WHILE in Washington – last week’s column – the lady of this house had been to a production of A Christmas Carol, and at the theatre where Lincoln was shot.

Sauce for Bob Cratchit’s goose, we tried – unsuccessfully – to catch the Castle Players production last week. No room at Whorlton village hall, none at the Witham in Barnard Castle.

The year’s final column will thus have a rather less festive flavour than had been anticipated, but things may be worse yet for my old friend and former colleague Jon Smith, the first Baron Barningham.

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Smithy had been due to play Scrooge, even grown his hair to look the misanthropic part. Sadly, he has been stricken with the gout, than which few things are reckoned more painful.

We’ve commiserated, of course. Smithy’s reaction may not wholly be repeatable. It’s the humbuggeration factor.

WHILST the lady swanned stateside, the column had pitched up at Washington, Tyne and Wear, seemingly condemned – like Marley’s ghost, but yet more dreadful – forever to walk the Galleries shopping centre.

Keith Belton sympathises with such phobia. He’d helped design and build Washington’s housing in Development Corporation days – though not, he stresses, the Galleries. “I had to be sedated when visiting M&S on Teesside Park recently,” he writes. “It would be a toss up between the two for the nearest thing to hell.”

Clive Hepworth picked up on the reference to Washington, population 67,000, being the third largest place in Britain without a railway station. What if towns like Gateshead and South Shields, served by urban Metro systems, were excluded, he wonders?

Roger Jennings recalls – as does a plaque in Hartburn, the posh end of Stockton – that William de Wessyngton, from whom George Washington was descended, was William de Hertburn until shifting up the A19, or its 12th Century equivalent, in 1183.

How different might the history of the United States have been, Roger ponders, if its capital city had been Hartburn.

CHRISTMAS proves happily ineluctable, though John Maughan from Wolsingham spots a worrying notice outside a shop in Cockton Hill Road, Bishop Auckland. It’s greatly to be hoped that the culprits return the orders before December 25.

CHRISTINE KEELER’S death stirred memories, none of them (of course) intimate. Once or twice, the Eating Owt column had compared restaurant chairs – notably those at The Station in Richmond – to those across which Ms Keeler infamously straddled.

Two or three times, for he is incorrigible, former Darlington councillor Peter Freitag recalled how he’d lived out the back from the lady while in London in the 1960s.

Once, Peter recounted, he’d seen osteopath Stephen Ward leading her around via a dog collar. “I couldn’t really tell if she was enjoying it, but she didn’t seem to mind.”

It did seem a bit bizarre, Peter added.

Particularly, however, we recall Keeler’s part in a 2011 lecture in Middleham attended by most of the 160 members of the Wensleydale branch of the Decorative and Fine Arts Society.

Given by Linda Smith and called Great Tarts in Art, it embraced everyone from Lucy Lockett (who may have lost her pocket, but also cost a packet) to Lady Hamilton.

“No one ever got anywhere on looks and charm alone,” someone once said in Blackadder.

“You’ve never met Lady Hamilton ,” said Blackadder.

The talk was captivating. At the end we suggested it might be re-titled Whore’s Who, especially if pronounced as in County Durham. She made her excuses and left.

THEN there was the time that the Sunderland Echo was compelled to print an apology after claiming that Madam Tussaud’s had a waxwork of Keeler. Nor did they exhibit Cynthia Payne, it added.

Improbably in mid-Wales, we’d bumped into Madam Cyn in 2004, fell to talking about former Darlington FC chairman George Reynolds, with whom she’d stayed at that splendid pad in Witton-le-Wear.

She’d hoped to persuade George to bankroll Madam Cyn’s Show Bar in London. “I always thought of him as being a bit on the daft side, but he was a very careful businessman,” she said.

The menu, she added, would have featured lots of tarts and with spotted dick for afters. Inexplicably, it never happened.

STILL in the sinning sixties, the column a fortnight back recalled the Summer of Love, particularly pondering Mellow Yellow, a 1967 hit for Donovan on both sides of the Atlantic.

Electrical bananas

Is going to be a sudden craze;

Electrical bananas

Is going to be the very next phase.

Hippy days, what on earth was he on about? Former Redcar and Cleveland council leader David Walsh, a child of those times, suggests enlightenment.

“It came from a folk myth that spread like the legend of the Abominable Snowman across the hippy world. If you scraped off the residue from the inside of a banana skin and smoked it, you could get a decent high.

“Like the snowman it was completely false, but for a month or so banana sales mushroomed across the cities of Great Britain.”

Suffice to say – and say no more – that that’s not the version Donovan put forward in his autobiography.

He’s now 71, lives near Cork, still catches the wind. “I don’t know if he still enjoys the bounty provided by Fyffes,” adds David.

Since it was the forename of the station master’s daughter all those years ago, the column was also quite fond of Jennifer Juniper, another Donovan hit – but what that was all about, it’s probably best not to ask.

ALMOST coincidentally, we did make Barnard Castle last Thursday evening, the old place looking greatly festive. The region’s best decorated village may be Cockfield, over the fell. Delightful. Lanchester may be second.

At the Old Well in Barney there was a beer festival, a chance for the first time to try ales from the fledgling Barnard Castle Brewery.

One’s called Peg Powler, named – the barmaid googled it – after a green haired hag said to inhabit the River Tees and to lure children to a watery grave.

Mr Stephen Brenkley, man about Barney and cricket club president, was anxious to point out that, while it might have happened on other stretches of the river, it couldn’t possibly have befallen Barney’s bairns, the water being much too wholesome thereabouts.

In former times, it’s recorded, the recalcitrant young would be warned that if they didn’t behave and go to bed, Peg Powler would get them.

Perhaps it might seem a bit extreme this coming Sunday evening, but to young and old, sleepy and sleepless, a very happy Christmas. The column returns on January 2.