I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do in the morning is sterilise my mouse.
In London, they say you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. In the City, you’re never more than six feet away from a stockbroker — and the rodents are none too happy about it. Six months after the move to opulent new premises on Gresham Street, and Salvation Bank is overrun with small, brown, furry things who had the place to themselves during the renovation and refurbishment process and are now, despite the perks of (almost) human presence, reluctant to share it with investment bankers.
That the City is infested with vermin, everybody acknowledges. The Labour party front bench holds them culpable for the Global Financial Crisis and there is no denying their responsibility for the worldwide pandemics of toxic derivative structures and mispriced credit risk. What’s less well known, though, is that behind and below the monolithic glass and steel facades of the Square Mile’s cathedrals to Mammon, there exists a seamy underbelly of literal filth in which real vermin play havoc.
Yet, these are no boomtown rats. They, like me, are living off crumbs but display a resourcefulness and tenacity that I can’t match. So for them a ratty existence can just about be nibbled out of the trading floor, whereas my struggle is that of a goldfish in a bowl of rapidly-evaporating water. Rodents are survivors. They are post-nuclear. I won’t outlast MiFID. We are both operating right at the very edge of mammalian viability but I’m just on the wrong side.
It’s Monday morning at 8am and prime stockbroking time — if you go in for that kind of thing. (It’s not for me. Half-past four on a Friday? Saturday lunchtime? It’s all the same in my book: nothing happening.)
The intensely earnest salesman, two to my right, is discussing the dubious merits of some stock or other on the phone with a client. Embarrassingly, activity among the team is so low, I can actually hear not thundering taurine hooves nor reverberating ursine growls but the pitter patter of little mousey paws as one breaks cover between the broker’s feet and bolts for a cupboard.
This elicits a surprisingly high-pitched squeal, a bang as he slams his knees into his desk and then the bizarre sight of a dozen traders all lifting their petticoats like can-can dancers at the Moulin Rouge while screeching: “It’s a mouse! It’s a mouse!”
It is a mouse. Where? There, causing a stir. Alarmed by our porous borders, by caravans of rattus rattus bad hombres, these horrible, dangerous illegal migrants bringing disease, crime and terrorism, the traders are chanting in unison: “Build That Wall!”
It may well be the lunar new year of the pig but here at Salvation Bank it’s the loony new year of the rat. I reflect that this brief cameo has suddenly brought life to an otherwise moribund dealing room. Is this what that disgruntled customer meant when he called us a Mickey Mouse outfit the other day? It is as though the Pied Piper has malfunctioned, taken away all the clients to Hamelin and brought back vermin hordes in their stead.
It also brings droppings. There are many in the vicinity of my seat. I pick up my mouse, the computer not the squeaking variety, and notice that the rubber grip panels on either side have been gnawed and mauled. I wonder if whichever house mouse it was that climbed on to my desk lacked the nous to understand it was not a frau mouse with whom he was mating.
Is this what they mean by clickbait? I wonder, not for the first time, if the combination of compulsive dermatophagia and handling what has become, in effect, a murine sex toy, guarantees I contract the first case of the bubonic plague since the Peasants’ Revolt.
I saunter into the kitchen off the trading floor and notice a small pile of soil on the carpet beside one of the dozens of potted plants that dot the breakdown area and contribute to the general wellbeing of the office. I point it out to a cleaner who, presumably after subduing her instinct to tell me where I should go, informs me that the rats and the mice are burrowing into the plantpots and that this is where they live.
It is they who are responsible for dislodging the dirt as they make a comfortable nest. I feel guilty for highlighting the mess, a bit like the royal family cleansing Windsor of street sleepers before a wedding. Except I feel guilty, not that it is my birthright.
I’m off looking for a quiet corner to take a phone call. I’m expecting bad news, a category of news of which I am in such continual receipt that ‘bad news’ seems tautologous at times. I wonder if Alexander Graham Bell would have bothered with his invention if he had known it would be subverted and its sole function would be to serve as a conduit for adverse tidings.
I find a small windowless room, which seems custom-built for the purpose. It is sound-proofed for wall-crossings but it stifles cries of despair too. My instincts, which apart from when they give me market guidance, are infallible and the upshot of the call is downfall.
I sit there for a little while afterwards. The chamber does what it says on the tin: it’s silent. After a few minutes, the motion-activated lighting is extinguished and I’m sitting in darkness. It’s like practising for when I go prison (except none of my family is here) or heaven (with a side portion of sadness).
The only illumination is a small lozenge on the floor where strip lighting from the corridor shines through a glass panel in the door. It doesn’t stop me seeing the horror-show in my mind but I close my eyes. My senses register a movement. Something fast and small. Mouse. Motionless in the limelight, like a comic dying onstage.
I lean forward and the fluorescent glare flicks on immediately. “Wee, sleekit, cowrin’, tim’rous beastie/O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Immobilised by fear (that makes two of us), I can see his whole frame pulsating in panic. “Weary winter comin’ fast/An’ cosy here, beneath the blast/Thou thought to dwell.”
It definitely feels like I have invaded his patch and not vice versa. He is designed for this environment, will thrive no matter what the market conditions and will be scurrying around here, long after I’ve gone. His mission is simple: avoid the cat’s claws and what looks like free cheese. He is so tiny I can’t tell if, for that split second, we are looking into one another’s eyes. He would see the terror is mutual. I’m as musophobic as any elephant.
Rat-a-tat-tat! There’s a knock on the door. Someone has booked this room to actually make some business-related calls, would you believe. I jump up. Mouse shoots off. I don’t see where. No mouse entrusts his entire life to a solitary hole. I might have, though.