Let's all grow up and kill the taxman

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The Independent Culture
A few weeks ago you could have found me in one of my favourite postures, #137(c): sitting on the toilet with a Rafael Gonzalez Havana between my teeth, wreathed in cigar-smoke and cursing the press out of the corner of my mouth.

There are all sort of things that can set off #137(c) - to tell the truth, it's on a bit of a hair-trigger these days - but on this occasion it was the Paradigm Shift In Our Culture which is supposed to have swept over the country since The Right Honourable Anthony Blair MP PC (damned if I'll call him "Tony", the matey little sod) swept to power.

The idea was, you'll recall, that, having got rid of the tub of rotting maggots which was the Tory government, we all felt inexplicably better. We felt in control. The Brylcreemed chancers, the wham-bam-thank'ee-ma'am merchants, the rod-up-the-arse buggers with their strangled vowels and loose, flapping morals: they had gone, and now we could all just, you know, love each other and smile and show an interest in nudism and the writings of Gurdjieff.

Sitting in the gong, I thought: Bollocks.

But a lot of water has gone round the S-bend since then, and although I am, quite by coincidence, clenching another Rafael Gonzalez between my snappers as I write, everything else seems quite different. There has been a cultural change. The country seems renewed. So now is the time for a further, revolutionary cultural change, a sweeping-away of the affliction which binds us to America and separates us from Europe, and which stands between us and the bright shining uplands.

Would you like me to explain? Well, damn you. I shall explain anyway.

I spent the morning with my accountant, going through my tax affairs. He made complimentary noises about my income (which was jolly decent of him), threatening ones about VAT, hortatory ones about pension funds and weary ones about my record-keeping abilities. Much of it went over my head, apart from his predictions about the Inland Revenue's intentions towards me ("I'd say they're keeping a low profile and building up to whop you hard"). Most of the time I was sunk in my usual fan- tasy of somehow inserting myself into a different life; in this case, his. It was beguiling. I would be on good terms with the bank. The rent and rates (do they still have rates?) would be up to date. The car would be clean. The mortgage would be in order, and the old age would be planned for with a nice portfolio to back up my pension arrangements. It would, in short, be a grown-up life, and I, living it, would be a grown-up too.

But then I thought, hang on, I am a grown-up. You don't get much more grown-up than going over your affairs with your accountant.

And it's not just that. I can drive a car without feeling silly and fraudulent. I am served without comment in pubs. When I discuss tobacco, wine or my experience of life, nobody laughs unless I mean them to. Young women with a penchant for older men have a penchant for me. I can call up Air Traffic Control and they never say: "Hey, sonny, who's flying that aeroplane?" I am, in other words, a grown-up. So why the little man?

You know the little man I mean. The little cartoon man that the Inland Revenue use to promote their offensive and troublesome scheme for self-assessment. The toothbrush-moustached, bowler- hatted, blob-nosed, four-eyed little man with his pot belly and his grimy collar and his dirty bottom in his baggy pinstriped bags. That little man. The little man which is meant to say: "Hey, we may be the Inland Revenue, and we may be out for your blood (plus interest and compulsory penalties), and we may be like Rottweilers once we've got our teeth into your wallet, but we really want you to like us." The little man with his wagging finger and his cheap chromium wristwatch and his Morris and his thin wife Shirley who never had much time for you know what.

He's a John Major creation, surely, the little man. Must be. He's cliched and out-of-date. Most tax people these days seem to be pleasant but determined young women with unsuitable boyfriends called That Bloody Jezza; they have little black skirts, eat Pret a Manger sushi for lunch and take E at weekends.

But it's not the anachronistic stupidity of the little man that really annoys; it's the patronising assumption that, although we all have to be grown-up and keep records and pay on time OR ELSE, we are essentially silly children who need to be jollied along with cartoons. I just bought a Tax Tracker self-assessment tax organiser and almost every damn page has the bloody little man wagging his finger at me and spouting offensive little admonitions like "Keeping a daily record saves time later" and "Don't forget to keep all your receipts". (Keep them? I bloody well print the suckers.)

I don't know what the Tax Tracker's publishers, William Clowes of Beccles, thought they were up to when they went to all the trouble of getting the Inland Revenue's permission to use the hateful little man, but they should think again. If I am going to pay pounds 16 for a special tax book, I expect to be treated like an adult, not ... not ... infantilised.

That's the word: infantilised. Americans are infantilised, with their shouting music, danc- ing vegetables, Jolly Green Giants, Pilsbury Doughboys, pre-digested snoutburgers, brightly coloured films, bossy health laws and ab- surd joke "President". Europeans are not. Europeans have a sense of chiaroscuro, understand that life is lived in the dark interstices between busy-ness, rejoice in subtlety, prize social reserve, are adults.

Killing the little man - preferably on the Nine O'Clock News, preferably with a sizzling poker - would be a step away from infantilism to adulthood, from the bright kiddie-colours of America to the dark umber and cooling shade of Europe. Mr Blair should do it at once, just as soon as he's changed his mind about being "Tony". !

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