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Life In The Arts Lane - Week 108 - The Fear and Loathing of VAT

15/07/2015 16:26 BST | Updated 15/07/2016 10:59 BST

Sometimes in a world dominated by finances one has to remember that we are in this Art World for the sake of the stuff not what the stuff is worth. There are many ways to earn a living and this is one of the oddest, so we must have loved things before we loved money.

My VAT is due and I have to gather up all my invoices both incoming and outgoing, and every receipt I get; bundle them all together and present them in a coherent manner. Suffice to say - obviously, for anyone who knows me - that task is not undertaken by 'yours truly'. My beloved bookkeeper Alex who is part nanny part bully has put all this data into a "spreadsheet" on "excel". There is no point in me trying to make light of this or tease him about how dull it is. It is vitally important that it is done correctly and I would be well and truly sunk without his kind offices. So for the whole of Monday we toiled through reams of paper; with me filling in where my annotations had been either insufficient or non-existent. Every meal with clients has to be annotated by who was there; every purchase however trivial has to be allocated to its correct home. By teatime I was rocking in my chair and holding my head in my hands. But it was done.

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The Joy of Paperwork. ( image writer's own )

I sat back and looked around the room. Here in my house every shelf is filled, every wall is covered and most of the floor is a labyrinth to navigate. I look at my things and my spirit rises. Of course I do appreciate that everything around me is something that I have not sold and therefore it is a sort of Albatross or just simply a form of money that you cannot spend, but these are all objects bought with enthusiasm and interest and they give me pleasure to hold and consider. My room - my Ali Baba's Cave of curiosity is my antidote to VAT. But unfortunately there is also Corporation tax, rent, restoration charges, storage, photography and carriage and many more encumbrances to a happy life in the art world. Further antidotes are required.

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A part of the antidote, ( image writer's own )

The first half of the cure came with a visit to the restaurant Wright Bros in Bermondsey. I often debate what makes for a good restaurant and my most frequently reached conclusion is that it is the service more than the food. The other night dining at Soho house my guest's food did not arrive and we were left pondering whether to guzzle or wait. The dish came after much chasing and then two waiters came and apologized. They did so just as we were settling in to interesting conversations. Their urge to beg forgiveness, well meaning and kind, though it was, disrupted our meal. It is really what they call a '1st world problem' with irony and a good slice of sarcasm but my enjoyment was diluted. Wright Bros is a small oyster bar that is cramped and hot but somehow within this unpromising interior I have now enjoyed a number of delicious and beautifully cosseted meals. My antidote included oysters big and beefy from Carlingford Lough, a fresh almost crunchy bite from Jersey Royals and the most exquisitely delicate bite - sweet and gentle from Lindisfarne. The ability of a place to make you feel special is quite a triumph, especially in this tight environment. My VAT etc issues drifted back into their subsidiary but forceful place.

Whilst treats help to obscure the harsh realities of business the real answer is business itself. I had an adventure the next day when I drove out of town to a series of storage units. A passionate collector for more than 40 years has been in touch. He is selling two houses and their contents are in these units and he wants to dispose of about half. A long day passes immersed in bronzes, clocks, porcelain and fine furniture both Continental and English. Tables are turned upside down, marbles are felt for imperfections, mirror bevels are admired - a day full of careful examination and appreciation, close to and from a distance. Driving home examining the catalogue of treasures in my mind I could not help but feel elated by the 'things' I had seen and handled. It does not matter if there is no big or small financial quid pro quo; the joy was to be deep deep down into the things.