Reformism Revisited – Part Two
The Calm before another Storm
by Nick Lucas
Duty and Vocation
Sister Caris had never worked so hard in her life. There was no respite. She toiled all day at the hospital, but that was just the middle of her day. Before and after her shift she gave her time and energy to her dormitory, making sure that the Sister’s were fed, watered and rested to do another shift the following day. In many ways, the hospital was easier. During her shift, she was just another nun, no different to anyone else. Mother Esme made sure that she was always assigned to the wards where her medical training would be of most use, because the holy Mother saw little point in her giving bed baths when she could give injections, but she was till muzzled and as controlled as possible. It was the life she had known for four years, and although under Mother Esme’s leadership they strived to give exemplary service the doctors, male doctors, largely preferred to use them as little more than domestic assistance. But within the Convent, and especially within the dormitory, once the outer door was locked for the evening, she had to take charge.
Her rules were clear and simple. Everyone had to pray and eat breakfast before they left for their shift, and to do that day after day they needed as much rest as possible. Mother Esme believed that the hours between returning home and going to sleep should be as free as the demands of their order permitted, and Caris tried to stick to those principles, but she also had to maintain discipline. It was difficult for her. She had no faith in God, and although she had learned to say the words and sometimes take some sort of comfort in the rituals of prayer, she struggled with the idea of making her fellow sisters behave. Her only confidante was her roommate, Sister Angelina, and it was their whispered conversations in the darkness that kept her sane. Caris allowed a little chatter after lights out, but only for an hour. She always did a final walk around then, and if she found anyone still awake she had to punish them, in God’s name.
“So how many tonight?” Angelina murmured as Caris discarded her habit and slipped into her cot. They slept so that their heads were close together, so that no one else could hear.
“Six…I am not being unreasonable, am I?” Caris asked as she settled her head on the pillow. She had a watch, a perk of her job as time was irrelevant to the Sisterhood. She needed to know the time. It was almost nine. They had six and half hours until she would need to get them all up and dressed ready for chapel.
“Can’t they hear you coming?”
“Obviously not…so I put them all in their sleeping gowns, muzzles, mittens and all…I hate it so much Sammie.” Caris sighed as she broke a cardinal rule. Using a Sister’s real name was a double sin, one for the user and one for the Sister who acknowledged her past. But they both risked it, because it was all they had left, a shadow of the past, and, Caris hoped, a glimpse of the future Samantha would enjoy once she had served her ten years.
“It’s not your fault…they know the rules and we have it easy here, Susie.” Angelina replied, knowing that her friend needed the support and encouragement she gave to everyone else.
“Some of the other dormitories are all in sleeping gowns every night…I don’t want to do that to anyone.”
“No one would blame you if you did, Susie.”
“Sister Rose thinks everyone will settle down, once they get used to the routine.”
“She might be right…it is intoxicating isn’t it? I mean I still can’t believe how lucky we are.”
“Suppose,” Caris replied, fighting her exhaustion, trying to stay awake.
“I never had this, not even at home. Not really.”
“Sammie, this is nothing…you should have so much more.”
“Of course, I had my own flat…and a car…then it was just gone.”
“God saved us Susie.” Angelina said and Caris had to bite her tongue. She was amazed by just how many people believed in the doctrine. Even poor Sammie. Her brother had sold her, but that was no particular surprise. But there was no love lost there in the first place. But Sammie loved her parents, and was sure they loved her. Her fate helped the whole family and she was as good as promised a husband when she had served her time. It was all God’s plan, and St. Theresa’s was proof that God loved them and would lead them to paradise.
“Sleep now Sammie…I can’t keep my eyes open, and I am not going to put you in your sleeping gown.”
The Ticking Clock
Mrs Ford made a fuss over afternoon tea whenever her daughter visited the family home. Chloe did not mind, because she liked to see her parents, and she liked to see her mother happy. Mr Munroe was a generous employer, and she had been able to ensure that her mother did not have to work anymore. In fact, like many people, her parents were better off than they had ever been before. Her mother’s pride was almost limitless with regards to Chloe. Her reputation as a guardian was almost a legend in Meadvale. But there was something else. Her parents had asked her to come. They had written to her, and made it clear that they needed to see her as soon as possible. Not that Chloe minded, and whenever the family visited Meadvale she always made time for a visit. She hardly ever took time off, and Mr Munroe gave his permission, whenever she asked for it. But she found it all a little jarring sometimes. She was used to the finer things in life. Her parent’s house seemed small, and rather shabby even when compared to her own room in the London house. Her gown, hardly worn, was worth more than all the furniture in the lounge she guessed, and it was really too wide to move without knocking things over. Chloe felt out of place.
