These are uncertain times in Europe. Euro-zone is facing, according to financial sections of most broadsheets, economic meltdown. It is staring into the abyss. Indeed, Euro-zone has been facing meltdown for such a long time, you are surprised that it still exists; that what used to be Europe hasn’t become one gigantic river of lava, nation-states having been melted.
Here in the UK we don’t know where our next meal is going to come from. The economy has been in you-believe-it’s-called-double-dip-recession for two years. (You are not convinced that the minuscule growth thanks to London Olympics in the last quarter is going to last; the economy is going to flat-line again. Mervyn thinks so too.) The world financial crisis (you blame the Americans for it) blew a hole in the public finances of the UK (and most of European countries) the size of Czechoslovakia. Everyone (except the rich) is worried. The middle-classes are worried, angry and confused. Worried because they aren't sure whether they would keep their jobs in the local councils—with titles such as Assurance Manager and Talent Manager—even though they are hugely important and they can’t imagine how any public service department could be run even semi-decently without their contributions. Angry and confused because they can’t make up their minds whom to blame for this: Gordon Brown for his profligacy during the boom years or the nasty rulers who are pushing through the austerity measures with the zeal of a rapist; and because they can’t decide what position they should take vis a vis the ‘benefit classes’, the hordes who have been on benefits for decades, more than one generation, even, in many instances, and who seem incapable of doing any meaningful work and, into the bargain, keep on producing vast armies of children, raising them (in a manner of speaking) at tax-payers’ expense. Are they to be pitied (poor, unfortunate, disadvantaged folks who are being further victimized for no fault of their own), or do they deserve scorn (lazy, work-shy scumbags and freeloaders)? That’s the price you pay for serving a life-sentence in intelligentsia.
George Osborne’s draconian cuts have left all those Middle-class Tory voters screaming that they are not really as comfortably off as that; they are just people who buy tennis rackets for their children off e bay, drive around in clapped out Vauxhalls and go on holidays in rusty caravans in North Norfolk and eat in the local Sainsbury cafes.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way out? The term, you keep on hearing, is financial freedom. What you would really like is to be the master of your own destiny; to work, say, for no more than two three hours a day, and earn shedload of money so that your time is free to do—I don’t know—charity work?
You have a friend who is convinced that the quickest way to the riches is stock market. You tell him that no one in your knowledge (you do not say that that includes him, out of politeness) ever became rich on stock market.
‘You don’t understand,’ your friend tells you, with an impatient shrug of his shoulders that suggests that while he is a tolerant man by nature his patience is wearing thinner than Jo Brand’s thong, by your asinine comments, ‘that the old ways of share trading are history. Who wants to waste money in commissions and wait for the shares to rise? Which they might not? You want to be in and out in minutes. Hours at tops. OK, may be days; but not more than two or three. That’s the only way you will retire at 50 with a million in your bank account.’
‘What have you been doing about it then?’ you feel compelled to ask.
Your friend informs you that he opened a CFD account a few weeks ago.
‘And how many thousands have you collected so far?’
It turns out that he lost 800 pounds in the previous week.
‘Sometimes,’ your friend says with the sagacity of a, well, sage, ‘your calculations go wrong. That’s life. We have to deal with it. I shorted Marks and Sparks, but the frigging shares went up. It was just as well,’ he continues, cheering up momentarily, ‘that I had put a stop loss order. Otherwise I’d have been wiped out.’
‘Does this mean,’ you ask your friend, ‘that you could afford to lose 800 pounds?’
‘Then why in the name of Buddha did you not set your limits lower?’
‘Because I didn’t think I was going to lose. This was a sure-fire thing.’
‘But you did lose. 800 pounds.’
‘That’s the fun of it,’ your friend educates you.
‘That’s one way of looking at it.’
A few weeks later your friend phones you. There is going to be a free stock market seminar in the town. Where the secrets of successful trading will be revealed.
‘What’s the catch?’ you ask.
‘There is no catch. It’s free.’
‘Nothing in this world is free,’ you take the opportunity to educate your friend.
In the end you allow yourself to be persuaded to go with your friend to the seminar. It is held in a hotel you have never heard of, even though you have lived in the town for over five years. The hotel is situated in a less salubrious part of the town.
The receptionist—an overweight blonde in a hideous make-up—directs you to where the seminar is taking place. You go to a big waiting room. There is a table in the room, with a laptop on it.
