Yesterday I had the pleasant task of having to fire our accountant, who we’ve been with since buying the vineyard in 1999. On the way to his new office just off the Bordeaux ringroad, or rocade, I thought about what I was going to say, remembering from previous situations that the opening line is quite important.
My favourite is ‘I don’t know how we’re going to manage without you, but we’re going to give it a try’, which is quite a satisfying line to deliver but it’s a bit glib and disrespectful to the listener. On a different tack a few years ago, when we had to part company with a vineyard worker called Jacques, I had to resort to the only other area of common ground between us, which was football. ‘Jacky’, I said, ‘I’ve given you the yellow card, and now, with regret (a touch of Sir Alan there), I’m afraid it’s the carte rouge‘. I thought of that conversation when Jacky and I bumped into each other again in the local supermarket last week. We talked about vines, and football.
Of course, our accountant doesn’t actually work for us, he’s an external resource, but after nine years of working together, a delicate touch was required and there was to be no reprieve. As it turned out, my resolve was strengthened on the way to his new pad because the ‘directions’ on his email simply linked to google maps. That’s fine as far as getting to the industrial estate is concerned, but I went around in circles trying to find the small, unmarked office block. Whatever happened to (a) company signs, (b) street numbers or (c) helpful hints like ‘when you get to the big building marked Gem Distribution, we’re next on the right’? (You could say that I’m a bit obsessed about making it simple for visitors to find our place, given that we’ve got a dozen little claret-coloured arrows marked Chateau Bauduc around our local town, Créon).
In the end, because the answerphone at his office had the standard French message of everyone being on holiday for the entire month of August, he had to come out and spot my car after a text to his mobile.
After the usual pleasantries, I found myself setting the scene. ‘This is a difficult meeting, as we have worked together for a long time,’ I said in sombre tones, sticking to the script. ‘Imagine, if you can, that we’ve been married to each other these past nine years’, I ventured, veering off-piste. ‘Well, I’ve been seeing someone else’.
Yes, it’s true, I’ve been seeing another accountant on the side. And now that my new beau and his assistant have proved themselves as being rather more attractive – quicker to respond, more helpful on the day-to-day stuff, less snooty to our assistant Monique and, let’s not forget, quite a lot cheaper – a change is long overdue.
I parried any questions from him winning back my affections quite well – firm but fair – and, in the end, he was gracious in defeat. (I say ‘defeat’, although by now he’s probably skipping merrily off on his annuals at the beach, without caring a figue.) He consoled himself by saying that he was perhaps a bit too intellectual for us, and I thought it better to acquiesce on that one by nodding sagely. I think he meant that he wasn’t hands on enough.
I am told that individuals stay loyal to their banks far more than they probably should, despite poor levels of service, and I imagine small firms do the same with their accountants. There are occasions when we’d like to do the same with the two banks we use, (one of whom, Credit Agricole, is the biggest owner of vineyards in France, no doubt thanks to defaulted loans). Trouble is, we wouldn’t be much of a catch and, as for my punchline, I wouldn’t be able to do much better than the old classic, ‘You leave me no alternative but to take my overdraft elsewhere’.
Let’s hope the new accountant can help us get to a point where we have a choice.