"Dear Mr Gowans, I am instructed to inform you that the fact you left UK in 1987, have no assets in UK and have never returned does not constitute Prima Facie evidence that you are no longer in the country... "
As most regular readers will know, I left England a long time ago. 1987 to be exact.
For a lot of the intervening time I was a tadge too busy to keep up to date with the parochial issues dominating UK news channels so only ever so occasionally caught brief snapshots. Over the years these have amalgamated into an impression of corruption, inefficiency, greed, indolence and violence; the right to behave thus enshrined in something called Human Rights. I know that only bad news makes the news but you have to admit that a week cannot pass without some kid being stabbed in the park or outside school, or some family burning to death in their torched house or some figure in the public eye being arraigned for corruption. Equally, the courts are burdened with pensioners who took a poker to an assailant and are now being sued to destruction for compensation or foreigners malignant with hatred seeking the court’s grace to remain in the country.
To the casual outside observer, UK PLC presents a pretty bleak picture except, perhaps, to those enjoying the largesse of the welfare state. I, for example, never realised that after my heart attack two years ago, I was entitled to a UK disability benefit. What? I haven’t paid taxes in UK for over twenty years so how come I am entitled to any benefit whatsoever? I don’t even live in the bloody country. It must be paradise for those that do and know how to work the system. In the meantime, Inland Revenue fine me each year for not filing a tax return. And then fine me again for not paying the fine.
There are three regional tax offices dealing with my case. I have tried to explain to them that I have gone, emigrated, slipped my moorings, been transported never to return but gave up completely when I had to explain that when I said I had done twenty years in Angola I was talking about the country in Africa and not the Louisiana State Penitentiary of the same name. Since I have no inclination whatsoever to visit UK and am confident that should I wish to do so, UK borders are now so porous I could slip easily in and out without ever being noticed, none of this bothers me in the slightest. After all, we are only dealing with civil servants, the unemployable miraculously employed at the rather more obscure end of the intellectual spectrum. All you have to do is talk faster than they can think. And if any further evidence were needed, how about the closing comments of a half hour international call I made to the Liverpool tax office (I have never been there or worked there yet somehow they have a file on me as well as London and Leicester) at the conclusion of which the guy at the other end agreed that I had stated my case most convincingly and all I had to do was pop into his office in the morning and sign a few papers.
‘I am in Angola’ I said.
‘I realise it may be a bit inconvenient, SIR, but I have your file open and we can close it in the morning. After all, Leicestershire isn’t THAT far away’
‘Leicestershire? I haven’t lived in Leicestershire since 1979!’
‘Well, it is up to you, SIR, but I think we need a ‘face to face’ to sort this one out’.
Face to Face? Is this the new bureaux speak? From then on I was taking the piss.
‘I can get a British Airways flight on Friday, it gets into London on Saturday’
‘Oh no, no, no. That won’t do at all. We are closed at weekends’
‘Do you think I am in a bit of trouble?’
‘Well, you haven’t filed a return, well, ever and with the accumulated fines I really think, Mr Gowans, you need to come into the office and let us help you to help yourself’
Momentarily speechless, I left a long enough pause for him to feel the need to continue:
‘Really, Mr Gowans, it is no use you burying your head in the sand. Like an ostrich’ he added ‘Best you come and see me in the morning.’ Naturally I was enthused with the idea of coming to see him. I wanted to tie him to his chair, pour petrol over him and set fire to him in the hope that as he frantically made his way to the water dispenser he would ignite one or two other workstations so overwhelming the sprinkler system and reducing the whole edifice to smoking ruins.
Where? From which distant part of the universe do they get these guys?
If I do get picked up sneaking into UK, (and let’s face it, the risk is worth taking for a few scoops of real ale), I’ll claim refugee status. In the meantime, until Inland Revenue employ someone who has passed his eleven plus or, judging by the conversation I endured, anyone even old enough to sit the exam in the first place, I shall ignore them.