The Mystery of Beyond

 

he Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc 'N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission
The Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission

Even the most casual reader of this blog will have gathered that I am a bit soppy about dogs, one in particular. Today is the first anniversary of Bro Duncan PBGV’s entry into Beyond. We got on very well, he and I, but this post is not going to be a sentimental trip down memory lane. He was too dignified a dog for that — even though he was a PBGV. No, this is about the mystery of Beyond, from where he confidently continues to blog and tweet, although he sensibly says very little about his present mode of existence.

Dog owners (and for all I know, cat and guinea pig owners) tend to get a little teary when it comes to the death of their old companions. There is much talk of crossing rainbow bridges and running free. I understand that perfectly. We do not want death to be the end. We may have no belief in an afterlife for ourselves, but for our pets, who have given us so much joy in their short lives, there must be something more.

I know the Thomists will disagree and assert that animals do not have souls and therefore their brief existence on earth is all there is, but I prefer to think of the immensity of God and his care for even the smallest of sparrows. Could such a God snuff out for ever and ever the life of a creature who had given and received such love and affection? I rather doubt it. In fact, although I can’t conceive of Beyond in material terms, I have a little private heresy according to which nothing is ever lost or destroyed, although it is necessarily changed. I would like Bro Duncan PBGV to be part of that changed existence, just as I would like the dinosaurs to be. (Imagine! Seeing a live dinosaur for the first time! But I digress.)

Today there are thousands of people in Britain grieving the loss of someone dear to them. Many cannot express their sense of loss save in extravagant gestures and the conventional phrases that reveal their inadequacy as soon as they are uttered. We cannot really mourn, cannot really allow our grief or sadness to be healed, as long as we do not let the mystery of Beyond touch and transform our lives. For me, as a Catholic, there is the pleasant prospect of purgatory and a final purification. I do not have to worry about the immediate prospect of heaven or hell for those I love; and I have the beautiful and meaningful rituals of the Church and of the monastic order to surround the harsh reality of death. They are a huge comfort because they help to make sense of what might otherwise seem to be sheer negativity. They point to what is not yet by proclaiming the value of what is and what has been with an honesty and lack of sentimentality I find refreshing.

For our pets there are no rituals, no solemn ways of acknowledging their going from us, so we make little jokes and cry our hearts out among the tomato plants or try to be ‘frightfully British’ about it all. I like to think that that is part of their gift to us. They make us realise the supreme dignity of being created human, the extraordinary graces bestowed on us by a loving God who has seen in us the lineaments of his Son, Jesus Christ. What I call the mystery of Beyond is something that surrounds us from our first moments of conception. It is our natural environment, so to say. We pass from one degree of glory to another, and although death is painful, it is the gateway to a fuller life and a happiness that has no end. Where Bro Duncan PBGV fits into this, I do not really know, but I am as sure that he is part of it as I am sure that the grass is green beneath my feet and the brilliant blue skies of Herefordshire are over my head.

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Two Hairy Brothers: 5

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
,
Herefordshire

7 July 2017

Dear Cousin Dunc,

I trust you are very cheery up there in Beyond. We don’t seem to have heard from you for a long time. Now I have a problem and need your advice.

I’ve been in a bit of hot water recently. Nothing too serious, but clearly They don’t think much of my eating Their supper (it was yummy!) or burying six bones, one after the other, in the flower-beds, or examining the contents of the waste bin by tipping it all over the floor, etc. They’ve begun referring to you as the Blessed Bro Duncan PBGV and I feel that a comparison is being made. I’m Touri the Terrible, the Ginger Fiend, Our Little Thug. Where am I going wrong? Don’t They love me anymore?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond

9 July, 2017

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

Nice to hear from you, young sprog, and my apology for the delay in replying. An awful lot of PBGVs seem to have come to the Heavenly Houndland recently, and we’ve been having lots of Peeb parties. Great fun!

