Skip to main content

An Anatomy of a Market Crash

9 min read

This is a story about a fictitious bear and an imaginary bull...

Market Graph

To explain how a speculative bubble bursts is very easy indeed. Investors are like a herd of cattle. They are not rational actors. When a critical mass of investors become spooked and start selling off their investments, this creates a market with more sellers than buyers, which means the asking price for financial instruments has to be lower to attract more buyers. Pretty soon, there is a stampede, as all the investors try to 'cash in' their investments and take their profits or minimise their losses. The asking price drops lower and lower, and buyers simply wait, knowing that the ever growing crowd of panicked sellers will underbid each other in a desperate attempt to offload their devaluing assets.

Anyway, that's so simple and obvious that it doesn't warrant further discussion. What I want to write about is what causes a speculative bubble in the first place.

We could look at historical examples, like the tulip mania during the Dutch Golden Age, with tulip bulb prices peaking in 1637, before crashing spectacularly. The Madness of Crowds explains the crash, but not the initial price bubble, in any satisfactory way for the modern financial markets.

To understand your average investor in publicly listed companies on the major stock exchanges, you only need to understand two human characteristics: greed and laziness.

The greed part is simple. Any of your friends who have reached a point of economic prosperity where they have disposable income are likely to have 'invested' some of their wealth. It's highly unlikely that they made angel investments in small startup companies where they knew the founders, the business model and understood the domain in which the embryonic enterprise operated. Instead, they thought they could make a quick buck by buying shares in a major corporation.

The laziness part is slightly more complex. The lazy divide into two groups. The speculative private investor looking to make a quick buck isn't interested in doing any actual work in order to earn their extra wealth. One phonecall to your stockbroker, having read a stock tip in your preferred newspaper does not count as an investment of labour, and so it is clear that these investors are lazy.

The second group are institutional investment managers: the people who look after pension funds. Now, you can ignore profit:equity (PE) ratios, yields, earnings per share (EPS), turnover and EBITDAs (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation). You can ignore the philosophy of Warren Buffet, who is an active shareholder. The pension fund manager is passive and invests for one reason and one reason alone: the market capitalisation of the public company has reached a certain threshold. That is to say, the market values a public company above a certain amount of money.

To understand market cap, let's take Apple Inc. as an example. We take the number of Apple shares that are issued (5.4 billion at time of writing) and multiply that by the share price ($118 at time of writing) and we arrive at a market capitalisation of $637 billion. That is to say, if you had a spare $637 billion in your bank account, you could buy Apple outright*: every single share. You would be the sole shareholder of Apple, which is the biggest company in the world, by market capitalisation.

Now, Apple might have absolutely dog shit products lined up for the next 10 years. The CEO, Tim Cook could be an absolute moron who's going to run the company into the ground. The institutional investment manager doesn't give two hoots. They're going to buy Apple stock simply because it's highly valued. In fact, they're going to buy ALL the highly valued companies, above a certain market capitalisation.

In the UK, we have a kind of football league, with the premier league being the FTSE100 and then the league below being the FTSE250. As the market caps change, companies drop in and out of these 'leagues'. Consequently, investment managers will buy the new entrants and sell the ones that drop out. Easy as pie, right?

The laziness that drives all this is retirement. People saving for retirement are too lazy to make their own investments that ensure the value of their pension is not eroded by inflation, so they get an investment manager to 'track' the value of an index like the FTSE100, which generally outperforms inflation, over a long period of time. That makes sense, right? Money invested in the 'best' companies, should outperform money that's just sitting in the bank earning interest.

Furthermore, when people come to retire, they want their pension pot to be managed for income not for growth, but they're still too lazy to shop around to make sure that the yield or dividends that they are receiving on their pot of money give them the best possible income, while also protecting their capital.

