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Correspondent’s Week – Harvey Jones

I am typing this while gazing across green fields dotted with sheep and hares. Yes, I am one of those irritating freelancers who’s fled the rat race for the slower pace of life in the farmers’ belt in Suffolk. And, to be quite frank, I miss you all.

In January last year, my girlfriend and I quit South-east London to rent a flat in a rundown Suffolk pile whose double-barrelled owners drank their wealth and now take in hacks as lodgers.

Everyone in personal fin-ance, PRs, fund managers and fellow journalists, claims to envy my rural existence but I wonder how many could take the bucolic truth.

Adjusting to country life takes time and at the end of a long, dark, muddy winter, I have to confess that I am not quite there yet.

There are a lot of things I miss about living and working in the smoke. People, mostly. Meeting editors for a quick drink after work. Free lunches and other events. What I do not miss is standing on London Bridge waiting for the delayed 15.42, and the youths in hoodies urinating in the phone booth when I alight at Lewisham.

People often ask me how I can stand working at home and I tell them the key is discipline. If you can get at your desk by 8am, the rest of the day generally falls into line.

But this morning I struggle to get down to a feature on offshore personalised portfolio bonds. The alternative is private banking and wealth management so my attention wanders and I find myself staring out the window at a male pheasant sexually harassing its mate. These two birds are the lucky ones. We live on a shooting estate and their chums have all been blasted by men in Norfolk tweeds and plus fours, some of whom probably work for Artemis.

Then work becomes impossible when two bumpkins who slice through my BT line with a mechanical digger while erecting a sheep pen. My phone, internet and email stop at once, severing my lifeline to the world. I ask BT to forward all calls to my mobile, but that is little help since T-Mobile coverage is only sporadic here.

I save the feature on a floppy disk and go to the antiquated PCs at the local library to complete my research and email the article to the commissioning editor. That adds another two hours to my day.

On my return, the woman who rents a flat below my office, Olivia, an artist, collars me among the daffodils and roars: “Harvey – I am going to have an affair.”

“Really?” I say.

“Yes, I’m taking a lover. At four o’clock.”

I compliment her good fortune and the precision of her time-keeping, and retreat to finish my feature on private banking before this rather troubling new deadline. I am keen to be out of the house before Olivia and her beau go under star- ter’s orders.

But my retreat is blocked by Sydney Greene, a bluff, elderly fellow with legs so bandy you could drive a fam- ily of pigs through them.

One feature of country living is just how robust the class system remains. Locals divide neatly into peasants and masters, with almost nothing in between except a few retired insurance executives and one lonely freelance personal finance journalist.

“I went to London once, just after the war,” Sydney tells me. “Terrible place. Full of conmen and thieves,” he grumbles, and I agree, and assure him that the FSA has pledged to clear things up before scuttling back to my desk.

I am not one of those journalists who mindlessly slags off PRs but one thing always amazes me. When they contact you in advance, say, after receiving a forward features list, and arrange a date and time for their expert to contact you, they never call.

So I am sitting at my desk at 4.30pm ready for a pre-agreed chat with some blue-blood in the private banking industry and I keep on waiting.

So I call an even posher bank where I can hear the fire crackling and Chesterfield sofas creaking. The receptionist’s cut-glass tones make me feel like the scurvy oik I truly am. The private wealth manager I speak to is nice but I still feel thoroughly put in my place. Clearly, the financial services industry is also split into peasants and masters.

The smell rising from the fields suggests that the farmers are out muckspreading, which is a reminder that I have to start a feature on endowment misselling tomorrow.

Perhaps, the most shocking thing about the countryside is just how dark it gets at night. No street lamps. No car headlights. And it’s quiet. No drun- ken chavs staggering back from the pub and vandalising our wheelie bin. No rowdy fund manager parties.

It is dark,and the foxes are wailing outside. Hang on, I recognise that unearthly roar. Olivia. I check my watch. She is running behind schedule.Harvey Jones is a freelance journalist


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