Sunday, March 21, 2021

Covid Smugness - the New Pandemic

There are many areas of life during Covid that have highlighted the essential goodness of humanity: kindness towards others, compassion, the tireless, selfless dedication on the part of essential workers. But the pandemic has also highlighted an aspect of the human personality that not even Covid can suppress: smugness.

As the virus has developed through its various stages from its arrival to the glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, people have not been able to help themselves competing for the accolade of doing better than their contemporaries. 

Here, then, are the Seven Ages of Pan:

1. Denial. Haven’t had it, won’t get it. These are the people who, from day one, did not recognize the pandemic and were wont to utter the words, “I never get sick,” “I’m not fat,” “I’ve had my flu jab,” “It’s all a con,” et al. Worst advocate: President Donald Trump, who said, early on, that it would go away overnight and it would be “beautiful.” For the record: Trump caught Covid, and the virus didn’t go away. He is fat, however.

2. First Wavers. The people who survived it and lived to tell the tale. Most smug in this group are the “It’s not as bad as they say,” utterers, who immediately began booking their holidays to Italy, only to be turned away at the airport.

3. Antibody separatists. Insufferably smug. After been tested to see whether they have had the virus, they are thrilled to discover that they have the antibodies and are probably immune (though the jury is out on exactly how long for: some say three months, others ten years). Every time someone comes within a foot of them and screams in terror, they say, with a very satisfied smile: “It’s fine, I have the antibodies.” Fear of eating indoors? You must be joking! “I have the antibodies.” Fancy coming round for dinner?  “It’s fine, I have the antibodies.”

4. First Jabbers. Smugness was raised several notches at this stage with those who were first on the list to receive a vaccination (and I am NOT including our health workers and first responders here – they deserved to get the jab first and are way too busy to be smug). “I’ve had my first jab” replaced “I have the antibodies” as the smug phrase of the time, taking the limelight centre stage as the antibody separatists reluctantly took their place in the wings.  

5. First Jabbers – My country’s better than your country. Easily the most competitive stage, with an unprecedented level of Brexit-style smugness. “You waited how long? In my village, I was in and out in two minutes.” When I told people that I took 8308 steps and walked 3.8 miles for my first vaccine at Manhattan’s Javits Center yesterday, the response was like a rundown of every Olympic 100meter sprint since time began. “How long? That sound horrendous! I was in and out in 9.8 seconds” and the like. I DON’T CARE! The Javits Center was on target to vaccinate 8995 people yesterday, and I’d still rather be living in Manhattan that anywhere in the UK. Yes, anywhere. So, you can stick that smugness where the virus doesn’t shine. 

6. First Jabbers – Feeling Fine. The initially united camp of those receiving the first vaccination has quickly split into two, with the people who suffer no side effects lording it over those whose after-effects include aches and pains, fever, headaches, fatigue etc. etc. “I was fine, drank a bottle of wine immediately afterwards,” “Went for a run,” “Wrote a book” – the implication is that those who suffer side effects must be weaklings who are never going to make anything of their lives if they spent it whingeing and bigging up every twitch and chill they endure.

7. First Jabbers – My vaccine’s better than your vaccine. “Which one did you have?” “Moderna.”  “Ooh, that’s a shame; they say that one’s not as effective.” “Pfizer, apparently, it’s the best.” Newest kids to the smug block are the Johnson and Johnson devotees, who will require just one jab instead of two. In the US, they are also rolling out a program to administer them door to door for people unable to leave the house. 

So, that’s where we’re currently at, but as people are now starting to receive their second jabs, I sense we are entering a whole new era of smugness. 

I’m already in training. “You have to wait how long for the second? Six weeks? That’s odd; my second one’s in 21 days.”

And, for the record, I had Covid (and it wasn’t that bad – yes, I know that’s not the case for everyone; stay with the joke here), I survived it, I had the antibodies, I’ve had my first jab in the best country, I’ve had no side effects, and I opened a bottle of wine after having the Pfizer vaccination, which really is the best.

