It was 2003 and I had all my plans in place.
I’d bought a trading course from the classifieds section of Investors Chronicle (or was it Shares magazine? I can’t remember).
It was called Champion Trader and was my first introduction to the exciting world of trading.
It taught me all I needed to know about financial spread betting and contracts for difference.
Well, the basics anyway.
And it taught a strategy, based on what years later I came to know as price action.
I went online to read the reviews.
The system was slated. It wasn’t complex enough was the verdict.
For the price of 25 quid, more was expected than a simple breakout system.
I’d bought it already, and loved it.
It was well written, it was self-published (a big feat back then) and came with a cute little plastic spiral binder like thing, binding the pages together.
Most importantly it sold me a dream that I needed desperately at that time.
Anything to quit my job which was seriously taking its toll on me.
All I really needed to do to make money, according to Champion Trader, was place a buy order a few points above the highest high of the last three days, and hope it was triggered the next day.
If it wasn’t I’d cancel it.
If it was, I’d make money 75% of the time.
I mean how hard could that be?
While I’ve progressed since those early days of neophytism, I still have fond memories of that course.
And have made some of its principles the heart of my trading style.
Unbelievably though, the one thing it never taught was where and how to take profits, other than paying lip service to the use of trailing stops.
It took me years to figure out for myself when and how best to exit a trade.
My father was working for a company called Telewest. You probably haven’t heard of it. But, it was one of the UK tech darlings during the 90’s.
Its all-time high was around the 5.00 GBP mark I seem to recall.
And according to Dad, it was a steal as the price was now trading at 20p.
Everyone in his office was buying hand over fist (they should have stuck to telecoms rather than stock trading).
So with this prized insider info, I too bought myself a few grands worth of stock.
I didn’t even know what a chart was.
Had zero knowledge of fundamentals
Or the least idea about risk or money management.
Yet from day one, the price rose. So much so, that in two months I’d quadrupled my money.
Which just goes to show that any idiot can make money in the market from time to time.
I’d now roped in a couple of friends.
They could clearly see I knew everything there was to know about stocks by the new bounce in my step.
Convincing them to buy was a cinch, and turned out to be one of the biggest regrets I’ve had in my life.
True to form the moment they bought the market sold off.
First small, and then big.
But not before I’d convinced myself I was a genius and started buying up other past telecom darlings.
I was managing a bar-restaurant at the time, but instead of actually doing what I was supposed to, I was glued to the TV’s Teletext and the stock price pages – even though they had a fifteen-minute time delay.
It was the first time I ever became obsessive over intra-day price moves. And probably should have been a warning of things to come.
The stock eventually fell to 0.05p at which point I sold.
But by then I was hooked.
And was devouring all the financial press I could get my hands on, which eventually led me to Champion Trader.
Property speculation and move to Thailand
I’d moved to Cockfosters, North London in 1997.
Hailing from West Lancashire, where pretty much nothing ever happened besides a pretty large warehouse party scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but now over I was itching to escape.
If you’re not familiar with West Lancashire, its Woolyback country.
Go to Liverpool you’re classed as Mancunian. Go to Manchester you’re a Scouser.
Us Wools just can’t win.
The term Woolyback comes from the days Liverpool was a big seaport, where labour outside the city was used to carry wool onto the ships.
Moving to North London I was the token Scouser, or Manc or just thick northerner.
However, I fitted in well. Londoners are quite an accepting lot – when you get to know them.
And I soon found myself running with a group of City financial boys, used car salesman and property magnates.
Who all sounded like this dude below.
These boys all talked about stocks and renting out properties.
This was a welcome change from what I was used to, like where to score the best skunk or what was the best price for 10 E tablets.
I was living in at work so figured that like everyone else here, I too was going to buy a property and rent it out.
So I did.
I got a 100% mortgage at 5-times salary and bought a place in Hoddesdon, about 30 miles outside the M25.
The town was a bit of a backwater compared to North London, but I could see the potential.
Property prices were rising fast and within a couple of years, I’d made 40,000 GBP give or take.
Which is why the Telewest fiasco was no big deal.
My plan was always to spend time travelling, particularly in South East Asia.
And to teach English doing it.
But for some serendipitous reason only the gods know, the part-time TEFL course I’d applied for, I could now only do the intensive full-time course instead.
That clearly wasn’t going to work because I still had my job.
