May You Live in Interesting Times

I first heard this saying many years ago. It came back to me as I sat down in front of my keyboard today. I think it was everything that is going on now. We have wars, famine, rockets heading for the moon again, huge technological changes, state funerals and all the rest. Anyway, these days if you have a question, you have Google so I thought that I would just “google” it and find out a bit more.

The phrase seems to have been peddled by British Diplomats who had served in China. There is a suggestion that it was an ancient Chinese curse, but its real source seems to be a bit ambiguous. It was supposedly something to be said to someone you did not like, hoping that they lived in interesting times, meaning periods of upheaval, war, famine etc.

But we now take the phrase to mean something quite different and I associate it with interesting technological and other human achievement.

Many years ago, I remember speaking to someone who remembered Zeppelins bombing London during the First World War. They lived to see the introduction of radio, television, computers, and men standing on the moon. They used to see Concorde flying over their house and indeed travelled themselves around Europe and to Canada and elsewhere. They survived two world wars. You would say that they lived through interesting (tumultuous) times.

The pace of technological advance has changed all our lives. When I trained as an accountant, I recall a computer being set up in the office so that us trainees could get some basic training and familiarisation. There was nobody to train us and there was never any time to spend on the computer anyway. There were also about 50 trainees and only one computer.

I still have a Sinclair ZX81 which has an expansion box attached increasing the memory by 16K (that is not a misprint!) My camera has an SD card of 128GB. Yes, I have a digital camera, although I still have my Zenith 35mm camera, and although both are SLR cameras, that is about as far as the similarities go. We have an electric car, through the company of course because of the tax advantages, although I drive a 2L diesel because of the miles that I cover every week and the range that I need although I expect to go electric in the next couple of years.

When I trained as an accountant, we did everything with pencil and paper. The largest set of accounts that I prepared covered 14 pages of A3 paper. These days I can barely write legibly because I write so rarely. Virtually everything I do is on a keyboard. Our working papers are all on Excel and all our records are kept digitally. We do not have any paper files. Incoming post is scanned, and all outgoing post is generated and stored on our computer network. All our emails are automatically captured and stored in client folders.

Mobile phones are such an intrinsic part of our lives. I cannot imagine now being without one. From simple things like trying to find Helen when we are out shopping to monitoring emails, telling the time, and of course it is also my alarm clock. I could even monitor my emails while we were away in New York for a few days recently. As a result, like so many other people now, we no longer have a house phone.

On each of my desks I now have microphones for Zoom and Teams calls. My headphones are connected by Bluetooth to my laptop and my mobile phone. My mobile phone is even paired with my laptop. My mobile phone is also connected by Bluetooth to my car so that I can make and receive calls and play music off my phone while driving.

I have worked on laptops for the last 20 years. I now have a powerful 17” laptop. I don’t even know the full spec but it never slows and the last time that I checked, I was barely using much of the memory despite all the stuff I accumulate, most of which I have forgotten is there. Apparently, the storage capacity is around 2TB of which I have used about 20% in the last 2 years. I still remember installing Windows 95 on an old laptop and having to clean off programs to make room for it. We have come a long way since then.

So, I think I have lived in interesting times.

And now HMRC are going to make it even more interesting with the onward march of MTD to Income Tax and Corporation Tax. Then we have Quarterly reporting and compulsory digital record keeping for all but the smallest businesses. And what about the new tax year basis for assessing profits. We are in for a few interesting, or should I say, challenging years.

Running alongside all of that is the current economic crisis. We are going to see many businesses buckle and fall under the pressure of administration imposed by HMRC and cash flow pressures brought about by the economy.

When I was reading the background to the phrase “May you live in interesting times” one of the commentators from the early part of the 20th century pointed to turmoil and challenge but also to opportunities. I think there will be opportunities but not for the faint hearted. There will be opportunities for the bold who are comfortable taking risks.

Not sure where that puts us, given that we completed the purchase of another practice just a few months ago, increasing our turnover and staff numbers by around 40%. A big swallow was how someone described what we did back in 2011 when at that time we doubled our turnover overnight by acquisition. Let’s hope we don’t get indigestion.

But, as they say, fortune favours the bold.

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Alan E Long

The Long Partnership

07770 738770



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