I’ve never been any good at flouting authority, bending or breaking the rules. My moral backbone must be very straight, because while common-sense tells me that towing the line isn’t the only way, something transfixes me with a Paddington Cold Stare every time I consider ‘behaving badly’.
I am aware that some of my friends find it amusing that, in many respects I’m a little goody two-shoes. Those are the ones that smoked behind the bike sheds at school, starting drinking age 12, wore the shortest skirts they could without being arrested, and those that were expelled. I worship their naughtiness. My worst crimes at school were once wearing a brown skirt rather than the standard navy, and going ‘on strike’ in the school hall to protest that girls should be able to wear trousers. At primary school one lunchtime I stayed inside with Vicky Manley – against the rules – to sew up costumes for the school play. Headmaster Mr Blatchford discovered us, called us guttersnipes and told us to go home. I still think that was rather over the top for two 10-year olds making bee outfits.
I have always been horrified by tales of tax avoidance schemes; the many, clever ways that big businesses and wealthy individuals find to wriggle out of paying tax through bright accountants who get paid a nice little earner to find loopholes. I wonder how it is they don’t have a conscience. Hey, I’ve declared just about every penny I’ve earned in my life. Even the £1 a day I earned as a decorator (after paying the child minder, that was all I had left). However, there’s a bit of me that now thinks differently about those cash-in-hand tax dodgers that I used to scorn. Now I’m more likely to think, why not? If a pop star skips pay tax on millions of pounds, why should the chap earning a couple of hundred quid painting some walls pay any either? I’d dodge if I could. But then again, I probably wouldn’t.
On a month-long trip to China it was a total surprise to me that we had to ‘follow the flag’. I’d never done anything like that before. I duly followed it to the best of my ability, until I was late back to a meeting point because my mate Julia had desperately needed the loo. We were made to feel like criminals, and almost frog-marched to catch up with the rest of the group. Publicly humiliated amongst the Terracotta Army in China, I felt cracks appear in my goody-two shoes persona.
In truth, the older I get, the more likely I am to transgress. This year I was asked to follow a flag in Sienna. I ran off up an alley, it was a moment when free will conquered. Hey, who knows, perhaps one day soon I’ll try and sneak on the train to Exeter without paying for a ticket. Or park in a disabled parking space and limp away from the car.
But I tell you, however hard I try, always at the back of my mind there will be the sense that I am the person holding together the tower of morality that keeps society from falling apart. It’s all down to me, for sure. So I won’t be sticking two fingers up at the taxman anytime soon. More’s the pity.