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Correspondent’s week

This weeks James Coney, personal finance journalist on the Daily Mail

Something drives press officers bonkers in August. It cannot be the sun. Can it be the stress? Maybe it is the booze. Why do I think this? Because every time my phone so far rings this month – which is supposed to be the quietest of the year – I seem to be having the same conversation.

“Hello, it’s Felicity here from Diatribe PR. Are you writing anything on students/ remortgaging/toenail insurance this week? I was wondering if you would like a comment from Desperate Financial Services on it?”

Don’t you think if I wanted one I would have called, I scream. Of course I don’t but I do despair. With papers so thin in August, I can understand that they are fighting to get their business in the limelight and that explains why, at the sniff of anything newsy, my email inbox fills with press releases on firms wanting to be heard.

This week, it’s students. You think of an angle and I bet I can find you a press release on it. I quite enjoy fighting the corner for students. OK, they should be grateful for the financial products they get but you can’t help thinking that sometimes banks and credit card companies are compounding their woes by thrusting all sorts of financial products on them.

Then again, when I was a student, I knew that borrowing money on a credit card was a bad idea and that never stopped me. Still, if financial journalists all followed their own advice, none of us would be financial journalists.

The gaffer, Money Mail editor Tony Hazell, is away but just when you think you are going to get a couple of weeks free from Delia and Norwich, I discover Alison Rolls from Norwich & Peterborough Building Society, lurking outside the Mail offices. Is this a new ploy from PRs? In a cunning role-reversal, have the prey now become the hunters? Am I paranoid? Are we about to see packs of PRs doorstepping unsuspecting hacks, thrusting press releases, comments on MPC decisions and house price surveys on them as they try to get to work?

Alas and alack, it is something far more mundane. However, in a conversation that lasts all of two minutes, Alison manages to plug N&P’s overseas mortgages and then shatter my fragile delusion that “I am Patrick Swayze in Point Break” by revealing that she too is a surfing fan.

Luckily, when you need perking up, colleague Liz Phillips is always on hand.

“A friend of mine has just mailed to say she still holds the record for being the Playmate with the biggest natural breasts,” she mutters in passing from across the desk when I return to the office. This proves an understandable distraction from the chart of fixed-rate mortgages I am studying and I volunteer to help her find a copy of the 1964 Playboy issue her friend appeared in.

I remind myself that I should probably be cracking on with writing the article for the coming week on buying holiday homes. However, this proves no less distracting.

One of my case studies sends me a picture of her thatched cottage in Normandy. It is a far cry from the one-bedroomed gloom of Coney Towers in Balham. Buying that dream home overseas has never been easier

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