I HAVE always had a soft spot for genial Geordie actor Tim Healy, ever since he bought me a pint in Dontino’s many years ago.

I was working behind the bar at the Hexham night spot at the invitation of the voluble Mr Donalde himself, while young Tim – at that time known as Malcolm – was just starting to make a name for himself on the Northern club comedy circuit.

His girlfriend at the time was also a member of the Hexham Courant reporting staff, and the fact that I had given her the occasional helping hand on the rocky road to journalistic success pleased him so much that he bought me a pint of Younger’s Tartan Bitter for 18p.

It was a lovely and unexpected gesture, but ever since that day I have taken a keen interest in Tim’s career from beer adverts and Auf Weidersehen Pet through to the disturbing waters of Benidorm and beyond.

And it is partially down to him that I find myself bidding a fond farewell to an old and faithful friend this week.

Mrs Hextol and I were at a garden centre, where hopeful double glazing and conservatory salesfolk lurk next to the checkouts in the hope of selling their wares. I always breeze past them with a cheery “Not today, thank you” but Mrs Hextol has a habit of engaging them in lengthy conversation.

On this occasion, it was not glassware which was being plugged, but new kitchens, and there beside the real-life saleswoman stood a cardboard cut-out of the bold Malcolm as was.

I swept graciously past as usual, but when Mrs Hextol had not joined me in the car park some 10 minutes later, I began to fear the worst.

Now Mrs Hextol has been wanting a new kitchen for as long as I can remember, while I am more than happy with the existing set up.

I grumbled: “We bought a new kitchen not so long ago, and it is perfectly adequate for us now the children have left home.”

She retorted: “We bought the last new kitchen when Robbs first moved down to Tynedale Park, so it must be well over 30 years old.

“Some of the units are rotten, hardly any of the drawers open without a wrestling match and you need the muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger to turn the tap on.

“It will make life a lot easier if we can bring the house up to date.”

What she said was undeniably true, and I am sure I got an encouraging wink from the cardboard Tim when I reluctantly agreed that a salesman could come to Hextol Towers and make his pitch.

And a couple of days later, a young man did turn up with his brochures, computer, samples and a silver tongue, and we were signing on the dotted line for a brand spanking new kitchen.

I took no part in the design discussions, my only involvement being persuading the dog that the salesman would not have been as tasty to chew on as her squeaky duck.

Unlike most men these days, I have zero interest in cooking. While I would never starve given access to the frying pan and microwave, I have no clue about “proper” cooking and could no more rustle up a Sunday dinner than fly to the moon.

However, things have moved swiftly since the design stage, because we are now in the process of transferring 30 years of accumulated foodstuffs and kitchenware into bags and boxes so that the army of people required to assemble a kitchen can get on with their job.

A rummage into the far reaches of one cupboard unearthed little bags and twists of paper filled with mysterious ingredients which may have been eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog with perhaps a little adder’s fork, blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing thrown in.

They are ingredients we would never use, but Mrs Hextol would not let me throw them away because “they might come in for something one day”.

Other interesting finds included a Bero cook-book, price 1s 6d, and some tins of produce so old they didn’t even have use by dates to go beyond.

At the time of writing, we are only about a third of the way through the kitchen emptying saga, but storage space in the garage is already looking worryingly inadequate – and we haven’t even got as far as the pan cupboard yet!