Survival

To dare to hope.

To dare to hope, to dare to dream,

To think of things that might have been,

To wish upon a star, to want,

And will that things come true,

In dead of night to wait for dawn,

With hope, to bring a life to me, and you,

For if we bring ourselves to want enough,

In the light of day to keep the dream alive,

To nurture it, and give it life, to strive

To pass it on, to share it with the world,

To stand and look and see the sky that is

And might once more again to dare

To hope and dream.

© John L. Fahey 2011



Dedicated to all those who have been kind and

helped me at times of crisis, particularly my sister

Patricia, and to the memory of my mother, Aunt Josie,

Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ken, and last but not least

my grandparents Thomas and Bridget Fahey.

This wondrous place.

This wondrous place, this continent, this history

To which I came, a frightened boy, a hungering

For safety and for freedom from my fears,

Astonishing me with kindness and with help,

A people unlike those I’d known before,

Sunlight on open fields and an easing of my heart,

A place to lay to rest my hunger for relief,

A multitude of different ways of life,

The savory foods, the excitement and the cities,

The looking ahead to futures yet to come,

Opportunities and work no matter what my origins,

Come in, sit down, welcome to our homes,

That I could cry for easing of my heart

And love of you,

A land to grow my crops and give myself to you,

My tears overflow for you America.

© John L. Fahey 2013




Chapter 1

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-onTees. 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.

My grandparents lived in a two bedroom house,

two floors, joined to an identical house each on about

an acre of land, three miles from the town of

Roscommon. My memories of that time and those

precious several years are fragmentary but it was as if I

had arrived in a magical land where the sky was

brighter and the air smelled sweeter and everyone was

kind and spoke softly and I was no longer you bastard;

I had my own name, John. My grandfather, Thomas,

had been given the house after marriage to Bridget

Murray, for his service in World War One. He had

built a chicken coop for dozens of chickens, a pig sty

enclosure for several pigs, a tilled field for an endless

supply of potatoes and cabbages, and a small covered

building to keep the turf dry so my grandmother

wouldn’t have far to go from the back of the house to

get turf for the fire.

I remember it as an idyllic existence. There was

one large room with a huge walk in fireplace on the

ground floor with a small back parlor room for special

occasions, and stairs up to two bedrooms, one of them

for me. It was a peaceful house, my grandmother

cooking on the turf fire, oil lamps to light the rooms at

night when my grandfather would come home from

work. My heart expanded in love for my grandparents,

inextricably mixed with the savory smell of slow

cooked potatoes and cabbage, bacon sizzling in a cast

iron pan, fresh baked bread with savory butter, as

much milk as I could drink and the urgings of “eat

John, eat so you can grow up to be a big lad”. And of

course fresh eggs for breakfast with more bread and

butter and jam and roast chicken on weekends. After

dinner we would kneel on the stone floor to say

decades of the Rosary praying for the poor hungry

children of the world: my grandfather knew of those

children, he had been there.

Sometimes my grandfather’s friends would visit

late at night and they would sit around the turf fire with

me on a little bench closest to the fire and they talked

of Ireland’s past and the days of resistance and

rebellion. My grandfather would tell me, holding me

enclosed in his arms, “John, you are the equal of any

man be he the President of Ireland, or the King of

England, or the captain of the Gaelic athletic team, but

remember John the man who breaks stones by the side

of the road and the woman who scrubs floors for a

living is your equal too” He said that to me many

times, impressing it on me, as if he knew we would

have only a few short years together. It has been with

me all my life and I have held it tight to my heart and

soul.

And it was there I heard of Thomas Wade, my

grandmother’s grandfather, who had passed down

honor for over a century, to his descendents. He had

been one of the Catholic farmers in Connaught allowed

to own his own land by the English. It had been in his

family for generations and had a water wheel mill

which ground grain into flour. He was a prosperous

man by the values of the times and had many children.

But the blight destroyed the potato crop and the

English took all the other food out of Ireland and the

people began to starve, year after year. An Gorta Mór

it is called in the Irish language, the great hunger, and

the years of that famine is expressed best in Irish since

English does not properly express the cruelty and

injustice of those years.

In the first year of the great hunger people were

walking by the gates of the farm on the way another

five miles to Roscommon town and after that forty

eight miles to Galway and the coffin ships and sharks

following the ships sailing to America for the dead

bodies thrown overboard and hungry all the way.

Thomas Wade set his wife and children baking bread

and giving bread to all who passed their front gate. In

the second year there were so many people there

wasn’t time to bake the bread so the hungry passers-by

were each given a handful of flour. In the third year

there were so many people flooding past the farm there

wasn’t time to grind enough grain into flour so they

began to give a handful of grain, his wife and children

standing throughout the day with sacks and barrels of

grain by the gate. In the fourth year it was all gone and

the land was devastated and Thomas Wade’s family

began to starve and die. Thomas Wade and his wife

had established an honor that their descendents needs

must never forget.

