My son was mugged this weekend. Now I know what my clients feel like after trading with me.
An unlit alley extruding from the housing estate on the borders of London’s leafiest borough. Three hooded and nefarious toe-rags, carrying the gene for webbed feet, emerge from their troglodytic existence on a night so dark no owl could hunt.
There goes my son and heir who thinks he’s Charlie Sheen but, beneath the James Dean, mid-teen carapace, he is shy and meek; there is more meat on Good Friday and he’s never landed a punch in his life. Like Indian stranglers, they creep along in the shadows, surround him amphitheatrically, work him over briefly, relieve him of his mobile phone, his bankcard, his pocket money and, most poignantly of all, his innocence, before screeching off in their Ford Culprit. It’s five minutes of fun and maybe a kebab for them, but the tree remembers what the axe forgets. Shades of the prison house begin to close around the growing boy.
Angry and helpless in equal measure, the adult male beats his chest.
When he sullenly refuses to complete his homework or pick a towel up off his bedroom floor, I have occasionally been overwhelmed by the filicidal impulse and, in recent months, some inter-generational disputes have added a physical dimension, but someone else hurting your first-born, whom you love more than life itself, precipitated a primitive, almost Sicilian thirst for revenge.
It may be a dish best eaten cold but I will take it piping hot from the oven if I must, so long as I eat my fill. Revenge is like sex and money: only too much is enough and I don’t get enough of either. The only means to assuage the rage is lex talionis.
This week then, I have harboured dark thoughts of nemetic violence. I don’t want to let sleeping dogs lie. I want a Jacobean revengist tragedy in which everyone dies. The throb is omnicidal.
I don’t bring up this unfortunate episode to stir your sympathy and start a Just Giving page for the restitution of my son’s belongings and naivety, but rather to highlight, nay celebrate, the fact that The Pained Trader has matured to such an extent… I have not felt like this in ages.
If the personality is a holding front for mental disorders, then most of my career was spent keeping my choleric temper in abeyance and trying to present an appearance of normality. I was an angry young man in an industry which, when I entered Salomon Brothers in 1989, prized aggression as an admirable quality in a trader over and above traits such as caution and acuity.
The gladiatorial area
Trading floors are, and have always been, male-dominated, gladiatorial arenas with too much money at stake and too much testosterone compelling alpha types to fight for it.
One of the more surprising elements of this industry, however, is just how little violence is transacted when all of this taken into consideration. In this zero-sum game, years and careers can turn on a single trade and it’s a feral, foul-mouthed atmosphere but the dog-eat-dog usually takes place on screens only, in terms of price and profit-and-loss.
You can take the market out and grab the opposition by the short and curlies, but bankers wear ties and maintain decorum. You can dump the market and destroy someone else’s book but no one waits outside a competitor’s office to biff them on the nose.
The language of the markets also conveys belligerence. Punters are either bullish or bearish, competition is cut-throat, buy-side traders specialise in trades known as drive-bys, traders are stuffed and squeezed, get burnt, put their balls on the line, markets are slapped, walloped, ramped, crashed, spiked and every trade is executed.
Commentary and dialogue are dominated by these images of violence and brutality, as if the whole marketplace were one big bout of fisticuffs or a rock-fight to the death for the last dollar of commission.
My trading career was brought to an abrupt and premature end by an act of violent intimidation in Hong F'ing Kong in the mid-1990s.
What began as a frank exchange of opinions between me and the head of trading, deteriorated into an exchange of insults that I brought to a conclusion by walking up behind him and, with my fists in close proximity to his head, thumping his desk six times.
Each blow resounded to the threat: “I will knock your block off…” but I had to stop punching before I could add “…after work tonight” because my hand was hurting so much. He declined my offer to sort things out mano á mano and spent the next week trying to have me fired.
I was suspended for three days and, when I returned, found that the prefix “sales” had been added to my “trading” job description and that was the end of that and the beginning of this.
The biggest advance I made in this so-called career was to sublimate that anger into a kind of melancholy resignation.
When stocks and markets refuse to bend to my will, I learnt to unclench my fists and clutch my head in both hands. When a trade goes wrong I don’t smash my headset on the desk any more. I pull out the bottom drawer and take a crafty swig from the hip flask I keep there for such emergencies.
When, this time last year, the inarticulate klutz at Chaucer Securities was trying to sack me for gross misconduct, I resisted the temptation to beckon him outside and “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”, feigned clinical depression (well, maybe delete ‘feigned’ there) and restraint was rewarded with a pay-off.
All that said, I have spent several nights with my son this week, deploying the ‘tethered goat strategy’. I take my son to the scene of last week’s crime and instruct him to walk about, ostentatiously displaying a smartphone and with a £50 note hanging out of his back pocket.
The aim is to lure those horrible scrotes out of the undergrowth into the open when Vigilante Dad shall set about them with a cricket stump and dole out a little wood shampoo.
Admirable though it may be to check one’s primitive instincts, sometimes straightforward violence works. People understand violence.