Showing posts with label tax. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tax. Show all posts

Monday, 23 March 2015

Episode 24: Media Panic

Media Panic
The story behind the truth

Monday morning smelt like the aftermath of the world’s biggest boyscout jamboree, dear blogees. The fires and barbecues had burned all weekend leaving the air seasoned with charred concrete and grilled meat.


The roads were jamming again with shop-keepers, office workers and mechanics inching their way slowly into a new week, a week like no other behind convoys of outside broadcasting vans looking for the story behind the story. Why would anyone set fire to the city’s tax offices, why indeed. Thousands of public employees had been turned away from blackened buildings by a thick perimeter of armed police. Now, with nowhere to go they littered the city’s cafes and snack bars, making everyone very nervous and the cash registers work harder than ever before.

I parked my Vespa on the pavement next to my allocated spot that was taken by a truck with a big white dish on its roof. The rest of the car park was occupied by the usual array of staff cars but, as I soon realised, the town hall was not occupied by their drivers. I passed ungreeted through the lobby and up to my office where I found the sole public employee actually employed in public duty, the well-assembled secretary. She sat behind her PC huffing and puffing. I threw a smile and a jovial good morning her way but it cut no ice, she sighed and told me that they were all at the cafe opposite. We had not been hit by the fire storm but opportunities like this don’t knock very often.

The cafe had been divvied up by the news crews collecting sound bites and talking heads that would support their particular narrative. As I arrived they were fighting over one of my maintenance staff, who always looked woeful enough to suck the cheer from all tomorrow’s parties. It was too late, far too late when I realised the unholy error of my action. I recognised one of the reporters fighting over the spanner monkey and he did not need a double take to spot me. He launched himself with his mic a quivering foil before him, the cable uncoiling behind him as he called my name in that faux-polite way that hounding hacks do. A passing school bus just missed him, fortunately it had already deposited its precious cargo but the trailing mic cable got whipped up in the wheels. The roving reporter’s legs overtook his body and flew into the air. His body hit the yellow bus like a damp towel and only then did the bus begin to apply usual braking procedures. I knew I couldn't stick around but I couldn't kid myself that I would be unseen. There was more foreign press in town than you could shake a shitty stick at, I would be buried. I needed my publicist more than ever and all I had was Socrates. I ran.

Home felt safe, the wife dropped the vacuuming to make some coffee, any excuse. I began hunting for some chemical relief.

“If you’re looking behind the Tolstoy, it’s gone!” She yelled over the sound of the choking peculator. “…and in the Scrabble.”

I was looking in the Cluedo. Shit!

She emerged from the kitchen carrying two steaming cups and still wearing her marigolds but I was not in the mood and I knew she wouldn't be either after I told her what had happened. I was right. I phoned Socrates while she threw expletives at me. He could be here in twenty minutes. When she started throwing solid objects, I prayed he would hurry and ran for the back door and the safety of the garden. I stopped and peered through the window. Had they found me yet? I was stuck between a psychotic wife and a telephoto lens. I chose the wife.

She was telling me how she wouldn’t tell me that she told me so for the God-knows-howmanyth time when Socrates arrived. I was under the delusion that his presence would calm her but I was wrong. There was absolutely no precedent to support this belief, in fact his presence usually made her more inflammatory. But, thank the good lord and all his angels, he was swinging a bottle of Bushmills black. I implored my good lady to be a little more welcoming to our guest.

“Why?” Her face contorted in forced quizzicality. “You don’t want the world to know the ins and outs of your private life’s armpit, you fucking Diva. That’s all you’ve ever lived off, selling tickets to the public washing of your dirty pants!” She was on a roll and I’m not sure about me but Socrates jaw was visibly hanging. “I don’t see what those fuckwits saw in you, prancing around the stage talking about your cock, for hours! I can’t think of anything to do with your cock that would fill a few minutes!” she even wiggled her little finger in the air.

Socrates reeled in his jaw and turned to me. “What is she talking about?” he whispered.

