Friday, March 30, 2018

TED BAKER AND MY DOUGH


Ted. Baker. 

Where have you been the past 30 years of my life? I cannot believe that I am coming to the end of my sixth decade and the fashion line has never crossed my radar. Maybe because TB has connotations of nasty illnesses; maybe it’s because, 30 years ago, I was too busy discovering the Issey Miyake Pleats Please range; or maybe it’s because, until yesterday, I thought that Ted Baker was a fashion line in men’s suits.
   
It was a name that always brought to mind “catalogue acting”. You know the kind of thing: ridiculously groomed men sitting akimbo on a chair while trying to sell us a watch/after shave/pin stripe suit.
   
Or maybe it was because I thought that Ted might be the less successful brother of ex-Doctor Who actor Tom Baker – the brother in the shadows who harboured dreams of living life in a Tardis but couldn’t hack gravity and compromised by going into men’s fashion.
   
Anyway, now I know. Ted. Baker. My healthy bank balance as I know it is over.
   
In New York, I belong to various societies and clubs, and one of the most successful and active is the St George’s Society. Their functions raise thousands for so many charities, and to attend one of their major events is to be humbled by hearing of the extraordinary hardships so many less fortunate than ourselves have to endure.
   
Last night, I was invited to a champagne and nibbles event at the Ted Baker store on 5th Avenue. I nearly didn’t go. What did I want with a man’s suit? But one of the most glorious things about New York (and there are more I discover on a daily basis) is that it is easy to meet people and make friends in the most unlikely circumstances.
   
To be honest, I was going for that: the social mingling and the free food and drink. Then a dress caught my eye. A stunning white, floaty creation with embroidered birds and leaves. And there was a matching cardigan, too. And OMG, SHOES! It’s not often that free champagne takes a back seat to anything in my life, but this was truly a Eureka! moment.
   
I genuinely don’t shop a lot. I don’t like the music, the crowds, and breaking the zips struggling in and out of things designed for a bonsai tribe. I spend money mainly on travel and socialising, and, in recent years, I’ve been buying very cheap clothes and shoes online. On the rare occasions I have been clothes shopping in the past, it hasn’t ended well. 

Like on the day I had a jolly day sailing on Debbie and Theo Paphitis’s boat in Marbella and, after a glass or two, decided that I was rich, too, and went into Puerto Banus where I spent over eight grand on a dress. Buyer’s remorse doesn’t begin to cover what I subsequently went through. The Spanish police had me on suicide watch.
   
I told them all about it in Ted Baker yesterday as they tried to keep up with my Everest of goodies. Shocking pink pants (trousers, to you in the UK), black pearly pants, black top, a cardigan, oh, and yes, what would they all be without the shoes and hang on, wouldn’t those rose gold sparkly trainers just be the icing on the cake (a multi-tiered cake by now. They didn’t use the surname Baker for nothing).
   
I can’t remember the last time I was so excited by a purchase and, this morning, I have no buyer’s remorse, because I love it all. In fact, I have the opposite, although I’ve been looking for hours on Google to find out what that is, and it doesn’t seem to exist. 

Anyway, whatever it is, I have it: the thing that isn’t buyer’s remorse, but buyer’s I Have to Go Back to Ted Baker Today Because I Missed a Few Things emotion. 

That shocking pink bag that has zips up the sides so that you can change the colour of the panels. I have decided I really can’t live without it; I am already filing the insurance claim for when I leave it on a train/in a bar. But it's a definite no to the turkey feather bag, unless they throw in the flesh as well and I have Christmas Day covered. 

Then there were those other shoes – the suede ones, in the shocking pink AND the pale pink of my other pants (sorry, yes; I forgot to mention that I had to have the pale pink pants as well).
   
Ted Baker’s founder and CEO Ray Kelvin opened his first store in Glasgow in 1988 and has built the company into a worldwide luxury brand. And, here’s the thing: it’s really not that expensive. I’m truly knocked out by it. As a small person, normally it’s hard to get anything that fits me without having to bring in a tailor and a topiarist to dispense with at least fifty quid’s worth of redundant hemline.
   
And gosh, this collection is breathtaking. You can almost smell spring in the cherry blossom pinks; your spirit soars with the embroidered birds on the purest white clouds of fabric; it’s a collection that tells us that winter has closed its doors and hope is on the way.

