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Back to school Challenge: Class Distinction.

“Four inches, Morrison! You know the rule, what should it be?”


“Yes, Sister?”

“Your skirt is too short. Kneel on the desk!”

Sister Bernadette, The Carmelite Nun who was head of discipline and religious studies for the girls of St. Mary Magdalene Roman Catholic High School, tapped the desk in front of me with her wooden ruler. Obediently, I climbed onto my chair and knelt upon the flat wooden surface of the desk as commanded. Without another word she set the end of the ruler on the desk and pressed it against my leg.

“Four inches, Morrison! You know the rule, what should it be?”

“Two inches, Sister,” I whispered, my throat dry. I had no one to blame. At playtime, as we played out in the warmth of a sunny Spring afternoon, I and my friends had rolled the waistbands of our grey pleated skirts to make them into fashionable mini skirts only I, like the airhead that I was, hadn't pulled out the final roll, leaving the hem two inches too short.

Sister Bernadette turned away and walked to her desk, opened a drawer and took out a small, pink pad. Great, I thought, my first demerit.


The year was Nineteen- seventy-two and I was just Thirteen. I wasn't rebellious, nor stupid, I just allowed my youthful exuberance to outrun my brain at times.

You see, the thing was, at the end of every school year, the 'House' who's members earned the most Merits won a trophy for that year.

A Merit was a small blue slip which was earned for something above and beyond, an extra good mark for an essay, perhaps or maybe being extra good at P.E. Unfortunately, whilst not being a bad pupil, I wasn't outstanding either and so, being awarded a small blue slip was quite a rare occurrence for me and, when I did get one, it was extra special.

Now, here I was getting my first pink slip. Under the rules of the merit system, one demerit cancelled out six merits so now I was letting everyone down and I felt it most keenly. At this point in my school life, the beginning of my third year at high school, I had only ever earned two merits and now, starting a new year, I was already six merits down.

I miserably took the pink slip from Sister Bernadette's outstretched hand.


By the time I finished school, almost three years later, I had earned the six merits to cancel the demerit. Such a pity that they only counted for the year of issue.


“Hey! You can't stand there, it's not safe!” The gruff voice dragged me from my reverie and I stepped back, away from the school gates and onto the pavement outside.

I knew it wasn't so, deep down, but that memory alone made me feel that I hadn't worked hard enough all those years ago and maybe, if I had, I wouldn't be standing here at the roadside being deafened by the roar of big diesel engines, watching my old school being torn down to make way for a new housing development.


I had learned a lot at that school but, above all, I had learned that Nuns are not always the sweet young women that are depicted in the popular media!


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