I squirmed, “Don’t know mate, it’s not that small.”

He gurned and shook his head and I fell in, feeling a little smaller than her little finger now.
She hadn’t paused her tirade for a breath but now she changed tack. “Ahh! Yeah tell him, tell him what the press found out. Tell him why you’re hiding from them. Tell him before I blow the fucking doors off your little scam.”

“Now, now missus, there must be a way we can—” He was beginning to squirm as bad as me, my wife is good at that.

She was now pointing fingers at us both and I was trying to find the words to explain something I hadn’t really understood myself. Dr. Alex had helped me come to terms with so many things during our sessions but I still had far to go. I drew breath to begin but she cut me off, thank God.

“Your boy here, used to be a big celebrity back in Britain until he lost it. What did they call it?”

I mumbled an answer at the floor. She thrust her finger at me and I turned to Socrates and said. “Messiah complex.”

“Got himself sued by the Vatican!”

“How was I to know they had the rights on Messiahs?” I protested.

Socrates deflated, “Oh! Is that it?”

“Sued us out of house and home, this was the only place we could afford to live!” She was building up to the full story. “Then he went anad a Soo public fucking breakdown—” She stopped and turned to Socrates, a smile grew on her face. “You sneaky little bastard, you knew, didn’t you?” He had gone back to a squirmy denial stance but the wife had her bone and no intention of letting it go. “You manipulative shit. You knew all the time!”


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Where it all began Episode 1 

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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Episode 23: Purged by fire

'From Under Dark Clouds...' is a Gonzo fictionalisation of current events in Greece as seen through the eyes of our unnamed hero as he fumbles from paranoia to public office, under the mentorage of the shady Socrates.



Tax on Fire
All Tax Arrears will be expunged

It was on all the channels, all day. Scenes of flames licking at the clear night sky, filling it with grey smoke. Firefighters had the block surrounded, but if you asked me it didn’t look like they were putting their backs into it. The newsreaders seemed to be hiding their mirth, desperate to keep up the appearance of toeing the party line. Crowds were gathering like Beatles tickets had just gone on sale and the riot squad were tooled up and ready to extinguish any outbreaks of euphoria. The concrete block that housed the tax department was being purged, dear blogees and paper ash fell like snow at Christmas.


I pulled the door behind me to the sound of dinnerware colliding with the table and my shrilled name. I stopped in guilt seasoned with fear and a slice of chilling realisation. I unclunked the door and casually strolled back into the house with a smile that was the yang-opposite of the wife’s. I kissed her firmly on the mouth and told her I loved her and wouldn't be late (guilt). I necked a glass of wine sitting next to my dinner plate (fear) and grabbed the Vespa keys from the rack (realisation). Then I headed back to the door, trying to ignore the barrage that followed me, not because I am oversensitive but more because I found it quite difficult not to imagine some of the things the wife was suggesting. This one was actually giving me a backache. I peeked through a crack in the doorway and blew a kiss. A warm bread roll narrowly missed my eye.

Mike the IT guy was already downtown but weaving my Vespa through the crowds was not going to be easy. People were spilling onto the streets like it was one of those big football championships where we actually had a chance of winning.

Ground zero was inside a ring of police and armoured cars just waiting for things to get messy and Mike was inside. Walkie-talkies bibbled and squawked all around me. The air was thick with smoke, jubilation and testosterone. I parked the Vespa out of harms way in a little side street and looked for an unguarded alley to slip through. Nothing. Remembering that I was actually an elected official I bowled up to the cordon and offered my credentials, well I offered them but had forgotten to actually have them with me. The officer called for a superior. The superior looked me up and down and asked who I was.

I'm the mayor of—” He looked me up and down again and ordered the subordinate officer to tell me to fuck off. He followed this order with fervour and I fucked off with my tail between my legs. Should have brought the wife.

It wasn't long before the problem was solved; Mike was ejected through a gap in the cordon. He fought off the heavy hand of the law while still managing to grip his phone to his ear.

