Picture by jmerelo: Trains were barking
There was an abbey in Barking, and it was called Barking Abbey. It was run by the Abbess of Barking; the nuns were the Barking Nuns. And that’s funny, isn’t it? It’s a bit funny.
Thing is, Barking Abbey was destroyed in 870, and “Barking” was barely a word back then; “beorcan” came in around 850, 900 AD. So there were these nuns, sure, and they were the Barking Nuns or maybe the Berecingas Nunnes or something; but it wasn’t a joke, and nobody stole the “Barking Abbey” sign to hang on their hovel wall and laugh at with their Old-English-speaking friends.
The abbey was founded in honour of Saint Ethelburga, and that was’t funny either because “burger” wasn’t a word at all; even “hamburger” doesn’t come in until the late nineteenth century.
So, the Barking nuns don’t bark, and the guidebooks make this very clear indeed, but somehow nobody pays them much attention. And the mesh of time makes ninth-century Barking remarkably easy to get to from central London, the only day-trip that doesn’t have an ice age or an ocean at the other end. Fortunately the nuns are very tolerant — though the novices look over and look away and giggle and blush on eye contact: such ridiculous clothes! Such strange hair!
Tameka comes to the abbey every May, with a new class each year; occasionally she bumps into herself, a few years older or younger, and exchanges awkward nods. “Stay on the visitor’s side of the rope,” she calls out to the class. “And don’t bother the past! That means you too, Derry. Just pay attention, remember there’s going to be a story to write when we get back to the present. Ben, come back here… Derry, what did I say?”
But Derry’s waving at three young nuns on the other side of the barrier, barely ten metres away. “Ruff! Ruff!” he shouts at them, and waves. “Ruff!”
“Derry!” Tameka says. “Shush!”, but the nuns have already heard. They turn around.
One of them frowns; another one smiles. “Hello, travellers!” calls the third, in heavily-accented Modern English.
Derry’s startled into momentary silence, the nun succeeding where Tameka consistently fails. “Hello,” he says after a moment, almost inaudible, suddenly shy.
The nun walks towards them, while Frowny looks shocked and Smiley giggles; they’re all novices really, Tameka realises, only a couple of years older than Derry.
“I’m sorry about that,” Tameka says slowly; her Old English isn’t up to much, but most of the past-dwellers pick up some modern vocabulary. “Please don’t let us interrupt you.”
“Oh, it is well,” the talking novice says, then shifts her attention back to Derry. “When from?” she asks.
“Go on,” Tameka says after a moment. “Answer the question, Derry. When are you from?”
“Twenty… twentythirtytwo,” Derry says, eyes wide.
The novice is almost close enough to touch, now, just the barrier between them. “Twentythirtytwo!” she says solemnly. “I am glad to be meeting you.”
“Are you… are you a Barking Nun?” Derry says, getting his courage up.
“Barking nun, yes,” she says. Frowny Novice finally follows her up to the fence and takes hold of her arm, tries to pull her away.
“From Barking Abbey?” Derry’s classmates giggle behind him.
“Yes, Barking Abbey.” The novice bites her bottom lip. Tameka can’t quite work out her expression. “What…. what you eat?” she asks.
“Æðelðryd!” Frowny says.
“Shhh,” Æðelðryd says, and looks back at Derry. “What you eat?” she repeats.
“I dunno.” Derry looks around for help, but he’s got himself into this; the least he can do is answer the questions. Tameka watches in silence. “Lots of things,” he says.
“With… with chips! What you eat with chips.” Æðelðryd says.
“What, fish?” Derry’s confused.
“What sort of fish!” Æðelðryd says, very quickly.
“I dunno,” and Derry frowns as Æðelðryd almost bounces. Tameka recognises the expression at last: anticipation. “Cod, I guess,” Derry says.
“Cod!” Æðelðryd says, hushed and exuberant and laughing all at once, “you eat cods,” and her giggles are unstoppable while the other two pull her away.
Tameka sighs. This is why she won’t teach girls.