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Correspondent’s Week

I must confess to something of a mis-spent youth. At university, while others toiled their way through the holidays working at the local pub or, better, as highly paid interns at investment banks, I sat at home and whiled away the time watching TV. Months and months passed with the biggest question being: MTV or the cricket?So when I started freelancing, just three weeks ago, I was a little bit worried that I might revert to type. The test series in South Africa was hotting up, and there were still a few levels of Super Mario Sunshine on the Nintendo Gamecube to complete.

Thankfully, for my bank balance, I have managed to prevent myself from becoming a complete loafer. With two commissions, from The Times and The Independent on Sunday, to be getting on with, as well as working out who else might be interested in freelancers, I have been kept away from checking the cricket score and concentrating on stories.

Monday was especially hectic. I had started to write a piece about switching gas suppliers, and about two guys from North London who had had difficulty doing so. But as with any of these pieces (which The Times likes to call “Consumer Power” pieces), trying to get at the precise story amid a wealth of letters to and from customer services departments is easier said than done. Add to that the difficulty of explaining to companies that they are to be the subject of the piece, and it all adds up to hard work.

Monday is hectic for another reason. At the moment, I don’t have an internet connection, so I’m finding myself going backwards and forwards picking up emails and filing stuff to people. Given I’m simultaneously looking for a flat and have properties to view early Monday evening, it feels non-stop.

Monday has also become a “pitching” day, trying to get commissions for the week ahead. I get a call from The Independent on Sunday wanting a piece on endowment mortgages. More misery for the companies concerned but it’s all good copy.

I spend most of Tuesday getting back into this story, trying to get my dates and definitions spot on. There are so many ways you can be excluded from compensation, it takes some mastery of detail to get on top of it.

Tuesday is also Jupiter’s 20th anniversary party. It’s a smart affair in Elysium on Regent Street, and my old Times colleagues are all in evidence. The female ones, I can disclose, are quite keen on the Jupiter men.

There’s a magician going round too, doing quite an impressive trick with ten pound notes and lemons. I try in vain to get him to say “piff paff poof” when he gets to the crux of the trick – readers will remember that these are The Great Soprendo’s magic words, although why I decide he has to use them I’m not quite sure. He’s not game.

Wednesday starts with a little lie-in to recover from Jupiter’s largesse. This, I think, is destined to become one of the great advantages of being a freelance.

In the afternoon, I am busy writing the piece for The Independent. I put the finishing touches to it, and after more backwards and forwards to Balham’s internet caf窠I’m there.

On Thursday, I get to the bottom of the switching dilemma for The Times, and dash into town to file it.

I plan to spend Friday pitching for stories for next week but something tells me it is not going to happen. Well, the cricket is back on.

Alex Hawkes is a freelance personal finance journalist”If you want stories, disguise yourself as a ticket inspector on the train to Suffolk.” – Legg Mason’s Paul Boughton has some reporting tips

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