Saturday, April 13, 2024

No Snippet this morning

 

I'm afraid I haven't had time or energy to prepare a Saturday Snippet this morning.  I have surgery coming up later this month, and I'm in a fair amount of pain, so just keeping up with the daily round and common task is difficult for me at present.  Prayers for health and healing will be gratefully appreciated.

Meanwhile, please amuse yourselves with the bloggers in the sidebar.  They write good, too!

Peter


Friday, April 12, 2024

Emergency preparations: don't fool yourself - get real

 

Following the series of posts I've put up in recent weeks about various aspects of emergency preparations, I've been surprised by some of the feedback I've received.  Some readers are annoyed that I haven't addressed long-term survival by growing our own food;  others think that buying this, or that, or the other gadget(s) will solve all their problems and guarantee they'll survive;  and yet more think that they can continue to enjoy a risk-free existence if some form of disaster continues beyond a few days or a couple of weeks.  They're all wrong.

There are practical realities we have to keep in mind when planning for emergencies.  If we ignore them, we're living in a fool's paradise;  thinking we're prepared, but in fact being blind to reality.  In this post, I'll try to address some basic, fundamental issues that underpin all our emergency preparations.

The first is our own health and fitness.  How healthy are we?  If we have no major medical issues, that's great.  However, the older we get, the more likely such issues become.  If we're fit and strong right now, that's also great:  but the risk of injury, illness, etc. will become much greater if we have to do more and more emergency-related work (e.g. cutting firewood;  fetching and carrying heavy supplies such as water;  exposure to severe weather, insects, pollution, etc.;  diseases spreading among the victims of an emergency situation;  and so on).  A healthy, fit person has an excellent foundation for coming through such circumstances without too much difficulty;  but the longer they go on, the more likely it becomes that our foundation will deteriorate - sometimes a lot more quickly than we would believe.  (That also raises the question of prescription medicines, which we covered a short while ago;  add to that analgesics, allergy medications, laxatives, anti-diarrhea and other over-the-counter medications that address common conditions, because those are likely to become more common in an extended emergency.)

Let's face it:  death is the normal, inevitable end to life, and it comes to us all sooner or later.  While I'm all in favor of postponing that as long as possible, death remains inevitable.  We should not fear what we cannot avoid.  Instead, let's plan to avoid it as long as possible.  That means keeping ourselves as fit and healthy as possible, and stockpiling things that can help us achieve that.

That said, we need to be realistic in making preparations that are consistent with our health and strength.  I'll use myself as an example.  I was left semi-crippled by a work-related accident two decades ago.  My mobility is very limited, and my permanent pain level is high.  As a result, I'm very unfit (because it hurts to exercise), and have no effective way of regaining a reasonable level of fitness - my body will go on strike if I try too hard.  (I know this.  I've tried.)  Those factors mean there's no way I can keep up with a group trying to evacuate to a safer area if that relies on physical exertion (walking, running, climbing, carrying a heavy load, and so on).  Vehicular traffic is going to be extremely limited by factors such as limited fuel supply, obstacles blocking roads, and interference by those who didn't make any preparations for an emergency, trying to take what they need from those who did.  (If you think that won't happen, there's this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you . . . )  Therefore, I have little choice but to "bug in":  stay where I am and try to ride out the problem.  That decision alone already eliminates many approaches to emergencies, and forces me to concentrate on others.  Those who don't share my health issues will, of course, make choices appropriate to their own status.

Next, we have to choose emergency foods that are suitable for our likely needs.  If we may have to "bug out" to another area, we need foods that are relatively light for ease of carrying;  take up as little space as possible;  and are easy to prepare, so as to avoid needing heavy, bulky kitchen equipment.  Freeze-dried foods fit those requirements pretty well, but they're also very expensive on a per-calorie basis, which might be a serious disadvantage if money is tight.  Canned foods are bulkier and heavier, not helpful in a "bug out" situation:  but they cost a lot less on a per-calorie basis, making them a lot more affordable if you're "bugging in".  Many of them can also be eaten cold, straight out of the can if necessary, avoiding the need to prepare them.

Let's take an example from current pricing at Walmart.  Dinty Moore beef stew in a 2½-serving can (200 calories per serving) costs $3.32.  Mountain House freeze-dried beef stew in a 2-serving pack (210 calories per serving) costs $11.26.  (Given our calorie intake needs, both containers realistically offer only a single main course for one person - half that if we're expending a lot of energy, working hard to stay alive - and therefore should be supplemented by other foods as well.)  The freeze-dried meal costs almost 3½ times more than the canned meal.  How much of that cost differential can your wallet afford?  That's a major factor in emergency preparations.  Spend each penny wisely, because they're in limited supply for most of us!

I won't go into details of what foods to choose, how to store them, and all that.  We've covered most of it in earlier articles, and there's a wealth of information online.  The main thing is to choose foods suitable for our plan to deal with emergencies (i.e. "bugging out" or "bugging in"), that we can afford, and that offer as much nutrition as possible for our dollars and cents.

We've spoken about water needs quite a lot in recent weeks, so I won't duplicate those posts here.  Follow the links in this paragraph to read them.

Next, what sort of weather and environmental conditions are we likely to encounter in an emergency?  This is important whether we're "bugging out" or "bugging in".  Remember, the power's likely to be out, so our normal standbys of air-conditioning, heating, etc. are almost certainly not going to be available.  Do we live in an area where winters are cold, snowy, icy?  Then we're going to need a lot more warm clothes, indoors or outside, to keep going (that includes warm bedclothes, wraps, etc.).  Are we in an area with very warm summers?  Then we'll need clothing that allows sweat to evaporate, but also protects us against the sun, insect bites, etc.  We'll also need a lot of it, because normal laundry facilities will most likely not be functioning, and it's a lot of hard work (and water, and detergent) to wash clothes by hand, rinse them, and hang them out to dry.  If the weather doesn't help the drying process, it may be several days before they're fit to wear again.  Our footwear and work clothing needs to suit our climate, and additionally provide protection when we're more physically active than usual (e.g. chopping firewood, collecting water from nearby sources, walking longer and further than usual, etc.)  The factors mentioned in this paragraph also mean we need to add reserve supplies of laundry detergent, insect repellent, sun block, personal hygiene items, etc. to our emergency stash:  also, perhaps, overalls, work gloves and boots, hard hats, sun hats, etc.

There's also the question of the duration of an emergency.  If it's something like a large coronal mass ejection (a so-called "Carrington Event") or major nuclear war, then the effects will be felt for not just years, but decades.  There's no way we can stockpile enough supplies to cater for something like that.  Those who can farm, growing their own food, will have an edge:  but everyone else who survives will be doing their best to raid farms for food, so keeping it is likely to be a very serious problem.  Certainly, if we are not already growing at least some of our own food, we're very unlikely to be able to grow enough from scratch to survive.  We lack the knowledge, tools, seeds, and experience to do so.  Tempting advertisements to buy a certain brand of seed, or a particular tool, or land on which to establish an "emergency farm", are likely to benefit only those selling them.  Realistically, most of us can afford to plan, and stockpile supplies, for an emergency lasting from a few weeks to a year.  Anything beyond that . . . well, it's unlikely we'll live through it.  That's just the way it is.

What about transport and travel?  Sure, we can stockpile a certain amount of gasoline or diesel;  but it won't last forever, and besides, we'll need to power our generators and other engines.  Even if you put 100 gallons of fuel in your stash (which is far more than most of us are legally allowed to store at home), that's only a few tanks' worth for most modern vehicles, and when it's gone, it's gone.  That's why a small electrically-powered vehicle such as an e-bike, a golf cart or a tiny electric car or truck actually makes sense in a "bug in" situation, if we can afford it.  They can be recharged via solar panels or generators, and run around the neighborhood (e.g. to fetch water from a pond or stream).  They may be very practical local emergency vehicles.  (On the other hand, when no other vehicles are running, our electric vehicles will become very tempting targets for looters, whether official or criminal.  We should plan our security arrangements accordingly, and use the vehicles as little as possible to avoid such encounters.)

I could go on, but I hope the examples I've provided illustrate how we need to be extremely practical in our emergency planning.  It's no good planning for pie in the sky when there won't be much pie, and the sky will have fallen!  We should also accept that we'll never get everything right.  There are bound to be things - some of them very important - that we forget, or ignore, or of which we don't stockpile enough.  No sense in kicking ourselves about that when the time comes.  Instead, let's do what we can to stockpile what we're most likely to need in our own situation in life, and then get on with the business of living through hard times using what we've got.  As the late President Theodore Roosevelt put it:



Words to live by.

Peter


There's no fuel like sewage sludge!

 

I was amused to read this news report.


European low-cost carrier Wizz Air has struck a long-term deal with UK biofuels firm Firefly Green Fuels to source sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from sewage sludge, part of measures it hopes will enable it to achieve its newly set SAF usage targets.

Wizz today set out its goal of powering 10% of its flights with SAF by 2030 and has backed a new pathway being developed by Firefly, which aims to use human waste as a feedstock for the fuel.

The carrier is investing £5 million ($6.3 million) in Firefy to support the development and certification of SAF produced from sewage sludge.

”At Firefly we have chosen to address the decarbonisation of the aviation industry through the perhaps surprising medium of sewage – or to be accurate, through the medium of biosolids,” explained Firefly chief strategy officer Paul Hilditch during a press conference in London today.


There's more at the link.

An airliner fueled by sewage sludge . . . really?

  • In a restaurant, a sommelier knows his wines.  In the airline business, will the quality of fuel now be judged by a smellier?
  • Fireflies' butts flash as they fly.  If an airliner is fueled by Firefly, will its . . . oh, never mind.
  • How does Firefly plan to cater for growth in its business - issue laxatives and label them "fuel additives"?
  • I can't help laughing at the thought of future complaints from those living around large airports.  Aviation in bad odor again?

