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For a good number of years, I travelled back to the U.K. to work one particular air event, the Great Vintage Flying Weekend. This was one of the largest gatherings of vintage and veteran light aircraft in Europe - indeed, aircraft were flown in from as far away as Denmark and Switzerland to participate in this festival of flight.

So as not to annoy any one particular set of local home owners with the sound of between 400 and 500 hundred aircraft a day, arriving and departing, we moved the event from venue to venue (although we DID have our favourites); these were disused ex-RAF stations to the west of London, from as far north as Abingdon to as far south as Keevil. Some were quite close together, and we tended to use the same accomodation for a couple of years or more. This is how the air show crew became friends with Eddie the St Bernard.

The St Bernard is probably one of the best known dog breeds in the world, indeed, images of the breed carrying a minature keg of what is supposed to be brandy are recognised everywhere. Sometimes called the Alpine Mastiff, these dogs were descendants of large dogs brought to the Alps by Romans to guard their encampments. Over the centuries, these evolved into various large Alpine breeds such as the Bernese Mountain Dog. When the monk Saint Bernard of Menthon established a hospice near the summit of the Great St. Bernard Pass, between Switzerland and Italy, in 1049, it is assumed that large mountain dogs would have been used as guards and to aid travellers. Such was the strength of these large (150 - 250lb) dogs that they soon began to be used to find and rescue travellers lost in bad weather. There is evidence that one dog - named Barry - rescued at LEAST 40 people, and possibly up to 100! However, despite several illustrations and paintings depicting dogs carrying small kegs of brandy around their necks to revive frozen travellers (which would actually have been dangerous, medically) the monks of the St Bernard Hospice assert that this was never done. However, they DID put small kegs on the dogs for photographic purposes, later!

There are no more dogs at the Hospice, unfortunately, the last few going to a breeding kennel in a nearby town in 2004, but the breed is exceptionally popular, especially in the U.S.A. and the U.K. The first St Bernard reached England in 1810, and Kennel Club recognition followed. The St. Bernard Club of America was formed in 1888 and is one of the oldest 'breed' clubs in the United States. Colours can include orange with white, mahogany brindle, red brindle and white with patches of any of the other colours. There is prominent black shading on the face and ears - rather like the Leonberger. There are also two coats, the rather more common 'rough' - which most people associate with the breed - and the rarer 'smooth', which our friend Eddie represents.

As with all large breeds, St Bernards tend to have relatively short life spans; 8 - 10 years is the norm. There are instances of hip dysplasia as well as epilepsy in the breed, but the biggest problem is that osteosarcoma is hereditary amongst many bloodlines.

Eddie lived on a farm with his people, and they supplemented their income by renting out some rather nice bed & breakfast accommodation, which we reserved for the crew from Thursday to Monday. As you can see, Eddie had quite the 'protection racket' going!

When we got up each morning, and walked across the farmyard to enter the main house for our breakfast, Eddie would be stretched out in the sun on the doormat. He knew he wasn't supposed to enter THAT door, as it lead to the big kitchen, and then to the guest dining room, but he got as close as he could!

We all made a fuss of him as we went in to breakfast, then quickly learned that Eddie REALLY appreciated a little 'tax', in the way of a bit of bacon or a piece of sausage, on our way out! One of our 'roadies' once constructed a fried egg sandwich for Eddie, using a whole egg between two slices of toast. It was 'sucked' down in a matter of seconds! I know we were 'bad' but he did so enjoy his treats.

We stayed at this establishment several times - and Eddie greeted us warmly, every time we turned up!

Originally posted to shortfinals on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 07:44 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and PWB Peeps.

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