Speed-dating the taxman, finding love with the cat
FIFTYSOMETHING:I’m working on conquering my fear of officialdom. My burn-this-missive-fast reflex when anything from a Government oifig arrives in the post is not some ad-hoc, random fear; I come from a long line of chuck-it-in-the-grate-o-philes. In my financially precarious childhood home, brown envelopes were never objects of desire.
I see my problem as an offshoot of the more commonly known anthrophobia, a fear of people or human society. Now, presumably, we all need a tincture of anthrophobia in the blood, if only to foster discernment. Without a smattering of disdain for one’s fellow man, we’d all be shouldering each other into the tinsel on Henry Street on Christmas Eve or, God forbid, swaying in unison and dabbing at our crows’ feet at a Boyzone reunion.
Roll on a bit of misanthropy under the mistletoe if it means you can stay at home on a shopping day, eating marmalade on toast and blinking at the cat.
Somebody once told me that if you blink long and slow at a cat, you are, in effect, communicating your love to it. I blink at the cat not because I love her (she is neurotic and fickle and verging on
rat-like) but because she is so entirely devoid of emotion that I’m kind of desperate for any response whatsoever from her. Anyway, I blink; she raises an eyebrow, transmits infinite boredom with a snap of her tail, and turns to look out the window. It’s not much in the way of entertainment, but at least we’re not queuing to buy the last of the fairy lights in freezing rain.
I really don’t like crowds, and don’t get me started on Christmas, but even yuletide hordes don’t make my stomach lurch like the slap of a brown envelope on the mat does.
I shouldn’t, however, have worried about this morning’s offering, which arrived with that extra frisson of anxiety caused by the smudgy little harp the taxman usually kisses on to his missives.
This wasn’t a demand for money, nor a chilling form full of decimal points and declarations and difficult questions about livestock and racehorses and villas in Bundoran, none of which I aspire to. This was, in fact, a letter from the townland of Ballybay, Co Monaghan, which sounds like the setting for a Brian Friel play.
I’ve read the letter twice and I’m still not sure what exactly the Department of Social Protection, nestling in its bucolic surrounds, wants. But I suspect it may want to be pen pals with me. You may have received one of these forms but, if not, here are some of the questions one is encouraged by the department to answer.
What was the surname of your best childhood friend? Where was your first holiday? What was your childhood nickname? What was the make of your first car? What’s your favourite sport? This is all a happy change from a motor-tax reminder, but it makes me feel as if an anonymous social-welfare customer-service representative and I are speed-dating.
Still, in the interest of conquering my fears, here goes; and, who knows, we may even be very happy together.
1. Brennan – died so young. If we could have seen the future, what might we have changed?
2. Coney Island, Co Sligo – the emptiness made me agoraphobic. I refused to leave the bed, or so I’m told.
4. God knows. I think it was silver. I reversed it into a much better-looking and legally parked car.
5. No such thing, but occasionally I watch Wimbledon. I declare that all the information I have given is accurate.
Having reread the letter, it appears that my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to offer my assistance in regard to the updating of personal information and, in so doing, become the proud owner of a public-services card.
The card will have my photograph attached, one apparently already in the possession of the Government. (Does it save all our unused passport shots in a little wooden box under the bed in Ballybay?)
And with regard to the security questions, some of which I have enumerated above, one chooses just two to answer, either or both of which may be used to confirm one’s identity at a later date. One should endeavour to supply easily remembered answers, which probably rules out pretending that you drove a jet-black Lexus from the time you could reach the pedals, and that you went shark-hunting off Florida when you were still in nappies.
I have 14 days to reply. But unfortunately I’ve got a bad case of decidophobia (I swear, on the emotionally cauterised cat, that it’s a real condition). I should have gone with my instincts, burnt the communication and stuck with the blinking mog.