Business as usual for some workers during Christmas

Kim Drysdale and Robert Krawczyk of Haugh Care Home in Stockbridge
Kim Drysdale and Robert Krawczyk of Haugh Care Home in Stockbridge
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Spare a thought for caring professionals who are at work while the rest of the world plays at Christmas

TOMORROW is C-Day. The day when the world stops, everyone stays home to eat and drink and be merry with their loved ones.

Michael Livingstone, who will be working at Edinburgh Zoo this Christmas Day

Michael Livingstone, who will be working at Edinburgh Zoo this Christmas Day

You might be up at 4am with the kids as they wake to discover if Santa really has been down that chimney but at least you can always go back to bed later. After all, there’s no actual work to do.

Or, you might be a late riser, starting the day with Bucks Fizz and a plate of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, content in the knowledge that there’s no hurry to get anywhere.

For where would there be to go? Everywhere’s closed; the nation is at home.

Well, not quite. While the majority may have Christmas Day off, there’s a small, but vital, minority, who have to get up with the alarm and get to work. Or they’re on call in case of emergencies, so no chance of a festive tipple for them. Or, they volunteer to work, like the staff at the Serenity Cafe in Holyrood which supports people in recovery, to give other people a Christmas to remember.

David Gillies

David Gillies

So raise a glass tomorrow, while you’re stuffing the turkey or your face, to those who have to put Christmas on hold.

MICHAEL LIVINGSTONE, carnivore keeper,
Edinburgh Zoo

WHEN it came to asking who wanted to feed the lions and clean the hunting dogs’ run this Christmas Day, 24-year-old Michael was first in line.

“For the animals it’s just another day. They can’t go a day without having cages cleaned and being fed, so of course we’ve got to be at work, and I quite enjoy being in on Christmas Day – though my mum’s a bit disappointed,” he says.

“You just do the same things you do every other day, though it is a bit more relaxed. The zoo is open and so you feel there’s more time to talk to the people who do come in about the animals. It’s a good atmosphere.”

Michael, who has worked as a keeper for three years, says that to add festive excitement to the day, they give the animals extra treats – the carnivores’ presents are hidden inside papier mache, so there’s as much wrapping paper mess as there could be in a home with toddlers.

“Not that they know it’s a special day, but I’m sure they enjoy the extra treats,” he says. “What is nice for staff, though, is we all get together to have lunch, and we have party food and the office is decorated, so we get into the Christmas spirit. No alcohol though – that has to wait until New Year!”

He adds: “I know some people might think it odd, but I’m happy to work Christmas Day, and finishing at 4.30pm means my mum just keeps the Christmas dinner til later, so I go straight there to eat. She’d rather I was there the whole day, but I will be next year.”

KIM DRYSDALE and ROBERT KRAWCZYK, manager and deputy of Bield’s Haugh
Street care home

IT’S been three years since 47-year-old Kim had a Christmas off, and for Robert, working on the most festive day of the year is just a regular 

But then the pair look after ten elderly people between the ages of 65 and 92 and in various states of health, at the Stockbridge care home, so Christmas Day is just another day at work for them.

“We do try to make it as special as possible for our users,” says Kim. “It’s their Christmas too after all, and because most no longer have family, or their families live abroad, they spend Christmas with us.

“So although we’re not at home spending it with our families, we’re spending it with our extended family in a sense. There’s plenty of Christmas spirit about so it doesn’t feel like you’re missing out.”

Christmas celebrations at the home began last Wednesday with a turkey dinner for residents and staff together. Then there was the panto on Thursday, and a get-together this evening with a buffet, mulled wine and carols.

“Then, on Christmas Day, we have coffee at 11am and we sit round the Christmas tree and open our presents. We have normally asked them all what they would like a few months beforehand.

‘Then we have the tables all set for Christmas lunch – and this year one of the resident’s daughters is coming for that with us – so it’s really lovely. The best thing is there’s no phones ringing, no e-mails to answer, so you can really relax with everyone.”

Robert, 30, says he has never felt that he shouldn’t have to work Christmas Day: “It’s part of the job, it has to be if you’re caring for people, and you know in advance if you’ll be working. In a way I feel lucky to be sharing Christmas with them.

