The next post will be on or before Sunday 4th March. If you want to read my latest comic novel The Lawless Book of Love, you will need to look at the January and February 2018 archive, see below to the right

A month ago, returning from the UK, I found myself on the Athens metro late at night. It is a long journey from the airport to the city centre, and I was headed for Piraeus, which made it more or less endless, for there is a particular type of dissociated fatigue about all-day travelling that is like no other. After about 2 stops an odd-looking bloke in his mid-thirties got on the almost empty train, the other passengers being harmless, often strikingly handsome women in their twenties, or elderly working men innocuously returning to their homes. This bloke who had fish-like dilated eyes and pasty skin and short greasy hair, could have sat anywhere he liked, but as sure as shot he plonked himself down opposite me, and after about five seconds started talking to himself. I hesitated precisely half a second and then lifted up and went and sat a hundred yards off. Perhaps five years ago I would have felt worried about offending his feelings, but tonight I decided that the broad definition of a disturbingly uncontrolled person, aka a nutter when stated accurately if unkindly, is that they don’t and can’t consider anyone else’s feelings, and although they are capable of irritability and reactive anger they are incapable of being personally offended in any sense that you and I would acknowledge.

His monologue continued half in Greek and half in English and the English was Americanised like that of a frenetic DJ or radio presenter. His intonations confirmed he wasn’t British or American, and for that matter he might not have been a Greek. Maybe, I hazarded, he was East European: Russian or Polish or Moldovan, and a small-time drug dealer, as he hadn’t smelt of alcohol, and his babble might well have been drug related? Just as credibly he was from Mars or Neptune or Pluto, as the punctuation marks to his delivery were non-verbal and unexpected to say the least. What he did was to percuss his bulbous fish-like lips with an expert adroitness, and then went:


It was in a way reminiscent of I was about to say Harpo Marx, but as Harpo is always mute in his films then it must be how I’d have imagined Harpo frictionally and sonorously exercising his lips if he’d been playing the creative fool. The point being that Harpo was lucidly and wilfully crazy as a comic artist (remember him feverishly eating a monstrous plate of peas loonily one at a time with a fork?) whereas this bloke here had no executive option, and in addition and unlike Harpo, he was not remotely entertaining.

He was by now on his phone, though only later did I consider that it might have been an imaginary conversation for the benefit of his hapless, helpless audience. He said in English, and there was a fair chance most of the passengers would only have understood the f- word and the Greek cusswords:

“He fackin cheated me man. Yes he did, the bastard. He ripped me off. Malaka! Malakiya! (Wanker! Wankerishness!)”


There ensued more loud and insistent sentences in transatlantic English, condemning some phony and duplicitous third party. Then this troubled and troubling man who in most respects was painfully boring and dismally repetitive and an egotistical nuisance, as all he knew how to do was make others uncomfortable with his undirectional and angry discourse, suddenly and out of the blue and for only a few seconds became rivetingly fascinating, and indeed he took my breath away with his provocative originality.

“You know, “he said in slick and confiding even complacent English to his friend, or his imaginary friend, or to his Mum and Dad and siblings back on Pluto or on the Rings of Saturn. “You know something, man. There are some facking very strange people in this world. There really are. Fackin weird. You have to watch yourself with them. You really fackin do. Gamoto (fuck it). Malaka. Malakiya.”


(To read the novel you will need to go to the January and February archive 2018, see below to the right)

The next post will be around the UK Easter or before


VALERIE WALKERDINE, Research psychologist, UK

It’s hilarious John! You mean the website we talked on was just research for your new novel? I have often wanted to do something myself about the men I have encountered……

JM replies

It’s a nice fantasy, Valerie, but I did not decide to go online dating 3 and a half years ago, in order to write a novel about it. Apart from selfishly playing about with someone else’s heart and soul, I would also have been playing recklessly about with my own heart and soul, and both of those options seem bad ideas to me. The same answer would apply to Jane X below, for if I am as selfish and cynical as she evidently sees me, I would not have risked hurting myself much less anyone else. Selfish and cynical people don’t risk anything as a rule.

JANE X (for her confidentiality’s sake, not mine)

Seriously not impressed, and hadn’t quite realised that your personal forays into online dating were in fact fishing trips for characters, using your location as a hook for dreamers. Shame.


I read everything Joe had to say of his experience with Lovebirds. I had often thought it would be a great subject for a book myself, as the experience is certainly enlightening. Good idea to post a chapter a day. As in the wonderful days of the Pickwick Papers, it left the readers to wait in anticipation for the next chapter. I found it light-hearted with a good sense of the ridiculous and yet painted a very true picture of what we are all like with our quirks, idiosyncrasies and fantasies. How much of it is imaginary (Samara’s mouse ?) only you can know. I certainly recognized myself with the yoga (great for the spine) and Radio Phaw (occasionally) but you obviously also have a great gift for telling a story and am sure had plenty of fun relating it. Seen from a woman’s point of view would also be fun.

FABRIZIA BALDISSERA, Sanskrit professor, Firenze, Italy

The new novel is great. Otherwise compliments for the great writing!

KEVIN PEARCE, Blogger, London

Finally got the chance to finish The Lawless Book of Love which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not just saying that, either. Very much warmed to Great Uncle Wilfred, the ghost. I am still trying to work out whether you have made me more attracted to the idea of trying online dating or whether after reading this I would be terrified of what might happen. Anyway, great work, and I have a horrible suspicion I don’t think I will be able to get some of Wilfred’s wonderful mangling of names out of my head, and I certainly will never be able to hear anyone mention Desert Island Discs again without sniggering mischievously.Will spread the word!

MARTINA CARALY, Interpeter, Strasbourg, France

I really enjoy your novel chapters. I love the depiction of the character Maggie Binding in Chapter 2 who is deprived of backbone. I wonder if I wasn’t like that before waking up? Am reading your chapters slowly to enjoy every bit of it, as though your words were candies. Am not reading enough (I am at Chapter 6) but when I do pick it up it gives me joy. I try to imagine you crafting the dialogue, characters etc, in your local joint, the Kythnos café where you write.

THERESA GIFFARD, Events Organiser, London

Have much enjoyed your story, Mr Murray.

CHRISTOPHER BURNS, Novelist, Cumbria, UK

I hope you get a positive response on the new novel soon. It seems infused with your own distinctive energy. It occurs to me that it’s a kind of nod to, or tribute, or reinvention of structures used by Boccaccio, Chaucer, etc. Pity Pasolini isn’t still around – he could have bought the film rights!

IONE MURRAY, Trainee Software Engineer, Leeds, UK

I really laughed at the comical sternness of the uncle’s infant expression and his being lit up like a cheap Christmas tree from Woolworth’s. And Maggie Binding’s old husband who was short, dapper and inordinately fond of blazers. And Joe Soap being inordinately obsessed with mental arithmetic and chronology. I can see really vividly everything you described and love reading your stuff.


I’ve read the first few chapters of your book and am loving it and looking forward to reading more.

JULIA HAMILTON, Writer, Oxford, UK

I’ve been reading your book and enjoying it a lot – it’s mad and beautiful in parts

NB. All new responses will be added as they arrive, so this is not a finished issue…













This is the final chapter! To read the whole novel you need to look at the January and February 2018 archive, see below to the right. SEE ALSO SPECIAL NOTE AT THE END OF THIS POST)


Wilfred’s Slide Show And The Art of Lying

Wilfred Lawless assumed a very focused expression, as he went from being dolefully humorous to unmistakably earnest. Without preamble he went into compelling didactic mode and as his sober discourse progressed, I realised that far from being the bluff and callow playboy of his youth, he was now something radically other. Perhaps because he was fifty years dead, and in an immense, in fact infinitely large purgatorial, or do I mean eschatological waiting room, he was for the moment, at any rate, a man of overriding ethical concerns.

“Joe Soap,” he began. “As an erstwhile student of Hinduism and having read the Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads in the original, you will know better than most that certain sophisticated oriental religions have a habit of effortlessly conflating everything with everything else. In the pure philosophical sense, that is, meaning the subtle conflation of all phenomena with all other phenomena, whether material or spiritual. That is a fact is it not…”

As in a dream I recalled the beautiful Upanishadic Sanskrit I hadn’t studied for over forty years. “Tat tvam asi. That art thou. You are that. You are it.”

Uncle Wilfred chuckled. “Monism. Vedanta. The empirical world we see about us is Maya or Illusion, and it is the playful trickery of the transcendent, creative and omnipotent Brahman, whose counterpart in the individual human is the Atman. By appropriate spiritual discipline, one cleanses the inner Atman of all cloaking material meaning mundane and polluting thoughts and deeds. By this means, the pure and unsullied Atman becomes at one with the cosmic Brahman, and the illusion of Maya folds up like a brolly, only to be tossed away as if it is some sort of a ghost.” And then immediately he raised his fat hand to his spectral mouth as if he had sworn some appalling blasphemy. “Damn! Oops and bugger it.  I mean…feck, what I mean is…”

I could see his very painful dilemma and I smiled as comfortingly as I could. “You are not at all a polluting illusion, great-Uncle Wilfred! You are my long dead and buried favourite relative, who has come to speak to me of crucially significant things. The two most important things in the world in fact: Eros and Agape, both of which mean Love. Crucially you came to me here in Greece, which is of course the original prophetic heartland of that distinction between Physical Love and Spiritual Love. Don’t worry, Uncle Wilfred, you are not going to be rolled up and chucked away like a smelly old umbrella, but instead your generous and infinitely humane spirit will pass smoothly from this massive supernatural waiting room as you describe it, to the…”

He snorted and shrugged his crumpled shoulders. “All that is in the balance, and Your Man Up There will decide the precise hour of that Special Excursion Day, and I’m sure you understand that His notion of a Day is not the same as ours. But that aside, we have as lodestone that majestic genius known as TS Eliot, quoting the Upanishads and saying to us: Give, Be Restrained, Be Compassionate. He was very good at the middle one, damyata, right enough, but was he fearlessly charitable as in datta, and was he a man of great compassion as in dayadhvam? What I’m getting at Joe, is it easy to profess things but harder to carry them out, and hypocrisy isn’t in it, man, for you also have to confront all sorts of human lies and laziness and cynicism and cowardice and addictions to booze or drugs or gambling, to help you along the way to perdition, if that is what you are really after at the end of the day, no pun intended. The relevance of all this now, Joe, as you will soon be busy on Love But Dirt Comes, is that the sacred Hindu formula ‘Thou Art That’ really does hit the nail on the head, because it expresses in humane and pitying, not in crass and cynical terms, how precisely things will go for you, and for those unknown and sometimes lonely and unfulfilled women, who you’ll soon encounter…”

Then things, meaning the prophetic exchange between us, began to speed up in earnest, and in fact turned into a species of light show, or rather an old-fashioned if riveting audio-visual presentation. For incredibly, and with a click of his podgy and nicotined fingers, Wilfred Lawless summoned up a hallucination of a succession of photographic slides, projected onto the bedroom wall opposite, which proved to be the portraits of women I would encounter over the next three years with Lovebirds. com. Some of them he had already described (Glaswegian Miranda, Ilse Schiller the Shaman, New Age Tamsin Winckelmann, ALWAYSENCHANTING and the other capitalised Lovebirds profile names) so that he briskly clicked their striking mugshots out of the way, so quickly in fact, that I irritably protested, though to no avail.

“Here,” he explained, after about half a dozen discarded slides, “is a handsome sight, is it not. This is a lady called Stella Fort and she has a very lovely face, wouldn’t you agree?  Limpid blue eyes, fetching pale skin, a gentle and affectionate smile. She lives in Brussels where she teaches English and she hails from Cardiff, and has a touching Welsh accent that will haunt you over the phone. More poignant than that she tells you she survived a serious illness, for only a few months earlier she could easily have died from a terrible aneurysm. Now apropos this lovely Stella meaning star, the pair of you make one crucial mistake that hurts both of you ultimately, and very sadly. To cut to the quick, you, Mr Kalamos equals Mr Calamity, you who should have known better, like a fool you will omit to Spank her, Joe Soap…”

I was so flustered by the breakneck slide carousel, I was for the moment passing brainless.

“Dammit, you have a fine new hotpot Joe with a built-in camera so you could have Spanked Stella Fort easy enough and on a regular basis, but you feckin well didn’t! “

“You mean Skype her? You are saying that Stella Fort and I will omit to Skype and thus fall into a deep infatuation, without actually clocking eyes on each other? Well, I can only hypothesise at this point, Uncle Wilf, but our heady hour-long phone calls and the eloquent emails and the exquisite and perhaps not unsaucy, even lubricious, even orgasmic texts, we will feverishly exchange, all that will no doubt appear to us to be more than enough.”

With a deft histrionic flourish, Wilfred snapped his chubby fingers and magically extended the photographic head and shoulders of Stella Fort to her full and exceedingly substantial figure. A prolonged and incredulous scrutiny on my part, refused to change what had been a hell of a premonitory shock when glimpsed in the preceding microsecond. For Stella the Brussels TEFL expert was unbelievably enormous, which is to say she was vastly obese, and the pretty and tender visage up above her neck, was surely a halcyon indication of what she might have been once, some hallucinatory fifty years ago when she was a matchless Cardiff virgin of sixteen or seventeen…

“Oh fuck,” I cried aghast. “Does that mean that she decides to come out here to Kalamos?”

My uncle cackled pitilessly. “For a whole feckin fortnight, just imagine that! And no, before you ask if you can decide here and now simply to forestall it, so that the meeting never happens, as I said earlier, after we have finished our conversation, all memory of tonight will be wiped from your mind, and will only remain as a kind of vestigial admonitory flicker pullulating faintly from your Suck Bonshus. Needless to add, once she arrives, rampant sexual hunger will have the pair of you in bed immediately in your Kalamos house, where you promptly find yourself between the sheets with what feels like a Minke or Lesser Rorqual whale. Stella Fort of Brussels is in fact a lovely, intelligent, politically active and very interesting Welshwoman, who is fluent in both Walloon French and Flemish, and she is not of course a whale, and yet in your astonishment you perceive her as both a Lesser and a Greater Rorqual. We are back to epistemology again, and Stella is both a phenomenological snake and a phenomenological rope. As a rope she is harmless other than to bind you into a sense of obligation after those tender often saucy endearments and hyperboles you have exchanged by phone and by umpteen He Males. As a snake she is not of course toxic nor lethal, other than in the metaphorical sense, for you pictured her over the weeks as attractively hefty with a nice big voluptuous backside and sultry and copious breasts, something to get your teeth into, Joe Soap, whereas in fact naked between the sheets she goes on and on for ever and in places you could not imagine. You cannot possibly get your greedy teeth into Stella Fort’s unbelievable behind, no more than you could get your teeth into Helvellyn or Snowdon or Buachaille Etive Mor which are all unyielding varieties of inedible geological backsides so to speak.”

Feeling pale and very chastened, I was moved to raise my hand, as if Wilfred were a very strange and elderly schoolmaster, and I was the uncomprehending dunce at the back. I asked woefully: “Will Stella at any time actually acknowledge that she is huge? I mean that is the elephant in the room, isn’t it, her being the elephant in my Kalamos bedroom, in both senses? Over that endless fortnight that she and I have to go through, does she ever say to me, even if only once, do you mind that I am unbelievably enormous and technically obese, Joe?”

Wilfred stared at his right thumb as if wondering what was the point of it, something I have observed myself doing on occasion. Then he resorted to a rhetorical challenge “What do you think, Joe Soap?”

I temporised. “I think she might well make such a necessary declaration. I would if I were her. Otherwise it would be like being discovered to be blind or stone deaf and not acknowledging the fact.”

“Hm. Well in fact she doesn’t say anything about it, kiddo, not a feckin word! At no point will she ever advert to her obesity when she is with you in Kalamos, just as she never did so before she met you. Nor will she acknowledge it after she has gone back to Brussels, and you have penned a long and urgent He Male saying your feelings have inexplicably dwindled. You add that, of course, nothing she has said or done is responsible for that attrition, but emphatically you now wish things to end between you. So, as you can see, not just she, Stella Fort, but you, Joe Soap, will also say nothing whatever about the elephant in the room, indeed that explosive little word ‘fat’ never leaves your lips or her lips at any point. However, it is of some interest and no doubt predictable, that Brussels Stella will wax very angry when you end it so abruptly, and she will promptly forward you your umpteen He Males with all those tender protestations, and will ask reasonably enough what the feck has happened to all those passionate protests and all that ocean of beautiful tenderness? She will accuse you of typically masculine hypocrisy, lying, shallowness, inconstancy, cowardice, the whole unsavoury works. Whereupon you will be sorely tempted to write back and be honest, and say that although you have a wonderfully handsome face Stella Fort, unfortunately you have a mythologically outsize behind incredibly the size of the republic of Liechtenstein, and a belly that could host an open air avant garde concert in a Brussels park, and a colossal quite incredible pair of breasts that could compete with two flailing windmills out of a forgotten novel by Alphonse Daudet…”

I stared in a grotesque daze at the patchwork coverlet on my Kalamos bed. I left it to Uncle Wilfred to draw the necessary conclusions.

Tat tvam asi. That art thou. You and Stella are the same person, Joe, and I mean that as accurate and precise spiritual metaphor, rather than what is called New Age baloney nowadays. You will not be able to tell Stella Fort to her face or in a He Male that she is a walking Lesser Rorqual, any more than she can admit it herself. She has the inalienable proof of your tender communications that precede your meeting here in Kalamos, and there ineradicably you loved her as she was, not as she ought to be. Supposing instead, she had hypothetically had a livid scar or a severe limp or God knows what else that she had not drawn attention to, surely you would have naturally accepted that when you met her here in Greece as part of her, not as something extraneous and objectionable? After all great-nephew, you have your own passing painful physical flaws like all the rest of us, and have known what it is to be agonisingly embarrassed by them…”

I started, and even though I knew that my uncle in his cosmic waiting room possessed historical as well as present and future omniscience, I shuddered.

“As a teenage schoolkid in 1965, meaning about the time I went and snuffed it on the Dingle peninsula, isn’t it true you were worried sick by your constitutional skinniness, and loathed stripping in the showers after playing rugby? Isn’t it a fact that you once at school went to the baroque extent of wearing two pairs of trousers, one on top of the other, to hide the skinniness of your legs…?”

I turned bright red before my dead, hence blushless, great-uncle.

“What scuppered your extraordinary ruse, was that fateful day when the lower and alas longer pair of kecks, suddenly treacherously appeared below the upper pair, should anyone innocently be looking towards your feet area? Oh, the ecstatic merriment that ensued from the boys your own age, and the handsome but aloof teenage schoolgirls you fancied, who happened to be there by the bicycle sheds, and were able to enjoy the farcical spectacle. Tat tvam asi. You are that, Joe Soap. You are Stella Fort. Stella Fort is you. She will say nothing about being a beached whale as she lies there naked before you, just as you said nothing to any living soul about the fact you were secretly wearing two pairs of trousers like a fine little Michelin Man in the making…”

I protested angrily, “But I was a stupid fourteen-year-old kid! Stella as you point out is in her sixties, and twice a grandmother to boot.”

Wilfred guffawed. “You have been colloguing with a dead great-uncle half the feckin night, and you talk to me of time and dates and centuries and chronology! I’m telling you that this waiting room to the next place has no bastard clocks, not one, and that infinity is not so much a feckin long time but is no time at all. It simply does not recognise that arbitrary and risible so-called constant. Hence you aged fourteen in 1965, a callow and naïve West Cumbrian youth, denying your thinness with a pitiful and inevitably hopeless act of deception, are no different from Stella aged sixty-two turning up in Kalamos looking like a Lesser Rorqual and hoping against hope that you won’t notice. Tat tvam asi. She is you, Joe Soap, and you are her Stella Fort, plain and simple, the two of you being let us say infantile and incorrigible fairy tale wishful thinkers. In any case, my comically sulking nephew, let us imaginatively construct a splendid 1965 scenario where you JS manage to winkle a gorgeous fourteen or fifteen-year-old schoolgal up against the wall of a ruined house or inside a remote bit of Cumbrian woodland by dead of night, a boiling summer’s night let’s say. Supposing blonde and winsome, let’s call her aptly-named Myrtle Bottomley, pulls down her knickers in her steaming passion and then starts ferreting inside your, let’s call them Pants B, and then discovers that underneath Pants B is Pants feckin A! Thunderstruck Myrtle stares at you in some amazement, and wonders reasonably enough if you are two teenage lads both called Joe Lawless or just the one. She then justifiably asks herself, do you exist in infinitely diminishing layers like those Chinese dolls all stacked inside of each other? She also interrogates herself as to exactly how many pairs of pants you inhabit, and whether you are in fact six boys all called Joe Soap, or only one, and consequently whether you have six fine and upstanding Mr Pickwicks and wouldn’t that be a fine thing, to grab hold of a six-pronged Roman candle that explodes right enough but not in an incendiary sense… or just the paltry one King Arthur who is stood joyously to attention at the sight of Miss Bottomley’s bare thighs and exquisitely plump and curvaceous little West Cumbrian buttocks.”