You'll have to excuse my sometimes schoolboyish sense of humor.



Peter


My deepest sympathy, but...

 

... if ever there was a self-inflicted injury, this was it.


The Long Island doctor who was fatally thrown out of her family’s Airstream should never have been in the RV while it was in motion, the manufacturer says.

Dr. Monika Woroniecka, 58, was not following Airstream’s guidance when she was hurled out of the door of the moving trailer and onto State Route 12E in upstate New York around 3 p.m. Saturday, the company said.

“Airstream travel trailers are not designed to carry passengers while in motion,” the company said in a statement.

“The safety protocol detailed in Airstream’s operating manuals and shared on Airstream’s website advises owners that they cannot tow an Airstream with people inside,” the statement continued.

“Many states prohibit carrying passengers in a travel trailer or fifth wheel, and we advise owners to consult their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for up-to-date regulations.”

It also is illegal in New York to tow passengers in a “house coach trailer” while it is hitched to a vehicle and on the road.

. . .

Woroniecka struck her head on the road median, police explained.

She was pronounced dead at Samaritan Medical Center.


There's more at the link.

I'd have thought this was absolutely basic, foundational knowledge:  don't travel in any towed vehicle, ever!  It's illegal almost everywhere I know, and almost all manufacturers of such vehicles warn against the practice as well.  Yet now the deceased's daughter is apparently trying to put at least some of the blame for the tragedy on Airstream.


“This was an accident. Pure accident, and there’s nobody to blame. This is nobody’s fault,” Helena said. 

“Sure, maybe Airstream doesn’t advise traveling inside the trailer. But we thought maybe that the last 20 minutes of an eight-hour drive on very quiet and slow country roads would be fine,” Helena said.

“And it’s perfectly legal to do so in some states.

“It was just a crazy accident,” she said.

Still, “The doors on the Airstream open the opposite way that you would expect. It doesn’t take an engineering degree to know that on any moving vehicle, whether a bus or a car or a trailer, doors should open against the wind, not towards it,” Helena told The Post.

“That seems like a significant safety oversight to me and seems like the only reason they do open that way is to protect the awning of the trailer.”


Again, more at the link.

No, young lady, this was no safety oversight, and there's no flaw in the design, because the door was never intended to be opened - from within or outside - while the trailer was in motion!  When the trailer is parked, it's an entirely safe design.

As a pastor and chaplain, I've long since lost count of the number of surviving relatives of a victim of tragedy who've tried to blame anyone and anything they can think of for their loved one's death.  It might be another driver, or a police officer or EMS vehicle that didn't respond quickly or effectively enough (in their opinion), or even the attending chaplain for not praying hard enough (yes, I've actually been accused of that!).  People appear to find it impossible to accept that "pure" accidents happen, where someone is killed solely because they happened to be at the scene at the wrong time, or nature did her sometimes terminal thing (e.g. a lightning strike, or a tree falling due to internal rot) just when someone happened to be standing there.

Life happens.  So does death.  Sometimes there's no explanation possible.  Sometimes somebody or something else is to blame.  However, there are times - such as this incident - where the explanation is simply that the victim did something foolish, and paid the price.

May God rest Dr. Woroniecka's soul, and bring what comfort there may be to those who survive her.  That's all one can say.

Peter


Thursday, April 11, 2024

Heh

 

Found on MeWe:



How do you say "Excuse me, sir, but your xenophobia is showing," in Welsh?



Peter


Beating minimum wages by outsourcing the jobs

 

Yesterday we spoke about how California's very high minimum wage for restaurant and fast-food workers was driving some of those establishments out of business.  It seems a New York restaurant chain has found an alternative - and much cheaper - solution.


A new restaurant chain in New York City is outsourcing staff to the Philippines, using screens with hostesses on Zoom calls instead of in-person employees to greet customers and help with check-out.

The shops — which specialize in fried chicken and ramen — are taking advantage of the massive wealth gap between New York City, where the minimum wage is $16 per hour and a Southeast Asian nation where hourly pay is closer to $3.75.

But when customers check out at Sansan Chicken, Sansan Ramen, or Yaso Kitchen — with locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Jersey City — they’re still prompted to add a tip of up to 18% on top of their bill.

. . .

The dynamics of the operation seem to be cloaked in secrecy. It’s not clear if the hostesses work for the restaurant or a third-party company that hires them out.

It’s also not clear who owns the restaurants, and how much the hostesses are getting paid.

The Post could not reach the businesses’ owner, and employees would not divulge information about their bosses when a reporter asked.


There's more at the link.

That's certainly a win, cost-wise, for the restaurant chain;  even accounting for the cost of trans-Pacific Internet links and computer hardware, they must be saving well over 50% on staff costs.  It's probably also a win for the staff in the Philippines, who at least have steady employment at a local wage that can support them - although I'm sure they'd prefer to earn closer to the New York City mandated wage and salary scale.  As for the customers?  I'm not sure I'd like to deal solely with a screen for a sit-down meal, as opposed to a live human being.  However, others may think differently about that.

What is certain is that this is yet another nail in the coffin of entry-level jobs, which have traditionally offered first employment to young people starting out to earn a living.  Mandating a minimum wage too high for businesses to afford means they're going to switch to something they can afford, and in this case that means removing several dozen jobs from the local market.  Other restaurants and fast food chains are moving towards robots to prepare the food and take orders for it, with only minimal human staffing to keep the robots supplied with ingredients and periodically clean up the place.  Again, those jobs are lost to the local market, and I don't see them coming back.

One wonders what the millions of illegal migrants streaming across our borders are going to do when they can't find employment, due in part to such jobs no longer being available.  One also wonders what our government - federal, state and local - is going to do to contain the resulting unrest and social upheaval.  Are they blithely going to pay all those migrants enough money to live on, while ignoring the plight of American poor?  At the moment, it certainly looks that way.

There's a thought . . . send your teenagers to Mexico when they graduate high school, and tell them to cross back into the USA on their own two feet, having destroyed their identity documents.  They'll be given a smartphone, a ticket to the destination of their choice, and a pretty significant amount of money, plus free health care and low-cost education.  It may not be fair to those who prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, but your family budget will look a whole lot healthier!

Peter


So much for sinking islands...

 

Remember the kerfuffle raised by climate change activists over the past three or four decades, alleging that many island chains would soon be submerged beneath the waves due to rising sea levels?

Not so fast . . .


The Guardian was in fine form last June stating that rising oceans will extinguish more than land. “It will kill entire languages,” it added, noting the effect on Pacific islands such as Tuvalu. Those areas of the Earth that were most hospitable to people and languages are now becoming the “least hospitable”.

Silly emotional Guardianista guff of course, but happily it does not seem to apply to Tuvalu. A recent study found that the 101 islands of Tuvalu had grown in land mass by 2.9%. The scientists observed that despite rising sea levels, many shorelines in Tuvalu and neighbouring Pacific atolls have maintained relative stability, “without significant alteration”. A comprehensive re-examination of data on 30 Pacific and Indian Ocean atolls with 709 islands found that none of them had lost any land. Furthermore, the scientists added, there are data that indicate 47 reef islands expanded in size or remained stable over the last 50 years, “despite experiencing a rate of sea-level rise that exceeds the global average”.

The Maldives is also a poster scare for rising sea levels, with the attention-seeking activist Mark Lynas – he of the nonsense claim that 99.9% of scientists agree humans cause all or most climate change – organising an underwater Cabinet meeting of the local Government in 2009. As it happens, the Maldives is one of a number of areas that have seen recent increases in land mass. Other areas include the Indonesian Archipelago, islands along the Indochinese Peninsula coast, and islands in the Red and Mediterranean Seas. Notably, the  coastal waters of the Indochinese Peninsula had the most substantial gain, with an increase of 106.28 km2 over the 30-year period. Of the 13,000 islands examined, the researchers found that only around 12% had experienced a significant shoreline shift, with almost equal numbers experiencing either landward (loss) or seaward (gain) movement.

. . .

Sea level rise is not a “predominant” cause of the changing coasts, the scientists note.


There's more at the link.

I find it interesting that the climate change alarmists made claims such as "submerged islands!", then insisted that there was no time to waste, we had to act now, and we had to throw millions (if not billions) of dollars at the problem to "protect vulnerable populations", as well as damage our own economies by cutting back on anything and everything that might contribute to rising sea levels.  When research over several years (in some cases, decades) has now proved that their claims were wrong, they're conspicuous by their deafening silence.  All the money they gouged out of politically correct governments and "woke" corporations . . . what good did it do?  Where did it go?  Who benefited most from it?  No good asking those questions;  they won't answer them - but we all know where the money came from that's kept them employed and living comfortably - some would say high on the hog - all this time.

Almost the entire climate change industry is based on pseudo-scientific twaddle.  Go watch the video report at that link.  It's the truth.

Peter


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Don't stage a fake crime in Texas

 

It's hard to feel much sympathy for the deceased in this faked crime.


Rasshauud Scott, 22, was seen on surveillance footage late Jan. 27 running up to a couple filling up their car at a Chevron gas station in Houston, Texas, according to court documents shared by Fox News Digital.

After seemingly robbing the pair of a purse and wallet, he turned and ran — before an alarmed witness pulled out a gun and shot him in the head, killing him, the affidavit notes.

However, a series of messages later showed that Scott wasn’t even really robbing the couple — with his widow, Sade Beverly, telling cops it “was a set up” as part of an ongoing crime ring, the docs said.

