In the midst of another double-handed head-clutcher in the breakdown area off the trading floor today, I found myself asking the question — perhaps out loud, perhaps just of my contacts in the spirit world telepathically — how long have I been doing this?
I suppose the question was rhetorical. The pat response is, of course, "too long". But then again if I have not paid off my mortgage or built up a secret stash in an offshore bank account, say with Danske Bank’s Estonian branch, or won the Nobel prize for sales-trading then perhaps the correct response should really be "not long enough".
I started on July 24, 1989, and so if I whack that date into a search engine, it spits out a number which I, being no maths boffin if it wasn’t already apparent, have no reason to quarrel with. It tells me that my dealing room debut in this business, on the football-sized floor at Salomon Brothers in London, came 10,657 days ago. Another few key strokes says I’ve been alive for less than 19,000, although we could argue the toss about whether some of those days — the ones marred by depression, hangovers, waiting for a Ryanair flight to take off, or for a Sky engineer to show up — qualified as living. In the interests of simplicity, let’s park that debate for the time being.
A bit of tapping of the calculator says that 3,044 of those were Saturdays or Sundays. To those we must add, I suppose, the nine or 10 Bank Holidays which occur in the UK every year, so let’s subtract another 300 days from that figure. Also I worked in Hong Fecking Kong for three years, in Kuala Lumpur for one, and I spent six months apiece in New York and Moscow. I was highly enthusiastic about hijacking the national holidays of my adopted country without discrimination for religion or ethnicity. One cannot celebrate diversity and ignore the lantern festival in HK, Eid celebrations in Malaysia or the endless commemorations of the Great Patriotic War in Russia. Let’s call this another 50 days down all the years. We have by now reduced the number to 7,263 days available to train, bed down, build a career, blossom, soar, cash in and check out.
I have forgotten to adjust for holidays though. I have usually been working off the standard entitlement of 25-29 days per annum so that’s 841 perfectly legitimate absences from the coalface. However, if I’m going to make this a transparent process then I must acknowledge that I have always regarded the allocation as a minimum rather than a maximum and I have managed to increase the vacation available to me by the following techniques: carefully avoiding all unnecessary calendars; exploiting my roving emerging market status to capitalise on the ambiguity of “where the hell is he?”; coinciding my holiday with that of my line manager; regarding attendance in the office during the last fortnight of every calendar year as purely optional; failing to appear the day after bonuses are distributed because no one cares about anything that day except what they were (or were not) paid; lying.
For example, in 2003, I was put "at risk of redundancy" on November 14. With four weeks of consultancy following, by the time I left the firm I had been paid for 69 days when I had been nowhere near that building and I still told HR I had a week left which they added onto my severance package. This was clearly a banner year but not outlandish. Averaging things out, I estimate I have actually managed to eke out more than 40 days off so we must bump that 841 guess to something more like 1,200.
Where does that leave us? 6,063? Are you keeping up? If at any point you wish to check my notoriously faulty arithmetic then I won’t be offended.
We shall not be pedantic, though. Certainly, there have been many days when my presence at the trading station has not lasted beyond noon and there was no return from a decadent lunch but one must draw the line somewhere. Moreover, I have a deadline to meet and a column to file.
There was a day at Inn Securities, though, when I arrived at work at 7.00am, could not remember my password three times, was logged out and locked out and by 7.15am I was drinking strong continental lagers in the Melton Mowbray public house. I will reluctantly add that to the debits.
Even this total is not final, though. Having resigned twice and been made redundant/threatened with a gross misconduct charge on three occasions, I have probably enjoyed (that’s definitely not le mot juste here but we’ll run with it nonetheless) gardening leave for roughly another 15 months in aggregate. There was also that week I was suspended on full pay at Salomon pending an investigation into my threats of grievous bodily harm against the head of trading.
Using the 30/360 bond calendar, that’s a whopping 450 days in which I was either stabbing effigies of various nemeses, moping, interviewing, globetrotting, not writing a novel or suing for unfair dismissal. This takes a whopping slice off the remaining sum and reduces it to the 5,600 mark.
Gentle Reader, I know what you’re thinking. You are still questioning the validity of that figure because, given my propensity for boozing in all its guises, be it enthusiastic, deipnosophist, sorrow-drowning, depressive, polite or habitual, what about all the crafty sickies I must have thrown?
That’s a fair question you are entitled to ask. I’ll do my best to answer it. I reckon I have on average, called in once every six months and complained of a hangover of extraordinary dimensions, so debilitating that my attendance in the office was simply not practicable or advisable.
A surgeon is not expected to operate after a bender the night before and we frown at pilots, redolent of the odours of the tavern, who turn up to fly a plane so why would one not think equally badly of a crapulous broker who, after a night’s debauchery, comes to work and tries to execute big business involving a lot of digits and tickers? Hangovers then? That’s probably a couple of months in aggregate.
Of genuine illness there has scarcely been any. I was laid up in bed for a week in 1992 after being shot on a stag weekend in Amsterdam. After penis reduction surgery in 2007 I sort of worked from home for another week. That’s it though. I have never been one to lie about sore throats or bad backs because the way I see it, there’s no illness half as bad as a really crippling hangover and if I call in and say, “I just can’t today” then I hope employers understand the gravity of the situation.
Let’s update the spreadsheet and see where that leaves us. I’m going to cut back another month in aggregate for miscellaneous events like the birth of my children, a bit of paternity leave, a half-dozen funerals, some corporate entertainment, some skilful manipulation of my travel schedule on business trips to wangle a long weekend here or there, house moves and my poorly executed client roadshow in Zurich when I landed without having booked a meeting in advance and discovered it was a public holiday. I think this gives me a ballpark tally of 5,500 days which, if we divide by 29 and a bit years, is 189 days worked in every year. If I add up what I’ve been paid for my daily output, even my crap salary starts to look alright.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up, is because out of the 5,500 days I have spent stockbroking, sales-trading, investment banking, turd-polishing or call it what you will, today was definitely the worst of the lot.