I try to do the decent thing as a rule. I do not usually proceed faster than +/- 10% of the speed limit on roads (and never on a bike), I pay bills, (except to roofers) on time, I seldom smuggle more than 100ml of Eau de Cologne onto a plane(except when flying via Heathrow and then it is spread liberally round the upper torso as a biological defense against the stench of the place) and I ensure that I rend unto Caesar what is Caesar's. In other words, I pay my taxes. Or at least try to.
However, as I explain in "Evolution - When?", humans have little capacity for learning, and it is because of this, that despite my adventures trying to get "Help and Advice" from Jobcentre Plus and it's Coalition of the Willing, I attempt to pay my taxes for 2008 online. Those of you who remember 2008, may recoil in surprise that I had any taxes to pay for that year. It was a lean period, belts were tightened, cats were examined carefully to see if they could bear losing a few pounds and new guitars were not purchased. No expensive new sports were practised. Despite this though, work was found and much commuting ensued. A paltry sum was obtained and my career as Hull's Leading (and only) Freelance Theatrical Carpenter was launched.
So last week, I determine to report and pay my taxes. I decided to do this online. I entered www.gateway.gov.uk and was told I would need my National Insurance NUmber, my unique Taxpayer's reference number and my date of birth to hand. These items procurred, I proceed to register, entering the required details. After a short pause, the website tells me that I am activated,send s me a secret User Id code, asks me for a password (which I provide) and now all I have to do is wait for the delivery by mail of my Self Assessment Activation code - a unique 12 digit number that is required to complete the registration process. I can then, it says, proceed, secure in the knowledge that my details will be kept secure.
Three days later, the Self Assessment Activation Code arrives and I again log on. I enter my details:
National Insurance Number(10 digits)
Unique TAx Reference NUmber(12 digits)
Post Code (6 digits)
User ID (12 digits)
Password (9 digits)
Address (14 Digits)
Date of Birth (6 digits)
Self Assessment Online Activation Code(12 digits).
AFter entering all 79 digits I make a cup of tea reflecting that the process is slightly more complicated than in Nova Scotia, where one entered one's name and answered a couple of security questions. The script usually went something like this:
COMPUTER: "Do you know the Monk family from East Chezzetcook?"
COMPUTER : "How well?"
ME: "PRETTY WELL, I FIRED TONY SIX TIMES"
COMPUTER: "Scout's Honour?"
COMPUTER : "Double Promise?"
ME: "FOR SURE!"
COMPUTER : "Ok, you're in. Have a nice day".
Back in the USSUK , the computer pauses after I have pressed "ENTER", has a little think, then tells me I have not been recognised. I try again, triple checking my digits to make sure they are all there. Still no recognition. I call RHB, as, being a scientist, she is pretty good at making numbers up and bedevilling statistical information. She reads the numbers out as I type, repeating each one back to her in our equivalent of the UN sytem:
MAZZER: " 'NINER' , that's 'o-zero-niner'. CHECK"
RHB : "A "
MAZZER : "That's 'ALPHA'. Check 'ALPHA'. Roger. Over."
MAZZER: "What's 'WHAT'?"
RHB: "What letter do you have?"
RHB; "Well whats all that other stuff you said? Dont say all that stuff, its just confusing. Where were we?"
We get through the pile of digits eventually and press enter. A fail message comes up. Appartently I have tried and failed too many times and now must call the Help Desk. For Help and Advice. My heart sinks.
The next working day, I call the Help Desk number. A 'line busy' signal resonates down the line. I try again and a recorded voice, in an accent suspiciously tinged with the pronunciation of the Songino Kirkhain subdivision of Ulan Bator when speaking English, says "Our Help line is experiencing extraordinarily high volumes at the moment. Please to be calling back later. And if you think its cold there, you wanna try washing yak skins outdoors where I am". Successive calls only confirm that the Help Line is working very hard.
One view is that like every other Government system in the UK, there is a mire of bureaucracy that is based on the underlying belief system that appearance is everything but functionality, if it happens, is a lucky accident, a happenstance, a by-product. Thus the Government websites are advertised everywhere, have great names like 'Direct Gov' and 'Gateway' and 'Business Links UK', are beautiful to look at, and purport to offer loads of help and advice but do not actually do anything. The other view, unfortunately, is that we return to our old friend Complexity, and admit that in order to repair the problems of a leaking ship, the captain has ordered that so much caulking, patches, bouyancy devices, warning systems, external membranes, and additional manpower to act as bailers and has welcomed aboard so many committees issuing countless reports on unending reams of paper that the ship is sinking under the weight of the measures designed to save the ship.
Last week, hot on the news that the UK was going to experience the worst recession among the G8 countries, Gordon's boys added a new patch to the ship, a new solution to the countries economic woes. Gordon's big plan is now that he has promised that by 2012, every home in the UK will have access to high speed broadband. This, we were serioulsy told, would be the platform on which the UK's ecenomic recovery would be based. Never one to scoff at novel solutions (my plastering has been witnessed by all I think), I review the plan carefully. The essence would seem to be that the few remaining steel workers in the UK, who have just been made unemployed, would be better placed in their efforts to regain employment, and thus avoid being in a state of worklessness, if they had access to broadband.
I need not type any further, I think, as to do so would only lead to allegations of libel, and possibly treason. It would not, however, be fair to leave the reader without pointing out that several words were left out of the final paragraph of this entry. Those words, in no particular order were "ROME", "BURNS", "PISSING", FIDDLING" "STUPID" "WHILE" "WIND" "IN" "THE" "WALL" "REVOLUTION" "FIRST" "UP AGAINST" "SHOWER" and "WOULD BE".