Bye Bye Banking

[This article was first published on http://life.hereisthecity.com/sound_off/982.cntns, on 14th June 2009.] 

To pay my last respects to the 8 years of my life dedicated to the altar of investment banking, I ventured one last time to my old office.

Strictly speaking that’s not entirely a true statement – I dragged my heels grumbling and muttering grievances to deliver my signed severance contract because I was too tight-fisted to pay for a courier. After all, as Sir Alan has been highlighting on a regular basis to those unfamiliar (and his wannabe apprentices), these are testing times.

Furtively I scan the vista for any recognisable faces. Tucked away discretely, like a firearm, I have my well-rehearsed response to any awkward sympathetic offerings that may arise; ready to be whipped out, aimed and fired. It has not escaped me the way redundancy casualties are treated like victims of a taboo disease of questionable origin – with a certain uncomfortable demeanour and stilted conversation skirting incessantly around the actual ailment but without any direct reference to it. As luck would have it, altercations aren’t on the day’s agenda.

I am officially no longer an employee of the bank. Or indeed, of anything or anyone. Dare I say it; I am now officially unemployed. Not since the two months immediately following graduation from university can I claim the status of idle thumb twiddler; set to contribute a big fat doughnut to the nation’s tax revenue.

Instead of running from the building shouting ‘Free at last! Free at last!’ it is a decidedly low-key, muted affair (think Camilla and Charles’ wedding). Stepping beyond the doors for the final time, my 1 year old waves a farewell with more feeling than I can muster. Is it relief? Nostalgia? Sadness at the end of an era? The rush of memories of steps I trod thousands of times, in heels, flats, boots and sandals, season after season, year after year. The ghost of me lingers here like a small part my soul that I can’t reclaim.

Today is the day I redeemed my soul – but is a soul any more soulful employed in idle musings than soulless in an industry of alleged moral compromise? And what next now that I am no longer tethered to bureacracy? I hear Sir Alan is on the hunt for his next apprentice…

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The Office

So the much feared foray through the revolving doors into the building I spent the sizable slab of almost a decade holed up in, finally happened.

Having been lived a countless number of times already in both my unconscious dream state (nightmare, more like) and the more conscious idle imaginings, there is an air of Groundhog Day-esque familiarity to the proceedings. Strapping on a pair of 3 inch wedges to literally boost my esteem (I have always wondered how the vertically challenged Tom Cruise manages to maintain such a profound sense of confidence without doing likewise – especially with his leggy lady looming tall above him), I still feel myself physically diminishing in the manner of Alice in Wonderland, as I step across the threshold.

The rush of memories – of steps I trod thousands of times, in heels, flats, boots and sandals, season after season, year after year. The ghost of me lingers here like a small part my soul that I can’t reclaim.

A flash of recognition from a face that passes, I pretend not to notice; the scarlet ‘R’ emblazoned on my forehead glowing with shame. It’s enough to be within these four walls. To ride the lift up a few floors and make the pilgrimage across the whispering stares of the trading floor to my old desk is unthinkable. But of course, in reality, no one would stare, or indeed care. But it is enough.

I have gathered together the remaining items under my temporary custody that are my residual tenuous link to this place – this place and these people I have known for longer than Mr A. My company crackberry (defunct), corporate credit card (expired) – they are due to be returned to their rightful owner. My boss drops by and makes a conciliatory attempt at small talk but it is dripping in awkward unease. The content of his last spoken words so many months ago ring resoundingly sharp and unfaded; drowning out the chit chat of the present moment. After all, no one harbours a grudge better than a woman scorned.   

I agree to a future lunch that I already know will never materialise but is a necessary nicety from all parties. Preferable, undoubtedly, to suggesting a rendezvous in the next lifetime. Then I am free to leave. Stepping out into the sunshine and away from the haunting ghost of a glittering career that I once had. I pull out my personal crackberry to check for any new messages – old habits die hard.

My drug of choice

Key ingredients of one portion of redundancy, mixed with several large handfuls of rejection, plus lashings of alone time to stew over personal shortcomings and failures, can be the recipe to only one dish: depression.

I have the urge to take up drinking, drugs or some other equally shamefully self-destructive vice, to ease this gulf of loneliness that threatens to swallow me whole.

I long to forget who I was and who I’ve become. Sadly I’ve already forgotten who I really am. I am goalless, worthless, pointless and soulless – a walking shell of an existence. How easy it is for the memory to dissipate – the feelings of a life half full, limited by a boundless horizon. Now there is only a barren brick wall – endlessly wide and terminally tall.

Obviously all my days aren’t plagued by this maudlin moroseness – because surely I’d have taken a fast track to purgatory (or some equivalent place for wandering spirits of the dead) if they were. But today I feel lost. And unfathomably sad.

