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"Maggie's Boys and Girls" - Would you read it?
For several years now I have been contemplating writing a book about my life and experience. In part for personal therapeutic reasons, and also because there is a lack of documentary record on much of the subject material that I would include, still a real lack of understanding about what really goes on in the City and on bank trading floors, and disturbingly a real lack of understanding as to the regulation and oversight of it, or lack thereof, and the conflicts, dishonesty and, yes, corruption that infects the City and that hierarchy of oversight.
There is also a very personal connection between my story and that of the countless victims of the UK Insolvency system in recent years. A system that is a playing field quite literally designed to enable dishonesty and criminal conduct among those that ply their trade in the Insolvency Industry and on behalf of, or in partnership with, banks, large firms and their lawyers, and that has barely changed since the 1970's when my Father was a victim of it, and where any changes have only served to further corrupt that playing field.
Anyway, here is a sample. If I were to write it, would you be interested in reading it?
"Maggie's Boys and Girls"
Foreword – April 1985.
“….[as an Architect] you will never be a wealthy man…..”. Seven words. That was all. Just seven words. I know that he continued speaking, but those seven words induced a state of temporary deafness, and to this day everything else about that meeting is a blur.
Seven words that changed my life forever. Seven words that rendered my career ambition since a young boy as redundant, irrelevant, deceased.
OK, so there was still a chance that Arsenal would recognise my footballing pedigree, but this was the realistic career path that I’d always followed, and I’d just arrived at a dead end.
From as young as I could remember, I had always wanted to be an architect. I was never the best artist in the world, and any portrait drawing I’d ever attempted resembled an inadvertent Picasso-esque interpretation of the subject, but I loved the exactness of design by ruler and T-Square, the beauty in the science and methodology of design, and the fact that every drawing was destined for a reality beyond the paper on which it was drawn.
But in an instant that all changed. I wouldn’t say it was a ‘shattering of dreams’ moment, or even a moment of disappointment. No, despite everything, this moment was more of an awakening, a 'wake up and smell the roses moment'.
Why? Because I had another ambition, one that had far greater personal meaning to me, and one that I was determined to fulfil, and from this moment, it was clear to me that being an architect was not going to help me achieve that.
An ambition that saw to it that the two weeks work experience I had just thoroughly enjoyed at Hammond & Partners Architects in Romford all of which had, up to that point, only served to further my desire to be an architect, now meant for nothing with those seven words.
The Ambition? To be wealthy.
I should make it clear at this point, that this ambition was not driven by greed or a cut-throat desire for wealth, but one forged from bitter childhood experience. An experience that I was determined to avoid in adulthood, and an experience that I could squarely blame on lack of wealth, or at least that was the only conclusion I was ever able to draw. For me, lack of wealth was the epicentre, the core and root of all the problems.
Some will view this as a simplistic interpretation, but I don’t believe it is or was, and all too often society has a habit of making things far more complicated than they actually are.
And please spare me the adage ‘Money can’t buy you happiness’. Indeed, but it can take away the vast majority of the issues and stress that cause ‘unhappiness’ or worse, and by doing that, it can only serve to increase the opportunity for ‘happiness’.
Whatever the reason or the thinking, conclusions drawn in childhood will forever be one of life’s compelling drivers. As are the role models in childhood. They could not be more important. I am a firm believer that your childhood environment is also incredibly important, and that all too often children are likely to become a product of their environment and limited by their environment.
There is something wholly distasteful and unfair about that. Whilst there should never be efforts to engineer 'equality of outcomes', that only furthers prejudice and unfairness, every effort must be made to ensure ‘equality of opportunities’ and a level playing field for all.
Yet, I do look at some children in some families and think ‘what chance have they really got?’ Perhaps people looked at me as a child and said the same thing? I don’t know. I hope not. Without doubt, opportunities are far greater depending on social class, environment and yes, wealth!
But that also ignores one very key, and incredibly important, variable ….. you.
If you don’t want it. If you don’t recognise opportunities. If you don’t recognise the positive role models. If you can’t identify lessons and guidance. If you don’t aspire. And, importantly, if you are not prepared or able to recognise your poor environment for the driver it is and as that which you want to avoid and escape from, then you surrender to it.
Every child in every environment will have chances, will have opportunities, will come in to contact with people that genuinely want to help them, but if we continually brand them with the inevitability that is ‘every child is the product of their environment’, they are increasingly likely to accept that, less likely to aspire, less likely to bother, and less likely to even see the opportunities that are there.
How can you possibly see them if you have surrendered, and allowed society to tell you that they don’t exist, and already condemned you & profiled you, and set you on the path of a self-fulfilling prophecy of under achievement borne of ‘under aspiration’?
For me, even from the age of 10, I knew I was never going to let my childhood experience or environment define me or define my future. That said, that is no guarantee that you will achieve it, and I could not have done it on my own. I needed help. I needed to identify the positive role models, needed to learn from them and therefore be in a position to take any opportunity that came my way.
My parents were not perfect. They both had their share of strengths and weaknesses. I like to think I was able to learn from their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. However, I was also lucky enough to have role models external to my family that I learned so much from, and who believed in me. Georgina Gardiner and John Broadis, two of the most inspirational Primary School teachers, Martin Hayes who taught me History and Sociology at Secondary School [Those Sociology lessons taught me so much more than I knew at the time. Understanding and interpreting people’s behaviour or their likely behaviour in certain circumstances has proven to be an invaluable resource], and Eddie Reardon, the manager of the local football team I played for during what proved to be the most difficult years of my childhood, to name but a few.
