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  • This is a photograph of a man whom for many years I plotted to kill.

  • This is my father, Clinton George Bageye Grant.

  • He’s called Bageye because he has permanent bags under his eyes.

  • As a 10-year-old, along with my siblings, I dreamt of scraping off the poison from fly-killer paper into his coffee,

  • grounded down glass and sprinkling it over his breakfast,

  • loosening the carpet on the stairs so he would trip and break his neck.

  • But come the day, he would always skip that loose step, he would always bow out of the house without so much as a swig of coffee or a bite to eat.

  • And so for many years, I feared that my father would die before I had a chance to kill him.

  • Up until our mother asked him to leave and not come back, Bageye had been a terrifying ogre.

  • He teetered permanently on the verge of rage, rather like me, as you see.

  • He worked nights at Vauxhall Motors in Luton and demanded total silence throughout the house, so that

  • when we came home from school at 3:30 in the afternoon, we’d huddle beside the TV, and rather like safe crackers,

  • we’d twiddle with the volume control knob on the TV so it was almost inaudible.

  • And at times, when we were like this, so muchShhh,” so muchShhhgoing on in the house,

  • that I imagined us to be like the German crew of a U-boat

  • creeping along the edge of the ocean whilst up above, on the surface, HMS Bageye patrolled,

  • ready to drop death charges at the first sound of any disturbance.

  • So that lesson was the lesson thatDo not draw attention to yourself either in the home or outside of the home.” Maybe it’s a migrant lesson.

  • We were to be below the radar, so there was no communication, really, between Bageye

  • and us and us an Bageye, and the sound that we most looked forward to,

  • you know when youre a child and you want your father to come home and it’s all going to be happy

  • and youre waiting for that sound of the door opening.

  • Well the sound that we looked forward to was the click of the door closing, which meant he’d gone

  • and would not come back.

  • So for three decades, I never laid eyes on my father, nor he on me.

  • We never spoke to each other for three decades, and then a couple of years ago, I decided to turn the spotlight on him.

  • You are being watched. Actually you are. You are being watched.”

  • That was his mantra to us, his children.

  • Time and time again he would say this to us.

  • And this was the 1970s, it was Luton, where he worked at Vauxhall Motors, and he was a Jamaican.

  • And what he meant was, you as a child of a Jamaican immigrant are being watched

  • to see which way you turn, to see whether you conform to the host nation’s stereotype of you,

  • of being feckless, work-shy, destined for a life of crime.

  • You are being watched, so confound their expectations of you.

  • To that end, Bageye and his friends, mostly Jamaican,

  • exhibited a kind of Jamaican bella figura,

  • Turn your best side to the world, show your best face to the world.

  • If you have seen some of the images of the Caribbean people arriving in the 40s and 50s,

  • you might have noticed that a lot of the men wear trilbies.

  • Now, there was no tradition of wearing trilbies in Jamaica.

  • They invented that tradition for their arrival here. They wanted to project themselves in a way that they wanted to be perceived,

  • so that the way they looked and the names that they gave themselves defined them.

  • So Bageye is bald and has baggy eyes.

  • Tidy Boots is very fussy about his footwear.

  • Anxious is always anxious.

  • Clock has one arm longer than the other.

  • And my all time favorite was the guy they called Summerwear.

  • When Summerwear came to this country from Jamaica in the early 60s, he insisted on wearing light summer suits, no matter the weather,

  • and in the course of researching their lives, I asked my mom,

  • Whatever became of Summerwear?”

  • And she said, “He caught a cold and died.”

  • But men like Summerwear taught us the importance of style.

  • Maybe they exaggerated their style because they thought that they were not considered to be quite civilized.

  • And they transferred that generational attitude or anxiety onto us, the next generation,

  • so much so that when I was growing up, if ever on the television, news, or radio a report came up about a black person committing some crime,

  • a mugging, a murder, a burglary, we winced along with our parents,

  • Because they were letting the side down.

  • You did no just represent yourself. You represented the group,

  • and it was a terrifying thing to come to terms with, in a way, that

  • maybe you were going to be perceived in the same light.

  • So that was what was needed to be challenged.

