The cat gets the chairman's tongue when talk of a takeover bid starts
'So would I be right in thinking that Edinburgh Fund Managers has moved to the top of your shopping list?' I asked the chairman of the insignificantly sized investment company SmallBlue Planet as we sat drinking pints of Harp Lite in The Fun Library the other day. 'I'm afraid I couldn't possibly comment on that,' he replied.
'Oh come on,' I said. 'It already looks like Eyesight, Insist and indeed half the rest of the fund management industry have thrown their hats into the ring and while I know its traditional not to comment on bid rumours, couldn't you give me a nod or something?'
'I'm afraid I couldn't possibly comment,' the chairman repeated, not moving his head one way or the other. 'I know why you're being grumpy,' I said. 'You're miffed at that diary piece about you knowing more about 1970's telly than 1970's finance. It wasn't much of a story, I grant you, as that's something you probably have in common with about 99.9% of the population. But surely it's a schoolboy error to let any sort of financial question appear in a trivia quiz at one of SmallBlue's parties ' unless you already know the answers, naturally.
'We may all be tiny cogs in the great machine that is Her Majesty's financial services industry, but that doesn't mean we'll leap at the chance to answer questions on Ted Heath's financial policy in our spare time. I remember being at an industry quiz a few years back where each team included a member of the British Lions. I got about eight out of the 10 sports questions myself but didn't even dare risk looking at the financial ones. Luckily, before professional rugby, Paul Grayson had been a tied agent with one of the life companies and got seven out of 10 for the team on the subject.
'We've all been there. So cheer up and in future just remember to stick to questions on Mr Benn and Brotherhood of Man. Anyway, back on the subject of Edinburgh, you'd have to admit it would be a good fit even if, like everybody else, you were only really interested in the fund of funds operation. Combined with John Hooheelhee, your own multi-manager guru, it would surely be an operation to corner the market.
'Listen, it's awfully kind of you to try and plan out SmallBlue's expansion policy for the next decade,' said the chairman with a shade more sarcasm than seemed strictly necessary. 'But, as I believe I may have mentioned before, I couldn't possibly comment.'
'The refrain is certainly familiar,' I said. 'But I don't think you're being entirely fair saying nothing. After all, it's well-known you've got some extra cash after you switched the outsourcing of the entire SmallBlue Bank call centre from Swansea to Calcutta ' more precisely Mr and Mrs Patel of 117 Gavaskar Drive. Now that sort of money has just got to be burning a hole in your pocket.'
'For the last time, I couldn't possibly comment,' said the chairman. 'I don't believe this,' I said, making the mistake of starting to lose my temper at such exemplary stonewalling. 'Ever since Jonas Belgiums joined your communications team, SmallBlue has felt able to comment on everything from the yield curve to the chance of rain over the coming week, from the outlook for European pharmaceuticals to frog-bothering.
'Just yesterday I got a press release that used the Russian takeover of Chelski Football Club as a somewhat back-to-front hook for why we should consider investing in Russia. And I'm sure I received something the other day from an 'outspoken bond manager' declaring how lovely it was to have squirrels running around his garden in the summer.
'In fact the only reason I haven't yet broken off diplomatic relations with Belgiums and the rest of his crew is they were one of the only communications departments not to use the tedious saga of the Beckhams heading to Spain as an excuse to hold forth on the tax implications of moving abroad.'
'I find your impassioned plea has moved my stony heart,' said the chairman unexpectedly. 'And indeed it is a fair point that if the rest of SmallBlue's output was as prodigious as that of our communications department, it wouldn't just be Edinburgh we'd be after. So dig out your notebook and, while you're doing so, fill me in on frog-bothering. I must have missed that one.'
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