Saturday, 3 December 2016

Gain Inner Peace by Filing Your Tax Return

Found inner peace? Not.

It's so easy to file your taxes on-line!


Go paperless. Submit your tax return on-line.


Gain inner peace by filing your taxes on-line.

I've just wasted about three days of my life trying to gain this inner peace. My rug is badly chewed. I have carpet fibres in my teeth and bald patches on my head.

Like so much government double-speak - like, 'We're in this together' and 'The NHS is safe in our hands' - they know very well that not a word, not a syllable, not a letter of it is true, but still, they stoutly maintain these falsehoods in the face of our boos and hisses.

I first logged on to complete my return a couple of months ago. I found that it had been partly filled in for me by some HMI gremlin. The gremlin stated that I had been paid a sum of money as an employee. Because I had been paid this sum, I owed Pay-As-You-Earn tax.

This was completely wrong. I haven't been employed by another party for about 40 years. Even when I was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, even when I go into schools to give talks and workshops, I retain my self-employed status, as do most writers.

The money that HMI had its underpants twisted about had nothing to do with employment. It came from a matured investment.

Long, long ago, O Best Beloveds, back in the stone-age, it was not possible for a self-employed person to have a personal pension. So, thinking that I should salt away a few quid for my old age, I opened a 'Retirement Account' into which I intended to stuff what little surplus moolah came my way.

Almost immediately after I opened it, the law changed and I was able to set up a personal pension, which seemed the better option. I couldn't take the money from the Retirement Account: it was in there for the long term. So I just left it. I added no more to it.

Then old age came upon me and I was notified that the account had matured. The matured pot was hardly life-altering. It wouldn't have bought a Tory MP a pedigree duck, let alone build a duck house. So I took it as cash. It was this money that HMI were claiming was payment for employment that I owed PAYE on.

Baphomet. Contact Him @widdershins...
I attempted to correct the on-line form. This only resulted in a lot of red splatter and big error messages. It wouldn't allow me to go forward to the next page until I had corrected the 'errors.'

So I wrote to the Taxman, asking what I should do. I suggested they send me a paper tax form which wouldn't answer back when I filled it in.

I wrote to them because my experience of trying to contact tax people by phone is dismal. It's much easier to contact Baphomet. With the taxman, even if you have a cup of coffee and a book and hang on the phone for hours, when you finally get through, you are immediately cut off. Deliberately, I suspect. Now, I have relatives that work in tax-offices and so I've heard something of the pressure tax-office workers are under and I don't blame them. Much.

Months passed. And finally, I got a letter from HMI. It said I was now too late to return a paper tax-form without being fined. Phone the number on the letter, it said, to be talked through the problem.

So I phoned, luckily without high expectations, and explained. A bored young woman said, "Oh, just ignore it and when you get to any other comments, put an explanation in there. When we check the form, we'll see it."

I went back to the on-line form. Whenever you sign in now, you get a phone-call from a rather abrupt robotic female who dictates a number to you. To some numbers she gives a Russian accent, while others she speaks as a South African. Occasionally she sounds a bit American. It's often quite hard to tell what numbers she's saying because, just as you've got used to one barely comprehensible accent, she springs another on you. And then snaps, "Goodbye."

I went through this rigmarole with her several times because as soon as I got into the HMI site, it crashed, putting up a message 'We are having problems. Try again later.' This happened at least three times.

When I finally managed to log on, all those big red letters and error messages about owing money on PAYE had vanished. The gremlins had been in again, tidying up.

Still, I thought I ought to mention it in 'any other comments' just to make sure the mistake was understood. I wrote in a few words, but wasn't allowed to submit them. Red error messages again. And then the whole site crashed.

Another conversation with the woman with the strangely shifting accent. Another crash. And so the long winter evenings wore on. How glad I am to have HMI and their number-fixated friend to pass the time with. I've nothing better to do after all.

With perseverence, I got back on the site - and somehow, everything was okay, my message was suddenly acceptable and I'm allowed to submit. My tax return is, finally, done.

If this terrible site, with its glitches and crashes, had delayed me until January 31st, I'm sure HMI would have gleefully fined me. Or is that the reason why the site is so bad? To give an excuse to fine people?

Filing on-line is easy? It provides inner peace? Whoever came up with those slogans, they owe me a new rug and I would like to eat their young. Baphomet has some great recipes.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Where Did That Phobia Go?

So there I was, mug of coffee in hand, feet up on the coffee table, watching a documentary about life behind the scenes at the zoo. There was stuff about the tiger-keepers and the elephant-keepers and the gorilla-keepers, all very interesting, and then the scene switched to the spider-wrangler. He was trying to persuade two large tarantulas to mate without the female eating the male, always a ticklish situation.
Flanders and Swann, Wikimedia Commons
          I watched attentively as he let the spiders walk from one of his hands to the other, as they sized each other up. Then the thought crossed my mind: Aren't I supposed to have a phobia about spiders?
          I always did have, for as far back as I can remember. My mother hated them. My aunt loathed them even more. I have myself shuddered with loathing at the mere sight of them and, previously, had to look away if one came on a screen near me. I made diversions through pet-stores, to avoid the glass tanks of spiders. I quickly turned pages to avoid pictures of them. I dreaded, like Flanders and Swann, meeting one in the bath. (Warning for those following the link: the video with this song has pictures of several big spiders.)
          So it was quite a surprise to find myself watching these big hairy spiders cavorting about while feeling absolutely nothing except mild interest.
          My 'phobia' was pretty mild as phobias go. I've heard of people being trapped in their flat because of a spider on the wall above the door. They dared not pass under the beast and had to phone for help. I've never been that bad. I would not be dictated to by an invertebrate, not even by a spider the size of a dinner plate. I would get mad and have at it with the yard brush.
         Though an acquaintance who lived in Australia for a time once flipped down her sun-visor and deposited a huge spider, which had been hiding behind it, into her lap. She screamed and drove off the road, overturning her car. As she hung upside down in the seat-belts, thankfully unhurt, all she could think was: Where is it? If that happened to me, even now, I think the result would be exactly the same. Looking at an expected spider is one thing. Having a huge one unexpectedly dropped in your lap is quite another.
        Previously, I could have walked under a door with a spider above it, but not without a cold grue. And I had always thought, once you had those feelings about something, you were stuck with them for life unless you took active measures to overcome them. I had done nothing.
         There wasn't even any sense of this loathing for spiders fading away. One day I couldn't look at an image of one without hiding my eyes. The next, it seemed, I was happily watching them disport all their eight legs about the place.
          Perhaps this lessening of fear had something to do with all the little black spiders in my garden.
Spot the sparrowpa
I've been doing a lot of gardening work over the past year, and every square inch seems to have its own little black, square spider, which scuttles off for its life when my shadow falls on it. I say 'square' because they are quite compact little things which could easily be drawn inside a square. I've seen so many of them, so often, that I've grown quite fond of them. Perhaps they've been therapeutic.
          But I also find myself leaning close to examine the markings on much bigger, leggier specimens that, not long ago, would have horrified me. I now find their shape quite elegant and beautiful when previously I found it nothing but repulsive.
          I'm not saying that I'm keen to have a tarantula sitting in my hand or crawling up my arm, like the zoo's spider-wrangler, who was just showing off. I think that's taking things a bit far. But still... How or why do life-long feelings of loathing and repulsion simply pack up and leave one day, without their owner even noticing?

          I am curious about other's experience. Has anyone else suddenly found a fear - whether it's of heights, birds, open spaces or vegetables - suddenly almost vanish like this?
          And if so, what do you think lessened it?