Thursday, April 21, 2005

Estate Duty

I HAD BOUGHT the house on the assumption that it would be a good investment. But, so as to maximise the tax advantages, I actually ought to live in it, as my accountant told me rather late in the day.

“Can’t I pretend to live in it? I don’t really want to move out of London into those godawful mountains.”

“When you sell it, you’ve got to be able to prove that it is your main residence, so as to avoid Capital Gains Tax,” he had replied.

“Well, can’t I take the man from the Inland Revenue for a visit and show him all the ruffled covers on the bed!”

We both laughed.

“Will I have to prove that it’s my toothbrush in the bathroom?” I scoffed.

“No, but to be serious, he may send investigators into the village to test out their gossip.”

“Good grief, man, is that what we pay our taxes for, so that they can run the gauntlet of the countryside, snooping into all our affairs?”

“If you had your way, they wouldn’t be getting any taxes....”

“A vicious circle...that’s what they are. I try to earn an honest crust, work my heart out for a bit of comfort and then what happens? The man from the Revenue travels all the way to Frixton and pops his head into the local newsagents to see who I’ve been sleeping with!”

* * *

Frixton was hardly a village. It nestled between the two great peaks of the Panjandrum (as it was called in the local parlance), a group of about a dozen red brick houses that would have seemed more at home in an industrial setting. The slate roofs and the TV aerials on oversized chimney stacks rose glinting into the mist that so prevailed one could even pretend that there were tall factory chimneys beyond the reach of the sight, instead of those real towering unscalable rocky pinnacles which, from time to time, emerged spectacularly with the infrequently bursting upon the scene of the sun.

For one who spends all their time in financial matters, I’ve always considered myself nifty with a turn of phrase. My business letters have been considered more colourful than most, to say the least. So, please excuse me if I get carried away and leapfrog the words. But, please don’t forget, I’m the sort who only writes about real things. I’ve got less fanciful notions in my whole body than you, who read this, have got in the quick of your fingernail.

The house which, through a whole chain of agents, I had turned out purchasing was a strange affair. I had been told it was going for a the circumstances. Those countless meetings in countless banks’ offices, arranging the finance, the mortgaging, the re-mortgaging, the back to back loans and ‘bed and breakfasting’ of my gilt portfolio, were all over. I was now proud owner of Frixton Grange, once residence of the man who had founded Frixton as a sort of folly...but, that was before the sniff of survivalism had hit the country. The global tensions, I was told, far from relaxing as some would have us believe, were tightening their grip on the population’s subconscious. And Frixton, I was also told, would be the Mecca for such survivalist claptrap, the illogical consequence of which would be property values there topping the sky before the next decade was out.

It was just another investment to me....

The Grange itself, when I first saw it....

Stop, I’m getting ahead of myself again. The journey from London involved twelve changes of train, each one more dilapidated as a form of transport than the one before. It was going back in time, almost. I did not drive because I had been warned that you could not get anywhere near Frixton in a car. Only a train would do.... The last lap saw me sitting in a juddering carriage, speculating on the use of the thick leather strap swinging from side to side on the grimy window. Before you tell me, I’d better make it clear that I’m not old enough to remember those types of train that once steamed between all big cities. I’m one of those young get up and go individuals who are making it so big these days. So, this train was the first I’d ever come across, much to my surprise that any still existed at all.

You could actually feel it straining to lift itself into the mountain areas and, as it teetered along by the steep drops, I could see that any enclaves of population were becoming sparser. I had already informed the train driver that I wanted to disembark at Trusthoe Halt which was supposedly within hiking distance of Frixton along some pretty suspect footpaths.

“I never stop ‘tween here and Ilston Junkch.... I don’t even know if the bye-laws allows me to stop a train at all ‘long those tracks.”

“But its says on this map that there is a Halt...and one of my agents got off there a few months ago, he told me.”

“No-one I knows has stopped a train at that there Halt for at least fifty year. Your mate must have done what we call a bounder. Broke a leg, no doubt!”

At that point, I handed over a wad of mixed denomination notes. The driver didn’t even bother to count them and said: “I’ll slow down a be on your mettle.”

* * *

I’ve made most of my money by investing in ‘smokestack’ economies. I don’t know why I thought of that as I jumped clear of the trundling train on to the rickety wooden contraption no doubt laughingly called a platform. Perhaps someone will take time out to explain to me when I have a bit of time - probably after I’m dead! Anyway, I ended up clinging to the damned contraption for dear life, watching the backside of the hissing monster as it disappeared into the low sun.

The timing had gone all awry, for I was now faced with the prospect of a trek in the darkness across completely unfamiliar country. I settled myself down for the night under the ‘platform’, where life was so sparse there were no rats lurking nor even insects...thank goodness.

By morning, the sun had disappeared. The murky mists to which I was soon to grow so accustomed coiled across the head of the path I was due to follow. But, by judgement rather than luck, I managed to reach Frixton more quickly than I anticipated. In fact, it was only just around the much for those misguided fellows back in London who had directed me.

I wandered in a speculative mood along the only street that Frixton boasted, simply to find it was not a street at all, but the flat roof of the Grange! I had inadvertently come down upon it from an unlikely direction which, I was later told by the keeper of the only shop, could be the route that had been used by the original settlers of Frixton but since forgotten.

The Grange, as I was soon to discover, was actually built between the two skirts of the Panjandrum peaks. So, all it needed was a roof, which happened to be a flat one...which, as a genre, you all know, is not the best architectural feat of mankind, by a long chalk! So much for a tax avoidance planning investment! The whole thing probably leaked!

I clambered down precariously, trying not to ladder my stockings, for I had not brought many spare pairs with me.

Eventually, I managed to reach the door in the rockface which, O light and joy, the key I had been supplied fitted. But, gloom and doom, it did not turn. Those accursed agents again! They had a lot to answer for.

I managed to get in because the screws in the door hinges were merely finger tight.

And I had to live here! God forbid. I crawled into the only bed I could find, because I was dog tired, after a particularly fitful night under the ‘platform’. Pleasantly surprised to find the sheets already warm, I was equally stirred to the bottom of my entrepreneurial soul to find I was not alone in the bed.

“Hello, my dear, I hope you don’t mind me being here. But a job’s a job, and the Inland Revenue Authorities who employ me are hard taxmasters....”

His voice was hard and, unlike the train driver, he was certainly not queer.

(published 'Sol' 1997)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Both hard-voiced AND queer? A most peculiar and threatening situation! (Caboose riders beware!)