October 27, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’m making a sniffing noise through my nose. The sort of noise a rabbit might make if it was congested. My intention is to show my approval of the joke Rothermere has just cracked. Lord Rothermere of Shitshow to give him his full title. Try as I might this is as best as I can do to signify my amusement. To be honest I don’t even know if it was a joke. It might just have been a snidey aside. Because most of his humour, like his personality, is rooted in a sarcastic sneering at the expense of others.
Why am I making this sniffing rabbit noise? Because Lord Shitshow has just closed a 60 pound deal with us. He’s investing it– a gift as he likes to call it.
Good grief, what a torrid time in the world this is. People want me to discuss finance but I can only look into the dark, twisting recesses of my mind and think– plague. I am plagued. I am shot. I am destroyed, I wish I was elsewhere. I wish I was dead. I truly wish I was dead rather than sitting here in front of this 75 pound dinner, with a chateaux de gateaux beside me, sniffing like a rabbit at jokes that suck and destroy the marrow out from my bones.
Rothermere has been telling us about his part in getting Gordon Brown out of power. He tells us that he hated the way Brown inhaled every time he’d finish a sentence, as though he had something or another. I don’t know. It’s rude. It’s like the bully at school who used to go ZAP! You’re dead– and then punch you in the back of the head.
Snakes crawl from under the tablecloth. The waiter comes over then immediately turns away and runs off. This table is giving off an awful aura. I wonder if, when I am dead, I will get onto the lowest rung of hell? Will I be one of those nightmarish souls that’s chained to a big pulley and have to go around in circles in the eternal mud of hellfire? Am I already doing that? Has my dignity faded? What worth is this dinner that would once have slipped down my gullet like oysters? It now feels like an eel, suffocating my windpipe. I feel falling. I feel ill.
I feel under the table, and there it is. The gun, strapped to the underside, just as I has asked. Now is the time. Without further ado, I rip it out and thrust it forwards shakily. I have shot a gun before– with Ross Kemp on the firing range. But I didn’t know whether it was real before. This one feels real. It feels heavy. This is what guns are for. I put the gun next to my temple. Lord Rothermere looks at me with a bemused expression. It’s hardly even shock. Certainly not disapproval. I mouth “I’ll do it.” He ducks under the table.
The next minute my finger twitches on the trigger. Click. Nothing happens. I try again. Click. Click. Click. Click. I look at the gun. But it’s not a gun at all. It’s a banana. It is the eternal hellfire of damnation mocking me. I try to fire the banana pulp, but it’s too late. The waiters have run over to me and pinned me down. I am screaming for them to let me go. “I just want to kill myself,” I scream. There is pandemonium. There are three of them. One each sitting on my arms, the other on my face. Choking me. “I just want to kill myself,” I whisper. I try. I tried. Then I wake up.
September 5, 2013 § 2 Comments
It is the annual
awards ceremony hosted by TraderKnight, a brokerage. It’s usually an unsightly affair, grown men falling down stairs, hiding under tables, pissing under curtains just generally making awful spectacles out of themselves.
Though it is a great feeling when you win an award. Simply because you beat everyone else. Most of us hate each other and there is no better feeling than knowing you have destroyed a rival. Some years have ended in tears and frustration. Others in tears and laughter. Either way it’s gonna end in tears.
This year, however, faces are mostly just glum. I am here with “Rusty” Graham Henderson, ex-head of equity derivatives (who used to be called “Golden”), Marvin Fish “Cakes”, who was in charge of indexes and Tommy “Guns” Mehta, who works with exotics.
It’s a sparse showing, unsurprising given the death of our business and I’m a little peturbed when I hear the loud voice of Mike.
“It’s a shit show,” he says, wandering over. “Look at them.”
He points over to the KBC and Rabo tables.
“I wouldn’t have even bothered squashing those turds under my shoes in the old days.”
“Different world now isn’t it,” says Tommy Mehta who is gnawing at a chicken drumstick. “It used to be us. The Masters of the Universe. Now look at us, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is Tommy my old gung-a-din ho,” rejoinders Mike slapping him on the back. “It certainly is.”
Indeed it is a power reversal. The tail now wags the dog. I look about to see who I recognise. Of course there are some familiar faces. That’s the Goldman Sachs table with all the kosher dishes lying on it covered in layers of cellophane wrapping. Schlomo Wiessel, wearing a small black hat, is desperately jabbing his fork into one, trying to get into his dinner. Peter Spearman has an unlit cigar in his mouth and is muttering away like Groucho Marx.
That’s Morgan fatter now than he once was but still as smarmy. A few faces who drift through my consciousness like the ghosts of Christmas’s past— Robinson from TTT, Kestle from HHH, Rodberry from the KKK. The rest are just young and faceless. New boys, new entrants from new banks but equally as glum. It’s a pretty desperate atmosphere.
Ross Kemp, who’s compering the evening, walks on stage. His tiny eyes hardly open in the glare of the backlight.
“Owrite,” he says in an estuary voice. “Now the award for the best quantitative arbitrage manager goes to….”
Nobody can tell me this is the life. It was only five years ago that I was in Barcelona. The champagne flowed. The ice sparkled. Girls came flying down the big slides with a whee! They had swans– and I don’t mean black ones either. Deals were still being cut. The cake was everywhere and the cake-eaters were chomping. I’m almost dewey-eyed but then I remember Fassbender. Wasn’t that where he went missing? That was when all this started.