And did I mention that it's daytime wearable, yet glamorous at the same time? And something for all ages. Yes, even for those of us fast approaching our seventh decade. 

Ted Baker makes me feel young again.
   
That’s it. I can bear it no longer. I am on way back. They close in seven hours. I have people to see. Shoes to buy. 

At least I know if I’m ever asked to do a TED talk, I already have the first word covered.
    


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

SWEET TALKING


No, no, no, no, no. 

The decision by Mars to turn the plump, round Malteser into a flat button has sent shivers of horror down the spines of those of us for whom it is their favourite sweet. 
   
For those of my generation, the Malteser box was the glamorous delicacy you gazed at longingly at the cinema: every rattling bauble a new jewel to be savoured. Not that you ever got as far as the wrapping, though – your parents having told you they were too expensive, as you clung to the small tube of pastilles they’d bought you before attending.
   
The consumption of a Malteser is a gastric art form: first, a tiny bite of the chocolate, breaking the virgin seal where the promise of crisp honeycomb lurks beyond. Then, nibble by nibble, your teeth taking off each piece of the jigsaw until the beige baldness shines in all its glory. 

And, oh, what glory. The slow melt of gold as the bubbles burst on your tongue; the final cloying stickiness that gradually melts between your teeth. The decision which one to have next – seemingly all the same but, like snowflakes, all completely different. Now, apparently because of falling sales, we are to get a button. Are there not enough buttons and their ilk in the sweet world already?
   
Manufacturers destroy entire personal histories when they re-design our sweeties. Remember when Cadbury, without any warning, dropped the Orange Crème from Milk Tray? The Orange Truffle tried to sneak its way in, hoping that no one would notice, but the interloper was soon exposed, and national outcry ensued.
   
There was another fiasco with Rowntree when they tried to re-invent the Aero bar (what is it about bubbles that these people don’t understand?). One day, the Aero bar was filled with bubbles - a bit like the Polo mint, the marketing was in the hot air that filled in the gaps. It was even patented. 

Such was Aero’s bubble success, Rowntree decided to expand. They made bubbles mint flavoured; then they made them orange flavoured. As the Only Milk Chocolate Aero in the Sweet Shop Village, the original Aero bar had a right to be concerned, but had to accept that its new cousins were all part of the same family.
   
Then, it all went horribly wrong: Rowntree decided to change not only Aero’s inside, but its overcoat, and the sweet world was never the same again.
   
One minute, Aero was Woody in Toy Story: Aero Man, with its big, creamy, bubbly, milk chocolate hat; then, they chose to make it Caramel Lightyear, a smothering, cocky concoction of soft toffee, hated not only by everyone who loved Old Aero, but other sweeties, who consigned it to the leftover baskets in supermarkets. To this day, Rowntree keep trying to reinvent the bubble.
   
Then there was Twix. They tried a new low calorie version that, like sticky Aero, found itself heaped into rejects crates at cash tills.
   
I predict the same disaster for the flat Malteser. Now, here’s a revolutionary thought, Mars. How about putting them back in the bags that were easy to open? Maybe it’s not that people have gone off the sweet, but they can’t get at the darned things anymore. 

And tell the guys over at Cadbury to do the same things with their Flakes that now require a saw to reach the chocolate log. 
   
Save Our Maltesers. 

The campaign starts here.



Friday, March 16, 2018

MY ACCIDENTAL LIFE OF CRIME


My three years living in Paris gave me a taste for life outside the UK, where the weather, for the first time in my life, started getting me down. fantasised about moving to Spain or Italy, where Brits were flocking to take advantage not only of the sun but the euro, which, three years after its inception, was still at an exchange rate that benefited us considerably more than the countries where it had become standard currency.
   
My trips to Paris had taken place exclusively on the Eurostar. I had not flown for nine years, a fear that had not been alleviated fn January 2005, that was all about to change, when I was invited by a PR company to attend the opening of a new television channel that was launching on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. For legal reasons, let’s call it Costa TV, and also change the names and personal details of every single person involved in the entire venture (I might even include my own in this). Travelling by private jet, along with several journalists and TV executives hoping to get a slice of what seemed likely to be very lucrative action, we arrived in hot winter sunshine and prepared to meet the brains (and, more importantly, the money) behind the venture that we hoped would change all our lives.
   
