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Photograph of Adrian Brown, LSAH customer

Adrian Brown

I was born in Jamaica in 1926, in Portland by the sea, which was about twenty four miles from Port Antonio. I was the 4th of seven children, with one sister and five brothers. We lived in a wooden house with 3 bedrooms. It had flower gardens and a big yard, but there was no piped water. My parents farmed the land, and kept pigs and goats.

We would have to help our parents with the farm and do chores around the house. One of my regular chores when I was about ten years old was to prepare and cook the pig food. I would have to light a wood fire, collect vegetable peelings and leftovers from the neighbours, put it all in a big pot and boil it down for pig food. Sometimes I would accidentally fall asleep and then awake to find the fire had gone out. I would have to start again and re-light the fire, or I would be in trouble. The kitchen was separate to the house so I gained independence from my chores, but it also came with a sense of responsibility.

We had no piped water, so it was kept in a large Spanish jar buried in the ground to keep it cool. This had to be filled with fresh water, fetched in containers each day. I would have to get up at dawn and fill it up before I went to school.

I started school aged seven. It was a Baptist school and was attached to the Church, which was about two miles away. Sometimes I was late and the door would be locked. You had to knock and explain why you were late (often because my grandmother had told me it was too early to go), it was certainly strict. At school there was a local lady who had a tray selling sweets and drinks for three half pennies. Later for three old pennies you could buy a cooked lunch at the 'Soup Kitchen'. When the secondary school started teaching domestic science, the food they cooked was sold for lunch.

One time the teachers got the children to rebel because an arranged day off was cancelled and the minister was involved. Then a new headmaster started, Mr Cooke, he was very strict and used corporal punishment. Every week on a Friday I went with four other boys down a gully to collect firewood for the school. One day we found some ripe bananas, the three other boys ate some but I did not. Later the minister heard about it and told the headmaster; the headmaster did not believe I had not eaten any. He said it was stealing and gave us ‘the strap'. Mr Cooke later became a well known political figure.

I went to live with my Grandmother from age seven until fourteen. She was well known in the area and baked cakes for everyone who got married. I loved this, as when she baked a cake she only used the egg whites, so I would get all the yolks to eat. She didn't charge for baking the cakes as the people would bring their own ingredients to use.

Leisure time was limited as there were always duties to be done; feed the pigs, fetch the water and before I could have my own meal I would have to deliver special meals my grandmother had made for neighbours who were sick.

We had no pocket money, but I would often fetch extra water for a neighbour who was a farm foreman and he would pay me a small amount. I saved this up and after some time bought my first pair of black shoes. Even in the summer holidays it was pretty much the same, my day was taken up with duties and chores.

The family went to Church every Sunday; the only excuse was if you were ill and went to bed. It was a Baptist church, but he does not go much now.

The local market was at a 'T' junction, it was simply a little grass island on the main road to Kingston where people would come and sell their produce and wares. I had my own produce, and my grandparents would boil down coconuts and make coconut oil. Every Saturday me and another local boy would walk over nine miles to the main market with a gallon of oil. We would start out about 5am, walking through the deserted countryside areas. Slowly, we built up regular customers; stopping by a factory we would sell the coconut oil in pints and quarts. When it was all sold we would walk back to the market and buy the supplies on my grandmothers shopping list. Then we would have to walk back home, it might be 6pm or 7pm, and it would be very dark as the roads were not lit. The roads were overgrown with trees all along. Sometimes it could be quite scary.

I came to England when I was twenty-nine years old, in 1955. I returned to Jamaica in 1985 to visit my eldest brother who still lives there. When I first left Jamaica things had been very different, I had been looking after my mother, and she died the year before I left the island. When I saw the island again everything had changed, but I thought it was still beautiful and if I had been fitter I would have gone back to live.

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