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Meet the people who work on Christmas Day in Hampstead and Highgate

PUBLISHED: 08:00 25 December 2014

Whittington Hospital midwife Chrish Fernando. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Whittington Hospital midwife Chrish Fernando. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

While most of us are tucking into our turkey and watching the Queen’s speech, a dedicated group of individuals from firefighters to pub landlords and even lifeguards will be keeping the country running on Christmas Day. Journalism student Nicola Slawson catches up with six people ahead of their shifts and finds out why it’s not always so bad to be at work on December 25.

Firefighter Ross Powell who is working on Christmas Day. Picture: Nigel SuttonFirefighter Ross Powell who is working on Christmas Day. Picture: Nigel Sutton

The firefighter

Working on Christmas Day has got a lot harder for Ross Powell, 37, a crew manager at West Hampstead Fire Station, since his wife gave birth to their daughter, who is now three.

This Christmas will be his seventh on duty in 10 years. He’ll be on the day shift with eight other firefighters, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 8pm.

Things won’t be particularly festive at the station.

Hampstead Heath’s senior supervisor of swimming facilities Paul Jeal at Parliament Hill Lido. Picture: Polly HancockHampstead Heath’s senior supervisor of swimming facilities Paul Jeal at Parliament Hill Lido. Picture: Polly Hancock

“It’s usually quite a sombre atmosphere,” says Ross. “Obviously being the season to be jolly, if you do get called out to a car crash or a fire, it’s actually just ever so slightly more tragic than any other day of the year because of the connotations we put on Christmas.

“Plus there’s the fact that everyone is away from the family, so it’s slightly subdued to be honest.”

Whether they will spend much time in the station or not is something the firefighters can’t predict.

Ross says he has had “really horrible days”. His very first rescue was on Christmas Day, but he has also worked quieter shifts.

PC Andy Blezard at Kentish Town Police Station. Picture: Polly HancockPC Andy Blezard at Kentish Town Police Station. Picture: Polly Hancock

Typically the firefighters might deal with car accidents involving people who have got drunk on Christmas Eve and have not been aware that they are still over the limit the next morning.

Another common cause of fires is people cooking when they are drunk.

Ross estimates that fires would go down by about 20 to 30 per cent if people didn’t drink and cook.

Consequently he hopes people will treat themselves to a takeaway on Christmas Eve.

Personal trainer Mario Louca on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Polly HancockPersonal trainer Mario Louca on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Polly Hancock

Luckily Ross has Christmas Eve off work as the rotas are always arranged so each member of the team can enjoy “a tiny piece” of the festive season.

Ross will be making the most of it by bringing Christmas forward a day, when he’ll “have a full-on Christmas Day with presents and the dinner” as well as celebrating with friends the night before.

The lifeguard

As Hampstead Heath’s senior supervisor of swimming facilities, Paul Jeal, 48, will start work at 6.45am, co-ordinating eight other lifeguards who are also on duty.

Although he has an early start, by lunchtime all three swimming ponds and Parliament Hill Lido will be locked up so the lifeguards and swimmers can get home in time for their turkey.

It’s the ninth Christmas Paul has worked, but now that his three children are all in their 20s, he doesn’t mind allowing his colleagues with small children to have the day off instead.

His wife, he says, “puts up

with it”.

Outdoor swimming on Christmas Day is a long tradition in Hampstead and it’s popularity is on the rise.

“It’s got really popular in the past five years,” says Paul. “We have hundreds of people coming. It’s all good fun.”

The lido will be open as normal at 7am and the men’s and ladies’ swimming ponds will be open from 8am. The main event, though, is the Christmas Day races at the men’s pond starting from 11am.

About 30 to 40 people take part in each race.

“Everyone’s quite happy and cheerful,” explains Paul.

“There’s a really nice family atmosphere as people usually bring their kids along to watch them swim.”

As the lido and ladies pond shut early, all the staff congregate at the men’s pond to keep all the swimmers safe.

Usually someone plays Christmas songs on a bugle and everyone who attends has a sing-a-long. Mince pies and mulled wine add to the festive spirit.

Luckily in the nine years that Paul has worked on December 25, there has never been a major incident thanks to the safety measures they put in place.

“It usually runs very smoothly, despite the mulled wine,” he says.

And will Paul be taking the plunge, himself?

“I’ll probably have a dip on Christmas morning in the lido,” he says.

“Just to show willing!”

The midwife

Chrish Fernando is a midwife and has worked at Whittington Hospital in Archway since 2011.

As Christmas Day is also her birthday, she’ll be turning 31 as well as working a 12-and-a-half hour shift from 8am.

This will be the third time that Chrish has worked on December 25 since becoming a midwife.

Working for the NHS, she knows it’s always a possibility because “life doesn’t quite stop, does it?” as Chrish

puts it.

The hospital does ask for volunteers to work over the holidays though to avoid forcing people to come in, so this year Chrish put her name into the hat.

Her friend, who she works alongside, will be offering her accommodation for the night so she doesn’t have to travel back to east London and they might “crack open the wine” when they finish their shift.

The day will be much the same as any other as “there’s no off button” for giving birth Chrish explains.

