Tales from St Hilda's - part 8

By Diana the Valkyrie

Obviously, we put Mandy, she of the monster thighs, on the bike but I told her not to imagine she was in the Tour de France, because I didn't want the dynamo to electrocute the poor little computer. And then I went to the kitchen to explain about our new electricity generator, and how Mandy would need to burn the fuel to run it. I mean, you can't pedal all day long on standard nuns rations.

And then I discovered that the dynamo only gave out twelve volts, and computers want the full 240. Although they'll settle for 110 at a pinch, on account of that's all they get in America. But 12 volts is just not volty enough. So I cycled down to Borchester, and paid a brief visit to the cycle shop where I'd got the dynamo. He said that 12 volts was all he had, if I wanted a 240 volt dynamo, I'd need to buy a petrol-type generator. I thought about Mother Mary Rose's reaction to the noise and smell, and shook my head. "Look, we've got 12 volts, and with Mandy pedalling, we can have as much 12 volts as you like. Can't we sort of fold it up and make it thicker?" He laughed. "Don't be silly", he said. "Fold it up and make it thicker", he repeated in a scornful tone of voice. "Look", I said, "I might not be an expert in electricity, but I can see from here that your soul is in dire need of saving." He stopped laughing. Folks round here know how seriously a St Hilda's sister takes a soul in peril. "Maybe a bit of scourging", I suggested. "Some self-flagellation, something like that. Or maybe I could arrange for one of the sisters to pop round and help with that." He blenched. I smiled brightly. "See, you're looking better already" and I flounced out, leaving him uncertain as to whether he'd be getting a visit or not. It's not easy to flounce in a habit, I can tell you. So I don't make a habit of it.

Next, I visited Joe's Electrical shop. The bell on the door tinkled prettily as I entered, and Joe himself bustled up. I explained the problem to him. "We've got lots of 12 volts, but we need 240 to run the computer. Is there something I can use to fold it up?" Joe was a lot better than the man in the cycle shop. "You want an inverter, Miss." "Sister. What's an inverter, and can you get me one?"

"An inverter changes your 12 volts to 240, and also changes it from DC to AC". "DC? AC?" I could see that this conversation was about ten miles over my head, but he seemed to know what he was doing.

"I haven't got anything like that." Oh. "But I know where you can get them." Ah! "Get on the internet, and go to Maplins, they sell inverters."

I thought about the fact that I needed an inverter to run the computer, but couldn't buy one until the computer was up and running. The solution was obvious. I frowned a bit, and said "Could I borrow your computer to put in the order?"

It's a well known fact that when a woman asks a man for a favour, she stands a better chance of getting it if she smiles at him. It's less well known, that if she's a nun, it works better if she frowns. Nora says that rolling up one of her sleeves helps a lot, so I did that too. "Sure", he said, offering me a chair in front of his computer.

The inverter, when it arrived the next day (great service, Maplins), did the trick, and soon we had Mandy on the bike pedalling away, turning our dynamo, which was charging up a battery, and the battery fed the inverter, which folded up our 12 volts and sloshed out 240 volts as per specification into the computer. I switched it on, and it hummed, whirred, and didn't do very much. "Not a boot disk" was the message. I felt like screaming.

After all this, all we get is an incomprehensible message. Or rather, it was all too comprehensible. The meaning was obvious. "I want something, and I'm not going to tell you what it is, and until you give it to me, I'm going to sulk". Mandy said it was just like a man, but how would she know that?

So while Mandy charged up the battery some more, Nora and I cycled down to Borchester, to find out what this blessed contraption was asking for. I headed for Joe - he'd been helpful before, and told him what the computer had said. "You need an operating system", he said. Silly of me, why hadn't I realised that straight off. "What's an operating system", I said, coldly. "And where do I get one? And are there going to be any other demands once I feed it with one of those?" "Do you have Windows", asked Joe. Mandy and I stared at him. "Listen, chum, we might only be poor nuns in a convent, but even a convent can afford glass." "Um." said Joe.

It turned out, what he meant was that there was this product that we had to buy called "Windows" that would turn our computer from a useless lump of plastic into a warm friendly slave anxious to fulfil our every request. And I don't believe in the tooth fairy, either. And he continued, explaining that it came on a little plastic disk, and ...

"How much?!?" I shrieked. It turns out they want some huge amount of money for this little plastic disk, without which our useless lump of plastic is as useful as a fifth leg on a cow. And as I think I've explained before, nuns aren't exactly rolling in spondulics. "Can I get a second hand copy?" I asked. "Nope". "Could I borrow your copy?" "Nope".

