I’ve just been fact-checking eighteenth-century clocks for a Regency story, and discovered something I’d never heard before — William Pitt instituted a clock tax in 1797. A tax of five shillings per year was imposed on all clocks in use, even in private households, while pocket-watches were taxed at two shillings and sixpence (silver or other metal) or ten shillings (for gold watches).
Needless to say, this was so wildly unpopular it was swiftly rescinded. But thinking of taxes reminded me of something I ran across when completing my tax return last month. I’d struggled with one of the sections on the form and, as one does, used Google to try and get some clarification. I ended up none the clearer but a lot more entertained when Google took me to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ top ten excuses for late tax returns:
- My pet goldfish died (self-employed builder)
- I had a run-in with a cow (Midlands farmer)
- After seeing a volcanic eruption on the news, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else (London woman)
- My wife won’t give me my mail (self-employed trader)
- My husband told me the deadline was 31 March, and I believed him (Leicester hairdresser)
- I’ve been far too busy touring the country with my one-man play (Coventry writer)
- My bad back means I can’t go upstairs. That’s where my tax return is (a working taxi driver)
- I’ve been cruising round the world in my yacht, and only picking up post when I’m on dry land (South East man)
- Our business doesn’t really do anything (Kent financial services firm)
- I’ve been too busy submitting my clients’ tax returns (London accountant).
My prejudices are showing–I snorted coffee at number 9. I would, however, love to know more about number 2.