Sunday, 25 September 2016

And now Gypsy Kids – Our Secret World

I have been rather lazy this summer with regard to writing blog posts. No excuse! Well, now I hope to make up for lost time ...

When I found the theme for my first novel, published in 2008, people did not talk about Gypsies much. A secret world indeed! Occasionally we may have glimpsed a group that turn up briefly to set up camp in their trailers, only to disappear as quickly as they came. I know for a fact there were few books – apart from quite ‘chewy’ academic tomes;  these bibliographies can be found at the end of the printed versions of Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served. The only Gypsy memoir I could find at the time was Dominic Reeve’s books which give an account of life on the road fifty years ago.

My research moved from text books to real life, going on sites, talking to Gypsies, Travellers, and people who work with them. I also found out more by going to events that displayed their culture, history, music, dance, food and wagons and knew I had found something different and I wanted to tell people about what I had uncovered – through a readable novel.
I was called upon to speak on BBC Surrey radio whenever there was a local issue concerning Gypsies as I had by then some understanding of the culture clash, the planning laws and so on. Before, I did not know anything about the council-run authorised sites and the reasons behind the more visible unauthorised sites that regularly upset local people.
Then a while later, came Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – wrongly named as it did not portray Romany Gypsies but in fact was about Irish Travellers. (See Gypsy or Traveller? 12 Feb 2010) The programme's main slant was one aspect of their lives, the over the top dresses and extravagant wedding days.  More important issues like poor health and education, shorter than average lifespan, and weary struggle to find a place to be, all the legislation that over the years has criminalised their way of life – such things hardly got a look in. See below for link to some of my comments.
I had put forward a proposal to the radio station for a programme to embrace the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in a more realistic way, offering my help in providing potential sources of information. I did not hear back but later Channel 4 came up with their series and I do wonder if there was some link. Had someone passed on this proposal which had by then been changed out of all recognition? I have no way of knowing.
Now we have Gypsy Kids – Our Secret World on Channel 5 and it is refreshing to hear these happy, healthy, articulate children talking to us directly about what it is like to be a Gypsy and how proud they are, one young man set on becoming a pilot. The immaculate appearance of their homes, the sites and themselves turns upside down any old-fashioned notion or prejudice that Gypsies are ‘dirty.’
Whilst some of us ‘Gorgas’ might not approve of certain aspects of their social norms – the limited educational and career opportunities accorded to girls even  in this day and age, for example – on the other hand you might say that it is understandable that they want to protect their culture of strong family with a male provider.  Women marry young, have children young and stay at home (or travel, of course) to look after them, with little independence. If everyone is happy with that – and it seems many of them are (perhaps not knowing anything different, some would say) it is hard to criticise. Arguably, some young Mums in the wider world, juggling work and under-fives might be a tad envious! By the way I apologise for getting into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ kind of narrative here – it’s hard not to sometimes.

Links to some of my past blogs for further reading, if you are interested: 

Another Grumble on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (7 Feb 2011) – this was one of three posts on the subject, the first few sentences of which gained a place in Letters to the Editor in The Guardian.

Two other posts were on 20 Jan 2011 and 11 Feb 2011 – my view changes as the series progresses. The 20 Jan and 7 Feb posts have interesting ‘comments’ from other people.