For the first couple of years of my awakening to

kindness my life was with Grandma during the day,

listening to Radio Eireann, reading through the local

newspaper, the Roscommon Champion, puzzling at the

sections written in Irish and wanting so much to

understand them, reading of farming news and sports,

then waiting at the front gate looking down to the turn

in the road for my grandfather to come home. He

always came home at the same time. When I would see

him come into sight my heart would surge with joy and

happiness and I would turn and call out to my

grandmother watching me from the front window and

she would laugh and tell me “go on then” and that

would be my permission to open the gate and run

down the road to my grandfather who would lift me on

to his shoulders and carry me back to the house. He

would always bring me a gift, an apple, or peanuts, or

an orange. He would sit with me in the small field

beside the house and explain to me the ways of the

world, telling me of plants and animals and how to

raise them and care for them, showing me that I should

always eat the skin of the orange after the succulent

flesh even though it be bitter because it was good for

the health.

The time came when I was taken to visit the

Dolans a couple of miles down the road, nearer to

town, and met my new friend Seámus Dolan. It was a

wonderful sunny day, opening up more of Ireland to

me, walking past the house of the Hanleys next to the

village pump, then down past the curve in the road

where to the right the house of the Flanagan widow

with her grown twin daughters lived and then a short

way with the boreen road sloping downward where on

the left we stood for a while and talked with my

grandmother’s triplet brother Jack at the gate of his

house and he was told it was my day to meet the

Dolans so that I could prepare for school. He explained

to me that the side of the boreen road we lived on was

called Ballybohan and the other side of the road where

the Dolans had their farm house was called Ballybride.

He told me there was no need of numbers for the

houses because the postman knew where everyone

lived.

There were fields to the sides of the road and

cattle grazing and hedges and low stone walls and it

was peaceful with no traffic for there would only be an

occasional person on a bicycle or a horse drawn farm

wagon to interrupt the tranquility. Seámus became my

great friend. In the early morning he would appear

after breakfast and we would take about a half dozen

cows from a nearby field and slowly urge them down

the boreen to the milking sheds at his parent’s house.

Slowly and taking our time because to hurry the cows

full of milk would not be good so we would let them

ramble and graze as we walked behind them giving

them an occasional thwack with a stick at the top of the

tail to keep them moving. We talked of many things as

young boys do and imagined great wonders awaiting

us in the world we would explore.

It was a happy time for me as I reached the age of

seven and it was time for us to go to the Christian

Brothers School on the outskirts of Roscommon town.

It was a time when men had to come for a pig to be

taken away so I could get my first shoes and clothes

and books for school. I really needed the shoes for that

because a few hundred yards past the Dolan’s house

the boreen road reached a two lane tarmac road, too

rough for my feet. That road was a long walk to school

with fields to the right and to the left a view across a

wide marsh to Roscommon Castle, tall and immense

and magnificent though in ruins, until we would reach

houses and other buildings and the feeling we were

actually in town.

I began to learn Irish and it baffled and enchanted

me while arithmetic and mathematics drew me into a

never ending exploration. By then I had become a

voracious reader in the English language, reading

anything I could get my hands on so needed no help

for that, just needing newspapers and magazines and

books and dictionaries and advertisements on

packages. If we were poor I never knew it.

I was barely two years going to school with the

Christian Brothers, happy with collecting eggs in the

morning, going to the village pump to bring home a

white enamel bucket of fresh water, helping drive

slowly the cows down to the milking sheds on the way

to school, learning the Irish language, always having

clean clothes and a fresh bed to sleep in when bad

news arrived in the form of my almost forgotten father.

He was taking me back to England, taking me away

from my security and my happiness. I was frightened

of this strange man who looked at me as though his

smile and face was always on the verge of turning into

anger. I didn’t know it was the last time I would see

my grandfather. In not knowing I was not totally

plunged in despair. I always had the hope I could come

home again.

It was 1953. I was nine. I was back at St. Mary’s

Elementary School, still standing safe with its Church

of the same name, behind tall brick walls, on a main

road, Norton Road, beside the streets of bombed and

burned houses, given separate classes in calligraphy

for a while, joined with my peers, both boys and girls,

studying for national examinations, the 11 plus,

anonymous in that I’d be given a number, the papers

scored in a remote place, so that the poor would not be

identified, would be given a fair chance. It was a fact

of life in those days, in England, that all children

would be subjected to several days of what was

commonly believed was intelligence testing when they

would reach about the age of eleven and I had to

prepare for that.

