An Accountant Calls

7 Apr
Two Empty Bowls Weigh the Same

Two Empty Bowls Weigh the Same

I’m just having my breakfast when the phone rings. My accountant. He’s a strange man. Even though he has possibly the dullest job in the world he’s always in a good mood. My theory is he thinks he’s one of the Monty Pythons.

“Are you having your breakfast?” he says.

“Actually yes, I am…”

“Aha. Porridge?”

“Porridge, I always have porridge. As you know.”

“Yes, that’s why I’m calling. I wanted to tell you, you’re not using vintage oats. ”

“What’s that?”

“A rare strain from Mongolia, subject to tax breaks. Lower VAT. I’ve calculated…” (rustling of paper) “…you could save 9 euro a week on office porridge expenses.”

With his usual chuckle, he also tells me the government is now charging tax on toenail clippings. The rationale is that if you produce a lot of toenail clippings it probably means you’re consuming large amounts of calcium and minerals and nutrients indicative of you being a middle class person with enough money to pay a bit more tax. But, and it’s a big but, if you keep tabs on your porridge consumption and if you buy in that rare oat strain from Mongolia, you’ll get to defray the porridge costs against toenail clippings tax.

“Have you done what I said? Have you bought yourself a set of electronic scales?”


“I hope you kept the receipt! Before the … ” (Rustling of papers) “… 5th April you have to prove you’ve bought the electronic scales or you get hit with retroactive toenail tax. Basically they estimate a weekly production of 400 grams and backdate it to your eighteenth birthday.”

“Well I’ve bought the bloody thing now and last week I produced 3 grams.”

“That’s the good news,” he says. “3 grams isn’t much, you should eat more cheese, although in fact stay off cheese, they just increased tax on hard English cheeses and a little more on soft whites, that’s just to get at the French. The only tax-efficient cheese you can eat now is cottage cheese, I think some civil servant fucked up. They’ve still got it categorised under “artisan economic activity”, but they’ll put it right next year. I guess they got thrown by the “cottage” reference, some heads must have rolled. Cottage cheese is massive this year, people are going nuts eating it.”

“You know what, I think I do have some cottage cheese in the fridge. If it’s gone mouldy does it still count?”

“In this case yes, because it’s cottage cheese so there is no tax, you get it? But any other mouldy food you want to revoke tax on has to be independently verified by a nutritionist and brought back to the point-of-sale and approved by the branch manager, who has to be registered in a national fingerprinting database.”

“Sounds like bad news.”

“The bad news is that the authorities now require prepaid tax contributions ten years in advance.”

“What if I get run over by a bus or catch something lethal before the ten years is up.”

“Then you have to pay your funeral tax, also settlement tax on any money you have left, to compensate the government for loss of revenue from your untimely death. You need an insurance policy to cover it, are you insured for death tax? You have a family, you need to think about these things or they’ll end up on the street! For Christ’s sake! Have some responsibility!”

“At least if I’m dead I won’t have to pay toenail clippings tax.”

“There’s a loophole there. For them. They hired the chief physician of Westminster Hospital to advise the Inland Revenue. Apparently your toenails keep growing for about another three or four days after you die. Nationally, it adds up to 600 million a year.  Enough for a squadron of fighter jets. Or a nuclear-powered submarine. We have to compete with China, they’re establishing an aggressive new naval role in the South China Sea and we have to compete with them. Or they’ll get all the cobalt deposits in the north Pacific.”

“I didn’t get that last bit about cobalt.”

“Of course not, that’s because you’re not properly informed. Most of your taxes are being spent on cobalt prospecting.”

“Well I’d rather the Chinese picked up some of the taxes. Why don’t we just tax all their useless plastic junk. How about Tedious & Mindless Consumption Tax? Or Useless-Rubbish-That-Breaks-in-Three-Minutes Tax? Or we could just bite the bullet and tax Philip Green. Greedy-Lard-Bucket Tax. Or Starbucks. Overpriced-Milk-Soup Tax.”

“Be reasonable. Those are big fish, if we try to tax them they’ll take their business elsewhere and we’ll all starve. Look, I’m not trying to stress you, you just need to be aware of yourself at all times. If you buy an ice cream, keep the receipt. If you have lunch with a friend make sure you get to keep the receipt, never leave a restaurant without a receipt and make it clear to your friends that if they want to keep the receipt then you won’t meet them. Okay. Be very clear about that? If they’re real friends they’ll understand, they’ll give you some leeway on it, they’ll get the fact that you’re a desperate man.”

“Okay. Am I?”

“They’ll understand that the life of a modern freelancer is really not a life at all.”

“That’s true…”

“They’ll feel sorry for you. Because, listen to me carefully now, you have to think clearly and take effective action. Your every move must be planned from now on or you’ll go under. Oh and one last thing, if you have lots of old rubbish in the house, throw it in the garden? Yes, you heard me right. Weigh it first, you have to use approved government scales, then throw it out. Leave it in the garden, it has to be visible. They’re using satellite-delivered heat-sensors to verify your garbage estimates… ”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t get so worked up. It’s just a trivial detail but I can save you about three hundred a year if you throw your garbage into the garden. Because under current tax laws I can get you a forestry grant. Or if you’re feeling generous you could donate it to help plant trees in the Sahara.”

“I think I’ll finish my porridge now.”

“Enjoy it, my friend.”

“I’ll try, but it isn’t easy.”

“By the way, I didn’t tell you.”


“You’re paying Super-VAT on this call. Twenty quid flat fee.”


“Because it’s Sunday morning. And the financial district is closed.”

“You know what, you called me so I guess you’re paying it.”

“I just added it to your bill.”

After we’ve hung up I finish my cold porridge and have a slice of tax-efficient Peruvian quinoa toast. And then I put on my Chinese bamboo-woven shoes and go for a free walk in a landscape that looks more or less like a dump. A tax-efficient dump.

2 Responses to “An Accountant Calls”

  1. Marcus Speh (Birkenkrahe) April 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    The pain comes through. As soon as I’m finished laughing I will take a look at my tax records…

    • Henning Koch April 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

      That’s what I was supposed to be doing this morning until I decided I’d rather vent my spleen a bit.

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