Sunday, 1 September 2002

One man and his dog

Welcome to the September edition of the Parish Magazine.  As I write we’re not long back from our holiday – 8 nights in Bideford, North Devon (Clovelly, Woolacombe, Westward Ho! etc) a night on the edge of Dartmoor (in my Uncle’s house, so not as bad as it sounds) and 5 nights at my sister’s home in Twickenham.  We managed to get good weather too, so a good time was had by all (except perhaps for adjacent guests in the hotel who may have been wakened by crying in the night!) 
I thought I would share with you my version of a story I was told while we were away:
Having just died, a man was amazed to find his dog, which had died a couple of years before him, standing with its front paws on his chest and licking his face.  He was overjoyed and having revelled for a while in the happy reunion, he picked himself up off the path and they set off together to see what they would find.
After a little while they came to some pearly gates attended by an angel dressed in white.
Very nervously, the man asked if he could enter.
“Of course you can,” laughed the angel, “come right in.”
The man heaved a huge sigh of relief, whistled his dog and started in.
The angel coughed lightly and said, “Just one thing, Sir, the dog must stay outside.  You’re very welcome but I’m afraid it’s got to go.”
There was a long moment while the man looked at his four-legged friend and the dog looked at him, turning its head beguilingly to one side.  Finally the man’s mind was made up:
“If he’s not coming in then neither am I!”
“On your own head be it.” called the angel, “Think carefully about where you might find yourself …”  but man and beast were already on their way.
After a long but strangely pleasant walk they came to a place where the path broadened out.  A wooden gate had broken off its hinges and stood permanently opened wide.  There were some farm buildings and the familiar smell of cattle.  As they wandered into the yard a human face appeared that seemed to be that of a farmer.  She carried a tray on which were a mug of tea and an old ice cream tub full of cold water which she plonked down in front of the travellers.
“Hello!” she said with a beaming smile.  “Welcome.  Make yourselves at home and stay as long as you like.”
Man and dog somehow knew that they would do just that.  But the man, being a man, had one thing that he wanted to clear up first. 
“What’s this place called?” he asked.
“Oh, this is heaven.” said the woman, “Why?  Isn’t it quite what you expected?”
“Oh!  Well …” stammered the man, “I don’t know.  But the thing is … we passed another place on the way, you know, pearly gates and angels and so forth and I presumed …”
Lot’s of people think that,” said the woman, “but the fact is, you won’t find anything like heaven in there.  We tried to get them closed down at one point but now we realise that they are actually quite useful.”
“Useful?” queried the man.
“Yes,” she said, “they weed out all the travellers who are willing to forsake their friends.”

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