As to your problem, oh dear! I think we have got to get a few things straight or you may go seriously wrong. Nothing will ever change Their love for you, absolutely nothing. I’m sure They call you Touri the Terrible or Little Thug in an affectionate tone of voice. Yes, They will get exasperated if you eat Their supper or dig up all the flowers or empty out smelly waste-bins and whatever else is implied by that ‘etc’ of yours. Human Beans are like that. But They are like our Heavenly Master in this respect. They know that we are the apple of His eye, and so we are of Theirs. The problem They have is They can go all gooey and forgiving when They see our big noses and hairy whiskers, but They are much harder on Their own kind. They tend not to forgive but only put others on probation: ‘do that once more and . . . .’ It is our job to help Them see They’ve got to be kind to those who aren’t blessed with four paws and eyes like melting chocolate buttons. We have to help Them become more dog, in fact, and love everyone — even the most trying.

Of course, I have to admit that eating Their supper is not a very good idea. I never did that, though I did share some goodies — mainly cheese and bikkies, as I recall. But I never stole them. You need to learn the art of staring reproachfully at Them, so that They give in and share with you. Human Beans do something similar when They pray. They stare at God (They call it ‘contemplation’) and He responds — not always in the way They’d like, of course, but He doesn’t ignore Them. I don’t really understand how They get away with it, not being as handsome or hairy as we are. It is all a great mystery, and I am content to leave it like that. I just know it works. Encourage Them in that.

Well, young sprog, I’ve got another party to go to. You’ll love it up here. Nothing but eating and merry-making all day long. Sheer Peeby bliss! And there’s a special spot for Fauves — and Human Beans — too.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Duncan

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Getting Down to Earth by Bro Duncan PBGV

This is my first blog post from Beyond. BigSis asked me to do one while she and the young sprog enjoy a protracted convalescence. There’s not much wrong with Bro Dyfrig BFdeB, by the way, he just likes lazing on the guest sofa, but I’m always happy to give a helping paw when I can; and I must admit, I do like the sound of my own voice which, as the breed standard says, is freely used. So, listen up, please.

It seems to me that Human Beans are getting worked up about all kinds of things at the moment: Brexit, the Trump administration, Mr Putin, Amoris Laetitia, refugees — you name it, you worry about it. Worry is not good for Human Beans. It gives you wrinkles and grey hairs and makes you very, very bad-tempered. Friends suddenly become foes, and you smoulder with barely-suppressed rage as the mildest comment is interpreted as criticism or betrayal. I’ve tried to suggest in the past that life would be much nicer for you all if you tried being more dog, but since you don’t seem to be able to agree on that, may I suggest that it is time you got down to earth and worried about something worthwhile: vegetable rationing. Yes, vegetable rationing.

According to the BBC, floods in Spain mean that there is, and will continue to be, a shortage of many of your favourite vegetables. Supermarkets are rationing broccoli and iceberg lettuce (why anyone should want to eat either is beyond me, but Human Beans are funny like that). Now, this isn’t just a simple supply and demand problem such as BigSis likes to pontificate about when she puts her ex-banker cap on, it is a Big Problem with metaphysical dimensions to it. You could call it the salad and civics question of our time, but however you like to dress it up, it is a question you need to address urgently.

You Human Beans like to think you can go it alone in so many ways. Yes, you will be a great nation; you will be lords of all creation; everything will be tickety-boo when the world is refashioned according to your own ideas, or so you say. But you forget something very basic. You have to eat. And if you don’t grow all your own food, you have to rely on others, which means trade and mutual give and take and perhaps having Human Beans from other countries doing some of the things that you can’t or won’t do for yourself. Even if you are remarkably self-sufficient now, the time will come when you are old or sick and you will HAVE to rely on others. My advice, therefore, is to think about these things now, and instead of worrying about a future that may never come or indulging in fantasies of grandeur and self-sufficiency, to live in the present, humbly and in touch with the reality you yourself can help shape and form. What you do now matters. How you treat other Human Beans matters. In fact, you really should try being more like us dogs — more loving, more compassionate, more down to earth.

