Marianne and Me

When I was eight, Marianne was my best friend. Thin, nervous and highly imaginative, Marianne had a fine, almost pore-less skin, very white teeth, and slightly protruding pale blue eyes which in time would probably become prawn-like. Her best feature was her hair, a shining golden blonde which fell almost to her shoulders in perfect corrugated ripples. Marianne lived with her tiny, garrulous mother and large monosyllabic dad in a neat jerry-built pre-War house in The Lane, half a mile from mine, together with the twins, her small, bullet-headed brothers, who were more eerily alike than any twins I’ve ever encountered.

Together we roamed the half-built housing estates, unfinished roads and  ridge-ploughed fields between her house and ours, occasionally hanging about outside the paper-shop to read the comics displayed outside. This continued until someone came out and told us off for messing up things we hadn’t paid for, so we rarely got past the cover page. To this day, the exploits of Dan Dare and the dreaded Mekon will be forever incomplete. There were movie magazines too, and films were Marianne’s speciality. Although there were still plenty of cinemas  in the 1950s, it was seldom that I ever went to one, at least until over the age of ten. And I doubt Marianne did, either. Her stories of the film world, and especially the truly tacky B movie, were handed down from relatives, notably her mother and a highly impressionable auntie whom I never met. These were duly related to me, then evolved into the plot of our ongoing two-person drama, The Game, which we played most of the time we were together, swapping identities and story-lines constantly as we strolled along.  Lines like “That leg will have to come off!”, “It’s the electric chair for you, sister” and (my personal favourite) “My God, it’s ALIVE!” must have scared the pants off many a passing pensioner.

Marianne also introduced me to the world of popular music, which coming from a Radio Three (or Third Programme, as it was known then) household  as I did, was quite a revelation. And in those pre-Beatles days, also pretty dire. Marianne could render deeply embarrassing imitations of Lena Horne, Rose Murphy, Connie Francis and the dreaded Doris Day. Her very breathy Marilyn was particularly impressive. But it was the movies that were her true vocation, and although her corrugated blonde waves related more to Veronica Lake and the 1940s than the crimped styles of the 1950s,  whenever I see a bit of Fifties Hollywood Kitsch, I never fail to think of her.

One day, outside the paper shop, we met Marianne’s dad and the twins, and he bought everyone a Crunchie Bar. This remained in my mind, since sweets had  just come off the ration and were still a great luxury. Not only did he buy one for all of them, but one for ME as well. It was particularly memorable since Marianne’s mother had never been known to give me ANYTHING, not even on the end of a pair of long tongs, so I felt doubly privileged. Marianne’s house was in fact always closed to me, since Marianne and the rest of the family tended to open the back door very cautiously and peer round it before either letting me into the freezing cold “glass-place” as they called it, or whispering “Can’t ask you in, we’ve got Company,”  or words to that effect and shutting it again.  I can honestly  remember going inside Marianne’s house just once, all the time I knew her.

Marianne’s mother was very talkative, except to me, and had a slight, tight, permanent smile which seemed to have been pinned up at the edges and sprayed on with fixative. It was hard to imagine her, or her unseen sister, regaling the family, still less the ominous grandma with her  bloodhound eyes and pan-scrubber perm, with sordid tales from the movies or impersonations of Doris Day, but according to Marianne, that was what they did.  On the other hand, having a father myself  who frequently aspired to grand opera with improvised cod-Italian(generally while shaving) or extracts from the repertoire of George Formby which were even worse than the real thing, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But as I said,  movie plots were Marianne’s particular forte, and what she didn’t know, she invented with skill and panache. Many of the films she told me about duly surfaced on television and were instantly recognisable, but one has always evaded me. Recently, while clearing out a cupboard, I found a small folded map, drawn by me at the age of nine or so, of an island with various features marked out – forests, mountains and so forth and intriguingly, “Giant Crabs Haunt.” Suddenly, I remembered Marianne, eyes bulging incredulously,  relating the unfinished (as usual)account of some obscure film set on an island inhabited by crabs as big as donkeys. Sadly, like most of Marianne’s stories, it never came to a satisfactory conclusion, presumably the relative who’d seen it having fallen asleep at the crucial moment or rushed out to catch the last bus.

I often wondered what happened to Marianne, as by the time we moved on to secondary school, we developed different sets of friends, and her personality seemed to evaporate entirely. Schooldays over, I sometimes saw her tittupping down The Lane in wobbly stilettos and marked her out as probably somebody’s secretary. I decided she would either marry her boss and live in luxury with a cream telephone and a downstairs toilet, or run away to Hollywood and die of drugs or drink. I was amazed, therefore, to meet someone recently who told me Marianne had never left the village at all but married the landlord of the local pub.  All in all, it’s a pity that with her vivid imagination, Marianne never became a writer. But then, if she had, she might have sat down and written a memoir about me. And that’s something I’d rather not think about.