In essence, the biggest part of our economy is driven by greedy lazy people. Instead of the industrious and ingenious entrepreneurs finding it easy to borrow money or sell a share of their company in order to raise the capital they need to grow, the sad reality is that almost all of the wealth in the developed world is ploughed into corporate behemoths that have already extracted all their value from the public, in order to keep people who have nearly reached the end of their lives in the manner to which they have become accustomed to.

Yes, that's right. By the time a company comes to the point where it floats on a stock exchange, it has peaked. It's time for the original founders, angel investors, venture capitalists, private equity and other shareholders to now cash in and fleece the public by offering their shares in an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Because the company has reached a certain 'valuation' (as decided by market sentiment and the bullshit written by the underwriting investment bank in the prospectus) then it has to be bought by the institutional investors, because it is highly likely to have a market cap that will put it straight into the FTSE100 or FTSE250. The companies with the smallest market cap in the FTSE250 are around £400m; for comparison Twitter floated with a market cap of $30,000m, which is 75 times more.

Let's take a hypothetical example. If I was to build a company with a turnover of approximately £20m per month, or £240m per year, then one might say that it could be valued using a rough multiplier of 2x turnover at £500m. That would easily be enough to make for an attractive IPO, because the market cap is going to attract all the institutional investors who have to buy FTSE250 companies. In effect, the IPO is underwritten by the pension tracker funds.

Therefore, greedy lazy people buy dog shit stock, it appreciates in value because of market sentiment - "ooh the price is going up, let's buy more" - and the fact that public companies can use their shares to acquire other companies (growth through acquisition) until they have a dominant market position (some may say monopoly, ahem!).

Growth through acquisition is not really growth. If I have 100% of the shares in company A, and 0% of the shares in company B, and then I use 49% of my shares and a bit of cash to acquire company B, such that I now own 51% of company A and 51% of company B, no new value has been created. There may be cost savings, there may be benefits from anticompetitive practices, but really all I'm doing is increasing the market cap of the parent company, hoping to move from the FTSE250 to the FTSE100, where a whole load more pension funds will have to buy shares for their index trackers.

The same deal goes on in the US, where companies are trying to IPO at a certain valuation in order to get into the Dow Jones or the NASDAQ, such that the US tracker funds will have to invest. The public - mostly pensioners - get fleeced.

So, in conclusion, the cause of a speculative bubble is actually institutional. Because the pension funds are so massive and they are passive investors, using index tracker funds, there is an immense amount of fake value created by mergers and acquisitions, as growth by acquisition carries such huge rewards. This starves the companies - who are truly growing and innovating - of much needed investment capital, stifling the economy and instead creating corporate giants who are too big to fail.

Eventually, the central banks and the rest of the money multiplying machine reaches the limit of how much the value of dinosaur institutions can be artificially inflated. These dinosaurs move at glacial pace and stifle change and competition. The lack of efficiency of markets to deliver capital to those companies who have true growth potential, undermines the economy for years, until finally things reach breaking point.

Overvalued companies, market disruption by venture-capital backed challengers, the faltering of capital gain and the end of effortless profits, are the things that spook the lazy, greedy investors. So, then begins the market crash.

The dying behemoths are dangerous animals. For example, the 'too big to fail' banks were able to hold the world's largest economies to ransom, with the threat of unimaginable disruption to our systems of payment and borrowing that underpin so many mortgages, overdrafts, credit cards, car loans and how we get and spend our wages each month.

For now, the status quo persists, because the idea of smoothly transitioning to truly free and competitive markets is beyond comprehension, such is the web of complexity that has been created by supranational organisations that have swallowed so many competitors around the globe.

Until we move to active investment rather than passive investment, we will always have the cycles of boom & bust.




* - You couldn't actually buy all Apple's shares for $118 each, because the very process of buying up all the available stock for sale would drive up the price. I merely offer a simplified example.


Bored to Death

7 min read

This is a story about jobs for the boys...

Lift selfie

Do you feel like you earn your salary? What is it that makes you think you're worth your wages? How do you value your contribution?

