Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Well, two tales today, anyway.

I’ve told the odd – some of them very odd – story from my accountancy career in the past, those that aren’t genuinely covered by an NDA or that it’d be unethical to disclose.

Yes, if you’re new to the blog, you may not know that I used to be an accountant, an audior and in due course, after taking the commercial shilling, a financial director, and then a director of finance.

For the US readers, since I understand ‘financial controller’ is often the person who can add up best,

    UK financial controller – US equivalent: VP Finance
    UK financial director – US equivalent: Chief Financial Officer

But, as mentioned above, most of the really good stories I would tell, I can’t… because of the aforementioned Non-Disclosure Agreements or it would just be plain wrong to do so, ethically.

My first day in accountancy, I started the day with about a dozen others, all fresh and incredibly naive, still of the opinion that there was some fundamental goodness in the careers on which we were about to embark.

Actually, that’s not fair; I still think that, to a large extent, and still believe that the job I did, all the jobs I did, were necessary and important.

But yeah, twelve or so young kids, eager and stupid, or rather ‘pretty ignorant’, about accountancy as it is actually practised.

The staff partner ushered into the board room and gave us the usual spiel about the firm: the different departments, the types of work, the likely career progressions, the study leave… I clearly remember two things he said, even now.

1) If you come back from study leave with a tan, you’d better have a damn good reason

2) You’re going to hear lots of stories about things that have happened to accountants; odd tales, funny stories, just flat out weirdness. Trust me, by the time you’ve been in this game for three years, you’ll have a fund of stories this high… either stories that have happened to you, stories that have happened to colleagues, or stories that are like urban myths. Everyone knows they happened… but no one knows quite who they happened to… or you’ll hear that they happened to six different people. Anyway, let me start you with some of them.

And then he regaled us for two hours, giving us befuddlement with one tale, laughter with another, and jaw dropping exasperation with yet another.

But he was right, as he was in so much else in my two years working at the company. I eventually had my own fund of stories. And, maybe, over the next few weeks, I’ll tell some more.

But for now, for today, two stories; both happened to me, both completely true.

Here’s the first, which I was reminded of earlier today, the time I was called a “corporate whore”. Not in the office, or directly related to the work, but merely when I told someone what my job was.

I was at a party, just before New Year’s. I knew maybe a quarter of the attendees, maybe. But the hosts, while not being close friends of mine, were very close friends of friends of mine, and they’d invited me.

And, as always happens at such things, an hour after getting there, I’m chatting to people I don’t know, one of my friends next to me, Somehow we got onto the subject of people being mistreated by employers. And then someone said something like companies exist to mistreat their employees. And that all employees should revolt against their employers. He didn’t say whether it should include violence, but he didn’t obviously exclude it.

The person who said it was, admittedly, very drunk, and very loud, but not quite very obnoxious. And, as always, everyone grants a kind of amnesty-while-drunk-as-long-as-you-don’t-hit-someone at parties.

And that’s when he started… I’d say arguing, but it wasn’t an argument, it was a flat assertion, said with as much passion as someone now asserting “but we voted to leave!” would express. Yes, that much.

So that’s when he moved onto how companies were inherently ‘evil’, and should be abolished en masse. And who did he attribute blame to this for? Accountants.

Accountants were the spawn of Satan, or something like that. I don’t remember precisely.

My expression was, apparently, not entirely filled with shining admiration at this forensic analysis of companies’ behaviour and accountants. I mentioned, hoping to squash this, that I disagreed, but yeah, some companies didn’t exactly enhance their reputations with their actions.

“Do you work for a company?”

“Yes… I’m a financial director.”

“Oh, right… a corporate whore, then…”

It’d be lovely to say that the room fell silent, that everyone stood there, shocked.

But, no, of course not. There were a dozen or so people in the room, I guess. And only a couple of them heard the comment. But I could feel the small area of the room grow just a bit colder, just a little bit sharper. In a movie, there’d be one of those ‘go into close up on budgie’s face while the rest of the room blurs’ shots.

Before I could say anything, though, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, and another guiding me out of the room, and I left, much in need of a cigarette. Moments later, the host came out, full of apologies. They weren’t necessary, genuinely. I knew they’d’ be horrified, as they were.

But yeah, ‘corporate whore’. That was a new one.

Here’s another one. Again, less to do with the actual work, but absolutely about working in an office, any office.

In that first job, the firm maintained a satellite office at a large client. The client was huge, in corporate size, I mean. One parent company, literally dozens of subsidiaries, and we were the auditors for all of them.

(Smal digression but I genuinely don’t know if that arrangement would be allowed these days; I wonder…)

But it was a small satellite office, a single medium sized room, seven of us in there; the partner, his deputy, two seniors and three juniors, including me.

