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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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A hostel Christmas

May 18 2009
We welcome a new columnist, ‘Insider‘, who will give the view from inside hostels It's cold outside, there's nothing on the telly, so it must mean that Christmas isn't too far away. Never an easy time. If you're in a hostel, you may be thinking it'll be better this year, the staff will sort everything out and you won't have to trek across London to get to Crisis. If you are old enough to remember the rash promises of Cliff Richard, you're probably expecting mistletoe and wine, maybe even "children singing Christian rhyme". Well, I know hostels, and have spent quite a few Christmasses in them. Too many. But, however jaded and biased I might be, I'm still better qualified to tell you what to expect from a hostel Christmas than Cliff. Starting with the staff. There are two types; the first type are those permanent members of staff who have been at the hostel for over a year and are only there because they are being paid double-time and had Christmas off last year. These will spend the day scowling, reminding everyone they see that they have given up a perfect family Christmas to be there. With you. The second type are more pleasant, but can be harder to deal with. They are comprised of the voluntary or new staff who are keen that everyone has a good day, and will spend the entire 25th with a strained rictus across their face, and a zany Christmas hat on. They will have a never-ending supply of crackers which they will thrust at anyone who crosses their path. They will be expecting their attitude to be instrumental in curing homelessness and could easily become utterly distraught if it fails to do so or if they catch any resident operating at less than 100 per cent festivity. The good news is you will almost definitely receive a present from the hostel. Presents from hostels never, ever, exceed weird aunty present levels (at best). It will be bought by your key worker on 24th December and probably be either socks, deodorant or tobacco; designed to be useful, but too cheap in case you try to sell it for crack (doesn't matter if you're a user or not - "it's policy"). Socks are probably the worst thing to get as it means there is a high chance you are going to get kicked out in the first week in January and the staff don't want you to catch pneumonia within a month of leaving their hostel. Deodorant just means they think you should shower more. Tobacco means that by the time they got round to buying your present the only shop still open was the Costcutter across the street. It just wouldn't be Christmas without an extensive and varied programme of entertainment, and this will undoubtedly be provided. By which I mean the TV will be switched on, an old set will be found and put on a table covered with a wipe-clean festive tablecloth, and, if you have been a very good boy or girl this year, there will be an exciting game of bingo where you could win some thrilling prizes (usually socks, deodorant or tobacco). There will be a meal. Unfortunately. If there's a cook where you live, and they have been offered a good enough bribe to work on Christmas Day, it will be the usual competent warming of frozen factory food that you are used to. If there is no cook, the meal will be cooked by the newest or least popular member of staff. The chemistry of their brain will be so altered by the experience that by the time they've finished anything you say to them will be heard as "what is this vile mess". Nothing you say, however complimentary, will keep them from spending the rest of the day as a walking definition of passive aggression. The only sensible course of action is to arrive late, only open your mouth to eat and eat fast at that, then leave early. Obviously, this article has been heavily laced with some seasonal cynicism; and although I'd argue that it bears a fair amount of relation to reality, it is true that Christmas in a hostel, like so many things in life, is what you make of it. Every hostel is now compelled to consult their residents about almost every decision they make, just get your suggestions in as soon as possible and remember that regardless of what you say, the staff will be miserable/insane, the food will be repulsive and your present will be rubbish. Merry Christmas.