Today I had been going to blog about the second day of the Guardian’s excellent weekend seminar on Self Publishing.
But, when I came home last night to find a nun in my living room, I changed my mind.
“I thought you might not like her,” my eternally-un-named friend said.
“She’s wonderful,” I said.
“I found her in a charity shop,” my eternally-un-named friend told me. “I thought of her as an early Christmas present for someone religious or as a prop for Martin Soan. She was only £2.99. I think I saw her in a different charity shop in the summer for £6.99.”
“Why would two people have got rid of her?” I asked. “Perhaps she’s evil and comes with a curse.”
“She’s got poppers,” my eternally-un-named friend told me. “None of that Velcro rubbish.”
“And underwear,” I said, lifting up the nun’s skirt.
“She has eyelashes,” observed my eternally-un-named friend.
“And,” I said, fiddling with the nun, “because she’s held round the waist by a metal bar attached to a stand, she can levitate. Always impressive. Look.”
My eternally-un-named friend was not impressed.
“She’s also musical,” she said, moving my hand away from the nun’s back and turning a key. A delicate tune played. “I thought about extending her arms and hanging her from the ceiling as if she was a flying nun. But I couldn’t quite figure out how to suspend her.”
“What shall we call her?” I asked.
“Sister Sara,” suggested my eternally-un-named friend. “Like in the Clint Eastwood film.”
“Sister Suzie?” I suggested. “always sewing socks for soldiers….”
“The Flying Nun,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What was she called? Bernadette?”
“Sally Field,” I said. “But we can’t call her Sally Field. It sounds like an airstrip. How about Sister Chucky? I think there might be some sort of Satanic curse surrounding her, which is why the person who bought her in a charity shop in summer had to get rid of her to another charity shop in December…”
By now, we were both looking on the internet for other nuns.
“I picked her up and vaguely walked around the shop today,” my eternally-un-named friend told me, “and there was a guy there at the till, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. He didn’t smile as if Aha! It’s a nun! And I was thinking £2.99??? She’s 16 inches high! And musical! I’d almost bought her in the previous charity shop in the summer, but I thought £6.99 was too much for something you don’t really want… £2.99 though… And she’s got poppers… If you buy a toy or a doll, it’s got Velcro, not poppers. It’s well-made and it’s…”
“Satanic,” I said.
“She’s got eyelashes!” my eternally-un-named friend persisted. “There were two in the summer.”
“Nuns. One was this one and the other had a black face and was wearing spectacles. Look, here on the internet, you can get Russian nesting nuns.”
I looked. “One inside the other and each one getting smaller and smaller,” I said admiringly. “That’s always useful.”
“Yes. And mini-nun nesting dolls. Look. Two inches high. And a Flying Nun paper doll. Mint, it says, in box.”
“At least you would have something to eat,” I said. “But all these ones online look crap. We have a superior nun here. What’s the most expensive one on that page?”
“Ah, that’s for a Flying Nun,” I said, looking, “and it’s still crap. £187 for a rather ugly nun is a bit steep… All that money for a nun.”
“Reminds me of the Poor Clares,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
“Who were they?” I asked.
“The ones in Belgium. You remember it happened in the 1990s?”
“No,” I said. “I barely remember what happened yesterday.”
“It was in the newspapers.” persisted my eternally-un-named friend. “They sold their nunnery and went off to the South of France with the proceeds. They bought an ambulance or some motor van to transport a disabled elderly nun with them. They must have just thought Sod it! We’re fed up. We’ll sell the nunnery!”
“What did they do when they got to the South of France? Did they stop nunning and became ravers?”
“Well, yes, as much as they could, considering some of them weren’t that well. What could anyone do to them? They were nuns! They’d already sold the place.”
“You would think they’d get struck down by thunderbolts,” I said. “What happened to them?”
“I have no idea. It’s a mystery. Like Searching For Sugar Man. It could be a film. Did the Catholic Church hunt them down and throw them on the streets? They didn’t have any possessions, just the money from selling the nunnery. We’ll have to Google it,”
We both turned to our laptops
“They must have had gold statues and things,” I said. “Catholic churches are always dripping with gold.”
“They might have had a few bits of gold and silver,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Who knows? One presumes they were sensible enough to sell everything. They’d just sold the nunnery! They can’t have said Oh, we’ll post this gold chalice back to the Pope. It belongs to him. But I reckon they didn’t own many possessions because they were called The Poor Clares – the clue’s in the name.”
“Ah yes,” I said. “the Poor Clares.”
