Out Of Your Head – And Out Of A Job ? In A City Of Christmas Excess

The Evening Standard  –  13 Dec 2010

In the City, Christmas is the season to be jolly… hungover.

When I was a banker (1996-2008), hardly a day went by in December without some kind of debauched knees-up, and any stockbroker worth his salt would have a green and distended liver the size of Hartlepool come the holidays.

The bloodshot eyes, pale faces, sickly groans and stench of death on the average trading floor in the run-up to Christmas would convince any unfortunate visitor that they’d just walked onto the set of a particularly nauseating zombie film.

Of course, necking booze like it’s going out of fashion and doing a supposedly highly professional job can be a recipe for disaster, especially when you consider the average profile of those involved — young, macho, highly competitive — and there was no minefield more dangerous than the bank’s big bash every Christmas.

Crossing the line at these events really could have a detrimental impact on your career prospects, and I should know, for on several occasions things gota little out of hand.

The last such event I attended was in 2007. About 500 bank employees of all ranks attended this Caligulan extravaganza, which took place in an extremely plush City venue and involved wonderful food, playground rides and enough champers to keep P Diddy fuelled for a year.

After some preliminary sharpeners in the local pub, my team-mates and I piled into the party like a bunch of frat boys invading a sorority, and immediately began playing various inane drinking games.

Within about an hour, I could barely see — and that’s when the trouble started

Apparently, I allowed a simmering rivalry with a colleague to get out of hand. Gentle “matey” mockery escalated quicker than a Middle East border dispute — but, fortunately for him, discretion proved the better part of valour and I allowed the hulking rugby player to walk away unharmed.

I then got on the dance floor, took my shirt off and began throwing shapes like an ecstasy-addled teenager in front of the disapproving MDs, while trying it on with every inappropriate lady within reach.

These events are, of course, one of the key ways a City secretary can bag herself a millionaire but, even if I’d had Abramovich’s billions and Clooney’s looks, it seems unlikely that there were any gold-diggers there that night sufficiently desperate to give me a second glance, such was my obvious state of dribbling inebriation.

I finally stumbled out at about midnight, having deposited my lunch into some unsuspecting lady’s handbag, and woke up on my sofa looking and smelling like Ollie Reed (and I say that fully aware he’d been dead for eight years).

Interestingly, my antics pale into comparison with those of certain other Cityboys. There is the famous story about the Goldman Sachs Christmas fancy dress party in 2004 when some buffoon dressed as a chav, who’d just failed to get a promotion, beat the crap out of someone from a rival team dressed as a Dalmatian, who had interrupted his attempt at self-motivation in the toilet’s mirror.

An ABN Amro banker also apparently headbutted one of his colleagues straight to hospital at their Christmas party — amusingly, in an argument about trading ethics. Both these testosterone-fuelled pugilists lost their jobs, as did the banker who was found asleep near Finsbury Circus with his trousers around his ankles after his firm’s seasonal shindig. He had apparently passed out in flagrante, and the young lady involved had left in disgust.

Christmas comes but once a year, and let’s thank the Lord for that because, after 12 months of hard work, you can ruin it all in the blink of an eye.

Having said that, my ex-colleagues still in the City tell me those debauched days are long gone. A new generation of spoddy automatons has taken over, and even the old lags are so worried about their jobs that they daren’t risk giving their bosses an excuse to fire them.

These bosses, keen to avoid the bad publicity from photos of pinstriped, guffawing bankers downing champers, have also made it harder to fall at the last hurdle by urging restraint during the festive season and ceasing to put on mega Christmas parties.

While these developments may seem a sad reflection of our ever-more professional and austere times, perhaps the end of the big City Christmas party is no bad thing for those bankers with a capacity to get out of control. That’s because a gift-wrapped P45 is the one “Christmas bonus” no one wants to get!