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May

Father Figures – Colin Grant and Hannah Lowe

by Shivanee Ramlochan, 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest Blogger.

Colin Grant and Hannah Lowe have written, respectively, a memoir and a poetry collection that pivot around portraits of their fathers. In their twinned reading session on April 25th, the first post-welcome event of the 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the pair read generous selections from their books (Bageye at the Wheel and Chick), and engaged in discussion with panel chair Ruth Borthwick, Chief Executive of Arvon. Grant’s father emigrated from Jamaica to Luton in the 1950’s; Lowe’s dad came over to London in the late 1940’s — as Lowe commented, it was more than likely that her dad, known most popularly by his gambling name, Chick, was acquainted with Grant’s father, Bageye, so titled for the baggy circles beneath his eyes.

Hannah Lowe reads from Chick, while Colin Grant and Ruth Borthwick listen on in the background.

Hannah Lowe reads from Chick, while Colin Grant and Ruth Borthwick listen on in the background.

In the discussion segment of the panel, both Lowe and Grant revealed how closely humour and pain intertwine in the writing: the remembrances of both fathers are coloured in with mystery; with anguish and ambivalence alike, making the telling of childhood stories an act of odd redemptive grace and oft-laconic bemusement. Grant owned quite readily to having wanted, once upon a time, to kill Bageye, a tiny, strict disciplinarian and employee of Vauxhall  Motors, a man who worked at the heart of the automotive industry without himself owning a car for most of his life.

Lowe revealed one of her father’s favourite sayings, on the subtle art of gambling: “If you can’t win it straight, win it crooked.” Chick’s tenacity and commitment to card and dice, Lowe reflected, might have been put to good use elsewhere, had he not been devoid of opportunities. The first part of Chick focuses on her childhood remembrances, while the second is more elegiac in tone. During her father’s prolonged illness and up towards his death in 2002, Lowe had the sense that she was losing his voice, and in so doing, losing direct access to his stories, to a certain way of claiming her ancestry. To quote Lamming, Grant said soberly, amidst many riotously funny statements (such as crediting his education to Bageye’s peddling of ganja) it was, ultimately, “my mother who fathered me.”

Drawn from different pockets of the seemingly similar knitwork of emigration and Windrush-fuelled dreams, both Chick and Bageye at the Wheel are inquisitive about the past. They ask questions on the page about the past that can be remembered, and the sometimes larger-than-life, sometimes curiously shrinking figures who inhabit its blurry circumferences.

Photograph by Maria Nunes, Official Festival Photographer.