The appointed day for my interview with Her Majesty’s Revenue Inspectorate having arrived, I redeemed my three piece worsted suit from the pawnbrokers and put a shine on my shoes that a Guardsman would have been proud of. My toiletries having been completed, and a fresh handkerchief stuffed in my breast pocket, I betook myself to Waterloo Station as instructed, to throw myself on the mercy of that iron-souled body of men, the Revenue Inspectors.
Arriving at a grim lobby, I approached with trepidation the Sibyl who presided there, sat on a three legged stool behind a reception desk. After some time, she looked up at me with scarcely disguised loathing.
‘Edvard Munch, madam.’
The Sibyl checked her computer, then rose to her feet and waved an incense burner across the desk.
‘Edvard Munch! You shall miss your lunch!’
I looked at the clock. It was quarter to the hour of one. The Sibyl’s prediction was true. An icy hand began to grasp my heart.
The Sibyl raised a bony finger and pointed to a door in the far corner of the lobby.
‘Go, Edvard Munch, go hence. Ye shall be tested, as never man was tested before!’
As I approached the door, with terror in my soul, the Sibyl’s voice rose to a shriek:
‘Procol o, procol este, profane!’
I knocked on the door.
A deep voice bade me enter.
As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw one of ancient years sat poring over a ledger on a bench.
O Newgate wretch, dost thou approach the bench where sits the implacable Jeffreys with greater trepidation than do I the Revenue Inspector?
He, hoar-headed and careworn, whom power clung around as ivy to a tower, finally spake.
‘Mr Much?’ asked he, without looking up from his paperwork. So busy was he that he had no time for small courtesies.
‘Munch,’ I querulously corrected.
‘My mistake,’ said the Revenue Inspector, making a mark on a paper. ‘Please take a seat.’
Some moments passed. Finally, like an elephant seal hauling itself from the surf, the Revenue Inspector broke surface from his paperwork and addressed me directly.
‘You have lost your season ticket, Mr Much? On what date did this occur? At what time did you lose your ticket? How did you lose it? Where did you lose it?’
All memory fled my mind.
‘Err…three weeks ago?’ I guessed.
The Revenue Inspector looked at me with rheumy eyes that pierced my soul and weighed my heart against a feather.
‘‘Do you have tickets, Mr Much? Tickets you have purchased since you lost your Season Ticket?’
I did, and after some ten minutes fumbling in my wallet, I produced them, and, after some further period, put them in something resembling date order.
‘What is the date of the first ticket, Mr Much?’ asked the Revenue Inspector.
‘21st April?’ I hazarded.
‘Where did you purchase the ticket, Mr Much?
‘At Waterloo Station, sir,’ I said.
‘What time did you purchase the ticket?’
‘At 8pm?’ I hazarded again.
‘How did you arrive at Waterloo Station?’
I told the Inspector the tale of my loss, leaving out the bit about the pigeon.
The Revenue Inspector inspected the ticket. ‘This ticket was purchased at Waterloo Station at 2000 on Thursday 24 April. Was it that evening that you lost your ticket?’
‘It was!’ I cried.
The Inspector seemed satisfied.
‘Very well, Mr Much,’ he said, making a mark on his paperwork. ‘You have passed stage one of your interview. Now, to the practical. Come with me, Mr Much.’
The Revenue Inspector rose heavily to his feet, like an elephant seal rising from a rock. He took down a lantern from a shelf, and a bunch of great keys from a hook behind the desk.
‘Follow me, Mr Much.’
With that, he unlocked a low, narrow door in the corner of the room, and beckoned me.
The door squeaked like a mouse under a cat’s paw on rusted hinges, and I followed him
down into cavernous darkness. The air was damp and a smell of cold water rose to my nostrils.
We descended down a spiral stairway, the lantern ahead lighting the way. Finally, the Inspector halted by a dark body of water.
A small boat bobbed on the noisesome flood. The Inspector bid me step down, and cast off.
Some half hour later, we arrived at a landing stage, where the Inspector tied the little
boat to a ring and bid me step out. A portcullised grille stood before me, through which a
dozen pairs of hands waved piteously from within an ill-lit and unfragrant dungeon. Some waved tattered copies of the London Evening Standard or The Times. Some rattled the bars with furled umbrellas.
‘We have arrived, Mr Much,’ said the Inspector, ‘At the Place of Imprisonment for those who have lost their season ticket more than twice in any given twelve month and cannot afford to replace it.
Now they reside in the cells of the Revenue Inspectorate, for they cannot afford to travel to work, and here they must stay, until they are redeemed, or a new calendar year commences.’
It was indeed a dread sight. One of the imprisoned, a young man in a ragged city suit,
beckoned me close. ‘I say, fellow! Can you lend me two and a half thousand pounds, just till I get straight?’
‘Shall such a sight not impress itself upon your mind, Mr Much?’ asked the Inspector. ‘What would you do to avoid such a fate?’
‘I will never ever lose my season ticket again, sir,’ I said.
‘Indeed, Mr Much, that is the wisest course to take. Look at these wretches, without hope or succour, their clothes as tattered as their lives. Learn, Mr Much, and keep your season ticket secure. Perhaps in a special pocket in your jacket. Now, let us return and continue the interview.’
Chastened, I followed the Inspector back to the boat.