Survival [Kindle Edition]

Survival [Kindle Edition]

by John Fahey


Publisher John Fahey

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Gay & Lesbian, Nonfiction

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Book Description

This memoir is about a boy born in northeast England in 1944, taken to western Ireland when five years old, brought back to England when he was nine and battered by his father throughout his teenage years. He struggled to survive with memories of Ireland, his trust in his Catholic faith, the help of kind people and relatives, and his love of chemistry. His determination to read and learn, his struggle with despair, going through major crises, a growing awareness of his sexual identity under legal intolerance, led him on to a prestigious university and finally migration to America.

Sample Chapter

After I was born a bastard, my father having vanished on hearing of my conception, George Orwell was writing Animal Farm just a few miles from Stockton-on-Tees. The terraced house I was born in was a short distance from the first passenger railroad station in the world. The midwife suggested my Christian names but it was well over seven months until my baptism, after my father was sought out, and found, in Manchester, and forced to marry my mother.

Such was my world in the year in which Animal Farm was written. I knew nothing of those things as I began to talk and learned to read just as I knew nothing of Aldous Huxley visiting more than a decade earlier the site of where I was later to start my working life in the Saxon town of Billingham where he described his awe of Imperial Chemical Industries as the stimulus to write Brave New World. Such is the innocence of a young lad struggling to make his way in the world unaware of the history around him.

It is perhaps appropriate then that my first post university job, several months of work before leaving England, was in the town of Berkhamstead, the place where the last possible Saxon King of England surrendered to William the Conqueror. In truth Edgar Atheling had been proclaimed as king by the Witan though never crowned. The last Saxon King Harold Godwinson had died in the battle of Hastings during that Norman invasion. So ended the Saxon monarchy of England; so ended my life in England.

My brother Tom used to say someone should write about our family in the sense meaning he, or I, or Terry. Not that he was excluding the collective our as in our Pat, and our Mary, our Josie and our Maureen, our aunt Nancy. There’s enough to write about he’d say. We all lived through cataclysmic times. The great hunger of course long ago, and Thomas Wade and what he did, the world wars, the bravery and the shattered lives, crossing to England, the end of the second world war and then our arrival from one side of the Irish Sea to the other and back again.

Little did we know, when young, what the future would bring to our lives, unaware of our poverty, not looking ahead through those days of our minimal expectations, trying only to survive, looking for anything to ease the daily fears. We had no choice but to live through the years after that war, whole streets of brick rubble and burned timbers, ration cards, odd behaviors, strange attitudes, survivors knowing fear was over, the rain, and the cold, and being young, barely comprehending, beaten without reason, trying to survive, finding those things imprinting determination and resolve in me, adding to the other influences in my life, giving me a restlessness that has served me well.

Adversity can be the oddest thing. In some, when encountered young, it can provoke defiance. In the case of violent drunken households it stimulates the urge to survive, to run away, to seek another pathway. It is a two edged sword. For some it is eternal despair. For others it can be a jolt to intelligence and thinking, an opportunity to move on.

I was born at 21 Mill Street West in Stockton-on-Tees. It is an irony of the modern age that a photograph of that humble house exists today in the archives of Stockton Public Library so that at any time I can go online and look and see the house just before it was demolished, seeing in that picture the window at which my Saxon grandmother sat waiting for me, in the room where I learned to read, beside the alleyway where I played, below the room where I was born.

Ireland was neutral in that war. England was devastated; ration books for food, mourning and hunger for the working class. In the years after my Irish Grandmother Bridget would cross the Irish Sea with loaded bags of eggs, and butter, and chickens. My father would still beat his wife and children. The pubs at night were oases of war songs and defiance. Cod and chips were sixpence down the block. My English Grandmother Annie had a big glass battery for her radio, charging extra at the shop when needed. She was comfortable lighting a gas mantle flame in a fixture on the wall for light. She was frightened of the electric switch when the change came.

That winter I was almost five and I remember the dark and the light snow, walking down Leeds Street, seeing that terraced house and Grandma sitting in the front window by the light of a candle waiting for me to arrive from school to flip the electric switch. That was my first understanding of how some are slow to accept change.

That ground floor parlor room beside the alleyway is where my granny Annie Dobson finally welcomed in electric light, where from that alleyway I could see up a perpendicular street, Leeds Street, a few minutes walk, up to the top, from where to the left was, and is, Stockton Railway Station, that oldest and first passenger railway station in the world, from where later I fled north, across the border, into Scotland.