“Chloe, you are twenty one.” Her father said, as if she did not know that, fingering his collar. He really only ever wore a tie to Church, and he did not look comfortable.
“Yes Dad, twenty two in September.” She smiled, trying to put him at ease. She was not a princess and she did not want them of all people treating her like one.
“Guardian is a suitable occupation, love…but not forever.”
“Oh…Dad…I see…but I love my work…Mrs Munroe…and the children…are my life.” She replied, rather taken aback that her parents would think about such things.
“Chloe, you’ve done really well for yourself, but working isn’t right, not if you have an alternative…not even as a guardian, for nice people like the Munroe’s. He won’t stand in your way love.”
“Dad, what are you talking about?”
“I have had an offer for your hand in marriage, love. A nice man, so don’t worry I have written to Mr Munroe. He will want the best for you, Chloe love.”
Bethany suggested the trip. Not her father. Megan doubted if he had the gumption, but the promotion was still available and her sister thought that if they put on a show it might make all the difference. Megan objected, of course. But that just made it all worse. She looked uncooperative. Bethany was the good one, as always. It caused the inevitable row and Megan lost, because her father had the law and everyone else on his side. It cost them three more Marks and Spencer’s gowns with all of the usual matching accessories and an overnight stay near Winchester, and her father’s head office, so that the family could worship at the Reformist Church Mr Simpson and most of the Ultrapure board attended, but Bethany and her mother were sure that it was a wise investment. Geoff Robinson was a rather weak man, constantly worried about money and the future, but still unwilling to force things on his family, but his wife and younger daughter were supporting him, recognising the opportunity, and he refused to let Megan ruin things. Every Ultrapure employee had access to samples of the new products, and he procured three from the top of the range.
Megan was the first to try it on, before they even left the house. She did not know it at the time but she was part of the next phase of recruitment for Pastor Winstanley. Government employees, and the employees of companies that supplied products or services to government organisations, were being encouraged to attend authorised churches. Ultrapure had signed a contract that required their senior members of staff to lead the way. After all, the company was supplying one million of their incredible new muzzles to the government, and they had to support and endorse the products. Employees who took the hint would soon find themselves rewarded, and everyone was happy.
Sister Caris turned a blind eye to some minor infringements. Mother Esme wanted her Sisters to have privacy and some real freedom in their shared rooms, and the friendships that blossomed were valued and necessarily close. It went against their initial training and experiences. Caris had never been allowed to get to know anyone before moving to St. Theresa’s, but Mother Esme argued that the Convent was their home. In her own room, Caris had Angelina, her Sammie, and although she refused to think too much about it, they were closer than anyone. In the dark, in the middle of the night, they often shared the same cot, holding each other close. Both starved of companionship and love, they fell on each other each night with passion and glee. Caris did not have so much trouble with talking within the dormitory after lights out anymore. Most of the girls she had to punish were being far to open about their friendships, when it was vital to take care. But those first weeks at St. Theresa’s were still happy ones, even if she worked hard and felt a great weight of responsibility on her shoulders.
“Contracts are being renegotiated and we are already seeing results.” Peter Munroe reported to the Cabinet, concentrating on his notes. “Most directors are, in effect, role models for their staff, and to a lesser extent the communities that they live in and around, because if rich, successful people are seen adopting the doctrine, others follow. It is the same with celebrities, sportsmen and musicians…we need high profile converts to accelerate the process.”
“Coercion, encouragement or good, old-fashioned bribery?” Charles Buckingham asked, allowing himself a big smile. He had used all of those in his time. But the tactics remained more or less the same. Narrow the opportunities and gently push people in the right direction until they realise their best options. His take on the permissive society revolved around opportunities. People had too many to choose from and not enough time. One of the things squeezed out of life since the Second World War was the rather old-fashioned notion of going to church on a regular basis. Instead, they started to shop or go to sports events, or whatever leisure pursuit they preferred, because they had so many options. In four years, the Christian Democrats had reduced those options considerably. Most shops no longer opened on Sundays, ostensibly to allow all families one day to spend together. Sports events were banned for the same reasons and pub opening times had been strictly reduced, with most now only opening at Sunday lunchtime. Buses and trains were more or less non-existent, airports closed and television channels had to show only religious programmes up until seven o’clock on Sunday evenings. People were being left with no option other than to worship in that regard, and their other activities would encourage them to do the right things, although sometimes for altogether the wrong reasons. Education was once more at the forefront of change. Harry Trevor’s department were working very closely with the Reformist Church to move more schools under church control, or open new ones. These were good schools, with good facilities and the best teachers, and parents wanted their children to go there. So they went to church, and once they were in other pressures could be brought to bear.