So there.

Smug, or what?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Not the American Dream


1. Gained a pound – in weight, and also on the stock exchange, where I feel I am no Elon Musk.

2. Watched snow falling. Then watched it melt. 

3. Bought a ton of Clinique cosmetics online and yet still don’t look like Emilia Clarke, who is advertising their new serum-based foundation. I was caught the same way (many times) with onboard shopping on Virgin Atlantic, when Eva Longoria was advertising Estée Lauder mascara in the magazine. I continue to look nothing like her, either. 

4. Did some much-needed FaceTime (not the Clinique sort) with family and friends.

5. Bought a ton of Bobbi Brown make-up, as I could see no celebrity endorsement and would not spend the rest of the week being depressed because I don’t look like Emilia Clarke.

6. Watched three episodes of Russell T. Davies’s Channel 4 series, It’s a Sin. I’ve been saying for months that Covid has reminded me of the Eighties and Aids – in particular, the conspiracy theorists and lack of government information. The drama has hit the zeitgeist. 

7. Went house shopping online to Croatia, Valencia, Barcelona, Paris, the Gower Coast, Bordeaux… I couldn’t afford anything, so I stayed in and opened another bottle of wine.

8. Vacuumed the blackheads in my nose with my new device that has finally cured a lifelong blemish. I used another battery-operated device to shave the hair from my upper lip, which makes me a dead ringer for a German dictator every morning (can’t name him, because algorithms pick up on the name and put me on the naughty step, assuming I am a sympathizer). 

9. Spent a sleepless night worrying about how I would spend the Mega Millions lottery if I won it. Plastic surgery to make me look like Eva Longoria topped the list. For the record, I didn’t win.

10. Sent off my forms to audition for the US version of The Voice. I’m not joking.

11. Spent a sleepless night worrying about whether I wanted to spend months in Vegas when I get my residency there, after winning The Voice. Sometimes, I think I worry too much. 

12. Had lunch with my dear, and mega-talented musician friend, Emiliano. We managed just an appetizer before the outdoor dining in NYC (indoors at 25% returns on February 14th) started to give us frostbite. I think I started calling him Melania, owing to the difficulty of uttering so many syllables in sub-zero temperatures. 

13. Went to the Roosevelt Bar (in Hudson Valley Food Hall), my local in Beacon, NY. Felt so grateful for indoor dining upstate, even at just 50% capacity. There was also live music on Wednesday night. I am grateful for every atom of normality at the moment.

14. Thought I might buy a dog.

15. Decided not to have a dog because I could well be 79 when it dies if it lives as long as our others did. Heck, it could end up having to organize my funeral. 

16. Tried to follow the stock exchange drama unfolding with Reddit and Robinhood. The latter seemed not to have done their homework, as they ended up giving more to the rich.

17. Watched the pound rise to its highest against the dollar in three years.

18. Watched the pound go down against the dollar again.

19. Wrote a novel.

20. Lied about having written a novel. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sex and Death - What Else Is There?

What is it about a global pandemic that brings out the love of murder in people?

I know that the TV and movie-watching audience has always been fascinated by the subject, but it’s still interesting during lockdown that on the UK channel ITV, the two biggest hits in recent months have been Des (about the serial killer Dennis Nilson) and The Pembrokeshire Murders (about the serial killer John Cooper) or, as I now like to call it, the Pandemicshire Murders.

At the other end of the spectrum, viewers have gone wild for Bridgerton (created by Chris Van Dusen), the first production from Shonderland’s Shonda Rimes (executive producer), who also brought us Scandal and Gray’s Anatomy. 

Having signed an exclusive deal with Netflix for an eye-watering sum, she must be thrilled with the response, as must Netflix.

It’s not your average costume drama. It’s very, very funny, with a great cast, and Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page (as Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset) bring to the sex scenes a chemistry that has even elderly viewers reaching for a cold flannel (trust me: I’ve talked to them). 

