*Everyone* thinks that audit is about examining accounts. It isn’t if you can avoid it! I have been fortunate in my career to audit some very interesting organisations. Not least HM Customs and Excise. Import Duties was always a good one to do – ticking and bashing an import entry for two Robert Mapplethorpes and an Andy Warhol was perhaps more meaningful than the actual works would have been!
Trips round dockyards, in high visibility jackets and hard hats. In dockyards lorries are twice the size and drive at twice the speed they do on the roads. There was a high wind at Grimsby and the oil flew off the cranes, ruining Ally’s suit. It landed in my hair, too, but my manager forbade me to claim a new hair-do from the Dock Board! I once sat in Elvis Presley’s car, which was waiting to be re-exported.
There’s no Pret A Manger in dockyards; only Seamen’s Missions. Cheese on a white roll or ham on a white roll. Fruit? Don’t be silly, dear, this is the Seamen’s Mission.
Then there was the “Queens Warehouse”. To this day I can smell the sickly sweet odour of cheap wine and lager mingling in the air with cannabis. Most of the stuff was rubbish – pornography, lizard skin handbags etc.
In one location, I randomly selected a consignment of heroin to verify for existence. I held in my arms 70 kg, or £1 million worth.
Another time, I randomly selected a caiman – similar to an alligator. Many South Asian seamen carry stuffed caimans as talismans, but being Endangered Species, they are confiscated. I could not touch this thing – its eyes and teeth were staring at me, giving me the creeps, sending a shiver down my spine, utterly illogically phobic. I knew the thing was dead, but it just petrified me and I nearly let out a girly scream.
Another sample item was a beautifully crafted gun. Every time the Customs officer made a move, he checked with me and the other officer that we were comfortable. Other guns included one that Linda Chalker surrendered at RAF Lyneham when she was Overseas Development Secretary, and the trigger for the infamous Iraqi Supergun.
I also had a guided tour round HM Customs Cutter Sentinel as she was in dry dock being refurbished. If I had been one grade more senior I would have been entitled to fly my flag whilst on board. My manager regretted not accompanying me!