If you work a physical job, you're likely to feel pretty exhausted at the end of the day. Maybe your feet hurt, your back, your muscles. Perhaps you judge your working day based on how much energy you've expended. Perhaps your job involves standing up, walking around, even running around. Perhaps your job involves lifting, stacking, moving, shifting. Can your value therefore be considered a function of how many things you physically move? For example: boxes of stuff from the storeroom, products on shelves, patients from beds, or children from perilous situations.

Maybe you work an academic job, or something you have to be highly qualified for. Perhaps you judge your working day based on how hard you worked in the past. You maybe had to really concentrate at school and do all your homework. Perhaps you had to go to University and at least turn up for some of the lectures. You're probably pretty pleased with yourself that you beat the competition to those limited places, and got the necessary grades. Can your value be considered a function of how stressful your exams were, and how hard it was to write your disseration, your thesis?

Maybe you work a high pressure job, something you really have to concentrate on. Perhaps you have no time to judge your day, because you're just so busy that you don't have time to think about it. You maybe have to take sales calls all day long to meet your targets. You're always talking to people. Or maybe you have to watch a computer screen all day, like a stock-market trader or an air-traffic controller. Can your value be considered a function of your ability to concentrate, and keep busy with the task in hand for the whole working day?

Maybe you work a caring job, or something that delivers service directly to people. Perhaps you judge your working day based on how many people you deliver satisfactory outcomes for. Perhaps you have had to work on a caring bedside manner. Perhaps you have had to develop diplomatic skills for dealing with people. Can your value be considered to be a function of how many smiles you get each day, how many thank yous?

Maybe you work a repetitive job, or something that requires very little problem solving. Perhaps you have plenty of time to think and it's quite clear what needs to be done, but there are only a limited number of hours in the day. Perhaps you enter data in spreadsheets. Perhaps you type the answers that are written down on forms. Perhaps you work on a factory production line. Perhaps you deliver widgets. Can your value be considered a function of how many of these repetitive functions you can perform in a fixed period of time? Do you take pride in the tiny efficiency gains you can make in a job that has been easily mastered?

Maybe your job is to educate, inform, inspire, entertain. Your job is to titillate the attentions of other people. Your job is to spoon feed culture to the masses. Perhaps you had wide-eyed ambitions about bringing song and dance to the people. Perhaps you thought you were going to be a war journalist. Perhaps you thought you were going to set the minds of young people alight. Can your value be considered a function of your reach, your influence? Do you know how many followers you have? How many viewers? How many readers? How many listeners?


But what happens when your purpose is cloudy, unclear? What happens when you can't see what difference you're making, either to other people or to yourself?

Why do you do what you do? Is it possible to work a job, just because it puts food on the table and shoes on the children? Is it possible to work a job just because?

Everybody needs to work, right? But what if your job is makework? What if your job is made up, just to justify the salary of your manager, who has to have a certain headcount in order to get their promotion? What if your whole industry can't justify its existence? What if everything that your company does, and companies like it, is completely superfluous to human existence?

What do we need? Food, water, shelter, warmth, social bonds. Where does insurance fit in that world? Where does a law firm fit? Where does a bank fit? Where do technology companies fit?

If you woke up tomorrow, and your company didn't exist, and neither did any of its competitors, would the human race keel over and die? If you work for an agricultural business, then quite possibly. We need grains, we need vegetables. If you work for an accountancy firm, I think we'll all be just fine.

I've got nothing against the people who work in the service sector per se but should we value those industries more than, say, fishing, farming, building & caring?

Do you think I give a shit about the protection of intellectual property rights of a wealthy corporation? Do you think that I respect the instruments of capitalism as an efficient means to do more with less?

Fundamentally, how many people are living miserably? We might point to increases in life expectancy as an indicator of progress, but what if those lives are filled with stress, anxiety, depression? What if those lives are miserable and isolated, unfulfilled, unhappy?

