Who said accountants don't laugh

Gregor Steele

In Monty Python's Big Red Book there is a page entitled "Why accountancy isn't boring". The piece that follows is several hundred words of tedium (allegedly with 26 similar pages missed out) about paper clips, ball-point pens and tea ladies bringing biscuits.

For many years this helped to reinforce my notion that accountancy was the last job in the world I would like to do. In thinking this I conveniently ignored occupations such as sewage worker, coal miner, SAS man, chauffeur to Mystic Meg, and so on.

Worse still, I held the snotty notion that accountants were not what the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine might call "Really Useful" people. This was a view I fortunately grew out of before I got round to saying it in public.

How can helping someone acquire the skills to become an accountant (as physics certainly does - do I sound like a Latin teacher when I say that?) be useful if accountancy itself is not?

As to the job and those who do it being boring, I have an accountant sister-in-law who is definitely not boring.

Also showing no signs of being boring in the admittedly short time I have known him is the accountant whose services I have recently used. For four years I happily sent off an A4 sheet detailing my TES Scotland earnings for the preceding financial year and duly received a tax bill.

One year I was reduced to a gibbering wreck when my tax office changed and somebody forgot to tell the new office about my correct address. Increasingly urgent demands were sent to my old house whose occupants - and I do not think I do them an injustice - must have binned most of them.

With 24 hours to spare I was able to convince the tax people not to arrest my wages but the damage to my psyche was already done. Thus, when my new-style million-page self-assessment form arrived in the post my reaction was similar to that Winston from 1984 might have had were the Royal Mail to deliver him a parcel of live rats.

The little bowler-hatted cartoon man on the television adverts does not fool me. I know that, as the deadline approaches, he will introduce his large friend Boris and will say, with icy pleasantness, that it would be such a shame if he had to ask Boris to come round and inflict pain - it would be so uncivilised. So be a good chap and get the form in.

I should be able to complete my self-assessment form but I have no confidence in my ability to do so. Sooner or later I come to some question that I am not sure about, and I find all belief in my competence to fill in the rest of the pages evaporating. It becomes one large, hostile document, as incomprehensible as the workshop manual for a Vauxhall Nova would be to an orang-utan.

It is a humbling experience and one I would recommend to all teachers because it is something we subject some of our charges to every time we give out a test or exam. Most of us have been there ourselves, in my case with advanced calculus at university and with music in S2 (I could name all the wee black dots but couldn't hear them in my head).

Meanwhile, "my" accountant has come up with the news that I have not been getting the married man's allowance for three years. Now that's interesting . . .

Gregor Steele asks: Do wine experts employ chartered accountants or is there no accounting for taste?

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