A VERY CIVILIZED MAN

 

Michael Giles was a very civilized man for his time. In fact, much the most civilized man I had ever met! Not only was he exceptionally well-bred, and therefore highly cultured; he was exceptionally well-read and therefore highly educated as well.

When I first met him he had a small flat in Crouch End, the north London home of bohemian intellectuals, and there he lived in virtual solitary confinement, only venturing out for meals, provisions, library books, and occasional short strolls. He was struggling, at the time, to find a publisher for some novels and other, mostly philosophical writings, and had not yet become the famous man he has since, able to afford a flat in Dublin and a country retreat in County Galway. He disliked Crouch End enormously at first, but was obliged to continue living there for want of being able to afford alternative accommodation elsewhere. He was too poor, in a word, to be able to move out of it at the time. But he assured me that it was a long-standing ambition of his to get out of London and England at the first convenient opportunity!

This opportunity only came, however, when he had tracked down the publisher who was destined to keep him in money for the remaining years of his life. His first publication was a novel of mainly autobiographical tendency, and, to his considerable surprise, it sold reasonably well, enabling him to fulfil his long-standing ambition. For, to tell the truth, he loathed England, had a kind of phobia against it which caused him to remain a recluse for a number of years, and so much so, that his mental health deteriorated. Not for anything would he mix-in with the English, and only later, after he had moved to Dublin, did I discover that the main reason for this was that he hated his mother who, although partly raised in Ireland, was the daughter of a British soldier. She had brought him to England as a young boy, having deserted her Irish husband, and as he grew to dislike his mother, who was both philistine and incompetent, so he grew to dislike England and, by extrapolation, Great Britain. The two became inseparable in his mind, for hatred of the one could not have led to love of the other.

But he had grown up in England and become accustomed to regarding himself as a sort of Englishman. Only after he had lived in London a number of years, following his school days in Surrey, did he realize that the best thing he could do for himself would be to return, in a manner of speaking, to Ireland. For only by returning there would he be able to spite his mother by asserting his independence of her and assuring her, in the process, that he would never have brought himself to England ... had he been in a position to know what he was being let-in for at the time! No, if she had taken him away from Ireland, it was up to him to take himself back home at the first available opportunity. For between his mother and himself, there was little common ground.

I digress slightly, but only because I wish to emphasize the connection between Michael Giles' highly civilized lifestyle and his solitary background in north London. For it was precisely during those fateful years of literary struggle that he acquired the rudiments of his subsequent lifestyle and was set on the road, as it were, to becoming the most civilized man I have ever known. It was then that the foundations were laid for his subsequent status as the harbinger of what he called post-dualistic civilization, since solitude had precluded his behaving like most other people and obliged him to adopt an austerely studious, creative life. He was rather like a monk in a cell at that time, although his 'cell', or bedsitter, was situated in the middle of one of the world's largest cities rather than in the vicinity of nature, and his ascetic routine would have proved more than a trifle daunting for even the hardiest monk! Indeed, his asceticism was so austere as to cause him a severe depression, a depression, however, to which he refused to surrender, but with which he continued to battle every day of his life. Not that he wanted this radical degree of asceticism. Nonetheless he had no option but to endure it ... in view of his mother-hatred and opposition to London.

Well, he finally got out of that hellish city and, moving to Dublin, set about establishing himself in the lifestyle for which he has since become famous. I cannot go into this matter in any great detail, since not all the facts are known to me. All I can say for certain is that, contrary to my suppositions, instead of taking measures to reform his asceticism and thereby combat the tension depression from which he was still suffering, he became even more ascetic, and thus ever more civilized.

Let me give you some examples. In London he had occasionally bought men's magazines which he would briefly look through, perhaps masturbate over an alluring photograph, and then throw away, as though in disgust. In Dublin he ordered men's magazines on a regular basis, strictly forbade himself to masturbate over anything, and retained them, so that quite a large collection eventually took shape. In London he had sported a beard, sideboards, and a moustache, while keeping his cranial hair fairly short. In Dublin he regularly shaved off all facial hair and contrived to keep his cranial hair even shorter. In London he retained all body hair. In Dublin he regularly shaved off all body hair, including the quite considerable amount which had formerly grown on his forearms, shoulders, legs, chest, stomach, and fingers. His pubic hair and armpit hair went too, and for hair that he couldn't reach, such as on his back, anus, and buttocks, he employed the services of a private masseuse who, for a modest fee, obligingly denuded him of it. When asked why he had decided to shave himself or have himself shaved in this extensive fashion, he replied that it was consistent with his concept of higher civilization, which signified a more radically anti-natural and/or artificial state-of-affairs than had hitherto been countenanced!

