Occasionally, in the top class of my convent prep school, you were "chosen" - allowed to leave afternoon class, walk prideful down the corridor past the holy statues, through the empty assembly hall with its waxed parquet floor - a picture of a suffering saint gazing heavenward - then into the wiped clean, spick span kitchen. As a last huzzah, the dinner lady would leave a tray with a linen cloth set for tea. A china cup of course. You and your fellow good girl pupil boiled a kettle, poured scalding water into the teapot then with infinite care carried the tea to a nun. I say a nun. I cannot quite remember the who's and why's of the ritual. Only that it was, like all good rituals, entirely sacred. But if I cannot remember who swallowed the tea, I can remember the way the kettle always boiled too fast.
For a while on those afternoons, as we waited in the kitchen, my friend and I talked about Mary Poppins. Did more than talk - tried to summon her, closing our eyes and wishing hard. Confusing our musicals, we clicked our heels and turned around, quite three times. The perfect number. To my surprise she never came. Perhaps she thought the nuns would burn her as a witch. The only apparition good Catholic girls prayed for then was the most Virgin Mary - mother not the nannying kind.
Yesterday as we travelled in the car, I put on a crackly tape of Julie Andrews to quiten down the kids and growled: "Listen." I listened too, sang along and thought: "At what point though did I stop being the plait-headed girl so desperate for a spoonful of sugar? At what point did I become the self obsessed Banks parents, the father grim and work-obsessed, the mother ditzy and political?" I think I am both, truth be told and that cannot be good. I would rather, given any sort of choice, plait up my hair, close tight my eyes, pirouette and hope that wishes would come true.