Finance: On the Floor

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Who'd want to be in the Far East right now? We've been asking ourselves this question rather a lot recently, but this week it has special resonance. It seems that Hari, who is the half of the one-and-a-half traders we have in Tokyo, has been showing signs of stress of late, and it may be time for him to go on a little holiday to somewhere very, very quiet.

If that happens, it will leave Jamie trading the book by himself during the long hours when London and New York sleep. Added to that, he'll also have to chip in to help Rii deal with all the customers Hari usually talks to as the other half of his job. This is plainly not a good thing, and steps will have to be taken to help him out. Jamie may be unflappable, but he's not Superman (well, not since that strange fancy-dress party I met him at five years ago).

So that means New York or London will have to pitch in with a temporary trader. Not that we exactly have any spares knocking around, you understand, but losing one of a team of five or six is plainly less dramatic than losing one out of two. And normally we'd all be thoroughly excited at the prospect of a change of scene and lots of meals on expenses. But not right now. Not while the Far Eastern markets are tottering like a drunk on 4-in heels.

New York have already made their excuses and run. Out of their lot, one is down with flu, another is in the middle of major work on the trading system, the third is about to become a father any day now, and the fourth is receiving treatment for his fear of flying. That just leaves Mikey, and no one would seriously contemplate sending him to Tokyo on business, not since that fiasco at the lunch with the Very Important Japanese Visitor when Mikey punched the chef for not cooking the sushi enough.

So it looks as if the choice is down to me, Laura or Neil, and we've been racking our brains for days to find reasons why one of the others should have the honour of filling Hari's size 39s. As a result, there's been a sudden outbreak of niceness down our end of the trading room. Neil was overheard only yesterday telling Rory how impressed he was by the amount of Japanese I've picked up, though he usually says learning a foreign language is a complete waste of time ("It's just pandering to them. Let them know who's boss: make them speak English"). And Laura is being even more modest and self-effacing than normal.

I must admit, I had been relying on this Hari business turning out to be a storm in a teacup - and you know how tiddly Japanese teacups are. So I was feeling pretty optimistic when I finally managed to ask Jamie this morning whether there really was a big problem with Hari.

He thought about it for a second. "Well, obviously it's a bit bad for business to have your salesman screaming, `The end of the world is nigh' down the phone to all our customers," he said. "And then there was that episode with the cleaner who found him early one morning lying on the floor of the office weeping. Mind you, I think it was the fact that he wasn't wearing any clothes that upset her the most."

"Point taken," I said, and left him to another long evening at his desk. Poor Hari, I thought, but hard as I tried, my mind kept nipping across to the contents of my wardrobe and what I would take with me if I drew the short straw and found myself heading east.

That's when Rory came striding up with a determined look on his face. "All right, you three, I've been thinking long and hard about this. I'd rather you were all here at the moment, but someone has to rescue Jamie. So I put your names into a hat and made the decision that way. And the lucky winner is ..."