Something actually happened

One from the distant past of January 2012:

Friday night came around again, and once again I was busy trying to clear out my inbox in an effort to attain the elusive Monday morning with time on my hands to actually think and plan.  Before I knew it, it was 9 pm, so I cleared out of the empty office, went for the same M&S sandwich at the station as yesterday, and slunk off home for an evening of mindless web browsing and TV.

After watching Margin Call earlier in the week, I was quite preoccupied with finding a link to a short story by Heinrich Böll. A line in the absolutely excellent film about the very ordinary greed of Wall Street bankers reminded me of this story, which it turns out is called “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral”.

In the film, the main character, played by Kevin Spacey, grudgingly agrees to stay on in a job that involves taking apart the investment bank he has worked for as a trader for 36 years, with the following justification:

I’ll do it John, but not because of your little speech, but because I need the money. I’m not sure how it could possibly be after all these years, but I need the money.

It’s so common, that sense of “need” in the City, and I suffer from it too. In the short story, a Greek fisherman sits by the harbour in a deckchair, dozing in the bright sunshine, with the morning’s catch visible under the awning of his little boat. A tourist shows up and starts getting all enthusiastic about fishing in general when he sees the catch, and starts going on about how much money the guy could make if he was out on his boat all day. He could hen  another boat, and employ people, so that he could massively increase his sales and make loads more money. So the fisherman goes, “and what use would that be”, and the tourist replies, “then you could sit in a deckchair and do nothing all day”.

I was enjoying these little reflections on greed and ambition, and then watched some ghoulish reality show about anorexics. Outside, the usual Friday night drunken shouting didn’t really register. Last week, I had been quite startled by what sounded like a massive argument, but when I looked, it was just a bit of banter. This time there was a bit of a crash, but I didn’t even look – probably someone walking into a lamp-post or kicking the bins.

When two fire engines, two police cars, an ambulance and some doctors on motorbikes parked outside my house, I was rather shocked to find that in fact, some woman had fallen into a basement, and about ten firemen spent 40 minutes trying to winch her up. The police saw me in the window, and asked me what I’d seen and how long I’d been at home. It was somehow embarrassing that all I’ve done with my Friday evening is watch TV and surf the net, so I kept nervously repeating that I’d been watching TV all evening, as if that made it less bad. He asked me if the voices had been a man and a woman, and I told him that they were. “We’re assuming she fell, but we’ve got to keep an open mind”, the policeman said.

All quite eventful.

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