Cliches! You try to avoid them and you find you're in the middle of one. I decided some time back I wanted a quiet life and what do I get? A crazy woman phoning me up in the middle of the night.
"You don't know who I am," she drawled in a Girton College plummy voice," but I know who you are."
"What d'you mean, you know who I am?"
"What I say. Who knows, maybe you'll find out who I am."
"Who says I want to know you?"
"I thought you professed your mission in life is to help other people fulfil their life's mission."
"How did you know that? What are you...a psychic detective?"
"Why didn't you say psychic dick Phil?"
"I thought the term was too ambiguous."
"You thought it was too suggestive. Phil, what's happened to you? Are you getting stale, senile, respectable...a curator of your own mummified past lies? You've got a reputation to live up to. A reputation for being very sexually provocative."
"I see...you're phoning me up in the middle of the night to have phone sex?"
"It's better than no sex."
"Don't you have a boyfriend?"
"Yeah....that's why I'm phoning you."
"You're phoning me because your boyfriend won't fuck you?"
"He can't fuck me."
"Why? You've cut his dick off with your mother's carving knife and now you're full of remorse!"
"He's doing fifteen years in Dartmoor."
"Well you shouldn't hang out with villains, lady."
"He's not a villain, smart ass...and I'm not a lady."
"O.K. lonely, desperate...female...what's he in for?"
"Murder. Have you got a fax machine?"
"My boyfriend's called Joe. I can't tell you his story over the phone...coz I want you to publish it."
"I don't publish stories. If I'm going to publish anything at all it's going to be poetry."
"Not just my poetry."
"Tim's novel and Joe's involvement in it is extremely poetic....and it's got to be published."
"Maybe....but why me?"
"O don't come on that shit Phil. Zero books, publishers of wild, raw, exotic and erotic literature."
She was right. I'd asked for it. She was quoting from my advert in the Catalogue of Little Press Books in Print 1994-1995. It was a net. I'd thrown it out to see what I'd catch. To tell the truth I've never been a serious publisher. I was fishing for like minds.You know, read what comes in...and if it astonishes...contact the author. This is the first bite.
"Who did Joe murder?"
"Look, I'll fax you the outline of Joe's story tomorrow. The bare bones...in his own words. In his own handwriting. It's legible. Then I'll phone you again and see what you think. Joe's desperate to get the stuff out. Is your fax number the same as your phone number?"
"Now talk to me dirty."
"No, I want to go to sleep."
"Look I'm a bisexual slut Phil...a real horny slut and I'm naked in bed. What would you like to do with me? Come on...tell me your filthiest fantasy."
"No I'm falling asleep. Read 'Serena Darling' or 'The Story of O'."
"Come on Phil. Wouldn't you like to tie me up and..."
I put the phone down....then took it off the hook. I couldn't sleep. Who the hell is this woman? And why do sluts imagine they can take over any man who's got something they want? They imagine blatant sexuality is irresistable. Well in my case...whoever she is..she's wrong!. I phoned 1471 to find out her number. It had been withheld. Why didn't she want me to know her number? Without thinking I put the phone back on. Of course…it rang again. I fought the urge to pick it up. It went on for at least five minutes. Then I took it off the hook again. I rolled a joint with a lot of black hash. Trying to work out what happened I crashed out. Half an hour after waking up and putting the phone and fax back on, Joe's handwriting started spilling out of the fax machine.
`I'm Joe. Doing my best to stay on the up, but feeling pretty lonely. I once had expectations. Hope. I lived through my hero....who was my best friend. I know that's fatal...now....but all my life-maps have always been inaccurate. Today it seems to me I've been playing a part in a plan I never knew existed.
Ever since they banged me up here on the moor I've felt like a trembling rabbit. Solitary confinement seemed the best option. Best! What a word in a morgue like Dartmoor Prison. All I know is I've got to get Tim's novel out....but I'm so petrified of it attracting more negative criticism. The foul criticism which led to Tim's death.....and my incarceration here. And I tell myself I shouldn't be scared of the mere opinions of 'The Establishment'. A beam of negative energy blasted out day and night from a whirld of coldness. From some ever present satellite of death. Tim would have said 'from Pluto Projections Inc.' Another term for what Tim called 'the conned-senses-mind'. A whirld of cold electrons whirling round an empty whirld of lies. Tim--unlike me--was never scared of The Establishment nor of negative criticism. Even so, he decided he wasn't going to take his brother Stuart's deliberate warping of his work. And that decision led to not only his horrible death but also to me being here. O.K. I said that already, but it won't make any sense me being here if I don't get Tim's writing published.
