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Correspondent’s Week

This week by freelance financial journalist James Moore

I have been freelancing at The Independent for two weeks when the dreaded word is mentioned – The Budget or rather the pre-Budget report. This may be one of those rare days when financial news becomes the story of the day, dominating the front pages, but involves a frantic rush to produce supplements and get the regular City pages out early. A previous boss used to kick things off with: “Welcome to the worst day of the year.” She was right.

The job is made even more difficult thanks to the Treasury’s delightful habit of trying to bury the real news in packs of voluminous press notices, released only when old misery guts has sat down. They are written in the kind of brutally mangled civil servicese that would have Sir Humphrey Appleby beaming with pride. Even the professionals at the big four accountancy firms have trouble deciphering their meaning.

Our beloved Chancellor is, of course, currently attempting a “charm offensive” in the City. One thing he could do to cheer up many of the denizens of the Square Mile (and Canary Wharf) would be to ensure that the real thing in March does not clash with the Cheltenham Festival, which has put the kibosh on any number of Cotswolds “business meetings” – read jollies – in recent years. It is to Cheltenham that I head at the weekend and thoughts of the forthcoming horror are quickly banished as the first race gets under way. Unfortunately, Cheltenham becomes a different type of horror as four of my six selections maddeningly come second and a substantial chunk of my hard-earned goes to the bookies’ benevolent fund. I feel a little less cross after bumping into Philip Martin of financial marketing consultancy the Abacus, who appears to be having a similar shocker. Well, misery loves company.

Incredibly, my run continues on day two. Three seconds this time and by the time of the second last, I am so frustrated that I decide enough is enough. I am going to have to start betting each way even though the return on a placed horse that does not win is miserable unless the odds are at least 10-1, preferably better. Nonetheless, I am determined to relieve the bookies of some cash, even if only a small amount, and find an 8-1 shot that I think should run into a place. Lo and behold it wins. Hooray.

The day finishes on a real high note as I bump into George Baker, the former Lambourn correspondent for The Sportsman. I worked there before my recent return to financial journalism, necessitated by the fact that The Sportsman went into administration. George returned to his old job, too, as assistant to trainer Paul Webber. But with Fleet Street mired in gloom and hacks losing their jobs all over the place (stop cheering), his enthusiasm for the job of journalism is a real tonic. He tells me: “I loved it at The Sportsman, it was brilliant, and we gave it a really good go, didn’t we? We should be here writing about the racing today.” I leave with a smile on my face.

Still, being back in the City affords me the chance to renew many old acquaintances although I have cause to regret it after a quiet drink with an old mate from the City turns into a session that lasts into the early hours. Did you know there was a karaoke bar at the back of a Chinese restaurant in the vicinity of Liverpool Street Station that sells ultra-strong gut-rotting Chinese lager that should have a Government health warning?

I wake up with a thick head and churning stomach to the sound of BBC News 24. The Chancellor has announced that December 6 will be the date of the Green Budget. Suddenly, my head starts to throb.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: paul.mcmillan@centaur.co.uk or telephone: 020 7970 4776

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