It is not often that I get excited by gifts and freebies any more. Lunch at The Ivy with an obsequious PR hack gets my blood flowing no more than being served bangers and mash at Dirty Dick’s rat-infested caff.
But a personalised calendar from an insurance company has been valiantly keeping my chin up over the past week. Some keep framed pictures of loved ones on their identikit desks.
Others, such as Jamie Foxx in Collateral, keep a photo of a tranquil spot to perk them up. A calendar with yours truly digitally incorporated into pictures for each of the 12 months does it for me.
I have this rare glint of pleasure to keep me going as I progress further into my two-month career on the nationals. With the terrifying Tuesday morning news meeting out of the way, I am faced with the new task of taking someone out to lunch.
On the trades, you have to wait for the mountain to come to you. Once, when asking my ex-editor whether I could entertain my contacts over an expenses-paid lunch, they hesitated and told me it would be OK to buy them a reasonably priced beer after work – maybe a half of Fosters? But otherwise I had to expect a PR-funded jaunt with the usual depressing but unspoken quid pro quos.
On the Mail on Sunday, however, Mohammed is actively encouraged to visit that darn mountain himself and chisel out a story from it when he gets there so the Paternoster Chop House it was with an insurance analyst – great company but poor food.
I have got to say it did make me feel like a big man asking for the wine list and paying for it myself although it made me no more willing to tip than ever.
On Wednesday, I have lunch with another contact but I am not set up for merriment after realising my main story of the week might be a load of garbage and comprehensively covered by us already.
You do not really feel you have earned a lunch when your copy disintegrates before your eyes and you wait for the inevitable spike. So after that, I needed to meet up with some former work friends in the evening and unwind over beer.
A great time was had by all but I kind of realise the difference between nationals and trades when I start constantly looking at my watch from 9pm, thinking I should be leaving soon. I turn down the chance of more beer and start to think I have become everything I always hated.
Although we go to press on Fridays, Thursdays are arguably more hellish, especially by the evening, when you feel the need to file at least a couple of your stories and pull them together into some form of comprehensible text. I am in the office until 7.30pm so I cannot make it to a cocktail party in the City. I still cannot believe I have reached the point in my career when I am turning down lashings of free booze. It makes me feel quite dirty. On Friday, the day which is always a blur, I arrive at 9am exhausted and leave at midnight exhausted.
But it was fun to hear about my former work colleagues going to their internal awards ceremony and being so booze-sodden the next day that they could barely speak. That puts a smile on my rotund face. Maybe, to go with my calendar, I should keep some framed photos of my friends when they are really hungover.
I slump in the back of a taxi on my way back home looking forward to a weekend of sitting around watching DVDs of The Simpsons, eating ice cream and letting my body and mind gently atrophy into a warm, pleasant and happy goo.