Be More Guinea Pig

On almost the hottest day of the year, a friend found herself chasing her children’s escaped guinea pigs under a hedge. It would be fair to say she has a modest opinion of their qualities as pets, but, loving all God’s creatures as she does, and meekly accepting that Mom will always have to care for them, she set off in pursuit. When we had stopped laughing at her account of her adventure, she concluded, ‘No one ever says, “Be More Guinea Pig”.’ O rash young friend, how could I resist such a challenge?

All the guinea pigs I’ve ever known have been kept as pets. I’ve never had to deal with any being used for research purposes or, worse still, eat one. To an untrained eye like mine, they are quiet, rather unexciting, just like most human beings, but they do have some characteristics we share. They are social creatures, thriving best in groups of two or more, but can easily show aggression. They can learn quite complex paths to food (just as well since they spend so much time eating) but are easily startled. They can suffer from ailments familiar to us, such as scurvy or asthma. The little happy hops they perform when excited are known as pop-corning and are delightfully uninhibited. But, ‘Be MoreGuinea Pig’? Where does that come in?

Be More Guinea Pig

Those of us living in England could be forgiven for thinking that the Government is making guinea pigs of us all, in the popular sense of that phrase, as it lifts the legal restrictions used hitherto as a defence against the spread of COVID-19. No one can predict whether it will be a success or disaster. ‘Freedom Day’ may end up making lemmings of us all, hurtling over a cliff we knew was there but believed would not be a danger to us. It is to be hoped that individuals will not be reckless but give thought to how best to keep themselves and other people safe. For Benedictines, it is comparatively simple. The Rule urges us to do what is better for another, which reflects the gospel precept to love our neighbour. Whether guinea pigs can be said to love their fellow guinea pigs, I would not dare to say; but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

There is another side to guinea pigs that has impressed me more and more over the week-end. The guinea pig’s primary method of communication with other guinea pigs is via a complex series of vocalizations. If you look at the list of those given in Wikipedia, they are not language as we understand the term, but most of them seem to be positive. It has grieved me beyond measure that so much of the discussion of Traditionis Custodes has been fundamentally irreverent and negative. To speak of God and the things of God with hatred and contempt in one’s heart is not godly, no matter how ‘justified’ one may think oneself — and that applies to both liberals and conservatives. I hope later this week to share some of my own reflections on the document, but I am not ready yet. Knee-jerk reactions, a rush to let off fireworks, to curry favour with one ‘side’ or another, no, they are not for me.* Guinea pigs are more reflective animals. Be more Guinea Pig. Please.

*I won’t publish comments that try to kidnap the argument of this post into pro or anti Traditionis Custodes tirades.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Climb Every Mountain?

In the past nine days, ten climbers have died on the crowded slopes of Mount Everest. By and large, the media have treated the personal tragedies each of those deaths represent as a matter for regret and censure for the Nepalese government. The subtext is a chaotic lack of organization, greed and an unpreparedness among some that amounts to folly. That narrative is one that fits the West’s competitive and commercial spirit. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for Everest, you will scroll through paragraph after paragraph about expeditions to ‘conquer’ the mountain, routes to the summit and so on, until you come to a few short lines about the religious significance of the mountain for the majority of Nepalese and Tibetans. It is a holy place, a living goddess, not just a challenge, another peak to scale. Perhaps, like me, you will recall photos of the litter left by climbers and note, with some shame, that in April this year attempts began to clear another 10,000 Kg of waste. Is that how we treat the holy places of others?

Listening to today’s second Mass reading (Apocalypse 21. 10-14,22-23), which recounts John’s vision of ‘an enormous high mountain’ and the city of God descending from heaven, ought to make us think. Mountains have always been special places where the divine touches us. Sinai, Tabor, the ‘high places’ of Western Christianity, all have a story to tell that goes beyond rock and clay. 

I wonder whether, in our obsession with winning and proving our physical stamina, we have lost sight of something more important. ‘The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,’ sings the Psalmist. Until we recover that reverence, that sense of the holiness of the planet we inhabit, we shall never quite understand why we must forego some pleasures. Conservation isn’t just about cutting our carbon footprint or reducing our use of plastic — all things we or our governments essentially decide for ourselves — it is about realising that our very humanity obliges us to restraint, to a kind of humility that will never be popular and which most of us prefer to ignore. Hillary famously observed that he climbed Everest because it was there. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to, does it?

