A Message from Father Nick 99

Ross- on-Wye – a place of inspiration

Two very different writers have a strong connection with Ross. One is the playwright Dennis Potter, who was originally from the Forest of Dean. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was interviewed in 1994 by Melvyn Bragg and spoke about this last phase of his life in deeply positive terms. Potter had been brought up in a fundamentalist Christian community. Even when he abandoned its puritanism, he kept his fascination with religion, though he tended to avoid religious language.

In his famous Bragg interview, he insisted that life can only be defined in the present tense – its “now-ness” had taken on new meaning for him. “Below my window in Ross…” he said, “the blossom is out in full…and it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that could ever be.” He spoke of the “glory”, “comfort” and “reassurance”, he had glimpsed: “If you see the present tense, boy do you see it, and boy can you celebrate it…” His words have a truly spiritual resonance.

The other writer is the historical novelist Alfred Duggan (1903-1964), friend of Evelyn Waugh and member of the so-called Brideshead Generation. Born in Buenos Aires, he was educated at Eton and Oxford. His family were extremely wealthy, and, on his father’s death, his mother married Lord Curzon, chancellor of the university. For some time, Duggan enjoyed immunity as he pursued a lifestyle of notorious hedonism.

Peter Quennell remembers: “Not only did he keep a string of hunters, but every night of his life, wearing full evening dress, he would have himself driven off to London, and there spend the next three or four hours at a then notorious Soho night club. Driven back again, he would scale the façade of the college and struggle through his first-floor window. The bribes that he paid his scout, I remember him telling me, ran into several hundred pounds a year. But, drunk or sober, he was always polite and impassive; and his starched shirt-front, with its lustrous pearl studs, seldom showed a crease or dent.”

Evelyn Waugh was present at the death of Alfred’s brother Hubert and drew on it for the deathbed scene of Brideshead Revisited. But Alfred’s good fortune came to an end. Eventually Lord Curzon withheld the money he relied on, and he was forced to take employment with London’s Natural History Museum. The years that followed were spent in travel and archaeological excavation, leading finally to his settlement in Ross. By now a Catholic, Alfred Duggan also showed himself to be a man of discipline and study. From 1950 to his death in 1964, he published at least a book a year (Evelyn Waugh attributed the change in him principally to supernatural grace).

But where did the author live? This puzzled and intrigued me until one day Jackie Hurley solved the mystery. He had written in the very house where she and Ken now live – successors in a line of Catholic families. Here, the world of Julius Caesar, Edward the Confessor and Bohemond of the First Crusade had come wonderfully alive for a fine novelist.

Jackie remembers his “delightful wife”, Laura: “Laura told me that he wrote in the room at the front of the house to the right of the front door as you look up from the road…when we bought the house it was called the Morning Room. A Catholic family called the Ploudens lived here for some years and they used the far opposite end as a chapel.”

We might not have the literary skills of Dennis Potter and Alfred Duggan, but we too share the gift of wonder. May we, like them, find our imagination enhanced by the lovely place in which we live.