Working on Christmas Day in a hospice: ”We have a great laugh”

Who keeps the world turning while you are eating turkey and knocking back the New Year spirits? ELL finds out.

Annie Marchelle. Photo: Lynn Enright

Annie Marchelle, 49, oversees the catering at St. Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney.  She is used to working on Christmas Day

“People think it might be morbid or something but it’s not; it’s actually a fun, nice place to work. We have a great laugh in here and we have lots of community events. We even do weddings.

They call me and Sister Hilary the J-Los of the hospice because we’re the wedding planners. We’ve had a few weddings this year – an interfaith wedding and a civil ceremony where two men got married. We had a wedding where the groom died two days after but the family had so many memories from it. They were able to treasure that.

On Christmas day I’ve got to be in for 6.30am but I’m only coming from up the road so it will only take five minutes. There’s no traffic. My girlfriend will come in and spend Christmas Day here too. She knows the hospice as well.

Usually there is a lot of staff but there’s a skeleton service on Christmas Day.  I don’t usually cook because I’m the general manager but I do on Christmas Day because a lot of the other catering staff live far away and couldn’t get in without the tube or public transport.

I’ll start preparing breakfasts as soon as I get in. There’ll be a full English option and a cold breakfast too. There are 25 nuns and Father Rufus so they’ll all need to be fed as well as the patients. And whichever staff are around – domestic staff, nurses, carers and maybe the on-call doctor. After breakfast I’ll start on the main event – Christmas lunch. Somebody has donated a massive turkey and we have a turkey crown too.

We’ll use my mother’s stuffing recipe. She died here 11 years ago. I’m from Hackney, you see. But I’d lived in Italy, France, Scotland and Hove before I came back to Hackney and started working here two years ago. My aunt worked in the laundry here around 30 years ago so I did have ties to it. I’d worked in catering for years, but in football stadiums and hotels and that – never in a hospice. But it’s so fulfilling.

After we’ve served lunch – the turkey, ham, the works – and all the staff and patients have been fed, I’ll go around with the drinks trolley. I do that every day, not just Christmas Day, because I think it’s important for people to have something nice during the day. I have sherry, port, brandy, red wine, white wine, Guinness and lager. And soft drinks for the non-drinkers. I’ll bring some chocolates that have been donated and we’ll have a laugh and a bit of banter.

I’ll prepare a cold supper and then I’ll get into the car and drive to Blackpool to stay with some friends. I’m not religious – I mean my family were Catholic and I was christened and confirmed and all that – but I’m not religious. I might have a little mass in my head.

We’ll get to Blackpool in the evening. It might take six hours because of the ice. And then I’ll get into my pyjamas and my slippers and have a massive glass of red wine. I’ll be exhausted by then so I’ll go to bed early.

My Christmas day will be on Boxing Day. That’s when I’ll open my presents. And then I’ll have another turkey dinner. I’ll have to cook it because the rest of them can’t cook. I’ll be sick of turkey by then. It feels like I’ve been cooking turkey since the summer – you know for staff Christmas lunches or whatever. In this business Christmas lasts an eternity.”

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