Do different: Christmas Day stories
PUBLISHED: 15:40 18 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:41 18 December 2018
While you're tucking into Christmas lunch, opening presents, playing boardgames with the family or watching the Queen's speech, there are others in Norfolk who will be doing something a bit different. Here we tell their Christmas Day stories.
Christmas helicopter heroes
Santa may have unhitched his sleigh for another year, but critical care paramedic Rod Wells and the rest of the Christmas Day crew at the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) will be ready as always to take to the skies.
This will be Rod’s sixth Christmas Day with the EAAA – bringing his grand total up to 18 in his 30-year career as a paramedic. For the Anglia One Christmas crew, it’s a day much the same as any other in an emergency services role, which means a 12-hour shift.
“Unfortunately, people become ill or have accidents no matter what day of the year it is, so we have to be ready to respond in the same way we would any other day,” says Rod, adding that it’s generally no quieter than any other day of the year. “We will sometimes go to alcohol-related trips and falls and incidents involving turkey carving – that’s when you know it’s definitely Christmas day. The general catchline for those type of incidents is ‘Someone’s had too much Christmas cheer’.
“Very sadly, we do often see an increase in self-harm or suicide attempts around this time of year, these are always sad to attend but even more so at Christmas.”
The crew always try and have a Christmasy breakfast, and Sprowston Manor kindly provides them with Christmas dinner if they aren’t called to a patient.
Rob says the hardest thing is not being with your family on Christmas Day.
“I won’t be doing much celebrating with my family on Christmas day as I never know if we will get a late call out, so planning anything is difficult,” he says. “I am also working Boxing Day, and my wife is also a paramedic in the ambulance service, so between both of our shifts we won’t actually get to celebrate Christmas together until New Year’s Day. We’ll have all the family round then, my children and the grandchildren – so I will very much be looking forward to that.”
Joining Rod on Christmas Day will be Dr Sarah Fadden, captain Rich Anderson and pilot Alex Loring.
Sharing lunch with strangers in need
Sue and Gary Moore’s Christmas sounds pretty much like everyone else’s, with a traditional Christmas lunch for their guests. But there’s one big difference: their guests aren’t family, or even friends… in fact, they’ve never met them before.
The couple live in Dereham and are one of two private houses who have signed up to Norfolk County Council’s In Good Company campaign, which aims to ensure no one had a lonely day this Christmas.
“We did it for the first time last year and had two guests,” says Sue. “It used to be something that the vicar would do, but it’s not as common as it used to be. We’re members of Church Army, the missional part of the Church of England, and therefore committed to serving in the community wherever we can. It’s nice to know that people don’t have to be alone on Chritmas day if they don’t want to be.”
Sue and Gary have two grown-up daughters, one lives in Scotland and the other in Ely, where they’ll be heading in the evening.
“It saves us being alone, too,” says Sue. “Our guests last year were two elderly ladies, one of which had the beginnings of dementia and her daughter was working on Christmas Day, so it was nice for her to have somewhere to go.
“We have the same Christmas as everyone else really – we just share it with those who would otherwise be on their own.”
To find an In Good Company Christmas event near you, visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/norfolk-directory
Cooking up a feast
For some of us, Christmas is the perfect time to let someone else do all the hard work – and the team at Titchwell Manor are only too happy to oblige.
It’s an early start on Christmas Day for most of the team, as they prepare a luxurious breakfast for guests with Champagne and caviar. The staff then grab the chance to sit down and eat together before cracking on with a very busy lunch service that goes from 12-4pm.
“Afterwards, we do our staff secret Santa and enjoy a glass of Champagne together,” says owner Eric Snaith, adding that he also manages a quick visit to his wife’s side of the family for a late lunch and a drink or two.
“I see my parents when they pop in, and having growing up in a hotel, I’m used to not being at home. I’ve only had two Christmas Days off since I was 14, but I do enjoy the day. There’s always a fantastic atmosphere and it’s great to be part of such a special day with everyone.”