He opened his pack of Sweet Afton, which was unmistakably a full one, even though he must have smoked at least half a dozen by now, unless it were the same cigarette he’d smoked half a dozen times. All too evidently, quantities, masses, weights, even Newtonian gravity, must be as infinitely elastic as Time, when it came to inhabiting Infinity. Then as urgent afterthought, Wilfred added: “I have mentioned Hindu monism as the best philosophical explanation when it comes to the business of you and Stella Fort. She the enormous Brussels fatty, and you the emaciated Cumbrian teenager being one and the same person, one and the same paradigm. But as you’ve likely guessed, my waiting room up here isn’t a Hindu waiting room, if only because I wasn’t born or raised a Hindu. And the fact that you and Stella are precisely the same in metaphysical terms, one toweringly obese in 2015, and the other teased in 1965 as a starving Biafran…that needs an ethical, a moral explanation as well as a monistic one. I wonder can you guess what that moral injunction might be?”

I muttered, “Is it, Judge Not That…?”

“Almost but not quite, Joe. You see there is the commonsense and overwhelming reality, that obesity can kill when it comes to heart attacks and diabetes, and you are not loving nor helping anyone by pretending that it cannot. No, the formula as printed on a placard in the waiting room up here, is much more comprehensive. It is Love Your Neighbour As Yourself. That would include, had you been continuing a relationship with brainy, funny but hopelessly enormous Stella Fort, telling her to get herself on a feckin diet before it is too late. And of course, and this is me pointing out the obvious, that five-word command, at least in the context of the cosmic waiting room and where one goes next, is precisely that, it is a command, not a polite suggestion! It’s no good complaining Joe Soap and carrying on being the comfortably selfish little bugger that you are, and saying it is all too much to ask. After all anything that is any good and therefore destined to last, is always going to be too much to ask. Apropos you being in the open prison existence known as the writing game, surely it was outrageously too much, altogether excessive and supererogatory, to ask Tolstoy and Proust and George Eliot to go away and write what they wrote. It was also sheer impudence and appalling effrontery to ask JS Bach to compose his indescribably sublime Mass in B Minor, meaning music not written by a man but by the angels sat on his shoulder. Likewise, it was hell of a feckin cheek to ask Pablo Picasso to accomplish his Blue Period and every other feckin period the bald-headed and wild-eyed satyr had resolved to excel at…”

Then, after apparently discarding some subtle deliberation, he decided to cut to the quick. He now offered me a premonitory glimpse of a woman who would confound any inkling of charity and kindness I might conceivably possess, more than any other past, present or future. She would, he confided, be an example of a remarkably handsome Lovebirds lady of supremely sculpted facial contours, but with an inner and elusive dryness and parchedness of spirit, that were so to speak the unshakable foundations of her personality. Her name was Nora Dalkey, she was fifty-nine years old, and a very gifted potter who owned a successful ceramic gift shop up in genteel South Cumbria. Nora dwelt in in a village that lay in commuting distance to Kendal of Kendal Mint Cake renown, as approved by Sir Edmund Hillary, not to speak of New Age middle class professional adultery fame (true to form he pronounced New Age as New Ache and sometimes Knee Ache) as approved by almost every professional in South Cumbria over the age of twenty-five. Nora Dalkey’s problem, and as Wilfred Lawless explained, it was a very common one among divorced as opposed to bereaved professional women, was that she was years later still reeling from being comprehensively and outrageously cheated by her ex-husband Matthew, also known as Matty Dalkey.

Norma had met Matty at the RCA in London in the early Seventies where he was studying Fine Art and she had been immediately touched by his boyish joviality, his insinuatingly hospitable nature, his recklessly generous spirit. He treated her to delicious Chinese meals (duck and orange, duck and lemon, duck and plum sauce!) when she was broke, and bought her sweet little presents like bottles of Valpolicella and Chocolate Orange and After Eight, and truly idiotic but lovable things like a Beginner’s Conjuror’s Set. With the latter he cheerfully demanded that she immediately learn a few card tricks, and how to do sliding rings and then perform for him on an imaginary stage, once the pair of them had emptied the wine bottle and were both in their underwear. What she was unaware of was that he was so gloriously spendthrift because he had been working through the last of a legacy from an alcoholic uncle, and once that had fizzled out, and that coincided with her getting pregnant and their getting married, he was obliged to be the most accomplished borrower on God’s earth. Two years later they had two children Susan and Daniel Dalkey, and he had exhausted his premature talent as an abstract painter, and become a dogsbody art lecturer in a technical college in Preston, Lancashire, something which bothered him not one iota. Matty’s personality was so fluid and frenetic and unanchored, that he genuinely enjoyed chatting to booming engineering teachers about mortgage bridging loans and Costa del Sol hols as much as he did to Nora about David Hockney or the new glazes and slipware she was experimenting with in the studio behind the gift shop. Glazes was an appropriate word when she thought about it, for Matty’s fine blue eyes were always glazed with a mesmerising if ultimately ludicrous optimism. He even invited these engineering lecturers called Reg and Ted and Kevin and their wives, incredibly every one of them called Pam, to dinner at the weekend, and Nora felt her blood congealing with tedium and subdued horror as the three Pams chattered to her about their favourite choice of housework (cleaning, love it; ironing, loathe it; cooking, oh I can take it or leave it!) and the merits of the new disposable nappies and whether Flora marge really was healthier than the olive oil substitute…

Her husband’s epic swindle that destroyed their marriage and left her feeling a walking wreck for years, was not so much ingenious as a case of structural and collusive incompetence, in the shape of allowing a Peter Pan called Matty to piss away vast amounts of money that weren’t his but miraculously were so, in strictly legal terms. In the middle of June 2007 aged fifty-nine her husband got talking to an extremely receptive young Visual Arts Officer sonorously called Fiona Figgis who worked for the Arts Council, and he effortlessly blagged some wonderful scheme about an inclusive ‘care package’ for struggling but talented British artists. He spoke of strenuous and profitable mentoring of these novices, through expert supervision by successful practitioners, to be paid well of course for their masterclass input, and of grants for exciting new projects, not to speak of a spanking new Visual Arts Centre here in Preston, a handsome and  capacious drop-in venue that would host exhibitions, provide overnight accommodation for the budding geniuses, have a subsidised café, restaurant, library, swimming pool, sauna, gym the lot, and why not and why should rising talent, the lifeblood of our national culture, be expected to live in leaking garrets and have nary a sniff of comfort nor decent food nor a relaxing body massage, should they need as we all do to unknot at crucial times?

As Wilfred relayed it to me, Matty had used the word exciting twenty-three times in their feverish deliberations, and Fiona Figgis also used it like some harmonious echo chamber twenty-three times. A month later they started an affair and as luck would have it, they slept together twenty-three times. Prime numbers said Wilfred are powerful things and Matty for all his sins was in his prime at fifty-nine and was both affectionate and surprisingly imaginative in bed, as even Nora would attest when it came to the necessary business of booting him out of her house. Matty managed to get a massive pump- priming cheque from Fiona that went into a bona fide joint account where he and renowned ceramicist Nora Dalkey were the two signatories. He told Fiona Figgis that it would need both signatures for every expenditure large or small, but immediately arranged it with the bank that either would do. A few months later when things were looking rather hairy, even to his ever hypnotised and hypnotising optimism, he arranged with the bank to make himself sole signatory though again Nora knew nothing about his bare-faced machinations until it was too late.

“Where did you get that lovely car?” she asked him one day, amazed at the sight of an immaculate magenta-coloured, two-year-old Peugeot, when she herself drove a 1987 Renault that was never out of the garage.

Without a blush Matty said that given all the meetings he was obliged to attend, it was a concessionary hire car provided as par for the course by the Arts Council, and they hired it so much they leased it for a song. Later Nora would bitterly chastise herself for the fact that she had believed things a five-year-old wouldn’t have swallowed, the unchanging problem being that impudently adolescent Matty with his autopilot mendacity was always so incredibly convincing, and it wasn’t just his trusting wife had been duped. Matty also claimed that he went to Lisbon with Fiona Figgis for a fortnight to arrange meetings with Portuguese painters and discuss the latest ideas about EEC state subsidy, but instead the two treacherous turtle doves went to the balmy and palmy Seychelles, Matty telling wide-eyed and besotted Fiona that it was all paid for by his uncle’s bottomless legacy.

It all came out in the end when the fabled Visual Arts Centre with its restaurant and gym and sauna and en suite accommodation failed to materialise in Preston or anywhere else, and when Matty and Nora were called to account with a succession of chilling letters from Fiona Figgis’s boss at the Arts Council. By that stage Fiona had had some panicky inkling of her preposterous lover’s duplicity, and she took radical steps by moving to America and lecturing on her specialist subject of Ergonomics in a minor Nebraska university, her Dad having been born and raised in Wichita, meaning that Fiona had dual citizenship. By email she told her former line manager that she had known nothing about Matty’s deceitful sole signatory status, nor that he had been using the account as his personal gold mine, and the same manager was stunned to find on consulting a lawyer that because the account wasn’t even a business one but outrageously a current one in Matty’s name alone, there was damn all could be done. Why on earth the lawyer sneered, had no one supervised his farcical accounting and flagrant embezzlement…the answer being that Matty had rapidly emptied it of some 120K before the first annual accounts were due for inspection by Fiona’s replacement.

Nora kicked her criminal husband out of the house, and went so far as to slap him very hard several times across his face as he stood there protesting his honest and disinterested intentions. She then made an appointment with the Arts Council and drove down to London to explain her innocence, though perhaps because of being unable to sack Fiona Figgis, the Visual Arts boss, Violet Anstruther, was less than forgiving, and even disclosed that she knew Nora’s husband had been having an affair with another short-sighted innocent now at a safe distance in Nebraska. Violet said snidely there were a lot of myopic women about, all of them doting on Matty Dalkey as far as she could see, and had it never occurred to Nora to ask why her signature was never required for anything at all, nor why her husband had been junketing with a woman in the bloody Seychelles and driving a luxury Peugeot?

Nora blushed and snarled, “I do not dote on him, I promise you! I abominate him! I hit him as hard as I could with my fists, I was so fucking angry, and I booted him out and am divorcing him, and he now lives in a village near Dunfermline where he might well be embezzling from the Scottish Arts Council. I would ring them if I were you and warn them before it is too late. And while we’re at it, for you her boss to permit Ms Fiona Fuckface to give him a cheque for a whole 150K (he told me that it was 2K) was hardly the sensible policy of a sagacious line manager was it? Assuming Ms Flirting Fuckface and I were both myopic when it came to believing the incredible Walter Mitty known as Matty Dalkey, so are you Mrs Anstruther when it came to a wondrous non-supervision of your employee. Or to put it another way the whole ugly mess is casebook Levi-Strauss, and all it needed was a system of collusive ineptitude, a duped wife, an adulterous Fuckface, and a blandly unseeing supervisor like yourself, to permit people like Matty Dalkey to flourish the way he always has and probably always will, no matter what.”

Thereafter, as Wilfred Lawless explained, Nora would prove to be severely on her guard against all men, for on a visceral and phobic level she believed they all had the innate capacity to deceive and delude, even if not on Matty’s epic scale.  She had no man in her life at all for the next three years, and then embarked on a sporadic affair with a celebrated potter called Rosslyn Paul who taught in an art college in beautiful if somehow obscure Lincoln, and who wore a wedding ring but whose marriage had been a moribund charade for the last decade. To that extent, my Uncle Wilfred opined, Nora Dalkey of sorely contradicted herself, for while she had her antennae ever trained for deceitful men, she refused to see herself as a deceitful woman, even though Rosslyn said nothing to his wife Sadie and his two grown daughters about his South Cumbrian mistress. She, Nora Dalkey, Wilfred Lawless warned, would come to Kalamos on her conspicuous guard, though with a vestigial and rather shy flirtatiousness at the start. That first day I would take her to beautiful Makropounda Bay along a majestic ancient monopati and because it was early autumn and although the sun was hot, the place would be deserted. En route she would tell me at unforgiving length about Matty’s industrial scale deception, and the way it had crushed her for months, almost driven her to breakdown, the combination of his brazen adultery and that massive embezzlement. The pair of us, Nora and I, would be sat on that exquisite Kalamos beach, consuming our picnic and sipping red wine, and she would dilate at length about the charismatic sincerity Matty was magically able to project, so that damn near the whole world could be fooled. Then Nora would walk into the sea and look at me with inviting eyes to follow on. She would prove to be a good swimmer while I was a novice, and I would stand and smile at her as she went the length of the bay, then stop to stare invitingly at me yet again. We would go as far as holding hands in the water, as I quietly told her how attractive she looked with those unique facial bones, beautifully worked and fashioned as the finest of ceramics.

“Thank you,” Nora said with a moving look of timid and gentle surprise, touchingly like that of a dormouse or other tiny mammal. “Thank you very much.”

Yet soon everything would turn irremediably awful. It would all seem farcical in adult terms, but then someone who has been swindled by an outrageous charlatan like Matty, is likely to regress to a child’s logic should they feel they are being robbed a second time. As my uncle explained, it would stem from an excited email exchange between us, where among a thousand other things I would suggest we might have an exhilarating weekend in Athens as well as the week together in Kalamos. It wasn’t a solemn promise, but an attractive idea and a random suggestion, to which Nora would make nil memorable response, and by the time she arrived on the island, I had forgotten all about it. In fact, having a weekend in the capital would have proved to be complicated, and more or less impossible, as boats were scarce and inconvenient at this time of year. My uncle noted that Nora had already indicated her cautious reserve by sleeping in my spare bedroom, though it looked likely after our tender handholding at Makropounda that we might well end up as doting lovers. But after those first few days, I would swiftly realise that her critique of Matty and his appalling roguery were becoming a one note motif. In fact, for whole hours of walking and excursions to the remotest villages, with her head down, and ignoring the exquisite surroundings, Nora Dalkey would orate about little else. When she did so, her face would have a pinched, resentful, remarkably sullen and forbidding look, and I would realise that far from deserving a just pity, she was luxuriously nursing a grudge. That crude addiction had turned her into a woman of obsessive spite, and worse than that, it had affected her handsome looks. In this parched and punitive incarnation, Nora Dalkey looked decidedly haggard and far from attractive, for it seemed to add at least a decade to her age. She would remind me of everyone I’d ever known who cultivated an undying resentment of their enemies, most of them lacking Nora’s education and rationale, and therefore committed to ranting antagonism as catharsis and raison d’etre. As a result, the brilliant ceramicist Nora Dalkey had virtually nil in the way of mature insight, and couldn’t see that as a woman always on the alert for being duped, her face was becoming a mask of debilitated vengefulness and her handsome looks were slowly vanishing into the ether.

One beautifully sunny Kalamos morning, she turned to me with a prim, judicial air and complained: “You remember you promised me a lovely weekend in Athens? Well it simply hasn’t happened, has it, and obviously it isn’t going to happen now. I need to tell you that I feel seriously disappointed, really badly let down. I might even say roundly cheated, now that you haven’t followed through with your promise.” After a timely melodramatic pause. “If I’m not to mix my words that is.”

It was the schoolma’amish phrasing, the dimness of her cliched formula, that did for me. I stared at her in disbelief, and with nil embarrassment, much less contrition. “I didn’t promise you anything, Nora. It was one among scores of things that we mentioned in our excitement. In fact, once I suggested Athens, there was no response from you either way. But I can see by your face that a great deal of resentment has been growing, and I can assure you it has a reciprocal effect.”

She froze at my smileless words, and her facial bones turned hard and rigid, her dark blue eyes tired and old. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

I didn’t hide my disdain. “You know damn fine. That you have this perpetually stony look on your merciless face. You have the identical thing when you enumerate Matty’s crimes, and it is there if you think that another treacherous male has gravely let you down. All this, even though we have only been together a few days.”

“But listen. You promised me …”

I said rapidly, “You really need to grow up, Nora. I’m not your mummy or daddy wanting to spoil you, and I really didn’t promise you anything. I made a suggestion among dozens of others, and you didn’t even respond at the time. You’ve obviously filed it away though, for future reference, and decided it’s a good bit of ammunition. Because, listen, even if that weekend in Athens wasn’t the issue, you’d soon find something else to resent, as resentment is obviously your motor and is what makes you tick. If you doubt me, just walk over there and look in the mirror and stare at your indignant face.”

She flushed a remarkable colour. “Will I hell as like! You’re just being fucking rude and horribly abusive and you have no bloody right.”

I looked her in the eye. “Try thinking about somebody else for a change, and ask me if I have my own resentments? I promise you I do, as these things always work both ways. After our single tender handholding at Makropounda, you haven’t even touched me, nor shown the slightest sign of any interest. Reflect that you came all the way from Kendal to Kalamos supposedly to date me, and we haven’t even kissed, much less embraced. Instead, you sit there doing angry maths equations all the time, the algebra of vengeance. For your own sake, Nora, you should be careful, as your sulking really is starting to spoil your beautiful features. This addiction to revenge is making you look less than wholesome, and you have only yourself to blame.”

She spat at me, “You have no fucking right to be so personal! No right whatever.”

I said balefully. “Nor have you the right to be my guest for a week and sit glowering like a child in a tantrum. What’s more, at the age of sixty, to have your quantity of personal insight is scarcely a cause for celebration. As we both know, you landed yourself with an obvious gangster of a husband called Matty, and even went and had two kids by him. Don’t tell me that you didn’t sense, and decided not to think too hard about, his worrying criminal potential when you first met him. Because everyone, so you’ve told me, agreed that he was a paradigm Peter Pan from the start. The question is, why would an intelligent woman like you marry a palpably idiotic Walter Mitty, and even give him two daughters, unless you’re in some way as blind yourself? You quoted Levi-Strauss when you confronted Violet at the Arts Council, but surely it applies to you as well. It takes two to tango, and for every manipulative and feckless Matty Dalkey there is a willing Matty victim. You were in your mid-thirties when you married that magnetic charlatan, and then were shocked when he outdid himself by embezzling a royal fortune. Hence your current reasoning that every other man is another potential Matty. The fact is now you’re turned sixty, you’d get a lot further and faster and quicker, if you accept that you married a blatant crook of your own free will and that nobody put a gun to your head…”

Nora Dalkey’s strategy, Wilfred said, would then turn very bizarre, in fact unbelievably childish. In her incendiary anger at my impudence, she would threaten to go and tell people, inform the people of Kalamos that is (who else could she possibly tell?) what kind of a man I really was, meaning what a cheat, and what a liar and what a flagrant fraud…

“Tell who exactly? The people here in the port?”

She scowled, looking even more pinched, even downright ugly. “Yes, I will. I will do my best to shame you…”

I laughed. “Tell local fishermen and labourers that I promised you a spree in Athens, and didn’t follow through? None of them speak a word of English other than fuck and OK and hello and bye bye, and you don’t speak a word of Greek, Nora. What will you do, mime your outrage? Or go to the Kalamos police?”

The lines on her brow became stark corrugations, so that from my angle she looked as plain and insipid as a senile harridan. And now right enough I could not wait for the week to end…

“I shall talk to the ones who have good English. There are two women who work in the cafes who speak it well. I will speak to them and they will understand me. I will shame you and I will seriously embarrass you.”

I had to restrain myself from telling her she was evidencing serious mental health problems, but I did say that Maria and Roula would laugh uproariously at her meaningless complaint. Their own Hellenic notion of cheating, was more on the lines of husbandly adultery with a sister or even a widowed mother, and/or blatant theft of their wives’ wages, pilfered only to be pissed away on ouzos for all in the nearest café.

“We need to face facts, Nora. I don’t like you one iota by this stage, nor do you like me when you are talking of my public shaming…”

She mouthed as if it amounted to a charm or a spell, “But you went and lied to me.”

I examined her bleak and sullen face, and saw no possible way out. I said, “We have just two days left before you have to fly home. I’m going to make a commonsense suggestion that you use the island buses, and go off somewhere nice, to the Hora say, and sightsee. I will stay here in the port and wait for this unhappy week to end. It was all a mistake and that’s that. There is nothing we can do about it because the mess is irreparable.”

She shuddered to see I wasn’t bluffing. “That’s such an awful thing for you to do! Really awful and heartless! Packing me off on my own, and washing your hands of me…”

By now I thought her personal tragedy a lacklustre joke. “You think so? Why would I want to look after someone who threatens to shame me like an outraged nanny? Unfortunately for you, I just don’t feel the crucifying guilt you’d prefer me to feel. All because I made a suggestion many weeks ago, which you now have ruled a binding oath. It doesn’t even occur to you that if we’d had the weekend in Athens, you’d swiftly have found something else to resent me for.”

I thought then that she was about to slap my face as if I were babbling Matty. “I would not! I’m as much fun as the next when not being lied to.”

