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.


  1. Chris on March 23, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Wonderful – really enjoying these journal entries. They WILL still make it to a single volume (for purchase)… won’t they…?


  2. Merrily Taylor on March 23, 2015 at 6:59 am

    I don’t know why it never dawned on me before that OF COURSE Russell would wish to know about innards of her automobile – and clearly she wants to know badly, because the image of her going all girly on the poor man – wonderful (at least these are skills she will need later in various disguises on behalf of a case).

  3. Janis Kiehl Harrison on March 23, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    That’s the way! Achieve the objective without betraying your core position — something women STILL have to do sometimes.
    (Incidentally, in those days a “female motorist” was absolutely behooved to know basic automotive maintenance and repair, because resources were frequently distant, but also because automobiles had such different configurations and fragile components.)

  4. Linda on March 23, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Go Mary!

    It makes me a little sad that I, who could tackle my Bug with the help of the Idiot’s Guide to VW Beetle all those years ago, now can do nothing more than check the manual and let the service folks know what the code says when I call for an appointment.

    On the other hand I do not miss needing to keep spare can of oil, a funnel, rags and waterless hand cleaner always handy.

  5. Margaret on March 23, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Absolutely delightful! Love these glimpses of character and tone. 🙂

  6. Libby Dodd on March 24, 2015 at 6:01 am

    These are a delight into the psyche of Russel.
    Utterly charming and delicious.

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