Reformism Revisited – Part Six
The People Decide
by Nick Lucas
Live Leadership Debate
“Come on Ben, be serious.” Charles Buckingham smiled his most winning smile, keeping himself calm, but digging his fingernails into his palm to help him focus. “Having promised not to change any of our policies in your first year in office, how can you criticise our record on anything? What are you going to do? Take a gap year? Go backpacking around Australia or lay on a beach in the Bahamas?”
“One of my first priorities will be assessing the damage you have done.” Cartwright snapped back, less calm but still in control of himself, performing much better than last time. “Our whole point is that the structural change you have forced through will take time to dismantle without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I do not deny your achievements, but it is the price we will all pay for them that concerns me.”
“There will be no price to pay as long as we are given time to finish the job we have started…the structural change you allude to has transformed this country from a bankrupt basket case into a financial giant again…full employment, falling crime, lower interest rates, better health, better education…good luck with dismantling all that my friend. I do not deny that we still have a lot of work to do. There is always a danger with dramatic change that it all takes time to hang together, for the tail to catch up with the head, as it were. But I would ask each voter to concentrate on one thing and one thing only. Ask yourselves just one simple question before you place your vote…is this a better place to live than it was five years ago? If it is, vote Christian Democrat, but if it isn’t, and you don’t trust me to put it right, vote for Ben Cartwright and then see where you are.”
“Charles, your problem is that you don’t like being challenged on the details. You are fine on the big plan, but when anyone asks you something fundamental, like how you can provide six hundred thousand nuns to replace all of our nurses and women teachers, you don’t have a clue. It was a pipe dream…yes, our hospitals are cleaner, and patients get a bed bath every day and their meals on time, but it the healthcare any better?”
“Precisely Ben, you hit the nail on the head. All we have achieved are the things you and your better half failed to do over countless successive administrations. The medical care was always first class, but the service around those highly motivated professionals was appalling and we solved it, radically. We have changed the political landscape, but no one really cares about that anymore. The important thing is that we have changed the social landscape. This is the difficult phase. This is where everyone who voted for us five years ago has to hold their nerve. Imagine the progress we have made in that time. Now imagine what we can do in another five years…and remember that your alternative is a man who intends to waste twenty percent of that time examining his navel and hoping for inspiration to strike.”
“Closer than last time…much closer,” Peter Munroe mumbled, hunched over his laptop.
“Charles won the debate.” Harry insisted, his fist thumping the table.
“Of course he did…Harry we are not going to lose.”
“Good, so that’s…good…right?”
“It depends on the majority we end up with…over one hundred last time means that you can do what you want, but the soft right vote totally collapsed five years ago. This time it looks like it won’t, and that could mean a majority of fifty or less…it is the traditional electoral decline. It got Thatcher, it got Blair. We might get five more years Harry but it will be harder, and we might not get five more after that. The clock is ticking my friend, its shit or bust time.”
As the Bishop said to the Nun
“Sister Esme, I presume?” Ian Hunter held out his hand to the first nun and she nodded, before duly offering him the required obeisance. He smiled, and gestured for the sister’s to take their seats around the table. No one else was there. He noticed the blue braid around their mantles and sighed to himself. “Sisters, I am one of the new bishops appointed by the Church after the diocesan conference held in January. I am sure you have not heard much about it, but Archbishop Winstanley has appointed a committee…for want of a better word…of bishops to manage our growing responsibilities. I am honoured to be the man given the momentous task of leading your order. Sister Esme, I am very pleased to meet you.”
“And I you, Lord Bishop,” Sister Esme replied, but he could hear the uncertainty in her voice. Maybe even fear. He sighed all over again, and then tried a rueful smile.
“If my instructions have been carried out correctly, the six of you are all…or rather, were all…qualified doctors. As I understand it, you all joined the sisterhood when your hospitals were put under Church control, under the direction of Sir Harry Trevor, our illustrious Minister of Health and Education…is that correct, Sister Esme?”
“As I understand it, Lord Bishop.”
“Since then, you have all served God in a variety of institutions of dubious merit, and I fear you will all have suffered many indignities along the way as the order struggled to cope with the demands of the health service. I do not apologise for that, as it is not my remit to look backwards, but I do intend to make sure that we do not make the same mistakes again…and to do that I am here to ask for your help. I have no power to reduce your commitment to the order, and frankly if I did I would choose not to Sisters, because you are too valuable to waste. My investigations since my appointment suggest that most of the nuns trained by you and others similar to you are the best in the service. I am here to harness your skills for the good of that service, and to build a training facility that we can all be proud of, to provide the nurses this country needs for years to come. I am here to stop the sheer brutality of the past, and replace it with a disciplined, committed organisation dedicated to the glory of God and to healing the sick in his name. I am not going to set you free and I am not going to beat you into submission, but I am going to ask you to trust me and work with me to achieve these objectives. What do you say, Sisters?”
“I say that my prayers have finally been answered, my Lord Bishop…God bless you, God bless us all.”
“Then I can only say thank you to God, and to you…Mother Esme.”
Sister Caris listened but found it hard to believe. Bishop Hunter seemed to be saying all the things they had been saying and thinking for months. The leadership of the order was out of control. Training was too brutal and cruel, but most importantly too fast to achieve much more than the basics. He even mentioned St. Theresa’s, and suggested that a lax regime could be just as bad for the order in the long run, which made Caris feel sick with guilt. She knew things had gone too far there, as given a little bit of freedom the nuns had started to take advantage. But the only thing she really wanted to hear was that they were now safe from the likes of Mother Rosalind. She did not think like a normal person anymore. She was a nun, institutionalised, and reliant on the routine of prayer and hard work, but she still feared the switch and the paddle.
“Sisters, I hope you appreciated that I am asking for your assistance. I could and would make you cooperate, as others have in the past, but I want to create a new order.” Bishop Hunter continued. “I do not care how you came to be here, or who you were before you did…you are all nuns and you will obey me. But I would prefer it if we could all work together, for the greater good, as God has chosen you to serve him. Mother Esme, your role will be head of nurse training and you will be able to choose your own team…anyone you have met during your time in the order, and I will allow you to search the sisterhood for other likely candidates. I want this convent to be a centre of training excellence. You will have novices for longer, after a period of basic training elsewhere. But you will not be in charge of anything else here. I will still have discipline and obedience. Mother Chelsea is another veteran of the early days of the order, with the skills to manage this convent in a more humane fashion, and outside of the training day, which you will have full responsibility for, she will be in charge of everything else, including your conduct and welfare. Her team will be identified by green braid, and yours by blue, as before. Now ladies, you have been long enough without your muzzles. It is time to pray for the future. Fear not, you will get time to plan and discuss, but not now.”
A Pleasant Surprise
Kieran Radcliffe surprised his new wife. Not with his piety. She had known that he was a committed Reformist, active not only in the local political party, but also within the thriving local congregation in Ascot, and she expected to live her life strictly according to the doctrine. But other than that, his attitude to life in general was, for a Reformist, enlightened, and much to her surprise she found that his daughter, Felicity, and her, were encouraged to work for the local community. Not paid work, of course. That would be unacceptable. But good work, and with Miss Scott to support her Chloe found herself getting involved in all sorts of committee’s and fund raising events. She liked the house, and she found having something to do, as well as being a mother to nineteen year old Felicity much more rewarding than she had imagined it would be. However, it was a chance aside by Miss Scott, when Peter Munroe and his family were visiting them, which changed her life once more.
It was most unlike Miss Scott. She was helping settle the ladies for dinner as usual, when Mr Munroe commented to his host and friend and local party chairman that there was concern in Whitehall about the training of young guardians, to cope with the demand of so many new members. Miss Scott, who was normally a stickler for manners and etiquette, informed him quite firmly that this was no surprise. She said that if you treated the role as little more than a glorified nanny and let schoolteachers train aspiring guardians accordingly, he could expect standards to start poor and get worse. Everyone was surprised, and Chloe was immediately concerned that she would lose her mentor again if her husband was offended, but Kieran Radcliffe was not the type. Instead, he delayed the serving of their meal for half an hour whilst he and Peter Munroe quizzed Miss Scott on what she meant, as she obviously felt so strongly about it.