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Two Hairy Brothers: 4

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
,
Herefordshire

30 December 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

BigSis says that, if I’m good and stop chewing my sore paw, she’ll let me do the blog tomorrow. Trouble is, I haven’t many thoughts in my head other than the usual — food, sleep and walks. Can you advise?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

P.S. I bet Christmas in Beyond was . . . heavenly.

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond

30 December 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

You’re obviously coming on by leaps and bounds, young sprog. My literary career didn’t begin until I was quite mature; but I’m sure you’ll make a good blogger in time. As to advice, well, it is the end of the year and human beans tend to get silly and sentimental, especially if they’ve had too much to drink. Perhaps you could say something about being determined to make 2017 a better year for everybody? Keep it simple and they’ll lap it up.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Duncan

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
,
Herefordshire

31 December 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Thank you for your advice. I lay awake in my basket all night long thinking about what I should say today — and then, pow!, it hit me. I should write about what I know best. I know I think about food, sleep and walks most of the time, but I realise that I always think about them with gratitude. P’raps what human beans need is more gratitude and fewer grumbles, then they would be happier — just like you and me, in fact.

So, I thought about saying that, as 2016 comes to an end, instead of moaning and groaning about everything that went wrong and all the disappointments the old year held, we could say thank you for all the things that went right: for the times we got up and the sun was shining, and our paws weren’t sore, and our food bowls were full, and someone gave us a tummy rub or whatever the human bean equivalent is, and life was wonderful because it is life and is to be treasured, every single moment of it. And I thought I could add that even the difficult bits can be O.K. I was very sad to leave my old home in Wallingford, but the monastery isn’t too bad and BigSis and LittleSis do everything They can to make sure I’m happy.

Then I thought some more (it was a long night) and decided I could remind human beans that dogs don’t keep a score of wrongs done (we’re a bit like our Heavenly Master in that respect) and they could try to make peace with those they’ve hurt or let down and begin the New Year with joy and gladness and a dogged determination to try to be kinder and more generous to everyone. That’s much better than making resolutions about losing weight or learning Swahili, and possibly harder, too.

Finally, I thought about the advice you gave me when I was professed: to be myself, but to be my best self. The more I think about it, the more true I realise it is. I think you are the wisest dog I know, Cousin Dunc; and I will try to follow your advice in 2017.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

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Two Hairy Brothers: 3

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire

Feast of St Dyfrig 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Sorry I’m a bit late telling you all about my profession on 11 November, but I’ve been very busy being good and keeping the squirrels out of the garden and today’s been a bit hectic, what with being my feast-day and all that.

It was a lovely day: They chose the feast specially because St Martin was French and very brave, just like me, and shared his coat with a poor man, just as I shed mine all over Them when I get excited. Bro Eric was there to give me some fellow male support, which was nice because he thought about giving me chicken for dinner and other nice things as well. It’s very hard being the only chap in a monastery of nuns sometimes, but you understand that.

The ceremony was quite short. First of all, BigSis asked me if I were happy (yes), and whether I’d eat and sleep as taught by the Rule (yes), and occasionally obey the orders given me (definite maybe on that one: They have to obey all the time, so, you see, it pays to be a dog), and then she went on to mention something about the chicken for my dinner; so after that I kept totes quiet and just looked eager. I was then dressed in the clothing of the monastery as it says in the Rule, and got my St Benedict’s medal and leather collar; and then we had a little party. Here are some photos of the event.

First, this is me paying close attention to that mention of chicken for dinner:

Bro Dyfrig listens to the prioress

Then, here’s Bro Eric giving me some encouragement because I did have a nervous moment about what I might be letting myself in for:
buddies

And then you see the shiny new medal that shows I am a Frater Dilectissimus (Beloved Brother) of the community for ever and ever. I’ll send you one of my leather collar, but that’s less interesting than the medal, which came all the way from Monte Cassino.

