THERE are few things more ominous than the thud of a brown envelope hitting the mat.
Well, having said that, I imagine the sound of a 50 megaton thermonuclear blast over Portobello would start the day on a bit of a downer, but at least you’d know that the taxpayers of North Korea, or wherever had decided to rain nuclear hell down on our heads, would be able to point to the mushroom cloud and say, ‘We paid for that, y’know. That’s our tax, that is.’
That’s what’s in the brown envelopes, by the way. Communications from Her Majesty– or to be precise, the people who collect the revenue and customs for Liz. Or tax, as it’s known.
The tax office clings to the buff envelope with the vice-like grip of a dodgy 1990s MP who has just asked a suspect question in the House, way back when MPs got their hooky money from dodgy suppliers of harsh toilet roll to the NHS.
Perhaps HMRC has no choice but to work their way through a mountain of little brown envelopes. Perhaps back in the day someone, probably called Janet, the day before retirement, put in an order for enough A5 envelopes (windowed) (manila) (self-seal) to “see them through”, without specifying what it was they should be getting through. The next two millennia, by the looks of things.
We don’t have a mat for government communications to land on, as it happens. We can’t have one. We have an elderly cat with stern views on interior design – like a feline Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. He regards door mats as hopelessly outré, and registers his disapproval by peeing on them. (The cat, that is. I can’t recall an episode of Changing Rooms where Laurence Whatsit did serious damage to someone’s interior design disaster by exuberantly letting loose all over some burgundy and mustard swirly flock wallpaper. Not in front of Carol Smillie, at any rate.)
The cat doesn’t actually like anything to be left lying behind the front door, and I was not quick enough to rescue the communication. As a result, I had to carefully dry, dunk and disinfect the letter before I could open the ominous missive, and even then I had to do it outside.
That’s probably why the Queen has got corgis. I bet they don’t wee on the post. They’d better not. We pay for those dogs, y’know.
Personal touch isn’t welcome
There’s a dinky graph now to tell you what they’ve spent your taxes on, to say thanks for your dosh. I recall this idea being bruited about by the last government but one. Remember them? That sinister smiler in Number 10, and the scary dude in No 11?
The idea was you’d get a personal thank you from the Chancellor. This did not encourage Starbucks, Amazon or indeed a football team or two to cough up. Perhaps they just didn’t like the idea of the Chancellor turning up on the doorstep to thank them. And that, my friends is where that particular plan went wrong.
Why thank when you can threaten? Who wouldn’t have paid up pronto if they had suspected for a split second that a snarling Gordon Brown was about to turn up at your door. “Nice place you’ve got here, Amazon. Be a shame if anything happened to it…”
And if you think Gordon snarling was frightening, just remember Gordon smiling.
And if you think Gordon happy or sad was bad, imagine the current tenant of No 11 turning up to say thank you, that strange, creepy wee laddie who always looks like he is wearing a Poundland Dracula Hallowe’en mask.
We probably paid for that, too.
Like having De Niro on the doorstep…
It was just a reminder, it said. The language was worryingly breezy. Just to remind me, it said. Deadline coming up, but nothing to worry about.
But even though it was terribly friendly, it was still like having de Niro in a Mob movie lean towards you to say in a quiet voice full of menace “nice place you got here, would be a shame if sumthin’ happened to it, Mac”.
Know what I mean?
Good fairies of the tax office
The tax people don’t need to hide behind envelopes. They are great if you call them, which I usually do in a state of panic and alarm.
On one notable occasion my computer had gone into meltdown, taking with it my tax return which was due that day. No, I hadn’t done it early as suggested by Moira Stuart, left, who had taken to lurking in people’s cupboards to remind them to do just that.
The lovely lady who took my call assured me that if I got my payment in by the morning, and sorted my PC out, and promised I’d get it done in time next year, she wouldn’t tell the Chancellor. It was like being saved by Tinkerbell the Tax Fairy.