I tug open the grey envelope; its plastic stretches like mozzarella on a pizza. The beige post-back envelope spirits away from amongst the forms. I get down on my knees and the musky old carpet smell assaults my nose but the envelope doesn’t assault my eyes. I feel around under the bed and my hand finds something smooth; the envelope, indistinguishable from the carpet in the bed’s shadow.
A Sheet. Bless You.
Amongst the forms, a sheet is missing so I enter its code into the HMRC website and send it to print. The printers’ LED screen says ‘low on ink’. More ink, printer? Did I hear you say you wanted more? The sheet prints out fine.
I am connected to HMRC’s bespoke menu system. “Please let us know what colour envelope we wrote to you in last April so that we can connect your call to someone who can help. I bet. More like someone who is ready to fob me off and ask “is there anything else I can help you with?’ I try to navigate myself past ‘information’ or ‘updates’ and ask a live operator where to find sheet SE105. They reply “sorry I’m going to have to stop you there,” so I start talking again and say ‘not unless you can catch me, this is not a hail and ride part of this conversation.” They say “Where is this conversation going?” I say “nowhere because you stopped me.”
There must be companies out there offering CRM or Customer Repellent and Muddling systems. I can imagine their sales blurb: “we offer a range of effective torture apparatus for callers. There’s the PIN request and password demand and, our favourite, two different names for the same security information such as Security Key or Transfer Code.. For a small extra premium, we have a voice recognition system that will have tax-payers sectioning themselves in no time. The beauty is your customers pay to hear the whole menu.”
Hmm. HMRC? Heretic Minion’s Rightful Curmudgeon?
HMRC, or, Her Majesty’s Royal Cockup suggests I do my return online. For this, a gateway code must be applied for, then a password will be issued by email. This password expires after 30 days. I imagine Robin Hood choosing the remote option to avoid the Sherrif of Nottingham, before he became an outlaw, to pay his tax. Instead of rocking up with various pieces of offal and rabbit skins by the deadline, officials arrive with a bag of wild-picked, home-ground flour that goes off after 30 days. He has to return this to Nottingham Castle within the month to receive a key to the locker where he must deposit his tax before the food has gone stale, or he has to await delivery of a new bag to try again. The officials make bread from his second bag and so he is summoned to pay a fine, so he says: “Hey Little John, let’s do this our way. We can save tax payers all this hassle and cut out the middle man by robbing rich people and redistributing their wealth to worthy causes.”
My mind drifts onto the official language used. You complete a box. The word ‘complete’ figures in my head as a person colouring in the entire box in black ink. Why can’t they say ‘fill in’ although technically it means the same? Perhaps it was some Tudor clerk misspelling that gave us the phrase of ‘filing a tax return.’ Or maybe Tudors had to scrub their forms with a metal ridged instrument to create a sharp point and post them as paper aeroplanes.
The Right Angle
I remember how I saw on TV that the English language started on the border between the Angles and the Saxons, which is why our words are perfect for political manoeuvring. I imagine Angle Offal and Saxon Osric grabbing a bite to eat in Southwold circa 839. They pretend to be best friends immediately noticing they have the same amount of heavies in their villages on the Leicester border. Offal comments on the match between Lavenham and Long Melford (a goal in each settlement) he’s just read about so he has parchment to wrap his catch in after fishing. Offal shouts ‘must have a skinful soon,’ and dashes off.
Mind still mid 9th Century, I file the wrong number in Box 19 and grab my Tipex. I complete a box with white correction fluid. Refocused by the thought that I have to ‘file’ this thing by mid afternoon, I complete more numerical figures in boxes. I need another page and enter SA105 on the website. My document finished fourth on the list. Finished, as if it had run the Derby to the top of the search list and was beaten by any old blurb with the letters SA105 in.
The form oozes out of my printer after I ignored its black-blood vampire cries for ink. By folding in my computer shelf and doing something similar with my midriff, I reach the printer. Both it and I emit a groan. I fold the form and sheath it in the envelope, checking that the address shows through the slinky plastic window, the one that prevents envelopes from being recyclable.