In our current climate, it’s the escapist fantasy we all need, although it’s clear that Julia Quinn, on whose books the series is based, is no Jane Austen. Think more Barbara Cartland with bigger breasts - ginormous, to be honest; there are scenes where you think the entire Himalayan range has dropped in for tea.

There’s not even a whiff of death, but both ends of the spectrum tell us very basic things about the viewing public, and probably human nature in general: at the end of the day, all that really matters is sex and death. 

The beginning and the end.  

Friday, January 15, 2021

Hold Fast - in the City That Never Surrenders

The phrase “the city that never sleeps” has never rung less true than during the pandemic, particularly during the early stages, when NYC was the epicenter of the crisis. But even while it appeared to be in a deep slumber, I liked to think of it as just dozing. Resting. And, this being New York, I was never in any doubt that it would wake from its slumbers. It is the city that never surrenders.

Just as we saw after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, this is a place in which people really step up in times of crisis. Even in normal times, in six years of living here I have discovered nothing but kindness in a city in which people really do look out for each other. 

I have never come across the alleged rudeness of New Yorkers; step off London’s Heathrow Express at Paddington Station after landing in the UK – you’ll meet more rudeness in minutes than in a year of being in NYC.

Broadway is dead and, as a result, the surrounding bars and restaurants are suffering big time, too (and it’s not just in the city). Constricted to outdoor dining while the rest of the state enjoys indoor hospitality at 50% capacity, it’s a struggle to attract customers as the East Coast temperatures plummet.

And yet… and yet… owners have not only stepped up to the mark but well over it.

Take my local hostelry, Hold Fast. Smack bang in the middle of theatreland on 46th and 9th, it was opened in 2017 by partners Shane Hathaway, Jason Clark. and Jason’s wife, Kiara, and is a regular haunt not just for theatre goers but locals. 

It responded quickly to takeaway menus, including themed cocktails relating to the crisis (I particularly liked one named after the New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo). 

When indoor dining briefly resumed last year, I had my birthday dinner there. They have a good choice of wines (including excellent European ones – highly unusual in NYC - and the food menu is ever-expanding and changing. 

My current favorites are the burrata in a tomato sauce, and the three-bean chilli (it is compulsory to order food with drinks in New York).

They have transformed their outdoor space into a safe, socially distanced dining area, complete with screens separating tables, and heaters. Even in January, it is surprisingly comfortable.

Now, they have launched the most extraordinary initiative to help artists, over 50% of whom found themselves out of work when the entertainment industry shut down.

It’s called Hold Fast to the Arts and asks people to support the performing arts to sponsor an eligible individual’s dining experience at the restaurant.

Brilliant. With a minimum $40 sponsorship, it ensures not only the chance to eat out for those struggling financially but sends them a message that people really care and that they remain a part of the community, even though they are unable to perform. 

We are holding fast in a time of crisis.

You can read more at and, if you’re in the area, do pop by. It is the most welcoming place in the city, and the creativity with which Jason, Shane and Kiara have adapted their skills (Shane is also a fabulous photographer and has taken some incredible shots in this bizarrely transformed environment) is both admirable and heart-warming.

If you can contribute something, great; if you are in need and would like to be a recipient of a meal, don’t be too proud to say so. All details are on the website. 

We’re all in this together.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

60 Things Not To Do After 60


1.    Regret anything. You’re too damned late and you’ll be dead before you get the chance to put it all right.

2.    Queue, unless you can blag your way to the front. Anything you want to see is on the telly or in a book.

3.    Try to understand men. Stop. You never will. They aren’t just from Mars; they are from another solar system yet to be discovered by real humans.

4.    Get your tits out for the lads. You should have stopped doing that 20, or even 30, years ago. No one wants to see them anymore.

5.    Believe in God. He ain’t there.

6.    Drink and text. You can’t hold your alcohol as well as you used to, and you have never got to grips with your iPhone touchpad screen.

