It’s 70’s Britain and industry is rapidly reforming to prepare for a new age of opportunity and prosperity. John Smith a one time tenant farmer’s son gives a compelling account of how his family came second in his race to the top of the Price Waterhouse consultancy ladder and then in corporate life. Be prepared for some frank admissions about where life lost out to work in the work/life balance, but more importantly whether it was all worth it and whether there is a life hereafter.
The violets were there. The timing was right although I can’t remember the season exactly but it must have been early spring. Anyway they were spread out beneath the hedge almost hidden by a mass of broad thick leaves and in tight clumps on the ditch side. For some unknown reason it was the only place on the whole farm they could be found and so very tiny. You had to know exactly where to look.
Looking back now I suppose they should not have been picked. Left as one of nature’s treasures from probably centuries past. A place left as rough pasture, not even worth fertilizing for early eating grass since this fringe of the pit-hills was unworkable. So were the pit-hills themselves, or so I was later to be told and would come to appreciate. Of-course not now. This was the most magical adventure land. That little bunch of violets were in a small hand and taken with much pride back to the bottom gate over the stile which was never crossed without an expectant look at the small indentation on the huge stone foot-slab that had once, and only once, held a cuckoo’s egg, to start the long steep climb through the little field. Then passed the gate to the rough pieces field that lay parallel to the fresh-water spring, and on up the field below the stack yard to approach the top knob until the first chimney pot of the farmhouse came into view. Now came the measure of the climb and the gradual reward for the effort as successively more of the chimneys came into view. Now the red tip of the roof, now the blue, now the gable-end of the eastern eave and finally the pigsty’s galvanised roof as simultaneously the farm-yard gate and stackyard were on the last one hundred yards or so of level if undulating grass-field.
We were met at the airport by dynamic Dave looking pretty much the same as when we last met in the PW Birmingham office. He certainly was not all bronzed and sun-tanned as I had expected but he did have huge sunglasses and a wild looking bright flowery shirt. He looked fit and healthy and was obviously pleased to see us. It was over twenty hours since leaving Heathrow, we were jet-lagged and the children were tired and ready for a proper sleep. He whisked us through the hordes of people and outside to his car. It was a Sunday morning and we were here and within this tropical wonderland we were travelling, although unknowingly at the time, along the spine of the Island and called rather splendidly the Bukit Timah Road. My meagre and subsequently acquired knowledge of some hauntingly viscid Malay words teaches me that it means hill of tin derived from the mining of that material turned into the useful and decorative pewter ware.
A word learned much sooner was awas. It meant – there is a huge pothole in the road and this sign is so close to it that you have already fallen in so next time you won’t forget to drive much more slowly will you? The Bukit Timah carriageways north are divided from those going south by what is euphemistically referred to as a drain. In reality it is a wide and deep v-shaped trench that during our early weeks stays just that as a mysteriously extravagant waste of road space. When the rain comes however it is transformed into a massive and rapidly flowing torrent of water and the Straits Times will nonchalantly report that Lee Hong Kim, or some other unfortunate, was “swept away in Bukit Timah last night.”
At any rate it was truly splendid until the drinks finally hit her, him, both. This delightful couple have obviously learned to participate in true Aussie style so it must be the French muscling in that has upset the grape applecart so to speak. A disagreement between man and wife can start quietly and politely enough, but it can develop. Notwithstanding the advanced conversationally diplomatic skills of Bill and to a lesser extent Gordon and me, the storm is now raging and it’s lashing the pair against dangerous group harmony rocks. Remember that Gordon had been out to Aussie to help things along and he in particular is not taking kindly to the little wife “being banished to the shit hole of Sydney.” It’s a big shame and I feel very sorry for Bill buttonholed in this most elegant of locations. He is supposed to be showing off his far-flung trophies. Instead they are being melted down and poured in public over his very bald head. Gordon is the first to leave the room for a pee but we all know he is destined for the upstairs bar and with a look at Bill, I am second. When did Bill and Louis decide to divest of the Australian interests?
By Meadow Don, 17 Jan 2011
This is a truly riveting read which puts the world of accountancy in a new, unfamiliar and actually fascinating spotlight.
Apart from the privileged few, we are all very keen to cover up our backgrounds, and it was therefore refreshing to be able to read about someone who is prepared to reveal his “roots”. The author John Smith says that he wrote the book for his own benefit as a kind of catharsis, but it still pleases and entertains.
The book shows how it is possible, by dint of hard work and resolution, to lift oneself out of less privileged circumstances and to make rapid progress up the career ladder by constant application. It rattles along at page-turning speed as the author’s varied career gathers momentum until by the end, I sank back exhausted but exhilarated and grateful for the nudges it had given me of my own experiences. For anyone with aspirations to better themselves, John Smith’s story is a great example and I thoroughly recommend it.
By Expat 86, 28 July 2011
John Smith manages to take the usually dry world of accounting and finance and turn it into a personal adventure. From his early days growing up in the challenging world of family farming to board rooms around the world, John adds color and depth that makes you feel that you are a part of the adventure sharing in his experiences. If you have ever looked at someone high up in the business world and wonder how they got that power and position this book exposes the mystery. This book helps you understand that those people are simply like you and me but have a knack for looking at challenges differently, turning them into opportunities and importantly, profit. The book is honestly written, exposing personal feelings about life and relationships, it also pulls no punches on the cut-throat nature of business. Whether you are interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the board room or just want a personal success story, this is a read for you.
Barn Door To Balance Sheet – John G Smith
Non Fiction: Paperback / Digital Download
Publisher: lulu.com (25 Nov. 2010)
Language English – Pages 364