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Thursday 27 October 2022


New guitar strings fitted today on the Epiphone dreadnought. The last ones had been on since 2018 and were getting a bit dull and smelly (grease from your hands). It’s a long job taking about an hour and a half, and I always dislike doing it, but it’s worth it in the end.

I don’t usually throw the old ones away in case I break one and need a spare – something that has only ever happened once or twice in my life. I looked in my old electric guitar case: there could be every string I’ve had in fifty years. Have put the metal ones for recycling. 

There are other things in the guitar case too, but I’ll save them for later.

Friday 21 October 2022

Premium Bonds

In August, 1957, my grandfather bought me and my brother one of the first £1 Premium Bonds each. They had been introduced just under a year earlier on the 1st November, 1956, to encourage people to save. He bought us each another £1 bond in 1959.

Rather than paying interest, bonds were entered in a monthly prize draw, drawn by ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment), a Colossus computer. They retained their original value and could be cashed in at any time.

In those days, the maximum you could invest was £500 and the top prize was £1,000, as compared to £50,000 and £1 million today. Also, today, you cannot invest less than £25 at a time.

I didn’t cash mine in. In fact, I later bought more, and once won £500. I still have the original two, along with the others, and my Premium Bond record shows a total investment ending in 02.  The original bonds are now numbered 000AB01---- and 000AB76----.  

The records are all electronic now, but here are my two original paper certificates. 

A dutiful grandfather thinking of his grandchildren’s financial future? These two particular bonds have never won a thing.

Saturday 15 October 2022

More Thoughts On Clients

I was encouraged by the interesting comments on my last post about the businesses I came across while working in accountancy in the nineteen-seventies, and the further thoughts they sparked off. The following captured my ambiguous feelings about it at the time:

Brown paper parcels containing vouchers,
Cash books and day books, bank statements in pouches,
Ledgers and ledgers, both sales and bought,
Ticking up postings requires little thought.

One big difference between then and now was the lack of computerisation. Nearly all records were handwritten. Some were in beautiful leather-bound ledgers, and there was a sense of pride and skill in being able to keep them neat and tidy in fountain pen, without mistakes and corrections.

Others might be in scruffy self-duplicating docket books. It was interesting to follow them around factories, matching them to drums of dye colour, or to trace them from lengths of cloth to the despatch of finished items of clothing. This was done to ensure the accounting systems were working correctly and detect possible fraud (which was rarely found).

But often the books of smaller clients would be brought into our own offices where you might be stuck for several weeks bored to tears, hence my parody of ‘Favourite Things’. 

I made distractions for myself. When we took on a model agency as a new client I was asked to produce a set of example book keeping entries for the owner to follow so that she knew how to fill them in. To the annoyance of my boss I used the names of famous models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, causing him to exclaim: “For goodness’ sake, Tasker, we’re a firm of Chartered Accountants, not Monty Python’s Flying Circus!” Too late. They were already inked into the first page of the cash book.

We also prepared sets of annual accounts for clients, filed them with the Inspector of Taxes on their behalf and dealt with their tax affairs. As a result I have never been afraid of dealing with outfits like HMRC or the DSS.

You could also get stuck of larger clients checking off lists against each other. It wasn’t called “double entry” book-keeping for nothing.  At one cloth warehouse it took several weeks to work through the sales ledgers. Statistical sampling and tests of significance would not have been considered adequate then. We checked nearly everything.

Another big difference was the sheer variety of types of business. We made so many more of our own things before globalisation. Now, Central Leeds seems to be predominantly financial rather than physical, and nearly everything takes place at desks in offices.

Computers sucked the life blood out of everything.

Wednesday 12 October 2022


Accountancy: it certainly taught me how the world works. I dropped out before finishing training, but was in long enough to see clients and businesses of every type and size. Most are long gone. Going to Leeds now, the place is unrecognisable. 

This is the cover of a Leeds Building Society passbook showing the Society’s headquarters at the corner of Albion Street and The Headrow around 1970. The Society was then called The Leeds and Holbeck, but changed name around 1994.

On the upper floors you can just make out the offices of a solicitor, Scott, Turnbull and Kendall, also long gone. I used to sit in one of those windows carrying out their audit, looking across the Headrow to Vallances records and electrical shop, watching people walk past, wondering where they were all going and what they were thinking. It was one of the most pleasant and interesting audits we did. I remember being amused by the ‘deed poll’ name changes: Cedric Snodgrass for one. Why ever did he change his name?

Vallances’ buildings are now a leisure and retail complex with rather too many wine bars, coffee shops and restaurants, like most city centres. 

We audited a city centre pharmacist, Mr. Castelow of 159 Woodhouse Lane. Even then he was a throwback to Victorian times. His shop is now replicated (unfaithfully in my memory) as an exhibition in a Hull streetlife museum.

There were travel agents, hairdressers, bookshops, garages, a coal-merchant, charities, an insurance broker, builders, a plumbers’ merchant, a wet-fish supplier and a firm that owned several smaller cinemas and dance halls in Leeds. There was a man who bought second hand metal-working machines from defunct British factories and renovated them for export to India and China (I still know all about pillar drills and horizontal borers). We even audited a model agency. Every one has a story.

There was a firm that made broadsheet-sized photographic printing plates by coating aluminium with light-sensitive chemicals. The aluminium came in heavy rolls, possibly a metre thick and a metre high, from suppliers such as Alcan. They had to be lifted around the factory on overhead beams. I remember going in with another trainee one Saturday morning to check that the stock taking had been carried out accurately, and the other trainee spent most of the time playing with the lifting gear, moving rolls around to try to confuse me. When the audit senior arrived to see how we were getting on the other trainee took our worksheets and said that “he” had finished and all seemed in order. Bastard.  