His alleged accomplice, William Winfrey, 30, told Scott the fatal robbery would be the “usual gas pump s–t,” telling him to “make all that s–t look real,” according to the affidavit.

In a police interview, one of the pretend victims “confirmed that the robbery was in fact a set-up, and the purpose of the scheme is to obtain a U-visa,” the affidavit said.

That refers to “U Nonimmigrant Status,” which is granted to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to authorities investigating or prosecuting suspects.

Police then realized there was a “pattern” of similar reported robberies — and that the victims “had applied for, or been granted U-visas due to their status as victims of these crimes,” the affidavit said.

Winfrey was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder in connection with Scottt’s death. He was denied bond Monday.


There's more at the link.

I've learned to assume that at least one in five of the people I see around me every day in north Texas are armed.  It used to be less, but now that Texas is a constitutional carry state (i.e. not requiring a permit to carry a gun), it could well be more.  People are fed up with criminals trying to make an easy buck off locals;  and they're ready, willing and able to do something about it.  Texas grand juries, too, have frequently proved to be less than sympathetic to deceased criminals, often no-true-billing those who shot them even when strictly speaking, they didn't have sufficient legal grounds to do so.  (See this recent case, also in Houston, for an example.)

Congratulations and thanks to the bystander who shot the criminal.  He obviously feared getting into trouble for his actions, because he initially fled, but he later handed himself over to police and was exonerated of any offense.  Scott's partner in crime, however, now stands accused of murder, because he was part of a crime that resulted in a death.  That's entirely as it should be, IMHO.  The late Mr. Scott thought he could get away with the same fake crime, repeatedly.  He learned better - or, rather, his surviving family and friends learned better.  It's a pity he no longer has that opportunity, but that's his own fault.

Peter


That's a whale of a storm!

 

I'm sure many of my readers have seen photographs of whales jumping out of the water, then falling back with a monumental splash, like this one, for example:



That came strongly to mind when I looked at the weather map late last night, and saw a large rain/storm concentration stretching from west Texas right up to the border between south-eastern Kansas and Missouri.  The resemblance is striking.  Click the image for a larger view.



I'm calling that a whale of a storm!



Peter


How activists in government make things worse

 

Comparing fast food prices in California and a neighboring state, Arizona, is an eye-opener.


The recent minimum wage hike in California has sparked a debate on its impact on consumer prices. Critics of the wage increase have argued that it would not lead to higher costs for consumers. However, a comparison of prices at a popular fast food chain, @Arbys, reveals a stark reality.

A classic roast beef sandwich, a staple item on the menu, is priced at $5.59 in Arizona. The same sandwich costs a hefty $9.24 in California. This significant price difference clearly demonstrates the effect of the minimum wage increase on consumer wallets.

. . .

To verify the price difference, one can simply download the @Arbys app and start an online order, then switch locations from Arizona to California. The stark contrast in prices is undeniable and raises concerns about the affordability of goods in the state.


There's more at the link.

Here's a selection of headlines from just one newspaper over the past couple of weeks about how the minimum wage hike in California is affecting fast food outlets.



Do you get the impression that California's legislators and administrators don't actually give a damn about the impact of their decisions and policies on the lives of ordinary Californians?  I sure do!

The question is, when will ordinary Californians do something about it?  I hope it's soon, for their sake . . . otherwise their state is going to have slid so far down the slippery slope to failure that there may be no climbing back up again.



Peter


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

It's not just Boeing...

 

Problems with Pratt & Whitney's geared turbofan engine, used by most recent-production Airbus A320-family airliners, have grounded almost a third of the fleet.


Around three in every 10 jets powered by Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000G family of turbofans are now sidelined worldwide.

That is according to analysis of Cirium data, which reflects, though not perfectly, the extent to which airlines from all corners of the globe are finding their operations disrupted by P&W’s recall of its geared turbofan (GTF) engines.

P&W has said the number of jets parked due to the need for inspections and replacement engine parts will peak right about now, in the first half of 2024. The issue involves defects in metallic components introduced during a manufacturing process due to the use of contaminated powdered metal.

. . .

Carriers have made no secret about the scale of the problem. Several have said that one-quarter or more of their GTF-engined aircraft have been sidelined, causing financial pressure and prompting then to curtail expansion plans, revamp operations and seek replacement jets in an incredibly tight market. Airlines are also negotiating multi-million-dollar compensation packages with P&W.

“The problem of our aircraft being unproductive is the fact [that] we are paying twice. We have aircraft investments unproductive on the ground, and we have to rent, wet-lease [aircraft from] another company to produce the capacity in the market,” Swiss chief executive Dieter Vranckx said during a 4 April event in Washington DC.

. . .
On 29 March, Spirit said P&W had agreed to compensate it to the tune of $150-200 million, warning the issue will force it to remove “nearly all” its A320neo-family jets from service at some point. That package equates to P&W paying Spirit about $18,000 daily per grounded aircraft, financial firm Jefferies said in a 1 April report.


There's more at the link.

I wonder how much this is costing Pratt & Whitney overall, in terms of the repairs (which take 250-300 days per engine, according to the article, and must cost millions in themselves) plus the compensation they're having to pay airlines?  Does their insurance cover this, or do they have to cover it out of their own resources?  If the latter, can they afford to both pay the compensation, and stay in business?  I imagine their Chief Financial Officer and his deputies are enduring sleepless nights trying to figure that out . . .

Peter


Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad - San Francisco edition

 

Not content with blaming businesses for crime, as in this morning's first blog post, it seems that the loony left - in San Francisco this time - wants to make businesses financially liable when they're driven out of business by street crime.


A pair of progressive San Francisco lawmakers are pushing a bill that would allow residents in the crime-ravaged city to sue grocery stores that close up shop if they don’t give six months’ notice.

The proposal by San Francisco Board of Supervisors members Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin would require business to either find a successor grocer or work out a plan with residents in the neighborhood to ensure the availability of supermarket options.

The Grocery Protection Act ... comes amid a rash of retail theft fueled by the city’s drug and homelessness crisis that has led to several business closures.

Whole Foods closed its Market Street location last year after there were 568 emergency calls lodged in a 13-month period due to incidents such as vagrants throwing food, yelling, fighting and attempting to defecate on the floor, according to the New York Times. At least 14 arrests were made at the location.


There's more at the link.

I marvel at the sheer blind stupidity of lawmakers who can blame others - in this case, businesses - for trying to get away from the intolerable conditions created by those same lawmakers.  They appear unable to grasp the nettle and accept that the criminal, anti-social behavior of their own constituents is at the root of the problem.  Just what does it take to get through to these critters?  A clue-by-four?  Wielded by a San Francisco street vagrant, just for equity's sake?

San Francisco police can't solve the problem, because their hands are tied by their own city council, and by a liberal progressive-left District Attorney who won't apply the law as it is written, and dismisses most such cases with a figurative slap on the wrist (if that).  The courts can't solve the problem, partly because too many local judges (not to mention juries) are selected on the basis of their ideological purity, partly because local laws have been rewritten to favor offenders rather than law-abiding citizens, both corporate and private.

All I can say is, after this news, San Francisco is just about the last place in the world where I'd open a food-related business.  Why should I try to make a living in a city that's actively encouraging others to steal it from me - and urging them to sue me if I won't stay there and let them rob me blind?




Peter


Doofus Of The Day #1,113

 

Today's award goes to the mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones, who spoke thus at the Black Mayors’ Coalition on Crime:


“We have a lot of violence around convenience stores and gas stations. So how can we hold those business owners accountable and also bring down crime? Some of the things are already doing, we’re finding other mayors are doing as well.”


Er . . . um . . . come again?

You're going to hold business owners accountable for the actions of criminals in and around the areas where those business owners operate?


WHOSE FAULT IS CRIME, ANYWAY?


If you're going to go after business owners for crimes committed by others, pretty soon you won't have any business owners within your city limits.  Then your citizens won't be able to buy food, get their vehicles serviced, or do anything else that requires a business to provide the service.  Then where will your precious city be???

I repeatedly think that we've plumbed the absolute depths of human stupidity . . . only to be proved wrong again and again by doofi such as Mayor Jones.



*Headdesk*

Peter


Monday, April 8, 2024

Of headlights, rip-offs and great steak

 

My vehicle, a Nissan Pathfinder, is a 2014 model.  It's got almost 160,000 miles on the clock, but is in excellent condition overall, and I plan to drive it until it falls apart.  (The Pathfinder's combination of a 3.5L engine and a CVT gearbox is well-known for its reliability, and many have made it past the quarter-million-mile mark.)  Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the plastic covers on its headlights.  As time passed, they "fogged over", becoming inefficient to the point of being dangerous.  I had them restored twice, but they fogged up again within a year or two.  This year, I decided the time had come to replace them with new units.

My first sticker shock came when pricing new headlights.  Nissan wants about $1,200 for a pair of their OEM units, which is nothing more or less than daylight robbery!  New bulbs all round would have added over $100 to that price.  I shopped around, and found dealers on eBay offering aftermarket lighting units for much, much less.  I ended up buying new headlights and new LED bulbs for a total of about $275 - much more wallet-friendly!

Next came fitting them.  It's something anyone reasonably au fait with mechanical work can do for themselves, but given my physical restrictions (I'm partly disabled) I couldn't bend and twist enough to get it done.  The local Nissan dealer wanted $400 minimum for the task, and that only if I bought the new headlights from them as well (at full retail price).  A local repair shop quoted similarly.  Fortunately, I remembered that the local Toyota dealer had recently moved to new premises.  There had been a body shop behind their old building, but the operator had left when they did.  After some inquiries, it emerged he'd moved his body shop to a tiny town called Temple, Oklahoma, about three-quarters of an hour's drive from my home.  A quick phone call, and I arranged to drop my vehicle with him last week to get the work done.  He charged $300, including putting new bulbs in the rear lights, installing a front spoiler (which I supplied) on the hood, and fixing a broken connection.  The Nissan dealership wanted over $600 for all that work, so I thought half-price was pretty reasonable overall.

