“It was always Linda’s job to put the tinsel on” - Ian Albert on the story of Hitchin’s Christmas tree lights
- Credit: Archant
Hitchin district councillor Ian Albert opens up about the death of his wife Linda in March, and what inspired this year’s Christmas tree lights – hailed as Hitchin’s best in living memory.
Ian Albert strolls down Bancroft, reaching the corner of Market Place, before pausing to survey the Christmas tree as it comes into shot.
He approaches its white picket fence, leans forward, and reads a small plaque adjoining its southern side.
"The Christmas tree lights were kindly donated by Councillor Ian Albert in memory of his wife Linda Albert."
In March this year, Ian's wife, Linda, sadly passed away aged 64 after a short battle with cancer.
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On a cold December morning, Ian tells the Comet the story behind Hitchin's new lights, and opens up about life after Linda.
"When my daughter Louise was little we'd always enjoyed coming into Hitchin to see the tree," Ian says.
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"Louise and I are quite Christmas-obsessive and particularly love Christmas decorations - and I think we both managed to wear down Linda over the years.
"Linda had always moaned about the tree, and used to complain that the lights weren't much bigger than the ones on our tree at home.
"After Linda died, I decided to ask Tom Hardy - Hitchin BID manager - if I could help him choose this year's tree. So we went out, and eventually came across one which had a lovely blue tinge, and we both looked at each other and thought - that is our tree.
"We soon realised the old set of lights weren't going to be big enough. So I said to Tom that we would love, as a family, to fund a new set of lights in memory of Linda.
"Linda had moaned about the lights for so many years - it just felt an entirely appropriate thing to do in her memory."
On the day of the switch-on in November, Ian and Louise were joined by family and friends as they watched the tree light up the square for the first time.
"It was a really special evening. There was lots of happiness, lots of tears. We actually came back on our own when all the crowds had gone, and just stood by the tree for a while. We were all in tears. We did feel, in a slightly strange way, closer to Linda."
Last summer, after Ian's retirement, Ian and Linda treated themselves to a holiday in the North East. It was at this point that Linda first complained about her tummy feeling off.
"Linda had previously recovered from two cancers since 2015", Ian says, "so when we got back, we went right away to see a doctor.
"Quite quickly they diagnosed a gynaecological cancer. And unfortunately, after a few scans, they discovered a lot more cancer than they expected.
"We met a consultant in September last year, and you just know when you walk in a room, that you're about to receive bad news. The consultant said, we're really sorry, but the cancer has spread all over Linda's body. They told us it had reached the stage of palliative care.
"In the space of seven years, Linda had three cancers, all unrelated. And this time, she wasn't going to be beat it."
In early 2019, as Linda's condition worsened, she went to stay with Garden House Hospice.
"There are no words that really do it justice", Ian says. "You don't know quite how good Garden House is until you come face to face with it. What they do defies belief."
In the end, Linda deteriorated quicker than Ian and his family anticipated, passing away peacefully on March 7, aged 64.
Ian says that in the months after you lose a loved one "there are so many things and conversations that you might have had.
"All those small regrets. The 'I wish I'd said that's,' and the 'I hope she knew that's'.
"It's when you sit by the TV, and catch yourself thinking, "I must tell Linda that - then realising, she's not here to tell.
"Louise and I were always in charge of the decorations in our house, but it was always Linda's job to put the tinsel on. This year Linda wasn't around to put the tinsel on - so we decided we couldn't put any tinsel on the tree. Maybe next year."
Ian and Linda were great lovers of folk music, and each Christmas would go and see folk group St Agnes Fountain perform their Christmas show. This year, for the first time, Ian and Louise went without Linda.
"Julie Matthews read out this poem called the Book of Dreams - which is what they've called the Argos catalogue this year", Ian says, tearfully.
"It was a poem about all the things you can buy in the Argos catalogue - all the gifts you can buy for Christmas.
"But the final line, Louise and I will never, ever forget. It went something like this: 'But the one thing that isn't in the book of dreams, the one thing that I'd really like this year...is one more Christmas with my mum'".