There is a smattering of applause as the award winner walks onto the stage. Mike sinks down to his haunches then jumps up shouting “I’m glad!”
The winner looks at us. Mike sits back down and adjusts his tie. There are more awards. Best quantitative manager. Best at long/short. Best at global macro. Best bent over. Best from behind. Best by date. It all seems so trivial. But then something exciting happens. Because John Charles Cole, also called ‘The General’, walks onto the stage. He is a living legend. He brokered the first hundred million pound deal here, as long ago as 1966.
He was a fierce adversary who’d stab you in the balls as soon as look at you. Even in his old age he still maintains that fine upstanding poise, the straight back and blue eyes twinkling like two wild emeralds in their sockets.
A hush goes up then down….
“Good evening gentlemen….” he begins, adjusting his cravat and straightening out his lapels, “for you, we, us, are all gentlemen. The last bastion of gentlemen of the old school.”
Susan Cortex and Julie Brossard, two of the more successful female bankers, look upset.
“Things have not been easy these years.”
“What was once a respected, honourable profession has been overtaken by thieves and mercenaries. Venal folk who sought to grasp after one thing and one thing alone: the aggrandizement of their own names. I am afraid that us bankers are now public enemy number one. We walk to the sound of the tolling bell.”
“It’s a war,” shouts someone from the back.
“Indeed it is. An apt metaphor for the situation. But perhaps history offers us some lessons. Perhaps we should look back to our forebears for guidance. Because there was another time that the bell tolled. That deathly ring. Some years before you all were born. In 1914 to be precise.
“That was a time of war, and one much worse than what we face now. It was a time when men died. Brave men who gave up their lives for their country, down with the mud and rats.”
Ross Kemp mutters the words “first world war” into his microphone.
“Hunkered in their bunkers were these great men. The most valiant of their generation. But nobody ever gave up the fight then. And nor should we now. For derided though we are, pushed around and insulted we may be, but we must not give up. We must be strong.”
“Hear, hear, hear, hear!”
“My father, Captain Sir Charles Cole, was a young man, barely out of Oxford, when he got sent to the front line at Ypres. There with 4000 other men, battered, bruised, bloodied but unbowed. Nightly he would lead the sorties into no-man’s land to bring back information on German lines. It was a harrowing task walking through that place in the pitch black, bits of cut up bodies, mud and excrement flying all around.”
“But he was a brave man my father. One evening, on such a sortie, one of his unit stepped on a mine. Thought it was a molehill. The bloody fool was blown sky high, his legs on one side of the line, arms on the other. But worse still, his impetuous action meant my father and his unit were discovered. Out there in no-man’s land, barely ten feet from the Hun trenches.
A gunfight ensued. After an hour they knew it was up. Inspite of all this my father refused to give in and bumrushed them. But there were too many. They took his unit apart.
“Realising he was a gentleman, however, they kept my father and put him into a prisoner of war camp in Berlin.”
“He stayed there for six months. The conditions were awful. Really terrible. Every few weeks they’d bring more and more men in until the camp was barely human. Soldiers fitted together two to a bunk living among the rats and lice. Worst of all was the degrading treatment of the officers. Dealt with like they were every day chattel. It got to a head that winter when they started moving the privates in and that was when my father finally decided that enough was enough. He would escape.”
“But of course when you’re 110 miles inside the line, stuck in Berlin just as the winter is drawing in, that isn’t an easy task. So what to do?
“Well you see my father was a man of initiative. Slowly he devised a plan. It unfolded itself like a map in his mind– a very insane and crazy map– but it was a way out. Each week the German’s would have food rations brought in and placed into the ice freezer adjoining the officer’s mess. That freezer was only opened once a week and had a small ventricle leading to the outside world which was also only opened once a week.
It was the only way of keeping rations along the front lines in those days.
Now, in my father’s mind arose an idea. If he could get into that ice freezer he could escape through it to the other side. Of course he would have to sit in there for five days until the ventricle was opened. It would require a superhuman feat of endurance. But it was just possible. It could be done. My father vetted the idea with his fellows but no one was brave enough to join him.
“It’s madness sheer madness,” they said. “Don’t be so bloody stupid. You know it’s not possible.”
“No,” he replied. “What’s not possible is that I don’t try.”
A few bellowed and tried to get him to change his mind but my father was utterly tenacious.
‘Courage my friends. Courage!’ those were his parting words. The last they saw was him crawling into the bottom of the freezer with a bottle of whisky in his hand.
Now, unfortunately, the freezing winter meant that that particular week the food rations were late getting into camp. Hence the Germans didn’t open the freezer for another five days. The whole party could only hope that he had somehow managed to exit through the ventricle when it was opened for a split second on the Saturday. But, of course, there was no way of finding out.
“So what happened?” shouts one broker from the back a hugely disliked character called Michael Chang. “How did he get out in the end?”
Everyone turns to him with disdain for asking such a stupid question. But the General raises his hand. There is silence.
“On the fourteenth day the rations car finally arrived. So the Germans began to unload the food. Eventually they opened the ice freezer. They found him sitting there with his buttocks frozen to the counter. The bottle of whisky was lying empty on one side and several rabbit carcasses everywhere.”
There’s silence in the audience.
“You mean he didn’t escape?”
