I met Lil seven years ago, on my first day working for North London Cares. Once met, never forgotten! As bold as brass, with that Cally Road charm and the most gorgeous cackle I’ve ever heard. She’s hilarious: she begged me for years to screen Fifty Shades of Grey at film club! And if you’ve never seen the clip of her insulting Richard Curtis on The One Show you need to watch it – go on, you’ve got the time!
But for all of her cheer, Lil is very lovely. She hates being alone, and so in the past used to order a cab to take her somewhere to just be around people. When they announced the lockdown, Lil was one of the first people I thought of. I rang to check how she’d taken the news and she told me, “Laura, I’m not worried about Coronavirus, it’s the loneliness that really scares me.” I knew I couldn’t do much to help, but I promised to call her every day.
I made that pact to support Lil, but after two weeks I’ve realised I’m getting just as much from our calls. We’re all on an intense rollercoaster. One minute it feels so doable: the opportunity you needed to just sit and finally complete the Netflix back catalogue; the next a stabbing pain when it feels like an eternity till you can hug the people you love. You clap on a Thursday full of respect and admiration, lifted by the community spirit sweeping down your street, only to sob when you’re inside – overwhelmed by the bravery of our key workers and praying for those we know working on the frontline.
My calls to Lil are the light in all the shade. Speaking to her raises my endorphin levels higher than my daily Joe Wicks fix! Since I'm currently on my second period of maternity leave from North London Cares, we’d not seen or spoken as much over the last few years, so it feels like I’ve been gifted this time with my friend. Lil shares with me stories of her youth, tales of her career, parenting advice and funny anecdotes.
One day I answered the phone to Lil enthusiastically (and with full admiration) saying “Dirty b***h!" I didn’t know what was going on, but I then remembered: I had ordered her the Fifty Shades DVD box set to help her get through lockdown; she had just finished it, and this was her review. She told me that when a repairman visited to fix her recliner, he came into the house to find her watching it; apparently he looked shocked to see an 88 year old with it on her TV, and kept glancing at it as he fixed the seat! In case you’re looking for a movie to watch tonight, Lil gave it 10 out of 10.
Another day I asked Lil to make a list of all the things we’re going to do together when this all ends. She told me “Laura, you know I don’t want for much…I’d just like to meet the Queen!” Arranging that should keep me busy through lockdown!
It’s not always easy – we both have days where we’re clearly struggling with it all, and when neither of you have left the house, it can be hard to find something to talk about. That’s when I’ve turned to the #AloneTogether pack North London Cares put together. It’s led to Lil sharing some brilliantly filthy jokes and both of us picking our Desert Island Discs, which ended in us both singing Doris Day’s Secret Love down the phone to each other. It was the truest moment of friendship and togetherness, when the whole world and all its tragedy disappeared. It’s a memory I will treasure forever.
I’m under no illusion – in the coming weeks and months, things will get a lot harder before they get better and there will be times I don’t know what to say or do but I know if I need additional support the team at North London Careswill be on hand to help; and Lil and I will push on through – together.
Sadly this intense level of social isolation is not new to many of our older neighbours and will continue long after this nightmare ends, but I just hope we can keep this community spirit alive and get into the routine of checking in on our neighbours. I can’t wait till all this is over and I can see Lil in person. The one saving grace of all this is that a disease that has so cruelly forced us all to separate is undoubtedly bringing us closer together.
If you are interested in supporting an older neighbour through our Phone a Friend project, please take a look at our volunteer guide. If you would like to volunteer with North London Cares, please sign up here.
Posted by Laura De Souza on Thursday 16th April 2020
Programme Coordinator for North London Cares