Magazine article The Spectator

Essex and the City: My Life as a 'Posh Bird' Broker

Magazine article The Spectator

Essex and the City: My Life as a 'Posh Bird' Broker

Article excerpt

He is sending back a bottle of 1965 Croft because it 'doesn't taste right'. I know that the odds of it tasting identical to the bottle we just drank in Pétrus are slim to none even if we were sober. He is miffed at the lack of label and they bring back the cork. I exchange an exasperated look with the sommelier, who woefully nods at yet another example of an Essex wide-boy embarrassing himself, and quietly brings another bottle. Our clients, traders visiting from Germany, continue to puff on their cigars.

The Essex boy is not a breed that most public-school girls from Devon often encounter. Historically, however, and still today, they make up the gritty backbone and furry underbelly of the City's inter-dealer brokers, acting as intermediaries in the trading of numerous financial instruments, making money whether the market goes up or down. It is therefore understandable that one of the Germans asks if I too am from Essex like my port-rebuking colleague. I stop short of attempting to explain the nuances of the Essex accent compared to my own when my colleague chips in with 'Nah mate, she's a posh bird, ain't she? But she's all right.' My tag of 'posh, but all right' has stayed with me over the last year, and is a label I fought hard for. During my first week on the trading floor bets were taken as to whether I'd outlive the last girl, who managed a mere four days; balls were hurled at me from the other side of the room and I was asked countless times what on earth someone with a degree in Russian from a top university was doing rejecting the world of investment banking and grad schemes in favour of broking at the most aggressive, archaic and male-dominated firm in the City.

However, after the initial shock of working with hundreds of marauding barrow boys who shouted and swore from 7 a. m. until 5 p. m. , only breaking for football discussions, the odd read of the tabloids and lunch (pie and mash, fish and chips and pickled onions became my staple diet -- always eaten at my desk), I ended up fitting in better than I ever did at boarding school or university. My first trade was greeted with the obligatory chants of 'RUN!', meaning a lap of the entire floor while other brokers hurled water and hammered their phones on their desks, creating a deafening blast of sound. I soon developed an entirely different language: cockney rhyming slang mixed with trading terms, sprinkled with a hefty dose of obscenities, all said with perfect RP, much to everyone's amusement. But this wasn't without various misunderstandings, the most memorable being hearing a colleague referred to as The Ferg and assuming this was simply a nickname. 'Ferg' was in fact short for Feargal Sharkey -- rhyming slang for 'Darkie' -- not a nickname you really want to be throwing around indiscriminately.

My boss was a 50-year-old American extrader and one of the most disliked and thickest-skinned people in the City. His greed was notorious, which, in an industry where greed is largely taken as read, is really saying something. I had heard various stories of the many times he had been attacked in his career, and the countless phones he had broken by smashing them in a fit of frustration and rage. Every time a fight broke out people would spread rumours in the market that he had been hospitalised or was dead. …

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