Tim and Stuart Lawson--both dead! Arnold--their father--dead. Everything's rotting away....that's why I've got to put out Tim's writing....quick! Of course I've changed all the names so none of us can be pinned down. Tim wasn't seeking fame in any shape or size. Of course without the help of my girlfriend--Mary--and her sister Kate's perserverence and courage, Tim's work would have been lost for ever.
My family and the Lawson family go back forever. I was talking before Tim popped out. Eighteen months later Stuart screamed in. Arnold, considered to be an eminent professor of biology, gave both lads what he believed to be a top class liberal education. Stuart thoroughly enjoyed being programmed. Tim couldn't breathe until he broke away.
I haven't got the skill to describe the Lawson family or my own. I don't think it's the point. We've all got imagination. This is a salvage job. The spaceship crashed and all the log books are scattered in the chaos. Tim was the spaceship. I was travelling inside.
Tim was magnetic. Stuart, greased lightning. I never travelled on Stuart's rocket. I say 'on' because I don't think anyone ever got inside Stuart.
That wasn't because he was a recluse. He was an enthusiastic show-off. Always winning. Had to win. Win what? Another point for the side. Which side? The left brain. What Tim called 'The conned-senses mind'. I loved Tim's ability to reveal hidden structure. Consensus. The general insensitive, atheistic, bureaucratic so-called scientific viewpoint. Stuart was a prince in that mindscape. His dad, king. King of a vast expanding intellectual EMPIRE. Stuart loved being an agent. An agent for what he believed to be the first real practical civilisation on earth. Practical, according to Stuart, meant the continuous advancement of Western science. Especially physics. I suppose there is something practical about physics but that's beside the point. Stuart wasn't so much interested in physics as such, but in the way he could use the subject to empower his viewpoint. His cosmology. His belief in scarcity. In the scarcity of time. In the scared city of time. In the triumph of coldness. The coldness of (what he believed to be) facts. The victory of meaningless entropy over the fantasies of wishy-washy dreamers. Like Tim.
Stuart exalted the view that everything is dying. Slowing down. Getting colder and colder and colder. So.....this is our only chance we'll ever get to WAKE UP and see life clearly, accurately and thereby be fully able to exploit every possibility for enjoyment. Enjoyment for Stuart meant spreading the real news. Educating the world. The young. The unborn. The face-less....
I spent a lot of time with Tim. Very little with Stuart. Stuart study study study strive strive win win honours honours Big Big Big lecturer on the 'truth' of the BIG BANG ANG...ANG...ANG... and the inevitable winding down to absolute cold nothingness.
Tim could never understand why Stuart was so excited by the idea of Godless-ness.....of meaningless-ness.....of existence without design. That's because Stuart wasn't actually passionately interested in the universe cooling down.
He was passionately interested in himself.....and rode the Big Bang theory without holding the handlebars. Science was only a soapbox for Stuart. Stuart was out to prove one thing. His concept of himself being special was valid. Valid? VALID! Absolutely SPECIAL! A certain specialness made to shine through absolute effort. Tim believed that all psychological effort came from trying to feel comfortable inside other people's ideas. He thought it was imperative to be oneself. To never look through other people's eyes ....... to never let other minds look through yours...unless love brought this about. He thought that each person is a viewpoint of life. That we should see and feel from our own home authentic position, and not from anyone else's position. He loved his mother and clearly saw the way his father tried to get her to not look through her own eyes.
As far as the records go, Tim got a first in Theology at Oxford, and then went to live with a Tibetan Dzog Chen Community in Northern India. He wrote to me from time to time, and then nothing for six years. Six years in retreat in a cave in the Himalayas. After that he left the Tibetans and went further up into the mountains until he found his true master, an ancient and immortal alchemist.
