1. From Saint to Sinner

February. Mid Margaret Thatcher years. Sometime during a February night when today became tomorrow and I’m out alone under a starless sky in the middle of an East Midlands village.

Unforgiving slashes of rain chill the hot tears on my cheek.

Head down, hands stuffed into shallow pockets I am wandering the streets because I cannot bear to be at home nursing well developed anger and despair. With leaden steps, I drift towards the parish church, past that row of cottages that look so pretty in the daylight, but are now silent and dark.

The ancient wooden doorway offers some hope of shelter as oblivious friends snuggle blissfully in their cottagey cocoons.

Alone in the musty, dusty porch I curl in the corner away from the wind and rain, sitting amid plastic coated parish notices. Drips of water run down my neck; flippin’ raindrops on flippin’ roses. Huh! My shoes squelch after trampling through unseen puddles.

The hurried scuffle coming from the far corner shoots a wave of adrenaline. My eyes strain to see whose furry territory I am invading. Actually, after the initial instinctive panic and peering, I can’t care enough to find out.

I am supposed to be at the peak of my life, young enough to change the world and old enough to know how. I am supposed to be happy and successful, but my grubby halo slipped and strangling every word I have given up saying.

All I wanted was to be a nun or saint.

How did it all go so wrong?

In utter weariness, I close my eyes and remember.

Green hills, blue sky and sunshine, someone running across alpine meadows, dancing with arms outstretched and singing surprisingly well. Was that Julie Andrews or was it me? Memories mix with dreams. It seemed so simple back then; be a nun, find my purpose in life, possibly discover a rich husband, love his children and above all, run free across mountains wearing a dress made out of curtains. Blissful childhood naivety gone sour. I had tried singing about my favourite things, but things still felt bad, really bad. I had attempted to climb every mountain but that just led to exhaustion, my confidence levels were so low that I had no grain of confidence in me– or anyone else for that matter…

The Sound of Music was more than just a film when I was a kid looking for inspiration and meaning.

I soon grew up from being a mere eight-year-old to a wiser ten-year-old when nuns and edelweiss became so boring. For a short while Maria, the singing nun was upstaged by Joan of Arc, she was a proper Heroine, with a capitol H. Much more gratifying than a curtain-wearing nun. I had even been to France. I was a fickle child and went from the singing nun to a burning heroine and developed new aspirations to be like Joan- because we shared Saint potential.

Taking tips from my Ladybird ‘Book of Saints’, I listened out amid bedroom teddies and Osmond posters to the silence, hoping to hear a voice from God. I practiced being tied to the stake. Well, not literally tied to a stake, but standing in front the mirror, bravely ignoring imaginary flames licking my body. Ten years old and dreaming of God’s call. Dreaming I might be special.

‘Saint Bryony’ had a most satisfactory ring.

The memory fades and now in the cold corner of a village church porch, in the cold reality of failed relationships and generally failed life, there was no heroine to inspire, no hero to save me. Saint Joan had long been relegated to gather Ladybird dust on a forgotten shelf. Maria’s mountains and meadows, and distant childhood dreams of being ‘someone’ had all vanished in a cold, bitter clutch of reality. Thirty years old and hiding in a doorway. Disillusioned, depressed, and divorced. Not special.

Not a saint by any stretch of imagination. Just rubbish, discarded and lonely.

Moreover, it was all my fault. I’d not played the game by the same rules that Maria or Joan did.

I had tried so hard to be good. Actually, for some time I’d tried really, really hard to get things right, but just couldn’t make the grade. There was clearly no hope of being a saint. I would even struggle to qualify for basic sinner status.

They had followed God’s plan, Maria and Joan. I had ignored him.

God had never spoken to me; I guess he was, is, so disgusted with me that even in his church, there would be no comfort.

Looking back, am I surprised how some very deep instinct must have been beckoning me to find this place to shelter, to this place of all places?  Although instead of finding a warm, fuzzy sanctuary, all I heard was a mocking, cold, mean voice telling me how pathetic I was; how nothing could ever be right again. I wallowed in my own misery while the church clock ticked and clunked round another chimeless hour.

Tick tock clunk…Tick tock clunk…

They say the night is darkest just before dawn.

That night, before the sun even thought of waking up, the slowest dawning of hope started to stir in the pit of my being.

From somewhere beyond the walls of a church porch, a quiet sense of gentleness seemed to whisper hope into a lost and broken heart. Something promised a glimpse of peace. A warm blanket of reassurance gently rested around my shoulders, tucking in well beneath every goose bump. Lingering sobs quietened and I lay back against the stone corner. Was that a dot of light somewhere at the end of this tunnel?

Surely, there was something I could do, to make a fresh start?

Fingers curling in anticipation of action… feet starting to twitch ready to step forward…Dawn breaking through into the darkest night. Something I could do to determine a new beginning? Find a way to climb out of this black hole?

And slowly, ever so slowly, I began to formulate a plan. Something needed to kick start my emotional rehab, to make proper retribution, be find a suitable punishment to make amends, and show this God, who was somewhere beyond my reach, that I was seriously sorry.

That’s was making the presumption Maria and Joan’s mystical God was actually real.But drastic situations called for drastic solutions.

I would give up taking sugar in my tea and coffee.