J and her sister Cindy are off to the monastery just off Cannes for some solitude and reflection although the bottles of wine, cigarettes and bars of chocolate they've been secreting in their bags seems at odds to the whole purpose of the visit. No doubt there will be stories to tell when they get home but in the meantime, here is a report of J's trip to the monastery this time last year.
Yes ! She’s Retreated.
I mean, of course, J. She’s off (and please don’t laugh), to a monastery for three nights of solitude, soul seeking, meditation and whatever else a ‘retreat’ offers. Let me explain.
Just off the coast of Cannes lie the Îsles de Lérin, comprising two islands, the Île Sainte-Marguerite and the Île Saint-Honorat. Visitors flying into Nice airport may have noticed the two islands just before the plane lands. You cannot miss the crystal clear, bright blue-green shallow water between the two small bits of land which is usually filled with sleek yachts seeking an anchorage just off Cannes.
The Île Saint-Honorat has had a monastery since 410AD and it’s to there that J and her pal, Lynn, are going – some old relics visiting an old relic I hear you say! Being a ‘retreat’, for the most part each day is one of soul-searching and solitude but as J cannot stand being on her own, even in times of self-reflection and self-imposed silence, she’s taking her pal with her.
Of course, whilst they will be subject to the ‘silent order’ of the monks (it’s a working monastery), I’ll be luxuriating in my own ‘silent order’ at home – the kids are in Eire – it’ll be wonderful.
All sorts of jokes having been uttered by me since I found out that J (and Lynn) were going off to Saint-Honorat. ‘You’ll have to leave your dirty habits at the front door’. ‘The monks will be impressed by your knickers – they’ve got a saint’s name on them – St Michael’. ‘J will be at holy communion several times a day – it’s the only place she’ll get her daily intake of wine’. Ha ha !
And then, of course, there’ll be the discussion as J and Lynn appear at the front door of the monastery:
Thud, Thud – (the door has big knockers apparently - so Lynn should feel at home!)
Yes – who is calling at the Lord’s door?
It’s me and Lynn – we’re here to try and keep our mouths shut for 3 days and nights.
Ah you must be our retreat guests – a Mrs Hellon-Evans-Cupples and a Mrs Pattinson?
Yup – that’s us Father, now where’s our suite?
Actually, I’m the Abbot and I’m sorry but there are no suites in the Lord’s house. You have been allocated single cells in the basement beside the interior well and the septic tank. I’m afraid our retreat guests usually prefer the cells with stone beds, no interior light and a basic toilet facilty.
Oh – Thomas has told me about that – there must be a ‘retreat’ near Maidenhead Police station. He’s always going on about the stone bed, no light and metal toilet with no seat.
And of course Mrs Hellon-Evans, there’s no paper provided.
Oh – and I was hoping you could get me the Daily Mail delivered to my room each day.
No – I meant there’s no paper for the toilet. Oh never mind. Let me help you with your cases. I must say Mrs Hellon, you’re case is rather heavy.
Yeah – it’s all me make-up and stuff like that.
I just hope that there’s no chocolate or alcohol in here Mrs Hellon. The Lord does not like guests in his house partaking of pleasures. We’re all here to suffer under the Lord’s guidance. And may I remind you that dinner is communal and we expect our guests to be naked except for the habit we provide. No make-up. No hair or other bodily adornments.
You mean I’ll have to take my belly-button piercing out before I come down to dinner?
I’m afraid you will Mrs H.
And my toe ring?
That as well Mrs H.
About dinner Reverend? Can we pre-order and Lynn and I want to share the bill for the wine so can you make sure the wine waiter knows that.
I’m afraid you’re under a misapprehension Mrs.H. Dinner is whatever our monks have gathered from the fields during the day. The Lord’s gracious offerings. And I’m afraid we only serve water from the well.
What you mean - there’ll be no Rag Puddins or Sausage Curry? Chips or mushy peas? And no Blossom Hill chardonnay?
I’m afraid not. We pride ourselves on self-sufficiency. We do everything for ourselves.
Ah yes – Thomas is always complaining about having to do that.
So getting back to the rules Mrs H – dinner is at 6pm and then lights out is at 7pm. We expect total silence between 7pm and breakfast which is at 5.30am. Breakfast will consist of an apple left outside your cell door.
Wot – no Full English with black pudding and hash browns?
No – I’m sorry. Just an apple. The only sustenance the Lord gave to Adam and Eve.
Would you just Adam and Eve it – ha ha - that’s a joke Abbot. So when’s the next boat then – the next boat into Cannes so Lynn and I can go and do a bit of karaoke?
I’m afraid there isn’t one Mrs H. You’re now here in our silent order for the next 6 months.
How come – I know there’s at least one boat a day back to Cannes.
I’m afraid somebody has fully booked every place on the boat for the next 6 months. I’m told he sounded like he had a Scottish accent!