Tales from St Hilda's - part 4

By Diana the Valkyrie


It took us three nuns-on-wheels just 20 minutes to cover the eight miles back to the nunnery. This was more like it! Instead of a one-hour slog each way, which cut our time in town to an hour or so, we could make the journey so fast that we could now spend a few hours in the world of the Mundanes. We folded up our scooters, and changed into chapel gear for the Vespers workout, then off to refectory to stuff our faces. "You gonna tell Mater about the scooters, Di?" asked Nora. Good question. I had a dispensation for bicycles, and these weren't bicycles. Or were they? They had wheels, which satisfied the "cycle" part, and there were two of them, which kept the "bi" part of it right. So, maybe they were a sort of bicycle. I just needed to convince Mater of that.

Mater didn't go for it. "Sister Diana, what about dignity?" The thing about a bicycle is that the habit hides the frantic pedalling. A swan seems to glide gracefully over the water while in fact the little webbed feet are churning like a steamboat's paddlewheels. A nun on a bicycle seems to glide serenely along the road, while a nun on a scooter is, well, let's face it. Comic. "Mother Superior, we tried offering Indulgences, but we've already sold so many of those, they've created a Secondary Market and they trade them on the town square on market days." "What about fire and brimstone?" "Didn't work." "Well, Sister Diana, you'll have to think, what would work?" "Um, I think if we paid him for the bikes ..." "PAID HIM??" "Um, silly of me."

"The Sisters of St Hildas are not in the habit of paying for things unless absolutely necessary. Our vows include poverty, as well as chastity and obedience, and we just don't have much money. You of all people, Sister Diana, must know that." "Well what then?" "Must I spell it out to you?" I nodded, I wasn't feeling too clever right now. "You must point out to this vendor of velocipedes that he is impeding the Good Works that the Sisters do, and he is therefore risking the Wrath of God, the Anger of the Angels, the Censure of the Saints, and if it should come to pass one night that all his bicycle frames should be twisted, bent and tied into knots, then the Sisters of St Hildas will have very little sympathy for him." And that is why she's the Mother Superior and I'm just another nun.

Next day, I bolted my breakfast, left Sister Amanda to catch up on her lifting, and scooted down with Nora to Borchester. Down at the bike shop, I delivered Mother Mary Rose's little speech, while Sister Nora demonstrated to him how easily his bike frames twisted and bent. I explained about the ten plagues visited upon the hard-hearted Pharoah in Egypt, and surmised that if bicycles had been invented then, one of the plagues might well have been twisted and bent bicycle frames. After Nora tied one into a knot around his neck, he agreed that it might not be wise to risk a similar fate to that suffered by Pharoah in Egypt, and very kindly and most generously donated three slightly ramshackle but still servicable bikes to help the Good Sisters of St Hildas. We left him hacksawing at the metal round his neck, and pedalled round to see how Novice Evadne was getting on. And the kid.

This time I knocked on the door, not wanting to embarrass Vads if she was doing any close-up work. The kid let me in. Vads was kneeling on the floor, looking as demure as a delphinium, and like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. The kid had something going on the computer, so maybe they hadn't been going at it like knives. Plus, he didn't have the battered-and-bruised look that men get when a Sister does close-up work. "Progress report", I demanded.

The kid coughed, and looked nervously at Nora. Nora made a fist, and grinned. The kid got that deer-in-the-headlights look and started to shake. Novice Evadne got smoothly to her feet, put her hand on his shoulder, he jumped, looked up, saw who it was and noticably relaxed. I see. Well that's some progress being made. "What about this dotcom?" I asked.

He had actually made a lot of progress. He'd started to register the domain name of st-hilda.com with Internic, he'd begun the set up a Limited Company called "St Hilda Dotcom", and he'd been talking to Vads about what the dotcom would actually do. Which, I have to admit, isn't something I'd given any thought to. Not that I had the foggiest idea of what dotcoms did, all I knew was that lots of them seemed to be doing it and making absolutely tons of lettuce.

"There's three ways a dotcom can make money", began the kid. I sat down on his bed, and the weight of Nora and me together made the frame groan, sag and bend. "One, you can sell advertising, that's what most of them do. Two, you can sell products, like books or CDs. Three you can charge a subscription for the content." He looked nervously at Vads, and she smiled encouragingly. "And?" I said. "I'm a bit stuck. I don't know what we have to offer. Nor does Vads." Oh, "Vads" is it? Oho. "I'm only a Novice, I don't know much." said Vads, submissively, and if she was fooling the kid with this submissive act then he had a blessing of a shock coming towards him.