“Fascist pigs!” in one direction. “Sweeet!” to the phone.
He saw me and ran with eyes like whirligigs.
“Quick, we gotta find a TV!”

We found one soon enough. Every cafe and bar with a big-screen TV had turned it onto the street. This was New Years Eve in the summer but there was no one was singing Auld Lang Syne. I ordered a couple of tax-free beers. Mike kept urging me to pay attention to the screen. Talking heads were soberly discussing the implications. They were not expecting any casualties. Of course! it was Saturday night and the nice people in the tax department wouldn’t dream of hanging around much after they pulled down the shutters on a queue still clutching unstamped forms on a Friday afternoon. The offices were in the middle of a run-down light-industrial area of the city, so homes were not in danger, that said, a couple of adjacent brothels had been evacuated which gave the news team some nice scenes of guilty Johns with shirts pulled over their heads and scantily-clad working girls spilling onto the smoke-filled street. The beer arrived and I ordered some chasers. Mike looked up from his phone and tugged my arm, nearly spilling the beers.

“Any second now,” he whispered.

A distance siren was echoed on the screen as the newscaster interrupted some blathering pundits to go to a live feed of police and firefighters panicking. Security services have gone to red alert as fire breaks out at two more regional tax collection offices!

Mike clinked my glass and smiled. “No more paper trail!”

I really should have understood what Mike meant by that but I was too busy trying to balance all the glasses I was holding. He started dancing a jig and the whole crowd joined in. The police were beginning to make their presence know and I must confess this made me nervous. My face had only just healed from the last time I enjoyed their hospitality. Mike was oblivious, dancing and singing. A chant had begun that made me particularly nervous.

Build a bonfire, Build a bonfire
Put the taxman on the top
Put the coppers in the middle
And burn the fucking lot!

I drained a couple of glasses which not only freed up my hands but eased my uneasiness. This was going to get ugly and I didn't have much beauty left to lose.

I was so frightened that my phone began to quiver in my pocket. Then I realised that it did that when someone was calling. I rested the remaining glass and retrieved the vibrating article from my pocket, the screen said it was Socrates; shit!

“I didn't do it!” I answered.

The voice on the other end paused and replied in a qualified tone. “I know, son.”


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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Episode 22: Seeing the Big Picture


From under dark clouds
From Under Dark Clouds
'From Under Dark Clouds...' is a Gonzo fictionalisation of current events in Greece as seen through the eyes of our unnamed hero as he fumbles from paranoia to public office, under the mentorage of the shady Socrates.


I can’t say I understood what I saw on the screen but I sat mesmerised, dear blogees. Mike put his arm round my shoulder, stoked to be able to share this revelation with someone who really cared. We locked each other in a hearty bro-hug.

