It was Burn’s Night on Wednesday. We had the invitation to join friends for a marathon haggis, neeps and tatties night but I had too much homework to do.
The school is hosting a Burn’s Night celebration tonight. To get us all in the mood, and to raise money for a group of young people going to Romania in the summer, it was a dress down, or dress up, day. “A Touch of Tartan” was the theme - but as long as you paid your pound, you could wear just about anything.
Most people opted for something comfortable and casual. I saw at least one kilt during the day. Most “touches” were just that. A group of girls sported tartan fingernails!
I had trailed around the shops last night – having just been paid, looking for something tartan in the sales. It had to be something in the sales, not particularly expensive and something that I would wear again. There are too many things in the wardrobe worn once, or waiting for a slimmer me. Nothing took my eye sufficiently for me to dig out my money.
In the end I settled for a tartan ribbon. It had been tied on to one of the kitchen chairs many years ago. A box of chocolates, a presentation box of toiletries or some such other object had been tied with the ribbon. It was too nice a ribbon to throw away.
Sporting the ribbon tied in my hair I went to work.
The last time I can actually remember wearing a ribbon in my hair I must have been ten or eleven years old. Ribbons were not part of my growing up. Hair was tied with elastic bands.
I associate ribbons in my hair with a Roman Catholic orphanage. My brothers and sisters and I stayed there a couple of times in our childhood when my mother was very ill. It’s not a place that I associate with happy memories – but I loved the ribbons.
The headline in the paper, bold and black stands out.
A nun, in an orphanage, knocking kids about.
My memory, like a tape, pressed to fast rewind,
Stops some thirty years ago to somewhere in my mind.
Nazareth House was hell behind a hedge
Smelling of carbolic soap, boiled cabbages and Pledge.
"It's only just for two weeks," Father Patrick said,
"While your mum recovers in a hospital bed."
Unlike "The Sound of Music", these nuns looked rather mean.
No compassionate expressions on their faces could be seen.
All black and white and waddling, like penguins in a zoo,
If they had a sense of humour, it wasn't getting through.
For their first "act of kindness" they took away my clothes
I wore someone else's dress, tied with someone else's bows.
The person that was "me" were they trying to rub out?
Was I just another kid to them, among thirty round about?
Some kids taught me skipping songs, and Irish jigs as well
I joined in complex clapping games that taught me how to spell.
I hid among the rose bushes in a game of hide and seek.
I counted up to twenty and I promised not to peak.
Some kids came to tease me. "Your mum is really dead.
You're never leaving here. Just get it in your head.
You'll not be leaving soon, You'll be here for quite a while.
If you want to be adopted, you must learn how to smile."
If days I could endure, the nights I never could.
Dormitories with many beds, and panelling of wood.
Embroidered in an ornate frame, and hung upon the wall
"God is watching you" - a grim reminder to us all.
Familiar sounds were absent, the creaks and groans I knew
Fears so small in sunlight, in darkness slowly grew.
Was it true, what they'd said, that mum was really dead?
Fear and dread surrounded me, and then I wet the bed.
I like a happy ending, two weeks was all I stayed.
On the outside I was fine, but on the inside rather frayed.
To be just one of many, neither special nor unique,
A thought that's quite unsettling, uncomfortable and bleak.
Should I jump upon the bandwagon, and sue those nuns in black?
The security I lost back then, can I ever get it back?
They never meant to harm me, they forgot one thing that's true
To know you're loved, that someone cares - that's important too.