My life of course began earlier, born from an English mother Edna, with many sisters, Ivy and Vy, Annie, Jean and she called Edna May, Henry her father, in that working class terraced home, at the close of the war. My father had caused the pregnancy, and then he fled, leaving me in his denial, not being found, until by his parents, Tom and Bridget Fahey, coming from Ireland, appealed to by letter from my mother’s parents, looked for him and brought him back when I was over seven months old. I am sure his parents were driven by the knowledge that their first grandchild, a boy, would have been incarcerated into a state home, and his mother another incarceration, under the laws of Ireland. For it was believed in Ireland at that time an unmarried mother carried with her a great sin, and the child was complicit in that sin. I was told in later years by my father’s sister, my Aunt Josie, that the first marriage ceremony in a Registrar’s Office was one in which my father had two black eyes and a split lip. My grandfather had been an honorable soldier in World War One. My father had the unenviable distinction of joining the British Navy and then being thrown out at the height of World War Two.

There was a later wedding in St. Mary’s Church on Norton Road, after my Protestant mother had received instructions from the parish priest in her duties as a mother of a Catholic child. She kept her faith to the church though she never took the step of conversion. She was a good woman.

In my youngest years I became used to my father accusing my mother, and then battering her, shouting about her Norwegian boyfriend while he went missing, calling me a bastard, hitting me, hurting me, denying I was his son. But I never doubted that my father was indeed my father, and that was confirmed many decades later.

As a toddler I do remember some good times. The day when I asked my father what he was doing in the garden at the back of our council house in Primrose Hill, before Derby Street, and he told me he was planting lettuce and I in my innocence was puzzled at how he could be planting letters. The council house, one of many semi-detached brick houses on many streets built by the local council for the working classes at a modest rent, with a small front lawn and a back garden for growing vegetables, was a comfortable place with an upstairs and a downstairs, a flush toilet part of the house but separate in the sense that we would have to go out the kitchen door and go in the door to the immediate right, getting wet on cold windy nights.

There were the times he drilled me in the alphabet and had fun demonstrating to his pub friends late at night, reeking of beer and cigarettes, that I could recite, forwards and backwards, the alphabet, given any particular letter. He taught me how to tell the time. Then there was another time, when he flew into a rage, smashing windows and furniture, and I have a vivid memory when my mother took me and my sister Patricia by the hand, walking a mile in a thunderstorm on Mile House Road, in the dark, trees swaying overhead, us soaking wet and not caring because we were away from the havoc, seeking help from a policeman, frightened at returning, sleeping in fear that night, losing that house later because of his rages, because he would not stop.

A change came when I was six months beyond four years old. My mother took me to the local Catholic elementary school, St. Mary’s school, on Norton Road. It was a long walk, crossing on a wooden bridge over railroad tracks. I was fascinated by the steam trains passing beneath. When we reached the school Sister Veronica took details from my mother while I explored. I stood on tiptoes and looked over the partition into the first grade class. I was repulsed. I saw kids playing with paints and plasticine clay, the unmistakable smell of shit. Then I crossed the hallway and peered into the second grade class. I underwent an epiphany. As I saw the alphabet displayed high on the wall around the room, from A to Z, I came to the startling realization that the order of the letters in a word gave its pronunciation. Up until then I had baffled myself trying to determine the meaning of the frequency of the letters in newspapers. It was profound and I do believe I learned to read that day.

Several days later I went missing from my school. I was found in the front parlor of Grandmother Annie Dobson’s house nearing the end of an afternoon reading a book I had found; Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

During the following winter I was taken to my grandparents’ house in Roscommon, across the Irish Sea, a long train ride, and a ship, and another train ride, to freedom, in Ireland. My father had begun to resent me, and fear me. His anger at me had begun to grow. He had introduced terror to a child too young to understand the meaning of the word.


Excerpted from "Survival [Kindle Edition]" by John Fahey. Copyright © 2015 by John Fahey. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

John Fahey

John Fahey

I was born in England in 1944, lived in Roscommon in Ireland between the age of five and nine, lived very difficult teenage years (written about in my memoir), gained entrance to St. Andrews University in Scotland where I graduated with an Honours degree in Chemistry when I was 23. I then migrated to America where I gained a doctorate in Chemistry. I had a career as a synthetic organic research chemist, later as a professor of chemistry at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, then later still as a director of Phase II and Phase III clinical research trials, retired into final career years as a consultant. I learned webmaster skills and have a domain Erinpharm which promotes information about aiming at a healthy longevity. A fuller review of my career can be found at my Erinpharm web site in the CV and about_me. pages. I am an optimistic person and enjoy life. In my retirement to the Blue Ridge mountains of east Tennessee I continued a lifelong love of gardening and writing. I look forward to the future with a sense of awe and hope for advances on the frontiers of science and medicine.

View full Profile of John Fahey

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