Plus Ca Change

The London Paper  –  12 June 2009

A former client took me out to lunch at a flash City restaurant last week to try and prove a point that we’d discussed over the phone. He had claimed that despite all the talk of gloom and doom things weren’t actually that bad in the City. I had scoffed at this seemingly preposterous viewpoint and mentioned the fact that perhaps 40,000 City jobs had been lost over the last 18 months and that bonuses for last year were down around 50%. He laughed at my reasoned arguments and told me to come to the City to see for myself.

I don’t know if someone had forgotten to tell the City boys at the Coq D’Argent that there was a recession on that balmy Thursday afternoon but it certainly seemed that way. This seriously expensive rooftop restaurant six stories above Bank tube station was full to the brim outside and in with braying stockbrokers who didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Whilst I was chomping on my over-priced seafood I witnessed some red-faced, rotund chap loudly order a magnum of champagne and no-one seemed to be skimping on the lobster. The sound of confident banter and raucous laughter filled the air and nothing suggested things had dramatically changed since I was ‘entertaining’ clients at this very restaurant two years ago.

Ironically, it was from this very spot that some poor chap had jumped to his death last year perhaps unintentionally mirrowing the clichéd behaviour that depressed stockbrokers supposedly exhibited during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. Judging by the general air of ribaldry no-one seemed likely to be taking the easy way out that sunny afternoon.

In order to prove his point further my client took me on a postprandial tour of a few bars in the vicinity and again there were quite a few punters digging in for the afternoon. At one bar I even saw a couple of lads edgily returning from the bogs with sniffly noses, wide eyes and gurning jaws suggesting that mistress cocaine was still out and about in the Square Mile.

It seems to me that the City culture of boozing, eating and snorting ain’t been as impacted as people assumed. Clients still need to be entertained and earning a bonus of £300K rather than twice that still means you ain’t exactly on the bread line. There now also appears to be some optimism that we’re gonna exit this recession much quicker than previously assumed and that change in expectations, coupled with some decent early Summer weather, seems to have made Cityboys pretty damn chipper.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but we ain’t out of the woods yet! I’m all for partying like its 1999 whatever the economic weather but I’ll be surprised if there aren’t some nasty surprises to come. We could still find that we’re just imitating Nero and merely fiddling while Rome burns.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

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