1: Conference Centre

Dear Emelda,

It’s rained without cease for the last five days here. We had been dry, so the water was welcome at first, but I for one have had enough of it now. The convent’s various damp areas are growing mould and the drains have stopped working again. We’ve all put our extra winter vests back on.

The chickens are gloomy, standing hunched and bedraggled in the doorway of their house. The ducks, on the other hand, are full of glee, splashing and diving in the pond – ducks adore all rain.

Rev Mother called me into her room this morning and put me in charge of developing a conference centre. 

‘You know all about conferences and that sort of thing, don’t you, Boniface?’ she said. She was standing looking out of her office window. I stood beside her and realised that she had a fine view of the cracks in the brickwork of the chapel as well as the stagnant puddle in the corner of the coutryard. 

‘No, not really,’ I said.

‘But you’ve been to some conferences about teaching and wasn’t there a writing one? You spoke at one I seem to remember. And you helped with the one we had here: Helping the Poor When You’re Poor Yourself. That was very successful.’

‘I made tea and handed out cake. You did the organising, as I recall.’

‘Could you be in charge of developing our new conference centre?’

‘What? No!’

‘How hard can it be?’ she said, moving back to her desk. ‘A few flipcharts, some chairs here and there. Refreshments…’ She was already on to the next thing. I watched helplessly as, with great finality, she crossed an item off her ‘to do’ list.

‘But Rev Mother, I think there’s a lot involved. I wouldn’t know where to begin.’ 

She picked a document off the desk and held it out. ‘Here’s a list of religious houses that already do it. Go and see a few, pick their brains. Start small, if you like. But don’t take too long, we need funds fast if we want to underpin the chapel and the drains aren’t going to fix themselves.’

‘But where can we put a conference centre?’ I asked. ‘All the usable buildings are full already.’

‘Long term we should have new buildings, I suppose, but for now you’ll have to carve the space out of what we already have. The front hall and parlour, for instance, they’re not used all that much and the little row of rooms down that passageway. Have a look at them. The rest of us will just have to shift up and make the space.’

That was a few weeks ago. Shifting up is exactly what we had to do. The easiest way to free up rooms was for the the younger sisters’ sleeping quarters to move up a floor. That was the easy part. Without many possessions to move, it didn’t take long to juggle sisters’ cells from one floor to the next. But one room had to be put in the attic – mine. Pavel made it out of timbers he found lying about. It’s a sort of loft conversion and really very comfortable as long as you remember not to straighten up under the beams. But there is still a lot of dust and an odd noise like a ticking that I can’t quite place. I thought it might be the owls whispering to each other in the nest they have in the roof but it doesn’t seem to come from that direction, and they don’t whisper, they hiss like a missionary on a bonfire, as Father Humbert would say. He sends his regards, he’s kayaking with the Young Carers this week. We always worry when he’s on an adventure holiday. He could hardly be wetter in the Lake District than we are here, even if he capsized all day long, but as you know he is notoriously accident-prone, so we always have additional prayers for his safe return. 

Do they still make galoshes, do you think? Or have they gone the way of liberty bodices? Asking for a friend.

Best wishes,

Sister B

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