Authors: John Fiennes
Tags: #Fiennes, John, #Biography - Personal Memoirs, #Social Science - Gay Studies
THE GOOD BOY
Published by Hybrid Publishers
Melbourne Victoria Australia
Â©John Fiennes 2013
This publication is copyright. Apart from any use
as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be
reproduced by any process without prior written permission
from the publisher. Requests and inquiries concerning
reproduction should be addressed to the Publisher, Hybrid
PO Box 52, Ormond VIC 3204
First published 2013
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication
Author: Fiennes, John.
Title: The good boy : a memoir / John Fiennes.
ISBN: 9781742982403 (ebk.)
Subjects: Fiennes, John.
Gays â Biography.
Gay men â Biography.
Dewey Number: 306.7662092
Cover design: Gittus Graphics Â©
Typeset in Minion Pro 12.3/18
Seven: Gigolo, Monk, Pornstar, Prostitute â¦
Ten: The Answer is Simple, the Lesson is Easy
Appendix 1: The voyage to Australia
Appendix 2: Hockeys and Sullivans
Appendix 3: The Fyans-Fiennes Connections
Appendix 4: The Millanes and the Goldfields
Appendix 5: The Vexatious Litigant
This memoir, put together from a manuscript and other papers left behind by a cousin, is being published in the hope that it will prove informative in its portrayal of a minor family saga, amusing with its rather whimsical account of a youth's passage through adolescence to adulthood and, perhaps most importantly, helpful to those confused by current attitudes towards sexuality, social mores and religion.
My cousin's tale really begins in eighteenth-century Ireland under English occupation. In 1798 Seamus Millane, my cousin's great-great-grandfather, was born in a tiny village in the west of Ireland. He grew to adulthood, married, and late in life migrated with his wife and five grown sons to the Australian goldfields. In 1861 Peter, the second-youngest son, married my kinswoman, Honorah Elizabeth Fyans (the Irish form of Fiennes).
Completing the circle, one of the sons of this later union travelled in the early 1900s from Australia to England where he settled down, married and produced children of his own.
My cousin set out to put together the many fragments of the histories of the one English and seven Irish families from which he descended; he believed that the glimpses of nineteenthcentury life â in England and Ireland, on the sailing ships en route to Australia, on the goldfields, in the Australian bush, and in the rapidly developing metropolis of Melbourne â would be of interest as social history. However, the bulk of this historical material is here presented in a series of appendices rather than in the main text; as explained in his Introduction, my cousin's original intention had been to trace inter-generational behavioural characteristics in the family but this project remained incomplete. The core of the project was to be a detailed examination of his own life and persona, which he did complete and set out with disarming frankness, the good and the bad, the light and the dark, the tension between sex and religion â¦ and that core exercise in self-analysis constitutes the main part of this book. My cousin had neither delusions of grandeur nor pretensions to be someone of note; he saw himself rather as John Citizen, Everyman, a face in the crowd, and for that very reason believed that this story, the story of his inner life, might be of interest to other ordinary people.
He looked back and tried to identify mistakes made and actions regretted, not as an exercise in maudlin self-indulgence but in the hope that by highlighting his own errors of judgement, he might help others to avoid similar pitfalls. His ruminations on family life, education, sexuality, religion and social mores are more often droll than dreary and they carefully lead the reader to his personal conclusions that the very foundations of western society, the belief in God and in an afterlife, the moral codes of the âPeople of the Book' and the concept of the nuclear family are all notions that require serious and urgent revision. He came to believe that there is no heaven or hell or reincarnation or hereafter of any sort; that as a consequence we have only one life each, one chance at happiness; and that our best chance of finding happiness is to help others to do the same.
This is not a totally new message but this story presents it in a new way.
'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door,
And his horse in the silence champ'd the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor.
And a bird flew up out of the turret
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door a second time:
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
One wintry Saturday afternoon, with weekend chores done and the evening meal of BÅuf Bourguignon already beginning to waft savoury promises from the kitchen, with my wife and I each curled up in an armchair with a good book, a knock came at the front door. A quick glance through the front window revealed a tall, elderly man with an uncanny resemblance to my father, dead some 30 years earlier. The caller was looking uncertainly at the house and door as if on second thoughts his knocking might have been regretted, as if he feared a possible rebuff from the householder he had just disturbed. I did not recognise the caller but felt somehow that I should have â¦ so I opened the door with neither smile nor scowl on my face but with frank and even friendly curiosity.
The visitor looked up, smiled and held out his hand. âHello, John. It's Tom Flanagan. I phoned your mother and she said I'd find you in on a Saturday afternoon and she was right.' The penny suddenly dropped. Tom was my father's first cousin, ten years his junior, both of them well known for looking alike and for their strong family resemblance. I had not seen Tom since my teenage years but immediately felt totally at ease in inviting him in and introducing him to my wife, who quickly organised drinks and asked him to stay for dinner. (Casserole meals are wonderfully elastic.)