And there was a window. A lovely window. That opened, and in the heat of a hot day, the breeze through the window made working in the room just a little more pleasant. Especially for the desk that was right by the window, and the chair in front of it. The partner’s deputy sat there.

And then came the first time when the deputy was off for a month or so for some study leave and Tax exams as I recall. And one of the seniors, a cocky lad named Ralph as I recall, baggsied the desk for the month.

Didn’t bother me; I was very low in the hierarchy. Then the deputy returned, and taught all of us, myself included, a lesson in how to handle that situation.

The deputy, whose desk it was, strolled in after the exams… to find Ralph still sitting at the desk.

“You like that chair?”


“You want to keep that chair, and the desk…?”


“No problem… no problem at all… just as long as you take the work that goes along with it.

I swear: Ralph turned pale. And vacated the chair so fast it was genuinely surprising.

And Ralph was never quite the same cocky sod again…

See you tomorrow, with something else, the usual Tuesday ‘something else.

Although it shouldn’t be by now, it’s always a surprise to me that the one person you can pretty much guarantee won’t visit what is regarded as a “must visit” place… is a resident of the city in which the place exists.

What percentage of people in New York, for example, visit the Empire State Building compared to the percentage of out-of-towners? And what of the Sydney Opera House? Or the House of Lords?

Or… the British Museum?

I mean, I visited the latter about 15 years ago, for the first time. I’d always been aware of it, but for whatever reason, I’d never gone in.

Now, as a rule, I don’t like museums. No, that’s not quite fair. It’s not that I don’t like them. But my foot ain’t a fan, for obvious reasons. Also, I genuinely find them of so little interest that they bore me. It’s a bit like the classic response to “You don’t think much of me, do you?”: “I don’t think of you at all.”

I’m not sure why that is, and it’s begun to bother me a bit. I mean, I like the idea of history; as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in the history of Royalty in the UK, the history of representative democracy. But I’ve never felt any urge to visit Royal Palaces, or to see the Royal Family in person.

Oh, don’t get me wrong; if I suddenly received an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party, I’d accept, just for the experience. But it’s not like I actively want to attend one.

I’ve been to the House of Commons a few times, a few times in the past couple of years, I mean. But on each occasion, I’ve gone because of what’s been occurring then and there. I went to see a debate; I went to meet someone for coffee; I went to hear a talk about the parliamentary traditions.

And I went to see a friend present his show about antisemitism, more about which in another post, later in this run. But the flyer for it is to the side, over there, linked to when you can see it in December.

But in all the times I’ve been in the Houses of Parliament, I don’t remember – apart from the very first time, when I was about 17 years old and came with a friend – feeling any ‘wow, I’m surrounded by history’.

I have felt that, more than once, when I’ve been walking around London, and noticed that I’m passing this building, or that street. I once had to attend the Royal Courts of Justice, merely to pick up some papers, and oh boy did I feel the weight of history surround me, and bury me.

But again, as I’ve mentioned before, until fairly recently, I’d never attended Court for any reason, even to witness the proceedings.

The British Library. Pretty sure I’ve been there a couple of times; I have no memories of the experiences though.

The London Eye. Been on it twice, with my then-wife Laura and our then-young son. I remember quite enjoying both experiences, without at any point actively wishing to repeat the experience. Not really been there long enough to have ‘history’ attached to it.

Abbey Road Studios. OK, give me that one. Yeah, I’ve walked past it more times than I care to recall, and even been into the shop a couple of times. It’s fun, but nothing more than that.

Carnaby Street. See above; not what it once was, but yeah, ok, there is a sense of history there, just.

Westminster Abbey. Walked past it a few times when visiting parliament. Taken the occasional nice snap.

Trafalgar Square. This is an odd one, because of course I should feel a sense of history; the place has gone out of its way, through the decades, to give that sense of history. Me? It’s something to walk through when I’m getting from A to B. Sorry, but yeah.

Tower Bridge. OK, yeah, you’ve got me. This one does give me a sense of history when I walk across it, but not for the obvious reasons. It was originally built more than a hundred years ago, but what strikes me is that about half a mile away is The Gherkin. OK, it’s officially known as 30 St Mary Axe, but more relevantly it’s a building that was completed in 2004, and used – at the time – the most modern materials, the most modern electrics, the most modern, energy efficient design… and it’s half a mile away from a landmark build over a hundred years before. You can see each from the other. Yeah, that matters, though I couldn’t tell you why.

St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell. Again, yeah, ok, I’ll admit to feeling the history here. A bare gate tower, that was built in 1504. Yeah, ok, something 500 years old gets to even me.

Hmm, maybe I should visit a few more places; it wouldn’t do me any harm to at least try to appreciate some history.

Just no museums, ok?

Something else tomorrow… hopefully, the return of the Ten Things…