They say an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell overture and not think of The Lone Ranger but I would set the bar much higher than that.
The ability to deduce the Black Scholes option pricing model from first principles or summarise Quantitative Easing in one sentence without saying “erm”?
No, I would only confer authentic highbrow status on someone who has sat through all fifteen hours of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle on consecutive evenings, irrespective of whether they enjoyed it or not, in fact especially if they didn’t. That’s hardly the point. The suffering is what ennobles.
Pretentious, and determined to elevate my station in life to bona fide egghead in equal measure, I embarked on the marathon endeavour a few weeks back and slept through the anti-Semite’s entire magna opera while impaled on an Ann Summers marital aid. Does that count?
By now, only one paragraph in, my editor will be worrying where this thread leads but hardened readers of this column (is there any other kind?) will know, through painful experience, there’s nothing The Pained Trader likes more than to take an arbitrary subject and then, by exploring its ludic potential, employ it as a metaphor for stockbroking.
Stockbroking in turn, serves as a metaphor for existence itself. All human life is there. Everything is relative — except unhappiness — and every experience can be yoked by whatever artifice, by fair means or foul, to the daily humiliation of cheese-grating a living from financial markets in the time of MiFID. The process is instinctive not contrived.
Not so long ago, I would not have known Wagner from a wagon wheel but an aficionado friend of mine told me if I wanted to make these long, uneventful afternoons stockbroking for no tangible benefit seem as though they pass quickly, then I should compare it to hunkering down to say, Siegfried for five hours.
Working on the principle that all suffering is redemptive and whatever doesn’t kill you makes you go “Ow”, I assented on a whim, flew off to the continent to see a celebrated conductor wave his baton at a metropolitan orchestra and then regretted.
Siegfried, as I recall from the few, fitful moments of consciousness, consisted solely of fat men with beards shouting at each other. Wedged into my seat by earnest Wagnerians either side of me, who neither yawned nor napped, I experienced a soaring, ceilingless tedium which transcended boredom and took me to another level of nullity.
I longed for that curtain call more intensely than any closing bell I ever heard. I gave up trying to follow the bizarre, amphetamine-fuelled, Harry Potteresque plot — all dwarves and potions and giants and spells — and concentrated single-mindedly on just hoping my bladder would hold out.
I told my friend, with all the dissembling of a dilettante, that much as I loved Wagner, would he be able to recommend something just as enjoyable but a little bit shorter? “Try the preludes…” he suggested, “…they may be more your thing”.
At 10 to 15 minutes each, Gentle Reader, they are just my thing.
From among them, my attention was drawn, like a bluebottle to a roadkill (or a compliance officer to a profit centre) to Tristan and Isolde with its themes of thwarted love, sexual frustration and death.
I don’t know why. In the course of a few weeks since I heard it first, though, I have become obsessed with it, and the passage has come to symbolise the entire philosophy of The Pained Trader’s Life And Work and serve as the most perfect metaphor for the imperfect art of sales-trading.
Opera buffs, but not many sales-traders, will know all about the Tristan Chord, the downbeat note of despair which strikes on the first beat of the second full bar of the prelude.
It comes in beneath the melody but is unresolved and goes unanswered, creating a tension and a yearning which is only satisfied if you listen to another four hours of the whole damned thing. It is unmistakeably sexual and the cadence repeatedly mounts to a climax which is then impeded in a kind of musical coitus interruptus. Sex is the consolation when you can’t have love and Tristan gets neither until it’s too late. I fear the same. If you can’t find love and you can’t have the sex then a Large Unsolicited Discretionary Order from A Nice Client at A Big Fund was not in Wagner’s plot, but it would go a long way to alleviating the Pained Trader’s sufferings.
I go through the agonies of Tristan, the cravings and the impediments, the ravings and the rebuffs, on a daily basis here at Salvation Bank which, as its nomenclature suggests, offers deliverance rather than fulfilment.
Each morning, I sit and compose a little, figurative melody of sorts to charm the unsuspecting into trading with me. It may be a jovial and informative morning outgoing, it could be the dispatch of an amusing and apposite trading update or the offer of a well-oiled lunch, but this is essentially the call of the songbird trying to find and attract a mate. It is the buyer looking for a seller. It is the man burning up with a fever to transact. It’s the hooker looking for a punter. It is the near-destitute seeking solvency. It is the hungry broker who wants his appetite sated and his thirst slaked but more often than not, the melody is not reciprocated and every tiny failure or miniature rejection is like the Tristan Chord sounding that note of despondency.
Tristan and Isolde ultimately reach their orgasmic crescendo in Liebestod, or erotic death. When bidding "adieu" to parting colleagues I often find my farewell message is that I hope to meet them again on the great, big trading floor in the sky. I accept I may have to wait until the next life to have my romantic fantasies fulfilled, but do I have to wait that long for a big order too?
Maybe, it’s not so far away. The arc described by my so-called career is not even a gentle parabola but rather a remorselessly steady declivity which, if plotted on a graph, would show it hugging the x-axis for many years before finally dipping below and tunnelling its way inexorably lower like a mole evading the pitchfork. I don’t need to extrapolate far to have that mole burrowing off the page/screen and out of sight altogether.
I realise every week the Pain Trader’s soap opera ends on a decrescendo. About that, and so much else, I’m very sorry.