Oral History Interview - Vera Maloney

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Oral History Interview - Vera Maloney


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Vera Maloney, who was born in St Lucia and moved to Britain. She discusses her Caribbean background, and experiences and employment in London.



Q. Can I ask you Vera what was your first home like?

VM. My first home, I was brought up with my Grandmother and Uncle, so you find the generation, was you know a bit dodgy; although she never spoilt me, neither my Uncle so you find whatever I did was pleasing to my Grandmother, was not pleasing to my Uncle [laughter] so and I was raised up in a way that I was not, I was to be seen but not to talk. So I was to talk when I was spoken to, put it this way so you find that at times I was not to look at my Grandmother but at times if she doesn’t want me to be out of the room or whatever, I got to see the way that she looked at me, and I knew I had to go to my room or whatever.
I had a happy childhood I would say because I was lucky I liked going to school and I was one that was always to be chosen to be with a group, where they would take us out and things like that from a very small age, you know, and then I find my Uncle who liked to go to the cinema and when he’s baby-sitting me he takes me along, so [laughter] I was introduced to the cinema very very early, at a very early age.

Q. Where did you grow up?
VM. I grew up in Castridge, Saint Lucia in the middle of everything, because there you find where I was living, where I was living we have that walk, and it was really exciting because those days the ship used to come and the ship used to travel by coals; so you find the ship used to come and drop the coals and the people used to go and take the coals off the ship to put it in the yard. Then after that another ship would come for fuel and then it would have to go and put the coal back, you know which was very exciting to me as a child; and when the man and boat come in as well, there you see the people you know, and as if the place was frill of life you know, full of life, full of sharing, whatever, you know especially Christmas time because as I say my Grandmother used to say that she’s bringing me up, not dragging me up so therefore I had to be highly disciplined; but then Christmas was a day that was, a day that I was free. I could do anything no smacking, no stopping, nothing whatsoever, so up to this present moment, at sixty-seven I do look forward to Christmas [laughter]

Q. Did you have to help out at home?

VM. My Grandmother never wanted me to come, because there was only the three of us, and she took full possession of the kitchen, so I didn’t have to go in the kitchen; but I had to do all the cleaning up and everything, and up to this present moment I’ll do all the cleaning, everything and the cooking was for her [laughter].

Q. What was school like? Did you enjoy it?

VM. I enjoyed school, because this was my only way out because at home I was so disciplined, that when I went to school I used to enjoy myself enjoy my studies you know, participate in whatever that was going and then I was brought up during the war, so you find that we had to wear fine handiwork and dressing, Dressmaking is concerned, we had to do our own, you see and we had to make our own rag dolls, and sew our dresses you know to the pattern of it, and I enjoyed going to school because you know it was relaxation to me. Anyway, and I was a bit shy; I didn’t want the teachers’ to beat me so I had to learn [laughter] as quick as possible, if I was ill, cos most times I used to be ill and I used to study at home so that when I go to school because I didn’t want to be beaten, because the teachers’ used to use the strap very often on us [laughter].

Q. How old were you when you left school?

VM. Oh when I left school, maybe I was nineteen because after I finished my studies, I was a young pupil/teacher then, the young pupil/teacher, that means you study part of the day and you teach part of the day, and I taught in an infant boys’ school, but then I find I met my husband and in those days you find once you’re married, they didn’t want you in; so therefore I had to start my married life with my husband, and I regretted it anyway, eventually yeah.

Q. So did you find any other work, once you were married?

VM. When we got married we bought our own place, and had a little shop, a little corner shop as they call it; where everybody would come and buy whatever they want. People going to the hospital to have babies, they knock on the place anytime to buy their safety pins or whatever [laughter] but then you find….My free time?

Q. Yeah, what did you do in your free time?

VM. In my free time, as I say from school, I learn to Knit and Crochet, and I was very interested in Dressmaking as well, so I used to do my own Dressmaking, and whoever wants, cos I was very slim and those days you had those tiny waists and large skirts which was very attractive to people, and I use to do that.

