Do I remember her? Sort of - she's been dead so long now. Think Blanche Du Bois. Beautiful. Unstable. Narcissist. Chronic alcoholic. Pamela was all those things. Spoilt, too. Put the 'Pam' in pampered, some said. Her parents were 'in business' as they called it – owned a couple of gift shops on the outskirts of Town. Made enough to send Pamela to The Ladies' College, 'Ski Camp' – to R.A.D.A. no less (she majored in histrionics) – and plenty more besides. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The year was 1967. Miles of bunting zigzagged overhead, thousands of primary-coloured triangles, fluttering pathetically like timorous butterflies snagged on a wire. Seagulls swooped, crie-de-coeur-ing (they were French) silhouetted against a technicolor-blue sky. Tourism was now a growth industry and this holiday season was starting to sizzle. Pamela despised holidaymakers (Pamela despised quite a lot of things; liked Campari, though: took hers straight, on the rocks). 'Peasants' she called them. Yes, Pamela was a snob. But she had a point: Roly-polys, raspberry-rippling in tight shorts and flip-flops, snaking through the cobbled streets, leaking sweat mingled with suntan oil, reeking of chips in vinegar. Underdressed and underfoot was the popular opinion. Colomberie Parade was a hub – albeit a minor one – back then. Tantivy Coaches operated their - hugely popular - 'Round Island Tour' from there: the German Underground Hospital (waxwork Nazis with granite), Mont Orgueil Castle (waxwork noblesse with granite), The Devil's Hole ('A Natural Wonder' – truly – and more granite), rounded off by a nice cream tea at Jeffrey's Leap ('His name was Jeffrey and he leapt - from This [granite] Spot!'). As you may have guessed, Pamela did not approve: 'Mon Dieu!' she would sniff (Pamela was a martyr to affectation). Across from Tantivy was the Norfolk Hotel: peeling distemper, damp and weatherworn, cheapish but not very cheerful. The hotel's owners (I forget their name) were friends of Pamela's parents, chiefly because they, too, had stumped-up to send their daughter, Jayne, ('Plain Jayne' to her pals) to The Ladies' College. That made them ideological soul mates. Because Jayne was, indeed, plain, Pamela tolerated her. Until Jayne did something unforgivable: she landed a celebrity (I'll call him 'Big John'). The local paper despatched a reporter to the mainland to cover the glitzy nuptials at Marylebone Registry Office. Big John's 'people' ran the show (it was work-related, Big John explained, so tax deductible). Jayne was catnip. The Norfolk was given a 'D & C' (that's what Mr. De Gruchy, the builder, called it) and monogrammed table linen. For a while The Norfolk was the destination venue for the upwardly mobile. Pamela seethed for weeks. Poor Pamela. She'd only caught a Grub Street hack with gum-rot and a foul mouth whom no one had heard of – or were curious about. So Pamela did the only thing she knew how to do: cut Jayne and her family dead. For months. Then Jayne did something wonderful: she divorced her celebrity (caught Big John in flagrante delicto in The Norfolk's storeroom with a supple young Italian bellboy. Poor Jayne). Like Cinderella after the ball, the Norfolk and its inmates faded once more into obscurity. And Pamela's world made sense again. What did Pamela look like? Everyone said she was the double of Vivien Leigh. Perhaps it was the permanent pout. The comparison to a beautiful, successful film star irritated Pamela, however. She would snap: 'You mean Vivien Leigh looks like me.' Couldn't bear it if people's focus shifted from her, even for a moment, I suppose. This morning, Leigh was all over the front pages. Dead. Pamela's parents adored Gone With The Wind, Leigh's Scarlet O'Hara; weren't keen on her Blanche Du Bois though (don't need Freud to tell us why). And it was on that same morning that Pamela did something that isn't easy to forgive – or forget. Opposite Tantivy stood Pam's of Colomberie, named after Pamela, naturally. In a parade of 1950s purpose-built concrete, Pam's was small, gloomy, musty, with scarred oxblood red linoleum tiles supporting old-world glass and wood display cabinets. All things 'genuine pigskin' was Pam's bread and butter, along with other entry-level souvenirs. Pamela was bickering with her parents, still prickly that Vivien Leigh had spoilt her morning. After further ill-tempered mutterings, she stalked out, squeezing inelegantly through milling tourists. Bemused what to do next, I decided to follow her out, catching up with her at the kerbside. 'I could have been a star, you know!' I flinched, anxious to dodge her spittle. 'Turned down a place with the RSC!' 'What's that?' 'Gave it all up. Because of you.' Her face was now in mine. 'And I wanted a boy!' I'm sure you'll agree that the only decent thing a child of seven can do, in such circumstances, is apologise. 'I'm sorry, Mother.'
Pamela Anne Harlow: 1935-1977
"I therefore decided to say No henceforth to every suggestion, request or inquiry whether inward or outward. It was the only simple formula which was sure and safe. It was difficult to practise at first and often called for heroism but I persevered and hardly ever broke down completely. It is now many years since I said Yes."
O'Brien, F. (1993). The Third Policeman, London: Flamingo Modern Classics, p.31