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,
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
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.