Every year, I write something here about tax deductions for artists.


Now, the way it works, so far as my non-existent accounting experience allows me to understand, is that if you use it for work, you get a tax deduction. So, if you write, you get a tax deduction for your new macbook pro and any subsequent extensions of warranty, which incidentally you should remember to buy (unlike some of us who are idiots and who will regret this later). If you work in film, your movie tickets are tax deductible. If you work in theatre, Kafka novels and ill-advised affairs with people who are not your girlfriend are presumably tax deductible, and if you work in a bank, well, now, I hope you have a career to fall back on.


(Sorry, but it's not often I get to feel clever about not having selected a career involving financial expertise and forethought).


But I digress. My proposal, on these pages and, well, in pubs at around tax time, is that for a writer, one's main job is observation. It is remiss, I honestly believe this, not to listen in to a conversation in a cafe or a train or, say, a hospital, if you're a writer. If you are visiting your grandma, for instance, and the nurses' staff room is next to the room your grandma shares with three bewildered men in pyjamas, you are duty-bound to listen to the shouty argument between the nursing staff. You are also well-advised to tune in to the subsequent debriefing session between the less senior nurses upon the departure of the most shouty. To not listen would be like skipping a lecture, or not reading a book that's going to be on the exam.


I have perfected the laid-back stance of "I'm not really listening, I'm unaccountably interested in this piece of wood", while simultaneously being quite frozen on the spot, lest I miss a vital detail, such as one of the nurses guessing how long it would be until the senior, shouty person either left the hospital or died. Conclusions regarding shouty lady's robust health due to "not having taken a toll on her body at all" are especially important for the files I have stored in my brain for future reference. I cannot remember my bank account details, but I can remember entire conversations between people I have never met.


There have been several examples of this in my life recently, including yesterday, when I was walking to a workshop at the Arts Centre for my law-talking job and I heard a familiar noise. A familiar tune I couldn't quite put my finger on. All I knew was, although the tune wasn't unpleasant to listen to, I didn't like how it made me feel. After a couple of moments of concentrating on where the sound was coming from, I realised it was coming from the girl walking alongside me. It was coming from her backpack. It was her phone, loudly singing her alarm. She was wearing headphones and had no idea her alarm was screaming at her to (presumably) get out of bed. People everywhere were narrowing their eyes, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. She continued, oblivious, blaring loudly from the lump on her back.


It wasn't so much the fact that she was blaring that made her interesting, although I enjoyed the suggestion that but for a different set of circumstances she would, now, be waking from a heavy sleep and pausing the alarm for a few moments' reprieve. It was the effect this was having on the people around her that made the incident intruiging. United (once they figured out what was going on) in a knowing, nodding pleasure, her fellow commuters looked for co-conspirators in the naughty giggle at the expense of someone foolish. Someone we all knew, but for the grace of a slightly different morning routine, could be us.


This small observation, worthy of nothing on paper, indicates many things about human behaviour, about character, about time and the individual pursuit of happiness and hence story and subtext. It's a metaphor, it's symbolism, it's a theme. It's human versus technology, time versus youth, the individual versus society, good versus evil. It's just the stuff of every day life, but in the right hands (not mine perhaps, on a Tuesday evening, but I imagine Kafka would make a good fist of it) it's a mirror against which we see ourselves, even if we are bankers, who have other things on our minds right now. Even then, we can read or watch or listen to something that leads us outside of our usual contexts and into a contemplation of the way the world works. Our imagination is stimulated. You see? It's a service to the public. It could be built into the health system, so positive is its potential effect.


Now, where was I?


Oh yes.


Ergo, I should get a tax deduction for living.



Thank you very much and goodnight.