So how does Eric keep his three excited daughters happy?
“We celebrate our family Christmas on Christmas Eve, which works well for us, and Father Christmas thankfully agrees to come early, so the children don’t mind early presents! We also visit the local church for the Christingle on Christmas Day, which we all enjoy.”
Feed the birds
Feeding ducks is a joy which you never grow out of, says Pensthorpe aviculturist Kat MacPherson.
And when you have dozens of ducks to feed, plus hundreds of swans and geese, moorhens and more, there’s plenty of fun to be had.
Kat volunteers to work over Christmas at Pensthorpe Natural Park and she loves the tranquillity of having the reserve to herself.
It means she can head home to Edinburgh for a lively New Year after enjoying the peace at Pensthorpe when it’s closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
There’s a lot to do though, with more than just the ducks to feed.
It takes more than three hours to feed everything, from the red squirrels, wading birds and swans to geese and harvest mice. She’ll then have a Christmas lunch and return to work again, where jobs include feeding again and tucking the flamingos in bed.
“I love it, it’s so peaceful. You never get bored of feeding ducks, they always think they’re ravenous,” she says.
“The views are very nice, and it’s so peaceful,” she says, adding that Pensthorpe is a great place to walk off lunch.
The milky way
Spare a thought for the team at Grange Farm, Shipdham, near Dereham. Three of them will be in the dairy at 4am on Christmas morning for the four-hour shift required to milk up to 500 Holstein cows. Then, at 4pm, the milkers will be back to repeat the procedure, this time overseen by two dairymen.
“The afternoon is the killer,” says Robert Proctor, 37, who was brought up on the farm owned by his father Ken. “You just don’t feel like it after a big dinner!
“Of course, it’s not just us in the dairy who are working to get the milk moving. The haulier will turn up in his tanker at about 8.30am, and he wants to pick up and get finished as well.
“But the cows’ welfare comes first and nothing stops for Christmas Day.
Asked if any junior members of the family are on milking duty this Christmas, father-of-two Robert replies wistfully: “I have two sons aged two and five. So, not yet...”
Christmas at sea
The men and women who volunteer as crew of the Lowestoft RNLI lifeboat hope for a quiet Christmas, but if there is a call-out they are ready to respond as they would on any other day of the year.
Builder Philip Holdsworth says: “I am one of the 16 volunteers on the crew at Lowestoft and will be on standby ready to leave the family festivities at home if my alerter sounds to summon me to the lifeboat station.
“Over the three years I have been on the crew we have not had a Christmas Day callout, but the crew still meet up and go to sea each year to provide safety cover for the annual Christmas day swim.
“It has become a tradition with the crew and we usually wear festive hats and one wears a Santa suit over his waterproofs and lifejacket to add to the occasion. We like to support this fundraising event, which last year raised more than £13,000 for local charities, one of which was our colleagues in the Lowestoft Lifeguard Volunteer Corps.”
Although Philip hasn’t been called out on December 25, two years ago there was an unusual visitor to Lowestoft on Christmas Day when a 900ft cruise liner P&O Arcadia dropped anchor off the South Beach on Christmas morning and remained there all day.
“After completing the Christmas Day swim duties, our full time coxswain, John Fox, decided to make a courtesy visit to the cruise ship as it is unusual for such a large vessel to come so close inshore. He spoke to the captain by radio and advised him of our intentions and our arrival was announced to the 1,900 passengers, many of whom came out on deck to greet us.
“Our crewman dressed as Santa was given an especially warm welcome from the ship, with passengers returning his cheery waves. The captain told us that they had spent a couple of days in rough weather off Norway when ‘Storm Barbara’ was at its worst, so they decided to spend Christmas Day in calmer waters off Lowestoft before continuing the cruise. It certainly was a Christmas Day trip that I and the other lifeboat crew members will remember for a long while.”