“No. You see my father had decided to sit down and wait for the ventricle to open. But he fell asleep. When he woke he found himself glued solid to the ice bench. Try as he might he couldn’t move from it. ”
“They caught him?”
“Yes. It took them three hours to rip him out off there. Unfortunately he lost both his buttocks. He was utterly destroyed. Was never the same after that. ”
There is silence in the room as the old man gulps and looks away into the distance.
I wonder what this all means. And immediately, a cry rises from one of the corners.
“That is true grit!”
“To even attempt the thing!”
“The sheer nerve!”
And they start a chant:
“General, General, General!”
It is like a slow-motion battle cry. Two hundred or so bankers who were downtrodden only a moment ago have risen on their feet and are clapping and whooping.
“General General General.”
“He was still alive!”
“Lost both his arse-cheeks.”
There is something like hope infusing the audience. The man’s speech has roused the adrenaline in all of us. The Goldman table rises to its feet and plates of unopened kosher food go flying to the floor. like so many weird frisbees. Rusty Henderson pumps his fists to the sky. Mike is jumping on his toes. It is like an electric current surging through the room.
Now I see it. In the face of adversity this man had proven the sheer will to do the impossible. If he could do it so can we all. We are gentlemen bankers now and always will be. We are the Masters of the Universe. We will not be cowed. Over and above the downtrodden masses we shall stand!
August 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m in a strip club. A big, round bottom covered in a wisp of a thong is gyrating six inches away from my face as the music blares out in the background. I am wearing a Russian hat and have traces of cocaine granules in my mouth.
A tear rolls down my eye.
It all started with a programme I was watching last night.
It had been another long day. I phoned for an oriental from the local Nepalese and was slouched infront of the television watching Ross Kemp on the Taliban when my hand suddenly slipped and I found myself watching a pornographic channel.
Sex. Sex. Sex. It is everywhere. It’s all I hear about these days. From magazines, to internet to books.
For bankers, sex ended with the squeezing of bonuses and the culling of brokers in 2008. We were all emasculated after the big crash. Lehman’s had a lot more to answer for than broken dreams and stained underwear. Yes, sex ended somewhere in 2008, between the Lehman crash and Madoffgate. I think I just said that.
I am feeling terribly nostalgic watching this pornographic material when suddenly, fatefully, the phone rings.
“Mike here. Get dressed we’re going out.”
Mike, my friend, ex-JPM, hedge funder, is trouble. But my nostalgic mood gets the better of me and I say yes. He comes around with several bottles of Krug and a scoop of cocaine. I never do the latter but drink a few glasses of the first.
“We’re in fashion bro, let’s go.”
I’ve no idea what he means but follow. Half an hour later we’re inside the Kenzo show at the V&A. Mike’s got us two tickets in the front row. I am sitting next to a B-list singer on my right, called Rita Orla and a minor model called Cara Delvinge. The two of them look like they’ve got out of the funny farm and hoot and snort throughout the catwalk. It’s very distracting and at one point I turn at them and stare. That’s when they get on my back and start calling me granddad. Cara is wearing panda ears and sunglasses. Rita is wearing a baseball hat with two straws coming out of it into her mouth and a spinning bowtie.
They ask me what I do. I cough the word “banker.” One of them says “wanker?” and they both explode into deliriums of laughter.
“Want me to slit the blonde one’s throat,” whispers Mike from my left. “I’ll do it for you. I’ll do it for you.”
Mike’s favourite film is American Psycho and he often thinks he is Pat Bateman. I dissuade him and focus on the runway which is now showing the new Kenzo collection.
The fashion show is a gruesome parody of itself. Models strut down the runway wearing motorbike helmets studded with silver gems. A man dressed as a motorbike patters onto the stage on his hands and knees. He has big silver handlebars jutting out of his head, as a model goes and sits on his face and kicks him in the torso. It’s sick and degrading.
Another man walks out– he is not so much covered in studs as turned into a porcupine. A woman flays him with a cat o nine tails and he screams out in pain.
Cara whoops and swirls her fist in the air. Orla spins her bowtie round really fast and goes up and down for no apparent reason.
I don’t like it. It has changed so much since the old days. That was when you could get a glimpse of flesh. A twitch of thigh. A whisper of nipple. Now……all you get is a woman clad head to toe in what looks like a potting shed all over her body.
Suddenly there is a hush. The music stops and a white mist is released onto the stage. Out of this mist walks a man. He is dressed in a tweed suit. He has a beady expression on his face, a pedantically thin moustache and sunken cheekbones. Obviously a male model.
The audience suddenly starts to scream:
I wonder why they’re shouting the name of the Indian peace protestor when I realise that this is his name.
He is a very famous model. Cara and Ora seem to orgasm straight away. A woman behind us unleashes a jet of mating spray all over the stage. Various others are gyrating around and crying. Gandhi is obviously a popular man. He walks to the end of the runway does a kind of wolf snarl at the audience then walks off. It is pandemonium. I feel a surge of oestrogen break like a tsunami against my back. Holy shit this is scary. I wonder if this is how Phil Collins feels walking on stage. I feel like a turtle, a turtle a tur…when, “C’mon,” shouts Mike, “time to escape.”
We run to the backstage bar like Batman and Robin. It’s already filling up with models and fashionistas but fortunately the atmosphere here is much more soothing than where we have just come from. I slump into a chair while Mike spots a couple of models in a corner and call them over. They look so vacant I wonder if they’ve been lobotomised. Mike asks them if they would like champagne.
