Camden’s older LGBT* team offers brilliant chat and befriending.
When was the last time you had a really good conversation? One that includes Dad’s Army episodes, opera jokes, bursts of French, debate about normative heterosexual behavior in relation to the zodiac sign, Aries, and the difficulties of getting a hippy (or even a hipster) admit they just might be mistaken as a hippy (or hipster). Lively chat can be a fantastic tonic, which is why Opening Doors runs a befriending scheme that guarantees great conversations and some practical help for older LGBT* people in Camden.
It is thanks to Opening Doors that Anthony Clater, 64, has been meeting up with John Humber, 89, once a week for the past five years. John was born the year Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness was published and then withdrawn by the publisher. Most Fridays the pair drink tea, sort out officialdom, and do something – even if it is just chat in John’s garden. And that list above is just a soupçon of what was covered by John and Anthony during Get Together’s visit.
Anthony, who lives in Richmond, but yearns for a Glastonbury address, heard about Opening Doors thanks to his old job. “Until I took voluntary redundancy from the library, I was responsible for community information and noticed Opening Doors. I’ve been a beneficiary of the gay revolution so I wanted to give something back. It took a year to match us but it’s been really great and I regard John as a friend,” he says reorganizing the chairs so there will be space later for John to practice shoulder stands.
Fortunately John also thinks of Anthony as a friend. And it’s a strong connection because as John explains, “I’m a Pisces, a water sign, and he’s a fire sign, I did his chart. I studied the occult and astrology and I’m quite psychic – very often I know if I’m going to like somebody.”
Dealing with practical matters are a key part of the befriender’s role. “I haven’t got patience with the post or when the bank makes a mistake. Anthony helps with queries,” says John pointing to an orderly pile near his chair. Back in 2012 when Anthony walked in as a befriender, the post was unopened and in plastic bags.
“When John’s previous partner died, it was very complicated and he needed a barrister,” adds Anthony. It sounds stressful, but the pair have had plenty of fun on their weekly meet-ups too, especially before John’s radiotherapy. “We used to go for walks on the heath and swim in the pond, and we’ve been to a couple of concerts and used a taxi to go to John’s dentist and visit John Lewis.”
“During my life I’ve been to so many places,” says John explaining why he doesn’t mind leaving his home less now. “I did army service in Egypt and what used to be Palestine and Jordan. After a nervous breakdown I did something different, and I went to sea working as a ship’s hairdresser on passenger boats going to and from South Africa, New Zealand and the east African coast.” It was on a boat that John, who grew up in the Isle of Wight, met Desmond, “an aspiring concert pianist who had lodgings in Hampstead,” which is how Camden became his home.
Both men have revealed their life stories to each other and share childhood experiences. Anthony says: “I came to London in 1971 and it couldn’t have been a better place for a gay man. I was quite inhibited and needed to be brought out of myself, but met just the right people and shared a flat.” He even remembers buying his first copy of Gay News – “it was issue number 2 and I bought it in Paddington.”
Being able to talk openly about anything is a particular benefit of matching LGBT* befrienders with an older LGBT* person. “I definitely recommend it, how would I have coped?” says John.“I look forward to Fridays.”
For Anthony befriending is his version of altruistic payback. “John’s told me about his life, things which I haven’t had to go through. I’m not Christian and I don’t want to sound as if I’m a do-gooder, this is more about solidarity with other gay people.”
Anthony has also found Opening Doors London’s meetings useful and regularly attends their coffee mornings, which he says attract “really interesting people”. As a plus there are often trips arranged, which is how Anthony went around NBC Universal Studios Skyline venue, in Holborn, and met the pink-suited Mayor of Camden.
When befriending is like this, it’s got so many pluses. Just don’t mention good karma…
Befriending is a brilliant way to reduce loneliness and isolation and is beneficial for both the people being visited and the people visiting. And we definitely need more LGBT* befrienders.
Could you be a befriender? Or do you need a friendly regular visitor? Opening Doors London is the biggest charity providing information and support services specifically for older LGBT* people in the UK. Find out more about the befriending scheme from Opening Doors.