June 30: wearing a party frock the second my back is turned

I received an email saying I was getting some money back from my taxes, a few hundred pounds. It asked me to send my bank details in and they would send the money to my account. I was immediately suspicious as I had received tax money back one time and they had just sent me a cheque. When I examined closer I could see it was a hoax. What mainly gave it away was grammar. It said: your tax_refund are now available. An extraneous underscore and an inability to accord the number of subject and verb. Next bit: We announce you. Inability to see that the verb ‘to announce’ takes an indirect object and perhaps also the use of a present simple rather than present continuous. Later in the text it said: these refund. Need I go on? But who knows? Maybe grammar is deemed unimportant these days. What also gave it away was the request that I send my bank details by 28/06 at the latest. This was already 28/06. I was pretty sure of the hoax, but I thought I’d go onto the HMRC web site. I did so. Here it said that HMRC used agencies to work for them to distribute and collect funds. This did not help matters, though I had already worked out that this was not a bona fide agency. I was reminded of the hole-in-the-wall cash distributors which before your transaction now tell you to flag up to the bank anything unusual that you notice about the machine. You then proceed with your transaction and are immediately confronted by an advert on-screen for a make of car or an insurance company or a brand of floor cleaner. Is this not unusual? In the wink of an eye the bank has forgotten what it told just you, like some goldfish in a bowel with its eight second memory. For HMRC it is the same thing. If you use intermediary agencies how can you keep control of the transparency of the presentation of communications? It is as if the august institutions of tax and finance suddenly strip off the pin-striped suit and don a party frock the second our back is turned. No wonder we get confused.

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June 21: short-sighted and naked!

The other night I got up to go to the toilet. It was about 2 am. It was one of those hot nights. I was in the toilet when I heard voices coming from outside. A man and a woman moving in the direction of a civilized argument. Quite posh. English. The voices were just starting to get exasperated. My ears pricked. She said No. that’s not something a man should say. What was that something? I asked myself. From the toilet I wasn’t in comfortable earshot. I had an idea the argument was coming out of the kitchen window of the next-door flat. If I just edged open the front door I would get a better listen. These are ground floor flats that give out onto a courtyard. At this juncture I should perhaps note that I was not wearing my contact lenses or glasses, so short-sighted. I was also entirely naked. I inched open the door and popped my head to the gap between door and lintel. It was surprising because I had thought those neighbours were not English and even if they were I hadn’t imagined them being so posh. The disagreement was gathering momentum. She was scandalised by the behaviour of her partner or maybe by one of his friends. At this moment I heard the woman say. Let’s go inside, and then sorry to have disturbed you. I realised then that the argument had been coming from the courtyard and the green fuzziness at the edge of my field of vision was not a trolley-bin and the black impressionist haze was not a pile of black bin bags. They were a woman in a green dress and a young man in a dinner jacket. I nodded and grunted vaguely to the fuzzinesses and went back inisde. I supposed they did not see much of my nakedness because of the angle but it wss a close-run thing, a matter of degrees. I wonder if they saw my intervention as blatant nosiness, whcih it certainly was (in the middle of the night you want a story) or the refined and rather disceet intervention of a gentleman gracefully indicating how sound can carry on a summer’s night.

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June 18: the maths teacher

Kafka has a nice fragment in his diaries which editors have posthumously published as a parable entitled Katz und Maus/Cat and Mouse. In it a mouse is running. The world always used to be so wide, he thinks to himself. But now it is getting narrower and narrower. He finds himself running into a oorner with nowhere to go. Enter the cat. The cat says, all you need to do is run the other way and gobbles him up.
A maths teacher loved the wide world of numbers. They stretch out to infinity. They are so pure and unsullied by the world. But now the maths teacher is running. He needs to find his place in the world. He finds a job where he must teach children who are not interested in the wide world of numbers. They like the sullied world instead. The maths teacher is in despair. Nobody wants his world of numbers. Enter the shadow. The shadow says, all you need to do is enter the sullied world and find interest there, but the maths teacher is unable to do that and the shadow gobbles him up.