The one, a black-haired girl with levitating eyes, like an elevator stuck between floors, replies that she doesn’t drink. The other says she only drinks organic.
Mike says, “whatever floats your boat baby,” and gets them a pair of herb smoothies.
I ask them their names, but they don’t seem to have any conversation. After a monumental age I understand one is called Vanda the other Tash. I’ve already learnt my lesson about saying I’m a banker so when they ask me what I do I tell them I am in real estate.
The first looks at the other who looks confused. Then a man dressed in a purple tracksuit and a multicoloured peak hat jogs over. At first I think he is a court jester but they inform me that he is Van Arschloch
Van Arschloch asks us what we do. I tell him that I’ve just moved into hedge funds. Mike slaps me on the back and says I am a kidder—I am a fireman.
“Ooh,” says Van Arscholch and sidles over, “You can cool me down with your big nozzle anytime.”
I am feeling a little uncomfortable but Mike whispers me to play along. We have to win the two girls over. He is now talking intimately with the black-haired one who is playing with her hair and almost smiling.
“So what does it feel like carrying that big hose around with you all day mister?” says Van Arschloch.
He smirks at me and nudges the girl, making me feel uncomfortable.
“Awww look he’s blushing!” says Van Arschloch.
“I don’t carry a hose,” I say forcefully. “I’m usually driving.”
“Oooh driving a big red lorry. I bet that feels good? Will you give me a ride babyyy?”
“No I won’t.”
Mike goes off with the black-haired girl to the toilets. I’m left with Vanda– who I learn is actually called Alice– and Van Helsing. Stumped for conversation I ask him about his hat.
“The hat? This “hat” my dear is a Gaultier Devil’s Dismay. You want to try it on? Here baby. Go for your life.”
I look at Vanda who jerks her head for me to do it. I take it unhappily. It is a big and furry with two spikes sticking out on either side. Like a bastardized Cossacks helmet.
“Oh he looks so cute,” says Van Arschloch, twitching with delight, “he’s giving me a hard on.”
I immediately snatch it off my head and give it back to him.
“Nooo baby, you keep it! It looks soooo good on you. You give me a hard on wearing that. Doesn’t he give you a hard on Vand?”
“Yes he gives me a harden,” she replies.
I’m recoiling in horror when the room goes quiet.
I’m wondering what is happening now when I spot a pair of bushy eyebrows enter the bar. It’s Cara. Behind her the blonde bimbette Orla. They’re followed by Gandhi.
All eyes immediately turn to the three. Cara swings her arm in the air and begins whooping inanely while Rita keeps moving up and down. The three of them walk to the bar where we are. Cara and Orla are all over Gandhi.
They come up to where I am standing. Then Cara goes:
“Oi banker!” She turns to me and does an imitation of a penguin. “Wotcha drinkin?”
“She said get her a drink,” screeches Ora.
I order two herb and spinach smoothies to get rid of them. They pull insulting faces at me.
“Hey nice hat,” says Cara sarcastically.
“And worse suit,” says Ora, bitchily.
The two of them start hooting like a pair of geese.
“Friend of yours?” says Gandhi.
“He’s just a fuckin banker.”
“Fuck you Mr wankaaa!”
They walk off clutching their drinks, sniggering and snorting and assume a position in the centre of the room where everyone can see them.
Mike has emerged from the toilet and seen all this and looks at me with disapproval. Then he says,
“Fuck those little skanks. Watch this.”
He calls the waitress over and orders the biggest bottle of champagne they have—“nothing smaller than a Jeroboam,” he says. He takes the bottle and shakes it up violently infront of the two models and Van Aarschloch who look on in curiosity. Then, putting it under his arm, he heaves off the cork which shoots like a bullet straight at Gandhi. It is a direct hit and bounces off Gandhi’s forehead who drops to the floor in a pile:
“I’ve been hit, I’ve been hit,” he screams his voice suddenly turning estuary. “Aah me face.”
Mike runs directly at them and shakes and sprays foam all over Orla and Cara, soaking them head to foot in Krug screaming like a maniac all the while.
“Haaaa!” he cries, “haaaaa you fucking skanks!”
Now he’s waving the empty bottle around like a club threatening everyone in the bar. A woman faints in the corner. The two models are terrified. Van Arschloch raises an eyebrow gleefully.
“Oooh I love his macho.”
I grab Mike’s arm because he looks like he might do something REALLY bad when a couple of giant-size bouncers come over and start manhandling us.
Mike shouts “Don’t you know who I am. I’m a fucking investment banker! I’ll buy you. I’ll buy you then sell you. I’ll arbitrage the shit out of you all.”
He is laughing manically as we’re escorted out of the place.
Outside, Mike runs into the street and stops traffic.
He gets a taxi to pull over. In the back seat he buries his head in his inside pocket and emerges with white powder all over his nose.
“About time you suggested a reunion. Where did you get that hat?”
I read somewhere that silence can sometimes be the best thing in the world.
the same night in fact, the two of us, Mike and I, are in a cab heading out of town. I am nervous. Mike looks very excited. He punches up some information on his phone.
“Oi cabbie, this one.”
He hands the phone to the driver. The cabbie protests but Mike waves a wad of twenty pound notes through the divider and the guy nods his head.
“Very good my man, there’s a bonus in this for you.”