Bro Dyfrig displays his St Benedict medal

Now, of course, it’s back to normal; but I think I like normal. You can’t have chicken every day, can you; but you can have kibble — and be grateful.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
14 November, 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

I was very pleased to hear from you, young sprog, and know that you are now a permanent member of the community. Enjoy your feast day, but don’t forget that this is when it all begins. You’ve had the big ceremony and the chicken and the fuss-making, now you’ve got to work at being a good monastic dog, just as Human Beans have to work at marriage after they’ve had the wedding ceremony. The eating and sleeping isn’t difficult, but you’ll have to try harder to steer clear of the allurements of the guest sofa and learn how to fulfil all your duties cheerfully and more or less on time. Those famous cloth ears of yours may need a bit of attention — you’re a Fauve, not a PBGV, after all..

Brave as you are, you will have to be ready to greet everyone in a friendly fashion — you may even have to be nice to the squirrels occasionally; but not cats, definitely not cats in the enclosure. Heroic canine virtue does not stretch that far, so you can relax on that score.

Your main role will be ‘meeter and greeter’ or what St Benedict calls the porter of the monastery. Being the ‘wise old man at the door of the monastery’ is a great responsibility; but I know you’ll give it your best. Just go on being you and you won’t go far wrong. Give my love to Them.

Your devoted old cousin,

Bro Duncan PBGV

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Two Hairy Brothers: 2

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire
24 September 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

I hope this finds you well and cheery and enjoying Beyond as much as ever. BigSis misses you lots, but LttleSis and I have become inseparable so I’m hoping I’ll get through my first perseverance without too much difficulty. Mustn’t be presumptuous, though; I’m trying to be good, which, as you will understand, isn’t always easy.

I would like to ask you about something that has been bothering me: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good dogs and Human Beans? I’ve been thinking about all those little Human Beans in Syria and Yemen and the fact that the big Human Beans don’t seem to care how much they suffer, they just want to go on playing war games with one another. Surely God is involved, but how?

Then, I’ve had two scary experiences of my own recently and I’m not sure where God was. One was when we all set off for Oxford where BigSis was to have a PET scan. That word ‘PET’ confused me and I was a bit shaky but They kept saying I wasn’t involved, so I just had to trust Them. What a mistake! Something happened and BigSis had to stay in hospital, leaving LittleSis and me marooned until that nice Bro Eric came and drove us all the way home. I was allowed to sit with LittleSis, which was nice, but I was a bit car-sick, which was horrid. Fortunately, Bro Eric was very understanding and kind so I didn’t feel too badly about it; but it is very puzzling for a small dog like me.

Then, just the other day, I was taken to a place called a Vettery and a Human Bean put a needle into me and I kept getting sleepier and sleepier and when I woke up I was missing two little teeth and I could hear all sorts of sounds I couldn’t hear before because he had done something to my ears. But now They say I am eating like a horse and am full of energy, so perhaps losing your teeth is a good thing after all?

I am very confused about all this. Can you help?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
25 September 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

It is good to hear from you, young sprog. BigSis tells me you are doing very well and acquiring some very monastic characteristics, but I can understand why you are confused and questioning.

Let’s start with the most important question. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good dogs and Human Beans? It is a question everyone asks in one way or another. Sometimes the answers we get are a bit of a cop-out. You probably haven’t met the kind of Human Bean who goes all twinkly and says, ‘Ah, a great mystery! We just have to bear our Cross, don’t we?’ That’s true in a way, although I don’t think you’ll ever hear Them say it, but it’s positively shocking when you think of all those little Human Beans in Syria and Yemen. They are suffering, plain and simple; and their suffering cries to heaven for vengeance.

Why does God allow it? Does he hope to draw some greater good from it? I doubt it. Does he just say, ‘Human Beans are so perverse, let them get on with it!’? I doubt it. It is a mystery, in the sense that it goes beyond our understanding, but the God I know and love is far from indifferent to the suffering of those little Human Beans. He respects our freedom to choose right or wrong, to play war games or jaw games, but that doesn’t mean he endorses or accepts as right the choices we make. There’s a big difference between the two but Human Beans tend to think God thinks as they think, which is the biggest mistake ever. Today’s gospel is about Dives and Lazarus and you can see that Human Beans can’t evade responsibility for the evil that they do themselves or silently countenance because they can’t be bothered to notice the plight of others any more than we dogs can escape the consequences of eating too much or rolling in fox poo.

