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Correspondent’s Week

This week by The Independent deputy personal finance editor James Daley

The last few weeks have been a painful time at The Independent as the silly season has once again transformed my vaguely interesting job into a boring drudge, writing about companies I know nothing about.

The summer has always been a nightmare on the business desk. With half the staff away on holiday and very little of any interest going on in the City, reporters like me all too often get landed with stories which are not only dull but also about industries I do not understand (and do not really want to).

Before I know it, I find myself on the phone to the chief executive of some company like Bunzl, not quite sure what they even do but desperately trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about. I think they should shut the business section down in summer and let us all go and have a few weeks off. If teachers and politicians can do it, why not us?

Alas, they lock us up while the sun is beating down outside and force us to fill the same amount of pages, even if there is nothing of any interest to write about.

Personal finance is a welcome break from all this. Every Wednesday, I spend at least half the day writing something for Save & Spend, which as well as being much more interesting can be quite educational.

As one of the few journalists who write about both business and consumer finance I get a unique perspective of several companies from both ends of the barrel. I spend most of my week getting the cold shoulder from corporate PRs, (who don’t want to tell me what’s going on, and don’t want to talk to me) but I then get treated like royalty (often by the very same companies who gave me the brush-off), when I phone up to ask for their help on a PF piece.

If I were a clever journalist, I’m sure I would be able to take advantage of this in some way but as yet, all it seems to mean is that I get twice as many calls as every one else.

Lately, however, my PF diversions have not proved enough to keep me sane. As a result, I have taken up writing for the motoring section too. Although I know nothing about cars, this does not seem to bother the motoring editor (who I sit next to) in the slightest. This weekend, I find myself driving a shiny blue Volkswagen R32 – the ultimate boy racer’s car. For those of you who are not familiar- take a look out of your left-hand window next time you are overtaken on the inside on the motorway. The chances are that it will be someone in their 20s, sporting a puffa jacket and Burberry cap, driving one of these things.

When I get down to writing the review, there’s no mention of torque or anything like that. I haven’t got a clue about any of those technical terms. But they print it all the same.

When I’m not writing about cars, I also get to write about bicycles. With our resident cycling columnist on holiday, I have been given the chance to step into his shoes for a couple of weeks and decide to use the opportunity to antagonise motorists. Having cooked up the most arrogant and aggressive nonsense I could muster – ranting on about how I jump red lights and kick car doors – I hope to get lots of emails from angry drivers. In fact, it was angry cyclists who get in touch, in their dozens, telling me that I was giving them a bad name. And Ken Livingstone too – who wrote a long letter to the paper saying what a prat he thought I was (which I have to admit I was rather proud of).

But then the fun is over and it is back to the daily grind of writing about Reg Vardy or Reckitt Benckiser. At least it is September and the silly season is nearly over.

James Daley is deputy personal finance editor at The Independent


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