Monday, July 24, occasioned the twenty-eighth anniversary of my first day in the City. I tried to call my friend with whom I started back at Salomon Brothers in 1989 but he was on his yacht in the Caribbean and could not be contacted. I wouldn’t say I’m in the habit of celebrating this day. I usually receive a jolly call from my friend but his motivation is not to wax nostalgic but rather to demonstrate how much more successful he has been than me, usually by calling in from some palm-fringed beach where hula girls are dancing to the drumbeat of the islands while I am polishing turds at my desk.
It’s always a day for sober reflection, though, for looking back on how things have gone and wondering if the twenty-two-year-old I was would have been ecstatic or suicidal were he able to telescope the future and see who and where I am.
Not as bad as he might have feared but certainly some way short of what he hoped; the kind of compromise on which a life is constructed. He would have marvelled that he could maintain almost continuous employment for almost three decades and emerge from if not, maximally enriched, then just about solvent at least. Money is like sex: only too much is enough. However, he might also have rued the inescapable regret that he never managed the one big bonus, the one gargantuan guarantee or the canny investment in a technology start-up which might have placed him on that white yacht in a blue sea or put daylight between him and the gutter at least.
The calendar of one’s career is liberally sprinkled with anniversaries of similar poignancy. I don’t need to make a note in my big desk diary of significant dates because every year, the minute I turn the page on the morning of October 13, for example, the memories of the Salomon Brothers trading floor in New York, that Friday in 1989 come flooding back; the shouting, the bond traders displaying machismo, Meriwether affecting insouciance, smoking a cigar with his feet on the desk; arriving home to find a message on my answering machine from my mum (back in Liverpool and suddenly paying attention to the financial news for the first time in her life) asking me, “Who is this Dow Jones bloke anyway?”
Similarly, December 12 was my first ever bonus day when one wore one’s suit jacket and reported upstairs as if for a public school flogging. It was the day after the Christmas party and I was of the opinion my dancing might have impacted my chances of getting a payout, given, that as a graduate trainee, my contribution to the firm’s bottom line had been minimal. The guy next to me said, “They have to pay you” and I duly accepted my £2,000 and finally understood what people meant by ‘a sense of entitlement'.
Black Wednesday, September 16, 1992, and I found myself at lunch getting drunk as a lord with a broker at the Gran Paradiso in Victoria. Neither of us had a mobile phone and when I staggered back to the office at 4pm I was wondering what all the fuss was about until my mum, by now a veteran stockwatcher, called me and told me she’d seen it on the news again and it was all going to shit. About that, and so much else, my mum was spot on.
Valentine’s Day never reminds me of anything romantic but rather the day I flew out to Hong Kong to start my career anew in 1993. I had conjunctivitis but I jetted first class. A Chinese hostess held me down playfully while another, pouting, poured drops in my eyes (because I blinked when I tried myself) and that’s the closest I ever came to a threesome. June 1, 1996, was the day I flew back after three years in Asia, my moral compass decommissioned, all innocence obliterated in Pussy Galore, the Wildcat club and every girlie bar from Phuket to Wanchai to Manila and my mouth tightened, my eyes saddened by the way life had gone. June 1, 1996, also marks the worst hangover of my life as I flew back from Singapore, alternately vomiting and weeping in the aeroplane’s toilet after a badly thought-out farewell bash in Cossack’s vodka bar the night before.
On the August 16, 1998, I made the move from “dying” Asian markets (my verdict at the time) to the “exciting” eastern European markets (my verdict at the time) the day before the Russians devalued the rouble and defaulted. I always throw my head back and roll my eyes when that day comes around and wonder how life might have been, were I a winner who made intelligent career decisions based on sound logic rather than hitting every obstacle in his path like a drunk bangs into furniture on his way to bed.
Come 2001, I had not lost my uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and returned from a lunchtime 5-a-side football match in Spitalfields to discover two planes had flown into the World Trade centre while ING was being drubbed by Deutsche Bank. I sat there in my kit looking dumbstruck at the screens like everyone else – except I was wearing an orange, polyester football shirt.
I was sacked for the first time on November 14, 2003, and so each year, on that date, I stab a murine effigy of the man who did it. He did me a favour in the long run, however, because six months later I was flying out to Moscow to serve a five-year sentence at Urinalswab, possibly the most hapless and least competent bucket-shop in Russian banking history. I landed in Moscow for a six month stint on Hitler’s birthday, April 20, 2004, and in one of the more amazing coincidences of my so-called career I flew back home on October 19, which was the very date Napoleon had decided Moscow was getting parky in 1812 and decided to retreat. As Trump drily noted this week, “Well Napoleon finished a little bit bad.” It didn’t go so well for me either at Urinalswab but I travelled British Airways not horse and carriage.
A diligent and sympathetic reader (a purely imaginative construct) will note here that most of these are unhappy anniversaries, dates which are branded on the brain owing to some unfortunate association or other.
Tomorrow, however, the last Friday in July will always be memorable for entirely lovely reasons. It marks the best day of racing at Glorious Goodwood and an afternoon of escape and a bit of corporate hospitality I once experienced there with a statuesque brunette possessed of a dread, pre-Raphaelite beauty and pantherine eyes. In my time in this industry, fantasy and reality never converged but that afternoon they did. She breathed life into every cliché about love. Hers was the face that launched a thousand instant chat messages and I might have a cheeky Pimms tomorrow afternoon to commemorate the only winner I picked. Just thinking back on it now has ruined a perfectly good pair of underpants.
One day, there will be a date in the diary which denotes the day I left the City for good. Unless, I get some business through the door that could be tomorrow and I may be remembering the last Friday in July for altogether less pleasurable reasons.
Those are the days past then which stick in the mind. The past is a foreign country: it’s not as shit there as it is here. I glide through that past like an entranced gondolier. We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into that past.