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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A Little Silliness

The British tend to be sentimental about animals. They allow us to unbend our proverbial stiff upper lips and say affectionate things to them we would never dream of saying to any human being. They hear our confessions long before we enter the confessional; they welcome us home when we return at ungodly hours; they put up with our moods and never, ever hold a grudge for more than about ten seconds. In short, they are pretty good at showing us how to live a good life, with everyone our very best friend. (They also teach us to eat everything in sight, but that is a more doubtful quality.)

Today we are celebrating the thirteenth birthday of iBenedictines’ co-blogger, Bro Duncan PBGV (a.k.a. Champion Soletrader Dunc ’n Disorderly,) with a virtual Birthday Tea-Party at 4.00 p.m. It is pure silliness, but sometimes a little silliness can show us what really matters. To be kind, to be generous, to be friendly, to be loyal, these are not spectacular qualities and they will never make us rich or famous; but they may make us people it is good to know. They may even help make us into the people God intended us to be, and that is not silly at all.

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The Importance of Sheer Doggedness by Bro Duncan PBGV

Just occasionally I have to remind Them of the importance of sheer doggedness. They tend to call it ‘perseverance’, but whatever. It’s the same idea, stolen from us dogs, of course, only we do it better. Sticking at something and not giving up is sometimes hard for humans. They want to find reasons for doing things (which usually means reasons for not doing things) and sometimes there aren’t any. The world is like that, I tell Them. We get up, we eat, we sleep, we praise God; and life goes on. The important thing is that we try. We often think we fail when in fact we don’t. That comes of our having our eyes on ourselves all the time, as though we were engaged in taking a perpetual selfie. Or because we have become impossibly perfectionist. I always say, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly — if that’s the best we can manage.

I’ll let you into a little secret. They are not really singers, but They plug away at the Divine Office day after day, singing the praises of God to the best of Their ability which, to be frank, isn’t great. I snooze along beside Them, so together we give glory to God. We don’t do anything exceptional, any of us, — we’re too ordinary for that — but we go on . . . relentlessly. I’m rather hoping we’ll all sneak into heaven that way.

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Easter Thursday by Bro Duncan PBGV

Today’s gospel (Luke 24.35–48) is one I love. Humans get lost in the wonder of it all: Jesus suddenly appearing, standing among the disciples and showing them the wounds in his hands and his feet. It is all joy and gladness, shimmering light and peaceful beauty. For us dogs it is all about eating. Jesus eats a piece of grilled fish (yum, yum) to prove he is not a ghost. I prove I’m not a ghost every chance I get, but there is clearly something special about Jesus’ eating that piece of fish, and I think I know what it is — because I’m a dog and not an intellectual, so I don’t need to get complicated about these things.

The most sacred ritual Catholics take part in is the Eucharist, and every meal they eat contains echoes or reflections of that. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and God is disclosed through the act of eating and drinking. That is quite wonderful and special. The spiritual and the physical are inseparably united. Even us dogs recognize the holiness of eating, the sharing of life, and in today’s gospel we see Jesus demonstrating that fact to the disciples. Some people are so holy (sic) they think they have to get rid of the bodily in order to be spiritual, but here is the Risen Christ celebrating the holiness of the body and his own bodyliness by eating. BigSis calls it the grilled fish test. It’s one I’ll happily take any time.

Apologies to all those who don’t like a dog discussing these mysteries.

Love

Dunc xx

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How I Got My PBGV by Bro Duncan PBGV

Yesterday was the feast of Saints Maurus and Placid, and in our community it’s the day when the novices are allowed to run riot (with all due monastic restraint, of course). As we don’t have any novices at present, I generously offered my services and did a bit of tail-chasing and bikkie-scrounging in the hope of catching Them off-guard. It helped that They were distracted by builders. Eventually, I got my opportunity, pinned BigSis to the ground and threatened to lick her to death if she didn’t let me blog today. She gave way easily enough and mumbled something about a little nonsense not hurting anyone and perhaps if readers persevered to the end they’d find a message somewhere. Sooooooo, I thought I’d tell you about my PBGV.

I am often asked what PBGV stands for. It is the name of my breed: Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. What that means in English is that I am a small(ish), rough-coated hound from the Vendée, the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France. You can read about our aimiable characteristics here and see a photo of my grand-daughter, Jilly, into the bargain.

For much of my monastic life, I was just Bro Duncan, the wise old man stationed by the door of the monastery who welcomed guests and did a quick check for contraband bikkies, etc. I didn’t have any letters after my name. Then the light dawned. Everybody has letters after their names these days! In the name of equality for dogs, therefore, we should, too. I suggested that adding PBGV to Bro Duncan would be quite distinguished and would lead to lots of interesting speculation about which Order I belong to. They were not keen at first and said all sorts of unhelpful things like, ‘You’re a Benedictine dog. We don’t put letters after our names. We leave that to the modern Orders.’ and ‘Don’t you think you’re a tad small to carry such a lengthy addition to your name?’

I was stung. I drew myself up to my full fifteen and a half inches at the shoulder and said, with all the dignity of my breed, that I was being discriminated against. It was my canine right to have letters after my name. I got nowhere. So I changed tactics and started to argue that it would be a delicious joke against humans and the ridiculous things they value — possessions and status and absurdities like that. I kept at it with all the tenacity for which my breed is famous. Then came my crunch argument: God looks at the heart, not the outward show; and although I think He must have had fun when He created me, all whiskers and big ears, I think I please Him best by being loving and kind to all whom I meet. He gave me a good heart, worth infinitely more than any honour or distinction. I am a very doggy dog, a happy hound, I cheer people up. They crumpled at that. They admitted that I am very friendly and treat everyone with the same doggy kindness, so perhaps a PBGV would be justified. Result!

And that, my friends, is how I have been Bro Duncan PBGV ever since.

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Be More Dog by Bro Duncan PBGV

I was snoozing quietly in my basket the other day when I overheard Them discussing an opinion voiced by Pope Francis. Apparently, he was comforting a little chap who’d just lost his best (doggy) friend. Our pets go to paradise, said the pope. Immediately, a storm broke out all over t’internet, with some arguing along with Aquinas that dogs don’t have souls so can’t go to heaven and the pope is a heretic and deserves to roast in the fires of hell, and others asserting equally roundly that the pope should define it as an article of faith that dogs do go to heaven as they often live better lives than humans do. I’m not sure where My Lot stand. They tend to get all theological and invoke words like ‘mystery’ and ‘transcendent reality’ and add lots of qualifiers and stuff.

Of course, it is all quite simple, really. Dogs were created so humans could learn the importance of values like love and fidelity, which they are not always good at. We teach little humans important things like eating everything on their plates and sleeping soundly wherever they happen to be. We teach old humans they are infinitely loveable and delightful to be with. We teach the middle-aged ones the importance of fresh air and  exercise, and you’re never too creaky to have fun. I don’t know about heaven up above, but I do know that humans could make life on earth a bit more heavenly if they all tried to be more dog — live in the moment, and be grateful for everything. That’s not a bad message for Advent, is it? Be More Dog.

🙂

Love,

Dunc xx

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