I stood back a safe yard. “Fun? You don’t say? Well, your face says otherwise, and faces don’t lie. Once in Athens you’d soon be complaining about the location of the hotel, or the coastal hike if we took one, or the junk shops that we looked at, or the restaurants that we chose…”

And so our date would wretchedly end, with Nora Dalkey sat forlorn in the port cafes for all those endless hours, like a sad and sullen and eternally stranded waif…

Wilfred said to me, “In her own way, and for the wrong reasons, your unforgiving Nora is absolutely right. Every failure between a man and a woman of whatever age, when it comes to romance, is down to the business of Lying, Joe Soap. And this ubiquitous prevalence of the Lie is surely enough to make anyone a convinced Zoroastrian, whose influence in Old Testament theology is monumental as you know. The Good Spirit Ahura Mazda has as his principal attribute the Truth, or Asha. His antagonist is the Evil Spirit, Angra Mainyu who is also intelligible as the Lie or the Druj. The problem is Joe, that the Lie is not always a question of banal veracity versus mendacity as with Matty Dalkey fibbing about the provenance of his gorgeous Peugeot. People are lying in any romantic situation where they find themselves withdrawing from the other, but do not admit as much, and carry on the charade for their own cowardly purposes. They may carry it on for weeks, months, years, decades. They can, as an act of revenge on a previous partner, even marry someone from whom they are permanently elusive. They are then lying by omission rather than commission, but to be sure they are still lying. More forgivably, they are fibbing like artless children when they do not admit to their proper age nor proper dentition nor proper erotic competence, meaning if they are worryingly half-cocked as a man or painfully half warm or half-baked as a woman. They also lie when they babble about perennial Optimism, as for example sulking Nora Dalkey claiming she herself is a Glass Half Full, when in fact she is more like a staggering One O’ Clock Half Struck. These Loveballs men and women tell lies when they say that they don’t judge, and the first time they meet you they suggest you get a smarter haircut, or if you are a woman kindly arrange to have your backside substantially smaller by a week on Tuesday or else…”

As he complacently savoured his Sweet Afton, I looked at him with unstoppable resentment. “It’s all very good of you, Wilfred Lawless, to come here with your eloquent warnings about Lies and Liars, both by Omission and Commission. But then you have the gall to insist that once you’ve gone, and I wake tomorrow morning, I’ll have forgotten all about them! What bloody use is that, if I’m not allowed to take any sensible precautions after your exquisite and timely advice? Frankly, I think I’d have been better off without your amazing clairvoyance, seeing that I can’t take any remedial steps to avert any future disasters…”

Lawless smiled his green and phosphorescent leer, and said that for a proven brainbox I was surpassingly naïve overall. No one on earth, he sneered, can avert their fate, not even if they consult soothsayers and fairground crystal gazers with signed testimonials from TV celebrities and minor royalty. Instead, all these timely warnings he had offered me, would sit there nascent and osmotically effective in my Suck Bonshus, and as I progressed through the next two or three years, they would give me sundry delicate premonitory signs, which would, whether I knew it or not, subtly affect my romantic life and make my eventual, and as far as he was concerned undeserved success, all the more remarkable.

“Where you’ll struggle the hardest, most unfortunately, is with those women who are undeniably lovable and magnetic and delightful as well as funny and erotically exciting and every other fine thing. Because be aware that over the next three years not just one, but then a second, and then a third and fourth example, will cross your far too jammy path. The first three will demonstrate all those heartening superlatives, but they will also reveal that by their sixties, their life histories have evidenced many romantic flops and failures, some extreme and extravagant by any standards. You and they will delightedly fall for each other, and all will be unwaveringly ecstatic, until you discern that no matter how hard you try not to see it, those lovely women: Fanny Barron with the deft wit and the auburn locks, and Rosie Barnes with the golden smile and the mad laugh, and Jane McGillie with the sharp brains and the mesmerising nose, are all cautiously looking round for the Safety Exit, also known as the Fire Exit. Or alternatively for an Infinitely Comprehensive Insurance Policy written in triplicate and stowed away in Fort Knox, as well as London N7, Bristol and Stirling respectively. For as much as they love the extraordinary happiness they have found at times with you in your island idyll, on a profound and always undeclared level it also deeply alarms them, as indeed for that matter does the rampant and hypnotic poetry of Cycladean Kalamos, which, how can I put it, takes no prisoners, other than those who will let their defences down and be willingly captive. What I am talking about is a preposterous paradox, but it happens to be the truth, Joe Soap. At the end of the day, regrettably, all these lovely women feel happier with men who thwart them, if only because that is what they are used to, and what they are used to has made them what they are, and unfortunately always will be. Like long incarcerated prisoners suddenly freed, they really miss their bonds when those bonds are loosened, and at first, they feel uneasy, and then they feel fear, and then they feel a real and horrible panic, albeit they do their best to hide that alarming fact from you…”

I glared at this bearer of bad news. “And what happens then?”

“Those otherwise excellent ladies, funny little Fanny and hilarious Rosie and Jane with the beautiful nose, all take panic and flee, albeit invisibly, for the Fire Exit. These prodigies of women in all but one respect, they hook it for the Safety Exit, although you could never prove as much in a court of law. They all panic and fuck off, Joe, in spirit if not in fact, these frightened, fated and ultimately faithless women. And they do it slyly and slowly, and they would never ever admit as much, not even when the relationship is long over. But picture some five years later and as you are walking through Camden or the centre of Bath or downtown Stirling, you might well chance to bump into all of them with someone immediately recognisable as a relative approximation of a decent man, but at least that relativity they have espoused makes these cautious women unarguably feel good and safe inside their own skin.”

I stared at my hands, and again they irritated me. “That sounds like the victory of The Lie over The Truth?”

“Too feckin right it is, or at least it is for them and their futures. To be running scared and not to admit it is to feckin lie, what else? And what’s more, it is a stark fact that everyone in this world apart from those innocent victims of genocide and famine and man-made disasters, that the bulk of all these pampered ones deserve exactly what they get in life. Especially those privileged and educated ones, the folk who pari passu hearken to Radio Phaw and do Hatha Yoga and boast that they don’t pass judgement but do show empathy and do wonder whether their glass is half feckin full or half shitin empty. In a nutshell and for very good reasons, Joe, most of them on Loveshite Dot Com, whether man or woman, are hapless and eternal victims, and as you will soon learn, most of them don’t even know as much.”

I put my hand up then, as I felt that he might just, this unorthodox and incredibly prolix spectre, be about to slip away from me. I said, “One more thing…”

Wilfred Lawless took note of my beseeching paw, then gave me a look one third affection, one third that love known as agape, one third an incredulous dismay combined with a genial derision.

He responded briskly, “No more things, Joe Soap. Sorry but no more feckin things. That’s the problem, old lad. Too many feckin things and not enough of the feckin other.”

And with that Lawless vanished from my Kalamos bedroom, and I have never seen nor heard from him since.





I would love to hear what readers out there think about this novel, whether they be delighted or outraged by it (so far I have heard from 4 of the former and 1 of the latter). Unless you specifically request otherwise, I will print all such comments on these pages, probably at the start of March.

Given that at least half the world is currently engaged in online dating, you would imagine that virtually everyone has a considered opinion about its fictional depiction. I may be wrong, but I don’t think there is any other novel currently available that treats of this subject, and certainly not the theme of those of mature years engaged in the eternal online quest

Apart from the Readers’ Comments mentioned above, there will be no new post until around Easter, to give time for The Lawless Book Of Love to be read by new readers


(Chapter 8 was yesterday’s post. The final chapter, Chapter 10, appears tomorrow. To read the novel from the start you need to go to the January and February 2018 archives, see below right)


Wilfred And The Dublin Psychoanalyst

My uncle’s bog green visage confronted me with a confident if rather dubious look, then suddenly surprised me with an optimistic and heartening summary of my romantic future, meaning my ultimate sentimental trajectory. He told me the names of three exceptional Englishwomen I would forge beautiful if brief relationships with over the next three years, then the tantalising name of a fourth who would prove be an impossibly enticing amatory trophy, a romantic reward beyond compare. Suffice to say, he added, that she and I had both been through the existential and biographical mill, or better feckin biographical mangle, in dramatic sometimes frightening terms, and had thereby won each other as complementary graduates of the Intermediate School of Ontological Purgatory. As I wonderingly digested all his prophecies, I realised he was being inordinately brisk and matter of fact about these four women, as if they were all in clairvoyant terms a kind of foregone conclusion, which of course by his supernatural coordinates they were obliged to be. Finally, and with bluff impatience, he informed me that he was growing a bit sick of talking exclusively about me his great-nephew, whose future as he saw it was ultimately set to be a positive one.

“What I mean is you need to hear a bit about me and the women in my own feckin life, Joe, or perhaps a single and instructive pair of contrasting examples might do. First of all, take note, that as an affluent Protestant in remotest Kerry in austere pre-war Eire, I could do more or less what I liked, provided it was done within the strict confines of my Ballyferriter mansion. No one but you will believe me, but I really didn’t seduce my handsome young housekeeper Mairi O’Kelly, she with the haunting cheekbones of some graceful Renaissance lady, for she looked remarkably like the incomparable Ginevra da Benci as painted by Leonardo da Vinci. It was no seduction at all, for it was emphatically mutual, as she had a healthy, instinctively visceral appetite for the carnal life, and was touchingly impressed in 1930 when I was fifty-three and she was twenty-seven, that I had access to ample supplies of condom Johnnies, which of course were then illegal in Catholic Eire. She liked doing it on the floor and liked being tickled on the breasts and belly button with a feather duster, and she liked to tickle me on His Worshipful Lord Mayor with the same duster and sometimes on my legs and backside too. All that was bloody great of course, arguably even better than my taxing small hours lucubrations upon Gottfried Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza, but Mairi who was one of twelve daughters born in a verminous Dunquin shebeen, could barely read or write, and aside from our uproarious shenanigans and the dire always monsooning state of the weather, and the price of best potatoes and belly of pork in Dingle, we did not have a colossal amount to talk about in the quiet times. If I wanted to catch a play or a concert or the like there was a limited supply in Tralee, so I regularly took the train up to Dublin. And there it was in the June of 1931 that I made the acquaintance of a beautiful psychoanalyst, of all things, called Samara Fox who happened to be at the Abbey premier of a play by Brinsley Macnamara. That was the pen name of a chap called John Weldon whose father was driven out of a hick provincial town in Westmeath, simply for being the dad of the unspeakable vandal who wrote the damnably shocking The Valley of the Squinting Windows, a merciless study of invidious and infinitely heartless small town Irish hypocrisy. Have you heard of that feller Macnamara…?”

I nodded but before I could elaborate, he raised his hand.

“The play which is called The Glorious Uncertainty, is not germane to my tale, and I have forgotten every detail of the plot, the costumes, and the identity of all the eminent literary figures in the audience, though I vaguely think the ever disputatious Liam O’Flaherty was there. But it indicated that Samara Fox who was single, childless, English and forty-five years old, and who practised as a Freudian analyst in her exquisite Dublin villa, that she liked the idea of reckless rebels and insolent iconoclasts. I recall that she said in those days there were precisely three psychoanalysts in the whole of Ireland, meaning that she constituted thirty-three per cent. We caught each other’s eye in the bar at the interval, where Samara was sipping Jamieson’s and I was gargling Ulster Bushmills. It was actually she slid over to me for a fictitious light for her de Reszke, for later she brought out an engraved silver lighter and instantly and impishly admitted the ploy. She had raven black hair and was dressed in a tight fitting black dress and had eyes that were almost black, and also clutched a jet-black leather handbag of expensive and exclusive Bond Street provenance. We got on like a house on fire, for she knew an extraordinary amount about classical music including Minor Baroque, Portuguese Polyphony, Early English Choral, the feckin lot, and she was an avid indeed a rabid concert goer. She was also very widely read and astonishingly from London had for a small fortune smuggled in the Parisian magazine edition of Ulysses, and years later, for we kept in touch, Samuel Beckett’s More Pricks Than Kicks, a book which had been automatically banned in prudish Ireland as probable obscenity even though the title is a quote from the Old Testament. You are no doubt thinking we went back to her home that night, and I would I assure you have leapt at the offer, but instead she invited me to stay with her a whole weekend some two weeks later…”

He paused to exhale his hallucinatory Sweet Afton, and I was so gripped by his love story that I lost all interest in the eerily supernatural fag ash that disobeyed both the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics.

“She did not practise any therapy at the weekends, and she had this splendidly handsome Georgian villa very close to the National Gallery, which meant that we could walk a short way to enjoy the tender and beautiful paintings of Jack B Yeats, brother of the eminent poet who at one point as you know was regrettably a blueshirt Fascist. Jack B painted and drew everything from the Aran Islands to the travelling Yankee cowboy shows, not to speak of itinerant fiddlers, swimming contests in the Liffey, the remotest Connemara villages, circuses with performing horses and the like. Jack B also wrote a handful of monumentally obscure novels which made my usually fearless head spin, Joe Soap, and however many times I read any paragraph, I had no bloody inkling of what the feck he was talking about. I didn’t know whether he was, to parrot the language of Samara, and given his limitless genius as a painter, borderline schizoid or he was making me borderline feckin schizoid, as I tried to read what made my brain feel like a plate of scrambled eggs. Do you know those books? Seemingly Beckett praised one of them and they were two best mates apparently. Yes? Could you understand a single word? No? Good. At last the uncle and the nephew agree on something without demur.

“On the Friday night of our romantic weekend I took her to one of the finest restaurants in Dublin which happened to be French, and we ate expensive and exquisite fish, turbot cooked in a turbotiere in her case, and halibut but not in a halibutiere, in mine.  We played flirtatious footwork under the table, or at least I did, and she winked and seemed to find my artless fooling about entertaining, and from time to time she would unleash a hectic giggle. For a Freudian psychiatrist she was far from po-faced, and was a remarkably sane and sound and cheerful woman. She took care of others folks’ cares I suppose, so that cathartically it made her humorous and carefree herself. Over the coffee I asked her what it was like being a psychoanalyst, and how had it come about in the first place? She told me she had trained under a colleague of Freud in Vienna when she was only twenty-five, five years before World War One broke out. About the time that I migrated to Kerry, she had obtained a degree of some sort in a London college affiliated to a university and designated specially for women, and there had met HG Wells who was one of its patrons. He had flirted with her as he flirted with every attractive woman, and she told me he had something coming off him, a kind of invisible aura that was doubtless his unquenchable libido. He didn’t manage to seduce her but he did steer the conversation round to Sir Richard Burton, the controversial chap who in 1885 (aptly enough when DH Lawrence was born) organised the subscribers only Kama Shastra Library which disseminated hush-hush oriental erotica, the Kamasutra and The Perfumed Garden and the like. She was vastly impressed to hear that the ancient Indians had sensibly treated the business of lovemaking as a branch of knowledge like any other, and that they had systematically produced sundry primer recipe books for making oneself as skilled and knowledgeable about sex, as one might about gourmet cookery. She somehow managed in a back street near Russell Square, London, to get hold of a bit of naughty-naughty in the form of an English translation of the Ratirahasya, The Secrets of Love by Kokkoka, a hoary old Hindu writer with a most apposite handle if ever there was.  Better still, it was illustrated with charming not to say mindboggling line drawings, and showed umpteen impressive sex postures analogous to the sundry yogic asanas she subsequently decided to take a stab at, for she also purchased a translation of the Yogasutras of Patanjali. Later in Dublin she discovered and soon fled from various deadly dull theosophy groups as satirised by O’ Casey in Juno and the Paycock, where there is jesting reference to the prawna, meaning the prana or yogic breath.

“From the prana and the erotica, she moved onto her Freudian practice, and said that right enough Freud had shrewdly discovered that sex was damn near always at the bottom of every psychological problem. The only pity, she added, was that his reductive findings were skewed by his patients all being rich and secular Viennese Jews, and he hadn’t bothered to study the new and revolutionary science of Sociology, for Emile Durkheim and Max Weber hadn’t really encroached on his imaginative vision. Many of the problems that Samara’s female patients had, were she believed, down to bullying and insensitive husbands in the present tense, not their early traumas, however grotesque. They often wanted to poke around some hideous memory of a humiliating beating or an act of abandonment by their Anglo-Irish Daddy in 1892, when really they would be better in 1930 telling their gross and buffoonish husbands, as a rule younger versions of their stiff-necked Dad, to go and feck themselves as soon as they liked. And yes, before you ask it, Joe, Samara Fox did actually say, go and feck themselves, and that wasn’t my saloon bar gloss…

“That night she put her Kokkoka wisdom into practice in a genial and helpful way, given that I was a kind of novice beginner in this esoteric and extremely unIrish field. First of all, she sprawled herself naked on top of a big mahogany table, with a cushion placed under her bottom to raise it up. After I had stripped, she expertly placed her legs on either shoulder, and ordered me as with my deliberations over Leibniz and Spinoza, to dig very deep indeed and not to vacillate. I dug deep all right and the Kokkoka posture and the cushion certainly did the trick, as I went so feckin deep I could damn near hear Melbourne and Alice Springs accents down below on the Dublin street. In fact, I rummaged so abysmally deep that all of a sudden I felt a very strange sensation, Joe, as if I had made egregious contact with something not altogether agreeable in terms of what one usually expects when having erotic congress with a beautiful lady…”

I sat up sharply. “You sprained your back? Or she sprained hers?”

He snorted. “Like hell she did. It was just as I reached the molten core of Planet Earth with my excavations, I suddenly felt at the end of my Worshipful Mayor, that something or other was feckin well nibbling away at him…”

I gulped. “You mean that…”

“Some curious creature was feckin well up there, Joe Soap! A little whiskery mouse perhaps, that had somehow got up there inside of her, was helping himself to a tasty morsel in the form of the extremely sensitive end of my loyal appurtenance, my Signor Enrico Caruso.”

I guffawed not unriotously. “You seriously believed that there was a little mouse up her…?”

“Precisely what I roared at Samara in my consternation! I said, it seems you’ve got a feckin harvest mouse hibernating up there in your Mary Ann, my good missus!”

“Crikey,” I gawped. “And what did she say?”

“She stared at me in disbelief, then echoed with rhetorical amusement that unwonted accusation. A mouse, she chortled! A mouse you are saying is up there in my queynt, as it says in my dated and decorous Kokkoka translation? You are hazarding that for the most esoteric bohemian reasons, I decide to keep a little mouse up my capacious fanny, instead of in the customary cage?”

I said judicially. “She had a point, Uncle Wilf. I don’t know any women who keep small mammals up their…”

“To shite with this, I apostrophised her aghast, as the mouse kept nibbling away with relish at my Valentino. As sharp as you like, I threw back at Samara Fox, I don’t doubt it could feasibly be one of your psychoanalyst’s quaint experiments? Maybe it’s a bizarre if original method of calibrating my libido by seeing how much dick I’m prepared to yield to your esurient rodent! Feck knows what it is, I snapped at her in my outrage, but I’ve had more than enough of it.

“At that Samara was seized with a fit of volcanic hilarity and cried, you really are the funniest of men, Wilfred Lawless! So wondrously poker-faced as you offer your little tale of a laboratory mouse clandestinely secreted up my innocent fanny. Surrealism isn’t in it, apropos the lunatic experimental design intended to measure your libido. Then, she added with a roar, I think that I am actually going to expire of laughter, and what better way could there be, Mr Lawless, of departing this both blessed and cursed earth…?

“At this point there was a truly dramatic demonstration of the Laws of Mechanics. The bare arse Freudian alienist was chortling to such a manic extent, she succeeded in propelling me not only away from the nibbling mouse, but away from the cavernous depths of her Mary Ann, indeed away from herself entirely. Her spread-eagled limbs then plummeted down with a hell of a clatter, and aptly enough she bawled fuck me stiff! at the sudden shock…”

I said with some considerable respect, “Bloody hell, Uncle Wilf. All this in 1931 and in Catholic Dublin at that.”

The phantasm glared at me and sighed, “You buggers born post-1945 really think that you invented sex, and that we of the previous century spent all our time playing canasta and doing crocheting and tatting and sketching hedgerow flowers. Like hell we did. In any event my violent propulsion from that mouse’s nest caused me to tittup back a little, and then by staggered acceleration, a hell of a feckin way. Like Charlie Chaplin in his birthday suit, I catapulted backwards in mincing fashion, then tripped and landed on another of her antique tables. It was a low one made of varnished walnut, kept specially for her numerous papers and magazines. In the final analysis, Joe, I really wouldn’t have minded the same thing with a glossy and diverting magazine, but next to them there happened to be a treacherous and most appalling phenomenon, which is to say a gigantic bowl of fruit…”

Before I could ask, my uncle added: “I went walloping arse down on the fruit, with a fine big bunch of grapes careering round the sides of my thighs. Would you credit that a few of them, thanks to gravitational expulsion, started whirling up and snuggling next to my innocent bollicks? They seemed to be trying to be competitors or rather testicular bedfellows, for I looked and beheld with terror that I had about a dozen dancing knackers rather than the customary two. Worst of all because the grapes were green, ten of the same ersatz cods were as grotesquely viridian as a Kerry meadow…”

I offered no more than a pensive murmur.

“But if that had been all, Joe Soap! If only that had been all!”

I blinked at his extreme woefulness. “What else happened? Did she shout at you for ruining her grapes? Or perhaps scream to behold all those dancing testicles?”

