"No matter what mood I’m in that day, I always leave Derek’s feeling so much better" - Before we hear from Derek (82), Megan (26) shares her thoughts on the pair's friendship so far, as well as some fascinating insights into Derek's varied and idiosyncratic life.
"Derek’s flat is full of all sorts of fun. From the little nest (complete with fake bird and eggs) he has hidden in his house plant and the many cat sculptures and toys he has dotted around (Derek loves cats) to the fancy decanter filled with Ribena, Derek’s flat is an extension of his quirky, fun nature. The big shiny TV is another indicator of one of Derek’s passions: Derek loves film.
He has a tall shelf filled with DVDS, he’s got everything from Buster Keaton to Coen Brothers to more obscure art house films. During one of our early visits he suggested we watch Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. I was slightly nervous it would be too highbrow for me, but Derek put me at ease. He explained that he’d thought of it because it was about an older man and younger woman getting to know each other. He also said that he couldn’t remember if he actually liked it or if it was one of those films he’d tell people he liked because it sounded clever. We both really enjoyed the film, it was funny and moving and beautifully shot. His next suggestion is a Hungarian film that he’s described as being ‘very slow going and has a horse in it’. A harder sell, but I’m sure we’ll get round to it soon!
Derek was born in north London and despite living in London for most of his life (his family did move to Aldershot for some time but he moved back to London as soon as he could), he’s still always out and about exploring every corner of London, be it a trip to Highgate Cemetery or his weekly visits to Brick Lane market. I really look forward to hearing about his trips and seeing the photos he’s taken on his phone (Derek used to have a dark room and was in a photography club). He has a real eye for it and his photos of London capture the contrasts of the city beautifully. He loves taking photos of graffiti and strange sculptures he sees around and of Londoners getting on with their day to day lives. He often comes up with funny puns and quips to caption them when he posts them onto Facebook. I’ve now got a big list of places I need to visit plus Derek’s recommended Leigh-on-Sea for a nice summers day out.
Above left: Derek in the garden with his mother - the family's air-raid shelter at the back of the garden.
Above right: Derek and family on their way to a friends' wedding. Derek wasn't best pleased with the satin shirts and smock tops he was made to wear!
Below left: Derek (bottom right) camping out with the scouts.
I’ve always been hugely into family history. When I studied history at university I always preferred social history and learning about people’s daily experiences. My grandparents have loads of family photos and letters and I’ve always loved trawling through them, so when Derek mentioned he had boxes of old family photos he could show me, I jumped at the offer. When I arrived the next week, he pulled a big cardboard box up onto the desk and started to fish out piles of old photographs and began to talk me through them. There were photos of his parents when they were young in the 20s and 30s and photos of Derek as a baby and young boy. He explained that his mother had been a seamstress and so had made all her own clothes and his clothes too, though he was never very keen on his outfits. I tell him he looked very cute, but he scowls at the photos of him in satin shirts and smock tops.
Below right: Derek with the couple he stayed with when he was evacuated to Yorkshire.
One photo he pulled out was from a seaside holiday and he explained that the hole in the corner of the photo was actually a makeshift bomb shelter, and that shortly after the photo was taken he remembers a German plane flying over and his mother throwing him in the hole and lying on top of him. Derek said that he could remember being so worried about his mother.
They also had a bomb shelter at the end of their garden, but never used it as his parent's bed had a metal canopy, so he and his mother would curl up on
the bed when they heard bombs while his father went out to investigate - he was an ARP warden. He’s shared a few stories with me about what it was like being a boy during the war. He remembers when he was evacuated to Yorkshire all the children mocked his
southern accent, but when he returned to London later having picked up a slight northern twang, his friends and schoolmates in London mocked him for sounding like a funny northener. His stories really hit home about how war affects every aspect of people’s
lives. Derek’s said he’s not sure how the war affected him, and it’s probably difficult to say. But from his stories it’s obvious that Derek has always been very kind and sensitive.
I always look forward to meeting Derek because I never know what new thing I’m going to learn about him that week, like how he can write with both hands and the same time, that his cousin almost married the president of Mauritius when he was a student living in the East End, or that he was stationed on Christmas Island during his national service and witnessed two of the H-bomb tests (‘safety’ precautions involved being told to wear trousers and to cover their eyes with their hands).
Above left: Derek on Christmas Island during his national service.
But what I also love, and the thing I least expected when coming into the South London Cares, was how much Derek seems to be genuinely interested in my life. He’s asked me all about my childhood and always wants to know what I’ve been up to at work. I think he really appreciates being able to find out about what ‘the young people’ are up to. We’ve signed him up for Pinterest, talked about robots and AI and chatted about Game of Thrones. We decided it probably wasn't for him.
Above right: Derek (on the right) during his painting and decorating days.
No matter what mood I’m in that day, I always leave Derek’s feeling so much better. Derek and I have our routine down and it feels really comfortable and stable. I really look forward to popping down the road for a chat. And it’s been nice to see how both of us have opened up to each other over time. It’s a real joy seeing Derek each week and I’m really proud to call him a friend."
"When Oliver suggested that I could have a friend to visit, I was very dubious. It seemed false somehow, but I then thought that South London Cares know what they’re doing and I should see how this works out. Oliver introduced me to Megan and I was surprised that she was of a young age as I thought the person would be from a similar age group to me. I wondered how could I relate to someone her age? It didn’t take long before I realised on her subsequent visits that was no problem. It was an advantage, as I could learn about the young age group and Megan would have an insight into my generation’s experiences.
As times gone on, I’ve continued to enjoy the experience. There’s always something to talk about. I like to talk about the present and everyday happenings and enjoy hearing about what Megan’s everyday life is like. I don’t feel awkward about asking Megan about anything. With family you tend to talk about family matters but we can chat about all sorts."
Posted by Megan Landon on Monday 24th June 2019
Megan has been volunteering for the Love Your Neighbour programme since January 2019.