Out of Many
“As I raised my head from the pillow I saw breath come as a curtain of vapour from my own mouth. Only as I felt the pinching of the cold on my exposed cheek, sharp as acid, did I remember that I was in England”
Small Island by Andrea Levy
“We had the fog, the black fog that we...people from West Indies didn’t know. You mustn’t hang out clothes when the fog is on. The fog went into the woolies on the line and the woolies ice up...because of course they don’t dry...we didn’t know you’re not supposed to”.
One the many things to learn when arriving in an unfamiliar climate.
Every encounter is a series of negotiations with others and perhaps more importantly with one’s self.
An opportunity to contribute and to share. To build within the rebuilding.
With the advancing years come reflection, a certain candidness and an acceptance.
I wasn’t excited. I was more frightened than excited. It was like a nervous situation. You’re not sure what to expect...can you imagine the first you leave home?...even going from the country to Kingston wasn’t a thing that you did regularly.
97 Clifford Gardens, NW10
One...half empty...because we didn’t take much clothes with us then. Coming from home and you weren’t coming from a rich family we didn’t have a lot of clothes to take. Most of my stuff my Mum and her friend they made...
Well it’s obvious I leave my parents, my sisters, my brothers, friends, other relatives.
...so I came to Finsbury Park, N4
I was given a full medical at the airport. Full health medical ...well they gave me a clean bill of health and they let me though.
Once you get the passport and you book your fare then you know that’s it.
It was like an adventure. You were coming to England.
A pink suit, white gloves...one suitcase...I know it was a pink suit... yes...because my uncle’s wife made it for me....Going away suit...two piece...a skirt and a jacket. I was very slim then.
...the men, them who wear hat, their tie, their jacket, trousers seam sharp like could have cut you.
I found my own way home... I had three pound notes on me. Them days taxi fare was very cheap. I took it to 80 Bravington Road.
The channels were open for people to come here...
So that’s the only two things you needed. The passport and your money.
When I hear people reminiscing I can’t reminisce because I don’t remember.
I only know the impression I got when I came here. It’s not that important.
I didn’t have to remember what’s happen...it’s the future I’m looking for- ward...and the only thing I knew that was on our minds when I came is that I must send for the baby as soon as he’s able to manage.
We were coming along on the train...see the smoke coming out of the chimneys to keep the house warm and all we could say “oh they have lots of factories here”. We didn’t know that’s how people kept the houses warm.
The place was dark, it wasn’t bright and it was like you were under a cloud. We are used to the brightness you know.
America yes, but England was the last place I would have wanted to go...but he decided that’s the way.
...having lived in the country. Portland was full of banana trees and all sort of thing...and when we came and saw the bareness of things...
Well, it was surprising to see the architecture of the houses. You know...the same pattern. Rows of houses.
Well I was eighteen and he had asked me to come. I didn’t come to any relatives or anybody with the expectation of getting married. At that time I had left school and you had to pay for education just to study. It was difficult for us then.
I didn’t know what I was coming to.
...because when we were home we used to see pictures people...weddings...their bridgesmade dresses and looking really nice so we used to think, well some life was good. But at the same time they were having it very tough too. Very tough.
We flew on the same flight up, my sister and myself, so that was really good but then when got here they told us “well you’re going to London where B is and I (that’s my sister) is going to Southampton”. To live and fly on the same day...and then just split...weren’t quite so happy about that.
I said if the distance from England to Jamaica was like from Montego Bay to Kingston I would have returned.... and I cried, cried, cried.
It made no impression on me in that I was...as I said I had so much history as it were and disappointment and I’m going somewhere which I never thought I would.
I didn’t sort of plan. There they were telling you you could come... you came with an open invitation so people are just coming.
...you’d see the little shops and each shop is like a house...
First of all I was in nursing and got pregnant then and I had to leave it, that sort of thing. So everything was on top of me then I had baby and baby’s father isn’t there and there’s still a bit of uncertainty but he decided to send for me.
We went to the seaside actually and I’ve never felt so cold...and the sun was shining beautifully...I think it was April/May.
But the landlady was a very caring lady, like a mother so she’d mother us or me... she let it out to different different people. Nice people. Even though it was let they were all caring. I lived there for 10 months or so...December until Autumn, maybe September, October and then I moved to Burrows Road where my sister was living.
72 or 71 Liam Vale
...I can still see myself in that dress now. A little collar, a little bow here like a ribbon and very fitted princess line with six pegs, six gores and three quarter sleeves.
...so that was what she was filling up my head so you know you’re just dreading what the place is like and you know, how the people going to accept you...if you were going to be accepted.
Everybody give themselves five years. Five years and we’re gone but never...it didn’t materialise.
