Depression, Oil Trading & A Mind At War With Itself, by Jonathan Ford.
From a largely joyless childhood in the UK, Jonathan shares his troubled family life, with an alcoholic father and domineering mother, through the school and college years and to the present day. He chronicles his agonizing struggles with severe depression and anxiety that caused massive marital strife with his two American wives plus career upheaval, almost resulting in suicide. His mental illness could not have made him more unsuited to his chosen career as an oil trader during which he suffered many failings, disappointments and betrayal that threw him into deep despair and his life into turmoil and, ultimately, near financial ruin.
His unfailing love for his four children from two difficult marriages shines through the darkness and has been the principal factor behind his survival. Jonathan offers valuable insight into the murky world of oil trading, supported by his first-hand knowledge of the industry, gained whilst working notably for Vitol and BP, as well as a trader’s perspective on the Enron era, sprinkled with eye-opening, fascinating, and often amusing anecdotes.
With blatant honesty, Jonathon Ford illustrates his own personal struggles, his marriages, and his frantic career in the oil trading industry, very similar to the rat-race of the New York Stock Exchange.
This book is a “no holds barred” when it comes it comes to details. Jonathon Ford manages to clearly capture over 25 years of his life while his mental illness slowly intensifies due to the many stressors.
“Depression, Oil Trading, & A Mind at War With Itself” contains wit, and will entertain and utterly shock you.
This book was given to me as a gift in exchange for an honest review.
About The Author.
Jonathan Ford was born in the UK in 1963. After attending Oxford University he embarked upon a career in oil trading on both sides of the Atlantic, a career for which he could not have been more mentally or emotionally unsuited. He has four children, two with each of his ex-wives.
At the age of 15 I began to be acutely more aware of my dad’s excessive drinking and the effect it was having on my mother, not to mention Duncan and me. We sold our house in town and moved to a large old Jersey Farmhouse in the Parish of St. Mary that we rented from the National Trust for Jersey. The house was of historic significance and in return for our living there at a modest rent my parents were expected to maintain the large front lawn, the spacious walled-in garden with its old apple and pear trees and to clean the offices of the National Trust which occupied the two large front rooms on one side of the house, known as The Elms. The National Trust would hold monthly meetings in these rooms. The house was adjoined by a working farm where a farmer and his family lived raising cows for milk and growing potatoes.
My parents seemed delighted to be moving to the “country”. For sure my dad was as he had a large area in the walled-in garden where he could indulge his passion for growing vegetables from potatoes to radishes and carrots to lettuce. My mother also seemed to enjoy working in the garden but at the same time my dad’s drinking seemed to become heavier and heavier. My brother and I did not share their enthusiasm for moving to the country as we were no longer within walking distance of school or perhaps more importantly any of our friends’ houses. We felt a definite sense of isolation and when my dad would come home from work or the pub drunk the atmosphere at the dinner table was utterly pathetic and close to intolerable. My mother did her best to hide her disgust and sadness as my father, spectacles askew across his face, stumbled and struggled through his dinner. My brother and I would eat as quickly as possible and then escape to the adjoining family room where we would do our homework while watching TV. My dad may then go out to the pub or he and my mother would simply argue in the kitchen. This is what I remember most of my teen years, and very unhappy years they were.
At this time, in addition to a heavy homework schedule, my parents had us involved in extra activities as much as five days a week which I think by anyone’s standards is a little excessive. Mondays we had our Duke of Edinburgh Award Club meeting which Duncan and I attended with my best friend Steven and his brother Robert. Tuesdays were chess club to which I would usually wear an overly warm high neck sweater that my mother had knitted. Wednesdays were typically a Duke of Edinburgh Award service night when we had to do something of benefit to the community to earn the award. Thursday was free until my parents decided to enroll us in the local canoe club in which we had zero interest but reluctantly went along. We initially learnt to canoe in the large Fort Regent swimming pool but both Duncan and I were pretty shy and introverted and I recall sitting in my swimming trunks, waiting for our turn in the canoe, with barely a word being said all evening. Friday was either an after school chess match against another school or we would attend yet another chess club. At the weekend during term time we would typically have at least one football or rugby or cricket match which at least got us out of the house. After a long week at school I would both look forward to and dread the weekend. Why could we not have a normal, “Happy,” home life? In many ways I hated going home. I spent quite a bit of time in town at the house of my best friend Steven where the atmosphere was always light and jovial and somewhat chaotic given that he had four siblings. Steven’s mother was to remark a few years later when meeting me on a trip home from College that I seemed so much happier compared to when I was a child. When my brother turned 17 my dad taught him to drive and he was allowed to share the old Morris 1100 my dad used to drive to and from work every other week. On the other week my dad would have the shop van which he shared with his brother: they would alternately do one week on the road making house calls for repairs and one week in the shop in town. This meant every other week my brother would drive the two of us to and from school but the other week my dad would take us and then we would wait in the library doing our homework until he picked us up at about 5.15pm. During this time my dad had a couple of famous customers namely Alan Whicker of “Whicker’s World” and Jack Walker who was the owner of Blackburn Rovers Football Club in England. Jack also lavished money on the main rivals of St. Paul’s, First Tower United, much to my dad’s dismay.
To my mother’s credit she did strive hard to give our family life a semblance of normalcy. We would often on a Sunday morning cycle as a family a few miles along the country roads and share a picnic. We would also often play tennis at the school tennis courts, my mum having been a keen player in her youth. My dad had been a good table tennis player and played tennis as such while my brother and I had decent hand-eye coordination and could therefore play reasonably adequately. However, tennis brought back the demons of my anger. After hitting a few balls out or into the net I would totally lose my temper and begin to curse and swear and hit balls deliberately over the boundary fences. I simply could not handle not making the perfect shot all the time which of course was utterly ridiculous yet my outbursts were filled with fury so much so that I am amazed my parents continued for quite some time taking us to play. Similarly if I played pitch and putt golf, something for which I had never had a lesson, I would immediately lose my temper in a rage and start slinging clubs. Usually at that point my friends and I would call it a day.
