Magazine article The Spectator

Before and after the Bang

Magazine article The Spectator

Before and after the Bang

Article excerpt

25 October 1986

My friend the stockjobber closed his book, turned his back on his pitch, and walked with me off the Stock Exchange floor, down Throgmorton Street and into Bill Bentley's fish house.

We raised our glasses of Montrachet to the last of the good old days. On Monday he must quit the floor and settle down at his work-station, one of hundreds in a huge carpeted financial factory arranged, like all smart City factories, round an atrium. A deputy will man his pitch, empowered to deal on a modest scale, but not, like my friend, to make or lose on his own book a million pounds in a day. The big deals will come upstairs, to be made over the telephone and the screen, from atrium to atrium. Already, he says, the floor is a place of the past: 'There's no atmosphere here any more.' The talk is all of the weekend's dress rehearsal ('If we're going to deal wearing suits, we may as well practise wearing suits') for Big Bang Day. A bad dress rehearsal, I say helpfully, means a good first night. He suspends judgment. There were brokers, he says, trying to carry the weekend's Monopoly-money dealings forward into real money. Some came to blows, and one found the rebuke: 'After all, it's only a game!' Practising on their screens, one dealer offered a price and another sold. The price dropped by twopence, he sold again, another twopence off, another sale . . . 'How long are we going on like this?' 'As long as you like, old boy -- you've got the big figure wrong, your price is a pound too high.' When the high-stake games of Space Invaders begin on Monday, that sort of mistake could cost an atrium.

As the fuses burn down towards the Bang, the mood is uneasy. This is the eve of battle. The troops are assured that the staff has thought of everything, that the electronic weaponry is better than anyone's, that no expense has been spared -- and that is certainly true. If you tot up what has been spent on technology, on property, on firms and on people, this must be Britain's biggest investment programme since North Sea oil. On Monday, when the barrage lifts, bright young leaders will perish on the field, their Porsches shot from under them. The conventional appreciation is that this kind of war will be best suited to the big battalions, from America and Japan. They are certainly best suited to standing losses, but that, with luck, may not be the same thing. …

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