“So, I can do my tax declaration online now?”
Mike visibly deflated and shook his head woefully. What we were looking at was the tax department’s files. This is where they calculate what they they will make us pay at the end of the year and we could change that for anyone. We began looking through the files on people we knew shaving a few euros from those we liked and adding a few to those we didn’t.
I stopped the game, “Don’t they have paper files on all these people?”
Mike stopped, “Yeah, sure they do, but who reads them?”
I pointed out that they may start reading them if they had a problem, if people started to complain. Who would complain about paying less tax? People never think they’re paying too little and when they submit paper that doesn’t reconcile, they’ll start following the paper. Not to mention the tax inspectors looking for a backhander. They were always looking for someone to put the screws on and they were old-school. This made him think.
I told him to go into the Spyros the supermarketeer’s file. His total owed was enough to run town hall for months. His list of assets, apartments, land, businesses. I looked to Mike incredulously.
“He made all this from coffee and corn flakes?” I asked.
He looked at me and smiled at my naivety. I put the question again. I didn’t really expect an answer, I just couldn’t believe that such a miserable man could have all this and still complain when I didn’t have change at the till. But, I had made a deal with him and Mike now had a roof over his head. We shaved a sum that would have paid Mike’s salary for at least six months, still leaving a fairly hefty contribution to the city’s coffers.
Mike pulled out a half-drunk bottle of scotch and two glasses. “I think some celebration is in order!”
I shrugged and made my leave. I would have loved a drink and with Mike, one of my favourite people right now but I wanted to be back home.
The wife was asleep but her warm snoring body was uncomplicated and comforting.
The next day, I set about my obligations. Meeting with some people of importance from central government. I made a point about our staff wages. There was no funding and our credit line had dried up, if I wanted to pay them I would need to find money from other sectors, maybe schools or the health centre. Essential work on infrastructure was still long overdue. The water was leaking into the streets in some areas and a motorcyclist had ended up in the emergency ward after hitting an enormous pot hole that had opened on the high street. I should put more pressure on those who owed local taxes. I reminded them that they were being collected by central and the electricity company now, bypassing my office. This evoked a shrug and I was told to look at the big picture. I was trying, but the pixels just kept getting in the way.
I rode my Vespa from a car park full of cars, all shiny and German. The rest of the afternoon was spent signing pieces of paper before they went to be stamped. I did, however learn that some more of the residents of the basement had moved into Spiro’s apartments to make a home, however temporary. This was the highlight.
I hadn’t spent any time with Socrates in ages and I needed his stoic council. He had got me into this and I had never needed him more. The waiter came to our table and he ordered for both of us but I had to tell the waiter to simply bring me a coffee. Socrates looked visibly shocked. The doctor had me on some medication that didn’t play well with booze and I simply didn’t need my wife and kids finding me dumped out of the door of a cab again. I was a new man, at least that was my ambition.
I told Socrates about the tragic state of the town hall with its staff living in the basement and no money for their salaries. He ummed and ahhed, occasionally looking over his glasses from some papers he was reading.
“They told me to take it out of the school’s budget!”
His reply was an exhaled SO. I was not getting through to him. I needed help from the only man I trusted to give me advice and he was too preoccupied with whatever it was that held his attention. I needed to shock him into listening. I told him about hacking into the tax department. He looked up and held me in his gaze, he had scared the living crap out of me with this look before but at least I knew I had his attention. I told him about the deal with Spyros the supermarketeer, which met with a Hmm of approval. I told him I knew it was wrong but I had no other options. He rocked his head and the corners of his mouth lifted a little.
“How did it work for you?” Socrates asked.
I told him that it had worked very well, surprisingly well but would not have been necessary if we had proper funding, not to mention that the thieving bastard had more money than God. His tax bill alone could have paid a good number of my staff.
Socrates’s glasses dropped down his nose, almost on purpose so his greying blue eyes could hold me unhindered. “You know what? You lack vision.”
I stuttered, something had changed since we had last met, he was no longer the grumpy old grandpa figure, in fact he appeared younger, more vital. I floundered for a riposte, but none came.
“You need to see the big picture, son.”
I wanted to tell him about pixels and definition and clarity and shit. All I could say was something about the staff, something recycled that didn’t need fresh thought.
“Things will have to get much worse, my boy. If they are to change at all.”
I sipped my coffee wishing it to be Irish and me to be elsewhere. He pulled the folder that had kept his attention throughout our conversation, placed it on the table and slid it toward me. I opened it. It was a list of names and dates and numbers each followed by a sum of money.
“You will give this to our man Micheal, he will know what to do with it.” He said.
I asked if they were more favours. Socrates told me that they were. I smiled, there was a lot of favours here, enough to do some real good work. Not just for the staff but for the town as a whole. I shared this thought with Socrates.
“Things must get much worse before anything can change,” he said before leaving me with the bill.



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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Vorsprung durch Störung!



Does this man spend too long in your toilet?

I am a fixer, I’ll hook it, stick it, grease it and screw it. I can't help myself. And if I’m in your bathroom too long it's probably because I’m fixing your flush. Those who have worked with me will be all too familiar with my mantra of there must be a better way or surely, there is a machine for this!