“That psychoanalyst was never known to scream at anything in all her sagacious Freudian puff. Still sprawled on the table, she was pissing herself and occasionally helplessly farting at the sight, for many a healthy woman in my experience if they laugh too hard often guff like a milkman’s carthorse that has eaten too much dewy grass. Even more did this black-haired beauty roar when I turned round and displayed the Theatre of the Absurd in the shape of an extravagantly accoutred masculine backside. Would you believe that a single whopping banana had been sited in the sea of grapes, and as Samara later revealed, for a deplorably waggish reason. Miss Fox who had once chaffed and teased the incorrigible stallion known as HG Wells, by way of creative fruit arranging had deliberately made it point upwards in provocative phallus mode. When I clattered down into her bloody fruit bowl, that bastard of a feckin banana went right up my tradesman’s entrance, Joe! Of course I bellowed my affront, and shot up like lightning, because I rightly sensed that something more than weird was poking like a windlass out of my offended crack…”

Wonderingly I asked him how he had extricated the dangling embarrassment, assuming that it might have been quite a delicate operation.

“I yanked the yellow bastard out of course! What do you think I did? Got it to maybe ventriloquise a ditty or two, for the appreciative alienist’s entertainment?”

I am famed for having an over-literal and excessively interrogatory side, and I couldn’t hold it back. “Once you’d removed it, Uncle Wilf, what exactly did you decide to do with it? Given that it had been rammed right up your…”

He emitted an incontinent derision at such a ludicrous what happened then? mentality.

“What do you think? I placed it carefully to one side of course, then later I gave it to the poor. No, I didn’t, I whapped off the skin and with every sign of enjoyment I ate the excellent fruit within. No, I didn’t, Joe, don’t look so horribly green, or you’ll end up looking like me. And you are not even a feckin ghost as yet.”

I persisted, “But what did you do with it? I really have to know, Uncle Wilfred.”

Wearily he shrugged his shoulders. “She had a roaring fire going and I threw it on that. Then I went and washed my hands and other parts and when I came back she the psychoanalyst, still naked, was bent double in a yogic asana with her beautiful and graceful behind in the air. She smiled with tenderness and invited me to enter her odorous rose garden and not her tradesman’s entrance, I was relieved to hear. Much later, after we were sweetly sated, or at least I was balled brainless, she appeared not only with a smirk but with one of the finest vintage bottles of Bordeaux, from which she poured two glasses.”

I said with provocation, “Half full or half empty, Uncle Wilf? Was she an optimist or a pessimist, this remarkable psychoanalyst?”

He shot back, “Not applicable in either case. Her own glass wasn’t even for drinking, or at any rate not in the customary sense. Instead, she commenced some playful tickling of my Worshipful Mayor until that ever respectful dignitary shot up and raised his ceremonial hat. She then had the bold inspiration to dip his head inside her glass of Bordeaux, and she said that was to compensate for the ghost of a mouse up her Mary Ann. And then once again she started to piss herself ecstatically at my murine fantasy which as far as she could recall was nowhere to be found in Kokkoka nor even in the encyclopaedic Vatsyayana. Whereafter, Samara played the assiduous wine taster, and she took a hell of a lot of time over her considered appreciation of the Worshipful Mayor and his both full and empty glass of wine…”





(Chapter 7 was the previous post. Chapter 9 appears tomorrow. Earlier chapters are to be found in the January and February archive, see below right)


Comfortable Inside Her Own Skin

Ilse Schiller made me uneasy because of something strange and disquieting on her backside, which of course is an unusual anatomical site to disconcert anyone, least of all me who has always found the female behind something kindly and reassuring and…how can I put it…tenderly enduring and a kind of conspicuous and alluring ballast to keep one steady when all other things seem to be shifting and uncertain. She was a few years older than me at sixty-seven, and with her jet-black hair was remarkably well preserved, and would in a benign light have passed for a woman in her mid or even early forties. She had never been married and had no children, and in most respects, would never have found the time for such fatiguing dependents anyway. Like the ancient Persian goddess Aradhvi Sura Anahita, she was a woman of a thousand skills, and there was very little she could not do, or at least make a fearless attempt at. Ilse wrote plays that were performed, stories that were published, painted saleable art, sculpted and profited by it, taught English back in Heidelberg, knew how to put up bookshelves and do basic plumbing, welding and electrical repairs. Aside from writing my journalism, I couldn’t do any of that, and had long been resigned to it, cosmopolitan cooking being my only practical skill, and I was outstandingly impressed by this eloquent and predictably voluble Renaissance woman. Though even with her cooking, she apparently matched me, as she claimed she had once run a restaurant in Aachen about thirty years ago, although in the busy even frantic week we spent together it occurred to me she might have been exaggerating certain aspects of her gastronomical skills. We emailed and Skyped each other a couple of times on Lovebirds, and as she was an inveterate traveller and was intending to spend a few weeks on little visited Kassos in the Dodecanese, she said she would loop back to Kalamos and visit me in the Cyclades.

Ilse had asked me to book her separate accommodation, which I took in my stride, whilst remaining optimistic. I found her a pleasant, and because it was late October, impressively cheap apartment that happened to be one of Maria’s Superior Rooms at the far end of the port. Ilse was the only tenant there, and Maria herself was in Athens for most of the week, so the place was beguilingly deserted. To my surprise, Ilse ignored the handsome and spacious sitting room cum bedroom and its tasteful furnishings and the excellent balcony with its aerial view of the harbour and the bobbing fishing boats, and carped instead about the kitchen’s cutlery and the state of the pans and casserole dishes. Her frying pan right enough was calcined with something that had been badly burnt in the last year or two, but it wouldn’t have defeated me who can cook on a tin lid or an improvised griddle if I have to. But then that was Ilse’s way. She had done extraordinary things and achieved an extraordinary amount, now that she was three years off seventy, but it became soon apparent that she specialised in repetitively complaining about matters that could not be remedied, and in some cases, didn’t even need to be. All that is, apart from the deplorable pots and pans in her kitchen, which she craftily replaced from three or four other empty apartments where the keys had been left in the door.

Ilse was also an avid hiker and that week the two of us walked the length and breadth of Kalamos, and in one case such an epic distance I was more or less crippled the day after. She laughed relatively kindly at that, though she was far from modest about her stamina and fitness for a woman of her age  She also scorned the expense of taxis to make an initial start to the hike, but was not remotely shy about hitching a lift, and twice we were taken from the port to the Hora, whence we could leg it way up north to see the incomparable fourteenth century Kastro, and also the perfectly preserved prehistoric village which silenced even stanchless Ilse as we drank in the epic quietude all about us. Once that is we were stood way up in the remotest Kalamos hills, looking wonderingly at the sculpted ghosts of ancient mankind nestling against more recent kserolithia dry stone walls with their touching and totemic lozenge shaped stanchions.

Way up at the gaunt and towering Kastro, as we surveyed the sheer and rugged northern coast, she made the following quaint remark: “I wonder. Do you think that the act of lovemaking between a man and a woman is so essential? Is it so much the be all and end all?”

She didn’t wait for me to answer but declared categorically that a preliminary and passionate yet ineffably sensitive kiss, can mean a lot more than the predictable and sometimes comical banality of coition. I smiled politely enough, but was privately thinking she sounded ever so faintly like cut price Stendhal, author of Love, and as her one and only long relationship with a man had been with one called Witold who sounded two thirds mad, she could hardly play the didactic expert. But that, as anyone else might readily confirm, is the perennial problem with gnomic experts. Given that many of them have made a spectacular and perplexing mess of their own haphazard lives, it does not stop them effortlessly pontificating to the end of time.

I said, “I think lovemaking is an important part of any decent relationship. If it’s in a bad way then the relationship is usually in a bad way. The trouble is some damaged and vulnerable people obsessively seek out damaging people to be their lovers, and keep on doing so through middle age and old age and sometimes until it is way too late.”

She did not respond directly but said that the one and only love of her life was with a fair-haired half Polish German, Witold Mann, who was now dead through monumental self-neglect and downright folly. She had stupidly lent Witold a massive amount of money before he had died, and she would now never get it back of course. They’d been together on and off for fifteen years, but with his appalling childhood under a Lutheran minister Dad who would have done well in the sadistic role as the clergyman in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, he had very little confidence with women or with anyone or anything else, apart from dogs, to all of which examples, German and cosmopolitan, he was an adoring friend. As well as being impossibly handsome, he had been fanatically jealous and possessive, so that harmless and inconsequential flirting by Ilse with any man met in a café or a bar, had led him into paroxysms of violent rage. He had used his fists on her and left ugly bruises all over her body, even though he was weepingly contrite the next day, once he’d sobered up. In the end she left him because he was definitely going to kill her one day, she knew that in her bones. Meanwhile for about five years they had been making an original and profitable living by driving new Mercedes cars from Heidelberg to Morocco, then selling them at a whacking profit to rich Tangerines and sundry Chefchaouen entrepreneurs. After she left him he kept on doing the drives on his own but he was a lifelong heavy drinker and his liver was shot to pieces, his remedy for which was to drink ever more Bushmills and Paddy’s and Jamieson’s on the grounds that though Irish whiskeys tasted exactly like excellent Scottish malts, they were about a quarter to a third less expensive.

“He set off across the desert one day on his way to Algeria. He was branching out, as he knew that though Algeria was a dangerous and violent place, they would pay even more for a new Mercedes than in Morocco. Anyway, it was a state policeman from Algiers, in fact a secret service policeman was going to buy it, so it was safe enough, unless he were prepared to eventually double cross him which I suppose he might well have done if Witold had made it. But the car broke down in the middle of the scorching desert and Witold hadn’t charged his phone as he was so drunk the night before. Some Tuaregs on camels found him about a week after he’d perished, and he was not a pretty sight apparently, with one of his eyes and half his mouth missing, and that was the very least of it. Poor old unhappy Witold. My poor sad boy, poor Witold…”

I touched her granite hard shoulder as she stifled the urge to weep. I said, “How is it that the only real love of your life was dangerous, or as you say, homicidal?”

She sniffed as if the question were a facile one. “Because he was far more than that. He was a brilliant and phenomenally handsome guy who knew enormous amounts about science, technology, literature, philosophy, music, films, modern and ancient theatre, and everything else. He played classical guitar and the lute in a way to break your heart. He even played John Dowland which few Germans do, and agreed with him that semper Dowland  semper dolens.”

I said, “But you’ve just told me he was potentially lethal. You left him because he would probably have murdered you.”

She glared at me or possibly at something that was not me. “But he was worth all the risk! He was worth risking my life and my soul for fifteen years, if only because he was simply like no one else.”

She told me that night, that in her late twenties she had travelled alone across central America and had spent much time in the Yucatan in Mexico. There on a ramshackle and suspension-free bus, Ilse who spoke good Spanish had met a hypnotic-looking Indian of middle years called Benito and his gentle but intense gaze, scrutinising but never intrusive, made her think that perhaps he was a former Catholic priest or someone else profoundly if modestly spiritual. He smiled at that and said he was a priest right enough, but a shaman priest, and after about half an hour of his listening to her own arcane and eloquent formulations (she never explained exactly what they were, but she admitted she had read Carlos Castaneda) Benito invited her to accept a shaman initiation in his house in a straggling hamlet a half hour’s walk from the nearest bus halt. Sure enough, Ilse had leapt at that chance of a lifetime, and the same evening she swallowed a small bowl of something like peyote and left her body shortly afterwards, and then made some kind of aerial and phantasmal voyage which transcended time and space, and where various chromatically exotic, neither angelic nor demonic beings, had appeared before her grateful and she stressed profoundly humble gaze. That included a phoenix, an eagle, a very old mute man, a very old mute woman, both from many centuries past, plus a kind of obelisk stone monument on which initiatory things were written in some kind of esoteric cuneiform, and amazingly she could read and understand the chiselled marks, even though the next day she could not recall a single thing they said.

She stayed with Benito for a few more days, then hiked up into the nearby mountains and in a remarkably forlorn hamlet where even the dogs didn’t bark, she asked a burly priest who had his head down against the wind, where she might find accommodation at a reasonable price. The priest who was about sixty and the only cheerful soul in his parish, laughed at the idea of a guest house in a hole like this, and said she could come and stay in his place for nil rent and nil duties other than maybe cooking a meal if he was inordinately busy with his clerical rounds (he hadn’t the luxury of a housekeeper, needless to add). Ilse lodged with him a whole fortnight and he obviously enjoyed her company and charitably guffawed and pushed her away light-heartedly when she made a reflex if half-hearted pass at him. He was called Pedro, the son of an extremely rich landowner, with whom he had quarrelled and never been reconciled, and he soon wormed out of her the shaman conversion and spoke scathingly of glorified wizardry and witchcraft, and baseless drug-induced nonsense. Every night as they sat down to beans and rice and nothing else, he did his best to convert her to the far superior rock of ages of Catholicism and although she joined with gusto in the debate, she remained a stalwart shaman convert as she defined herself in spiritual terms.

“The problem,” he’d said to her wryly, “is that I can’t dose you with glamorous drugs and therefore can’t promise you any instant supposedly beatific visions like old Benito. That’s the kind of thing which in order to attain, the saints had to patiently mortify themselves for decades, before being granted as an act of divine grace their instructive and authentic holy visions. I’ve read enough to know that the eminent if naive English author, Senor Huxley, also recommended hallucinatory drugs as a means of making rapid spiritual advance, and that these aids should even be automatically provided on a person’s deathbed, in order to help them through their voyage to the other world. Meaning that any old gangster, crook, felon, pervert, murderer, by hastily dropping a tablet, can receive the ineffable grace which ordinary pious folk patiently struggle all their lives to achieve. By trying that is, to do good and to be good, and by determinedly renouncing what is obvious evil.”

On our second night, Ilse insisted on making me a meal, and she waxed eloquent about the fact the supermarket tomatoes were so third rate and inexplicably imported from Athens. Why didn’t they sell locally grown ones, she asked me captiously, as if it were half my fault. I turned up with a bottle of Greek white called Kyknos, or Swan, and it being autumn or fthinoporo it was a dark and moonless night. She insisted we nibble something with an aperitif, and so we sat out on the balcony in the pitch black, though she eventually lit a couple of candles and proceeded to smoke her first cigarette of the night. It had all the makings of a romantic evening, scented flickering candles and the cloaking dark and our intimate proximity, though of course at this stage I knew nothing about the enigmatic mystery on her behind. In between cigarettes, for Ilse chainsmoked, she dashed in and out to prepare the salad and to complete the pasta sauce whose savoury odour I was sniffing hungrily on the balcony. Her salad, had one been in a generous democratic mood, was fine or certainly passable, but certainly not subtle. It comprised roughly chopped lettuce and diced tomatoes and sliced celery, with a sharp and agreeable dressing, but it was not something you would lick your lips over and rhapsodise as exquisite antipasta. I lied and said it was excellent, but she carped again dismissively about the hopeless raw materials, these inglorious Athenian vegetables that had been dumped on Kalamos. The pasta was in another league, or at any rate the sauce was a very good tomato and mushroom confection, but she served it with a ton of glutinous and cardboardish spaghetti. I recalled she’d told me that she herself was chief cook in her gourmet restaurant, and wondered what had happened to an erstwhile virtuoso in that case.

After the meal, and as it was getting cold, we walked into the sitting room which also doubled as her bedroom. I immediately went and sprawled upon her bed, as artless indicator that if she were game and hungry and pragmatic, so was I. Ilse smiled but skilfully omitted to take the hint, and at that stage I felt like Frederic in Flaubert’s Sentimental Education where Ilse was a cross between married and virtuous Madame Arnoux, and Rosanette the professional coquette.  Also, I remembered that this Heidelberg writer and artist had declared a five-star kiss to be better than crass coition, and I suddenly realised I would be happier at home reading a book than sitting here waiting for what would never arrive. It was half past ten in any case, and Ilse was keen to arrange another epic walk tomorrow, so I sketched a possible tour of three handsome and remote bays, all below the old island capital, the Horio. I bade her goodnight and we gave each other a chaste little peck, and sad to say it certainly wasn’t the epic and transforming kiss that she had been exalting earlier.

The next day we hitchhiked to the Horio, and then walked downhill the few kilometres to Psili Ammos, a touchingly unspoiled place that long ago had hosted an excellent fish taverna. These days it could boast only a bunch of antique wooden beach shacks which put me in mind of nothing so much as the Outer Hebrides, and specifically of hospitable and beautiful South Uist. From Psili Ammos, there was a short and winding monopati to two other dreamlike bays: Megalo Livadi, which had a boarded up seasonal taverna, and beyond that Kolymbithres, always swarming with Athenians in August, but on this warm October afternoon attractively deserted. At the far end of Kolymbithres was a rocky, narrow path to a minute tidal islet called Kastos, and on this a heartrendingly tiny, snow white and spartan Orthodox church called Ag Iannis . Seen from Kolymbithres, Kastos with its little white chapel, looked like a child’s tender drawing, and also like one of the haunting Treshnish islets off Mull, especially Bac Mor or Dutchman’s Cap with Ag Iannis being the cap.

We returned to a completely deserted Psili Ammos, and there Ilse announced she wanted to swim. As did I, on a day like this, but she soon disconcerted me by saying she didn’t want me to see her naked, which she revealed was the only way she ever swam. After a car accident a year ago, she explained, she had needed extensive hip surgery and it had cured the hip alright, but had left ugly folded layers of skin the full length of her legs…

“I had the most beautiful legs,” she sighed with infinite regret. “All the way till I was all of sixty-six. Now they are more or less corrugated with loose skin, and it breaks my heart because I remember them so vividly in their pristine prime. People, not just men but women too, used to go faint over my beautiful limbs, but now they never do. So look, you just stay here and swim straight ahead, and I will move a hundred metres down there, so that you won’t be offended by my hideous folds and my surgical wrinkles.”

I stared with blank disbelief and said I didn’t give a damn about her skin folds, and I was sure she was dramatically exaggerating. But Ilse was adamant and she lugged her big blue rucksack down the beach, then stripped off in a trice, and went racing into the pellucid and tender Aegean. She leapt up and down exultantly in the waves, and even from a distance I could see her tautly jutting and impressively firm breasts, meaning a touchingly youthful figure for which most women aged sixty-seven would have given a royal fortune. As she romped and skipped on her ecstatic and self-centred axis, I felt painfully deserted, even cruelly abandoned, not to say unsubtly manipulated and crudely rejected by a woman whose only real love in seven decades had been with a man who had beaten her up, and come close to murdering her. I decided that it must exquisitely suit Ilse Schiller to tantalise and thereby control a peaceable and unaggressive man, who wasn’t a jealous and febrile nutcase, and wasn’t remotely homicidal. But meanwhile her vaunting and theatrical abandonment felt like a slyly inflicted wound that I simply did not deserve, and therefore I would reject her crudely in return. I decided that I actively disliked Ilse Schiller, and I went back onto the beach and closed my eyes tight and attempted to blank her out of my offended heart for the rest of the afternoon.

Before very long, she skipped up to me with wildly dancing breasts, and announced that she had changed her mind. She would after all let me see her naked, even though thanks to her surgically wasted legs she was overwhelmingly ashamed of herself. She beckoned impatiently for me to follow on to where she’d camped. Her beautifully long back and sinuous, slim backside were finely tapered, and from this distance her skin seemed wholly blemishless. Under most lights she would have passed for a handsome woman in early middle age, and yet she preferred perversely to be thoroughly mortified by her appearance. I put my rucksack next to hers and spread my towel, and glanced at her sat bolt upright in an expert half lotus, scornfully examining those slim legs of hers that drove her mad with their imperfection.

“Look,” she said, pointing at some minuscule folds at the top of her thighs, which would have offended no one but a bilious perfectionist.

I said without any guile or motive, “For sixty-seven you look remarkable. You have firm and lovely breasts and budlike nipples like a woman of twenty-five. You have no belly at all, not a trace of fat on you anywhere. You have no cellulite whatever on your lovely thin bottom…”

Like some pettish infant she rasped, “Fuck it, as well as lovely legs, I once had the most pristine and legendary bottom. Everyone said that it was perfect, and that I was Venus Kallipyge or that woman who flaunts her backside in Botticelli’s Three Graces. I once had a fucking Botticelli botty as you infantile Brits abbreviate it, but look at it now with these horrible folds of skin…”

She indicated the cleft of her behind, and again I noted some tiny surgical folds that would have been ignored by anyone but a grieving obsessive. The single blemish was a tiny and livid pink rectangle where her bottom met the towel, which I could only assume was a fleabite acquired in Kassos or the Kalamos domatia.

I said drily, “There’s no pleasing some folk. You have a nigh flawless body and every woman your age would go nuts at you moaning about your imperfections. And there’s no remedy for your affliction as far as I can see, because it is psychological not anatomical. I could talk my arse off, assuring you that you look stupendous, but all you see is those harmless little folds and you can’t see anything else.”

She turned on her belly. As well as those firm and pendulous breasts there was an attractive curve in the base of her spine from which her delicate bottom rose up gently, even modestly. She would have swiftly corrupted a nonagenarian monk, and she was busy thinking she looked a sight and an object of shame. Eventually I remarked on her queer little fleabite, and asked her was it a Dodecanese or a Cycladean flea.

“What fleabite?”

“That tiny pink mark at the base of your bottom. It can only be a fleabite, it could hardly be an allergy to strawberries in late October.”

