Peter Cowles, 38, VirginMoney, Darlington

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I’ve been so desperate to get back on my pitch. It’s been a struggle this time around because I’ve had vet bills for my dog but I’m getting there now. I’ve been itching to get back out there to be with my customers. I started The Big Issue when I was young, I lost my mum to cancer and then I moved from the West Midlands to the North East in 1999. I’ve been here ever since and sold the magazine on and off so it’s been a long time. I do miss it when I can’t be on my pitch, it’s a big part of my identity. I’ve seen a few of my regular customers over the past month when I’ve been out doing my essential shopping and they’ve said they can’t wait to see my smiling face back out there. And I’ve got my Santa costume, ready to go.

It’s been really heaving in town, it’s like a normal day. They’re still out doing their shopping and talking to people so it’s as if nothing’s happened. Apart from me, I’ve stayed in the house. My partner Tanya-Ann’s got a few health problems so she’s got to stay at home. I’m a bit nervous about catching the virus, I have to be careful because of her.

My Staffie, Twilight Bella, has kept me going through all this. She liked the attention when I was in the house all the time. When I’m not in the house she lies like a cat, waiting for you to come through the door and when she sees you she acts like she hasn’t seen you for a month. She used to come on my pitch with me but because she’s short-haired she gets cold too quick. She’s soft as a brush, but when people look at her the go, oh, a Staffie. I don’t like Staffies. But all she wants is kisses and cuddles. She loves the cuddles. I’ve had her since she was a pup and she’s nine now, 10 in May.

At Christmas it’ll just be me, Tanya-Ann and the dog. We’re just going to have a quiet one. This year’s flown by with what’s gone on with the virus. I hope it’s done and dusted by about February because I want a new start. Bring on 2021, and let’s start again. Next year I want to pass my driving test, that’s my ambition. I’ve just sent off for my provisional licence. I’m a bit nervous because I’ve never driven before but at the same time I’m excited to do it. It’ll open up more opportunities and more things that I could do. As well as The Big Issue I also do a bit of gardening and window cleaning for my customers so if I had a van all that would be easier.

If I pass my test next year I’ll be taking Tanya-Ann and Twilight Bella away on holiday. All the holidays we’ve had in the last couple of years have been without the dog because we haven’t been allowed to take her. So if I can drive we can go to a caravan where we could take her. I don’t mind where, I’d go anywhere that’s pet-friendly. People forget that the animals have been suffering too; we can’t go out so neither can they.

We’re in tier three here but the shops are still open in the town so I suppose there will be some customers out and about. I’ll make them smile, it’s what I do every year. I want to wish everyone a very merry Christmas from me. When I’m on my pitch my customers shout, have a lovely day, take care. They’d say they could see my smile even underneath my mask. And I was smiling, actually.

Virgin Money, High Row, Darlington, UK