While delivering the vehicle to him, my wife and I spotted this on the back of an older building on the town's main street.  Click the image for a larger view.



Laughing, we decided we had to try it;  so next day, when we went to collect the vehicle, we stopped at the Rockin' H Steakhouse and Saloon.  It's a pretty typical small-town steakhouse, with only US beers and not much variety;  but the portions on the menu are ginormous, and well cooked, too.  I had the smaller of their chicken-fried steaks, and I reckon (given its thickness as well as its size) there was a good pound of meat on my plate.  (I asked for the brown gravy, instead of the traditional white - I prefer it.)



My wife ordered the 12-ounce ribeye.  Given its thickness, we both thought there was more than 12oz. of meat there.



Neither of us could finish our portions, so we brought them home for feasting on later this past weekend.  They were every bit as good the second time around.

The long and the short of it is, if you need a body shop in or near southern Oklahoma, Calfy Dent is a good choice;  and if you want a good steak while you wait for your car, Rockin' H Steakhouse and Saloon is a good place to find one - despite their erroneous, albeit humorous advertising!  (Neither outfit is compensating me in any way for mentioning them:  I just like to tell my readers about good deals when I find them.)

Peter


Medication reserves: it's not only about the tablets

 

Following my recent article titled "Building a reserve supply of prescription medications", reader Spark21 sent me an e-mail pointing out that medical devices, such as spectacles and contact lenses, should be included as well.  I thought my readers might be interested in it, too.


You had a recent article on building up a reserve of prescription meds.

As a person who also prepares for thing and used to be in the business (my current career is in law enforcement), I would like to add something you may wish to use or share with your readers:

Contacts and glasses.

Glasses and contacts may be found for low cost at Costco, Sam's, Walmart, and a few smaller opticals. During a SHTF time, having spare prescription glasses and/or contacts is a huge must!

I will focus on contacts here and my personal experience. I am not a doctor, nor an optical specialist.

I have found that daily contacts, weekly, and monthly contacts (standard and for astigmatism) are made the exact same way, just packaged differently. If you clean contacts daily, regardless of the type (daily, monthly, yearly), I have been able to get up to more than a month of wear from a single pair.

Now, if you get a prescription for contacts (ask your optometrist for a daily wear prescription), go to a place like Coscto or 1800contacts (online) and price your contacts for a years supply of daily wear lenses. Now order via the best cost method and store them in a room temp or slightly cooler space. If you do like I have found, your 'daily wear' lenses can last months and your years worth of lenses can be stretched to several years of use (or more!).

Now over the years I have had a dry out rate of stored lenses about 10%-12%. And you must keep cleaning solution on hand as well. I use Costco/Kirkland for the price and no one bats an eye at bulk purchases at Costco.

I personally ran this experiment for just under six years. I am on my next about grouping in which there are two years worth of 'daily' units for testing until I retire in about six years.

For glasses: any older frames that are in good condition get new lenses for a small fee. I also make sure to have minimum five pair on hand (I currently have 11). I use contacts normally, but keep glasses in my car kit, bug out bag, office, and at the homes of a few family members and friends.


Good advice from Spark21, for which my grateful thanks.  I don't need prescription glasses for normal everyday use, but I use reading glasses, plus a couple of computer glasses with special focus and tint needs.  I'll plan to stock up on those things.

Peter


Memes that made me laugh 204

 

Gathered from around the Internet over the past week.  Click any image for a larger view.











Sunday, April 7, 2024

Sunday morning music

 

It's hard to believe that Mike Oldfield brought out his first album, "Tubular Bells", fifty-one years ago.  I bought it at once, and have bought every album he's recorded ever since.  He was (and still is) an iconic musician in the freewheeling rock 'n roll and disco era of the 1970's, bringing genuine instrumental music (with a capital M) and classical-style compositions to the world of electronic music.  Things were never quite the same after he came along.

Last year, a Spanish ensemble calling itself Opus One, under the leadership of Xavier Alern, professor of Musicology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, honored the 50th anniversary of "Tubular Bells" by recording the work as authentically as possible in the spirit of the original.  The ensemble says of itself:


Opus One is an orchestra of contemporary instruments created to pay tribute to Mike Oldfield while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first album, Tubular Bells, a key work for understanding the music of the last half of the century.

The originality of the Opus One proposal lies in the fact that it aims to offer an accurate interpretation, without anachronisms and that fully respects the spirit of the legendary 1973 recording.


Of course, electronic music and recording have come a long, long way since 1973, and the ensemble wanted to use those improvements to upgrade the concert-style performance of the work.  I'd say they succeeded.




Well played!

Peter


Saturday, April 6, 2024

Saturday Snippet: A nun, an ending, and a beginning

 

Rumer Godden is perhaps not as well-known a novelist in America as she was in England, where she was one of the most popular novelists for many decades.

One of her best-loved novels is "In This House Of Brede".



Based upon and informed by her decades-long friendship with the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey, the novel tells of the entry into religious life of Philippa Talbot, and her struggles to adapt to an enclosed contemplative community.  It's been one of my favorite books ever since I read it, and has remained in print since it was first published in 1969.

To introduce you to the book, I've chosen to skip over the introit and go straight to the first chapter, where Philippa has been in the community for four years, and is about to make her formal entrance into lifetime vows.  It's also a moment of transition for Brede Abbey.


The tower of Brede Abbey was a landmark for miles through the countryside and out to sea; high above the town of Brede, its gilded weathercock caught the light and could flash in bright sun.

The weathercock bore the date 1753 and had been put there by the Hartshorn family to whom the Abbey – in those days the Priory of the Canons of St Augustine – had been given after the Reformation; it had then been the Hartshorns’ private house for more than two hundred and fifty years. When the nuns came they had thought it prudent not to take the weathercock down – ‘Brede wouldn’t have tolerated a Catholic nunnery here in 1837,’ Dame Ursula Crompton told the novices. ‘We had to disguise ourselves.’ The cross was below, a stone cross interlaced with thorns – and it had known thorns; it had been thrown down, erected again and stood now high over the entrance to the church; it was said to be nearly a thousand years old; certainly its stone was weathered but, though the wind from the marshes blew fiercely against it and rain beat in the winter gales that struck the heights of Brede so violently, the cross stayed unmoved, sturdily aloft, while the weathercock whirled and thrummed as the wind took it. Dame Ursula had pleasure in underlining the moral, but then Dame Ursula always underlined.

The townspeople were used to the nuns now. The extern sisters, who acted as liaisons between the enclosure and the outside world, were a familiar sight in their black and white, carrying their baskets as they did the Abbey’s frugal shopping. Brede Abbey had accounts at the butcher and grocer as any family had; the local garage serviced the Abbey car which Sister Renata drove; workmen from Brede had been inside the enclosure, and anyone was free to come through the drive gates, ring the front door bell which had a true monastic clang, and ask for an interview with one of the nuns; few of the townspeople came, though the Mayor made a formal call once a year; the Abbey’s visitors, and there were many, usually came from farther afield, from London or elsewhere in Britain, from the continent or far overseas, some of them famous people. The guest house, over the old gatehouse, was nearly always full.

From the air, it would seem that it was the Abbey that had space, the old town below that was enclosed; steep and narrow streets ran between the ancient battlements and its houses were huddled, roof below roof, windows and eaves jutting so that they almost touched; garden yards were overlooked by other garden yards while the Abbey stood in a demesne of park, orchard, farm and garden. Its walls had been heightened since the nuns came, trees planted that had grown tall; now it was only from the tower that one could look into the town, though at night a glow came up from the lights seeming, from inside the enclosure, to give the Abbey walls a nimbus.

The traffic made a continual hum too, heard in the house but not in the park that stretched away inland towards the open fields; it was a quiet hum because the town was quiet and old-fashioned; besides, no car or lorry could be driven quickly through its narrow cobbled streets. The sparrow voices of children, when they were let out of school, were heard too, but the only sound that came from the Abbey was dropped into the town by bells measuring, not the hours of time as did the parish church clock, but the liturgical hours from Lauds to Compline; the bells rang the Angelus, the call to Chapter and the Abbey news of entrances and exits; sometimes of death. There was a small bell, St John, almost tinkling by contrast; it hung in the long cloister and summoned the nuns to the refectory. The bells of the Abbey, the chimes of the parish church clock, coming across each other, each underlining the other, gave a curious sense of time outside time, of peace, and the only quarrel the town had with the Abbey now was that the nuns insisted on feeding tramps.

A winding stone stair led up to the tower, going through the belfry above the bell tribune where the hanging bell ropes had different coloured tags. Though the bells were numbered, they had names. ‘Dame Ursula says they are baptized,’ said Sister Cecily. Dame Clare, the zelatrix, Dame Ursula’s assistant, was more exact. ‘There is a ceremony in the pontifical which is called baptizing the bells; it is, rather, a consecration,’ but to Cecily they seemed personalities. Well, they are the Abbey’s voice, but she did not say it aloud – already she suspected that this Dame Clare, so cool and collected, thought her, the new postulant Sister Cecily, whimsical; but the bells were the Abbey’s voice and its daughters knew the meaning of every change and tone, from the high D of Felicity to the deep tone of the six hundred pounds weight of Mary Major; when this was rung, it made the whole tower vibrate.