It turns out that you have to buy one of these things for each computer, and you aren't allowed to lend it to anyone. It's a bit like people and souls, I suppose. Except that people are shipped complete with soul, you don't have to pay extra for one. I sighed. "OK, how much. We're nuns, you know, the vow of poverty means we aren't exactly rolling in money."

And just then this rather dishy looking sinner who had walked into the shop and was listening to the whole thing, said "Linux". "Bless you", said Nora. He frowned. "You don't need to pay for Windows, you can get Linux for free". It turns out that unlike people, you get a *choice* of soul for the computer, and some you pay for, and some you don't. That narrowed the possibilities more than somewhat, and I turned to face Mr Dishy and frowned at him. "So where do I get this thing?" "You download it from the internet".

Uh - this is where I came in. It seems that there's no way you can get a computer working unless you already have it working. "I can't, because I don't have a thingy". "A what?" "Bless me if I know, I can't remember all these foreign words you use. System something." "Right, but Linux is an operating system" "But I don't have one" "It's free".

Nora saw that we were going in circles. She might not be the sharpest nun in the drawer, but she can recognise a circle when she sees one. And at this point she intervened to stop this going on for ever. "Urggh ungghh" said Mr Dishy, as Nora's arm pulled his head against her side and started to compress it. "Unghh umph.." He was going quieter and quieter. "What's he saying?" said Nora. "I think he's offering to come up to the convent and put in this Line thingy." "And when do you suppose he's suggesting we do this?" "Well, there's no time like the present", I said. His head was that interesting shade of purple. Mauve maybe. "Maybe you should let him go, before he passes out?" "Good idea," said Nora. "Oops, too late."

I scooped him up from the floor, and took him outside, where the fresh air revived him a bit. He coughed a bit, and wheezed, and explained that we'd have to go back to his flat to pick up a CD. Nora said "We've got a record player, would that do?" But he said no, this isn't music, it's this Line thing he was rabbiting on about. So I draped him over Nora's shoulders like a shawl, and we cycled round to his pad, picked up the CD and a bunch of books he said he might need, and then cycled up to the convent.

The gate-nun frowned a bit, because we aren't really supposed to have men in the convent, but I explained that he was kind of like a priest, but for computers, and he was coming to install a soul in ours. She looked a bit dubious, but everyone knew that I was doing this project, plus I have a bit of a reputation as a loony, so she passed him through. She really shouldn't have goosed him as he squeezed past her (and she should really have gotten out of the doorway so he didn't have to squeeze past), but as I say, he was a bit dishy, and nuns don't have much opportunity, if you know what I mean.

When he saw our setup, he sort of boggled. "Who sold you this, then?" Apparently, it was decades out of date, positively *last year*. And then he saw our power arrangements and boggled some more, as Mandy got on the bike and started to pedal, on account of the batteries only last about 30 minutes. He turned to me, and opened his mouth to say something, thought a bit, and closed it. Then he looked at Mandy, opened it again, thought some more, and closed it. One of the advantages of riding a stationary bike is that it does show off your thighs a lot, and Mandy has a lot of thigh to show - what she lacks in length, she more than makes up for in circumference. I tore him away from the Mandy Show, and sat him down in front of the keyboard. He switched on the television sort of thing, and then pressed a button on the grey box. Lights flashed, and there were whirring noises. He pressed another button, and the coffee-cup holder popped out. He put his silver disk into that, and pushed it back in again. Ah. Maybe it isn't a coffee-cup holder. I kept quiet, you learn a lot that way.

Pretty soon, he had a lovely colourful display, and he explained that he was going to install everything, so that we could use this as a server or a workstation. I nodded wisely, as if I knew what that meant. We have servers in refectory, they bring the food. I expect it was something similar. And a work station is, obviously, like a station of the cross, only with work.

After an hour or so, he'd finished. He showed me how to switch on, and up came a beautiful blue screen. "See, that's your desktop, you use it just like a desktop." Yeah, right. Good idea. Make it like something I'm familiar with. "I don't have a desk. Could you make it like a pew, I know how to use those." "Pew? What's a pew?" he asked. "When were you last in church?" "Er, um, er." Uh-oh, soul in danger, action stations. Evadne was watching, so I glanced over at her. "Vads, help this guy."

