Saturday, 19 September 2015

Damned genes

I never used to think about the genes I had inherited until recently. I don't mean my looks, I mean my health. When we are young we feel and act like we are invincible. We can't imagine how it really feels to be old, to be in pain never-ending. If we have an accident we're as right as rain, usually, a few days later. We spend our time occupied with work, kids, our partner and sometimes our hobbies. Maybe throw in a holiday or two to think about.

It's very different now and the more I learn the less I like it. How well do you know yourself? Deep inside... hard to see I know but in your 50s and 60s the insides make their presence felt in many ways.

For years I've had problems with significant constipation. My record was 18 days without movements in France, 17 days in New Zealand and that is more than painful, it's scary. I got sick of being told to eat more vegetables and drink more water and get exercise because none of that helped. Well, now I know why. My last colonoscopy has revealed that my bowel is much longer than it should be. "You could say it's like a winding trail up and over mountains", said my specialist. Too long means the transit time is abnormal. The longer it takes, the less hydrated things become and the more prone to worse things happening inside like diverticula and polyps. I'd had no idea my bowel is too long but did recall that ever since I could remember as a kid, my parents had made disparaging remarks to me because I didn't 'go' every day like they thought I should. I went two or three times a week. Now it all makes sense. I now drink nasty 'moving' mixtures and take anti-spasm pills. That helps a lot.

I started going deaf when I was 36; well that's when I became aware of it. It was after the birth of my second daughter and I could no longer hear conversations at parties. Darn, and I hadn't listened to much loud music in my youth either, we didn't back then. I just accepted the deafness as part of aging, had a test in NZ back in 1996 which said I was at the bottom of the normal range and put up with it. Hearing aids are prohibitive in price though I knew they might help. My hearing continues to deteriorate and there are many sounds now I simply cannot hear, though JC hears them and he's 10 years older. What could be going on?

I recently found out from an ear specialist who tested me that I have a hereditary hearing problem and it would have been better if I'd known about it earlier but now I'm too old for surgery to be an option. Have you heard of otosclerosis? It's more common in women.

People who have otosclerosis have an abnormal sponge-like bone growing in the middle ear (the stirrup) also known as the staples, becomes attached with this abnormal bone-growth. This growth prevents the ear bones from vibrating in response to sound waves. These vibrations are needed in order for us to hear.

Otosclerosis is the most common cause of middle ear hearing loss in young adults. It typically begins in early to mid-adulthood. The condition may affect one or both ears. Risks for this condition include pregnancy and a family history of hearing loss. Caucasians are more likely to develop this condition than people of other races. It tends to be hereditary.

I don't know enough about my family history in terms of hearing loss but I have had three pregnancies and each pregnancy makes it worse. The hallmark symptom of otosclerosis, slowly progressing hearing loss, can begin anytime between the ages of 15 and 45, but it usually starts in the early 20’s and is unstoppable. It is often accompanied (as in my case) by significant tinnitus (various annoying noises in the ears) and occasional vertigo. The latter would explain my balance difficulties with pirouettes as I got older.

White, middle-aged women are most prone to presenting with this type of loss. Hearing aids can help but won't replace the hearing already lost. Some surgery might be performed if the stirrup isn't already too stiff but this is often not successful. One day I imagine they'll be able to give implants but I'm not sure I'll live to see that. I wish gene therapy was more advanced as there is a lot of death by stroke and heart attacks in my family. My varicose veins are likely to be hereditary the vein specialist told me. " You need to have those out", he said.

While our genes don't necessarily mean a death sentence, since our choices in lifestyle can influence outcomes, I'm not thrilled about the little time-bombs going off inside me now that my body can no longer repair itself properly, especially the arthritis. As a baby boomer I'm 'encouraged' to keep youthful, supremely active and live a long and healthy life. Bollocks! Seems it's all in the genes.

Friday, 4 September 2015

What lurks in the French garden

I love gardening but lately I've become too afraid to go out there unless I absolutely have to. I know there are beasties in France like snakes, though I doubt I'll ever see one, especially where I live, but this nasty has me beat. I'm talking about the Aoûtat. It's very active around August (Août) and September, hence its name.

It's not a sandfly or mosquito or tick. It's an acarien (mite/spider) with 8 legs. Adults are harmless but the larvae are a nightmare. They are generally too small to see. How they get on me is a mystery but if  I step outside the house to go to the car or call the dog or pick some salad I will be attacked, bigtime. They love me more than JC and his dog and the effects last between 1-3 weeks.

Meet Trombicula autumnalis. 
The harvest mite, Trombicula autumnalis, is a species of mite of the family Trombiculidae. Their larvae (stage 2 of diagram) live parasitically; they infect all domestic mammals, humans, and some ground-nesting birds. They feed for two to three days on humans, rabbits, hedgehogs, voles, too. Once they've fed enough they drop to the ground to start the next stage of their life-cycle. They do not suck blood. Instead they pierce the skin (especially around bras, knickers, trousers, socks). They will attack your tender private parts, your head, in your ears, on your face - everywhere, I know.