“In my day in Meadvale, when I was looking for a job that fitted my faith, the only training on offer was to act as an assistant to an existing guardian.” Miss Scott began to explain, looking rather disconcerted and probably feeling rather embarrassed about her little outburst, as Mr Radcliffe fetched a chair for her. “Obviously it was a much smaller community, and everyone knew everyone else. I will admit that nothing was very organised then…we were all learning from Pastor Richard and then dear Pastor Michael of course. But I got taken on, at almost eighteen, and I learned on the job, from an experienced lady who had been a teacher and a nanny before she found God’s love. But now, because of the explosion of new members, there has been such a demand that schoolgirls are being given a few months’ basic childcare skills before being thrust into a guardianship. It is not enough and moreover it is not sensible. I am not a nursemaid or even a nanny. In fact, personally I have never had any particular desire to work with children, although I will admit that parts of the role are similar. Maiden training is an honour. We are taking a young immature girl and turning them into a good wife. It is about translating our faith into habits that will last a lifetime. You cannot expect an untrained schoolgirl to do that well…unless, if I may be so bold, Mr Radcliffe, that schoolgirl is as naturally gifted as Mrs Radcliffe was. It truly is a recipe for disaster, but typically of this government you are not asking the right questions of the right people.”
“Sorry Miss Scott, you’ve lost me there?” Peter Munroe asked, looking rather amused by the whole conversation.
“I do not wish to cause offence, Mr Munroe.”
“And I promise not to take any offence…I am trying to ask the right questions of the right person.”
“As you wish…but Mr Radcliffe…”
“Miss Scott, I want you to express your opinion freely…but just this once.” Kieran almost laughed, winking at her, Chloe and Elizabeth Munroe.
“Well, if you ask me…and clearly no one has…the government rushed headlong into many things. Nursing, teaching, being a nanny…all these jobs are traditionally women’s work, and at first…in applying the doctrine to the wider society…that was almost entirely forgotten after our election victory. This has caused problems, of which the lack of trained guardians is just one, but you are running so fast that you only ever have time to put a sticking plaster over the cut…and normally it continues to fester. Instead you should listen to and take advice from the people who understand the demands of those important roles. I have become so frustrated I have even started writing a book…”
“Can we read it?” Kieran Radcliffe interrupted, but then his wife, almost despite herself, interrupted him.
“Can I help you write it?”
Miss Scott ended up eating dinner with them, as the discussion continued, with the two men firing questions at her and even at Chloe. Later on, Peter Munroe stayed up, working on his laptop by a night light, whilst his wife slept. Miss Scott had made a number of highly relevant points. In the zeal of the initial revolution, although they all preferred the word renaissance, the mantra was about returning women to their rightful place. Men and women were different, they all believed that, but in that storming phase of the process they did forget that there were natural female roles, and ensuring that those roles were adequately fulfilled was not as simple as labelling them vocations and turning them over to nuns. It was the same problem they had finally recognised at Christmas, and had started the process of rectifying by sorting out the Church structure. Pastor Michael had been trying to run everything on his own, as he had when he had a few thousand members. He had given people responsibility for things, and in the case of the nuns, commonly referred to as the order, he had let the women run themselves, to a certain extent at least, as if the order could organise itself by magic. No one really worried about what went on inside the convents; it was just a question of numbers and discipline. In decrying the quality of the end product, the structure of the order had come into sharper focus, and they had addressed it, but Peter was not at all sure they had listened to the people actually doing the hard work. Miss Scott made a lot of valid points. They were going so fast that they were in danger of leaving chaos behind them, and the failure to deliver would cost them votes.
Kieran Radcliffe had not actually needed Miss Scott to point out all of those problems, although she managed to teach him a thing or two along the way. He stayed up that night reading her book, or at least the sixty pages she had so far completed, and he wholeheartedly agreed with his approach. He believed in the doctrine. Not in any slavish fashion, but as a radical blueprint for social change. The problem was all about the unholy rush, the desperate need to impose their philosophies before another election, because they always believed that they would be voted out before they had achieved structural change. Radcliffe, like his good friend Peter Munroe, expected the Christian Democrats to win the election, but to be returned with a much smaller majority. That was quite normal in British politics over the previous thirty years. One party won power with a reasonable majority and normally survived another election with a smaller one before being ousted from power the third time, or thereabouts. Thatcher/Major, Blair/Brown and then Cameron, first in coalition with the Liberals and then winning power for himself before Philip Henderson took over and lost to Charles Buckingham, after their own coalition. So if they carried on as they were, the Christian Democrats could expect one more term, five more years, and then they were likely to be thrown into opposition, and the renaissance would stall or be dismantled, ruining all their efforts.
Inspired by the evening and Miss Scott’s book, he sent an email to Charles Buckingham long before his breakfast, copying in Peter Munroe. They had a lot to do in five years and there really was no more time to waste. He did not despite the old political elite. But they did seem to have missed the obvious trick. If you want to change things forever, you had to seize the moment and act whilst you had the mandate. Charles Buckingham had seemed radical at first, and certainly a number of the changes he got onto the statue books were fairly drastic by the usual standards of Westminster. But he had never gone far enough, and with time running out someone had to convince him to bite the bullet, because this might be their last chance for another fifteen or twenty years, and in that time Ben Cartwright could undo all of the progress they had made.
Order from Chaos
Sister Caris was, like all the nuns, quite accustomed to the fairly chaotic nature of the order. In her five years of service she had been moved from one convent to another, seemingly at a moment’s notice, without any sign of a coherent plan, or any regard for her training or skills. In the early days, when taking over NHS hospitals, she often settled in doing something vital, assisting with operations or working in intensive care, only to be moved on that night to find herself serving meals or washing patients in a dementia ward. But Bishop Hunter promised a different approach, and she was at least professionally interested, although she refused to hope that it would drastically improve her lot in life. He had said it all in his first conversation with the senior training team at Ribble Valley. No one cared that she had been press-ganged into the order. No one was going to rescind her life sentence and set her free. No one would investigate the brutality that she and so many others had suffered for years. Hunter just intended to organise it all better. Mother Esme, her title restored as she assumed full responsibility for the training programme at Ribble Valley, was enthusiastic as they all proposed various training modules. Bishop Hunter had given them only two weeks to make suitable proposals, and then, if he approved them, they would have another two weeks before the first students arrived. Caris knew it was not long enough, but she also knew it was the best she ever had, and she also realised that her fellow Sisters needed something worthwhile to do, to make their lives mean something.
She felt the same, sometimes. As a doctor, she had specialised in accident and emergency, and the module she worked on was to train nurses to deal with the specialist demands of emergency care. She enjoyed writing down her requirements and devising a course. Like the others, she was aware that it would still be a basic course. Ribble Valley was designated as novice training centre according to Bishop Hunter, with girls coming to them after basic training. This was a huge leap on from the previous regime, where both were done together, but no one expected them to have students for more than three months. Further training would need to be done on the job, but the nuns needed to leave Ribble Valley with the basic skills to build on later. So Caris wrote her module accordingly. It took her mind off other things.
Mother Chelsea was in overall charge at Ribble Valley, although she reported to a Pastor Oliver, who himself reported directly to Bishop Hunter. It was a strange quirk of their sequestered life that none of the Sisters knew whether their keepers in green braid were the same ones who had terrorised them before. It was easy to change a Sister’s name. Mother Chelsea put in place a working day that started at eight in the morning and finished at six in the evening, six days a week. During those hours the training team were allowed into the training centre. Once there, their muzzles and mittens were removed to allow them to work and communicate, although they were always supervised by several keepers. Mother Chelsea asked them not to chatter unnecessarily, as God had no wish to hear their wittering about anything except work, and that rule was strictly enforced. They were allowed to discuss work at will though, and after a day or two it seemed almost natural to be able to ask a question of one of her colleagues, or ask for feedback on her ideas. But at six o’clock they all returned to the convent, where they were hurried through the showers, redressed, fed and sent to prayer. By nine o’clock, they would all be in their sleeping gowns, and would be woken at five the next morning for more prayers and breakfast, before returning to their labours. The only change in that routine was on Sundays, the Lord’s Day, when prayer filled their time from dawn until dusk. Mother Chelsea never let them forget that they were nuns. The keepers still carried switches, and although they used them rather more sparingly than the previous regime, they all had to obey. Even beloved Mother Esme, despite her seniority in the training centre, had to run into the showers like a novice, feeling the switch across her backside if she did not move fast enough for the keepers.
Sister Caris finished the proposal for her module in plenty of time. She had to submit a list of her requirements in order to teach it, and she did so, listing the equipment she needed, as well as a number of assistants. Sister Esme had told them all that they could nominate their assistants, if they had come across anyone in the order who could help them meet their objectives. Caris put down the first name from memory, Sister Angelina. She had to request access to the computer for the other name, because she had never known it. In the box which asked for real name, if known, she wrote Rebecca Fitzgerald, hoping that she could save her dearest friend and her younger sister. In a moment of weakness, just before she handed her proposal in, she added one last name, out of pity more than anything else. She asked for Sister Carina.