She answered without drama, seemingly bored by the conversation, “That’s no fleabite. It’s a flare up of my herpes. I’ve had it for over five years now. To be honest it can be a fucking nuisance and it can also put off some extremely agreeable men.”

It was a hot October afternoon, yet I felt myself rapidly freezing. Was that last sentence about agreeable men an example of Teutonic litotes, of miraculous Heidelberg understatement? I had immediately shuddered at the h-word, though of course Ilse with her permanent self-obsession, hadn’t even noticed.

“It was a Berlin waiter called Ruprecht gave it me. I might have known with a gormless vicar’s name like that, even if he was very good -looking and twenty years younger than me. When he smirked, and took me to his home I was very drunk and incapable of exercising common sense. Soon after I got a sore on my mouth and then off and on for five years it has flared up. Whenever it does, it is contagious of course. When it first revealed itself and I rang dozy Ruprecht and told him that I had herpes, he simply laughed a lot and said yes, yes, he had recently found a stupid little sore on his mouth.”

I gave a second shudder yet Ilse saw nothing but her reductive and redundant obsessions. I didn’t bother to confirm it, but because she had a livid pink square on her otherwise flawless behind, then that like an ugly mouth sore must constitute a flare up. She was in a contagious condition, and, as everyone knows, for it is the only thing that everyone does know about herpes, it is potentially a life sentence. Google a thousand different sites, and they will all inform you that, if in doubt, the only way to avoid infection is to abstain from vaginal, anal and oral sex, and that even condoms offer negligible protection. I hastily reversed the film sequence of our days together, and recalled how I’d been hungry to sleep with her last night, but as fortune would have it, and although it had pained me, she had not encouraged it. In the feebly flickering candle light last night, I wouldn’t have seen that livid pink square and possibly wouldn’t even have felt it, had I caressed her thin and tender buttocks.

I felt a grotesque relief as one who had flirted with a dangerously uncertain entity, including Ilse Schiller’s identity as a peyote drinking shaman. This was the same Ilse who doted on the memory of a lethal but adorable psychopath called Witold Mann. This was the same inimitable egotist who fretted about the minuscule skin folds on her handsome backside, but not about the livid herpes on the same exquisite behind.

On her profile, Ilse Schiller had boasted that not only was she invariably empathetic, but that she was extremely comfortable inside her own skin. And yet she patently feared and loathed her beautiful skin, and indeed it was all she chose to talk about for much of the time we spent together.




(Chapter 6 is the previous post. Chapter 7 appears tomorrow. Chapters 1 and 2 are on the January archive, see right below)


Ups And Downs And All Things Toxic

Although in the supernatural world Time was inevitably regarded as a species of inferior hallucination, Wilfred Lawless was quick to assure me that in the time-bound world, Patience was of the very essence, and especially when it came to He advised me that within a few months I would encounter women who showed an initial great interest and excitement when I wrote to them, then after perhaps half a dozen exhilarating messages, and for no detectable reason, they would go completely dead, all replies would immediately cease, and I would have no inkling why on earth that was. Most likely they had found another man close to home, hence given up on the alluring mirage of a Hellenic idyll with a journalist whose mug had once regularly been on the telly and in all the papers and magazines. In the end, he added, and rather like art gallery owners and record labels and publishers and literary agents and the like, it was always  considered far safer to reject: in this case safer for a woman to reject a man who was a far-flung expatriate, than take a risk when seeking a source of enduring romantic joy. More reassuring was easy proximity with the smiling feller down the road, who though assuredly nothing to write passionately home about, was at least within convenient whistling distance.

He added matter of fact, “Be warned, you will find it is often a dizzy case of swings and roundabouts, of feasts and famines. Believe it or not, a fair number of likeable even admirable Loveballs gals will make their way to little Kalamos from all over the globe, over the next few months. There will initially be a fairy tale glut, and then for no fathomable reason, a temporary cessation. You should be advised that one super-keen lady, Helle, who imagines you as of towering world stature as a journalist and writer, will come all the way from Jarlsberg, Norway and she will book a three-week flight, but will only tell you as much once she’s bought the feckin ticket…”

I sat up, suddenly bolt awake. “Bloody hell, Uncle Wilf. That’s what I call committed…”

“Committed is an appropriate word. For just possibly she is crackers. Or maybe just half crackers. You will find out once Helle arrives. Suffice to say she is the last word in fin de siècle Romanticism, meaning of a febrile, vehement and unstable constitution. After she goes back, and because she is very wealthy, she will offer to buy you a beautiful and palatial if very remotely situated villa on Kalamos. You will inform Helle that someone lives there in contentment already, and she will reply that that is just a detail and she will pay twice its value to get them out. Her plan is that the pair of you live there in passionately romantic seclusion, you knocking out your angry book about the lethal situations in present day Syria, Iraq and the like, she ministering to the iconoclastic genius and making coffee and making love and making hay. You will of course be seriously tempted by her stupendous offer. But you will need to decide if Helle is a nutcase or only half a nutcase, especially as you stand to be ensconced with her for your earthly notion of eternity. Soon after, another woman will visit you from distant San Francisco. She is sixty-seven and has never been married, has no children and has never been in a relationship longer than four years. As a child she had a bully of a Dad, a bombast and a fatuous five-star gobshite, but that was the worst he ever was. He was not violent nor abusive in any way, but she pension-age Tamsin Winckelmann who is a yoga teacher in SF believes she has been seriously scarred nonetheless. He died last year when she was sixty-six, and she will tell you in all seriousness that only after he was dead and she was at his funeral, did she feel she was free to have a serious and mature relationship. At which point privately you Joe Soap will think to yourself, there are parts of the world where people don’t even live to be sixty-six, and she is saying she can only really get stuck into life and love, when she is in her late sixties and her insufferable pop has kicked the bucket.”

But I couldn’t restrain myself. “What does she look like, this Tamsin?”

He blinked and gently murmured, “Indescribably beautiful. Ditto Helle the Norwegian from Jarlsberg. That’s part of the problem. They look like the purest and most perfect golden lodestars but on close inspection prove to be rather more like dimly reflecting alloys, or shall we say human all too human. Tamsin when she comes to Kalamos wiil be wonderful in every aspect for the whole week, but both before and after her visit, she will often be weirdly irritable and fractious in her messages. It will seem to you almost as if she is indignant at being drawn all that way across the Atlantic, even though she is adamant that there are no eligible men in the whole of SF, nor indeed the whole of the USA, for they are all either married or what nowadays you folk call gay, but which I myself always used to call inverts and with no offence intended…”

I said, “This Tamsin sounds a bit dogmatic. A bit sweeping. A bit of an absolutist rather than a temporising relativist. I imagine her wearing billowing magenta scarves, massive dangling earrings, high black boots, and sporting a jutting and forthright and extremely alluring bosom. In fact, I rather like the sound of Ms Winckelmann, Uncle Wilf.”

He shrugged his old man’s shoulders, which I carefully took note did not possess any algae-coloured wings.

“On her return to San Francisco, Tamsin will become altogether very strange. In one of your He Males to her you will happen to mention your recent watching of two very good films on your hotpot. One is called Blood Simple, an excellent title as well as fine film by the Cohen Bros, and the other one is misspelt as Inglourious Basterds by a pugnacious and apparently controversial Italian director named Il Signor Tarantino…”

I interrupted, “It’s Coen not Cohen, Wilfred. And as for Tarantino, he is an Amer…”

He gave a doleful shake of the head. “Then all hell is let loose. It is scarcely to be credited, Tamsin’s dramatic accusation, and as a result one worries seriously for handsome Miss Winckelmann’s mental health. Given she is a decades long yoga teacher, surely she ought to be as relaxed as a pudding in her own skin, not to say humptytettick and not a hanging feckin mental judge. But is she shite, Joe Soap, you who she will accuse of a monstrous and actionable crime…”

I flinched violently. “What crime would that be exactly?”

“Tamsin’s highly idiosyncratic version of what is a crime. She will assert that you went and gravely disrespected her!”

I blurted angrily, “Did I fuck. I mean will I fuck.  Why I never even…”

“But you will do so Joe! You will disrespect her, at least you will in her eccentric books, if no one else’s. She will accuse you of gross and careless and very damaging verbal repetition! For she will claim that some months ago you had already mentioned both directors to her, Cohen and the Italian lad, whereupon she tersely told you she emphatically anathematised the pair of them and their putrid films! And now here you are in your safe Greek hideaway where she can’t get at you and shake you for slaveringly praising the pair of these cinematic reprobates to her inimical lugholes! Ergo you do not listen to what she Tamsin Winckelmann says, and in so doing you are grossly disrespecting her…”

I gasped. “You know, this might shock you a bit, Uncle Wilf, but I don’t really think I like the sound of this unusually volatile yoga instructress after all.”

My uncle was in full flow by this stage. “What’s more, you are sufficiently hipped to point out that though previously, right enough, you praised the Cohen Boyos, you have never once mentioned Tarantino to her in your puff. You tell her that you have a flawless memory and are widely noted for it, so it must have been some other despicable English knave had disrespected her for mentioning the celebrated Italian. You add that surely saying something twice cannot justly be deemed a hanging matter by anyone half sane, and moreover that on her profile Tamsin had assured the world she herself was Not Judge Mental…meaning not hypercritical nor carping nor irrationally prejudiced.”

I was considerably impressed to hear what I would say by way of acid retort, and I found myself making jabbing congratulatory swipes in the air around me.

“To which Tamsin responds in an unyogic rage, by saying you are one of those deplorable men who only skim the trivial surface of things, for you rarely choose to discuss or confront the profoundest human depths. Instead you prefer to swim in the puerile shallows….”

I quivered and shook, considerably outraged myself. “Bloody nerve! Winckelmann by name and Winckelmann by nature!”

“Don’t worry, Joe lad. You will give far better than you get from beautiful American Tamsin, and you will deftly quote from her Winckelmann’s Well Being webshite , a promotional adjunct related to the fact she is one of the principal and most respected of yoga teachers in California. You roundly deride her WWB webshite and declare it to be rather more like wet shite than a webshite. You say it is all hyperaqueous New Age, pseudo-theosophical adolescent guff, where everything is capitalised on the lines of Energy, Calm, Spirit, Balance, Mellowness, Mellowed Out, Chakras, Kundalini…and then of course the chasmic rift between you two erstwhile lovers is total, and from then on you hear no more from Tamsin Winckelmann nor her from you…”

Savouring his spectral Sweet Afton, Wilfred went on to say that bitter discord on would be relatively rare, and rather more common with the ones who came my way would be a solicitous if at times intrusive concern for my health and general welfare, and especially when it came to things like my diet. Instead of rendering my great-uncle’s meticulous account verbatim I shall assume instead the narrator’s voice myself, and put it in the past tense, given that I am writing this several years on from the year 2014, when my great-uncle came on his charitable pilgrimage to see me in Kalamos. For confidentiality’s sake, I shall in the main call these women by their Lovebirds’ user names, which needless to say I have invented.

The expat called ALWAYSENCHANTING…

‘Alwaysenchanting’ was a red-cheeked, fair-haired and full-figured English teacher originally from Belfast, and aged fifty-eight. She was now the deputy head of a TEFL school in Athens and was appealingly vivacious and high-spirited over the phone, as also when we Skyped a couple of times. She liked her ouzo very much and when she visited me that weekend in Kalamos she also loved the meals I cooked, guzzling them down at speed and with snorting noises of appreciation, something which I found very endearing. One evening I made her Lebanese stuffed potatoes in a saffon and cinnamon sauce, and any neutral spectator would have agreed that the scented Middle Eastern food had a suggestion of the ancient harem and the modern day souk, and most likely would occasion a marked aphrodisiac effect at some felicitous stage. This proved to be exactly the case, but just before we retired, Alwaysenchanting who had been sipping a half bottle of ouzo with her food, looked wonderingly at the delicious red wine I was quaffing and which I’d bought for a bargain three euros per massive bumper bottle. She evidently concluded that such startling economy was related to the fact it was in a plastic bottle adorned with minimal calligraphy, being called in plain and simple Greek ksiros oinos erythros , ‘Dry Red Wine’, no more no less.

“Toxic!” she declared with an abrupt and judicial severity.

I said with a start, “Who is? Me?”

She chuckled first, and hiccupped second. “No, no, darling, not you, you are altogether lovely. But that wine inside the plastic bottle over time reacts with the plastic and produces noxious and harmful toxic chemicals. Believe me, it won’t be doing your system any good at all such stuff. Hic. What I’m saying is darling, pay a euro or so more, and get yourself a nice bottle, then you’ll not be risking your health at all. Hic.”

I protested, “But I’ve been knocking it back for at least two years without any ill effect…”

She frowned then unleashed a tetanic hiccup. “Hic. Fuck. Hic. It’s your choice of course. But if I were you I wouldn’t risk my precious liver or my dear old guts. Damn, this fucking ouzaki of mine didn’t last very long did it. I’ll just bash off to the mini market, and be back in a trice.”

While she was away I poured myself an extra large glass of my hazardous plastic red, and as if to prove the indisputable, it tasted even better than it had at the start of dinner. A few weeks later I met up with Alwaysenchanting in Athens, and we walked round sunny and handsome Thiseio and had lunch and she consumed at speed a couple of ouzakis and a triple Metaxas for good measure. She became gloriously drunk and fell asleep in the film we went to see, and later I put her carefully on the metro back to Metaksourgeio where she lived.  A month or two passed, and then and after a few emails and without any rancour, we amiably forgot about each other.


‘Downinnorfolk’ and I skyped each other half a dozen times, but we never met in the flesh. She worked for a children’s charity based in Norwich, and was in her mid-sixties, had never been married, but had had two very long relationships, both of which had come adrift when she had always hoped for a tender permanence. She was full of freckles, brown haired, slim, looked exactly like a larger version of how she must have looked at ten, was fleetingly melancholy, yet warm-hearted, and infinitely hard working, in fact a seasoned workaholic. To dispose of her health advice first, after we had spoken of our mutual fondness for coffee, she advised me that the expensive decaf I had started to drink because I consumed so much of the caffeinated kind, had been given special chemical treatment in the refining process, which sadly had introduced innumerable toxic compounds.

At the dietetic déjà vu, I said. “Toxic? Is that a fact?”

“Google it and you’ll see. The truly ludicrous irony is that say caffeinated Lavazza is safer than its decaffeinated brother and all other decafs. Meaning that you’re seriously risking your health if you keep on bebbing the decaf…”

I muttered, “But I’ve been drinking it for at least two years. And with nil ill effects.”

She smiled protectively and even a mite possessively, “Perhaps not now. But in the years to come…”

The reason things fizzled out with Downinnorfolk was that though an admirable, animated and very attractive woman, she was also a spectacular doormat, and doormats whichever stereoscopic way you try to examine them and efface your first reductive impressions, are only meant for you to wipe your feet on. Her last long relationship had been with a man from Cromer called Daniel Peach, a sculptor and a very successful one, indeed a considerably affluent one. He had left her very abruptly and appallingly after fifteen long years, for a much younger woman called Grace who he’d soon married. Peach had urged her in her wretched grief, that despite all they must stay friends, and through her racking sobs she had promised to be a grown up about it, no matter what. In line with that, she had never once criticised him nor condemned the always smiling Grace. Dan then confirmed his mature and sage credentials by making his old flame Downinnorfolk the godmother of their first baby Benny. This had proved a magnetic and powerful bond for the childless charity worker, and she was always down in Cromer looking after Benny while Daniel Peach and Grace Peach were out partying or away for an ecstatic weekend break in Paris or Dublin or Rome. Downinnorfolk could sit in the enormous and for some reason always cold studio with her handsome godchild, feeling undeniably lonely, even sad, and still have her significant if thwarted stake in Daniel. I was quietly frozen to hear her account of this romantic tragedy cleverly averted by two people opting to be mature and not childish, and very much wished to point out that it was an overweening win-win for Daniel and Grace, and a dismal lose-lose for her, no matter what cheery and alienated construction she put upon it. Anyone in the outside world would decide she was genteelly prostituting herself for Dan who was clearly an expert if decorous pimp or ponce himself, with an expert line in hooking and exploiting former girlfriends…

The crunch came and our dialogue ceased when she told me she had decided to sell both of the houses she owned in Norwich. This was in order to buy herself a large attractive flat in Cromer, to live on her capital, and of course to help out more and more with the growing godchild little Benny. Peach’s renown as a sculptor was now such that he had to fly all round the world, exhibiting and giving interviews in Milan and NY and Paris and Frankfurt, and of course Grace as his wife always went with him, and acted as a kind of secretarial and glamorous factotum (she’s still only forty-three, superb figure, gorgeous shiny black hair, and she speaks Italian, German and French to boot). Grace and Daniel only really trusted Benny’s godmother as flawless carer, and so she’d decided it made sense for her to be there at their disposal now that she was planning her retirement. Words failed me as she explained what would have struck anyone sane as a voluntary decision to become a lifelong slave to the man who’d broken her heart and got away with it, and even made a hefty profit by his vandalism. I stopped emailing Downinnorfolk, and gave the excuse I was loaded down with work and seriously considering being a full time foreign correspondent again, and therefore in no imminent need of a partner.  By now I expect she is settled in Cromer with a captious and bullying six-year-old godchild, but in ten years’ time I wonder what earthly reason she might have for staying there in Cromer, in arguably what will have turned into a melancholy nanny flat or a granny flat for one who is not a nanny nor a granny.


Lifeisanadventure was someone I talked to once only on Skype, and hers was one of the strangest and most surprising of Lovebirds encounters. She was a fifty-nine-year-old biochemistry lecturer at a Midlands university, albeit a native Londoner with a recognisably working-class accent, and she’d had a ten-year marriage to a joiner called Scott, who had left her two years earlier. Her real name, she revealed, was Mallie Scott and she had a pretty, decidedly old-fashioned face with wide liquid eyes and gently sculpted lips. But her eyes and mouth had a repetitive habit of subtly freezing, as if she had been dealt one blow too many, and had had to learn a kind of defensive petrifaction to keep on going with her lecturing and everything else. Mallie had no children but remarkably possessed a fifty-five-year-old parrot (four years her junior) called Jack who was obviously the light of her life.  Jack, I could hear faintly in the background, and she told me he was perched in the kitchen talking eloquently to himself.  She added that it had struck her as a warmly auspicious thing that her surname was the same as her husband’s Christian name, and she was still feeling roundly cheated that the augur hadn’t matched the reality.

At one point I began talking of my passion for cooking, and as a specialist in dietetics and nutrition Mallie was interested to know what I had made the previous evening. I described with enthusiasm the Syrian bulgur pilaf I had prepared with fried courgettes, peppers and aubergines, plus fried hazelnuts and sultanas. Then I stirred in a teaspoon of tomato puree which coloured it handsomely red, before flavouring with cumin, lemon juice and optionally chili, finally dousing it with olive oil and garnishing with lemon slices. Normally this kind of recital impresses anyone male or female, young or old, but Lifeisandventure Mallie suddenly evidenced a minor rictus in her frozen lips, and the eyes seemed strained and rather as if those of someone who had been wound up in order to perform the role of a conscientious school monitor.

“Toxic,” she declared. “Yes indeed. Absolutely toxic.”

This was perhaps a deja vu too many. “What is?”

“Frying anything in olive oil is toxic! The oil breaks down into degraded meaning hazardous compounds and then of course with the lethal build-up over the years…”

I interrupted, “Lethal? But I’ve been frying things in olive oil for over forty years, ever since I learnt to cook in the Nineteen Seventies.”

She shook her stiff little, pretty little face, as if to say words don’t mean anything compared with the impregnable truths of verifiable science and especially of dietetics. With a glumly candid face she confessed: “People don’t like dieticians. It’s a fact that we’ve got no friends. People just don’t like hearing the truth.”

I wondered if Mallie had lectured errant husband Scott, when once starving hungry he’d made himself a delectable Chinese stir fry, and whether it had just been all too much for an unidealistic joiner from Poplar who as a bachelor had survived on greasy bacon sandwiches and those alone. I said: “The whole of Greece, the whole of the Mediterranean and the Middle East come to that, they all fry everything in olive oil, and have been doing so ever since the birth of time. They haven’t all keeled over with cardiac attacks as a result, though in recent years I suppose they might well have snuffed it from chronic smoking and obesity and taking no exercise and all their other dogged habits.”

She waved her thin and graceful hand. “The only safe way is to boil the vegetables, then add the oil afterwards. As for the nuts and sultanas, you must chuck them in at the end and mix them with the oil.”

I contemplated the preposterous obscenity of boiled aubergines and boiled courgettes, respectively the king and queen of cosmopolitan vegetables. Our debate might well have got very heated and then fractious had we suddenly not been distracted by the sound of Jack the parrot breaking into raw uproarious song in the kitchen.

 Hit the road Jack

And don’t you come back no more no more, no more, no more…!

At once the two of us fell about, and Mallie’s rigid musculature instantly loosened, and she was alive, vital, amused, animated, and once again hearteningly attractive, even young looking.

Lifeisanadventure said eagerly, “Shall I bring him in to show you? Shall I?”

“Please do!”

