Firstly, I should point out, for those of you who might be worried, especially my 21,000 Twitter followers, that I’m not actually dead.
Not yet anyway. Even so, it’s a rather peculiar feeling knowing there are people out there who believe that I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil and managed miraculously to hoist myself into heaven or wherever - sadly - deceased writers go after they have reluctantly joined the turf club.
I am a deeply reclusive introvert. My neighbours think I’m a dead writer. Literally! They may have seen me yonks ago squeezing into the cab of my slightly rusting 1993 Holden Rodeo 4WD to drive down to see the doctor, or while rescuing some quite irresponsible plover chicks which appeared determined to throw themselves into a water-drain, but, generally speaking, hardly anyone has seen me since then. I’m a writing wraith — a punctuation poltergeist.
A while ago one of my neighbours approached my wife in the front garden and said: "I never see your husband. Is he dead?"
It’s a really strange and rather spooky feeling knowing that you have been mistaken for one of the ‘dearly departed’. I live on the coast of sub-tropical Queensland and wonder sometimes if people walking along the beach might pause for a few moments, shading their eyes against the evening sun, and gaze out to sea in the hope that they might see a barnacle-encrusted relic, vaguely in the shape of a deceased writer, floating tragically face-down in the surf.
I’m an invisible man, without really being invisible, which, in itself, is quite a remarkable achievement. When I have to go to a shop, for example, which is about once every four years to buy a new pair of bunny-slippers, I’m in plain view, of course, because that’s what the laws of physics demand, but I’ve perfected the art of literary camouflage so brilliantly that hardly anyone notices me. It’s taken years of cunning practice to achieve that level of invisibility.
I’m so quiet and still, that, standing in a shop, no one notices me. Even sales staff dash past on their way to lunch or the loo, and seem to regard me simply as another shop fixture, like a counter, for example, or an underpants display. I’ve even been mistaken for a shop dummy — really — and when I’ve moved suddenly I’ve scared everyone in close proximity because I have a shock of startlingly white hair and everyone thinks that a plaster window-model dating from about 1925, looking disconcertingly like a fading Rolling Stone, has suddenly come to life and it’s a rather terrifying sight!
When I was a kid, about the size of a meerkat in a sombrero, I never quite realised that I was an introvert. I’d hide in a cupboard under the stairs in our 1870s (ish) terraced house in Swansea, South Wales, and wonder why I liked to be alone with all the Cardinal spiders and their little cobwebby homes that looked like miniature Portuguese fishing nets — especially when I shone my rapidly dwindling torch on them.
I wasn’t shy, nor did I have any motive or need to hide away by myself, but I was, I admit, a tad different. It was a bit smelly in there because the cupboard was full of tins of furniture-polish and jars of putty, stinking of linseed oil, and there was hardly anywhere to sit because the concrete floor was littered with discarded tin toys my father would periodically bring home from the toy factory were he worked. I always felt that he was a bit like a perpetual Father Christmas in civilian disguise and rather liked that idea.
Behind our home was a massive hill, more like a mini-mountain, where I would go to find solitude and adventure. There was a cave up there, right in the centre of an abandoned iron-ore quarry, where, a 100 years ago, loads of miners were reputed to have been killed during a cave-in. According to legend, the cave was haunted, and the stream of reddish water running from deep within the bowels of the earth was tinted by their rusting tools.
I managed eventually to screw up sufficient courage to venture deeper into the cave to verify this story but the only ghost I found there was, unsurprisingly, me.
I’m not entirely sure when I first became aware that I was an introvert and budding recluse but it probably had something to do with a neighbour barging into our living room one day while I was standing in a pink plastic tub covered with insufficient coal tar soapsuds to hide my three-year-old willy. That was the moment I realised that I was a super self-conscious Welsh elf. Can anyone blame me?
Self-consciousness and introversion go hand-in-hand. I’m so self-conscious that I’m seriously uncomfortable being looked at by anyone at any time. I once flew to the Philippines to conduct some historical research for a book I was writing, and remained in my seat for the entire eight-hour flight, even though it was becoming increasingly necessary for me to visit one of those massively fascinating airline vacuum toilets which is a terrifying experience because it’s always entirely possible that one’s bum might be sucked down the loo and that would be both tragic and horrifically embarrassing. For me, having no bum while walking around in public would be more traumatic than actually losing it in the first place.
So I remained firmly in my seat for the entire flight because I really had no intention of walking the length of the aircraft while being gawped at by 300 bored passengers who would be wondering if I was going for a Number 1 or Number 2 and would my willy survive the sudden, life-threatening suction. It’s all a bit weird, I know, but self-consciousness is central to introversion and there are times it can be a little debilitating on the bladder.
Now I know there will be many introverts out there reading this story who will be thinking: This guy must be psychic! That’s me too. Well, funny you should think that because I also believe that being alone and thinking rather a lot about really strange and unusual things (as I do, being a writer), also tends to help develop some kind of precognitive ability.
I don’t profess to being any more psychic than anyone else, but I wonder if somehow introverts are subconsciously and unknowingly developing that ability. I have had loads of strange experiences and have dreamed of many events that soon came true — aircraft crashes, road accidents and the deaths of numerous famous people including, quite recently, Anna Karen who played ‘Olive’ in the British sitcom On the Buses.
It was about 10pm and I was walking in the darkness up the passageway to the bedroom when suddenly a face flashed before my eyes. I recognised it immediately as Anna Karen. The image was so powerful that it literally stopped me in my tracks and I just stood there for about thirty seconds wondering why her face had come to me without any kind of warning. I had not thought about On the Buses for years and it had been decades since I had watched the series. Then the image faded and I went to bed.
The following morning my wife was reading the news on her mobile when she looked up and said to me, ‘You’ll never guess who’s died.’ ‘Don’t tell me,’ I replied. ‘It’s Olive from On the Buses.’ I’d had another of my weird premonitions!
I predicted the crash of the Hawker-Hunter T-7 at Shoreham, U.K. in August 2015, including the fact that it would come down close to a beach, killing numerous people on the ground, and that the pilot would miraculously survive. I dreamed that my brother-in-law’s panel-beating workshop would be burnt-out and told my wife of the dream the next morning.
The following week the building was engulfed in flames. I predicted the death of J.F. Kennedy’s son in an air accident shortly before it happened in July 1999, and also the crash of the first Stealth bomber in February 2008, telling my wife about all of these, or making notes in my diary, shortly before each event.
I don’t think that I’m more perspicacious than any other person on earth but believe that introverts, especially introverts who spend a lot of time alone, as do I, are capable of developing a special awareness — an emotional depth, and an empathy — that, as yet, remains something of a mystery in the development of the human mind.
The neighbours may think I’m a dead writer, but evidently there’s still some peculiar activity going on in my invisible brain.
Tony Matthews is a Welsh/Australian novelist and historian. He is the author of more than 30 published books , including his lighthearted and humorous autobiography: Invisible — the Essential Guide for Aliens Stranded on Earth, published by Big Sky Publishing.. Find out more: https://drtonymatthews.weebly.com/