Another Howton Grove Priory Update

A few of the 'smaller' leylandii
A few of the ‘smaller’ leylandii

We shall soon have been here three months. Visitors remark how much we’ve done in that time, but for us the days pass in something of a blur. We moved during the height of the grass-growing season so have been constantly dodging rainstorms of almost tropical intensity in order to keep the lawns mown. Friends from Wantage came and worked terrifically hard in the garden to clear many of the ‘smaller’ leylandii and some rather intrusive yuccas before starting on the proposed vegetable plot.

Hidden treasures
Hidden treasures

In the process some lovely bits of agricultural archaeology were unearthed. Now all we need are half a dozen strong men or women to help us move them to more suitable places! (The photo above shows an agricultural sink unearthed in the prospective vegetable plot. It will join our cider mill, cider press, stone horse trough and cartwheels to remind us of the barn’s origins.)

Our friend Damien Young at work in the garden
Getting stuck in!
Vegetable plot before clearing
Vegetable plot before clearing

Vegetable plot after clearing
Vegetable plot after clearing: laurel and silver fir still to go

Alas, we failed to keep a rampant clematis in check and had to call out an emergency gutter-clearing service since we don’t, as yet, have a ladder high enough to enable us to deal with such problems ourselves. The frustration! We are also having to call in a professional hedge-cutter to deal with the hornbeam hedge which seems to have set its sights on the moon, so lush has been its growth this year, and to remove some of the larger confers and laurels to allow planting of more fruit trees (we already have apple, pear and plum — although the pear has no fruit this year and the plum looks as though it is ailing — plus a flowering cherry which needs more breathing-space, and a magnificent hazel laden with nuts.)

Inside the house we have replaced some windows which needed attention. Tomorrow a builder comes to begin some plasterwork renovation the Bank requires, and soon after that, we hope to have the first of our bookshelves installed. Then, finally, we can begin to unpack our books which are piled up in boxes in the calefactory and garages — and maybe begin to think about those areas we’d like to redecorate before our postulant-to-be takes up residence. (She was relieved to hear we had bought her a bed, but please pray that all visa issues are resolved quickly and positively)

In the meantime, the prayer and ordinary work of the house continue, the latter often in the early hours or late in the evening. Doing so has enabled us to appreciate ever more in what a beautiful part of the country we have found our ‘local habitation and a name’.

Just one problem: what shall we do with ‘Bro Duncan’s guest-house’? It would make some child a lovely play-house, having been beautifully made; but whoever would like it must dismantle/collect it themselves. It is listed for sale on ebay (and Bro Duncan has never actually been in it!): http://bit.ly/NlDOgO (link opens in new window).

'Bro Duncan's Guesthouse': the play-house in the garden
‘Bro Duncan’s Guesthouse’: the play-house in the garden
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Explorations at Howton Grove

Accompanied Bro Duncan on a long walk this morning. We set out under Constable skies, along the edge of fields green with wheat, over pasture studded with ancient oaks, the sun just breaking on the Brecons. The wind whipped and tugged nosily at our coats, but in the sudden calm that descended from time time we heard innumerable larks. Sadly, there are no red kites, lapwings or yellowhammers here, or not that we could see, but there are lots of sparrows and swallows and various kinds of finches to keep us on our bird-spotting mettle. A fox crossed our path but obviously didn’t think we were any kind of danger.

The cattle are a constant joy: pure-bred Herefords (my favourite from of old) and crosses, but I haven’t a clue what kind of sheep are kept here — they are long-legged and multi-coloured, very unlike the mules we have been used to. We shall explore further when the unpacking is done and we have more time, but for now we can say that this is a lovely place to be.

Sheep and Bird Update
We have identified two of the sheep breeds, Welsh Badger-Faced sheep and another Welsh mountain variety, but the third continues to baffle us; and yesterday we saw a yellowhammer at close quarters.

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A Delinquent Dog

There are some people who regard their dogs as spiritual directors. Even though I am English, I think that is going rather far — not because I do not honour Bro Duncan but because, as readers of this blog are aware, I am a little sceptical about spiritual directors in general, believing that the needful gift is rare. Bro Duncan does very well as a watchdog for the community and fulfils the role of porter admirably, greeting everyone and being especially attentive to the very old and very young, with whom he has a special affinity. (Not surprising given that his own joints are beginning to creak, and standing just 15 inches high at the shoulder, his world view has always been that of a little child). He is a very companionable dog, very gentlemanly and discreet. At least, I thought he was.

Recently he spent a day in kennels getting a haircut and returned home a different dog. He looked better, he smelled better, but his behaviour! For the first time in his life he decided that the visitors’ sofa was exactly what he needed for chilling out (he is not allowed on furniture); instead of pleading with kohl-rimmed eyes for a share of the visitors’ biscuits or dancing on his hind legs with supplicating front paws, he attempted to intercept the movement from plate to mouth; worst of all, he looked very smug about his antics.

It is clear we have a delinquent dog on our hands and are like the parents of teenagers, wondering what will happen next and asking ourselves where have we gone wrong. For once, the Rule of St Benedict is scarcely a help. However, I know we must be patient with our errant brother because there is one lesson that, spiritual director or no, he has always taught us: everyone is his very best friend. I can’t help wondering whether, if we human beings made fewer distinctions and treated everyone as, potentially at least, our very best friend, the world would be a kinder and more pleasant place.

(Note: if you are old enough to enjoy a little silliness, Bro Duncan has his own Twitter account, @BroDuncanPBGV.)

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