Appleby Fair 2013; or Gypsy Week in Eden

Appleby Fair is back again*, for the 328th time (that’s a guess; it’s been going since 1685). According to the Daily Mail, it’s a convergence of ‘around 40,000 travellers from around the world’. Yet another good reason why not to read the Daily Mail. Because that’s what it isn’t. It’s a convergence of around 10,000 travellers and gypsies, and 30,000 ‘visitors’. Both of those are big numbers, but there’s a big difference between 10 and 40.

Why does it matter how many travellers there are? That’s a question with a massive, many tiered answer, but the short of it is: due to a lack of trust between the gypsy community and the local ones here, there is a distinct atmosphere present. The towns and villages hold their collective breath, waiting to see if something ‘happens’ this time. There’s a sense of anticipation, but not in a good way. A bit like a car driver inching their way past an accident in total gridlock, pretending not to look but snatching a good few hungry glances at the mangled wreckage.

From the other camp, there’s something different. Like when someone you know pretends they haven’t seen you. It’s that feeling they give off when they do that. Of innocent, studious not-seeing. That’s what every gypsy camp feels like as you pass.

It isn’t very ethical to promote fear and insecurity in a local population. I really don’t like The Daily Mail.

I looked to The Guardian for a more sensible view, but was disappointed there, too. Its ‘In Pictures’ column shows a series of excellent photos of this year’s horse fair, with a pass-the-sick-bucketing commentary attached to each image. Oh puleeease. They tried to romanticise the travellers, but anyone who has ever been to the fair must know that beyond the sillhouette of a gypsy camp, campfire ablaze, there’s little romance of any kind.

For example, my friend and I visited the fair yesterday, and on stopping for a rest on the way back up the hill to the car, were propositioned by a couple of travellers looking for a one night stand. On hearing from my friend how enormous and hard my fella (Himself) is, the younger guy didn’t miss a beat. “Why don’t you try someone a lot smaller, can get into every place, like even through the back door?” Big charming, broken-mouthed grin.

ACK!

Sure, it was funny, but there really was nothing romantic about the conversation.

Gypsies are, by popular definition, outcasts. Dragged up by their bootstrings, they’re expected to succeed on their wits and success at sales. The chavvy training clothes (men and boys), fluorescent pink lipstick and tight tank tops (girls under 30, regardless of dress size), crew cuts with patterns cut into the sides … all reminiscent of an underclass. You see similar (though slightly less outrageous) outfits on inner city housing estates.

The majority doesn’t have sufficient access to money or education; many don’t bother with healthcare, other than in an emergency. What makes gypsies different – and more vulnerable – from well established housing estate populations, is they don’t even have the pleasure of looking around them at school, or work, and thinking that most of the people around them are in the same boat.

The gypsy culture is different, though many – likely the majority and estimated to be at least 50% – do live in houses; they don’t get to experience a sense of cultural solidarity unless they live in a permanent camp, or at massive meetings, like Appleby Horse Fair.

They’re unfairly tarnished with a derogatory image; as a group, their main crime is having a different culture living amongst a majority culture.

There’s always a criminal element amongst any group of people. Hell, what the townsfolk forget at times like these is that they have their own criminal elements who are prepared to take advantage of the gypsy presence. Crime levels go up, but who’s to say that it’s the visitors and not the locals?

What really gets my goat is that whenever someone writes about gypsies, or tries to portray them to a mass audience, they are moulded into the image that person wants them to fit. Romantic, scary, criminal, these are views, not the culture itself.

Here’s a blog, Romagraphic by someone who is clearly an educated Romani. It lends a little perspective.

And I’ve used the term gypsy throughout because I love the word. The romantic image of the toughened nomads travelling the world resides in my head from a childhood filled by Enid Blyton books. Even though I know it’s not romantic. I checked it out, and it would appear that it is shortened versions of the word which are considered racist, but the word gypsy is politically correct enough. Hopefully.

*actually, it was last week, but it’s taken me a week to write this post

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About Sakina Murdock

Greedy, creative, gregarious bird, writing from the bonny northern hills of Cumbria's Eden. There's a lot of soul in this place and the inspiration to create is everywhere, even on the bleakest days. Soulfood. Don't just subsist.
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2 Responses to Appleby Fair 2013; or Gypsy Week in Eden

  1. Samanta says:

    I found many pieces of this blog post uncomfortable but I’ll leave them without comment.

