Still depressed, or, as Matthew Arnold put it, ‘the foot less prompt to meet the morning dew’, I got out of bed one afternoon and exchanged the soggy Devon hills for the tower blocks of Canary Wharf. I went at the invitation of Dr Ivan Mindlin, orthopaedic surgeon, Las Vegas casino house doctor during the mob-run era of ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal and Tony ‘the Ant’ Spilotro, and one of the most successful sports bettors in US history. He kindly put me up in an ‘executive’ room at a hotel round the corner from his 18th-floor apartment.
The first night we went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We went there on foot. It was like going for a walk in a multicultural concrete-and-glass future. Ivan was enthusiastically welcomed by the Chinese waiters and we were shown to a table beside the window. During the meal one of them spotted something through our window that excited him greatly. He waved colleagues over and together they peered past the reflections and out into the night sky with awe and wonder, like destitute children before a Christmas tree. What could they possibly have seen? A UFO? The northern lights? We turned to look. It was the moon, newly risen, with Venus in bright attendance. ‘Is that the moon?’ asked the puzzled waiter. ‘Yes, that’s the moon,’ we said, heads down, scoffing. I ate mine much too quickly and two hours later I sicked it up into the lavatory bowl of my executive hotel room.
Next morning, after breakfast in the executive buffet in the sky, I went across to Ivan’s apartment in the sky. He had been up since 4 a.m., betting on American football. He needed groceries, so we descended to ground level and went to the Waitrose supermarket at Canary Wharf. In a vast underground food hall, thousands of etiolated City workers were marching hither and thither at the double. Purged and now disembodied by 100mg of Modafinil, I nosed our trolley through the surging crowds of shoppers while Ivan told me a story about a Brazilian girlfriend who took him home to a shack in the favela to meet the family. We were searching for vinegar. The mother, father, brother and sister were sunk in inertia, booze and daytime television. Ivan bought the brother an 18-wheel truck to start a haulage business; he paid for the sister to go to college; and he bought the father a Chevrolet. One year later the haulage business was bankrupt and the truck confiscated, the sister had dropped out of college, and the Chevy was written off. All three were back boozing in front of the TV. This was a contribution to our desultory two-day discussion of the causes of poverty. He drew no firm conclusion from his Brazilian experience and told other stories illustrating how a small piece of timely luck or support had transformed people’s lives, including his own.
On the far side of the supermarket was a glass-walled wine cellar and in front of that a wine bar. Relaxed customers were tippling unselfconsciously at this calm, rectangular oasis. I studied the faces as we went by them. They looked uniformly intelligent. One of these scrutinised mine as I scrutinised his. ‘Gary!’ I said. Gary is one of the gang who meet in the Black Lion before West Ham home matches. He was toting a massive wine glass two thirds full. ‘What are you doing here?’ I said. He was a broker, he said, and this was the bar closest to the office. It has been the bar of choice for him and his fellow passionate capitalists since before the Flood. You can select a fabulous bottle of wine from the cellar and the barman would serve it to you and your friends for only an extra £7.50 corkage. Almost heaven.
He asked me how I was doing. I was depressed, I said. He introduced me to his two broker mates and asked me what I was having. Ivan pushed off to finish the shopping and arrange to have it delivered, and I spent an unbelievably happy hour tipping chilled white wine down my throat with these three cynical old survivors of boom and bust. ‘Cor, you must have done some drugs in your time,’ I said to one. He said pleasantly that he had been fortunate in that his drug of choice in those heady days was Ecstasy, thereby avoiding the short, broad road to perdition afforded by cocaine.
That night I was sick again into my executive toilet bowl. At 7 a.m. I climbed into the back of the car that Ivan had kindly sent to take me away from the future and return me to the present day. The Polish driver talked without ceasing about Muslims all the way to the airport. I noticed that I had started to feel much better.