We drive for what seems like an interminable time, out through the big tunnel, past Greenwich into a part of the world I have never seen. London is far behind, just a twinkling of lights.
I don’t recognise anything. Finally we pull up in a car park outside a disused factory. The place is located in the middle of nowhere. There are fields as far as the eye can see. An immeasurable quantum of bushes.
But there is something else out there. I l can sense it in the dark. Faint lights fan out in the foliage. It is like a display of hummingbirds. Or is it fireflies?
The black cab waits patiently in this seedy environment. It looks pristine, like a squat butler that has intruded into a dungeon party. I am worried. I ask Mike where we are but he just puts his finger to his lips and sniggers excitedly. Where has he brought us? Why am I here? I undo my top button and sweep my handkerchief across my forehead. Already I am feeling faint.
A few minutes pass when a car pulls into the car park and stops a four feet away from us. I peer into it through the bad light. The windows are all fogged up but I can see the blurred outlines of a man and woman moving around inside. They look to be wearing in masks. It only takes a few minutes before the woman takes off all her clothes and begins to gyrate on top of the guy.
Suddenly, outside, all mayhem breaks loose. Men jump out of the bushes covered in dark paint and masks and stand around the car holding torches. I realise they are wearing no trousers. There are honking noises and jostling. It’s bedlam. The couple inside are having sex!
“What is it?”
“That my friend is modern day sex,” replies Mike sadly.
I close my eyes and think of Ross Kemp. What would he do at a time like this? I met him once. On a firing range. Close up he looks even more stocky than TV. But also a little frail. Like time has withered away all hope. When he started firing he missed every shot. I wondered what brought somebody like that, somebody so ineffectual, to that place. I still don’t have the answer.
A man goes up behind the car and starts to rock it. The bloke inside gets irate and stops what he is doing and goes out to confront the man outside. This man protests he was only having a joke and runs away
“Well you’re not seeing any more,” says the man.
“There’s always one that has to spoil it for everyone,” says the dishevelled tart inside, her legs still spread-eagled on the dashboard. She’s wearing a Venetian mask with a really long nose that looks like a penis.
“It is an activity called dogging,” says Mike, with a depressed look. “That is where couples drive around in their cars and find other people to watch them having sex. Complete strangers watching other complete strangers making whoopee in the back of their cars. Look at that woman. Sad, pathetic, desperate excuse of a human, hawking herself to the citizens of outer London. I feel sick.”
Mike takes out his mobile phone and dials 999 and then tells the cabbie to drive off.
“Let’s go somewhere fun,” he says, before reaching into his pocket and doing another hit of cocaine.
It is Friday evening. Somehow I have been persuaded to go out with Mike, my friend from JPM. Now we have met up with a couple of guys, brokers, called Tony Chung and Scott Brians. They are two of the most depraved people I know. As most brokers are.
They’ve taken us to a strip club where I have been forced to drink a bottle of vodka. Tony Chung is lighting his farts while getting a strip. Scott Brian is trying to light the stripper’s farts. They are whooping and chanting in unison. Mike meanwhile is trying to get one of the lapdancers to come home with him.
Suddenly Tony Chung jumps up and shouts—“I know, let’s go to Caesars!”
I ask him what Caesars is.
“Only the best fucking brothel in the city.”
Scott sniggers and nods his head. Mike, who is now lying with his head in the stripper’s lap looking totally comatose, jerks up at the sound of the word brothel.
Tony Chung and Scott Brian remove a load of notes from their pockets and fling them into the air with a wild whoop and we leave the place. We head off down to Whitechapel, into a greying sky, where a building stands secretly surrounded by all the foliage of the skyscrapers.
Chung ushers us in.
“C’mon boys! Time to get laid.”
We enter where a small unkempt looking man is counting tickets inside a booth.
“What do you want?”
“Sex please,” says Scott.
“Is he sober?”
He points to Mike who has one arm over my shoulder and one arm over Tony’s, his head hanging limply off its stalk.
“Yes, he is disabled. Now let us in.”
“Well he’d better not be sick.”
The man gives us four tickets.
“You’ll have to go to the changing room and put those towels on.
We enter the changing rooms and strip down to our towels. Now another man walks in and asks us to go to the sauna. Scott and Tony tell us to go on ahead. I lead Mike into the sauna. The steam is so thick I can hardly see my hand infront of my face It’s a real pea-souper. There are some kind of moaning sounds coming from the corners of this room. I sit down on one of the pinewood benches and inhale the eucalyptus. It feels fresh in my nose. Almost alpine. I’m thinking back to my childhood and have an image of me skiing in Val d’Isere, dressed in an all in one Nevica waterproof suit, when I feel a hand on my back. It starts to rub me up and down. Coupled with the images of the mountains, the freshness of the pines, the dazzling white flashes of snow as I zip down the slope, this feels quite pleasurable. Then then hand moves to my arm and begins to squeeze my biceps as if testing my strength. I tense my arm to enunciate the full force of my muscles which I worked on only this morning.
I am lying back and enjoying the sensation with a warm glow. And now a face comes up and flickers against my earhole. I can feel a hot womanly breath on my ear. And yet…yet, something doesn’t feel right. The face feels womanly alright but at the same time odd. The Alpine spell is broken because beside me there is a kerfuffle going on. Mike has gotten up and is mumbling something.
“Mike,” I yell. “Mike.”
