Monthly Archives: March 2012

Minor Victories

After a blissful four year distance between me and the British tax system it was a very unpleasant surprise to be reunited with the knotted stomach and desperate gloom that comes free with an unsolicited letter from HMRC. It was addressed to me at my mother-in-law’s house, where we lived for a while after landing ashore, and informed me that I owed them several hundred pounds as a fine for not filing my tax return on time. Now, four years is a tad late I agree but why did it take them so long to tell me? And what are they going to do if I tell them to shove it up their collective arses? Extradite me?

So I called them. There are cheaper ways of spending three quarters of an hour in the company of officious inflexible cretins, and so I advise you not to try this course of action if you find yourself in a similar predicament. The upshot of the call was:
* I had to fill in tax returns for the previous three years, because I had never told them I was leaving the country.
* They can’t deal with this over the phone.

The second point is extremely annoying, while the first is as wrong as it is stupid.

So, I filled in the back of the form with a short note explaining the situation and sent it off. Once they realised I wasn’t eligible they would surely recognise that they had bigger fish to fry…cough…Vodaphone… and leave me alone.

A month later, a big bumper package arrived at not my house and my mother in law was kind enough to bring it round. It contained three photo-copied tax assessment forms for previous years together with a curt letter telling me to fill the fucking forms in because it was the fucking law (or words to that effect).

At this point, perhaps I should have spotted the familiar signs and recognised that this was me trying to argue with a faceless bureaucratic leviathan; just fill the forms in and send them back – it wouldn’t take more than an hour.

But what I actually thought was fuck that! I’m not wasting my time trying just to appease a gormless jobsworth who can’t wrap her head around their software. So I looked at the HMRC website and tried to find a way to talk to someone with a clue. It became apparent that the only real possibility would be to write a complaint.

So I wrote a frank, and honest, letter of complaint. OK it’s a bit sarcastic in places, and the tone isn’t exactly respectful but again, what are they going to do? If they grabbed me at the airport the next time I flew in I’d just fill the bloody paper work in and they’d have to let me go.

Today, a few weeks later, my mother in law delivered a very thin envelope from HMRC. The letter contained the wonderful paragraph:

I have accepted your appeal, which is determined under Section 54 Taxes Management Act 1970. I have cancelled the penalty.

It’s the little victories that make me happy. The next time they contact me I’ll fax a copy of that letter on the page before the photo of my arse.

The Group Thing

You may well have heard of this already, because it has been immensely popular, but I’ve now read her interviews and heard her talking on the subject many times and it still strikes a chord: Susan Cain on Introverts.
Despite what you may think of her and her current mission, she is saying something very important: wanting to spend time alone to think and ponder is not necessarily a bad thing.
She goes on to explain why group-thinking and group-working may not therefore be universally beneficial, despite being lauded as the “proper” way to work nowadays.
Suddenly I understand why many of the jobs I’ve had didn’t/don’t feel right: I do better working on problems alone. Obviously there are times when I need to ask for help from knowledgeable people, but that’s always an option. Working at Goldsmiths was particularly good in that regard as a trip to the local boozer allowed relaxed discourse with artists, mathematicians, computer scientists, philosophers etc.
Just don’t force us to work in a group. Please?