Going in to London this week for a meeting, something occurred to me as I sat on the on Waterloo and City line, a unique branch of the world’s oldest underground train network.
The Waterloo and City line underground line is (un)affectionately known as the “drain” – unique because it has no stops between just two termini, from Waterloo Station to Bank Station in the heart of London’s financial district called ‘The City of London’ - a square mile and one of the richest patches of land on our planet.
This the place where the financial Goliaths hang out and do their thing; the outcomes of which are important to us all and yet so few of us understand which is reality not lost on these slickers. Collateralised debt obligations, anyone? No, me neither.
The City of London – often referred to as ‘The Square Mile’ is a congregation of all things financial: the London Stock Exchange, the Bank of England, the clearing houses, the banks, hedge funds, insurance, reinsurance, forex exchanges and of course the professions most closely aligned with money, namely the lawyers and accountants.
Gordon Gekko – the character by played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street – famously declared that ‘he didn’t do lunch’ but this is not the case in the City of London. Much more convivial it seems, since the place is crammed with chic restaurants and high-end boutiques selling expensive watches even though they keep the same time.
But as the saying goes, time is money and the foot-soldiers of the City – are the 1% and the highest earners of all – and each day, a great number of them arrive from their suburban mansions and apartments with river views via the Waterloo and City line.
My train (mid-morning) was practically empty but it would have been heaving a few hours earlier – a single carriage with a larger GDP than some far-flung countries with nice weather but little else. Most of the early commuters, I suspect are expensively educated and now needing to bring home much bacon so that their offspring can enjoy the same.
The adverts on the train are a good indicator of the sort of clientele who ride this line. This being winter - it’s a given that these commuters are skiers but little point in advertising holidays, since this lot probably have their own ski chalets - but they're bound to need ski guides, right?
And not just any old guide.
Oh, no. The ads on the train boast about your chance to hire a legendary ski guide, no less. “A legend of alpine skiing” – and appropriately enough his first name (I kid you not) is Toff – which is how us Brits refer to the types of people who can afford the luxury of being guided down a mountain by a ‘legend’.
Everything about the City is expensive. Even the toilets at Bank Station. £0.30p seems to be the going rate to use the facilities at most London stations but at Bank, a quick pee will set you back 50 pennies – and to think that we used to ‘spend a penny’ for such a privilege. House prices in the capital are routinely used to demonstrate inflation – but surely the cost of relieving oneself resonates even more.
And don't be fooled by the stunning architecture of the place. The City of London might be beautiful with its stone buildings but this masks what is a daily war zone. A battlefield of financial skulduggery and treachery with as many players losing their shirts as those filling their boots. Victories and losses that shape our world and on which we all depend; if not the price of shares and the value of our pensions and investments, then the costs of our debts.
I am writing here about the haves and the have nots and my tone is very much that I am on the side of the everyman.
Which some readers might scoff at. Because didn’t I open this piece by explaining that I am heading to a meeting in the City myself. And which ordinary Joe has meetings in the City of London?
Even worse – my meeting is with a bunch of people who call themselves, ‘wealth professionals’. But of course, it is not my wealth on the agenda which would be a brief meeting. It is the means of a family member of mine and no prizes for knowing which one.
The meeting went well btw. I think it did, anyway. In truth I didn’t understand much of what was said. Things like ‘imputed interest’ but nonetheless, I nodded along.
The meeting was long and I drank lots of tea – such that on my way home, my bladder was nagging me. But I managed to avoid the toilets at Bank Station and hang on for the more affordable loos at Waterloo. And right there, that’s a 20 pence saving and my take home from my trip to the City. A tangible saving and a good gauge of my financial prowess.
Which means it is high time my son finds someone else to organise his affairs – someone he trusts and crucially, someone who congratulate himself on a £0.20p saving.
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