BigSis was telling me the other day that she didn’t want to write about Hallowe’en ever again, so I said I would. After all, Hallowe’en doesn’t happen in Beyond: here it is All Saints all the time, everlasting Easter, and one huge party with enough to eat and drink to satisfy even the hungriest hound. Bliss!
So, where do I start? I have to admit I don’t quite understand you Human Beans and the delight you take in the dark side of life, nor your willingness to spend masses of money on it. Carving pumpkins could be fun, I suppose, though if you’ve ever been hungry, the waste of good food might stir your conscience a little. Plastic skeletons don’t appeal: give me a real bone to chew on any day. I’m not sure I like some of the costumes some of you wear. They don’t scare me — nothing could scare a PBGV — but they do upset me sometimes, especially those that make a mockery of Them. I’m just an old-fashioned gent, I suppose, and always gallant towards the ladies. And as for all that ‘trick or treat’ business, I do wonder if it is quite moral to teach your little pups to extort goodies from others and behave badly if they don’t oblige. We dogs know how to look irresistible but don’t go into a huff if we don’t get a treat. We just try again later. Still, I like to have fun as much as anyone, and if you want to have a party on Hallowe’en, have a good one; and I do mean good. Don’t meddle with things that seem innocent but can lead to things that are anything but. You may think ouija boards and tarot cards are ‘just a bit of a fun’ but, believe me, we have our work cut out up here praying for souls that have been led astray by such things into really serious evil. BigSis will tell you that an encounter with evil — real evil — isn’t fun: it’s deadly. Steer clear of it and you will be much happier.
One of the things I liked about living in the monastery was that Hallowe’en was scarcely noticed. At five o’clock They sing First Vespers of All Saints and then are safely on the other side, where all is light and goodness. They may not hear me, but I shall be adding my own ‘aroo’ to Their chorus of praise and thanksgiving this evening. Happy feast of All Saints to you all!
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.
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
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,
Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV
Howton Grove Priory ,
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.
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 siteand 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.
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).
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.
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.
Unless you have foresworn Social Media for Lent, you are probably aware that the monastery dog, Bro Duncan PBGV, is at the vet’s hospital for sick animals, where he has been diagnosed with pancreatitis — a painful and sometimes life-threatening condition. He may be only a little fellow as hounds go, but he has left a big hole. Using a combination of telepathy and soulful staring, he communicates important spiritual truths simply and directly. He is a valuable member of the blogging team, although I am not sure he really understands that not every word with ‘cat’ in it refers to felines. For example, when I told him that the Mystagogic Catecheses of St Cyril of Jerusalem (whose feast is today) are an excellent read, he looked sceptical. Even when I passed him a link to one of the many online translations (http://bit.ly/1Fz6FXb), he seemed unimpressed. There was a certain quickening of interest when I mentioned the section On Meats, but the big yawn that followed my reference to Baptism (Bro Duncan hates getting wet) told me I had lost my audience. May I hope that you will find St Cyril more interesting that Bro Duncan does? It’s a good text to read in Lent/Easter.
Thank you for all the tender enquiries after Bro Duncan’s health. We’ll know more later today. Thank you, too, to those who have sent donations to help cover his vet’s bill. I’ve been asked to set up a Giving Page, but if you would like to contribute, our online donation facility at www.charitychoice.co.uk/benedictinenuns will take donations in any currency and allow UK taxpayers to Gift Aid their donations. Just mark ‘for the use of Bro Duncan’. Paypal can also be used in connection with the monastery email address.
It was rather a shock to learn that some people don’t seem to realise I’m a dog — a real, live, actual dog; and not just any dog but an old-fashioned scent hound, with a low-slung body, large ears and a nose you could perch a mountain on. Being a dog is the essence of my being, from the tip of my nose to the tip of my tail. I am all shaggy doggyness and sheer doggedness, even when I’m asleep, which is quite often now I’m getting on in years (sigh).
For those who want precision in all things, I’m a PBGV (Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen) of the truest type — happy, handsome (or so I’m told), and insatiably curious about Life. Most of the time my curiosity takes the form of exploring everyone and everything, especially if it’s edible or chase-able. That is what it means to be a hound-dog; and, sadly, that is all anyone ever thinks a dog bothers about. But I have a big secret to share with you, what you might call the secret of my inner life, only that’s a bit OTT for me. I, Duncan, am a canine contemplative and have a duty contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere (‘to contemplate and share with others the fruits of contemplation’).
Being a dog gives me a special perspective on this God business. It’s no accident that His name is my name in reverse. I love everyone, and so does God. My happiest moments are spent sharing food with people; so are His — in the Eucharist here below, in the Heavenly Banquet up above. I am always listening for the voice of my friends, and so is He. I am ever eager to help, to cheer, to comfort, just as God is. Sometimes, when I think it advisable, I disappear for a bit and go about my private business, ‘off the radar’, so to say. Of course, I am always within earshot, but humans have to learn not to take me from granted. God was telling me the other day that He has the same problem. I guess it’s even tougher for Him as He has even more people wanting His attention. I’m not soppy, but I am very fond of the nuns who form my little pack. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Them, even to laying down my life for Them. God says the same, but with this difference. In the person of His Son, Jesus, He did exactly that, and not just for a little group like my nuns but for everybody on earth.
God and I have a lot in common, which is why I think He likes to chat to me sometimes. He knows I’ll never betray His confidence or let Him down. I’m happy to follow where He leads. It’s a pity that after He made us dogs He went on to create humans, because they aren’t nearly as good at following in his footsteps. He should have realised that with us He’d reached the peak of His creation. That’s the trouble with God. He never knows when to stop. He is really too good and too generous. So can I share with you my thought for the day? It may be that you have rather neglected God of late, throwing Him the occasional bone, as it were, but not really spending time with Him or enjoying His company. Why don’t you change that and spend a few minutes with Him today, doing nothing in particular but just chilling out with Him? It would please Him enormously. It would also please me.