The stair came out on a flat roof that had a parapet on which tall Philippa could rest her arms and look far out, over the marshes and the river winding through them, to the faint far line of silver that was the sea. I shall never see the sea again. That thought always came to her up here on the tower: ‘I shall never see the sea.’ She whispered it aloud. The silence the nuns kept most of the day for concentration and quiet sometimes made Philippa long to use her tongue, even to herself. But then I’m still new, as religious life goes, not quite four years old, new but with the dragging disadvantage of old habits. ‘I shall never see the sea,’ but Philippa said it with content. Four years had gone since she had made her solitary journey across the marshes, four years except for two months and a few days. If all went well she, Sister Philippa, would make her Solemn Profession next summer, take her vows for life in this house of Brede.

Philippa had discovered the tower in her second week at Brede, when Burnell, the Abbey’s handyman, had pulled a muscle in his leg, leaving it stiff, and Dame Ursula had called on her strong young novices and juniors to do some of his tasks: chopping wood and carrying it in for the common-room’s great fire: carrying kitchen swill for the pigs: cleaning out the deep litter of the hen houses for old Sister Gabrielle, the poultry keeper. Philippa, neither young nor strong, had volunteered to go up and sweep the leaves out of the church tower gutter. ‘Very well, if you have a head for heights,’ said Dame Ursula. Philippa had, and, as a reward, had discovered the high platform, ‘where I can get away,’ she would have said – after only two weeks, she had wanted to get away. ‘I can imagine you living with ninety men,’ Richard had told her, ‘but not with ninety women.’ Yes, it’s somewhere I can breathe, Philippa had thought of the tower and, in spite of Richard, breathe before going on.

From where she stood now, she could look down on her Abbey – it had become ‘her’ Abbey – look over its precincts, over the buildings, the outer and inner gardens and park to the farm outside the walls. The Hartshorns had pulled down most of the old priory, though they had left the L made by the refectory and library wings above the cloister that had been paced by those Augustinian Canons of long ago. The cloister, called the long cloister, was of stone, beautifully arched, its grey weathered, while the new cloisters that ran round the other side of the garth, as the inner court was called, were of red brick, with glazed windows – Lady Abbess shuddered every time she saw them. Another grief to her were the Victorian additions to the church in the sanctuary and extern chapel – ‘Abominations of mottled marble,’ she said. The choir itself was exquisite, part of the Augustinians’ old church, with pointed stone arches and delicate tracery that matched the chapter house; the Hartshorns had kept that intact but used it for breeding pigeons. ‘Pigeons in a chapter house!’ said Dame Ursula. ‘I rescued it from worse than pigeons,’ the Abbess had said, ‘from what our nuns did there when they got some money! they lined it with pitch pine and put in a plaster ceiling!’ It was Abbess Hester who had restored it, uncovering the delicate arches that met at the apex of the roof. ‘All that beautiful stone,’ said Abbess Hester, glorying.

The buildings held spaciousness in refectory, libraries, workshops, though the cells in their long rows on the first and second floors were narrow. Across the outer garden a glimpse of the Dower House, used as the novitiate now, showed among its trees and, dominating the whole, the church with its tower on which Philippa stood.

* * * * *

The Abbey was hushed this afternoon in a hush deeper even than its normal quiet; though the nuns went about their work and the bells were rung at the appointed time, and the chant of voices came, as always, from the church, the hush was there, a hush of waiting. The parlours were closed. ‘No visiting today,’ said Sister Renata when she answered the front door. She and the other extern sisters went softly in and out, but they did not go into the town, where the news had spread. ‘The Abbess is dying: Lady Abbess of Brede.’

This was the community recreation hour but, looking down, Philippa could see only two figures instead of the many, habited in black and white and as alike as penguins, that would usually at this time have been gathered in the park, or on the paths or pacing together in the cloisters. The prioress and senior nuns were keeping vigil in the Abbess’s rooms, the others had withdrawn, some to their cells, most to their stalls in choir, to pray while they waited – Philippa, still renegade, seemed to pray best up here – but the life of the monastery had to go on and Dame Ursula had as usual sent her novitiate to the tasks they undertook in the afternoons for the community; gardening, helping the printers in the packing room, sewing or taking messages to relieve Dame Domitilla whose office as portress was arduous. The two small figures below were silently mulching the rose beds.

By their short black dresses and short veils Philippa knew they were Sister Hilary, a postulant of two months’ standing, and the new postulant, Sister Cecily Scallon, who had arrived only yesterday afternoon.

‘It is strange,’ Dame Beatrice Sheridan had said when with Mother Prioress and the other councillors she had waited for Cecily at the enclosure door, ‘strange how often an entrance coincides with a death in the house. One comes, in faith and hope, to make her vows, as the other reaches their culmination – or should have reached it,’ she could have said.

Lady Abbess Hester, old and mortally ill, was lingering – unaccountably; the inexplicable waiting had gone on now for thirty hours, all yesterday from the morning, through the night, all this morning and into this windless but chill October afternoon, a day and a half, and still it seemed she could not die. ‘Why can’t she?’ The question was spreading and dismay growing through the grief, the stupor they all felt, ‘What is troubling Mother? Why can’t she die?’

Abbesses of Brede Abbey were elected for life and Abbess Hester Cunningham Proctor had ruled Brede for thirty-two years; she was now eighty-five but, up to yesterday, had still been active and filled with power – sometimes too much power, her councillors felt; headstrong was the right word, but they dared not use it. The community knew that their Abbess could be as wilful as she was clever and charming – and lately there had been favourites, that threat to community life – but still their trust in her was infinite, and her small black eyes, so filled with humour and understanding, had still seen ‘everything,’ said the nuns, and she seemed to know by instinct what she did not see. She had grown heavy for her height and she limped from a hip broken ten years before and that had never properly set. ‘It was never given time,’ the nuns said, but, ‘no more oil in my bones,’ said the Abbess. Her hands, too, shook; of that she had taken not the slightest notice.

As Dame Hester she had made her mark as a sculptor; it had been such a mark that, when she was elected Abbess, her friend Sir Basil Egerton, art critic and a keeper at the British Museum, had written: ‘This is absurd. What time will you have now for your own work?’ ‘I have no “own” work,’ she had written back. ‘I do God’s work.’ It would seem that God had also endowed her with a genius for friendship, warm and lasting. All her adult life, she had worked and prayed only in the Abbey – ‘I entered at nineteen’ – and yet, from its strict enclosure her influence had spread far.

‘Her life is a beacon,’ Dame Ursula told her novices, ‘that sends its rays all over the world and to unexpected places, unexpected people.’ The Abbess’s friends came from every walk of life from dukes to chimney-sweeps. The cliché happened to be true though the nuns had no inkling that the Duke of Gainsborough often came to see the Abbess, nor that she had a good friend, a woman chimney-sweep, ‘who has often given me the most sane advice’. Happenings in the parlours, letters and telephone calls were, for every nun, strictly private. Some of Abbess Hester’s friendships had ripened through decades – as with Sir Basil – from conversations in the parlour, where a unique mixture of wit, learning and humour had come through the grille, from thought ‘and praying’ the Abbess would have said – and from letters. ‘Her letters ought to be published,’ said Sir Basil.

‘I suppose,’ said Dame Maura Fitzgerald, the precentrix, ‘we had taken it for granted she would live for ever.’

‘No one lives for ever,’ Dame Ursula made her usual truism.

At first it was difficult for the nuns to understand what had happened; they only knew that yesterday morning young Sister Julian Colquhoun had gone to the Abbess’s room and had, of course, been admitted. ‘Sister Julian who can do no wrong,’ as Dame Veronica Fanshawe, the cellarer, said bitterly, Dame Veronica of the wistful harebell-blue eyes whose chin trembled at the Abbess’s slightest reproof. Dame Anastasia, the nun telephonist who was at the switchboard next door, had heard Lady Abbess’s, ‘Deo Gratias,’ giving permission for the Sister to come in, and then Sister Julian’s blithe, ‘Benedicite, Mother,’ as she shut the door. Half an hour later Sister Julian had come out and had – she said – gone straight to the church where she had said the Te Deum. ‘I was so happy,’ said Sister Julian. A few minutes later Abbess Hester had had a stroke.

‘But she can’t be dying,’ Sister Cecily had said yesterday when she was met with the news: ‘I had a letter from her this morning.’

‘We would have put you off,’ Dame Emily Lovell, the prioress, told her, ‘but you have had such a long struggle to get here that we felt we shouldn’t.’

Cecily had had constant shivers ever since – shock, thought Philippa; as a senior in the novitiate, Philippa had been asked to take the new postulant under her wing. Before she came to Brede, Philippa had not been close to young girls – Joyce Bowman had dealt with them – except perhaps Penny Stevens. Penny, Philippa thought, must be the same age now as this Sister Cecily, twenty-three, young girls, still at the beginning; they had not had time to be spotted and stained, chipped and scarred, thought Philippa with a pang of envy. There was an innocence about Cecily that reminded her of Penny; they had the same humility, probably because they had both been bullied – Dame Clare had told Philippa a little about Cecily’s mother – but Cecily Scallon was beautiful as Penny certainly was not. Cecily was tall, not slim but giving the impression of slimness, because she carried herself so well. Her hair was ash-blonde, so flaxen fair that it was only when sun or lamplight caught it that it gleamed pale gold. ‘People bleach their hair that colour,’ said Dame Veronica, but Cecily’s hair was natural and naturally curly. ‘But it won’t grow,’ said Cecily who detested it; it showed under her postulant’s veil in short feathery rings like a child’s. Her habit of veiling her eyes by exceptionally long lashes gave her the look of a child too, a shy child. The eyes when she lifted them were dark, not black but dark brown. ‘Striking with that hair,’ said Dame Veronica, ‘and that wonderful skin,’ while Dame Maura, the precentrix, said, ‘She looks like a seraph.’ That was misleading: Cecily was too tall and too feminine to be a seraph – or a child.