However, all of that would perhaps not have mattered but for Maggie.
And yes, I do mean Margaret Thatcher. Her shake up of the City of London, and the financial markets within it, the so called ‘Big Bang’, in the mid 1980’s opened doors to me and thousands, if not millions, of people like me and created paths for us that were unimaginable beforehand.
In my opinion, this was responsible for probably the most substantial upward economic or social migration in the history of the UK, or certainly since the Industrial Revolution, but is forever overlooked and not recognised. (This is not to say that I do not recognise the dire consequences for many as a result of the approach of her Government, and that of the Unions, in the 1980’s.)
We were children of the Comprehensive School system. A system where you largely achieved in spite of it than because of it, if you achieved at all. Yet, we were now able to leave school at 16 or 18 and land a job in the City in one of the countless banks, stockbrokers and firms that operated there and who were keen to hire us, and on starting salaries of between £5,000-£9,000 per year that dwarfed that being paid in local jobs.
I left school in 1987 aged 18 having accepted a job offer from Citibank on £7,000 per year. By aged 20 I had the top of the range BMW 325 Sport as a company car, and by December 1992, my basic salary was £85,000 per year plus bonus, and had repaid my £79,000 mortgage on my first home less than two years after taking it out.
However, even that 1992 salary was a salary and earnings dwarfed by many others from my same social background, some of whom were earning salaries of £400,000 and more.
As I prepare to write this, I am filled with as much dread as I am ‘freedom’ or liberation. Some of the ‘drivers’ of childhood and environment that I mentioned, are not those that I look back on fondly and do not look forward to revisiting them now.
However, this is my story and they are a fundamental part of it.
Make no mistake, I’ve had some great, and some of the funniest, times along the way and I hope this book makes you smile or laugh as much as it does perhaps give you pause for thought.
One of the light hearted anecdotes that you would find in the book.....
Royal Ascot 1995
On the Friday of Royal Ascot 1995 Kevin Rees, my best friend since aged 10, best man at my wedding and my broker at Tullet's, had organised a hospitality event for a few of his banks.
We had a table in one of the restaurants and the package included John Francome as 'after-lunch' speaker, during which he went through the races for the day ahead, giving us his assessment of each race, and his tips for each race. Most of us had no clue so figured we might as well follow his 'guidance'.
However, one of the group, who shall remain nameless, said "What the Fuck does John Francome know about flat racing, he was a jump jockey?", adding"I don't consider myself a professional, but I've studied the form for today and he's picked a load of nags" (I might have paraphrased that last part, but you get the drift).
Anyway, we all have a little flutter on the first, each betting between £10-£50 on the nose at 8/1 on Francome's tip. All that is except 'nameless guy', hereafter referred to as NG, who was busy condemning Francome's tip as more suitable for Blackpool beach.
Sure enough, Francome's tip comes in. Happy days!
NG puts this down to "Even a blind squirrel finds the odd nut from time to time".
And so it continues, Francome lands the winner in each of the first three races. NG by this time is both out of pocket and going out of his mind.
"What the fuck?!......This is bollocks......form always wins in the end..."
Meanwhile, there were more blind squirrel metaphors being flung his way by the rest of the group, than there were pounds in our pockets. Which by this time, was rather a lot.
However, the best was yet to come. As we were standing at the on-track bookie waiting to collect our winnings from the third race, the bookie chalks up the runners and prices for the next race. Francome's tip Piccolo is chalked up at a whopping 40/1! I recall we all looked at each other sharing the same thoughts "40/1? How serious a shot has this horse got?"
I said "Fuck it, the guy's three for three. Be rude to ignore it", before turning to the bookie and giving him back £200 of my winnings from the previous race and saying "£200 to win on Piccolo", quickly followed by a chorus of "I'll have £200 too"...."£100 for me too".
All in all, six of us had just over £1,000 riding on it.
By the time the race started I think the odds had dropped to 20/1, but we were all on at 40/1.
When we got back to the table at the track restaurant, NG was full of it (a bit rich from someone who hadn't seen a runner in the frame all day) "Piccolo?! Why is it even running here and not already on the way to the glue factory? Do we know if the fucker even has 4 legs?"
We grabbed our drinks and headed out to the watch the race.
Never in doubt. Piccolo romped home!
Amid that bedlam I could just about make out NG hollering "Lucky Punts", although it's possible I could have misheard that. He made for the exit before clarification could be obtained.
All told, we left the track that day with over £65,000 in cash between 6 of us.
The moral of the story is, he might be a jump jockey, but:
a) He's still a jockey and knows a thing or two
b) He's going to know more than an FX trader from Essex who's never sat on a horse in his life.
Also a very important lesson when you're an FX trader and market maker for the world's largest banks, pricing to numerous clients and managing risk day to day on billions of dollars of client trade volume; You have to acknowledge when you do not know what's going on or why in the market, and you need to know those customers that will likely know more than you do [and yes, that often includes those who had information they should not have had], and whose trades are the financial equivalent of a grenade coming your way with the pin out.