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Phone Calls From Around the World

“I never know when he’s going to ring,” says Arnold, “but I always look forward to his calls.”

Sometimes life brings surprising friendships into our path. Alan has been calling Arnold for the past two years. Unlike most of Age Concern’s Phone Friend volunteers, Alan calls from all over the world. “He called from Malaysia this week,” Arnold says. Over the years, Alan has called from Germany, the UK, Korea, China, India, Thailand and many more places. When Arnold was discharged from hospital after a spell of ill health a couple of years ago, he felt a little isolated and was referred to Age Concern’s Phone Friend Service.

At the time, Alan was living in New Zealand. Alan first volunteered with Age Concern when Covid was raging. “I read an article about how difficult things were for housebound people. After lockdown ended, I contacted Age Concern and started volunteering.” One of the brilliant things about the Phone Friend Service is that Alan has been able to continue to call Arnold despite being half a world away.

Age Concern Social Connection Coordinator Kirsten Blyde has a knack for matching the right people together. The two men have lived most of their lives away from their birth countries, but Alan is Scottish and Arnold is from the Netherlands. They’re both well-travelled and share many common interests. “At first the conversations were a bit weird as we didn’t know each other, but we soon got past that and now it’s easy to chat. Arnold knows a lot of the things I know. He was conscripted in the army. My dad was in the army at the same time. We both know football and like to talk about the great players from the 70s and 80s. We’re both from Europe. I supposed you could say we have a shared history. I really enjoy speaking with Arnold,” Alan says.

Arnold and Alan have never met in person, but they now feel like they know each other like old friends. Years ago, Arnold travelled to many of the same places as Alan now calls from. Alan sometimes talks about cities and streets he’s visiting that week, and Arnold remembers going to the same places years before – images of rivers running down streets, thousands of motorbikes by a monastery, and all sorts of other memories come racing back as the two men have a good laugh together.

“I enjoy the phone calls,” Arnold says. “Alan has a good voice, he’s nice to listen to, and he’s also a good listener.” Arnold lives by himself and isn’t well enough to travel anymore. Hearing about Alan’s adventures and travels brings a welcome variety to Arnold’s life.

In many ways, Arnold and Alan are very different people with different backgrounds: Arnold was a construction manager and has had a hand in the construction of many buildings around Wellington, and Alan works in the plasma and protein serum industry. “People think they don’t have time for anything,” Alan says. “But they should make the time. Everybody who’s got a phone should do this. So many people miss out by not taking the time to listen. I’m delighted to know Arnold. He’s a very interesting person. It’s no trouble to call him, just a real pleasure. I have no living older relatives, no family left to tell me of their migration, the wars, and so much more. It’s a great privilege to listen to Arnold.”


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