Monday, 31 January 2011

Incongruity - a short story

Once there way a boy. He lived with his parents and two years older sister in a new flat to which the family had moved a few month earlier. The middle school the boy attended has topped the rankings for five years in a row, so it was decided that the boy would still attend it. The distance between the new flat and the school (five kilometres) necessitated every day commutes. However, they were not a nuisance, as the journey by bus lasted mere eight minutes, buses in the morning ran every five minutes and the bus stop was a stone's throw from the block where the family lived.

One winter morning when the temperature was hovering around zero, the boy and his sister were about to leave for school. The sister began going out with her first boyfriend just a few weeks ago and since then has much more cared about her appearance. Her boyfriend had promised to take her out after classes and she wanted to look really splendid. She occupied the only bathroom for over a quarter putting on make-up on her face. The boy did not want to come late to school, so he knocked at the bathroom door and asked his sister if she could let him in, because he wanted to a morning toiletry and go away. She was very busy tweaking with her eyelashes so she told her brother to get lost and wait his turn. After a few minutes she left the bathroom, the boy did what he had to go, put on his winter coat, shoes and set off towards the bus stop.

He knew he still stood a chance of catching the 7:43 service, so he marched towards the stop very briskly. When he was just twenty metres away, he saw his bus pulling up. He ran to the bus stop at full pelt to get into the vehicle. Unfortunately, the driver did not show sympathy for the hurrying boy and shut the door just before his face. The boy had to choice but to wait for the next bus, due in five minutes. The wind was gusty that morning, so, understandably, he decided to wait in a bus shelter.

A nineteen-year-old spaced-out student was returning home from a post-exam-period party in his also nineteen-year-old BMW (abbr. Burak Ma Wózek - Bumpkin has a cart). As he was approaching the bus lay-by it seemed to him another driver cut in on him. To avoid rear-ending the car, which was still on the other lane, he swerved swiftly. The car went into a skid in the icy road. Its driver, scared stiff, instead of skimming on the brakes pushed the accelerator pedal. The car did around 100 kmph when it smashed into the bus shelter. The boy had to chance to survive. He died at the scene.

Who should be held culpable for the boy's death?
Answer 1: His fastidious sister who had to finish doing her make-up?
Answer 2: The fastidious bus driver, who closed the door?

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Truth will out?

This is the second post in row, which waited for some time on my dashboard before being published at last. Something must be amiss with my blogging if I keep editing out some excepts, delete whole paragraphs, rewrite many sentences, wonder whether thoughts I wish to share with you are unsuitable or too controversial.

What you see below is an auto-censored, "soft" version of my sad reflections after a wake I attended yesterday.

Normally my parents and I refuse to take part in such receptions, because there is nothing to celebrate and the boring family gathering ends up with drinking to the deceased's health or people begin to chat joyfully and the atmosphere gets party-like. This time as the deceased had been one of our closer relatives, it would have been simply impolite to turn down the invitation.

The wake was not extraordinary, apart from the presence of a prominent Polish politician, who is a good friend of the deceased's son. All proceeded normally until the moment sons of the deceased delivered a speech.

The old Latin tenet that you should speak highly of the dead or not speak at all, is a good rule and I am all for obeying it. The man who we farewelled yesterday had been a good man. He had loved his wife, sons and grandchildren, he had been nice and helpful to people around, he used to be a dab hand around the house - he could fix a broken down TV, a leaking tap, and, as long as he had been up to it, he had repaired his old Polonez. All this could be said about him and indeed was said. He also had some typical Polish shortcomings; in line with the Latin rule, we will pass over them. However, I still do not understand why he was credited with writing poems, reinterpreting some excerpts of the Bible into Polish patriotic psalms and writing furtively a book about history of Poland from its baptism in 966 to 1939. The big dose of patriotism was said to had been instilled in him by his father, who had died in 1943, when the deceased was 14.

I was totally unaware of his great attainments. He had only completed primary school, after WWII he did not continue his education. All I heard was so implausible that first my jaw dropped open and then I had to bite my tongue just not to burst out laughing. Meanwhile my father at first breathed loudly (what always means he gets the hump) and then hissed. Actually no one, including his own sister, knew anything about his alleged achievements. I cannot disprove the existence of these poems or psalms. Maybe he had had some talents he had kept secret (just as my family do not know about the existence of that blog), if so, I can be proud of him. During his speech, the deceased's son waved a piece of paper containing one hand-written poem. The deceased's sister, a very straightforward person, who incidentally always does or says something before she thinks, immediately grabbed the piece of paper and adjudicated it not to be her brother's handwriting. The counter-argument was that she wore the wrong glasses..

The question how the deceased's father, who until his last days he had been a zealous communist, could he have instilled patriotism in his son leaves in deep bemusement. After WWI his father was, I am shamed to admit it, one of those who wanted Poland to be incorporated into the Soviet Russia... About such things people do not talk, such black sheep are kept as skeletons in cupboards, and their disgraceful deeds sink into oblivion. But what is the point in rewriting the family history? Why? Who needs those lies? The politician who came for a free blowout in an expensive restaurant?

The same happened many years after my maternal grandmother's death. During Warsaw uprising she had spent the whole August and September 1944 hidden in basements and sewers, scared stiff, then with other inhabitans of Warsaw driven out to temporary camp in Pruszkow, she managed to run away and settled down in the countryside. A few years ago my some members of my mother's family began to tell my mother my that grandmother had been a messenger in Warsaw Uprising and saved lives of many children. My grandmother used to talk to my mother about the cruelty of the uprising and described her two-month ordeal in details and openly had admitted she had been too afraid to leave underground shelters and fight. Why should the family history be rewritten?

A similar story happened during the funeral of my mother's friend. Later today my mother recalled the event when the deceased's husband had given a short speech about his late wife. My mother said she had thought he had spoken about someone else, not the woman she had known for thirty five years.

If something is acceptable and praised on a national level, why cannot we do it at home?

Some rules, such as the one cited at the beginning are a foundation of our civilisation, but is it a reason to distort biographies of people who have died, to beautify their image post mortem? The same happens to the people who are still alive. Jadwiga Kaczyńska was many times said to have fought in Warsaw Uprising, when in fact at that time she had been a nurse in Starachowice. In turn, several people attempted to deny that Henryka Krzywonos stopped the tram in Gdańsk in 1980 and thus launched a strike of public service vehicle drivers, after she slated Jarosław Kaczyński for his missteps.

Also late president Lech Kaczynski, ridiculed and deprecated when in office, is glorified after his death. In the near future the biggest test for Poles in that respect will be the death of general Wojciech Jaruzelski, now aged 87. He still remains a very controversial figure. A political clash for how he goes down in history will be inevitable then...

Monday, 24 January 2011


For the last few days my attention has been gripped by the issue of Smolensk air crash. For months I had been of the opinion that the issue is not the most important problem and we should focus on things other than dwelling on the circumstances of the accident. But since 12 January when MAK unveiled its report, thoughts on the disaster have assault me almost all the time, from the first seconds after I wake up in the morning, till the last seconds before I fall asleep. Given that I have exam period (seven down, two to go) and dozens of other things to handle, recurring thoughts on the disaster begin to pose a serious threat to my sanity. For this reason I made the decision to withdraw from any political postings and comments on other blogs (including Posłuchaj, to do Ciebie). My resolution will come into force on 7 February, the day I return to work, and sooner or later will be broken, but not before I am sure reviving the tetchy affairs would not bring me into losing my mind. There are many other topics worth raising here, many other discussions and disputes to be held, the range of subject matters will shrink a bit, hopefully with the benefit for the readers.

I had several concepts of this post, one partly developed and given up was to dedicate it to my fellow blogger, Toyah, just like I did over half a year ago. Having changed my mind several I finally settled on hitting you with a list of questions (order is totally random, some of them overlap one another) that keep nagging me... I do not hold out much hopes that you know answer to most of them, but maybe taking it off my my chest will help me sleep restfully tonight...

1. Am I the only one who holds the view that politicians of PiS do not want to find out the truth about the disaster, but they have had their own "truth", i.e. the PO-led government and Russians are the only guilty of that crash and they pick out the facts that match their concept? (If you happen to spot any lies or misrepresentations in GW's article, do let me know about it and substantiate where they depart from the truth)

2. Do politicians of PiS realise what they do actually realise what they do actually mirrors Russian stance on the investigation results, stemming directly from Soviet mentality, in line with which "all our faults must be withheld and others' fault must be highlighted"?

3. Is it in the vested interest of our country to conceal our faults, irregularities and infractions of rules?

4. Does telling openly about errors made by our pilots during the flight translate into "sullying their honour" (giving to the public the information about level of alcohol in the blood of one the passengers was indeed out of place)?

5. Why passengers could enter the pilots' cabin, if such practices were forbidden?

6. Will the pilot of Jak-40 who landed there despite being ordered by air traffic controllers at 09:14:41 to do a go-around and fly off and will he be held accountable of putting lives of tens of people at risk?

7. Why deputies of PiS call pilots, who attempted to touch down the plane, despite being told at 09:55:37 the landing was impossible due to bad weather conditions, heroes?

8. Why were pilots of Tu-154 who in August 2008 had followed all safety procedures and did their utmost duty, i.e. ensured the safety of their passengers were called "cowards"?

9. Why Mr Karski did not have the courage to apologise for his misdeed and did not concede he had been wrong?

10. How the Georgian incident and, above all, the subsequent litigation could affect decisions taken by pilots during the fateful flight?

11. Why politicians (and journalists, both groups recently boast about in-depth knowledge in air accidents), not aviation experts, adjudicate on the causes of the crash? Do we follow example of Russia, where such inquests are politicised?

12.Will Polish independent aviation experts, who have torn a strip off Polish crew, become enemies of PiS, or have they already become, if M(r)s Kempa suggested special services should handle them? (a foretaste of what dissenters may face in IV RP)

13. Is it true captain Protasiuk declined to take off from Okęcie, because he had not received a weather forecast for Smolensk or because the weather report he had received told landing was impossible and why somebody convinced or ordered him to take off?

14. Why did Poles who organised the visits insisted on landing in Smolensk, if they knew the airport there was dilipidated and had been closed in October 2009. why did not they choose another airport and did not provide other means of transport to get to Katyn?

15. Why Russians did not try harder to dissuade Polish pilots from landing or why did they not close the airport?

16. Why did Russian air traffic controllers did not tell Polish pilots they had problems with their tawdry equipment?

17. Why was the first speech delivered by the prime minister Tusk on 19 January so aggressive?

18. Why politicians of PiS tried to hoot down deputies of PO when they were asking questions?

19. Why deputy speaker of the lower house, Mr Niesiołowski acted the fool (or a jack-in-office) during the debate?

20. Why Mr Macierewicz told, in response to the inqiury about his visit to the United States he had met the most important congressman, Peter King, who he had wanted to meet, if it did not happen?

21. Why Mr Macierewicz called the United States "our biggest ally", if they do not give a shit about Poland and their president paid his respects to Lech Kaczynski by playing golf during his funeral?

22. On what legal basis Mrs Fotyga and Mr Macierewicz were authorised to represent Poland in the USA on what legal basis could anyone help them establish an international committee to investigate the causes of Smolensk air crash?

23. On the basis of what legal document could Poland not hand over the inquiry to Russians and was that document really applicable in that situation?

24. Do PiS and their apologists try intently to reshape the image of the late president and make Poles believe he was an outstanding statesman, when in fact, despite being a noble and honest man, he simply did not have making of a head of state and his presidency was generally clumsy and mediocre?

25. Are PiS and their followers trying to paint the picture of downfall of Poland, a falling apart country, run by servants of Russians, traitors, Heaven knows who else, just to justify radical steps they will take if they win the election in October 2011 and set out to crack down on their enemies?

And finally, the most important question.
If Mr Protasiuk had refused to take off and the plane had not taken off with any other pilots in the cockpit, or if pilots had made the decision to land somewhere else or even return to Warsaw without trying to touch down, or if Russian authorities had closed the airport in Smolensk, how would Lech Kaczyński and politicians of PiS have reacted?

There is just one question I can answer. Jarosław Kaczyński blames the Polish government because visits of his brother and Mr Tusk were separated. Donald Tusk could not bring Lech Kaczyński along on 7 April to Katyn because the late president did not receive an official invitation from Russians, which is required by diplomatic protocol (Jarosław Kaczyński and his followers are proud to be ignorant of the rules it sets out). Donald Tusk did not fly to Katyn on 10 April because he was not invited by president Lech Kaczynski. Finally, if president and prime minister had been on board of the same plane, it would have been an appalling violation of safety procedures. And after all we all know that Russians are coarse and simply did not wish to see the man who had openly displayed his hostility towards Russia. And their decision was quite probably provoked by late president's brother...

To break the language barrier I hereby waive the rule of blogging which tells to reply to a post in a language in which it is written. If you want to have your say and do not feel up to the task in English, do it in Polish, I will appreciate it anyway.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Polish economy proves its resilience

A long expected move has just been made. After nineteen months of standing at 3.50% benchmark interest rate of Polish Central Bank was raised by 25 basis points. The decision taken by Monetary Policy Council was anticipated by financial markets.

Thus Poland joined the group of countries where monetary tightening has got under way. The prudent step confirms Polish economy is back on the growth track and in the middle term inflation poses a bigger threat to macroeconomic stability than low pace of GDP growth. Quite probably this year we will witness three interest rate hikes, each by 25 basis points, so at the end of the year the benchmark rate will reach 4.50%. This series of gentle increases will not hamper economic growth, but will ensure price stability (conducive and indispensable to sustain long-term growth) and will head off the risk of overheating the economy. In the long term I expect Polish central bank to focus mainly on inflation data; pace of economic growth will recede into background.

Markets have already discounted the hike. FRA quotations had indicated one hike in 2010, so according to the markets, the decision was belated. Valuations of bond funds and money market funds, both sensitive to interest rate movements (correlation is negative) were down in the recent weeks (bond funds), or levelled off (money market funds). What was felt by participants of "safe" investment funds will soon affect borrowers who have taken out variable-rate loans (that applies to mortgage loans denominated in PLN as well). Mortgage borrowers whose debts are denominated in foreign currencies can expect, holding everything else unchanged, slightly lower installments, as rising rates should cause zloty to appreciate. Interests paid by the banks for time deposits and saving accounts will pick up, but here you ought to expect a considerable lag - banks are not hard up for cash and will not pay over the odds for your savings.

Today WIG20, the main index of Warsaw Stock Exchange hit its many months' high and climbed to levels last seen in summer 2008 (and subsequently plummeted). In the short term I expect stock prices to go up, in the mid-term a correction by round about 10% would be quite natural, my target for the end of the year is 3,200 points (WIG 20). I will look back on these forecasts at the end of the year, to check how accurate they were.

In the meantime I took a glance at comment threads following the news items informing about the hike. Commentators either fulminate against prime minister Tusk and the ruling Platforma Obywatelska (as if they were responsible for the move) or blame conspiracy of foreing banks, all in league to fleece poor Poles... Thoughtless comments, which by the way are indispensable part of the Internet (educated people have little time to comment), remind me that Poles' grasp of mechanics of economics still needs to be worked on...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Sunday trip to Piaseczno and back

Exam period report: four down, five to go...

By the way - do you know today we have Blue Monday and I am suspiciously joyful...

So as I'm stuck in the middle of my last exam period, it might be a good idea to write something concise, approachable and upload a lot of pictures to entartain my readers (and make the post appear longer while in fact it's short).

Last Sunday I decided to make the most of sunshine (for next eight days Poland's capital suffered from deficiency of sunlight) and my new two-in-one piece of plastic (travelcard and debit card in one, issued by Citi Handlowy) with suburban ticket encoded on it and...

14:02, I approach the train station in Nowa Iwiczna. According to my estimations I should have waited for the semi-fast Radom-bound train for a few minutes. In reality, the train was running earlier and I had to run up to the platform. Instead of snapping the engine hauling three new carriages I snapped the train pulling up and the window pane leant against the shelter (above). Needless to say shelters and benches at the station are vandalised soon after the new ones are put in after a previous act of thoughtless vandalism.

Above and left: now I need some hints how to take sharp photos from a train moving at a quite high speed. I have to say travelling in double-deckers is fast and comfortable. Above: a queue of cars waiting before gates on railway crossing in Stara Iwiczna (quite busy road). Left: it's not the coal line, but a stationary coal train on a siding in Piaseczno.

To the left, another queue of cars, this time it's the railway crossing on ul. Jana Pawła II in Piaseczno. Traffic on that street is rather sparse, yet the number of cars queuing up is staggeringly high. Worth mentioning that gates on railway crossings in Poland go down long before a train comes.

Right: just five minutes after boarding the train in NI, I alighted in Piaseczno. There, before the train pulled out from the station, I managed to capture it from its splendid, grimy rear. Display at the top of last carriage shows the train's destinantion. It was the third day of thaw, then in overdrive.

Right: the station in Piaseczno, lit by mid-afternoon January sun. The building has long been due to revitalisation, now it's due in... in the future, I suppose. Mayors and councillors come and go and the station remains run-down...

Left: the same building of the station, snapped from the footpath running over the tracks. Don't expect facilities such as waiting room, toilet or ticket office. Smacks of provincial Poland - watch out for the bicycle chained to a banister or heartfelt plea of love to some Angelika...

Right: derelict sidings west to the station. I remember from early childhood those tracks have been out of use back in mid-1990s. I am baffled by the fact no one has yet ripped them. Rails and bolts could be sold for scrap and slippers could be used as input to one of incenerators, so popular in the countryside... But note that many sidings running parallel to the main line, east of it, are still in use.

Left: the platform of Piaseczno station, as dilipidated as the building of the station, yet capable of serving its purpose. On Sunday afternoon served also as a hang-out for local track-suit afficionados.

Left: looking north from the footpath, tracks run towards Warsaw and converge in the distance. Visibility on 9 January wasn't particularly good, hence a gentle mist on the horizon.

At the station I peeked at the timetable to learn a Warsaw-bound train would arrive in three minutes. After ten minutes of hanging around there to no avail I set off to the centre of Piaseczno, then caught 709 bus to Warsaw and got off the vehicle just before the border of the capital. Right: Piaseczno, ul. Raszyńska. The dismal aftermath of water freezing in crevices between the proper tarmack and new patches. When temperatures fluctuate around 0C water freezes and unfreezes and patches are blown up. Last Friday the street was patched up, but the problem remains unresolved. Come another thaw and here we go again!

Both gmina Piaseczno and gmina Lesznowola are prosperous, but Piaseczno is incredibly badly-run, especially in comparison to reasonably well-run Lesznowola. As you cross the border between them the street is properly tarmacked (no holes at all), pavement is not crooked, but apart from this the picture is not rose-coloured. Litter scatterred around the rubbish bin, butts lying in dirty snow, box belonging to Telekompromitacja Polska S.A. mangled after a car accident, crooked fence put by owners of a private nursery school...

Right: heading back home. I wonder if the place is really as dull as it sometimes seems to be. My neighbourhood is surely not the worst sort of suburbia, nevertheless, it still lacks a spirit...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Anger and shame

The two words above probably best sum up my feelings after International (actually run by Russians) Aviation Commitee disclosed its patchy report on the causes of Smolensk air crash.

Polish experts have raised reservations over the report, conceded biased by Poles, as it totally acquits Russian air traffic controllers and puts blame solely on Polish pilots and organisers of the fateful flight.

Needless to say Russian one-sided version was par for the course and I have even got over the grudge I had borne against them. That nation functions in a specific way and we will not change it, but... Polish experts hold out for conceding obvious errors made by Russians, but do not call into question our own faults, which are numerous.

The picture that emerged from the whole report I have flicked through has left me glum.
Drunk general? I have no idea whether he was inebriated, but if it is true, I am absolutely not surprised. This can be forgiven... But the sum of all neglects is terrifying...

The whole touchdown procedure appeared to be a dicey hit-or-miss suicide mission. Airdrome equipment was pitiable if not defective, weather conditions should have precluded any plane from landing there, communication between traffic controllers and crew of Polish plane was worse than poor and information given by air contollers were, to put it mildly, inaccurate...

And the most dejecting part is the overwhelming fear that influence most tragic decision taken that morning. Russian controllers seemed to be afraid to tell Polish pilots openly the should not land there, Polish pilots seemed to be afraid to take a plunge and fly off there. Everyone seemed to apprehend the inevitable diplomatic scandal caused by the refusal to touch down and the fear contributed to appalling inactions on both sides. In the last phase both pilots and air controllers acted as if they were paralysed, their last moves were totally illogical.

Perhaps I will not be a consolation to many of you, but Polish report will be even more severe and may highlight other faults. All we can do now is to learn a lesson from that tragedy to prevent such accidents happening in the future...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Who's to blame for the crisis, part 2

Exam period report: two down, seven to go!

First days of the new year turned out particularly conducive to various musings about economics. Several questions have been running through my head, but they all have one common denominator…

Did US politicians think increased home ownership ratio would solve social problems and make many poorer US citizen happier?

Did Alan Greenspan think pursuit extremely loose monetary policy that eventually sent property prices soar would bring Americans closer to fulfilling their dreams?

Did mortgage borrowers who could not stand any chance to repay mortgages off their income think they would refinance their loans endlessly thanks to ever-increasing property prices?

Did “financial engineers” think Gauss-Copula would work miracle and turn subprime loans into prime securities?

Did David X. Li. think if one subprime mortgage is a lousy underlying security, two subprime mortgages are two lousy underlying securities, ten subprime mortgages are ten lousy underlying securities, then million subprime mortgages bundled together and packed as Mortgage-Backed-Securities would make up triple-A securities?

Did credit portfolio managers at banks think they could push away the credit risk from their balance sheets through securitisation and did they think it would not return to them?

Did risk analysts at banks think they would always recover principals and interests on subprime loans through foreclosures and selling houses on the market at higher prices?

Did shareholders of those banks think focusing on short-term profit was a sound growth strategy?

Did governments and regulators think greed could, in long run, do more good than harm?

Did market participants think they could reap an extra profit without taking an extra risk?

Did CFOs of Polish companies which speculated on currency options think they had just discovered a gold mine?

Did borrowers who had taken out mortgage loans denominated in foreign currencies when zloty was overvalued think they had stroke a great deal?

Did grannies who bought stocks or invested in equity funds think stock prices could plummet in the coming months?

Did Greeks think living beyond their means would sustain economic growth in their country?

Did Irish home buyers who bought properties despite steep prices think the prices were still reasonable given their growth potential?

Did pension fund managers from all over the world which were buying summer houses on Spanish coast think the demand on them in the coming years would be so high that it would drive prices even higher?

Did Ben Bernanke think keeping interest near zero would kick-start the US economy?

Did analysts at the end of 2007 think stock indices would fall by roughly 50% in 2008?

Did PiS, Samoobrona, LPR and PO think by raising spending and cutting taxes and sickness benefit contribution they would turn around Polish public finances?

Did Polish airlines managers think oil price would rise to 200$ per barrel and hence purchased future contracts at 150$ per barrel (they had to pay so much when prices dropped to 40$)?

I could flog the dead horse and reassert they all took it for granted that nothing could go wrong. Or, alternatively they knew everything was goings to collapse, but they thought they would escape the disaster?

