Like the drunken broker at midnight, I always begin the journey to my spawning grounds with the best of intentions. But in between that starting-off point and the bed at home, there are many obstacles to waylay he who is without resolve. And so it was this morning when I broke with convention and called a fund manager with an emerging markets mandate (I think that was once known as stockbroking) and immediately wished I hadn’t.
I could hear the wind blowing and the forlorn cries of a herring gull (or was it a vulture circling?) and it became apparent that he was out on the window ledge and I know for a fact his office in Cornhill is no bungalow.
When you find yourself in this predicament, it is abundantly clear I am not the man you want calling you because it’s only a matter of time before rather than talking you down from the edge, I’ve most probably joined you up there. I receive incoming calls from Samaritans: they use me for training exercises.
When I was a scaffolder’s labourer, they would not allow me beyond the first lift, not out of concern for my mental wellbeing, but because they didn’t want to have carry the stuff themselves if I were widely dispersed across the pavement. You get the picture.
One the edge
“Is performance that bad?” I asked. He was raving incoherently about emerging markets and off-index bets and benchmarks and how he couldn’t take another month like August, he simply wasn’t strong enough to withstand it. This wasn’t the moment to tell him all my months were like August and how did he think I felt about that. He reeled off the sources of his discontent and they rolled like so many heads from the guillotine platform into the basket… Argentina, Turkey, Russia, South Africa… I hadn’t heard such filth since the last femme horizontale I commandeered offered to talk dirty as a freebie extra (probably to accelerate the process) and said pretty much the same thing but in an eastern European accent.
I tailored my stockbroking to adjust for his chronic returns and patent desperation. I avoided controversial subjects (like any of the stocks I might have recommended in the past 12 months) and rebuked the myopia and unforgivable stupidity of those selling down stocks that represented his largest holdings. I had thought to tell him about the new Global Fund just launched by some mad Scandy who is charging a management fee of just 5bp but thought better of it. Discovering that JP Morgan was about to start offering institutional stockbroking services gratis a fortnight back did little to raise my spirits. Were he still alive, John Pierpoint Morgan would be so proud to know the firm he founded more than a century ago emerged triumphant among investment banks in the ferociously competitive race towards zero which, even after a hundred years of attritional broking, still ended in a bunched sprint finish.
I even went so far as to withhold the pretext for my call, a heartfelt entreaty for some business, which, in the circumstances would have been less welcome than Sammy Davis Junior at a Nuremberg rally.
Just as I was about to suggest that if he liquidated his fund, it would be nice if he could see to it that I saw some of the goodbye commission, the line went dead. If he was a jumper, I definitely won’t be getting any orders out of him.
The last thing I heard him say was “I can’t wait for August to end”, which you may think of as a defeatist statement from a person entrusted with other people’s savings, but I thought it comparatively sanguine. The implication is that September will be better. He thinks his fortunes will improve. I cannot share his optimism. I have the same sense of foreboding as a northern coal pit circa 1983. The summer of love is over. Thin skeins of mist lie on Richmond Park and the River Thames at dawn. Nights are drawing in. Mornings are colder. Chill winds blow.
The summer began in earnest for me during the prodigious lightning storm of Thursday May 29 when I was strapped on to something bigger and more powerful than myself and trapped in a wine bar for the whole afternoon in a waterfall of wine and torrents of talk. The rain was too heavy, the claps of thunder too thick and fast to risk leaving, and so I didn’t. Turbulence above reflected turbulence below. I only left that bar when the rain stopped and it seemed as though a cloud had burst within me. From thereon in, it was sunshine all the way.
Will we ever forget the summer of 2018? The sun-stunned, heat-hushed streets. The football. It was coming home for a bit, remember? I almost cared. That waistcoat? I took delivery of Pablo the husky puppy who looked into the heart of his master and saw not a stockbroker but a kindred spirit. People spilling out of pubs. Pints on the terrace. Nightcaps on the balcony. Sunshine buttered the walls of my wine club and liquified sunset into honey as we drank endless glasses of wine that stretched into long bottles like days stretched into weeks of unchanging blue sky which reflected my temporarily cloudless mind. Snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den. That hour of splendour in the sweetening grass. Stocks at an all-time high — as Fat Donny Tramp never tired of reminding us. (Somewhere, anyway. Not where I was, that’s for sure.) The picnic in the park. The ineffable pleasure of that sandwich in the gardens, blinded by sunbeams, staring slack-jawed at the thighs of the girl beside you on the bench. It was unlimited free rides on Rubber Dinghy Rapids. Peaches. Cream.
The funeral march around my heart stopped. I didn’t have any orders, of course, but who cared? The normal rules of engagement were suspended. The Central Line was infernal, mind you.
Summer ends tomorrow but already the sunshine is enfeebled and incapable of warming life’s solar panels. The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance? Dimmed. Traffic’s a nightmare again. Commissions are hard to come by. The heart is replaced back in its ribcage presentation case. The garden needs mowing.