Money is like sex: only too much is enough and I have none of either. This, what passes for a dazzling aperçu in the dark and unswept corners of my mind, presented itself to me during a lunch this week, held to honour a friend and former colleague of mine who is shortly to leave the City.
Unlike most of those departing from the Square Mile, this move is of his own volition and it’s a decision made from a position of strength. That’s a move and a decision, the likes of which I have never made then. He’s been in this game for 20 years or so and by virtue of answering the phone when it rang, taking down an order and then calling back with an execution afterwards – a lot, amassed a fortune sufficiently bulky to just call it quits.
“Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Larkin: Poetry of Departures
He retires earlier than me, spent fewer years imprisoned in the arachnoid grasp of finance and probably earned more than I did in the couple of unhappy years we sat beside each other than I made in aggregate in 30 years of hard labour. The business model for broking the old-fashioned way was now broken, he opined and I thought to myself that if his modus operandi was obsolete, then mine, such as it is, sit there and hope, would require archaeologists to revivify.
Despite co-habiting a very small space for an extended period of time I could not tell you what the secret of his success was, although I’m sure if you asked him, he would be able to explain very clearly the reasons for my failure. Wisdom comes to us when it’s too late to do any good. Maybe stockbroking, or its spurious derivative, sales-trading, is like love: you are either born knowing how, or you’ll never know. Perhaps you can make a good phone jockey, but he must be born first.
His final day in this industry will be the end of this month which, by my calculations, means eleven more sleeps, if we disregard weekends. I could put up with what I am putting up with now if I knew it were only a fortnight. We discussed his ambitions beyond the 30th — or at least we would have done had he any — but they did not appear to extend much further than lying abed until late, a bit of golf and presumably a lot of day-time self-interference.
Stretching into the early evening, it was a lunch of the non-returning kind, heavier than hard luck and bristling with the stand-up scorn which passes for affection among friends of long standing.
All were in agreement an early exit (from investment banking, not lunch) was the right and dignified course of action and I think before leaving I too resolved to hang up the headset and call it a day. I boarded the District Line at Mansion House, was fast asleep before Blackfriars and was shaken awake by a SW Trains’ cleaner 19 stops later at Richmond. By the time I arrived home, my resolution was forgotten.
I was feeling the after-effects when I shuffled into the office the following morning, still redolent of the odours of the tavern, a box of frogs croaking in my head, dyspeptic and depressed beyond normal parameters.
A divorcé friend of mine sidled over, a look which combined hateful complacency and unbearable smugness on his face. I have been following closely his travails as a singleton since his re-wilding in the bachelor hunting grounds and, for the most part, the experiences he recounts have been salutary and confirm that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, only if artificial turf has been laid.
The tousled hair, the crumpled suit and the faraway look in his eyes indicated the night past had been spent in pursuit of l’amour, that he had caught up with his quarry and had only very recently crept out of her boudoir.
He had not spent his hours of darkness in a hot froth like me. He had not been tormented by thoughts of the acres of pristine Egyptian cotton, folded taut across king-size beds in hotel rooms across the capitals of old Europe, on which a willowy frame might be debriefed and worshipped.
No, he had been given a swanky hotel room round the corner, the better to prepare for Salvation Bank’s conference this week, and he had brought up to London his latest squeeze and he was now determined to tell me all about it in painstaking detail.
‘O Beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds upon.’ Every time a friend succeeds something in me dies. It’s not enough that I fail. Others must fail too.
Slumped over my desk I raised my right arm straight above my head and turned its open palm towards him. “I don’t want to know.”
In the telling, he was actually quite circumspect, for which I was grateful. Halfway through his narrative, though, he seemed to lose his train of thought: “What are you looking at?”
I followed his stare towards my screens where, owing to a surfeit of motivational fatigue and physical lethargy, I had not bothered to open the following: Bloomberg; email; my order management system; Excel. What grabbed his attention was the only thing I had bothered to launch: an image off the internet of an oil painting I saw at an exhibition of the pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones this Sunday.
Indulging my agastopic appetites, I had sat rapt in the gallery in front of the most beautiful derriere a paintbrush ever portrayed. Andromeda’s natiform allure had established dominion over my libido and in the toxic fug of a hangover of immodest dimensions, I had sought to increase my dopamine levels with a cheeky gander.
Two thirds of the canvas are tyrannised by jaws and swords in dark metallics and depict the titanic struggle between Perseus and the sea monster, Cetus. However, the viewer’s gaze is pulled hypnotically towards the left of the painting where Andromeda stands, monopolising the light, chained to a rock, turning languidly towards the savage battle raging behind her, her left foot lifted ever-so-elegantly off the stone. She is naked. Saliva dries. Drink it in. Close your eyes. You will go on seeing her with them shut. The imagination is not a bucket to fill but a rick to set alight.
My mate looked at the screen and then back at me, recommended I should just look at dodgy websites like everyone else, and carried on with the story of his conquest.
My mind drifted away, to Andromeda, to other buns, to other shadows and to the carbon dioxide out there somewhere, just waiting to be inhaled.