While I was working on my last book, Maggie, a neighbour of ours, asked me what it was about.
"Well," I said, "for one thing I've invented a family in which the father is atheist and the mother devoutly Catholic ..."
That was as far as I got.
"That's my family!" cried Maggie. "My father was a devout atheist and my mother a firm Catholic! That's why I spent so many terrible years at a convent school till my father took a hand and got me to grammar school."
"Was it so very bad at the convent school?" I asked, hoping for a bit of free research.
"It was ghastly. The nuns were so cruel. I grew to loathe the nuns. They would hit me hard every single time I made a spelling mistake. Mark you, I am a very good speller now ..."
She went off into a bit of a dream and then came back.
"I still have a thing about nuns. Not long ago I was taken to a special showing of The Sound of Music. I didn't realise it was a very special showing indeed, one of those gala ones, where the fans all go along dressed up in character. So I found myself in a cinema full of nuns. I went bonkers. I freaked out. It was not funny..."
I had forgotten about this until last Thursday, when I was up in Chester, sharing a congenial literary dinner with Simon Hoggart. I had a slight advantage over Simon, in that - although his grandfather had gone to Chester College - my family had actually lived in the area, near Wrexham, and Chester was our nearest shopping city when I was growing up, so people kept approaching me with tales of old Wrexham.
One of them, a Mrs Todd, told me inter alia that she had spent several years at a convent school and hated it.
"Why?" I asked.
"The nuns," she said. "They were really awful. They were horrible."
She expanded a bit on their awfulness and then went off into a reverie, a la Maggie, at the terrible thought. I thought for a moment she was going to cross herself. But she didn't. Perhaps she had lost her religion. In any case, you can't really cross yourself against Catholicism, can you?
"Anyway," she said, coming back to today, "the convent school has been pulled down now".
She did not sound sorry. But I was off on a separate train of thought already. We hear a lot these days about troubles in state education and how difficult teachers find it to instil discipline in today's children. They are not given enough authority. Children are given too many rights. Too many children come from backgrounds where indiscipline rules. Teachers have nervous breakdowns simply trying to keep order ...
Killer nuns! That's the answer, obviously. Well, not killer nuns exactly, maybe, but good old-fashioned nuns who are prepared to maim and torture a bit, as they clearly were back in those legendary convent schools. They had probably been trained in unarmed combat by the Christian Brothers. You never heard about unruly classes in convent schools. You never heard about children giving nuns a bit of lip, or pulling weapons on them. They were too dead scared of the nuns to play the silly ass. Bring nuns back, I say.
Convent schools were faith schools by another name, of course, and you never hear of insubordination in any faith schools. Lots of stories are printed about the Muslim faith schools called madrassas, about how they produce the next wave of Islamic clerics or of terrorists, depending on which paper you are reading, but you never read any stories about teachers being unable to keep order in a madrassa. That's because the Islamic kids are as scared of their teachers as our girls were of the nuns. They may be turned into suicide bombers, but I bet they are well-behaved suicide bombers who kept very quiet and attentive in class - as our girls and I wouldn't be surprised if they were very good at spelling as well.
Well, that's my contribution to the national debate on education. Bring back wild nuns. If I think of anything else, I'll let you know.Reuse content