What is it about these warm, Aegean nights which persuades me to linger late and long on the balcony of our villa, looking up at the heaven tree of stars hung with humid night-blue fruit or out over the wine-dark bay and the necklace of lights which line its shore? Is it MiFID?
Perhaps it is the chorus of cicadas, or the light zephyrs wafting up from the sea, bringing with them the scent of the maquis? Is that a distant, disco-beat tom-tom from the beach club in the next cove along which makes sleep elusive?
More likely that’s my heart still throbbing at the memory of the Dread, Pre-Raphaelite Beauty who turned up at last week’s emerging market bash, made my hormones jangle like the tin cans on a wedding limo and rendered all gossip of algos, headhunters and redundancies, do-you-remember-whens and where-are-they-nows irrelevant.
What chance of Morpheus descending when images of her carbonate the blood and perpetrate repeated arson attacks on my imagination?
Could it be the throat-scraping call to prayer of the muezzin who kicks off the first of his five-times-daily in the middle of the night which disturbs me?
Maybe it is just that mosquito, which detaches itself from its squadron the minute I lie down and launches a kamikaze mission into the deepest recesses of my ear, causing me to wonder how something so small can sound like a fighter jet, as I jump up and blindly throw karate chops at the swine in the bedroom's blackness.
Even more relentless, irritating and nagging than that sodden insect, though, what burrows deeper into the holiday mindset, is the fret and fear which a two-week summer vacation cannot dispel: what am I going to do when I get back? June and July were as parched for business as they were for English rain and I have August’s dog days ahead of me
For a fortnight, I might have escaped physically from the recurring scenes of sales-trader noir spooling out on the floor of Salvation Bank, into the warm, jellied sunlight of the Mediterranean and its dazzling glare but paranoia works silently and patiently, like a death watch beetle, secure in the knowledge it will bring the edifice tumbling down eventually. It always gets its guy. It’s just a question of when.
So The Pained Trader sits out on the verandah and recalls WH Auden’s couplet:
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell
The problem with holidays is that rather than leaving problems behind, they always seem to stow themselves away in one’s luggage and there they are spilling out before you, as you unpack your T-shirts, swimming cozzy and self-improving literature on the hotel bed. This is why you exceeded your weight allowance at check-in.
Only now you have more time for languid contemplation of what cannot keep you awake back in London because you are so dog-tired when going round the circadian washing machine of life as a stockbroker that you fall asleep at the desk, on the bus, in meetings, and especially in the back of a cab on the way home, hammered again.
No. No matter where you go, you’re always the same person, stuck inside your own head and incarcerated forever in the Bastille of the Self. I know holidays are meant for forgetting the chaîne des gestes quotidiens and the everyday trials and tribulations of the office but it does not work this way for me. When I read literature, I was always unable to suspend disbelief, which made large swathes of it inaccessible to me. When I consider stockbroking, I’m unable to suspend my bearish instincts even for the duration of the family’s annual holiday.
Pascal: “I am so made that I cannot believe.” I’m starting my 30th year in the industry. It feels like it’s been this way for almost all of the preceding.
I shall return with all sorts of resolutions made. The first day back I shall start rolling that boulder back up towards the mountain top. I shall change this and that, resolve to call him or her more often, focus on those things, explore these new avenues of opportunity. I need to diversify away from emerging markets. I really should play to my strengths (but I must find them first) and against all my natural instincts, persevere with him or her, chase down every drop shot, pursue the buy-side quarry with dynamism and intensity.
Gentle Reader: I weary just to type it let alone enact it.
If what I’m doing is not working, I should stop and try something different. There’s nothing revolutionary about that, so why is it so difficult? Why is change the hardest thing? Why will I default back to what I know, the tried and tested which, when I tried and tested it, it did not work?
If it does not work in principle, it definitely won’t work in practice. I will write the same dross, talk to the select few friends I know and love, politely accept the excuses of those who neither care for my broking nor can pay for it, doggedly plough the post-modern sales trading furrow and succumb eventually to its fatal inability to pay the rent.
I can tell myself these things here, late at night, with no one else around except the odd stray cat patrolling the rooftops and the mozzies which, having engorged themselves with my pallid English flesh, have gone to regroup before their auroral splurge.
Several thousand miles away, irrespective of my participation, the ant factory of the City thrums and hums with activity, churning up, chewing down and spitting out all who are sucked into its vortex.
I’m barely halfway through my first week and sticky, sultry sleepless nights like these mean I’m getting less shuteye here than I do back home where the alarm clock rings in the middle of the night.
I drain my glass of its dregs, and propose a silent toast to the City, my impending disappearance from it be damned. The bedroom is bakery hot. I pad back inside, press the rickety, electric fan into action and listen to its whirring. The air it spins towards me is cool. That woman I saw last week was supercool and superhot at the same time. I need to hang on in there in the City, just long enough to get to know her properly.