Australian TV News Report
“Some four weeks after leaving Melbourne with their Uncle, Eloise and Grace Graham were finally seen, leaving Sir Harry Trevor’s grand London home. It is obviously impossible to recognise them from these pictures, because both girls were dressed in traditional maiden’s gowns, as Christian Reformists call these restrictive outfits, but a spokesman for Trevor confirmed that the two girls were dressed in dark blue, alongside Mrs Trevor, in dark green, getting into an official car. Great Britain is now considered one of the most restrictive nations in the world, with a government supporting sexual inequality and fundamentalist Christian policies. These two girls, up until a few weeks ago normal high school kids in Melbourne, are now covered from head to foot, and, we are told, will be wearing thick mittens and a muzzle beneath their robes. The Christian Reform Church, of which Sir Harry Trevor is a prominent member, believe in following the bible as directions from God, and that women should be silent and covered as much as possible. There is a huge concern for the welfare of these children, as the government does not seem to have assessed whether allowing their Uncle to bring them and their mother to London was the best thing for them and these shocking pictures will, I am sure, raise concerns still further.”
Brogan and the girls did not see the cameras as they got into the car. Miss Howard had employed their blinding mantles and all she could hear beneath everything were a few distant shouts. Harry had arranged for them to visit Meadvale. He could not keep them cooped up in the house all the time, and he thought that London, even remaining within their close, exclusively Reformist circle of friends, might not be the best environment for Eloise and Grace. He was sending them to the Craig’s, Lady Brogan’s adopted parents, for a few weeks. Brogan had not been consulted, she had been told, but she did not think it was a bad idea per se. Meeting more people like them might help the girls, and they needed to get Barbara some help whilst they were all out of the way.
Peter Munroe thought highly of Chloe Ford and would be sad to see her go, but he refused to intervene on her behalf with her father. Her argument that she had a vocation for guardianship and wished to continue in her role was nonsensical, and he told her so, reminding her of her faith, and that her greatest ambition should be to marry and have children of her own. He owed her a debt as a loyal employee, so he arranged for her to stay on with the family whilst the final arrangements were made by her father and her fiancé, but as their guest, not their guardian. Mr and Mrs Ford had no means to provide a dowry or a suitable ‘bottom drawer’, but Mr Munroe and Miss Ford’s previous employers, Mr Harrington and Mr Buckingham, clubbed together to provide her with the means to purchase everything she would require. Mr Munroe soon found a replacement guardian for his wife and growing family (his eldest daughter Claire was married herself), and on a quiet weekday morning Miss Harris arrived, and Chloe Ford found herself reduced to the status of companion to Mrs Munroe.
It was a strange and unsettling experience. Miss Harris arrived, well aware of the situation, and her first act was to muzzle Chloe. Mrs Munroe was muzzled, and sitting in the drawing room listening to a collection of Pastor Winstanley’s sermons, as directed by Miss Ford, in her last act as a guardian in that house. Miss Harris needed to break that chain, and impose her own authority, so the highly symbolic act of silencing her was devastating for Chloe. Like most guardians, she usually only muzzled herself for Church, and then only a self-fitting model, because she had to be ready to take care of her charges in any given situation at a moment’s notice. But at that moment, as Miss Harris produced a new muzzle, one paid for by her sponsor, Mr Munroe, she faced up to the fact that she was not a guardian anymore. Miss Harris showed her the packaging and let her have a good look at the muzzle itself, an Ultrapure Lady-Lock 24/7, before instructing her to open wide.
“Such a clever design, Miss Chloe,” Miss Harris smiled, inserting the device expertly into place. “Soft plastic…it fits to your teeth and then hardens in the heat of your mouth, so that it fits like a plastic glove, whilst the plastic skirt closes over your tongue and the two halves of the feeding tube clip together. No special fitting and because it does not need tightening there is less discomfort so it can be worn for much longer. I have the key of course, but your beloved father and Mr Munroe want you well prepared for your forthcoming marriage. So we will need to keep you silent, shan’t we? And I want to get you changed too, one of your new gowns, I think. Obviously you will not be a maiden for long but I think you should be a good one, don’t you?”