The channel had been set up by a Russian called Mitya (I repeat: as I value my limbs, all personalities and details have been substantially changed, but Mitya, meaning “lover of earth”, captures the essence of this driven, but also very spiritual, individual – just as Karp, as I shall call him, meaning “profits”, captures the spirit of his financial sidekick).
   
Mitya, who had launched his own property company (let’s call it Sunkissed Villas) saw the television station largely as a means to advertise his properties. When we arrived at the station’s headquarters in Estepona, there was just one programme being aired on Costa, a truly dreadful magazine show featuring C List ex-celebs from the British entertainment scene, talking in monotones on golf courses about the joys of buying a place in the sun. Mitya had turned to the high-profile PR company to find the right people to run the station, which he wanted to use not only as a means to sell property, but as a vehicle to change the world. What Mitya wanted most of all was a channel that would convert the Western World to fasting, preferably for weeks at a time; what the people the PR firm brought in to run it wanted was hardcore show business (involving some of the talent the PR already had on its books). These managers therefore included an ex-soap producer, an ex-talent show producer, and people very close to top-notch showbiz personalities, who, it was hoped, would hop aboard and sprinkle their gold dust on the project.
   
They really were the top people in the world of television: award-winners, who had made their names on hugely successful shows and who clearly thought they were going to be able to repeat that success for Costa, with the added bonus of enjoying a great climate in which to do it. The Spanish company could not have wished for a better dream package, but in bringing in the best, it immediately showed up how weak the already resident incumbents actually were.
   
One major problem from the start was the confrontation between an American called Bill, who was the station boss, and the main PR man, Sam. Bill’s first problem was that he spoke millions upon millions of words, seemingly in one breath; his second was that not one of them meant anything. Sam, by contrast, seemed quiet, but was hugely successful and highly experienced in the art of subtle manipulation, and the two men hated each other. Bill flew everywhere First Class, having meetings with heaven knows who, about heaven knows what; nobody really knew, and he wasn’t going to start explaining it to Sam. There was still just one programme on the channel, and as a new workforce arrived each morning, usually beautiful young Russian girls whom Mitya had met in a bar the night before, it became increasingly unlikely that Costa and the great British entertainment establishment were ever going to join forces.
   
Mitya and I got on very well from the start; so much so, that he invited me back to talk more about TV – which would, of course, involve more drinking. We both enjoyed red wine, lots of it, and Mitya had the cash to pay a couple of hundred euros a bottle for it. Who was I to turn it down? I returned for another three weeks when, between bottles, Mitya tried to make sense of what was, to him, the nonsensical workings of British TV; but there was excitement in the air, as one of the ex-talent show producers was due to start work on a new “secret” show, and talk of other ideas was filling people with optimism. Or would have done, had Mitya known the first thing about TV or, more importantly, viewers. His pet project was a fasting show in which three Ukrainians went to live in a villa for six weeks and starved themselves. There, they would do yoga, meditate and drink water (apart from Olek, who had decided to go the first 11 days living just on air). Big Brother it wasn’t, but it was to this gem that the ex-talent show producer was assigned. Mitya was beside himself with joy: this, he was convinced, would be the show to make the world see how much healthier you could be if you stopped stuffing your body with toxins. This philosophy did not extend to his own rather excessive drinking habits, but making a programme about people stronger than he was in this respect was clearly his form of abstention. In order to enter into the same spirit of deprivation and give myself a much-needed two day break from alcohol, I suggested to Mitya that I join the Ukrainians in the villa for 48 hours and write a piece about the experience.
   
Mitya was ecstatic, as he always was during the first two minutes when anyone suggested a new idea to him. So, I was put on the case.
I’d been sent on better jobs than ones that involved my having to watch Ukrainian TV with three people who had not one word of English between them, but the camera crew showed me where the food was hidden in their Winnebago, should I falter.
   
I lasted 16 and a half hours before weakening and having two digestive biscuits. No food had ever tasted so good – well, apart from the crew’s leftover McDonald’s and fries I took from the rubbish bin in the Winnebago half an hour later. I left before clocking up 20 hours, but it was enough to endear me even more to Mitya, who suggested that I do some work for the company and spend more time in Spain. The company paid for an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean for me, and within weeks I was sitting in my own office, trying to come up with ideas for programmes that Mitya might like. He was particularly taken with Good Morning Marbella, which I saw as a kind of British This Morning, and, at Mitya’s insistence, he told me to bring in the people who could do it. “I like this programme!” he squealed, lying on his back on his couch in his office. “We go on air next week!”
   