Official statistics say that more than 1 in 4 of us are battling mental health problems. In truth, the real number must be much higher, because there are so many people who have undiagnosed problems. We know from suicide rates and prescriptions of psychiatric medications - such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs - that problems are growing at an alarming rate.

There's a direct correlation between my lack of job satisfaction, and my poor mental health. When I've been happy in my job, I've been overworked. When I've stopped to think about what I've been doing, I've realised that I've been building systems that perpetuate human misery.

It's said that for every 1% that unemployment increases, over 40,000 people will commit suicide. I built a system for JPMorgan that processed the equivalent of $163,000 for every man, woman and child on the planet, in Credit Default Swaps. You think that money is better off locked up in the banking system rather than being in people's pockets?

If I'm building banking systems that process $37 million a second, why the hell are people living in poverty? Why the hell has the National Health Service got to be left underfunded? Why the hell is science underfunded? Why the hell have I got to work a crappy job that I hate, in order to make thousands of people redundant?

Rational self-interest, and the philosophy of Ayn Rand has led us down a very dark path. It's actually in our rational self-interest to smash the systems that take us on a race to the bottom.

Perhaps it's time to throw our clogs into the loom?

Yacht boy

You think that you want an A-list celebrity life, with all the trimmings and bling. However, collectively wanting this is leading us all down a path that makes humanity miserable, depressed, stressed, anxious, lonely and isolated.



Starting Recovery

5 min read

This is a story about the day when things start getting better, not worse...

Target Practice

I took a bath in Supercrack. It was very dilute, but I still took a bath in my 'drug of choice'. Countless nights of sleep had been lost and psychosis had me in its grip. I was convinced the police were about to break down the bathroom door, it was time to destroy evidence.

I had been hiding in the bathroom all night, freezing cold, believing that the police were going to enter my bedroom through my window. As hypothermia was setting in and I was shivering uncontrollably, I ran a warm bath to bring my core temperature back to a safer level.

I had tried to use various reflective objects to look under the crack at the bottom of the door,  and even shouted out "hello! do you speak English?" to the intruders I could hear. I saw various things: a pile of red boxes, a woman lying on her side, a man peeking around a corner. None of these things could be seen with much clarity, using a shiny chrome plug as a mirror.

I was kinda angry about my private room being invaded by people who didn't say who they were or why they were there. I decided I would warm up a bit before confronting them. I was also considering the possibility that they were just visual disturbances due to sleep deprivation.

As I lay in the warm bath, I heard burly men in boots enter the reception of my building, and I was 100% certain that this was the police, and I heard one of them say "so the guy we want's called Nick, right". I heard purposeful, authoritarian, footsteps in the stairwell.

I decided I couldn't risk my remaining Supercrack being found and lab tested. I washed the bag of it out in the bathwater, while I sat in the lukewarm water. Then I towelled myself off and came back into my bedroom. There was nobody there, and no evidence of any interference with the windows.

I was momentarily annoyed that I had destroyed my drugs unnecessarily, but it needed to be done as soon as possible anyway.

So, I woke up this evening after about 16 hours sleep, and I had something to eat rather than taking drugs. Almost like a normal person, sleeping, and then having breakfast. I spoke to a friend on the phone and we arranged to see each other. Normally I'm concerned whether the barricaded doors are strong enough to hold the World out.

I should have gone and seen my GP today, but I woke up at nearly 6pm, and I'm still freezing. Everything will happen sooner or later, provided I can resist the temptation to re-order any more Supercrack.

That was a full relapse, and I might possibly still be in its grip. I had ordered a 1 gram bag, used all of that (mostly doses that were so high that I spent 18 hours in complete psychosis) and this time I had ordered a 5 gram bag, and had been doing a lot better at remembering "less is more" when it comes to powerful psychoactive drugs.

