Dies caniculares. Summertime and the broking ain’t easy. Stocks ain’t jumping and the business is low. I was never a climate change denier but now I’m fanatical believer and committed to its cause, because my business climate is close to being declared an unnatural disaster.
Exasperated, not just to despair but several steps along the line beyond it, I stood up, pushed the chair back, logged off and with groans of thunder and sighs of fire, stepped out into the heat-hushed, sun-stunned, smog-smothered streets of the City in a World Cup wonderland during the dog days of June.
Eschewing my standard passeggiata, I walked west instead of east along Gresham Street, turned right, crossed the road and entered the sol y sombra refuge of Postman’s Park, here to idle away another ruminative half-hour contemplating the various sources of dissatisfaction with my lot.
This is my favourite, postage stamp-sized patch of grass in the Square Mile, formerly a graveyard, now a burial plot for many of my darkest feelings and the lapidary inscription on one headstone states it is the final resting place for the bones of my career, which were interred there some time ago, apparently.
The immediate catalyst for a sudden withdrawal from the fray was the receipt of an email from our tech analyst who thought he was being helpful sending round a thinkpiece entitled, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ to the sales team.
I studied the first during A-levels but somewhere along the way I appear to have mislaid at least two industrial revolutions and the one which is apparently imminent consisted of things like quantum computing and the internet of things I could not recognise let alone define nor have any hope of mastering.
Even more dispiriting was the main thrust of the article which enumerated "The Top Ten Skills You’ll Need To Thrive In 2020”.
It listed the following qualities considered essential by employers: complex problem-solving; critical thinking; creativity; people management; co-ordinating with others; emotional intelligence; judgment; service orientation; negotiation and cognitive flexibility.
Gentle Reader, I lack the wherewithal to survive in 2018, what chance thriving two years from now when not only am I bereft all of those talents but I hold most of them in contempt? I like to do my own thing, in my own way, even if it is demonstrably unsuccessful.
The introspection which this prompted was neither constructive nor fleeting and squatted on top of other misgivings already festering deep within my core. This week occasions the first anniversary of my arrival at Salvation Bank which is a natural point to look back and reflect on the previous 12 months. Let me consider the initial objectives and consider whether they have been accomplished.
Survival? At the time of writing, yes, I am still employed. Have I laid down solid roots for a prosperous future at the new shop? I could not say that. The soil is sandy and shallow. Have I made friends? Well, I think I have but I’ve thought that in the past and there were daggers in men’s smiles. Have I built a solid franchise which will see me through the downturn? I have not. I have two individuals between me and the beckoning gutter. Am I optimistic about the opportunities going forward? Does the Pope excrete in a sylvan setting? Does a bear growl Ave Maria? I’ve been hawking the same nostrums for three decades now and punters no longer fall for stockbroking mountebankery with the same loveable gullibility.
The main attraction (for me at least) of Postman’s Park is not the possibility of men in uniform or a man in a van with a black and white cat but the little loggia at its centre which features dozens of historic, commemorative tiles celebrating the ultimate sacrifice of those Londoners who have died bravely trying to save the lives of others. The memorial starred in the film Closer which I do not recommend you watch with your present sexual partner.
When trying not to ogle the women in short skirts bronzing their thighs on the lawn, or the brunette with the plunging décolletage (it often seems as though it’s the same one?) who has come to sit beside me, drink her coffee and bicycle-pump my heart, I wander over and admire the feats of these heroes.
Most of them are from the nineteenth century and so their endings are appropriate for the age: drowning, gas poisoning, locomotive accidents, immolation, some awful things which happened at the East Ham Sewage Works and in the instance of a Sarah Smith, a “pantomime artiste”, a gruesome end at the Prince’s Theatre owing to “terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion”. Rotten luck. One Frederick Croft “saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal but was himself run over by a train”. Worse luck.
The sun is griddle hot. There are insects buzzing behind me in the flower beds. A sprinkler system is dousing them and occasionally, if a zephyr stirs, it lifts a few droplets of water onto my shoulders. In my shades I cast a crafty sideways glance at the cleavage of the brunette into which I would like to climb like a bee into a peony, and wonder if I can eke out another year of this fragile existence in the terminally damaged ecosystem of the City.
There are still plenty of empty spaces on the loggia walls of Postman’s Park just waiting to be occupied by those City boys and girls who die gallantly in the modern era and the tiles will tell the tales of those who were downsized, those nailed for bootlegging research against EU regulations, those who fiddled expenses, victims of compliance, the collateral damage from reorganisations or streamlining of products, those rendered obsolete by electronic trading, those caught up in the commission race to zero and the grotesque creatures found at the bottom of the swamp when all liquidity was drained. Just wait and see the size of the cheques PMs pay for research in 2019.
Everyone joins the fallen, some sooner but all later. Will I be prey to the desuetude into which emerging markets have lapsed, fall foul of that compliance officer who instinctively knows that I’m no good or more likely, looking to my right again, become a casualty of Love In The Time of MiFID? What will survive of us? A tile? Love? It certainly won’t be my order pad.