November 29, 2012

Lloyd’s of London, or just plain Lloyd’s, or sometimes Lloyd’s of London again these days, is quite simply the biggest single insurance thing in the world. Even Bankstone News knows that. Eager to find out more, we arranged to be given a guided tour, and this, Dear Reader, is what we learned.

The current Lloyd’s building is actually not the original. That was a humble sports club set up on Lampard Street in 1688 by David Lloyd, where City merchants met to pump iron, sip coffee and chat about whose ship had sunk that day. Since then, Lloyd’s has insured literally hundreds of things, including Sputnik and Michael Portillo’s legs, and is internationally recognised as very old indeed.

Today’s Lloyd’s building was created by famous architect Dick Rodgers out of bits left over from the Pompadour Centre in Paris on which he worked with Italian architect Renzo Stimpio back in the 1970s. Like the glisteningly eviscerated torso of a person at Stage 2 in the quaintly historical procedure known as hanging, drawing and quartering, the building famously wears the majority of its guts on the outside.

Disappointingly, Bankstone News did not get to waft in past the Beefeater through the VIP entrance, where we were hoping to try out that thing Top Cat used to do with the coin on a string. Instead we were ushered unceremoniously into the gloom of the building’s stately modernist undercroft.

Emerging on an escalator from the building’s residual interior bowels into the multi-tiered vastness of the central turbine hall, Bankstone News was literally overwhelmed and had to sit down for a bit and eat the remaining three-quarters of a cheese and ham sandwich purchased the previous day, washed down with some heavily vodka-infused Bovril from our trusty tartan thermos.

Eventually our guide insisted we continue the tour without delay and began pointing out fascinating features such as the Looting Bell which chimes whenever something really bad happens and the many desks (or boxes) where the famous Lloyd’s undertakers work.

There’s actually loads of escalators in the turbine hall. You can ride up and down on them for hours without getting in the least bit bored – or at least you could if some officious functionary didn’t keep trying to stop you and hustle you on to see yet more undertakers and glass fronted offices. And, frankly, once you’ve seen one of them…

But, just as Bankstone News was really starting to lose interest, we were introduced to the glass-sided lifts on the outside of the building – where else would they be! It was in one of these yo-yo-ing glazed display cases that one former Lloyd’s bigwig allegedly ‘wooed’ an attractive young journalist to the consternation of passersby on Leadenhorn Street below. – unless Bankstone News is getting two entirely separate stories muddled up.

This very public aerial encounter would have been back in the heady last days of the XXL Spiral. These were literally crazy times, when people were buying and selling insurance and “rear-insurance” (where insurers insure themselves, apparently) like it was going out of style. As well as insuring things that might go wrong in future, undertakers had branched out into insuring and rear-insuring things that had already gone wrong!

London market brokers were so busy making money, having lunch and laughing at the stupid undertakers who thought they were so clever, that they even started sending office boys, IT people and janitors out to collect signatures from undertakers.

This was known as ‘plaice-ing’ a risk, and in those days (not like now, of course) any idiot could ‘slip’ any old rubbish in an undertaker’s ‘box’ and automatically secure a hastily scribbled pre-prandial signature that committed hapless hordes of unsuspecting Surrey golf club members (jokingly referred to as ‘names’) to a bottomless pit of penury.

How does Bankstone News, know all this? We heard it from a red-nosed man in a pub across the road where we went immediately after having our tour somewhat rudely and abruptly curtailed after – completely accidentally – squirting Kia-Ora over a rather clumsy oil portrait of a big fat bloke in a chalk-stripe double breasted suit and “allegedly” damaging the painting in a well-meaning attempt to wipe it clean with the elbow of our stylishly capacious old rain coat.

Won’t be going back there again!


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