Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Added Value of VAT, Annoying Haggling And A Rather Bloody New Year.

"Happy New Year" doesn't have quite the same ring to it when it's followed immediately by, "though I doubt it actually will be." That's what almost all the usual suspects say when they ring today.

I'm still feeling quite positive about 2011, though - given that Max appears to have made it his resolution to have more sex. And with me, as far as I can tell.

Not that things looked very promising on New Year's Eve, which was shaping up to be a total disaster before the clock struck twelve. Max looked knackered when he got home from work - late - and he was in a foul mood.

"What's the matter with you?" I said.

"I'm sick of customers being stroppy, coming in just before closing time, and trying to haggle the price of everything down," he said. "All because they think we're desperate to make sales before the VAT increase."

"Well, I suppose it's understandable," I said. "Isn't it? They know times are tough for retailers and that you need the sales."

"Well, yeah - but it's hardly helpful when the only price they're willing to pay would mean that we made a bloody loss, is it?"

With that, Max promptly fell asleep on the sofa and didn't wake up again until 11:45pm, when he seemed surprised that I wasn't very enthusiastic about his suggestion that we watch the celebrations on television.

Given that the National Lottery draw was on at the time, and that its idiotic presenter always makes me feel murderous even when we have a lottery ticket - which we didn't - I thought I'd been a model of restraint but, even so, you could have cut the tension with a knife by the time Big Ben started to strike.

The situation was only saved by a text from Josh saying, "Happy New Year, motherf*ckers" and advising us that he was staying at Holly's overnight. By the time we'd finished laughing at the first part of the message, it seems Max had realised the implications of the second.

Honestly, trying to maintain a sex-life when you're the parents of teenagers is like being bloody teenagers yourselves. You have to grab every opportunity when it presents itself.

"So Josh is away all night," said Max. "And Connie's not here either. Shall we go to bed?"

"But you've only just woken up," I said.

"Who said anything about sleeping?" said Max. With what I think was unfeigned enthusiasm.

So, for once, fireworks made it to the Bennett bedroom, which was an unexpectedly good start to the New Year, and now I'm clinging to the belief that it was also a portent of great things to come. (Which is not intended as one of those smutty innuendos that seem to be increasingly common on Facebook status updates.)

Constituents don't seem to share my optimism, though. Or my uncharacteristically good humour. They're all consumed with irritation at the rise in VAT instead - as is Greg, who apparently managed to miss a couple of designer bargains when he went shopping on Bank Holiday Monday. Probably through overdoing the haggling.

"Suppose you'll be all right, though - won't you, Molly?" he says. "There's still no VAT on children's clothes."

"Josh and Connie are far too big to wear those," I say. "Don't be daft."

"Yeah, but you're not, are you?"

Greg thinks he's so funny, but this is no laughing matter as far as I'm concerned.

"No, I'm not - but I can't say I fancy wearing things covered in glitter and cartoon characters." I say. "It's already quite hard enough to persuade constituents to take you seriously when you're a woman working in politics as it is. Not to mention MPs. And colleagues with a warped sense of humour."

Greg laughs and pretends to play an imaginary violin, while I scowl at him. What would he know? No-one ever assumes I'm his superior, even though I am, or refers to him as a bloody secretary, after all.

I get my revenge when he takes the next call, though. His face is green by the time he replaces the receiver.

"Who was that?" I say. "You look as if you're going to be sick."

"I may well be," he says. "It was that god-awful Selena Roddick."

Selena is an anarchist feminist activist whose spiritual home will always be Greenham Common. You have to admire her single-mindedness, if not her sense of humour. Or her dress sense.

"What did she want?" I say.

"VAT-exemption for sanitary towels," says Greg. "She's planning on sending George Osborne some used ones to get her point across."

"I'd have thought that would have made you laugh, not go green and look as if you're going to throw up. As long as she's not sending any here as well?"

"No, she isn't. But that wasn't the end of it."

Greg goes on to explain that Selena's considering starting a campaign to force the Coalition's hand:

"Based on passive resistance. She says she's always had a thing about Gandhi."

"So what exactly will that involve?" I say.

"None of you women using any protection at all," says Greg, wincing as he speaks. "She says there'll be a trail of blood until Tampax and sanitary towels are made VAT-free."

Oh, dear God. I can't say I'm looking forward to that. What with everyone sneezing, and the wretched Norovirus, there are far too many rogue bodily fluids flying around already. It seems this VAT increase may lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.

Mind you, I suppose one of those might be an increase in the sexual activity of the nation - or at least of me and Max - seeing as sex was still tax-exempt the last time I looked. Not that it wouldn't qualify as adding value. I might even be prepared to haggle for a better deal myself.

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