Insider spots talent at Zurich, looks forward to the cricket season and steers clear of the FSA

And so to Manchester, for this year’s Biba conference. The late nights, the laughs, the gossip, the deals. And of course, the booths. Credit crunch or not, the exhibitors will be putting on a good show this year.

So start by grabbing a cocktail at the Bluefin bar – try a tequila sunrise because that’s about the only decent weather you’re going to get in Manchester. Then make your way to the Towergate Big Brother “diary room” where you can let off steam on camera. Careful, though – a little bird tells me that Andy Homer and Peter Cullum might be lurking behind the two-way mirror. Once you’ve been evicted, stroll on down to the CII’s stand for a game of snooker with world number four Mark Selby. His nickname is the Jester from Leicester, and you can tell him your name is Joker Broker.

I suggest ending the tour with Cunningham Lindsey’s money grabber game. You stand in a tank trying to grab fake notes being blown around by jets of air. Ah, if only they were real.

All in all, it should be a great few days and if you see me, don’t forget to say hello.

Let’s hear it for Grace’s amazing vocals

Has Zurich Financial Services got the X Factor? James Schiro, its chief executive, believes so. Visiting his employees in Fareham he came across Grace O’Gorman dealing with a customer who wanted her to sing over the phone instead of putting the customer on hold. Schiro does a regular employee roadshow video and could not resist asking Grace to sing the Carpenters’ “Close to You” (“Why do birds suddenly appear . . .” and so on) for the camera. The entire office joined in on backing vocals. Surely it won’t be long before we see Zurich copying T-Mobile’s singalong in Trafalgar Square or flashmob dance in Liverpool Street?

Masks on for symptom regulation

Take pity on the FSA. Just when the beleaguered regulator thought things couldn’t get any worse, one of its trusty footsoldiers came down with the dreaded swine flu. Ten members of staff who came into contact with him have been asked to work from home for the next seven days to prevent any infection spreading. The FSA has refused to name the department they work in – but if your Arrow visit is postponed, you’ll know why.

On the other hand, if the boys from the FSA do turn up on your doorstep, you might want to invest in a gas mask.

Will ABI cricketers get a break?

And so the cricket season begins. Allianz has a nice little box at Lord’s for seasonal indulgence and I hear they had a jolly old knees-up as they watched England get off to a flyer against the West Indies last week. The last time England won an opening match in a Test was in 2004 against Bangladesh, the perennial whipping boys of international cricket.

But if England is looking for a crumb of comfort, they need look no further than the ABI’s cricket team. They’ve had a miserable run over the past few years and haven’t strung together any wins in ages. They’re really scraping the barrel in search for a victory, and are now up against the Tories’ HQ. I wonder who’s picking up the tab?

I feel so broke up, I wanna go home

Still reeling from his beloved Arsenal’s trouncing by Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final last week, Biba’s Steve White would rather be anywhere than in Manchester this week. To rub salt into the wounds, Manchester United host Arsenal at Old Trafford this Saturday. I hear Steve has booked himself out on the early train from Manchester that morning to avoid any memory of Arsenal’s horror show.

Be a time lord at Willis

I was late for a meeting with an old London market pal at the Willis building last week. Not known for my punctuality, I arrived in a stir and promptly signed in. Although I was more than 10 minutes late, the time on my ID badge said I was in fact five minutes early. Apparently, it’s done on purpose to make you feel good. Which is very kind of them. IT