When I joined my fathers business in order to give him a retirement plan that consisted of me buying his business off him so that he could retire to Benidorm while still bossing me around from 1500 miles away and letting me pay for the phone calls, there were no computers involved.
Try to imagine that, a business today trying to run without even one computer, you’d all just sit around twiddling your thumbs and wondering whether to put the kettle on or not, again.
We could do our work of course for our work was clocks and clocks didn’t have computers in them either, they worked with electricity and gear wheels and things moved and clunked and you could see the bits working and all you had to do was to keep them oiled and charge the customer for doing so.
And the customer got charged by my Fathers Friday morning routine, for every Friday morning he would sit at his big old desk, take the cover off the old typewriter that he’d bought secondhand for a song (probably literally) and wheel in a three part invoice, the invoices that he’d got printed by a friend who worked at Yorkshire Copperworks and who fortuitously was in charge of the printing department there so that he could slip through a few thousand invoices in triplicate for us while no-one was looking.
Have I ever mentioned that my father never paid the going rate or went to a “pukka” business in order to do so ?
So he’d sit there every Friday morning with the diary in front of him and he’d start to type out dozens of invoices for work done or orders taken that week and every few minutes you’d hear him swear and the top drawer of the desk would open and out would come the tippex to correct a typo, yes kiddies, old fashioned typewriters didn’t have a delete button on them.
And eventually, and after around 30 minutes of swearing at the typewriter and opening another bottle of tippex he would finish the first invoice with a flourish and place it in an empty wire basket ready for the post, and thats when one of us would pick it up and tell him that he’d got the date wrong, or something.
Our world wasn’t highly automated, our CRM software was a cheap lined notebook in which we wrote the customer name and telephone number, our accounts software were two large red ledgers, one for sales, one for purchases, every time he typed an invoice it was written into the sales ledger, invoice number, customer name, nett, VAT and gross costs and every time we bought something it went into the purchase ledger in a similar fashion.
There was one slight problem with this system in that my father had a rule that applied not only to his legitimate business but also to the rest of his life, the rule went something like “If its paid in cash its mine and theres no need for the taxman to know anything about that”.
And so it became a common procedure to step out of the door clutching a delivery with the invoice all typed up and everything, with his instructions ringing in your ears to make sure the customer paid “on delivery” and to urge said customer to pay cash rather then a cheque for we all knew that cheques can bounce or be stopped but no-one had yet discovered a way to make cash bounce once you’d handed it over.
And we’d come back to the office at the end of the day with a smile on our face and we’d place on the desk all of the delivery notes all signed up and either a pile of cheques or a pile of cash or both and he’d look at the piles and demand to know which ones paid in cash and which ones paid by cheque whereupon they’d be separated into two piles and the cheque payments would be entered into the big red sales ledger as paid and then written into the bank paying-in book for Friday mornings trip to NatWest, and the cash ?
Well the cash would go into the Naupins Box ready for divvying up between the three of us on a Friday morning for of course the rule “If its cash then its nothing to do with the taxman” applied, don’t look at me like that it was nothing to do with me, he was running the show and I was only an employee, sort of.
There was a problem though for if you’ve been concentrating you’ll recall that the invoice was already entered into the big red sales ledger and so there was already a record of its existence, proper and legal like, how on earth would we ever account for that then ?
Out came the tippex bottle again and the tippex would be applied with gusto to the transaction details leaving just the invoice number, “We’ll use that number for the next invoice” he’d explain as if it were quite normal accounting behavior to have a big red ledger book that had so many tippexed entries in it that the pages were stiff and took some effort to turn.
Bruce the Dwarf, our accountant would comment every year when he came in to check the books that we didn’t seem to be improving in our efforts to keep a ledger without requiring multitudes of corrections and my father would point to me in blame, “He’s bloody rubbish at writing things down Bruce, I think he’s a bit backwards if you ask me, I play bloody hell with him for all the mistakes he makes” and Bruce the Dwarf would look at me in pity, “You should send him on a course” he’d say and my father would gasp out loud for sending someone on a course sounded like it involved spending some of his money, “He’ll never learn how to do accountancy” he’d exclaim, “No” said Bruce the Dwarf, “A course to learn how to write” and they’d both laugh, at me.
Many years later when my father informed me that I was to purchase his business from him for a price that Bruce the Dwarf had decided was sufficient to allow my father to retire to Benidorm and party for the rest of his life (it no more a scientific calculation than, “How much will you need to party every night in Benidorm Frank ?”) my wife declared that if we were to be in charge then there would be no more Naupin Box and no more “if its cash then its mine” rule, from now on everything was to go through the books and tax was to be paid in the proper manner, we were finally to be legitimate in the manner of Michael Corleone taking over his own fathers business…
I still recall the first long distance telephone conversation I had with my father when he had relocated to Spain and we were at the helm of the business, he rang me every Sunday evening from a pay phone box on the esplanade in Benidorm, always the same pay phone box, always 7pm, I still jump from my seat even these 18 years after his death if the phone rings at 7pm on a Sunday night.
He’d put one peseta in the phone box and then quickly shout “Ring me back” before the peseta ran out, I’d have to ring him back using my own house phone and then he’d spend half an hour running up my phone bill telling me of how he and Brian had got hammered every night that week, again, and how many bars they’d managed to sing in that week.
And then he’d ask how much I’d taken in wages that week because he always wanted to know what I was paying myself and what I was spending my money on, and I told him and he said “Well thats not bad, but how much Naupins did you get this week ?” and I told him what our new plan was, no more Naupins, no more “If its cash…etc”, everything was legitimate now and all was good in the world that he’d left behind in England.
There was along pause, so long that I thought he’d fainted, so I hung up and redialed, Brian answered the pay phone, “Your dad just fainted” he said, “here I’ll put him back on”.
“For one minute then I thought you’d said “no more Naupins”” my father explained.
“I did” I replied, “Its how we want to run the business now you’ve gone”
There followed long tirade of what an idiot I was and how I was going to bankrupt myself and ruin his retirement of partying for seven days a week in Benidorm, I tried to ask him how, by increasing the income of the business by the value of the Naupin money we’d manage to bankrupt the business but he was having none of this reasoning, I had ruined the business that he had spent so long in building and life would never be the same, I had brought shame on the family by even thinking that the cash payments should be declared and my grand father and great grandfather before him who had both run their own cash businesses would be spinning in their graves, I came from a long line of cash business men and look at me now, a disgrace.
I’m starting to think, all these years later, that he may have been correct.