The People Decide
Brogan watched the election campaign from the sidelines, hearing Harry’s opinions of progress on those rare nights that he made it home. Her professional interest from her past life led her to believe that the Social Democrats were making inroads into the spectacular gains the Christian Democrats made before. The Labour and Conservative parties had collapsed before the onslaught of what Harry called the new politics, but in her opinion the real reasons were the bitter divisions that had blighted each of the main parties for years. Labour had lurched left under Ed Milliband, after Blair had won then squandered power in the centre. That had allowed David Cameron to win, albeit only just, leading to a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, before Philip Henderson took over. Whilst Labour squabbled amongst themselves, and with their union paymasters, over the future of modern socialism, the Conservatives were fatally divided over Europe. In the end, the people were sick of it, because the last thing on the minds of either party seemed to be what really mattered to the electorate. In simple terms, the budget deficit was being slowly addressed, but at the expense of living standards. Costs were rising steadily, especially energy, and wages were more or less stagnant, so whilst the economy was slowly recovering from the crash of 2008 no one felt better off. They wanted some answers, and a coherent plan, and the Christian Democrats provided one.
However, Ben Cartwright, more Blair than Milliband, had created a new centre-left party out of the ashes of the old one. He had stopped trying to portray the Christian Democrats as extremists and was trying to focus on the policies, asked the very reasonable questions about whether they were going too far. In the same way that Tony Blair had muscled in on Conservative territory thirty years before, Cartwright accepted that social change was necessary and that a lot of the policies had worked and remained popular. He did not intend to dismantle everything if he won the election, but adapt the structure, to make life fairer for everyone. On the other hand, Charles Buckingham admitted that in the transitional phase some people had to suffer. He did not say it but he meant women, in general, as they were forcibly removed from the workforce, where they could be spared, and palpably disenfranchised in a variety of ways. Harry did not willingly admit it, and she had to be careful how she questioned him if she wanted to find out more, but the Christian Democrats were, perhaps unsurprisingly, losing the women’s vote. Men were generally happy with the way things were going because they had jobs and more control over their lives. And not only their lives but their wives and daughters lives too. But women were starting to realise that the cruel undercurrent of the modern renaissance was the repression of all females.
Harry never mentioned Brogan’s past, and she rarely dared to allude to it in conversation with him, because he would always think that she had been saved, whatever she thought about it, and she did not want to ruin what they had together. She still did not think of it as love, not quite, but it was tolerable. She had her children, and she had the two girls, and they spent a lot of time together. Brogan told them the sanitised version of her own past, and the faith they were forced to have gave them some small comfort around the loss of their parents, so the family seemed strong and stable. Brogan still clashed with Miss Howard, but as Harry said she would clash with any guardian, and he would not allow her to stray from the doctrine. So she learned to take the small pleasures of life, the unexpected joys, and make the best of things. And her political discussions with her husband, late at night, gave her mind something to focus on, other than God’s love.
“Of course it will be closer…the question is how close.” Harry admitted the night they arrived in his Birmingham constituency for the final day of campaigning before the vote. “Our plans for the next five years are radical…I am sure quite we are not going to sink like so many other second term administrations…but we need a meaningful majority to do it. Oh but I did have some good news…Kieran Radcliffe has been persuaded to stand…replacing that old Conservative who had the heart attack…I think I told you about that?”
“Yes, you did…Elizabeth told me that Mr Radcliffe is quite the ideas man?” Brogan replied, lying back on the large hotel bed as he undressed, glad that she was free of the sleeping gown, as he had been travelling for the last few days.
“Sort of…he certainly put forward some interesting new proposals. Peter is really quite excited about them all…and Charles will put him straight into the cabinet if all goes well…he wants to freshen things up.”
“So will you stay at Health and Education?”
“I don’t know…Charles has not reshuffled, he likes his ministers to know their brief, and it is a senior position, so I would be happy enough to stay on, but we’ll see.” Harry smiled as he turned off the light, and Brogan smiled back, admiring his figure and his strength as she melted into his arms.
Meadvale was the epicentre of Reformism, but remained largely untouched by election fever. Charles Buckingham had not had time to visit during the hectic campaign, but his re-election was merely a formality. He arrived at Broomwaters on the night before polling day just in time to enjoy a late dinner with David Harrington and Archbishop Winstanley, as the Pastor was now called, to discuss the future. He did not expect to lose. But a reduced majority would give the press more ammunition, and Ben Cartwright would represent a meaningful challenge in the House. But they did not talk of majorities, or the difficulties of dealing with Commons committees. The Archbishop gave them an update of how his reorganisations were progressing in some detail and they talked through Kieran Radcliffe and Peter Munroe’s proposals, enthused and inspired by some rather good red wine. It was not about politics for Winstanley. Harrington was his right hand man, his link with the politicians, but the Archbishop still dreamed of a Reformist state. He wanted Charles to tell him when he could have it.
“I do get the second administration problem…the people get tired of the same faces, the same words…so they try the other lot just for the sake of variety.” Charles sighed, sitting back in his chair. “But Peter’s plans are so do or die. If we fail, if we can’t get a third term, we will be destroyed…I am still more inclined to patience.”
“I remember telling Harry the same thing Charles…not so long ago.” Michael replied, offering him a rueful smile.
“So is there a halfway house?” David Harrington asked, reaching for the bottle. “To be honest, I don’t see one.”
“No, I don’t think there is this time.” Charles admitted, accepting a refill as he speared a carrot. “Every step we take from now on upsets the whole damned applecart, so it is all or nothing…as Radcliffe suggests. Before making our final decision we need to see how big the majority is. If we think we have a fair chance for a third term we can take things slowly and let the current changes bed in, but if we don’t, we have to move, or we risk ruining our legacy.”
“Do you have a figure in mind?” Winstanley asked.
“Obviously there is no guarantee, but around fifty and the chances are we lose the next election, seventy five plus and you would be on us winning. Peter has some interesting constituency boundary changes to implement, creating some more safe seats out of large Muslim communities, for instance. That will help. But by the end of the year I think we will have to make a final decision, maybe sooner.”
Brogan did not know Birmingham well enough to be sure. She had been a London girl, rarely leaving the city to explore the rest of the country. She preferred to holiday in the sunshine. But she could sense the change on the streets. Birmingham had always had a large Muslim community hailing from various countries. She had a vague recollection of women in colourful costumes, mostly wearing headscarves. It used to be called diversity and if she took the word at face value she had to say that the city she glimpsed through the car windows and her mantle was less diverse. Harry took her on a tour of polling stations, so that he could thank his supporters. She was just window dressing of course. She got out and stood alongside him, hidden beneath her veils and unable to do much more than curtsey to everyone, or wave a mitten, but it gave her the feel of things. Most of the Muslim women she saw were veiled in black. Reformists were also around, more than she remembered, and she could see that progress was being made. It did not annoy her anymore. She was almost resigned to it, as if her own defeat, and subjugation, had been the first skirmish in a war everyone was about to lose.
Harry smiled for the cameras, shook hands and kissed babies. He did not seem to stop to breathe. Brogan really admired him for that, because he was so committed to his cause. She could not agree with him most of the time. She could not accept that the end justified the means, but he was still sincere. She found it hard to know what she believed anymore. Her head was so full of the bible that she sometimes found it impossible to hear her own voice. She voted for Harry without even considering doing anything else. He was not watching her. She struggled with the pencil in her mitten, but she made her cross. She told herself that she had voted for him, not his precious doctrine.
“Our early reports suggest a record turn-out at polling stations throughout the county.” The breathless BBC radio host told his avid listeners. “Social Democrats have been running coaches in many areas, knocking on doors and driving people in to vote as if every vote counts. Polls do not suggest that it is quite that close…Ben Cartwright would need a swing in excess of thirty percent to have even a sniff of forming a government, but he expects to give Charles Buckingham a bloody nose.”
Caris was in a queue to vote. Procedures were quite strict, and each nun had to identify herself by her real name, be checked on a list, and then given her voting slip, but after that it was not a free choice. Most of the green braids were standing around the polling booths, helping the Sisters who were old enough to place their vote. Caris had already been told that if she did not do what was expected of her she would be beaten, and like all of the Sisters she feared the paddle. The Christian Democrat candidate in the constituency of Clitheroe appeared at the top of the list, and received every vote from the convent. In his acceptance speech, he would thank God for his chance to serve the people.
“Sixteen…fucking sixteen…its Armageddon out there,” Harry shouted into his telephone. He and Brogan were in the car on the way back to London, on the morning after the night before. She could not ask him any questions, of course. She was strictly muzzled and hidden beneath her blinding mantle for the long drive. Harry did not cut corners and they only talked on anything like equal terms in the bedroom, and only then when he wanted to. “Of course…by lunchtime I should think…maybe earlier, depending on the traffic. Is the Prime Minister announcing the cabinet today? Yes ok, I’ll wait for him to call me, but can you email me a list of who we have lost? For fuck’s sake…it’s carnage.”