 

The other day, while in the shower my corrective compulsion fixed itself on the chattering extractor fan. Its clangorous and apparently ineffectual service would be tolerated no longer. I fetched my tools and set about it with a Phillips screwdriver. Once completely removed, I tested its performance. It spun briskly and mutely and I realised that it was not the unit which was at fault but the lack of pride and craftsmanship in its installation. I routed all the wires into their proper channels and clipped the connection block securely into place. I then proceeded to screw the unit back into the wall taking great pains to ensure that the insertion was achieved without let or hindrance. The fan was now flush to the wall with no protruding wires to pose any threat and ready to perform its task as designed. I flicked the switch and the fan spun, clunked and ground to an abrupt halt. I removed the fascia and looked for fault; none. I flicked the switch and the unit tapped to life but stopped shortly after. I then loosened the screws and gave it a turn to bed it into position; nothing. I noticed that there was a correlation between the movement of the wires and its effective operation so I disconnected the wires from the connecting block, trimmed them to length and reconnected them. Still the fan refused to spin. Now with the switch left on so I could register every effectual adjustment, I stood in a bath    with bare feet. A couple of jolts later I had concluded that for some unfathomable reason the fan would not spin if the connector block was seated in its designated position so I allowed it to hang.

Hang it all!


I now set about reassembling the unit but each time I tried to screw it back into place it cut out with a clunk. I tried the old mechanics trick of screw it all the way in then screw out until the desired effect is achieved. Finally, with the fan held by just a few turns of the screws it spun, no more quietly than before but it spun. I replaced the fascia, hung my head low and went back to my life. 



A maintenance engineer comments
The taunting irony of this episode was far from lost on me as that very day I had spent my third consecutive fruitless morning at the tax office. 
The metaphor that hung precariously from my bathroom wall had taught me a valuable lesson. Tomorrow, with a renewed sense of impotence and abject futility I shall once again continue my quest for a rubber stamp.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Tough at the Top!

Greece is at present a nation in free-fall. Riots are nothing new and I have seen riots about just about everything from globalisation to regimes that have been deposed for nearly forty years. What is more relevant is the action of those who have no time to unite and destroy. Nothing. The majority of the worst hit are doing nothing but trying to get though to the next day, resigned to the belief that resistance is futile. What will be will be.


Thursday, 15 July 2010

LONG AFTER THE HONEYMOON

Greece is a country with a troubled history with Turkish occupation and a Fascist Junta but the last 30 years have been the most insidious of all. The boom in tourism and international trade and Greece's entry in the European union has brought in huge amounts of revenue that the management had no understanding of how to use. Wastage of public resources, corruption and jobs for votes went, not only unchecked but accepted as the natural order of things. With no accountability in the authorities people learned to look after their own and lost sight of any national common goal. This mentality has infiltrated every facet and strata of the country with builders and tradesmen botching jobs to make a quick buck to doctors receiving gifts to ensure their diligence up to public servants taking too much "work" home with them.


When they joined the EU and eventually the EURO they did it the only way they knew how. A new source of income was tapped to the full and squandered, offices that did nothing were established, roads were built badly and on a diet of nepotism and cooked books some got fat and apathy gained a greater hold over the Greek people.

Last year an ad campaign called for "tax conscientiousness" a risible concept given the actions of the governing parties over the last 30 years. The misappropriation of public funds have been nothing short of criminal and yet the leaders still rest on rhetoric and pointing the blame at others. Until the people at the top are publicly held accountable the public will have no change to rally around, no common goal and will eventually fracture under the strain of too much energy in too many directions. If Europe is to remain a union it needs to take its responsibility in overlooking the details of Greece's entry into an economic partnership it had no intention of contributing to.

Greece's economy has become a Hell's kitchen of badly cooked accounts and Europe needs to send in Its Gordon Ramsay to put some more Fs in office. Some backs need to go to wall otherwise the Greek people know that next time, and there will be a next time, there will be no more to bleed from this stone.

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY