We must be going back close to 20 years ago, possibly more. Business was doing well and I had managed to pull a decent profit. The year had been good and I’d treated myself to a sporty car, spent a few pennies on new clothes, furniture for the house, a big TV, the toys you surround yourself with when you’ve cash to spare. Thinking I was now the head honcho, the top dog, I decided that the remaining cash in the bank should now be put to work and earn its keep. Time to invest and join what at the time seemed like a mad rush by everyone to keep up with the Joneses and jump on the stock market bandwagon. All the national businesses were being privatised, building societies were turning into banks. It seemed like everyone but me was making effortless and large profits seemingly overnight from the Governments desire to sell off all its assets. I hadn’t been able to join in before, but with some cash now burning a hole in my pocket, I wanted a piece of the action. The Financial Times and the business section of the Guardian became my read of choice.
That led to my first mistake. You see what I then did, along with many others I am sure, was to read what the ‘experts’ were saying, do what the ‘experts’ were suggesting, then sit and wait the profits like the ‘experts’ said would come. They were in the most part totally wrong. Some bigwig guru suggested that the currency markets were going to explode, another said the oil market was where the action would be happening. Instead of accepting this is a world I do not inhabit, I fell for the glamour of having funds in these exotic markets. I could imagine myself in Monte Carlo sharply suited with a large expensive watch, casually rolling the casino chips between my fingers.
What I should have been doing, what my gut feelings were telling me was that the lure of this was really a silly pipe dream and investment, if any, should be going into the things I understood, enjoyed and knew a little bit about. I’ll take you back a few years now, just to draw a more complete picture for you. A typesetter I often used had the Tax Office breathing down his neck. I’d done a few pieces of work for him and he owed me some money which he told me he would not be able to pay. Instead he offered me a computer which he said was loaded with some great software. I took it but had no real idea what I was going to do with it as I had never used a computer before. I bought numerous guide books and magazines and settled down for the Christmas holiday, reading, learning and practising. By the end of the month I had a good command of a vector drawing programme called Freehand, a photo editing thing called Photoshop and some page layout software called QuarkXpress. The computer itself turned out to be easier to use than I had imagined. An Apple II. It changed everything. I was in total control of my workflow. I could set the typeface, modify it, change the colours, change the image or change the size…No longer did I need a typesetter or finished artworker, I was complete. The computer, the Apple Macintosh gave me a new start, the opportunity and freedom to create what was in my head. Friends who were using PC’s and Microsoft pitied me, they had games. All mine had was software and peripherals that supported my business. True I envied them the ability to play fun games, buy steering wheels and joysticks, but every time I sat with them at their machines I was amazed at how complicated things were to do anything when compared to my easy to use, child’s play beige box.
I loved it, I loved the company and all the companies who made stuff for their machine. So why did I listen to some Financial Journalist whose words sold me the glamour and excitement of the unknown, who urged me to move fast, to go in hard and trust him, these markets, he warned, are going to explode. I did it because the fantasy of his world seemed better than mine. Windows was the ruler of the World, Apple were for the few arty types who kept GAP in business by buying their black turtle neck sweaters, not a glamorous investment at all and judging by everyone’s endless gushing about how super Microsoft and Windows were, Apple would be broke before the end of the year. I bought not into Apple, but instead into the currency and oil markets. If it exploded, I didn’t notice or no one told me, a few weeks later the very same journalists were telling us all that the futures market was where the action now was or that any decent carpet bagger would be buying into this or that building society right now! Maybe he’s telling us to do all this because he is looking to bail out and wants to inflate things a little to make a few pennies more.
My investment has grown, but if I had instead laid just half of that hard-earned money at the temple of Apple, I would today be sat on a golden beach with busty, bikini clad ladies massaging my feet and serving me Banana Daiquiri’s before retiring to my yacht for a fancy meal and a romp in my huge circular playboy style water-bed. I’m not. Someone did massage my feet once but then they tried to steal my wallet afterwards and to be honest, it tickled a bit too much. No, I followed some trumped-up blokes who told us that they knew best. It is a tough lesson knowing your lottery numbers have come in when you’d forgotten to buy the ticket but I have learnt.
I’ve learnt that we are all very much alike. That I am not too dissimilar from the rest of you, that we follow each other even though we all deny it. If I stop suddenly and look up, so do lots of other people, what I like tends to be what everyone else tends to like. We all drive the same colour cars, wear similar clothes, enjoy, in general, similar music, similar books and have matching taste in houses. It’s not a perfect assumption but overall it works. I think it’s called The Herd Mentality or something like that. Buy an odd-shaped house whilst your friend buys the standard Georgian inspired box, the market rises and your friend with the more ‘conformist’ home will sell it quicker. Buy a pink car and a year later the very same dealer you bought it from won’t take it off you in part exchange because he knows he’ll never sell the bloody thing. Stick with what we’re told to wear, told to do and importantly, do all this when we’re told to do it. Dare to wear your underpants outside your purple corduroy trousers, even if they are Kalvins or D&G and even if you do find it more comfortable that way, you will certainly stand out as not being part of the herd! And the doormen wont let you into the nightclub either. When those nice people on the telly or in the newspapers or that banker with his graph with arrows all going south tells us Gold is the way forwards, do as they say. They know better than you. They are experts aren’t they..?
There’s a book very few of you may be aware of, ‘The Genera of Fungi’. I haven’t actually read it but I am guessing it will never become a bestseller because in general, most of us are not that interested in it. It sounds incredibly boring and my hunch is that boring it indeed is. Now of course some people are very interested in this sort of thing, we’ll laugh at their knitted tank tops and point out how the veins on their heads seem to pop out as they excitedly tell us that Fungi managed to bugger up a few important pieces of kit on the MIR Space Station a few years back. They’ll be the ones with an App so they and the worlds other 7 Mycology fanatics can ooh and aaah simultaneously at photos of filamentous moulds, but what we wont appreciate, because they are not financial experts, is that their passion and interest means they’ll have invested in the pharmaceutical company that is researching these mushrooms and toadstools, a firm with a stock price hovering at 65p. Then when some fungi, only found on a piece of rock on Tierra del Fuego in August, depending on the weather, turns out to be the key ingredient for the cure to that frightful disease we’re all so scared we’re going to die of, their investment in the tin pot lab turns out to be priceless. Then we’ll all jump aboard in the hope of joining their good fortune, the herd will stampede, but we will be too late. Like Apple, our lack of initial interest in this weird thing and mistrust of their investment advice, because they are not experts right, means when the experts suddenly see what is going on and start telling us to get in quick whilst it’s still a bargain, the price will be hovering around £45.
My tank top knitted friend and his bulging veins invested in what they knew about and liked, no listening to what some fashionable twits have to say. Which is exactly my point. If I had listened to myself, oil and currency would have been left well alone in favour of Adobe, Apple and the other ‘uncool’ companies of the time.
No more polished knobs with newspaper columns or TV slots will I be listening too from now on. Nope, I figure if I like company X, just about everyone else will sooner or later. That I invest before the herds figure things out is my strategy. Until then, the yacht, the bikinis, the water-bed and the Banana Daiquiri’s are on ice, my middle class status is secure for the foreseeable future. That said, I have just ordered The Genera of Fungi’.