Pre-production was not a concept that came easily to Mitya, but he was sufficiently enthused to listen to more ideas from two producer friends working in Wales. “I like this programme!” he squealed, when they flew over and shared their ideas about Good Morning Marbella. “You come back five o’clock, we talk more about programme.” Back we went at five o’clock, sat down and started to talk about the series we had spent the intervening eight hours discussing. “Stop!” said Mitya, holding up his hand. “I do not like this programme now.”
   
It was the same with every idea anyone took to him. Meanwhile, back at the villa, the Ukrainians battled on, and the production team was ready to show Mitya a first cut.
   
He was furious, claiming that the programme was not serious enough. Okay, the producer had once worked on Stars in Their Eyes, but Air in Their Bellies didn’t exactly have people jumping out from behind a screen and declaring: “Tonight, Matthew, I would kill for a steak and chips.” The producer had really done the best he could with, let’s be honest, shit subject matter.
   
Mitya was especially put out when Olek was on camera, coughing a lot and saying that he was very unwell, a situation explained by the English subtitles. “No, no, no!” said Mitya, “He is not ill; it is the toxins coming out of his system.” So, the finished product featured Olek coughing up his guts and declaring his sickness in Ukrainian, but accompanied by the English subtitle: “These are just the toxins coming out of my system.”
   
I met with Mitya every day, when he would question me about what I thought about his station. “Eet eess sheet!” he was fond of announcing, and I had to agree. Then there were dinners, huge events, at which more strange Russians appeared, said nothing, and left. We asked no questions and just kept drinking the generous supplies of wine.
   
Mitya decided I would make a very good spy and I was asked to keep an eye on proceedings and report back about where the money was going. So I did. I was stunned, for example, to see how much money Bill was spending. A local lad with the level of talent that wouldn’t top an eyebath was one day filming a couple of links for a new series, and there were 17 people on the set, including three holding sun umbrellas; there was even a catering truck. I told Mitya of my concerns and the unnecessary expense (I have always treated my employers’ money as if it were my own; it doesn’t always go down well with other employees, as I was about to discover).
   
“You are right!” said Mitya. “I went down there! It was like a fucking James Bond set!”
   
He nevertheless kept giving Bill the money he wanted, until one day I was called to a meeting in Mitya’s house. We sat around a table the size of a circus ring. Bill was sitting opposite me, and the latest set of Russian babes sat with their notebooks, poised to write down yet more details about the complex world of TV that Russian property magnates were having difficulty comprehending.
   
“So, Bill,” began Mitya. “Jaci tells me you spend too much of my money. Jaci. Begin.” All eyes turned to me. The newcomer. I had already upset Sue, the Head of Programmes, by my very arrival. Several of my reviews had been unfavourable to one of her previous projects in the UK, which was possibly one of the reasons she had fled to Spain to begin writing a new slate. And there I was again.
   
“Er,” I stammered, before going on to detail some of the appalling waste I had seen (naturally, this did not include the apartment overlooking the Mediterranean on a year’s lease for a short dark Welsh TV critic).
   
“What the fuck’s it got to do with her!” screamed Bill. And he didn’t stop screaming. Mitya, who had a tendency to switch sides with the flip of a coin, started empathising with Bill, even down to the three sun umbrellas, which were allegedly required props in the Spanish sun. Oh, for goodness sake, I wanted to cry, Poirot didn’t have three sun umbrellas in Murder on the Nile, but I kept my mouth shut, because now Mitya wanted us to hug, make up and join forces. “My channel will be great!” he said, delighted at the outcome of the meeting.
   
Three weeks later, Bill was gone. Next came Danny. He was already in the office and had a strong background in design, which was even more unsuited to starving Ukrainians than Stars in Their Eyes had been. He didn’t last a fortnight. Then Mitya was leaving the car-park one evening and spotted another employee, Trevor, just getting into his car. “Trevor! You must run station for me!” Trevor, who was, in fact, a vastly experienced, brilliant editor, was caught unawares and accepted on the spot, but as with all people having power bestowed upon them unexpectedly, quickly turned into another monster. Despite my continuing good relationship with Mitya, I suspected that my days were numbered and, as more and more programmes failed to make it onto the channel, so, I suspected, were Trevor’s, the Russian babes’ and the PR’s. But Trevor was going to give it his best shot.
   