  • Our father and many of his colleagues

  • exhibited a kind of transmission but not receiving. They were built to transmit but not receive.

  • We were to keep quiet.

  • When our father did speak to us, it was from the pulpit of his mind.

  • They clung to certainty in the belief that doubt would undermine them.

  • But when I am working in my house and writing,

  • after a day’s writing, I rush downstairs and I’m very excited to talk about Marcus Garvey or Bob Marley

  • and words are tripping out of my mouth like butterflies and I’m so excited that my children stop me, and they say,

  • Dad, Dad, nobody cares.”

  • But they do care, actually. They crossover.

  • Somehow they find their way to you.

  • They shape their lives according to the narrative of you life,

  • As I did with my father and my mother, perhaps,

  • And maybe Bageye did with his father.

  • And that was clearer to me in the course of looking at his life

  • and understanding, as they say, the Native American say, “Do not criticize the man until you can walk in his moccasins.”

  • But, in conjuring his life, it was okay and very straightforward to portray

  • a Caribbean life in England in the 1970s with

  • bowls of plastic fruit, Polystyrene ceiling tiles,

  • settees permanently sheathed in their transparent covers that they were delivered in.

  • But what’s most difficult to navigate is the emotional landscape between the generations,

  • and the old adage that with age comes wisdom is not true.

  • With age comes the veneer of respectability and a veneer of uncomfortable truths.

  • But what was true was that my parents, my mother and my father went along with it,

  • did not trust the state to educate me. So listen to how I sound.

  • They determined that they would send me to a private school,

  • but my father worked at Vauxhall Motors. It’s quite difficult to

  • fund a private school education and feed his army of children.

  • I remember going on to the school for the entrance exam, and my father said to the priest, it was a Catholic school,

  • he wanted a betterheducationfor the boy,

  • but also, he, my father, never even managed to pass worms,

  • never mind entrance exams.

  • But in order to fund my education, he was going to have to do some dodgy stuff, So

  • my father would fund my education by trading in elicit goods from the back of his car.

  • And that was made even more tricky because my father, that’s not his car by the way, my father aspired to have a car like that, but my father had a beaten-up Mini,

  • and he never, being a Jamaican coming to this country, he never had a driving license.

  • He never had any insurance or road tax or MOT.

  • He thought, “I know how to drive. Why do I need the state’s validation?”

  • But it became a little tricky when we were stopped by the police, and we were stopped a lot by the police.

  • And I was impressed by the way that my father dealt with the police.

  • He would promote the policeman immediately,

  • So that P.C. Bloggs became Detective Inspector Bloggs

  • in the course of the conversation and wave us on merrily.

  • So my father was exhibiting what we in Jamaica calledplaying fool to catch wise.”

  • But it lent also an idea that actually he was being diminished or belittled by the policeman,

  • As a 10-year-old boy, I saw that, but also there was ambivalence toward authority.

  • So on the one hand, there was a mocking of authority.

  • But on the other hand, there was deference toward authority.

  • And these Caribbean people had an overbearing obedience toward authority,

  • which is very striking, very strange in a way, because

  • migrants are very courageous people. They leave their homes.

  • My father and my mother left Jamaica and they travelled 4000 miles,

  • and yet they were infantilized by travel.

  • They were timid, and somewhere along the line,

  • the natural order was reversed. The children became the parents to the parent.

  • The Caribbean people came to this country with a five-year plan. They would work some money, and then go back.

  • But they 5 years became 10, and 10 became 15, and before you know it, youre changing like wallpaper,

  • and at this point, you know youre here to stay.

  • Although there’s still a kind of temporariness that our parents felt about being here,

  • but we children knew that the game was up.

  • I think there was a feeling that they would not be able to

  • continue with the ideals of the life that they expected.

  • The reality was very much different.

  • And also, that was true of the reality of trying to educate me.

  • Having started the process, my father did not continue.

  • It was left to my mother to educate me,

  • and as George Lamming would say,

  • it was my mother who fathered me.

  • Even in his absence, that old mantra remained. You are being watched.

  • But such ardent watchfulness can lead to anxiety.

