P.G. Wodehouse on Reinsurance
Marry that awful blister Arabella Devereux-Devereux or take employment in a company selling reinsurance.
One does not refuse Aunt Agatha and emerge whole. The latter option, though unspeakably dire, sounded rather less painful.
We Woosters are famous for displaying a stiff upper lip when crisis hits, and I made the choice without consulting Jeeves. He had become somewhat distant when I took to wearing shirtings with a checked pattern in them. All the City chappies have them; they're quite the thing.
Anyway, reinsurance. I filter in to my office at Lime Street around noonish, and promptly con-, what is that word? ... confabulate with all the corporate officers. The fact that they served in their regiments comforts one, what?
Reinsurance, in case you don't know--and why would you; why would anyone?--is an arrangement whereby some ghastly insurance company has eyes bigger than its midriff, takes on all manner of risks it can't afford , and then lobs them at the reinsurance brigade. We make millions, of course, and then spread the loot around the top eggs at Christmas, to keep the wolf from the wigwam.
After a meeting or two, we biff off to this club or that for a spot of lunch and then trickle homeward to recover. It's all quite jolly, and I can't see why so many people complain about working.
Or so I thought. I started in August, and the first few months were serenity itself. Then came what's called the renewal season. Akin to the grouse season, I imagined: a spot of shooting, yoicks, tally-ho, and all that rot. Not so. Everyone has to be in situ before sun-up and stay there until midnight, day after tiresome day. Lord knows what they're all up to.
Anyway. One morning, I wandered in at 11, having arisen at some filthy hour, only to earn the stink-eye from the chairman.
"Late again, Bertie!" he boomed.
"Hardly," I volunteered. "Just back from Lloyd's." I'm not sure who this Lloyd might be, but everyone speaks well of him.
"Ah," said the chairman. "Good show. Join us for lunch."
The thing is, I couldn't go on like this. The strain was beginning to tell on the old tum. I could barely wrap myself around half a dozen chops and an angel cake at lunch.
"Jeeves," I said that evening as he shimmered in with the brandy, "the posish is dire. This reinsurance is for the birds."
"So I have heard, Sir. I believe that this may prove to be of assistance," he said, handing me a report on modeling. "Anorexic females?" I said. "Humph."
"To the contrary, Sir," he replied. "If you were to peruse the document, and import some of its language into your daily conversation, your situation might be eased somewhat."
The bally thing proved impenetrable. But Jeeves has always been spot on, so the next time I ran into the chairman, I chirped: "I say! A matrix is positive semidefinite if it is self-adjoint (Hermitian) with non-negative eigenvalues and all that, eh?"
The fellow was so impressed he gave me the entire bonus pool for that year, whereupon I retired from the reinsurance dodge and life once again became oojah-cum-spiff.
Good man, that Jeeves. He stands alone.
(With apologies to PGW.)
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
March 3, 2009
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