Ian Randle: “I have always loved the idea of travel”

Jamaican publisher Ian Randle on the rarity of travel for pleasure, his favourite bookshop in the Caribbean, and the pointlessness of dressing up for the plane

  • Ian Randle. Photo courtesy Ian Randle

After working for years as a Caribbean representative for major British publishers, in 1991 Ian Randle took the bold step of launching his own eponymous publishing house, based in Kingston, Jamaica. What began as the Anglophone Caribbean’s first indigenous scholarly press soon branched out to include books of fiction, poetry, biography, arts, and current affairs — and for decades Randle sold his titles to booksellers face to face, travelling extensively in the region.

 

You’ve visited most Caribbean territories on behalf of Ian Randle Publishers. What’s the place that most defied your expectations?

I’ve been travelling to Trinidad for over forty years, and each time it’s been like a new experience. In the early years, our relationship was a kind of love-hate affair. Love of the food, the people, the country described in the novels of Naipaul and the poetry of Walcott. The hate — that I could never get the true measure of it, remaining a stranger for a long time. But over the years, the love element has gradually triumphed, and the isolation I used to experience has given way to acceptance and a feeling of anticipation of some new discovery yet to be savoured, including a first experience of Carnival.

 

Do you have a favourite Caribbean bookshop? 

Paper Based, located in the Hotel Normandie in St Ann’s, Port of Spain. It has the best and most up-to-date collection of Caribbean books, including of course a representative selection of IRP titles. What makes it special is its owner, the affable Joan Dayal, who is a bit of an anachronism in today’s book world — a bookseller who loves and knows about books!

 

When you travel for pleasure, where do you go?

Travelling for pleasure? What’s that? I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually travelled exclusively for pleasure. What pleasure there has been over the years has come from extending business trips to enjoy the delights of a particular country. My fondest memories are of repeat visits to South Africa’s Cape Coast, to the wine country and the majesty and isolation of being deep into the Great Karoo.

 

How do you cope with the rigours of contemporary travel?

I have always loved the idea of travel rather than the travel itself, and these days there are few pleasures either at the beginning or the end of an international flight, thanks to security measures. My advice to ease the hassle of both departure and arrival: travel light — carry-on only is for me, the next best thing to travelling first class. Wear comfortable clothes, even if it defies your sartorial sensibilities — after all, the business meetings are not in the departure lounges, and nobody cares what you are wearing. Select a seat close to the front of the aircraft for quick getaway on landing. And avoid all airport purchases if possible — in the same way that you should stay away from hotel mini-bars.

 

If you had to leave home with five minutes’ notice to catch a plane to the other side of the world, what (apart from your passport) would you grab to take with you?

I probably wouldn’t go, but if I really had to, I would pack, in order of priority: mobile phone and tablet or laptop, not forgetting the charger cables and thumb drives; required business papers and files — assuming it’s a business trip; essential medication; toiletries, including my shaving kit; a change of underwear, especially if it’s a transatlantic flight. All of the above would fit easily into my backpack.

 

What is the dream travel destination, anywhere in the world, that you’re hoping to get to one day?

A trip down southern Europe’s Mediterranean coast from Italy through the Greek islands, touching Turkey and ending in Egypt. It’s the stuff of ancient history, the setting of memorable books and films, and the lure of lifestyles that have always captured my imagination.