7.    Run up an escalator that is going down. You won’t make it. Trust me on this one #paramedicsalert.

8.    Get in touch with exes on social networking. They really have moved on. You should, too.

9.    Take up ice-skating. Are you nuts?

10.  Tell the doctor how many units of alcohol you drink. They really do know that 13 means 30 (plus).

11.  Tell anyone that William Hartnell was the best ever Dr Who.

12.  Sleep on the sofa because you can’t be arsed to walk 10 feet to the bedroom.

13.  Be lazy, drunkenly heading for the bathroom in the middle of the night. The white telephone table in the hallway only looks like the toilet; you have several more feet to go.

14.  Think that topping yourself is the answer to everything. You’ll never find out whether it really was.

15.  Lose touch with your oldest friends. They’ve stuck with you this long, so you can’t be all bad.

16.  Talk to yourself on the street. Nobody likes a loony.

17.  Think you will ever be rich. You won’t. You have left it way too late.

18.  Have Botox. You will look like a pastry case with no filling and people will wonder why you are smiling when they tell you their entire family has been killed in a plane crash.

19.  Buy a dog. It could well outlive you and probably have to be put down once it has paid its respects by urinating on your grave.

20.  Get married – unless there is loads of money, loads of sex, or a Green Card in it for you.

21.  Take advice from people. They are only ever talking about themselves.

22.  Think that life was so much better when you were poorer. At least you get to cry over a glass of champagne now, rather than tap water.

23.  Wear a bikini. You will just look like an underdressed tree trunk.

24.  Think you can make someone fall in love with you. They will or they won’t. It’s that simple. And that complicated.

25.  Start looking up every ache and pain on Google, or you will think you have five minutes to live.

26.  Check the gray in your pubic hair. It will really depress you.

27.  Check the gray in any lover’s pubic hair; that will depress you even more.

28.  Believe a 20-something year old when they say they are attracted to your maturity. For “maturity,” read “no strings-attached leg-over.”

29.  Go platinum blonde in an effort to look younger. You will only end up looking like Myra Hindley’s less attractive sister.

30.  Contemplate any relationship with a man unless he is one who will put out the garbage.

31.  Accept lifts from strangers. You never learned that one, did you?

32.  Try to win a goldfish or coconut at the fairground. You never did during the first five decades of your life, so what makes you think your luck is going to change now?

33.  Buy a gun. You will only end up using it and end up in a box six feet under, or on Death Row.

34.  Say that you aren’t going to cry the next time you watch ET. You will. Keep a very large bucket next to you at all times.

35.  Watch Titanic. Life really is too short for that. And you know the ending anyway. It sinks. See? I’ve saved you the trouble already.

36.  Believe anything anyone ever tells you about penises. Especially men. And lesbians.

37.  Trust the soothing voice of a pilot when he says you are experiencing “a bit of turbulence.” You are closer to death than you know.

38.  Go to bed angry, if you're single. There is no one else there. You're on a hide into nothing.

39.  Ever try to help the police with their enquiries. You’re a suspect. You probably did it, but have forgotten.

40.  Start watching the Columbo marathon – because it never stops, and life as you know it will be over forever. You will even start wondering if this is what you should have been doing your entire life

41.  Say the C word in the USA, or, if you speak Russian, the P word. “Prick,” however, is apparently perfectly acceptable.

42.  Breast-feed in public. Especially if you don’t have a baby.

43.  Start wondering if you are gay because you’ve never been married. You opted quite early on which side of the Penis vs the Furry Cup argument you were on, and there has been little evidence to prove you were wrong.

44.  Give up your seat to anyone on public transport, no matter how old, pregnant or infirm they are. You’ve been through shit, too; you’ve earned your spot.

45.  Try to rescue anyone appearing to be in trouble in the sea. They are waving, not drowning. You, however, will drown.

46.  Keep checking your phone. He hasn’t called. Never will.

47.  Think too much. It’s never got you anywhere.

48.  Lend anyone money. Borrow to your heart’s content, but don’t lend.

49.  Get into debt. Oh, too late.

50.  Start making lists of how your life has changed since hitting 60.

51.  Use a battery-operated device to shave your face and eyebrows when you've been drinking. You will end up looking like a turnip.

