Monday, 6 May 2013

Friends, Families & Travellers

Friends, Families & Travellers are a registered charity organisation that work on behalf of all gypsies and travellers.  They seek to end discrimination against gypsies and travellers and to protect the right to a nomadic way of life for those who want it. 

The organisation are based in Sussex and provide all sorts of help to travellers and their communities, a few of the many things that they do are listed below:

  • They provide advice and information
  • They provide training and awareness seminars to mainstream agencies in order to help them better serve travellers.
  • In Sussex they provide community support and health outreach services to travellers.
  • They help with inclusion
  • They supply expert eyewitness statements on site provision and planning inquiries.
Check out their website at Friends, Families & Travellers to find out more about the work that they do.  Perhaps also consider making a donation, becoming a member or even volenteering your help.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Gavers In The Family

I received this story from a lady whose son made a most unexpected choice for a wife! 

My grandparents were born in a waggon and were true travelling people, of course when the travelling way of life became difficult our family settled down.  My grandparents were able to buy land which is where I grew up.  Apart from the lack of travelling you could say that we carried on with our own way of living; we carried on with living in trailers but as with most Romany families, the most important thing was that we could keep together as a family.

I married a wonderful man, we got a chalet and moved onto his parent's land.  I was lucky in that I still saw a lot of my own family and I got on well with my in-laws.  I would never have considered marrying a gorger and I don't think Dad would have been too pleased had wanted to; this is not because we didn't like gorgers, in fact we always had non traveller friends.  Some were very good and valued friends, we did not consider them either less than us or too good for us, it was just accepted that we have different ways that might not mix too well in marriage and the bringing up of children. 

When my eldest son, Davey married the first time he did it all the normal way, he had been out working for a while with his Dad and began courting the daughter of a family we knew well and liked.  As with a lot of traveller couples they were married within a year and moved into a lovely trailer on our site.  From the moment they returned from their honeymoon they couldn't get on and rowed daily, we tried to support them and we also tried to give them space and privacy to sort themselves out.  My son was at that time besotted with his wife who was a beautiful girl and we all thought the world of her too. 

Looking back I think that they were actually two very different people.  Davey has always been keen on being outside; he loves his horses and dogs and spends his spare time looking after his animals.  His wife on the other hand didn't like animals and living in countryside, she preferred parties and dressing up.  My son worked hard and earned well and I believe he provided well for his wife but having come from a wealthy father she was used to plenty of spending money.  She would take money from her father which of course humiliated my son.  They separated the day after Davey's 21st birthday and later divorced which was very unusual for Romanies back then and even now.  Many would say they were married too young but that was quite usual for us, personally I think they were a bad match.  We were heartbroken for our son and hoped they would make a good go of it after all and despite a few reconciliations they couldn't live together. 

Davey was unhappy for some time and became quite withdrawn so it was a relief when he started going out again and seemed happier.  Only part of me still worried, my boy had always been an open book and liked the company of his family but he had taken to going off on his own a great deal and I knew he was keeping something back.  The next thing my sister in law told us that Davey had been seen on a number of occasions walking his dogs with a young girl on his arm.  Of course we didn't say anything to him, you always worry about your kids but a grown man has a right to a private life and we assumed it would either fizzle out or he would mention his girlfriend as and when he was ready. 

Funnily enough it all came out one night when my husband decided to take me and our younger kids out for a meal.  Since we as a family didn't often go out of an evening my poor son must have felt fairly safe in taking his lady friend out to dinner.  We all piled into the restaurant and saw them at once; my handsome boy and a pretty blond girl were gazing into each others eyes, holding hands over the table and then he saw us!  She looked rather anxious and my son was very embarrassed.  I knew my dear husband was embarrassed too yet he hid it well and went straight to their table and acted as if everything was completely normal, he apologised for intruding on their night out and told Davey to bring the lady to dinner anytime.  He made to leave but the young woman immediately said that there was no reason for us all to go and suggested we all eat together which of course we did.

In all honesty I don't think either my husband or I were keen on the idea of our son going out with a gorgie and bad as it sounds we wouldn't have wanted such a relationship to get serious yet during the course of that evening it was obvious that they were right together.  We all warmed to Rachael straight away and I don't usually take to strangers very quickly but she was easy to get on with and we actually had a great evening out.  After that we began to see plenty of Rachael, she and Davey liked all the same things, especially horses and dogs.  Davey bought her a horse and started taking her to horse shows and they would drive his cobs together.

We soon met her parents, I think that they had a few worries about Davey seeing their daughter at first but we liked how they made an effort to get on with us and all these years later I now see her family as my own family.  They are lovely people and they brought up a lovely daughter and we saw her as a daughter early on, the only shock came about when it turned out that she worked as a police woman! 