Q. What types of food did you used to eat?

VM. Well, the food that we used to eat, the main food at home in Saint Lucia, ‘aldocies’, seasonal food and this is the bread fruit which you find, well it was just like the potatoes here, English food, the main is potatoes, so we, the main was bread fruit. I love my bread fruit, I love green bananas, and I love a lot of fish as well, I prefer fish and we have the plantain, we have the Tanyas, the Daschen.
I can remember my brother-in-law he was in Aruba, and then when he bring his children home, he said they’re not going to eat that; well she was telling me she didn’t want to eat that ‘blue’ food and I ask her what is the ‘blue food’? She told me ‘Daschen’ and ‘Daschen’ is like a tuba, and when you cut it, its almost like the bread fruit, it has a different taste, and it boils ‘blue’ it has a blue colour.

Q. So how do cook it? Do you peel it then?

VM. You peel it, you wash it and then you put it in the pot with water and salt and cook

Q. What would you eat it with?

VM. Well, we’d eat it with fish, or stewed beef, we love chicken as well, you know, We would say at home rice and fowl, in New Guinea we used to call a chicken, chicken, we used to call it fowl, you see, so rice and fowl, you’d find that dish to be our Sunday meal, rice and the chicken and stewed peas, you know but I like a lot of salad.
I like to eat salad in the morning, because a very hot country, a cucumber, a lettuce, we normally used to eat this along with our what do you call it? Breakfast; but a like a lot of fruits as well; the Paw Paw, Bananas, Guavas you know, we had some called ‘Sugar Apple’ you know?

Q. What’s ‘Sugar Apple’?

VM. Yeah, ‘Sugar Apple’ ‘Sugar Apple’

Q. What did it look like and taste like?

VM. Oh [laughter] oh dear me, ‘Sugar Apple’ is something like, we used to call, we had another we called ‘Sour Soap’ you see, it’s a little greenish, the size of an apple or even bigger; but it has something like a ‘scale’ it’s not a ‘scale’ because it is a fruit, and then when you take it out every little pulp that you have has a seed in it, it’s really nice and sweet, you know. The ‘Sour Soap’ is almost like the ‘Sugar Apple’ but much bigger, and we used to squeeze it and make juice with it.

Q. Why did you decide to leave home and come to England?

VM. Well, when myself and my husband got married, we’re very young, and the capital where we had all the commercials and businesses and everything was burned down, and as a matter of fact through this, some people from England had to come, and we build a place for us because the way it was built was primitive, put it this way and the houses were so close to one another, that when the fire came the whole lot burnt, just like the old fire you all had in England, you know. So you find people from England came because, we were away under the British flag, the British Colony, and they came and they build it in the new way for us, just like we have houses here.
They built it this way for us, so you find when myself and my husband got married, we borrowed money from the bank and luckily for us we only had to pay for the interest you see, but after staying there for such a long time, and just paying the interest all the time; and we couldn’t pay the loan as it was.
My husband decided to come up here you see, because we heard that there was work up here for us, and at the time when they said five pounds a week, to me that was a whole lot of money you know [laughter] so anyway he came up and then he send for me, you know so that we would be able to pay. So we came up with the intention of paying the loan and then to go back up, go back down but by the time I still here, two years after I came here, I got pregnant with my second child, so therefore you know, thinking about children whatever and the years just rolled by.

Q. Did you keep your place in Saint Lucia still?

VM. Well, no, after I had, after I had that second child because I only had one at home, and we came up with the intention of paying the debt and go back; then the second child came and we used to have problems with landlords, so what we decided to do [laughter] because…

Q. So go on, what happened?

VM. So you find once I was expecting that baby, the landlord gave us one week notice, and we couldn’t, we couldn’t get a place because it was very difficult to get a place you know.

Q. Why was that? Was that having the children? [11.53]

VM. Not, well there was a notice, ‘no dogs’ ‘no children’ and ‘no blacks’, so when we, so you find that if we are lucky to get a place you are not suppose to have children; you are not suppose to have dogs, so when the landlord realised I was pregnant, he gave us that notice, so we couldn’t get a place during that week. So when the landlord came and saw we’re still there, he took the, because we used to only rent one room, you know, which was very, I had a big house and there I was in one room, no bathroom.

