The most annoying thing about starting a new year is how long it takes for everyone to crank themselves back into action.
I knew I wasn’t getting the real picture when I rang the taxman to say I would like to pay in instalments, and the chap on the other end of the line yawned and said: ‘Well, if you want to.’
‘I’m not sure I want to,’ I said. ‘But I’m fairly sure I will have to. I mean, if I can’t pay it all in one lump sum before the deadline, I had better set up some kind of direct debit quickly, hadn’t I?’
He sighed heavily. ‘Mmm. You could do.’
There was a long silence so I said: ‘Shall we do that now?’
‘To be honest,’ he said, ‘I should just give it a while and see how you go.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, see how you go.’
How I go? How I go? Yes, I might go. But in all probability, I won’t go, will I? To Mexico, I mean.
I said: ‘Look, I’m really sorry about this, but I really want to sort this out. Can I set up a direct debit today and pay it in two instalments?’
‘You know, if it’s just a case of a few weeks I’d leave it and wait till you get a letter from us.’
‘I’d really rather not...’
But he appeared insensible. ‘Yes, give it a few weeks...’
After wrestling with him for a few more minutes I caved in and said: ‘It’s terribly nice of you. Thanks.’ And put the phone down. But after explaining the conversation to the builder boyfriend, and hearing it all again, it really didn’t seem feasible that Her Majesty’s Revenue had just told me to pay my taxes if I liked and if not, well, no harm done.
More likely the chap at the call centre had ‘New Year Brain’, a sort of fog that descends on the cerebral matter in early January.
It’s all very well while the fog is in place, but when the fog clears and the brain wakes up, one is naturally quite shocked at the sorts of things one has apparently said under the influence of the fog. For example, ‘Oh no, just leave the dishwasher, love, I’ll empty it tomorrow’ ...‘Don’t worry about the Homebuyers’ Survey, I’m sure the rising damp will dry out when we’ve redecorated the place’...and, of course, ‘Give it a few weeks and see how you go with that tax bill you’ve got there.’
In a few weeks, a big loud siren with flashing red light is going to go off and I am going to get a letter, then a fine, then a prison sentence faster than I can say, ‘But you said not to worry about it too much.’
It was just as bad at the bank. I went in to do a transfer because, owing to the brain fog, I couldn’t work out how to do it online. But when I got home I realised they had kept my debit card behind the counter by mistake, in that little calculator-shaped thingy they use to validate your identity.
I rang up the next morning and spent a long time on the phone to various call centre operatives, including a cheerful northerner who chuckled and said:
‘So, what you’re saying is, you’ve gone and lost your card!’
‘No, listen to me, please. What I’m saying is, your counter staff, being half asleep, have gone and kept my card behind their counter, and not phoned me to say they’ve still got it.’
‘Yes, that’s what I said. You’ve gone and left your card somewhere. It’s easily done, isn’t it! Right, so let’s get that cancelled...’
‘No! Don’t do that! I know where it is!’
‘Oh, where’s that then?’
After begging him for a long time to please contact the branch, as obviously there was no direct phone number for me to ring them, he agreed to send the manager an email.
A few hours later, the phone rang. ‘Hello is that Miss Kate?’ ‘It is.’ (No point arguing.) She introduced herself, then said: ‘I’m afraid you did leave your card here yesterday so we’re going to have to cut it up.’
‘What? Can’t I just come and get it?’
‘No. We have to cut it up after 24 hours.’ I looked at my watch. ‘But it’s only just 24 hours. And it wasn’t my fault. And isn’t it safe with you? I mean, rather than you cutting it up and ordering a new one, wouldn’t it make more sense for you to just give it back to me?’
‘Well, I suppose we could keep it an hour or so longer...’ I could literally hear the cogs in her brain creaking as the fog cleared.