Tuesday 14 November 2017

A country boy in London

Yes, I am a country boy. Born and bred in the small town of Berkeley which is near the River Severn in Gloucestershire. OK, I now live in Oxford and a few other places, but I have my roots.
Travelling to London by coach reminded me of the sheer size of the place and saddened me as we passed very closely to that blackened carcass which is now almost a monument to the poor souls who died in the Grenfell tower disaster.

Arriving at Victoria brought back memories of the periods I had spent living in a hotel overlooking the station. My recollections were of grime, the press of busy hour insouciant crowds, the grind of heavy traffic and the bleakness of grim late night streets. Yet two streets to the north, where I met my daughter in the offices of Friends of the Elderly where she works, I experienced the ‘London contrast’. This was Belgravia with its proud architecture, clean streets, snobby shops and the strong sense of wealth. We chatted in a smart, quiet pub where even the TV had a frame of golden wood. I sipped at a pint of Salopian beer which came pretty near to my perfect pint – and so it should at that price – whilst Lois preferred prosecco.

Later I squeezed myself into a tube train bound for Temple and stared at the masses glued to their smart phones – hardly a newspaper in sight. On the embankment, I marvelled at the London Eye and all the other lit up buildings reflected on the surface of the Thames whilst trying to make my way east through a bewildering and determined throng of homeward bounds - some of them running in shorts through the chilly air. And along the way I missed the turning to Middle Temple! Sadly, no one that I asked could help, but were, to my surprise, helpful: they immediately reached for their smart phones.

I did reach Middle Temple in time for a glass of champagne, or was it prosecco, or even  cava – it’s all the same to me – but then could barely bring it to my lips as I stared in awe around the magnificent hall. It has a high raftered ceiling of blackened wood which forms a double hammer beam structure - and that is rare, take it from me, us country boys know about such things! And the walls: the walls are decorated with hundreds, maybe thousands of wooden shield like devices celebrating, I assume, the appointment of lawyers to the bar – a world that I cannot pretend to understand.

The speaker was a strong protagonist of another world that I do not understand: finance. Yarron Brook gave an impassioned speech entitled the Morality of Finance to an audience of, predominantly, men in suits (with the obvious exception of country boys and smart women). Brooke is an Israeli by birth who settled in America and has swallowed the philosophy of the free economy hook line and sinker. Amongst his many roles he is top dog of the Ayn Rand Institute and was giving the eponymous lecture in memory of that lady. Now don’t switch off! Many people do not like any mention of this lady’s name, would never read her books, and are utterly opposed to her philosophy – whatever that might be. I did once read her masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged, and it did change my outlook on life (warning: reading Ayn Rand may shake, or reinforce a person’s belief in socialism).

Brook's clear intention was not simply to defend financiers against the heaped criticism of the masses, but to require gratitude and admiration – a tough job in the face of some audiences, but here he boomed out confidently to a sea of suits. And of course he has a point. Given that the use of swords is prohibited nowadays, the only way to build an empire is with cash. The job of a financier he told us, apparently taking the role of a father speaking to a child, was to assemble a large cake then distribute the slices to deserving causes meanwhile collecting the crumbs for himself. The cake is of course a fund of money, and the deserving cases anything from a start up company to a vast new privately financed hospital. Cake distributed, he continued, the start up company if it succeeds goes on to employ many people (consumers) and makes profits that might be used to create more money-cakes.

“Financiers,” he added, “choose the future on a rational, self-interest basis.”

And he went on to explain that financiers, not politicians, change the world for the better citing a case close to my heart or at least my ken – China, where millions of impoverished country boys and their families have been lifted out their miserable lives by investment. And nobody dared to shout Communist China.

The questions were mostly supportive but for one: this from a very interesting young man (unsuited) who put a very simple query to Yarron.  How can you expect the people of this country to love bankers when we, the taxpayers, are paying to bail them out of their criminal mismanagement of funds in the 2008 financial crash?

Yarrow put up a pretty good defence, stating that the underlining  causes of the crash were regulatory and were the fault of government control, but this was a little beyond me as a simple country boy.

Then we were allowed to wander around the hallowed chambers, drink wine, and not buy Yarrow Brook's latest book. I couldn’t anyway because, as you may know, I do not buy paper books anymore. Moreover, my rational self interest limits my expenditure on eBooks to £4.99. Country boys are rather mean. Besides I had to leave London for Oxford in order to purchase a quick pint before the witching hour.