I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth
Carole King/Gerry Goffin
I was going to write about being under pressure this week inspired by the waitress in a local coffee shop who was moaning at 7.30 in the morning, in an empty shop, that she was under stress. Hmm, I thought, that’s stress but not as I understand it. I had even worked out in my mind about using the great David Bowie song under pressure to open the article. Luckily I mean the transcript of the first verse not my shower time rendition and then talk about how we reacted to pressure and let the steam valves open. This of course would feature various hostelries from Shorts to The Hole in the Wall bar, thank you Danny Elsey for the nudge, through to the more rock and roll relaxation techniques that were employed.
Tempting, really tempting, and indeed as with lunches there are a cornucopia of stories but the thought of having to change so many names was a bit too challenging for a Sunday morning so the stories of Big Val and little Tony n the City Circle or Maggie in The Cock and Woolpack will have to wait a while. I am still going to look back but to a time and a market where to be as hard as nails wasn’t always quite tough enough. I suspect that all brokers and traders have a league table of speed and aggression that the various markets in the City represent. For example , and this is only a personal view, the broking of Local Authority loans ( where I started) was and probably still is the bottom of the food chain followed by Sterling interbank up through Dollar Depots to Spot FX . I can only talk about the days that the markets were still in their pomp and dealing rooms were filled with noise and voice broking was the only broking we knew. All these markets I worked in and , rightfully or wrongly , viewed the aggression of the money markets one up from say the Stock market , Lloyds or the Gilt market .For me though the hardest , fastest and most unforgiving markets were the futures markets.
It’s hard to sometimes to reconcile, let alone explain, the aggression of a market and the happy memories. You literally stood and shouted your orders for up to eight hours and tried to physically intimidate your counterparty. The first pits used to open at 8.02 we had all of our buy and sell orders ready, our pit trader knew them and was shouting along with the other traders selected orders pre market from 8.00. Danny, (Danny The Rot, so called because at 18 he was as aggressive as a Rottweiler), and Jonny Staf were ready with their cards to record trades and then throw them back to the junior trader behind them who at the same time was using hand signals to communicate orders to the market . This carried on till 4.02 in the afternoon. In the booth 3 of us were on two phones each to our biggest clients whilst a junior also had two phones one to our overseas offices and one to Prebons, the money broker. At the time a voice commentary was quicker than the screens and also could add in colour such as the size of the order and who was buying. I must say it was one of the most awful jobs going as the money brokers would be dealing off the prices and if he gave a wrong quote they would hear “Exocet !!” as I launched a telephone at him . Worse still was that when he really hacked me off and it was raining I would make him go and sit on my motorbike to keep the seat dry.
Some of it sounds awful behaviour and it was and I’m not proud. I still see my old yellow jacket (junior traders and Runners had to wear a yellow jacket), David, at Football matches and he admits although we were brutal it was a great training. David holds no grudges and has had a highly successful career in Bond trading. Well no grudges apart from the motorbike story, oh and the Pheasants and he did mention the £20k loss. He almost deserves a column to himself!
There are two things that really stick out to me only one of which I knew at the time. This is the humour. A times it was Batsey ( named after Norman Bates of Psycho) running around the Short Sterling pit at break neck speed pretending he was on a motorbike or the more childish humour of attaching a nylon transparent fishing line to the back of a fifty pound note and then as an innocent runner bent over to pick it up jerking it away. On really quiet boring days the more craft conscious of us would fashion working spurs from trading cards which would be attached to an innocent traders shoes who would then walk around to yelps of Yee-hah. I can still hear the communal singing whether it was a rendition of “ Don’t cry for me Argentina” for Jimmy Two names, as he entered the market after an evening of debauchery, or the humming of the twilight zone before the release of Non-Farm Payrolls. 3000 people humming or singing in and enclosed space was quite magical. Not as moving though as the two minutes silence observed every year for Remembrance Day. It didn’t matter how fast the market it stopped. This still sends a shiver down my spine when I remember it. It didn’t matter whether you came from the East End or the West End or who you worked for at certain times we all came together.
To me though, the most amazing thing to come out of the market is the friendships. Remember this was a market where you stabbed someone in the front if you got the chance. Nothing sneaky if you didn’t agree with someone you did what you had to do. I am ashamed of a lot of my actions down there –my finest moment was certainly not cutting the phone cable of a rival broker just before a figure (sorry Jaffa my old cocker). Actually even the nicknames could be vicious. Jaffa? So called because he couldn’t have children, in other words seedless. But you know what? If I saw him again we would have a good laugh about it. Err well perhaps he was the exception.
I am feeling reflective this weekend , partly as the I’ve been glancing back at what I have said about the markets and Italy for the past few weeks ,but more pertinently because I’ve been in contact with four people who worked for me back in the 1990s. Always a little worrying when you haven’t seen or spoken to someone for 20 years and you recall stories like the one about David I mentioned earlier but this is not a plea for them to just tell me nice stories of the old days its actually the wonderful camaraderie that is felt between all ex floor staff be they the lowest of the low to the very top we all shared an experience which was unique sometimes the worst job but as memory brings a sepia tone for many the greatest days of their lives. I just hope I am remembered for being a decent boss on more days than those when I was a bastard. As I managed to sit opposite one on a train recently and he still got in contact with me despite me obviously having a conversation without recognising him I cant have been that bad!