He is still mumbling. Then I hear a whisper in my ear.
“I. Van Arschloch.”
The spell is shattered. I pick up my towel and try and run out as fast as I can but slip on something small and slippery, and hit my head on the floor. Everything goes dark.
August 2, 2013 § 3 Comments
I am in Jermyn Street shopping.
I flit from shop to shop just like a butterfly. Past Hawkes and Boodle. Church’s. Turnbull & Water.
Finally I am outside the Dunhill boutique looking through the window wondering whether I should buy a new shirt (Mike, my broker, ex-friend at JPM, power reversal, wore a light herringbone weave the other day. Mike always used to be a barometer of fashion but, since his demotion, his mind has gone to seed. Still it looked quite fetching and I start picturing myself in it) when I hear a loud shout
I turn to see a figure haring down the street. He is quite unmistakeable— Nicholas “Handsome” Dunthorpe! I try and cower behind my umbrella even though it isn’t raining anymore but he comes right up to me.
“As I live and breathe, Henry (that is my school name) Green. How on earth are you?”
“Dunthorpe. You here?”
“I’m back. Was getting a bit bored of New York, so I got a transfer back into town. Just come to pick up a suit for the wedding.”
“You don’t mean you’re finally getting hitched?”
“Ha ha no not me. It’s my little sister’s wedding. I mean it’s unlikely to be me.”
I always suspected he might be gay. This is the man who is the most successful human being I know. At Harrow he won everything. Cleverest man in Pop. Best at the hundred yard dash. Fastest swimmer. Head of school. Charming. Generous to a fault.
In every respect a God. He has golden tousled locks, a square jaw and a grin that could fell a mounted steed from 100 yards. More Atlas than human. And his mind. He has a brain that can flit across every subject from literature to the liturgy. He comes from old wealth but never let that stop him from making his own pile.
At first he spent some time in father’s bank, but got bored and decided to open up his own currency shop. Within three years he had made enough to buy the bank. He got bored again and moved to New York where, I heard, he was the most eligible bachelor in the Hamptons. An heiress—one of the Rothschilds— threatened to shoot herself if he didn’t marry her. Women fall in love with him. Babies slaver over him. Dogs roll over and weep– that kind of thing. But every man has his fatal flaw. And it seems that….but I am brought out of my reverie
“God no. I just mean I’m starting a new chapter. No time for weddings and that kind of thing!”
“I don’t know. They said you’d kind of gone AWOL out there. But then the markets are a funny place. Always follow the money.”
“Ha, that is exactly what I’m not doing. Money no longer means anything to me.”
“Well I’ve gone back to school.”
“School? You mean Harrow?”
“No I mean I’ve become a teacher.”
I am goggle-eyed with amazement. I look him up and down and, for the first time, realise he is wearing quite unusual clothes. The crumpled canvas shirt. The linen jacket. The taffeta trousers. But most of all his shoes. Brown, fluffy, laceless.
I look at him quizzically.
“Yep, I decided to give away all my money and try doing something worthwhile. And do you know— it feels more liberating than I could have ever imagined.”
“You’ve become a teacher at Harrow?”
“No not Harrow. I teach at an inner-city comprehensive. In the Isle-of-Dogs.”
I’ve never heard of this place. I don’t know whether to believe him.
“Yes I teach maths to 12 to 15 year olds. They call me Sir. Can you believe it? I live in a flat in Putney and cycle to work every morning. And every day is worth it just to see the smile on their faces. To know that I’ve helped one of them learn something that they might one day use. In real life. You know the other day a kid, little Bangladeshi boy, his name was Altaf, came up to me and said “Sir you really inspire me to become mathematician.” I swear to you that was the happiest I have felt in nearly ten years. Anyway Henry, you’ll have to come and give a talk, it’d be a pleasure. Must dash.”
He turns away and runs off into the distance, a dim silhouette fading into the night. Like a bat.
I look at the Dunhill suit in the window. Somehow it’s lost its sheen.
August 1, 2013 § 5 Comments
…years ago someone asked me to do a piece of writing, describing a typical day at the bank so they could show aspiring graduates what life in investment banking was like. I was happy to accept and reproduce it here.
A Day in the Life of: A Banker
I wake and start the day with a rectal probe and a testicular feel. Many men are afraid or ashamed to carry this out. But I always say if it prevents an early death then why not? They usually result in nothing, though I have had to call my doctor on two occasions in the past. Both times I thought I was going to die but, luckily, it was just a build up of testicular fluid.
Following this I have a cup of coffee—strong, black, with a dash of cayenne pepper to perk up the senses—and a stick of yerba mata (a Peruvian erb that is supposed to be beneficial and bring long life and vigour to the man).
I am feeling mildly enervated by the time I am picked up by limousine at 7am and driven to the office. I use the extra hour I have for a gym training session with my personal trainer. We usually engage some light boxercise. People don’t know, but a 5 minute spar is the equivalent of running 17 miles in 28 degrees and by the end of two of these I am sweating like a racehorse. I have been practising boxercise for the past two years and love the sport. My trainer—Bors— tells me I have the left-hook of a woodcutter which pleases me no end. After boxercise I do some plyometrics and cool down in the immersion tank where I meditate and dream of being back in the womb or think of religion.