I looked at Nora. "I don't think we have anything to sell, I mean, we don't make brandy or bibles or anything like that." "What about the Septadecaherbis?", said Evadne, flexing her arms. Nora bunched up her fist, making her forearms bulge. "Well, there's that, yes. But surely no-one would believe that taking a herbal mixture would give them big muscles? Remember when they told you about it Vads?" She nodded. I remember my reaction, it was like gales of laughter. "I think it would fly", said the kid. "People believe in vitamins and supplements, hair restorer and skin cream, this is just the same sort of thing. Plus, we could show them pictures of some of the Sisters so they'd see it really works." "And what about when they find out that they have to work out eight hours a day, seven days a week to get the effects?" "Doesn't matter", said the kid. "Too late, they already paid us." "Sounds kinda dishonest to me" growled Nora. "I'll put it to the Mother Superior", I said. "We'd need a brand name", said the kid. "St Hilda's Wort, or SDH Elixir maybe." "But would people actually want it?" asked Nora.

I looked at Nora. Good point. "Not every woman wants 24 inch arms and 36 inch thighs," she explained. "Maybe not", said Vads, "but they'll all want the sixty inch chest measurement." We all thought about that. She was right, of course. "Maybe if we played down the arms and legs a bit?" I suggested. "Long sleeves and skirts" said Vads. "Right" I said, "habits" You don't see much when someone's wearing a habit, the skirt hides the legs and the sleeves hide the arms. And although you can't actually see any skin (apart from the face, of course), and certainly you can't see any bosom, you sure as salvation can see that to walk around a Sister of St Hilda is going to be a long, long walk; sixty inches at least if you're going all the way around.

"OK, we have a product. I'll clear it with Mater, Vads and the kid can think up a brand name, and Nora, you start coming up with marketing angles. Most of them will want the chest, but I bet if you explained the advantages of 24 inch arms and 36 inch thighs, a fair few would go for those too." "How about 60-24-36 as a slogan?" asked Nora. "Keep working on it", I said.

Nora and I got on our bikes and pedalled back to the convent. They were even better than the scooters; even though they rattled and clanked, we made good time and got back in plenty of time for Vespers. Mandy had spent the entire day in the chapel, pumping iron, to make up for the times she'd missed out, and I told Nora that she could do the same tomorrow, although I pointed out that time on a moving bike was just as good as time on a stationary bike.

After Vespers, we went for scoff in the refectory, and after we'd satisfied the Inner Nun, I went for my daily visit to the Mother Superior. Things were going really well, and I had lots of great news to give her. The bikes, the domain name registration (not sure if she'd understand that), the company reg, and the product idea we'd come up with. When I got to the last part, she frowned. "Sell Septadecaherbis?", she asked. "Yes," I enthused, "it'll go like hot cross buns at Easter." "Problem is, Sister Diana, there isn't that much of it." Ah. Oh. I hadn't thought of that. I kind of assumed there was lots. "Can't we make more?" "Where do we get the necessary herbs from?" I see the problem. "I'll give it some thought, Mother Superior. Maybe we could, like, dilute it a bit." "And what about the need for the eight one-hour workouts each day? That needs a significant amount of discipline." "I know, but we'll tell them about that, and then it's their problem to stick to the regime; if they don't, it isn't our fault."

Mother Mary Rose sighed. "I don't know, Sister Diana, I hope we're doing the right thing here. We've never given Septa to anyone outside the convent before. But I suppose needs must when the devil drives. Very well. Carry on, Sister Diana, and may the Blessed Hilda have mercy on us all."

Nuns aren't allowed to skip (it's that dignity thing again), so I glided joyously (we're allowed to be joyous) back to my cell, to tell the gang that Mater had rubber-stamped the proposal. "And now the bad news - we're allowed to sell Septa, but we don't have any to sell." "Why are there so many problems, Di?" I thought about that. "Because if it was easy, someone else would already have done it." OK, when you have problems, divide them up and conquer them. "Nora, you find out what herbs actually go in to making Septa, and get the recipe. Then, for each of the herbs, find out where the supplies come from, and whether we can buy more of it. What I want at the end of tomorrow, is a short list of the ones we're short of, and if you've got time, where we might go to get them." Nora nodded and looked thoughtful. "Mandy, you and I will cycle down to Borchester and make sure that Vads and the kid keep their noses to the grindstone." "I bet she's got his nose somewhere else by now" "Very probably, Mandy, but part of our training is in the various ways of leading men to salvation, because if you can save a man's soul, no sacrifice is too great." Mandy smiled. "I don't think Vads is making any sacrifices right now." And then the bell went for Compline, and all thoughts about Septa were subsumed in the singing and lifting, praying and straining, grunting and heaving as we worshipped God the St Hilda's way. Nil bonum nisi passus.