...so I thought you know what, my baby stay in Jamaica with my mother.
...we weren’t married before. We got married when I got here. I came 19th December and got married 17th February. I said to B “we’re not going to be living in sin” and so we went to the Register Office and got married.
All my other brothers and sisters went to America....my other sister went to America after me and she got them there. Only T came here. He was the oldest son and like those days you wanted somebody to come to help you, help the family because times were so hard there. You have to live and you have to send home something for them. So you send for the next person...they can help you to send.
You leave home...the family alone would use the toilet and the kitchen. Here now everybody have to use the same kitchen and the same toilet and bathroom so that’s a culture shock.
I can remember my dad contributed £40 and mum gave the rest for me to come. So that’s how I got here. £85.
It was like an adventure. You were coming to England. Hear about the great England but it’s one big culture shock. You came here and you see white women on their hands and their knees...down Harrow Road wiping True Form shop front.
Most people in my age group and society, my society meaning my friends, we were more thinking America, United States that is. New York or whatever. You know somebody has a relative there you think “oh it’s nice. I wish I could”.
...you have to get up whether it’s snowing, raining you have to get up and get to work.
Which ever country you’re from everybody had a job... so you meet other people from other countries. It was a multicultural workplace. That’s what I would say. People from Barbados, Jamaica, India, Pakistan...I remember there was a guy working there in a turban...Sikh...and Guyana.
It was easier then because...people could walk out of one job and into another...in a day.
If you were a good machinist you could get work.
...well in Jamaica I trained as a hairdresser. I went to the Labour Exchange and tell them what experience I have and the lady that speak to me she phoned around ...but I wasn’t successful...and then my sister now...where she works at Rima Electric she asked them and they gave me a job.
I was the only black woman there then. There was all Irish women.
...you had to go outside...skip from one building through to the next building to use the toilet. Very basic in Brick Lane in those days
If you didn’t have bulk work then you’d have to come home because if the work finish you only get pay by the amount you did.
I realised that I didn’t get any maternity pay because they used pay out a little money to people who have a baby. ..so when I rang Newcastle...they said “well your employer should have paid you that money, it was paid...months ago”...by then I realised he was dodgy, dodgy...so I left and went to Chippenham.
I remember a lovely lady from Istanbul...and she was so fast on the sewing machine. I learnt from people like those. They looked after me well. I never regretted my experience, even though it was hard work.
Work...it’s not office work...it was always factory. In fact I was introduced to a factory and I’ve never...honestly I was like fish out of water.
...I had a lot of good books when I was in high school. I wasn’t all such a dunce although I hadn’t passed what was known then as the Cambridge Examination but I had various books and I regret not even carrying them...
I wanted to work in dressmaking but that was something else because you didn’t get to make a dress...one dress on it’s own...it’s piece work. .
...funny enough it was a nice place ‘cause it was shared by my aunt, her husband and it was on the top floor...and we had our own kitchen and dining room. It was lovely...facing the garden.
It was just a cupboard they put a cooker in.
When you rent a room...who works night would come in and sleep during the day...and who work day they have to be out of that room when the next person come home.
80 Bravington Road
We crossed over the river and we moved to Borrows Road...21 Borrows Road.
...something happened and he gave everybody notice and then we had to move out and find somewhere and it’s very difficult when you have a baby, to find a place to live and we ended up in a dump.
...most people’s ambition was to own their place...
...then I was getting very homesick then by that time I was losing sight of my parents and my brothers and sisters.
Well you know I get married along the way and then I had A.
I know people lives had improved a bit because by then they had people sending home something for them so they did improve some people lives but not very much.
...if my mum wasn’t here maybe I wouldn’t but you’re mum is safe.
What can you do in five years?
On a Saturday we’d go down to Brixton Market and then you would see the different things...a few things you know...you’d make your jello and put it on your window sill overnight.
They never used to wrap the bread here.
Beatrice Road, N4
There is something out there once you decide to work hard for it and go for it you’ll make it. So we just take that opportunity
I was glad to go back because I wanted to see my family.
Camden was a good paymaster. I went to college for one year. I worked for Camden till I retired.
You didn’t have any plans to go back.
...although some people within the next month they’re out. They didn’t like what they see...so they get their parents to send back for them... and some people end up...couldn’t take the situation, they end up with mental problem.
Nearly 60 years. I came in June and I got married in December so we didn’t take long.
You can’t see yourself of finding the fare to go home and what’s going to happen, they might die and you’ll never see them...you thought that was the end....It just builds up on you...you think you’re okay going along thinking about them when suddenly it just hits you...bam!
I still renew my Jamaican passport...but then I applied for citizenship after quite a while.
This is where you’re building a life.