I wasn’t optimistic when he began his stint with the words: “I don’t give a fuck what Mitya wants; that’s not what the channel’s about.” Short of going to the local DIY store and buying his own rope and beam, it was hard to see how Trevor could have been better prepared for hanging himself.
   
He began by working closely with Karp to try to clear the detritus left by Bill’s management, but like everyone else Mitya put in charge, Trevor was way off Mitya’s radar. So were most people, but, at the end of the day, it was Mitya’s radar, Mitya’s planet, and you either signed up to it or cleared off. That’s not because Mitya was any kind of dictator - far from it. But you had to throw yourself into the craziness of his world and his bizarre ideas if you wanted to survive.
   
Trevor decided that he was going to buy Eldorado. This third rate soap, broadcast by the BBC between July 1992 and July 1993, was a piece of work as far off Mitya’s radar as it was possible to get. Mitya had the makings of a 19th century philosopher, a Romantic poet and a French aesthete (he spoke French, along with five other languages), with an Eastern European passion for looking into the recesses of man’s darkest moments and innermost soul. What Mitya was not, could never be, was an Eldorado viewer. Not in this millennium or the next. Not even when the last man on earth returned ashes to ashes, dust to dust, would Mitya and Eldorado ever share so much as a sangria if they were both dying of thirst. But Trevor wanted Eldorado. Worse, Trevor got it. Even worse, Mitya was coming round to the idea. He had clearly been pushed in this direction by the arrival of the very pretty Rosetta, a close friend of one of the executives on Eldorado when it first aired. Suddenly, Trevor, Rosetta and Mitya started to use my office for secret discussions, holed up like the witches of Eastwick day and night, while I was consigned to sitting on a bench outside, drinking copious amounts of rose, but now in my new role as cast-off. Rosetta slipped in under the wire when Mitya, tired of trying to convert the world to fasting, decided that Kung-Fu was the activity that would bring about spiritual enlightenment in the Western World. Before you could say “Haaa-yaaaagh!” or whatever it is Kung-Fu folk say, Rosetta was head of Kung-Fu DVDs, and my role was fast diminishing. When the Eastwick Three briefly vacated my office one afternoon, I sneaked in and saw my business cards a little closer to the wastepaper bin than I felt comfortable with. That was how you knew when Mitya had given someone the sack: you just looked in their bin in the morning and, if the contents of their office life were there, you knew that was that.
   
I went to Mitya’s office to talk about new projects (Good Morning Marbella having bitten the dust long before, when the producer I had brought in got outrageously drunk in front of him). He was whingeing about his new PA, who had not been able to find the right cherries at the market that morning. Every day, Mitya’s PA was dispatched to find several kinds of fruit that Mitya would consume throughout the day. On this particular one, she had been out for five sets of cherries that came back too ripe, too red, too yellow, too hard, not sweet enough. Mitya was talking to a friend in his office when Katarina came in with bag number six. She dropped them on the desk and turned to leave. As she reached the door, Mitya took a gun from his top drawer and aimed it at her back. “She is fucking useless.” I breathed a sigh of relief when she safely made it to the other side without a bullet in her back. “It’s all right,” said Mitya. “My friend, he is police officer.” Phew. That’s all right, then. After that, I dared not ask what my future held, but I was soon to discover that it wasn’t much when, after returning from two weeks’ holiday, I arrived at the office to find it full of Kung-Fu DVDs and my name removed from the door.
   
Costa was sold, amid mounting debts. I was paid a small amount, but left being owed a lot of money. People who had given up everything to work there lost even more. Thankfully, I had not given up my Daily Mail column and not listened to Sue, when she suggested a programme to Mitya that would begin with me handing in my notice at the paper (nice try, love) to begin a new, penniless life on the Costa del Sol. “I like this programme!” Mitya had said.
   
I never saw him again. He is currently an internationally wanted criminal – for money laundering through a pretend TV station in Spain, amid goodness knows what else. 

Blimey. Ever realise you’ve been had? 

Still, the Rioja was real.  



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

JOHN MAHONEY - RIP

Actors die all the time, but none has left me with such a feeling of overwhelming sadness as that of the passing of John Mahoney, who died on Sunday at the age of 77.
      
