By: Colleen McCullough


January 1st, 1960 (New Year’s Day)

How on earth can I get rid of David? Don’t think that I haven’t contemplated murder, but I wouldn’t get away with murder any more than I got away with the bikini I bought myself with the five quid Granny gave me for Christmas.

“Take it back, my girl, and bring home something one-piece with a modesty panel across the business area,” Mum said.

Truth to tell, I was a bit horrified when the mirror showed me how much of me that bikini put on display, including sideburns of black pubic hair I’d never noticed when they lurked behind a modesty panel. The very thought of plucking out a million pubic hairs sent me back to exchange the bikini for an Esther Williams model in the latest colour, American Beauty. Sort of a rich, reddish pink. The shop assistant said I looked ravishing in it, but who is going to ravish me, with David Bloody Murchison hovering over my carcass like a dog guarding a bone? Certainly not David Bloody Murchison!

It was up over the hundred today, so I went down to the beach to christen the new costume. The surf was running high, pretty unusual for Bronte, but the waves looked like green satin sausages—dumpers, no good for body surfing. I spread my towel on the sand, slathered zinc cream all over my nose, pulled on my matching American Beauty swim cap, and ran towards the water.

“It’s too rough to go in, you’ll get dumped,” said a voice.

David. David Bloody Murchison. If he suggests the safety of the kids’ bogey hole, I thought, girding my modesty-panelled loins, there is going to be a fight.

“Let’s go round to the bogey hole, it’s safe,” he said.

“And get flattened by kids bombing us? No!” I snarled, and launched into the fight. Though “fight” is not the correct word. I yell and carry on, David just looks superior and refuses to bite. But today’s fight produced a new rocket—I finally got up the gumption to inform him that I was tired of being a virgin.

“Let’s have an affair,” I said.

“Don’t be silly,” he said, unruffled.

“I am not being silly! Everybody I know has had an affair—except me! Dammit, David, I’m twenty-one, and here I am engaged to a bloke who won’t even kiss me with his mouth open!”

He patted me gently on one shoulder and sat down on his towel. “Harriet,” he announced in that toffee-nosed, super-genteel Catholic boys’ college voice of his, “it’s time we set a wedding date. I have my doctorate, the C.S.I.R.O. has offered me my own lab and a research grant, we’ve been going out together for four years, and engaged for one. Affairs are a sin. Marriage isn’t.”


“Mum, I want to break off my engagement to David!” I said to her when I got home from the beach, my new costume unbaptised.

“Then tell him so, dear,” she said.

“Have you ever tried telling David Murchison that you don’t want to marry him any more?” I demanded.

Mum giggled. “Well, no. I’m already married.”

Oh, I hate it when Mum is funny at my expense!

But I battled on. “The trouble is that I was only sixteen when I met him, seventeen when he started taking me out, and in those days it was terrific to have a boyfriend I didn’t need to fight off. But Mum, he’s so—so hidebound! Here I am of an age to consent, but he doesn’t treat me any differently than he did when I was a mere seventeen! I feel like a fly stuck in amber.”

Mum’s a good stick, so she didn’t start moralising, though she did look a bit concerned.

“If you don’t want to marry him, Harriet, then don’t. But he is a very good catch, dear. Handsome, well-built—and such a bright future ahead of him! Look at what’s happened to all your friends, especially Merle. They take up with chaps who just aren’t mature and sensible like David, so they keep getting hurt. Nothing comes of it. David’s stuck to you like glue, he always will.”

“I know,” I said through my teeth. “Merle still nags me on the subject of David—he’s divine, I don’t know how lucky I am. But honestly, he’s a pain in the bum! I’ve been with him for so long that every other bloke I know thinks I’m already taken—I never have an opportunity to find out what the rest of the male world is like, dammit!”

But she didn’t really listen. Mum and Dad approve of David, always have. Maybe if I’d had a sister, or been closer in age to my brothers—it’s hard being an accident of the wrong sex! I mean, there are Gavin and Peter in their middle thirties, still living at home, shagging hordes of women in the back of their van on top of a waterproof mattress, partnering Dad in our sporting goods shop and playing cricket in their spare time—the life of Riley! But I have to share a room with Granny, who pees in a potty which she empties on the grass at the bottom of the backyard. Pongs a treat.

“Think yourself lucky, Roger, that I don’t chuck it on next-door’s washing” is all she says when Dad tries to remonstrate.

What a good idea this diary is! I’ve encountered enough weird and wonderful psychiatrists to realise that I now have a “medium through which to vent frustrations and repressions”. It was Merle suggested I keep a diary—I suspect she’d like to peek in it whenever she visits, but no chance of that. I intend to store it propped against the skirting board underneath Granny’s bed right in line with Potty.

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