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.
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.