She warned that Jack who she’d owned for twenty years had had serious trouble with his right eye a few years back, and it had to be surgically removed. Hence, he was a one-eyed parrot rather than a one-eyed Long John Silver, who of course had kept a squawking polly on his shoulder. Also, Jack preferred to sing exclusively about himself and about no one else, though she had tried in vain to teach him ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ and ‘When will we get married, John?’

She carried him through triumphantly on her thin left hand. Her face had cast off its monotonous stiffness and she was aglow with enveloping tenderness for her noisy parrot, who was a vivid blue and a searing green. Jack looked impossibly beautiful, yet seemingly modest in his ocular depletion. I looked at his single eye and was moved to the core by Jack’s little tragedy. He looked the purest zoological innocence, but Jack had gone beyond innocence into a state of oblivious animal grace that managed also to be comic. I thought to myself, if there was a parrot section of the well-named Lovebirds, Jack the Lad here would be swept up and married to a blazing bright red Costa Rica diva, within less than twenty-four hours.

Hit the Road Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more…

We were both convulsed, and Lifeisanadventure seemed effortlessly beautiful, as if her stifled heart had managed to fight against that unhappy and frozen face and win…

Later I established that though her marriage had broken up because of Scott’s adultery, it was she Mallie who had kicked her husband out. For although Scott fully intended to leave her in exactly two weeks’ time, he was hanging around the house like a gormless ghost in a trance, supposedly in order to let her gradually get over the cataclysmic shock. It was his idea of simple kindness and old-fashioned consideration, so he intended, looking offensively guilty and even a little tearful. But Lifeisanadventure had deafeningly  screamed at him to fuck off  as soon as he liked, and to hit the fucking road, Jack, and she did so because his surname was Jack, his full name was Scott Jack, and she a few years ago had been called Mallie Jack, but now thank God no longer was.


(Chapter 5 is the previous post. Chapter 7 is tomorrow’s post. To read Chapter 1 you will need to look at the January archive)


Angela And The Invisible Man…

What follows is not one of Wilfred Lawless’s predictions concerning his great-nephew’s future, but a true story told to me in a bar in a European capital in December 2015. I have buried Angela’s and Duncan’s identities and provenances needless to add, but all the essential details are real and not invented. It is both a love story and a kind of fairy story, and even a success story, yet almost certainly it would never appear in the Testimonials Pages of I recommend you read it as if it were a short story.

Angela Jorge had never seen him before they met in the cheap hotel in the Alfama, one of the most shamblingly picturesque parts of Lisbon. His name was Duncan Dean and he was a dark-haired Scot aged sixty from Dundee, who had contacted her partly because she had very good if patchwork English. Angela had worked for five years as an evening shift manager in a huge gastro-pub in South London, and had been outstandingly good at her job. She now ran a small supermarket in a grubby street close to a public garden full of elderly and melancholy Mozambicans and Angolans who had been living here in Portugal for decades. She and Duncan had been in communication on the site for a few months, and they had telephoned a dozen times, and swapped numerous emails and texts, remarkably terse and desultory ones in his case, as if bizarrely he was challenging or confronting, rather than dating her. Duncan gave away nothing much over the phone, and certainly didn’t shower her with small or large endearments at any stage. His chief reason for choosing Angela as a date, was that she like Duncan was one of the very few who did not put their photograph on the site, but instead just a silhouette. The site emphasised that not putting a picture dramatically reduced any chances of success, but somehow she and Duncan had immediately sniffed each other out as being two souls with a great deal in common. It was always hopeful Angela who had approached the Scotsman’s silhouette with the assumption he was shy and, who knows, maybe beautifully handsome, and until today when he arrived by taxi at the two-star hotel there was no evidence to the contrary.

Angela had also suggested Skyping, just so that he wasn’t cruelly disappointed, nor indeed was cruel enough to show it on his face after the first coffee, as had happened once with a myopic and perspiring seventy-five-year-old Lisbon man who after five minutes said they were never going to make a pair and vanished without even giving her the money for his coffee.  Duncan had curtly refused the offer, and said he didn’t believe in sitting in a TV interview chair like a brainless soap star, nor of having a prospective girlfriend prancing about on the telly for him. His telephone voice was extraordinarily empty and without inflection, which made her think that somehow over there in Dundee he was staring into either a huge hole recently excavated by the city council, or at an ugly and unfinished building, or more obscurely a frustrated personal project from his youth or middle age. Angela was five years younger than Duncan and she had two children, one of whom was Rosa who worked in the supermarket and was its co-owner.

Work in her case was a euphemism. Short and sleek and dark-haired Rosa, did as little as possible and regularly took days, weekends, whole weeks off to go gallivanting all over the place, Spain included. She went there with her new boyfriend Jose, who was a well-off accountant with a Mercedes and with two attractive houses in the suburbs, one of which he rented out to wealthy foreigners. Worse still Rosa impudently emptied the till when she buzzed off in his car, and she used it as her private bank on all other occasions. Although Jose was generous, Rose had an aggressive sense of personal pride and wanted to pay her way, meaning Angela was continually at her wits’ end, as in an area like this the takings were scant and monthly credit was the norm. The final insult was that Rosa openly despised her mother and blamed her for her father’s premature death, because Fernando had perished of a heart attack, eight years earlier, aged only forty-eight. He’d had his heart attack because he took no exercise, chain-smoked and drank vast amounts of the cheapest aguardente. Fernando was also violent and had once in front of all the customers clobbered her over the head in the supermarket with a hammer which he was using to nail a devotional saintly picture to the wall (he was very religious, as was thieving Rosa). The blood poured from her hair and he’d pushed her out of the shop into the little kitchen where he’d ranted away at her for showing him up by crying so loudly and stupidly when he’d reasonably enough clocked her for her irritating suggestions on exactly where the saintly picture should hang.

Angela’s life had been abuse from start to finish, or at any rate up to the present day. Her Dad who was an Alfama plumber had beaten both her and her sister from infancy, locked them in dark cupboards as standard punishment when tiny, and he had molested both, albeit discreetly when their outstandingly witless and devout mother was at Evening Communion. They both managed to tell her about the interference by the time they were ten and twelve respectively, but she studiously misheard and conflated it with the beatings, and dismissed both physical and sexual abuse as par for the course in any case in the Alfama in the Fascist Portugal of the Sixties. Their Dad was neither Fascist nor Socialist, he was supposedly a Christian Democrat, and pious to boot. Being neither charitable nor remotely democratic, he was good preparation for Fernando who she married when she was eighteen years old simply to get away from home.

Relating all this to Duncan in a hurried resume, she showed him a photograph of herself in 1977 where she was so miraculously blond and slim and coy and beautiful, he could scarcely restrain himself. “Is that really you? God alive. You look like a gem, a star, some magical queen from a fairy tale.”

After some frowning calculation, he showed her a photo of himself in 1978 when he was thirty-four and working as an electrical engineer in Dundee. He had dark and lustrous hair, lovely chiselled cheek bones, was handsomely dressed in a tailored suit, and his haircut was a gilded punk style. He had been married for seven years to a woman called Moira, an upmarket hairdresser and also a make-over expert.

Angela sighed. “You were incredibly gorgeous, weren’t you? You were such a handsome man.”

Duncan grunted and indicated in two blunt sentences that his childhood and his parents had been fine, no complaints, other than they were religious Presbyterians and had tried to encourage him in that direction. By the age of sixteen, he’d cast all that off, and had never been in a church or chapel since. Angela countered that she was a Believer, despite all the problems she had faced as a child and in her hellish marriage. One of the few things to give her consolation these days was to pray both inside and outside of the very old baroque cathedral nearby, and especially when her daughter Rosa was driving her crazy. The hardest thing to bear was the pitiless and vaunting contempt of your own offspring. Rosa not only embezzled from the till, but she had no guilt whatever, and said it was a kind of payback for Angela not looking after her father properly. By a miracle Fernando had never hit her as a child, and had made her his golden favourite, so that Rosa had long mythologised him as the perfect father and had been deeply distressed for about a year after he died. It was no good Angela spelling out the humiliating violence he had inflicted on her for twenty-five years. Rosa had even implied she had brought it all on herself by driving him mad with her demands to move to a better area, and her pathetic neurotic worries about everything under the sun. And then there was the other thing, the elephant in the room, and she was spectacularly unkind about that perpetual source of sadness too.

Duncan hadn’t been shocked at all to hear about Fernando and the hammer on her head, and was neither condemning nor approving, but he scoffed loudly at her now for being in such a hole with a delinquent kid of twenty. Angela had two practical options. Next time Rosa started stealing, just ring the Alfama police station and have her arrested, or if she couldn’t face shopping her own blood, then threaten her with the police, and take a belt to her in the meantime. The other option was simply to kick her out of the house, now she had a rich accountant as a boyfriend. Angela blinked at these sensible enough prescriptions, and said she’d already asked her why she didn’t move into Jose’s luxury villa, seeing the relationship was so strong. Rosa had irritably professed her wish to be financially independent, but Angela could see it was just plain fear that the good looking and confident and often ludicrously bumptious accountant might heartlessly decide to ditch her one day.

“Anyway,” she told him, “it’s not as simple as that. As an act of lasting retribution for all my shortcomings, Fernando left the shop in Rosa’s name, not mine. Before she started stealing we just put everything back into the shop and lived on about fifty euros a week between us. Now she’s stealing all the time I have to live on nothing a week, which of course is not possible, and yet it has to be. She says she feels the suffocating pressure of owning a near-bankrupt shop on her skinny shoulders, so I ask her in that case why the hell she steals all the bloody takings.”

Duncan was sage again. “Walk away from it. It’s a hopeless mess and your daughter is a hopeless mess. Or at least, she is when she is in contact with you, because she obviously loathes you. She might well be a star with her Jose, I suppose, but she’s never going to be reconciled with you in this life. She despises you, Angela, and it’s her fix and her passion to despise you as much as possible. Walk away and leave the little fool to sink into the debt that she’s creating day in day out. She’s using you as her fall guy and scapegoat, fucking up the business and blaming you for it, so you owe her absolutely nothing. She may be your daughter, but she’s behaving like an idiot and a demoness minus the fangs and talons, and behind all that she’s just a plain and simple crook. She’s a fucking thief because emptying the till is fucking theft. You have no obligations to a petty criminal, have you?”

He then listened stupendously bored as Angela in a broken and faintly childish voice trotted out the moral pros and cons, and concluded she could not betray her one and only child to the police. He stared at her balefully and decided there was no point in arguing further. She was as stuck in the mess as her stupid little daughter who was creating it, and there was manifestly nil hope for either of them. Humming his derision, he started taking his clothes off and indicated that Angela should remove hers. In doing so they both turned aside out of modesty and sensitivity but with all the ridiculous mirrors all over the hotel room he couldn’t avoid a glimpse of her naked breasts and he all but fainted at the sight. Ditto when she stooped for something on the floor and her innocent behind was in the strange retreating perspective of a receding train track and with the prominent and extensive curvature at the front like some beaming and comical visage.

Angela did as she was bid and didn’t even need to ask how he preferred to make love. There was no hint of preliminary caresses but then neither did he have that scornful disdain on his face that Fernando had always had. Fernando liked her to lie flat on her back and never wanted anything else, whereas Duncan she saw clairvoyantly would want her flat on her belly. He climbed on top of her and she felt his stiff cold stomach against her perspiring backside. It was late June and it was exceptionally hot which made the corpse-like coolness of Duncan’s belly a puzzling mystery. He began to thrust away, his sex as hard and indestructible as granite, in complete silence, and she with her nose buried in the pillow was wholly unable to make any tender communication. A tender word or two would have been nice, but as with Fernando tenderness was always somewhere else, in some other room, and most likely some other country, possibly some other universe. Fernando had had a habit of surlily announcing his irritation if she shuffled underneath him, or even if she didn’t shuffle and confounded his expectations. With him it was all over in five minutes, and he rolled away without any kiss or goodbye or goodnight or God bless, despite all his resolute churchgoing. But Duncan was one of those who would take an hour or a month or a year or an aeon to reach his climax, and throughout he would stay as rigid and unrelenting as a concrete pillar.

Yet Angela was relishing it nonetheless. If you are used to a five-minute man, then to experience a five-hour man is a miraculous thing. Duncan was as mute and melancholy as a Victorian undertaker, but he kept on thrusting and thrusting as if assiduously building some quaint ceremonial or ritual structure inch by inch, and with no waste of vacuous and redundant words. After a half hour and in the intense heat, the sweat was rolling off her behind which was glued suctionwise to his icy belly. When he lifted his gut to allow for the torrent to seep away, there was a squelching farting sound that made her chuckle a little but elicited no mirth from him. The whole world could fart uproariously for Duncan’s benefit, but he would scarcely lift an eyebrow much less smirk or cackle.

Angela came to her climax three times in an hour, but Duncan would have carried on as silent as a nightwatchman for evermore. She took a deep breath and asked him with a thumping heart if they could pause for a while and maybe go down to a café, then come back here and start again if he wanted. Duncan grunted and lifted himself off slowly and sat up on the bed. Then he removed the gossamer thin black scarf he always wore across his neck and chin, and up as far as his nostrils. He wore it in the streets back in Dundee, and always got some bemused looks and occasionally some crack about Zorro or the Invisible Man, or Batman, or simply that he looked like a comical hold-up gangster…

Comical? Comedy? There was a livid slash scar at a transverse angle reached from his left nostril and across both lips, down as far as the base of his chin. Umpteen plastic surgery attempts still left him looking as if a couple of angler’s lead sinkers were hanging on his lips and pulling them down into a gloomy and perpetually froglike leer. He looked like a huge and comically overgrown toad or perhaps a blowfish or pipefish or some other monstrous piscine freak. He had intervened two years ago in a fight between two drugged up kids on a Saturday night in an ill-lit backstreet In Dundee. One of the little bastards had shrieked his druggy rage at him, then chibbed him and kept on chibbing him, and only stopped because there was so much fountaining blood it was pissing over the chibber himself and he later told the polis he did not like that.

On his last phone call, he had told her all that, so that she was not shocked when he turned up at the hotel with his black and gossamer mask. Now she looked at him without fear or repugnance and although he looked sad and cold and freakish, she could still see the seemingly honest soul beneath, and knew that the ice and the coldness and the silence were only his quivering defences. She could almost make out the visual chimera of what she believed to be his eternal soul, and was moved with pity to approach him, and tell him that, despite all, he was at bottom as lovable as anyone else, and she in particular would love to be allowed to love him for the rest of their mortal days.

Duncan immediately put up his hand to ward off her approach. Angela misinterpreted and thought he was simply indicating the presence of what Rosa called the elephant in the room. In fact, he was staving off her tenderness and the wish to love him heart and soul that he saw in her bright and impassioned blue eyes. His wife Moira had left him within a year of the chibbing, and he couldn’t blame her for shrugging her shoulders, being openly angry, and sensibly abandoning a bullfrog. If she Moira had been turned into a frog or toad whether by fairytale or non- fairytale means, he would almost certainly have abandoned her too.

He stared at the elephant in the room, though he had no idea of the thief Rosa’s nasty little insult. The elephant was not some metaphorical enigma nor gnawing structural weakness in what was unfolding between them in this sweltering and mournful Lisbon hotel room. The literal elephant was literal Angela who was no abstraction at all, but was physically enormous, monumentally obese, as vast though not as splendid as an ocean liner. Her 1977 photo showed a beautiful blond young woman who was slim and handsome and with piercing eyes, whereas now four decades on she had barrelled into what reminded him exactly of the tyre garage enduring mascot, the Michelin Man. Instead of the cheery anthropomorphic layers of automobile tyres, Angela had unimaginably myriad layers of fat, endlessly spiralling successions of gross blubber, so many folds and folded folds and folded enfolding folds, she was like some geographical contour map gone mad. Her breasts were as vast as the moons of Saturn but they danced on a quivering platform of purest fat that in turn pirouetted on a billowing Mount Everest of a stomach, which seemed to fill up the whole room and made the image of an elephant seem graceful and slim in comparison. He had already seen her naked behind in the mirror, and it was like a rhino’s or a hippo’s and it defied belief because it seemed not like a single backside but a whole army or armoury or flotilla or convoy of female backsides conjoined and annealed and secretly assembled for obscurely strategic defence purposes.

Angela suddenly understood what was going through his head. Firstly, the fear of desperate and claustrophobic embroilment with a love-starved woman, the only good thing about the romantic arithmetic being that she lived five hours away from him by plane. Secondly, his open if unshocked appreciation of how exactly she looked in her elephantine nudity. And talking of arithmetic Angela also saw that the equations of their two preposterous situations, the one in Dundee, Scotland, the other in Lisbon, Portugal, were perfectly mathematically balanced. Duncan looked dreadful and was also wretched in his perpetually ice-cold skin, and she Angela also looked dreadful and was alarmingly overheated in her sweating nakedness. Therefore, and very evidently, they were perfectly suited.

She took another deep breath and told him as much, but instead of deriding or denying her, he just stared and stared at her, and his dilating batrachian lip seemed to curl up with something like a nostalgic and even innocent sort of pleasure.


(Chapter 4 was the previous post. Chapter 6 appears tomorrow)


A Beautiful Man On His Beautiful Horse…

Wilfred Lawless addressed me with a very old-fashioned look, as he continued his earnest premonitions concerning “You won’t want to hear this, Joe Soap, but your imminent first attempt at approaching one of these Lovebird gals with a timely romantic message, will prove a right steaming fiasco. Indeed, the word fiasco is all too mild, it will in fact be a right old cockup, a five-star feckup, a pig’s bollicks and a most curious cat’s arse…  the like of which, to quote Briain O’ Nuallain, will not be seen again.”

As anyone else would have done, I gulped and started to sweat.

“You may already know that all these Lustballs wimmin, just like all the men, will have their special codenames on the site, instead of their real names, to avoid the usual embarrassments. In fact, and this is not widely advertised of course, in one or two perverse and reckless cases, it is to keep their activities from their unwitting husbands and fiances.  You for example the widower Joe Soap will call yourself Kalamos 7, and the first woman you write to will have the charming appellation Walkingintherain which is all just the one word, take note….”

I murmured distractedly, “An alluring variation on Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain. But tell me, what will she look like, Wilf?”

“A made in paradise corker! A real radiant Mediterranean beauty, even though she hails from a rancid dung heap like Widnes, near Liverpool. Dark-haired, fine-featured, wise but playful eyes. No one can fault your amorous connoisseurship, my son, she was truly a woman made in Heaven. Meaning the place in whose spacious if restless ante-room I still dally and linger, which of course you are unable to see with your mundane vision. Also, Walkingintherain’s account of herself, her passionate interests and the like, will match yours to a tee. She is keen on foreign travel, foreign writers, foreign films, foreign food, meaning she is cosmopolitan to a fault…”

In consternation I asked him what could possibly go so wrong, given her pristine looks and admirable profile, and the concomitant pains I would take to write her a tender message that would do her justice. At which my great-uncle smirked and tsked tsked, and accused me of the cardinal sin of authorial carelessness. I was after all an experienced freelance journalist he scoffed, and every journalist worth their salt double-checked their copy before dispatching it to the editor. Fair enough, I would pen some excellent copy in the body of the message to Missus Walkingintherain, wherein I would modestly understate my achievements, which my uncle admitted were considerable in terms of foreign correspondent awards, involvement in BBC documentaries and the like. All that would be tickety boo, and if I wasn’t destined to make the awful howler in the salutation at the start of my message, there was very little doubt that the delightful superstar of a lady would have written back to me in a very warm spirit.

“The salutation?” I said, with a horrid quiver. “Dear Walkingintherain?”

Wilf grunted, “It would have been very nice, if in a few months’ time you were to sit down and write precisely that. It would have saved the day, Joe Soap and would have set you off on a brilliant start with your Onion Dating. Instead of which, you will, fair enough, zealously double check the body of your message, but you won’t check the salutation in your extreme excitement to send it off from your hotpot. Take note, great nephew, that the first word ‘walking’ in her pen name is a pleasingly innocuous gerund. Unfortunately, and with the careless substitution of a single letter, you will write a quite different and highly contentious gerund…”

Because I looked blank as well as comically forlorn, he added: “You will substitute an ‘n’ for the ‘l’ of walking…”

My bedclothes cascaded from my lap as I shot upright and shuddered. Any chance observer might have assumed I’d been electrocuted by a faulty electric blanket. As the rictus gradually subsided and without a trace of melodrama, I cursed unmusically the day I was born.

My uncle sighed, “Wanking in the Rain, right enough. I’ve no idea where you got that from, not even in your murky little journalist’s suck bonshus…”

I wagged my angry forefinger and swore at his malapropism. “Sub-conscious my arse! Nothing to do with journalism. It will be just a slip of the…just a …”

“A Fruitian slip? Apart from anything else, nobody of my cognisance did ever dally and do it in the feckin rain. I mean it would dampen any impassioned ardour would it not, unless you had a handy umbrella and a stout Aquascutum?”

I realised, albeit belatedly, I could confound this bumptious old phantasm by pointing out the obvious.  Because he had forewarned me of the egregious and hideous error, then I would simply remember not to do it in a month’s time. The remedy was child’s play. I would take ten minutes over typing out the word ‘walking’, and I would also check it fifty times before clicking on Send.

