I first met Sid at an East London Cares Chair Yoga session. I walked in late – I’d got lost on my cycle there – and took a seat by him. Sid was wearing a fresh ironed shirt, elasticated braces and smart suit trousers with shining black shoes. I felt very underdressed for the occasion, wearing a sweaty white t-shirt and trainers.
I learnt a lot about Sid just from sitting with him at that yoga session. He knows his own mind: he asked exactly what was in the fruit and yoghurt he was offered before politely declining. Everyone was drawn to him, asking questions and sharing his infectious laugh. He shocked everyone by announcing that he is 91 (91!) but literally doesn't look a day over 70. These are all things that I continue to admire now that we talk regularly.
I stuck around after the session and he offered me a game of dominoes, which I accepted. I thought ‘I’ll go easy on him’, assuming it would be a winnable game. He walked off and came back with a serious set up. A beautifully boxed dominoes set, wrapped delicately in protective materials and accompanied by a ‘dominoes mat’ to play on (I didn’t even know that existed). After pulling up the table and chairs specially selected for the game, rolling out the special playing mat and setting up the dominoes the way he liked, I knew I was in trouble. We played maybe six times and he beat me every time (by this point we had gathered quite an audience of other residents, who were offering me tips so that I didn’t lose so quickly). I cycled home with a smile on my face, thinking what a brilliant morning I had had and how lucky I was to have met someone like Sid.
I had a chat with the East London Cares team and asked if Sid and I could be matched up through their Love Your Neighbour programme: they match younger and older neighbours for friendship, face-to-face, over the long-term. Unfortunately, just as we were organising our first meet up Covid-19 struck, and we had to postpone. But then East London Cares started Phone A Friend (matching people for regular phone calls) so I was connected with Sid in another way, and I now we chat every other day.
We’ve been doing this a couple of months now and it has changed both of our lives! I’ve gained a friend, role model, life coach and I’m given all the free advice a confused 25 year old could need. Sid is one of the kindest and funniest people I’ve ever met, and at 91, has the most impressive stories of anyone I’ve ever met. We talk often about his life in Jamaica, the time he spent picking oranges in New York, what it was like to arrive in London for the first time in 1961. I tell him about growing up in Brighton, calling him when I went back home and walked along the promenade. He told me about his day trips to Brighton, in the 80s, when they used to get coaches down from London and walk the same promenade on sunny days. When I went to visit my Mum he spoke to her too, introducing themselves to each other and saying how much they had heard about one another. He has become an extension of my life, my favourite call on a stressful day.
Sid has given me many bits of precious advice. These vary from practical (always make sure your food is cooked through properly) to general life advice (be patient, give time to people that give it back). We share love for lots of the same things. These include:
He tells me what life is like since his wife has passed, and how much he values when people call (although he is definitely not lonely. He told me once that he gets about 10 calls a day from London and Jamaica). He is a huge support to me, and he tells me how lucky he is to have a young friend (he describes himself as young too), and that he spends the day looking forward to 5pm when we have our call
I could talk and talk about this friendship but just want to make a point of saying that making friends with someone in your area who you wouldn’t normally get the chance to meet is the greatest thing, and I would recommend it over and over again. Sid and I will stay friends for good now, and I know I can always count on him. We can’t wait to see each other post lockdown to eat wings, drink juice, and for me to finally beat him at dominoes. I’m coming for you Sidney!
If Emilia and Sid have inspired you to connect with someone of a different age, you can sign up to get involved here: www.eastlondoncares.org.uk/get...
Posted by Emilia on Friday 12th June 2020
Emilia is a volunteer at East London Cares. When she's not hanging out with Sid, you might find her making documentaries and podcasts with VICE.