Q. And that had everything in it, did it?

VM. Well, they had some furniture, you see, some old table it had in there you know, but in as much as I came up with the intention of do good, I was feeling very out of sort anyway, but anyway…

Q. You were talking about your landlord? [12.53]

VM. So the landlord.

Q. Came after a week and you were still there?

VM. Oh yes, I was still there, we were renting one at the front room, so he took the glass off from the window and took the door, taking us to our room, so you find when we got home, we were still paying the bank.
So my brother-in-law said well as much that we have that property at home, we should sell it and put a deposit on a house here; at the time the house was two thousand five hundred, so.

Q. And that was in Hackney was it? You decided to buy a house?

VM. No, I was in Willesden first thing.

Q. So can I go back? Your landlord let you stay in the place, but he boarded up the windows? [13.36]

VM. He took the windows off you know because you are in the room and there is one window you know, with the glass, he took the glass off, you know so therefore it was bare you know and the door that was suppose to come in the room, he took this off.

Q. And did you stay living there? Or did you move?

VM. Well, then he took the mattress because it suppose to be a furnished place, he took the mattress away, so anyway a friend came, not to say a friend, but a neighbour seen us in this position, took us to somewhere else to stay until we could get a place because by that time police came and everything, and we had to go to a Tribunal but then when the tribunal said we could go back, I was too scared to go back because I mean I was seven months pregnant, so therefore we decided to sell the place and then to buy a place here because we already had a child and send for the other one.

Q. Did you experience much Racism in looking for somewhere to stay? I mean, you said that there were notices saying ‘no blacks’ ‘no Irish’ ‘no dogs’.

VM. Well, there were notices but because my husband was the one that used to go and look for the rooms so he’s the one that mostly, you know, but I, coming here it was really a big test, in coming here because you know, I had a home and I had lots of room, put it this way and outside and everything, and then when I came there was one little room, no bath, and then the kitchen, I think there was about six different people living in six rooms, six different people, and you find the kitchen was so small, that if you had to go to the yard, to the back yard; the person that is in the kitchen has to come out for you to go [laughter]
But then you find I live on such a small island that we always have rivers, and streams, whatever and the sea, and I take baths every day. Put it this way and coming here, you know, there was no bath, So we had to buy a tin bath and put it in the yard and every time that we want a bath we take it in our room and [laughter] and buy a bucket, a tin bucket and put water in it, and boil the water, so that we could have a bath.

Q. Did you expect England to be like this? What did you think it would be like before you came? [16.13]

VM. Well, we knew England as the Mother country, and to tell you the truth, as if I wouldn’t even see dirt as if I see the whole place as being you know paved up, like a big city like, you know it is a city but to see it, to see dirt and whatever, I was not expecting it, I don’t think I was expecting anything really, worrying to see. What gave me a shock one morning as going to work; my husband went to work first because he was working at a dairy, the ‘Corps’ dairy, and he had to start work at half past five and I had to start work at eight o’clock. When I opened the door I couldn’t see the gate because I mean there were no steps, when you open the door you just walk two yards and there was the gate, and I couldn’t see the gate because it was foggy, and I had never seen fog in my life [laughter] so I went back in and I rested for a while; I said but there is nobody around, even it was bad my husband would come and tell me; so I just walk away, and I went to work, when I went to work I saw everybody was at work, I said ‘Oh my goodness, if I didn’t come to work, I would be the only one, you know.

Q. What sort of work did you do? [17.42]

VM. Well, when I first came I was working in a laundry, It was a very good job because the clothes come, it washes somewhere, then goes down, and there’s a big bowl they call a ‘Callender’ normally it was the sheets, that I was in, the linen; so the sheets and the pillow cases; so it comes through the ‘Callender’ and me and a girl, an Irish girl by the name of Mary; we used to wrap it up and put it away, you see. She was a very good friend of my.. of course we eventually became good friends because when she realised my birthday was on the 24th September, and she was the 24th of September. She told everybody if they get her a present and I have to get a present as well, you know, but she got married and everything and moved away, and we lost touch; it was really nice working there.