As regards certain other aspects of his evolving lifestyle, I can only remark that while he could occasionally be seen without a jacket on during a hot summer's day in London, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and collar open at the neck, one could never, no matter how hot the weather, have seen him in anything but a jacket in Dublin, with matching or complementary shirt, the sleeves of which would have been firmly buttoned down and the collar of which just as firmly buttoned up. Neither would one have encountered him in a pair of open sandals, feet bare and ankles on display, as sometimes happened in London. For in Dublin he never went out in anything but black leather shoes, which he would wear over a pair of matching nylon socks. His attitude here was that while sandals on naked feet were all very well for pagan types, an advocate of an exclusively transcendental stage of evolution should never expose bare feet to the public, since it was contrary to a more civilized lifestyle, in which naked flesh had to be reduced to a bare minimum. It was for this reason that, whilst in London he never wore a hat, he was never to be seen without one in Dublin, not even on a hot day when, not unreasonably, he contrived to wear a sun-hat of appropriately lightweight material. Likewise, whereas winter in London had found him without a pair of gloves, his Dublin lifestyle demanded black leather gloves every day at that time of year, a habit which he only abandoned with the onset of summer when, to compensate himself for having to undress his hands, as he touchingly put it, he would keep them in his trouser pockets most of the time - certainly when he went out, at any rate! And, of course, he always took a collapsible umbrella with him when the weather looked uncertain, never failing to put it up with the approach of rain - this, too, a refinement upon his London lifestyle, when he more often than not allowed himself to get wet.

Yes, there could be little doubt that Michael Giles was becoming steadily more civilized, as the years went by, and his allegiance to artificial criteria strengthened. He no longer took short strolls around the neighbourhood, as in London, but spent most of his time indoors, attending to his writings and, when a sufficient amount had been done for the day, passing the remaining time with a book, some records, a little conversation (usually over the telephone) with one or two close friends, and, as often as not, a stint of Transcendental Meditation. His meals were increasingly eaten indoors, prepared by a lady friend whose relationship with him, however, was more intellectual than carnal. That he occasionally had sex, or a kind of sex, with her ... I don't doubt. But they had been drawn together by common cultural interests that, appertaining mainly to literature and music, remained, I think, the bedrock of their relationship. He always spoke of her with great respect, regarding her as one of the most enlightened and liberated of women; although, regrettably, he refused to elaborate on this opinion. As to the fact that she cooked his meals, he would simply say that this was one of the few concessions to tradition she was prepared to make, but he was damn glad she was prepared to make it, since it delivered him from the tedious necessity of having to prepare them himself - a task he had been obliged to perform quite often in London. By way of expressing his gratitude to this lady friend, he would send her, from time to time, a bouquet of artificial flowers, which he considered more civilized than natural ones. She, I think, accepted them with pleasure, though not, I suspect, without a degree of nostalgia for more natural growths! Her apartment - a mere stone's throw from his - soon became rather crowded with these artificial bouquets, which there seemed to be no cause to throw away, since they were incapable of wilting. Michael took pride in surveying them all whenever he paid her a social visit. "This is infinitely superior to anything Huysmans ever dreamed of," he could be heard to remark, referring to the over-sophisticated author of Rebours. And she had little option but to agree!

However, there were some aspects of Michael Giles' hypercivilized lifestyle which only a person thoroughly familiar with his writings would have appreciated or, indeed, become aware of in the course of time. I allude, for instance, to the habit he had of keeping his hands away from his face whenever in company, so that there was never a contact of skin to skin. His hands would invariably be resting on his trouser legs and/or on the arms of his easy chair, thereby ensuring a contact with artificial materials as appropriate to an anti-natural lifestyle. For such materials as were employed in both his clothes and his furniture were invariably artificial or, to be more precise, synthetic, having been invented by man. Thus his clothes were mostly of nylon or acrylic, hardly ever of cotton, and reflected his transcendental predilection, a predilection which ensured that artificial rather than natural things, or things made from natural materials, greatly preponderated. It was for this reason, too, that aluminium and plastic figured largely in the composition of his furniture, including his easy chairs, which were almost entirely of synthetic construction and dark appearance, like his clothes. Garish colours were rigorously avoided, since connoting, in his estimation, with an alpha-stemming, diabolic orientation. Only a man thoroughly familiar with his writings would have appreciated this point and thereupon come to equate his dark clothes with a more spiritual bias. Even indoors, he would keep himself buttoned-up and fully dressed. No man was every less of a nudist than he!

But although these and other aspects of his hypercivilized lifestyle continued to develop and enhance his reputation as a modern saint, a kind of latter-day Mondrian whose distaste for natural things attained to quite fanatical proportions, a subconscious opposition within him to such a lifestyle was also developing, preparing to assert itself and threaten his ascetic reputation at its very roots. At the beginning of this account I said that Michael Giles "was a very civilized man for his time", and for no small reason. For what was no longer is the case, since the pressures of such a lifestyle were, in the end, too much for him, and duly led to consequences which can only be described as contrary to the interests of his ascetic reputation! The reformation of his previously too ascetic lifestyle, which I had expected to come with his departure from London, clearly had to come sooner or later, and when it did - much later than I would have expected, in view of the severity of his long-standing depression - it came with redoubled might, precipitating him into the life of sensual indulgence for which he has since become notorious. For not only did he move out of Dublin in order to take-up permanent residence in his country retreat; he took with him a number of young women whom he personally selected from amongst a list of well-known libertines, and installed them there for purposes of sexual experimentation and sensual gratification. Beginning as a latter-day Mondrian, he became, with this volte face, a sort of latter-day Sade, forbidding himself no excesses with them in pursuance of a return to full mental health. From being hyperascetic he had become hypercarnal, and was to remain so until, due to over-indulgence no more than a week ago, he suffered a severe heart attack and died. May death grant him the peace that life never could!