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June 17: normal is enough for me

I was given £24 out of the blue the other day, two £2 coins and a £20 note. I had given two concert tickets to Nick as I couldn’t go. As i said, these tickets have already been budgeted. They are part of a stack that I buy at the beginning of the year. But Nick came back and insisted I take £24 for the two £12 tickets. Probably his wife had said, you’re paying that money back. He’s a dangerous man to be in debt to, even if it is on;y for a London Philharmonic Orchestra redition of Bartok’s Viola concerto and Mahler’s 1st Symphony. So I got the money back. Now, I have no trouble with coins. Coins disappear in general costs. But a £20 note. That’s a different matter. As it is money from out of the blue I feel I ought to assign it a specific function. It is still sitting at the back of my little travel card pouch where I put my cards (debit and Tesco being the main ones). This issue troubles me somewhat as it feeds into the greater free money I am about to receive. When my dad died a few months ago he had savings of about £50,000 which is about to be split between four children. So, in theory, any day now I will be getting about £12,000 of more free money. What I had thought was that I would put £10,000 towards paying off my mortgage and then have £2000 of free money for a specific function, something I wouldn’t normally buy. But nothing springs to mind. The truth is that I integrate special buys into normal expenses. This is one of the things I am most proud of. That I find money from normal funds for special expenses. I integrate the special into the normal. There is no difference between special and normal. I do not need to go into special; normal is enough for me. I am repeating this because I feel it is a signoficant position. It is part of my larger agenda, that there is no difference between leisure and work, normal and special. But the fact remains that I will have notes burning a hole in my pocket and I will be unable to find a place for them in my spending plan. I read a line the other day. Men always like boys’ toys. It’s just that when they grow up, their toys get more expensive. I could not be more indifferent to this. I bought myself a treat on line a few minutes ago. It was volume 4 of Thomas Bernhard’s collected plays. It cost £4.23. You work for years refining your appetite and what you find is you’ve refined it out of all existence.

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June 7: fat man thin dog

Saw a fat man with a thin dog in the park today. The fat man had let the thin dog off the leash and the thin dog had strayed and was doing his number two business on the grass. The fat man was some way off, with his mind on other things, no doubt planning where his next pork pie was coming from. No, that’s not fair. He could just as easily have been weighing up the pros and cons of Wittgenstein’s theories of language. Does it make sense for a fat man to have a thin dog? Or a thin man to have a fat dog? Or are you more of a fat man fat dog person? With its inevitable mirror image; the thin man thin dog. Does the thin dog expend all the calories that the fat man just stores? I mean, in a household, a certain number of things just need to be accomplished and if the fat man isn’t doing them, then somebobody or something must be. The thin dog does the work for two. The same debate arises in couples. Do couples tend to mirror each other, or, like Jack Sprat and his wife, play opposing roles and so cover all bases. I am mostly a proponent of the like attracts like theory. It stands to reason. You’ll have more in common, more to say to each other. I also think it makes more sense for you to be attracted to types that resemble you rather than opposites. What does it say about your sense of self if your partners are always polar extremes? Although you might say it denotes ambition, the willingness to explore distant territory. Anyway, nobody tidied the poo away. The fat man went back to his Wittgenstein and the thin dog hurried home to get on with the hoovering.

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June 7: the art of getting space

I found myself a little neutral space on the threshold between two rooms. I had taken up position there, at a tangential angle to the areas where stuff was going on. Unfortunately, I was quite close to the door to the toilets so people thought i was waiting for the cubicle to become free and they said things like are you in a queue? How can I be in a queue on my own? But let that pass. Then I thought I’d better find another neutral space where I could have my private neutral thoughts, so I went into an area where I could look at a wall for a bit at another angle (maybe an obtuse one) and then I had people coming up to me saying are you all right? and I said yeah, I’m just thinking. You see, I’m ahead of the curve on this one. The fight for neutral non-defining space where you can liberate your thinking is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. The space needs to be in a non-zone, out of a room really, on some stairs for example where you can take up temporary residence between the normal lfe levels. Children have always liked these non-spaces: stairs; behind settees, patches of floor, where they are exploring the options for escape within the dimension of verticality. We adults have to be sneakier to get our spaces. Of course, the cafe has become the work space for many these days. You pop in for a drink and all the tables are taken by individuals sitting at tables for four with laptops and all their sheets spread out all over the surfaces. I don’t blame them. Probably at home they have a tiny space jammed full of commodities, or, even worse, other people. Other peope are the great obstruction in our lives and we need to be as wily as Lionel Messi to escape their touch-tight marking. And like Messi, the best solution for finding space is often to keep on the move. Hence the fact that the only way many of us can think straight is when we are shuttling from one confining space to another.

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