Some of the boys I knew were futures traders or worked in the back office for commodity companies, or were stockbrokers.
They didn’t seem cleverer than me.
So I figured out I too could do some of this trading thing.
So I quit my plans to teach English (I never wanted non-English speakers to speak Woolyback anyway).
And applied myself to becoming the Champion Trader.
My original destination was Indonesia. My heart was set on it.
But after a few terrorist attacks, my mum convinced me Thailand was a safer choice (despite the fact there was a state-sponsored war on drugs and a separatist insurgency going on at the same time).
Anyway, my mum felt safer, that’s what mattered most.
I could have chosen Malaysia as my destination.
I’ve spent a lot of time there because despite being a full-on Brit, I am actually half Malaysian too.
But I chose Thailand instead.
So with my house profits in the bank, I set off to Chiang Mai to begin my life as the Champion Trader.
Chiang Mai 2003
I think my flight out coincided with the bombing in Iraq.
When I left the UK, Tony Blair and George Bush were holding hands extolling the virtues of freedom and democracy.
By the time I landed at Changi and walked through the terminal lounge, the coalition of the willing were bombing the crap out of innocent Iraqi’s.
CNN was loving it. Their ratings were going through the roof
I stayed in Singapore for a total of one day, wandered the financial district, excited at all the adventures ahead.
The next day I arrived in Chiang Mai, and booked myself into a good hotel for a few nights, with plans to move to a cheaper place after.
In 2003 internet shops in CM were booming. They were everywhere.
The THB was 75 to the GBP. And a never-ending army of Brits and Aussies were descending on the place.
And they all needed internet access.
I needed it too.
I hadn’t had my first email account for long at all.
The internet was daunting to me.
I was clueless just opening Hotmail.
I was nervous placing orders on the CMC spreadbet trading platform.
There was no web-based browser charting back then.
The platform had to be downloaded onto a PC.
And most of the internet shops frowned upon the downloading of anything. The shop’s terminals were already so full of junk files.
This proved a bit of a nightmare for me.
I knew every computer in every internet shop in town, where I had successfully downloaded the platform without being found out.
But it was always hit and miss whether someone would be using the terminal I needed.
Often the internet speed was too slow, or the computer was too slow, or some firewall was blocking my download.
The platform wasn’t even that good. I’d place my orders on it, but for accuracy of charting, it was ropey.
I much preferred Bigcharts.com. It just seemed better for the OHLC data I used.
The chart legend would just hover above the price bars so much easier than the CMC platform. And all I really gave a hoot about was the data in that legend.
Escape from Chiang Mai
The internet shops all had signs in their window, ‘high-speed internet’.
That was just a ploy to get gullible Farang through the door.
Most of the internet shops were painfully slow.
Eventually, I figured out the fastest internet shops, all had signs in the front saying, ‘ADSL’. With these places, I knew I stood half a chance of decent connection.
Slow internet was really one of the biggest issues for me back then.
Many times I’d place orders, and they wouldn’t appear in the trade blotter on the screen.
Then the internet would crash, and I had no idea if the order was pending or not.
So I’d then phone up the dealing desk and must have sounded like a right idiot.
Besides trading, there wasn’t much else for me to do but drink Chang beer – that’s not true, there are a load of things to do in CM.
But without a social circle and in an alien environment, I took the same option that countless westerners over the past forty years have done – hit the bars.
My Thai language skills got good pretty quick, there’s nothing like a few beers to loosen the tongue.
Chang beer is strong. Rumour is, back then, they put formaldehyde in it.
You didn’t get hungover on the old Chang, you got suicidal.
For nine months, with no real friends, too much time on my hands and trading that was anything but champion things were going downhill fast.
The week I arrived I’d found out my old boss (who was like a father to me) had been murdered at my old work, in broad daylight.
The culprit had gone into the kitchen and taken out a long knife and stabbed him multiple times.
The news freaked me out. My friends who had been working there at the time had to deal with the whole thing on the spot.
I was eternally grateful that I had not been there to witness it all.
I kept repeating this one very depressing David Gray song, and with the Chang hangovers, and dodgy trading practices my mental state suffered terribly.
The old city of Chiang Mai is a walled one. And that’s where most of the tourists reside.
I just wanted to escape, I was living in some in pseudo paradise. But for me, I felt it wasn’t the Thailand I wanted to experience.
It was like some horrific ghetto I couldn’t escape.
