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Picture Perfect

"Seldom do social and family historians find a true window into the private lives of ordinary citizens", says social and family historian Dom- Estick Blisse. Speaking to the East Creech Social and Family History Society on Monday evening, the University of Afpuddle-based Professor emphasised just how much progress has been made in recent years by ancestry-nuts in tracing their [generally, as it turns out, criminal or importunate predecessors] but contrasted this with the significant lack of progress in deepening our understanding of the everyday experiences of those "whose names we know but whose characters still evade us".

Lucky then the man* who comes across a trove of documents that really do penetrate to the heart of the family dynamics of "simple Dorset folk going about their private business privately"... One such lucky man** is amateur local historian Podraig Oats [he/him]***, who recently discovered a cache of materials assembled by his**** great great grandmother May Oats [née Pole] who, it seems "never through away anything that came through the letterbox".

Whilst this meant that there was a lot of detritus to go through [80% of it Lib Dem election materials masquerading as local newspapers], deep in the inadvertent archive was a series of postcards from neighbours, relatives and loved-ones dispatched from holiday destinations across Dorset and even from abroad [Somerset, Devon and Hampshire].

* For f**ks sake can we stop doing this. PLEASE it's man/woman/thing. Get it right! [Ed]

** Really, did you have to? {ed]

*** Better [Ed]

**** Not sure on this one [Ed]

One particular postcard proved particularly insightful. It was sent to Mrs Oats and husband Albert by "Bea" [Beatrice Rice-Crisp] a near neighbour who was vacationing in the delightful village of Puddletown at some point in the mid 1920s.

According to Professor Blisse - who knows a thing or two about personal communications - it is "an almost unique and picture perfect window into a largely lost world". Asked what was so special about this particular postcard Pofessor Blisse said: "It yields so many fascinating, personal and intimate insights into the social dynamics of the trio - their easy communicative style [clearly they "got on"] - their shared interest in esoteric subjects [the weather and food - particularly the quality of eggs] and their ready willingness to go above and beyond the superficial niceties of social exchange to expose their innermost selves to each other". "Of course we don't know precisely how the message was received by the Oats family" he continues, "but we can infer that this was not their first communication from and with Bea; and that they knew each other well enough to discuss potentially sensitive topics of the day [the quality of accommodation] to let their guard down, as it were, and that Bea was confident enough in their friendship to know she would not be misunderstood. The fact that she went to such pains to communicate all of this material and voice forthright opinions on it suggests that this was a significant relationship based on trust, common interest and perhaps a shared sexual relationship. Though infering the actual existence of a menage-a-trois might seem far-fetched, we should remember that this was 1920s Dorset and the idea is given particular force when one discovers that Bea and May Oats may have been cousins."

Though he is far too modest to make such a claim for himself, it is striking how much more a fully trained social and family historian - especially an esteemed University of Afpuddle professor - can bring to the interpretative process in comparison to an amateur, however enthusiastic the latter. "I would never have considered the sexual angle", Podraig Oats confirmed. "It takes a real expert with a lifetime's experience to spot something like that".

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*brilliant [Ed]

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