Today I’m republishing a story based on memories of a literary episode in primary school.
The Bluebell Club
by Sophie Masson
Towards the end of my Enid Blyton phase, in late primary school, I founded a wrhiting club, which I called the Bluebell Club, and managed to inveigle some of my friends into it. My younger sister Camille also hung around it sometimes. The name of the club came straight out of Enid Blyton, of course. And I was the President, also of course!
We would sit, we the Bluebell Club, under the trees at the end of the playground, ignoring the bands of boys who sometimes marched past us, arms linked, chanting, ‘We hate girls! We hate girls!’ We knew they were just craving attention, and were jealous of us as we sat there, telling each other calmly the stories we had made up, which was the ritual of the Club. Each member had to bring a story to the week’s meeting; we read them, admired them, and then it was my job to say which was best, and which would be entered in the exercise book that served as the Club’s record.
I loved the Club. It was the perfect venue for recounting the adventures of my favourite creation, Princess Alicia of the rippling blond hair, the wise mind, clever tongue and magic finger. Alicia featured in dozens of adventures I wrote, each profusely illustrated with curly pictures. The Club members listened to the Alicia stories with respect, but then seemed to want to tell their own and to vote for others, not just Alicia. Secretely, I thought that Alicia should win every week, but not even being President could save me from the fate of knowing what would happen, then.
All the other girls, except for my younger sister Camille of course, were real Aussies—they had vegemite, not salami, sandwiches at lunchtime and glamorous parties for their birthdays, with fairy bread and pink cakes and balloons. I never had a party. I wanted one, so badly–and yet I feared that Maman would probably not know the right ‘form’-she’d make a pâté, and real lemonade with lemons, and her cake would be iced just with melted chocolate, not with ‘proper’ icing. I was not yet at the teenage shamed stage–yet I knew, somehow that those things I loved within the four walls of my home would be misunderstood outside them. The Bluebell Club was my way of integrating, of showing that I knew about what I imagined marked out the ‘mainstream’, knowing, despite the lack of a TV in our house, and the fact Maman never bought processed food, about TV programmes and frozen chips. In my stories Alicia always watched Bewitched and Dr Who, and loved frozen chips and green GI cordial.
I talked to Maman about the Bluebell Club, and was amazed when she suggested that we run a proper competition. She would donate a prize for it, she said. My joy at this unexpected offer was tinged with suspicion–would she know what was the right thing to do? I kept dropping hints, saying, well I think a good prize would be a book, hoping that she wouldn’t get it into her head to bake a cake which would look home-made, with dense, delicious yellow flesh and pockmarked brown skin.
She did buy a book–done up in blue tissue, it sat in my bag, innocent and weighty. She hadn’t told me what it was–couldn’t remember, she said, mischievously. But a book was safe. Sure. I took it to school in anticipation, having last week announced the competition. I’d written a story, Alicia’s latest adventure, in which, sheathed in gold brocade and silk hair nets, our heroic princess went to do battle with an alien. I’d had trouble drawing the alien–it looked rather like Maman’s vacuum cleaner. But the story was good drama. I’d rehearsed it to myself, last night in bed.
One of the other girls’ mother had kindly baked a cake for us, as celebration, and we ate it as a preliminary. There it sat, neat as a house on its plate, its walls straight and pale, its roof prettily frosted with white icing, dusted with multi-coloured sprinkles. It looked like a proper shop cake, and I was awed by its beauty. ‘Mum always buys the good packet mixes,’ the girl said, and I gasped with longing. I’d seen those packets in the supermarket—they had names like Snow Vanilla; Royal Chocolate; Pink Marble. Cakes for a Princess Alicia, to eat off golden plates.
When the cake was cut, it proved to have white flesh inside. It must have been a Snow Vanilla. I couldn’t get my eyes off that snowy colour; it was like no cake we ever had, at home. There was none of the sweet denseness of the French butter cake known as quatre-quarts which Maman made a lot; instead, you closed your mouth on an airy lightness, as soft as cloud. Privately, I was a little disappointed; it was like barbe à papa (fairy floss or cotton candy) that looked so magically wonderful but disintegrated into a trickle of pink on your tongue. But I was loudest in praise, for you couldn’t admit that pretty words could hide nothing at all. It was the image that was important, the feeling of riches, of magic, of leisure. No hard mixing and stirring and separating here, no messy egg shells, still with yolk adhering, or showers of flour on the floor. Just a packet, a picture, a pretty name, and hey presto–instant cake! It was like a miracle, I thought. And you can’t question miracles.
When the last crumb of Snow Vanilla had gone, I held up a hand for attention. ’And now for the judging of the competition,’ I announced rather pompously. ’I have here a magnificent prize, for the lucky winner.’ The others watched me a little strangely, I thought. Didn’t they want to know the winner? ‘Let’s read all our stories, and then we’ll see.’
I read the latest adventure of Alicia first, my voice rising and falling. I added an episode ad lib, when the Princess feasted on Snow Vanilla. The others listened, then read their stories. Very ordinary, they seemed to me.
‘Now, we’ll decide the winner,’ I began, but then another girl, the cake girl no doubt, stopped me. ’I’ve told my mum about all this,’ she said, ‘And she said it’s not fair, that you get to be the judge. I bet you’d choose your own story!’
‘I’m tired of Princess Alicia, anyway,’ said another girl. ’Why do you always write about her? She’s boring!’
The meeting broke up in disarray. In my bag, still in its blue tissue, was the prize book. I’d had no chance to bring it out, to display it, no chance to choose the winner, no chance to hand the book over, in its secretive blue. I tried to call them back, but the words wouldn’t come. They were off, chattering, their minds on elastics and skipping. They’d had enough of the Club, too. Possibly enough of me. My earnestness frightened them off. Now I was frightened. I’d thought I’d done so well, queening it over them, but now I realised they’d humoured me, for a while, because there was nothing else to do. Camille stayed for a minute, then said, ‘Don’t worry, I like Alicia. You can read it to me, if you like.’
But I didn’t want to read them to my sister. I could do that any day, at home. I wanted to sit under the trees, with the Bluebell Club, being their President, their admired, imitated President. I wanted to fill the exercise book with our work, with our efficient meetings. It felt like real life, quiet, efficient real life, not the chaotic un-Australianness of our home. But I’d just been voted out of office. Permanently. I knew it. And suddenly, Alicia’s curly hair, her huge eyes, filled me with anger. I tore the story across and put it in the bin.
The book stayed in its blue tissue all day. At home, I opened it at last. ‘The members of the Bluebell Club,’ I told Maman, ‘voted my story the best in the competition!’ I could even believe it, as I opened the collection of illustrated poems Maman had bought (it was a lovely book). Yes, I could even hear their clapping as one by one, the members of the Bluebell Club agreed that Princess Alicia and the Aliens was the best story they had ever heard, and deserving of the first prize. I looked across at Camille. But she said nothing. Her mouth was full of cake. Quatre-quarts, not Vanilla Snow.