‘Are you here for the seminar?’ A man emerges from a side corridor. He is tall and parades a grapefruit belly that wobbles unattractively, like a loosely tethered balloon on a stick, in front of him.
‘Yes,’ your friend replies. Why else would we be here?
‘The trading seminar?’ The man wants to be sure.
‘Is there any other seminar going on?’ Your friend snaps. He is trying to give up smoking and is somewhat irritable.
‘There might be,’ you say. ‘How would he know?’ You point at the man. He seems barely to recollect the seminar he is representing. ‘Yes, the trading seminar. We are here to learn the secrets of successful training.’
‘And you won’t be disappointed, sir, I promise you,’ the man says. He has this weird accent, as if he has had a stroke or something. ‘Let me give your badges, sir. Could you tell me your first names? Please take your seat while I deal with it. Help yourself to drinks while you are waiting. We should be starting,’ he looks at his watch, ‘in five minutes.’ The ‘drinks’ are glasses of water.
You and your friend sit on two of the chairs. You look around. You are surrounded by, you feel, a collection of biggest losers you have seen in recent times.
A man with pock marks on his face is sitting in one corner staring at the ceiling. He looks forlorn. Looking at his ravaged face you think that if he is worried about anything it is probably where his next swig of liquor is going to come from.
Behind the alcoholic are sitting, hands in hands and with thighs touching snugly, two peroxide blonde men with combined age of 40. The hair of one of them covers the front of his face down to his nose and ears on either side. It is as if his head is tightly covered in a yellow coloured basket.
Finally, there is a man wearing an overcoat; he looks like a butcher on a vacation who, looking for the nearest pub, has wandered by mistake into this seminar.
After a while the man with grapefruit belly turns up and informs the group is that it is time to proceed to the next room.
As we saunter into the next room, you notice a woman standing near the door, who seems to have modelled herself on Victoria Beckham (shaped like a razor-clam, hatchet jawed, silicon-enhanced boobs, and in need of a good licking). The woman stands there baring her teeth in a failed attempt at a smile.
We take our seats. You notice that on each chair is a notepad and pencil. On the wall in front of you is a screen. Soon a film starts. It is an advertisement of the bloke who has arranged this seminar. He runs a company which, various people in the advertisement inform you, simply can’t fail to make you rich. The advertisement goes on for a few minutes and ends in a jousting music with the nostrils and teeth of the bloke filling the screen.
At that moment ‘Victoria Beckham’ enters the room. She walks to the front swinging her atrophied backside, tightly wrapped in designer trousers. When she reaches the front she turns, pointing her fake breasts at the audience. (Actually, you think, silicon breasts are as real as they come; they would make a clang if they dropped on the floor; could fake breasts do that?)
A couple arrives—a man and a woman, both morbidly obese. The man is wearing the most crumpled suit since the one found in the suitcase rescued from the Titanic. The woman, judging by the layer of grease covering her hair and face, has not found her way in and out of a bath in weeks. She has gigantic breasts, and, looking at their sideways movement as the woman parks her bottom on a chair, you think (with a shudder) that she is probably not wearing a brassiere.
‘Thank God!’ ‘Victoria Beckham’ exclaims, ‘there is at least one woman. I was feeling lonely.’
The fat woman looks around her, as if to confirm that there is no woman other than her in the audience, then smiles at the speaker, revealing haphazardly arranged yellowish teeth.
‘Let me introduce myself,’ the speaker starts. ‘My name is Joan Fox. I am a private trader. I am a full-time private trader, and have done nothing else for the last six years. And I am so happy that I took the decision to give up my day-time job. It has given me so much freedom.’ The woman pauses to take a breath. She drinks from a cup a brownish liquid which probably passes in the NHS as coffee (so undrinkable) and continues: ‘You will no doubt have guessed that I am not a local girl.’ That is obvious. Her accent is like lashes of a whip. She mentions the name of an African country and claims to have been born in it. She then gives an account of her life in that country. Her parents were English; she had a brother; and hers was a close and loving family. She was happily married and had two children.
