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Correspondent’s Week

One of the supposed pleasures of being self-employed is that you can organise your own time, rather than stick to office hours. This week, I have plans to change my working week radically. I am going to start at 6.30am with the aim of clocking off at 2pm. This should allow me to power through my work first thing and log off after lunch when my brain slows like a computer with clogged-up memory.

My partner Ingrid greets my plans with scepticism. When I say this means full-on parenting support for our two-year-old daughter Molly every afternoon, she laughs and hands me a nappy. Undeterred, I set my alarm for 6am. Molly wakes at 5.55am and Ingrid kicks me out of bed. “You were planning to get up early anyway,” she says, disappearing under the duvet.

I collect Molly and sit watching DVDs of Byggmester Bob – that’s Norwegian for Bob the Builder. Ingrid wants us to be bilingual. I finally reach my desk at 9am. I have been up three hours and the only practical thing I have done is learn the Norwegian for digger.

I am supposed to be researching a feature on long-term care but get distracted by articles on skinny supermodels, CIA terror suspect interrogation tactics and rising sea levels. Apparently, Greenland melt waters will one day submerge coastal Suffolk, where I am based, severing my broadband connection and making my morning post rather damp.

Then the phone rings. It is an international equities manager calling on a fuzzy line from Hong Kong. He is talking up Far Eastern small-cap technology stocks but all I can hear is Molly screaming in the lounge. Ingrid is trying to stop her running into my office. She breaks loose, forcing me to perform the audacious balancing act of bouncing Molly on my knee, muting my phone to drown out her squeals, then demuting it to pose another question about Korean semi-conductors while scribbling everything down in my notebook. And they say men can’t multi-task.

I emerge to find that Ingrid has fled the house, leaving me to sing nursery rhymes to Molly. She returns two hours later, laden with shopping, to find us fast asleep on the floor.

I am a convert to broadband telephone, using Skype, which gives me an 0207 work number whether I am in Suffolk, London or visiting Molly’s grandparents in Oslo. But the technology is erratic. Too many callers get a dead line and give up. That cost me 350 in a lost commission last week. At other times, callers are cut off in midflow.

I am talking to a helpful press officer at Citizens Advice about rising consumer debt when the line is cut. I groan and call back but she is engaged. I call the switchboard. That is also engaged. I finally get through five minutes later. The press officer is still chatting about debt and gets a shock when a colleague tells her Harvey Jones is calling on the other line. “I thought you had gone quiet,” she says and grimly launches into her spiel all over again.

It is 2pm. I was supposed to have stopped work by now but instead I am frantically making calls for features on self-build, group income protection and Ucits III, only to be thwarted by a firewall of voicemail and obstructive receptionists.

At 5pm, I am pinned to my desk by a barrage of returned phone calls. I am still there three hours later, munching Norwegian cinnamon buns, sorting out invoices and chasing payments. I finally log off at 9pm.

“Enjoy your free afternoon?” Ingrid asks. And they say Norwegians do not understand irony. “I have given up. Tomorrow I am having a lie-in,” I declare. But my new regime proves equally doomed.

Tuesday, 5.55am. Molly wakes. Ingrid kicks me.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: or telephone: 020 7970 4776


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