Uncle Wilfred chuckled at such optimism. “I’m surprised at your chronological naivety. The future is the future, Joseph Soap, and it cannot be undone. As soon as you and me have finished our teacher-student colloquy, our guru and shishya didactic exchange as found in e.g. the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, all memory of it will be blanked from your mind. With an extremely subtle qualification, which I sincerely hope is not beyond you, namely that a ghostly trace of my admonitions will remain and will hopefully guide you via your suck bonshus in future transactions with these Lovebot gals. I mean feck, think about it, Joe. There’d be no point in me coming all the way from remotest Kerry to remotest Kalamos to forewarn you, if nothing at all was to advance in the way of your learning the enigmatic dynamics of Amorous Dalliance, and its delicate precursors and felicitous antecedents. I mean Wanking in the Rain bedamned, is what I’m saying to you…”

At length he noted my sullen silence and disappointed mien, and decided to cheer me up, if such a thing was possible. “Let us get back, as indeed we must, to the numerous desiderata these Loveballs gals all list for their ideal swain. In my fastidious scrutiny of your immediate future, Joe, I have noted that there is an elementary and yawning contradiction apparent in not a few requirements from these educated and often earnest ladies. For example, among the eighty-five per cent who want a chap to be always tolerant, uncritical, unprejudiced, optimistic and at ease with himself, there are also those who declare that they want the same man always to be clean-shaven and presentable. Given that these ladies must ipso facto have the same ideal qualities as the ideal men they seek (otherwise why would they demand them of others) there is, I descry, a certain yawning paradox? Do you descry it also, Joe?”

I muttered sourly, “You can fucking say that again…”

“Supposing this lady and her ideal chap have forged an early alliance, and are cohabiting together in say NW6 or NW3 in initial amity. Picture the same boyo, let’s call him Mungo as in the saint, let’s suppose old Mungo Not the Saint, after a volcanic and uproarious night on the pish with his bosom pals, turns up at the breakfast table half-shaved or not shaved at all, and wearing an old tattered bottle green sweater with numerous holes in it, and a grubby old tartan shirt with collar sadly frayed, and a pair of baggy cord trousers where the cord has been eroded to a kind of bilious perversion of ersatz velvet. What do you think the Lustbuds lady, let’s call her Molly, what is our Molly likely to say to our Mungo, Joe…?”

My spirits had definitely been raised a mite by his suppositional narrative, and I suggested: “‘Oy! Oy, you! What the bloody hell do you think you are playing at? Suffice to say, you’re insidiously departing from my carefully composed Lovebirds ideal chap checklist!’”

My great-uncle chuckled. “A good start but rather a modest one perhaps. For my money, old Molly will blow her bloody outraged top, and especially if she has just received an outsize electric bill caused in large part by sissified Mungo always feeling the cold, even in August…and a phone bill to match as Mungo rings his Australian aunty of whom he has avowed pecuniary expectations for five hours at a time every day except Friday, when he’s in the boozer with his unpleasingly motley and uproarious best mates. So that once, as you hypothesise, Molly’s done the preliminary prologue, Oy you! she is more than likely to add:

-You graceless nugget of noisomely suppurating excrement! Oy! I will say it again. Oy! We have this contractual Loveballs deal, do we not, that you be clean-shaven and presentable at all times in my presence, and here you are looking like a putrid and reeking tramp who has been banned from the Spike in 1937 as described by George Orwell in his long-lost manuscript Down and Out in Belsize Park . You look like a beachcomber’s rejectamenta, as well as riff-raff flotsam and jetsam and not forgetting some shitsome and pukesome. I won’t tell you a second time Mungo Bungo (and at this point and for emphasis she rattles his head harshly with her little fist which subtends the stony sapphire engagement ring he has just bought her). I’ll only tell you the feckin once! Get your big lazy backside up that shagging staircase you dangling pigs’ ballocks, drag yourself into the bathroom and get the feckin razor across that grubby fizzog. Afterwards you will immediately strip naked and I will come up to hose you down with carbolic and possibly paraquat, and then having dried yourself, you will put on a neat jacket and tweed twills and your Oxford tie from 1973. You will return downstairs at once and sit upright rather than slouch, then you will ingest your yoghurt and oats and organic honey in a decorous and tidy fashion, and we will then both talk in alternating delivery about what we read in yesterday’s Guardian arts and current affairs. Afterwards we will have a hearty game of Scrabble and if you win Mungo we can have equally hearty down on the floor sex, on the strict condition that you wear your Oxford tie and that your twills stay half way down your thighs throughout, for this to me is a pleasing indeed hearty erotic adornment.  All this is non-negotiable Mungo Wungo, and if you dare to refuse or to try and moderate or water down my requests, I will not only give you the vicious kicking of a lifetime but I will also in my overwhelming fury objurgate at you so that all the neighbours can hear:

You filth, Mungo Bungo! You verminous filth!””

I was entertained enough by this cheery and arguably Gothic fantasy, but told my great-uncle it seemed a bit excessive. I couldn’t imagine any educated Englishwoman however nervous, irritable, angry or beside herself, coming out with such ferociously uninhibited obloquy. Though I vehemently agreed that Molly insisting on a man who was relaxed with himself while demanding he must be clean-shaven and pristine at all times, was a bit of a contradictory sleight of hand. I decided there was an overriding solipsism at work here, for if Molly was truly tolerant and sympathetic and at ease with herself (non-judgemental and empathetic, comfortable inside her own skin) why would she bar all incipient facial fuzz and sloppy jackets and faded trousers and so on? After all, are not scraggy whiskers and worn collars and baggy cords less than the man himself? The illustrious film star Brad Pitt for example is regularly picturesquely half-shaven, and incontestably many a middle-aged woman would give their upper and lower teeth to be in his presence. On that basis why shouldn’t Mungo Bungo likewise be allowed to sport his plagiaristic Pitt side, because if at present he were fool enough to do so he was likely to get Molly’s little foot up his hapless arsehole?

At this point Wilf made a gesture of my approaching him to learn something confidential, even hush hush. I was just about to effortfully bend forward in his direction when confusingly he went back to his original position and explained: “It’s this crucial thing about the gap between what one professes, whether male or female, and what one actually does. It is the inspiration for much great literature of course, including at least half of William Shakespeare’s plays. And not unrelated to this stark discrepancy, Joe Soap, is what one really thinks and feels privately and secretly inside one’s capacious scope, often of course at a suck bonshus level. Let me give you a single if remarkable premonitory example. In about two months’ time you will be in touch by He Male and Spank, sorry that can’t be right, in touch by Spike, with a nice enough woman called Gloire who lives in a salubrious commuter village about ten miles outside of balmy old Worcester.”

Her unusual name struck me as altogether significant. “Fancy that, Uncle Wilf…”

“Your woman Gloire is sixty years old to your sixty-three. She has never married and has no children and is coy or maybe just shy about her past. Put all that in the future tense of course, as we are talking about your, Joe Soap’s, future, but it is less cumbersome to put it in the present as my own condition is self-evidently to be in an eternal present tense. Gloire has taken early retirement from being a teacher training lecturer in Worcester. Her specialist subject was English literature and she knows all the set texts like Sons and Lovers and King Lear and Billy Liar and A Kind of Loving, but otherwise her reading generally is a little haphazard and governed by the Buck All shortlist and longlist which she wades her way through assiduously, at home alone in her spotless bungalow. She has lots of girlfriends of her own age who she socialises with principally in the pub, but her history with men is a bit patchy and inconclusive. The longest she has ever lived with a man is one year, and the shortest of her one-night stands lasted three minutes. You can’t quite work out why when you talk to her, but somehow she seems destined to be single for most if not all of her future, as well as unarguably her past. Though who knows, there is always room for miracles, given that Your Man in Eternal Charge is not subject to our notion of extensible or shrinkable limits…”

My algae-green uncle went on to say that Gloire had one abiding and indeed enormous passion in her life, the highlight of her rather quiet and predictable week, and one which as far as Wilf could see was the logical outcome of all these Lovebirds ladies’ Radio Phaw addiction. In a nutshell, Gloire was not only a Radio Phaw nut, but she had an absolute opiate addiction accompanied by noticeable weekday withdrawal pains, when it came to that hoary lunchtime entertainment known as Desert Island Discs. To be sure, this was such a staple of the somnolent middle class British mentality, that it scarcely needed elaboration, but enough to say the presenter would ask sundry celebrities from politics, public life, film, the world of letters, sportsmen and sportswomen etc to talk about their enviable lives and also interleave the narration with a clutch of their favourite discs, these days of course and in my great-uncle’s transliterations, via Seedies, Eye Tunes and Spotty Arse. The very striking thing about Gloire’s addiction, he added, was that it really was the equivalent of her meeting a lover she hadn’t seen for a lifetime, in keeping with which she went up to her bedroom with her old portable radio, switched it to Radio Phaw, and locked the door, even though she lived alone and the front and back doors below were already bolted.

“Just as the Phaw announcer says it’s time for Desert Island Dick, that’s when Gloire starts to turn flushed magenta and extremely warm with sensuous anticipation…”

I lifted my hand to object. “Surely you mean Desert Island Discs.”

“Eh? Discs be damned! It’s your man Dick that she’s after, this lonely Worcester gal. She wants her Dick and that’s all she wants. All this Desert Island Discs is a nonsense, a front, a charade, a bit of prudish and Radio Phaw dissimulation, as the real thing your Gloire is after is a bit of the genuine highwayman, your man the heroic and handsome and always upright and chivalrous Dick.”

I objected a second time. “A highwayman on a desert island? But surely, he’d be superfluous and have extraordinarily slim pickings, as there’d be no bugger on the island to rob?”

Wilf tsked and explained that he was talking metaphor to a certain extent, as the gentleman Desert Island Dick was what Gloire always saw or even summoned up like a djinn or sprite as she closed her eyes on her solitary bed. Dick was dressed rather like the fabled Mexican hero Zorro, and like him he rode a beautiful black steed. He wore no mask though, and had infinitely passionate black eyes, sumptuous and glistening black hair, a finely sculpted visage so unspeakably handsome that it made Gloire melt in permanent dreamy retrospect as well as in their weekly bedroom trysts.

“Let me clarify. There are half a dozen records played aren’t there on that dreary little self-serving, etiolated apology of a radio show? The start of each record heralds a magnetic and tantalising vision in Gloire’s head, of Desert Island Dick caped and splendid on his black charger, racing down at full tilt along the burning desert sand. The aim of which furious and lusty gallop is no less than to unite with herself lying supine and with outspread limbs on her lonely bed where she dallies waiting ever so impatiently for his perfervid embrace.”

I snorted my disbelief. “How on earth can you be sure of all that? I mean how can you see inside her head and picture charismatic Dick with his cape and his…”

“Because I can see every feckin thing now I’m dead, you eejit! Have you no faith man and no sense of suspended disbelief and poetic and artistic licence come to that? Suffice to say, with every charge down the island sand of Dauntless Dick with his beautiful cape flying and his manly moustache gorgeously horripilating, your woman Gloire gets more and more lustfully excited and starts to writhe and mumble in her bed. Can’t you can imagine her imploring, impassioned voice, Joe? Dick, she roars, Dick, I want my Dick, I want my manly, tall and upright Dick! It’s all I bloody want and bugger all else! Then she swiftly adds to that: and you can stuff your Roy Plimsoll and Stan Lawless and your Chris Jung, so called Desert Island presenter sex idols over fifty odd years! That is all my feckin backside, she scoffs. They are all spurious auditory hallucinations, these Roy, Stan and Chris, none of them actually exist outside the mythical studio, and the real presenter, the abiding and eternal if immaterial presenter, is Desert Island Dick, though he only reveals himself to the most discerning and adoring of his listeners. Then Gloire goes on in a torrent of angry eloquence: do you think I give a monkey’ s fuck about last week’s guest Sir Vince Gabble and his fondness for the New World Symphony, Sammy Davies Jr and Louis Armstrong? Do I care what Sir Vince thought when the coalition Tories proposed making Serious Disability illegal, and the fact that Gabble pondered this and that by way of response, and nearly and almost said something in Parliament, but didn’t in the end because he had an irritating tickle in his throat. Am I, always single and lonely Gloire Wandless, supposed to give a streaming shite about what Mrs Mary Whitearse said in the 1970 archive Desert Island show on my playagain facility, that in her considered view and as arbiter of TV and wireless broadcasting standards, that sex is alright in its proper place, but she Mary Whitearse really hates having it thrust like an impudent stick of rhubarb in her face! Well says Gloire, I want it thrust as hard as possible in my lovely face, like a turgid prize leek from Blaydon, Tyne and Wear, and the more thrusting feckin leeks the better. But meanwhile purrs Gloire in a suddenly voluptuous and heedless tone, Desert Island Dick races at fantastic speed towards me on his wide eyed panting charger. He then comes to a fearsome halt in the desert sand, only to fly over the horse’s head with perfect aplomb! Next he tears off my clothes and my dear and darling and unrelenting Dick thrusts himself again and again in my face as well every other bloody possibility…”

Uncle Wilfred concluded Gloire’s story by saying that we should forget about all these professed ideals from Lovebirds hopefuls, namely of sunny optimism, sunny sympathy, perennial tolerance and perpetual relaxedness apropos oneself vis a vis the world and one’s partner. The reason was obvious. That in real life, it was not ideals that moved and animated life and people in their deepest depths, but an authentic engagement with unidealistic reality and that alone.

“Of course, the reality as such is principally from the suck bonshus, Joe. Thus we have Gloire from Worcs, who is lonely, sex starved and sixty, inventing ex nihilo a heroic and priapic man from a feeble old wireless show. You, in a few months’ time Joe, when one or two women travel to visit you in Kalamos, will likewise observe the dramatic change in quotidian behaviour of certain of them when they enter the bedroom. In the bedroom, believe you me, they are looking for all sorts, but they are not looking for empathy, optimism and tolerance, neither in themselves nor in you, nor would they wish you to be debonair and suave and relaxed between the sheets. Relaxed your arse man, they are looking for a passionate lover, not a comfy inside his own pelt eejit called Miles or Giles or Toby. They might well enjoy the tender gentleness of your caresses, but sooner or later they will stare you in the eye and surprise you with a bare-faced request from their anarchic old suck bonshus…”

I blinked as I surveyed his vaporous fizzog, and waited for him to surprise me.

“One evening in the bedroom, a Lovelybutt woman having enjoyed all the usual sexual postures and found them ever so slightly more enjoyable than the yogic asanas she teaches every night in a former Methodist hall in SW14, she will without a trace of a blush, say to you Joe as you are staring into space:

-Joe, my dear love. I have a special and teeny lickle request that I thought I might run past you.  If you can see your way to it, Joe, will you kindly stick it up the other one ASAP?”

I started at Wilfred’s incongruous falsetto and because of the inordinate length of our nocturnal conversation muttered dopily: “Her other what?”

My great-uncle guffawed.  “Sex education at your age is it, at sixty-three? She didn’t mean to stick it up her feckin armpit, I can tell you that.”

I bridled. “OK Uncle Wilfred. But surely there happen to be three recognised orifices where the carnal act is possible. There is the business of the lady’s mouth for example.”

He guffawed even harder. “I thought you were a grammarian and a linguist as well as a former roving journalist. Ever heard of prepositions? You do not stick anything ‘up’ the mouth for crying out loud, not even if you’re a contortionist virtuoso thanks to decades of tireless Hatha Yoga. She means, you eejit, this Lustbots lady, that she’d like it stuck up the tradesman’s entrance. Mm, now, I wonder. Are you maybe fond of that practice yourself when it comes to you and the bean, that being the Erse for women?”

I found myself blushing and to blush before a phantasm is a very curious sensation. “Erse?” I said. “I’ve never done it up that, no. Not that I have any objections should the lady ask for it. It’s just that no lady ever has.”

“Well this one will! She’s called Marietta and she is a retired hotel owner hailing from Stoke Poges and she is sixty-seven, meaning born in 1947, the final year of the Indian Raj. She will hie your Hellenic way in about six months’ time. And Marietta doesn’t just want the tradesman’s entrance, she wants the full and unedited Kamashastra works, Joe. But no, don’t look so alarmed, nothing to get in a fright about. For the special deliveries entrance, she will need of course to lie either on her belly on her side. As it happens this go ahead Poges gal, ever in a vigorous flame thanks to her roaring suck bonshus, prefers to lie on her tum tum. Once you have got steadily going as required, she will then request you as follows:

-Hold my arms tight against my sides, please, darling. So that I feel as if I’m being restrained!”

I was about to make an obvious cavil, but Uncle Wilfred got there first. “To which you will readily reply, okey doke darling Marietta, as let’s face it who doesn’t fancy a bit of voluntary frustration sometimes, just to combat the otherwise reckless entropic drive towards anarchy and dissolution, and even the whole hog known as death? That applies to those Lustbuds wimmin right enough, Joe Soap, as well as all the rest of the human race, all men included. The inventive Marietta will then ask for a variation on her restrained arms, and ask you to use one of your hands to restrain her back, just to hold it firmly so she can’t easily move. There will be no pain involved by doing this, of course, as ditto with the pinioned arms. As erotic antidote to which once you have one hand on her back and one hand pinning down one of her arms, she will briskly ask you to remove both and use both hands to slap her vigorously on the backside like a prize Arab mare…”

I gulped and asked, “A mare? Are you sure?”

“OK, my literal-minded great-neff, no she’s not a feckin mare, she’s a passionate woman with a healthy sex drive, and she’s an extremely good-looking woman at that. And she likes being walloped on her Stoke Poges behind and always has. Not of course in public places such as supermarkets, libraries, in church, nor on the bus into town, nor in the Aylesbury hotel she managed a few years back. Only in the privacy of the bedroom where she can let fly like a good un, with her truly volcanic and highly inventive suck bonshus.”

I fidgeted for a while and mused to myself that Marietta’s complicated bedroom requests did end up making me feel yet again rather like Bob Hope in Paleface, greatly overloaded by redundant and excessive information. First of all I had to do the tradesman’s entrance, then pin the arms, then remove one hand and hold the back as well as one of her arms, then remove both hands, then slap her on her heaving backside as if she were a bucking mare. However, thanks to his supernatural and omniscient state Wilfred could read my fleeting thoughts just as if they had been printed in the Tralee Clarion in 1911. He smirked and said: “Bucking mare right enough. Bucking indeed. And though she asks for no more manoeuvres with your hands, and orders you to keep on slapping her behind, she does ask you to perform something else with your mouth, Joe.”

I gawped at him. “Impossible!  I’m not a bloody contortionist. I can’t use Hatha Yoga to strain my neck to get at her…”

“Paw. Not at all. Only words are what she requires from your mouth. She wants you to shout something good and juicily insulting at her, nothing more.”

I blushed once more and began to protest, and said I would never insult a woman for any reason. Not, that is, unless she insulted me first.

“Relax boy. Prepei na ksekhourazasai as they say there in Kalamos. She is not wanting to be insulted in a nasty and abusive way, but to be insulted as a game, as a fantasy, as an odd little melodrama that has percolated up to Marietta’s brain from her incendiary suck bonshus. You recall in her Lovebutts statement she did boast she was comfortable inside her doings and very emptytettick and not Just Mental and all the rest, but here in the bedroom in the tortuous coils of her suck bonshus, she has shoved all that against the wall. She even has a specific insult ready made for you, Joe, you don’t even have to cudgel your brains to think of it. She has already thought of the precise imprecation she wants you to hurl at her, while you are busy unloading at the tradesman’s entrance and obediently slapping her rear end…”

I sat there dumbfounded, vainly striving to imagine what Marietta would ask me to hurl at her by way of theatrical denunciation. “What have I to shout at her?”

“She wants you to shout the following in her little lughole whilst busy up the granny flat and whilst slapping her excited flanks:

You iniquitous strumpet!

There was a stupefying and incredulous pause and I listened to my reply as if it were someone else’s. “Surely not. That can’t be right. That could have come out of a Jacobean farce, instead of 2014, and from a Stoke Poges woman at that.”

He snorted, “That’s what she wants you to bellow at her, Joe. It might be farcical, and yes, she has a Cambridge PhD in Restoration Drama, this hotelier, but who knows what is right and what is wrong when the be all and end all suck bonshus is on the move. But that aside, now close to her climax Marietta asks you would you kindly say it again but with a minor embellishment:

You naughty and importunate little arch-demoness! I  declare you are an iniquitous little strumpet!

Then, and I’m not quite sure why, uncle and nephew both sat very still in a meditative and not uncomfortable silence for a considerable while.  Outside we could hear a Kalamos cat mewing forlornly, and I at any rate understood right away why that might be.


