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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Saturday, 4 November 2006

12 things you may not know about...

Doing this for/from my friend, Skint Writer's inspired meme.

12 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT... the nuns who taught me in the Convent, Klang, Malaysia, on how to be a 'proper' grown-up.

One of the reasons too, why I emphathize with the Irish novelist Edna O' Brien.

1) Nuns were not allowed to use mirrors to dress or catch themselves in reflections. There was a lot of opaque petticote bustle to rustle through.

2) At 17, I was chosen to play a stage nun to celebrate the Convent's jubilee anniversary. I was so convincing that Sister Stella the most morose choreographer in the world, would visit my mother to plead that I apply for an all-expenses paid scholarship to enter a monastery in Sydney where I would train to be a real nun.
"Susan demonstrates perfect docile attributes" she smiled. Sister Stella was often grumpy from what I feared to be an unecessary menopause.

My mother scorned at this "ridiculous conjecture."
I was fearful and hopeful all at once. I weighed my options carefully. A hopeless teenage crush had gone to pursue law in Australia.
My docility and high-alert timidity was later discovered to be fake as on ironing my veil before a performance, I had burnt and torn it! It looked like gauze.
The school iron itself appeared barbecued and destroyed to a tinder. My friends hastily sewed up the patch. I was playacting my best behaviour before Sister Stella found out about the iron and the veil!

3) Sister Justine looked very ancient and she never seemed to get younger or older. She appeared a museum exhibit. She was forever ticking us off for leaning against the school walls. "A sin, a sin bad girls," she would shout at us all, her voice hoarse and croaking. We would run for our lives, giggling ("Hantu datang, hantu datang, " in Malay, meaning ''the ghost has come, the ghost has come". )

4) Sister Philips was the modern one...she taught geography. She wore a short scarf for her hair, pants and pink lipstick. She was beautiful but unattainable; the crime of her religious vocation. That was a time in our lives where Convent or not, all we did was talk about sex. Mills & Boons romances were consulted. A daredevil would sneak in nude photos. "What if she felt like...how would she do it?...but she cannot do it..." We wondered if she had a cleavage. Our pity for her ran like a well of tears. To be halfway there as a romantic muse but to never reach the point-of-no-return...pity! pity!

5) Sister Florence, the headmistress was the strictest of all. If we were spotted in town after school wearing our school pinnafores, our parents would be immediately summoned.

6) If report cards were signed late or homework not done, Sister Florence would command her
victims to garden or clean the school toilets. At the time of my school-life, the toilets were believed to be deadly and haunted.
Oh..its, Barbara, it's Barbara, I would smile sadly but not-at-all-really-sad-if-you-know-what-I-mean, while sneaking a glance at my hoity-toity arch enemy who looked sweaty and menacing with a lidi broomstick and scrubbing brush.

7) As 13-year olds, nuns would sprint around with measuring tapes. Our pinnafores had to be exactly 3 inches above the knee. Not any higher or not any lower. Just EXACTLY!

8) The nuns commanded that we used only Pelikan rubbers (hee-hee when you think about the dangerous rubbers out there!) or our homework exercise books would be flung with spaceship ferocity outside the classroom. With all that to-ing and fro-ing that went on, they may as well have trained for the javelins in the Olympics.

9) When I was six years old, my mother took me to my first meeting with an Irish nun to have my little torso measured for a school uniform. Naturally, it was a grand affair and my mother had promised candy and 7-Up afterwards if I behaved. It was a tiny room with sewing machines. I still remember the tickles and wriggling about. "Keep still if you may," sang the pip-squeak voice. Afterwards, I was given a yellow toy-cloth handbag as a reward from the merry nun. I was quite naughty at the time. I then demanded a plastic watch and toy ring from my mother. I remembered crying loudly, all the way to the local provision shop. My mother never again took me to be measured for anything by a nun.

10) Once, we watched with hawk-eyed interest, Brother Haro...who was principal of a prestigious boy's school nearby, come to collect Sister Florence in a sports car. Smiling broadly, they shot off together in their robes, Sister Florence's veil, flying lustily in the wind. "Dating," we said. "Look, they've gone dating. They're in love." Over the trees, the evening swallows cooed. Sacrilege, on our part, wasn't it.

11) Once, at a school charity fair, my classmates and I were accidentally locked in the school's messy storeroom with the ancient Sister Justine. It felt like the throes of hell had opened up. She growled and gnashed her teeth! We expected her to change into a Werewolf at any time! We attempted feeble screams and fell over hoola-hoops. Later, she accused a couple of girls of stealing hidden Christmas presents from a Lucky Dip sack! To think that we didn't even get a whiff of gunny the whole time.

12) One of my best memories of school life, was in joining the Young Christian Students' Association. Of course, unknowing to the president Sister Patricia, the high number was due to us meeting boys from the prestigious school nearby and them coming over to meet us in what was supposed to be a saintly camaraderie.
(When we sang Christian songs, Rupert winked at Soo Lin who would nudge Julie who would whisper to me who would then eye Paul playing his guitar who would be thinking of chatting up Judy and that's where dates where made and broken).
One long weekend, we camped in the school grounds (how exciting is that) and we were also going to the sea. The night before, the 'itchified' Shanti couldn't be found. A giggling search party complete with torchlights were summoned. Sister Patricia in charge.
Someone carried a radio. Bad Company blared out Ready to Love.

I can hear 'em say
Bad Company and I won't deny
Bad, Bad Company 'til the day I
Die, 'til the day I die. Oh.
Hey, hey, hey.

Sister Patricia in her high mood of agitation, pretended not to hear and stompd up the eerie staircase.

We followed her brisk clip-clop march in the dark. After a long while, we heard whispers and strange sounds. Sister Patricia began to unearth boxes that shook mysteriously. She looked like the military. We were in the school tuckshop.

Suddenly, with a curve and a swerve, Sister Patricia shone her torchlight on the dishevelled Shanti who was kissing a boy madly - as if her life depended on it - from a jewellery shop in the town nearby. Shanti thought we were robbers and screamed.
The bunch of us looked like Dennis the Menace's pet dog, Gnasher. Only rows and rows of grinning white teeth were visible in the pitch-black canteen.
Sister Patricia's face looked like thunder about to lose its temper!
The next morning, Shanti complained that she had a violent headache and didn't want to go the beach. I still remember the Indian nun's volatile reaction:
"Ooohh is that so, I see...very clever. I'm sure after one hot flask of drinking very thick Ovaltine for breakfast, Shanti will be WELL ENOUGH to follow us to the beach..whether SHE LIKES IT OR NOT! I WILL OVALTINE HER NICELY!!!"
For a year afterwards, I developed a feverish phobia for the beverage. Everytime, I attempted a gulp I would sees nuns in their strange habits, floating about in the frothy foam!

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