“There is no hard and fast rule about how busy it gets,” she says.

“The only thing is that it will feel less crowded because we don’t have any clinics running. It will just be the women in labour.”

She says that mothers who give birth are always pleased as it feels “really special” to have a new addition on Christmas Day.

Although Chrish will have to postpone both Christmas and her birthday celebrations until Boxing Day when her brother and sister will be waiting for her, it’s not all bad.

“Obviously I would prefer to be at home,” she says. “But this hospital has a good team and I get on well with my colleagues, especially the ones that I’m actually working with that day.”

The best thing is the atmosphere. All the staff bring in treats such as chocolates and biscuits to share.

“We are the family at the hospital on that day,” says Chrish. “People try and make the effort because it’s a special day.”

The personal trainer

A sweaty workout on Hampstead Heath is probably one of the last things that most people would want to do on Christmas Day.

But for some, it’s the ideal time to make the most of the peace and quiet and work off all that turkey. Mario Louca, 34, of Arkwright Road, Hampstead, has been a personal trainer for four years.

He’s the director of Get Fit 365 and the company’s unique selling point is that clients can book in sessions every single day of the year.

This year Mario has two clients and will be squeezing in Christmas dinner with his friends afterwards. Even though he does celebrate Christmas, he enjoys working on the day.

“I find Christmas quite boring and other people might feel the same,” he explains. “They might want to get out and exercise.”

What kind of person trains on Christmas Day?

One of his clients is from the United Arab Emirates. The other is British but “just really dedicated” as she is training for a ski trip to Austria in the new year. Mario will probably take them out on to Hampstead Heath so they can enjoy the views from Parliament Hill.

“Christmas Day is a remarkable day to exercise,” he says. “London is so busy, so it’s probably the one day of the year where it really does get quiet out there. You see London in a different way, it’s very beautiful.”

The worst thing about working on Christmas Day for Mario is not being with family and friends.

But he says it “isn’t really a problem” because, with good organisation, he always manages to celebrate Christmas.

The police officer

Pc Andy Blezard, 52, is a member of the response team based at Kentish Town Police Station. He’s been a police officer for six years and this will be his fifth Christmas on duty.

Andy will be working the late shift from 2pm to 11pm, which is “the worst shift out of the lot” he says.

“If it’s early, it’s not too bad because you can enjoy the rest of the day and the night, but we work a bit of both.”

But he’s determined to make the best of it.

If his family are still awake when he gets home to Bedford, he’ll have a “hot toddy” with them before bed and he will be able to enjoy Boxing Day with his family, including his two-year-old granddaughter.

“Christmas Day is actually a good day to work,” says Andy. “The day usually goes quickly and there’s plenty of festive spirit to keep the team going.

“Everyone comes together. There’s always plenty of food about, there’s always something to do.”

Out on the streets, he and his colleagues are always treated well by the public, which helps the day feel special.

But the worst thing about working on Christmas Day is when someone dies says Andy.

“We tend to get a lot of elderly people who don’t make it,” he says.

They had a particularly hard year about five years ago when seven people died between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, all from natural causes.

“It can be upsetting for us,” explains Andy. “Christmas time is the worst time to pass on.”

Seeing elderly people alone without any family to celebrate with is also hard.

“Sometimes you go somewhere and these people are on their own and just the looks on their faces is quite hard,” he says. “You have a little lump in your throat.”

On occasions, he and his colleagues have gone out and bought mince pies to take round to those who are alone so they can share a cup of tea with them. The team will also be kept busy with family disputes but hope for a day without surprises.

Andy jokes: “We don’t want car chases on Christmas Day, but we’re not averse to doing them.”

The pub landlord

For some, like Jay Hopkinson, 32, of West End Lane, West Hampstead, getting home to his family on Christmas Day will be impossible as they live so far away.

Originally from Yorkshire, Jay – who is the assistant manager of Tapping the Admiral in Castle Road, Chalk Farm – won’t be able to travel up north as he’s working for so much of the Christmas period. Even though he can’t make it home, Jay always offers to work because all the regulars know who he is. “It’s quite a community pub,” he says.

The pub, which is known for its real ale, will be open and serving drinks between noon and 3pm.

As it won’t be serving food, pub-goers usually stop by for a drink either before or after their dinner. The atmosphere will be “really friendly” and “very Christmassy” says Jay, especially as all the punters will “be wearing their Christmas jumpers that they’ve just opened that morning”.

And staff lay on free port, cheese and crackers. Although Jay will be missing his family, he isn’t a huge fan of Christmas Day.

“Personally I find Christmas a bit of let-down, you open your presents and then you’re just hanging around waiting for your dinner,” he says. “So it’s quite nice to go in and see loads of people who are enjoying their day.”

He also said the way the regulars greet him is lovely. “They don’t pity you but they are really appreciative that you’re working for them,” he says. After his shift, there might be a party with others who live in London and can’t get home to their families.

Jay did this on the previous two years he worked on Christmas Day and had lots of fun.

And if the party doesn’t happen? “I’ll just have a pot noodle in front of the telly,” he says.

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