Fifteen years later a parcel arrived from Almora in Northern India. It contained hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes, bits of novels, diary entries, philosophy, poems... and I spent months and months trying to put it in order. With the parcel was a long beautiful letter explaining that his master had told him to publish his writings in the West. Tim professed he couldn't see how it could be published in its present form-less form, but his Master disagreed and forbade him to tighten it up. Tim's Master told Tim I would get the work published. It seemed a ridiculous assumption. I knew nothing about publishing. Tim said that living with his master was living in the future. Living in a dimension which other humans would ... one by one... discover for themselves. Tim said he had no intention of ever coming back to the West.
Two years later, at the funeral of Arnold Lawson-Tim's father- I gave the whole parcel of Tim's writing to his brother Stuart. I couldn't see how to publish it. Stuart said he'd look after it and tell me if he found a publisher. I heard nothing. Five years later Tim walked into my office. I recognised him immediately by the fire in his blue eyes. Bald with huge grey beard and white Indian suit. After we embraced and sat quietly together... he took out a typed manuscript from his Indian shoulderbag. It was entitled 'The Power of Delusion', by Stuart Lawson. I was SHOCKED! The manuscript had been handed to Tim by Stuart's wife Kate:- my girlfriend's sister. Tim said that Kate had spent six months in the Himalayas searching for him. Kate didn't tell Stuart when she set off for India that as far as she was concerned their marriage was over. The point was that whilst typing out Tim's work on Stuart's P.C.......she fell in love with Tim....her husband's brother. She felt in a right mess but didn't do anything about it until Stuart handed her his bastardization of Tim's work called `The Power of Delusion ' . When Kate read what her husband had done to his brother's work, she felt disgusted! Stuart had totally mutilated Tim's original hand written work. He then had the arrogance to tell Kate he intended to publish it in his own name and had already found a good printer who was keen to do the job. They had a terrible row. Kate called Stuart a butcher and in the morning she fled to India with the printout of what was now Stuart's manuscript. I read the manuscript. It was horrible. It distorted all of Tim's ideas. It made out Tim was a weak minded idiot hypnotised by a mad egoist - Tim's master. Tim's maths and cosmology were ridiculed. In fact it was suggested that Tim's philosophical thinking was not his own but a mish-mash of outdated oriental claptrap. Tripe! The book nothing but an atheistic attack on spiritual life. On the life of the soul. On the life of love. A total attack on feeling. It categorically states that people like Tim are carriers of an anti-civilisation virus. People like Tim's master are the breeders of the virus and should be liquidated. Now!
We spent many wonderful days together... camping on Dartmoor. (What a joke. Was that an instance of Tim's Master knowing the future?) Every evening Tim read me extracts from his diary....which often cracked me up... especially the bits about Kate's attempt to get Tim... away from his master. With his permission I typed it all out onto my new portable P.C.... just in case! Eventually I arranged to visit Stuart at his large Tudor mansion in Warwickshire. I didn't tell him I was bringing Tim. In fact I left Tim in the Lada at the bottom of the drive and saw Stuart on my own for the first ten minutes or so. He seemed very ill. Filled with bile about Kate. Had no idea where she was. ( I didn't tell him that she was living in a cave in the Himalayas with Tim's Master). He was very agitated and said he thought Tim's writing was to blame. The oriental virus had now got into her!! He then added that Mary--my girlfriend, Kate's sister--was no doubt also infected by the same disease. I told him he was paranoid. The bell rang. I said nothing as Stuart went to the front door. I watched him open the door and gasp. Tim wasn't beaming. He looked stern. No sooner had we all sat down Stuart started shouting. Tim demanded all his original writing back. Stuart came out with one lie after the other. First he said he couldn't remember where he'd last seen Tim's work. Then he said the printer had all the papers. No, Kate had gone off with them. Tim said he knew none of that was true, and handed Stuart a letter from Kate. Stuart read that Kate had instructed her solicitor to commence divorce proceedings and sell the house which was in Kate's name. Finally she instructed Stuart to give Tim all his writings.