There had been nothing misleading in Penny; she was stubby, grey-eyed with dark hair that always looked tousled, but Penny was firm – ‘All of a piece, all through,’ as Joyce Bowman used to say – and her eyes were as openly trustful as a dog’s, while Cecily veiled hers from any direct gaze. Two girls, but utterly different and not only in looks and character; fulfilment, for Penny, lay in loving Donald, however he might treat her, Donald and, one day, Donald’s children; while for Sister Cecily … up on the tower Philippa said a prayer, not for the dying Abbess but for the new postulant.

The novitiate of any convent or monastery is, in a way, a restless place with its entrances and sudden exits. ‘They comes and they goes,’ Sister Priscilla Pawsey, Brede’s old kitchener said, ‘but mostly they goes.’ In Philippa’s four years there, she had tried to keep her eyes down, her thoughts on her own purpose, as Dame Ursula directed, but she had not been able to help casting a professional look over her fellow novices and juniors. ‘Haven’t I sat on selection boards for years?’ Even in her first days, – Sister Matilda won’t stay, she could have said. Sister Matilda had kept the Rule with scrupulous fidelity – scrupulous exaggeration, thought Philippa. No bows had been as exact as hers, no books marked as correctly, no one else obeyed with such alacrity. By reason of nine months’ seniority, she had been kind to the new postulants, always setting them right, ignoring the fact that Julian had a lifetime’s knowledge of Brede and its ways. ‘And I should let Sister Philippa manage her own Latin,’ said Dame Ursula. ‘My poor girl!’ Julian had told Matilda afterwards. ‘Sister Philippa took a “first” in languages at Oxford.’ Everyone had been glad when Sister Matilda was sent away; Sister Angela too: ‘She sits about, waiting for someone to put a halo on her,’ Julian had said. ‘She certainly doesn’t make much effort,’ Philippa had to say. ‘Only in trances,’ said Julian, scornfully and, ‘We don’t put much faith in ecstasies here,’ Dame Ursula had told them. ‘The nun you see rapt away in church isn’t likely to be the holiest. The holiest one is probably the one you would never notice because she is simply doing her duty.’ Sister Angela had left after four months, but there were many who persevered in the life: Sister, now Dame, Benita, once a teacher of art: Sister, again now Dame, Nichola, daughter of a chemist – ‘He lets us have drugs at cost price.’ Sister Sophie, just senior to Philippa: Sister Constance, tiny and quick as a bird, who had come in Philippa’s third year, as had Sister Louise whose father and brothers were miners.

From the beginning Julian had seemed to be set apart as a leader. In the novitiate it was Julian who calmed troubled waters and never seemed to have any troubles of her own; who somehow made a cross person less cross and who encouraged the others when a tedious task flagged. ‘Let’s all get at it,’ she would say; her energy was infectious. ‘She wants to put the world to rights,’ but Dame Ursula had said it in affectionate amusement, and, ‘How much better it is to curb than to prod,’ said Dame Clare, who as zelatrix was Dame Ursula’s right hand.

When the Abbess paid one of her frequent visits to the novitiate, it was Julian who had sat next to her, sometimes at her feet and the Abbess had allowed it. She would put her hand down and let it rest against Julian’s cheek as she talked. If they were in the garden or park, Lady Abbess would lean on Julian, ‘I need a strong young arm.’ The others walked around or ahead of them, but it was Sister Julian who was close, whose laugh rang out; she seemed to give the old woman new life, but Philippa, by habit and long training, was cool; she made her own judgements and every now and again she had found herself wondering why Sister Julian had chosen to be a contemplative nun. Could it have been propinquity? thought Philippa.

Julian had first come to Brede when she was four years old; the same Julian, stocky and strong, with the same dark curly hair and bright brown eyes. She was the daughter of James Colquhoun, one of the Colquhoun Brothers of the building firm, who had built the new cloisters. Often, when he had come to inspect the work, Mr Colquhoun had brought his small Barbara, the future Julian, with him. Even at that age she had wanted to stay. ‘But nuns have to work,’ said her father.

‘I can work,’ said four-year-old Julian.

‘What can you do?’ the Abbess had teased her; even then, the community said, Julian had been Lady Abbess’s pet.

‘I can laugh and I can sing.’ The Abbess had been delighted. ‘A perfect Benedictine!’ she had told Mr Colquhoun, and fifteen years later Barbara became Sister Julian. It had not stopped at Julian; her brother John, the only son, was a monk. ‘Two out of three are a lot to give,’ the Abbess told the Colquhouns.

‘If God wants them, who am I to say “no”?’ Mr Colquhoun had said and, ‘We still have Lucy – perhaps she will give us some grandchildren. I should dearly have liked a son to come into the firm – maybe it will be a grandson.’

Julian Colquhoun should have made her Solemn Profession in February of the coming year. ‘February the 19th, to be exact,’ said Dame Domitilla. ‘Sister Philippa is due next, on the 1st of July.’ Dame Domitilla, as portress on the ‘turn’, knew all the comings and goings of the Abbey, took in the post and sent it out and, with the years, had become like a reliable clock, telling the exact time or date of any event in Brede Abbey. Her memory was phenomenal and the nuns vowed she could recite the register: ‘June 19th, 1953. Entered, Barbara Colquhoun as choir postulant, in religion Sister Julian, elder daughter of James Colquhoun and his wife Helen Baird. Born August 24th, 1934. ‘January 1st, 1954. Entered, Philippa Talbot (widow née Sweeney) as choir postulant, in religion Sister Philippa, only daughter of the late Giles Sweeney and his wife Isabelle Cayzer, deceased. Born June 30th, 1911.’

‘And no two entrances could have been more different,’ said Dame Domitilla.

When Julian came, the Abbess had taken her, as it were, from her father’s hands. Father, mother, brother – the young monk John – and the little sister Lucy had all come with Julian, spending two days at the Guest House, and though there had been tears and embraces before she knocked at the great enclosure door, it was with pride that they saw her go through. Mr Colquhoun had made handsome financial arrangements for her; it was all sure and firm. Philippa, that uncertain prospect, came alone; she had given her briefcase to Sister Renata, the extern portress, to send through the ‘turn’ to the Abbess. It contained transfer notes for shares worth round about five thousand pounds, ‘to go on with,’ Philippa told the Abbess and the cellarer, Dame Veronica. ‘There may be a gratuity to follow in lieu of my pension. There would have been a gratuity if I had married ordinarily – but will this qualify as a marriage? I don’t know. My friends are looking into it for me. It’s a tricky point.’ She had added, ‘I thought I should make the investments for you; I didn’t know how good your man was.’ Dame Veronica had given a little gasp, but Philippa did not realize that she had been presumptuous and the Abbess only said gravely that the money seemed well invested.

* * * * *

Abbess Hester had sent for Philippa yesterday – ‘Only yesterday,’ whispered Philippa now on the tower – and told her it had been decided to bring her into the community for the last six months of her Simple Vows. ‘It’s absurd to keep you in the novitiate any longer.’ She had put her hand on Philippa’s shoulder. ‘You have fought a manful battle, as I knew you would.’ She had said that yesterday morning; indeed, it had been as Philippa was leaving the Abbess’s room that Julian had come so blithely towards it.

Julian’s brother John had spent the weekend before at Brede – ‘Providentially,’ said gentle Dame Beatrice to whom most things were providential. ‘If he had not come, Sister Julian might have made a terrible mistake.’ Brother John Colquhoun had changed his Benedictine Order for a missionary one in India, the Brown Brothers, and at the end of his year as a novice there, had been sent back to England to take a year’s course in hydrostatics.

‘What on earth’s that?’ asked Hilary.

‘Water engineering,’ said Julian and she had said, ‘You shall all see him,’ as one granting a rare privilege. ‘Mother says he will talk to the whole community this Saturday in the large parlour about his province in Bengal – the work and problems there. You can’t imagine what it is like,’ said Julian, with shining eyes.

‘I can. I once lived there,’ said Philippa. Now and again Sister Philippa lifted the curtain over these – to the others – tantalizing glimpses of her past. ‘I believe Sister Philippa has been everywhere,’ declared Sister Constance, but if Philippa had, she did not say a word about it to Brother John and he had breezily taken it for granted that there was no one in his audience who had been out of Britain except Dame Thecla, the Ethiopian who, to the least observant eye, was not English, and he had explained things, ‘not exactly in one-syllable words, but very nearly,’ as Dame Agnes said.

‘Wasn’t it deeply interesting?’ said little Sister Constance.

‘Not deeply,’ said Philippa.

‘Oh, Sister!’

‘It couldn’t be; he is not a deep young man’ – any more than Sister Julian is a deep young woman, Philippa had wanted to add, but refrained. Not yet ordained, Brother John was only twenty-four and exactly like Julian – or as Philippa had sensed that Julian was. He looked like her, thick set, cleanly, with the same bright brown eyes, the same enthusiasm. His hair was crew-cut, his cassock short. ‘John’s a worker,’ said Sister Julian proudly.

‘And he thinks we are not.’

That had been evident, evident too that Lady Abbess had not been entirely immune from the missionary fever that was spreading. ‘Brother John thinks you would be interested,’ she told her senior nuns on the Sunday following the talk, ‘to meet him for an informal discussion in the parlour, perhaps five or six of you at a time. He asks me to say there will be no gloves on. That’s good because we have a great deal to learn.’

‘Hasn’t he?’ they had wanted to ask, but were silent.

‘Shall we say after None in number three parlour?’

