Monday, June 16, 2014

It's only money!

A few years ago I had occasion to visit my local tax office in Llanishen in Cardiff.  Not by choice I might add.  This office was not some small, Heath-Robinson, out of the way, darkened room – rather it was a gigantic multi-storey in-your-face building whose intimidating outside said quite clearly that mere humans were not wanted.  Imagine my surprise therefore when speaking to the denizens of this anti-Utopia to find that they were approachable, helpful and polite.  They cut through my paperwork with exemplary consideration and sent me on my way with a happy smile!  And yes, I did write my appreciation in the visitors’ book.  It seemed the least that I could do.

            Now jump forward a few years and my tax affairs are now in the hands of Spain.  At which point, my mind drifts back a lot of years and to a fond memory of ‘The Revenge – A Ballad of the Fleet” by Tennyson in which the immortal line, “Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain” comes back to sum up the situation of having anything to do with the bureaucracy of the latter mentioned country.

            You can download your tax information from the Internet and the printout thus produced should give you a complete overview of you tax affairs and tell you how much you are going to get back from the tax people.  Everyone I know has a rebate at the end of the tax year.  Not me.  This time the tax authorities wanted over twelve hundred euros from me.  And I am not working!

            After a few jocular observations about tax, Spain, Satan and the power of Evil, during which the glass in the windows started to melt, I calmed down sufficiently to hear Toni say, “They do this to everyone!”  It turns out that the tax offices in Spain are in direct opposition to what the American Constitution describes as the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’.  The tax office of Spain is, and always will be agin’ us.  It hates the people whose blood it sucks and, while the tax people themselves can claim tax back to the time of The Revenge, if you as a citizen do not claim what you think you might be owed immediately – tough!  Even if the tax office makes a mistake you will find out that it is still your fault.  You should have checked, all the responsibility is yours and none theirs.

            Therefore there are offices everywhere which offer an essential service of checking through your papers and giving advice.  When I was able to listen without the words vaporizing when they touched any part of my hearing apparatus, it seemed sensible to go to one of these people and hope.

            These people do not work for nothing, but in a few minutes the guy tapping away at a computer program with my details on it was able to halve my debt and to cut the payments into two interest free dollops of my cash.  So, although still paying out, I was paying out just under half as much as I feared.  Result.  And money to spend.  I know that is an illogical statement, but it has been one of my major lifelines in the way that I approach finance!

            Our trip to a nearby small, cheap restaurant suddenly transmogrified into a short car trip to a much higher class establishment where we were able to have a ‘gourmet’ meal on the Castelldefels passport.  This essentially means that a certain number of restaurants in the town offer a good three course meal with drink, bread and coffee for €25 per person.

            So sitting on the terrace of a restaurant perched on the hill above Castelldefels and with a panoramic view of the sea we had a starter of pica-pica which was a selection of tapas ranging from prawn in romescu sauce through a cheese, fruit and nut salad to Spanish ham and Catalan bread.  This was followed by a lobster and sea food rice stew, and completed with ice cream on apple jelly with lime soaked Granny Smith – all washed down with a more than drinkable Torres red and ending with iced coffee.  Delightful.  And I suppose I should give a twisted sort of thank-you to the tax people, because they sort-of made it possible.  At least to my way of thinking.

            I felt like a siesta after lunch and decided to take it on the beach.  And for the first time this year, I went into the sea.  The water was cold, but bearable and it was sort of refreshing.  I even managed to get through some of my latest Thomson film book, ‘The Big Screen: The story of the Movies and what they did to us.’  If you know the writing of David Thomson then I won’t have to do more; if you don’t know his writing then I urge you to try it out.  He has an effortless encyclopaedic knowledge of film and the ability to write about it in a way that gets your hooked at once.  His most famous book is The [New] Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its sixth edition.  This is a must.  He is opinionated and refreshing and, like the Guinness Book of Records it is very, very difficult to look up what you started to look for without being beguiled along the way!  I would also recommend his ‘Have you seen . . . ?’  Even if you haven’t actually seen the films that he is talking about you will want to by the time you have read the page devoted to each and anyway the writing is of a quality to give pleasure even if you never actually get round to looking at them.  Thus ends this Public Service Announcement.

            Tomorrow, Terrassa for another birthday.  And we haven’t bought the present yet.  Sigh.
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