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Correspondent’s Week – Ben Flanagan

Given that half the not-so-God-fearing public reportedly has no idea what Eas-ter is all about, here is a little tip – it is almost certainly not about finance.

Or is it? Anyone trawling through my inbox on Monday morning would be forgiven for thinking so, with seasonal press releases galore and here’s me still getting over the excitement of Palm Sunday.

One missive revives the near-biblical cash or choc-olate gift-giving debate. Another urges Easter travellers to avoid the rotten egg that is overseas bank char-ges. Oh, go on then. That one is quite good. I will go and tell the subs except that there aren’t any.

Monday is a quiet time on The Observer as most journalists and production staff work Tuesday to Saturday. But the personal finance section, which has a normal Monday to Friday working week, is a little hive of activity.

It is a good day to read freelancers’ articles and develop stories for Tuesday’s news conference, that is, if you are not too infuriated by silly phone calls. I get two in quick succession. “On which days does the Sunday Observer come out?” Saturdays, I say. They seem happy. I hang up.

That evening, I go to see Mel Brooks’ gloriously un-PC The Producers. I am with the good people of self-build website BuildStore and some fellow PF journalists. Afterwards, the wine flows freely. The conversation moves from the joys of self-certification mortgages to our (well, my) presently disastrous love lives.

There is lots to do in my job, with a mix of writing, research and proofing pages. We have had some changes recently. Maria Scott, who was editor of Cash & Property, has moved back to her native New Zealand and Jill Insley, formerly of Money Marketing, has taken over as editor of the section.

We get into the full swing of things after Tuesday’s news conference. The subs are in and start laying out pages. I get on writing a feature for our property pages.

Having taken the unpre-cedented step of publishing my direct line and email address in the previous Sunday’s paper, I get some valuable leads from readers and, of course, a barrage of email spam.

In the end, we find a genuinely Easter-related story. It is deputy editor Lisa Bachelor’s tale of the plummeting cost of the price of chickens and the shocking conditions in which some of the animals are raised.

This is territory that other personal finance sections might not venture upon but is still very much about important dosh-related decisions and it is more likely to put people off their Sunday lunch than talk of mortgages, Isas and peps alth-ough probably not that much more.

On Wednesday, the page proofs start trickling back to us and before you can say long lunch, it is Thursday, a busy day on which such extravagances are a near impossibility.

After most of the 20-page section has been proofed, I write a quick piece for our media pages. It is about human Google Edda Tasiemka. For decades, the charming 82-year-old has run an immense cuttings library from an otherwise ordinary North London semi but Edda – much to the despair of numerous journalists and profile writers – now wants to sell her idiosyncratically org-anised library.

To ape a Chris Morris joke, it all reminds me of the days when the internet was still in black and white. Back then, encyclopaedic minds like Edda’s were a rare necessity. Today, computers may be able to search through millions of records in seconds but they will never, I am sure, imitate that all-important human touch.

Just before I leave for the weekend, near-identical emails arrive from my youn-ger twin brothers. They read: “Ben, we are skint. Do not buy us Easter eggs – will save embarrassment at Sunday lunch. Deal?” It is the most straightforward personal-finance-meets-Easter communiqu矯f the week.

Ben Flanagan is a researcher for the Cash & Property section of The Observer


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