What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Spotter's Guide to: Nuns.

Watching the Royal Wedding on telly, I was completely distracted by the two nuns sitting next to Wills. Random unexpected Nuns are guaranteed to make me giggle, especially when they are walking down Westminster Abbey together and one is tall and the other short - surely they could have found matching Nuns for the Royal Wedding?

I like spotting Nuns, Nunspotting  is a good game. Rome was an excellent place for that, and I beat Mrbird hands down, although he claims I cheated. Which I obviously wouldn’t because cheating at Nunspotting gets you an automatic penalty, and 6 months in purgatory. At other times though, spotting a Nun feels like a glimpse into the past, as if a Celtic warrior just strolled out of the shop. Or like a glimpse into another world; aliens that walk amongst us, usually in pairs.

In terms of classification, I think there are three main categories of Nun. Sometimes they overlap, but I think they boil down to:

A - Evil Nuns. (See Frost in May, The Magdelene Sisters and the Nuns at my Mum’s school who served up rotten lamb for school dinner)
B- Comedy Nuns (See Father Ted, A Very Peculiar Practice and any Nun seen doing un-Nunlike things)
C- Utterly Bonkers Nuns (See Sister Wendy and most Incidental Nuns in telly dramas, unless covered by A)

My own experience of Nuns is cheerful and benign and comes from my Primary School, which was run by them. Not a Convent School, there were boys for starters, but there were lots of Nuns on staff and us kids loved them. They managed to maintain order whilst giving us all the impression we could do no wrong.

Sister K, the Head, would wander round the school doing her little old lady act to visitors, especially those after money, and you could no more better her than you could Miss Marple.  Her arrival in the classroom at the end of the school day was always met with gasps of wonder and excitement. She would be holding a large jar, and it could only mean one thing - SWEETS! If your class had been especially Good, Sister K brought round sweeties for all. We lived for those days, and all the other classes would be suitably jealous.

The school kitchen was ruled by the immense presence of Sister M who, despite an inexplicable obsession with adding a portion of grated carrot to every meal, was a fabulous cook. Which means, to a 10 yr old, that she made great puddings. Of popcorn cake in gloopy pink custard and Apple Sponge and Custard, are happy childhood memories made. In Year 6 we were expected to do Duties, and by far the most popular was Dining Hall Duty. You would cheerfully scrape plates clean, and carry Infants’ trays knowing that yours was the ultimate reward: DOUBLE PUDDING. An overflowing bowl of rhubarb crumble and the obligatory custard was worth a lunch hour of anyone’s time.

Then there was tiny wren-like Sister C, who did playground duty and often carried a packet of polos. Many years later, I Spotted her in London. She was wandering round Harrods Foodhall looking bewildered, and then guilty. She was “on retreat down the road” and “couldn’t resist popping in for a look round”. Ok, Sister.

When I was six a Head Nun of some sort came to visit the school. She sat and chatted to us, and then asked how many of us girls would like to be Nuns - lots of hands shot up. Why wouldn’t they? We were six and the thought of getting to wear dressing up clothes every day and living in a place where no smelly boys were allowed seemed like a pretty good option.

As you grow up of course, you are harder to impress. And it became easy to laugh at the Nuns’ little foibles and naivities. Except with Sister M. She was a Nun Apart, due to her possession of a driving licence. We used to mockingly call her the Getaway Nun, imagining a load of her Sisters in the back yelling “Just drive, you slaag!”. Her job was to look after lary teenage girls on Youth Activity Weeks. But she spoke to us so honestly about her life, and laughed so genuinely when we wanted to know how she could keep her hair hidden under a headdress the whole time, that we couldn’t help warming to her. She told us looks weren’t important and, as we fogged up the room with cheap hairspray and Impulse, we were all envious of her hair, which was frankly magnificent and hung in glossy healthiness to her waist, and a little envious of her calm confidence and indifference to the things which kept us awake at night. We may even have gone as far as saying that Sister M was… cool.

The Nuns of my childhood were great women, full of dignity and humour and humanity. At 26 I returned to my childhood parish to get married. As the Wedding approached, I went to the  Convent to invite any Nuns at a loose end to come along to the service. The Convent was a modern building, with a welcoming foyer and a sense of serenity that posh Spa proprietors would kill for. I’d been allowed in before, but only when I was very small. My Dad used to mow the lawns for the Nuns and I’d go with him, because sometimes he’d let me drive the ride-on mower. I was once brought inside the Convent to be given orange juice, miraculously without custard. I remember a feeling of awe, but also of warmth. And I was amazed to find that feeling surfacing in the adult me a week before my Wedding. Just a tiny part of me envied the Sisters their life of peace and gentle productivity, a life that they’d chosen willingly and I would never know or understand.

I suppose in a week filled with worries about napkins and manicures and shoes and hair, the simplicity of their lives was covetably alien! The spell of the serene atmosphere didn’t last, of course. I wonder for whom it stays. Real Nuns are complex to categorise, but they do like a nice Wedding and as I walked towards Mrbird on my Wedding Day, I got to award myself several Nunspotting points.

There are Nuns who are despicable, there are Nuns who are laughable, and those who are safest kept in a Convent. But there are also those who make a mean Damson Tart (and custard), who can stop a gaggle of revolting 15 yr olds in their tracks, and those who, deep down, I respect. Even though the word “wimple” will always make me giggle.


  1. A nun once showed me her knickers. Purple they were.

  2. Ah. That would be a Category C nun.


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