On the floor

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The Independent Culture
After 13 years in the City, he only has to hear the phrase "there's no truth in this rumour" and he's dusting down his CV

It's amazing how tense it was around here after we heard that Barclays was getting shot of BZW. Everyone was bracing themselves for the announcement that we were the next investment bank to be sold off. But after a few days of worried looks and short fuses, the atmosphere has lightened, partly because there haven't been any statements from the gang in the boardroom about "meaningful dialogues with our new European/American partners". And there haven't been any official denials of a takeover or redundancies. As Rory says, after 13 years in the City, he only has to hear the phrase "there is absolutely no truth in the rumours" and he's dusting down his CV.

Unfortunately, it means that Laura and I have no more excuses for not sorting out that dinner with Karaoke Securities, one of our best customers. We've been talking about getting the Karaoke gang out for a good feed for months and under normal circumstances I would have been looking forward to it. They're a nice crew - three young Brits and their Anglophile Japanese boss - and it's always a pleasure to eat out on the company wallet. There's one big problem; we have to bring Neil.

But how do Laura and I choose a restaurant that the Karaoke lot will enjoy but is not so grand that Neil will be uncomfortable? This is important, because Laura and I are making a big effort to be nice to Neil. It's all to do with this book that Laura's been reading, The Game of Life and How to Play It, by some batty and long-dead American healer called Florence Scovel-Shinn. As Laura explains it, the principle is that you get back what you give out; in other words, if you go around hating people, they'll hate you as well. Something like that.

So now we can tell ourselves we're worrying about picking the right restaurant out of concern for Neil, not because we're squirming with embarrassment at the thought of being seen somewhere trendy with him. French restaurants are off the agenda; Neil's language skills are so bad that he'd probably end up ordering offal like he did last time. Laura says his pronunciation gives her the giggles and she'd have to spend the whole meal pretending she'd dropped her napkin.

This, I point out, is not very charitable of her. So she gets out a London guide and pops up a few seconds later with the perfect place: a wonderfully eccentric English restaurant off Kensington Church Street with top-notch food and country-kitchen interior, all scrubbed pine and candlelight. No foreign words on the menu, and Mr Mikimoto can have his favourite bread- and-butter pudding. We're just congratulating ourselves on our brilliance when Marco yells, "It's the heavy breather on line one for you." As nicknames go, it's a fairly unfortunate one but, on the phone, Peter, the youngest member of the Karaoke team, does always sound as if he's panting. It's either enthusiasm or his desk is at the top of a long flight of stairs. Either way, it's quite endearing, so I can never say no to pricing up any of his deals, even when I know there's no money in it for us.

Happily, this time he just wants a gossip about the markets, and whether there are any juicy scandals. So after I suggest a date for the team dinner, we settle down for a good chat. It's the sort of behaviour that drives Marlene to distraction. "You should not be so friendly," she pronounces. "You should be more professional." What she doesn't seem to have noticed is that I get most of my market knowledge from conversations like these with other traders. You can't just ring them up and demand to know their positions - you have to draw the information out of them gradually. It's a bit like buying a carpet in Turkey.

Marlene, on the other hand, is always terribly brusque on the phone. Her calls last no more than a few minutes and then she's ready to bother us again with her wisdom, gleaned from a decade in various banks. Working life is tremendously frustrating for Marlene. The main problem is that no one is as efficient as she is, as she is quick to point out. If we would only do things her way, we would save so much time. Quite what she does with all this time she saves I'm not sure, since she arrives at seven and leaves at six-thirty like everyone else. And then she goes and spoils it all by striding over to my desk to pass on the good news. "You should know that I am joining you for the dinner with Karaoke."

- The Trader

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