The Trader

I smile sweetly and say, 'In that case, it must be fate'

It takes a few seconds for Mark's announcement to sink in. During that time, Jaap's face bears the expression of a goldfish who has suddenly realised a close friend is stark raving mad - and, as that's what I'm thinking myself, I can only assume my face looks pretty much the same.

It takes a few seconds for Mark's announcement to sink in. During that time, Jaap's face bears the expression of a goldfish who has suddenly realised a close friend is stark raving mad - and, as that's what I'm thinking myself, I can only assume my face looks pretty much the same.

"I said, I'm giving up the City to become a farmer," Mark says. "You don't have to look at me as if I'm completely insane."

"Is there any other way to look at you?" Jaap asks. "In the circumstances?"

"Funny, funny," Mark replies, injecting more than the merest hint of sarcasm into his voice. "Anyway, this isn't something that's just popped into my head. You don't go off and become a farmer on a whim. I've given this some serious thought. I reckon I know what I'm doing. Anyway, it's not as if I'd be the first person to make a packet in the City and retire to the country."

"You mean it's not even an original insane idea?" I reply, and Mark bristles. "Bristle away!" I go on. "Doesn't bother me. But even you must have noticed it isn't all sunshine and roses down at Sunnybrook Farm at the moment. Remember those tractors blockading everywhere the other week? Do you think they were there for fun?"

Mark just says: "Yes, I saw those photographs, too. I admit I assumed the road to Norwich always looked like that. And I do know the agricultural business is going through a rough patch with high fuel prices and low everything-else prices. But what can I say? I'm Canadian. Farming is in my blood."

Which is hilarious, really hilarious, because I know for a fact that Mark grew up in Toronto. The nearest he got to country living was watching Little House on the Prairie, though he doesn't like either of us pointing that out. Nor does he appreciate my comment that he wouldn't know one end of a chicken from another. "Yes, I would," he says defensively. "Actually, I know quite a lot about chickens, for your information."

"Well, actually," I say. "I think you need to know a bit more than you picked up from watching Big Brother. Don't you?" I turn to Jaap for support, but he's lost the startled goldfish look and is deep in thought. "Jaap?" I say gently. "Try to talk some sense into him."

Instead, Jaap uncurls and stretches, finishing with his hands on his head. "No," he says to me. "Perhaps this is one of those times when ignorance really is bliss or, at any rate, not a big handicap. Everything is new to him, so he might as well experiment. No need for him to have sheep or whatever just because that's what his father and his father's father did.

"He can grow organic coriander and keep water buffalo if he'd rather. Anyway,ex-investment bankers are about the only people who can afford to be farmers these days."

"Less of the 'he', thanks," Mark chips in. "I'm still in the room, remember. If you want to talk about me behind my back, at least have the decency to wait until I leave. Anyway, as I said, my mind's made up. If theex-City guys I was reading about in that magazine at the dentist can do it, so can I." Ah, that'll be the in-depth research, then, I think to myself.

"Besides," Mark continues, as if this will settle the matter. "I've already got a four-wheel drive car." I manage not to snigger as I think of Mark's immaculate jeep: his lovingly polished, mud-free, cream-leather-lined jeep that's never tackled anything steeper than a Chelsea sleeping policeman. Instead, I smile sweetly and say: "Oh well, in that case, it must be fate."

thetrader@hotmail.com

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