I am sure that working for the police force might seem a perfectly honest and honourable profession to most folk but most travellers are mistrustful of the police and some can't stand them.  Many would assume that our dislike of the police is due to a guilty conscience and having something to hide such as criminal activity and I am sure that for some this is true.  However you get good and bad in all and being a gypsy does not make you a thief or a criminal and in my family we do not break the law and no one has ever been in any kind of trouble. 

For us, as with many other traveller families our mistrust of the police is more due to the fact that we feel targeted by the police.  My grandparents as young travellers often felt that the police were breathing down their necks; the minute they would pitch up somewhere to rest and eat the gavers would be moving them on again and sometimes aggressively.  When they did what the authorities wanted and settled down the police would still turn up constantly for no reason.  Despite the fact that my own family has never been in any bother at all I can recall many occasions where the police have turned up just because there has been a burglary in the area.  They couldn't get away with treating another ethnic group like this but we have had plenty of unjust treatment from the police over the years.

Once word got round that Davey was seeing a policewoman some of our friend avoided us and some were quite hostile towards Rachael, some found it rather funny.  Davey stuck up for Rachael and was furious when his dad tried to persuade her to give up her job; rather than invite further conflict we did our best to accept the situation but it did feel very odd.  When the two of them married we assumed she would want to stop work and become a full time wife to our son and start a family but she would have none of it, her job was important to her.  It surprised us that Davey didn't seem to mind her working, he is an old fashioned sort but we did bring up our boys to respect others, especially their women and he has not a jealous bone in his body.  Both of them were earning well and saving to buy their own place and they were very happy; they lived with us at that time and we never heard them row. 

Although Davey tried to hide it, we knew he worried about his wife, especially when she worked nights, we all worried for her safety, after all police work is not without risks.  It seemed silly for her to risk her life to earn money when they could have afforded for her not to work, however we underestimated her love of her work and her ambition.  She passed exams and was promoted to Sergeant and seemed to work longer and longer hours.  One night she came home very tired and unhappy, she sat down in our chalet to join us for a meal.  My nephew was with us and he began as he often did to tease her about her, "pointless," job.  Rachael had always taken this sort of thing in good humour but this time she snapped at him and they began to argue.  He told her that instead of parading around in her stupid uniform doing nothing much that she ought to be at home looking after her husband.  Rachael was furious, she threw her dinner on the floor and told us all that she had attended the scene of a terrible car crash where a young man had been killed.  She then had to travel to the parents of that young man and tell them that their son had been killed and that while some people might consider her job pointless she couldn't imagine many tough gypsy men being up for it.

Of course we knew that Rachael worked hard and that her job was tough, we understood that her job meant she faced difficult people and difficult situations but the idea of having to tell someone that their child had been killed made me shudder.  I wondered over the coming days how a nice, gentle young woman such as Rachael coped with the stress of her job yet managed to come home and cook dinner and be a happy wife.  I realised also that like Rachael, many people choose to become a gaver in order to make a contribution and to do good rather than use their uniform to bully and intimidate.

Shortly after they bought their place Rachael was expecting a baby, she was sure that she would keep working after her maternity leave, at least part time.  We did not argue with her but when the time came she changed her mind and didn't want to leave her baby daughter.

Today my Davey and Rachael have three children, a successful business and a lovely home.  Their eldest daughter is at university and the two boys seem interested in working in the family buinsess when they finish school.  Rachael didn't go back to the police because she wanted to be with her children but she did want to work so she and Davey decided to start a security business which has done well for them.

When my son married his gorger policewoman girlfriend, lots of our friends warned us that he was already heading for divorce number two but I am happy to say that all these years later they are still very happily married.  Because of their different upbringings there have been times where they see things differently but I think that they have done well because they have never tried to change each other.  Years ago I would not have encouraged my son to choose a policewoman but I really don't think he could have chosen better and neither could she!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Marrying Outside the Community

I have often heard people refer to themselves as, " true," or, "pure-bred," Romany gypsies.  It is certainly true that many families, especially in the past have tended to stick to their own kind when choosing a husband or wife but I am not convinced that marrying outside the community is a new thing. 

I do not know how many Romanies first came to the UK but I cannot imagine it was a huge number and if this is correct those immigrants would surely have mixed with locals otherwise there would have been some terrible inbreeding.  Furthermore Romanies were dark of complexion and it is accepted that they originated from India.  This is why I found it a little amusing a while back when a very Caucasian looking chap, complete with ginger hair, blue eyes and pale skin told me that he was 100% purebred, Romany gypsy and that not one of his family had ever married outside.

