On the final afternoon before Lehman headed for bankruptcy a decade ago, I was enjoying a family barbecue in north London.
Suddenly the mobile phone of the chef – a top aide to the then chancellor Alistair Darling – rang.
The cook frantically took notes on the back of a greasy napkin and aware of the presence of father-in-law, a City editor, vanished to make urgent calls.
Given the atmosphere of impending doom in the banking system and on markets, one didn’t need to be Hercule Poirot to recognise something serious was afoot.
Lehman Brothers headquarters in New York seen in 2008. The bank’s collapse sparked the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s
But the civil service poker face kept up its act and it was only subsequently that I learned of the substance.
The desperate call was from chief of staff to US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who was pleading for Darling’s agreement to a plan by Barclays boss Bob Diamond to make a rescue bid for Lehman.
Darling had huge reservations about adverse political reaction if a British bank were to step in where Wall Street dared not tread.
The Chancellor consulted then banking regulator Callum McCarthy before putting a call through to the US, via the barbecue, to say no deal.
The stained napkin and sequence of calls were meticulously kept and subsequently became a vital document when participants in those dramatic events needed recall for witness appearances and memoirs.
Within 24 hours Lehman was done for and the baleful images of bankers pouring out of the group’s Canary Wharf headquarters were all over TV screens.
The dramatic events which followed, most notably the taxpayer rescue of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds-HBOS and the controversial self-help mission for Barclays in the Gulf, have been well chronicled.
As the governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney asserted on these pages yesterday, banks are more ‘resilient’ and ‘have ten times more assets that are readily available in an emergency than before’.
That is why Carney was able to brief the Cabinet that the financial system is robust enough to ride out a worst-case Brexit and has been stress tested for a 35 per cent fall in house prices.
Many bad outcomes are blamed on the financial crisis and subsequent recession, not least the squeeze on household incomes and the rise of populism.
But as Carney also makes clear, the economic disaster – which was the theme of this week’s Trades Union Congress conference – is political mythology.
In the period since the Bank lowered interest rates to rock bottom and engaged in quantitative easing – the printing of money – 3m jobs have been created, the proportion of those in work has moved to the highest ever level, wages are up 20 per cent (before inflation) and real output expanded by 18 per cent.
If people want a point of comparison, Italy has not grown at all since it joined the euro in 2000.
No one can pretend everything is rosy in the garden. What is really remarkable about the last decade is how little has changed and how little resolved.
As we report today former RBS chief executive Fred Goodwin still enjoys the fruits of his ill-judged stewardship with a potential pension pay-out of £16.5million.
Across the Atlantic it has taken ten years for Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan to start relinquishing power.
In spite of Dimon’s misleading testimony at the time of the ‘London Whale’ case in 2012 he remained in office and picks up about $30million (£23million) in pay each year.
Similarly Blankfein survived the fine over the Abacus-structured product which was used to bamboozle investors including RBS.
Closer to home trust in our bankers is wafer thin. Paul Pester, TSB and Sabadell have destroyed confidence in online banking and have been criminally slow in dealing with complaints.
Branch closures and vanishing ATMs have left consumers and small enterprises stranded.
The Global Restructuring Group scandal and years of dissembling hangs over RBS. Allegations of a cover-up at Lloyds over the handling of fraud at the former HBOS branch in Reading have not been resolved.
Jes Staley has been labelled as ‘stupid’ by the regulator over his attempt to identify a whistleblower at Barclays.
The financial system may have been rendered safer, but cultural and ethical wrongdoings are as persistent as ever.