“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
So begins LP Hartley’s novel of wistfulness, love, deception and disillusion, ‘The Go-Between’. Well, at some point in our lives we all probably experience Leo’s feelings when we look back at how things used to be and how they are now.
Take the LME; it’s long had the reputation of being an environment in which the consumption of strong and stimulating drink has often featured. Part of the hinterland, one could say, the essential oil amongst the cogs of open outcry, and, probably just as important, the starting point of myriad anecdotes, tales and stories, some apocryphal, many true. In the old days - the Good Old Days, some would say - after the second morning Rings, the partners would summon the chauffeurs, ready to make the important dash westward toward the Savoy Grill. Always good food, claret in the winter, Mersault or Chablis in the summer (claret in the summer as well, for the more dedicated…..), and ‘the boy’ could handle the first PM Rings, as long as they were back by around four; in an ideal world, course, for sometimes even that challenge was a requirement too far.
But ‘the boy’ didn’t just sit quietly in the office either, did he? No, once the position was agreed, he was off, too, as evidenced by the queues outside Simpson’s and the George and Vulture. For some, of course, sitting down was optional, and propping the bar at the Wine Lodge or the Lamb would amply fill the time.
And the - then regarded as unimpeachable - logic behind such behaviour (beyond the simple fact that you could)? Well, you trade with each other all day, every day: you’ve got to get to know people, to understand, to be part of the little circle (don’t forget, the number of people involved, versus the size of the business, was in fact very small: a closely-knit group at the heart of one of the world’s major businesses).
I can certainly remember being reprimanded for over-indulgence, and then a few short years later making the same reprimands to others, and indeed sending them home rather than letting them trade. But I think we all came to appreciate - certainly under growing external influences - that a changing world imposes different pressures, and that whereas it is perhaps fine for the partners of a firm to trade their own money in whatever state they wish, it is frankly inappropriate to play with increasingly large volumes of other people’s dollars except with extreme sobriety and control.
So actually the announcement by the LME last week of a ban on trading while under the influence of alcohol is really just re-emphasising what any sensible management has been doing for some years now. Is anything lost by this? Well, camaraderie, the sense of being that small group at the epicentre of a universe, possibly. But in reality, that has been gone for some time now, as algos, electronics and computers increasingly come to dominate what has become a part of the investment planetary system, not simply the centre of the metals world.
The past truly is a foreign country, and a new puritanism has for sure flowed into society, and not just the LME. Look back with wistfulness, if you will, but accept reality as it is.
Hats off to Bloomberg, though, for their reporting. I imagine the scene in the newsroom went something like this:
Editor (to hack): ‘The LME has banned booze. Write me 600 words on that, pronto.’
Hack (thirty minutes later): ‘Here you go, Chief, LME story.’
Editor (after reading it): ‘Idiot! You haven’t mentioned Brexit anywhere in this piece. Haven’t you learned yet that every story has to mention Brexit?’
Hack (after a short pause for thought): ‘Sorry, Boss. How about if I amend it to go with “Brexit politician Nigel Farage used to drink loads every day at lunchtime when he was on the LME. Now the LME has banned booze. Is this the end of an era?”’
Editor: ‘Love it. Never forget to to ram Brexit in everywhere.’
So thanks, Bloomberg, we really did need you to show us how the story should be told……..
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