Blackpool born Mahoney was a distinguished movie and TV actor who is best known for playing Frasier Crane’s father, Marty Crane, in the TV sitcom Frasier, which ran from 1993 to 2004 on NBC. Once asked, in my role as critic, what my favourite TV shows of all time were, Frasier topped my list; it still does. Never a week goes by without my watching at least half a dozen episodes, and I still regard it as the most perfect TV show ever. Writing, storytelling, acting, laugh aloud comedy, timing, production – it ticks every box at the highest level.
   
Mahoney was central to the success of the show. As executive producer and writer Joe Keenan wrote upon hearing of Mahoney’s death, Marty was the “moral center” of the piece. He was. From the very first episode, when Marty disrupted not only Frasier’s social life but his aesthetic space (with his hideous chair), he was the fulcrum around which his dysfunctional sons balanced their chaotic lives. As Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) competed as siblings for social and professional one-upmanship, Marty was forever the bemused voice of reason with his feet always firmly on the ground.
   
There are so many episodes that spring quickly to mind. One is when an overdressed Frasier and Niles are forced to go to their father’s favourite steak house, where, upon entering, their ties are instantly cut in half. They make fun of the service, the décor, the food, and Marty’s irrepressible joy at being totally at home in the environment is in stark contrast. His hurt at his sons’ reaction, citing how ashamed their mother would have been, brings me to tears even just writing about it. If ever there was a moment in acting where the adage less is more holds absolutely true, this is it.
   
They behave equally snobbishly when their father hooks up with Sherrie, a brash brunette whom the boys find embarrassing to be around. It is another example of Marty’s connection to the real world that is anathema to his sons. It his influence that enables them to learn from their mistakes . . . until they go out and make a whole lot of different mistakes.
   
Mahoney brought immense poignancy to the role. In one episode, Frasier and Niles turn against Marty, believing that he once had an affair. It transpires that it was their mother who had been unfaithful, but out of respect for her, Marty had not wanted to taint the boys’ memory of her. Protecting his sons from harsh realities that might hurt them – the role of a fine father – is another aspect of this rich character.
   
Then there is Eddie, Marty’s constant companion, a dog with whom he shares a secret language. They understand one another, comfort one another, and theirs is the strongest relationship in the show. I like to think of Moose (who played Eddie) being reunited with his owner in a galaxy far away. Call me an old softie.
   
Frasier regularly fulfils one of the traditional fundamentals of British theatre – every individual must be alone with each character at some point during the play (I have no idea if this still holds true). In Frasier, those moments often take place in the kitchen (stage left), which provides a conspiratorial backdrop to the action taking place in the living room. 

“Dad/Niles/Frasier, can I see you in the kitchen” is a familiar refrain – my favourite being when Frasier invites station manager Tom over for dinner as a blind date for his father’s live-in physio, Daphne (Jane Leeves). Tom gets the wrong end of the stick and thinks Frasier wants him for himself, and Niles and Marty (as is the audience) are in on the misunderstanding in the kitchen. The genius of the episode (written by Joe Keenan, a master of the farcical) is that you just hear Marty’s uproarious laugh in the distance.
   
It’s good to hear that John was also a joy to work with and, according to all the tributes, a wonderful man who was greatly loved by all who had the good fortune to cross his path. I never met him, but he will always have a place in my heart as one of the true greats.
  
  

   

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MADDIE - TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. 

Ecclesiastes 3 comes back to me today following two weeks of non-stop sobbing, trying to decide whether it is time to have dear Maddie put to sleep.
   
Maddie is my mother’s Bichon Frise. I have known her since she was a puppy, when I drove to West Wales with Mum to pick her up. She was so tiny, she could have fitted into a beer glass, and she spent the journey back to Cardiff, where I was living, trying to escape through the back car window.
   
She was terrified by her new surroundings and kept retreating behind the rubbish bin in my house. She had to take an early visit to the vet to be treated for stress.
   
For the past 12 years, she has lived with Mum in Bristol, and a more adorable, friendly and good-natured dog you could not hope to find. True, she had a penchant for opening the airing cupboard door and building up a supply of bras and pants in her basket, and house-training was pretty much anathema to her. She also devoured several of Mum’s hearing aids; but she was a wonderful companion to Mum, who worshiped her with every fibre of her being.
   
I, too, have had a lot of contact with Maddie throughout her entire life. When she visited me in Cardiff, she was exemplary in her urinary habits, going instantly into the garden when she arrived because she knew there was the reward of a chicken dinner if she did so. She loved the big open space, taking great delight in hiding in the bushes and sending me into hysterical panic, thinking she had escaped (Escape from Alcatraz had been in her blood from the off).
   