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Another Howton Grove Priory Update

A few of the 'smaller' leylandii
A few of the ‘smaller’ leylandii

We shall soon have been here three months. Visitors remark how much we’ve done in that time, but for us the days pass in something of a blur. We moved during the height of the grass-growing season so have been constantly dodging rainstorms of almost tropical intensity in order to keep the lawns mown. Friends from Wantage came and worked terrifically hard in the garden to clear many of the ‘smaller’ leylandii and some rather intrusive yuccas before starting on the proposed vegetable plot.

Hidden treasures
Hidden treasures

In the process some lovely bits of agricultural archaeology were unearthed. Now all we need are half a dozen strong men or women to help us move them to more suitable places! (The photo above shows an agricultural sink unearthed in the prospective vegetable plot. It will join our cider mill, cider press, stone horse trough and cartwheels to remind us of the barn’s origins.)

Our friend Damien Young at work in the garden
Getting stuck in!

Vegetable plot before clearing
Vegetable plot before clearing

Vegetable plot after clearing
Vegetable plot after clearing: laurel and silver fir still to go

Alas, we failed to keep a rampant clematis in check and had to call out an emergency gutter-clearing service since we don’t, as yet, have a ladder high enough to enable us to deal with such problems ourselves. The frustration! We are also having to call in a professional hedge-cutter to deal with the hornbeam hedge which seems to have set its sights on the moon, so lush has been its growth this year, and to remove some of the larger confers and laurels to allow planting of more fruit trees (we already have apple, pear and plum — although the pear has no fruit this year and the plum looks as though it is ailing — plus a flowering cherry which needs more breathing-space, and a magnificent hazel laden with nuts.)

Inside the house we have replaced some windows which needed attention. Tomorrow a builder comes to begin some plasterwork renovation the Bank requires, and soon after that, we hope to have the first of our bookshelves installed. Then, finally, we can begin to unpack our books which are piled up in boxes in the calefactory and garages — and maybe begin to think about those areas we’d like to redecorate before our postulant-to-be takes up residence. (She was relieved to hear we had bought her a bed, but please pray that all visa issues are resolved quickly and positively)

In the meantime, the prayer and ordinary work of the house continue, the latter often in the early hours or late in the evening. Doing so has enabled us to appreciate ever more in what a beautiful part of the country we have found our ‘local habitation and a name’.

Just one problem: what shall we do with ‘Bro Duncan’s guest-house’? It would make some child a lovely play-house, having been beautifully made; but whoever would like it must dismantle/collect it themselves. It is listed for sale on ebay (and Bro Duncan has never actually been in it!): http://bit.ly/NlDOgO (link opens in new window).

'Bro Duncan's Guesthouse': the play-house in the garden
‘Bro Duncan’s Guesthouse’: the play-house in the garden
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Explorations at Howton Grove

Accompanied Bro Duncan on a long walk this morning. We set out under Constable skies, along the edge of fields green with wheat, over pasture studded with ancient oaks, the sun just breaking on the Brecons. The wind whipped and tugged nosily at our coats, but in the sudden calm that descended from time time we heard innumerable larks. Sadly, there are no red kites, lapwings or yellowhammers here, or not that we could see, but there are lots of sparrows and swallows and various kinds of finches to keep us on our bird-spotting mettle. A fox crossed our path but obviously didn’t think we were any kind of danger.

The cattle are a constant joy: pure-bred Herefords (my favourite from of old) and crosses, but I haven’t a clue what kind of sheep are kept here — they are long-legged and multi-coloured, very unlike the mules we have been used to. We shall explore further when the unpacking is done and we have more time, but for now we can say that this is a lovely place to be.

Sheep and Bird Update
We have identified two of the sheep breeds, Welsh Badger-Faced sheep and another Welsh mountain variety, but the third continues to baffle us; and yesterday we saw a yellowhammer at close quarters.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Moonlight

Last night I could not sleep (too much sitting during the day made my back painful). There is only so much prayer and reading one can manage when wriggling around trying to make oneself ‘comfortable’; the charms of the World Service quickly pall when every half-hour brings a reminder of the turmoil in Europe. Only the moon made the night bearable.

How beautiful it was last night! Older Catholics will remember that the moon was often referred to as ‘Our Lady’s Lamp’ (no green cheese or men in the moon for us). I suppose it was the inevitable consequence of the idea of Mary as Star of the Sea (one of the happiest typos in history). Anyway, I spent a pleasant hour or two recalling all the poetry about moonlight I’ve ever known and could only marvel that God should create something of such loveliness to lighten the darkness of night. In case you suffer from a sleepless night, here is Walter de la Mare enchanted by the moon’s silvery beauty:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail