Today is the shortest day for the UK. And the whole northern hemisphere, I daresay. For confirmation I looked up the sunrise times for Edinburgh on timeanddate.com, and was quite startled to discover that tomorrow the sunrise will be a minute later than today. And then another minute later on 27th, before finally beginning to recede on 30th December. The good news is that the sunset also started getting fractionally later four days ago, and so today really is the shortest day.
Incidentally, while entering my location into the website, I also discovered that there’s a place called “Edinburgh of the Seven Seas” in St Helena – nestled sort of slap bang in the middle of the South Atlantic between southern Africa and South America. They have a fair bit more sunlight than us at this time of year. I made a mental note to visit Edinburgh of the Seven Seas one day. Ideally in January.
On a windy day, back in October, I ran a 5k along the Promenade at Portobello. Actually it was closer to 6k, but I don’t like to brag. The sky was bluish-grey, indeed almost everything looked bluish-grey. It was blowing a hoolie, and the breakers were in good voice.
To the east there was a golden stripe along the coast, as the stretch from Musselburgh round to Longniddry still caught the early evening sunshine.
I think it was that day I decided to move to Portobello.
The sound of waves on the beach, most recently experienced on my much-documented stay in Aberdeen and the North East, have seduced me.
So I moved, and here I am. I found a great little flat – just back from the Promenade. If you crane your neck at a certain angle through one of the windows you can claim a sea view, but – more importantly – I hear the waves every night.
I have successfully quashed, without a great deal of difficulty, the wild spirit within me that has wanted to join the open-water swimmers, who take to the sea on a daily basis; sometimes wet-suited, sometimes in a two-piece (they’re nearly all women), and all looking either a little mad, or bad-ass, or frequently both.
I saw one today on my beach walk back from the Post Office, in a swimsuit, with woolly hat and proper wetsuit-type gloves. Still trying to make sense of that particular combo.
The flat I’m in is one of a block of six, in a little development of several blocks. The neighbours are friendly. I recently encountered Irene, who has been here since the development was built in 1986. I like to think of her as the Scheme Tsar. Then I met an old dear – Joy – while we were out emptying our bins.
“Are you the new man?” she asked.
I replied that – yes – I think I was.
“I’m Andrew!” I said, with that knowing look which says I would shake your hand right now under normal circumstances, but I can’t, so I’ll nod my head slightly, which will have to do.
“Oh I know who you are,” she responded. “Irene wrote about you in The Newsletter.”
I have a fairly strict and entirely self-inflicted “no-emoji” rule when writing in this blog, having occasional and loosely-held pretensions to being “a writer”.
However it would be now that I would insert a face-with-wide-open-eyes emoji to adequately reflect my response to this bombshell. Possibly the face-screaming-in-fear as well.
We have a “Newsletter”? And I was featured in it?
I have still not seen any sign of this publication, but I promise to report back when I do.
In other news, my move to Portobello has precipitated a grave and serious change in my circumstances, in that I have now moved outside my GP Practice’s Boundaries of Care. And so, being a Good Citizen and thus unwilling to continue to claim medical care from a distant practice, and also conscious that GPs can be inordinately prickly about such matters, I have re-registered with my local practice in Porty.
At least, I think I have. I posted my lengthy application into the box that I was instructed to. I only lied (accidentally) about one thing, in the box where I was to note my weekly alcohol unit intake, in which I unthinkingly put a number which would have definitely been true pre-Covid, but has now been somewhat, um… superseded.
Thereafter I was expecting to receive, if not a glossy Welcome Pack, at least a brief email acknowledging my existence and that I had kept my handwriting inside the correct boxes. None has been forthcoming. I realise that a GP practice is not exactly a country club, but surely this is not too much to expect?
This morning, while the sun is shining and I (craning my neck at the appropriate angle) can catch a glimpse of sunlight glinting on the sea, I find myself inside, glued to the HMRC website, where I am trying to gain access to a webchat with an advisor.
It’s proving to be an experience similar to the Pool of Siloam. Every time the “speak to an advisor” link appears, I click on it, at which point a pop-up box asks for my name and question. Which I provide, as quickly as possible. The question has been reduced to “hi” in the interests of speedily initiating a chat. However, regardless of how how little I type and how fast I type it, I am invariably met with the response “All our advisors are busy at the moment, try again.”
The reason I am here is because I have been trying to help my mother with her self-assessment tax return. The HMRC system, in its infinite wisdom, has decided it cannot verify her identity. It requires two pieces of identification from her to do this, one of which is a passport, which she no longer has.
They have an alternative way to prove you are who you say you are, which involves registering with a Trusted Company (I chose the Post Office), who proceed to ask you for details about yourself, stopping just short of asking you how many freckles you have on your left forearm.
Even with this inquisition completed, the System was unable to verify my mother’s identity. And thus it has deemed her unable to submit an online tax return.
We can still submit the paper version, of course. Deadline for that was 31 October. But doing this, and paying the resulting fine, seems the only way forward. I find it somewhat unacceptable that my mother has to pay a fine as a result of HM Government being unable to verify her identity, even though her identity hasn’t changed even slightly since this time last year, when we successfully completed an online tax return. And the year before that…
Here in Scotland we go into Tier 4 (ie the maximum) from Boxing Day. Tougher on everyone, but still not as bad as March. London is properly locked down already.
And I note from a brief visit to the Post Office today, that all services to Europe have been suspended. Brexit AND Lockdown. It’s quite the dysfunctional cocktail.
But today is the shortest day. Tomorrow, we begin the long slow climb into brighter days. Days when the light burns a little longer, and a little warmer. And though the climb is long and slow, and it’s hard to note any difference for a while, it’s happening nonetheless.
Slow and steady, but from tomorrow, we’re climbing again.
Stay safe, and happy Christmas to all my long-suffering readers. ❤️
(It’s only a fairly strict no-emoji policy).