I’m delighted to share an extract with you today from A Young Lady’s Miscellany by Auriel Roe as part of the blog tour for Random Things Tours. Thank you to Anne Cater and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to share this extract with you today.
But first a bit about the book and author…
About the book:
What’s a girl of fourteen to do when she finds herself alone in the world with no one to guide her? Why, follow the Victorian self-help guide, A Young Lady’s Miscellany, of course! The trouble is, the advice it offers proves less than helpful in a modern context.
Muddling through, often with disastrous results, she finds a friend in her recently widowed grandmother, the door to whose small house is always open. Inept at any job she is able to get and pursued by a slew of unsuitable suitors, she must instead spend a decade navigating her own miscellany in order to come of age.
‘A magical transformation of memory’s rags and patches into a coherent story: a wonderful account, perhaps the best I’ve read, of a female coming into her own.’ Tony Connor, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
About the author:
Auriel Roe is an author and artist who spent the earlier part of her career teaching literature, drama and art in secondary schools in England and abroad. One of her short stories was shortlisted for a major UK writing competition.
Her debut novel ‘A Blindefellows Chronicle’ was #1 for humour in Amazon US, Canada and UK. It has been saved by over 2,000 readers on Goodreads. Her memoir focuses on her fractured adolescence, her slew of unsuitable suitors and her total ineptness at any kind of gainful employment, ‘A Young Lady’s Miscellany’, is now available.
Auriel’s second novel, ‘Let The Swine Go Forth’ follows the misadventures of a group of teachers in a new international school out in the desert of a totalitarian state. It is due to be republished with Dogberry Books in 2021.
Trivia: Auriel Roe is the fourth cousin of Margaret Atwood and direct descendant of Pendal “witch” Alice Nutter.
My worst performance was in the ‘girls’ subjects’ of needlework and home economics. I found threading the sewing machine baffling and the noisy jabbing needle alarming. On one occasion, I almost sewed a button onto my thumb. I’d spend months on a garment and the only item I remember ever completing, a crimson nightshirt in a rough synthetic material, fell to pieces the first night I wore it.
Home economics should have been called cookery for that was all it was. Just walking into that classroom was difficult for me because I’d always had an uneasy relationship with food. Much of it gave me the worst kind of nauseous migraine headaches that didn’t stop until I vomited whatever had brought them on. My mother would try to induce this dramatic finale by giving me salt water in a plastic cup but it only made matters worse. The main things I felt safe about eating were toast with peanut butter or bread with the peculiar Sandwich Spread, diced vegetables in mayonnaise, or ‘sick in a jar’ as we referred to it.
A typical meal at home was steak and kidney pie with a filling flecked with carrots that oozed out from under a gravy-logged pastry top. The heady bouquet was more than I could bear yet I was under a curse to finish everything on my plate. I would fake cough into my hand and surreptitiously transfer the revolting morsels into the napkin on my lap, which I would later deposit into the dog’s bowl.
My parents would retire to the sitting room to watch the news, to which I would listen tensely through the louvre doors, forgetting the food in front of me. Some of the frequent topics haunted my childhood and even seeped into my dreams: nuclear missiles, the warzone in Northern Ireland which I knew wasn’t far away, the despot Idi Amin with his exaggerated frogging and rows of shiny medals and ‘The Basque separatist group, ETA’ interpreted by me as ‘vast separatist’, which confused me further. I understood that the ‘group’ was based in far off Spain but still, the stern expressions of the dark-haired ‘ETA people’ in their televised mugshots, always unsettled me. In those days, the bleak news was often rounded off with an uplifting story, usually involving a baby animal, such as the birth of a fuzzy new panda with a rhyming Chinese name, but it didn’t fool even a child. We knew we’d been born into a fractured world.