    You’re interested in knowing the ‘political correctness’ of the term Gypsy? It’s the term most commonly used in the UK. Traveller/Gypsy is the Official ‘governmental’ term and you’ll find most indigenous Romany Gypsies in the UK using the term, but only when pressed we prefer to be called ‘people’. That’s a joke if not a serious one but the truth is we usually don’t refer to ourselves — if nothing else countless laws have been passed against Gypsies and ‘Egyptians’, even though they are no longer in force (aside from the Nomad Act etc. none-racial but fundamentally impacting) communities, officials and even police officers (especially police officers) have a way for dealing with Gypsies, you’re a Gypsy first and a human second as opposed to the other-way around like, you for instance, would be treated. These is a perceived rise at the moment in the number of young Irish Travellers who are very proud of being ‘Gypsies’ (Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies have separate histories, even though they might share a common experience in the UK are separate groups of people lumped together by the UK government. Irish Travellers have only recently been referred to as Gypsies) Now Gypsy is not a Romany/Romanes/Romani word, it is an adaption of the term Egyptian used by UK officials (King Henry VIII Plus Ultra) to identify the Romani and pass a nationwide ban on the people, So all in all its an outside term that has become accepted… although some people who are proud to be who they are (a Gypsy) shy away from it.

    The term in the UK has also become a way to describe a lifestyle rather than a race and our culture. Politicians would have you believe that it is just a lifestyle that people decide to live without consideration of race or culture – this is untrue but can get complicated. Gypsy is a race of people, Gypsy is the way people live (although non racially Gypsy are correctly referred to as Travellers), Gypsies can live as Gypsies or they can live in houses and be no less of a Gypsy for it.

    BUT, although there are some people who are proud of being ‘Gypsies’ and might look at you a little strange for call them Romani, it is a highly problematic term. it is disparaging with a horrific history and there is a big movement at the moment to have the term, essentially, eradicated. This movement, or sentiment, is strong in people who are a little bit more educated, speak English today but who have families who were heavily impacted by the holocaust. They link the rhetoric, suffering and public opinion directly to the use of the word, they are not naive enough to think that if the word Gypsy was not used anymore all the problems of the world would disappear but raising awareness and stopping the use of a racial and incorrect slur would counteract the rhetoric and devalue the argument “But they’re just Gypsies” (an argument used a LOT in politics, both literally and subliminally). A term Gypsy is also synonymous with dirty, thief, rundown, untrustworthy – This place looks like gypsies live here, you dirty gypsy, gypsy builders (US. UK variant ‘Cowboy builders’). My husband gets told he looks like a Gypsy often at work, his coworkers do not know of my ethnicity and he is always neatly turned out, freshly drycleaned suit, ironed shirt (neat and tidy – that’s more gypsy than they realise) it has nothing to do with him personally it’s just their favourite insult.

    In summery, within the UK the term is safe to use without your peers questioning you, and with a substantial number of Gypsy organisations being happy for you to use the word BUT Traveller (with a capital T) would be the referable – no political controversy*, encompasses everyone regardless of racial group.

    *Did I say no political controversy, I lied but only in the sense that it has other controversy issues. Ever heard the sentiment “If they’re travellers why can’t they just travel!’ Because Traveller is an obituary name given to them by the government. It made sense at the time but today not all Travellers have to travel, and only did to avoid persecution (and to support themselves financial, following markets, harvest patterns etc.). Travelling for settled Travellers can still be a BIG pasttime and pleasure activity (as evident by the high attendance at horse and steam fairs throughout the country) but running water is also pleasant.

  2. Samanta, thank you for your input, it is certainly appreciated. I am sorry that some of the post was uncomfortable reading for you – truth be known, there are several paragraphs throughout which I ummed and ahhed about including, wrote, rewrote … in the end I decided that this is my view, and my experience – from a townie’s angle – of a group of people who land in force on a yearly basis. But I can understand it not being yours.

    Given the propaganda, the twining from the locals and the unusual numbers of people in the area at this time, I figured that what I think might not be right and it might not be politically correct, but I try to be fair (even if I don’t do the best job possible), and therefore I can still risk saying it. There was no disrespect meant by anything in here, my post was initially a reaction to the way the event is reported and manipulated in the news.

    I am glad you read it, and glad that you felt happy to add some information to it, so thank you.

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