Keep it in the family

The morning of Monday 17 August saw me sitting next to my computer waiting
for the email from the ACCA and the results of my wife’s Corporate Law exam.

I am married to a trainee accountant, who is the eldest child of a chartered
accountant, who is – himself – the eldest child of…a chartered accountant!

My wife’s father, John, has spent most of his career taking care of his
clients and their accounts, in the family business. Just like his father had
before him.

It is also true to say that he has a tea belly, in the same way that other
chaps have beer bellies. This, though, is the occupational hazard in

John has built up a thriving accountancy business. He has brought in two
partners, with whom he looks after the affairs of the elderly. That is, not to
say, the romantic relationships between them, instead their financial affairs.

Being a child of the sixties, I had heard all of the jokes about accountants
and accountancy. For example, what does an accountant use for birth control? His

This certainly did not apply to John, either figuratively or literally, he
has four daughters.

I first met Janet, my wife and John’s eldest daughter, at university. A
friendship turned into a relationship and then we started courting! We had an
accountant’s courtship, that is to say, very slow and very methodical.

After a few months of this courtship malarkey, we had to go on our Christmas
hols. The thought of three weeks without each other was tough. However, always
the resourceful one, Janet connived to get her parents to invite me over for
Christmas. I, of course, accepted the invitation.

On Christmas Eve I travelled down to Janet’s home. On arrival, John shook my
hand and, knowing I was a geordie, started off by talking about Newcastle United
and the recent match that they’d played against his team, West Brom.

After a while, I informed John that I did not follow football. Of course, I
could have gone further and added that I neither knew or cared about the golden
game, but I didn’t.

On Christmas day, the entire clan gathered in the house, for the festivities.
When we all sat down to eat, sometime around one, I quizzed John about his

Suddenly, the scales fell from his eyes and we began to connect. Not only was
this his favourite topic, but it was one which he very rarely got to talk about
to, well not to anyone outside of work.

During that meal, he became so relaxed that he regaled me with an accountancy
joke of his own: “Did you know that there are three types of accountant?”

When I replied that I did not, he continued: “Those who can count and those
who can’t.”
He laughed and laughed, but nobody else did. He continued: What is the
difference between tax avoidance & tax evasion?”

“Prison!” Came back the answer.

Amazingly it was with jokes like that, my relationship with the father-in-law
was formed.

After university Janet was prudently married to me and began working for the
civil service. Her job was in finance and she was very successful at it. But she
wasn’t happy, for she had heard the call of the audit. But, not just any old
audit, it was the call of the public service internal audit.

So, five years ago, she left the safety of central civil service and entered
the wilds of local government.

The departmental motto, where she works, is a fool and his money are soon

It is fair to say that Janet loves her job. Just before Janet started working
at the council, I plucked up the courage to ask her what an auditor did, for I
had absolutely no idea whatsoever.

Janet sat me down and explained it to me. Accountants keep track of money,
whereas auditors check the work of those accountants. Then she added, for no
reason whatsoever; an auditor is the person who comes on to the battlefield,
after the battle is over, especially to bayonet the wounded.

My wife enjoys her job, as you can tell. However, there is one period, every
year, when her demeanour changes. It takes place in the summer, and is the
period when the Audit Commission come in to inspect the council’s accounts.

Janet’s colleagues start talking about the F word just after Christmas and
gradually build up their own internal terror to “final” accounts as the time for
it approaches.
There is one question I still don’t know the answer to: if auditors check the
work of accountants, who checks the work of the auditors?

Paul Mitchell is not an accountant

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