Sunday 16 October 2022

Once upon a time there were two farmers, Mr Sudgeon and Mr Dudgeon. Their farms lay next to each other, separated by a well-worn cart track. Come harvest time, they sent their produce out to markets in the nearby towns. Both of them used the common track, but it was narrow, and it would happen from time to time that their heavily laden carts met and could not pass.

They were stubborn men and neither would yield, and they would even come to blows. Being stout and hearty, each as strong as the other, their altercations might leave the road blocked to everyone else wishing to pass, for half a day. Neither man would agree to widen the track, for each insisted that the other must lose a cart-width strip of land from his own farm.

It came to pass at church one Sunday, that the spirit of the Lord moved each to perceive the folly of their situation, yet still they could not see their way to a solution. So they spoke together and decided to ask some wise person to advise them. But all of the villagers and townsfolk that they knew would favour one or the other of them, depending on who they did more business with, and they bethought who might settle their argument without favour to either.

At last Mr Sudgeon suggested Judge Gruthvensborough[1], “for,” he said, “ he sits at the head of the court that gives justice to all the county, and will have no reason to favour either of us.” Mr Dudgeon agreed, although, he warned, “Surely this is too small a matter for someone so high to involve himself.” Mr Sudgeon replied, “Let us wear our best clothes, and invite him to lunch at his favorite inn to discuss a confidential matter. This will put him in a good mood, and a lunch costs less than a lawyer.”

They did as they thus planned, and explained their predicament. Judge Gruthvensborough, full of steak and good wine, laughed and said, “This is a small matter, that I might dismiss out of hand. And as each of you has given as good as he has got in your fights, you have no cause of action against each other that could be tried in court. A penalty for breaching the peace would leave the situation unresolved. But I will give you my judgement at once, here and now, providing that you both agree to abide by it, whatsoever it may be.”

Seeing no other possibility of resolving this matter, they readily agreed.

Judge Gruthvensborough pronounced, “Because of your great obstinacies in refusing to give up a single inch of your land, each of you shall surrender a full cart-width to make up a new path at your own expense, one on each side of the old. Let the earth removed to level the new paths be piled on the old to divide the two from each other, and grass and hedge let to grow there. And all who use this road in either direction shall take the left-hand path.”

And so it was done, and that was the invention of the dual carriageway.

Sudgeon and Dudgeon thereafter became great friends, and two better men you never did see.

[1] Pronounced “Groby”.

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