Lifeboat crews all around the East Anglian coast will be enjoying the festivities at home, but will all have one ear tuned into their pager, ready to leave their loved ones if an alert sounds and head to sea if someone is in trouble. “That’s what the RNLI charity is about - saving lives at sea,” says Philip.
A bundle of joy
Anna Chapman has worked as a midwife at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) for the last 13 years, helping hundreds of families to welcome their new babies into the world on Christmas Day.
“It is a special time of the year and it is quite jolly on the delivery suite at Christmas,” she says.
“We know that patients do not want to come into hospital at Christmas so we try and make it as nice as possible when they are here.
We give every mum a gift bag with some goodies and a colleague also makes knitted Christmas hats for the babies.
We accept that we work for a service that is 24/7 and there is always a nice feeling on the delivery suite and it is a close knit team.
Shifts are normally 12 hours long, but at Christmas we have the option of working a shorter shift so that we can have some time with our families for part of the day. We also get a voucher for a Christmas dinner in the canteen.”
Working in a winter wildlife land
It probably comes as no surprise that those employed in the care, medical and rescue services are hard at work on Christmas Day, but what about those who help animals in need?
Amanda Fox has been a wildlife assistant ay RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre for 11 years and has worked many Christmas and New Year shifts.
“Depending on which area of the hospital we are allocated to, we might be cleaning and feeding hedgehogs, stomach tubing and scrubbing out seals or taking care of injured birds, which at the minute include, swans, owls, woodcocks and a golden plover,” says Amanda. “Like every other day, our work is hugely varied and we have to be ready to deal with anything.”
In general, it’s a quiet day as far as new admissions go, but there are still lots of animals in the centre’s care which need looking after.
“Many people are surprised that we work 365 days of the year, but we are a busy wildlife hospital with more than 4,000 casualties each year, so naturally we must feed, clean and medicate our patients every day.
“We don’t get many animals comeing in, as most people are inside opening presents and eating rather than out finding wildlife casualties. The custom of the after lunch walk for some people means that we have, on occasion, been called out to rescue an orphaned seal though.”
While Amanda admits that it’s never nice being away from your family on Christmas Day, the staff make a cheery day of it - including lunchtime charades.
“We all bring nibbles in and wear our Christmas jumpers and hats to make the day feel festive,” says Amanda. “There is usually plenty of carol singing while we wash the hundreds of feed bowls that get used during the day, too.
“On the morning shift we get as much work done as possible so we get to go home and have a Christmas lunch (albeit a very late one). The late shift start at lunchtime and don’t leave until after 10pm, so the morning shift like to make their day as easy as we possibly can, knowing that next year it will be our turn again!”
If you’d like to do something to help the patients at RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre, they are in need of adult dog food and used face cloths for the hedgehogs, newspapers and used towels for bedding and to help when handling the seals. Any donations can be left in the yellow tubs outside the building.
Taking care at Christmas
For Cathy Wenham, Christmas Day this year will start with a 6am alarm call. By 7.30, she’ll be taking hand-over from the night staff (8pm-8am) at Saxlingham Hall Nursing Home, an extended manor house set in over four acres of lawns and gardens a few miles south of Norwich, with upwards of 30 residents at any one time.
On Christmas Day, the early staff share a seasonal glass of Buck’s Fizz (heavy on the orange) before registered nurse Cathy and the team prepare their charges for the main event.
“We often have a lot of guests at Christmas dinner for the residents who are too poorly to go out to join their families,” says Cathy. “We get them all ready after breakfast and relatives start to arrive about 12.
“The dining room is a lovely space and it’s always a picture for Christmas Day.
“It is a special day, of course, but working in the care sector is a round-the-clock operation and we want to ensure everyone is as happy and comfortable as possible every day.”
The late shift (2-8pm) takes over after lunch when Cathy will go back home to open presents with her husband and youngest son before a big family get-together on Boxing Day with 11 adults, six children and four dogs for lunch...