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Mon(k)ey Puzzle

Stock-Markets / Financial Markets 2013 Dec 11, 2013 - 04:26 PM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Stock-Markets

By Grant Williams  

Protruding from the sand a short distance to the south of the Pilot Pier, on the golden sands of Hartlepool in England's North East, is a vertical wooden mast.


The mast dates back to the Napoleonic Wars, when the Emperor Bonaparte's armies were marching through Europe, sweeping all before them as the aftermath of the French Revolution manifested itself in France's aggressive attempt to take what it deemed as its rightful place at the head of the European table.

Of course, with Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, the French Army was to suffer one of the most comprehensive military defeats in history; but at the time of our story the battle was very much joined; and Britain, the mightiest naval power the world had ever seen, was locked in combat with her mortal enemy from across the English Channel.

Hartlepool, a small port in County Durham, was founded in the 7th century around Hartlepool Abbey, a Northumbrian monastery. The name originates from the Old English "heort-ieg" or "hart island," as stags were seen roaming the countryside in great abundance.

Around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Hartlepool boasted a population of about 900 people — all of whom seemed to be obsessed with the possibility of attack by France.

Gun emplacements were established and defences constructed in order to repel any French aggression, and the Hartlepudlians (as the people of that region were known) stood ready to fight the first Frenchman who dared set foot upon their beloved sand.

One night, amidst a terrible storm, a French chasse-marée (fishmonger ship) that had been pressed into the service of the Emperor capsized and sank off the coast of North East England, leaving a somewhat unusual but most definitely solitary survivor — a monkey, who found himself washed ashore, exhausted, battered and bruised from his nautical tribulations but still clinging to the mast, which remains there to this day.

One can only imagine how glad he must have been to end up on the golden sands of Hartlepool's beach.

Unfortunately for him, he happened to be wearing a French naval uniform, which would, sadly, be the direct cause of his tragic demise a matter of hours after his miraculous escape from a watery grave.

The best guess that historians can posit is that the monkey was dressed in a sailor's uniform for the amusement of the ship's crew, but the Hartlepudlians were most definitely NOT amused; and upon finding him sprawled on the sand clad in a uniform with which they were unfamiliar, they immediately arrested him as a French spy and proceeded to force the confused monkey to stand trial right there on the beach.

The monkey was asked a series of questions designed to discover why he had come to Hartlepool; but with the monkey unable (or perhaps unwilling) to answer their questions, and with the locals uncertain as to what a Frenchman looked like, they reached the inevitable — but for the monkey somewhat unfortunate — conclusion that the monkey was a French sailor and therefore a spy.

The monkey was sentenced to death and hanged from the mast on the beach.

Music hall performer Ned Corvan immortalized the tale in "The Monkey Song," a popular ditty of the time that contains the wonderful lines:

The Fishermen hung the Monkey O!
The Fishermen wi' courage high,
Seized on the Monkey for a spy,
"Hang him" says yen, says another,"He'll die!"
They did, and they hung the Monkey O!.
They tortor'd the Monkey till loud he did squeak
Says yen, "That's French," says another "it's Greek"
For the Fishermen had got drunky, O!

To this day, the citizens of Hartlepool are known, much to their chagrin, in England (and around the world) as "monkey hangers."

Now at this point in the proceedings, you are no doubt thinking to yourself, "He's finally lost the plot. Where is he going this time?" Well, as you have indulged me and my tales of monkeys swinging from yardarms, I'll tell you.

The people on that storm-tossed beach were confronted with something they didn't recognize, and though logic dictated that they ought to investigate further before they took any action, the animal spirits of a group of excitable people ensured that they forgot about clear-headed analysis and did something that their descendants still regret over two centuries later.

Right now, today, investors all over the world are confronted by markets that have been dressed up for the amusement of the crew in charge of the ship, and nobody seems to recognize what they are looking at.

Sure, they look like markets, but at the same time there is an unfamiliarity that is extremely unnerving to at least a few in the gathering crowd.

The majority of the mob, however, have decided that they look enough like markets to charge in blindly in the expectation that all will be as it should.

Things are not as they should be. Far from it.

Everywhere one looks are signs that the markets are just monkeys dressed up in fancy costumes.

To continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore – please click here.

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