Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS - In­ter­view/ Britt Mann Pho­to­graph/ Iain McGre­gor

Max Farra, 20, vis­its Clare Keay, 78, in her Christchurch home on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noons as part of a so­cial en­ter­prise which matches younger peo­ple with older folk. Farra, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury, has been vis­it­ing Keay weekly for the past six months. The pair usu­ally play Scrab­ble. MAX/ The WeVisit idea of com­bat­ing so­cial iso­la­tion re­ally spoke to me. I’ve lost both sets of grand­par­ents; it was also an op­por­tu­nity for me to con­nect with an older per­son, which I guess I re­ally missed in my life.

The only in­for­ma­tion I got was she was an older lady liv­ing in Wool­ston, and she was ab­so­lutely nuts about Scrab­ble. I sup­pose that’s all you need to know. I was sort of pic­tur­ing this black-belt Scrab­ble player who was look­ing for a young ’un to mop the floor with.

When I ar­rived for my first visit, off we went on a tour around the gar­den, she was show­ing me all the things she’d planted she had com­ing along. She’s par­tic­u­larly proud of her del­phini­ums.

We got right into play­ing the much-an­tic­i­pated game of Scrab­ble. She’s got this gor­geous an­tique Scrab­ble set, lovely old wooden let­ter tiles and a worn board.

We al­ways have to get out the dic­tionary be­cause I have to keep her hon­est and make sure she’s pro­duc­ing real words. More of­ten than not they are, but they’re ar­chaic or funny lit­tle say­ings from deep­est dark­est Scot­land or some­thing like that. She’s got the most amaz­ing words she comes up with. I go: “Is that a word, Clare? Re­ally?” And she’s like: “Go on, you can check it.”

I started to give her a bit of a run for her money at the be­gin­ning, which she was less than pleased about. She’s a very gra­cious loser, ac­tu­ally, and very de­ter­mined, I think. On the oc­ca­sion where I do beat her, she’ll go: “Oh well, I’ve got to get you next time.” She’s a class act.

Ev­ery­thing’s done just so with Clare – we have to take tea as well. She has this jug of milk, she has teacups and bis­cuits – it’s all on a tea tray and we lay out the green vel­vet-topped card ta­ble. We’ve had ev­ery­thing from Girl Guide bis­cuits to fruit cake; she’s quite par­tial to an Ernest Adams apri­cot slice, I un­der­stand.

She’s very lively, and un­can­nily en­er­getic for some­one her age. She’s al­ways on the go. I have to plan vis­its far in ad­vance be­cause her so­cial cal­en­dar is busier than mine

I didn’t ex­pect to get a friend out of this – some­one who I re­ally get along with and look for­ward to see­ing. What’s the best thing about it for her? You’d prob­a­bly have to ask her your­self. I imag­ine she likes hav­ing some­one to rou­tinely beat at Scrab­ble. CLARE/ My grand­child Mad­die is one of the peo­ple who or­gan­ises the WeVisi­tors. It was of­fered to me that some­one would come and visit as long as I liked them. I was slightly sur­prised that I’m re­ally so old and dod­dery that I need to have some­body come and visit me once a week. Around that time I’d just been given a new knee, so I was house­bound and wasn’t driv­ing. I’d got used to lots of lovely Nurse Maude car­ers com­ing in and hav­ing the house far ti­dier than it nor­mally is and much cleaner than it nor­mally is. Then they all stopped af­ter six weeks. Ditto with the driv­ing.

They just said we’d have a trial visit and we could dis­cuss with each other whether we thought it’d work or not. So we did. I had asked for some­body who could play Scrab­ble, which he’s an ab­so­lute ge­nius at – he’s very good at it.

About the third time he came, I said: “Now I’m driv­ing I re­ally mustn’t get into the habit of us­ing the car, I re­ally want to get back on my bike.” “Oh, we could do that,” he said. “We could do it to­day.” And off we went.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. When I said: “I must get it out,” I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to be taken up on it there and then. I was very un­steady; it was quite a chal­lenge.

Ac­tu­ally tak­ing ex­er­cise on a bike was sim­ply splen­did. He was so lovely be­cause he must have been a bit anx­ious about it, I think, but he didn’t show it. He only made en­cour­ag­ing re­marks, that’s all. I think that takes a bit of do­ing.

For the first cou­ple of games, I beat him, and ever since then, he’s been beat­ing me. Not that I mind be­ing beaten. It’s quite nice to have some­body who can re­li­ably play through a game. The only prob­lem is he comes for such a short time we of­ten don’t fin­ish. Some­times I fin­ish the game play­ing both hands; some­times I don’t be­cause I’m tired.

I get to skite about all my achieve­ments as a young woman, which is great fun. I had a quite mem­o­rable climb­ing ac­ci­dent when I was 21, in Wales, and I showed him the news­pa­per cut­tings from that.

It’s ex­ceeded my ex­pec­ta­tions in terms of hav­ing some­body who is a friend and comes reg­u­larly, and is also will­ing to do pretty much any­thing he’s asked to do, which is amaz­ing. He doesn’t seem to have a teenage bone in his body any more – he doesn’t grump. I just feel in­cred­i­bly lucky to have a young friend who is as much of a dar­ling as Max. It’s a piece of enor­mous luck. WeVisit pairs young peo­ple and older folk in un­likely friend­ships. See wevisit.co.nz or call 0800 WEVISIT.

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