It was the day I lost my lucky charm. My luck went down the drain - literally.
I should have known. I kept it around my neck with a piece of string and a safety clip, a little white feather I found in the garden at the age of 10 and kept for 20 years. I should have known because the string had been fraying. It was always going to break. It was only a matter of time before it happened.
I was unlucky, I suppose. At the moment when the string surrendered to the force of gravity, I was shaving in front of the sink. I was unlucky, because I didn’t have a grille or a plug at the bottom of the sink that could have stopped my lucky charm from disappearing down the hole.
“Damn.” What more was there to say? I thought of going and buying another similar feather from somewhere, but you can’t trick Fate. It’s generally the other way round. Besides, where would I buy such a feather? I didn’t know to which type of bird it belonged - even whether it belonged to a bird at all. If it didn’t though, I’m not sure where it would have come from.
Please don’t let the state of my sink fool you into thinking that the lucky charm had been effective during the 20-odd years during which it resided under my Adam’s apple.
Far from it. I had had a brilliant career, culminating in increasingly senior and lucrative jobs as a trader in the City.
Some traders have told me they don’t believe in luck. I disagree. The markets can be moved by any number of different variables, and you can never keep track of them all, or be accurate in your estimations of what effect they have. No, in the end you have to make a decision despite not having the full picture, and trust that the cosmic thumb points up rather than down.
Until the point when the feather sank without trace, followed shortly afterwards by the string and the safety pin that was supposed to hold both together, I had had a good life.
Things changed after that. The markets turned. Against me. Against everyone. But other people had had the sense to hedge their bets, so that they weren’t exposed in a bear market. I hadn’t bothered with that precaution. I had been too sure of my strategy to think that things could conceivably turn against me.
Soon, my boss started to glare at me. I thought I was imagining it, but if I were imagining it, why did I have a massive rush of adrenaline each time it happened? Why did I triple my normal number of visits to the loo?
I took bigger bets. Statistically, the market had to turn sometime. Well, it didn’t. The market doesn’t care about statistics. The only people who care about statistics are statisticians. One day my boss asked me to follow him in a meeting room. Once I was in there, I found an HR woman in there too, hiding in the corner so it was hard to see her.
I was given a five-figure sum to leave. Now, you may not feel sorry for an unemployed banker, but there aren’t many banks looking to employ unprofitable traders, particularly in a falling market.
I did all the things you’re supposed to do. I contacted headhunters. I networked. How I networked! I had coffee with everyone I had ever met. They were very friendly and eager to tell me all about how successful they were. None could point me towards a steady income.
I became a different man. An older man. A more stressed man. I stopped sleeping, exercising, even washing.
My wife gave up on me. She said I was an embarrassment and what must her friends think of me. Of her? She left and took the children, then came back and took the house.
I was living in a flat for a while. Then they evicted me because a neighbour had complained about me smoking weed, and I spent a night on a bench.
The following morning, I went to Costa on East Finchely High Road, because it was somewhere I could keep warm. I was exhausted, unshaven, bedraggled of clothes and hair. I knew I smelt bad too. I smelt of farts and sweat and bad breath. I’m just telling you how it is.
As I was about to enter the shop, a man stepped towards me. He, too, was unshaven. He had wild white hair, a suit jacket, tracksuit bottoms and no shoes or socks. Something else about his appearance interested me too.
“Can you give me 10p for a sandwich?” he said. The man smelt even worse than I did.
“Maybe,” I said. “What’s that around your neck?”
Around his neck was a feather, kept in place with a piece of string. It looked out of place, nestled among all the baggy skin.
“It’s my lucky charm,” he said.
I tried not to bristle at the word “my”.
“Where did you get it from?”
“Years ago, there was a storm and the drains overflowed. I saw it floating in the gutter and it caught my attention because it was white and everything else that night was black. I thought it would be nice to have that. I’ve worn it ever since.”
He smiled and toyed with it.
“Has it given you good luck?” I asked, before reflecting that it was probably a silly question. The guy was homeless, after all.
“I suppose it depends how you look at it,” he said. “I’m alive, aren’t I?”
I nodded and gave him a fiver.
“See, it got me a fiver too. I can have a sandwich too.”
“Would you sell it to me?” I said.
“How much are you offering?”
I looked in my wallet. “Twenty quid? It’s all I’ve got, I’m afraid.”
He shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “I need all the luck I can get.”