You wait. Any time now, you think, it will all go pear-shaped for the woman. Why else would she wash up in England? You are not disappointed. The father loses his job and turns to drink, or maybe, it’s the husband who loses his job and something else happens to the father—maybe he develops cancer of his scrotum; no, it’s the mother who gets the cancer—but she couldn’t possibly get scrotal cancer; maybe it is cancer of rectum. And something ghastly happens to the brother. That’s right; he gets murdered—one of the many victims of gun crime which has, apparently, become more abundant in that African country than paedophiles in Britain. When the brother is murdered, Joan Fox is pregnant and the shock of her brother’s untimely and gruesome death results in a miscarriage. How awful. Can she be blamed for feeling fed up with the African country, and wanting out? Luck smiles on her. Her husband is offered a job—maybe it was he, and not the father, who lost the job—in the UK, and the family—the woman’s family sans the cancer-stricken father or mother or both and one of them an alcoholic—packs its bags and heads for the Blighty.’
You look around. The fat man with the crumpled suit is scratching dandruff off his bald scalp; the fat, smelly woman is scratching her breasts; the gay-boys are taking notes (!); the butcher is looking at the woman with eyes narrowed (either because of myopia or suspicion); and the alcoholic has the far-away look of a man about to have an epileptic seizure.
Joan Fox’s troubles are not over yet. The company which has offered her husband a job in the UK has gone into administration while the family was airborne. They get the good news upon landing. There then follows, according to the woman, a soul-destroying search for a job, which ends with both of them getting soul-destroying jobs. The woman gets a job paying her 25 K per annum even though she is a doctor, she would have you believe, just because her qualifications were not approved in the UK. (Couldn’t she have given the British exams and work as a doctor in this country? Perhaps she was fed of being a doctor. Or maybe she is lying and is not—and has never been—a doctor.)
‘You know that feeling,’ Joan Fox looks straight at you. Why is she looking at you? You don’t know the feeling. You are not a doctor (real or fake); you don’t have a brother; no one in your family that you know of died a violent death, and you’ve never had a miscarriage because you never got pregnant. ‘You are sitting at your desk, doing a shitty job that you hate,’ Joan Fox continues. (You know that feeling.) You ask yourself, “How did I get here?” You can’t see a way out. You feel trapped. The drudgery is never-ending.’
Then one day Joan Fox decided to attend a trading seminar, just like the one she is speaking in. ‘I was sitting exactly where you are sitting.’ Joan Fox stares at you again and bares her teeth. You stare back at her without any expressions on your face. She is not fazed. You look down.
The story continues. The seminar is exactly the answer to the question she is asking herself; to wit: how can I earn money, lots of money, without doing any honest work?
Joan Fox pauses, takes a deep breath, pushes her tits further and asks the audience, ‘Are you with me so far?’ Only the greasy woman in the audience nods. ‘Because,’ Joan Fox announces, ‘things are going to get whole lotta interesting.’
They don’t really. They become predictable. Joan Fox borrows money from her sister-in-law. Two grand, she says. She would be happy, she tells herself, if she could earn extra thousand pounds a month. She is not a greedy woman; she isn’t asking for the world. Thousand extra pounds a month would do; she can then upgrade her weekly shopping from Asda to Sainsbury’s. And, slowly but surely, she starts making money. She doesn’t trade the whole day; she is not glued to her lap-top; she trades an hour in the morning and another hour or two in the evening. That’s it, really. And nowadays she does not even trade whole week; she trades only three days a week. And she is on her way to become a millionaire, would you believe it? (You don’t.) Nowadays she has her holidays in Paris, in Milan and in Moscow. (What the f**k is she doing in this s**thole of a hotel, then?). How has she managed it? She has managed it exactly the way your friend says money can be made (although he hasn’t made it yet). She does not buy shares. That is for boring farts. She does not do passive investing; that is for the retarded. If you have more than twelve functioning neurones in your brain, turn away from Vanguard. That will not make you rich quickly. Don’t listen to the lies of how passive investing beats the market over twenty-five years. What is the guarantee that you’d even be alive in twenty-five years? And even if you live that long, what’s the point of getting rich in your dotage? You want money now. In any case traditional investing won’t make you rich; your bank account will be as empty as Kira Knightly’s brassiere if you stick to traditional investing.
What is the secret then? The secret, you silly sausage, is not to buy shares, but to bet on shares. You make a guess which share is likely to gain in value and which share’s fortunes are lower than Spain’s GDP; and bet accordingly. You couldn’t go wrong, honestly! The recession around you might be fatal to the thousands, but you don’t let that bother you; you will still be making money. If the others are stupid enough not to take advantage of this opportunity of making money out of thin air, they really do deserve all the miseries that visit them.