Q. That was your first job?

VM. That was my first job

Q. What did you do after that?

VM. After I had, yes after I had, when I had a job I got pregnant the second child, and then as I say, so after I finish, after I had the baby and I was ready to go to work, and went to work with British Rails. I started cleaning the carriages and then I end up making the beds on the sleepers and things like that; and then I had John, and I stayed home after I had John because I was not able to pay minder’s you see after then, and the last one I had said he wasn’t staying that long; which came as a surprise, so I end up with four boys.

Q. Yeah, I wanted to ask you more, what were your employers like? And what were the working conditions like? Were they good at British Rail compared to the laundry? [19.52]

VM. I have been very lucky wherever I work, I have been very lucky, whether with the people working, because at times you can find the boss being very pushy and whatever, but the people you work with, they’re so friendly, would become as though we were families; put it this way. So no matter what it is you just smile it off and carry on with your work, you know because my last job was at British Home Stores, which is now BHS and I worked my way through, up you know, up to the stage of Supervisor and although it was like a Convent, with the amount of rules and regulations and knowing how to wear your uniform, and you mustn’t wear this, and you mustn’t wear that, and things; but between ourselves you know up to now I’m retired and we still keep in touch; we still meet; we still go out for a chat and things like that; although the work might be, you know you feel like strangling somebody but at the end of the day you come out with a laugh and a smile.

Q. What were the wages like? Would you say they were good?

VM. Well, when I came here, the wages was five pounds and by the time they take Tax and Insurance; I used to take home four pound fifteen, four pound, fifteen shillings; put it this way, if I say fifteen you believe its fifteen pence, and then as much as we had the first child at home, I used to help to send his allowance with him. I had my people at home, I used to send whatever I could for them, you know and I was able to see my way through, and even put; there was something you called saving stamps in the Post Office. When on the Thursday, say I have any loose change, I used to go and buy those saving stamps; and when that group was fulll up, seven pound, that was a lot of money then [laughter] yeah, that was a lot of money.

Q. What did you do in your spare time?

VM. I am interested in Education, and whilst I had the children here, I was not going to work; I used to do sewing and Knitting, I used to go to Evening classes; to improve my English, or take Dressmaking and Pattern Cutting and those things, and I find myself involved in an organisation they call Credit Union; where those days the banking used to lend money to every, and everybody but then that Credit Union came about; where if you give a pound every week and you want any loan, you can get a loan and pay one percent from that loan. It was a big organisation where you have some offices and a money lender; I was suppose to be the Supervisor looking over the treasurer’s shoulder to see whether he puts everything in, or whatever.
So I always like to be active, and then you find as a Saint Lucian, being a Saint Lucian we open up our own association where we meet every quarterly; the second Sunday every quarterly, and we used to meet and discuss what was happening in the West Indies, and whatever; keeping abreast with what is happening at home, and we used to have our own socials and things like that, to keep ourselves merry.

Q. Was that in Willesden? Or did that also happen in Hackney?

VM. Well, as a matter of fact, you find the Saint Lucian Association. We used to have our Dance in Hackney, so you find any Saint Lucian all over the place; it was word by mouth, I say I’m going to a dance tonight, its a Saint Lucian Association, oh no matter if you are living in the South, or in the East, or in the North or whatever, we all meet together, and by us meeting together in a strange land, put it this way, we behave like brothers and sisters and whatever you know, and find myself happy.

Q. How do you think your children’s’ upbringing is different to your own?

VM. I had difficulty bringing them up, because what that was injected into me, put it this way, and the way of living here is totally different, and you find we were more inclined to be our parents, or do we always find something to do which upset them and they threw a stick at us, or whatever, but you find the children here, they have a different attitude; and we collide even when the you come to sit on the edge you just accept the way their living, you know.
I am lucky that mine, when they were in their teens they rebelled, but now there’ll come back and say you know, what you said I realise what you said, but when they were young they feel well I’m grown up, you know and they have to have their own ways and being boys’ you find well if their friends tell them to do something and you don’t want to do it they say ‘oh your chicken’, so therefore they have to prove that they’re not and quite.

