Monday, September 13, 2010

Tradition and old age

click photo to enlarge
My current book is a re-reading of one that I first read in 1977. George Ewart Evans' Where Beards Wag All: The Relevance of the Oral Tradition, sets out to add the voices and memories of old people to the documentary evidence of historians, and thereby humanize the recent past. It uses commentary by agricultural workers and others to explain the jobs of craftsmen, the system of agriculture, the village life and the lives of the migrant workers of East Anglia from the period towards the end of the nineteenth century to around 1930. His notes and recordings add to the historical record details that cannot be found in documents, artefacts and the landscape, and activities that are somewhat dry and theoretical in history books, for example steam-ploughing, making whitening, or operating a village foundry, come alive when described by the people who undertook the work.

Conincidentally I attended the Steam Threshing event at Bicker this weekend, and saw people re-creating some of the old crafts and farming methods that I had read about only days earlier. A traction engine was operating a large, wooden threshing machine, one was powering a saw that was cutting logs, and a third was linked to a flour mill that was producing bags for sale. Vintage tractors, of the sort that Evans describes beginning to replace horses during the 1930s were on display. So too were collections of old wood and metal working tools. And, in a mocked-up shed that included another small flour mill, I saw this man making lengths of ornamental wrought iron using a small forge, a vice and an anvil. He had dressed for the part in bowler hat, waist-coat and neckerchief, and made an interesting sight. I grabbed this shot as he worked his metal with his hammer.

As I watched I reflected on the greater interest that older people have for these types of traditional crafts and industries. Is it, I wondered, because their age gives them a greater perspective and they are able to list the activities and crafts of their youth that are now no more? Probably.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 110mm (220mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On