My return to England and the Catholic elementary

school, surrounded by those streets of abandoned,

bombed and burned brick row houses, reading books

from the junior library down on Wellington Street gave

me new ideas of the world. I was now in with my

younger sister Patricia and baby Mary. We lived in a

row house, 35 Derby Street, the worst part of town,

with the other poor people. I learned quickly not to let

my father see me reading. “I’ll poke out your eyes with

a red hot poker if I catch you reading again,” he would

threaten, pulling the poker from the coal fire, the tip

cherry red, waving it at me and setting my heart

thudding in my chest.

There were nights when he and my mother would

come home from the pub in drunken revelry and life

seemed almost normal as we were given little bags of

potato crisps with a blue wrapped twist of salt. But it

could turn violent with my mother crying and being

attacked as she tried to put herself between him and me

and my sisters. Going to bed with old coats to cover

me I’d try to dream of Ballybohan and going back

home, trying not to cry, hurting from the physical

blows and torment of being again you bastard, him not

believing I was his son.

A polio scare swept through the town with a

sudden frightening alarm. Lines of mothers with

children on the streets outside clinics, warnings,

notices, then just as suddenly seeming to be over,

became a foundation stone in my future. My friend

Henry Chapman, sitting next to me in class, got polio,

finished up in an iron lung, and I never saw him again.

I was almost ten. The arrival of polio vaccination was

as yet several years in the future. I was not conscious

that I had escaped a terrible fate, did not realize until

many years after that it was to be the first of many

encounters with illness, with injury, with thoughts of

fighting back against such a foe, determination

hardening me against my fears.

Another chilling encounter with disease entered

my life that year. Our beautiful sister Mary came down

with scarlet fever and was taken into an isolation

hospital on Mile House Road. We were told it was

very contagious and Mary was going to die. Patricia

and I borrowed bikes and pedaled north out of Derby

Street, past the railway station, on up beyond Primrose

Hill, to the forbidding grey stone hospital building.

Mary was only just four years old. Patricia was eight.

We knew we couldn’t go in so we sat on our bikes on

the side of the road and looked at the building. We

were consumed with sadness that Mary was going to

die and that our parents were not going to visit and we

would not be let in. In my unshed tears I had a fierce

determination that I would fight back against this, that

somehow one day I would fight such a terrible disease.

As it turned out Mary recovered and was back with us

some months later. After that Patricia and I gave her

special care and attention.

Patricia and I had often been complimented on

our good looks, with deep blue eyes and amber brown

hair and fair complexion, thin from lack of enough

food, being told by others that surely we would

become movie stars but our Mary had a true beauty

about her, a perfection so extraordinary that sometimes

we’d persuade her to sit perfectly still when strangers

would come to the house, pretending she was a doll.

And Mary would go along with that joke, a gentle

smile on her face, small as she was, until she would

move and talk and cause merriment. She never did

grow as tall as the rest of us but she always remained

slim and beautiful.

Each day was a welcome oasis of safety in that

school with a small bottle of milk in the morning and

walking with teachers each day at noon a short

distance away to a hall with long tables in rows and a

kitchen steaming with savory dinners of meat and

potatoes and cabbage, fish on Fridays, sweet desserts,

and back to English, and arithmetic, and the

beginnings of algebra, and geometry, on to simple

trigonometry and an introduction to the labyrinth of

logarithms.

At night I was at war with a man I feared was out

to cause me serious harm. But I had allies. My mother

Edna May took the brunt of his violence. At that time

she had few choices. She was soon to bear another

child, and there was me, and my younger sisters

Patricia, and Mary. Dad’s sister Josie and her family

lived a couple of miles away and my mother’s mother

Annie Dobson and my mother’s younger sister Aunt

Jean lived together just a few streets away in my birth

home on Mill Street West. At times my refuge from

my beatings became Granny Dobson’s house, precious

evenings where I would feel safe. The house was quiet

with the radio on low and the clock on the wall ticking,

grandma knitting, Aunt Jean cooking dinner, and

special times for me lying on the carpet to listen to

radio episodes of the adventures of Dan Dare, an outer

space series that enthralled me with the ideas of the

solar system. I’d be given two pennies on Tuesday to

go across the street to buy the Dandy comic, and then

on Thursday another two pennies to buy the Beano,

another comic. Sometimes on a Saturday I’d go with

granny into the crowded market on the High Street,

always hand in hand, and be given a toffee apple.

Sunday afternoon was the day of the week to cook a

roast beef and the kitchen had to be cleared for Aunt

Jean because she was an expert at making a crispy

golden Yorkshire pudding to be served alongside the

roast beef. She would garnish it with chopped lettuce

and scallions in a little vinegar and it would make me

feel loved and taken care of.