They use a sort of funnel to inject saliva to dissolve your cell tissue, making it liquid so they can suck it out and it is the damage from the creation of this feeding tunnel, the irritation from the saliva and the tissue damage which makes bites from this mite a misery. On me they are beyond count, and grossly swollen. They itch appallingly for a week, then settle to being red marks that are a bit itchy which sometimes weep. After 2-3 weeks you just have bright red marks left on your body. It's not attractive.

If I must harvest my potager I am forced to stand naked in front of JC while he sprays me from top to toe and in between (I'll leave that to your imagination). Obviously this is more fun for him than me. Reeking, I slope off to do my gardening, knowing that I'm still going to suffer for my art. The spray helps but not enough. I haven't found a product that really relieves the itching. Even the aloe vera plant I have on hand is less effective in France than in Auckland. The aloe juice is more liquid, less viscous and doesn't relieve the symptoms as well as my plants in NZ did.

I've had two months of this torture and can expect at least another month more. I never thought I'd want winter to come quickly. Ha, in winter it's too unpleasant to go outside. They've got me and it's taking a lot of the pleasure of picking my bountiful tomatoes, raspberries, courgettes, cucumbers and salad.  I hesitate to take an antihistamine but I'm getting desperate for sleep. JC says I must taste exotic or I'm giving off yummy pheromones. Screw it! I'm covered in spray, rubber boots and two layers of clothing. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Tax treaty? - what a joke

Working and living abroad while still keeping any financial ties to one's homeland is fraught with problems. It shouldn't be, but there are always nasty shocks and gross unfairness. I just didn't know until I stumbled into 'international tax law' as it applies to me and many other New Zealanders.

Since I've never had any security of residency or work in France it seemed prudent not to sell my house in Auckland, nor close my bank accounts ... problem 1.
I rent my mortgaged home out to pay its expenses. That means I have an income... problem 2.
I am a tax resident in France ... problem 3.

Lets look at this whole issue of tax from these three issues. NZ and France signed a tax treaty in 1981 to avoid residents being taxed twice by either country. Ha! What a joke. Even my accountant thought I'd be OK but it's not true and I'm feeling pretty grumpy about it.
As a tax resident of France I must declare all revenue from NZ (rental income, interest etc) and I must list every bank account (including the mortgage) and what it's for, including Paypal for goodness sake. While I'm all for the dirty-politicians-hiding-money-overseas getting caught, the vast majority of us are not like that and we end up in the firing line. If you don't declare your NZ revenue and list your overseas accounts (even if you closed them during the year) you can be fined mega thousands of euros. They are policing this more vigorously so it's not a Russian Roulette game you want to play. Anyone convicted of tax fraud would be deported. I did 'the right thing' and declared, feeling that the tax treaty would mean fair play. Wrong!

Rental income etc is taxed in NZ so I pay tax in NZ. I get nothing for it - it doesn't give me a democratic vote and it doesn't give me a pension in my old age unless I return to NZ. Using my accountant's tax report I provided the required calculations and conversions into euros. It's the proof I paid my taxes. OK so I've already paid - I should be fine with that because of the treaty.

I earn very little in France, only slightly over the minimum wage and I pay all my taxes - I should be fine with that. How naive of me.

France taxes on global income, not just what I earn in France, even though there is a tax treaty and even though I've already been taxed in NZ. France wants to tax me again. What makes this worse, the income from renting my home is added to my French income and has put me in a higher tax bracket. This week I received notice of my new tax to pay. It's at least 35% higher yet I have received not a centime more in my bank. What's the use of a tax treaty to avoid paying twice if I have to pay twice on money I only received once, AND get taxed at a higher rate for what I never received in France? I'm pissed off, of course.

Clearly, one day I will have to make a decision about where I belong and cut the other ties. That's lose/lose. For those of you wanting the gobbledygook wording from the horse's mouth about the NZ \France tax treaty here you go... click here.

Convention between the Government of New Zealand and the Government of the French Republic for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income 
Double taxation shall be avoided in the following manner:
  • 1. In the case of France:
    • a) Income other than that referred to in subparagraph b) below shall be exempt from the French taxes referred to in subparagraph a) of paragraph 3 of Article 2 if the income is taxable in New Zealand under this Convention.
    • b) Income referred to in Articles 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17 and 22 received from New Zealand may be taxed in France in accordance with the provisions of those Articles, on its gross amount. The New Zealand tax levied on such income shall entitle residents of France to a tax credit which corresponds to the amount of the New Zealand tax levied but which shall not exceed the amount of French tax attributable to such income. Such credit shall be allowed against taxes referred to in sub-paragraph a) of paragraph 3 of Article 2, in the bases of which such income is included.
    • c) Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-paragraphs a) and b), French tax shall be computed on income chargeable in France by virtue of this Convention at the rate appropriate to the total of the income chargeable in accordance with the French laws.
  • 2. In the case of New Zealand:
    Subject to any provisions of the law of New Zealand which may from time to time be in force and which relate to the allowance of a credit against New Zealand tax of tax paid in a country outside New Zealand (which shall not affect the general principle hereof), French tax paid under the law of France and consistently with this Convention, whether directly or by deduction, in respect of income derived by a New Zealand resident from sources in France (excluding, in the case of a dividend, tax paid in respect of the profits out of which the dividend is paid) shall be allowed as a credit against New Zealand tax payable in respect of that income.