Book club: Any Other Business

The business editor of the Spectator on work and life in the City plus everything from China to rap stars to truffles

Any Other Business - Life In and Out of the City: Collected Writings from The Spectator and Elsewhere

Martin Vander Weyer

Elliot & Thompson, 2014

"China Won't Be A Superpower", written in 2005, is one piece whose title catches the eye when looking through the contents of this collection of business journalism and other writings from Martin Vander Weyer, the business editor of the Spectator.

The piece was apparently written at the request of mayor of London and then Spectator editor Boris Johnson who apparently called Vander Weyer up and said: "Everyone's saying China's going to be a great world power - why don't we just say exactly the opposite?"

It's a good example of the feel of the book as a whole. While the articles vary widely - from relatively serious economic analysis to accounts of rural amateur dramatics - there's always a sense of a good and highly knowledgeable business mind at work, but one that never takes itself too seriously.

Vander Weyer was a banker in the City for a decade and a half between the late 70s and early 90s. He uses this experience well - for example, to write engaging accounts of the culture of Barclays (where he worked for a number of years) and what happens at the Kathmandu stock exchange.

He's also good at explaining complex concepts by using pop culture (what a US rap star might make of the "fiscal cliff") and village life (what a car boot sale reveals about market behaviour).

Perhaps because Vander Weyer now only writes about the City rather than working there, he's perhaps at his best when evoking the City of the past, both its ancient history (there's a great piece on the history of the Royal Exchange) and its mid-century incarnation that he and his banker father both knew - a land of long lunches, whisky, and proper suits.

But in the end, especially in the later, more personal sections, his voice is pretty much indistinguishable from that of the well-upholstered establishment figure he mocks as a caricature of himself at the beginning: "well-tailored...with a chaffered Mercedes at my disposal and a card that said 'managing director'."

It's all skiing, truffle-hunting and how he went to school with (former FSA chairman) Adair Turner. Though as a very funny section on getting into Glyndebourne without a ticket shows, a dose of pretension-puncturing humour is never far away.

The best bit

How to get a Glyndebourne experience if you can't get a ticket. In a nutshell: arrive late dressed up to the nines, buy an expensive glass of champagne, steal someone else's picnic, and don't forget to leave an anonymous thank-you note.

The worst bit

His glib piece defending unpaid internships - "grab every experience you can, paid or unpaid, home or abroad. Accept the tedium, discomfort and shortage of pocket money" is an easy argument to make if payment for "experience" was only pocket money to you.


The business editor of the Spectator on work and life in the City, plus everything from China to rap stars to truffles

The Gateway rating