Miss Harris was not a monster. Chloe had met a lot of guardians in her time, and was a reasonable judge. If she had been in her place, she thought she would probably have done the same things, for the same reasons. Maidens need to be totally reliant on their guardians, and to look to them for everything as a matter of habit, but they are usually younger and less experienced than Chloe obviously was. Mr Munroe would undoubtedly have warned Miss Harris that Chloe was not exactly thrilled about her betrothal to Kieran Radcliffe. He would have shared her concerns and hopes with the new guardian, so that she could help Chloe prepare herself. That was not unreasonable. Chloe had been brought up as a Reformist, and nothing her father had said and done surprised her. Marriage was the ultimate aim for every girl, and it was her social position that had made that unlikely before. She doubted if her father would have bothered to upset her and the Munroe’s for someone poor. It was really rather ironic that the job she had originally seen as an escape from her humdrum life, and an uncertain future, but had then come to love, had brought her to the attention of Mr Radcliffe. He had been a regular visitor to the house, as he was chairman of Mr Munroe’s constituency party in Berkshire. He was a widower, and had often brought his daughter, Felicity, with him for Chloe to look after. Mr Munroe would have told Miss Harris that Chloe was understandably nervous, and had been so dedicated to her much admired work that she had reservations about marriage. Miss Harris would naturally conclude that her new charge needed to be reminded of her duties to her father and God as a maiden, and that she would need to be quite strict with her. And she was right, of course. Chloe recognised that, even as she suffered her transformation, but she still felt betrayed, as if all of the good work she had done in the past had been for nothing. In the end, she was just a woman, like any other, and no one else thought of guardianship as a vocation, so she had two choices. Do as she was told or ask to go into one of the Convents Mr Munroe had helped found all around the country. That was her only alternative to marriage. Whatever she had been before and regardless of good she had been at it, she was a maiden, and she was being given the chance to do God’s will and earn His loving embrace as a loyal wife. She had to obey her father and do her duty and Miss Harris had every right to teach her some lessons before she was sent up the aisle. Recognising those simple facts did not make it any easier to bear, but Chloe was a Reformist and she could not ignore the demands of her faith, otherwise all of her hard work had been a lie in the first place.
The Moral Maze
“Hello and welcome to another live debate into the moral issues facing us today in the moral maze. My name is Christina Blair and I am joined today by Sir Harry Trevor, Christian Democrat Minister for Health and Education, and a member of the Christian Reformist Church, and Germaine Sneer, a journalist for The Guardian newspaper and a regular campaigner on issues concerning women around the world…welcome both.”
“Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me.” Harry said, his smile coming over the radio loud and clear. Brogan felt herself attempt to smile back, but she was muzzled and no one could see her face anyway. Miss Howard had allowed her to listen to the broadcast, but they were having another quiet afternoon.
“Surely you have made it illegal for the BBC to have any sort of debate on your policies without an immediate right of reply Sir Harry?” Ms Sneer’s familiarly strident tones cut in, and Brogan would have laughed if she could. She knew Germaine. In the old days. In fact, she had been a bit of a role model for Brogan when she first started out in journalism. Brogan wondered what Ms Sneer would say if she knew who Harry Trevor’s wife really was.
“Only if you are involved, Germaine…we like to make sure you get your facts right, and provide a little reason and balance on such occasions.” Harry quipped back, before Christina Blair tried to regain control of the proceedings.
“I can see today’s programme is going to be a lively one…Harry, you are part of a government that is accused of setting back women’s rights a hundred years, so what have you got to say for yourself?”
“On the contrary Christina, I believe that we have given women back the basic right to be a wife and mother. The hundred years you refer to is basically the twentieth century and during that traumatic period in world history women were fooled into thinking that they wanted to break into a man’s world, and that it was a good thing…economically, socially and morally it was not…all we are trying to do is redress the balance.”
“By gagging them and covering them up?”
“Germaine, I certainly believe that voice modesty is appropriate in certain situations…but we have not attempted to pass any laws requiring it, neither do we intend to do so. Decency laws have been passed, but it is up to personal conscience how far any individual follows the word of God, or are you trying to restrict our rights to worship as we please?”
