picture by ton3vita
It's an astonishing 23 years this month since I started work in the City.
(I can still remember my first day: it was an appropriately high tension, sweaty one as I found myself hopelessly lost walking in small circles around Holborn viaduct looking for an office I had never been to before, without the aid of an A to Z or even, in fact, the address)
In the first twenty-two years, eleven months of my career I witnessed just three financial events of the where-you-when? variety. They were:
- 19 October 1987
- 16 September 1992
- and, of course, most excitingly of all: the glorious champagne soaked hedonism of the celebrations in the old Arbitrager, Throgmorton Street on 16 March, 1988
And, if there was pattern to my witness it was that on each of those events I didn't actually have a clue to the full extent of the crisis before me, and each time I mainly got on with my work, glancing occasionally at the screen, before going home to have my tea.
Actually it's a good job I wasn't a trader because I don't think I would have been a successful one: a key skill in the markets is realising, seeing, understanding the situation you are actually in, the crisis that is unfolding, the options and opportunities available; and then choosing one. Indeed perhaps that's the key to facing any crisis whether financial, military or indeed of the soul: it's not choosing the fork in the road that's hard: it's noticing that you were, in point of fact, at a fork.
So third time around, facing the collapse of the financial markets and quite possibly TEOTWAWKI, I was determined to do better and to pay more attention and so, instead of merely working, I have spent the last three weeks chuckling at the sardonic wit on alphaville, standing outside Lehman brothers watchnig laptops walking out the building in what amounted to a mass looting and, in the evenings, mainly panicking.
I was a believer in omens, or superstition I would have noted how the extraordinary events in the markets were once again accompanied by extraordinary weather: while Black Monday was preceded by a hurricane, the fall of Lehmans and Merrill took place with Canary Wharf bathed in unseasonal sunshine, and on the Friday evening, ten days ago, several thousand people gathered in Jubilee Place to drink and talk in the eerie, late autumn sunshine.
Twenty-three years previously, in October 1985, as it become later and later, and I became sweatier and sweatier, it eventually dawned on me that I was actually going to have to ask for help and, at my wit's end I went inside an open church door, and asked the vicar. For an unbeliever I seem to have spent a lot of my life in churches.
The priest was kind but clueless, but right outside I met a grimy street cleaner who had no trouble at all pointing out the Coopers & Lybrand building. I hurried away, and when I remembered to look back to thank him he had disappeared. I got to work at 8:59; perhaps he was an angel.