Benzene Symbol_edited-1

The molecular formula for benzene is ‘C6H6’ but for the sake of brevity in the environment I worked in anyone that traded in benzene or its related aromatic cousins was referred to as a ‘BZ’ Trader. Familiarity with these traders led me to call them ‘Smellies’ as a result of being associated with the aromatic range of petrochemicals.

I first met BZ1 in an interview which lasted nearly an hour. The interview was conversational while BZ1 questioned me about my experience and posed hypothetical scenarios to me looking to see how I would cope. When I finished the interview I felt energised and very positive. By the time I had walked to my car I was shaking with exhaustion. BZ1 had extracted every ounce of energy without me realising what was happening. I subsequently found out he did this to everyone he interviewed.

Then I started working supporting one of the trading desks he was responsible for dealing in another range of petrochemical products. For the first couple of weeks I had very little to do with him but was always aware of his presence. When he came into the office he always seemed burdened with luggage. Bags for office work, bags for computer equipment and bags for lunch. Just walking into the office for him without falling over seemed to be an act in defying gravity because along with the ‘luggage’ there was a mobile phone seemingly attached to his left ear organically forcing him to tip his head over on to his shoulder.

The halves of the conversations I could hear were:

‘Yeah, that’s a good price….I might be in later’.

‘Can’t come in at that level……..I’m long already’.

‘Couldn’t help me out……I’m short……..yeah… everyone else?’

‘Tell me more……who……what volume?’

Or ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’. Not in the way Georgie Fame sang it ‘My baby loves me’ but much more staccato, like a squirrel with a mouth full of nuts on steroids and amphetamines.

The story around the office was that he was so busy once during a dealing day that he did not have time to read the volumes of market reports that traders rely on to gain a competitive edge. So, what he used to do was take them home with him, offer to put the children to bed while his wife got dinner and the read the market reports like they were a fairy story. I can imagine the OPEC Reports read something like:

‘Once upon a time all the oil producers got together and because of sanctions against Iran all of them increased their production to stop the market going short and the price going up…….and they all lived happily ever after. Good night children’.

One Friday he stood up at his desk.

Sheep for benzene

‘We’ve just been given two sheep at home to look after. Anyone got any names we can give them?’

Those in the doughnut of people surrounding him called out various twin sets of names.

‘Yea, yea that’s a good one’ or ‘No, not so good’.

Apart from numbers and mathematical formula to calculate spreads in the commodity markets his other addiction was espresso coffee. As well as his morning ‘luggage’ and the phone he managed, with what seemed to be a third hand, to carry a small demitasse coffee cup. When he had drained the black crude oil like liquid there was always a scum of froth left. This would be swept up on a finger and consumed like a lollipop.

When it came to Grand National Sweepstake day in the office BZ1 would be one of the first ‘in’ and take a position in the race by buying five tickets. If the first sweepstake was oversubscribed we would start another one and sure enough BZ1 would be back again to take a long position with another five tickets. He never collected on the Monday after the race. This was a bit like his racing tips.

‘Got a really good thing for Cheltenham this Thursday……can you go round and get a few to come in and we can go big…..I just know it’s gonna be good’.

One year we had collected subscriptions and placed the bet. At the appointed time of the race minus five minutes all the subscribers put out of office messages on the email systems and walked over to the company gym.  We were going to an ‘offsite’ meeting. We all took up places on the jogging and rowing machines in front of the huge flat screen TV in the gym. In the build up to the race everyone was working on their respective exercise machines. The race started and the work rate on the machines went up until the third fence when BZ1’s ‘good thing’ fell.  Work on the exercise machines stopped quicker than a grouse hitting the ground on the 12th of August as disappointment set in.

The two sheep BZ1 and his family were entrusted with for the summer were duly named. Not names like Lamb and Chop or Roast and Dinner. No, they were christened ‘Long’ and ‘Short’.









About alangrenville

I live in southern Britain near the fabulous New Forest. While studying for a BSc in International Studies I have developed a strong belief in 'NIBAW' or 'nothing is black and white'. Hence my favourite saying "Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" (John F Kennedy).
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