Charles Buckingham had not spoken to anyone. He stayed up watching the results roll in until about three, and then slept till eight, with Madeleine in her sleeping gown beside him, before shutting himself away in his study. He had a lot to think about of course. Managing such a small majority in the House of Commons could be problematic. Illness, rebellion or unexplained absences could lose any important vote. But it also meant that he could still force legislation through, whatever the opposition or the press said, although as a genuine democrat it was not something he wanted to do. However, he did not see that he had much choice. He had lost some friends and allies in the election, and he spent several hours shuffling his cards, choosing his new cabinet, before the car arrived to take him to the palace. King Charles had to approve his reappointment, although it was only a formality. Not even kings could do as they pleased in a democracy.
Sister Caris hurried out of the showers and into the communal air driers. The keeper used her switch, but Caris avoided her for once. The green braids disliked the teaching staff, because of their privileges. So they tended to impose the strictest discipline outside working hours. But the warm air soothed her, and she ran her hands over her head and body, brushing away the last of the water so that she could dress quickly. She sensed more than heard more nuns heading for the showers. They were all still muzzled, so the only sound was the swish of the switches. She almost did not bother to look, but she glanced up just at the right moment, seeing Sammie, Sister Angelina, running past, her face full of fear. Then Sister Carina, the young rebellious novice Caris had tried to talk some sense into, and finally Rebecca, who she had discovered was called Sister Barbara in the order. Her three assistants had arrived, and Caris said a silent prayer, hoping that she had not pulled them out of the frying pan and into the fires of hell itself.
Sister Carina had only been away from Ribble Valley for a few months. She did not know why she was back there but she knew enough to run to the showers. No one would tell her anything at all, about where she was, what she doing or how long she would be doing it for. She had asked them if it was their idea of protective care for a child, but they just laughed at her and put her back in her muzzle. In the end, she just gave up asking and tried to endure. She believed in her father. She knew he would not give up on her. But she had no idea what he could do to save her.
Sister Angelina and Sister Barbara had recognised each other, and the hesitation cost them both several strokes of the switch but neither of them seemed to care. Even as the water and steam consumed them, they were staring wide-eyed at each other and trying to use their hands to communicate. Neither expected a chance to chat then, or in the near future, but having each other close meant so much, and they held hands as they rushed into the driers, until the switch discouraged such heinous and possibly evil frivolity. Sister Angelica got into her sleeping gown smiling around her muzzle. If only she could see Caris again, she thought to herself, to know she was all right, her life would be so much better. Not perfect, of course. She no longer expected happiness, or even contentment, but she could survive five more years if she had his sister close, and she knew that Caris was still alive.
Seizing the Moment
Mrs Chloe Radcliffe had been married for almost five months and she was a dutiful Reformist wife. Not that she was really given any other choice, but she embraced the role, eager to please her husband and thankful for her good fortune. He was a kind and generous man, and he was allowing her to help Miss Scott found the first proper Guardian College. Miss Scott was no longer her guardian, as she had more important work to do, and Kieran had hired Miss Harper, a Meadvale girl with some experience who followed his instructions to the letter. Mrs Radcliffe found herself the wife of a cabinet minister, and she had to set the right example in both Westminster and Reigate, her husband’s new constituency in Easy Surrey, on the outskirts of London, but whenever her diary allowed it time was set aside for her to work on then curriculum for the college. She had strong view on what a guardianship should be, and Miss Scott trusted her and welcomed her input, so she lived for those hours when Miss Harper would settle her at her desk and remove her mittens.
She used a computer, but she was not allowed access to the internet, of course. No Reformist lady ever should be. Miss Harper downloaded everything she needed, and dealt with emailing Miss Scott, if they could not meet face to face. Chloe was never allowed to relax whilst she worked, always being fully dressed, diapered and muzzled, to constantly remind her of her place. Her husband respected her expertise in maiden training but the textbook she was helping to write, which would form the basis for guardian training for many years to come, was constantly being applied to her. But she loved the work, and looked forward to it with a passion, and that was reflected in her attitude to the rest of her life. Miss Scott, in a long chapter Chloe would never get to read, suggested that all guardians should find hobbies or tasks for their charges to enthuse them and occupy their minds. It did not need to be for long and it certainly should not distract them from earning God’s love, but it was important to give them a bit of the day or week to look forward to, and thank God for.
Kieran Radcliffe was busy elsewhere. He had handed the Guardian College idea on to Harry Trevor, whose department it would sit in, and was settling into his new role as deputy party chairman. David Harrington was the long standing chairman but Kieran was tasked with formulating plans to ensure that the Christian Democrats won a third election in five years time. It was a wide ranging brief, covering boundary changes, voting procedures, accelerated policy introduction and what Sir Charles Buckingham called the dirty tricks department. He was developing a list of priorities to present to the cabinet, and once that was agreed he could go into implementation mode.
He looked up from his desk, and smiled at Chloe. If he was working from home, and Miss Harper decided that she had time to spare, he liked to have her working away beside him. He always ensured that she was deaf and dumb, because he did not want her listening to his conversations or interrupting him, but there was something soothing about having her there. He did not tell her about his work, but she was a blueprint for some of it, in many ways. Chloe was what he wanted every British woman to be.
Not for the first time, Caris was thankful for her veils and mantle when her assistants were introduced to her. One of the green braids brought the three girls to her at the start of the working day as the assistants had been temporarily housed in one of the student dormitories. She thought Sister Angelica wavered slightly when she heard her name, but she did not cry out, and Caris imagined her biting her tongue. The keeper stayed with them for what seemed like hours. Caris needed to explain their roles to them, and take them through the twelve week course they would be teaching to nuns chosen to specialise in accident and emergency. Caris did not know how these nuns would be chosen, whether they would be new to the sisterhood or have some experience. She was just told that all her new students would have come through some basic training and would be duly assigned in due course. Angelica and Barbara both asked questions, but Carina said nothing at all, and Caris was worried about her. Choosing her had been an instinctive reaction, because there had been something about her when she arrived for her own basic training that made Caris pity her. But she forgot all about that when the keeper decided to leave them alone, to patrol the corridors instead, no doubt bored by the presentation.
Caris kept control of everyone. Before they all got carried away she reminded them all about what happened at St. Theresa’s and begged everyone to take extreme care. But whilst not moving from their positions, looking as if they were still going through the twelve-week schedule to anyone peeking into the classroom, they talked about their experiences since they had last met. Angelica had been moved on from St. Theresa’s to a succession of other hospitals, a life Caris knew well enough, and after basic training Barbara, whose father had not tried to defer her national service, had followed a similar path, although she had also spent some time in a chapter house at a small church, slaving for a brutal pastor. Carina spoke last, and for some reason decided to trust her new companions. It was almost instinctive. She listened to them and realised that they were not like the other nuns she had come across. She told the truth, but that Natasha version of it, and received much sympathy for her plight. Caris could not promise to help her, but she told her three friends that she had selected them to protect them from the worst of the order. Ribble Valley was no holiday camp, and she made no attempt to suggest it was, but all four of them knew that there were many worse places to earn God’s eternal love.
Cabinet Meeting Agenda, June
Constituency boundary changes – objective plus forty two seats overall.
Family voting – outline proposal for discussion.
Proportional representation – alternative to above.
National service extensions – opt out proposal for discussion.
Guardian College – opening September, briefing documents.
Female driving ban – green rationale and safety benefits.
FIDs amendments – further unaccompanied travel restrictions
Merger of Church with Church of England – draft bill for discussion.
Increase in time between elections – ten year proposal.
Legislation timeline – discussion.
Party Political Broadcast by the Prime Minister (Radio Version)
“Great Britain is great again,” Charles Fitzgerald said, his familiar persuasive voice speaking softly over a subdued version of Jerusalem, reaching out to his people. “For ten years, we have struggled with the aftermath of the collapse of the secular capitalist dream, a recession that demanded radical change. I was lucky enough to be given the task of implementing that change, and I am grateful for another clear mandate to finish the job. Prosperity is returning and we have never had so many men in jobs as we have now. Everyone can aspire to a better life. But our reduced majority suggests that there are some doubts. It would be wrong of me and my party if we did not pause to think about what you, the voters, are saying to us. We can never afford to stand still, because no one else does. Change is not only inevitable, it is necessary to stay ahead of our competitors. I did not expect to be popular after changing our society in so many fundamental ways, and the result of the election is a sense check we all needed, to keep us focussed on what our masters, the electorate want. I have often criticised the old political order for imposing their own beliefs on the country without winning support for it from the electorate. I think you know me well enough to know that is not my way and it never will be. But my job is to do what is best for the country and answer for my performance at the ballot box, and that is what we will do. In all honesty, the people have spoken…we lost our way a little at the end of the last parliament, as we drew breath and allowed things to settle. That was a mistake. It is not a mistake I intend to repeat, and in the next few days we will be announcing a robust programme of legislation to revitalise the modern renaissance. You have given me your mandate, and I will use it for our mutual advantage. We have listened to you throughout the election campaign and now we intend to give you what you want…as quickly as possible.”