Stimulant Psychosis is strange. You're hypervigilent, so there is always a real seed for every strange thought that you have. You get 'stuck' doing something repetitively, obsessively. Sometimes, you've succeeded at doing whatever it was that you were trying to do, but then you undo your own work, because you just can't leave it alone. The skin on my hands is tough and calloused from the amount of manual work I've been doing during these psychotic episodes. My body fat has dropped to a few percent, but my core muscles have become more defined, more toned, from the strange physical activities that I have performed for hours and hours.

Sure, I need to wear a belt again, and even do it up an extra notch, but the self-neglect, the damage, is probably limited to my brain. I've been drinking plenty of isotonic fluid, keeping glucose levels topped up.

I don't think you could ever combine Supercrack with a functional life. Taking an Ecstasy pill so you can dance all night at a rave on a Saturday night, and then going to work on a Monday morning can be done when you're young enough. Because of the urge to binge, the lack of sleep & food still leaves you in a pretty shitty state after 3, 4, 5 days locked away somewhere, shovelling powder up your nose.

Some PTSD damage might have been un-done. Nobody broke into my room. Nobody shouted at me. My legs are undamaged, and I didn't need to go to hospital. There was no police involvement. A couple of times, I even managed to say to myself "I bet I'm imagining that" and dare myself to come out of the bathroom.

I still have most of the things that I had on my todo list, plus a bunch more. I've also delayed being able to start interviewing and a full-time contract, until my weight and sleep are more compatible. I feel less overwhelmed than previously... a fatalistic philosophy has been forced onto me.

There's a chance that something good could come of all this. If I get to become a published author, it increases my chances of being able to publish again. Ending an addiction in this way is much better than how it ended before: being dragged out of a hostel by police and dumped at a hospital where I got a massive telling off from the consultant.

I hate winter in the UK.




Existential Crisis

2 min read

This is a story about intrusive thoughts...

Bipolar Memory

I've never been able to find the 'off' button for my brain or my mouth. That's a problem.

I also have a rather photographic memory, and can construct well reasoned arguments based on evidence. Most people just tend to go with their gut feeling, and are happy to be wrong about things, because what they want to be true feels more natural to them. Being wrong is also great if you want to carry on living your decadent hedonistic life in ignorant bliss of the suffering that it causes to other people.

Sadly, if you have a rational, logical brain, good memory and you have collected a lot of varied experiences from around the world, so that you can compare and contrast everything that you see and integrate it into a 'big picture' then you have a limited tolerance for small minded people.

Yes, this is extremely condescending. Sorry about that.

So, fundamentally, I lost my job went homeless and wailed at the moon because of an existential crisis. The first thing I did when I got back to London was to sign up for a Philosophy course. I feel that I have died a thousand deaths, and I fear not one more. My priorities in life are a little different from yours.

The bottom line is this: all this talk of ending war & poverty is hot air. Many years have passed since the so-called 'enlightenment' and we are still allowing evil deeds to be committed in our name. You cannot fight for peace, just like you cannot fuck for virginity.

The war on terror is terrorism. Look at the faces of refugees fleeing the illegal wars in the Middle East. They are terrified.

That is all.




Epidemic of Human Greed

8 min read

This is a story of a sabbatical that I never got to take...

My Life in Clothes

Anybody who says I'm ungrateful for my life needs to have their head examined. My life has been paired down to the nth degree. Anybody who has lived aboard a 22ft boat for weeks knows how to live a small life.

In 2003, I asked HSBC if I could take a sabbatical, so that I could backpack around Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. The important thing about the trip, for me, was that I needed to make more friends and do a bit of independent growing up, away from the Angel Islington and Canary Wharf, which my whole life revolved around.

My old boss, an Exeter graduate who had completed an M.Phil (Master of Philosophy degree) in Epidemiology at Oxford, was a brilliant guy and did his level best to get this agreed with Human Resources. The rule at the time was that you had to have been an employee for 2 years, which I had been. It had been agreed and I started to get excited about tying my knapsack to a stick and setting off on the road to secure and happy adulthood, with some brilliant travel stories to tell when I got back.

