Post 67 Carving the hospital Christmas turkey

Every Christmas Day morning when I was a child, I visited either Stockport Infirmary or Stepping Hill Hospital.    This was in the 1950s when we lived in Davenport, approximately half way between the two hospitals.    My father was Rupert Sykes who was one of the two physicians that served the hospitals at that time.    Today, of course, the old infirmary which was situated across the road from the Town Hall has gone, and all the consultant physicians, over 20 of them, work at Stepping Hill Hospital.  I understand that the old Grade 2 listed hospital building is now used as office accommodation by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Every Christmas morning Dad, accompanied by my mother and my three brothers, went to assist as he carved the Christmas turkey on his ward.   I cannot deny that there many other things I would have


preferred to be doing, not least playing with my Christmas presents!  For us though, from perhaps the age of 4 until I was 16 or so, it was accepted as our Christmas routine.

Dressed in my smart school blazer, grey shorts, knee length grey socks held up by elasticated garters and wearing freshly polished black shoes I arrived, nervous and shy,  to be greeted by the ward sister.    Inevitably, I had my hair tousled and told how much I had grown since my last visit.     We then accompanied Dad on his ward round which was a social rather than a medical affair; he chatted to each and every patient.    To us he was simply ‘our Dad’ but in the hospital he was called ‘Sir’ and every one treated him with enormous respect - which we found very odd.    At some stage we would meet Father Christmas, who was also doing the rounds with a gift for every patient, so again my hair would be ruffled and I would be told how much I had grown.

When the ward round was over we came to the best bit, for in one of the side rooms there was always a table laid with a treasure trove of goodies; lemonade, Tizer, dandelion and burdock, chocolate finger biscuits and loads of sweets; chewits, refreshers  and sherbet. Mum would always tell us not to eat too much to avoid spoiling the Christmas dinner that was waiting for us when we got home.    However, she and Dad would be enjoying stronger drinks and busy chatting; they didn’t see how much we ate, or notice that the nurses were popping sweets and chocolate into our pockets to take home and eat later.

At noon, the roast turkey arrived with all the usual trimmings.   It was placed on a table in the centre of the ward where Dad donned a gown and a chef’s hat and carved it.   It was then our job to help Mum serve the patients in their beds without spilling the gravy on the floor as we did so.   Then we passed


round the Christmas pudding and custard before finally we were able to get home to the presents that were waiting for us.

At the time, I admit that I regarded the visit as something I would have preferred to avoid; it was only many years later when I dragged my  own slightly reluctant family with me as I carved the turkey on my Trafford General Hospital ward in Manchester, that I realised how much this longstanding hospital tradition was appreciated by both patients and staff. 

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