I suspect, until my life regains more purpose, that I will always be at risk of a relapse into this dreaded zone of despair and desperation. And I sense the tut tuts pounding at my blog door already dishing out their disapproval that motherhood should be sufficient in itself as a standalone purpose. But tut all you want; for me it just isn’t.

But tomorrow is another day and until then there’s always the option of drugs or drink – or for wimps like me bound by the shackles of parental responsibility, more likely a slab of Green and Blacks’ finest.

The other R word

[This article was first published on 1st May 2009, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/the_soul_clinic/at_work/941.cntns.]

First Redundancy and now Rejection – numbering in excess of the fingers I can count. On both hands.

I am learning (the hard way) that getting writing published is more onerous than pinning down a job in banking – and in this era of financial Armageddon, that really holds some considerable weight.

Once upon a time, in a moment of whimsical aberration, a bright(ish), young twentysomething fancifully decided it would be jolly fun to join the banking clique. She’d been a long time hearing of its bountiful bonuses hanging from every gilded tree, like low hanging fruit ripe for the picking by any ambitious, industrious go-getter. So she decided to see for herself and indeed endeavour to ‘go get’ some of the tempting fruit from the ‘Pick Your Own’ Garden of Financial Eden. In a surprisingly short space of time – mere months and half a dozen interviews of soul-bartering haggling later, she sold her soul for membership of the Square Mile sect.

Misguidedly she assumed that having attained membership, the subsequent process of picking and eating would be as taxing as a stroll through Cloud Nine. As it turned out, the Garden was prone to long bouts of famine, tempered only with fleetingly brief periods of feasting. And even the short-lived feasting would be a time of upheaval; hungry hoards battling for morsels of the transient banquet. Membership eventually expired with little notice; her now worthless soul flung back at her from the powers that be – having sucked it of its life blood.

So once more, the For Sale sign is being pinned to my soul. The resell value, as with a second hand car, well below the original untarnished version. This time, I am attempting to peddle my unworthy wares to the publishing posse, who so far seem marginally more discerning than their banking brothers, spurning my every awkward advance. As I battle on through my ‘death by a thousand paper (rejection letter) cuts’, it dawns on me that if banking has taught me one thing then it is the virtue of thick skin.

Jostling with the jobless at the local gym

[This article was first published on 16 April 2009, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/sound_off/928.cntns]

One of the first things to go, in my post-redundancy existence, were my multiple gym memberships – one had inspirational instructors, a spa, pool and a really good masseuse called David; another was within spitting distance of my desk and allowed me the unparalleled privilege of sweating, spinning and sparring alongside my colleagues. In exchange, I now have just the one membership – at the local authority sports centre (oh how the mighty have fallen). Goodbye to sun salutations in a swanky yet serene surround.

In an attempt to redeem myself from a weekend of frenzied Easter egg eating, I am enduring the drudgery that epitomises pounding the treadmill miles. Observing those around me in the similar pursuit of physical exertion, I realise that the men outnumber the women with a ratio of at least 6 to 1. In the weights area, there is no need for random ratio guesstimates – it is a mass of men and not one representative from the female camp.

So actually the ratios are a bit like those found on the average investment bank trading floor; though the ratio in the weights area is more resonant of the IT help desk. And indeed the average City gym echoes these gender biases.

It occurs to me, while still on my mindless mission to nowhere, that there really is no huge difference between the testosterone-fuelled muscle mania in this less than salubrious local authority fitness establishment, in the heart of the East End, versus its infinitely more plush City counterpart. Regardless of which end of this diametrically opposed spectrum you take, both are essentially filled with members of the male species intent on proving the potency of their physical prowess and pumping weights with a vigour and vanity to rival the model on the cover of Men’s Health.

Another observation gleaned over the months and miles spent on this treadmill is that in the hours of the week typically associated with work, there is a surprisingly constant flow of fitness-seeking faces. The audible grunts from red-faced, vein-popping weight lifters continues unabated. I can only assume that these are my fellow jobless casualties of an economy teetering on the brink. On second glance the majority don’t strike me as City types, past or current. If they were revealed to be local gang members this wouldn’t be entirely unbelievable.

For not wholly unselfish reasons I am hoping for an imminent end to the pesky job cuts over in the City – the prospect of queuing for my turn on the hamster wheel is a dreary one. Still, out here it’s more common to take to the streets for a proper bout of fistee cuffs, rather than in the cosseted confines of the gym with padded gloves and a personal trainer paid to dole out enthusiastic boot camp style encouragement. The average macho (ex)banker might find this real Fight Club rather illuminating. Plus, a street fight doesn’t need an upfront joining fee – though at the same time, it’s not followed by a steam room session, a massage and Molton Brown toiletries to boot.