Monday, October 26, 2009

Bill's demands

Today I came home and found that the local council had sent me ten (10) letters. Recently my girlfriend, somewhat inadvisedly, chose to contact the council entirely of her own free will and tell them that since she was now living with me I was no longer entitled to the 25% discount. I have no problem with paying the extra, by the way, especially since she will be paying it, but contact with bureaucracy is an activity that should be treated more or less the same way as watching Strictly Come Dancing - only when you have absolutely no choice - and the law of unexpected consequences is never more apparent than when you ring up some labyrinthintine public body for nothing more than a quick chat, and find yourself being charged for the outstanding fees for the disposal of the body of someone who died in your house in 1923.

This time the unexpected consequences have not yet amounted to much, but today ten (10) letters arrived on my door, addressed to both me and my girlfriend, which in itself is a slightly worrying development. I took them upstairs to peruse at my leisure. All seemed identical, so I opened one at random. It turned out to be a council tax bill for 2006/07, updated to take account of my girlfriend's arrival, which, for the record, happened in 2009. Fortunately, since the date of the new increased charge was September 2009, as noted on the bill, there was no additional balance due for 2006/07. Nor was there any additional charge for 2007/08, nor did 2008/09 have any outstanding arrears, neither did 2005/06, nor 2004/05, not 2003/04, not even 2002/03, which was after all, as you will remember, autism awareness year, nor 2001/02 - although the breakdown of charges this year did include £134.12 for what is noted as the Greater london council, which attentive readers will remember was abolished in 1986 - and especially not 2000/01, despite the hoo-haa over the millenium bug. Only 2009/10, that is the financial year we are currently in, saw any additional charges. The other 9 (nine) letters are perhaps a council measure in support of the post office workers, in which case I heartily endorse it, or perhaps a surfeit of envelopes that needed to be used up before new ones could be bought, or perhaps the council just felt that I'd like to know exactly how much too much money I've paid them over the last ten years for the privilege of living in a pokey one-bed in a - by official government standards - socially deprived area.

What do i do about this? Apart from, obviously, write a blog entry probably expressing not much more than I am short of things to do today. Do I complain, or perhaps merely point it out to the council that they could probably cut these very council tax bills, admittedly minutely, by the simple expedite of not sending out ten (10) when one (1) would do? Is there any point? Soon the council recycling truck will come and take back these 10 (ten) bills and perhaps some other lucky soul can be the recipient of the council largesse.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My car, ma

I was taking a sunday stroll down a suburban street, nice day, trees rustling their leaves in a summer breeze, when I looked up and saw two cars falling silently out of the blue sky. No-one was about and I watched rapt as the cars fell, one ahead of the other, both rightways up, wobbling as they fell. I looked up in the sky for a plane or somewhere the cars could have come from, but there was nothing to see, just a thin cloud far up in the distance. Only then did it occur to me that if I didn't pay attention I might get crushed by one so I started ducking around trying to judge the trajectory as they closed in.

Where I was standing a small road forked off from the main one, a scratch of grass separating them, and a wooden shelter sat in front of me on the grass. The first car hit the ground on the small road some way away. There was a ferocious noise, heavy and deep and gut-wrenching, but which it seems slightly pointless to use a metaphor to describe - the best I could think of might be the sound of two cars hitting the ground from a great height - followed by a succession of smaller, higher-pitched noises, like cymbals accompanying an orchestral epic. It was metal versus tarmac - a well-matched battle, both left in a bad way - and then bolts ripped from their fixings, glass shattered and sent spinning into the road, a searing smoke and the burning of things that shouldn't be burnt, and then the quiet.

Dust settled, glass stopped tinkling, bits of car came clattering and then to rest, smoke sailed on and up on the breeze. Perhaps, the thought occurred to me, I should check whether there was anybody in either of the cars, and see if they were alright. I looked up the main road and a small car was driving towards me. There was something strange about the way it moved, jerking through the gears and yet never getting up much speed. As I looked inside I saw a huge, fat guy, eyes drenched with medication, hunched over the steering wheel, looking worried. He drove past without acknowledging me.

Now people appeared, out of their houses and who knows where and starting gathering around, ringing other people, and probably the police, on their phones. There was talk but I was suddenly worried that no-one knew about the cars, that it had all been my imagination, and that they had all gathered here for some other reason, so I didn't say anything. Then I asked one woman: "Did you see the cars?" and the pause before she answered was long enough to make my heart flutter. Then she said: "Yes," and put me out of my misery. "We should ring the police and tell them about the plane," I said to the crowd, imagining a plane with its doors hanging open, cargo dropping away like gifts being showered by a benevolent god. Then I said: "Mind you they're probably going to Heathrow anyway."