As the year twelves eagerly await their exam results and plan the next stage of their lives, I have found myself reminiscing of when I left home at the age of 18.
For years, I had begged my parents to send me to boarding school. I made all sorts of promises, the clincher, I thought, was that I promised to actually study but my empty promises fell on deaf ears and I had to stay at a school I loathed. They blamed my romanticized version of boarding school on Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers. A fabulous series full of mid night feasts, pranks and respected head girls, of which I was sure to be one, given the chance.
Instead, at the end of year twelve, I found myself not at a lovely old boarding school with manicured gardens and a lacrosse field, but at a not so lovely old convent surrounded by enormous buildings with the smog almost choking me to death. The lacrosse field was nowhere in sight and forget the midnight feasts, the kitchen was padlocked at exactly 7 pm every single night.
The irony of the situation was, that at eight years of age, a cranky, old nun informed me that if I was lucky, God would give me the calling. The calling, of course, was to be given the honour of becoming a nun. So every night I secretly took the phone off the hook, (I couldn’t be too careful) and prayed desperately to God to leave me alone. Thankfully, God decided that there was no way in hell he was letting me join his superfluity, or so I was led to believe, until I found myself actually living in a convent.
Anyway, my parents left me in the dubious care of Sister Hilda. A tall stoic woman who, if you hadn’t met a nun before may have seemed very intimidating. She and I butted heads often.
I lasted six months and learnt many things during my prison sentence:
No 1: Yogurt will explode if kept in a cupboard. It might take a few weeks. It’s not pretty when it does explode and the taste, I wouldn’t recommend it.
No 2: God will not strike you down if you don’t go to mass at 6am every morning. Or any morning for that matter. If you are able to ignore Sister Hilda banging on your door, demanding that you do indeed attend mass, she will not go away but eventually she will lose her voice, which is a blessing to everyone.
No 3: Throwing stones at your roommates’ window to wake her and alert her to the fact that you have forgotten the key, (again) does not work. You have to face the consequences of waking a very grumpy nun the next day. Think thirty women menopausing. It’s a wonder I survived.
No 4: Nuns do not wear their habits to bed. Instead they wear white, lace, antique nightgowns buttoned right up under their chin. I’m sure I heard a clanging sound whenever Sister Hilda walked. Oh, now I know what that enormous key tied around her waist was for.
No 5: Existing solely on junk food is not a good idea. It can lead to a hospital stay where you are prodded endlessly until it is discovered you have malnutrition. Well it was either that or food poisoning every night.
No 6: The pub down the road is a gift from God. Well, he had to help me out somehow.
No 7: Never interrupt a nun in prayer. Again the thirty women menopausing.
No 8: Do not innocently stand with your boyfriend by the gates of a convent. Nuns, given any chance, will report your “Lay about lad,” (even if he is doing his PHD) to the police. They will arrive with lights and sirens blaring, hand cuffs at the ready, eager to arrest the so called pervert. Yes this happened twice.
No 9: Menstrual cycles can synchronize. With twenty five women in the building, things could get really scary. Chocolate was the only thing eaten for a week and if you dared ask for a piece a vicious beast would almost kill you.
No 10: Nuns do have eyes at the back of their heads which makes me wonder if they are actually human?
Six months later I fled to a share house where life became even more extraordinary. I will save those stories for another time.
So how old were you when you first left home and what are your stories. I would love to read them.