From the Office of The Chief Executive, Hamiltons plc
As you know, Mrs Jameson is on sick leave for at least the next eight weeks following her surgery, and it’s the end of the VAT quarter this month. Can you do me a favour and make sure the VAT returns get done and sent off?
Subject: VAT returns
Can you please send all the data for the VAT returns, and the appropriate paperwork, to my office?
Hans van den Broek
Subject: Re: VAT returns
Are you sure you want all this? Finance would normally handle it, even with Mrs Jameson away, rather than bothering you.
Subject: Re: VAT returns
Mr Hamilton has asked me to take charge of the VAT return personally. I’m sure you need not regard this as any sort of comment on Finance’s abilities but you are very short staffed. I’d appreciate it if those books could be brought round immediately, thank you.
Subject: they’re all going mad
How are you doing now – is your mobility improving? The boys are going to their father for the weekend, so I’d love to come on Sunday if it isn’t going to be too much for you. See you about 4-ish. I’ll be able to tell you about the latest excitement here – we’ve been ordered to turn over this quarter’s VAT return to Hansie van den Broek in Sales, God knows why. Jeremy said that Iron Man must have gone senile but I gave him a clip round the ear and told him not to express that opinion anywhere it might get back, because I had to discuss the financial proposals for the factory extension with the Old Man a fortnight back, and anyone less senile I never met. So either Hansie van den Broek is a secret financial whizz kid or there’s something else going on.
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Subject: Re: they’re all going mad
Glad you can make it on Sunday. I shall be sitting back like a lady of leisure and letting Charles do all the work, so don’t worry. I certainly haven’t been; you know how het up I used to be about getting everything just so at work, and I’ve hardly thought about the place for weeks.
Odd that business about van den Broek, though. He never struck me as a whizz kid of any sort, I must say. I’m sure he will soon realise that it is best handled by you and bring the paperwork back over – maybe Jim just wants to familiarise him with what what’s involved. Still, just remember that when he comes crawling back to you for help you must make him suffer first. We ninja accountants have a reputation to keep up
[text message from 0774 939 2727] hi Tim hw r u? r u njoying yr course? do u know if balances for the department cost centres are gross of tax? H
[text message from 0774 721 0839] hi gorgeous, course ok, missing u. U know I don’t do finance, I hv enuf trouble filling in my cheque bk. Ask Sally or Jeremy at wrk. why? luv ya, Tim
[text message from 0774 721 2727] oh, just curious. see you soon my liefie. H
From the Director of Sales, Hamiltons plc
The VAT returns went off safely on time
HM Customs and Excise, VAT Office
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to advise you that I intend to investigate your VAT return for the quarter ending 31st September.
Please have the following paperwork available for inspection:
- copies of VAT returns for the last 2 years
- bookkeeping records
- bank statements
- sales and purchase invoices
- delivery notes
- goods received forms
- proof of export (where applicable)
- any relevant correspondence
A M Chesterton
VAT Inspectorate, HM Customs and Exercise
Subject: Urgent – re VAT
Mr van den Broek
Can you please come and see Finance immediately regarding a problem with the VAT.
Subject: from the CE
He wants to know what the hell (his words) is going on. He’s just seen a copy of the letter from the VAT man.
Subject: Re: from the CE
Well he should know. He was the one asked us to turn over the VAT return to Hans van den Broek.
I’m just trying to work out what he’s done wrong, but I’ve never seen such a tangle in my life, and he’s not very clear when I ask him, just goes red and mumbles a lot.
The CE would appreciate seeing both of you in his office in 15 minutes, please, to sort this VAT problem out.
Subject: not all mad, only some
Well, Lol, I don’t know about ninja accountants but the Old Man can certainly make people suffer. We’ve been informed by the VAT people that they want to investigate the last return – you remember I told you van den Broek insisted on doing it himself, and it seems he made a right hash of it.
Anyway, we both got summoned to the dragon’s lair today, and I was all ready to have a go, say it was hardly our fault if people insisted on taking stuff away from us and it got messed up. Instead he apologised profusely for the trouble this had caused us, said it had never been his intention to take it away from us because he knew that I was more than competent to do it and that you had the place so well organised I could do it with no difficulty even in your absence.
Then it got even better because he tore such a strip off van den Broek it’s a wonder he was left standing. Seems that all he was asked to do was see that it got done – i.e. ask us, and sign off the cheque. I felt quite sorry for the man in the end, he looked like a whipped dog – and to do him credit he did apologise to me before he apologised to Jim. Still, how ridiculous! Why did he plough on when he realised he didn’t know what he was doing, instead of coming to me and asking for help? Isn’t that just like a man?
