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.