Don's Diary

August 11, 2000

Day One

Land in Jamaica, 33 years to the week since my first visit. I am here to write a report on old building society documents; can they sustain a business history? I jostle with the crowds and banter with the taxi driver about cricket scores before arriving at my friend's house.

Day Two

Enjoy an early morning walk in the foothills above Kingston, with a clear view across the harbour before the city is shrouded in haze. Then to the bowels of company archives. Dressed in overalls and dust-mask, lifting and shifting mounds of company papers, I set up office in the mercifully cool basement. Staff passing by cannot work me out. What is an English man doing down here, shuffling through filthy ledgers?

Day Three

Another walk - notice every other walker is armed with a golf club, a sensible weapon against the fierce dogs. Try to avoid colleagues on the Univer-sity of the West Indies campus and get my head down in the library. Inevitably bump into other historians; dates are fixed, social arrangements made. So much for my plans to spend evenings writing up my days.

Day Four

Engage in some playful religious banter with a local Rasta.

Day Five

With my daily ration of words safely on disk, I drive along the south coast. Enjoy a late lunch watching the afternoon storm roll down the mountains along the bay before engulfing us. There are at least two boxes of papers waiting for me. I bring my journal up-to-date on the veranda. Alone on the very edge of the Caribbean sea, I postpone the papers. Stop by a steamy church hall for an angry debate about the proposed Caribbean Court of Appeal. Local politicians swan through proceedings unaware of the hostility; every serious question is deflected by a smile.

Day Six

Tackle the boxes full of cuttings, letters and photos relating to the Kingston company. Take off on a boat to the far edge of the bay. Despite every precaution, I catch the sun and by evening look like a half-boiled lobster.

Day Seven

Shift location to the top floor of a building overlooking Kingston Harbour. Trawl through another cache of papers, calculating how much time and attention is required.

Day Eight

Drive deep into the country in search of an Anglican church. I emerse myself in the silence. Curiously most of the gravestones are clad in white bathroom tiles. I get hopelessly lost in the late evening rush hour, but restore my nerves with a cold Red Stripe.

Day Nine

My laptop gives up the ghost. Build up a list of possible interviewees - by hand.

Day Ten

Last crack at the archives. Try to arrange the papers into some order for my next visit. Pray they stay untouched. Weave my way to the airport through military roadblocks in east Kingston. Once on board, I take my trusty pill, don the shades, and screw in the earplugs.

James Walvin is professor of history, University of York.

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