Jo Ellison and her cockapoo Alvin
Jo Ellison and her cockapoo Alvin © Rokas Darulis

How did I spend 2020? Mostly, I was walking my dog. Together we did miles and miles of tramping, discovering all sorts of landscapes, waterways and suburban architecture that circumstances encouraged us – well, mostly me – to see anew. Alongside Alvin, my eight-year-old cockapoo, I explored great swathes of the John Bunyan Trail, an area of quite extraordinary beauty near Luton airport that is overlooked by holidaymakers, who little realise that some of the most gorgeous views in England are just a stone’s throw from that aviation hub. I walked the Lea Valley, and Hackney Marshes, and the Regent’s Canal. And I walked the coasts of Cornwall. Actually, Alvin got a little exasperated then: after a month of trotting over moor and shore and shingle, he suddenly sat down. It turns out 2020 was the year in which I overwalked my dog.

But I’m sure I speak for many when I say pets saved our sanity this year. They were a delightful reassurance when we were locked up, fractious, bored, or just anxious; the perfect antidote to the whirr of horror on the news. Yes, they behaved like divas: loudly demanding that doors be opened during meetings so that they might snuffle around the kitchen, and trampling across our laptops to wave their arses at our peers. But who can blame them? Our pets quickly learned in the early days of lockdown that this was their time at last.

Creative director Rasha Kahil and Leeloo
Creative director Rasha Kahil and Leeloo
Editorial assistant Rosanna Dodds’s cat Olive
Editorial assistant Rosanna Dodds’s cat Olive
Subeditor Alexander Tyndall and his Welsh terrier Alfie
Subeditor Alexander Tyndall and his Welsh terrier Alfie
Picture editor Katie Webb with her cockapoo Coco
Picture editor Katie Webb with her cockapoo Coco

Sitting kitty

Gaia Repossi’s cat Matisse

Please do send your pictures of the pets that saved you in 2020 to yearofthepet@ft.com and some details, and we’ll run a gallery of our furry (or feathered or scaled) favourites in the new year

As you can see by these pictures of the HTSI team, pet ownership at How To Spend It has a tremendous bias toward the black cat. About which I have no comment except to say that, while a cat is elegant and gracious, it makes a useless social aid. You can’t tether a cat and take it on a secret perambulation with someone you have arranged to meet, say, on Wormwood Scrubs during strict lockdown. Nor can you ramble through the streets stopping for stoop-side coffees with your neighbours on the pretext of giving it a walk. No wonder so many millions have seized the opportunity to get a four-legged “freedom pass” in case of future lockdowns: there’s a global puppy shortage, so hot is the demand. As we look back on a weird year of introspection, intensive family time and cancelled plans, it felt right that pets, having lurked around the fringes of our focus, should step up and get the thanks they all deserve. Kate Finnigan celebrates our “Wonder Pets”, while we look back at some of the fantastic beasts who have populated HTSI in recent issues. Their humans were supposed to be the focus, but we all know who were the real stars.

Fashion features editor Jessica Beresford’s poodle-terrier cross Pickle
Fashion features editor Jessica Beresford’s poodle-terrier cross Pickle
Art director Carlo Apostoli with his cat Barry
Art director Carlo Apostoli with his cat Barry

You hate pets? I do apologise. But hopefully you’ll find other diversions. Clara Baldock has selected stocking fillers for tardy Christmas shoppers , Kate (again) offers us instruction on how to rock Balmoral chic, no matter how urban the environment, and Alice Lascelles has asked the great sommeliers about the wines with which they toast the festive bird

We’ve also peeked inside one of the world’s great institutions, Claridge’s hotel, to marvel at the renovations that have been under way for the past five years. Paddy McKillen, the property investor and businessman at the centre of the operation, has given Nick Foulkes an exclusive tour of what he hopes will be the makings of the greatest hotel in London, or, as McKillen argues, the world. I am deeply envious of the gravity-defying feats of engineering Nick was invited to witness – as a team of Irish miners has pick-axed new wine cellars and dining destinations underneath the foundations of the hotel: it’s an added bonus to find out that their efforts will mean Claridge’s can finally boast a swimming pool as well. 

Executive editor Tim Auld’s cat Lucky
Executive editor Tim Auld’s cat Lucky
Picture researcher Paula Baker’s cat Bo
Picture researcher Paula Baker’s cat Bo

In the meantime, whatever holiday you’re marking, I hope you have a safe and restful break. It’s been a challenging year for everyone – and now we all deserve a treat. 

@jellison22

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