a good start - I don't normally do the comedy gigs, so it was a nice change to start with some.

The main stage for me properly started with The Polyphonic Spree - interesting performance. The music was - to my mind - nothing special. The performance was fabulous, which is (again, in my view) the real point of music at a festival. So enjoyable, crazy, weird and fun. Which could also be used to describe one of my festival highlights, Acrojou. Their performance of Frantic was pleasurable, brilliantly performed, a real positive performance, and one I was really glad to go to.

Sunday had the communion, which was, unusually for me, a really positive event. It is always nice to share communion with friends at this festival, and this was not as interrupted as sometimes. The end of the day was highlighted by The Unthanks, a beautiful folk-influenced group, marred slightly by the fact that I experienced a very odd deja-vu (genuine deja-vu, not that I have seen them before). If you want a treat, do check out their "Magpie".

Speakers - I did hear some talks as well. Marika Rose talking on "Angels and Cyborgs" - she is always good, focussed and clear. Also the always excellent Katherine Welby-Roberts, struggling to do her talk, because doing such things is very difficult for her. The reality of what her illnesses mean was shown clearly. And, as always, she spoke from the heart and with honestly and openness.

There was a literary aspect to my festival too - I heard A L Kennedy after a recommendation, and she was very useful discussing aspects of "how to write stuff". Later the same day I heard Stephen Oram discussing "opting out". It was interesting, drawing on his latest book, and I will blog some of my reservations and thoughts on this later.

There was a theme to some of my other picks - Grace Petrie was brilliant as always; Gaz Brookfield was a new name for me, but one whose angry passion about real music, people, life was fantastic. Like Grace, but angrier and more aggressive. I remember him being very passionate about "real" music, not the manufactured drivel from Simon Cowell and the like.

And the last act I saw in the weekend was Jonny and the Baptists. This is a duo, whose comedy act was described as "post-watershed" material - that was accurate, as their first piece was about having sex in libraries to make them more interesting. It continued in a similarly adult vein, but was excellent, hilarious, and a great way to finish my festival. The theme between them all was a distinctly left-wing approach, a criticism of the current administration and the damage it is doing to people.

In the end, this is the ongoing theme of the festival for me - people who have problems with the government, not because of political differences, but because people are suffering from the decisions made, the pain and suffering imposed on people. As I write the refugee crisis is in the news, because the denial of these peoples human rights has meant that people have died, children included. One picture has made a difference, but if we had responded earlier, maybe this child could have lived.

Greenbelt reminds me that there are Christians - many of them, and an important section of them - who believe that abuse and damage to people is wrong, who believe that the biblical injunctions to help others, the poor and the needy, are the prime commandments of the Bible. That always gives me some hope.

 There was one other encounter that struck me. I was taking a look at the Quaker stand - just seeing what there was, what they were about. I have always thought that the Quaker approach may be the closest to mine, albeit with a different style (I am probably a bit noisy for them, but the principles and ideas I find a lot in common with). As I was about to leave, one of the people on the stand, said nothing but handed me a booklet. There was something about the quiet, unassuming way that he did this, trying to help, without words, that struck me. There was something of what I understand of the Quaker way about it. Given how most other stalls were tempting with chocolate, or desperate to attract visitors, this was - for me - a much better approach. So I would like to say thank you.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Budget changes

In the budget (several months ago now) there was one that has not apparently attracted much attention. It is the proposal to remove tax relief from Buy-to-Let (BTL) mortgages. I am sure that some people consider that these greedy rich, landlord should have tax reliefs stripped from them and serve them right.

Except, that is not what will happen. I speak as a landlord with a BTL mortgage (but I hope not a particularly Dickensian landlord).

Let me be clear, I have one property, currently let out. I operate it on a business, balancing income and expenditure, actually charging rent at a level based on what I need to cover my expenses (and so, for your information, less than I could be charging).

