The Ingrid Pitt column: Bah humbug!

Ingrid Pitt recalls one of her finest Christmas Days ever, and curses what the festive season has become

Ingrid Pitt

When it comes to Christmas I’m definitely in the ‘Humbug’ jar. Not that I have anything against a bit of a knees-up in the murky depths of Winter. I can remember some wonderful Christmases. Ones which didn’t start selling themself around the end of September and then commit hara-kiri overnight on the 25th of December.

It’s the endless commercials and being smashed over the head with all the things I should have in my Christmas stocking that irks. And all the false bonhomie. And the Christmas cards. And I hate turkey. Perhaps it’s an old age thing? There seemed to be some great Christmases in the past. If it’s a choice between Christmas Past, Present and Future, I bag Past.

The last really Christmassy Christmas I recall was about ten years ago. I had just moved into my pristine new apartment and decided to combine the house warming with a Yuletide bonanza. And I wanted it to be on Christmas Day. Not an easy thing to organise. Most people seem to want to be with their family when the crackers are pulled. I finally managed to line up the usual suspects who confined their family duty to the days before and after the main event. Final toll was ten guests, Tonio and me and the Polish lady who does, Maria. I wanted this to be a memorable Christmas. And it certainly was.

A couple of days before the event I went to the garden centre and bought some sparkly lights and some other fripperies to sex up the room. As I was leaving I saw some fantastic wrought iron candlesticks. Must haves! They were big and heavy and meant for the patio. I was a bit short on patios in the flat. I also bought three feet long, four inch diameter candles. Wonderful. I scurried home with my prizes and set about laying out the dining room. One candle went in each corner of the room, well away from my lovely fawn drapes, standing in large plant trays so that the wax wouldn’t drip onto my beautiful white carpet.

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While I added the finishing touches to the set, Tonio and Maria sweated it out in the kitchen getting dinner ready. To make sure everyone had elbow room I bought a huge sheet of hardboard to place over the dining table and increase the nosh space. Came the time, came the guests. Everyone commented on how wonderful everything looked. And I had to agree. Nothing had been overlooked. Nothing forgotten . Perfect! Someone did mention the fact that there would be thirteen sitting down to eat, but it was treated as a joke.

The evening was everything a Christmas celebration should be. The room, lit only by the my four magic candles and a couple of small candlesticks on the table, combined with the food, wine and merriment wrapped us in a cosy cocoon which just got ever more cosy as time went on.

After dinner we retired to the sitting room and sprawled over the furniture. The haze of friendship became even denser. We started to sing some of the old songs. Nellie Dean, White Cliffs of Dover, Hark the Herald Angels, The Chicken Song with appropriate actions. Tonio then did a monologue about the travails of one Sonia Snell in a British Railways loo with acknowledgement to Cyril Fletcher and bored everyone to death.

The misty bubble was shattered by the ‘Avon Calling’ door bell. We all looked at the clock and giggled. It was coming up to 4 o’clock. I opened the door and found the Porter standing on the mat. I gave him a wide smile and he returned it with what could have been misconstrued as a look of horror. He pulled himself together and explained his mission. Evidently some of the other residents of the adjoining apartments weren’t as fascinated by our vocal virtuosity as we were and wanted us to shut up. I was too tired to get upset. When I returned to the guests they had already got the hint and were preparing to leave. When they had gone it was unanimously decided that clearing up could wait until the morning.

Morning dawned a little after midday. I sat up and looked across at Tonio. I was shocked . His face was black streaked and his nose and mouth looked as if he had been eating coal. I jumped up. My face in the mirror gave me another shock. My hair seemed to have a black veil over it and, like Tonio’s, my face appeared to have been dipped in soot. I staggered into the dining room. I thought I must be in one of those dreams that ends up with falling through a hole in the floor and becoming a guest of Old Nick.

The ceiling was uniformly black. The curtains were a gooey grey colour. Underfoot the carpet looked more like the floor of a not too fastidious garage owner than my pristine white carpet. Even the pot plants had fallen foul of the mysterious plague from outer space. The door behind me opened and Maria walked in. She had come round to help me clean up. Even she was unsettled by what she saw. “The candles”. She stated flatly. I nodded dumbly. We got some buckets and detergent and tried to clean off some of the soot. Our efforts just made it worse. “I know a man”. said Maria. I didn’t have to ask the relevance.

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The man, a fellow Pole, came, looked around, pointed out the grime in the other rooms and declared that nothing less than a complete paint-job throughout would suffice. The soft furnishings would have to either be cleaned professionally or dumped. The misery lasted well into the New Year. But it was worth it – for the memory of that one special Christmas night.

Ingrid Pitt writes weekly at Den of Geek, although we’ll be giving her Christmas off! Check out her website in the interim at www.pittofhorror.com.

And you can catch up on last week’s column here…