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The Mother was not just Superior . . .

By SPP Reporter

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"The Scottish Government – Riaghaltas na h-Alba"

"From 31 August 2011 licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) operates under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, part 5.

"An HMO (Houses in Multiple Occupation) licence is required for the operation of living accommodation as an HMO. The application for a licence must be made by the owner of the living accommodation. Living accommodation is an HMO within the meaning of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 if it is: 1) occupied by three or more persons from three or more families; and…"

Outside the window I could hear the murmur of traffic in Glenurquhart Road; in the next door committee room I could hear laughter and the rattle of tea cups…

"However, councillors, HMO licences are not required by monasteries or convents."

Oh, that’s interesting. But to be honest the question of licencing nunneries hadn’t really occurred to me prior to my recent re-emergence as a councillor. The things you learn.

Convents, convents – and then my mind went back to when I was first married and my wife and I once met a charming gentleman who worked for one of the great auction houses in Edinburgh, Sotheby’s or Christie’s, I can’t remember which.

He was a picture expert, and he told us of when he had been sent down to a convent in the South West to value an oil painting which the Mother Superior was thinking of selling in order to raise money to mend the roof, or something like that.

Our new acquaintance told us that he was taken to the convent’s refectory by the Mother Superior, and proudly led up to a large gilt-framed religious picture hanging on the wall behind the top table.

"There" she said, pointing to the black lettering carefully inscribed on a small panel on the bottom of the frame – " ‘Giambattista Tiepolo – The Immaculate Conception – 1767’.

"What do you think?"

Could it be? But no – after a short examination our picture expert told the Mother Superior that he had to disappoint her.

"I am afraid that it’s a late nineteenth century copy – a good one though – and actually the 1797 original painting, the real one, hangs in the Prado in Madrid. I am sorry. And the value? Well perhaps at auction, and given the right buyer, this might make £400-500. I am really sorry."

The Mother Superior sighed and folded her hands. After a cup of tea our man was back on the road to Edinburgh.

Fast forward to a year later.

Unexpectedly the expert is summoned by the auction house’s front desk; apparently a man had shown up who was absolutely insisting on a valuation. Slightly irritated at having to break off from important paper work, he heads for reception where he finds a scruffy man with a thick Irish accent.

"Ah see, I got dis hoighly valuable oil paintin’ in the back of the pick-up outside – and I’m wantin’ to know what you’ll give me for it!"

Slightly embarrassed by the rustic charm of the gentleman, our friend stepped out into Edinburgh’s New Town and headed for the battered pick-up, pulled up, two wheels on the pavement.

"Dere she is! Isn’t she the beauty!" and softly, reverently, he drew back the tarpaulin. Our friend peered and looked closely – and then laughed. It was the very same picture. Look, I don’t know how or why you have this painting – but I know exactly where it has come from, and I am going to tell you exactly the same as I told the convent’s Mother Superior last year."

The Irishman looked at him excitedly.

"It’s a nineteenth century copy of a very famous painting of Saint Mary by the Venetian master Tiepolo. The original, which is priceless, one of the world’s great treasures indeed, hangs in a gallery in Spain. This, if my firm was to agree to sell it for you, would, on a good day, make perhaps 400-500 United Kingdom pounds. Perhaps 550, since it’s a year since I last saw the painting."

The Irishman exploded with rage "Why, the ****** old ****** – I gave her five grand for it!"

"Councillors, under the Act a Second Hand Dealer’s Licence is required for dealing in the following used goods: bicycles and accessories; bric-a-brac; china and crockery; antiques…"

I was back in Committee Room 2 again.

Perhaps Mother Superiors should be licensed.

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