Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street is a blockbuster. It tells the tale of Jordan Belfort who, for a short passage of time, was cock of the financial walk after devising a ‘pump and dump’ scam that made him and his fellow partners in crime multi-millionaires. The film follows Belfort’s ‘progress’ as he tosses dwarfs and enjoys the fruits of his ill-gotten gains through the mediums of drugs and prostitution.

It rings true in part; I was once, nearly 20 years ago, a trader in the city. Although this career change only lasted for nigh on a year, it was as edgy and exciting a time as a person can have in any workplace, despite the correlations with the Wolf.

I was glad I experienced it, coming straight from labouring on a building site into a world populated by extremely rich men side by side with poor men (like me) as we attempted to outdo each other on something resembling a level playing field.

The likes of these trading floors are now forever gone. It’s true, institutional traders, generally privately educated, still sit and rake millions in obscene commissions as they trade with our money in such an environment.

But this was different, we were ‘locals’, meaning we worked for ourselves while paying for the privilege of having our backsides handed to us after a spanking by the markets on a daily basis.

I would pay £1,530 a month for a couple of screens and an at the time super-fast connection with which to execute trades. On top of this the trading company were on 30 per cent of any profits, and charged ‘round turn’ fees for each lot traded. In effect I had to make around £4,000 a month before I would see a penny.

The statistics echoed in my ears: 70 per cent of traders don’t last three months and 90 per cent are gone within a year, making this the most competitive environment in which to attempt to flourish.

I had fisticuffs on the first day after my brother whispered sage advice ‘if someone has a pop at you today, have a pop back’. Sure enough, 10 minutes in, some portly fella sitting behind me said something about my then girlfriend so I retorted with an unpleasant word or two about his wife, who resembled Bill Beaumont. Cue fists flying over the desks. Two minutes later we were having a beer together in the bosses’ office and an unkind word was never uttered again between us.

Sexism was rife: in a trading room of around 120 traders, there was one woman. On occasion I saw a group of traders chase her around the office and pull her top up, exposing her breasts as cheers echoed around the room. She seemed to take it in her stride and was resigned to the fact that this is how it was.

The traders were heavy drinkers and would pop into a hostelry at lunchtime in Leadenhall market, not to be seen for the rest of the day.

There would be competitions to see who could spend the most money. On one such night out, in Puerto Banus in Spain, I witnessed a trader drop 40 grand in an evening without so much as a frown.

Many had marriage troubles due to the fact that they were too busy snorting illicit substances and paying for fleeting liaisons to form meaningful relationships at home.

I traded over 9/11 and watched grown men cry their eyes out as they lost everything, while others jumped up and down on the tables cheering as they had shorted the market and made fortunes on the misery of others. In fairness, the penny did not drop that it was a terrorist attack until the second plane hit as we watched in disbelief on Bloomberg TV.

And as with most exciting life episodes, it passes in a blink of an eye.

Just as I thought I was making headway having gotten over a few occasions where I lost 19 days' profit on the final day of the trading month, I got caught in a position. Making schoolboy errors, I doubled up again and again, magnifying my losses to an insurmountable degree.

I was unceremoniously ordered to clear my desk there and then. Just before I vacated the premises, one East End barrow boy made good, a guy I had seen make a million in a day, leant over with around £50,000 in his hand (he was going shopping at the local Armani shop) and whispered ‘smell the money’ before skipping off.

As I sat in the pub with a small cardboard box and copious trading notes, I drowned my sorrows until an hour or so later my brother and some other traders joined me, any excuse for them to be fair.

I wondered how I had got it so wrong and wanted nothing more than to go back in and put on a trade to postpone returning to my shared, mouse infested, house in Peckham.

Despite the arrogance, the cruelty and the obscene amounts some traders earn, I still miss it. Still, if I ever decide to go back I can do it now from the comfort of my own phone with an app and without the smell of cash under my nose and the feeling of defeat in my stomach.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher who lives in London Colney