A Lesson in Subversive Action
The convent was just becoming a comprehensive, so at the last minute the Headteacher (a ruthless maverick nun) decided she had better appoint a Remedial teacher. She advertised in the Local Authority weekly bulletin on the Thursday immediately prior to the term deadline for giving notice. I wrote straight away and hand delivered my application. On Friday evening she telephoned and instructed me to come for interview on Saturday.
“But isn’t the school closed?” I stammered “You will come to the convent,” she replied. “I will see you in the parlour. Ring the bell at the grilled gate.”
I was terrified. The parlour served as the formal receiving room. It had its original decor with heavy Victorian curtaining. Sister Agnes spoke to me about a few practicalities of what the school required and scrutinised me closely. I can’t remember saying very much, but I took care to answer respectfully. At the end of fifteen minutes she offered me the job. In hindsight I can only assume she thought I was clean and well spoken and (of course) had a degree, so I was probably going to be the best of the bad job the Local Authority advert would drag in.
But to get to the point, every year to celebrate the birthday of the Foundress of the Order, the senior domestic science group baked a cake for the convent. It was a culmination of everything they had been taught, meticulously iced and decorated – a kind of masterwork. For a week it was put on display to give the entire school a chance to wonder at its glory. The pupils could file past it in awe, a bit like a lying in state.
The term after my first Remedial group and I joined the school, the school was rocked by a scandalous act – somebody had taken a bite from the convent cake! The search for the culprit was merciless. Investigation narrowed down the suspects to the first year classes. Interrogations were undertaken, those under great suspicion had their teeth inspected for a significant dental formation and it was even rumoured that the prime suspects had to bite into an apple so that the teeth marks could be compared, but the culprit was never found. I knew it had to be one of mine. Nobody else would have dared!
Fionuala was a sturdy taciturn girl with a head of tight red curls. She studied life through cynical streetwise eyes. In the Irish sense as well as the English, she was bold. I was sure it was her. She had somehow gained an air of added self- confidence and satisfaction. From the lowly position of the Remedial department she seemed to have risen to a position of respect amongst her fellow students. Certainly nobody “dissed” us any more, to use the modern terminology.
I taught Fionuala for almost five years. During that time I tried on various occasions to wangle the truth from her, not for retribution, but just from sheer curiosity. Finally when I was leaving I had to ask straight out.
“Fionuala, I”ve got to know! It was you that bit the convent cake, wasn’t it?”
My only answer was her Mona Lisa smile………