January – Dan Doherty

My name is Dave O’Flaherty. If you’d told me a year ago I’d be organising an art exhibition within a year and be embarking on a second (a year-long project) immediately afterwards, I’d have doubted your sanity, as well as my own! TWELVE is a project I’ve had in mind for some time. Finding the right partner was key to setting it in motion. It took twenty minutes (and an unpaid coffee bar tab on my part!) to convince local photographer Jon Downs that this concept could be a winner as an art project.

So here we are.

Finding suitable people to build this project should have been incredibly challenging, but I’m lucky enough to know what I’m looking for, if not who. The first person to agree to being a part of TWELVE has an incredible story to tell: she’s lived in over fifty countries and “retired” to Suffolk from Crystal Palace just 18 months ago. She loves it here and walks down to the beach to witness our unique sunrises every morning. Despite retiring, she travels to London on a regular basis to teach dance and it was without hesitation that I invited her to interview on Twelve. You’ll meet her in the months to come.

That Dan Doherty stepped forward to be the opening batsman and be first up in January speaks volumes for the man. Dan has a story to tell and was happy to be first. Luckily I’ve known him for seven years now and we’ve had a few chats and endured a few of life’s bumps and scrapes together.

Jon and I meet Dan at his home in Felixstowe on a sunny crisp January Saturday afternoon. Compared to Dan and I, Jon is rather tall, and towers above us. The three of us are crammed into Dan’s homely parlour. Dan’s front room has a sixties and fifties feel to it. In London, Suffolk and West Indian tradition the front room is the one where time stands still and it’s the room you don’t use and in Dan’s house it is a time capsule. Festooned as it is with family portraits and memories of days long gone, the kids, the parents, grandparents and beyond.

Family first is a hugely strong East End tradition but in Irish convention it is just as strong and Dan has both. In British, West Indian and Anglo Irish culture the parlour is next to the kitchen as one of the main rooms in the house. It demonstrates that family and home is king and home is where the heart is, believe me.

Dan takes us stage by stage through his journey from a teenage traveller to a family man, detailing his hopes and dreams as he goes.

Dan’s journey begins on the terraces of Upton Park on a rainy bleak East End day. Before long, disillusioned with what lies in front of him in this England, he’s on his way to Australia. He returns a changed man.

Dan Doherty

Not only does Dan ooze confidence, he’s a walking, talking storyteller and with little prompting he’s away and waxing lyrical. Jon sits in to soak up the atmosphere, and almost before we can draw breath Dan is off and away and is already on his way to Australia with his first story…..

Dan “Getting into Upton Park wasn’t easy in the ’80s; you walked through a metal detector, and was then searched and then herded into a pen to watch the game. West Ham were losing and it was pouring with rain. I thought there must be more to life than this and I said to my mate, I’ve had enough of this do you fancy going to Australia? It was easy to obtain a visa and just went to Bush house and very soon we were off.”

Dan’s first encounter with real adventure took him and two fellow travellers on a slow train from Melbourne to Sydney right through the heart of Victoria.

Dan Doherty

Dan “We were on the train to Sydney and going right through the middle of Victoria and one of us choose a stop at a place called Arararat. This train went right across the centre of Australia. The beauty of not having the internet meant you went to places you’ve never heard of and would never go to. We rolled into the town at four am and the train didn’t stop, it simply slowed down and we jumped off and it sped up and was gone.
There we were in this cowboy town and there was just a few houses. We were left standing there and there was nothing there, just a small cowboy town with six or seven buildings. So I said to the lad who’d chosen to come here and I asked him why the fuck did you choose this place?

He replied ‘I liked the name!’

I said ‘you idiot there is not another train for a day and we’ve got to get up at 4 am to get out’. We walked into the one building that looked like the hotel. It was just like a cowboy saloon bar and it was empty. Then this guy comes out of the kitchen and he was holding a black shoe in one hand and a frozen hard show in the other.”

Dan “This is no word of a lie he said, ‘The Fuckers! They put one Shoe in the fucken freezer and the other shoe in the fucken oven!!!’

I was terrified and said ‘have you got any rooms’. When we came back down at ten am in the morning there were two men from the local prison at the bar they were prison officers and we spent the morning drinking with them. We were joined by some cowboy types and we spent the whole day drinking with them. We were like exotics to them because we’d come from another part of the world and weren’t from Victoria.

They were all very friendly and some of them invited us back to their home.”

Dan “One of them wanted to fight us but the others persuaded him not to because we were different. We spent the whole day in this macho male dominated environment. And we got steaming drunk. I don’t know how we survived to be honest . we’d never have gone if we’d had internet, we got into some amazing situations.

We eventually got very hungry and they told us the building across the road was a Chinese restaurant. We went over and it was just like a house. This town only had a handful of houses but it had a pub/ hotel and a Chinese restaurant. All the family were there and were looking at us. There were just three tables, it was just like a living room and the owner simply said “what do you want?”. The whole family came out to watch us eat.

We went back to the hotel and we were steaming drunk and that’s the night I ate a bar of soap! We got back to the hotel and I remember in the night in my dream being so thirsty I squeezed all the moisture out of this sponge.”

Dave “out of a bar of soap?”

“No out of this sponge” Dan insists still in ‘mode’, “I woke up with crumbs of soap and white bits around my face. The alarm went off at 3 and we had to get out of this place or the next day would be the same and we got our backpacks waived down the train and fled!”

Dan Doherty

Dan “Because there was no internet we crashed into situations which you could never repeat. would not happen today. I couldn’t explain it to my kids they wouldn’t understand . We travelled around Australia for a year and when I got home it had changed my point of view on everything.

What I did after that was if I was in a relationship and it broke down, I’d be off again.

I’d get a round the world ticket and I’d go to Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia then I go the other way round.”

Dan Doherty

Dan “I remember I was as free as a human being could possibly be. I had a passport in my pocket, credit cards and a ticket. I had me bag and that’s all I really needed. Obviously I had to work to get the money to pay for this.So one week I’d be snowboarding in Vancouver. I’d go to the ticket office the next day book a flight and I’d be learning to surf in Hawaii the next week.

It was fantastic, brilliant, honest to God.”

Jon “I love Vancouver”.
Dan “Yeah it’s wicked. I really love it. One of my mates who I travelled with, just got in there and stayed he love mountain biking and snowboarding and yeah he just stayed there.
Jon “Whistler”.
Dan “Yeah Whistlers wicked ain’t it”.

Dan “We used to go to the Gastown, the Hensby bar. There is a big old fashioned pub on the corner. They have a drink called Hemp Ale, you could get drunk and stoned at the same time!! Yeah, I did that quite a few times.

Whenever I had a lull in my life I’d get a round the world ticket and shoot off.”

Dan can trace his ancestry back to the northern part of Ireland. Inishowen to be precise. The English had pursued his forefathers as far south as they could and into the sea and by the time they’d arrived in Cork the O’Dohertys had become Dohertys and one of their number had been put to death and his head placed on a skewer.

An English man of Irish descent, Dan is highly aware of his ancestry and gives a very precise recount of his parent’s parent’s parents and much further back too. He knows what became of his great grandfather in the First World War and proudly asserted the skills from him has been passed on to him. In the parlour of his house Dan pointed to a woodman’s plane and a saw taking pride of place on the wall. “These tools were made by my great grandfather over one hundred and twenty years ago.” He didn’t come back from the war unfortunately.

to be continued …

Author: Dave O’Flaherty
Consultant Editor: Sarah Midgley 
Photographer & Editor: Jon Downs