But how does one know for sure which share is going to rise and which one is going to disappear down the tube faster than Jimmy Savile’s reputation? Aa ha! That’s where the dude who has arranged the ‘teaching seminar’ comes into picture. This guy, Joan Fox informs you, is driven by the pure desire to make people rich. He has figured it all out. He has a team of crackjack professional traders and has more gadgets at his disposal than James Bond. He has computer programmes that will scan for you Dow Jones, FTSE 350, whatever you fancy. It will run all the fancy algorithms dreamed up by those geeky men in their twenties (‘Yes, they are all men, I am afraid,’ Joan Fox grimaces at the fat woman in the audience; the woman shrugs as high as her breasts would allow, as if to indicate life is unfair but such is the lot of women), which no one outside of eccentric Cambridge mathematicians can understand. The computer programmes will also tell you at what level you should sell out and the limits of your loss should the unthinkable happens and the share ‘misbehaves’. Couldn’t be simpler.
Let me ask you a question,’ Joan Fox says. ‘Imagine you have 5000 pounds to invest.’
Looking at the faces of the audience you imagine that 5000 pounds is beyond their imagination. They probably do not have 5000 pounds amongst them.
‘5000 pounds of your hard earn money. Earned with your sweat,’ Joan Fox continues. ‘And you have a tip of a share that is going to go up and up. It is as sure a tip as there ever is.’ She pauses. Then, with curling of her upper lip at the right corner, ‘How much of your hard earned 5000 pounds would you invest?’
She turns and points her breast at the alcoholic. ‘Two thousand,’ he declares.
She looks at the homosexuals. They look at each other, whisper into each other’s ears, then, in unison, ‘three-thousand,’ they say. Joan Fox turns her attention to the woman.
‘Let’s have an estimate from the only woman in the audience,’ she declares grandly. The woman says ‘three-thousand five-hundred.’
‘OK,’ says Joan Fox, ‘anyone who has a different estimate?’ She asks.
You raise your hand.
‘Hundred pounds,’ you tell her.
To your surprise Joan Fox bares her teeth, which, you are confident, is a smile. This is confirmed when she says, ‘You, sir, are a man after my own heart. Can you tell me why your estimate differs so much from those of others in the audience?’
‘Because,’ you tell Joan Fox, ‘hundred pounds is a much smaller amount than three thousand.’
The alcoholic and homosexuals giggle.
Joan Fox takes a deep breath. ‘What I meant was,’ she says with exaggerated patience, indicating that she can see that you are trying to be a smart ass at her expense, but, because, she is far more mature than you, she is prepared to let it go this time, even though she is far smarter than you, ‘why you would invest only hundred pounds when you have five thousand at your disposal?’
‘Because,’ you tell her, ‘I don’t really view it as an investing. I consider it as gambling. No different from putting your money on a horse. And I wouldn’t put anything more than one fiftieth of my hard earned money on it.’
There is a long pause. Jane Fox stares at you. You try but fail to shift your gaze away from her breasts. ‘Interesting answer. I wouldn’t agree with your sentiment totally. Let me clarify. It is not gambling; it is investing, taking calculated risks. However, I wouldn’t want to invest exorbitantly large amount. In fact I would invest even less than you. I would invest no more than fifty pounds.’
She then turns to the flip-board and writes all the sums told her by us and shows how much money each one would gain or lose depending on two different outcomes, share rising or falling—third grade calculations. The homosexuals furiously copy everything Jane Fox is writing on the flip-board.
‘The idea is,’ Joan Fox turns back at the audience, ‘is to do it in small drips. 200 pounds extra one week; perhaps 400 the net; and slowly you’ll get there.’
You look at your watch. Almost two hours have gone. How long is this going to go on? Not for very long, as it turns out. Joan Fox starts winding up. ‘You see, ‘she says, ‘it all comes down to whether you are going to take steps to take control of your life, or whether you are going to continue moaning. As an outsider it astonishes me the pleasure the British take in telling each other how shitty life is. Moaning has become a national past-time. You find excuses to explain why your life is crap, why it will always remain crap, and why you will not do anything to change it. When I worked as a psychologist [so she is not a real doctor], I used to meet people who were stuck and had no desire to change their situations. Always looking to blame someone else why their lives are so shit and why they won’t do anything about it. “Oh! I had such a bad life. My mother did not love me. I never met my brother because he was adopted.” [Hold on! The woman never worked as a doctor in England; so who were these people who were ‘stuck’? The Africans?] Get off your backside and do something if you’re not happy about your life.’
