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Time is the most valuable gift we can give

PUBLISHED: 14:29 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:29 20 December 2016

Tunnel of Light on Hayhill, Norwich. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Tunnel of Light on Hayhill, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

There is a gift more precious than the glossy, wrapped parcel under the tree, more thoughtful and more kind; the gift of our time to someone who is lonely at Christmas.

Surely the throngs of people who have ventured into the city centre in the last couple of weeks could not fail to be impressed by our beautiful City of Light.

This year, Norwich seems to have excelled itself with the wonderland of Christmas lights, the huge Christmas tree outside the City Hall, the Castle with its illuminated walls and the tunnel of light leading to the Forum, to say nothing of the entertainers in and around the shopping centres to cheer us on our way.

By now, many will have wrapped their gifts (even delivered them to the recipients in some cases,) written the cards and begun the mad social whirl.

There are wonderful events around our county to get us into the spirit of Christmas; Thursford with its magnificent Christmas Spectacular, (it seems to get more amazing every year,) the EDP concert at St Andrews Hall (always a splendid evening), The Cromer Pier show and the delicious festive menus at our superb restaurants, are just a few of the many things on offer, in the lead-up to Christmas.

But for some, none of this will be happening.

For these people, there will be no trips out to concerts, no presents under a Christmas tree, no scrumptious meal shared with family or friends.

They may be young or old, healthy or sick, able-bodied or frail.

They are the lonely.

Loneliness can affect all of us at some time or another.

Whether it is due to isolation from family or friends, illness, the end of a relationship, or bereavement, loneliness can take hold; and its grip can be relentless.

It is hard to imagine what it must be like for those who have no family or are not able to get out for some reason, having to stay indoors, day in and day out.

Never having someone to talk to or share a joke with.

Their only link to the outside world may be the TV; or the only person they see is the paper boy when he delivers the morning paper.

And day after day, it is the same; even at Christmas.

Many excellent charities cater for the lonely, homeless and vulnerable in our society, providing hot meals and companionship but they cannot provide for everyone.

Unlike the innumerable Christmas movies that are being shown on TV at the moment, some people’s stories do not have a happy ending.

Several years ago, I got into conversation with a lady who shared my table in a cafe.

It was early November and we began chatting about the forthcoming festive season.

She told me that her son had already visited her to give her his gift, as he would not be seeing her any more before Christmas.

She continued by saying that she didn’t see much of her daughter either and so would be spending Christmas alone.

As she was speaking, she looked so sad.

We had never met before but her story touched my heart.

Christmas is a busy time for most of us, but wouldn’t it be wonderful, if we were able to spare a few minutes for a chat (perhaps over a mince pie and a cuppa) with someone, somewhere, who is lonely; a neighbour or relative, or even a friend?

There is, without doubt, no price tag on that.

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