Not all our clients were in Leeds. There was a haulage company from Selby. I was delighted recently to spot one of their trucks, a family firm still trading after all these years.

There was a firm that made television adverts in an old cinema in Bradford, mainly the voice-over-stills that appeared at the end of regional ad-breaks or in local cinemas. One was for a car-wash, another for a toupee-maker. I think they almost offered me a job when I suggested they made an ad in which a man wearing a wig drives through a car-wash in an open-topped car and emerges looking spick and span. But they did make more ambitious films too, including one for lager on location in Switzerland. It was an auditors’ (and taxman’s) nightmare that the crew and actors were paid in cash out of a suitcase.

Amongst the larger businesses were the cloth warehouses and clothing manufacturers. One was not especially pleased when I discovered they had moved stock across the financial year-end in order to understate profits.

Then there were the public companies quoted on the stock exchange. One was a collection of dyers, spinners, weavers and rug-makers in factories around Leeds and Bradford. I often came away from the dyers with a free rug that had been returned because of a fault with the colours. They brightened up the shared house I lived in.

You visited these businesses, talked to the bosses and the people who worked there, checked over the books and produced sets of accounts. You knew how wealthy people were, and commercially sensitive things you had to keep quiet about no matter how wrong you thought they were, such as a new wages assistant being paid more than the senior who was training her.

Oh yes! It certainly taught you how the world works.

Saturday 1 October 2022

School Chemistry

New month old post. First posted 14th November 2014

There was once a time when things at school looked promising. I was doing well in most subjects, especially science. My diary remembers I was top in biology, had got 20/20 in a chemistry test, and had enjoyed a ‘fab’ physics experiment: the water equivalent of a copper calorimeter. Yet I only scraped through ‘O’ levels and messed up ‘A’ levels completely. What went wrong? 

I was spellbound by the science labs the moment I went to grammar school. They had a permanent smell of pungent chemicals, coal gas, rubber tubing and wood polish that hinted at mysterious secret knowledge. What went on at those dark ancient benches with sinks, gas taps and glass-stoppered bottles etched with intriguing names: tincture of iodine, nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lime water? Could they make explosives and powerful poisons? Could they turn base metals into gold? Did they have the philosopher’s stone with the secret of eternal life? Perhaps if you paid attention, you might have these things too.

In a room tiered like the Royal Institution, you looked down from beautiful oak benches upon Dr. Page as he heated potassium chlorate and manganese dioxide to make oxygen. It bubbled up through water into an upturned jar. He became a wizard, an alchemist, showing how it reacts with other substances. “Magnesium burns with a bright white light” he said, conjuring a dazzling ball of light too bright and too white to look at.

In biology, my dysfunctional memory absorbed the names of anatomical structures and physiological processes: xylem, islets of Langerhans, osmosis, mitochondria, mitosis. In physics, I was captivated by the sheer ingenuity of the procedures. In mathematics, the interactions of shapes and numbers seemed as exquisite as any art form.

And what a cheat! We listened to a weekly series of science programmes on the wireless. I might have been the only person in the class with a tape recorder. I showed my mother how to record the programmes at home and, after listening a second time, handed in outstanding essays.

But things began to go downhill. I have excuses, such as forgetting to revise for the summer science exam. “Position in class 2nd, position in exam 25th, a disappointing exam result” said my report. It put me in the second stream for science, where people messed about and I made the mistake of wanting to be liked. Things got harder too. Chemistry progressed from observation to experiments, quantitative measurement and atomic models. And we moved to new labs with benches in rows rather than islands, where teachers couldn’t see what was going on at the back.

The once admired Dr. Page, little and thin with an odd toothy mouth, small bony face and permanent worried frown, was not well equipped to deal with continuous low level disruption. An orchestra of clicks and pings from cupboard door catches and drawer label holders would start up every time he turned to write on the blackboard, only to be met by silent, innocent faces when he angrily spun back.

Occasionally he would catch someone still smirking, attributing blame by shouting their name: “Bullard!”, “Gelder!”, “Dunham!”. Geoffrey Bullard perfected the ability to click a cupboard door with his foot while the rest of him remained motionless, his face expressionless. He could continue this covert clicking after Dr. Page had spun, causing someone else to laugh and get the blame.  

Harvey Gelder started a league table of called out names. Geoffrey Bullard went straight to the top when he caused uproar by catching a wasp and dropping it into a bottle of sodium hydroxide. It didn’t half fly around fast inside the bottle.

It wasn’t long before everyone at the back had points except for Maurice Jupp. He remained bottom of the league until almost the end of term. The day arrived when, under conditions of intolerable harassment, Jupp was spotted not sitting quietly and had his name called out. We all stood up cheering and applauding. We had to stay late that day.

Jupp’s downfall was brought about by water. The bench water taps could not have been better designed for mischief. They were of the typical laboratory downspout design, and could be turned on just enough to drip so that a well-timed finger could flick drops of water at the head of the person sitting in front. Or, the top of a fountain pen, the kind with a small hole in the side for equalising air pressure, could be pushed on to a tap to squirt a powerful jet of water at someone sitting yards away. The rubber teat from a teat-pipette could do the same job if you made a tiny hole in it, except the spray was so fine that the recipient might not notice until the back of his jacket was soaked through. And a teat without a pin hole pushed on to a dripping tap would slowly expand like a balloon until it became a water bomb primed to explode. There was not a lot you could do about it. Pulling off the teat was suicidal. The best thing was simply to turn off the tap, hoping you had correctly remembered which way was off, and trust that the thing remained stable.

Hardly anyone from the back of that class passed their ‘O’ level chemistry.