In these strange times – especially now that all the betting shops are shut – you can trust 853‘s special correspondent MERCURY MAN to find a moving tale of community involvement to make us all feel just that little bit better…
You wouldn’t normally rely on a burglary to bring people together, but that’s exactly what’s happened in a leafy thoroughfare in Sidcup over the last year or two.
After a burglary you would expect the good people of Collindale Avenue to call in PC49 to help set up a Neighbourhood Watch group. which they did. But what followed was more like an uplifting Ealing Studios film starring Stanley Holloway.
In no time at all the milk of human kindness was flowing as freely down the avenue as water down the nearby River Shuttle.
How did I hear about it? Well, it’s almost a story in itself. (Oh, no – Ed) I happened to attend a wedding in February where one of the protagonists – the groom aged 72, was the gloriously monikered Reginald Silverside – was attending the FIRST wedding of his life, his own.
Amazing, eh? (Yes, but can you now please get on with it? – Ed)
Anyhow, I was sitting opposite Reggie’s secondary school chum Mike Percival, who related the inspiring tale of Collindale Avenue over two or three large dry whites: “We had a burglary down our street and I volunteered to start our first Neighbourhood Watch group,’ says Mike. ‘A group of four of us felt we could help this endeavour by creating a community club, initially only for our street.”
Which they did.
“Now, in the summer we have a fun day,’ he continues, ‘with old-time larks such as egg & spoon races, tin-pan alley, a bouncy castle, music, etc, with the finale being the children’s water-pistol fight to empty the hook-a-duck pool!
“After our first fun day, I was walking down our street and a nine-year-old girl called to me from her window, thanking me so much for the fun day because it helped her make friends with the girl from next door and they had been inseparable throughout the holidays.”
Anyone else might left it there and had a well-deserved breather until the following summer. Not 72-year-old Mike.
“Needless to say this all took a lot of time and effort and money, for which I collect £10 from as many households willing to support their community, but the community coming together in this way is well worth it. We now have a festive film time and social just before Christmas, a film for the children whilst the adults socialise over a mince pie and mulled wine. We also have a WhatsApp group, picnic and games in our local park and help out with a local stream clean – which involves organising other streets.”
I was beginning to need a rest myself, but Mike was in full flow. “We are also getting involved with Street Watch, where local responsible members of our community patrol the streets to help people feel more secure and to report anything untoward to the relevant authorities.”
At that point I wondered whether Mike might be hoping to invite some local punk to make his day, but he assured me it was more Captain Mainwaring than Clint Eastwood and all they did was report “anything untoward” to the relevant authorities, as explained.
All of which would have more than filled this column, and I was about to put away my shorthand pad as the Eton mess was served when the glint in Mike’s eyes clearly suggested there was yet more to come.
Before you could say Clark Kent, SuperMike metaphorically dons the red, blue and yellow onesie he got for Christmas and flies to local care homes to lead the inmates at regular singalongs.
“I am a child of the sixties,” he says, “and the pop music of that era is in my DNA. My mother was in a local care home about 15 years ago and at that time there wasn’t much entertainment for the residents.
“So, I have devised a singalong of 18 songs, with accompanying TV videos, that residents know well and we “perform” these once a month on a circuit of six different care homes. I am the MC encouraging residents to join in as much as they are able and Sue, a lady from Collindale Avenue, of course, comes with me. She operates her laptop so that the correct video comes up for the right song and is always smiling, enjoying the performance.
“Sue is also setting up shiatsu sessions for the residents. We always start with Daisy Daisy (give me your answer, do) because we can put residents’ names in and sing, for example, Sandra, Sandra (give me your answer, do).
“This is also a good way of getting them involved right from the start. We only sing the chorus but on one occasion one resident, Doris, knew the first verse and I gave her the microphone and she sang it beautifully to much applause.
“Our second song is You Are My Sunshine, which helps encourage an atmosphere of happiness, joy and an uplifting of spirit. We also have two war songs – It’s A Long Way to Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag – and I explain that life isn’t always a bed of roses but if the men in the most horrible of conditions can still sing uplifting songs then so should we, whatever our problems.
“Then we lower the tone somewhat with the cockney songs Knees Up, Mother Brown and the Hokey Cokey – only to raise the tone with two Christian songs What A Friend We Have In Jesus, sung by a fabulous Ugandan choir of such happy cheerful children, and Amazing Grace sung by a deep south, American eight-year-old girl who sings with such emotion that it brings tears to your eyes.
“We can’t not have one of the Beatles songs. We started with She Loves You but this did not have much of a chorus so we swapped to Yellow Submarine, that goes down much better. Our final song is what Morecambe and Wise used to finish with, Bring Me Sunshine. It is worth pointing out that some of the carers really get involved and I can feel well exercised, especially marching up and down in the war songs!
“There have been some lovely moments with residents. The husband of a wife who was a resident came in just as we were about to sing If You Were The Only Girl In The World and he sang it to her. There is also another lady who always wants me to sing that song to her!
“I am no great singer, although I was a choir-boy, my career was as a maths teacher! All you need is positivity, confidence and a joy in what you are doing. I would suggest that we all have gifts that are sometimes hidden and unrealised and if we open the door, we might be delighted by what is behind it… and if not, we can shut the door and open another!”
I was left speechless and I wouldn’t have been shocked if SuperMike had been introduced as deputy prime minister a couple of weeks ago…
MERCURY MAN looks at different sides of life in south-east London. Click here to read past columns.
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