I’m sitting at the table, looking around the kitchen — full of turkey, people, fun, games, and bins that require emptying — and thinking that an opportunity to read The Chronicles of Barsetshire would have made a superb accompaniment to the gift. How handy to find that along with the books in the box under the tree.
Frankly, I’m considering escape.
Perhaps, I think to myself, I should do what Hunter S Thompson did when life closed in on him, and “load up on heinous chemicals, drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether”.
But if I’m honest, I’m not sure this would kill me, and besides, Vegas is hardly the place for Trollope.
I think on.
Or maybe I could just disappear upstairs with my box. Perhaps I could cite an attack of the vapours, 19th century-style and take to bed.
But I can’t imagine my family expediting this business, 19th century-style. And it’s not as if I have a muscular maid-of-all-work to come in and do the chores while I’m in bed, or bring me tea-for-one on a tray.
Besides, taking to the bed is never going to happen when my husband wants to see the New Year in as Tarzan, with me as Jane.
I’m considering option three when my sister phones.
“What you up to?” she says.
“I’m looking at the kitchen bins and thinking that they’ll actually burst before anyone notices them.”
“You need time out,” she says, “and I know just the ticket. Come to London. We’ll go clubbing.”
“No,” I say, “that’s not the ticket, not this time.”
“Oh,” she says, “shame.”
“I want peace and quiet. In fact I want more than that. I want solitude.”
“Oh,” she says, “in that case, you should go to a nunnery — you know,” she continues briskly, as if she’s not just said the word “nunnery” but the more common “spa” instead, “a silent order — the ones where the nuns aren’t allowed to speak. I’m sure there must be a few nunneries left, especially in Ireland. I mean you’re bound to find one in Ireland.”
“Yes,” she says, “like the one dad sent me to.”
“What do you mean he sent you to a nunnery?” I say.
“He suggested it,” she says.
It’s not a stretch for me to imagine my father making a suggestion such as this. Imagining my sister’s compliancy in the face of it is much more difficult.
“To study for my finals,” she explains, “I mean my student house was insane… you remember Dean and Mike… I’d never have been able to study there… so he packed me off to the Poor Clares in Arundel, for five days before my exams. With my mate Sarah — remember mad Sarah?”
“We took fags and stuff — wine if I remember right, in fact definitely wine — and we used to play this game called ‘Spot the Nun’.”
She explains it revolved around the central principle of my sister and friend shouting NUN at each other whenever they saw one crossing the garden.
“I don’t get it,” I say, “you were in a nunnery. You must have been shouting NUN every two seconds…”
“We played it at night,” she interrupts, “we used to look out the bedroom windows… it was like Snap,” she says, “but with nuns. If you saw two nuns together, in a pair, you had to shout NUN. But it had to be a definite pair, and the first one to say it…”
“And the rest of the time?”
“It was nice, actually,” she says, “soooo quiet, soooo peaceful and the food was amazing. You’d wake up to beautiful singing in the morning. You didn’t have to pray or anything.”
Forget the heinous chemicals and pint of ether. Forget taking to the bed. “I’m going to go to a nunnery,” I say. Me and Trollope. I’ll let you know how I get on.