52.  Attempt to read Salman Rushdie again. You failed many times before. At this age, you will definitely be dead before making it to page 10 of any of his books.

53.  Cry yourself to sleep. You are dribbling into your pillow so much these days, you will be woken by your head thinking it is going down with the Titanic and nursing two baked potatoes under your eyes.

54.  Spend time with anyone who begins a sentence "You're gonna find this funny" or "You're gonna laugh at this." You won't. 

55.  Think you can become a web designer. Life - your life, certainly - really is too short. The only thing you have time for is to choose the font for your coffin lid. Pay an expert. 

56.  Try to pull out a stubborn champagne cork with your teeth. You won't have those teeth for much longer; enjoy them while you can.

57.  Stand on your office chair with wheels to change a lightbulb/smoke alarm battery. It will not end well.

58.  Go hiking alone. You will end up stranded for days on a mountainside, having to drink your own urine until the rescue services arrive.

59.  Tell young people that everything was better in the olden days; in the 21st century, they already know that.

60.  Worry about a global pandemic killing you off; it'll never happen... Oh, wait...

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Olive and Mabel - Canine Superstars

They are the internet stars of lockdown. A seven year old black Labrador named Olive and a three-year old yellow Labrador named Mabel. As humans the world over struggle to come to terms with the new normal of living under the constraints of a deadly virus, the canine duo continues to entertain us through their videos, courtesy of owner Andrew Cotter. Eating, playing, frolicking in water, even just sleeping – we cannot get enough of the dogs who have made headlines across the world. Spain, Germany, Canada, the USA – presenters, reporters and newscasters have given thanks for the joyous respite in a world in which there is currently very little to laugh about.

And now, published at the end of 2020, there’s a book – Olive, Mabel and Me, featuring stories and photographs of the world’s favorite canines, along with Andrew, the Walt Disney of the operation.

Andrew is a freelance sports commentator, whose day job came to a halt when the virus put paid to sporting activity. Like so many whose income hit the pause button, he turned to other activities and took solace in his two faithful companions, adapting his commentating style to report on their day to day lives. 

It began simply enough: filming the dogs eating, with a voiceover analyzing their different techniques as they raced towards the finishing line that was the consumed meal. Quickly, it went viral, and the follow-up video Game of Bones quickly amassed ten million hits on Twitter – and counting. Today, Olive and Mabel are international superstars, in no small part due to Andrew’s wry humor, brilliant observational skills, and an affection for and understanding of these two adorable creatures. No one is more surprised than he at their phenomenal success.

“It was just that absolute oddness of time that people were so focused on needing a laugh or something to distract them from all the seriousness that was going on; people were also more focused on the internet and social media, but I had no idea it was going to take off like it did.” Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Grant, Dawn French – celebrities the world over joined in the chorus of approval; lyricist Tim Rice, also an avid dog lover, even re-wrote the lyrics of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina as a homage to the dogs.

For Andrew and his long-term partner Caroline, Olive and Mabel have been central to their coping in lockdown. “I’m not someone who goes to parties or the pub anyway, so it didn’t bother me initially, but then as it goes on and on, you realize that no matter how misanthropic a person thinks they are, we all need social interaction. I think it would have been very difficult without the dogs, and they are therapy, even if they’re just sitting beside you and you’re stroking them; you have that little anchor of normality, and you can lose yourself in the silliness of dogs. They are also very empathetic creatures and instinctively know when you’re feeling down or happy.”

It’s not just at home that Olive and Mabel have been delivering their unique brand of therapy; Andrew has been inundated with thousands of messages, e-mails and letters of thanks from people telling him how the dogs have helped them in their isolation and stress. “That’s been the most extraordinary and gratifying part of it. You see what it’s meant to people just to have a laugh. They might tell you of a terrible day and say how much it meant to laugh for even 90 seconds. I had one letter from someone who said their mother had dementia and she took so much joy from the dogs. I’m not sure why I did the videos or continue to do them, but when you get a response from somebody and know you are making a difference for even just a short time, it’s humbling.”