From the age of 14 our all boys Catholic School began to share some lessons with the girls from the Girls’ Catholic School just a few hundred yards down the road. My brother and I had never had much to do with girls and were very shy in their presence. In fact all the while he was at school, i.e., living at home, my brother never went out with a girl though he did attend 6th form parties where drinks were copiously available. I think, in addition to his natural shyness, he had worked out to go out with a girl would not be worth the domestic strife. I on the other hand thought I would give it a try so I asked a girl when I was 17 if she would like to go and see a movie that so happened to be “Apocalypse Now”. She agreed and so it was arranged that our respective parents would drop us off and pick us up. During the 25 or so minute drive to the cinema with my parents you could hear a pin drop. My mother’s face was rigid with disapproval. As we approached the cinema she asked “Do you at least know what apocalypse means?”. “Great disaster,” I answered. After that I came around to my brother’s way of thinking: it really was not worth the pain, anguish and embarrassment that we were forced to feel over something so entirely normal and trivial.
Another hurtful issue was that of praise. Essentially we were expected to always be top of our classes and get excellent grades in our exams, which we did, but if ever we expressed pleasure or pride in a sporting achievement, for me cricket comes to mind, my dad especially would put us down or tell us “not to be too big for our boots”. I think my dad’s father had done similarly to him even to the point of hoping he would lose his football matches and laugh when they did.
Unlike today parents rarely came to watch their children play and it was almost considered odd to have your parents watching. My parents would often pull up in their car to watch me bowl in a cricket match, as I swore and muttered my way through my performance, being angry at myself, the world, the batsmen or nothing in particular. The anger drove me to bowl as fast as I could.
Turning 17 was of course a huge milestone for all teens as it meant you could learn to drive and consequently, have a degree of freedom. When it was my turn my dad agreed to teach me and he was indeed a very capable and patient instructor. Only once, as I drove down the driveway of our house straight into a large pothole that sent the car bouncing violently did he say, relatively calmly, “Mind the fucking potholes”. It was the first and only time I can recall he used the F word.
Being 17 meant I was in my penultimate year of school and my brother in his last. We had both excelled at the extremely arduous GCE O Level exams that we took at the end of year 10, both of us oddly enough achieving 11 grade As and one Grade B. We also both elected for our final two years of studying for our A Levels Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. I must confess we found these subjects pretty easy and we had a great deal of free time both at school and at home. For some reason my brother agreed, at my mother’s prompting, to take a night class and study for an A Level in French. Though she suggested I do the same the following year there was no way I was going to assume that unnecessary workload and I was tired of being compared to Duncan.
My dad’s drinking of course continued. My mother would have periods of depression and even on occasion Duncan would lose his temper and fling some insult or put down in the general direction of my dad. We had a pool table in the house and would frequently play with my Dad, usually when he was drunk, when he would giggle and act like a silly schoolboy. This was very sad. At times my poor mother was beside herself. She essentially had no friends of her own, only one or two acquaintances and wives she knew of friends’ of my dad’s. So desperate was she for some relief that she managed to obtain some “Antabuse,” a drug used to treat alcoholism. The idea being that the person taking the drug would feel so dreadful should he or she drink alcohol that they would resist the urge. However, she did not tell my dad but simply put it into his food. He could not understand why he had agonising stomach aches and other dreadful symptoms but he was an unbelievably tough man and came through this episode unscathed. I am not sure what it was my mother hoped to achieve by this: it could not possibly have any positive benefit if my dad were not aware that he was taking it. Perhaps she was trying to kill him.
Jersey has one of the highest, if not the highest rates of alcoholism in the UK. Most of my dad’s football drinking pals were probably alcoholics. One guy gave his wife an especially torrid time and kept a mistress in town. Both his teenage children killed themselves when they were about 18.
As my brother entered his final year of school it was time to think of University and our School Deputy Headmaster, Mr. Sankey, who himself had gone to Oxford, decided that my brother should try and do likewise. No student from our school had ever gone to Oxford or Cambridge for about 50 years. My brother was a little reluctant at first thinking that even if he were to be accepted he would be totally out of place as he would be stuck with a bunch of toffee nosed Public School kids. This was a common misconception made all the more so by a visionary Physics Tutor at Hertford College, Oxford, Dr. Neil Tanner, who decided to make a special effort to reach out to schools who had talented pupils that would ordinarily not even consider applying for Oxford or Cambridge. And so it was to Hertford College that my brother applied in the autumn of his final year. After two interviews and a successful written examination he was given an unconditional offer, i.e., he simply needed to pass two of his three A Levels to gain admission. The school and the family were all rightly delighted, so much so that the school presented him with the prestigious Brother Dennis Lawrence Memorial Medal, given only to those who had performed an extraordinary feat. The last recipient had swum the English Channel. Of course the pressure was now on yours truly.
Throughout our later teen years Duncan and I remained extremely close, sharing many common friends and spending most of our time together at home. This helped us cope I believe with the domestic situation in which we found ourselves. Of course, when he left for College I would be without my partner, as it were.
By the time you had reached 18 at our school you were basically in a class of less than 20 students. This contrasts dramatically with some US schools where you could be in a “graduating” class of over 800 as indeed were my eldest two children. Graduating is a word we use in the UK for successfully completing college and not for finishing high school let alone Kindergarten.