Ask The Fellows Who Cut The Hay



The flattened & edited tone of oral history literature can get wearisome, all these millions who speak the same, and so one gravitates towards editors and recorders who seem to keep repetitions and digressions in, who keep speech in the speech. George Ewart Evans is diligent at doing this. Here is a cart driver, Frank Wake (in Mouths of Men, 1976, Faber & Faber), remembering the state of the roads in a Suffolk town before the First World War:

We always used to laugh and say they put the granite down in the summer and scraped it up as mud in the winter. But the centre of town was noted for the wooden blocks: they were quite good. That was paved with wooden blocks and that was quite good, but otherwise it was all mud in the winter.

Three phrases are repeated: Sentence one presents a communal anecdote; sentence two combines this with information about wooden blocks in a tone of objectivity; sentence three critically changes tense and repeats key information from the first two sentences in a variation and transformation of them, as if the essence is being refined. The texture of it means we do comprehend the "wooden blocks" (which rhyme backwards with "quite good"), as blocky bases, and the "mud in the winter", which presumably slowed everything - time (the economy) - down, comes back as a temporal enactment for the third sentence to run into and stop.

Edmund Hardy

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