Patent Leather Shoes.

For T

When I was at the convent we had these very ancient nuns who had not seen the outside world since before the First World War. One of them, Mother Mary Austen, was particularly ancient and not terribly attractive physically. We were very unkind and spent a lot of time laughing at her, especially the way her false teeth made her spit out the words “Let us pray”.  She was however extremely clever and very knowledgeable theologically and academically. She was also very kind.  And this led to lots of misunderstandings.  When we were in Upper Four she was our form tutor.  She was full of good advice for us as young ladies.  And also very tactful. She had a confidential question box into which we were

encouraged to post questions anonymously. On Friday afternoons she would ceremoniously open the box and read out the questions.  We would wait with baited breath for the answers.  She never wavered,  no matter how silly or precocious the question.

We would giggle hopelessly as she answered:

Q When can we kiss a boy?

A On the day of your engagement, at a charity bazaar (we could sell kisses for a penny!) or under the mistletoe.

Q What should we wear to a dance?

A A pretty dress, dear, but remember that your rose must never get crushed.

She then had to explain that she thought would all be wearing corsages at our waists.  We hadn’t a clue what she meant until we asked our grandmothers.

Q Can you get married in a bikini? (it was in the news at the time)

A Of course dear.

Further probing made us realise she didn’t know what it was but didn’t like to say.  We didn’t enlighten her as far as I can remember.

Q How close can we walk with a boy?

A At least six feet apart, dear.

Q Why can’t we wear patent leather shoes?(against the rules at the time)

A They’re disgusting dear. They reflect your underwear and that would never do, now would it?

She did, on the other hand, ask us genuine questions about the world outside.  She once asked if they still put straw down on the streets on the day of a funeral to stop the noise of the horses’ hooves.  She had never been in a car! Hard to believe now, and yet this was less than fifty years ago!

Any other words or phrases?

3 comments on “Patent Leather Shoes.

  1. Am enjoying your reminisces !!.. I remember MM Austen with great affection. Her catch phrase was ” it’s unsteady dear, unsteady”!!.. We used to put rice crispies on the refectory floor, so when she came in at breakfast, she would crunch across the floor!.. We were very cruel. Do you remember Bernadette Clancy. She used to wind her up by prancing about in her PJ’s. When told to put her dressing gown on, she told her she had it on!!.. Poor thing thought she was going bonkers!!…


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