There was another silence, then, ‘Yes, Mother, if you are interested.’ The Abbess had felt the silence and over-rode it. ‘I am interested and you should be too – unless you prefer to shut your minds.’

‘Why do we have to waste our time with this young whipper-snapper?’ Dame Agnes Kerr, the tart old scholar, had asked when the Abbess had gone. ‘Why?’

‘He is Sister Julian’s brother.’ That was Dame Veronica. She and Dame Agnes were seldom in sympathy but over this, for different reasons, they were at one.

‘Mother is building too much on that girl,’ said wise Dame Agnes. ‘Far too much,’ and wondered why Dame Veronica’s harebell-blue eyes had looked at her, with such fear? thought Dame Agnes uneasily.

To Dame Agnes, Sister Julian and her brother with their new-fangled ideas were like woodpeckers busily making holes until the life of the tree was destroyed. ‘They don’t care a rap for history or tradition, and are completely ignorant of them. They won’t even listen.’ It was the beginning of the restlessness, the growing power of the young.

‘I don’t like to see these,’ Brother John had said, tapping the grille of the parlour. ‘I look forward to the day when the bars will come down and you can mingle freely with your guests – perhaps even wear lay clothes as they do.’

‘Just as we did a hundred years ago,’ said the young councillor Dame Catherine Ismay.

That took him aback.

‘Didn’t you know?’ asked Dame Beatrice, sweetly. ‘When we first came to Brede that was how we had to live. We could not wear our habits, and were not allowed enclosure until 1880. We had to fight to get our grilles.’

‘One who informs, ought to be himself informed, not?’ Dame Colette, who was French, asked of the air.

‘But then you could open a hospital, run a school,’ he argued.

Dame Maura, the precentrix, rose with a swish of skirts. ‘I have an organ practice,’ she announced and left the parlour. Dame Maura was privileged – and did not believe in wasting time.

‘We kept a school in those days. Now, thank God, we don’t have to,’ said Dame Agnes.

‘Why thank God?’ he had bristled.

‘Because it took us away from our proper work.’

‘Which supports the likes of you.’ Dame Perpetua, Brede’s stout, steady, subprioress, was always forthright.

It was the old argument. ‘Our Lord taught and healed …’ said Brother John.

‘And prayed; withdrew into the mountain or the wilderness to pray,’ said the nuns.

‘Do you not believe in prayer?’ asked Dame Colette.

‘Of course – but if you are shut away it must be limited.’

‘Or concentrated,’ said Dame Catherine Ismay.

‘Brother John, you want to be a missionary,’ said Dame Agnes. ‘Then you might reflect, Brother, that the greatest missionary of modern times was, and is, little St Thérèse of Lisieux who never, even for five minutes, left her cloister.’

* * * * *

John Colquhoun, though, had become likeable when he talked about his work, ‘his, not ours,’ said Dame Agnes. The Brown Brothers were called ‘Brown’ – ‘not because we have Indian priests, though I’m glad to say we have many, but from the coarse brown clothes we wear’. They were Indian clothes, a kameeze, loose tunic shirt, and loose trousers coming in to the ankle, ‘much more practical for manual work than a tunic and scapular.’ The mission was a new venture in India’s ‘moffusil’ or countryside and was formed, not to open schools or hospitals, but for agriculture and irrigation. ‘Farms and wells,’ said Brother John.

‘What could be needed more?’ asked Lady Abbess.

The Order lived as the peasants did; their centres were village huts; the brothers slept on charpoys, Indian string beds; ate Indian food. ‘And we need sisters’; his eyes had swept over the ranks behind the grille. ‘Sisters for the women, to teach them hygiene, how to look after their children and feed them better; how to make the most of what they have: plant vegetable gardens and rear chickens and bring back the village handicrafts. Every minute counts.’ His face had burned with zeal and there had been an answering fire in the eyes of many of the nuns, especially the young ones. ‘Wonderful, wonderful work,’ said Sister Constance as they had all talked of it in the novitiate during recreation. ‘If one could do it, but it must be terribly hard.’

‘Is it harder than ours?’ asked Philippa.

‘Of course it is,’ said Julian but Philippa had shaken her head. ‘Is it easier to “be” than to “do”?’

‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ The blood had risen in Julian’s cheeks. ‘Those poor poor people. Look at our clothes, our habits,’ she had cried. ‘They ought to be made of the cheapest serge.’

‘Why?’ asked Philippa. ‘We weave our own, and hand-woven cloth wears better than serge, especially cheap serge.’

‘Yes, I have had this winter habit for thirteen years,’ Dame Ursula had put in.

‘But our white linen. Our shoes.’ Julian had been up in arms. ‘We should be barefoot like the Poor Clares.’

‘The Poor Clares do more manual work, less study,’ said Dame Ursula. ‘With our long hours of stillness, bare feet would not be practical.’

‘They would be exaggerated,’ said Dame Clare.

‘I still feel ashamed.’

‘Did Mary feel ashamed for not helping Martha?’

Philippa still had not learned to let an argument go, or temper it; she still used the quick riposte, ‘and we haven’t a chance against her,’ muttered Julian but, ‘The Church needs many, many Marthas,’ Dame Clare had said gently, laying her hand on Julian’s.

‘Yes!’ cried Julian. ‘Look at the state of the world.’

‘Which is why she needs a few Marys too.’

* * * * *

Philippa had undoubtedly been right but she had had a rebuke from the zelatrix. Brother John Colquhoun had left Brede on the Monday after that memorable weekend; he had telephoned Julian that evening and later that night she had gone to Abbess Hester and asked permission to telephone her father and mother. On Tuesday morning she went to the Abbess again.

Kneeling by her chair, Julian had told her she would not now be taking her vows at Brede. ‘I see where my real vocation is.’ She would be joining the Brown Sisters, ‘as soon as John can arrange it.’ Her father and mother approved and they would write to Lady Abbess. ‘It will be work, real work, and with John. I shall have to start all over again.’ Julian had had a new humility but her face was radiant; this undoubtedly was the path for Julian. She thanked the dear Abbess and dear Dame Ursula and Dame Clare for all their love and care. ‘For all you have taught me, and I know, dearest Mother, you will give me your blessing.’

The Abbess had succeeded in blessing and kissing her – until then she had not said a word – and Julian had danced away. Twenty minutes later Sister Ellen, who looked after the Abbess’s rooms, had found Abbess Hester slumped and unconscious in her chair.

But, no matter what the affection or the hopes, thought the nuns, a great Abbess does not die because a junior nun leaves, even one as dear as Sister Julian. ‘It doesn’t happen,’ they would have said, but it was happening now. ‘Yes, she’s defeated this time,’ Doctor Avery had said. He had been the Abbey’s doctor for a score of years and had come at once. The Abbess was paralysed, except for the smallest movement of her head and fingers, and unable to swallow; Dame Joan, the infirmarian, had stood by the bed, hour after hour, constantly moistening the strangely swollen lips. Abbess Hester was plainly dying – ‘A matter of hours, perhaps even an hour,’ Doctor Avery had said.

The whole community, the choir nuns in their cowls, had lined the long cloisters, each carrying a lighted candle, and knelt as the enclosure door opened; escorted by the sacristan, Dame Beatrice, softly ringing her little silver bell, and by Dame Agnes who, as mistress of ceremonies, bore a lighted candle before him, Dom Gervase, Brede’s young chaplain, had carried the holy oils and the Blessed Sacrament to the Abbess’s cell. The nuns followed after, singing the ‘Miserere’ and knelt, as many as could, in the Abbess’s rooms, the rest on the bare floor of the corridor. Dom Gervase put down the ciborium on the table, ready with its white cloth, candles and crucifix and came to the bedside, but Abbess Hester had motioned him away by the restless movement of her head, while her fingers plucked feebly in distress, at the sheet. Her lips formed the word ‘No’, though only a distorted sound came through; then the prioress, bending over her, thought she heard the word ‘want’ welling up from the mind below that thickened speech, ‘Wa-ant.’

‘I am here, dear Mother,’ said the prioress as she had said day in, day out, all these years.

‘Wa-ant.’ It went on after Dom Gervase had gone away. ‘I shall be waiting, every minute,’ he had said, ‘but I think we should send for Abbot Bernard.’ Abbot Bernard Rossetti was Abbot of Udimore Abbey, twenty miles away, companion monastery to Brede; for years, he had been Abbess Hester’s trusted counsellor and friend; he had come at once but she had given him no flicker of recognition.

‘Wa-ant.’

‘Want something or someone?’ The prioress, Dame Emily, bent low. ‘Is it Dame Veronica?’ she had asked, selfless, as always.

Mother Prioress looked as white and strained as if it were she, not the Abbess, who was dying, and – how thin she has grown, thought the nuns, almost emaciated.

As subprioress, Dame Perpetua was below, holding the reins, the guiding strings as, since she took office, she had held them a hundred times when Abbess and prioress were locked away in the Council or other business. ‘But not business like this!’ said Dame Perpetua. Dame Perpetua was as simple as she was downright and she had not tried to stop the tears running down her cheeks as she went about her work; the work was carried out as usual from her room or in the refectory or choir, and, ‘She’s the only one of us who can sing through tears,’ said the nuns. ‘We don’t usually lament over a death,’ they would have said, ‘but this is worrying.’

Next to prioress and subprioress in importance was the cellarer, Dame Veronica of the harebell-blue eyes that were ‘always brimming’, as Dame Agnes said in irritation. Dame Veronica was the most baffling of all Abbess Hester’s appointments; the Rule of St Benedict lays down that a cellarer should be ‘wise, of mature character, not a great eater, not haughty, not excitable, not offensive … not wasteful’. ‘Well, Dame Veronica is not a great eater,’ said Dame Agnes.

