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This report is taken from PN Review 270, Volume 49 Number 4, March - April 2023.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
I once tried reading Gwyn Thomas’s ‘Arrayed Like One of These’ to a small, convivial audience. The narrator describes how he is taken by his father to the local drapers’ shop in a south Wales mining valley to be measured for the suit of sub fusc then (and still) required for sitting Final Schools examinations at Oxford colleges. The father, blessed with a conviction that everyone needs and deserves a chance in life, insists that the young man who sweeps the shop floor should be handed the tape and take the measurements. The story goes on to describe how the misshapen garment that results so cramps and twists the wearer’s posture in the examination hall that ‘I wrote an essay on French writers in the modern period whose work was like a howl of pain from a trap of outrage and I could never have got the authenticity into the analysis if it had not been for the tailoring of Aaron Phipps’. As performance, my reading was a disaster: though familiar with the story, I was unable to control my own laughter as I read.

It is tempting to see a wild hint of allegory in the story. In 1931, from Rhondda County School for Boys, via School Certificate and Higher School Certificate, Thomas won a place at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, to study Spanish and French. Economically, the times were out of joint. Like most miners, his father was unemployed, and benevolent local institutions, also in straitened circumstances, reduced or stopped altogether grants to successful scholars. Unable to afford to dine in hall, he ...

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