The English summer, beginning at the end of June and ending at the start of July, is still some way off, but now is the winter of our discontent morphed into the spring of our discontent at least and with the mercury rising just above the recommended temperature at which to serve red wine, I am back to taking a more leisurely lunchtime passegiata around the Square Mile.
On those days when I’m not inconvenienced by orders (Monday through Friday, generally) I slip off the desk at five minutes before noon and stroll along Gresham Street to a tiny French restaurant.
Cabotte occupies a narrow space and tables are recessed towards the back but they have a banquette in the window and a tiny bistro table. This is where I sit, like a cat in the sunny spot on the sill.
I raise one finger to Virgil, the maitre d’, as I enter: “Just give me a glass of Burgundy and no one gets hurt.” It’s a hold-up of sorts but the staff don’t mind.
Uniquely among customers, I’m not dining. I can’t afford to eat there, not on these commissions. I just have the two glasses of wine, the effect of which is amplified by an empty stomach so it feels like a bottle by the time I’ve left.
A few beakers of the warm south do not allay rainy island pessimism but they offer a little gentle anaesthetic. I read a bit, stare at the girls going by, engage in a bit of amateur tasseomancy, wonder whether Everton will dispense of Sam Allardyce’s services at the end of the season, think about the one that got away (see TPT passim), think about her — the thighs unopened, the goal not scored, the wave unsurfed — and then the drink is downed.
It can’t be good for custom to have a depressed Sid James looking forlornly out the front of your brasserie, as if about to self-defenestrate, but Virgil has not barred me yet. He probably thinks I’m quite decadent, popping in for an analeptic coup de rouge and some intellection, unaware that the list of words I’m jotting down in the margins of my magazine are my best suggestions for a word to denote the unit of measurement for sadness. Since it originally meant the span of a man’s outstretched arms and how much he could embrace within them, I finally settled on a ‘fathom’.
How much is that sales trader in the window? The one with the miserable face. How much is that sales trader in the window? I do think he’s in the wrong place.
You are well within your rights to wonder how on earth I am going to generate any business while stuck in a nearby restaurant, drenched in wine and contemplation, but as a stockbroking strategy it’s no less successful than sitting at my desk pro-actively sales-trading.
If anything were to materialise, as if by magic (and since the process by which an order does occasionally fall into my lap is indistinguishable from magic, this is no hyperbole), I can make a mad dash back to the desk within two minutes flat. Virgil would understand, but he hasn’t needed to yet.
Instead of the three delicious courses of Burgundian cuisine I could have eaten, I buy a sausage roll, sometimes two (what the hell? Sometimes I just don’t care) from a high street baker and then saunter into Daunt Books on Cheapside, where a pleasant quarter-hour can be spent.
Downstairs, away from the celebrity biographies, sporting memoirs and Harry “Effin” Potter sections, there is an extensive selection of Russian histo-misery and a chair where I can indulge in the languid contemplation of other people’s sufferings while brushing pastry flakes from my lap.
The round circuit takes three-quarters of an hour more or less, roughly the same as queueing to buy stamps in the post office, and when I returned, a nearby colleague asked where I’d been?
“For una piccola passegiata,” I replied.
He looked confused.
“It’s a walk, not a pasta,” I explained.
“Why not just say that?”
It was a fair question, which I could not answer without incriminating myself. No one else here at Salvation Bank, or anywhere else for that matter, seems to do lunch these days and those that do are dinosaurs.
It’s hardly a walk on the wild side and there is very little by way of competition but, of course, it goes without saying it’s my favourite part of the day.
Since the demise of lunch as an institution in the post-Mifidian era — gone the way of the dodo, the page three girl and the spinning jenny — it’s an indictment of the industry that a post-modern, eminently clubbable, deipnosophist broker finds consolation eating, reading and drinking con solo.
The journey to work, if not bedevilled with a hangover, can be uplifting. I love to listen to the shipping forecast when I treat myself to an Uber in the morning.
Cresting Richmond Hill on the bike at dawn, the south-westerlies at my back, when the woods in shadow seem ancient enough to conceal Robin Hood doing something medieval to Maid Marian, is a profoundly moving sensation while there, 13 miles away, off to the east and backlit by the sun, lie the temples of mammon towards which I pedal.
Even when I take the train, a half-hour’s uninterrupted reading is a pleasant interlude before the humiliating daily rigmarole starts afresh of the hamster on his treadmill, wheedling and grovelling to no avail. The hours to come seem a waste of breath.
The return journey, all traffic and stiff headwinds, crowds and strap-hanging, fatigue and despondency, just desperate to get home like a barn-sour horse, is never quite the same. A waste of breath the hours behind.
The City is not what it once was but once a day, in my own tiny mind, for a short time, I walk with dinosaurs and it’s as good as it ever was.
And that reminds me: Dear Editor – when is the next columnist’s lunch? Tomorrow good for you?