Gordon Lambert has transformed his life. From a traumatic upbringing in a former British colony to bringing up his own family in London. Read his incredible story and how he still helps others now, while living with vascular dementia.
For over 60 years, I have lived in London. I have dementia, and so forget some day to day tasks. But my memories of my youth and how I came to England seem to become sharper as the everyday fades.
I was born in 1938 in, what was then, British Guiana in South America.
I had a very tough upbringing. My Mum was angry, and she was very abusive. I remember the beatings. I remember the sticks. I remember neighbours crying at the sound of my screams. I felt frightened and abandoned. The fear has been with me my whole life. I want people to know about it so they can reflect on how vulnerable children are, and treat them with more care.
One day, when I could take no more. I resolved that I had to run away from home. I think I was 15. I am not absolutely certain because my Mum never told me what my birthday was.
A boat to England
I had planned it out. I knew a man who was sailing to Brazil and said I could work my passage. Well, that was good enough for me! The boat left on the fourth Sunday of the month, from Georgetown at 9.15 in the evening
I arrived at five minutes to nine – but there was no boat. When I asked at the docks, they told me that the boat, this one time, had left at a quarter to nine.
Disconsolate, I began walking, but I was still determined not to go home.
Along the way, I was stopped by a stranger called Michael, who revealed that there was a boat going to England.
He said he was going to stow away aboard the boat, but wanted someone to come with him. I agreed immediately.
We were stopped when we tried to board, but I was able to bluff our way through. The workers on the ship agreed to allow us to stowaway, and we hid in the hold for the first day.
When we surfaced, the captain agreed to take us, but said we would have to work our passage.
There was another four or five days left on the voyage. But it wasn’t enough to pay all of the fare. So when we arrived in London, we were both thrown in prison for four weeks!
Gordon as a young man
Looking for work
When we got out, Michael and I had a few clothes and some money. So we sought out a hostel. But after a few nights, our money and clothes were stolen. When we told the people who owned the hostel, they simply replied, ‘Well, since you don’t have the money to pay for your board now, you’d better get out and not come back.’
I needed money; I went for job after job. But I kept failing to pass the interview. On my way out of one interview, the guy who showed me out said that I needed to dress up a bit, make myself look presentable. I had to explain that I had no other clothes!
I arranged to borrow a shirt for my next interview, and got the job. It was at a factory spraying cars with paint. I stayed there for quite a while, but the work was not healthy.
After that, I ended up working in a furniture factory. And then as a security guard. I’ve worked a few jobs over the years!
Building a life
One thing I really remember after I arrived was being at Ridley Road market, or the Notting Hill Carnival, and I couldn’t believe how many black people there were. British Guiana was really multicultural with black and white and Asian and South American. London was a real shock!
When I was still in British Guiana, I had a dream about marrying a woman from the island of Monserrat. After a few years in England, Michael and I were going to visit a friend in hospital. On our way there, I saw a woman. I said to Michael, I am going to marry that girl. He thought I was mad but we approached her anyway.
Her name was Mary and she was from Monserrat. I proposed to her in that first meeting.
We got married and rented a room in Dalston, Hackney. I’m still married to her, over sixty years later, and we are still in Hackney.
We had four children. Three sons and a daughter.
Living with dementia
About three or four years ago, I noticed that I was doing some strange things. For instance, I would make a cup of coffee in the morning, and when I sat down to drink it, I would see that the granules were at the bottom of the cup, but that I had forgotten to add the water!
Or I would need to go to the toilet, and I would walk out to the hall, but I would not be able to identify which door led to the toilet.
I went to the doctors, and I was told it was dementia.
I cried. I thought of my wife Mary, who struggles to walk around the house – I was her carer. And one of my sons, who lives with me, has heart problems.
I thought, ‘What is going to happen to me? But also, what is going to happen to my family?’
But after a while, I realised that I still need to live. I still need to carry on.
I can still get around on my own. I walk, and still use the bus independently. I have a friend, who isn’t well, and I go and see her regularly to keep her company.
I often go to Singing for the Brain, organised by Alzheimer's Society, here in Hackney and I enjoy that. I don’t do much dancing like some of the other people, but I drum along to the tunes, and it’s always a decent atmosphere.
I’m not one for giving advice, but I would like people to be a bit more patient. I still see some being unkind or inconsiderate. I just want to say to them, “Stay calm”.