Stuart went mad. I had to pull him off Tim. Stuart lied again and said all Tim's papers had been burnt. We didn't believe him. He tried to phone the police and get us thrown out. I started losing it and ripped out the phone connection. Suddenly he understood we were serious and calmed down. He said he was being ridiculous. Childish...and felt guilty for lying to us. Then he said, `of course Tim should have his original hand written papers'....which of course I had given to Stuart at his father's funeral. He confessed they were in his office in the basement. He wanted Tim to take them and sign for them. They disappeared downstairs. After a few minutes I heard them both shouting. Ructions! I raced down. The door was locked. I banged and banged. They were fighting. By the time I went outside, ran round the big house and got in through the window from the garden...Tim was dead and all his papers in flames in the basement furnace. Dead...and I won't go into what he looked like! I mean....my best friend.....my HERO....Tim.....DEAD! Strangled by his insane brother. And he'd already escaped...or so it seemed. There were two doors to the room and they were both locked...with no keys. I felt in a panic...I didn't know what to do! I climbed back out into the garden...through the same sash window I just climbed through and ran round to the front door. With a scream Stuart leapt onto me from somewhere...but somehow missed my skull with his thrashing hammer. I got the lump off him and smashed his skull in. It was so fast! In shock I went back into the house and read Kate's letter. Then I drove the Lada to the nearest police station and told them what had happened. By the time Kate found out from Mary what had happened, I was inside for fifteen years. Kate wrote and said she'd decided to stay in the Himalayas with The Master. She said that before the house had been sold the estate agent had stored Stuart's computer. She was sure that Tim's writings were still on the hard disc because she had typed them all out when I'd given them to Stuart. I wrote to Mary and explained to her how to operate the computer and print Tim's stuff. And that's what you'll be getting from her...if she does what she says she's going to do. This has not been faxed by Mary...but it's a one off. Tim's work is in Mary's hands now...but she seems to think that you'll take it on. If you do...you'll bring some peace into my life. Thanks in advance. Joe.'
That's the end of the fax. I don't know why but I feel...caught....in my own net. I wanted to help but I also had to face the truth that I wanted to not be involved. I wanted to be left alone to enjoy my privileged position....but I knew I had to overcome my deep self-centredness. I was on edge....expecting Mary to ring at any moment. As I said at the beginning I felt doomed to have to live out the opposite of my plans. All my life I've been infatuated by the idea of being a hermit/poet....being inspired in my youth by the Chinese Taoist poets and painters of the Tang/Sung period. That's why when I won a big stash on the lottery I bought this expanse of wilderness in The Highlands of Scotland. Now I'm sitting in my rocking chair inside my wonderful log cabin which I built myself out of fallen pine....blown over by the gale-force wild west winds. The sweet smelling resin is still bleeding. It runs everywhere. Golden treacle globs of it keep bubbling up on the dry bark. Then they gradually harden....but before they get really hard I like to poke my finger through the skin....and feel the still wet resin leak out over my hand. The globules are usually the size of sultanas...but here and there some beams sport globules the size of a fried pigeon egg. My cabin is like a child's idea of a house in the woods with smoke joining the roof to the sky. It's snuggled in a birch wood in a very narrow valley high up in the mountains.
Look I'm not going to do a Joe on you and give you a long history about myself...mainly because I don't enjoy writing prose. I was never any good at it...in fact at school I was hopeless at English. I really couldn't grasp what was required. Words like 'clauses', 'precis', 'adverbs' and 'composition' gave me the heeby-jeebies. None of it made any sense and my poor parents were of no help being, simple Cornish folk, born and bred on The Lizard. I loved the way they spoke and hated the poncy lingo of the grammar school teachers. They in turn hated my guts but I didn't care. I thought I'd be a fisherman like my dad and my grand-dad. Yes I was brought up smack bang in the centre of the old smuggler's paradise. Hey O and a bottle of rum. When I wasn't out fishing with my grizzly featured dad I'd be exploring the mysterious coves on my own. You see I was a loner from the start. I know all them coves like I know the ins and outs of my white toes. Every crevice had its own particular magic. Its own particular light and smell. Kynance....Mullion…Poleor...Housel Bay....Church Cove....The Devil's Frying Pan.....Cadgwith and Kennack Sands. Today these are the names of the inlets which my fingers form as I rest my hairy hand on the pine bench on which I'm writing. Yes I've been a loner from the start and that's what The Lizard Coves are for. Coves are for loners. That's where I served my apprenticeship. Coves with caves. Caves with rock pools. And in the rock pools strange creatures slipping every each way. I'd spend whole days just staring into the strangeness. I couldn't tell you even now what any of these creatures are called. They weren't fish. More like lizards. LIZARD. Of course. The word still makes me feel crinky. The Lizard. Crunch crunch pebbles...pebbles....sand...sand....shells. That's me. On my tod. In a cove studying the squidgy things moving about as the salty pungent smelling sea water gushed in and gurgled out. Suck and slop.....suck and slop. The tones changing every second. The seaweed waving splodging. And now I'm miles from the sea at the other end of Britain....and I love it just as much.......because it's even more remote. Except the phone and fax connection. Of course when I got my lucky break on the Lottery I became inundated with questions. Questions I couldn't afford to answer on the hop....not until I finished building this brilliant cabin. Once I felt settled and peaceful I decided to give 75% of my investment income to the charities I felt were doing the best work in the world:- Red Cross, Green Peace, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, Shelter, Children in Need, etc, etc.
