Sheep may safely graze

Animated image of sheep sleeping
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‘The darkness has ink eyes, and if you stare long enough, you’re going to see it blink black. That’s the moment to start writing.’ (Jarod Kintz, ‘This Book is Not FOR SALE’)

As you will know if you read my September 2014 blog, from time to time I suffer from insomnia.  Since the beginning of August it’s been so bad that my partner suspects I may been reprogrammed by eco-warriors for Economy 7 operation.  I seem to work best between the hours of two and seven in the morning.  Outside those hours I run on adrenaline and, occasionally, have to be hooked up to a double espresso drip.

The current bout of insomnia, which started when I went on my latest Arvon creative writing course at The Hurst in late July, was probably triggered by being surrounded by really nice supportive people (not a lawyer’s natural milieu).  Lots of encouragement and nurturing.  It was deeply unsettling, I can tell you, for someone who’s used to swimming with sharks.

As I’m writing this in the early hours I have decided that a word or two about sheep might be a good idea.  This is partly because I’ve just discovered a sheep tax I didn’t know existed, the maltolt, and partly because I thought that it might help me nod off.

According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), maltolt translates from the Anglo-Norman as an ‘unjust or burdensome tax’ and was mentioned in Magna Carta.  David F Burg in his book ‘A World History of Tax Rebellions’ (an obvious best-seller which sits on my bookcase next to The Sheep-Pig) describes the maltolt as a customs duty levied in the time of Edward I at three marks on each bag of wool ‘regardless of grade’. By 1297 there was so much opposition to it that the maltolt had to be rescinded.

In 1549 after a sheep census (yes, really) a poll tax on sheep was introduced (yes, really).  I wonder if those doing the counting managed to stay awake.  Quite probably, as a 2002 Oxford University study found that counting sheep actually made it harder for insomniacs to fall asleep.

An article in New Scientist explains that during the Oxford Study 50 of the sleepless were asked to try different sleep-inducing techniques. One group were told to imagine a peaceful, relaxing scene; a second group were asked to use distraction methods such as counting sheep; and a third were left to their own devices. While those picturing a tranquil scene fell asleep an average of 20 minutes earlier than normal, the sheep-counters ended up taking slightly longer to drift off. So if you can’t sleep, imagine relaxing scenes, not sheep. If your relaxing scene happens to include sheep, that’s fine but, whatever you do, resist the urge to count them.

Back in the misty tax past there were also tax farmers.  Tax farmers had nothing to do with sheep.  They were sub-contractors who had bought the right to collect a particular tax in exchange for payment of a fixed amount.  Any profits or losses on the tax collection after paying the fixed fee accrued to the tax farmer.

Well it’s nearly dawn so this word-junkie is off to snatch forty winks before the shutters go up.  More tax history lessons another time.

Tax lawyer specialising in business tax, SDLT and VAT

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