Posted by Colin Lambert. Last updated: March 8, 2023
by City Rover
There will be a fair few people reading this column who started their career in FX dealing rooms when the telex machine was still a fixture. Back when men, for it was mostly men, were called Sooty, Foot, Geezer, Growler, Ankles and Nish Nosh, it was a common sight to see these machines at the side of the room, churning rolls of paper into a ticker tape parade all over the carpet (also known as the TARPet at one bank in New York, for it was reputed that it chose to reupholster its dealing room floor at the exact same time as accepting the ’08 US govt bailout money).
As I recall, the telex machines were mostly ignored by the FX traders, their own personal Big Bang having been the arrival of EBS in 1990 [actually launched in 1993 – stick to the motors shag – Ed], rendering the telex old hat. In fact, the sole purpose of these hateful machines in the late nineties was merely to provide an extreme trip hazard to the young graduate, returning from the canteen following the morning breakfast run.
It was clear in his eyes that this young blood could never quite understand how two years of feverish toil over A-levels, at least a “Desmond” in Maths or Economics at a proper university, and a ferociously competitive investment banking graduate screening process, could have quite brought him to this new low. When he had broken the news to his mother that he had secured a job at the Chase Manhattan Bank, he saw the tears of pride well up in her eyes. His father had told him that he would be rubbing shoulders with the finest minds that finance had to offer, a once in a lifetime opportunity; he had never even known a real banker.
And yet, there was our young blood, staggering up from the basement with a full-house double-decker. Cursed with one of the larger desks to service, his lower tray was entirely hot drinks, 10 one-litre polystyrene cups of scalding liquid arranged in a 4-2-4 formation, the two midfielders extreme on the wings to ensure a sturdy foundation for the second tray above. And such a foundation was needed, for the sausage and bacon sandwiches (some with red, some with brown, and one with mayonnaise – the last preference unconscionable), Crunchy Nut cornflakes with corresponding milk bottles and porcelain bowls, a handful of yoghurts, packets of toast (bags open of course, so as to provide a chimney for the steam lest the toast goes damp) the fruit (“don’t forget the fruit Jub, and this time I don’t bloody want the blueberries/blackberries/melon/kiwi in there”) and a dozen knives, forks and spoons.
It is difficult to accurately recall the total load. The drinks were obviously 10kg and we can discount the cups as too flimsy to count; the food must have been another 4kg, perhaps more depending on the cereal/milk/bowl to sandwich ratio and the how early it was in the year, for January was very fruit heavy; the trays, sturdy so at least 1kg each, and I would estimate another for the metal cutlery. But it wasn’t the 20kg arms-forward-outstretched load on its own that caused the issue; the hand position was tricky, thumbs holding the top tray in place, the fingertips at maximum stretch to hold the very rim of the lower tray, taking all the load on a contact patch no bigger than eight five-pence coins.
And the distances were non-trivial. The canteens were always in the basement back then, the dealing rooms were vast and the walk could have been five or seven minutes from till to desk, not including the lift. The lift in and of itself was a major hazard, for there were no free fingers or thumbs to push buttons, and you had to rely on the benevolence of a fellow passenger to help you out. Lest you all forget, this was not an era of benevolence. A double first in economics was not going to help you now, son.
So, suck it up you did. Painful memories of the butterfly wing effect of an early murmur of complaint soon meant that the smarter Jubs never complained again. There was some comfort that soon this too would pass, the next graduate intake would arrive and relieve you of your misery, and then you would be the one to insist that you could taste the difference had your tea not been stirred clockwise, sending the hapless grad back downstairs for a second attempt. Naturally, you would live in abject fear of a Long Term Capital or Russia type event, for the bank would pull back on graduate hiring and you could be sentenced to another year. But Black Swans were rarer then, barely a glimmer in Nassim’s eye, just look back at the VIX.
But the real jeopardy was as the end of your tenure approached, as the new graduates appeared on the horizon (“Zulus Captain, thousands of them”), you could become complacent. Almost 12 months in now, you know the desk well, some relatively demeaning nickname had stuck, you felt part of the family. Yet this was the time of most jeopardy, when, as you strode with bullish demeanour towards the spot desk shouting ‘Trolleyyyyy’, your Tod’s loafer became entangled in the unrolled yardage of telex waste on the floor.
You miss your step.
It wasn’t a full trip, more of a stumble, and had you been unladen that’s all it would have ever been. But you lose your grip with the forefinger on your right hand, reflex kicks in and the thumb contracts, and its over before you know it. Ten litres of magma-hot coffee cascades onto the dealer board amidst a shower of expletives and cornflakes, the last thing you remember was the fruit arcing through your field of vision in the direction of the chief dealer.
Blueberries. Bollocks, he didn’t want the blueberries.
So, what car should your hapless, accident prone Jub drive? We should recap the facts: he is young, say 23, having graduated after having taken a year off to follow the cricket tour. This is his first car, and whilst his starting salary is stiff, he drinks, smokes, has rent on his flat in Claps [Clapham – Ed], expensive taste in holidays and have you seen the price of new cars?
Happily, City Rover has done the research for you. In the UK, car insurance groups now go from 1 to 50. You, Dear Reader, will likely drive something a bit nose-bleedy, indeed, even last month’s electric Fiat has a 20 handle.
A quick search confirms what we suspected, insurance group 1 is the vestige of the damned, mostly hateful shotboxes from Hyundai, Kia, and Vauxhall. Yes yes, I have seen there is a Chevrolet in there, but this is not what you think it is, Don McLean will not be driving it to the levy any time soon.
In fact, when it comes to acceptable fare, there is a choice of one: a Volkswagen Polo Life. Sure, you may need a calendar to measure the 0-60mph time, and the interior takes German joyless efficiency to a new level, but our Jub will have all the street cred he needs, and it is the safest thing on four wheels. More airbags than Dolly Parton, auto-emergency brake, auto-lane keeping, four emergency exits and all the trinkets that the yoof care about: electric windows, wireless charger to charbroil your iPhone, a blizzard of USB ports and it even comes with alloy wheels. One of those in black is just the ticket, and all the insurance you can eat for under a grand.
And best of all, when his alarm goes off at 5.45am and our grad walks right past it on the way to get the tube, he will see the reward for all his hard work and perseverance.
If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen.
 Ed’s Note: Since the February column, Editor Lamborghini, as I was referred to, has actually rented a Fiat 500 and can confirm that this writer actually knows what they are talking about…which makes a refreshing change for these pages!
 With thanks to Lee Oliver for taking us down memory lane a few weeks ago
 2-2 for the uninitiated
 For such things were allowed pre-Greta
 Clearly there is no such word as shotbox, but Editor Lambretta will prefer it this way
 Yes, I know Don McLean’s chevy is a horse, but you might not know that, and anyway its funnier this way