Q. Have they ever gone back to Saint Lucia?

VM. Yes, they have because, yes they have been home in 1992, in 1992 the whole lot, well not say the whole lot; myself, my eldest son, the second one, and the last one, we went home together, but since I retire I keep going home more often.

Q. Why is that?

VM. Well, if I want a holiday, I go home and I feel good.

Q. Do you feel Homesick for Saint Lucia?

VM. Well, I used to before, I used to before, but as I say going home on holiday and seeing that way of living and everything is totally different from what I left by going home, I’m not going, not going to take over from what I left behind; it is a new life altogether, so maybe when the time comes I will be able to go, I’ll go, but the life is totally different, the way we choose to grow up is totally different you know, and everything is much more improved, because when I was a child; the place where I was living we had no electricity. So when the moon is out in the night time, that’s a time there is brightness and you see all of us will come out and play, and whatever [laughter] especially where I was living, every house had a Mango tree, you know and when the Mangoes fall we all go and pick the mangoes whatever, and when there is no moonlight, everybody stays inside” [laughter] “and that’s different now, because people have electricity.
Yeah there’s electricity all over the place, you know there’s water all over the place. We had to go and catch the water in the street pipe; after school I had to go and buy the coals, you have to buy the carosene to light the lamp [laughter].

Q. Do you think it’s better now than it was then? Or just different?

VM. Well, you find we got to accept you know, I only wonder whether those youngsters coming up today, whether they’ll have anything to look back you know and reminisce about, that’s the only thing, because this morning we were taking the exercise there for the house bound and we, the tutor was teaching us how to clap, you know; we had a partner, facing our partner and we clap our hands and for some reason or the other we started, ‘must get a one’ ‘must get a two’ ‘must get a’ you know, these things we used to do when we were children, you know find something to do.

Q. And you don’t think that children entertain themselves like this?

VM. Well, no because when we were doing those exercises, we’re singing ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’ and all this thing, and I wonder whether the youngsters of today sing those things? [laughter] but this is what we used to.

Q. Do you wish you’d stayed in Saint Lucia?

VM. I do, yeah, I do, cos I started a life, but the fact is because we didn’t have the money, we had to come here.

Q. And did it work coming here or do you have regrets?

VM. I don’t think I have any regrets, I just, I just, I don’t, I have no regrets because I have experienced a lot of things, I have worked with a lot of people.
Where I was working the last time, place, British Home Stores, you find during the summer time the students will come, and work whilst you are on holiday, and you meet with people all over the world, you know, and I’m a person, I can talk, and whatever with everybody so I do experience things; I have much more experience now, than if I had at home, because if I was at home I would just, and maybe I would stay the same way I was brought up, and I wouldn’t be able to understand the youngsters of today.

Q. Where is home for you?

VM. Saint Lucia

Q. It is, more than England?

VM. Yeah, Yeah.

Q. And do you think you’re go back there to live ever?

VM. I would like to, but I enjoy staying here, because I love nature, and at home you only have two seasons. You have the rain and the sun, but here we have four seasons, and I’m looking forward to see the snow drops coming up you know, because you know the Spring time is coming, and then we have the Summer, where everywhere really fill of flowers, and at home we have flowers everywhere, and then with the Autumn, you see all the leaves falling, you know.
Where I’m living right now, you find when the Spring comes, the trees there, they send some blossoms to us before the leaves, and I’m looking forward to that [laughter] you know, so I enjoy the best of both worlds, but you know I’ll always love home, but I only have my memories, things are not the same as it was, when you go home because as youngsters, it’s nice to go to Auntie, Uncle, but the children of today they are just like human, they have everything, you know so nothing is.
When I was a child and a person gave me a balloon, or Christmas, it was a whole lot of thing for me. I’d blow that balloon up you know until it wear out; I cant give a child fifty pence now [laughter].

Q. Okay well thank you very much, that was really interesting.

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