Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Why do perfectly innocent letters from the Inland Revenue almost give me a heart attack?

Whenever I receive a letter from the Inland Revenue, I shrug casually, set it aside for a few days, and then, when I’m good and ready, open it calmly, half-smiling to myself, read it through carefully, decide what needs doing and then, whistling cheerfully, go and do it. There you go. Sorted. If only!

In fact, when I see one of those distinctive buff-coloured envelopes lying on the front door mat, I react as if a black spot from Blind Pugh had just popped through the letter-box. I rip it open – usually tearing the letter as I do so – read it at quadruple speed (missing all the main points) while emitting high-pitched bleats like a small furry animal cornered by a pack of vicious dogs, shout “Oh for x@!*’s sake", crumple the letter into a ball and throw it to the floor, scream “Leave me alone, you bastards!” and stomp out of the house, muttering curses like some deranged, drink-fuddled down-and-out.

This happened to me – again - three days ago, and it was only when I was half-way round the block I realised that I’d phoned them about the very issue they’d raised a couple of months ago, and that the whole thing had turned out not to be a problem in any case, and that I wouldn't be going to prison and wouldn't be fined and everything was all right with the world and there was nothing whatsoever to worry about.

I’ve only had minor skirmishes with the tax authorities twice – and one of those was on behalf of a relative. Both of these experiences took place over a quarter of a century ago, but, because, on both occasions, the faults were entirely inadvertent, I’ve been left with the suspicion that, when it comes to financial matters, my fate is in the hands of capricious gods who might be tempted to destroy me just for the fun of it.

Part of the problem is that - apart from the occasional book-sized Amazon parcel and some Christmas cards - I almost never receive anything pleasant through the letter-box these days: most of the stuff we might actually want to read arrives electronically. Time was, there'd be letters from from friends or relatives, but now its's mainly bills and demands and offers for things you don't need - broadband services, bank loans, estate agents wanting to sell your house to mysterious, unnamed "clients", begging letters from extremely rich academic institutions etc. I can actually remember getting excited by the sound of the latest mail plopping onto the carpet - now I just roll my eyes and groan.

I used to imagine I’d die of apoplexy reading a report of the witless drivellings of some self-satisfied liberal in the Telegraph or racing across the sitting-room to switch off the Today Programme after hearing the words  "Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is in our Westminster studio..." – but I’m just as likely to pop my clogs clutching a letter from the tax authorities. The sad thing is, it’ll probably be a really friendly one informing me of a  rebate.

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