I sometimes get into quite heated arguments about nuns. The problem occurs when I meet fellow 1960s women who went to bad convent schools. They relate horror stories of humourless (and, in some cases, dangerously stupid) nuns, who preached hellfire, imposed weird exotic punishments and daily excoriated the fearful, frightening, filthy world of sexuality. Not, frankly, the best way to the heart of a teenage girl, even a dreamy one with a picture of Cliff Richard on her wall.
And certainly not if her poster (torn down by Sister Evangelina with little cries of horror) depicted Mick Jagger with his shirt off.
Girls from such schools point accusingly to their own suffering, and conflate it with screen memories of the Magdalene laundries, Frost in May, Philomena and so on.
All of which was, indeed, reprehensible: human beings invested with authority and numinous dignity do risk succumbing to the temptations of power. No reason to think bad convents immune.
I spent three terms in a bad one when my Dad was posted to South Africa in the apartheid years. In Krugersdorp, the nuns pulled off a double by not only bashing us with rulers a lot but also being startlingly racist (“The kaffirs don’t clean the cheppel properly, they’re dirty people”).
It was useful to learn, at 13, that even people with great silver pectoral crosses clonking on their front could be unholy.
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