So what will the impact of these changes actually be? Well, for most landlords in this situation, they will have to balance their books still, and so will increase their rents. The first effect of this change will be to increase rents (slowly, as the change is being phased in, so it will probably not be noticed as a direct result). Of course, that hits tenants, not landlords. So many are already priced out of certain areas, and this will just get worse.

I should point out that this is not what I am planning to do.

The other impact is that people like me will not find it financially viable to be landlords. It means that I could consider getting out of the market, selling my property and removing one more place available for rental. The people who will be able to stay in the landlord market are those who do not need so much of a mortgage on the properties - that is, those who have some ready cash. It will play into the hands of the wealthy, who are not necessarily interested in being landlords for the benefit of the tenants, but for the money.

That is also not what I am intending to do.

I am intending to reorganise my finances to pay off my mortgages early. I am attempting to take myself out of this particular market (something that I was expecting to do eventually, but I might try to do this early). I am getting out of the BTL market but without selling the property. I am fortunate to be able to do this, but 10 years ago, and I would not have entered the market at all. That is the problem.

So yes, this proposal will hit some greedy landlords. But mostly, it will hit smaller landlords, and tenants. To those who need rental properties, this is bad news. As usual, the wealthy will just handle it, and the less well off will suffer and pay

So maybe you shouldn't be celebrating.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The House of Lords

I went on a visit to the House of Lords recently, as a guest of the Bishop of St Albans. It was an interesting visit, and provided some interesting insight into the place and the workings of that house.

The place itself is quite something - very elegant and ornate, quite a spectacular and beautiful building. You can walk along corridors with the most ornate carvings and paintings. It is a place that should inspire awe and a sense of responsibility. To an extent, I think it does. To a large extent, those who occupy the privileged seats in the house do realise what a responsibility they have. Certain recent news stories excepted.

I think that many of the Lords work hard - being involved in the processes, discussing and questioning. There were a number of members there who were doing their job well, asking and getting the answers, being present for the discussion of items that they have skills in. In particular, the bishops who work there combine their other work with attendance and involvement in the work there. Others combine other work with attendance and involvement there.

The problem I have is deeper rooted than that. The fact that some of those involved are good, honest and hard-working, while others may not be does not change the fact that the process seems to be wrong and broken. The part we saw - questions to the government - was a chance to raise questions, but they were answered by rote, and there is a limit to the questions and the time to discuss.

The problem I see is that it is a slow and compromise-driven approach to making laws does not seem to produce good and timely laws. There is a whole lot of debate and discussion over each word and phrase of the law to make sure it is clear and represents the views of the house. This is to ensure that lawyers cannot then untangle it, find loopholes through the legal phrasing. But this does not necessarily make for good laws, because the focus in on the minutiae, not the big picture. It seems to me that these people - the people we have chosen as the best in our society - should be focussing on the big picture. It seems that lawyers should be able to draft the phrasing, based on what the intention of the lords is. It seems that these lawyers should also be able to clarify the meaning of the legal position where needed.

Well, maybe not - this is not completely thought out. But is this the best use of their time? Is it right that (for example) our bishops, selected for their spiritual leadership, their insight and discernment. Their time in the lords is spent trying to identify potential loopholes in legal documents. The time we watched proceedings was worthwhile, but this was half an hour - the rest of the session (potentially late into the evening) would be picking apart a bill.

So yes, the visit was very interesting, and thanks to Bishop Alan for the opportunity. It is always fascinating to see how these institutions function, to observe the practicalities of the business. But in seeing these institutions at work, their archaic nature is sometimes shown up. I think Mhairi Black is absolutely right that the institution is, in some ways, outdated, not least the need to vote in person, not electronically. There is a definite need to update, to make the chambers work in a more modern way. There is a need to The problem is, we often see this way as being the definition of "democracy". The truth is that this is one was of running a legislative house - there are others, and others might be better. The wonderful, historical building should not mean that the functions within it should be as archaic. We can have a modern legislature in a wonderful old building.