(Chapter 3 was the previous post. Chapter 5 appears tomorrow)


The Woman Who Liked High Risks

The first person I met via Lovebirds, as Wilfred Lawless had effortlessly predicted, was Miranda Garnett and our 2014 rendezvous would be in beautiful Faro, the capital of the Portuguese Algarve.  Miranda and I had already emailed twice a day, and Skyped numerous times, so I knew exactly what she looked like, and indeed her profile photo had been extremely accurate, which as Uncle Wilfred had forewarned, was frequently not the case. Lovebirds men and women, he’d said, with a puzzled, rhetorical face, regularly shaved three, five, ten, sometimes even twenty years off their age, and Lord knows what happened when their true ones were revealed. Miranda was beautiful, fair-haired and high spirited, and had a very innocent, wide open and childlike face. But it was also a vulnerable and complicatedly deceptive one, and another striking thing was that whether seated or standing, while you were talking to her, she was always noticeably bent in your direction. More often than not, that tends to be a sign of emotional neediness, and it did not take long to find out the force lines of such deprivation, as she had one of the strangest relationship histories I had ever heard. Also, and as she told me early on in her emails, she had been in and out of therapy for many years.

Miranda was a Glaswegian with a strong accent to match, and she was sixty-two years old. She was an IT genius and had started her own digital marketing business which she had bought herself out of two years earlier. That plus an inheritance, and the fact she rented out a four-bedroom flat she had bought in exclusive Bearsden, meant she was very well-heeled. She had always liked the Algarve and had found herself a sumptuous villa situated between Faro and Albufeira on a remote side road and stuck half way up a sizeable hill. Down below was a village full of British expats, singles like herself as well as couples, who according to her had nothing to do after their premature retirements, so they spent all day drinking and occasionally committing adultery. She actually used that Old Testament expression as she had been raised a good Glasgow Catholic and her father in particular had been a zealous churchgoer, as well as a volatile and moody and often unforgiving man. Miranda described herself as being aloof from all that ‘down below expat’ stuff, but she also admitted to being a functioning alcoholic as she put it, and she smoked dope and took cocaine occasionally. Of course, she could only do her drug taking by having the right contacts, meaning one of the younger expats, who had extensive connections with both a Faro and a Lisbon dealer. I did not bother pointing out the obvious, that even though her rustic elevation was a boastful source of personal pride, her remoteness from the expats living at sea level below was comically token and symbolic. It was consonant with and inseparable from that sunnily childlike face and that wide-open naivety under which lurked a seething volcano of a sort.

The volcano was of her own making. Although she was seeking to break out of a destructive pattern by joining Lovebirds, she already had two men in her life, one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh, both of whom knew about each other and were not remotely jealous. The reason for their equanimity was as banal as the fact that neither of them had even kissed her, much less slept with her. Well, actually Roger the maths academic for reasons of economy slept with Miranda whenever they went holidaying round the Hebrides, which was one of their favourite destinations. Prof Roger Ridley had even taught himself simple Gaelic from a second-hand primer called Can Seo, and he pronounced the sonorous tongue beautifully, but in ten years he had never once touched her body, the most he’d done was put his arm avuncularly and corpselike round her shoulders. As for kissing, a peck on the cheek was the most she ever got and usually with his eyes averted. Ditto for Arthur Hornet in Edinburgh, another academic (a Reader in American Literature) and their common interest here was travelling round the obscurer parts of the United States together. To save money they shared a room in deepest Georgia and Puerto Rico and Alaska and Des Moines, but as if he was one of those chaste mediaeval Irish priests described in George Moore stories who sleep all night with nubile maidens in order to test their piety (Gandhi and his brahmacharya girls being a subsequent example) Hornet also never laid his hands upon her, and not once even by accident had he touched her breasts or her behind.

“So how do you feel about that?”

She said with passion, “It drives me fucking mad! I have a normal and healthy physical appetite, and they show not the slightest interest. As if I’m as ugly as sin.”

I soon established that neither men was gay nor asexual and it turned out that both had had multiple passionate affairs with married women, and on one occasion Arthur Hornet had allied himself with a female student Maria, thirty years his junior. Both Roger and Arthur had been married and divorced twice, while Miranda at sixty-two had neither married nor ever had a child, though she had had a single very upsetting miscarriage at the two-month stage when she was in her late thirties.

I said impatiently, as if to a wayward infant, “So why are you with them? If they won’t give you intimacy, which is what you want, why saddle yourself with perpetual frustration?”

Like an artless six-year old insisting that chocolate is nice and onions are nasty, and that is that, she answered pertly: “Because I really love them both!”

She could have been Lucy Atwell with her sunny expression and her alienated and queer as a ghost cheeriness, and that quite mad innocence. At which point I realised that though she was another Lovebird, I would never want, much less care, to be seriously involved with her, not even for a lone weekend, as a soulmate, or bedmate, or worse than both, as celibate housemate.

“Are you a masochist, Miranda? Everyone apart from you would say that It sounds like deliberate self-torture.”

She smirked naughtily and started drinking from her half bottle of medroinho, meaning rocket fuel medlar brandy. We were sat on a bench on warm and busy Praia de Faro beach, it was eleven in the morning, and she had drunk two thirds of her portable hooch.

“Yes, I am a masochist, paid up and unrepentant, a real one if you want to know. But not with regard to the two men I love back in Scotland.”

I looked sceptical, and was tempted to say that if either Arthur Hornet or Roger Ridley had ever evidenced a genuine desire for her, and gone the whole hog, that very likely she would have fled in terror. She was patently magnetically attracted by their sterile non-attraction, and it was likely some sort of obsessive and fruitless game that was rooted in her Govan Catholic past.

“I love being stripped and spanked and more than that if I get the chance. I always have since my teens. Neither Roger nor Arthur will oblige, needless to add, it would be too much like passion I suppose. My therapist in Glasgow and the other one I have here in Portimao (she’s another English expat) says it’s most likely rooted in what my Dad once did to me. But then he only did it the once, and I had forgotten all about it for at least twenty years.”

Her improbable Jekyll and Hyde persona was such that when not being driven mad by male celibacy, she had mixed with some disturbing, at times downright dangerous men who had taken refuge in the Algarve for very good reason. One called Tommy Pickens was a jobbing handyman aged fifty with cheerfully whimsical tattoos on his back and arms, formerly a freelance extortionist ‘enforcer’ back in London so he claimed. He went as far as saying he had put people in hospital several times, when Miranda asked had he ever had to murder anyone. Pickens had been much fun, a quick witted sardonic joker, and a good-looking muscular man, and it hadn’t taken long for them to sleep together. Unfortunately, he had a wife he loved called Jessie who was in very poor health, a semi-invalid with advanced Parkinson’s who spent most of her days on the veranda gazing listlessly at the parched Algarve fields below. When Jessie had died two years ago in Faro hospital, that coincided with Miranda going away with Arthur Hornet on a year-long sabbatical round the wildest bits of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. They had recently watched and been massively impressed by Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas and both of them agreed how nice it would be for Arthur to wander aimlessly (though of course safely with his mobile phone) for a limited spell through the Texas desert like Harry Dean Stanton, and then by yet to be decided manoeuvres, to follow his absconded wife Natassia Kinski aka Miranda to her striptease peephole joint in Houston. Miranda had hoped that indicated a surging and volcanic desire on Arthur’s part, but although she did lots of teasingly inventive stripping in their tenth floor Houston hotel room, Arthur just sat gazing vacantly at the rear wall, yawning like an elderly cat before falling fast asleep.

Meanwhile back in the Algarve, grieving Tommy Pickens who had vainly begged Miranda to be his permanent partner and to cancel the year long trip with Arthur, took a flight to Madrid, and no one ever knew why, as he had no friends nor connections in any part of Spain. He checked into a cheap hotel, locked the door, emptied two litre bottles of Johnny Walker, and shot himself in the mouth, leaving no note nor any trail that led back to his connection with Miranda who was after all only one of his two dozen handyman customers. As a result, she was visited by neither Spanish or Portuguese detectives, and a year after coming back from Texas, here on Praia de Faro, she temporised as to whether he had committed suicide because of her rejection.

I said, “Maybe. It’s not impossible. But not only had he lost his wife, he might well have started to think of all the folk he’d maimed and wrecked as an enforcer. Maybe he was a cold-blooded killer for all you know. If he had been, would he have told you so? All it needed was a bottle or two of whisky in his lonely hotel room and an ocean of infinitely torturing remorse and a feeling of going completely off his head…”

Another recent lover, also an Englishman, was even more of a lethal risk and indeed a full-blown psychotic, even babbling Miranda was forced to agree in dizzy hindsight. He had turned up out of nowhere in the expat village, quiet and secretive, with nothing to recommend him other than his virtuoso swimming and his miraculous good looks. In his late thirties, his name was Desmond Keates and he was Brad Pitt crossed with Leonardo di Caprio, Miranda breezed, as if her little tale were all a bit of an episodic lark. She very soon discovered he was a heroin addict who was bankrolled by his father, a retired colonel who believed that Keates was using the money to go into a Spanish rehab clinic. They slept together the first day they met and he stayed in her house for a full tempestuous month. Keates proved to be pathologically jealous, and if anyone looked at her down in the village or even worse if she looked at them, he flew into an incandescent and not remotely comical rage. Half way through his stay he seriously attempted to kill her on an island beach near Olhao. Keates had observed her joking with a harmlessly flirtatious kiosk owner called Zezinho and when she went into the sea, he followed her stealthily and attempted to shove her head below the water, apparently intending to keep it down there for ever. Miranda immediately panicked and choked and swallowed much stinging sea water, but despite her terror managed to find Keates’ balls and crunched them with her fist as hard as she could. Then she tore back to the sand with the lunatic in agonised pursuit, and they had to be separated by the watching tourists as she began beating his handsome chest and shoulders as hard as she could. Amazingly the onlookers all thought it was an overblown domestic quarrel, the attempted drowning a kind of reckless horseplay, as apart from anything else nobody ever got murdered in a place like Olhao.

“I took a look at his eyes as I left Zezinho’s kiosk. It chilled my blood as they were absolutely vacant, there was precisely nothing there. They were completely hollow and blank. Apart from one remarkable thing.”

“What was that?”

“For a second he moved away from me with enormous disgust. Then he turned around very slowly, looking at me sideways, and in the strangest way. I could see then as plain as day that his eyes were full of a concentrated evil. The purest most distilled evil you could ever imagine. As if he had been possessed by a devil. Really. As if an evil spirit was living inside him and it was like a toxic parasite he couldn’t get rid of.”

I said to her, “Why not? Maybe there really was a demon inside him. If he is always insane with jealousy and borderline murderous half the time, and a heroin addict to boot. God knows what state his tortured soul is in.”

“You think so? When his eyes filled up with pure evil, I was terrified out of my wits. I raced into the sea to get away from him and he chased after me making the horriblest panting grunts…”

I looked at her with some undisguised repugnance myself, as I threw her own words back to her.“You said he stayed with you a month, but that the attempted murder happened after a fortnight. That means you chose to spend a whole two weeks with a clearly psychopathic and very dangerous man, a man who did his best to kill you. I guess I am completely baffled and also appalled on your behalf. After all it’s one thing enjoying your backside being spanked, and another being strangled under water by a drug-crazed lunatic.”

Miranda shook her shoulders, then raised them and dilated her lovely eyes, as if to both admit yet artlessly deny her lethal folly. Then she confided what both her therapists had agreed on, and which I concluded would have been my wife Joanie’s diagnosis. Miranda Garnett had told both therapists about her Dad’s sporadic rages and his secret and surprising closet literature, and the forgotten and intensely humiliating punishment he had administered in 1961, enough for them to suggest he might have done more than give her a single serious thrashing, and that perhaps they went back a very long way. She was per casebook paradigm introjecting some figure from her past in a diametrically split way, so that on the one hand she was sleeping with chaste academics who wouldn’t even kiss much less touch her: on the other, she was experiencing intense sexual passion with men who were either retired criminals or murderous psychopaths. The most feasible therapeutic translation, was that the shadowy totemic male figure from her past, had with great difficulty been controlling his unholy passion for the young Miranda. Whenever this self-imposed restraint failed, his passion came out with volcanic and seemingly lethal force, as he allowed himself to do what he knew was taboo, and indeed evil, and In fact criminal, even back in the ignorant Fifties and Sixties.

When her Dad died five years ago which was two years after her mother, Miranda as eldest child was his sole executrix. She emptied the Glasgow terrace as quickly as she could, and got in a house clearance man once she had located all important documents. There was an old-fashioned teak bureau where her father had kept his paper work. In the bottom drawer there were dozens of back issues of National Geographic and a brief-lived beautifully illustrated magazine series on archaeology, as her Dad was a lifelong working-class autodidact who had encouraged his favourite child Miranda to be the same. Underneath those, was a large and worn foolscap envelope and out of these Miranda gasped as she pulled out a pristine if faded collection of Victorian erotica, all of it devoted to flagellation. She stared bemused and embarrassed and then even considerably stirred as she looked at all these ancient photographs of naked women bent the length of a chaise longue awaiting birching by other naked women on their plump and straining bottoms. The women did not pout as in the modern versions that Miranda knew, but looked rather dreamy and even defiantly resigned at the whimsical if necessary business of ritualised discipline.

It was then when she was alone and emptying the family house, that Miranda remembered with frightening vividness something that had happened when she was nine years old, back in 1961, almost half a century ago. She had obviously buried the memory ever since, for not even in her dreams. including her waking erotic dreams and her theatrical enactments of discipline including garish and sometimes seriously imaginative S and M, had any trace or wordless vestige surfaced. A few years earlier, when she was well into her fifties, she had got Tommy Pickens the enforcer to step out of role to a certain extent, and do theatrical violence to someone for pleasure not pain, albeit the someone was his demanding and quixotic Scottish lover. In her Algarve bedroom she had him handcuff her to the bed, pull down her jeans and knickers and with the stout bamboo stick provided he was to cane her twitching behind as hard as he could, she instructed him. The next day when she showed him her stripes, welts and bruises, the man who had put folk in hospital and possibly murdered others had blushed and apologised and even looked a bit nauseous. But even that ferocious handcuffed whipping hadn’t stirred up what was churned up now, as she sat down on the chair next to the bureau and recalled a bright and sunny Sunday near Christmas where her father’s terrifying temper had manifested itself because of a misdemeanour that had been trifling, indeed almost comical.

She gradually recalled, as if under hypnosis, or by some strange renewed synaptic connection, that her Dad had also ruined the previous Christmas, that of 1960. That year he had bought her mother a very expensive Christmas card, exactly the size of the deceitful foolscap envelope he had buried at the bottom of the bureau. Just like her mother’s to him, it was to be opened on the Christmas morning, but as she was busy with the massive turkey and the pudding and the white sauce with dark rum, not to speak of the two demanding little ones, she did not get round to doing so, hence failed to appreciate his grandiose gift, which had cost him, he eventually ranted, no less than 17/6d. When his wife looked at the pieced together shards later, the verse inside to his beloved and precious spouse was so treacly sentimental, she had to restrain herself from grimacing her disdain. After his fourth barking request to open it and her fourth promise to do and so and forgetting, he soared into a fit of rubescent temper that easily outdid the log fire dancing away in the parlour grate. He swore at her in front of the three weeping kids, tore the card into four graceless fragments, then tossed them on the floor. Still swearing, he stormed out and was away for half the day, and God knows where, as he did not smell of drink when he returned, looking righteously impassive and wholly unrepentant.

In 1961 his violence was not on Christmas Day, but a week or so before, and it happened to be a Sunday, her father’s special day, for he never missed church and communion, not even if he was down with flu or toothache. There was a festive party that day at her Aunty Jane’s house just up the way, and her mother and the two little ones had gone to the early service so that they could help with the preparations. Only Miranda went along to church with her father, and at nine years old was happy enough to do so, but unfortunately for her she was sat next to a schoolfriend ominously called Peggy Dick, who had the virtuoso art of making her best friends giggle both inside and outside of school. The two of them spent the entire service in muffled laughing fits, despite her Dad’s squinting frowns and hissed threats and a look of faintly comical cartoon rage that made Miranda titter and heave her shoulders even more. After the service in a bloody silence he steered her home the few hundred yards, marched her into the parlour where only special and august things happened, sat himself down, upended her and put her over his knee, raised her skirt and dragged her knickers down. This was her first and indeed last remembered spanking as a child, and she was intensely humiliated, even at the age of nine, by the business of having her bottom bared, even if the only person to see it was her shouting Dad. He hit her till she was good and red, and then before she could retrieve her pants, he dragged her hobbling and sobbing into the bathroom across the way, and raised her skirt to let her see what happened to stupid girls who desecrated Holy Communion with her wicked little antics. She was permitted at that point to pull her knickers up, but then without delay he steered her roughly ahead of him to the family party where her helpless sobbing and the shoulders that shook not from Peggy Dick’s comedy, but Miranda Garnett’s shame, had to be explained to everyone there. Her Dad did some virtuous lecture-style explaining and was vauntingly graphic about the punishment and precisely how it had been administered. His wife and sister in law and Jane’s bus driver husband Walter all looked saddened and angry but none dared to challenge him in front of all the children who were waiting for the party to start. Her cousins Willy and Kevin both in their early teens came and mocked her mercilessly for being punished on the bare backside, something which occasionally happened to stupid four-year-olds, and to those who had no strength in them to resist the comical if monstrous humiliation.

As for Miranda’s sexual abuse, there was nothing that could have been proved in a court of law, and her Dad was dead anyway, but the give-away for the therapists was that all memory of the Christmas thrashing of 1961, the scourging of her innocent flesh, had been erased for over thirty years. Quite simply, that humiliating hiding, merciless and offensive as it was, was hardly categorisable as major trauma, and given that she was all of nine when it happened, she should not have repressed and forgotten it. The implication was that it had been buried with the equivalent of pre-stressed concrete, as it was very likely a pathway to other earlier and serious matter, namely a scenario of knickers down spankings as furtive pretext for molestations and possibly penetration, criminal incest in a word. Nothing else could explain why Miranda danced so arduously between the crazy poles of decade long chastity involving celibate professors, and frantic orgasms with hired thugs and steaming psychopaths. Meanwhile Miranda Garnett refused to be convinced, and said that she would always love her lovely old Dad, whatever had happened. And thus it was she went on along the eccentric path she had carefully forged… so that now the world might behold a freakishly dissipated if beautiful sixty-two-year-old, behaving like a rebellious and instinctive anarchist aged twenty-one.

Two more eccentricities are worth recounting. Miranda told me that for kicks and nothing more, she regularly shoplifted from big chain supermarkets, though admittedly only Scottish ones. She had no argument with Portugal or its mega-stores, but believed that British supermarkets exploited everyone and everything, and were fair game. More to the point, she got an enormous buzz, a real hit from it, akin to the build up to sex, and so she had been robbing Wm Low and all the rest for the best part of twenty years. I went so far as to gasp at her grotesque achievement. Two decades and never once caught? And of course, Miranda admitted, hers wasn’t the usual reason for shoplifting, poverty, for she was a woman with copious assets and money galore. It was solely for the exquisite kicks, the orgasmic thrill, nothing else.

I asked her, “What if you get caught? Can you imagine the humiliation at your age, in 2014? Even worse than your Dad taking your pants down aged nine in 1961. Your name and maybe your glaring mugshot in the papers. Maybe the detectives will twig you are a chronic shoplifter and grill you for hours, so you admit to five hundred other charges. Your trial date will be six months after they nab you, and it’ll be in Glasgow or Edinburgh, and you’ll have to drag yourself from the Algarve and you’ll have spent six months fretting yourself sick about it. Have you no sense of personal danger, no notion of basic self-protection?”

She smiled her sunny, wispy little Milly Molly Mandy smile.

“It won’t happen. If I’ve got away with it for twenty years, I’ve got away with it for ever. I’m impregnable as far as I’m concerned.”

I shook my head disdainfully: “And what about these charming psychos you still cohabit with after they’ve tried to murder you? What about the next one who maybe keeps a knife in his belt, and one night is mad enough to use it? I suppose if you’re really lucky he might just maim you rather than kill you, but wouldn’t that really be the end of the road?”

She shrugged and slowly lifted her shoulders, then grinned like an impish urchin to divert the inconceivable thought. As with her fairytale shoplifting, she was on every count impregnable.

Her other eccentricity was harmless if perplexing. Miranda loved picking stones off the seashore, as do many women I have known, but in her case on an industrial scale. Every time she went to Praia de Faro or Tavira, she found at least thirty and she put them in her car in a carrier bag and decorated her vast garden back in the hills. Incredibly she did this almost every day of her life in Portugal and she also did so when she visited Roger Ridley or Arthur Hornet in Glasgow and Edinburgh. If for example she and Hornet went to Musselburgh for the day out, she all but emptied the beach and she did not dump them in Artie’s flat but hauled them back to Portugal in her leaden suitcase. On two occasions her weight surcharge on the plane from Prestwick was more than the cost of the ticket.

All that would be bizarre enough, but stranger still was the nature of the stones she tenderly gathered. I watched her there on Praia de Faro, and some right enough were beautiful, and some were passing handsome, and some were even quite nice, and worth the time of day. But others were big and shapeless and colourless and limp and lame and utterly pointless, and one or two of her precious stones were ridiculous in both geological, meaning cosmic, design, and in their mundane littoral aesthetics. Some, to put it plainly, were as astonishingly plug ugly and almost as repulsive as the behaviour of some of the ugly men she had met in her life. And Miranda inevitably included those objectively repulsive stones, for really she was unable to leave them alone.