“Or the gutsy Clares,” suggested my eternally-un-named friend. “You’ve got to hand it to them.’
“I think they handed it to themselves,” I said.
“Well, that’s what one admires, isn’t it? At what point did one of them think of doing it?”
“Maybe they had a discussion round a rosary,” I suggested.
“Or maybe every now and then they’d had a moan – Oh God, we’ve got to do this-and-that and Cardinal So-and-so’s coming along tomorrow and he’ll insist on having the best of the courgettes or We’re not allowed to grow roses! or God! I’m sick of that man!”
“They would have thought things like that!” my eternally-un-named friend insisted. “They’d have had men coming along telling them what to do in the nunnery and, at some point, one of the nuns would have started muttering and one of the others would have said Yeah, I’m fed up too and, eventually, someone would have said Hey! Wouldn’t it be funny if… That’s how these things happen.”
“What?” I asked. “Nuns selling nunneries and running off to the South of France?”
“Yes. Another nun would say Hey! You know, we really could! And the Mother Superior was in on it, obviously.”
“They must have had a vote,” I mused. “A unanimous vote to run off to the South of France with the proceeds of selling the nunnery.”
“A couple of them,” my eternally-un-named friend suggested, “must have been upset and fed up about some situation and said We’ll ask Sister Sue but then thought Mary’s a wee bit religious. She might not be up for it.”
“I wonder how you would bring up the subject in general conversation,” I asked. “Presumably they were not a silent order. If they were, they’d have had to mime it, which would be difficult. Maybe they brought it up over wine and bread.”
“You’d be eating your porridge or gruel and vegetables,” my eternally-un-named friend suggested, “and thinking Oh Lord, the cardinals are off on their holiday to Rome yet again or Oh, that bishop’s come back with a suntan and we never get to go anywhere.”
“You don’t think you’re grafting too feminist a viewpoint onto this?” I asked. “It’s a nunnery.”
“Or,” she continued, ignoring me, “Oh! Have you seen the cardinal’s plush new red shawl? You’d be making your leavened bread or chatting while you were doing your cooking, like you do, and you’d say Oh, I’m fed up with this! And someone else would say Oh, so am I! Wouldn’t it be nice if... and that’s how those things start.”
“Is this a general rule when people sell nunneries behind the Pope’s back?” I asked.
“That’s how anyone does things. By chatting to someone and saying What if…?”
“More difficult if you’re a nun,” I suggested, “to say Let’s sell up the nunnery and go off to the South of France.”
“Well, maybe some American came by and said This is a great place. How much would you take? and they said Don’t be ridiculous! but then they thought Well, now, come to think of it… We are all just here in Belgium waiting to die.”
“Perhaps they were bored with living in Belgium,” I said. “The nuns flew south for the winter and stayed there.”
“We should look up more details,” my eternally-un-named friend told me.
“No,” I told her. “I don’t think my blog should be trammelled by facts. Baseless supposition and unsourced fantasies are far more interesting.”
But, in the end, we did Google it.
My eternally-un-named friend wound up the nun and, to the sound of her delicate music, she read out to me from her laptop this piece from the Los Angeles Times, dated March 30, 1990:
“The Bruges Diocese was rocked this month by two bizarre episodes. The conversion of a convent into a luxury hotel by a defrocked nun. And the sale of another convent by eight nuns who fled in a limousine to the South of France.
“Eight members of the Order of the Poor Clares, aged 62 to 93, sold their convent in Bruges – without the Pope’s permission – for $1.4 million. They promptly bought a castle in the French Pyrenees, a farm, eleven racehorses and six luxury cars.
“Authorities this week charged a formal financial advisor to the nuns, Ronny Crab, with swindling the sisters through abuse of trust to gain control of their financial affairs.”
“Ronny Crab?” I asked, incredulous.
“That’s what it says here.”
“He doesn’t sound like he conned them,” I said. “They fled to the South of France in a limousine and bought eleven racehorses!”
“Meanwhile,” my eternally-un-named friend continued, “about 20 miles from Bruges, a former nun is converting part of the Arme Klaren convent in Nieuwpoort into a hotel, complete with pink bathrooms.
“Maria Logghe, 49, was dismissed by the bishop two years ago for a lifestyle ‘not in accordance with the church’, including fancy clothes and a penchant for smoking cigars and driving fast cars.”
“Mmmmmm…..” I said.
“It sounds like St Trinian’s,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
“I am thinking of joining the Catholic Church,” I told her.