Ian Brady’s got me thinking.
The Moors Murderer died last night, thereby gifting our nation’s “finest” newspapers the excuse to revisit his gruesome crimes in detail today, over many pages, with accompanying photos of his hateful, bleached-blonde accomplice, Myra Hindley, who died in 2002.
Our particular fascination with female child-killers finds its strongest outlet in Myra. Brady was mental, but Myra? She was a seemingly normal eighteen year-old girl, religious, romantic and desperate to fall in love.
I was the same at eighteen (well, minus the religious bit), when I got involved with a similarly charismatic, charming, older fella. He belonged to someone else, was the boyfriend of a friend and I didn’t think I was that sort of girl, but it turned out, I was.
I was living on my own, on a gap year between A levels and university. I was working two bar jobs and volunteering at my old school, running drama workshops. I had a car. I had friends. I had a future all worked out. On the surface I was thriving.
But I was also in recovery from a cruel few months of unrequited love. The object of my adoration was a scrawny, unemployed playwright who ended up living rent-free in my house and then stealing £200 of my hard-earned cash. I don’t know why I wanted him to love me, something he honestly and repeatedly informed me he would never do because I was too ‘ordinary’ and ‘practical’ and also ‘not beautiful’. Oh yes, I knew how to pick ’em, the real catches…
The playwright left me with more than just a hurt ego and dented funds; he’d also messed me up with his spirituality. At only eighteen and with my mum not long dead, his belief in the spirit world was intoxicating to me. He said he could astral plane like Shirley MacLaine, leaving his body and whizzing out into space, visiting other planets.
Playwright had a couple of male friends who could also astral plane and who he also moved in to my house. I would come home from a late shift and they’d all be lying on their backs in the front room, their spirits allegedly zooming about the galaxy. That I could not astral plane was another reason for my unsuitability as a candidate for Girlfriend of Unemployed Playwright.
It wasn’t his fault that I was clearly a rather lonely, troubled girl, still grieving for her mother and suffering the after-effects of her childhood, lacking in self-esteem and with not even the teeniest slither of a backbone. When he left one day, taking his mates and my £200 with him, I mourned his loss like another death, taking to my bed for days, spending every long night trying to make my spirit break free from my ‘not beautiful’ body and whiz off into the atmosphere to find him and maybe Shirley too…
So when, a few weeks after Playwright left, I bumped into my friend’s fella in a bar (let’s call him SEB – Somebody Else’s Boyfriend) and we got chatting about his girlfriend as the booze flowed and he told me how he wasn’t happy with her and how he wanted someone with eyes like mine, conversation like mine; that actually, all along, he wanted only ME…I was in no position to reject his feelings, however unlikely they seemed and however hurtful to my friend it would be.
We ended up back at his flat. And I didn’t leave for 72 hours.
In that time, I didn’t go to work, I didn’t eat, I didn’t dress. He kept me topped-up with wine and brandy and constant attention, thrilled by my NOT ‘ordinary’ mind and my VERY ‘beautiful’ body. He had split with my friend. All he wanted was me.
I was in a kind of trance. A small, distant part of me knew this was unreal and strange, but I was too tired and drunk to listen to myself. He would leave the house for periods of time and I don’t know what I did in those hours, only that I spent them feeling both disoriented and exhilarated, longing for his return.
Occasionally I would ask about food and he would fill my empty stomach with talk of how we’d never need food again, so deep was our love for each other.
On the third night, I had a vivid dream where I was spinning out into space, shackled to my body by a gleaming golden rope. I could feel the air thinning, could touch the stars and fly around the moon. I didn’t see Playwright out there, or Shirley MacLaine, but I did see my mum, though couldn’t catch up with her. When I woke up crying, believing I had astral planed at last, Seb was there with another drink, another cigarette and another long talk about how wonderful our lives together would be.
The next morning, he left again. I lay there for a long time in his grubby, floral sheets. I went to the kitchen and looked in his empty fridge. It was as if nobody lived there. I saw myself in a mirror in the hall and felt instant disgust, how could he love me when I looked like this? I had cuts and bruises on my face and body but no idea where they came from. My lips were deep purple from red wine. I had to go home and clean myself up before he got back. The front door was unlocked. In some remote part of me, I was surprised by that.
At home, I showered and ate ketchup on toast. I listened to several messages on my answer phone (this was before mobile phones) but I didn’t care about anyone, I only wanted to get back to his flat as soon as I could, until I heard the voice of Seb’s ex-girlfriend, my friend. Would I meet her today? I don’t know why I agreed, except that even in my infatuated state, I didn’t want her to find out about Seb and I yet.
I arrived in the same bar where he and I had met just a few nights before. She beamed as she told me her thrilling news: that she and Seb were moving in together. They’d spent the past few days sorting out furniture and decorating and she wanted me to go with her right now to see Seb and their new flat and also, by the way, as she thrust her left hand out to me, he’d proposed.
I didn’t go to the flat. I can’t remember what I said, only that the walls of the bar were encroaching, the floor sliding underneath my feet. I didn’t ever see Seb or my friend again. I heard, years later, that they’d had two children.
When I think of him now, as I do whenever a chilling couple hit the news – Brady and Hindley, Fred and Rose West, Huntley and Carr – I feel a creeping terror. I don’t know that he was, after all, a dangerous man. I do know that I was a vulnerable girl and that he well knew it. Vulnerable enough to do something terrible for him if he’d asked? I don’t think so. I think if it had gone on for much longer, my family would have stepped in, my mates. I felt lonely, but I wasn’t alone. There were plenty of people who cared enough about me to not let me slide into something truly destructive.
I met Gwyneth just a few weeks after I’d worked on a TV programme about Myra Hindley (up here in Manchester, the story is understandably even more potent). I remember all the talk of “how could she have done it?” and how, whilst I had no answer to why she committed such horrendous crimes, I absolutely COULD understand her addiction to Brady.
Since Seb, my brand of vulnerability had gone on to bring a sizeable number of nutters to my yard, though none as powerful or manipulative as him, but when I met Gwyneth, I knew instantly that he had no ‘dark side.’ The only thing about me he’s ever tried to control is my spending on cheap jumpers and occasionally, when he’s feeling especially brave, my fag consumption.
It was our wedding anniversary at the weekend and we spent it in a hotel together, laughing and singing our arses off in the company of wondrous friends.
How happy I am now, with my ‘ordinary’ and ‘practical’ life, with being neither ‘not beautiful’ nor the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. I was able to grow up and away from the wrong influences and arrive here, strong and loved, with no desire to flit off into space with Shirley MacLaine…
Maybe I had a narrow escape with my own Ian Brady. Maybe I was never in any real danger. And maybe this is the longest post I’ve ever written…if you’re still here, well done.
I’m so glad I am…