The Ingrid Pitt column: bull fighting

Hammer horror star Ingrid Pitt isn't a woman to get scared easily. However...

Every so often the Spanish have a prick of conscience and decide that bull fighting isn’t civilised so they start calling for a ban. They don’t really mean it but they feel that it wins them some kudos with the wider world community. They are careful not to let the situation get out of hand and lose the only attraction that Spain has for many people. At the moment they are going through another period of pseudo soul searching, suggesting that in future the murderous ritual only gets to the point when they usually kill the bull and then, like the toreros in Portugal and Mexico, they doff their hat and walk away. It will never happen but it makes good headlines

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the ‘sport’..  The crowd screaming, the poor half dead bull standing there waiting for what the matadors call ‘El momento de la veridad’. Pretty sickening on one hand. On the other: I guess if I was a bull I would rather die in a towering rage with the chance of getting a horn stuck into one of the pestilent, fancy dressed wimps giving me grief than be poll-axed in some greasy building smelling of death.

At one time I was quite close to the bull fighting mafia.  I was in Madrid, in flight from a husband who wanted to get promotion by going to Viet Nam instead of staying at home and looking after me. I flogged his car and bought a ticket on the first flight leaving America. It landed in Madrid. Somehow I finished up in an apartment block in Calle Fleming, a gathering place for actors, crew and hangers on working in the burgeoning film industry in Spain at the time.

The next door neighbour was a press photographer. He invited me to the local Plaza de Toros and got me a seat by the barrera. It was all very exciting. Then the Torero had his ‘momento’ right in front of me. Not exactly a precision kill. His blade went into the poor beast’s lung instead of its heart. It stood there snorting frothy blood, mutely shivering until its knees gave out and it keeled over. I was having my own moment. Whimpering and generally falling apart. My friendly photographer took a picture of me in full flood. It appeared the following day on the front page of El Pais. Film director, Ana Mariscal, phoned to say she was shooting a film called Los Duendes de Andalucia about a mad, drunken American woman who falls in love with a Torero and from my photograph she thought I was just what she was looking for.

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I hardly spoke a word of Spanish but a friendly Torero took my education in hand and before long I was spouting like a native. Being surrounded by the bull fighting fraternity it was easy to take on a bit more than was wise. At first it was just an entrance with the Equipo dressed in the appropriate gear. This became a little tame after a while and when somebody suggested I might like to ride in on horseback, dressed as a Rejoneardor, I was up for it. The big day came. I was introduced to a tall skinny horse bedecked with tassels and spangles over the sort of skirt that the mounts of knights in armour wore into battle. My part in the proceedings was explained to me. I was to ride into the arena, circle close to the barrera waving to the crowd while the blokes who were going to do the business saluted the President and did their dedications. When I was at the farthest end of the arena, near the exit, I was to stand absolutely still and watch the fight.

Everything went swimmingly until they opened the gates to let the bull in. Instantly my horse began to fidget. I’m no horse woman and my attempts to calm  down the freaked out animal were remarkably unsuccessful. In fact the more the bull thundered around and the louder the Oles’ the more fretful my mount became. The jigging and screwing around finally caught the bull’s attention. It stopped, looked my way and decided I was a better mark than the twit waving a cape at him. The bull started to trot in my direction. The nearer it got the friskier my horse became. Now I was hanging on for dear life. The bull charged. My horse decided it wasn’t playing games and set off at a healthy pace in the opposite direction. Two or three times I nearly fell off. The fleeting thought crossed my mind that at least my death would command a couple of decently placed paragraphs in the newspapers. By now the Picadors had got into the act and were trying to get between me and the vengeful toro.  Just in time a couple of them managed to head off the bull and I was ushered out of the safety gates.

I felt sick and was trembling like an agitated blancmange. At the end of the corrida, when everybody who could still stand lined up for the walk down, one of the handlers brought me my horse. It was the last thing I wanted but I could see the others watching me to see how I would take it so I scooped up a handful of savoir faire and allowed my man to heave me on board. It was a satisfying experience. I was cheered and had flowers presented and I was able to act as if it had all been part of the corrida. Very satisfactory. But I was never tempted to repeat the act.

Ingrid writes every week at Den Of Geek. Her last column is here