Posts Tagged ‘history’

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.

Human beings are, at their hearts, creatures of habit. And this is shown in no way more often than someone’s favourite phrases to use, an instinctive reaction to a feed line, a family phrase that gets trotted out on every appropriate occasion.

And I am as bad as anyone else in this respect, maybe worse. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that when an old bug-bear of mine raised its head this week, I reacted. I’d love to say that it was in an entirely unexpected way but everyone has their ‘buttons’ that can be pushed and this is, unfortunately, one of mine.

The situation that provoked my Pavlovian response was the reference to the gift of a facsimile of a newspaper’s front page from the day of their birth. Now, this was – some years ago – a common gift to people, especially in the days before half a dozen clicks online can show anyone the events that occurred on the day they arrived.

And that’s the point, of course; that’s what bugs me every bloody time, because the two things in the previous paragraph are entirely different. As different as they could possibly be.

Because the newspaper on the day of your birth will show the events that happened the day before the day of your birth.

Why would anyone want that? What would anyone want to know what happened the day before they were born?

A war ended? Lovely, it had already been over for 24 hours by the time you got here. The pop charts that week? You’ve a one in seven chance (all right, it’s not quite as evenly spread as that, Tuesdays and Thursdays are more ‘popular’ days) that they’re inaccurate and they’re the charts for the week before you were born. Depending upon your birth date, there could be even greater differences. Born on the day of a general election, then the papers could well have the previous Prime Minister or President in office. I genuinely don’t understand it.

Looking back in history though, taking some satisfaction in learning at what’s changed since you were born, that I understand.

It was reported in the news this week that “Britain’s oldest person” had died. Grace Jones, who lived in Bermondsey, South London was 113 years old at the time of her death.

Much was made about the changes and advances she’d seen in her life; the lady was born in December 1899.

113 years – a hell of a long time. She was already retired by the time I was born. And that started me thinking about the changes in life, the changes in politics, both domestic and world, just in the time I’ve been on this planet, and more importantly, that I can remember. Because, let’s face it, any changes that occurred while I was alive but before I was paying attention might as well have happened before I arrived.

In 1968, for example, both Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Yes, I was alive. But I was wasn’t even four years old at the time (King was killed in April, Kennedy in June – my birthday was in August.)

Now while my parents may have been shocked at the news (I don’t know, I don’t ever recall talking about the killings to either of them) I can say without fear of contradiction that I wouldn’t have cared at all – in fact I’m pretty sure at three years old I wouldn’t have cared if anyone outside my immediate family had been killed.

And while some other contemporaries (Warren Ellis, for example) have their first major memory of the time being the moon landing, I’m genuinely sorry that I don’t remember it. My older brother would have been thrilled by it, but me? Nope, don’t remember a thing about it; pretty sure my parents shuffled me off to bed.

So, let’s move forward a bit. February1972, I’m seven years old. Undoubtedly, at the time, I’d have insisted on “seven and a half”, but hey, I was seven. Or seven and a half.

But anyway, yes, probably the first major event I remember: power cuts. There was a miners’ dispute with the government at the time and power cuts were the tactic of choice for the unions. I hugely supported their struggle. Yes, at that tender age I was a huge supporter of the miners’ union’s method of protest. Because it had two major effects upon my life: (a) I got to go home early from school, and (b) my dad was home from work.

At that age, I didn’t care that him being home from work meant that his business wasn’t able to operate; I didn’t care that my schooling was being interupted. I cared that I didn’t have to go to school and my dad could spend more time with us. (I do have a faint memory of being puzzled at why my parents and teachers didn’t seem to be as happy as us children, but no more than that.)

OK, skipping forward quite some time, let’s say to 15 years of age. 1979.

The Prime Minister (the fourth I could remember) was Margaret Thatcher, just starting her first term of office; ahead of her were the almost total destruction of Britain’s manufacturing industry and coal mines, the attempted gutting of the welfare state, the Falkland War, the poll tax… and her son going missing for six days during a desert rally. The President of the United States, only the third I could remember by then, was Jimmy Carter, and at 15, all I knew about him was that he had a strange accent, was supposed to be the antidote to “Watergate” and liked jogging.

Although I became fascinated with American politics within the next couple of years (almost entirely thanks to a politics lecturer at Sixth Form College named John Ramm), I was far more ignorant at 15 years of age than my son was as a pre-teenager. How things change.

Over the past thirty years alone, we’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the apartheid state of South Africa, ongoing periods of war punctuated by periods of peace in the Middle East, the shifting of the ‘centre ground’ of both British and American politics both left and right, the democratisation of online access and the creation and invention of technologies that I would have thought science fiction as a child.

I’ve watched politics become more cynical, and have seen the observance of it become similarly so. I’ve witnessed feats of philanthropy that I would not have believed possible, and cruelty by individuals and governments that more properly belong to the darker regions of fiction.

In the 17,987 days I’ve been on this planet, I’ve done much to be proud of, and done much of which I’m ashamed. And I have no idea at all what advice I would give to the newborn that appeared on 17th August 1964, or in the few years following that date. However, his response to any advice I could have possibly offered, which would almost certainly have been to gurgle, close his eyes and fill his nappy, would probably have been appropriate.