In July I tried to park swiftly in front of my house. I did not manage to manoeuvre properly and smashed into the fence. It ended up with a dented bumper. I did it because I thought would simply make it (today at home we recalled that accident after my father dropped his mobile phone into the toilet bowl). But three months earlier pilots of a plane thought they could, or rather should, or even had to touch down the plane despite thick fog and poor communication with air traffic controllers. They thought they could, somehow, make it. They did not. 96 people died.

I will not dare to pass judgement about the causes of Smolensk disaster, but the dented bumper was a result of nothing but my own thoughtlessness.

The ongoing crisis does not just have one, financial, facet. As outlined above, this is also the crisis of thinking, or a result of years of thoughtlessness.

Almost a year ago I drew a conclusion that the crisis was caused not by greed, but by lack of fear. Now another conclusion – the crisis was also caused by LACK OF FORETHOUGHT

Or maybe... Did they think, or did they believe?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile

Except for a good book about North Korea, I could not have made any better choice on the Christmas and the subsequent slack period (how I call those days between Christmas and New Year’s Day when everything Polish economy comprises of is ticking over) read. I amm in two minds whether “Cityboy” is must for everyone who wants to work or works in banking, but the memoirs by Geraint Anderson, former investment banker, who shows his readers around the darkest nooks and crannies of world’s financial capital are surely a valuable read.

Before I set out to read, I was a bit afraid the book (I read original version in English, again thanks for Michael Dembinski for buying me it in the UK) would contain a lot of slang and a blend of colloquial and offensive language. My guesses proved right, but either I am already familiar with most of those phrases or it is written in such an intuitive way that I never had problems understanding the plot. Actually over 400 pages resulted in around 200 new English words, half of which I will surely fail to memorise.

I was not shocked by debauchery depicted in the book. Lifestyle sky-high bonuses paid in the City entail and the “culture” of investment bankers’ entourage have been widely described since the financial meltdown of late 2008 and those who, like me, delved into it earlier should not suffer any shock.

But what truly upset me was the ignorance, although it should not have…I generally know how to value a company and even if you ask me to value a certain public company, I will refuse to do it, for a simple reason. Every valuation rests on assumptions which are in fact subjective projections of future cash flows, profits, dividends. The very valuation is a simple task every high-school leaver could perform, if they were only given all formulas and data. The data makes a problem and you cannot even prove an analyst making wrong assumptions. This is why you can come across discrepant valuations of big Polish companies (example: in 4Q2010 KGHM was valued by two brokerage firms at 126 PLN and 175 PLN (31 Dec 2010 close ca. 167 PLN) and Pekao S.A. was valued by other two brokerage firms at 145 PLN and 201 PLN (31 Dec 2010 close ca. 179 PLN) that put you on the spot as a market participant.

Steve Jones (the character of the book, in fact Anderson himself), a history graduate, is hired by a bank in 1996 without having any in-depth knowledge about finance. His brother, at that working in the City, arranges an interview with him and then someone decides to take him on. One good change that has been made in the City since than is that history graduates have no chance to become bank analysts and nepotism is not so widespread. In Poland, on contrary, graduates of history or political science work at banks, but they open accounts and sell cash and mortgage loans in bank outlets, so at least they do not stand a chance to get really high.

The way Jones deals with clients is slightly despicable. He openly admits what he tells clients about results of his analyses is ‘bollocks’, but he wins their trust by taking them to bars, restaurant, concerts. In fact, what he does seriously matters in business and Jones knows how to entertain people. Plus this way is widely accepted as all banks have budgets for taking clients out and Jones most of the time has fun on the house.

Money… is what life in the City revolves around. Money is not what actually makes you strive for perfection; pursuit of money teaches you how to break rules to get a higher bonus. Executive turn a blind eye on reprehensible practices as long as they do not tarnish a bank’s reputation and as long as they do not come to the light. You have to make a profit, it is up to you how you make it, you only have to remember you must not get your bank into troubles… Compliance rules – they are worth as much as the paper they are written on. Insider trading is the order of the day, what marks out the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable demeanours is not decency but risk of litigation or adverse publicity.

