Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-four): Conquest and carburetters
23 March 1915
This week has taught some interesting lessons, both in practical knowledge and, perhaps more valuable in the long run, in the subtle relationships between the sexes.
Dr X and I (I decided I should probably not use his name, since my presence as his chauffeur is probably against a string of regulations and I would not want the man struck off simply because he is too exhausted to stand up to me) have forged a reasonable working relationship, in which he agrees to permit me to drive him about the countryside on his daily rounds, while I agree not to lay wait for him outside of his door at night. As a temporary solution, it is most workable, although eventually I shall have to take on the skills of night-time driving.
One of our trips this past week took us to Seaford, where he anticipated a longer than usual visit. As I prepared to settle in with my Latin, I noticed just down the road a small garage, so I set aside the text and moved the motor over to the establishment’s forecourt.
I have not reached the age of fifteen years without realising that men prefer not to take women seriously—even less, young women such as myself. There are two ways around this: one can either force matters, asserting one’s needs and abilities until the man reluctantly admits some degree of acknowledgment, or one can manipulate him. The first way is easier on a woman’s self-respect, but I have to admit, the second way is often faster and more productive.
In this case, my request—that the man in the greasy coveralls be hired to introduce me to the mysteries of the internal combustion engine—had the result I had anticipated: he laughed. Had his hands not been so filthy, I think he might have patted me on the head.
But instead of bridling and manoeuvring him into a corner, I did the unnatural (to me) and unexpected: I went soft, blinking my eyes at him (and contriving to seem shorter than I was) and admitting that it was silly, I knew, but until I knew just a couple of things, like changing tyres and what to do if the starter wouldn’t catch, the aged grandmother I lived with far at the end of a country lane would be vulnerable and might even have to move into town…
He relented, patently amused at the idea of a girl changing a tyre, much less cleaning the points of a carburetor, but since the forecourt was empty of other cars—and, perhaps more important, other men—he walked around to the bonnet and opened it to demonstrate the key architecture.
Two hours later, having passed from amusement through bemusement to astonishment, he had taught me all the main parts of the motor and what to do in any event short of a broken axle.
Dr X was most taken aback at my appearance, and my aunt filled with outrage, but I shall purchase my own set of coveralls and keep them in the motor, against my next exploration of the guts of the machine.