As to your other scary experiences, I think you are on to something when you talk about trust. You see, just as we have to trust God when we don’t understand, we have to trust Human Beans, too. It is difficult because every nerve and sinew says, ‘This is wrong. I’m not in control. I don’t know how this will turn out.’ Happily for us, unlike Human Beans, we have no illusions about being in control all the time. We live in the moment, grateful for the good things that come our way, uncomplaining about the bad things. I’m not sure that losing your teeth is a good thing in itself, but I’ve been told that your appetite is much better and you are becoming very good at vacuuming up whatever has fallen on the floor. The monastic term for that is ‘crumb-popping’. Did you know? Sometimes it is better to concentrate on what we can do rather than what we can’t. Be encouraged. I’m sure They will let you persevere.

With love from

Bro Duncan PBGV

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Bro Duncan PBGV’s Memorial Orchard

Plans are now under way for Bro Duncan PBGV’s Memorial Orchard. A man has been consulted, who will undertake the necessary pruning-back of existing trees, ground clearance and planting and staking, which we are now, alas, unable to do ourselves. We intend, if we can, to plant at least one each of the following:

  • Coe’s Golden Drop — a lovely, very sweet gage developed in Suffolk in the eighteenth century
  • Russet dessert apples — probably Egremont rather than the Herefordshire variety; they mature late and are good keepers, as well as having an excelllent flavour one either loves or loathes; we love them
  • Blenheim Orange/Herefordshire Beefing cooking apples — the latter is a very old local variety, dating from about 1700
  • Concorde and Doyenne du Comice pears, the former mainly to help fertilize the latter
  • and, if there is room and we can find one on a dwarfing rootstock, a King James Mulberry.

We have other varieties of apple, pear and plum in front of the barn, plus, of course, our treasured quince, cob-nut, peach and fig trees, all of which were ‘assisted’ in life by the attentions of our Hairy Brother.

Although we may not live to see the fruits of our endeavours, it doesn’t matter. I am reminded of Dr Feckenham, the last abbot of Westminster, who was a-setting trees in his orchard when Elizabeth I’s commissioners arrived to take him away. There is something very English and very Benedictine about planting in hope, knowing that God gives the increase and it is his to decide who will enjoy the fruit of our labours.

Thank You
We are very grateful for all the contributions we have received towards the orchard. You can still contribute via our Charity Choice page, if you wish, for what monk, nun or monastic dog ever turned down the offer of help/a treat? Certainly not our late lamented Bro Duncan PBGV!

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Two Hairy Brothers: 1

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB asks advice
Bro Dyfrig BFdeB asks advice

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire
14 August 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Here I am at the monastery, all shiny and new-looking. Thank you for your good advice and encouragement. I know you thought long and hard about my future and where I’d become my Truest and Happiest Self.

I spent a few days in the guest quarters, as required by the Rule, but on Sunday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, I was admitted to the novitiate and given the name Bro Dyfrig BFdeB. There was a nice little ceremony and a piece of chicken afterwards by way of celebration. I have a pleasant bunk on the ground floor. The bed is comfy, and the water-bowl is a Treasured Relic of yours which, I must say, is rather splendid. Life is austere, but not too bad for an adaptable fellow like me.

I thought at first they would welcome my leadership skills, but apparently not. Here I trot through doors last; and when I attempted to rest my weary limbs on the guest sofa, I was very quickly shown the error of my ways! Do be a kind chap, and give me a few pointers about how to survive and flourish in the cloister.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

P.S. I haven’t been allowed into choir yet. Something about ‘wait and see how he gets on.’

