I’ve just completed my first self-assessment tax return, and as I wanted to use the short form I had to submit it by the 31st October. With my usual failure to grasp the concept of linear time I hadn’t realised that was quite so soon, and that, as we’re away next week and the postmen are on strike, I’d have to hand the form in at my local tax office if I wanted to meet the deadline.

When I got there though, instead of a reception area, I found myself in a room with a row of booths, rather like study carrels, on either side, and a man standing like an invigilator at the back. He said he could take my form, and no, they don’t give receipts anymore, and I gave it to him and left. As soon as I was outside I began to wonder whether I’d been a little too trusting: what if he was just a strange and twisted individual who derived pleasure from pretending to work for the Inland Revenue and destroying the tax returns of people dim enough to hand them over without asking for some form of ID?

Nothing like that came up in the PEN talk on tax a couple of weeks ago – at least not after I arrived, late, via the men’s toilets so that I could sneak in at the back. The speaker was Barry Kernon of HW Fisher, who specialises in advising writers on tax matters. The trouble is, however patiently someone like him explains things, I immediately switch off, even though I’m terrified of a making an innocent mistake and being caught out.

As an antidote to thinking about tax, I went on from the PEN talk to speak to my friend Ashley’s book group. As soon as I arrived I was given a glass of wine and some lovely food and passed a very pleasant evening discussing my book. Most of the people there were, like Ashley, American by birth, and none of them took me to task for having the nerve to attempt to write in a vernacular other than my own – although maybe they were just too polite to mention it.

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