The cellarer before had been the younger Dame Catherine Ismay, who had held that office for six years and who seemed to have all the qualities needed; Dame Catherine was capable, unhurried, noted for her evenness, and sturdy, perhaps too sturdy for the Abbess. Three years ago when the day for Distribution of Offices had come round, contrary to all expectations Dame Veronica Fanshawe, pliant Dame Veronica, had been appointed in Dame Catherine’s place, though it had not been done without arguments from the Council, arguments produced with reverence and politeness, unshakeable, but of no avail. In those days, Dame Perpetua, in whose eyes Abbess Hester was the pattern of wisdom, had been on the Council; she and, as always, Dame Emily as prioress, and Dame Beatrice, who saw only the best in everyone and would not go against the Abbess, voted with her for the appointment. None of the arguments had been repeated to the community but, in the way of communities, the nuns seemed to know about them without being told and, when Dame Perpetua became subprioress, leaving a vacancy on the Council, the community had elected Dame Catherine Ismay.

The Abbess had been quick to catch the unspoken criticism and it did not make her like Dame Catherine any better, though Dame Catherine had had no choice but to accept what had happened to her: to be displaced as cellarer, when, because she held that office she had automatically been a councillor, and then to be elected councillor again. Now she was the youngest on the Council as she had been the youngest cellarer ever appointed at Brede but she took it with her accustomed quietness. ‘Quietness or aloofness?’ asked Dame Agnes. It was hard to tell.

As Dame Catherine knelt now, she was bigger, taller than the rest, except for the immensely tall precentrix, Dame Maura. Dame Maura was slim and with her height gave the effect of a mast in a ship scudding before the wind, perhaps because she always moved too fast. Dame Catherine, proportioned like a Brunnhilde, seemed more the figurehead of the ship, first to breast calm or storm; now her face was shut in prayer and an almost visible strength flowed to the tormented figure on the bed.

Dame Beatrice Sheridan knelt closer; though as sacristan her work was exacting, she had been appointed a councillor by the Abbess, whose right it was to appoint three out of the requisite six, the community electing the others. The Abbess had chosen wisely because Dame Beatrice was much loved; no one had ever heard her say an unkind word of anyone. ‘She’s not of this world at all,’ said Dame Veronica.

‘Which will make her of singularly little use on the Council’; that was Dame Agnes.

‘Perhaps we need her to keep the peace,’ was Dame Maura’s retort.

Dame Maura Fitzgerald and Dame Agnes Kerr were the two most prominent nuns in the community, prominent because they were outstanding. ‘I think of them as twin towers,’ Philippa said once, ‘which is odd because Dame Agnes isn’t tall.’

Dame Agnes Kerr was little and bony, even her shoulders looked sharp. She had a red lump on her forehead that the younger nuns said was a third eye, seeing even farther than the other two that, with their red rims and sandy lashes, were so shrewd they stripped away all humbug and pretence. Brede was proud of Dame Agnes. ‘She is our acid test,’ said Dame Maura. When Dame Agnes was working, she was like a terrier down a foxhole. ‘And she will always get her fox,’ the Abbess had said.

Dame Agnes was not only a classical scholar but also a mathematician; she had been Eighth Wrangler at Cambridge and, since coming to Brede, had specialized in Anglo-Saxon; she was writing a book on the history, in art, literature and devotion, of the Holy Cross, ‘been writing it for fifteen years,’ said Dame Veronica who, herself, wrote poems.

Dame Maura Fitzgerald, precentrix in charge of all music and Brede’s first organist, was equally noted. ‘People come from all over Britain to hear our chant,’ Dame Ursula told her novices.

Dame Ursula was not kneeling in the Abbess’s room; as mistress of novices her first duty was to the novitiate; Dame Ursula was called Ursa, the Great Bear, or Teddy according to her moods, ‘though we’re not supposed to nickname,’ Hilary warned Cecily. With the councillors knelt French Dame Colette Aubadon, mistress of church work: Dame Camilla, the learned old head librarian: Dame Edith of the printing room. Dame Mildred, gardener, while Dame Joan Howard, the infirmarian, stood on the other side of the bed from Mother Prioress.

‘W-ant.’

‘Is it Dame Veronica?’ but Dame Veronica seemed as if she too had had a stroke and was semi-paralysed. ‘She hasn’t once been in the proc’s room since Mother fell ill,’ said Dame Perpetua wrathfully. The proc’s room was the procurator’s or cellarer’s office where Dame Veronica’s ‘second’, young Dame Winifred, was trying to fill her place. At her name, Dame Veronica looked up, white and cowed as if she were terrified, and the nuns had to push her forward, but when she knelt by the bed and quavered, ‘Mother,’ the Abbess’s restlessness increased, the fingers plucked in torment. ‘W-ant.’

‘Want Sister Julian?’ When the prioress asked that there was a sudden stillness in the old body and, ‘Send for Sister Julian,’ said the prioress.

Sister Julian did not want to come. ‘She’ll try and make me change my mind.’

‘Don’t be silly, child,’ said Dame Perpetua who had gone in person to fetch her. ‘Mother cannot even speak.’

When Sister Julian was defiant, her underlip stuck out and, with her tear-stained face, she looked like a cross child, but when she came to the bed, all her inherent kindliness warmed her into pity, deep sadness and regret for this ruin of her dear and august friend. ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to do this. I didn’t mean to,’ she whispered, shrinking against the prioress and, kneeling by the bed, ‘Dear Mother. Dear, dear Mother,’ she said, over and over again, but the head still moved, the fingers twitched and, ‘Want,’ came again. Then it was not Sister Julian.

Dom Gervase tried once more, his dark young face tense with the anguish of his grief. Lady Abbess had been his lifeline but, for all the upholding power of his office, he could not reach past the trouble that tormented her, nor could Abbot Bernard; even he could not soothe her, but towards that evening another word had come welling up, forced out by great effort. The prioress thought it was ‘tell’. ‘Want. Tell.’

‘You want to tell us something, Mother?’ but the Abbess could only say ‘tell’. ‘Why?’ asked the nuns. ‘What could she have to tell?’ ‘Why should she be so troubled? She cannot be afraid.’ No true nun is afraid of death. ‘I wish I knew when I was going to die,’ ninety-six-year-old Dame Frances Anne often said, ‘I wish I knew.’

‘Why, Dame?’

‘Then I should know what to read next.’

In the early hours of the morning, those hours of low ebb when so many souls slip quietly away as if all resistance were gone, the ‘want’ gave way to ‘sor-ry’. ‘Sorry.’ The prioress knew the Abbess’s every shade and tone – she would have believed she knew her every thought – and her quick ear had fathomed that this ‘sorry’ was not only regret; there was contrition, deep contrition. ‘Then it is not only Sister Julian; it is something Mother has done, for which she cannot forgive herself.’

Mother Prioress had not said that aloud but the infirmarian had caught the ‘sorry’ too; Dame Emily and Dame Joan looked at one another and, as if it were a contagion, deeper qualms spread through the monastery: ‘something Mother, our Mother has done.’

There had been, they all knew, no suggestion of impropriety, even in thought, with Sister Julian. In the last years there had been favourites but never inordinate love. ‘Lady Abbess has loved more people than most of us could begin to know.’ Dame Ursula often said that and, ‘we have only one love to give,’ Abbess Hester had told the community at one of the conferences she gave twice a week. ‘We don’t give bits of our hearts but love everyone with the love we give to God. That keeps it safe.’ That was how she had loved Sister Julian; though often she had not been exactly wise over her, the nuns knew and trusted that. Now it was as if the Abbey trembled. Something – and Sister Julian’s defection may have been the spark that lit it – something had been brought home. ‘Sorry.’ The word was clearer now though it still seemed to come from a depth they could not reach; tears slid down from the Abbess’s closed eyes and soaked the pillow. Abbot Bernard came to the bed again. ‘Dear, dear friend. Dear child …’ but again the head moved in refusal and again the effort welled up from the Abbess, ‘sorry.’ As the second afternoon waned, it seemed to the waiting nuns that the weary word would never end.

It was Dame Catherine who stood up. She was always strong and, though now she was as white and worn as any of them, resolution shone in her hazel eyes, such resolution that Dame Joan made way for her. Dame Catherine stilled the Abbess’s fingers by taking the shaking hands in her own firm grasp; her voice was strong as she spoke. ‘No matter what it is,’ she said. ‘You have said sorry. We have all heard. No matter what it is, we shall deal with it. Dear Mother, there is no more you can do now. Lay it down.’

She knelt and kissed the Abbess’s hand and went back to her place with such swiftness that when the Abbess’s black eyes opened it was only the prioress, Dame Emily, she saw.

She looked at her, a look of gratitude, affection and respect; then the Abbess gave a sigh, closed her eyes, and head and fingers were still.

Back in her corner, Dame Catherine felt her face burning; she thanked heaven for the wimple that hid the nervous patches on her throat and the veil that shadowed her face. ‘What made me do that?’ she asked herself. She, the most contained of creatures? And a voice in her, the same voice that had impelled her forward, answered, ‘Someone had to,’ and to do anything else would have been a betrayal of what she had clearly seen as duty. ‘They may think it was Dame Emily,’ she comforted herself. ‘Mother herself thought it was,’ and, ‘as long as it was done, what does it matter who did it?’

* * * * *

Up on the tower, Philippa, lost in her prayer, felt a vibrating under her feet as soft-toned Michael began to ring; it was the Passing Bell.


I hope you enjoyed that snippet into the life of a contemplative order in the "old days" before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  Stanbrook Abbey, on which the book is based, is still in existence, but has moved to a new location in Wales.

Peter