Trouble in the Family Firm
HRD Victoria, Princess of York, was used to obeying dictates from on high within the family firm, the comical nickname the royal family gave themselves, tongue in cheek, as if they were in anyway engaged in anything as common as commerce. She had changed schools in the middle of her exams because her school was linked to the Church of England, and the King did not want to be seen as taking sides in the political row over women bishops. She had been banned from attending parties or doing anything fun, even with her police protection team, for fear of causing any embarrassment, even though any embarrassment caused had either been done by the previous generations or her much rowdier cousins, normally the boys. Victoria was the exact opposite of her mother, who had partied for years before marrying and then divorcing Victoria’s father, and then falling in love with a farmer and dedicating her life to free range eggs in the middle of nowhere. Victoria was fairly studious, if not the sharpest knife in the box, and interested in joining the firm when she finished her education, to continue the charitable traditions of her uncles, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cornwall, who in turn inherited the bug from their sainted mother, the most tragic party girl of all time, who Victoria’s mother always dismissed as Diana Spencer.
So it was no particular surprise to be summoned to Balmoral for the entire summer at a moment’s notice. Her education was of no importance to the King and his advisors. If he wanted his extended family around him, they came. Mainly because he still controlled the distribution of the civil list, and it was the only reliable income most of his relatives received. Her police protection unit, a grand name for Rob, Neil and Charlie, who kept an eye on her on a shift basis, arranged a car, she threw a few things in a bag and left Roedean for the term, after a few hasty goodbyes. She was sixteen years old and used to doing what she was told to a certain extent, so she did not ask too many questions. She did text her mother, to see what was going on, but there was no response.
Silence is Golden
Miss Howard offered a small obeisance as Brogan returned to her bedroom, after saying goodnight to the girls and checking on India. Her daughter had a cold, nothing serious but she liked to make sure. Miss Howard permitted it, no doubt with Harry’s agreement, but often with obvious reluctance. As Harry had suggested, their relationship had never improved, but he expected his wife to behave. Brogan was wearing her mittens and a nightdress, as the weather was warm and Miss Howard would never set her free to roam the house without some sort of restriction, and she noticed the guardian was holding her muzzle.
“Sir Harry is home.” Brogan pointed out, although she realised it was futile.
“Open wide, Lady Brogan…please.”
Brogan obeyed, as always, despite her surprise. She was seldom encased in her sleeping gown when Harry was home. Not unless she had annoyed him, at any rate. Miss Howard fitted the muzzle with care, but Brogan would never get used to the click as it locked tight and pressed down on her tongue. Not that anyone else cared about that, of course. Miss Howard escorted her to the toilet, diapered her and helped her into her sleeping gown, and she disappeared into her own dark world, consumed by her own dark thoughts. Harry came much later. She heard him moving around the room, and finally felt the bed move as he took his position beside her. She turned to face him, as best she could, to show him that she was awake. He put an arm around her and sighed, and she tried to nuzzle into him, hampered by the tight gown.
“Not tonight Brogan,” Harry snapped, finding her advances irritating as he had ordered her to be placed in the sleeping gown and was not going to be pressured into releasing her. “Can’t you for once behave like a proper wife?”
Brogan froze. She did not move. Not even when he turned over, his back to her. He was tired, she told herself. She could always provoke him into a bad mood, but not normally quite so easily, so there had to be a reason, and he would tell her in his own time. She was glad of her muzzle. She would have pressed him without it, and she would have made things worse. So she did as he said, and behaved like a proper wife.
Putting God’s House in Order
“God has shown us the right thing to do.” Archbishop Winstanley said, staring straight into the camera, well aware that he was live on the evening news. “Christians in this country should not be divided, and brokering a coming together has been my ambition since the old Church of England split in two. Bitterness and recriminations are sins, and the one thing we all have in common is our faith…I hope every Christian will rejoice tonight that we are together again in God’s love.”
“But with the greatest respect, Archbishop, this is not a coming together?” The news anchor replied, the voice familiar but a little tinny in his earpiece. “You are the head of a new entity as I understand it…the Reformist Church of England, and the new general synod has rejected almost thirty years of progressive developments carried out by many previous occupants of Lambeth Palace. This is not a coming together, it is a bloody coup.”
“Our statement makes the position crystal clear…a majority vote of the synod agreed that these ‘developments’ were contrary to God’s lore, and as such illegal and unwelcome. I am in consultation with the government to iron out the details, and of course with his majesty the King…but we serve God, not the liberals who forced through these developments over the years. It is not a coup at all, but it is about returning the church to the people.”
“So are women priests and bishops now banned? Are they unemployed?”
“Every employee will be contacted to discuss their role in God’s love. But priests and bishops are male roles. We have other ways for women to worship and serve. Come to the service of unification in St. Pauls tomorrow and you will see that the vast majority of Christians are as one on this issue. Everyone has been consulted, from the King as head of the Church right down to our congregations up and down the country. We need a strong unified church to support the government and the people of this country through a period of great social change. This is good news, and in God’s name I will not let the BBC and the Social Democrats spin it as some sort of battle.”
Dinner at Balmoral
Princess Victoria needed help with the stairs. Her guardian, a dour Scot called Miss Lennon, had not employed a blinding mantle because she wanted her charge to see the others, but the inexperienced maiden was not used to wearing a corset, a diaper or a traditional velvet gown, and she had not had enough time to practise. She had been there less than thirty six hours and like her cousins and their mothers, she was struggling to cope with her abrupt transformation, and the frightening prospect of being presented to the people. She was not sure what was going on. No one really seemed inclined to tell a muzzled teenager anything and her own mother was as mystified, and distressed, as she was. But one thing was for sure. The royal family had joined the Reformist Church of England, which the King himself was the figurehead of, and the family firm were taking that responsibility very seriously.
In the end, they were all told more over dinner, although Victoria, like all the other females, got to suck her food rather than eat it like a human being of course. King Charles’ private secretary explained that the family had to support the Church and the elected government, and that the King sympathised with the idea of Christian Reform, and therefore expected all of his family to set an example. He did not tell them that Sir Charles Buckingham had made the King aware that twenty three members of the firm were technically guilty of crimes punishable by gaol sentences. Princes of the realm had always considered marriage as a duty to ensure the line. Hence, adultery was common as they sought their fun elsewhere. Unfortunately that was no longer acceptable under the auspices of the modern renaissance, and to avoid a torrent of unpleasant publicity that might have given the government cause to consider the creation of a Reformist Republic in due course, the King had decided that he and his entire family could all offer their unreserved support for the government and the new Archbishop of Canterbury. In return for an index linked civil list and a clean slate for everyone who had transgressed in the past, of course.
St. Pauls Cathedral, Service of Unification
“On this historic day King Charles, although still frail after his fall in March, is greeted rather warmly by Archbishop Michael Winstanley on the steps to the great Cathedral, echoing his comments in his statement published today that all Christians can rejoice in the reunification of our Church, in God’s love. His Queen, dressed for the first time in public in traditional Reformist attire, waved a mitten as she entered the Cathedral, and the muffled applause of the schoolgirls lining the barriers seemed to fill the air. No screams, of course. No cheers…these children are the products of Sir Charles Buckingham’s social renaissance, now so publicly endorsed by the Royal family, as a succession of Princes and Princesses, the Princesses all heavily veiled and sporting the finest gowns I have ever seen, take their place for this momentous service.” The BBC reporter spoke in hushed tones, aware that his commentary was being beamed around the world, and would become a historical broadcast in years to come. The cameras roamed around the crowds of veiled schoolgirls, bussed in for show he presumed, and then moved inside, to see the great and the good preparing to kneel for the modern renaissance. Not only the Royal family of course. They would capture the headlines but there were a number of other surprising conversions coming to light; so many that the press were all having considerable trouble corroborating them all on air.
