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Memory, truth, Louise Wener, and me

If you asked me who my best friend at primary school was, I would answer without any hesitation – Louise Wener. On the first day of school, aged 4, Louise introduced herself to me and told me we were best friends and that was that. I liked being told, it made it easy. I still wait for people to make the first move.
I have a fairly dreadful memory and the ability to wipe out huge chunks of my life. I kept diaries from age 11 and they show me a hideous version of myself that I prefer not to recall. Pre- secondary school there are no diaries, just a few mental images like grainy cine film:
Louise.
Snapshot 1.
Going to Louise’s house and being nervous. I think it was my first ever play date and I may have taken Floppy (my cuddly dog) with me for comfort. Louise’s older brother was there. He was incredibly tall, slim, and had brown curly hair. (Note, I have no idea if he is tall, brown curly haired etc, but in my memory he is.)
Snapshot 2.
Louise once ate cold fishfinger and ketchup sandwiches on a coach and was sick.
Snapshot 3.
One time a girl from the year above tied us up with a skipping rope and left us in the school field. I think I wet myself, I probably did; I was always wetting myself in Infants school.
Snapshot 4.
Talking to Louise’s mum over the school wall (they lived right opposite.)
Snapshot 5.
We walked around the playground pretending we were being filmed and making up stories. I think we liked to imagine we were on Jackanory, or that may just have been my own private fantasy.
Then there was another girl, Susan, who appeared on the scene from nowhere and there were three of us walking around the playground. I didn’t like it and was incredibly jealous, but I lived with it. I tried to make friends with Susan (I even went to her house, just once – her family were wealthy and had stables in their garden.) I went on holiday or some such, and when I returned Louise told me they didn’t want to play with me any more as I was too bossy. This was devastating. My first heartbreak, my first lesson in rejection (sadly not my last.)
I haven’t seen Louise since we left secondary school (where we were in different classes and a different class was a whole world away) but last week, after all these years, I discovered that this is not how Louise remembers it.
Her memoir “Different For Girls – My True-Life Adventures in Pop” has just been published and details not only her Brit Pop success with Sleeper but also, and more interestingly for me, her childhood growing up in oh so glamorous Ilford. And in it she states that from age 4 her best friend was Bernice Cohen. Bernice Cohen! (A girl I vaguely remember from secondary school but possibly have never spoken a single word to.)
I asked my mum “Who was my best friend at Parkhill?”
“Louise Wener. You and Louise were inseparable. “
“Was there another girl?”
“Oh, yes, Maxine. The three of you were very friendly.”
Maxine?
Who is Maxine?
Where are the memories of Maxine and Bernice?
Via the magic of Twitter I told Louise that I gasped when I read about Bernice because “As far as I was concerned from age 4 *you* were my best friend (until I was dumped for Susan. Sigh.)” And she replied that she had been left “Alone in that field with no one to play with while you and Susan took off together hand in hand. Sob.”
Eh?
Me and Susan? That did not happen. In fact, until Daniel decided that he liked my knees and ran after me in kiss chase, I was utterly alone. So how can she tell me that she spent an entire year alone? (Hmm, where was Bernice?) Gosh, so many tangles!
By the end of our tweeting we were wondering how Susan would recall it, if at all.
I am left thinking that if something that I know as fact is actually as flimsy as this early memory, how on earth am I to trust anything I remember at all? Truth is all about perception, I know I see purely from my own point of view but now I have to factor in that I am my own unreliable narrator.
It’s not often that one gets to gawp voyeuristically at an old school friends life and Louise’s book is a hugely engaging read. From the not too surprising revelations that yeah, the music press is largely made up of sexist twunts, and Alex James really is a buffoon, to the glory of being serenaded by Michael Stipe and appearing on TOTP (TOTP’s!) Louise shares her truths. Of course, the things that stick with me most are her memories of a childhood we shared: Pens worn on cords around our necks – blimey, I’d totally forgotten all about them. Moon-boots! Shrunken crisp packets as badges (really, what the fuck was that about.) The perfectly groomed girls in our year and the bitchy silence and whispers. The sheer awkwardness of knowing that you didn’t quite fit and never would. I like how this fairytale transformation from nerd to pop star is a real life version complete with a cool look at how the music business is, erm, actually a business, and how Louise saw her media image became cartoonish (feisty, gobby female, sigh) because bloody hell, even in the ’90’s women weren’t supposed to offer intelligent opinions on anything.
It’s an entertaining read whether or not you shared our 70’s/80’s suburban upbringing or were Britpoppy, and Louise writes well (she beat me in the school literary competition one year so she must be good, eh?)
I hope she lives happily ever after.


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6 responses »

  1. Am I really the first to post a comment about this amazing revelation? It's very exciting to hear your mismatched memories of being best friends – and with Louise Wener of all people! Plus I liked reading the truth about Britpop, kind of as I suspected.p.s. I'm *still* reading Ted Hughes letters.

    Reply
  2. I read a very good fiction book that deals with the self being an unreliable narrator, and how different people experience the past in different ways. 'The Hiding Place' by Trezza Azzopardi. I recommend it.

    Reply
  3. Hi SaraJim Murdoch from The Truth about Lies put me onto your blog. He and I love to debate the merits of autobiography. I'm all for it. He's dubious. Of course memory is fallible. That doesn't mean it has no value. We all have our own versions of events, and they are likely never able to be verified by another. I tried once to get all eight of my siblings to cooperate in the writing of a book, a chapter each, in the knowledge that each would have a different version of events. I find the differences as fascinating as the similarities. Roll on Sara. I'm pleased to have been introduced to your blog.

    Reply
  4. That was hilarious – especially the crisp packet thing. We were too poor for croisp packs, lol, but I had a friend who thought she was posh (they'd bought their council house) and she showed me how to make them! Sure you wanted to know that but the subjectivity thing is just right up my street.

    Reply
  5. This is absolutely fascinating – how many people get to find out what their former best friend's take on their childhood was like from a book published by said possible former best friend?! Amazing how your memories were so different, but probably not that surprising. I always say that I write fiction because I have so few memories from childhood – and now, reading your fantastic post, I am assuming that the memories I do have are probably utterly fictional too! Thanks so much for this. And for crisp packet badges. Shrinky-dink. Oh yes.

    Reply
  6. Hey Rachel – the whole crisp packet thing is very strange I think, but at the time I thought it cool!Tania- It *is* fascinating isn't it. Louise and I have said we will meet up and compare our unreliable narrators! The memory of being dumped by her was a formative one, I never doubted it for a minute (and probably still don't actually – it certainly feels very true.)

    Reply

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