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
15 August 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

How nice to be able to call you that at last! I am delighted to know you are safely admitted to the novitiate. It took some organizing at HQ, I can tell you, what with St Thomas Aquinas in a huff about dogs going to heaven and St Jerome urging pet lions and St Francis wanting a whole menagerie of all kinds of beasts and birds. Thankfully, St Clare argued in favour of a single hound (you), then St Bernard helped out by recalling how he encouraged lots of his relatives to join Cîteaux and BigSis is rather a fan of his, while St Benedict just smiled a wise smile and had a quiet word with Our Lady. I think Our Lady has a soft spot for dogs. At any rate, after St Benedict spoke to her, there was a little bit of Private Conversation between her and her Son and, lo and behold, there you are!

The best advice I can give you is to follow what is written in the Rule regarding novices — eat, sleep and meditate. If you eat, They will know you are happy; if you sleep, They will know you have found the place you are meant to be; and if you meditate, you will have something to share with Them and Their followers. It’s easy-peasy really.

Of course, some things will be hard, especially at the beginning. I was always a gentleman, so allowing ladies first came naturally to me. You will just have to learn not to rush forward all the time — and choosing the highest, comfiest seat is a definite no-no. Human Beans worry and fret about silly things like status and want to demonstrate how grand they are by the things they possess or by being given a higher place at table or a ‘superior’ rank or title. You don’t have to worry about any of that. You’re a dog; your place in the Kingdom is assured. All you have to do is be the best dog you can, which means being yourself and giving glory to God just as you are.

As for the rest, you’ll find They talk a lot about perseverance in the novitiate, but I think it all boils down to sheer doggedness — and you have that in spades.

I shall be keeping an eye on you, young sprog. Don’t let me down.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Bro Duncan PBGV

P.S. Don’t worry about choir just yet. Concentrate on the basics, one for each paw — eat, sleep, meditate, and eat again, of course. That chicken is a good sign: make the most of it. It won’t happen often, believe me.

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In Memoriam Bro Duncan PBGV

he Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc 'N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission
The Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission.

Did you know that Bro Duncan PBGV, the hairy sage of Howton Grove Priory, had a very different kind of life before entering the monastery? Before he gave up everything to live in humble obscurity, he was known as Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly and had a huge impact on his breed, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. Gavin Robertson, who bred him (and the famous Jilly, who won Crufts and has since done lots of charitable work) recognized his exceptional quality, so now there are lots of little Duncans and Duncanesses and their sproggetts all over the world. Our man seems to have travelled widely in his youth, even spending a year in Sweden. When he returned to this country, Gavin and Sara decided that he would not be happy in kennels (there are rumours that he and Woody, another famous Soletrader PBGV, did not always get on) and began to think about what to do.

At the same time our D. Teresa was becoming more housebound and D. Lucy and I wracked our brains trying to think of ways of making life pleasanter for her. I, the dog-lover, had always said the community should not have pets. D. Lucy, the cat-lover, said a dog might be just the thing. I countered that if we had a dog, it could only be an adult male PBGV, thinking I had set an impossible requirement. Within ten minutes, thanks to the internet, she had found the Soletrader site and urged me to write to Gavin and Sara, which I did. The rest, as they say, is history. We went over to have a look, just to have a look, you understand — and that was that. Gavin and Sara could not have been kinder or more generous; I think there was definitely something caught in Sara’s eyes when she handed Duncan over. He never forgot them, and when we took him to Wallingford to be groomed for his last TV appearance (on BBC 1’s Pentecost Songs of Praise) there was a grand reunion, with much wagging of tails and soppy remarks which, among the British, are the way we express our deepest feelings.

Bro Duncan PBGV in 100 Acre Field, East Hendred, c. 2010
Bro Duncan PBGV in 100 Acre Field, East Hendred, c. 2010

Thus, at the age of five, the same age as Bede, Bro Duncan PBGV entered the novitiate at Hendred. He proved the truth of the old saying, ‘Handosme is as handsome does.’ He wasn’t just a supremely beautiful hound, with a wonderful head and easy grace of movement, he had the sweetest temperament of any dog I’ve ever known. He was full of fun, but it was always gentle fun. He was endlessly patient with the old, with children, with most other dogs (he didn’t like black ones). He was a natural contemplative and could sit for hours just gazing . . . before making a sudden dash into the undergrowth to investigate something he’d noticed. We used to walk for miles on the Ridgeway, Bro Duncan PBGV always on a lead, of course, and discovered he had a passion for horses. He would trot after anything, even the massive stallion one of our neighbours rode, which used to worry me sometimes, in case he got kicked.