But Kieran Radcliffe knew all their names. Broadcasters, actors, celebrities of all sorts, all had problems adhering to the new decency laws, acting as if their money and fame made them immune to the standards of ordinary people. In the past, that simply caused more headlines, and notoriety soon turned to more fame. It had disgusted a lot of people, but they still bought the papers and the magazines, so nothing changed, until the police, acting discreetly on the orders of the Home Secretary, began to prepare some interesting dossiers. Before the election, Charles Buckingham had preferred to turn a blind eye. But Kieran had convinced him to use the information gathered in a rather different way. No one saw much merit it hounding celebrities. That was all a bit distasteful after the Saville scandals, and Kieran was not suppressing anything as serious as child abuse. He was only interested in minor crime, adultery and unmarried sex, maybe a little drunkenness and drug abuse. It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel as he offered the guilty parties a simple choice. Discover a sudden faith in God and display it publicly or face the full power of the new decency and morality laws. He convinced them all to link their miraculous conversion to the word of God to the reunification of the Church, and thus ensured a media frenzy the like of which had seldom seen before. Especially when the lady who usually anchored the BBC lunchtime news turned up for work wearing a mantle.
Sir Charles Buckingham and his cabinet enjoyed the service. Michael Winstanley was at his best in the pulpit, and he loved a large audience. He was unusual for a senior cleric in that he clearly believed in God, and could quote the bible. He did not have a silly beard, or a city banking background, and he spoke passionately about the country and the people.
“Our church has its origins in the excesses of one man…a King…who broke with Rome for his own personal reasons, but his legacy is an institution that has once again found its voice. I want to live in a country where the church is at the very heart of everything we do and everything we say. God’s words set our boundaries and our aspirations. Everything should be done in his name. My friends in the government have often spoken about how and why our people lost their way and let the so-called permissive society consume them in sin and avarice. But let me remind you that the church let that happen…it will never happen again. We have already increased church attendance by some five hundred percent in the last six years, and now that we can put the illegal, heretical policies of the old C of E behind us that will rapidly increase. I am proud to see his majesty the King here and the entire Royal family of course. I have welcomed his support and encouragement as we fought for God’s love. I know that many others are here, pledging their support for God’s work, too many to name. Sundays now belong to God again and I want you all in your local church this Sunday to share His love. I want to remind the entire world that this country is a Christian democracy that says what it believes, believes what it says and acts accordingly in all walks of life. God has shown us the way and we must all learn to follow him again, with love in our hearts. It is not always an easy path, but it is always the right path to take.”
Caris ached to touch Sammie. The time they spent together in the training centre was blissful, despite close supervision, but with the others always there they could not really talk, and they were always fully clothed of course. Caris loved the showers at either end of her days just to see Angelica, and to be seen by her, but it was torture too. Pleasure and pain, in equal measure. Of course she knew that they would never had the intimacy of St. Theresa’s again, and she did not want it, because it was not worth the risk of losing what they had, but she often felt the switch simply because she could not take her eyes off Sammie. Their routine was always the same. Even when their first students arrived it would not change much, and the three girls were grateful to Caris for bringing them together. Even Carina, who still burned with bitterness.
Caris tried to get some information for her. Angelica had been signed on for ten years, and her sister was on her national service, so that was three years. But the judge had told Carina that she was in protective custody for a minimum of five years, and she wanted to know what that meant. But no one seemed to know. Caris had access to the office, and could speak to the nun who had computer access, through a purely internal system, to the main personnel database. That was how Caris had got the three girls to Ribble Valley in the first place. Caris found out that each Sister had an earliest possible release date entered on their file. In her case, it said not applicable. Angelica and Barbara both had the correct years, but Carina’s was just blank, and no one could tell them why.
Pride and Prejudice
Harry kissed Brogan hard, exploring her muzzle with his tongue. She knew that her helplessness sometimes turned him on and she had noticed that it often happened when he was stressed or tired, as if his absolute control over her acted as some sort of restorative. She always suffered it, trying not to respond, because it was her only possible act of resistance. But he touched her in all the right places, and pinned her down, before taking her in an almost violent frenzy and the orgasm forced her to surrender, a shudder of pleasure coursing through her body. He laughed at the expression on her face as he rolled off her, and caught her arm as she tried to slap him with her mitten, lost in his own climax, and his own thoughts. He had been uncommunicative for eight nights, seven of which she had spent in her sleeping gown, and although being free of that curse was a sign of progress, his cruel attitude was still a negative. She did not understand him sometimes. She had given him everything he wanted, and yet he still denied her one of the few things she cherished between them, just because he could, like some kind of power trip. And she just could not resist him, and he found that amusing of course. It proved her weakness. He had tamed her, or Miss Howard had, and she wondered if their pillow talk was just him humouring her.
“Calm yourself, Brogan…I am too tired to talk tonight…and your pouting won’t change my mind.” He murmured, pulling the sheet over both of them, but leaving the light on. “Good grief, I can’t always find the energy to talk to you, just because you enjoy it…sometimes I don’t think you have learned anything at all…you have no stress, no pressure, all you have to do is pray and please yourself. I am too soft on you…on all of you…”
“Harry is not himself…I think he feels a bit…frustrated, Charles.” Peter Munroe suggested to the Prime Minister, stepping outside into the inner courtyard to enjoy the sunshine.
“His department is the biggest and the most important…and he is a little too old to feel jealous of Kieran Radcliffe.” Charles Buckingham replied, stretching as he breathed in the London air.
“Yes, but Kieran has provided the new impetus…Harry used to be the one pushing us to go further, and now there is a new young Turk on the block…it is understandable.”
“Perhaps, but we have all got caught up in the ride these last few years…Kieran merely has the advantage of observing things from afar for a while. It’s not going to get any easier, Peter…when we announce our legislation programme the furore over the Church reunification will seem like a storm in a teacup. Harry needs to be on top of his game.”
“He sees himself as your natural successor.”
“And perhaps he is, but I am not planning on being put out to pasture.”
“So stroke his ego a little.”
“I’ll think about…but honestly…some of our colleagues act like they could use a guardian to keep them on message.”
Mother Esme called the meeting the day before the first intake was due to arrive. She was clearly excited, and proud of all that they had achieved in a few short weeks. She had talked with Bishop Hunter, and he had told her that the nuns chosen for specialist training would be those with some aptitude for the job and enough time left to serve to make all the cost and trouble worthwhile. It was proper work, Mother Esme told them, and they would be making a difference. Caris listened but did not join in with the discussion afterwards. She found her work worthwhile. That much was true. The nuns she trained would have to save lives. She believed in the idea of a health service. But she hated the idea of slave labour. Including her, of course. She did not stop to think about her life too often, because it hurt too much, but talking to Angelica, Barbara and Carina, or Samantha, Rebecca and Natasha as she had to remind herself to at least think of them, forced her to remember. She had not been outside the convent since she had arrived there. She had not felt the sunshine on her skin since she had been enslaved, as she thought of it in her head, and she really could not bear to think about the future. It was much better at the new Ribble Valley Convent that was for sure. She was classed as a senior Sister, and that gave her privileges, at least within the training centre. She could occupy her mind during working hours, and she was with Sammie, and becoming fond of Rebecca and Natasha.
Mother Esme urged her team to all work harder, and longer, to make a success of the programme. For their own good as well as the good of the order, she said, before thanking God for his eternal blessings. Caris did not feel blessed, and she did not believe in God, deep down, beneath all the confusion of her training and all the hours spent in prayer. No God would want his creations to live like they lived, she told herself, fighting the words in her head, and the faith of the woman she had come to admire most in the whole world, because it was so unshakable.
Before they left, to rest for the next day, Mother Chelsea came to speak to them, escorted by a phalanx of green braids, as if they were afraid Caris and her friends would turn against them, and give them a dose of their own medicine. Caris quivered inside her habit, always fearful whenever their keepers were there. Mother Chelsea ordered them to kneel, and said a long prayer whilst the keepers walked amongst them, replacing their muzzles and mittens. It was typical of her. She disliked the freedoms she had to allow the teaching staff, and loved to remind them that they were still nuns. As if they could ever possibly forget. Only when they were all silenced and secure, did the prayer end and the lecture begin.
“Sisters, the good bishop is pleased with your preparations so far, but the real work in the name of God starts tomorrow. I am charged with the good of your souls whilst you tend to the education of our glorious order. I will not have anyone undermining the discipline of this convent, for whatever reason, and you will be expected to maintain the highest standards amongst your students. If I have to punish them, I shall punish you, because you will be held responsible. I will have results, and they will learn if I have to paddle them every night, and you as well. Never forget that you are serving God…it is an honour to serve. You are blessed to be here, God has chosen you and I will not let you let him down.”
“Peter Munroe, how do you assess the voting patterns in the election, and what does it mean for the future?” Neil Cooke, a radio journalist asked, sounding almost bored, as his late night show on a rather obscure talk show was hardly headline material and he was stuck there doing graveyard shifts. Munroe was a big guest, but he was the boring one. Charles Buckingham was so cool and calm, and delivered the sound bites, whilst Harry Trevor was pure box office, so if TALKFM was going to get one of the leading Reformist ministers, it was always going to be the Home Secretary.
