Today I’m finishing my dreaded task of the year: sorting out my tax returns.

It’s a vicious cycle: because I loathe doing this job I avoid doing it. That means, despite the promptings of my accountant, I tend to leave it until rather late. Each year I get stressed about it and once it’s done I swear I will never leave it this late again… until the following year rolls round.

One of my favourite observations about this particular form of task avoidance is from the first episode of Black Books, called ‘Cooking the Books‘ (written by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan).

First, is the conversation between Bernard Black, with his irascible mop of hair, and his accountant Nick Voleur

Bernard and Nick

Nick Voleur: So, show me your new filing system Bernard.
[Bernard digs into his coat pocket and rakes out a handful of receipts]
Bernard: This is March to… boobelyboo.
[He shovels more receipts onto the desk]
Bernard: This is err… misc.
[A final handful is produced]
Bernard: And this is… other.
Nick Voleur: Other what? Other weeks, other back-dated weeks is it?
Bernard: No, other… times. So, it goes this week…
[He pats one pile]
Bernard: … very recent
[He gestures across the scraps of paper]
Bernard: … to all other times.
Nick Voleur: You’ve got to help me out here Bernard. What period does all other times cover?
Bernard: I don’t know Nick! I’m not… Wonder Woman.
Nick Voleur: This new system, it’s very closely modelled on the old system isn’t it?
Bernard: I’d go further than that Nick, I’d say it was more or less exactly the same. Except! [pause] No, it’s exactly the same.

Bernard's giant pile

After his accountant flees a police raid, Bernard glumly contemplates doing his taxes. He resorts to pairing all his socks in one giant pile, phoning his Ma (no first or last name, just Ma) and befriending Christian evangelists.

My favourite moment in the show is when Bernard models a jacket made out of receipts for his friend Fran.

Bernard's new jacket

After that he tries to cripple himself to avoid the job, but luckily meets Manny the accountant who agrees to do Bernard’s taxes (and Bernard probably does more damage to himself via his daily wine habit anyway…). Bernard finally ends up with the ecstatic prospect of a glass of wine and a ham sandwich … with a pickle.

If you want to watch the episode in all its glory then check out Channel 4’s YouTube Channel.

Now, less avoidance from me and more wading through statements … although, I have spotted a pattern for a classy jacket constructed from paper…


  • Lynda

    Argh, as you know, I identify strongly with yours and Bernard’s pain on this issue. It would help if I developed a better filing system than “stuff receipts into wallet till I can’t close it and then dump them onto desk to be unearthed in a few months.” But, really, there’s no cure for the fact that the whole process is suffused with anxiety over how much money it will be and my paranoia that I’ll inadvertently check a wrong box or do a figure wrong and incur the wrath of the IRS. (I’m given to understand from my friends there that the tax authorities in Ireland are slightly less terrifying than our IRS in the U.S.)

    • Maura

      I think a vague dread that you’re doing something wrong on your tax returns dogs everyone, partly because it’s such an arcane system that’s not easily understood.

      I don’t have a wallet of receipts, but I possess a bag o’ receipts for the current year. It’s just one step up from Bernard’s pockets system! (Although, past years’ receipts are all filed.)

      I thought I was the only person crazy enough to have such a holding ‘folder’, until I talked to a friend of mine tonight and she referred to her bag of receipts!

      There is something about having to do an inventory of your finances that encourages madness!

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