There would be other days on weekends when the

house would be in a whirl of activity of cleaning and

granny pounding clothes in a possing barrel filled with

hot soapy water brought from the gas stove in the

kitchen in large pans. That was done in the back yard

with a long handled wooden posser while putting the

wet clothes through a hand turned mangle to squeeze

out the water so the clothes could be put on lines

across the back yard to dry, the yard door open to the

alleyway for the breezes to help dry the washing, the

smell of the soapy water filling the air with a delightful

fragrance. There were some times when my drunken

father would turn up in the alleyway from a nearby pub

and there would be shouting and protesting and angers

about me while I would run inside and hide, shaking

and in fear again. But he would not be allowed in and

I’d have a respite until returning to Derby Street later

that night, to havoc after the pubs closed, to being a

bastard again, to curses, and kicks and blows, and

sleep, lying atop my Gaelic grammar books, trying to

dream of Ballybohan and escape.

I became an altar server at the church and was

comforted by the serenity and solemnity of early

morning Mass. I learned the Latin responses and was

awed by the sonorous phrases, feeling I was part of

another existence, distant from my daily life. I liked to

serve at the first Mass at six o’clock. It was a special

magic to get up before dawn and walk beneath

streetlights and stars wrapped against the cold,

recovering from the night before.

It was a scramble surviving until that March in

which I became 11 and had to get a bus out to a

northern part of town where a modern brick Protestant

school had given its students a week off so that the

school would be a testing center. So for three days,

morning and afternoon, I took the tests, taking the bus

back each night, just going from day to day knowing

I’d have to put up with an inevitable series of punches

and kicks and blows of one sort or another when I

returned home. I just had to keep my distance and I

was quick though just not quick enough sometimes.

Often enough late night drunken rages would erupt

into violence and screaming and crying and us kids out

on the street. It seemed to be an inevitable sort of life,

a life to be negotiated with pathways of avoidance and

running and fear.

I feel there is a special sort of daily apprehension

for children as young as we were in that kind of

environment. For me, as I am sure it was for my sister

Patricia, seventeen months younger, it was a long

series of good days and bad days interspersed with

violent drunken rages of our father and attempts by

other people to bring some comfort to our lives. The

streets at night brought a threatening sort of freedom,

away from the violence of our father, alone and often

cold, with a fear of attack from local kids our age that

had their own lives to survive. We were used to the

fact that we would not get birthday presents or

Christmas presents and Patricia and I would sometimes

fantasize what it would be like to be in the orphanage

on Buckingham Road, hearing the laughter of children

at play behind the tall brick wall. They, we knew, got

presents at birthday and Christmas times. There was

one time when my father’s sister Maureen and her

soon to be English husband Ken came by on Christmas

Eve bearing gifts, pen and pencil sets, handkerchiefs,

toys for Mary and the baby Thomas, and attempts at

normalcy. Our father flew into a drunken rage,

throwing the presents on the coal fire, putting one boot

on the presents to make sure they burned, as he warded

off attempts to stop him by Maureen and Ken and my

mother. It is still a vivid memory to me of fleeing to

the back alley behind the house consoling Mary, her

crying and Patricia and I saying over and over again

“don’t cry, when we grow up we’ll get you presents,

ourselves, me and Pat.”

My father was both violent and strong. Few could

resist him. I was just eleven and Pat was almost ten.

We could only depend on each other. When I passed

the 11 plus, the only boy in my class at St. Mary’s

elementary to do so, I gained entry to further education

at a grammar school, St. Mary’s College in

Middlesbrough, about five miles away, which I could

only get to by bus, from Stockton High Street. The

college was run and administered by Marist priests and

had its own church on the grounds. To my surprise it

brought a respite from being you bastard, not that my

father was proud of me, but that entry had gained my

parents an education grant, more beers for my father,

more struggling for my mother.

In the week before my first classes my mother

bought me a navy blue blazer, the proper uniform

being too expensive, and stitched the school badge on

the pocket and then an hour before that first bus ride

took me into town to buy my required protractor set

and gym shorts and shoes, bought from her wages. My

mother by that time was working early morning hours

cleaning floors in a nearby cinema, the Empire

Cinema, and was able to make sure I would get the bus

on time. I know she was proud of me. In later years I

reflected often on the fact that my mother, though not

Catholic, married to my father who avoided the Church

and the priests, nonetheless made sure we all went to

Catholic school, first communion, confirmation, and to

Mass every Sunday and Saints day. There must surely

be a special place in Heaven for a mother like that.

Emboldened by the temporary truce with my

father I took advantage of his drunken good humor one

day and persuaded him that I could get a job delivering

newspapers if I had a bike and I could pay for it with

installments. To my amazement his mood lasted long

enough to get him into Curry’s bicycle shop in town,

on the High Street just across from the town hall, and

within hours I was riding my new ten speed bike to the

newsagent’s shop where I had been promised the job

of delivering morning and evening newspapers from

Monday to Saturday. So began my first regular

income. I didn’t care that my father would hit me if I

didn’t give him my paper money. [....]