Joan Fox looks at the audience as if to suss out their reactions. The homosexuals are looking at her like the first Muslims when Muhammad declared that he a had hotline to Allah; the alcoholic has either gone to sleep or has lost consciousness; the butcher appears to be looking for something in his pockets (probably the two hours of his life stolen by Joan Fox, but shouldn’t he be searching her trousers?); the fat woman is looking down to her lap, transfixed, as if expecting at any second for a cockroach to crawl out of her skirt.
‘I know it can be daunting,’ Joan Fox continues. ‘That’s where we come in. We will be with you every step of the way.’ Here it comes, you think. And it does. Joan Fox informs the audience that the dude who employs her and has funded the free trading seminar has opened university (!) for traders where you will be given a crash course in strategies and risk management of trading. You will be taught the psychology of trading, how to place trades and interpret chart patterns. That is only the beginning, however. The training will be of no use if you are not prepared to take the plunge. You have to open a real trading account; don’t bother with dummy accounts; it’s no good—it’s like having sex with a life-size doll, a poor substitute for the real thing. OK, you open the trading account; what next? You have to have the software, which will do the scanning for you; you will need programmes to run strategies for you and make decisions for you. Not to worry; the dude’s company will provide you with all of this. It has to be said, though, that all the computer gizmos are no substitute for human experience, human intuition. It is totally understandable, you don’t have to feel bad, if you feel you want to discuss this regularly, your strategies with someone experienced, if only to assure yourself that things are on track. No worries; the dude employs more traders than Tesco does shelf-stackers, who have enough cunning to sink the Bank of England. And they are only a phone-call away. Anything you want to discuss with them, they will be available; and their advice will be 24-carat gold. You’d be mad to turn down this opportunity. All that it is going to cost you is 15,000 pounds. That’s right; you heard it correctly. Does it seem steep? You are in luck; Joan Fox has good news for you. Only for today they will make the expertise available for 5000 pounds. Now, isn’t that a bargain? You don’t believe it? They can barely believe themselves. The dude must be out of his mind to slash the price of his ‘university course’ by a third. But you can’t really expect him to keep this out-of-the-world offer open for ever. You will be able to enrol in the ‘university’ for five grand only if you pay the money today. If you dither the chance will be gone. There will be no tomorrow.
‘I hope I have done everything I can to persuade you to avail yourself of this opportunity,’ Joan Fox says. You feel that this is the first time in the evening the woman is telling the truth. (Is her name even Joan Fox?) The music begins. The homosexuals look stunned. The fat man and woman are whispering between them. What could they be talking about? Surely they are not thinking of paying money to these shysters (the word derived apparently from the German word scheisser, meaning ‘one who defecates’) ? Not very likely. They both look as if they stole money to get the bus-fare to come to the ‘free’ seminar. The woman looks as if her cat got run over by the milk truck. What was she expecting? More discount on account of being the only woman in the audience? The alcoholic has come out of his coma, his facial expression suggesting he is wetting his pants and enjoying the warmth. The butcher is staring hard at Joan Fox, Jane Fox’s latest announcement having produced a new and awful state of apoplexy.
You look at your friend, whose face is like thunder. ‘Shall we go while we still are in possession of our minds?’
Outside of the hotel in the car-park your friend takes out a cigarette. ‘I thought you were trying to quit,’ you say. ‘These are exceptional circumstances,’ he replies. ‘F**king rip off,’ he gives his verdict. ‘The woman was a f**king liar. Who will pay her 15,000 pounds? I won’t give her 15 pounds,’ he says. ‘Not even if she takes her clothes off,’ he adds for emphasis.
‘Now then,’ you tell him, ‘there is no need to be vulgar. ‘The poor woman is only doing her job. I am sure this was no picnic for her either. Having to tell lies non-stop to a bunch of losers, except us, knowing all along that it is a waste of her time, but blabbering on nevertheless to earn the couple of hundred pounds the dude is paying her, staying away from her family.’
‘You said she was a liar,’ your friend says. ‘How do you know she has a family?’
Just then the alcoholic comes out of the hotel entrance. ‘You didn’t enrol in the university, then?’ you ask him.
‘I don’t have 15,000 pounds,’ he says.
‘They were giving a discount in there,’ you say.
‘Oh yes,’ the alcoholic says, and, in an exaggerated manner, searches his pockets. ‘Nah,’ he says and walks away. You and your friend walk to his car.
There are worse ways of spending your evening, but you can’t think of any just then.