I have no doubt that this chap has plenty of gypsy ancestry, he is part of the community and takes his culture seriously but I am fairly certain that like many others he must have a bit of local blood as well.  Of course his genetic make-up is irrelevant but I find it interesting that despite his very handsome and very anglo saxon features he is certain that he is pure Romany and also that the idea of marrying a non Romany woman is abhorrent to him. 

I have to say that this is not the first time I have come across such views and I wonder if this attitude has become more previlant in recent years, partly due to increased mistrust between travellers and the settled community.  You often hear non travellers talk about the difference between, "proper gypsies," who are often deemed as ok and other types of people who pretend to be gypsies or are not real gypsies but use the way of life in order to get away with bad behaviour.  I guess it is obvious that no one would want to be accused of being in the latter catagory.

Furthermore the lifestyle of most UK travellers has changed greatly in recent years and many feel concerned about the effects this has on their family life, their values and culture so in marrying their own kind seek to protect the community from negative influences and problems.

I have collected a few stories and opinions from people who have married outside their community which I will share here over the coming days.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Horses for Meat?

Since it has come to light that Tescos have been selling beef burgers that contain horse meat there has of course been some debate as to whether it is okay to eat horses.  Some folk are saying that eating horse meat is no different to eating beef, pork or chicken and that those of us who are uncomfortable with the idea of eating equines are simply being sentimental and silly because we find ponies cute.

I am happy to admit that I love my horses, I was perched on a pony before I could walk and much of my time has been spent with the horses ever since.  As a child I had fun going to competitions, galloping around the countryside and of course looking after my ponies and simply enjoying their company.  When I left school, horses became my job and I opened a riding school which I ran for many years so horses have been an interest, a passion and also my living.  Although the horses aren't my full time job now I still have some and I guess they are a way of life.

I think that anyone who has been involved with horses will understand the incredible bond and partnership that exists between people and their horses; I remember all of my horses and ponies with fondness and gratitude not only for the fun they gave me but also their loyalty and the fact they enabled me to put food on the table.  I therefore have my own personal reasons for not wanting to eat horses but I also believe that there are other less sentimental reasons for not eating horses.

Firstly we have cultural reasons for not eating horses.  Both as Romanies and as British people horses are an important part of our culture and in history were very important to our survival, our livelihoods and our happiness.  Apart from in rare times of desperation horses were way too valuable to eat; they helped us grow our food, they were our transport and took us into battle. 

So times have moved on and so has technology but culture and history do influence people's attitudes to horses and this is one reason why many are uncomfortable with farming horses for meat.  One could argue that culture is not relevant yet so often we hear people complaining in the media that British culture is disappearing.  Too often immigrants are blamed for destroying our culture yet perhaps the real problem is greed, consumerism and a do as you like attitude.  Like it or not horses are revered and loved by British people, we have some excellent equine traditions in this country and our native British ponies should be seen as national treasures.

Secondly farmers have tended to stick with breeding and farming meat animals based on their suitability for the job.  Horses are poor converters of grain/grass to meat compared to beef cows for example, the kind of horses we have in the UK take some years to mature to a point where there would be sufficient meat to make the exercise worthwhile by which time the quality of the meat would suffer.

Also our traditional farm animals have been selected for docility and non flight instincts so that they can exist peacefully in commercial farming environments, it is my opinion that the needs of horses are different and such methods of rearing and slaughter are very distressing for them.

Keeping horses in good condition is also expensive and labour intensive, they require more grazing per animal than say sheep or even cows and their feet need regular attention. When raised in large groups and unhandled, horses are much more complicated to deal with than sheep or cows; as per their nature they will under such circumstances be prone to panic and stress.  This means it would be difficult to manage comercially farmed horses or to transport them in a calm and humane manner.

I am inclined to think that our ancestors understood which animal suits a particular job, we haven't tended to eat horses for the same reason we don't tend to ride cows or sheep - it's not worthwhile or productive.  I can understand the arguement that certain horses have been overbred in the UK and Ireland and that it would be actually more humane to euthanase unwanted, surplus horses and less wasteful to eat them. The issue of overbreeding certainly needs addressing but since equines are not regulated in the same way as other meat animals I am not convinced that it is safe to start bringing them into the food chain as a way of tidying people's mistakes. 

It is patronizing to suggest that the only reasons for not eating horse meat are sentimental ones and I think it is unwise to forget that the different species of animals differ in what they can cope with both physically and mentally.  I don't want to get into all the vegetarian versus meat arguments but perhaps if one wants to eat meat maybe it would be better to concentrate on the welfare of the meat animals we already have without adding more species and complications. 

