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.