First there were white rolls at breakfast which had once been stale left overs at the local bakery. The baker brought them in his car at the end of each week free and the nuns splashed them with water and then tossed them into the oven.
By the time they reached our tables they were crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. I ate mine with melted butter and honey, washed down with sweet milky tea. Instead of sandwiches for lunch like the day girls we had a three course hot meal, dishes like steak and kidney pie, after soup, mostly pumpkin or vegetable and followed by some sweet concoction, sometimes inedible like sago or tapioca pudding. Occasionally, the nuns served my favourite, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce or a runny custard pudding.
At afternoon tea, the nuns prepared hot buttered fruit buns in the same way as our breakfast rolls but this time instead of tea we drank hot chocolate, steaming mugs of hot sweet chocolate milk to take the edge off any hunger till the last meal of the day, a lighter meal, more bread, in slices and usually left stale with sardines or baked beans or cold corned beef.
By the year’s end as I sat one day in the chapel. Up early for Mass, good girl that I was, I found myself the only boarder in the first three rows. Behind me sat the nuns, like a flock of black birds, heads bent in prayer. And so it fell to me to ring the bells for communion.
I had never done this before and I could not find my way into the order in which I should have rung them. The Latin Mass offered few clues. Before the sanctus, before the communion, three times, a fast jiggle of the bells, and if I got it wrong, would the priest stop hoisting the white host into the air and tell that girl in the front to get her bell ringing right?
After Mass my favourite nun came to me.
‘Your suspender belt is cutting into your skin. You need a bigger dress.’
I smiled and took my leave. I had not reckoned on my favourite nun’s taking note of my proportions.
Alone in the vacant block next to the school I kicked at loose stones.