Chapter 5, THE LAWLESS BOOK OF LOVE

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

5

A Beautiful Man On His Beautiful Horse…

Wilfred Lawless addressed me with a very old-fashioned look, as he continued his earnest premonitions concerning Lovebirds.com. “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.

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Chapter 4, THE LAWLESS BOOK OF LOVE

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

4

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.