Norma Jean Taylor, 62, Waterloo Station, London

I love Jamaica, but London has become my home

I was born in St Ann’s in Jamaica and came here in 1967, when I was 10. The Queen invited my dad over after the war because she wanted the best tradesmen. He used to build houses in America so he and my mum came over here and I was left at 18 months old in Jamaica with my grandmother and my twin sister. She raised us until we were 10 then my mum and dad sent for us.

I came in a BOAC plane to Gatwick and my dad met us there. I was really tiny but I remember that day, he told us he was our father and we were all in tears. We’d seen a picture of him and we recognised him. When I woke up on the first morning I looked outside and I didn’t see no fruits on the roadside. And it was so cold. The trees were bare so I asked my mum where all the oranges and mangoes were. I wondered, what happened? Every fruit under  the sun was just there for us to pick and eat in Jamaica. Our tummy was full, and that was just going to school.

When we started at our new school we were the only black children, apart from one other.  The others looked at us and tried to touch our hair. We were accepted but some boys troubled us. We asked them, why do you want to fight us? And they said their parents told them to. After a few months they got used to us and we would play in the war bunker under the school. It was better in those days because we weren’t stabbing one another, we were just happy. And even if we fisticuffed we’d shake and make up. We didn’t hurt one another and the people integrated much deeper.

When the Windrush scandal was being talked about I got grieved. Don’t let no one fool you – we were invited here.

My husband Thomas was a Montserratian but he died in 2002. He was a bit older than me and came to this country when he was 19, so he would have experienced what it was like to come in the Fifties. My daughters are grown now and one has given me a granddaughter, so I’m quite happy. One time I would have thought life was quite empty but now it’s worth the living. When the Windrush scandal was being talked about I got grieved. Don’t let no one fool you – we were invited here. We didn’t come to a land that was filled with milk and honey. In Jamaica we had fruit, vegetables and anything we wanted. Animals and a house. It wasn’t a poor land where we couldn’t afford anything. We came from a good life and my grandmother had acres of land. So it was not that we had to come, it was the Queen who needed us.

I used to be a chef but I suffer from arthritis and my doctor didn’t want me to be standing for more than two hours. One day I saw somebody selling The Big Issue and I asked how I could start. It’s been over 10 years now. I’ve had pitches all over and people say to me, don’t stay away too long. Because I sing some Sam Cooke and they know I’m there. Passers-by turn around and see me and sometimes they’ll buy a magazine. I meet a lot of lovely people when I’m selling The Big Issue.

I used to cook Jamaican food like yam, dumpling and chicken but over the last 20 years I’ve become vegan. I met some wonderful people, elders at the church, who said that meat’s not really good for our bodies. From being a chef I’m sick of meat anyway.

I love Jamaica, but people say it’s changed a lot. My sister goes back many a time but London has become my home. My dad could have gone to America but when he was asked he came here instead, and he enjoyed London. We enjoyed it too and we grew up with friends. Yes, it was a little bit racist, but nothing I couldn’t handle. If you live peaceful, peacefulness will be with you.

Interview: Sarah Reid

Waterloo Station, Waterloo Road, London, UK