“Something needs to be done.” Peter replied, preparing to give Cooke an exclusive. “Continued voter apathy in certain age groups, areas and even social classifications means that no government is getting a clear mandate, except by default. It is clear to us that the twenty percent who never vote would have changed the result of the last election considerably. The people are not being served by the indifference of this minority.”
“So, what do you propose to do about it?” Cooke asked, lazily giving Munroe the stage.
“Quite simply we intend to make voting a legal requirement, although not quite following the Australian model. We will be giving the head of each household the responsibility for getting everyone living under his roof, or that he is legally responsible for living elsewhere, to cast a postal vote. This family vote will save money, be far more convenient for the voters, and most importantly we will get a clear view of what voters want, perhaps for the first time.”
“Sorry, am I hearing this right?” Cooke made a face at Munroe, shocked into giving him his full attention. “Did you just say that the designated head of household, which as I understand it is always the father, husband or legal guardian, is going to have the vote for all the eligible voters who are his legal responsibility?”
“Only in an administrative sense. He will place the votes on the system, but each person will have their own vote…it is just a question of discussing it as a family. No more inconvenient trips to a polling station, the world has moved on, and technology allows us to have a much better system…and I am sure our family voting system will deliver the representative view of all the people of this country.”
“Can the Prime Minister tell where his recently announced plans to remove the female vote are in his manifesto? For some strange reason, I can’t seem to find them!” Ben Cartwright had to almost shout to be heard over the cries of over six hundred MP’s in the House of Commons for Prime Minister’s questions. The opposition benches were as well populated at the government benches, for the first time in five years, but Cartwright did not expect Charles Buckingham to give up without a fight, and the announcement of the new voting system was the first battle in a long war.
“Surely the right honourable member can read? He may have been educated under a Labour controlled system where literacy and numeracy were at an all time low, but the section headed electoral reform would be a good place to start.” Charles responded, batting away one of the three questions Cartwright was allowed to ask in the allotted hour.
“Oh I have read the section, but nowhere does it say that you are going to funnel the voting procedure through a man, as head of household…a man who already decides when his wife and daughter can leave the house, where they can go and many other basic human rights…effectively giving him their votes? This is another example of this government’s total disregard for sexual equality and a blatant attempt to nullify the fact that hardly any women voted for them at the last election. You claim to be a democrat, Prime Minister, but only as long as you can fiddle the vote!”
“Oh yes, well you would know all about that, wouldn’t you? Union sponsored candidates have a one hundred percent success rate in your parliamentary candidate selection process, one hundred percent; your policies are ratified at your conference by a block voting system, where one union has more votes than all of your MP’s put together. This policy will deliver a reliable election result, from 100% of the eligible voters…the truth is you are dinosaurs in sheep’s clothing and all you ever do is resist positive change!”
“You have lied to the House, and you have lied to the people…how can you live with yourself?” Cartwright demanded, his finger pointing at Buckingham, but his face searching out the remote camera. He wanted to be front and centre on the evening news. “They never voted for this?”
“Our manifesto clearly stated that we would look at our voting system and consider replacing it with another, more efficient one. Mr Speaker, I will not be called a liar in this house!” Once again, Cartwright’s hot head had got the better of him. Charles knew that he would be forced to apologise. Despite the truth in his statement, you could not call a fellow member a liar.
Caris moved slowly across the front of her classroom, surveying thirty white veiled faces, all following her. She could imagine what they were thinking and she longed to put them at their ease. But that was impossible. It would be a blatant lie. She had read all their details whilst Angelica, Barbara and Carina had handed out their equipment and study resources, all of them closely supervised by a green braid, the keepers making sure that all their slaves got the message. Half of the thirty were new recruits, all pious Reformist girls, given by their parents to the order for ten years, like poor Sammie. As Caris understood it, they would all have had twelve weeks of basic training somewhere else, before coming to the Ribble. No doubt any idealistic notions of serving their God in piety and serene obedience had been beaten out of them there. The rest were all time servers like herself and poor Carina, suggested for specialist training either because of showing some aptitude or simply because they would serve long enough to make the training worthwhile. They had also been on a retraining exercise, which Caris suspected would turn out to be rather similar to basic training.
“Sisters, it is my responsibility to send you away from here in twelve weeks time competent enough to operate adequately on an accident and emergency ward, with specialist supervision, and not kill anyone. No one will fail this course. I am to give you daily and weekly tests, and you will work on them until you pass them, with a beating every time you fail one. My team and I are here to help you, in God’s name, and I am told we will be beaten too if your results are considered poor. So I urge you to concentrate and help us all survive the experience. In God’s love, we will succeed.”
“Sit down, Miss…Nicholson…sorry to keep you waiting but I have many calls on my time.” Pastor Brown smiled, not shaking the hand offered by his guest, but indicating the guest seat on the other side of his desk, in his small office. “So…just how can I be of assistance to you?”
“Oh it is probably just a mistake…or a misunderstanding…but after some tiresome correspondence with some terribly boring bureaucrats I was told to see my local pastor…and I believe that is you…Pastor Brown…do forgive me, I am not a churchgoer, not unless you count school things, and that was some time ago…but I am hoping you can help me?”
“Certainly I will if I can…not being a regular churchgoer is not yet a crime.” Nigel replied, still smiling as if it was a joke. He was of the opinion that it was not, for the sake of shameless heathens like Miss Nicholson, although he could see that she probably just about complied with the decency laws. Her skirt reached below her knees at any rate. She had put a jacket over her white blouse, despite the heat outside. She was clearly making an effort, but he wondered if it was for his sake. From her accent, and the quality of her handbag and clothes, he did not think she was exactly living on the breadline. “Some correspondence about what, Miss Nicholson?”
“Oh well, that is the mistake, I think…for some reason I have been selected for this ghastly national service nonsense…clearly a mistake…and I wrote to explain this…some months ago…and gained a deferment…but then last week, I got another letter saying that I was being ‘called up’ again…so I wrote, and the bottom line is I need you…as an official of the church…to sign some sort of waver. They said you would know the right form, or whatever it is…and that would be that, so to speak.”
“Oh I see…then I must take some details, how old are you, Miss Nicholson?” Brown enquired, taking the paperwork she handed across to him.
“Oh thank you so much…I am nineteen, Pastor.” Amelia Nicholson visibly relaxed, leaning back in her seat, relieved that she was now talking to someone face to face. It was all so ridiculous. Her agent had been worse than useless, mainly because he was not earning big fees off the back of her efforts at the moment, and her mother was too sick to bother with it, so for the first time in her life Amelia had to handle problems herself. She had tried everything with the stupid civil servants, even offering to make a donation to their appalling convent, or whatever it was they thought she ought to go off to, but they just went on and on about deferrals, wavers and corroborating evidence.
“And who is your legal guardian?”
“Oh well, that is one of the problems…I don’t really have one.”
“My parents were divorced when I was little…I haven’t seen him for years, I don’t even know where he is.”
“No other male relatives?”
“No, I am afraid not…I live with my mother, but she has terrible arthritis. I know there are all these new laws Pastor…but they don’t really apply to us…my agent usually deals with these things for me.”
“Oh…this is a little embarrassing…if you don’t recognise me…I won Britain’s Got Talent…five years ago. I am…well, was, a singer and I made two films…anyway I am…as it said on the forms…of independent means…and I stopped working so hard so that I could look after Mum…she means everything to me. As I said on BGT, she sacrificed her whole life for my singing and now it’s the least I do…I pay a nurse to come in, of course…but you see, I can’t possibly leave my mother all alone.”
“So does your agent have power of attorney over your…independent means?” Nigel Brown asked, not at all sure what BGT was. He had been at university five years before, studying Theology and preparing to dedicate himself to Reformism, and he had no interest at all in popular culture. He preferred to concentrate on the matter in hand.
“Oh…I think so…he pays all my bills and deals with forms and things…he signs our travel permits for these awful FIDs but he left all this to me. I live a very quiet life…as I told the reporter from Ok! magazine last week, Mum and I enjoy the house and love to travel when we can…the heat is good for her, of course…and I am sure even being on that list was a mistake.”
“National service is for the good of everyone, Miss Nicholson. Deferrals are only usually made for girls who are engaged, and cancelled altogether after a marriage.” Nigel informed her, looking through the letters she had given him, and finding the original deferment, a six month conditional waver. “According to this documentation, a temporary deferral was given because of the condition of your mother, awaiting a report from your general practitioner…but there is no record of that report? Can I see it please?”
