From the life of Ernest Forde
By Claire Dougher
I am from the West Indies, Barbados, St. Phillips on the West Coast. I lived there with my granny from when I was about three months old and then moved here when I was nine. Back in the day, your parents came over here first to set up and left the kids back home. The kids would stay with the grandparents, then the parents would send for them. So my mum and dad came over here and left me back home with my grandmother. But when my dad came here, he saw the bright lights of London and all the women and started messing around with the women. Obviously, my mum left him then, so she was on her own now. And I was stuck at home on the island for eight more years.
When my granny died I had nowhere to go. My little brother Trevor was with my mom and I wasn’t and felt abandoned by her. I stayed with my great-aunt for a bit, but they couldn’t afford me either. They wrote to my mom saying, I love him, but I can’t keep him. ‘Cause you know, a youngster needs shoes and clothes. So my mum hustled, scrimped and saved to send for me, but I didn’t realise. I would always wonder, how come my cousins they’ve always got new shoes and clothes, and I’m always wearing the same clothes everyday? I was young and very naive so I didn’t ask any questions, but I saw these kids always wearing new clothes.
When I finally came over to London, in 1967, I was wearing short pants in November. I had socks and shoes but no jacket, just a suit coat. I was freezing! I was coming from Barbados! I had never been more cold in all of my life. I just cried and said I wanted to go home. The chaperone dropped me off to my mom, and I was shocked. I was nine and it was the first time I had ever seen her. My uncle drove us back from the airport. I didn’t say a word, not the whole ride home, because I didn’t know her. When we got home, my mum took my suitcase, and started to unpack it. When she opened it, she went “Ernest? Where’s all your clothes?” I shrugged back. She said, “Where are all the clothes I’ve been sending you?” That is when it hit me. My cousins had been getting my clothes. But it didn’t matter now, since I was in London. I was going to grow up in Ladbroke Grove.
I’ve lived in England most of my life. But I still got ties to my flag. Never will I ever give up my flag. That’s why I’ve kept my passport. It’s funny, when I go home the people there say, “Oh you’re not from here; you’re English.” It’s only when I show them my passport that they go, ‘Ooh you’re Bajin?’ I go, ‘Yeah! I told you!’. I know it surprises them, since I lived around this area my whole life! I think a lot has changed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s changed for the best. But also for the worst. When I first came to Ladbroke Grove, not a single white person wanted to live here. It was 95% black, and there was a lot of drugs and a lot of killing. This area before used to be full of drugs, a lot of crack and prostitution. But what they’ve done now is get rid of the ones who were causing problems. I never caused problems, but they wanted to move me out. They wanted me to take a flat in Brixton. I said, Why am I going down to Brixton for? My mum is around here, my kids are around. This is now Notting Hill. It’s sad to see the culture and area change and move away from how it was to now.
I’m not sure that this stuff doesn’t go on now, but it’s not as upfront as it used to be. Before it was right in your face. But it’s not like that anymore, because they got rid of the people who used to do that kind of thing, over the years. And a lot of them were black. You hardly find many black people around here anymore. People are being forced away. But this is one black dude they’re not forcing away. My whole life is here, I even used to work around here.
When I first came over I was sparks, I was an electrician, I done that for about eight, nine years, then my firm broke and then I drove trucks. I used to go all over the place. Loved it. It’s free. You know just get wherever you wanna go. But then I got injured: my back, that’s why I walk with a stint. My lower back got ruptured. I couldn’t work. What I made sure I got was a good pension anyways. My daughter Jade looks over my funds. So, I’m ok for now. What I find is that when you’re young you’ve got to plan for your future. You learn from your mistakes. And luckily that’s what I’ve done. One thing I learned from was my marriage.
I got married down in Barbados. The wedding was huge! Massive. Yeah, my now ex-wife is also from there, and my aunties and uncles and my sisters are all in Barbados. You see, back home, the church was super important. My ex-wife and I had a child together, which made her parents upset. Because of the church, people over there would judge us for not being married and having a kid. I knew she wanted to, so I said that I would do it if we got married in the same church I was baptised in. So her parents arranged that for me, and then I had to go. I went back down there for eight weeks. It didn’t work out so well. I would never get married again. No no no, never again. That was horrible. I never wanted to get married in the first place. You know, back home, in the Caribbean, they are into the church big time. And when we got pregnant, the first time that caused a big stink, because her father and mother, they were in the church and to them it wasn’t right. So when we had the second child and still weren’t married, that really caused a lot of problems. I thought to myself, you know Ernest, it’s best you get married, you’ve been with her for about 10 years anyway, you’ve got 2 kids… So I told her, You know what? Let’s just get married. She made a phone call back home and said “Mummy, we’re getting married!” They arranged it, paid for it and for me to go back.
