Saturday, 19 May 2012

The magic came back

Today I saw my old headmistress.

Not just any old headmistress. This was the mighty Sister Joseph Clare. Head of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Convent in Southam, a small town near Royal Leamington Spa.

From 1975 to 1979 she was the uber scary woman in black (although I did think if she took her hat off she’d be a man…mummy!) and ruled us all with an iron ruler and was stricter than any woman I would ever meet until I joined the police.

She was however a major source of inspiration around the evolution of my ethics, morals and sense of right & wrong. A consistently firm yet compassionate woman who rarely smiled but never did anything without a good reason and clearly had a lot of affection for children.

My earliest memory of her is being taken to her office by my mother in ’75 as I was, at the ripe age of 4, neglecting to say “please and thank you” in the Nursery. Sister firmly told me that I had to in future say “please may I?” if I wanted anything.

A year later in Reception class, there was a lad named Jason Grubb, who was notoriously badly behaved and gave the teachers a hard time and probationary staff had been know the flee the classroom in tears. Sister came in, took him by the hand and gave him one warning that if he didn’t stop making “all that stupid noise” she’d smack him. She eventually did and he calmed down dramatically, while the rest of us tried to look away and not be noticed.

In 1977 she took us in groups of 5 into her office to warn us that we were being a horrid class and any future bad behaviour would be dealt with by a slipper on the bottom (she also added “and I know it will hurt”). When she retired in 1991 and I came back to say goodbye to her I reminded her of this. She smiled and went “yes Lance, but I never did it, did I?”

The threat had been enough.

The deputy head of the school (Mr Lafferty, originally believed to be Mr Lavatory) was ALMOST as scary as Sister. But if he was in a good mood you MIGHT get away with just a telling off, as opposed to a ruler on the hand. If you were sent to Sister and she’d just met the Pope, she’d still deal out the same punishment as if she was in the blackest of moods.

She was consistent, fair and compassionate. Qualities that are rare but rarer still in a Headteacher.

Today was her Diamond Jubilee Mass (60 years as a nun) and I went to the church of Our Lady in St Walston, next to St Mary’s and on the doorstep was a short, old nun with silver hair.

“Hello, can I help you?”
“Err, yes I’m here for Sister Joseph Clare’s mass”

“That’s me…and you are?”

A hug and a handshake (she has a grip like a lemon squeezer) and I showed her the photo of me and my brother taken in 1977 at the school. She smiled and went, “well, I remember your chubby cheeks.”

A jolly pleasant time was had by all and two of my teachers from that era were also in attendance. We reminisced about the old times and when I reminded Mrs Clayton (my teacher in 1976) that she was as free with her hugs as her smacks, she replied “it’s natural when children are upset to hug them. Nowadays, well…you can’t touch them at all.”

I showed Sister a copy of THE CATASTROPHE OF THE EMERALDQUEEN and the character I wrote, based on her. It has the “please may I” story recreated in 100% detail. Sister looked at it, after I signed the book and gave it to her and went “you’ve made me out to be a right dragon!”

Not a dragon sister, more of a protective badass with a heart of gold.

Thank you.

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