Tom had not come to socialise. In his late seventies, he had retired from a successful business life and had become engrossed in family history. His mother's family, the Mulcahys, was my father's family, and he had been told that I had recently shown some interest in the subject. When, over a whisky or two, he started talking about life in the small country town where he and my father had grown up and of experiences which he had often shared with my father, I was quickly enthralled.
My father had been born in a small town in the Colony of Victoria while Tom, born in the same town a few years later, had been born in the State of Victoria in the Commonwealth of Australia.
So Tom was born an Australian while my father and mother (born five years before Tom) had both been born Victorians. Although they were born during the reign of the old queen in the colony named in her honour, neither of my parents showed any signs of an outlook, attitude or behaviour generally described as âVictorian'.
To his stories of the early 1900s Tom was often able to add some marvellous old photographs, including one of my father as a five-year-old dressed in a sailor suit and sitting on the floor at his widowed mother's knee, his six- and seven-year old sisters in their Sunday-best white pinafores ranged shyly behind him. I had never seen the picture before and had never thought of my grandmother as having once been an attractive young woman. But even in this photo, dating from about 1901, my grandmother was dressed in her usual black, relieved only slightly by a beautiful jet necklace or parure and the slightest suggestion of a smile.
Tom had a tight schedule of family visits to make and had to cut short his stay with us. I gladly accepted his invitation, however, to join him in his research. At the end of six months or so we were able to put together a reasonably sound little history of the family since its arrival in the Colony of Victoria in the mid-1800s.
That was 25 years ago, Tom has long gone to join our forebears and it is now my turn to feel at that stage of life when some sort of summation begins to seem appropriate, when one wonders what, if anything, might usefully be passed on to following generations, not just about one's own family but about the human race in general, about life itself.
Tom and I had contented ourselves with gathering together as many facts as we could find: where our ancestors had come from, when they had reached Australia, where they had first settled and worked, whom they had married, and so on. We pointed out useful reference sources (this was in the days before personal computers and on-line searching) and we had left it to the readers and family members to come more closely to grips with their particular branches of the family tree.
My aim now is to put on record not so much the facts and figures of a life â the life of an ordinary man â but rather the reasoning behind life-changing decisions made, good and bad, the influences involved in actions taken and the explanations behind important personal events â¦ often guessed at, sometimes hinted at but frequently withheld for fear of hurt or scandal or even retribution. Why? is usually a much harder question to answer than When? or What? or Who? Why do we do what we do? Why do we live as we do? Why are we here? What, if anything, comes next?
I would like to approach these questions in a scientific way but science was never my forte: my experiments in the school science laboratory rarely worked in the way the teacher and the science book said they would, my Bunsen burner tended either not to light or else to behave more like a flame-thrower, my beakers and test tubes tended to spill, crack or leak and my prac book never seemed to be âwritten up' as well as those of most of my classmates â¦ whom I could often eclipse in other subjects. As a result, I gave up physics and chemistry in the final year of secondary school to concentrate on languages and history.
At university one could not, in those days, obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree (in theory the sign of having completed a well-rounded general education) without doing at least one subject from each of the four main groupings of History, Language, Philosophy/Mathematics, and Science. I found that the easiest way to satisfy the âscience' requirement would be to tackle a subject called History and Philosophy of Science Part I which, I was led to believe, was not technically demanding. My tackling of the subject was, of course, more a âreading' of it in the sense in which that term is used in university circles in Oxford and Cambridge. This was what might now be termed âvirtual' rather than âactual' science, being simply an overview of the history and philosophy involved. To my surprise, I became quite enamoured of the subject, partly because of the skill and enthusiasm of the lecturer in charge and partly because of the subject matter itself â¦ a quick survey of the scientific achievements of the past few thousand years. While the body of knowledge available to mankind is now expanding exponentially, the contribution made by our ancestors, usually in far less propitious circumstances, is still relevant.
One of the most interesting subjects covered by the course was, to my mind, Botany â¦ or was it Zoology, or Physiology? Where should one classify genetics, both animal and vegetable? At all events, I who had hated the âprac work' and science classes at school, found myself totally absorbed by the nineteenthcentury study of peas undertaken by Gregor Mendel, abbot of the Augustinian monastery in Brno.
The painstaking and timeconsuming detail of his work, which at school I would have found utterly boring, suddenly appeared startlingly relevant to life, to each of us, to me! Through Mendel's pioneering study I suddenly saw that, as with the visible, physical world around us, the buildings and landscapes often referred to nowadays as national or world heritage, so too with the non-visible world of behaviour, emotion, tastes and thought, there is a direct connection between the past and the present. Inherited characteristics are as much a part of present-day life as are the inherited landscapes in which life today is set. Mendel's work showed me that there must have been direct connections between my past and my present, between my forebears and myself, between their behaviour and my own behaviour. History, our life story, quite suddenly became not just interesting reading but a vital part of the path to personal understanding and happiness. I don't know whether my university lecturer saw her course as simply giving students an interesting overview of, and a respect for, science, or whether she also had in mind the aim of encouraging her students to apply a little of her âscientific method' to their understanding of themselves and of the world around them; in my case she achieved both goals.