In October, Mum had an accident and was admitted to hospital with a fractured kneecap, and Maddie became my full-time companion. Because the dog suffers from severe separation anxiety, she really can’t be left alone. I would see her face outside the shower door, and when I emerged she would frantically lick my wet legs as if I had just survived the Titanic. 

Because I am not allowed pets in my rented property in Bath, I had to live at Mum’s house in Oldland Common in Bristol, and Maddie and I became regulars in the nearby Crown and Horseshoe, where she became mega popular with locals and made friends with other dogs. She was less keen on karaoke nights, when she took refuge in my Robbie Williams hoodie.
   
She also made it in to Bath on the bus, to my favourite local, the Garrick’s Head, always emptying her bladder right outside Sainsbury’s Local – I have no idea why that was her favourite spot. Maybe she was reminding me that Nectar points would not convert to Virgin Air Miles as my Tesco points do.
   
It was Maddie’s first time on public transport, and the bus was also our means of getting to see Mum at the nursing home where she had been moved for rehab. Back in Oldland for just a short time, Mum was again rushed into hospital on New Year’s Eve with a raging temperature and chest infection. She is still there, waiting for a care package to be put in place.
   
Throughout this time, Maddie has been diagnosed with a heart condition; she has dislocated her legs attempting jumps she can no longer manage; and, two weeks ago, her tests came back to show she has Cushing’s Disease. It’s incurable and manageable, but, as the vet pointed out, with everything else going on, she is not a well dog.
   
Stephen Pullan at Oldland House Veterinary Surgery, has been extraordinary. Explaining every symptom and condition in easy to understand language, while displaying a sublime level of care, he has been as much a counsellor to me in my distress as he has been doctor to the dog – as has Helen, the wonderful receptionist.
   
And so came the options: keep her going a little bit longer on the heart tablets and start her on treatment for Cushing’s (which were likely to make her more sick), or have her euthanised. Mum was heartbroken, as was I. Never have I cried so much. After a very bad fall before Christmas, I am still nursing cracked ribs and am not very mobile. With little help, either practical or emotional, it’s sent me spiralling downwards, while my blood pressure rockets. Friends nearby have been supportive, as have so many people on Facebook, even complete strangers, one of whom sent me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. My friends Debbie and Theo Paphitis saved my lonely Christmas by sending me enough goodies to see me through to next year. 

I could no longer cope with the stress, and Maddie has been staying with Joan, a friend of a friend, who has shown her so much love and care. Twice, in the past week, I went to see Maddie to assess the situation.
   
She went wild when she saw me. Barking and barking to be picked up and sitting as close as she could to me on the sofa. I could see deterioration, but was she saying: “It’s okay, you can let me go”, or “Please don’t do this, I’m not ready”? Trying to interpret canine sign language tore me apart. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever tried to make.
   
She is a tired little dog. She struggles with breathing and, although still enjoying short walks and eating, she became less comfortable. I struggled and struggled with what was best for her. She was not going to recover, and when her “currant eyes” as we always called them looked up at me, I didn’t know if I would have the strength to lose her; the well was empty. I tried talking to her, explaining the situation. She licked my hand non-stop. Then she sighed, lay down and went to sleep again.
   
Last night, she took a severe turn for the worse. She was struggling badly with her breathing and spent most of the night in the corner of the room, scratching the carpet. She is in great distress, panting non-stop, and I know what I have to do. 100%. Mum has trusted me to make the right decision. I’m spending a few hours with Maddie this afternoon before her visit to the vet at 6pm. I have no idea how to say goodbye.
   
I am crying for Mum as much as I am for Maddie. Incarcerated and separated from her beloved pet, this is the most devastating time for her. I know that my brother, who also adores Maddie, will be distraught, too. The hospital offered Mum the chance to see her, but she thinks that would be worse. I agree.
   
There is a time to be born and a time to die. Dear Maddie’s time is up and I don’t want her to suffer. She has had a wonderful life, filled with lots of fun and so much love from so many people.
   
When I recently watched A Dog’s Purpose on a flight, I cried non-stop. Maddie has had a long, purposeful life in the love and pleasure she returned a million fold. This is one of the worst days of my life. I know I am not the first and won’t be the last to go through it. 

There is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Today, I weep for our darling girl.