Then I shit, shower and shave. I walk up to the trading floor in time for the morning bell. The place is usually a hubbub of activity, a hive of noise. On my left sits Robinson, the bonds trader. He is a bit of a prat, as one might expect with bonds traders, but I tolerate him. On the right is the new intern Sophie. I ask Sophie to fetch me a drink and some French toast.
Now I get down to business sifting through the unopened mail on my desk, invitations to various brokers parties, industry functions, training courses which I instantly sweep into the bin. There are also some personal correspondences, usually from my uncle who is travelling around Borneo that keeps sending me photos of various indigenous tribespeople he has encountered, or animals he wishes he could slaughter.
There is also often some kind of legal summons, a subpoena, or investigation which I bury in the bottom of my drawer.
Then I get down to the hard yards—trading my market. Emerging markets are one of the toughest deals to be on. Who knows why Russian Petroleum does what it does? Why is everyone suddenly interested in Borneo? Why should Peru’s currency be on fire? But a client will always ask me to put on a position for them so I do it. Mine is not to ask why…..
We each manage hundreds of positions at one time worth quadrillions of bucks. My task is to look at the Greeks—these are a set of numbers which outline your risk positions. I have risk limits and VaR. Sometimes we will go over these and that’s when I see the little compliance fellow pop his face out of his door and give me an admonishing look. I chuckle.
By 1pm I am pooped. In normal times we would have gone out for lunch. I would have been slipping oysters down my throat, feeling the warm nectar of a Yquem on my tongue, possibly even fracking with a waitress or two. But those days are gone. Now I have to make do with a hamper from Fortnum which the office boy delivers us. Sophie, the intern, never approves of this.
I tell her to think about the homeless. “Someone has to eat it, Soph,” I say.
She just munches her muesli bar in silence.
The day resumes.
At some point I think about killing. I also think about jumping out of the building and landing on the pavement some 24 stories below. How would I land? Who would I crush? I calculate that my 172 pound frame travelling at a velocity of 83mph would explode on the ground like a watermelon. The kinetic energy released would be the equivalent of a small neutron bomb. Perhaps I could take out some people from the office?
Suddenly I realise my yuan position is moving against me and get on the phone to Mike, my broker, and tell him to move the whole fucking lot.
I often find myself daydreaming at the desk. Mostly I imagine myself as a professional boxer. I am in the ring with Bors my trainer, showering blows down on his head, until he falls to the floor dazed and confused.
I sometimes think of sex. But not very much.
At 2pm there’s usually some bit of financial news that comes out into the world like a baby being born. In the old days, when I worked in an American bank, they used to sound a klaxon to celebrate this. Then when I moved to Rathbones, an English boutique, they would have an old man dressed up in red livery come out and blow a long brass trumpet. His name was “Rathbone’s Boots.” I remember once seeing him on Regent Street in his normal garb, a kind of cheap tweed suit, walking around with a confused look on his face his whiskers drooping in the rain. It was such a pathetic sight that for a second I felt a jolt of pain shoot through me from the very top of my spine to my feet.
At four o clock, things are winding up. I usually shoot the breeze with Mike, my broker, who’s always stressed about something or another. You see he isn’t wealthy. He works twice as hard as us but gets paid half as much. And there is the girlfriend to feed, the kids to clothe, the horse to keep. I generally begin by commiserating then tell him to shut the fuck up and get me a price on the Thai baht. It’s a funny game we both play. The humiliated and the humilatee. You see banter is the lifeblood of the trader. Without it we would stultify.
Sometimes we will have a video call with our boss in the US Dean Dwyer. He has a massive head and thin lips and prominent convex eyes giving him the look of a newly born alien. I wonder if all Americans look like this. Then I remember that Private who sold secrets to the Wikileaks. He too was a froglike chap. Small. Feeble. Inept. And now in jail for 100 years.
Waving this thought from my mind I turn my attention to the night’s soiree. This, for your curiosity, is a typical example, from a few weeks back.
“I attended a party at the German embassy. It was organised by a friend of mine, Dick Schneider, who works in the EU commission, a mate from Harrow. Good guy but a little dim, even if I do say so myself.
Anyway the German ambassador had invited a number of nationalities from all over London. The French and Italians came from Notting Hill, Germans from South Kensington and of course English in attendance from whichever Home County they’d managed to catch taxis from.
Things began very pleasantly. The German canapés were a revelation, there were a decent few bottles of Riesling (Glokmauer) and the ambassador’s wife looked utterly sparkling. Drinks flowed, people chatted and men drank. At about 9pm, however, things started to get a little rowdy. An Italian called Luigi started to talk about politics. He began mouthing off about how the English mistreated his friend Fabio Capello.
“Eenglish football ooligans, But why? Eh?”
As an Italian he was proud that one of his countrymen was leading the English national team, and the national press were nothing more than a pack of baying wolves! Now a number of Brits were pretty offended by this little man’s posturing.
“Oi wop what the f**k are you talking about,” said the English ambassador to the U.S.“Capello came here because he knew the Italians are thieveing, cheating, corrupt, sex-crazed bastards. And I mean that in the literal sense.”
Of course the German ambassador tried to jump in and resolve the matter. A punch was thrown and the ambassador slumped to the floor. The Italian jumped onto a table and started throwing kicks at anyone who would come up and challenge him.
My friend Dick went over to thump him when a French bod stuck his leg out and tripped him over.
Now that just wasn’t fair, so I went in and thumped him one. Meanwhile the German ambassador was lying like a floppy sack on the ground, and getting sneaky kicks from various German haters there (meaning everyone).