“Yes I do, I most certainly do…I am against religions that repress women, and force them to dress or behave in any way they don’t want to, and your government is merely a front for Christian fanatics worse than any Muslim extremists.” Germaine Sneer almost barked into the microphone. Brogan shook her head in annoyance. Putting someone like her up against Harry was a recipe for disaster. He was cool, calm and collected, and she was passionate, shrill and a committed socialist, which was almost a crime in the current political climate. Brogan feared he would eat her alive.
“Christian democracy is about curing this country of decades of mismanagement and unregulated social change…that is why people have voted for us in their millions. I think I can speak for most of my colleagues when I say we are tired of this extremist tag we are given all the time. It is not as if we lied to the voters and did something that took everyone by surprise. We published our manifesto, explained it, and people chose us over people like you and your quasi-communist friends. The results are there for all to see. Male unemployment is almost nil and young men can leave school with the expectations of further education, proper apprenticeships, and then a proper job…if not, they go into the armed forces on national service and get their training there. Our schools have been transformed in the last five years or so, and again, the results are there for all to see…and our health service is thriving again…people really don’t care what I believe as long as we produce results.”
“But your results are achieved by enslaving women, by tearing up equality legislation and banning them from the workforce regardless of their ability. I call that extreme.”
“Oh yes…equality legislation…the sort of thing that made lawyers millionaires and stuck the rest of us with rafts of rules often well meant but completely impractical. I put those in the same drawer as political correctness, health and safety and all the other stuff that drives ordinary hard-working people insane. Quotas for women in the boardroom…was that fair on me? But more importantly was it fair on the women themselves, or the children they deserted to achieve these unrealistic goals. Regardless of my views as a Christian, I believe in the family and in raising future generations within a family unit. But yes, if you want to accuse me of stopping women working where there is a man available to take her place, then guilty as charged. If you want to accuse me of restoring an idea of decency to our streets, again it’s a fair cop. But you ought to get a bigger gaol, because millions of ordinary people…the sort of people you despise, Germaine…asked me to do it.”
“Schoolgirls are being checked at school to make sure that they are not sexually active. You are encouraging tens of thousands of girls into Convents and using them as slave labour in our schools and hospitals. You are restricting unmarried women from travelling without parental permission…it is as bad as Saudi Arabia!”
“Once again, we set out these plans in our manifesto, and our policies are popular with the electorate. The reality here is that we are not the extremists…you are. By you, I mean the old political class, the cosy cabal who stitched up elections on half-baked unworkable visions, before borrowing too much and spending the money in all the wrong places. If we weren’t getting involved in wars justified by fabricated evidence, we were letting the banks pawn our future. You hate us because our policies work and a lot of the electorate agree with us. Germaine, you don’t care about ordinary women, you only speak for the public relations dollies, the journalists, the social elite, who can run Vogue magazine during the day as long as the nanny is at home and the cook and the cleaner turn up on time. You do not live in the real world, where women were juggling a job, the school run and the house, or paying two thirds of their wages to fund a nursery place for their kids. These women are the ones we have set free to be the best mothers they can, we have given them freedom, not repression, and we have done it whilst balancing the books, reducing unemployment, transforming failing schools and hospitals and slashing street crime, sex crime, unwanted pregnancies, drunkenness and drug abuse. I know it may come as a surprise to you Germaine, but real people are quite prepared to give up flashing their tits and shouting in the streets if they can have all that.”
Mrs Munroe delighted in Miss Ford’s elevation in status because she really believed that her erstwhile guardian was looking forward to her marriage. No one had told her otherwise, and she happily involved herself in helping Chloe, as she now called her, prepare for her big day. However, it was not entirely appropriate for Chloe, as a maiden, to spend all of her time with a married lady of some eminence. She needed to socialise with other maidens, and Miss Harris soon settled her into a routine of morning spent studying followed by lunch with Elizabeth Munroe then a visit to another house, if they were not receiving suitable visitors themselves. Miss Harris also kept Chloe under strict discipline. Her old routine as a guardian had been exemplary at all times, but a maiden had very different responsibilities, and there was a lot she needed to get used to. For a start, Chloe was not very good at sitting still during her study periods. Her entire concentration ought to be on her lessons, as she had often told her own charges, but unaccustomed to being tightly corseted, diapered and properly dressed, let alone muzzled and covered, she had a disappointing tendency to fidget. Her first two paddlings were for this unforgiveable crime, and Miss Harris continued to test her progress. Chloe’s situation was unusual, as her employer’s affection for her had elevated her status, and she was certainly already wishing that she had been allowed to go home to her parents.