I've also bought an IBM 386 and a Hewlett Packard 5MP printer, but I'm not going on The Net so I've no Modem. I bought the 386 and printer and a binder with view to publishing small books of poetry which is why I put the advert in the Small Press Catalogue.
The cabin is thirty feet by eighteen feet inside with an A-frame roof covered with corrugated iron. Inside it's a single open space with a loft where I sleep. On the wooden floor are a selection of old Baluchi carpets. At one end there's a large bottle-green Norwegian wood-burning stove. I've got a few of my water colours on the walls...mostly mountains and snow laden trees. Although I've got electricity, I prefer oil lamps and candle light. In fact I like burning candles in the daytime.....for the quietness.
"Hello pretty boy. What did you make of Joe's account?"
"Mary...I'm not a boy and I'm far from pretty. I'm an old scraggy hermit....so drop your teenage fantasy trip....please."
"O.K. darling. Your voice sounds so sexy and I love scraggy hermits....and I'm not a teenager either....nor is Joe. Like you, we're in our fifties.....and I get more outrageous by the day. You seem very grumpy. Did Joe's story disturb you?"
"Sure it disturbed me."
"But I don't?"
"You're not inside for murder."
"Are you waiting for me to send you the first lump of Tim's novel?"
"I don't know if I'm waiting or not."
"You sound like you've been reading Zettel."
"Not recently. I mean I guess you're going to send it whether I'm waiting or not."
"What do you do with yourself all day Phil?"
"Chop wood...fetch water....cook rice and beans."
"O it's not Wittgenstein but Zen that's got into you. Come on man, you sound juice-less. You're losing the plot. I bet you had a wank last night after you cut me off."
"Not true. I got stoned and crashed out."
"Very conventional. O.K. what did you make of Joe's account?"
"Mary....do you know where I live?"
"In a remote hut in the Highlands....and you fancy yourself as an existential hermit."
"O.K. psychic dick."
"You can call me a psychic cunt if you prefer the word cunt to dick."
"Look who are you? You don't know me but you talk like you do!"
"I'm not saying I know you...but I know some of the things you've done"
"Well, do you remember giving a poetry reading at the Edinburgh Festival at the begining of the seventies and pronouncing something like:- `I wake up....and re-can yesterday's canned flesh.
A prick can open and a cunt can.
Can, but can be the price on the can.
It's hard staying soft....un-canned.'
Do you remember reading that at the Traverse Theatre, Phil?"
"Of course. You're word perfect. Did I meet you?"
"Not really....but you gave me a gorgeous orgasm. You certainly knew how to use your tongue then Phil....so talk dirty to me and stop all this `I'm above it all' crap. You're never going to make it as an anchorite Phil, so give up the idea now and tell me what turns you on?"
"Mary....you won't believe me but I'll tell you anyway. What actually turns me on the most...is real honesty."
"Well that's what turns me on as well darling....and that's what I'm demanding of you. I'm upfront and you're dishonest....and you don't like me pointing this out to you do you?"
"In what way am I being dishonest?"
"Where you're coming from is dishonest. You're not what you're making yourself out to be. I can tell it by the way you speak. Slow....measured....middle-class. It's a phoney voice Phil. That's why I want to hear you talk dirty. Be vulgar. SHAMELESS."
"I can't do it to order Mary. I can't even remember who you are. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry! O really. How many women have you sucked off whilst they were sitting on the loo?"
"At a party...... in Edinburgh."
