Celtic Illumination, part 237, Get me to the church on time.
I suppose I could say that life was ticking along quite normally. Irene did her usual, no messing about childbirth routine. This time she made sure that it involved a middle of the night run to Ipswich hospital where she gave birth to our wonderful daughter Jane. I did my usual and fainted, once again, taking Irene’s mind off the actual childbirth process. Whether it was the three children or not I can’t be sure but the family in Ireland began to take an interest. The first request was to go and visit an aunt who was working as a nun in Africa, Sister Paul, however as she was born on the twelfth of July we called her Billy. Billy was flying back to Africa via London and we were invited to the convent she was staying at, for lunch.
I always love going to convents and the like for usually they are sumptuous buildings and this convent was no exception. It was outside London and was a huge Victorian mansion. It always surprised me that whenever I went to a convent the nuns always knew me. I knocked at the main door which was opened by a smiling nun who immediately says “Ah hello Peter.” Once again I have no idea how this girl knows me, but the thought slips away from my mind as there is a bustle of excitement and we are all ushered in to the convent. We were to have a private lunch in a huge dining room and Billy was in good form. We were waited on by nuns who, once the meal was finished, suggested that they take the children away to give us a bit of peace and quiet.
It was very kind of them and as we relaxed and drank coffee we became aware of a growing commotion outside. I went to investigate to find the nuns giving the children rides on the stair lift and chucking a ball around in an area littered with artwork and ornaments that would normally have you check your arms were kept tight by your side at all times. Billy gave us a painting she had brought from Africa for us. It was oil on cloth and the scene featured was of a village party. One reveller is crawling away from the party and Billy pointed him out saying that it was me. Once again I was finding out what people actually thought of me. I still have the painting and enjoy looking at it and of course myself.
The next visit was from a priest, Owen. Very strange as it was only a day trip which meant him getting a train up from London. I say strange because when I was imprisoned in Violent Hell, Owen taught there. He had been working as a missionary priest in Africa and had to return to have cancer in his throat dealt with. During all my time at Violent Hell Owen wouldn’t invite me to his room or even go out of his way to speak to me. It was a pleasant enough afternoon but I could never work out why he came in the first place. Then came Mary. Mary was a nun in Alabama and had always been very friendly. As children Carol and myself always looked forward to Mary coming home for she would bring exciting gifts like transistor radios whereas Billy would bring carved giraffes or deer.
Mary was with us for about ten days, which covered two Sundays. On the first Sunday I was actually on duty for twenty four hours at Wattisham, so I left work, drove the twenty five miles back to Shotley collected Mary and brought her back to camp where she attended mass in the catholic church. Afterwards, before enjoying another fifty mile round trip, I gave her a quick tour of the base and a showed her around air traffic control. My shift were up to their old tricks and every room I took her into the guys would shoot up to stand to attention and remain ramrod stiff till I left the room. I would be having words when I got back from dropping her off.
At the same time that Mary was visiting there was a huge event being staged at the Eurosports centre. It was something along the lines of the catholic youth Olympic games. The ex air force, failed fast jet pilot, who was running Eurosports proved how useless he really was when it was discovered that he didn’t have enough beds for the number of guests they had booked in to the centre. He certainly entered panic mode, which was great news for me as he now needed general staff to help prepare Eurosports. The Eurosports complex was quite a sad site to walk around. Hundreds of empty buildings wasting away. He had us open some of the old accommodation blocks, which were long single story rooms basically. We would wash them out with hoses and once dry erect a number of camp beds.
We all felt that if you had paid for a room with a bed and were given a camp bed in a room with twenty others, with no lockers or even chairs, there might be one or two complaints. The final ceremony was to be held at a sports ground in Ipswich where quite a few thousand people would attend mass which would be celebrated by the top Catholic in England, Cardinal Basil Hume. Needless to say Aunt Mary wanted to attend this event. It was to be held about three on the Sunday afternoon so I would work behind the bar for the usual Sunday afternoon session in the Families Club and once I had closed the bar about two o clock, would drive Mary off to Ipswich. Irene and Mary had got on really well, apart from Mary scaring the wits out of Irene one night.
One of the children was crying and Irene had got up out of bed to go and attend them. Mary thought she would give Irene a break and see to the child herself. Both girls met on the upstairs landing but only Irene screamed. She wasn’t afraid; she was just shocked, for it was the first time she had seen Mary without her wig and with no teeth in. Irene and some of the other wives had planned to get together for a few drinks that afternoon and Mary was included. As Irene and Mary came in to the club and sat down I do remember coming over to their table and asking what they would like to drink. Most of the girls were drinking vodka and orange so Mary just pointed at the drinks and said “I’ll have whatever they’re drinking.”
It wasn’t the first time I had a drunk nun in my car as at Carol’s wedding in Italy aunt Mary had been hoofing down grappa and was in a world of her own, to say the least. We drove off to Ipswich and parked up. It was a football stadium that had a running track around it. There was a huge stand where the people would be and out before them was the altar. It was a wet and windy day and as Mary and myself made our way between cars and buildings we got a little bit lost. I saw a priest wandering along, well; black raincoat, black biretta and a white dog collar, says priest to me. He came up to us and I asked where the event would be taking place and he pointed ahead. “Just over there,” he said. I gave a sort of tut and said. “Looks like we might get a wee bit wet.” “Well,” says the fellow. “I’m going to get wet for sure, at least you’ll have a roof over your heads.”
I turned to find out why Mary was tugging away at my arm to then see her go all gooey eyed and grasp the hand of the priest, who as she is now addressing as “Your eminence,” I deduct is Cardinal Basil Hume. Now there is probably a good joke hanging about in there, ‘Did you hear the one about the cardinal the Irishman and the drunk nun?’ No matter, Mary went back to America and I suppose all three of them had reported back to Ireland that I still only had one head and wasn’t a growling devil worshipping eejit, for it was now felt safe enough for my mother to visit.