When I was 18, I wrote a piece for a newspaper, they titled it ‘The Angry Young Gypsy’. It was about the racism directed at Romani Gypsies like myself.
That was 46 years ago now and, whilst I’m not quite as angry as I was back then, I know nothing much has changed in my world.
I wish, just as I tried and failed back then, that I could find some magic words that would make all the prejudice and hate disappear, but I can’t. I cannot find anything to write that is new, or that hasn’t been written about my kind many times before – something that would be quite extraordinary, would change everyone’s perceptions and make things right, would unveil some secret world that has been clouded in mystery, romance even, for centuries — but I can’t, because there is no secret world, no mystery or romance, because the truth is we are no different from anyone else.
So what is there? Nothing special, just an ancient people with ancient traditions and rituals that we ourselves don’t perceive as special. Our rituals are just a profound and heightened sense of hygiene and cleanliness and morality. We mourn deeply, we love deeply, display affection for our children freely and openly — nothing that is particularly unique to Gypsies, or at least we don’t think that it should be.
Romance? Well that’s okay if you think grabbing one or two nights in a lay-by or field before you hear that familiar bang, bang of police officers (who are there solely to ensure that you pack up and move on) on the trailer at the most ungodly hour of two in the morning is anything like romantic!
The plain truth is this:
The Romani Gypsy today, of which I am one, is no different from the Romani Gypsy of 46 years ago, or of 93 years ago, when my father was born in a brightly painted ledge wagon.
Life was hard then, when a woman was lucky if she had a midwife present when she gave birth, like in my grandmother’s case, three sets of twins, and then some; or, like my husband, born in a bender tent in the middle of a field in Warsash, Hampshire.
Free, carefree lifestyle?
Certainly not carefree, when tuberculosis was rife amongst Gypsies, and living was hand to mouth.
Yet something did change. Gypsies and Travellers kept their heads low and ‘carried on’, to coin a well used phrase, and these days we are seeing the likes of Alfie Best, who could hardly read or write and was born in a trailer at the side of the road, a multi-millionaire, nationwide mobile home park and West End nightclub owner; and Tom Hartley, multi-millionaire, Super Car salesman to the rich and famous, also born in a trailer at the side of a road – his business celebrates its fiftieth year this year. Tom left school at twelve to sell cars and made his first million, aged just eighteen. Or even Tyson Fury, arguably the greatest Heavyweight World Champion of this era.
There are many, many more multi-millionaire Romani Gypsies that I could cite, but all Gypsies, rich or poor, have one thing in common:
Tenacity. An unwavering determination against all the odds to succeed, to fight, and not be beaten.
So there we have it. The one thing, from the wealthiest to the poorest, that all Gypsies and Travellers have in common, is the overwhelming desire to drag themselves up and out of the cesspit of racism and hate, against all of the odds and without too much fuss.
We have a bewildering craving, considering all, for the finer things that life has to offer, and a determination not to be denied. Gypsies don’t protest in huge numbers, despite the fact that there are some 600,000 living in the UK; for the most part, we don’t even call upon the anti-discrimination laws that are supposed to protect us.
Maybe ‘that’ is what is so unique about us? Maybe ‘that’ is the mystery?
Of course, not every Gypsy is rich or famous, and some, like Alfie or Tom or Tyson, are more accepted in society than others, and I wish I could find those magic words to change that. But in all walks of life, it is money that talks, and for now, Gypsies, Romani, and Travellers of no great means, will have to ‘carry on’ living with the hate, remain misunderstood, and keep patient until every Gypsy, everywhere, is accepted by society and treated as an equal, rich or poor… or someone, somewhere, finds those magic words that will change it all and make everything right… we just may have a long wait!