I went to Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park in London on Sunday afternoon, which has always been one of my summer addictions. It will give a new angle on finance, I told myself, as I escaped family duties for a few hours.
Tony, a professional stand-up comic and anarchist was standing on his ladder, and persuading him to give his investment philosophy was not difficult. “Making money out of money – just parasitic” he roared. “Use your cash to enjoy for yourself or give it to a beggar. Don't push it to unit trusts, run by a load of creeps in stuffed shirts, who gamble in the City. You write all about that crap, don't you Tom? You're as evil as the rest of them.”
We did a couple of verbal boxing rounds before I went. As I was leaving, he bellowed that I must give his love to my wife and his children.
In fact, Tony's views are as old as his punchlines. Daniel Defoe was none too enthusiastic about the City, as I discovered, while browsing through a book on life in 1700 last week.
” 'Tis a complete system of knavery,” he wrote. ” 'Tis a trade founded in fraud, born of deceit, and nourished by trick, cheat, wheedle, forgeries, falsehoods and all sorts of delusions, coining false news, this way good, that way bad, whispering imaginary terrors frights, hopes and expectations and then preying upon the weakness of those whose imagination they have elevated or depressed.”
On Monday, I went for lunch in a tiny restaurant with excellent French food off the cloister of a Catholic church near Smithfield. Roger Carroll, an old mate, a raconteur and a director of Bell Pottinger Financial was in good form on great PR disasters in the City.
“One Scottish life company had a wheeze to raise its name awareness,” he said. “They posted a group of racing pigeons in boxes to all the personal money journalists. Each hack had to release their bird – and get a large prize if it happened to return to base first.
“Alas, the pigeons arrived at newspapers on Saturday. By Monday morning, they were ravenous and mired in muck – and one journo opened the box to find a dead pigeon inside – with the company's compliments.”
Timing can go dramatically awry. There was the group which went ahead with its fireworks display near Canary Wharf the day after the attack on the World Trade Centre, only to find all the bangs and flashes brought endless calls from terrified bankers.
I collect the headlines on billboards if they feature really big or really small news. August is hardly banner headline month but Tuesday's placard on the Evening Standard had a financial angle. “Accountant's Maternity Leave Battle” proclaimed the poster – a story with the hard cutting edge of a rotting banana. It has gone to join “Wartime Secrets of Dollis Hill” and “Star's Bag Snatched from London Home” in my micro news archive.
Of course, summing up news in four or five words is not easy. The Government wanted the Royals to do more PR for UK plc and the Standard proclaimed “Royals Urged To Sell Britain”.
Gossiped with Stephen Spurdon, another financial hack, on Thursday about the kind of invitations to turn down automatically. One had reached us both earlier this month asking us to a round-table discussion about some complex investment scheme – and only I had gone.
The round table was square when I got there, and discussion was hardly the word. Four of the group's directors took us through gearing, risk, investment yield and tax technicalities of what was, apparently, the perfect scheme for a man with a full £2m in his pension plan. It was not my kind of personal finance and it lasted over an hour.
“Any questions?” one of them asked hopefully and the PR man broke the silence by asking how they kept their charges so low. Once it was all over, I reflected on the prospective horrors of making small talk over even smaller sandwiches and fled.
Tom Tickell is a freelance journalist
”I saw the names Chris and Corey together and imagined them going off to live in a log cabin.” – Morley PR Monina Villaroman on the departures of MM's news editor and investment editor Thanks to Informed Choice's Nick Bamford for sending the Diary a book that he found while he was combing the stalls at the Cranleigh agricultural show recently.
It seems that Sofa chairman Nick mistook Honey Marketing by the fabulously named Harry Riches for a Money Marketing publication but has suggested that we pass it on to Steve Bee if it is of no use.
The back of the book reveals other publications in the series called “Honey in the Kitchen” and “A Case of Hives”. Maybe “How Not to be Stung” would be more useful.