Some of you already know – but many won’t – that I spent years stockbroking in very large corporations in London in what can only be described as a testosterone-filled battery farm where each of us had our “pitch” which consisted of 2 pcs, 6-8 screens, every newswire and newsfeed you could think of, a two-phone phone system and about 3 ½ foot of space to sit at.
For the last 17 years, until I quit 3 years ago, aged 46, I was one of some 800 people on one floor of the building who spent 12-14 hours a day sat there, under artificial lighting, trying to make as much money as I could for the firm buying and selling shares (with the intention of also getting paid very handsomely myself in the process).
Yeah, you’ve seen the films of manic trading floors with people shouting at each other, with noise levels near to ear-breaking levels. Of people slamming phones down, swearing, shouting, getting angry, jumping for joy………. that was my world.
I started at 6am each morning and, trading Asian shares, we joined them half way through their day as, for the most part, they were some 8 hours ahead of us. So we hit the deck running every morning, quickly catching up with what had gone on in their world overnight and then within 30 minutes of sitting down at our desk each morning we had to get up in front of the whole floor and impart that knowledge to the rest of the traders & salesman flawlessly in a very professional manner.
I say ‘professional manner’ because if you ever stumbled, forgot what to say or got anything wrong you would be booed off the floor and publicly ridiculed! Not a pleasant experience I can tell you.
Fast moving stock markets, fast moving prices, two phones on the go at once all day, people shouting things at you, barking orders to be placed and levels at which to buy and sell their shares, frantic was not the word. Stress levels that would make most people question their existence within days of doing the job, and a brutal apprenticeship, that regularly brought the toughest of young men to weep like babies. Public humiliation if you made mistakes, the works!
Then, after a 12/14 hour shift, you were expected to regularly entertain clients, which involved everything from a quiet meal to lavish no-expense-spared parties in posh wine bars or private clubs trying desperately to convince your clients that WE were the brokers they should use. I have regularly been kept out by clients (some of whom have been the most boring company I have ever had the displeasure of meeting) until the early hours of the morning at their request.
You see, as a Stockbroker, if your client tells you they want to go to the Savoy Grill for dinner, then you’d better get them a table there. If he then says he wants to go to Café De Paris (a members only club in Leicester Square) and drink the finest champagne until 4am in the morning, then you have to do it, no matter how unsavoury their company may be. And yes, that did still mean that you were back at your desk at 6am sharp for another gruelling 12 hour session at work and, yes, you may have to do the same the following night.
Sadly, to make matters worse, there is no hiding place on a dealing floor and dealing with sometimes millions of £s worth of trades; if you slip up, you get sacked.
So all in all, as you can imagine, this takes a great toll on your body.
You start losing touch with reality, dealing in billions of £’s worth of other people’s money year in year out, eating out far too many times in swanky establishments, drinking far too much and never getting enough sleep. You can quickly understand why the divorce rate is circa 95% of anyone in that profession (and I speak from personal experience) and why waistlines balloon out!
Having said that, the humour in that environment was priceless. Some of the stories I tell harbour on disbelief for those not present, but they happened. Like the trader who was bet £500 he couldn’t eat 15 bananas in 30 minutes. He got to about 6 in 8 minutes before a “potassium overload” started shutting down all the nerve endings in his body to the point he could no longer feel his arms and feet, resulting in him being carried off to a sick bay and remaining absent for work for 2 days much to the hilarity of all those on the floor (don’t try that one, I have since found out it could be lethal!)
Routinely on coming back from lunch people would sit down in their chair to find someone had emptied out a bottle of water on their seat whereby it would appear to anyone else that the said person had “wet their pants” having sat in a soggy puddle of water, so they would have to stand up for the rest of the day to do their work!
Smoked salmon under the mouthpiece on the phone was another favourite. On the old phones we would unscrew the round mouthpiece and place a little bit of fish there. The victim would complain of a fish smell for a day and then, as it started to fester they would call down the technical guys to see what was wrong to loud guffaws of laughter from everyone around.
I have been masking-taped to my chair drunk back from lunch and stuck in the lifts with every button pressed so that you had to suffer the humiliation of having dozens of people enter the lift and stare at you. Another classic was to sew up jacket sleeves so that when you went out you would be seen looking like a penguin walking to the foyer trying to get your arms through your jacket sleeves! Changing round the keyboard keys was another favourite on return from lunch, too! Confuses the hell out of you after a few glasses of wine when you can’t type. One of my favourites was to put 1,000s of paper punch holes in someone’s umbrella so that when they hit the plush foyer they would open their brolly and it would look like a scene from a wedding showering all around in home-made confetti. Unscrewing chairs, to tying shoelaces together under someone’s desk, you name it, we had it done. We took particular delight removing one of our salesman’s pants and socks from his travel bag just before he went on a two week trip to rural China with some important clients.
On my arrival in Hong Kong late one night, weary after the previous week having visited Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, I ended up sleeping on the floor in the Mandarin Oriental due to the fact a fax had been sent ahead by one of my “mates” for a bet saying that I had a really bad back and needed the bed totally removed from my room. That happened twice. There was also a chap who had been going out on a business trip to Hong Kong (some 13 hour flight) who had arrived to find that there was a sheet of plastic over his business class seat. This had been done due to the fact that the airline had been sent a spoof letter from a colleague complete with letter-headed paper from our firm stating that the said gentleman was incontinent and that he turned violent when drunk so was refused alcohol for the entire journey. The chap in question was a big drinker so I would love to have been there when he was told that one.
The list goes one and , in the earlier days the fun part was a major part of the job, sometimes brutal but, whatever anyone did to you rendered them fair game to be “had back” at some future date!
But the world was artificial, the lifestyle was artificial and a lot of the people were artificial.
Whilst up there last Christmas at a broker’s drink I was approached by an old friend of mine who was persistent in trying to coax me back to the City for “one last year”. The answer was simple……..
There is not enough money in the world for me to swap where I live now and who I am among to ever lure me back to that lifestyle.
So what is being rich? What does it actually mean? Plenty of people I worked with thought they were… but were they really? Moving to Bude made things real again: the place is real, the people are real, the friendships are real, the air that I breathe is real and the light above me is also real (sunshine, not strip-lighting – ok not all the time, I grant you, but…)
There may be some people in Bude that don’t completely see the beauty and richness of where we live but I do. What we have here is a place of incredible beauty, of community and community spirit. A place where people help each other. It’s not about money, it’s about the place and the people that make this place so rich in life.
The beaches are incredible, the variety of waves and surf spots we can surf is amazing, the scenery is stunning…..it never ceases to blow me away.
We are rich in spirit here, we are rich in nature, we are rich in community and I, for one, feel incredibly privileged to be able to enjoy what we have here in Bude.
Big Up Bude ….Loving where we live ……….