Jim has authorised me to requisition any help I need from Sales in getting things ready for the VAT man – it’s Alan Chesterton, who did our last scheduled inspection, and is quite decent if a bit dry. But it’s going to play hob with this month’s returns, I haven’t got time to do both.
I must apologise again for my error with the VAT. It was foolish of me not to seek further clarification of your intentions, but I thought at the time that perhaps I was being set a test of my initiative. If so, it is clear that I have failed dramatically, and at no little cost to the company.
Under the circumstances, I feel that I must tender my resignation from Hamiltons. It has been a great privilege to work here, and to be accepted so kindly as a member of your family. I will remember Hamiltons and its staff with great affection, and wish you success in finding a more suitable successor.
J M C van den Broek
. . .thank you for phoning. I’m afraid there’s no-one here at the moment to take your call, but if you’d like to leave a message, please speak at the sound of the tone. BEEEEEP.
“Hans? Hansie? Pick up the damned phone, man. I know you’re there. What the hell do you mean by this resigning caper? Do you think I’ m going to let you run out like that? Do you think Tim will? Or Mary? Get your arse round here now, or I’ll damn well come and drag you. No, I’ll send de Vries round to drag you. . .”
You mean the idiot actually went ahead and did it without coming back to you for help? If he has messed up the figures in my system, God help him when I get back.
I hope you are enjoying your summer school. I hate all this time you are spending away from me, but I know it will be worth it when you get your MBA.
I have some things to tell you, and I think you will not be pleased with me. I have made some mistakes, here, and now I am paying for them – God ja, am I paying for them!
When you were away last month Jim asked me, so I thought, to do the VAT returns for the quarter. It seems that my English is not so good as I thought, for what he really wanted was for me to ensure that Finance got them off on time.
You were not there to ask, and I thought that perhaps it was a test of my ability, so I tried my best to do it and sent it off. Only now it seems that my best wasn’t good enough, because the VAT inspector is coming to check on us. Jim called me and that lady from Finance, not Laura, her deputy, into his office, where they both made it clear to me how angry they were, and how much it might cost the company, not only in fines but in future hassle.
My liefie, what could I say? I had messed it up, and that was it. Of course I apologised, but what good are words?
When I got home I thought about it and it seemed to me that the only proper thing for me to do was resign and leave the company. Now, please don’t swear and start dialling, read to the end first. I wrote a resignation letter and put it in the post-tray for Jim, and then I cleared my desk and went home.
Now, it has been made clear to me that the first mistake was not in misunderstanding what Jim wanted, but in not checking with someone – him, ideally, or Shona, or Sally from Finance. However, it has also been made clear to me with some force that the much bigger mistake was that resignation letter. Because Jim was completely woedend. I thought he was angry before, in his office, but this time he was really furious.
He rang me up, and told me to come over to his house straight away, otherwise he would come and get me himself, or even send Pieter round to fetch me. I thought this was – what is the English word? Bravado (I just looked it up in my Woordeboek). So I stayed where I was, slumped on the sofa, wondering what I would do now for a job, since it seemed unlikely Jim would give me a reference, and wondering also if you would throw me out.
About twenty minutes later I heard what sounded like someone trying to break the front door down. I ran and opened it, and somebody tackled me and knocked me to the floor, and nearly out. It was Jim (whose tackling skills he has obviously kept in good practice – it takes someone big and skilful to bring me down).
When I had got my breath back he had one hand in my hair, and seemed intent on dragging me like a caveman drags his wife into the living room, so it was less painful to go along with it. He threw me onto the sofa with just a barked ‘Sit!’ and then proceeded to tell me off.
Well, you know, my liefie, I have been told off by experts all my life. I am used to being made to feel small. Only even Pieter de Vries could learn a trick or two from your uncle, I think. Every time I took a breath or opened my mouth to protest he just Looked at me and I subsided. I was stupid, I was stubborn, I was throwing away all my achievements (which were not negligible), but much more than that, I was spitting in the face of all those who loved me, and had worked so hard to help me. How it was time I stopped running away every time something went wrong. And so, and so. Only remembering my father, and how he would also make me feel so small and worthless, kept me from bawling like a child. I could not disagree with it, Timmy, it was all true.
‘So,’ he said at last, ‘am I getting through that damned thick Afrikaner skull of yours, boy?’