So we both packed up, took the kids back home, and moved into her parents’ massive place, which I did not want to do. I was working for her father’s business. But you understand, I wanted to be my own man, with my own house. What was the last straw was, I was out with my friends, I got in about half past 3 in the morning, and the doors were locked. They had locked me out! I knew she could hear me, because I was screaming, calling, nobody let me in. So I went back downstairs to the car, went into the back seat, and slept there. I woke up at dawn and decided to divorce my wife. You’re my wife, I’m your husband, you should let me in, not let your parents tell you what to do. That wasn’t the only problem though. Something I’ll never forget is the night she cheated on me.
What happened was, I used to play football, and we went to Holland, France, Spain, Belgium, and all the countries, and I got paid for it. And we went away for a weekend to play, and I got injured. So, instead of keeping me there, they sent me back to London to get treatment. But my wife didn’t know I was coming early, because as far she was concerned, I was gone for the weekend. So they put me on a train. I must have arrived back home around half-past three in the morning. When I got my flat I tried to put the key in the door and it was locked. Okay fair enough, because it was late. And she’s alone so she had the doors double locked, so no problem, but then I started to say, ‘It’s me Sharon, let me in!’ But she said to me, ‘Wait a minute’. Wait for what, I think, it’s me! Then one of my closest friends shot past me right out. You know when you’re just rooted, shocked. I didn’t know what to do.
So yeah, that was when I decided I’m never doing that again. The flat was mine, so I told her to get out. She took my kid, and she went to a bed and breakfast. But I didn’t want her there because there were a lot of drug addicts and I didn’t want my daughter there. So I told her, ‘You’re not staying there with my daughter, come back.’ The flat was big enough for all of us. We tried to get back into the marriage, but it didn’t work.So I packed my bags, and I left them.
I filed for a divorce and she never responded, and I waited and waited. One day I got a letter at my door and I opened it, and the court granted me my divorce, based on the fact that she refused to respond. So I had a party that day. It’s difficult to get a divorce. It’s about an hour to get married, but 10 years to get divorced! It’s funny now, because the kids and me are close, and my wife and I talk now. So it’s all good. But at the time it was hard.
When I was living with my wife I was down and out. My marriage was on the rocks and I was drinking a lot. I had to go onto the streets for a while and live on people’s sofas. So when I bounced back, I swore that would never happen again. Sometimes in life you have to go through those things. To really make you, what’s the word to use, appreciate. But I could never live with a woman again. All of the trust was gone.
I’m too used now to being alone, but I’ve got loads of friends, we’ve all got mobile phones, so I come here every day. I’ve got my music, my T.V., everything I need. I live alone, and so it shall continue. It’s my time now, and it’s nice sometimes to put in your own front key in and put on a pair of shorts and chill. So I love it. I’ve got a beautiful flat, all my kids are big now. Yes, I’ve got three girls. Jade is 31; Rachel is 24; and Stephanie is 20. They went to school in Barbados with their mum. The schools are stricter, they are totally different than schools over here. When they came back, they were well advanced in their school. Rachel went to Uni and became a nurse, and Stephanie went in to the armed forces in the police. They all done well. Stephanie told me if I act up she’ll come arrest me!
And I kept in contact with their mum, because the kids would have just suffered otherwise. I did it the right way: I wasn’t going to be like my dad. My dad, that’s my real dad, I meet him twice in my life, he used to treat my mum bad, he used to beat her bad. And we were young then: I was nine and my brother was seven, and we knew what was going on but we couldn’t really do nothing. It got to a stage, he was beating my mum so bad, my mum put a knife on him, and she just stabbed him. The man almost died! And my mum walked out the court free, because all of the neighbors said, ‘No no no, he deserved what he got, because he was beating her a lot.’
As we were getting older, we was tellin’ my mum, “You gotta divorce him” and she would say “Yeah, but he’s the one who is bringing in the money,” and we told her, “No mummy, we will go to work, we will look after you. You can go divorce that guy.” I was about 16 at that stage, so I knew what was going on, plus I was working. She plucked up the courage, and then she was free. That was the best thing she’s ever done. She’s as happy as a larry now! She goes around shopping with her friends, she goes out, because no man is in her life no more.
I think my father has taught me to be the opposite of him. You know why? Because I’ve got daughters. And grandchildren. I’ve got three grandsons and two granddaughters. And they’re lovely. So I think God gave me those girls for a reason, you know? I treat women with respect because of that. What goes around comes around. And when my dad passed away, must have been about six years ago, a woman rang me. How this woman got my number I’ll never know, but she called me up and she said, ‘We’ve got no one to bury him.’ The last I heard they put him in, oh what’s it called again? A Pauper’s Grave. And I felt bad for that. But then I was told not to do. But that’s why you gotta be careful with what you do in life, because one day you’re going to die. And you want your memory to be a good one.