“I’ll be celebrating Christmas tonight this year with my partner – who’s a nurse, so she is also working Christmas Day – and friends.”

Kim, who became manager in April, says a new routine will mean staff who work one Christmas will be off the next year and if they are on duty on December 25, they will be off at New Year.

“If you’re on the early shift it is possible to leave and get home and have Christmas dinner but if you’re on the late one, then you can’t so most staff have their home Christmas on Boxing Day.

“Three years ago was the last time I had a ‘normal’ Christmas,” she says. “But being at work is fine. And I don’t drink anyway, so I never miss that.”

DAVID GILLIES, depot charge hand, Edinburgh City Council

AS part of the council’s road gritting team, Christmas invariably means working for the 47-year-old. But after 20 years he’s used to it.

“It wasn’t great when my kids were young, it was very hard tearing yourself away from them.

“We used to get up really early in the morning just in case I was called in, so I could watch them opening their presents.

“But now they’re grown-up it doesn’t matter in the same way,” he says.

“They got used to it anyway. And antisocial hours and being on call are part of the job and you know that when you sign up to it.

“I’m on call every Christmas, and the council does its best with weather forecasting, so if we know it’s going to snow or be icy, we get out gritting on Christmas Eve in the hope that will be enough. But if it’s not, it means coming back in on Christmas Day, and that’s just the way it is.”

And if the weather’s bad, being called in means staying at work until they are finished, no matter what.

“It does interfere with Christmas and it has done for 20 years,” he says. “But we’re not called in unless it’s serious, and we are here to provide a service to the public, to keep the roads clear for people. In all my years I’ve never known one member of the squad not to show up on Christmas Day.”

He adds: “We get to the depot, wish each other a happy Christmas then get out on the roads. There’s no mince pies or anything.

“We get time and a half, but no bonuses or anything like that – after all, it’s the job.

“I think the last time I had an almost uninterrupted Christmas was two years ago. We got called in, but it was after I’d managed to have my Christmas dinner, so that was a real bonus.”

CHRISTINE MURRAY and DOROTHY TONG, nurse practitioners and team leaders, NHS 24, South Queensferry

FOR anyone falling ill on Christmas Day, they can rest assured they’re in good hands when calling for medical help, as Christine and Dorothy have 69 years of nursing experience between them.

The pair, who will speak to patients who need advice and support while their GP surgeries are closed, are on duty this year from 7.30am to 5pm and will lead a fully-staffed team.

“Some places have skeleton staff at Christmas, but at NHS 24 it’s a time when we need to be fully staffed,” says Dorothy, 48. “So we’ve a busy office, but we try and make it feel a little festive. We have Christmas decorations and tinsel all around, and there’s always boxes of sweets to share. And in the staff cafeteria we have Christmas music and crackers.”

Christine, 54 from Blackford, adds: “As nurses you expect to be working at times when others are off. It’s the norm for us, it doesn’t feel odd. But we do try an alternate it every year, so I’ll be off next Christmas.”

She adds: “When my children were young I wasn’t working, so Christmas wasn’t an issue. They’re at university now, so it’s different and we just work Christmas around my shifts.

“One of the best things about working Christmas Day is I plan a menu and they cook it, so my dinner’s ready when I get home. My oldest son does the starter, my husband the main and my younger son the dessert. It’s fantastic.

“And they don’t open their presents until I’m home either, so I don’t miss a thing. I can always catch up on the Queen’s speech later,” she says.

Dorothy, who lives in Kirkcaldy, also has an older son, so no longer has to rise at dawn to open presents before heading to work. “We did make the most of the time we did have when he was younger, but he’s grown up with me working at Christmas and it’s never really been a problem.

“The upside is that all the cooking is done for you and so we just eat in the evening rather than at lunchtime.

“As far as work goes, it can be very busy as GPs surgeries are closed. Mostly it’s people with coughs and colds looking for medication advice, but you have to be prepared for anything. People do overindulge at the this time of year, so you never know what’s going to come through next.”