Death & Taxes (again)

It’s that dismal time of year again.  In this world, said Benjamin Franklin, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.  I have received from HMRC the notice to file, then a follow-up request from my accountants to assemble and forward the data so that they may render it intelligible.  I needed an accountant when I was in medical practice, and I retained her services thereafter because I once inadvertently made an error in filing a tax return, and got penalised.  I confess I find the tax system – take, for example, the computation of a tax code – to be completely incomprehensible.  Best leave it to the professionals.  Nadhim Zahawi, erstwhile Chairman of the Conservative Party, and indeed Chancellor of the Exchequer, got similarly stung with a tax bill of eye-watering dimension due to his alleged failure to declare something or other.  He made the case that he had made an honest mistake and should not be penalised.  HMRC said, “There are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs.”  But I can tell you from personal experience that this is not the case.  I was penalised, not for criminality, but for stupidity.   

Then there’s Gift Aid, a wheeze, I believe, of Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor.  I don’t get it.  Either you pay your dues to the Commonweal or you don’t.  If the exchequer can do without the equivalent of 20% of all the money we donate to good causes, why not abolish Gift Aid and tax us less?  Periodically I purge my shelves of books I have read and will not reread, and donate them to the charity shops.  They say, “Do you do Gift Aid?”  I say “No”, and assume the enigmatic expression of somebody who has a private vault in the Turks and Caicos.           

April is indeed the cruellest month, but I have procrastinated my way out of April and now it is May.  The trouble with assembling the data for a tax return is that it all comes through in dribs and drabs.  This is all the more true for me because I have lived my life in two hemispheres.  I can always find something better to do than grasp the nettle and collate the data. 

So…  Last Monday: a walk up to the Saltire that flutters on the ridge of the Gargunnock Hills.  Slipped and fell in a puddle.  I cursed, then thought, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Your skeleton is intact.  Tuesday…  Lunch with two Homo sapiens + dog, thereafter a walk by the River Teith and Doune Castle, made famous by Monty Python.  We talked about the relative merits of tea versus coffee.  One of the party was averse to tea.  This reminded me of a book I am currently reading, Love and Let Die by John Higgs (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2022), a social commentary charting the progress of two more or less parallel phenomena in the UK – James Bond and The Beatles.  Bond hated tea and the Beatles loved it.  It’s a class thing.  There’s the difference.  I put in a good word for a favourite tea of mine, Russian Caravan.  Lo and behold, what should appear on my back doorstep two days later, courtesy of Amazon, but a canister of Russian Caravan.  I was touched.  Tax return remained untouched.

(I must pause to wave to my local shopkeeper, who occasionally reads this blog, and whom we chanced to meet on the banks of the River Teith.  He said to the Non-Tea-Jenny, “Do you read James Calum Campbell’s blog?”  She said yes. I said, “You see, some people are faithful.”)    

Wednesday was not a good day for a tax return because I needed to get my car to the garage early in the morning to diagnose and treat a wheel problem.  I dropped the car off at 0830 and spent the day in various Stirling coffee bars studying German and drinking coffee.  Car got fixed.  Ergebnis!  Thursday morning was another early start, to get into Glasgow and attend the first German class of the new semester.  Viel Spaß!  No taxes.  And on Friday more friends reconvened in my local for another luncheon.  We had a lively conversation about the perceived harms of various human activities.  A friend wishes three pursuits to be banned – rugby, boxing, and motor racing, specifically Formula 1.  Presumably the first two damage individuals, and the third damages the planet.  I guess he’s got a point.  But I don’t fancy this curtailing of individual freedom, across the board.  I pointed out that Professor David Nutt, who does research into the benefits of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of severe depression, got the sack when he said that the drug Ecstasy is safer than horse-riding.  I guess the government didn’t like that.  Some methods of breaking your neck are posher than others.  My friend conceded that boxing had frequently been a way out for people trapped in disadvantaged communities.  Remember Brando On the Waterfront:  “I could have been a contender.”

The tax return remained on ice.

On Saturday I attended the RSNO concert at the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall.  Leif Ove Andsnes, one of the greatest pianist in the world, played one of the most technically difficult pieces in the repertoire, Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto.  Magnificent.  Then the orchestra played Shostakovich 10.  Its brief second movement is said to be a terrifying depiction of Joseph Stalin.  Shostakovich used to keep a suitcase packed in his apartment in case Stalin’s thugs came for him in the night.  No wonder his music is so anguished.  I learned from the RSNO’s principal clarinettist’s preamble that he said, “If they cut my hands off, I will compose with my teeth.”  Stalin died the same year as Shostakovich 10’s first performance (1953 – by a strange coincidence, Stalin and Prokofiev died on the same day).  So the 10th Symphony lightens up towards the end.  The RSNO are on top form – the wind playing in particular was quite exceptional.  They are about to go on tour in Europe, and they are going to play this programme in the Musikverein in Vienna.  The conductor urged us all to attend.  I think he was being facetious; tickets will, I dare say, be hard to come by.  I’ve been in the Musikverein.  It is a beautiful hall – not that large, and somewhat reminiscent of the City Halls in Candleriggs, Glasgow, only more ornate, with its great Rieger Orgelbau organ dominating the wall behind the orchestra.  Still, Candleriggs hosted Charles Dickens and Frederik Chopin, so can stand its own ground.       

Sunday is a day of rest and not a day for accountancy.  Cathedral, luncheon, walk, private piano recital. 

And now it is May and the work is yet to do.  Not that any outstanding tax bill is likely to amount to very much.  I put that on record, because I have a friend in my local Fitnesscenter who joshes me about my enormous wealth.  Because I am a retired doctor, I must live in a Schloss of 240 bedrooms, at the end of a private highway a mile long, the whole shebang maintained by a retinue of servants.  I assured him my policies and their curtilage were quite modest, as I had dissipated any wealth I may have accrued by wasting my substance on riotous living, then selling all I had and giving the proceeds to the poor.  I was not believed.    

And this morning I nearly choked on my Pakeeza Ayran Lassi when I read in the paper that next Saturday I will be invited to chant, “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law.  So help me God.”  I seem to recall Our Lord advised us not to swear.  Just let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.  I’ve just had an idea.  Next Saturday I’m going to shut all doors, eschew all newspapers, switch off all devices, and do my tax return.      

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