  • So much so that years later, when I was investigating why so many young black men were diagnosed with schizophrenia,

  • Six times more that they ought to be,

  • I was not surprised to hear the psychiatrist say,

  • Black people are schooled in paranoia.”

  • And I wonder what Bageye would make of that.

  • Now I also had a 10-year-old son, and turned my attention to Bageye.

  • And I went in search of him. He was back in Luton, he was now 82,

  • and I hadn't seen him for 30-odd years,

  • and when he opened the door, I saw this tiny little man with lambent, smiling eyes,

  • and he was smiling, and I'd never seen him smile. I was very disconcerted by that.

  • But we sat down, and he had a Caribbean friend with him, talking some old time talk,

  • and my father would look at me, and he looked at me as if I would miraculously disappear as I had arisen.

  • And he turned to his friend, and he said, "This boy and me have a deep, deep connection, deep, deep connection."

  • But I never felt that connection. If there was a pulse, it was very weak or hardly at all.

  • And I almost felt in the course of that reunion that I was auditioning to be my father's son.

  • When the book came out, it had fair reviews in the national papers,

  • but the paper of choice in Luton is not The Guardian, it's the Luton News,

  • and the Luton News ran the headline about the book, "The Book That May Heal a 32-Year-Old Rift."

  • And I understood that could also represent the rift between one generation and the next, between people like me and my father's generation,

  • but there's no tradition in Caribbean life of memoirs or biographies.

  • It was a tradition that you didn't chat your business in public.

  • But I welcomed that title, and I thought actually, yes, there is a possibility that this will open up conversations that we'd never had before.

  • This will close the generation gap, perhaps.

  • This could be an instrument of repair. And I even began to feel that this book,

  • may be perceived by my father as an act of filial devotion.

  • Poor, deluded fool.

  • Bageye was stung by what he perceived to be the public airing of his shortcomings.

  • He was stung by my betrayal,

  • and he went to the newspapers the next day and demanded a right of reply,

  • and he got it with the headline "Bageye Bites Back."

  • And it was a coruscating account of my betrayal. I was no son of his.

  • He recognized in his mind that his colors had been dragged through the mud, and he couldn't allow that. He had to restore his dignity,

  • and he did so, and initially, although I was disappointed, I grew to admire that stance.

  • There was still fire bubbling through his veins, even though he was 82 years old.

  • And if it meant that we would now return to 30 years of silence,

  • my father would say, "If it's so, then it's so."

  • Jamaicans will tell you that there's no such thing as facts. There are only versions.

  • We all tell ourselves the versions of the story that we can best live with.

  • Each generation builds up an edifice which they are reluctant or sometimes unable to disassemble,

  • but in the writing, my version of the story began to change,

  • and it was detached from me.

  • I lost my hatred of my father.

  • I did no longer want him to die or to murder him,

  • And I felt free,

  • much freer than I'd ever felt before.

  • And I wonder whether that freedness could be transferred to him.

  • In that initial reunion, I was struck by an idea that I had very few photographs of myself as a young child.

  • This is a photograph of me, nine month years old.

  • In the original photograph, I'm being held up by my father, Bageye,

  • but when my parents separated, my mother excised him from all aspects of our lives.

  • She took a pair of scissors and cut him out of every photograph,

  • and for years, I told myself the truth of this photograph was that you are alone,

  • you are unsupported.

  • But there's another way of looking at this photograph.

  • This is a photograph that has the potential for a reunion,

  • a potential to be reunited with my father, and in my yearning to be held up by my father, I held him up to the light.

  • In that first reunion, it was very awkward and tense moments,

  • and to lessen the tension, we decided to go for a walk.

  • And as we walked, I was struck that I had reverted to being the child even though I was now towering above my father.

  • I was almost a foot taller than my father.

  • He was still the big man, and I tried to match his step.

  • And I realized that he was walking as if he was still under observation,

  • but I admired his walk.

  • He walked like a man on the losing side of the F.A. Cup Final

  • mounting the steps to collect his condolence medal.

  • There was dignity in defeat.

This is a photograph of a man whom for many years I plotted to kill.

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B1 UK TED father jamaican caribbean photograph jamaica

【TED】Colin Grant: The son of a difficult father

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    Go Tutor posted on 2014/10/06
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