As a private person and someone who admits to lacking social skills, can bearing the weight of others’ problems feel too much? “I don’t want to say it’s overwhelming, because there are people being truly overwhelmed by a horrible time at the moment. You have to stop yourself and say I’ve got it pretty good compared to a lot of other people and you have to keep it in perspective. You want to do something for every single person, but you can’t because there are 5000 messages coming in, so you pick up a few and hope that you made a difference.”

Having grown up around dogs, it was inevitable that Andrew would have his own and, when the BBC moved its sporting operations from London to Manchester, he and Caroline moved to Cheshire which, with its closer accessibility to the countryside and the Scottish mountains, made owning a dog a more viable option. He recalls being totally besotted when the picking up the puppy. Having considered different breeds, they decided upon a Labrador because, as Andrew says in the book, “They are just outstanding dogs . . . relentlessly optimistic and friendly, good tempered and handsome. Slightly greedy, that’s all” (just watch Olive, the gastric equivalent of Usain Bolt).

Four years later, they decided to have a second dog, and along came Mabel, the same breed but a very different creature altogether. “As puppies, the differences are less clear, because all puppies are mildly idiotic. Mabel, however, is still very puppyish and she’s always wagging her whole body. I don’t know how many times Mabel wags her tail in a day, but it must be over 10,000 times – her 10,000 steps. Actually, it’s probably 10,000 even before 10am.” Both names were chosen because Andrew likes dogs with two-syllabled (‘easier to call them’) human names, especially older sounding female ones.

Olive is not a great tail wagger and Andrew sees his own personality as more akin to hers. If Andrew finds something funny, he says he might raise an eyebrow. But then Olive is more of a barker, Mabel a talker and more clingy. Both dogs love the outdoors and especially trips to the solace of the mountains, Andrew’s other great love; it’s nevertheless an area of life that reveals the very different personalities of each dog. “The weird thing about Mabel – well, there are many weird things about Mabel – is that she seems, quite often, as if she’s worried about it. She’s worried about things in general – probably about everything she’s read in the papers. She’s much more often to be found around my legs, whereas Olive will be off wandering. Olive is also a natural destroyer.”

Did Olive feel usurped by her younger companion? “Initially, it was what always happens when a new dog is brought in: this is not normal. I’ve had this whole place to myself for the last four years and now this thing has come in. But within a few days they were getting on famously and playing together.”

As the younger dog, Mabel looks to Olive for guidance, but is not averse to branching out on her own. “They’re not allowed to come upstairs unless invited, and whereas Olive will wait patiently, Mabel will invite herself up, creeping like a Ninja and just appear with a look of I know I’m not supposed to be here but I’m risking it anyway. But then if Olive wants something, she’ll take it. In this room, there is only one dog bed and if they both want to join me, Mabel will stand around, about to take the bed, and Olive will just come in like a missile, take it and curl up with Do Not Disturb air. Olive is also slightly calmer. She can be on her own slightly more easily than Mabel, who has no grasp of social distancing; she just likes company and is a little bit concerned for humanity.”

The chapter of the book titled Irrational Beasts hilariously outlines other differences between the dogs. Neither likes the vet (and they both now know how to spell it, having clocked what VEE-EE-TEE means), and Olive has an aversion to certain surfaces – especially the VEE-EE-TEE’s floor. She also dislikes mechanical objects in the sky and other people on a mountain. Mabel, bizarrely, doesn’t like the beeps of a GoPro camera. 

The warmth with which Andrew talks about his dogs and the limitless love he has for them is as palpable in the book as in conversation; but how does it differ from the love one has for humans? He thinks long and hard before answering. “You feel very protective. Dogs have many, many abilities, but they are still totally dependent upon us for care. I can’t bear the thought of them being in distress or pain, or whatever it may be, so I suppose that’s the feeling.” 

