Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Why my career choice horrified the nuns

What do you want to be when you grow up? It's an innocuous question you get asked all the time when you're a kid, usually by adults sporting a wry smile and a knowing wink.

I remember one such occasion very well indeed from when I was little. My answer caused shock and alarm at school but instantly went into the annals of family folklore back at the Burscough homestead.

And no — before you ask, I didn't say “a stripper”. It wasn't quite as bad as that. But I'll tell you the background first and then let you decide.

I went to an all-girls convent school, one of the poshest and most exclusive in the north of England. Most of my teachers were nuns, proper black and white, wimple and veil nuns like the ones in The Sound of Music but without the tendency to burst into song. In fact, come to think of it, they were more like the ones in American Horror Story: Asylum.

The head of all the nuns — the top dog, as it were — was an elderly old biddy who was known within those walls as The Very Reverend Mother no less. She kept herself to herself most of the time, hidden from view beyond the convent cloisters (praying for people’s souls, or playing poker or doing God knows what they do when they're off duty ...) But every so often she would suddenly appear, unannounced, and immediately we were expected to drop everything and go into an all-encompassing state of sanctimonious worship. Bowing, scraping, curtseying, the lot.

Honestly, you would think that God Himself had just beamed down from Heaven on an impromptu visit, such was the fuss that was made of this little old — but Very Reverend — woman! She wasn't just holier than thou. She was holier than thou and thou and thou, as far as the eye could see. As far as Rome, probably.

On one such occasion we were in the middle of a French lesson with Sister Ruth (one of the younger, less stern nuns) when the door opened and in walked Her Reverend Highness. Sister Ruth dropped her chalk, mid-grovel, and we all immediately stood up and said in unison “Good Morning Reverend Mother” before bowing our heads respectfully. Once we were given “the nod”

(the convent equivalent of a drill sergeant saying “at ease”) and were allowed to sit down again, she walked towards us.

“Oh dear God! She's going to attempt small-talk!” I remember thinking as I sank into my chair trying to appear invisible.

“Girl! What would you like to be when you grow up?” she asked one of my classmates on the front row. Let's just call her Jane.

“When I grow up, I'd like to serve God and become a nun, Reverend Mother!” she said.

Aye right! You little liar! I thought, instantly removing St Jane from the birthday party list in my head.

“Well, isn't that splendid, Sister?” She said looking at Sister Ruth and clucking like a proud hen. “May God assist you in your chosen path, my dear!”

Then she turned to look at me, as though she instinctively sensed a disturbance in the force from the dark side.

“And you, dear? What will you be when you leave here?”

I suppose I should have said something worthy, like a teacher or a nurse, but my mind went blank. So instead I came straight out and told her the truth ... something that I'd thought about since I'd watched the movie The Good The Bad and the Ugly with my big brothers and had enjoyed beyond compare.

“I want to be a bounty hunter,” I replied.

Silence.

“Catching outlaws, dead or alive, for a hefty reward,” I continued, as both adults and class looked on, with horror on their faces not knowing what to say in response.

From that point on, a black mark remained forever next to my name on the school register.

As it turned out, I never did kill anyone, tempted though I was to make Jane my first acquisition.

Anyway, I was reminded of this at the weekend, when I went to the Moviehouse to see Quentin Tarantino's latest masterpiece, the brilliant Django Unchained. It's a story about slavery and bounty hunters seeking revenge, retribution and redemption in the lawless years leading up to the American Civil War.

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Once again I felt inspired. If only I'd stood my ground, that could have been me!

As I was leaving the cinema a thought crossed my mind. Is it too late for a career change?

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