Everything just… stops?

Take time to give thanks and admiration to everyone that must work over the festive period. Inspired by Adam Kay’s fabulous festive rollercoaster of a book Twas the Nightshift before Christmas.

“Christmas is this pine-scented, tinsel-strewn timeout where, like it or not, everything just… stops.”

So begins Adam Kay’s excellent little book Twas the Nightshift before Christmas.

For many folks, Christmas brings a weird inertia. Relentless forward motion has somehow propelled you through one more year. Then the locomotive engine suddenly screams to a halt that would have been unimaginable even moments ago. This abrupt transition can be jarring. Everything just… stops.

But that’s if you’re one of the lucky ones. For so many, the locomotive keeps accelerating to a more hellish intensity over the festive season.

Kay’s book presents his diaries of six successive Christmases spent working in NHS hospitals, where there is no seasonal ceasefire. Kay says:

“The NHS frontline sadly doesn’t get invited to Christ’s all-you-can-eat birthday shindig. For medical personnel the world over, Christmas is just another day. Coming but once a year – and thank fuck for that – the Yuletide brings more than its rightful share of hospital drama.”

Every emotion is crammed into this tiny book. Alternately hilarious and harrowing, profoundly absurd and profoundly moving. All of human life is to be found within the walls of an NHS hospital. And the intensity is dialled up all the more over the festive season. Kay writes with an enviable wit and economy of phrase about that sextet of Christmases spent “removing babies and baubles from the various places they found themselves stuck.”


I came across Kay’s book in the most wonderfully random way. The other week, I briefly sat opposite a woman on the tube who was perhaps more engrossed in her reading materials than any other soul I have ever seen. Hunched forward in her seat, oblivious to all but this book. Over the handful of stops between London Bridge and Euston her face went through a rollercoaster of emotions and expressions, alternately enthralled, amused, delighted and amazed. I made a mental note of the title of the book that so fascinated her (’twas of course Twas the Nightshift before Christmas …why else would I be telling you this in this post?). When I got home, I googled both book and author, ordered the book, found and followed the author on Twitter (step forward, Mr Adam Kay) and tweeted him to let him know of the impression his book had made on the woman I had seen.

Having now read Kay’s book, I can confirm that the tale told by this random stranger’s face was true and honest. What a tremendous book. What an insight into the fraught and profoundly human world of an NHS hospital at Christmas. For all the stresses they brought him, Kay wouldn’t trade these times:

“The job still gives a lot back, despite all it takes from you: the Christmases, the social life, the family life.”

Our wonderful friends in the NHS are by no means the only people expected to work at least as hard as ever at this time of year.

Back at the start of the decade we are now exiting, mystery-shrouded, dearly departed blogger the HRD wrote some timeless words about retail workers at Christmas:

“In the run up to the festive season, as you spend your hard earned money also spend some time to think about these guys who don’t want to be there, but have to be. Remember that that kid struggling with the till, or looking aimlessly into space WHEN YOU NEED SOME HELP RIGHT NOW is just doing their best in shitty conditions for shitty pay. Share a bit of love their way, not only will you make their day better, you’ll also improve your own.”

More recently, my friend Neil Morrison penned a lovely tribute to the silent workforce:

“Over 1 million people will be working this Christmas in the UK alone and whilst not everyone in this wonderful multicultural country that we live in will place the same importance on the specific holiday, they’re providing a service so that others can take time off in peace. I can’t list the entirety of the professions that work and an omission is not meant to signal a lack of importance at all. My ask of you is simple, as you rightfully enjoy time off in the next few weeks, take time to think of these people and raise a glass and toast in thanks. They may not be seen, but they’re working so that we don’t have to.”

Take time to give thanks and admiration to everyone that is required to work over the festive period. Kay suggests some excellent practical ways to show your gratitude: send cards to NHS employees who have helped your or your family, and/or consider making a donation to a hospice or medical charity. Kay says:

“Thank the people without whom we might not all be here; the people who finally get home at midnight and pick at leftovers from the fridge while you’ve long surrendered your senses to a carbohydrate coma.”

Gentle reader: whether you are at work or everything just… stops for you over the coming days, may this festive season be nothing but kind to you and yours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s