When TS Eliot took shelter in a monastery, he could hardly have known how difficult his life was about to become.
Desperate for a peaceful haven to reflect, and suffering from a growing obesity problem, Eliot hoped that his Spartan surroundings would afford him the calm he needed to look inside himself, and he hoped the simple food would help reduce his bulging stomach.
The Brethren were a mixed bunch, but all were gentle, kind and saintly. Brother David was a jovial American with an interest in motorcycles and French Symbolism. Eliot detested motorbikes, and every hour spent in David’s workshop was torture for him. Brother Stephen was a gifted brewer and had an enormous collection of shaggy-dog stories which he was delighted to share with the new visitor, to Eliot’s horror. Brother Benedict wanted Eliot to learn about gardening and bee-keeping, two things he hated.
But of all the brethren, Eliot detested the identical twins most. Brother Cain and Brother Abel were both superb cooks and between them they ran the best kitchen for a hundred miles in any direction. Their skill was legendary, and many a gourmet made the pilgrimage to their door. None was ever turned away by the jolly, laughing, twin, saintly chefs.
Eliot couldn’t abide them.
Intensely conscious of his spreading midriff, he suffered to the core of his being every time Brother Cain forced another delicious ramikin of brulée on him, but if anything, Brother Abel was an even better cook than his sibling, and when the mouth-watering aroma of roast butterflied leg of lamb drifted into Eliot’s cell, it was worse than the temptation of a thousand devils.
Damn you Brother Cain, he’d mutter in the darkness. Damn you Brother Abel.
When Eliot left the monastery after only a few months, he reflected on the unintentional torture the Brethren had inflicted on him.
And that was why, when he came to write his defining work, The Waistline, he started it with the words, Abel is the cruellest monk …
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