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Jimmy's Fair & Drive

If you would like a great day out then look no further and make sure to visit Jimmy's fair and drive.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Paddy & Sally's Excellent Gypsy Adventure

I have been enjoying the recent chanel five series where Paddy Doherty and Sally Bercow have set out to meet gypsy communities around the world.  So far they have visited Andulusia, Hungary and Ireland and next week we will discover how they fared in Borneo.  The programes are a vast improvement on previous so called gypsy documentaries.  I suspect anyone looking forward to having a laugh at the usual, "Jeremy Kyle fodder," will have been disappointed and switched over but I think it is a nice change to have a respectful, informative yet light hearted TV show all about international gypsy culture. 

There has been a bit of debate in the media as to whether the show is any good and whether Paddy and Sally are genuine.  Well I am not any kind of TV critic but I will say that those two managed to make me quite envious - I wish they had taken me on their travels.  The lucky pair have been to some beautiful places, met some great people and appear to have had a lot of fun.

Paddy and Sally are often described as an odd pair of friends since they come from very different backgrounds and often have differing views on many issues.  Sally might be considered a bit of a feminist and Paddy is certainly old fashioned, yet although they may see things differently they seem to arrive at the same place in the end - Sally wants to see women having their full compliment of rights and respect and Paddy clearly has respect for women and sees it as his responsibility to protect the women in his family.  I like that Sally and Paddy have some strong opinions and that they are consistent in their views yet show respect for those who do things differently; their friendship and outlook on life prove that we don't always have to agree in order to get along.

The Irish adventure was good and I don't think it matters that their tent wasn't up to much or that the survival skills were not quite up to Ray Mear's standard.  I really loved the fact that they met and interviewed Irish travellers who are actually representative of their community.  Nice, normal, modest folk who have interests other than fake tan and crystals.  It has to be said that Irish travellers are a minority that are frequently villified and ridiculed by the press and media and often mistrusted by other communities.  A certain TV program has in my opinion helped to stereotype the Irish travellers, however I think Paddy and Sally's Excellent Gypsy Adventure has portrayed them and other travelling folk more honestly.  While it is proving to be a charming, interesting and fun program I am hoping it will also do a lot of good in terms of helping traveller and gorja relations.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Everyone Should Have One

I have always wanted a beautiful vardo.  When I am enjoying a national lottery winning dream, a traditional wagon is one of my first purchases perhaps along with a nice vanner to pull it.  I can imagine that in the nicer weather it would make a lovely break to take to the road in an old fashioned horse drawn wagon and cook outdoors on an open fire. 
I have to admit that if it was raining I wouldn't bother and even if I never actually travelled it would be great just to have a vardo in the garden.  The kids would love playing in it, it would look pretty and that really is good enough reason to get one!  Sadly however my lottery winnings are but a dream and gypsy wagons have tended to be rather expensive so despite constantly checking ebay and vintage magazines I still do not have one.  It is true that sometimes one turns up on ebay for a few grand and for a moment I get excited until I notice that it is not very authentic and has a tow bar on the front to attatch to a car.  I suppose this must be convenient but I can't see the point, if I was taking the car I would have a touring caravan.  A vardo needs shafts in which to pop a horse even if it is only an ornament!  And on my budget I certainly can't afford ornaments costing fifteen or twenty grand.

However I came across the website of Ingham and Fallon, a family who come from generations of wagon builders and dealers.  Originally from Sligo they family moved to the north of England and settled there living in horse drawn wagons.  Wagon building skills have been inherited from Charles Ingham known as ‘Uncle Charlie’. He died in 1956, but his legacy of wagon building still lives on in his family and his great, great, grandchildren.
Ingham and Fallon are the only company who comercially restore and also build new vardos and with prices starting from £4,000-5,000 for a used wagon or from £6/7,000 for a new wagon they seem to be a bit more affordable.

The doors and windows new builds look really tempting and are built according to older traditions and inspired by nineteenth century bow top wagons.  The wagons are hand crafted and painted to show condition and fitted with steel artillery wheels or wooden wheels if the customer prefers.  They are supplied with shafts and optional wood burning stoves so that they not only look great but are functional as well.
Ingham and Fallon also provide restoration services and are able to supply wagon accesories such as stoves and other traditional craft items . 

Check out their website by following this link:  Ingham and Fallon

Perhaps I will get my vardo in the end! I don't think the price needs justifying, after all, plenty of folk spend way more than that on a summer house or a hot tub!  Just need to save up and treat myself.