I find the hymnic, incantatory rhythms of the shipping forecast quite beguiling. The best place to hear it, of course, is lying abed in the darkness, watching the rain lashing the bedroom windows and languidly contemplating the sufferings of a fisherman on some storm-tossed North Sea trawler.
Unfortunately, the ridiculous, auroral conventions of the City mean that, most often, I am listening to the weather bulletin through headphones, on my train journey into the office. This morning, gazing out of the train windows at the frozen allotments and back gardens of south-west London that hem the rail track, the rocking of the carriage matched the meter of the announcer’s and I could have sworn I heard him say:
“Here is the general synopsis from the Met Office issued on behalf of the coastguard and maritime agencies at 0505. Rough. Occasionally very rough. Rain or snow. Turning to misery later.” Sounds about right, I thought to myself.
I’m having to take the train every day at present owing to a fractured foot, the same pedestal an impatient chauffeur drove over in his limo last November as I was climbing into it. I cracked the accessory ossicle just below my right ankle, a bone of which I was not even aware until I clove it in two, trying to turn sharply on the five-a-side football pitch. Since I was playing with a couple of fund managers during lunch hour at the time, I’m counting this as a ‘broking injury’ and sooner or later Salvation Bank should expect to be in receipt of a vast compensation claim, which might fund my dotage in a way my expected earnings never will.
I went a long way through life without anything breaking, except, of course, for my heart, which in recent years has spent more time in plaster than out, but I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. However, I’m so self-conscious about my low productivity levels on the desk at present (at present? Make that forever) that I felt I could not justify time out of the office, leaving straight for A&E. Even the following morning, the foot pulsating like a big bass drum, I took a cab to work and hoped to soldier on before capitulating to the unalleviable pain mid-morning.
The initial verdict was a bad sprain. I limped back to the office almost embarrassed with such a pathetic diagnosis. Not only were my commission numbers woeful but I was a malingerer to boot. On every trading floor, there is typically an overwhelming consensus as to the identity of the limping impala, the most readily disposable employee earmarked for sacrifice should there be a cull. If you are not aware of this consensus you are the limping impala. It’s almost as if LI is painted onto the back of my seat.
Criteria for LI status are not simply a matter of revenue generation. Sometimes, having the reputation as a refractory maverick can render you most likely to be jettisoned the minute they think of a pretext. (See Pained Trader passim.) Limping Impala status can make you popular among peers, though. Everybody likes someone else between them and oblivion. The ranking is almost irreversible. The only possible salvation is someone whose claudication is worse than yours but, if you’ve broken your foot, these creatures are mythical.
Thankfully, the radiologist double-checked the X-ray and rang my line with the bad tidings from her medical perspective/good news from the standpoint of my professional credibility. Yes, I was most definitely suffering from chronic Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and, while they were at it, yes, my foot was busted. I conducted this conversation at maximum volume. “Clean break, you say? Yes, you are right, the pain oscillated only modestly between debilitating and searing but I didn’t want to make a fuss,” until I was satisfied the whole floor was now apprised of my condition.
Other than the exaggeratedly asymmetric abnormality of my gait there is no outward sign of my distress. No boot, no crutches, no cast but my hobble is so pronounced and the wincing so clear to see, no one at Salvation Bank is unaware of my commitment to the cause. Some brokers break china for their clients but I, I broke my foot.
The morning commute, a chore at the best of times in January’s polar vortex, has become a journey of Shackletonian dimensions. My lunchtime passegiata to the bookshop and the high-street baker is curtailed until further notice and the coffee-shop on Cheapside, ‘manned’ by Eastern European women, all wearing blouses one size too small, is out of range.
Hitherto, I only limped when I had an erection. Now it’s part of my life, bestowing an unwelcome note of melancomedy to everything I do. Shuffling to Mansion House, I am Ratso in Midnight Cowboy. Hopping to the gents, I’m Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects. When I write this column, my leg is curled beneath me like Byron’s club foot. And when immobilised by the pellucid gaze of some long-lashed paramour, I’m Michael, the village idiot, lame and lovestruck by Ryan’s Daughter.
Yes, on the 05.14 Richmond to Waterloo service this frosty, final morning of January, my limp nodes are finely attuned as I’m transported back by the comforting poetry of The Shipping Forecast. Back with my grandfather, back in the tiny kitchen of the house by the bus-stop on those mean and beaten streets of that grim, northern metropolis where I grew up. Grandad was a merchant seaman in the Second World War and these mackerel-crowded seas, these wild winds, these highs and lows of pressure were as real to him as they are unreal to me.
I think Grandad joined the Merchant Navy thinking it was safer than the Royal Navy. He was torpedoed by U-boat 101 and sunk off the Irish coast. Two lifeboats were lowered and drifted on the Atlantic for a week with a couple of dozen shipmates and a few tins of bully beef between them. His was picked up by a packet steamer and deposited in Buenos Aires. The other was never seen again. All hands lost. When I stated the bleeding obvious — that he’d been lucky to survive — he replied without hesitation that he wasn’t so fortunate to have been torpedoed in the first place. That was how he looked at things.
So as the familiar sounds and place names are piped into my mind first thing, I think of him on that lifeboat and here am I in a semi-deserted train carriage fretting about the broking day ahead and my own desperate fight for my broking life.
This is The Broking Forecast Issued by The City at 0600:
Waterloo: South-westerly direction. Moderate. Wintry showers. Low building. Visibility pants.
Bank: Cyclonic becoming moronic later, increasing gale 8 at times. Not good, mostly poor.
Cheapside: Moving slowly southward, outbreaks of wind, filling in more slowly, going lowly. Bloody awful.
Bishopsgate: Variable, rising quickly, rain or mist. Pissed in parts. Fair.
Mansion House: Going south, cyclonic between 5 and 7am. Rough, occasionally very rough. Tough going. Going Gone.
Moorgate: Backing singers, 8-10. Calm. Fair. Sea smooth. Pretty boring.
Emerging Markets: Violent storm. Soon. Very poor or fog. Rather quickly. Falling. Cyclonic, veering, backing all at the same time. Phenomenal. Submerging.
Wood Street: Extremely variable. Highs and lows. Rough. Occasionally very rough, sometimes terrifying. Fair. Sleet at times. When it’s good, very good. 8, 9, 10. Rising. No subduing. When it’s bad… fog.
Gresham Street: Warning of gales. Backing south westerly trains. Veering home later. Slowly. Absolutely marvellous.
Career: Light breeze. Falling softly. High pressure at times. Rain at times. Hail at times. Worst of times. Showers. Imminent. Not good. Will always be poor. Limping.