"O.K. I've got it.....after the poetry reading at the Traverse.....but I was incredibly drunk."
"So what. So was I......but I haven't forgotten your incredible sexual intensity. You were wild and wouldn't let me out of your sight."
""Yes I remember you now. But I can't remember you being called Mary. I'm sorry."
"I wish you'd stop this politeness Phil. I never told you my name. I wasn't into being plotted on your map. I knew who you were of course. Your sexual reputation was well ahead of you in those days."
"Did I fuck you?"
"No you fucked your red headed girl friend after she fucked me with my dildo...in my hotel room. Remember Phil? Which hotel was it Phil?"
"I can't remember. Was it the Station Hotel?"
"It was. What was I wearing at the reading and the party?"
"A long slinky scarlet dress.....with nothing underneath."
"Very good. I'm miles from where you are right now....so don't panic.I'm not going to invade your privacy. Your hermit's cell. Dirty phone conversations will satisfy me for now. Your luscious girl friend at the time.....what's happened to her?"
"Carol....the last time I saw her was at the Glastonbury Festival five years ago. She's become a New Age traveller. That's the direction she was already going in when we had that romp in your hotel room. She was great fun to be with."
"She had a terrific body. Wonderful firm ass and brazen tits. Why d'you let her go?"
"Basically I'd had enough of The Convoy scene. I was getting no writing or painting done. It's a scene for layabouts."
"Shame. Who are you fucking at the moment then?"
"No one. I've been celibate for the last three years."
"How boring. So......there's no interest we share except Tim's novel. I'll fax you a wack tonight. It's weird stuff. Not what you'd expect someone to write in a cave in the Himalayas....the same cave where my sister is now blissed out on tantric yoga....so she writes. You'll see. I'll speak to you tonight.....O great celibate monk. Bye."
You see what I mean? You go to one extreme and you get bulldozed by the other pole. Mary....Mary....Mary. I couldn't get her out of my mind. She was right about me being phoney. I kept thinking I'd change my phone number and go x directory immediately. Weakness. Escapism. It started to snow.....then sleet....then snow. One or two flakes fell on a bullfinch eating crumbs from a tin plate I'd placed on an old birch stump. The beard-like lichen seemed greener than I'd ever noticed it before. How do I know if Joe exists? The 'novel' I was about to receive could be Mary's novel couldn't it? The sky was lead black to the west and pastel blue to the north and east. I didn't know what to do. I knew I had to really think...deeply....about what was going on....but I didn't know how to start. I stuffed the fire, put on my navy-blue lumber jacket and made my way to the waterfall carrying my two plastic carriers. I took my time. The snow was only an inch deep on the old pack-horse path and was a mere sprinkle over the dormant buff coloured heather. Here and there a bright yellow gorse flower caught my attention. There were slivers of ice around the edge of the pool at the bottom of the fall. I sucked a piece of ice after filling the water containers. I couldn't avoid the feeling that I'd been robbed. Of course I knew this was a crazy interpretation.....but I couldn't see how I could get out of the Mary/Joe/Tim situation and not feel bad. And of course I knew that what made me feel bad was trying to justify my selfishness. I was caught. I couldn't pretend that I didn't have the financial resources to publish Tim's novel....so I couldn't see how I could avoid reading it...at least. And reading it meant more contact with Mary. And more contact with Mary meant what? An end to my self-centred dream of being an enlightened recluse. Then I hit on a solution.....I could ask Mary to send me Tim's novel on a floppy disc which would cut out the phone calls. I could say 'let me read the whole novel in one....and then I'll discuss it with you'.
I felt better trudging back to the cabin. The sky was on the edge of more snow. I love snow. It brings me closer to my dream. To Han Shan. I was definitely in the midst of cold mountains....even if I wasn't exactly living on one. Then I realised that Mary was challenging my need to be in control of my daily life. That's why I didn't want her to keep on talking to me on the phone. But wasn't she a control freak and power tripper herself? Even so, if I wasn't into staying in control would it matter whether she was into controlling or not?
By the time I got back I was feeling very shaky....a feeling of doom which was amplified by a sudden emergence of activity from the fax machine. I told myself that I didn't have to read Tim's writing...but ten minutes later this is what I read:-
INSIDE OUT BY TIM LAWSON