by Rachel Steinberg
Neighbours singing songs as they watch the magpies, dog walkers waving cheery hellos, and a violinist playing on the street— but it’s not the set of a West End musical.
It’s the blossoming of a special friendship between two women, which has transformed life during lockdown on Grove Hill Road, in Camberwell.
Paola Kellman, 60, has lived next to Jackie Thorpe, 85, for 30 years. The women were friends before Covid-19, but the pandemic has made it a special bond.
A chat at the bins turned into a doorstep coffee… then a near-daily rain-or-shine ritual which has been a lifeline for both over the last nine months—and caught the attention of their neighbours.
Coffee is the duo’s beverage of choice, but they sometimes sneak a cheeky G&T for a special occasion, like Jackie’s birthday in May or the birth of a neighbour’s baby boy two months ago.
Jackie sat under Paola’s front door canopy when it rained. And Jackie’s husband, Michael, brought out a radiator—and some whisky—when it got cold.
“Seeing each other every day has come to mean a whole lot more,” said Paola, whose husband works for the NHS.
“We talk about all kinds of stuff – rubbish that was on TV; Jackie will talk about the war. There’s nothing we don’t talk about. Little things like that I’m never going to forget.
“We’ve had tears out there, we’ve had ups and downs. I’ve lost family members and friends, and she lost a friend up the road.
“It’s not been all great fun and laughs every day, but such is the Covid thing.”
Jackie taught avid knitter Paola a Second World War song about the craft. They looked it up on YouTube and sang it together.
Paola described Jackie – who sings in a choir and goes to concerts and museums – as a “culture vulture – she puts me to shame… a real live wire.”
Jackie said: “It’s really taken the edge off this weirdly surreal time. It’s deepened our friendship.”
But Jackie’s age and health meant she had to isolate for months, leaving her feeling, she said, “quite low.”
Paola, looking for a way to cheer up her friend, came across South East London-based violinist Adrian Garr, who was offering socially distanced street concerts.
So Jackie answered her door in June to find Paola on her doorstep, asking her to pop outside for a moment.
Their neighbours were all out on their front steps, glasses of wine in hand, listening to Adrian play a repertoire of tunes ranging from classics to pop hits.
Paola recalled: “Jackie kept turning round and asking, ‘What’s this in aid of?’ and I said, ‘It’s for you!’
“And she was going, ‘but why?’ and I said, ‘just because!’”
Jackie said: “It put me on a high for days. It was such a lovely thing for them to do. That was magical.”
So, not quite a full-fledged musical, but close. Jackie and Paola see no sign of the encores ever stopping—even after the Covid-19 band finally marches out of town.
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