No time to waste

In a new a series of interviews with Waltham Forest’s older population, Amina Ahmed meets a former bus conductor

Florence McLeod

Florence McLeod at home in Walthamstow

Each one of us has or will do something worth writing about. Whether or not that warrants fame, it is the younger generation’s responsibility to seek and heed the advice of those who have been through it all and to give them the recognition they deserve.

With this in mind I meet Florence McLeod; an 81-year-old from Church Hill Road, Walthamstow. Florence lives in a sheltered accommodation with seven others in a house that was opened by retired boxer Frank Bruno. She keeps herself busy with different activities every day, so I was grateful that she could take some time out to sit with me.

Florence has lived in the borough for over 40 years. She moved to England from her native Jamaica in 1962 and since then has not often sat down – always on the go, always doing something worthwhile instead of sitting around at home. She tells me it was different back then.

“People were friendlier, everyone knew each other. We could leave our houses open with the keys in and not have to worry.”

Previously Florence lived in Leyton, where she worked at the Leyton Bus Garage as a conductor on the 38 bus. The fare back then was tuppence – about equivalent to today’s 5p. Only five people were allowed to stand in the bus at any one time compared to the sardines-in-a-tin situation you have now.

“I used to work in a factory when I first moved here. One day I made a bet with my friend that I could pass the aptitude test to become a conductor. Watch me, I told her, I’ll pass.”

Florence went to Manor House, where she did pass the test. She was pleasantly surprised when they asked her when she could start.

She later had to leave the job when expecting her last child, but Florence only stayed at home until her daughter was old enough to go school. She asked her social worker for something she could do while the kids and managed to get herself a part-time job in a sheltered accommodation in Hoe Street. She helped the elderly with their shopping, wrote letters for them and listened to their tales of love and war.

She now keeps busy with socialising, going to church, practising Tai Chi, and her most recent endeavour; performing a Sister Act show for the East Thames Group with five of her other flatmates

“As long as I can jump out of bed in the morning and hear the birds singing, I will keep on going.

“We have to be strong, get out and meet others otherwise you will get depressed.”

Speaking to Florence taught me how important it is to interact with others in a time when it’s so easy to wrap yourself in a technological bubble. We are surrounded by people, yet are alone most of the time.

Her advice: “Be happy and make others happy. Get on with life and don’t dwell on the past.”