Meanwhile, sentry-like, my parents took it in turns to observe me through the slots in the louvre doors, ready with volleys of berating if I paused in eating. Mushy carrots would make my mouth spasm into an involuntary gape, like the skeleton in an urn burial that had recently transfixed me in a school history book. My father would tell me to ‘Cut it out!’ but I had no control over it and, more often than not, it was a foreshadowing that the food was going to make me enormously ill.
On the other hand, even food that tasted wonderful sometimes did that in the aftermath. Against my better judgement, I’d once wolfed a slice of delicious cherry pie. That night, due to the unusual angle of my face as I slept, I’d vomited it up the wall. The line of pink stayed there permanently, blending in loosely with the carnation print wallpaper. There was another stain on the edge of a circular rug in the hallway, a result of my scoffing a cocktail glass of butterscotch Angel Delight garnished with a glace cherry. It was fortunate the rug happened to be woven, unusually for a design with roses, in russet hues. Easter was always a difficult time, with the alluring smell of chocolate in the houses of other children. I’d learned my lesson after sneakily downing half a chocolate egg at a friend’s and crashing into a door from the dazzling lights of the migraine that had ensued. I was sent home after that, under suspicion of having been at their drinks cabinet.
Given the lack of variety in the meal repertoire at home, I’d get so hungry that I’d offer to clean the car for fifty pence in order to blow the lot on sweets at the corner shop. I knew what would turn my stomach so I avoided the spongy sweets in shrimp and banana shapes, along with the Bakelite bar of Caramac. The necklaces threaded with chalky, pastel-coloured sweets were fun to gnaw on but they made my neck sticky and, as the custom at home was to bathe but once a week, this could be un-comfortable. Sherbet fountains and white chocolate mice likewise elicited no adverse reaction.
As a small child, I remember being drawn to the idea of making food, perhaps as some kind of attempt to take control and censor the ingredients. All my endeavors, alas, were ill-fated. On one occasion, I amassed some pastry offcuts, which I rolled out and stamped into star shapes. There was soil under my nails from an earlier al fresco culinary venture making mud pies in the garden, which had made the pastry turn grey as I squeezed it into a ball. Despite their being on the grimy side, my ‘biscuits’ were baked and slipped onto a saucer before my father at the dinner table. As he read The Daily Mail, oblivious to their greyish hue, he consumed the lot, at which my mother had raised a wry eyebrow.
Once I started at the comprehensive, I’d brace myself for the fortnightly cookery practicals which always seemed to go wrong for me. I probably should have entered May’s pantry more frequently to learn the mystical ways of baking. I lumbered along, carrying my ingredients the two miles to school in the obligatory wicker basket that bumped against my knees, puckered and red because I could never get my socks to stay up. I was a good girl who would never vulgarly eat what I’d made as I walked home, like I’d seen others doing, with chocolate mousse and such like smeared all over their hands. No, I wanted to impress my mother with what I’d created, but all too frequently, I returned home with an empty basket after yet another gastronomic disaster.
Mrs Shackleton, the Scottish home economics teacher, was an older lady in an apple-dappled nylon housecoat that served to enhance the classroom’s fruity colour palette of lemon formica worktops and lime green lino flooring. She ran a tight ship, with the saucepans polished mirror-bright and utensils organized alphabetically. Pink-rimmed spectacles were balanced on her bony nose, their thick lenses magnifying her eyes to give her a look of per-petual enthusiasm, right from our first lesson: ‘We’ll start off with something easy, girls…jelly!’ Everyone else had brought in neat little round jelly moulds but all I could find at home was a foot long mould in the shape of a carp. With the grace of an inexperienced tightrope walker, I edged toward the fridge with my brimming carp, but suddenly and inexplicably found myself splayed on the lino, my school uniform coated in half-set jelly. I lay there a while, amid the tepid gelatinousness, in the thrall of a nauseous wave. ‘Disaster Girl!’ Mrs Shackleton had shrieked and the accolade had stuck for good reason.
End of extract
A Young Lady’s Miscellany by Auriel Roe is available to purchase now.
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