Sadly, HR decided to change the rules under our feet, and the trip of a lifetime became a choice between resignation or cancelling my trip. I chose the latter, as I had a secure job with a conservative bank that I have loved since being a Griffin Saver, in the days of Midland Bank. Working for HSBC was very personal for me. Also, memories of the Dot Com crash and 9/11 were fresh in my memory. I valued my job, and I liked working for my boss. He's a great guy: so disciplined and inspiring.

Possibly as some kind of compensation (I'm totally speculating here) my boss allowed me to ride his coat tails into a very important project, whereupon I sulked for months and months, because I hadn't fully comprehended what he might have done, in light of the clear importance of the project that I was a part of. My boss exposed me to the very best people within HSBC, and perhaps tried to pair and mentor me - perhaps deliberately, who can say? - with people who are still to this day an inspiration in everything I think and do. I can't help but well up with tears thinking about what an amazing time that was, even if I was sullen and sulky for so much of it.

When the pressure really ramped up on the project, towards the go-live date, I flicked the switch from 'zoned out' to 'warp drive' and started putting in the hours I should have been. I had wasted a lot of time, so this was hardly anything more than working as hard as I should have been all along, but nobody should underestimate the effort that was put in, either.

Anyway, I was eventually ranked - quite fairly - on my average effort over the whole year, rather than just on the 'heroic' efforts towards the end. There was one issue that I was very very tenacious with, having to work with operations, software vendors, networks, sysadmins and security to track down a particularly nigglesome problem. This taught me some well-needed discipline, but not, however, much humility.

My boss did his very best to knock a streak of arrogance out of a jumped-up young upstart: I found it very easy to do the work that was asked of me, but I was lazy, sloppy and work-shy, to be honest. Nothing was much of a challenge, so instead, I filled my time reading the BBC News website, chatting with my friends on the Kiteboarding forums and planning my next weekend trip to the beach or overseas Kiteboarding trip.

I suppose you could say that I had my cake and ate it. I got to continue my career in London, and I also got to travel the globe and meet a set of friends who became a part my life, almost like University or "gap-yah" friends (gap year to those who don't speak posh) would be in the lives of my rich upper-middle-class white spoiled brat peers.

However, I still harboured a bitter resentment against the world for having 'conspired' to deny me a year of diminished responsibility, casual sex with sun-kissed young women with sand in their hair, and generally having fun in the playground of World's backpacking hostels. I felt I was entitled to this, like all the University-educated upper-middle-class twentysomethings in Banking.

I couldn't see that I had kind of won. I had kind of gotten both. I couldn't see that my life was awesome already.

When my boss told me that I been ranked just below the very top performing employees of the company that year, I was mighty p1ssed off. He did a very good job of staying calm and not telling such an arrogant little sh1t to p1ss off. Partly at issue, was that entitlement is bred into us by our upbringing and society around us.

We are told what to expect depending on our position in the World. Perhaps we also misunderestimate (sic.) the effort that is going on beneath the serene surface: some of us are wild swans, with our legs frantically paddling under the surface, while we glide along the surface looking cool, calm, collected & awesome.

Tony Blair told the world that 50% of people should get to go to University. I wanted to go to University, but always felt such a deep sense of responsibility to be self-sufficient and work hard, it seemed decadent and profligate to spend so much money, geting into debt, just drinking and reading books. I have always been excellent at cramming for exams and words seem to flow out of me like so much water in a sieve, so that part didn't exactly worry me.

It's always been a bugbear of mine that people think that education is a right. It's not. It's a privilege, but it is also essential to advance civilisation and humanity. It can improve lives and society more than any other gift that we can give to the developing nations. Teach a man to fish etc. etc.

People have tried to gently, and not-so-gently steer me towards teaching. I loved my teachers and I love teaching. I can remember all the names of my teachers, and I still fondly recall so much of what they taught me in life, and how they inspired me. I hated school though, because the bullying was so unbearable. But then again, I was always terrified of electricity and ended up becoming an electrician, so fears can be overcome.

