On the floor

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The Independent Culture
The era of conspicuous consumption is behind us, apparently. Only someone seems to have forgotten to tell most of the people who actually work in the City, rather than those who just pontificate about it. The spending might not be quite as obvious as in the Eighties, but the money is still being thrown around by time, especially at this time of year.

Take our Christmas lunch, for instance. While office workers in the West End were heading off to the local Italian for a boatload of Lambrusco and pasta, where did we go? Paris, that's where. It was Rory's idea, naturally; he knows a whole host of ways of being extravagant, which is why, despite his enormous salary, he's always in debt.

The rest of us weren't so keen at first, but then Rory offered to pay for all our Eurostar tickets - first class, of course - and suddenly it didn't seem such a daft plan at all.

It seemed an even better one yesterday morning, at the wonderfully late time of eight o'clock. There wasn't time to go into the office first, so everyone had had a lie-in and was feeling exceptionally sunny. Even Laura looked quite perky, though she usually has to be kick-started with at least two double espressos (don't we all), and we piled into our carriage in the highest of spirits.

But what we hadn't expected was that we would be sharing our carriage with the members of some gentlemen's club, a bunch of dried-up old sticks who wouldn't recognise fun if it came up and claimed to have been at school with them. You know the types: talking politics in ponderous voices and looking appalled by pretty much everything. And each time any of them had to walk past, you could see that one of the things that appalled them most was people like us.

I couldn't have been more grateful to them. For a few moments after we'd boarded the train, Laura and I had been overwhelmed by embarrassment. After all, some of these men might have been related to university friends of ours, and the thought of being spotted in the company of someone as ghastly as Neil was almost too much to contemplate. But the disapproval from the other part of the carriage soon put paid to any of that discomfort.

So we relaxed, called for more champagne and started on a good old gossip. We were just trying to work out whether we should introduce Peter the Heavy Breather at Karaoke to my City friend Jane or Laura's pal Lucretia, who's still in publishing, when two of the old codgers stumped past. We caught one sentence of their conversation, but it was enough to leave us open-mouthed. "Well," said one old boy to the other, "you can't expect people to know how to deal with wealth if they haven't grown up with it."

Laura and I couldn't help but burst into fits of laughter. "Oh, that's the way it is," I said to Laura. "The only people allowed to make money are those whose families already have it, because they `know how to handle it'. Do you think we should tell them that it's actually not that difficult?" "You mean your parents didn't keep bottles of vintage Veuve Clicquot in the fridge?" Laura replied in mock surprise. "How did you learn to appreciate it, then?"

And we carried on in this vein the rest of the way to Paris and in the restaurant where they served us fabulous food and looked down on us for being English (but that's no problem; the Parisians despise all the French and most other Parisians, too). Even in the Musee d'Orsy, after we'd abandoned the others, we kept sniggering and saying, "I was just thinking ..."

Back on the train that evening, we were settling down for a quiet drink when the carriage was invaded by what looked like a group of football fans with their girlfriends. The stewardess said she recognised one of them as the man who'd won pounds 10 million on the Lottery a couple of weeks back, and we sat gazing in horror as they got drunker and louder.

"That's the trouble with the Lottery," I sighed. "All that money all at once. People like that just don't know how to handle it ..."

- The Trader