Over dinner last week, the Satin Latin opposite gave it to me straight: “Your qualities are going out of style”.
At the time I was not particularly offended because the implication was that some qualities were present, but they were clearly going out of style faster than I thought because she did one a few minutes later. No-Deal Exit. I hadn’t even finished my affogato and was left to talk to myself and contemplate my reflection in the restaurant window. The view was not so good but the conversation was better.
Expectations informed by a lifetime’s experience, in my heart of hearts, I had not anticipated a more positive outcome. The chances of her taking the fit of my lips and her hands running all over me like mice in the back of a cab and being invited up for a coffee were more remote than some pygmy tribes in the Congo basin but I had thought I would make it as far as coffee in the restaurant before my resistible allure faded. If it hadn’t been for me that might have gone quite well. Thus she began applying herself to the arduous process of driving me slowly out of my mind but this time I may be afforded the privilege of ordinary heartbreak rather than its extraordinary equivalent.
What with one thing or another, I could not face work when I woke Friday morning, so I raised the middle finger to stockbroking, put a call into Salvation Bank, stated my intention to take two days off and booked a flight to the south of France at lunchtime. “Are you sick?” my line manager asked. I pride myself on very little but I am fiercely resistant to the idea of swinging the lead. I’d rather be ill in the office on their time than waste a day out of it, lying in bed. I assured him I was just sick of working. He seemed satisfied with that explanation. There, beside the log fire, I hunkered down in my farmhouse, snuggled up against the woods and the raw, Pyrenean winter, with wine, opera and books as sleet and snow fell soundlessly outside. It was like practising for retirement which, the way things are going at present, is just around the corner — and enforced.
Holed up in la France profonde as Britain is about to cast itself adrift of Europe provided an excellent perspective on things. I could sit there, watching the emails pinging in, the meetings being arranged, the feedback being sent around, research notes distributed, online compliance training reminders and the usual corporate cheerleading guff silting up the inbox and feel totally divorced from the whole process. I was physically a thousand miles away but on my mobile phone’s Bloomberg app, I could witness all my colleagues engaged in the usual degrading routine of badgering and begging for business, the crass solicitation of trades and the superabundance of cut and paste.
Yet again, I felt like it was nothing to do with me at all and here’s the thing: this is what it feels like when I’m in the office anyway.
I sit here in the trenches, surrounded by the sales people, who for the most part broke assiduously, and sales-traders whose days may be consumed in large part by the Daily Mail website but they are present nonetheless and they all seem to be doing something, at least some of the time.
The Pained Trader, though? He’s there but he’s not there. I couldn’t feel more like a passenger if I were hoisted onto a sedan and carted round the trading floor by colleagues. I’m going through the motions (at times it feels like I’m going through someone else’s motions) turning up roughly on time (though at 6.59am I am unfailingly the last in his seat) leaving roughly the same time as everyone else (well, I am first out but I assume everyone else is not long behind) tap away at my keyboard (I wouldn’t care for HR to be observing exactly what) and make the odd, perfunctory phone call (I wouldn’t care for HR to record to whom precisely) and to the casual observer must look like another cog in a well-oiled machine.
The reality, however, is minimal output regardless of the input and it becomes progressively harder to get the boiler running. The hip flask has made a stealthy return to the top drawer. Cynicism piles up like so many leaves in the garden. Working the phones like a pro, trawling the buy-side for an order can feel as pointless as Xerxes horsewhipping the Hellespont. I no longer strive to strive towards such things/Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?
Will crashing out of Europe on a no-deal Brexit change things materially? I will not gainsay fortune but 29 years in this industry has taught me that all developments are adverse and all change unfavourable.
At Salvation Bank nothing is left to chance and they have very responsibly spent months preparing contingency plans and war-gaming Brexit scenarios. I think most members of staff have been involved and are well-briefed on their responsibilities and the meetings have been well-meaning if endless. I have remained struthiously aloof to the whole process.
Because I’m a one-man band and am the only person following emerging markets here, I have discovered that I am left off a lot of mailing lists and can simply not participate in most corporate stuff and fail to show up to most meetings without anyone really noticing. My contribution to the overall team effort at Salvation Bank is negligible — and diminishing.
MiFID has been bad enough. No-deal Brexit? What else can they throw at us? Corbyn, that’s what, and now that I think about it, isn’t that Christmas looming on the horizon? There’s no end to the suffering.
I qualify for several passports through marriage or ancestry — Australian, Irish and Turkish (although national service is enough of a deterrent for the latter) — and I feel half French (the bottom half, naturally) especially with my little, tumbledown smallholding there. I take comfort from the fact in the event of Brexit leading us to civil war I can simply relocate to any of these places.
Connected remotely, Salvation Bank might not even know. The P&L won’t look much different. In or out of Europe? I know which side of the trade I want to be on.