Before her engagement, Chloe had considered herself a good Reformist, and the rules and lessons she taught her charges seemed to work in practise. Her ex-pupils were happy, well adjusted wives with children of their own. She knew what she had to do to achieve the same, but it was harder than she ever expected to put that knowledge into practise. She had been used to doing things all the time. She had enjoyed a high level of independence. Becoming a lady of leisure, with her life devoted to her family and the glory of God, was so hard, and in the dark silence of her sleeping gown she often admitted to herself that she was struggling to cope.
The Average Reformist
Megan Robinson and her family were part of a growing trend, of course. The man in the street was being guided towards the Reformist Church, like a silver ball in one of those little plastic toy mazes found in Christmas crackers. Religion was a question on every official form, for instance. No one had any evidence, but there was a general impression that if you ticked the Reformist option fewer obstacles were put in your path, and rewards were just a little higher. No one seemed to expect new members of the Church to turn into fanatical disciples overnight, but as long as they went along and played the game, good things tended to happen to people. Megan did not wear her new muzzle all the time. In fact, if she avoided arguments with her father, she only wore it on Sunday mornings. She had one decent gown that could double as a Church gown, and she wore a mantle sometimes like her mother and sister, but Reformism to them was almost a facade. Her father did not get the big promotion, because one of his colleagues did a much better job of sucking up to his boss, but he did get a nice raise. It could not be a coincidence that it was offered just a week after they first made the journey to a Reformist Church.
Through this involvement, Megan, Bethany and their mother became involved with a group of casual Reformists much like themselves who lived in and around Sevenoaks. They had no local Church, but they were working to found one. The women with time on their hands at home had the opportunity to write to the authorities, trying to find a location, and asking for help with finding a suitable Pastor.
It all became normal remarkably quickly. Once she had got over the embarrassment of wearing a muzzle and mantle, it was not so terrible. It was only ever for an hour or two, and the local group met a lot, and got on with one another, so it gave her something else to think about. She was not exactly enthusiastic, but it occupied some of her time.
Home Sweet Home
Sister Caris did not think of herself as happy, but she would admit to being largely content with her lot at St. Theresa’s. It bore no comparison with her previous convents, and she had Sammie. She had managed to convince the rest of the dormitory that they had never had it so good, and had made them see that they had to be careful not to ruin things. They had to be good nuns whenever their superiors were watching them, even Mother Esme, who all of them worshiped, to earn their time alone when the outer door was locked. She still had to maintain discipline. She learned to punish fairly but firmly, because the Sister’s could still argue and get carried away at times, but she usually managed to keep the peace.
Outside of their dormitory they all tried to be perfect, both at work and prayer. It was a renowned feature of the St. Theresa’s nurses. Their obedience and piety was obvious to everyone who came across them, and the hospitals they covered in their area were all amongst the best in the country.
Brogan did not think of the Craig’s house in Meadvale as home. She did not identify with it or her ‘parents’ as her few months spent living there were fairly traumatic, albeit that she accepted her own part in her fall from grace. She had reached some level of understanding with her husband, which was neither love nor hate. She understood him, and perhaps most importantly he understood her. She also had the children to think about, her own two boys who she wanted to grow up free of the shadows of the past, and Eloise and Grace, who thanks to their mother’s depression relied totally on her. Being back in Meadvale served to broaden her horizons again, because the Reformist community in London, at least to someone of her class, revolved around Westminster and remained relatively small, so it was rather like living in a bubble. Every time they went out in London, they got a tantalising glimpse of a different life, but in Meadvale, the archetypal Reformist town, they could immerse themselves in the Church, and it was possible to believe that there was no alternative.
However, one blessing of being there was that Miss Howard had little choice but to relax a little. Harry wanted the girls to get to know some maidens of their own age and to meet some new people. He wanted them to have a bit of fun, Reformist style, in a safe environment, and their visit seemed to coincide with a number of their London friends visiting family and friends as well so it became something of a holiday atmosphere. In the wake of the local elections, even Harry really felt the need to relax, and celebrate at least a holding of ground if not another landslide. He listened to her again regarding the girls, and whilst the dour Miss Howard still maintained some semblance of a routine, it was easier for everyone. Her pregnancy was starting to show and she found the heat of early summer a nuisance, but she hoped that they were over the worst with the girls. She was thirty years old and she longed to be over the worst. She used to wonder how people coped in extreme circumstances, where they were forced to face danger or great suffering without hope. She had read about women in concentration camps, or living under brutal regimes in far off places, and she had marvelled that family life still carried on. But now she realised that it had to. Life went on with or without you, and most people ended up just getting on with it, because the only real escape was death, and unless you had a real faith in God and the afterlife, that would appear to be a total waste of time.
