Miss Young

How I hated Wednesday afternoons. At 3.00 pm on the dot she would appear.  Miss Young. I never knew her first name, nor did I care.

The piano was in the chilly front room of a late 30s semi in a respectable suburb of Liverpool. A room used once a week for the traditional Jewish Friday night roast chicken when the usual suspect relatives came with their weekly gossip.

I must have been 13. I did NOT possess a talent for black and white ivory keys. She would sit primly in the Lloyd Loom bucket chair to my left. I would sit on the mahogany music stool containing my mother's sheet music especially Aufedersein Sweetheart with Vera Lynn's smiling portrait.  I sat squarely flattening past wartime melodies and memories whilst struggling with endless scales.

Always the same clothes. A plain white tucked in blouse with an antique heirloom mourning brooch under the scalloped collar. Did she only possess one grey pleated skirt?

How I hated her smell. A clawing odour. Was it B.O.? It was unknown in our house. A woman, perhaps in her 40s and WELL past her sell by date.

But this was Liverpool in the 50s with Paul Anka's 'Diana' and the Everley Brothers 'Wake up little Suzy' also beneath my derriere on top of out-dated Vera Lynn.

Miss Young was always irritated by my lack of progress, my clumsiness and hesitant chords.  No encouragement from this… DRAGON.  No smiles, just professional silence and constant smirks and grunts of disapproval. 

Months went by - perhaps years wasting time while I could have been playing Elvis on my Dansette record player in my mauve bedroom.

Revenge came sooner than I expected.

My Uncle Lewis had fought in North Africa during WW1 and had brought back a large dagger plunged into its ornately decorated scabbard. This trophy was proudly displayed on the wall up high to the left of the tiled salmon pink fireplace.  Its sharp blade, rusty, so my mother was told, with Arab blood.

The Liverpool Echo, which rarely carried foreign news, reported an article on a 13 year old American school girl who had stabbed her music teacher to death with a dagger 13 times. Well I was 13 too. I clipped the cutting and left it on top of the piano for Mamzelle to see.

At the end of the lesson I grasped the moment.

'Read this article, Miss Young'.
She did.
'Look at that dagger on the wall Miss Young'.
She did.
'If you say another word about my playing, I'm going to stab you with that dagger 13 times'.

Miss Young, blanched, rose silently and exited from my life forever.


35 years later, as the founder, owner and curator of Retrograph Archive in London, I was contacted by a British pharmaceutical company researching Dana vintage magazine adverts.

Dana, the perfume famous in the 50s especially the famous Tabu fragrance, was exported to the Third World. I showed them the ten adverts I had for reproduction rights which they agreed to purchase presumably for a campaign. 

To thank me they posted a box containing their sample fragrances. Tabu being the biggest bottle. One whiff and I was back in the clutches of the dreaded Miss Young all those decades ago! 

Originally written in Alison Lurie's workshop Isle of Wight June 2006.  Final update 2014.