Radio / Soundtrack Radio 4

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The Independent Culture
Has it ever occurred to you to wonder whatever happened to all those young City bucks - the dealers and brokers and market-makers - who seemed to be everywhere in the Eighties? Even granted that there were never that many of them (they were just very high profile), it's odd how they suddenly vanished, leaving only a faint whiff of hair-oil. Where did they go?

Going by last night's Soundtrack, the answer is that some of them ended up in Russia, trying to squeeze money out of what is potentially the largest market in the world. Actually, this can't be right, since the flash young English and American businessmen introduced by Imogen Edwards-Jones must have been at school in Thatcher's heyday; but they acted exactly like the City wide boys of a decade past - making deals by day, blowing money on expensive restaurants, expensive drugs and expensive girlfriends by night, spending weekends jet-skiing or paintballing or enjoying three- hour gym sessions.

The sense that we'd been here before was one of the startling things about Cathy Mahoney's feature. Naturally, there are differences between Moscow in the Nineties and London in the Eighties. It's a lot colder in the winter - you may think this doesn't matter if you're being paid nearly pounds 100K a year and can afford to heat your luxury flat - but sunlight deprivation and depression are big problems. And everybody has guards and drivers trained in self-defence, though this is more about the fact that everybody else has them than actual fear of getting hurt.

The other startling thing about the programme was the complete lack of human sympathy on display. It's easy to see how you can get cut off from problems around you if insulated by language, ambition and money. All the same, you wonder how they got so desensitised that they could explain, as one did, that one of the attractions of the country was that "the Russians understand what it is to be alive. Maybe because most of the country is so close to starvation or sickness or death..." Yeah, starving people are such fun, aren't they?

Worse was hearing one of the young bucks talking about the importance of cashflow to his relationship with his Russian girlfriend (Russian girls, he said, think all the time about how to manipulate men, and "blow the western competition away" - you wonder how literally he meant that). If the relationship was based on money, Edwards-Jones asked, couldn't he lose her to a richer man? He wasn't unduly worried: "I can probably find something quite similar."

Credit must go to Edwards-Jones for the quality of interviews - a giggling, annoying presence, to be sure; but you doubt if a man, or a woman, a couple of degrees less flirtatious would have gained such full disclosure. But most credit must go to the society that created these prematurely cynical youths - not Moscow, I'm afraid, so much as us.

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