Wednesday 9 July 2014

The high price of getting bored too easily

These days I am officially a pensioner, thanks to the extraordinary diligence of an Australian bank.

They went to the trouble of employing a detective agency to track me down in rural Northumberland and ask whether I was the same Keith Hann who, in 1978, started work for a London stockbroking partnership they had since acquired.

My first place of work in the City, happily long since demolished

It seemed needlessly cruel to point out that they could have answered this question much more cheaply by just clicking on my LinkedIn profile.

They kindly sent me a useful lump sum to help celebrate my 60th birthday last month, and started making monthly payments into my bank account; which, though very modest, do at least exceed my income from journalism.

It led me to wonder how much better off I would have been if I had stuck with the broking game and been entitled to retire on a full pension, instead of the small stipend accrued through five years of not particularly well-paid work.

I gave it up in 1983 because it bored me. I thought a change of scene from London to Edinburgh might cure this, which just goes to show how phenomenally stupid I am. I lasted a day and a quarter at my wee desk in the New Town.

Then I somehow got a job at a London financial PR agency that was, with the benefit of hindsight, an earthly paradise.

My second place of work in the City: built nearly 300 years before the first one, but happily still there

You could smoke at your desk, and almost every room contained a cupboard stocked with life-threatening quantities of alcohol.

Lunch started each day at 12.30 sharp and concluded around nightfall. To cap it all, many of my colleagues were beautiful women and, for the first and last time in my life, not all of them wept with laughter when I subtly enquired whether there might be some chance of sleeping with them.

I got bored with that, too, which clearly demonstrates a fatal lack of judgement.

Stockbroking had been an odd choice of career for someone who was practically innumerate until Clive Sinclair invented the pocket calculator in 1972. To be honest, my main reason for choosing it was the Gamages Christmas adverts in the old Meccano magazine.

Each year they used to advertise a range of Hornby Dublo trains and Meccano sets, with the most expensive preceded (in lieu of a drum roll) by the words “And, if Daddy is a stockbroker …”

I always wanted a top of the range Meccano set, so it seemed a logical move. Added to which, I came onto the job market as a terminally bored PhD student just at the time when City firms were beginning to think they should recruit more people who were, on paper, academically bright. A marked contrast with their traditional intake of the dimmest sons of the existing partners, supplemented by retired Army officers from decent regiments.

I had remained at Cambridge to pursue a doctorate because I was too lazy and disorganised to find a proper job when I graduated. Not for me the quiet tap on the shoulder that came the way of one good friend who had tried and failed in the examination for entry to the Foreign Office.

Our tutor invited him for a sherry, commiserated on his disappointment and asked whether he might be “interested in serving his country in another way?”

Not being the sharpest knife in the box, my pal asked what exactly this meant. Half an hour later he was in the college bar buying drinks all round. “Great news, lads! I’m going to be a spy!”

No eyebrows were visibly raised but he heard no more, and very slowly it dawned on him that he might have failed some sort of test.

Reading the Russian archive reports this week on the low opinion they held of their famous Cambridge spies, as an incompetent bunch of hopeless drunks, I can’t help wondering why both the British and Soviet secret services ignored me all those years ago.

I was a mentally unstable borderline alcoholic with zero judgement, at the right university. Why on earth did they not fight to snap me up?

And what sort of pension might I be collecting now if only they had?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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