30 DECEMBER 1972, Page 26


The tattered topee

Nephew Wilde

As I have discovered, if you wish to find where the spirit of Christmas is in the City, pay a lunchtime visit to one of its numerous wine bars. It was in one of these haunts that my broker Wotherspool and I drained away some of his expense allowances, aided by a colleague Colin GravilleJones. He was a dour Welshman to whom I took an immediate dislike — I suppose because he was so selfopinionated. But something he said revealed to me a new and favourable side of Wotherspool.

Graville-Jones spoke thus: "Really, you know, if there's one type of client I cannot stand it's the chap who buys a shard 'and grumbles when it falls:" "That's all well and good," I responded, "but very often you recommend a share and then conveniently forget about it."

"Come, come," Graville-Jones rejoined, 'raising his voice, "you can't really expect me to keep tabs on all the shares I recommend do you?"

Wotherspool by now had the perception to notice certain ugly traits of my temper showing.

"Now Graville, old man," he interupted, "we're a little more enlightened nowadays I hope? And perhaps a rather atrabilious story for this time of year will bring home what young Wilde here is implying." He raised his glass, paused, emptied the vessel and then continued, "I came across a gentleman the other day — about eighty years old I would guess. He was begging in the 'street holding out a tattered topee as a receptacle for an offertory. Well I stopped and chatted to this ancient and I'm damned glad I did. You see he'd been a Government Officer in Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was then) some forty years ago. One leave he came home and 'asked a stockbroker whether to buy Ceylon tea 'shares. Receiving an affirmative answer he did. He later had an 'argument with his masters at the Colonial office and left Ceylon, happy at least that his savings were invested.

"Of 'course, his stockbroker never awoke him to changing patterns of overseas investments and he was forced to sell his tea shares four years ago at a fraction of their original value. Inflation soon gnawed away what little was left."

Graville-Jones looked sheepish now and hastily excused himself.

Alone Wotherspool, now in splendid lecturing form, turned to me and said, "There's a lesson for you in this story as well--don't keep all your eggs in one basket."

I tried to remind him of my well diversified portfolio. But no — Wotherspool delivered forth a eulogy about a German company that makes slide-rules. This time, however, I did not follow his advice. I just thought of the old beggar and reflected on the pitfalls of the money game.