Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Followers on Twitter will know that I've just spent a foul morning (weather, state of mind and activity all qualify) doing my online Tax Return. And followers of my life to date will realise that the last time I'd to fill in a tax return is lost in the mists of history - probably before I returned to work after giving birth to two sons to whom tax returns are probably as familiar as writing poetry is to me. But poetry they are not.

As an accountant friend pointed out on Facebook, my travails are why people employ accountants. It's just that I can't bring myself to think that my simple one-off job last year merited such an extravagance - nor to believe that I can be as stupid as I currently feel. Why, after all, would someone ever employ a thicko who couldn't fill in a tax return?

And of course, it's not really that at all. It's lack of familiarity with the jargon. The professional me knows that jargon's often at the heart of most incomprehension. When I returned to teaching in the early '80s, they'd introduced Standard Grade. I became instantly depressed at my first DM by talk about GRC and folios, about summative and formative assessment. Apparently I'd been accustomed to normative assessment and never known it. Obviously I had much to learn.

It's the same with money matters. Once you get the handle on what the tax people call things, it becomes slightly more accessible; you then have to realise what their forms won't tolerate (use the 'return' key at your peril and forget your antiquated notation that puts commas to indicate thousands). But don't ever think that help is only a phonecall away. Once you've littered your screen with help notes and pdf files, you can try phoning, and eventually, after several terse 'thanks for waiting's and reruns of a dire jingle, you will get a person to speak kindly to you and return re-invigorated to your screen only to find that the session has closed down because you spent too long away from it. And then, of course, you get the crash of the site when you're 75% finished and when you get back in you have to retrace your steps through several screens in a panic lest you have to do any more sums - or even look up more bits of paper.

Ok, I admit it. I'm not interested in money and keeping track of bits of paper. My files are stuffed to overflowing with statements I never look at. I am interested in poetry and literature and language and the problems of religious faith - and these don't seem to equip me for life in the financial world at all. But when I pop my clogs - it's all there, kids: you'll just have to look for it.


  1. You have my complete and utter sympathy. I'm forever getting hammered with fines for late returns, and that's WITH an accountant!

    Even to phone the accountant is scary, cos she asks for things like receipts! What???

  2. Morag3:37 PM

    To be fair, us scientists don't generally use commas for thousands in numbers because in some countries the comma represents the decimal point. So if we currently have a lot of South American people working out the details of the tax return it could cause some confusion :-)

  3. I sometimes wonder if I've been in the wrong job all my life - maybe I shoulda stuck to the sums!