A man ran off with a plate of sausages and threw them up in the air.
Dick was incensed at the waste of schnitzel and sauerkraut—a critical moment in the war.
“I don’t think you’ve thought about the consequences of this,” he screamed before running full pelt at the French ambassador and flaying him to the ground. He then jumped on top of his chest and began to hurl punches at his face, like a rutting chimpanzee.
Women were crying, babies screaming, Swiss fainting. O god it was chaos. So imagine….If this is the kind of behavior that you find at a German ambassadors party what kind of consensus will you find in the EU Parliament?”
This is quite typical of the night events that I am called to attend. Following all this hullaballoo I will take a limousine back to my apartment on the Cheyne Walk.
I slip into my cool bed, have one final sip of champagne, take one last check of my BlackBerry. While I usually find that I have numerous messages calling me back into work to sort out whatever slip-ups there have been with my Thai Baht currency position, I ignore these. For ignorance is bliss. Then I switch off the phone and fall into a deep, untroubled and often passionate sleep.
July 31, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Wake up to the sound of bombs.
No it’s the man next door doing more drilling in his back yard. He moved in two months ago and has erected a 6-foot high fence all around his house. Within this compound there is the steady daily sound of drilling, hammering, mowing, burning. He is a Russian semigarch called Serge. Noveau Riche. He has drafted in an army of builders to renovate. I called the council to see if I could protest however they told me not to raise any alarm. I can tell by the quiver in their voice that this man is dangerous.
Turn on the news to see that some guy’s been jailed for releasing videos of Apache helicopters killing young children. Collateral damage.
The world is melting right before my eyes. Markets whip around like a snake with only two principle guiding factors—kill or be killed. Just like the helicopter. So that’s what I did today.
The fund’s had its most successful quarter. We managed to inveigle a very rich investor into giving us a lot of money. His name is Brian. He came up from a council estate in Birmingham, made his money in phones and now wants to become one of us.
Much to my chagrin I’m sent to have lunch with him.
“Just sit there and nod.”
We are in a place called Bodens—a horrible sick sham of a club in Canary Wharf which he admires because it has (fake) oak panels on the walls and stuffed animal heads.
“Alreet Tim,” he says, “what’s the call on the coorencaye todaye?”
I strain to understand him and lean in closer.
“I’m sorry Brian, what?”
“The coorancaye. Yi’know the bahta.”
I shake my head in uncomprehension. He leans really close and mouths the word “tieland” and spits a ball of chewed up chateaubriand into my ear. I’m disgusted but pretend not to notice. Now he pulls out three different types of mobile phone from his inner sanctum and lays them on the table.
“Oive always loiked you.”
“I didn’t know you knew me?”
“Oive eard about Nakamura.”
Alarm bells ring. He spends the next thirty minutes telling me something he heard on the street about that tale. I nod along.
In a miasma of miscommunication I manage to cheat him out of another 20m. I return home where Sergey is drilling through walls, bringing down ceilings and digging a big hole in his back garden. There’s nothing for it. I go out and march over to have a word with him.
I see him walking about through the huge French window, topless, his fat, Eastern – European belly hanging down over his waist, what looks like a drill, but could be a gun, in his hand. I think better of it, return and turn my TV to full volume. There is a report of a tribe in Africa where the women wear large rings around their necks. The more of these rings you can get in the better your social standing. One woman has fifteen wooden hoops. Her neck is like an ostriches.
I fall asleep thinking about Brian and the 20.
May 24, 2013 § Leave a Comment
(contributed piece from Wannop)
I’ve had this song by Blood Sweat and Tears in my head since I woke up this morning. My mother used to play it relentlessly when I was a teenager – drove me fucking nuts, especially when she tried to compare it with Pearl Jam. So today it’s stuck there. And I’m thinking about these markets that are levitating on Central Bank amphetamines.
Such a tempting short. But then I remember the folksy homily that the Trend Is Your Friend (or, as one moronic broker I was once forced to deal with used to say: “The trend is your mate” – irony is lost on these fuckers; they only understand beatings). So I’m standing outside having my 5th cigarette of the day and it isn’t 9.30am.
I’m balls long this market. I’ve been riding it all the way up and I’ve had a cracking month. Am I being greedy? Should I just take the profit off the table. Go away for a long weekend to my beach house down on the Cote D’Azur. Could take that Ukrainian bird from the other night. No fuck that, there’ll be plenty to choose from down there. I’m brought out of my reverie by the sight of Armstrong heaving into view.
“Alright, Mike. Give us a light.”
“Alright Strongy”, I reply, taking out my solid gold du pont lighter and firing him up. “What do you think of this market?”
“I don’t like it Mike. Toppish. Market very skittish mate. Any bad news out of Thursday’s numbers and its toast.”
I love talking to Strongy because he’s the weakest of the weak hands. Nice bloke, kind of harmless. Great barometer. If Strongy’s skittish this market still has legs.
Enjoy your fag, Strongy. I’m going back up.
I head up the escalator and formulate a plan. I head straight back upstairs and price up some teenie weekly calls to buy. This things going to the moon. I’ve just doubled my risk. When the likes of Strongy panic to buy I’ll turf it out to them. You gotta feed the ducks while they’re quacking.
By the end of the US session the market’s up another 10 points. It’s been a great week, I’m heading for the airport.