Rebecca Fitzgerald was tired of curtseying long before they actually got inside the school, but she had no choice. She was still technically a pupil at the Church school, although she was about to leave. Attending the school open day was more or less her last obligation, and that worried her. She was already older than her sister was when Samantha was put into the convent, and she could not imagine a worse fate. As she followed her parents into the hall, she glanced at a line of nuns standing in front of the stage. There was a small convent at the Cathedral, housing teachers and nurses working locally, and she always wondered if her sister was one of them. They were not allowed any contact with her. Poor Samantha was not even halfway through her ten years, and Rebecca thought that she would rather do anything than follow her. Rebecca had been taught by nuns at the school and she had seen how hard their life was. Marriage would be much better. Even a guardianship, although Rebecca had not been chosen for that programme. Her father had been more patient with her, no doubt because her mother was so upset when Samantha left home. But he would not wait forever.
Christian Democrat Conference, Brighton
“Opinion polls are sometimes wrong but taken in context, over a period of time, we have the support of the majority of the people.” Charles Buckingham told the faithful, in the middle of his keynote speech to conference. “Council elections last month would normally be a minefield for the sitting government, but we at least held our own…a much better performance than any administration has achieved since Disraeli…so we should take heart from that and redouble our efforts. Never forget that we had a mandate to change this country for the better. It was not our decision, it came from the man in the street, and our job is to serve them well and deliver on our promises. It is inevitable that we will face resistance. Change management is a business buzzword of course, but only because it is an art in itself, and it was always impossible to deliver our promises without any friction, because fundamental change always hurts someone. In some ways, we have shifted the pain from one set of people to another, but we have made our case that this is correct, right and ultimately preferable. But never forget that we still have generations of women who were subverted by that illogical notion of equality. Most people had a lot of sympathy with the millions of unemployed people until we eradicated that particular statistic, but we must also empathise now with the women whose lives, expectations and ambitions have been so radically altered, denying them what they truly believe was their right. I think we have made our case on equality…the last election was fought on that topic and we won the right to rebalance our lives…but that does not make it any easier for the people caught in the eye of the needle. Restrictions on women working, travelling, dressing and socialising do seem severe to them, even if the majority believe it is for the greater good, so we must dedicate all our considerable energies into helping them accept this change. Our children now will grow up with very different expectations. That is what we voted for, a better life for them, but I also want to help those most affected by it now. Dealing with the big things…those immense budget deficits, unemployment, education, health…were our priority over the last five years. But our manifesto for next May must focus on what the changes we have made mean for people on the streets. On the big issues, it will be more of the same. I am not a magician, the only answer to continued improvement is continued hard work, but we must never forget that we do it all for the people. I am going to ask the people of this country to vote for the family, for decency, for moral fortitude. I am going to extend the idea of national service. I am going to eradicate unwanted pregnancies and sex outside marriage. I am going to eradicate the last vestiges of the drugs and drink culture which has ruined so many lives. Our opponents will whinge and whine and accuse us of all kinds of things, but I can promise you this…everything we intend to do in our next five years in office will be written in our manifesto for everyone to see, and I will be demanding that the opposition do the same. I have been accused of lots of things since I chose to lead this party, none of which bothers me. When God finally calls me, I want only one thing carved on my grave. I hope it will read Charles Buckingham, ‘He never broke his promises’.”
“He is the only leader I trust…he said it today, he did what he said he was going to do. I don’t agree with everything they done like, but he said they would do it and he got voted in, so fair play to him, I say. I think this is a better country now. We aren’t broke and we’ve all got jobs now.”
“No one will say it in the papers or on TV because it’s not ‘politically correct’ but he’s put women back in their place. It was never right to have women working when men couldn’t get jobs…and he’s sorted the scroungers and the kids out. He’s done what people wanted him to do, and that’s a bloody miracle for a politician, right there.”
“Why can’t I work? Why can’t I get on a bus without permission from my Dad? I mean, I can’t meet anyone or do anything fun anymore, and they even try to tell us what to wear? Its madness, I’d never vote for them. I wanted to go to university but I don’t want to study Religion, I reckon it’s illegal, or should be. That’s why we are protesting here today. He is trying to take this country back to the dark ages. The old people voted for him because he was supposed to bring back the good old days, but you can’t do that…it’s not right.”