Leaving aside the snarky remark one of Them made, to the effect that I don’t have a mind, just two brain cells to deal with the important questions of food and sleep, I think it’s time I gave you my perspective on world events. After all, although I live in a monastery, I’m not ‘cloistered’ in the way most people use that word, and with my senses ever on the alert for prospective food supplies (postman, visitors, etc), I think I can safely say I am well up on what is happening.
It is quite clear that the world is going to the cats. Those who are not slumped in front of television sets watching some ball game called the World Cup are out and about murdering one another. When I asked BigSis what she thought about the Middle East, she looked grave and said from North Africa to Iraq, there is trouble. Israelis and Palestinians are fighting one another and may soon plunge the whole region (and perhaps the West, too) into all-out war. There is a credible report that ISIS has obtained 40Kg of radioactive material that could be made into bombs. If you look further afield, the continent of Africa isn’t doing so well, either. There is a darkness in Nigeria and the Central African Republic that makes people live in fear.
To me, all this is rather strange. I don’t understand why humans can’t live peaceably with one another. I bark at Rusty, a Ginger Tom who visits my place occasionally, but only when he’s outside and I’m inside. If we meet on the path, we give each other a wide berth. I respect him; he respects me. We have learned that it isn’t worth getting into a scrap. Why can’t humans do the same? After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that it has to do with memory. Humans won’t let go of their history. When I said this to BigSis she said she would want to nuance that statement (a polite way of disagreeing with me, I think: she can be ever so diplomatic when she tries). She said that humans are often reluctant to let go of a particular version of their history, one that validates whatever position they have taken up in the present. So, for example, both Palestinians and Israelis see themselves as victims and, to some extent, have grounds for thinking that. But it’s not the whole truth, and unless or until someone can break the mould and do something far braver than shooting at one another, conflict will continue.
I suppose that may be so. As a small hound, I know I can’t do much except show forgiveness and tolerance in my daily life and put my paws together for others. But doing the little I can is important. Big changes begin with small ones.
Bro Duncan PBGV expects to have his stitches out on Friday and is very relieved that They are not allowing any photographs of him in undignified poses in tee shirts and silk scarves, which he is having to wear at present along with the hated Comfy Cone bonnet. He is not going to take any selfies until his bald patches are fully re-furred.
Digitalnun is home but very, very tired (that is monastic code for tired AND cantankerous). Thanks to the skill of the surgeons, she is able to walk with the help of two sticks but she needs to be very careful until the wound heals. Three areas of disease were removed but it will be a couple of weeks before we get the histology report and know whether the lymph nodes are affected. It will be even longer before we know for certain whether the suspected secondaries in the lung are cancer or ‘just’ sarcoidosis. We pray very much they will prove to be the latter. Fortunately, she is usually very cheerful and positive.
Once the wound has healed, Digitalnun will undergo radiotherapy which will also prove tiring for her. So, as her Gaoler, I mean carer, I am banning her from the Mac for the time being. She will not be on Twitter or Facebook until she feels well enough to cope. Both she and I (and our hairy brother) are very grateful for your prayers, messages and cards, and all the practical help we have received and will continue to receive. I know that she prays for you all unremittingly, and I join my prayers with hers. You will understand why we can’t reply to emails and messages at the moment. We are, first and foremost, nuns and need to concentrate on that.
BigSis (a.k.a. Digitalnun) is speeding towards York for a conference, so I have commandeered the keyboard. Please don’t tell on me, ‘cos she may think I’ve been taking liberties. I take them all the time, in fact, but she doesn’t realise: she just thinks it’s my doggy nature . . .
Dogs are often described as ‘man’s best friend’, which is true, but I sometimes think you humans haven’t got a clue about friendship and what it really means. You always seem to be looking for something in return. Your friendship is often just a sophisticated kind of cup-board love, which is what you accuse us of. How often do you see on Facebook some post saying ‘we’ll see who actually reads this’, and you get to the end and there’s something or other about you won’t be friends any more if you don’t post this to your own timeline. Kibble and cats! You humans need to be more like us dogs. If you are friends with someone, you ask nothing in return except to be a friend; and being a friend isn’t difficult. You don’t need to give lots of bikkies (though I must admit, I’m always glad when a few come my way); you don’t need to lavish lots of ‘quality time’ on your friend (I’m happy just to be in my basket when They are around); you don’t need to murmur sweet nothings (I don’t mind being called ‘you old rat-bag’, honest I don’t: it’s the tone that matters); you just have to be ready to love them.
Call me quixotic if you like, but I am thinking of starting a New Movement for the Advancement of Canine Values. Friendship will be top of the list. I wonder how you humans measure up to us dogs, eh?
Bro Duncan PBGV is in a huff. Apparently, the flatiron token in Monopoly is being replaced by a cat. I thought, at first, that it was the introduction of the cat which he objected to, but, no, it is the loss of the flatiron. He is a romantic at heart, and sees the flatiron as being more than just a lump of metal. For him it is a symbol of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, a reminder of all the iron goods produced in the Midlands which transformed life for the masses, allowing everyone, not just the rich, to have smooth smocks and shirts, on Sundays at least. How I have misjudged the little fellow, assuming he thought one thing when in fact he thought another. He is not, after all, the prejudiced PBGV I believed him to be. I’m sorry, Brother.
And the moral of the story is this: to assume prejudice where there is none is itself an act of prejudice.