He had been with us for three weeks before we discovered his voice, and what a voice it was! A basset profundo of glorious richness, used sparingly but always to great effect, warning us of visitors and changing tone if he didn’t like the look or smell of them. His expenses were thereafter noted in the monastery accounts as ‘Security System’. Most of the time, however, he was happy to be St Benedict’s wise old man at the monastery gate, welcoming everyone without getting in the way. Once, when I returned from a visit to Rome in the early hours and crept into the house as silently as I could, there was Bro Duncan PBGV, tail rotating in an ecstasy of welcome and doggy delight (well, I hope it was doggy delight).

Being groomed by Quietnun: note the relaxed posture
Being groomed by Quietnun: note the relaxed posture

Bro Duncan PBGV thoroughly approved of our move to Herefordshire  in 2012 and loved having a big garden to roam in. It was here that his remarkable talent for blogging and tweeting first became apparent. He had a gift for saying simply what most of us find complicated; and if, in his later years, he sometimes showed a little of the grumpy old man, who can blame him? I have found a few of his unpublished writings which I’ll look over and perhaps be able to share with you at some time in the future.

Bro Duncan PBGV asleep in my office, 2015
Bro Duncan PBGV asleep in my office, 2015

He was always remarkably healthy but in old age he developed pancreatitis, which we were able to control with diet, and Cushing’s, which was controlled with a pill. This did sometimes lead to epic struggles in the early morning, but he was a PBGV after all. A certain independence of mind is to be expected. It is part of the fun. His last illness was sudden and swift. He was coming with me to the Churchill Hospital as he always did, but suddenly his rear legs gave way. We had been warned by the vet that that could happen with Cushing’s, so we telephoned immediately and he took Duncan in for observation, assuring us that it was probably a spinal problem or even an infection. Later that afternoon, he told us tests had shown abnormalities in the liver. In the morning our Hairy Brother was no better and we took the hard decision that, at just over thirteen and a half, his time had come. He sleeps now under the wide Herefordshire skies, never to feel pain or distress any more. Thank you, old friend, for all you shared with us. We miss you.

Bro Duncan PBGV Memorial

Several people have asked to give something in memory of Duncan. He was an assiduous waterer of trees, so we have decided that our mini-orchard should be dedicated to him. We need to clear some of the existing trees and re-plant, so if you would like to contribute, we suggest a donation of £5 to £10, either via our online donation page, http://www.charitychoice.co.uk/benedictinenuns or by cheque made payable to Holy Trinity Monastery. Donations can be Gift-Aided.

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On Not Being Cynical by Bro Duncan PBGV

One of the things that makes me sad is cynicism. Dogs don’t do cynical. We believe the best of everybody, all the time. It doesn’t matter if sometimes we are proved wrong. We were created to trust, and we do. You’ve probably noticed that we are all eager-beaver enthusiasm, even for people you wouldn’t let inside your front door. Whenever I suspect that the Enemy of the Moment has turned up, for example, I go into ecstacies of welcome. That soon brings everyone to their senses. You can’t go on being cool towards someone we’re treating with rapture, can you?

There is an important spiritual point here. Welcoming people — really welcoming them — is not about checking whether they have all the right credentials and espouse all the right views (i.e. the same as you) before trusting them but simply seeing them as they are, as God sees them. I think dogs have the gift of always seeing people as God sees them, which is why we don’t find trust difficult. Yes, human beans can be cranky (just look at My Lot!); they can be difficult, demanding, really rather horrible at times; but underneath all that messiness, the failures, the sin, they are rather beautiful.

Cynicism distorts the way human beans see others and blinds them to their good points. In the end, it can make the cynical lonely, because no one really likes someone who is always negative and trusts no one else. Except, of course, God and us dogs. 😉

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