Long ago, Far away
These things don’t happen
No more, nowadays
Bob Dylan 1962
Johnny Jones, a lovely man and one of the great Pit Traders used to shout at 11.30 every day “Bars open Johnny” and still when I glance to the clock at that time I can hear him . 11.30 was the start of lunch my favourite word and my favourite meal. What a word lunch is. It conjures up a world of possibilities and host of memories and sadly now the memories of long City lunches are pretty all that we are left with. A world where the choice is between still or sparkling at the table, as if the places were occupied by fish, is a long way from the days where lunch started early , if you were in the barrel, with a Moscow Mule in The City Circle and finished with Kummel, Port or Madeira. But what days and I only wish my memories hadn’t been destroyed so much by overindulgence, however I will always remain thankful for those who gently prod the lobes and remind me of stories as Mike Tagg did last week.
One of the great joys of writing these columns is how friends from years ago call or email me saying “But you must remember ….” Ping goes the brain and I’m back and so is the memory. Now Mike and I go back several decades to the great days of City lunches, indeed when London ruled the markets and had scant regard for the U.S. opening, and his memory was jogged by my mention of Peter Shafto. I discussed Peter’s interviewing techniques last week which nudged Taggy to mention Peter’s wife. I would normally not be so ungallant as to discuss another man’s wife but in Peter’s case I must make an exception. Maggie , or Cookie, was a stunning South African blonde of fierce temper and one can only imagine the tempestuous relationship they had. Maggie was the cook at R.P.Martin at a time when every institution had Director’s cooks and dining rooms.
Lunch at Martin’s was unpredictable and certainly never dull whether it was Barclays Bank or London Borough of Camden being entertained they were lively all afternoon affairs. The senior broker would hold court and the wine would flow as if prohibition was about to start, but the real star turn was Maggie. Now she was from memory a pretty good cook with a winning smile and quick wit about her which was all good till you criticised her food. My God you were brave . naïve or foolish to do so . Or possibly all three. There would be a moment of silence and her whole demeanour would change and then the explosion of abuse occasionally culminating in the dish that you had criticised being picked up and dumped on your head. Salad or Soup it didn’t matter it was picked up and emptied on you. Now younger readers may be incredulous and I just wish I could remember the name of the dealer at AP Bank who was drenched in soup as he would verify this story and more!
It was not only the so called “in-lunches” that were so entertaining we would occasionally venture to the West End , more so in the 1980’s, where unshackled from the strict City behavioural codes and with a different audience the show would begin. Angelo , Maitre ‘D at the time at The Savoy Grill would turn a blind eye due to the huge tips would be a stopping point as would Simpsons and Joe Allens in Covent Garden . Further west there was, and is, a restaurant called Monpeliano’s in Knightsbridge where an erstwhile colleague Adrian Scott-Jones, known as loopy to all and sundry, used to really get into West End life. Loopy, was the maddest of all the people I have worked with. He almost certainly had Tourette’s but on his day was an incredible Dollar Deposit broker and there are many an unprintable story about him. God we were obnoxious and I’m not proud just thankful I knew when to stop, unlike too many of my colleagues.
Whether it was a City lunch or just a bunch of friends lunching at Langans, a venue with a lexicon of stories of its own , it has always been my favourite time of day. Indeed it was over a lunch in Switzerland that I fell in love with a girl who was to become my wife and being my wedding anniversary I better mention that lunch as my best ever ! Lunch, a time where the drudgery of the morning has gone and the excitement of the evening is just being thought of. A time to reflect and look forward and after this last week the markets feel as if they are taking a lunch break. Brexit seems like it’s on track and certainly in the UK there is at last an acceptance that we are leaving with less talk of a second referendum. Mrs May has had a good couple of weeks whilst the Labour Party seems determined to make itself as unelectable as possible. Elsewhere Dollar deposits remain bid, increasing the costs of funding, and Deutsche Bank pays out huge bonuses to its staff. Not that I’m making any sort of connection there.
Drinking habits change, as do attitudes, but it does feel like the markets are digesting a huge lunch and have absorbed too much good wine. There are the signs of some ructions coming and my fear is that the markets have been partaking of too much Port and that all hell is about to break loose. Whether it’s Tariffs, Italian politics or some unseen threat that is the needle that finally pricks the balloon their feels like there is too much risk out there. As we approach a long Easter Weekend I think that it is worth remember two market catchphrase that have relevance this week. Firstly “long weekend –reversal of trend” and secondly the Tony LaPorta dictum “ Thou shalt not loss thy ass on a Friday “( or Thursday this week) . In the coming days I would recommend de-risking and squaring off on Thursday and use the weekend to take stock. And my best piece of advice? A nice quiet lunch on Thursday in Langans. If that’s possible.
PS I do not, contrary to rumour, own shares in Langans.