Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure that brings a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
Written by Queen and David Bowie
Richard Matthews 17th June 2018
Whilst I was standing waiting for my morning coffee a couple of weeks back the manageress was muttering to one of her suppliers about how she couldn’t live with the pressure. At 7.30 in the morning and a shop bereft of customers, apart from me, where was the pressure? Being a Sunday and having a naturally kind disposition I will be generous and suggest that maybe she had had a row with her partner? Or the District line was late again or perhaps taking in my sunny persona first thing was too much for her to handle? Do I really buy that or was she just suffering from the inability to take any kind of stress that seems so prevalent these days amongst the younger generation?
Baristas, Roasters, house blend, maps where the coffee came from are all far cries to the cafes where we used to buy our coffee from in the morning. From my first days in the City up till the late 90s getting a coffee was just what it said and the only question shouted at you was “Sugar”? That was it, simple. I’m not in any way suggesting that the coffee isn’t better but sometimes I just want a simple Coffee. I don’t want to have a discussion over where the bloody bean came from or indeed give them my name although I do enjoy doing so at Starbucks using my nickname and then watching the Barista shout out it out.
The old staff in the sandwich shops, which always seemed to be owned and run by Italians for some reason certainly didn’t ask your name and didn’t really care as they prepared a toasted fried egg sandwich or some other cholesterol raising delight. They just served you and then got on with preparing the staple sandwiches which they would sell later. Simple sandwiches, Cheese and Tomato, Sandwich spread, Ham and Tomato or maybe the really exotic Prawn Sandwich. All freshly cut and piled up with not a shred of cling wrap in sight and any old dishcloth used as protection from the flies and fag ash that were certainly flying around. No thought of Health and safety or indeed healthy eating but boy a bacon sandwich for breakfast and a slice of bread pudding never did anyone any harm, did it?
The pressure associated with sandwiches was not generated in the shops where I presumed tidy fortunes were being made on the back of cash transactions and in the secondary market of Luncheon Vouchers*. LVs were given out as a perk and at the beginning of the month there would be a healthy market in them with the serious lunchers selling them with the juniors and back office employees bidding for them. It certainly ages me that the LV that I can clearly remember was for 15p and I guess the market would be 12p-15p. Oh what fun but nothing compared to the fun of the dreaded sandwich run.
The City, certainly was, a meritocracy and it didn’t matter who you were, who your Dad was or what school you went to you started at the bottom. In the Futures markets that meant you wore a yellow jacket and ran errands, a runner, and in the money markets you started as a board boy which is how I started. I guess a board boy for those not familiar with a dealing room is somewhat like the guy who marked up the board at an old fashioned bookies pitch. The dealing room would always have a long white board (I think that it was actually a black board with chalk when I started) which was dived into rectangles, nothing like the massive electronic boards in the Futures Market. The rectangles would represent different time periods for example in the deposit markets the different time periods from overnight, Thursday/Friday , weekend through to five years would each have their own rectangle. These were in week segments to start with then as the maturity became longer maybe quarterly and eventually in years. In the rectangles we would chalk up the bids and offers from the various Banks with price and size. The idea being that a dealer could glance up see the price and depth of any period he was quoting and also be able to reference whether the guy he was quoting could actually deal. For decades these were the dealer’s failsafe reference points. Even when Reuters started a similar service no electronic screen could show the depth or change so rapidly.
That job as well as being my first job after being about a month in the dealing room was pressure for as I am fond of saying prices aren’t door numbers …they move. It taught you to concentrate and also taught how markets moved and what banks (names) could deal with each other and how a two way market worked. None of this “I’m a buyer can you help me” it was a vicious market where we brokers was expected to make a price blind not knowing whether the bank was a buyer or seller or indeed whether the bank could deal with your counterparty. If the broker got the price wrong he was duty bound to make up the difference between his price and where the market actually was. The scream of difference was not a sound anyone liked let alone the board boy whose fault it always appeared to be. Nothing to do with the dealer spoofing the market or not reading the right price…no it was the board boy’s fault who would then suffer abuse I wouldn’t hurl at Spurs let alone the violence of anything at hand being thrown at them ( normally a spare white board rubber). Quite similar to school in my youth really.
That was pressure but the real pressure for a board boy was the dreaded sandwich run. Seriously I loathed 10.30 approaching as that was the time that the brokers could either face solids for the first time that day or decided to they needed a stomach liner before the magical time of 11.30 when the bars opened. I still remember over 40 years later as a shy kid (err well not many of you knew me then so I might get away with that) standing there trying to scrawl down the order or more often than not just guessing and trying to blag it when I returned with the wrong order. My memory wants me to think that it was dozens of sandwiches but actually it was probably for a dozen people each of whom had maybe two types but still some would want pickle, some loathed lettuce or tomato, some wanted packets of cigarettes as well .Every order was different but in fairness it was always finished with “Get something for yourself” and money thrown at you. You would get to Pepe’s in Mason Hall Avenue and your mind would go blank trying to remember if anyone wanted a Penguin chocolate bar for desert at the same time as trying to remember the cost of each person’s order whilst you nervously felt to see if the £20 note was still in your hand.
The sandwich run of course taught you a lot about being a broker, as did being a board boy. You learnt to remember a series of orders, how to add up in your head rapidly and lets be blunt how to blag. If you experienced the sandwich run as a junior you will know what I mean. Say for example you’re been asked to get an Elephant Bollock sandwich you would return with a straight face and just say sorry I couldn’t get it as the shop had run out of brown bread. Of course it was harsh but both you and the older brokers learnt lessons about your character and ability. But without doubt there were benefits as the junior who took the senior broker seriously when he said “Get something for yourself” and bought himself a Hermes tie from the change of the money given to him for the sandwiches…..I wonder what company he ended up running ?