Financial results of the banking industry much hinge upon goings-on on the markets. Bull markets mean good times are rolling in, when bears dominate trading floors business is winding down, bonuses are tiny (just 50,000 pounds per year…) lay-offs are in the offing.

The dominance of money means that for cityboys every asset can be priced. This view goes into extremes when bankers try to price women and some even delude themselves that those young chicks, their mistresses who are with them only for money, really love them. As the picture of the city clearly indicates, money does not bring happiness. Broken families, broken relationships with family and friends, divorces, sex as a substitute of love, nervous breakdowns, burnouts – is what cityboys (or “deranged fuckwits”) experience. And even if after a few years, despite spending a lot they manage to amass a fortune, they are unable to give it up, they do not make do with what they have, they get addicted to earning money and yearn for more… Meanwhile in the city there are no real friendships, the crucial element of survival there is learning to get on with relentless rivalry.

As Anderson precisely points out, the City destroys the world all around. Huge salaries of the bankers are driving the costs of living in London up (once Anderson mentions that prices in most shops seem extortionate to him, despite his sky-high earnings). This why I would not fancy Warsaw becoming CEE’s financial hub. Most inhabitants of Warsaw would be probably impoverished as a result of local inflation (prices adjusting to earnings of financial elite) and would be totally priced out of property market.

The author also explains why playing the stock market is a zero-sum game. If you buy stocks before their price goes up, you buy them from someone else and the other market participant does not in fact lose their money, but they incur the costs of missed opportunities, resulting from not holding a certain stock.

Anderson describes in the book a few job interviews he had throughout his career. They totally do not resemble the ones I have had in my much shorter career. In the City employers look for ruthless and greedy rat-racers, even the knowledge is not the most important as it is all ‘bollocks’ after all. In Poland, in turn, I was almost always asked substantial questions concerning my academic knowledge and hard & soft skills, and they often asked about pastime activities, hobby, balance between private life and work. In Poland banks do not (thank God) seek callous money-oriented graduates, integrity is an asset, compliance rules are enforced, nepotism does not seem to exist and people without proper academic background are not employed. In Poland banking industry appears to be rose-coloured, even if it does not offer enormous salaries (the pay is decent and commensurate to efforts, skills and experience).

At some moments I felt affinity with Anderson, for instance when he revealed he had worn a suit he had bought in a charity shop for six pounds three years into his career. It reminds of my first , eight-year-old suit (slightly worn-out and knackered by dry-cleaning), which still comes in useful for every day office work. In Poland times when you were judged by the clothes you wore are over. Style matters, brand tag no longer. But unlike Anderson into his career, I do not pay over the odds for brand-name clothes, but try to pick good quality stuff.

And the book is a must for every beginning stock market player. It may leave you disillusioned but shows the truth of how markets behave. And tells the truth who is privileged on the market. Anderson spent 12 years in the city and between 1996 and 2008 markets evolved. He went through roaring late 1990s, bursting of dot-com bubble, bear market of 2000-2002 and last gasp of prosperity from 2003 to 2007. He left in March 2008, when financial world began to capsize. He came to a right conclusion that old truths about investing are out-of-date in the days when markets are driven by big speculators and volatility is much higher that it used to be. Additionally, he draws an accurate picture of depravity within the financial industry that led up to the financial meltdown. No new ideas committed into paper, but it was quite nice to read a former banker saying who was (partly) guilty.

My feelings about Mr Anderson are still ambiguous. On one hand throughout his whole career he did not stoop as low as his colleagues, at least he realised he was paid far too much and obediently paid taxes, unlike his fellows, who all practised tax evasion and whose effective tax rate was lower than the one of their secretaries. But on the other hand, for twelve years he led a life of alcohol-addicted, coke-sniffing, self-indulgent party-goer whose weekly wages were equivalent of most people’s yearly wages and rode the gravy train more by luck than judgement. But after all I think by writing “Cityboy” and laying bare the murky and devious reality of the City, he atoned for all his previous misconduct.