Coded message fails

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
When I left my old job in industry, I explained to the tax office that I would no longer have a company car, a travel allowance or private health insurance. I would be earning a small and irregular salary in future and did not want to be taxed at a penal rate.

"How do you know", asked the official, "that you won't be so successful you will earn even more than you did before?" "No chance," I replied. "I'm going into the public sector as a lecturer."

He agreed to slash my tax code immediately. So now I have completed my first few weeks and claimed for my hours, but with all the uncertainties of the timetable, I'm looking forward to a pretty small cheque.

I had better economise. In the warm days of early autumn, I get the bike out of the shed. If I ride to work I will keep fit, avoid parking problems and save money. But as a part-timer, I have no desk, no cupboard, nor even a peg on which to hang my coat.

For a week I trail around campus with a large backpack with all the books and files for the day. It has a convenient pouch for my lunchbox and a strap for my water bottle. My trainers are strung from the straps by their laces and the whole pile is surmounted by my crash helmet. I look like a peripatetic lost property office. As soon as the weather changes I need to add soggy waterproofs to the bundle, and so I take the opportunity to abandon the bike.

It gets colder. Now a Siberian wind is howling down the lower corridor of the new annexe. This is a glass and steel box with open staircases and sensuously curved access ramps which have earned it the nickname of the snakes and ladders building.

But the doors at the end of the corridor let in a draught. Someone has pinned up a notice, reminding us that they are only to be opened in an emergency. This is an emergency - the smokers need to light up. Whoever designed the annexe overlooked a short cut to the smoking area outside.

So, although Cerberus from maintenance attempts to police the corridor, he cannot watch the doors all the time and, when confronted by a notice, most students turn out to be dyslexic.

During the half-term break I receive a fat brown envelope containing an application form for the job I am already doing; a contract; notification of the rate of pay I have already claimed; a security clearance form to allow me to mix with young people I have already mixed with; and an induction booklet which explains that it is my right to have explained all the things which I have already found out about.

Then my first pay cheque arrives. Excitement turns to dismay as I discover that I have been given an emergency tax code. The meagre amount in the "gross" column has become pathetic by the time it reaches the "net".

This is hardly enough to run the car, and I do not fancy getting out the bike again. I ring the tax office. Yes, they assure me, my tax code has been reduced, but it seems no one thought to pass this information to my new tax office. Nothing surprises me in the public sector.

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