I think I know now that, when I'm done with wearing a suit, I want to teach - so much that it makes me absolutely sob my eyes out as this realisation dawns on me - Physics, Maths and Design/Technology/IT working with underpriviledged kids in state comprehensive schools in Inner City London. This doesn't have to be soon. It's something to aspire to for semi-retirement, I think.

The only way that I can think to make that a reality from my current situation of zero cash, zero assets and massive debts, is by draining the swamps in banking, as an IT contractor, and by changing the political landscape of the UK so that we pay Teachers a decent living wage and top up the salary of those working in London so that they can afford to live here.

Ideally, I would like to finish the project I'm on, and deliver of a stint of many months and years of steady high-quality work for the global bank I have always loved admired and respected the most. HSBC really is a great place to work, and you really can be reassured that when we are all done, it's going to be good for another 150 years of helping people and businesses to achieve their full potential.

Maybe I'm just a hopeless dreamer. Answers on a postcard if you've got a better idea.

You are such bores

Anyone who says 'narcissist' to somebody who has decided to wear a grey suit for 18 years is going to get a punch in the mouth (Winter 2014)



Who Do You Think You Are?

3 min read

This is a story of the son of a historian and a philosopher...

Harcombe House

Here's where I grew up. I literally had the West Wing. This 26 bedroom 'house' cost £120,000. Only my father - the most inspirational person in my life - had the vision and the courage to take the plunge on such a venture. You can't even see the whole house... there are still 2 blocks,  an indoor basketball court, a grass tennis court and a 5-a-side football pitch, that you can't see.

So what riches paid for all this? What family money? What inheritance, trust fund, or silver spoon were we all born with?... is there a chance that your preconceived notions might be wrong?

My Mum was the main breadwinner in our family, on an entry-level academic salary. My Dad used to be a gardener. We used to live in Gardiner's Arms Cottage. The cottage backed onto some woodland, and I could hear Wood Pigeons coo-ing from my bedroom (my parents had the only other bedroom). In order to make this tiny cottage liveable for our growing family, my Dad built an extension, built me a tree house, and used to poach the Pheasants and Wood Pigeoens in the woods, in order to save money on meat.

Gardiner's Arms Cottage

I cried when we left the cottage, as my life seemed pretty complete. I got to play in my tree house, sniff the flowers and water the grass... what more is there to life? However my Dad had bigger and better plans for the family. The problem with workaholics, is that they don't know when they have won, and when to stop. I'm very grateful that my parents are who they are, and it's taken me 36 years to really see their master plan, and get on board with the winning team.

As well as a gardener, my Dad has been a philosophy undergraduate, car mechanic, metals trader, chef, pub landlord, junk shop owner, holiday cottage operator, builder and antique dealer. His knowledge and love of architectural antiques, plus his skill as an entrepreneur helped him to build Oxford Architectural Antiques into a business that counted Formula One drivers amongst his clientele, as well as him providing architectural centre pieces that were focal in the work of famous interior designers and restauranteurs.

Oxford Architectural Antiques

My Dad taught me the importance of not only building a profitable business, but being part of the economic community. He created jobs, and firmly believed in the Guild of Master Craftsmen. He made the former coal yard that he rented into a beautiful jewel in the heart of Jericho, that won an Oxford in Bloom prize. He was interviewed by the BBC. He put on fireworks shows for my school friends and me. He sponsored struggling local artists and musicians, to put on cultural events. He is my hero.

Unfortunately, career politicians saw his yard, only in terms of prime property development value, and eventually it had to be sold off so that flats could be built on the land of his thriving business, as well as nearby Lucy's Iron Works. Because of this Jericho no longer had these sources of wealth generation and employment.

How it all began

This is the definition of a Lean Startup. I learned from the best in the business (circa 1986)