‘Ja, sir,’ I said. ‘You are right, I am stupid. But that just means I am more right to leave, so you can put someone in my post who is not stupid.’
And he said, very quietly: ‘Hansie, my boy, Mary and I love you like a son, but you would try the patience of a saint. Which I am not.’ I think I must have shown my surprise, because he laughed. ‘Why does that surprise you? Even if we didn’t like you for your own qualities, we’d love you for Tim’s sake. But as it happens, there’s a lot to admire in Hans van den Broek, if only you can get past that pig-headed stubbornness of his.’ And that, that praise, I was not ready for, and it nearly did make me cry and I had to bite my lip.
‘You have treated me like family,’ I wailed, ‘and look how I have repaid you.’ Then he shook his head, and said: ‘I wish you were family, then maybe I could give you the hiding you deserve to bring you to your senses.’ And that was when I made – well, I cannot call it a mistake, but my backside tells me that it is. Because I said to him:
‘If that will set the account between us straight, a little, then I beg you to consider me family. Treat me as you would Tim.’
And he frowned a little, then said: ‘And if I do, we’ll hear no more nonsense about resigning?’
‘If you think you can work with me, under your discipline, then no, I will not resign. I will try to put things right.’
Then he looked at me slightly oddly and added: ‘This will be punishment, ye ken. No – ah – hanky-panky.’ And I do not know which one of us went the redder, but I remember I gave a tiny shake of my head, though I could not look him in the eye, or speak.
‘Well then,’ he said after a moment. ‘Go and get the cane.’ My stomach was turning over with nerves, Timmy, though it is not as if I have not been caned many times before. When I returned with the rattan, he swished it through the air, and saw me wince in anticipation.
‘Ah, you’ve felt this before a few times, I make no doubt. Well, lad, let’s get it over with. Move that desk out a little from the wall – yes, that’s it. Now drop your trousers and your pants, and bend over it. Hold on to the far side, and don’t get up until I tell you, understand?’
‘Yes, sir.’ I hurried to obey him. I thought (though it was a bit late) that I would not be wise to annoy him any further while he was holding that implement in his hand. He lifted up the tail of my shirt. Definitely not hanky-panky – I was terrified, not turned on.
‘A dozen,’ he said. I remembered you saying that he never exceeds a dozen. I thought I could take that. Then he brought the cane down and I started revising my opinion. The man has an arm of iron, and an eye like a hawk. When we got to seven he had to remind me to keep still unless I wanted the strokes not to count. I thought I was being sliced open with a sjambok, it hurt so much. At 9 and 10 I could not help the grunts of pain from becoming more like little whimpers, and on the last one, which was delivered with millimetre precision right at the junction of my thighs, I yelled, pure and simple.
I lay there, breathing hard as if I had run a race, and my whole universe seemed to have narrowed to a few inches of throbbing pain. After a moment, though, other sensations started to return.
‘Get up, laddie,’ he said. I rose, and offered him my hand, though to be honest I felt more like clapping it to my bum and hopping around the room.
‘Thank you, sir,’ I said. He smiled, and shook hands, then handed me a letter – my letter. ‘Burn that, Hansie,’ he said. ‘And don’t let me ever see anything like it again if you want to sit down anytime soon.’
‘No sir.’ I rearranged my clothing to something more decent. ‘What now?’
‘Now, that’s to say tomorrow, we get the paperwork ready for the VAT man on Monday. I’ve told Sally she can have young Damian from your office to help with the fetching and carrying, so you’ll have to do your own filing for a day or two. Don’t look so worried, lad, we’ll get through it. Sally had a quick check, and more by luck than good judgement some of your mistakes balanced one another out. I don’t think we’ll be too badly out, so we should be able to rectify it without penalty.’
I can’t tell you, my liefie, how relieved those words made me feel. I hope they are right. Because if they aren’t I think that my backside will be paying the penalty too, and right now I cannot sit anywhere. Timmy, I have furrows in my arse, like a corrugated roof.
Oh and one other thing. You know that we were going to go away for the weekend after you come back. I am very sorry, my heart, but we will have to postpone. I have had to promise to take Sally’s boys to the rugby that Saturday, so that she can do some overtime, because otherwise she will not get the monthly figures done in time for the bank. I could see Jim’s brow clouding over at the thought, and right then I would have promised anything, anything, to keep it clear. So I am deeply sorry, and I will make it up to you.
Only please don’t tell Jim I let you down, huh?
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