Today is Christmas Eve, the day above all when God and mammon truly compete for our attention; last minute Christmas shopping – and today it really is last minute, no more chances to put it off – and the Carol Service in the early evening. The twin peaks of consumerism and religion.
I was at lunch a few days ago with someone I have known in the business for many years, who is still a member of one of the LME Committees, although he has stepped back from day-to-day market involvement. His career stretches back to encompass the end of the partnership era of the LME, the point at which the big corporate battalions marched in and changed the whole environment. We chatted about how things had changed. Committee meetings were now far too early in the morning, he said, to accommodate the need for a conference call connection to Hong Kong, to enable participation from there. Then he set me and the others laughing when he pointed out that the next one, however, had to be at three thirty or four in the afternoon, for some reason or other. Outrageous, we agreed; in the good old days, no self-respecting senior figure at a broker would be back from the Savoy Grill in time for that. I realised that I was getting into the area represented by the Twitter hashtag #firstworldproblems, and I wondered if there were any others that the LME community might be suffering.
Well, surprise, surprise, there are. At another lunch a couple of days later (one thing that hasn’t changed, by the way, is the desire for Christmas lunches), I was with some people I worked with for years. We were talking about changes, and another #firstworldproblem reared its head. In the ‘old days’, when we used company credit cards, the accounting for them was quite lax. Every month, when the statements arrived, they were circulated and all you did was tick the amounts to confirm them for payment and put a name to them. Very occasionally, the MD would question a figure, and even more rarely, someone had to put their hand in their pocket for something. That was the entire control, though. But now, forms, pre-authorisation, limits on food, limits on drink – it’s amazing people make it through the day.
And here’s another one. A couple of years into the financial crisis, I was chatting to a friend – also a metal trading man – and I commented that actually we had been pretty much spared the worst of the tribulations of the economic problems and that our lives had not really been changed that much. (We were at a pheasant shoot, so I thought I was on pretty safe ground suggesting that we had been extremely fortunate.) “Ha,” he said, “you may be OK, but I’ve just had to cancel my NetJets subscription.” Mmm – #firstworldproblems.
OK, I’ve picked out three examples because they are slightly amusing. They’re not the type of egregious behaviour that has turned the City’s reputation sour amongst the general public in the last few years, but they are a reminder of the privileged position we’ve all enjoyed over the last thirty-odd years. As we face that choice of Bordeaux or Burgundy to go with the turkey or goose (I’d go Burgundy, by the way – pinot noir so much better with poultry and fowl) it’s worthwhile bearing that privilege in mind, and being grateful for it.
Oh, and here’s another one; how do you get caviar stains off suede loafers?
A Merry Christmas to all readers.