It’s also there by the bucketload on his YouTube channel, where he posts the videos. They look effortless, but there’s a lot of work in the fantastic editing, done by his friend and colleague Tony Mabey. They have also attracted thousands of requests from people asking him to do commentaries on aspects of their own lives – including one request from a car wash company, wanting his dulcet tones to promote their business. 

His beautifully timed delivery and tone make it clear why he is also a first-class sports commentator (one person, oblivious to Andrew’s day job, wrote to suggest that he ought to try his hand at being one). His ability to imbue Olive and Mabel with human-like qualities is also so heartwarming, it’s easy to understand their instant popularity. Having quickly moved away from sporting style commentaries, he started to put the dogs in situations the rest of us encounter in our everyday lives. 

The Company Meeting is hilarious – Olive sitting calmly and wagging her tail upon hearing that management say she’s a very good dog, Mabel’s job under threat because of lack of focus and “the inappropriate stuff with Kevin the Doberman from accounts” (every word Andrew chooses is perfect: “If only she didn’t get such good results,” he sighs, in relation to Mabel’s attitude). Another sees the pair engage in online dating and lying in their resumes Andrew is examining online: “And you starred in the stage version of Marley and Me’ he says, incredulously, to Olive. “As what? As John? What, the owner?”

Since lockdown has eased somewhat, the trio have taken to long hikes in the mountains once more, places where Andrew is most at peace. Although not a religious person, “Quite often, in the mountains,” he says, towards the end of the book, “you don’t have to believe in anything to find something.”

It is impossible not to feel a sense of awe in these descriptive sections that take the reader on adventures with the trio; they make you want to grab the nearest hiking boots, buy a puppy and head for the hills. “We all feel shut down at the moment; it feels crowded and claustrophobic, and the chatter is constant, whether you’re hearing the news or reading the papers. I wanted the book to be an escape, not just into the world of dogs, but an escape into that quiet silence as well . . . just wide, open mountain around you – and maybe just a dog.” 

Ownership of any pet inevitably brings with it the knowledge that you will outlive them. In many wonderfully written, tender and poignant moments in the book, there is the underlying dread of enduring that loss, but “It is the deal we strike and the pact we make” and, ultimately, “Everything is the better for them.” He says that from the moment he had Olive as a puppy, it was tinged with sadness that it wouldn’t be permanent. “I wish I could have you forever – but that’s just the difficulty of having dogs. You’re always thinking this is going to be too short, but they’re just getting on, doing dog things, quite happy with life.”

He wouldn’t describe himself as a miserable person, but there is an exquisite melancholy in the book’s conclusion, reflecting on the bizarre and difficult year the world has encountered (“the peaks unclimbed”). It is a time, however, in which he has undoubtedly benefited from the dynamic duo – the “stability and normality” they have brought to life in uncertain times. “We’re all at a bit of a junction, aren’t we, and who knows which way it’s going to go. But I’m feeling optimistic. The curve of human development is up and although we’re in a bit of a trough at the moment, eventually we’ll come out of it and be on the way up. So that’s my Labrador thought for the day.”

So, if he were to do an Olive and Mabel style commentary on himself, from the outside looking in, right now, how would it go? There’s a long, contemplative pause. “Hmmm. Here’s this middle-aged man, slightly confused, seems a little bit grumpy but desperately trying to pick things up and find a bit of work, and there he is going to his dogs once again. Why? I don’t know, but he needs them, they need him and it’s a symbiotic relationship and they can’t be without each other. And who knows what the future holds. But I think as long as he’s got Olive and Mabel,  they’re going to be all right.” 

Woof woof to that. 

Olive, Mabel and Me is published by Black & White Publishing, $21.49 (US), £20 (UK)

Tune in to Olive and Mabel at mrandrewcotter on YouTube, and keep up with @mrandrewcotter on Twitter