If you were asked to think of two words starting with A that would instantly strike the fear of god into people, asbestos and actuary would probably do the trick.So imagine my terror when my first call on Monday morning is to attend a press conference on asbestosis at the Institute of Actuaries. As it happens, the chilling story which they have to tell – illustrated by disturbing clips of dying people or recently ber-eaved relatives – was quite a sobering affair and made for a very interesting story. But in terms of putting me in the right frame of mind for the start of a new week, the two As were not what I was looking for. Back in the office, I get to grips with a fortnight in the hot seat on the Save & Spend section. With Bill Kay away, I immediately settle into the start of my crescendo of panic about what I am going to write in his column. Unlike many parts of my job, writing a column does not yet always come naturally. I am not short of things to say but I seem to spend rather a lot of time obsessing about getting a gag or two in to my copy – something which I usually get over by about three hours before deadline when I realise that comedy and finance are not natural bedfellows. Back in my days as a Money Marketing reporter, this was not so. Many happy hours were spent devising amusing songs such as Sub-prime On A Rainy Day (makes my soul, makes my soul, slip slip slip away ) but I am yet to come up with a way of conveying such gems as this to The Independent’s readers. This week, however, turns out to be my most pathetic yet, during which I spend three days drawing up a tenuous analogy between Orville the Duck and the work and pensions minister Alan Johnson which I am hell-bent on using as my introduction. Very unsure of the outcome, I ask a colleague to have a quick look over it. His kind words of guidance (“I don’t think this bird flies, James”) provide the necessary injection of sanity for me to finally get over the Orville thing. As the deadline approaches on Thursday, I have managed to replace the intro with some appalling cliche which I have been having nightmares about ever since. But I comfort myself with the fact that it was very nearly much worse. The worst thing about writing columns is that you cannot blame them on anyone else. If you write a bad news story or a shoddy feature, there is always an editor or sub-editor that you can blame when the calls come flooding in the next day. Columns, however, are entirely different. Given that back-peddling is against just about every hack’s limited moral code, there is nothing to do but live with and face up to any consequences once it has been printed. Ouch. The second week of Bill’s absence goes much better, I feel, so maybe it is just a matter of practice. This week is punctured by a coffee meeting with Alasdair Buchanan from Scottish Life and Philip Martin from Abacus, who are very upbeat about a new pension product they have come up with. Philip lets on that someone recently referred to him and his colleague David Ferguson as the Ant & Dec of the personal finance industry. Alasdair points out that it is a good job I do not work for Money Marketing anymore or that would have turned up on the Diary page. Hea-ven forbid. Anyway, I think I may be turning this into Corr-espondent’s Fortnight (as 600 words of excitement does not happen every week these days). Time to stop. James Daley is a personal finance reporter at The Independent”I think I am sheep-shy.” The Sunday Times’ Clare Francis finds a name for a people who do not eat lamb. Urgent diary, urgent diary stop press. At the last minute Diary has finally received communication from Mr Ghiloni. However it seems his claim is not all the events discussed were actually leaving dos at all. Anyway in his own words:”I have read with interest the diary pieces regarding my departure from Britannic Asset Management and I thought that I should set the record straight. Yes, there have been a number of ‘dos’ so far but these have not been related to the ‘how many leaving nights does one man need…’ theme that you have been running. Rather they have been my acknowledgment of the fact that ‘my audience’ clearly wants me and I do not feel that I can let them down. At this point in time, given that I do not know what the future holds for me, I have not completed all of the venues for my one man show. There may well be more to come – either as a goodbye or as a celebration. However, I am sure you are confident the details will be available to you from the ‘sources close to the sources’ when the time comes. Indeed, a picture may even turn up.” Diary is sure that readers cannot wait to get photographic evidence of your, er, performances. Maybe the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next year. Watch this space readers.