Wednesday, April 3, 2013


The John Grisham novel was devoured in less than a week. I have moved on to a Le Carre. He of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but that’s not the one I’m reading. I’m reading The Constant Gardener, which I am trying to remember whether I have seen the film. A hundred pages in, and nothing is triggering a memory. Anyway, we’ll see. It’s got a picture of Ralph Fiennes on the front who has a remarkably similar profile to mine. He became a great actor and I chose financial services….i guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles!

No, its not me!

The Appeal by Grisham was a cracker based on litigation between the behemoth Chemical company and the little guys who have suffered because of the dumping of toxic waste. Naturally, the bad guys are the corporation and in particular the evil CEO but I enjoyed it particularly because many moons ago I worked in Lloyds of London and we dealt with a large number of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cases.

Some of the tricks these companies got up to was pretty shocking and these weren’t fiction! I remember one company who poisoned a lake through their illegal dumping and paid a man to go out in his rowing boat each night and pick up the dead ducks and dispose of them. Some clever Para-legal found the man, who admitted he was being paid by the big boys and it was Punitive damage time!

I never liked working in insurance, and I still have a mistrust of the industry which does look to wriggle out if it can, either through policy small print, or through defending the in-defensible. The Grisham novel powerfully makes its point when a representative of the big corporations has a personal tragedy which is caused by a third party liability. He finally understands how an event like this is literally life changing. In fact it’s not all about the money, albeit that will help. But the book vividly highlights the immoral link between liability (or denial thereof) and profitability.

Even though The Appeal was written in 2007, I have noticed a trend in fiction (whether book or film) towards the demonization of mega wealthy corporate bosses who, since the credit crunch, are rightly taking flak for their immoral pay. Alan Alder plays a Hedge Fund manager in the surprisingly charming Tower Heist and he is simply a criminal in a suit. 20 years ago, the same character would have a stocking over his face and a sawn off shot gun, but now instead of robbing banks, it’s the banks that are the robbers! The thieving is less violent but as equally devastating.

In truth, they’ve always been around. It was 1987 when Gordon Geko famously announced ‘Greed is good’ but there was still something likeable about him. However characters like Carl Trudeau in The Appeal, John Veals in Sebastian Faulks excellent A week in December’ have absolutely no redeeming features. They have but one goal: To accumulate money.

It’s a challenge for us all. Although we might not be successful at it, it doesn’t mean that money doesn’t run our lives or take up too much of our time pursuing, whether successfully or not. Uh oh, another polemic from Jon, but there has to be more to life than the pursuit of the material? Maybe one good thing that can come out of the banking crisis is that we can revalue the power that money has in our lives?

I’m fifty tomorrow.

I have always found that on anniversaries which end in zero, I become somewhat introspective and take stock of where I am in my life. As a natural born cynic this is never a good thing, and I know that in my personal analysis I will be hard on myself because I am behind the curve of where many of my compatriots are in terms of financial success.

But success comes in many forms and fortunately I will be reminded of this as I look at my loving family (& dog!) and a wealth of friendships that mean so very much to me.

In fact, I am rich beyond compare.

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