I’m setting off to the US on Saturday for a two-week tour to support my book, which is coming out in paperback. It seems as though I have been home for about five minutes since Christmas – indeed the Cost Centres must think I only pop back for a change of wardrobe. I’m recently back from the World Economic Forum at Davos, happily succeeding in returning without a limb in plaster, unlike last year.
In Davos I gave several interviews, one of them to the BBC. Just before we went on air, they told me that the first question was going to be about the reaction at Davos to David Cameron’s speech on the relationship between Britain and Europe. I had to tell them, quite honestly, that I had been talking to people from all over the world the entire day and not a single person had mentioned Cameron’s speech at all.
After my BBC interview at the Davos media centre, I was donning gloves, crampons etc, when I realised that the person standing next to me was Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia. I did not bother to ask what his views were on Dave’s speech, but introduced myself and asked if he was OK, was he lost? No, he was not lost, and he turned out to be an FT reader: “You seem to have a lot of fun in your column”, were his exact words. Golly! Kevin Rudd reads the FT. But I doubt that even this will get my mother-in-law to vote for his party.
Leaving Kevin talking fluently in Mandarin to a Chinese film crew, I walked down the road next to a young man in a (hoodless) fleece and jeans for a couple of hundred yards before I realised that it was Dave himself. His speech the next day suggested that companies had a moral obligation not to employ tax-avoidance mechanisms. The BBC’s Stephanie Flanders got a round of applause for pointing out that the combination of a threat to leave the EU and the prospect of moral pressure to pay as much tax as possible sat uncomfortably with the prime minister’s self-professed role as the UK’s #1 salesman to companies looking to invest.
He was not the only salesman in town. Flying the flag for the UK (and seated at times near me in the Pepsi Café, a new space created for Davos) were Brits as varied as Boris Johnson, the model Lily Cole and, rather bizarrely, the tailor Ozwald Boateng. Plus I spied the chancellor, George Osborne, at various drinks parties. I am sure they were all as pleased as I was to get home to their own bedroom, sheets, pets, cost centres etc. Mind you, at least one of my cost centres will soon be fleeing the nest. CC#1 is a student in Brighton most of the time and after he graduates next year, I am sure he will establish his own place somewhere.
One of my younger colleagues recently left home, in the Surrey countryside, to move to Chelsea. For reasons best known to her, she possesses a splendid collection of stick insects. Alas, she has discovered that Chelsea suffers from a severe lack of privet hedges, the favourite food of said stick insects, so her thoughtful mother mails her cuttings every week in the post. I am not sure I shall be so considerate to my own offspring when they move out.
Back in Davos the party scene gave out mixed messages about the age of austerity. On the one hand, Google did not hold its usual must-attend event but, on the other, banks were serving proper champagne for the first time in a few years. I had a party companion in the form of Hedge Fund Girlfriend who was a Davos virgin but took to the McKinsey dance floor with aplomb, coaching other dancers on “Gangnam Style” and then annexing random guests to dance with her to the usual fabulous band (Philip Mallinckrodt of Schroders, have you recovered?).
On the same dance floor I made the depressing discovery that, despite his being at least a foot taller than me, and born in the same year, McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton can twist much further to the ground. It was definitely time to go home.