Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

The taxman needs to know what the big cheque I wrote was for. I'd like to know too!
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The Independent Online

According to the information printed at the bottom of the letter I have just received from the Inland Revenue, the communication is available in "audio tape and Braille..." Matthew, however, says it should also be possible to get it in a format known as "numerical dunce". He is making a joke about my numerical dyslexia, my incompetence at maths, my innumeracy. All of these render my dealings with the taxman complicated, in fact more than complicated. My dealings with the taxman are, to me, an unspeakable torment. And, to be honest, I don't think they are much fun for the taxman either. I can only hope he does at least have a happy home-life.

I had thought that the Inland Revenue had given up their quest to prove that I was attempting to fiddle them, but the compliance inspector Mr HD Warlock, (not his real name, since he took umbrage at being cited in this column a couple of months ago,) is clearly not a man to give up easily. The phrase that recurs in my dreams currently is from one of his earlier letters to me. "I hold certain information which suggests that your client may have been in receipt of other substantial income apart from the sources and amounts already declared." Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, convinced that Warlock is right. Perhaps I am defrauding the Inland Revenue but because I am a numerical dunce I just don't know it.

Matthew is being typically helpful. Apart from asking me how long I have been on the game, and whether I am entirely happy with my current pimp, he keeps drawing attention to the figure that is apparently intriguing Mr Warlock so. Last year I wrote a cheque for £4,000. I have no idea who it was made out to because I have lost my chequebook stubs. Mr Warlock, oddly, seems more interested in this than in any incoming cheques.

"Is that a rhetorical question or a literal one?" asks Matthew when I tearfully beg to know who, on Earth, keeps their cheque-book stubs. "Because if it is rhetorical," he continues, "I'll shrug my shoulders, throw my hands in the air and say 'Beats me." But, if it is literal, my reply would be, "Anyone vaguely normal with an aversion to going to prison for defrauding Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs." With e-mails arriving twice daily from my accountant, I have spoken on the phone to the bank's customer services centre, and the news from Mumbai is that a copy of the cheque can be retrieved, for a fee, from their underground vaults, where only highly-paid and trained operatives in hard hats can be persuaded to venture. In a few days, if there are any survivors from this mission, we should know the truth, although it can take longer, and occasionally cheques do go missing, so I don't set my hopes too high.

In the meantime Matthew is cross-examining me around the clock in what he claims is a last-ditch attempt to jog my memory. "Did you buy a second-hand car and forget to collect it, perhaps, or did you pay for a holiday that we all forgot to go on? Do you have an offshore bank account so secret that even you don't know about it? Do you have a second family in Surrey? Did you make an advance payment on any future parking tickets you will undoubtedly incur?" When not undergoing this sort of questioning I am thinking hard about what the cheque could have been for. I am seriously beginning to think that Warlock is right and that I have done something very wrong indeed. I am almost ready to turn myself in.

There is a phone message from the bank. They have found the cheque but for security reasons they cannot tell me the details without asking me my mother's maiden name and my four-digit security number. I ring back, provide my mother's maiden name with no problem and tell them that while I cannot exactly remember my security number I do know it is an amalgam of my son's birthday and my dog's birthday. The bank employee says this is a bit too vague and that I will have to set up a new security number. Thankfully Matthew remembers it just in time. He is listening in on the conversation because I think a bit of him believes that I really do have another family in Surrey. It was Matthew who helped me formulate my number in the first place - something, he says, my other husband in Surrey would never have the generosity of spirit to do. Finally the employee says she is ready to reveal the name of the mystery payee.

At first she says that the handwriting on the cheque is very unclear, and this hurts, because, while I am ready to admit that maths is not my forte, I was, I would have her know, commended at school for my beautiful script. Finally, after consulting for a minute with a colleague she is able to tell me that the cheque is made out to... wait for it... yes you've guessed it... the Inland Revenue! "Do correct me if I am wrong," says Matthew, "but isn't that what is technically known as an irony?"

Warlock has written what I hope is his final letter to me. "Thanks to the additional information that you and your agent have given me," he says, "no amendment is needed as a result of my enquiry." He then goes on to say that I do, however, have the right to appeal, if for any reason I do not agree with his conclusion. Matthew thinks that I should appeal as satirical gesture, but I think that, for HD Warlock and me, it is time for a parting of the ways.