In the distance was the temple on Doi Suthep mountain, but I was always too hungover too even catch a bus out there.
I felt totally trapped. Both physically and metaphorically.
And it ultimately scared me.
So, at a moments notice, I packed my stuff and caught the first plane to Mae Hong Sohn.
The flight time is twenty-five minutes. By road though, it takes seven hours because it is up in the hills.
But what an amazing place. I fell in love with it instantly. And to this day is one of my favourite spots in the world.
If you’ve ever watched Air America, and remember the scene where Robert Downey Junior was tied to the underside of a helicopter, piloted by Mel Gibson – well that was filmed in Mae Hong Sohn.
The temples and lake you can see in that movie scene were the places I’d spend much of my time,
Mae Hong Sohn is high in the mountains. And if internet speed in Chiang Mai was bad, here was like a slow death.
In Chiang Mai, it took the shop assistant fifteen minutes to redial a downed internet connection.
I recall in Mae Hong Sohn it could take up to three hours.
Forget placing orders over my platform, I couldn’t even open Bigcharts.com.
With the computers jampacked full of viruses and cookies, getting any trading done bordered on the impossible.
I became resourceful though.
Because my main market was the FTSE100 I figured I didn’t need the java charts anyway.
The Yahoo financial pages opened easily enough, and so I resorted to grabbing the raw OHLC data quickly before the connection went down again.
Then I would find a spot in town, that had at least three signal bars on my phone and called through to the dealing desk at 2.00pm – or London open.
I always remember the butterflies in my stomach as I made that call.
This all became routine.
One of the pluses of all this was I was not screen watching, something that only happened when technology improved.
Occasionally I’d even be pleasantly surprised.
I’d find my positions had actually closed in profit when I received my trading statement the next day.
I’ve observed that when we don’t follow our trades too closely they tend to do well.
When we’re sat monitoring them too much they often go against us.
It’s like the trading version of the slit experiment in quantum physics, whereby the observer actually changes the outcome of the experiment (or trade).
With Yahoo data, I always had to do some quick math. The cash price data was always different from the broker platform data.
Occasionally I’d get this wrong, and orders or stops were put in places they shouldn’t have been.
I was slowly coming out of my nine-month Chang fest, developing a new social circle and was generally feeling fine again.
But because I wasn’t earning any income, the money in my bank was going down.
It was going down slowly, but going down none the less.
That weighed on me heavily.
And the more it weighed on me, ironically the more I’d spend, and the worse my trading losses became.
Landing myself a good old fashioned job
Eventually, I did move back to CM.
This time I was slightly more settled.
But the money worries persisted.
I still had decent bankroll but I decided I was going to go back to the UK for a year, build up more cash and then come back better prepared.
I was about to book my flight and literally ten minutes before doing so, I had a call from a fellow Brit in CM who said there was a job going at his work.
He was employed at a company that aggregated financial news services for large financial institutions.
And they needed another Farang to check the work of the Thai team.
I jumped at the chance, and the next day after the interview I landed the job.
Talk about luck.
So I never did go back to the UK. And the last time I was ever there was 2004.
Ironically I was planning to spend some time in the UK in 2020, but when Covid came along, those plans went down the pan as my flight was cancelled.
I’ve never had a problem taking risks. That stems from my childhood when I was given probably too much freedom for a small kid.
I could go places my friends couldn’t.
I also received more pocket money than most – and there was always enough food on the table.
As a result, I’ve always sensed the universe will look after me.
I’m not suggesting that’s a good thing, but it is what it is.
Taking giant leaps in the dark was never an issue.
And while I’ve tempered that risk-taking nature when it comes to trading itself, I don’t have the same hang-ups many traders have to deal with.
But there were some serious downsides to my seat of the pants approach.
To be successful in trading you need structure. I’m not specifically talking strategy here either.
I mean, in your life.
The life I was living was not structured in the least.
Hell, I couldn’t even find a stable internet connection or had my own work environment.
I was suffering huge bouts of alcohol-related psychosis much of the time.
And we all need to be clear-headed when trading.
Finally, you don’t want large upheavals in your life when you trade.
Moving house, getting married, having kids can put huge stress on you when you undertake a new venture.
My own stress was uprooting my whole life for the complete unknown.
I look back on those early years of trading and being in Thailand with fond memories now, but they were hardly conducive for success.
In part two I’ll tell you about some of my precious metals trading escapades, and how I became a total silver fanatic