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Article excerpt

Byline: DAISY MCANDREW

When my father Alistair Sampson went into a hospice two weeks ago, we knew his death was only a matter of days away. And that time, of course, was filled with immense sadness and reflection.

But it was also a time for giggles, tasteless jokes and love. Dad wouldn't have had it any other way.

When someone is dying you desperately need information and you also want to do something - anything. You sit around staring at each other and wondering when the next dip will be.

You want to know whether he's in pain, what you can do to help and what's happening to him and his body.

You want to know how much time you have left with him and you want it to be longer.

Above all, you want him to get the very best care possible - and that is something my father really did have.

St John's Hospice, part of the St John and Elizabeth Hospital in St John's Wood, is a remarkable place. Funded by charitable donations, it is the only independent hospice in Central London and cares for more than 600 people each year - all totally free of charge.

Hospice staff answered our endless questions with patience and nononsense good humour. They never patronised my father or anyone else in the family and managed to make the process dignified and special - without ever trying to 'cheer us up'. And they accommodated our every whim and quirk.

On his daily visits to the hospice, Monty, Mum's miniature schnauzer, was fussed over like a member of the family. Even my father's demands for his beef to be rare and his oxygen to be turned off so that he could smoke in bed were patiently indulged. We never doubted how much they cared for him and for the rest of us.

My dad - who could be wonderfully charming when he wanted to be but could also be a difficult old bugger - was delighted and comforted by them.

He enjoyed flirting with all the pretty nurses, and their honesty and intelligence in the way they cared for him enabled him, I believe, to be on the very best form he could be.

Facing death does funny things to people's characters I'm told, but in Dad's case it certainly brought out the very, very best in him. From the moment the doctors told him that time was running out his attitude was aweinspiring.

Despite being 76 he'd shown no signs of retiring, either from the antiques business he ran in Mayfair, or from writing prodigious numbers of poems and funny articles. Being sent to a hospice certainly wasn't going to slow him down. About ten days ago I walked into his room to see his bed strewn with auction catalogues and heard him on his mobile phone telling a regular customer - an American lady of not insubstantial means: 'Well, yes, I am dying Nora, and have I ever told you the firm's motto? It's "God loves a cheerful spender", and so do I. So if you don't go to the shop and spend lots of money, I'll come back and haunt you.' Poor woman. He was born to sell and he adored haggling.

He resolved to leave us with typical humour and dignity, but he was adamant: 'No gush.' He remained brilliantly funny, naughty and sweet, and he told us how things should be after his death.

Many of his last days were spent developing grander and grander plans about his funeral and drawing up a fabulously egotistical order of service. He wanted a collection of his favourite tunes from musicals (though we drew the line at Springtime For Hitler from The Producers, much to our vicar's relief), as well as wanting the congregation to sing Que Sera, Sera. Of course his orders were carried out to the letter.

Dad wrote several books of poems and developed quite a cult following last year on a radio show I presented for LBC. He had his own slot, called Daisy's Dad's Daily Ditties that the listeners adored.

He announced that he wanted his daughters to read out some of his best and funniest poems at the funeral. …