“So, Prime Minister, the press are hailing your speech as a call to arms and you are holding up in the polls, despite the success of Ben Cartwright’s Social Democrats, but there are protestors outside the hotel, and it’s not all sweetness and light anymore for you is it?” Jeremy Paxman asked, grilling Charles Buckingham in front of a window looking out over Brighton’s beach, with the old pier in the background, and cars speeding past.
“Oh yes, democracy at work…it’s something I welcome.”
“Have you been too hard on women?”
“No, I don’t think so. As I tried to say in my speech I do recognise that the social changes we are implementing solve some problems and cause others, but we are not targeting women…in fact, although some feel disenfranchised, for want of a better word, many feel liberated from the demands of working and being a good mother. It is a truth universally acknowledged that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but we have to work harder at re-educating women to understand why this is right for the country and right for them.”
“We saw on the clip there what some of the protestors are saying to you. You have not only stopped women working but travelling without parental or spousal permission, socialising with the opposite sex…it is repressive.”
“All of the things you mentioned there only became prevalent in our society during the twentieth century, and yes, I know you will accuse me of wanting to turn back the clock, but it does not make it any less true. Female emancipation was achieved on the altar of expediency rather than any sort of progress. People have long bemoaned the march of progress…and as I get deeper into my forties I also realise that this is natural as we get older…but sometimes we are right. Some things that get dressed up as progress and sold to the people are actually more about self-interest and self-aggrandisement than anything else. Before you know where you are, the snowball is rolling downhill out of control and you have chaos. Take the idea of nursery education, a whole industry…largely public funded…based on mothers ‘needing’ to work, and needing to have a place to leave their children whilst they do. So, we end up with children as young as two in full time education, and all the statistics say that his is not advisable or beneficial. Many countries with better records than our own don’t start children at school till the age of six or seven and the basic foundations of education…learning to read and write, potty training, sharing and communicating…are left to mothers and fathers. But because we let women have the right to work, and turned it into some sort of moral crusade so that these poor girls truly believe that they can ‘have it all’, we ignore the facts. That is political correctness gone mad…but say it, and you are accused of being sexist, repressive and a dinosaur. When you talk to people though, when you look into their personal situations, rather a lot of them see the sense in what we are saying…and the cost savings, in terms of funding nursery places for children, is huge. It is a classic double benefit…but yes, some girls who by an accident of birth and bad timing are caught in the transitional phase, feel disenfranchised, and I regret that, and I want to help them all I can.”
“Do you want to help them all into a mantle and a muzzle?”
“Oh not again, Jeremy…please.” Charles Buckingham sighed and held up his hands in mock surrender. “Christian Democrats are mostly Christian Reformists…and do give us the credit for never denying that or trying to hide our beliefs. But having strong faith fuels our policies, but it does not dictate them…what you are actually suggesting is that every Muslim leader wants to impose sharia law on everyone…and that isn’t true. Yes, I am trying to build a Christian society again, where the church and the words of God are central to everything we say and do…but only because I, like most people, see the basic tenets of Christian faith as an admirable foundation for any modern society. That does not mean I want to impose my own beliefs on you or anyone else. I am a politician, a job I came into because I believed I could help people. The Church promotes itself, and has grown from small seeds to be the leading Christian organisation in this country without my help. Our jobs are complimentary to a certain extent, but our manifesto will not include compulsory voice modesty or covering…because it is not even compulsory within the Reformist movement in the first place. Out of some twelve million members, roughly half of which are women, I believe only just over one million choose to live according to the Reformist doctrine all the time. Some three million more always wear muzzles and mantles to church, but the rest live according to their own consciences. The trouble with politics is that everyone tries to drag up the worst possible scenario and throw as much mud as possible, on the basis that some of it sticks. But you cannot keep peddling out these old allegations and criticisms when there is no evidence to support them. Yes, women’s lives are more regulated now in certain areas, but for sound reasons that we have explained and justified in great detail…and which have then been put before the electorate to ratify or refuse. Instead of attacking us on hysteria, I wish Ben Cartwright would spell out exactly how he proposes to undo all our policies and still achieve the same results, because the fact is we are the healthiest economy in Europe with rapidly improving health and education, unheard of levels of unemployment and crime statistics that any country in the world would envy.”
Reformism Revisited is continued in part three Heaven and Hell.