“Our doctor, you mean? He examined Mum, but he isn’t very sympathetic. He refused to right a report confirming that she needed round the clock care, but she is my mother…I have to look after her.”
“But you pay for a nurse?”
“Yes, but she does not live in…I am a full time carer.”
“Miss Nicholson, this letter says that you have to report for national service today?” Nigel said, not really listening to her. He shifted in his seat, and clicked his mouse to revive his computer.
“Well yes, but if you sign this form, all I have to do is hand it in…”
“Miss Nicholson, I cannot sign any form, not without a doctor’s report on your mother’s condition, but I will see what I can do to help you. If you could wait here for five minutes, I need to make a telephone call, on your behalf.” Nigel smiled at her, in an effort to reassure her, as he scribbled down a number off his screen. “Give me a few minutes, and I am sure I can sort something out for you.” Miss Nicholson thanked him, looking concerned again, and Nigel told the nun working in his outer office to make sure that she did not leave. He hurried through into his drawing room, to use the other telephone. His wife was there, listening to her daily lessons, and on the off chance he removed her headphones, and then, with some difficulty, her muzzle. He much preferred to leave such things to the nuns.
“Megan, have you ever heard of an Amelia Nicholson?” He asked, without any explanation, but although rather surprised by the interruption to her routine, his wife nodded, licking her dry lips.
“She won Britain’s Got Talent…it was a huge television show, a talent contest…don’t you remember?”
“My dear, I wouldn’t be asking if I did.”
“Oh well, she was quite famous…a sob story always helped win that show and she was at school, a bit younger than me as I remember, and looking after her sick mother. She had a good voice…had a few hits and I think she did a film…excuse me for asking Nigel, but why are you asking?”
“She is sitting in my office trying to get herself out of national service…and I have a note from the bishop saying how helpful it would be if we could highlight any stories like this with good public relations potential…it’s perfect.”
“So you are going to help her, and that will be good publicity?” Megan asked, obviously confused.
“No, I am going to hand her over to the bishop and he will use her willing acceptance of her vocation as a good news story for the newspapers.”
“Oh…I think I see…”
“And you can help…go and ask the Sister to put you in a mantle, and then go and keep Miss Nicholson occupied…I need to take some advice. Megan, now please.”
“Sorry…yes, of course.” Megan let him help her to her feet, and hurried as best she could to find the Sister. She was not exactly sure what was going on, but she had learned to do as her husband said, of course. He was not a demanding man, and was in many ways quite kind to her, but he was extremely pious, and ambitious. He would never be satisfied with a quiet little parish in middle class Kent and she knew that he was desperate to bring himself to the attention of the bishop. The nun hurried to put her mantle on, and she headed for the office. “Good morning…Miss Nicholson? I am Mrs Brown…my husband was concerned that he was leaving you on your own…I am very pleased to meet you, of course.”
“Oh hello…so you know who I am…I am not sure your husband understands…” Amelia began, standing up and shaking Mrs Brown’s outstretched hand and forcing a smile. She had never had anything to do with any of the new Jesus freaks. Mostly she was busy trying to get some work, keeping her name in the papers if she could, because so many of the old shows that used to hire her, and keep her in the public eye, had been cancelled, or did not use any pretty girls anymore. Everyone had gone family entertainment mad, because decency was the new watchword in television, and she had not had a sniff of an acting part in almost eighteen months. She had managed to get the OK! Interview by calling in an old favour, and she was sure that would get her something else, if only the government would stop hassling her with ridiculous distractions. No one could possibly expect someone like her to do national service. It was insane. She was a star. Everyone knew her name, with the possible exception of a few civil servants and the stupid Pastor. She was a celebrity and she had some class, in her opinion, and talent, and she was not going to let a bunch of boring politicians turn her into some sort of disciple. Her agent had told her that there were a few actresses getting parts she ought to have a change for purely because they were dressing up as Reformists, but that was not her image. She was fun and edgy and so pretty that to hide her face was a crime. She looked at the Pastor’s wife, nothing more than a lump of cheap velvet, and despised her. She could not care less if some girls wanted to be nuns, but she was not some girl, she was better than that, she was someone.
“He is trying to help you…these new regulations are very complicated, I believe.” Megan replied, lowering herself carefully onto the seat beside her. It was like looking at someone who came from another planet to Megan; a world she knew existed but had lost, against her will, as her ordinary life became consumed by the modern renaissance. She guessed that Amelia Nicholson was anything but ordinary and she was fascinated by her. Megan did not watch much television, really only the evening news with Nigel, before dinner. But there was nothing much she wanted to watch anyway. Everything was just so politically correct nowadays, and one of the girls in the congregation had told her that even the soaps had sanitised storylines, with no affairs, no violence, swearing or ludeness. There was even a Reformist family on Coronation Street, closely representative of the creeping conversion going on everywhere. Megan had seen a lot of famous people converting to the church, and that sort of made her feel better about things. It was not just her. And the royal family of course. But seeing Amelia Nicholson was a reminder that another life was possible.
“Oh that’s great…it’s been impossible.” Amelia sighed, relaxing again, but pulling her skirt down over her knees. She was not a political person at all, and she did not make too much of an effort with the decency laws. Her public appearances were rarer than they were, but she always pushed the limits. Her Mum had convinced her to make a bit more of an effort for the Pastor, and to be on her best behaviour, as she wanted him to help her. “Can you believe it? Me…national service…they are nuns…right? So not me.”
“Several Sisters are based here…and at most churches.” Megan explained, doing as her husband had asked, trying to keep the conversation going as long as possible. “I missed it…as I was lucky enough to marry my husband, and my sister is betrothed so her call up has been deferred on that basis.”
“Of course, I get that idea…and I am glad it works for you, but I am different…a celebrity you know? It’s a mistake…so maybe your husband can explain it all to them…my fans would go mad if I became a nun…I mean, can you see it?”
“Oh…I don’t know…not really.” Megan lied, because she knew that people could change. She had seen her entire life and all her expectations and ambitions crushed and turned into a pious, obedient life as Mrs Nigel Brown, and her not wanting to do it had not made any difference. But before either of them could think of anything else to say, the door opened and Nigel returned to the room with a big smile on his face.
“Good news, Miss Nicholson…I spoke to the bishop on your behalf, and he is sending his own car to collect you.”
“Sorry…I mean, that’s very kind of him, I’m sure, but I have a car…”
“He is very keen to meet you, Miss Nicholson…and you won’t be needing your car anymore. Not for some years at any rate as nuns don’t drive.” Nigel explained, rather enjoying himself at his guest’s expense. “But the press are very keen to have some nice photographs of you starting your national service, so I am sure you will enjoy that…you may even become the face of the new national service advertising campaign…Sister Amelia!”
Mother Chelsea had reorganised the dormitories so that the teachers slept with their students. No one knew the results of the daily tests. They would be marked to Caris’s specifications, but by the Sister’s in the office. Green braids put Caris, Angelica, Carina and Barbara back in their mittens and muzzles as the bell went for six o’clock, and escorted them all into chapel for evening prayers. Dinner was eaten through their tubes. It was quicker, according to Mother Chelsea, and then they were released to get undressed for their showers. It was all the usual routine. The bald, naked sisters were all the same as the keepers ran them to the showers. Caris was thirty one, and the students were all at least ten years younger than her, but she screamed into her muzzle just the same as anyone else as the switches sang through the air. Then, after they were all dry, they had to line up in front of the keepers and were each handed an envelope. One of the keepers told them to open them only when their names were called and to follow the instructions inside. Caris did not have to wait long as it was done in alphabetical order, and she had seen Angelica open her envelope and immediately run off up the corridor. That did not mean anything as it was the only way out of the shower blocks.
Shivering with cold, Caris tore open the envelope and read the note. Then she started to run for her beating. Her students had earned her fifty strokes with the paddle.
No one listened to Amelia, and in the end they stopped her shouting at them, by fitting her muzzle. But they did not shave her head at that stage. Nigel told Megan, who had earned the story by helping him, that the bishop wanted to organise some sort of photo shoot, to promote the benefits of national service. It was one thing getting ‘celebrities’, for want of a better word, to join the church, but that was just so much window dressing and no one believed that so and so had suddenly found God, just like that, but a fairly well known girl doing her national service was a different matter altogether.
“She thought she could get out of it, just because of who she was…but just imagine what people will think when they see her taking her vows…maybe with a smile on her face?”
“She didn’t seem very happy about things, dear?”
“Oh I am sure she will come around to the bishop’s way of thinking…and he is confident that she will make a donation to our church funds, and our living expenses…I think we can afford to extend your wardrobe a little.”
Reformism Revisited is continued in part seven The Show Must Go On.