Ringing endorsement for disarmament

21:03, Sep 15 2013
Joe Bennett
Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.

In a week when the supposedly Christian West is debating whether to biff yet more missiles into the Middle East, and thereby pave a few more kilometres of Bonfire Rd, I choose to address the fresh and significant subject of a door bell, writes Joe Bennett.

My door bell.

It came with my house and it saw little service. I live at the top of a serious hill so very few people visit unexpectedly to ring my bell. Those who do are generally evangelists. The Lord impels them up the hill in their Sunday best and rewards them on arrival with love.

For on the day I moved in I sawed a hole in the front door, and installed a dog flap. So when Mr Seventh Day Mormonist Witness finally summits with his sad bag of pamphlets, and leans on the bell in the hope that his ascent of the Mountain of Difficulty will deliver him a convert for the Lord and thereby increase his stock of virtue in the eternal ledger (item: one bald heathen gathered in) the ding-dong rouses the dog from his torpor.

He hurtles through the dog flap like one of those Tomahawk missiles that the lucky Syrians may soon have a chance to enjoy, only hairier. His arrival never fails to engender a shriek.

I think my dog may be Jesus. He owns nothing, covets nothing (though if the neighbour had an ox, he might prove fallible) and he loves people indiscriminately. Whether it's saint or sinner that calls, the dog judges not. Black, white, gay, straight, evangelist, sane person, bomber, bombee, he loves them all with equal zest. The same cannot be said of most of the organisations that have purported over the centuries to follow Christ.


Moreover, my dog never loses hope. Though he has yet to succeed in getting his tongue down the throat of a visitor he continues to believe it can be done. So he greets the godly arrivals with the sort of leaping infectious joy that I imagine they rarely encounter and that they even more rarely exhibit.

Remarkably, they don't like it. I lumber up from my basement study to find scattered pamphlets, a disgruntled visitor and a disconsolate dog, who is now moodily chewing an old bone having discovered that here's yet another dour botherer of the Lord without an ounce of revelry in him. Ah well.

But the bell. Bored perhaps with the lack of weekday action atop the Hill of Happiness, it started to ring itself. I am not making this up. The bell would ring, the dog would barrel through the dog flap and then stand looking about him with a wild surmise. Up the stairs I'd come and together we'd stand surveying airy nothing.

By the time we were doing this several times a day, action was called for. So I slit the little wires. No bell, no problem, and if the lunatics still visited I never heard them. Nor did I ever find unexplained bones.

Peace was restored to the mountain by dint of everyone leaving everyone else alone. (Which recipe, had it ever been followed, would have cured the whole of human history.)

But then last week I found myself in one of those colossal homeware stores. En route to light bulbs via rat poison I found door bells - cheap, Chinese and wireless. Reader, I bought one.

Installing it was a simple matter of throwing the instruction sheet away and resorting to native wit. That wit had the bell up and ringing after only six hours, two sticking plasters and one mild electric shock. There was a choice of chimes. I went for the Westminster: ding dong ding DONG, ding dong ding dong. You know the one? Cheerful, don't you think? Well, a couple of nights ago I was in bed with Hermann Hesse when the bell rang for the first time. The dog erupted from the sofa and I from the snowy bed linen. I opened the door. Guess who was there. Nobody. Woo hoo, spooky.

"Hello?" I said to the darkness.

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls," wrote old John Donne. I didn't. What I asked was who was tolling it. Since then the phantom has rung twice more.

I don't know if you know The Listeners by Walter de la Mare.

It begins, " 'Is there anybody there?' said the traveller,

Knocking on the moonlit door."

The answer to his question was that there both was and wasn't. When I was little and credulous, that poem scared me silly. But now I'm big and rational. I'm simply going to disconnect my second door bell.

The Southland Times