Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Apologies for the earworm.Gypsy_Notice (1024x857)

In the early morning, I saw a piebald pony pulling a trotting gig on the sands. It filled me with delight – such speed and energy – and not for the first time.  I’ve seen a cluster of horse-boxes and vans beside a nearby beach-side café after races. I noted how the men took ages caring for their animals before seeing to themselves.

P1040764 (1024x768)We have Romani and Travellers on the peninsular- and Travelling Showpeople in Chichester. The local papers covered the funeral of Mrs  Lena Lay in Fishbourne in 2009 because  it was so important. I found it fascinating that we have these other cultures in our area – even if I don’t understand them well enough.

Sometimes though, you’d think we had the Norman Invasion coming again. The whisper goes round that the Travellers or ‘pikies’ are coming and out come all sorts of barriers. Bales and diggers and posts sprout up in every driveway or field entry. People seem to enjoy the fear.

I saw one group on the car park in East Wittering. Hard to tell them from any other campers frankly. I heard a lot about the mess those *people* ( insert insult of your choice) leave.  I loathe litter and fly-tipping. I uphold the right of anyone to complain about these – but there’s a good deal of hypocrisy too.

Had a look at motorway verges recently?

litterloutBoth reported anecdotes and mythology worry me. I wouldn’t want to romanticise any culture – it’s another form of patronising: a do look at those quaint natives sort of thing. But in view of The Great Devouring (or whatever term you use for the Nazi genocide) I am glad whenever Roma are portrayed positively – especially for children.

In my youth, it was Rumer Godden’s The Diddakoi , later Philip Pullman’s Gyptians surely had Romani ancestry  – and now we have Abi Elphinstone’s Moll in The Dreamsnatcher. (I’m sure there are more – please let me know!)

I began to sketch out a spidergram of Romany influences on art and particularly music. It was just too big but to give you a flavour:

  • Django Reinhardt
  • Yul Brynner
  • Robert Plant
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Michael Caine
  • Bob Hoskins
  • Joaquín Cortés
  • Rita Hayworth

mr_toads_cartForget all that Big Fat rubbish on Channel 4. The culture may not be perfect ( whose is?) but a world without Gogol Bordello, Flamenco dancing , Eva Petulengro or even Mr Toad’s canary yellow cart would be infinitely poorer. And how could anyone despise this young girl?

Young Romany Girl by B Gilmour - licensed for noncommercoial reuse

Young Romany Girl by B Gilmour – licensed for non-commercial re-use

11 thoughts on “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

  1. I know!!!! Infuriates me – and I get emails from the nfu because we be farming folk. Some of our very close neighbours are gypsy families and they’re a joy to share the earth with.

  2. Sadly the gypsies are not so good to their horses in our part of the world. They seem to represent currency – that’s all. No romantic caring….

    • Sorry to read that. Yesterday I saw a clever idea on a grazing patch used by our local gypsies- a pony’s water bucket with a recycled tyre around it to stop it falling over. Smart.

    • Where I live (on the Golden Horn in Istanbul), the Roma have some serious history. They were first recorded here around 1000 AD, a group of nomadic Indians camping outside the walls of Constantinople. They later developed a more permanent settlement inside the city walls with the permission of the Sultan in Ottoman times. It is thought that this settlement, Sulukule, was in fact a staging post for the Roma who entered Europe, and so it is a crucial part of the genesis of the nomadic people you refer to. Sadly, all this history has recently been erased (sorry ‘urban renewed’), ending a thousand years of history.
      I would not wish to romanticize the Roma though. They are generally poor and live by a very different code that brings them into habitual conflict with urban authorities. They do represent a real dilemma for modern society, but Istanbul, despite the efforts of religious conservatives to sanitize the city, still manages to accommodate their anarchic spirit. In fact their musicianship is an important element of the city and its attraction for tourists. And I would be lying if I said there was nothing exhilarating (in a world of marketing executives and plastic water bottles) about coming across an illiterate street urchin playing darbuka with all the flare of a classical virtuoso .

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