Like a giraffe cropping high leafage while surrounded by unambitious herbivores, I take a quick and crafty shufti around the dealing room. Half past three on a Friday afternoon and most colleagues are somnolent, already halfway to their bolthole in the Cotswolds or their ski weekend in Verbier. I have an appointment with two professionals from the carnal knowledge industry, heavy of build, light of virtue to get to myself, and am looking to make an early but unobtrusive exit. It goes without saying I have nothing to detain me, nothing demanding my presence on the desk other than political, clock-watching considerations but, equally, I could have said that first thing in the morning. On Monday.
Showing a foresight otherwise lacking in this so-called career, preparations have been made. My coat is in the corridor. A decoy jacket hangs on the back of my chair. Diary, pen and calculator lie in suspended animation on the table-top, giving every impression of a busy broker who has just let up momentarily but will be back any second to continue his relentless pursuit of that most elusive quarry: commission.
Now is the moment. I push my chair back, stand up and take a step in the opposite direction to the door. My well-planned exit route is circuitous and designed to exploit natural shields like potted plants, cupboards or tall people. There is a patch of exposed carpet, devoid of cover, close to the lift, which may necessitate a commando crawl but I don’t make it that far. My foot, the broken one, is caught in the strap of my rucksack; I perform an inelegant Arabesque and then am brought down like a flying winger tackled by the full-back just shy of the try-line.
Since my accessory ossicle was cleft in two playing footy, I have been careful to avoid accidental bumps and bangs, and this was the first serious blow it has sustained. It is my Achilles heel although, technically, the injury is closer to my ankle and I am no Achilles. There was a wail of anguish and the ejaculation of some coarse, Anglo-Saxon curses, not heard since Geoffrey Chaucer was waddling round Aldgate. It is said one cannot feel pain in two places at the same time but for a good quarter of an hour the throbbing plates gave the aching heart a good run for its money. By the time the agony had subsided, the undertaking had lost its momentum and the element of surprise and was aborted. "Conscience does make cowards of us all/ And thus the native hue of resolution/ Is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought/ And enterprise of great pitch and motion/ With this respect their currents turn awry/ and Lose the name of action.”
I considered the irony that the more successful one is in the City, the less time one needs to spend in it. Write a big ticket in the morning and you feel entirely justified in going out for lunch. Nothing beats that dream-heavy feeling. You walk out the door, your heart bobbing like a cork on the ripples of the river, knowing you’ve done enough so your return is optional and thrill to the light music of the first wine being decanted by the waiter. Write tickets all week, why not treat yourself to a long weekend in a grand hotel in one of the capitals of Old Europe? Ultimately, when you are successful enough you needn’t ever come here at all.
The sales-trading duo behind me crossed up a block of £320m in a UK share last week and booked almost half a million pounds of commission in a frenzy of high-fiving and back-slapping. As a consequence, since then both colleagues are visibly relaxed, do a lot of internet shopping, have been leisurely with their time-keeping and taken a few days off.
In contrast, I have brooded, jealous and moody, like a pianist in a brothel. The bigger the Square Mile flop, the longer the custodial sentence to be served. I’m in for life, with no chance of parole and in fact time added on for bad behaviour. I’m too frightened to desert my position in case I come back and it’s no longer there. O’ the frustration. It’s like the withheld kiss beneath the moonlit, leafless trees.
It appears I barely made it home on Friday evening before I was back at the coalface again on Monday morning and picking up an order — news in itself — from a client who deals so infrequently I must confess he had slipped off the bottom of my Post-It sticker. I received complementary trading instructions — delivered in an impatient register —that I was to execute the bargain while participating at a strict 20% of the market’s volume. The stock was, I noted, extremely illiquid and could possibly have occupied the rest of my so-called career. I calculated the gross consideration of the share purchase. It was just in excess of £11,000. This was an institutional fund manager and I regard myself as an institutional broker. I’m not paranoid (ask that bloke standing behind me) but this was a deliberate and carefully conceived insult. These are depths from which only a trained diver can return.
We were only able to fill about a third of the order. I treated the "business" with the contempt it deserved and paid it scant attention. We banked £8.00 from the transaction, which is the exact cost of the glass of wine Leonardo calls "The Elegant One" in my latest hideaway for lunchtime passeggiata. An automated confirmation was sent off and I thought no more of it.
Until the client called in the following day to complain we had charged him 0.2% commission rather than the 0.1% to which he felt he was entitled. Sometimes my job feels like a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake. I told him it was so long since we had seen him on the order pad, he was lucky he was not billed in crowns and shillings.
I totted up the brokerage. The revised rate netted us £4.00, which won’t even buy me a glass of what Leonardo calls "The Robust One" and I got to thinking, not for the first time, that the particular always contains a universal and so what dark, malevolent forces were they, those responsible for reducing things to this degradation? Why is it what you have always seems to be at the expense of or instead of something else, rather than as well as? Only a heart the size of a full-stop would deny it.