While she was wrestling with him on the floor, and squeezing him into submission to the Holy Spirit, while explaining the benefits of getting closer to God, I was having a go with the computer. Now that it had it's soul installed, it was behaving a lot better. Well, it looked pretty. But typing on the keyboard had absolutely no effect. Well, I suppose it's like a baby, you have to teach it stuff. Not useful, really, but I guessed it was early days yet, the poor thing had only just had it's soul installed, it would need to grow up a bit.

Vads got up from sitting on Dishy, who had Seen the Light, and was promising Vads that he'd be at church every single day if she wanted, and could he sit next to her? And hold her hymnbook? And I could see that Vads had made another Conversion, she was getting good at these. But with the danger to his immortal soul no longer imminent, I dragged him back to the computer. "Moving this pointy thing around is all very well, but it doesn't seem to do very much." "What do you want to do?" "Make a web site, of course." "You'll need Netscape for that. Put the mouse on the big N and click on it.

So I picked up the mouse and put it on the screen, so that it touched the big N. Nothing happened, except there was a sort of muffled "Urgle" from Mr Urgle and I could see he was trying really hard not to laugh. "What's so funny?" So then he showed me how you move the mousy thing around, and the pointy thing on the screen sort of follows what you do, like a choirboy follows a vicar, and it turns out that what counts is the pointy thing, not the mousy thing. So, I put the arrow on the N, and said "click". More amusement from Mr Annoying, I could see that I was a laugh-a-minute. I mean, like I'm supposed to already know all this stuff? Look, I'm a blessed nun in a convent, not a hacker in a convention.

So we sorted out about clicking, and then about double clicking, and then about right-clicking, and apparently there's no such thing as right-double- clicking, I mean like this stuff is supposed to make sense? In a horses hoof it does. But up came Netscape, and I started typing in our new web site. "St Hilda.com web site" I called it. With a nice picture of a nun on the front, frowning a bit, as one does. And our motto, "Nil bonum sine passione", which means "Nothing good without pain", or "No pain, no gain" as some people put it.

"So what's the purpose of this web site?" he asked. "We're a bit short of the old green-and-folding", I said. "The nun business isn't what it used to be, so we're aiming to drum up a bit of lolly by selling Growmore." "e-commerce?" he asked. "No, Growmore. That's not it's real name, it's really Septadecaherbis, but I thought that would be too much of a mouthful, so we're branding it as "Growmore" so we can sell it outside the convent." "But what does it do?" I pointed to Nora. I pointed to Mandy. I pointed to Evadne. "Unhhh." he said. "Unnnhhhhh.... Who's going to buy it?" "Anyone", I said, "Anyone at all". "Men?" "No, it only works on women." "So, you take this stuff, and you wind up with twenty four inch biceps, right?" "Twenty six, actually" said Nora, demonstrating. He'd already felt those around his head, and I saw him flinch. Nora smiled. "Don't be scared, honey, I won't hurt you." "And you have to train and pray, of course." "Train and pray?" "Yes, we spend eight of ten hours each day, just training and praying" I explained.

"Yes, but, er" he said. "How many women want twenty six inch biceps? And of those, how many will be willing to train and pray for eight hours each day?" "All of us, obviously" I said, looking round. "Well, with Mandy it's more on the thighs, of course, and Evadne's only a novice, so she's a long way from twenty four, but she'll get there." "Yes, but how many women outside of St Hildas?"

I'd thought of that. I'm fully aware that most women outside the convent are Skinny Lizzies, with arms that take three to make up twenty four inches, and thighs like pencils. And you'd think that they'd want decent sized arms, but the fact that they didn't seem to get them, tended to argue that he was right, and that wasn't what they wanted, despite the obvious advantages of being able to put a headlock on a man that would be a great convincer in any argument. But! What they all seem to want is a huge bust. And I explained to Mr Sceptical, with Nora posing to demonstrate, that one of the significant benefits of Growmore is that it gives you a bust to match your biceps.

"Hmm." he said. "Yes, that flies. But I still don't think you'll make many sales if to get there, you have to train and pray eight hours each day." "It's the best we have to offer", I said. "And unless we can come up with a fair sized income, this convent isn't going to survive. This is do-or-die. There is no alternative." "Yes there is," he said. "You're suggesting an e-commerce site, a site that sells things to the public, and those are dying like flies right now. The only sites that are flourishing and making money on the internet are the porn sites." "So what are you suggesting? Surely not ..."

"Yes! You should do a "Naughty Nuns" site and you'll clean up"!

... to be continued ...