Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Turning Point

Mark Twain identified the turning point of his life as his infection with measles at age twelve. That was precocious of him. Mine occurred at age 26 in the US Consulate in London at ten o’clock one morning. I expect most people’s personal turning-points occur more in young adulthood than in childhood.

Fearful of a local measles epidemic, Samuel’s mother confined him to the house pro tem. Impatient with delaying what he reckoned to be the inevitable, he sought out an infected friend and crawled into his bed. When the epidemic had run its course – with the boys luckily still alive – Sam’s furious mother gave up on his schooling and apprenticed him to a printer of books.

Captivated by stories of the Amazon River, he ran away on a Mississippi river-boat headed for the international port of New Orleans. With no money, he stayed on the river, became a pilot, then a writer of occasional stories, then a literary legend. It all began with the measles.

I had never thought to identify my own turning point, until I read about Mark Twain’s the other day. It was always taken for granted in our house that I would travel overseas. There was never a realistic likelihood that I wouldn’t. My boss in Toowoomba had invested a lot of hope that I would abandon the ambition and become a partner in his accountancy firm. At age 22, I was made manager of his branch-office in Brisbane, and he wasn’t happy to lose me. It might have been a turning point if I’d stayed, but I didn’t and it wasn’t.

My adventures overseas were all merely incidents along the path of my manifest destiny. Linda was a large part of that destiny – as it transpired – but meeting her [Zorba the Greek, blogged in January 2012] wasn’t a turning-point either. The day before that meeting, a Yugoslavia peasant woman had caused me to miss a vital signpost [A back road to Bulgaria, March 2012] and end up in Greece by mistake. Missing the signpost was certainly the key turning point in my domestic circumstances, but it didn’t result in a deviation from The Master Plan.

That Plan called for the replenishment of my finances while auditing in the USA, then (if nothing exciting distracted me) heading home to Australia and probably the eventual partnership that awaited me. If something exciting did distract me there, I would go with the flow and wherever the wind blew. I might well have married, and sired American children. I would surely have wangled a transfer to somewhere warm, like Florida. All I needed to do was fill in the US Immigration form in London, and wait my turn.

But, as I explained in Almost American in February 2012, the waiting line in the Consulate was a long one, and to fill in time I went round the corner to the Canadian Consulate, where they interviewed me immediately. I never went back to the other place. Linda met me off the plane in Toronto a month later.

The New York office of Touche Ross & Co would never have sent any of its auditors on secondment to its correspondent office in The Bahamas, a British colony offshore from Florida. Even if it had done, the trust company in Nassau would never have given them access to its clients’ records. Nor would the trust company have hired an American auditor. US auditors were reckoned to be vulnerable to blackmail by the IRS. They still are, actually.

The Nassau trust company introduced us to the world of offshore tax-havens. We earned more money than we knew what to do with. Retirement was the obvious thing to do. And when that didn’t work out, we turned to another tax-haven – Vila in the New Hebrides, later Vanuatu. And when the next retirement didn’t work out, we turned to Cayman. It’s been a good life.

The wages-summary Touche Toronto gave me for the 1966 tax year said: Salary $8000, less Tax $1200 = Net $6800. I remember thinking, $1200! That’s 15%! Outrageous! I’ll never pay Income Tax again, if I can help it! That vow marked a turning point, too, in a way.