As Secretary of State for Fiscal Discipline at the Indolent Revenue, I get a great many letters everyday. Many of them seek my official intervention to correct some pecuniary dysfunction or another. Others are from regional newspapers, appealing for information about the tax affairs of local socialists and other long-haired guttersnipes up to no good.
The rest of my correspondence is almost entirely made up of earnest requests, asking me why there are so many forms to fill in and how the Indolent Revenue can help you, the generic face in the crowd, to lead a more efficient and formless existence.
Well, I’m afraid that it’s unlikely to change soon.
Forms are part of the British Way of Life. They play a vital role in the social fabric of these islands. The official form is as much a part of etiquette as the strict alignment of Extended Silver Service for diplomatic functions. I often recount the tale of one Foreign Office dinner where the Brûlée Paddle was laid on the wrong side of the Joss Stick of Xanthes.
It is an easy mistake, but one which would have signalled war were it not for the precise alignment of the soup bowl with the cayenne pepper pot.
In terms of British decorum, forms are as important as that potentially misplaced pepper pot. If it were not for the officially codified exchange of information between citizen and state, we would be no better than lawless savages acting on whims of the moment. We need an objective and measurable communication system. The alternative would simply be lacking in precision or clarity and only the most extreme messages – gushing love letters, for instance, or a Jiffy bag of faeces – would convey the subjective fancy of the correspondent.
Until next time.
The Indolent Revenue has recently sent the full text of this letter to The Idler Magazine. See Issue 34, published early December 2004, for more details. The Department of Social Scrutiny and Tax Office will be forwarding forms to The Idler in every issue. Subscriptions and back issues are available from their website.
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