John Walsh: Nomads who've earned a home

Share
Related Topics

It's ironic that what has annoyed Basildon Council about the 80-odd Irish Traveller families, who today face eviction from the Dale Farm site in Essex, is that they don't actually travel anywhere. For a collection of nomads who call themselves, in Gaelic, Lucht Siuil – "the walking people" – they seem surprisingly static.

They used to be called tinkers or knackers because of the work they did – mending tin kettles and pans, buying and slaughtering old horses for the knacker's yard – and, decades ago, they constantly roamed around in horse-drawn caravans. My father, an Irish doctor, used to tell how he was summoned one night from Galway Hospital (where he worked as a young registrar) by a traveller with an extra horse, on which he was obliged to ride five miles to an encampment of caravans by the roadside. Inside the largest caravan, he found a dozen tinkers, their faces lit by the light of a hurricane lamp, kneeling by the bedside of a huge, bearded, self-proclaimed "King of the Tinkers", who had convinced himself he was dying – though he was, in fact, suffering from a painfully burst abscess in the nether regions.

Anyway, during and after the 1960s, the caravans gave way to better-equipped mobile homes, the tinkers became known as "itinerants" in Ireland and "travellers" over here – and, in what seemed a final dereliction of their earthy origins, they started to put down roots. Eighty families now live on 52 plots of land in the Dale Farm site, in a mixture of caravans and houses. The caravans have, as far as I can make out, every right to be there because they're motor vehicles and the travellers own the land they're parked on. But when they started building actual homes, with actual bricks and plaster, the council could turn against them; they could say the site was a green belt area and that the travellers didn't have planning permission to build anything.

I find my sympathies divided about this matter. I'm rather moved by Vanessa Redgrave's insistence on the warmth and strength, wisdom and gentleness of the travellers' community, but she loses me when she says: "Our communities up and down the country have been decimated [sic] and destroyed. Dale Farm's hasn't."

Dale Farm has been home to a community of deracinated folk from Rathkeale, Co Limerick for 10 years. It's not as if we're talking about an ancient Berkshire village under threat of extinction. And I'm puzzled by one of the travellers who predicted, of the council, "they want to crush this community, destroy our culture and put us into houses". But of course, many of the travellers are already in houses that they built themselves; that's where the trouble started; that's why the council is able to threaten them with eviction.

One comes down, though, in the end, on the travellers' side. You just have to listen to the bellyaching of local property developers about the awfulness of having (my dear) travellers on one's doorstep; you just have to hear that phrase "green belt" being bandied around (it means "let's keep the riff-raff out of town and keep houses prices high in town"); you just have to recall how much the travellers have been given mixed signals by local and central government for a whole decade (Basildon Council has been trying to evict them from the start; John Prescott, when he was deputy PM, gave them permission to stay for two years) to feel the nomads have perhaps earned a home at last in the Essex suburbs, if that's really where you want to end up.

Mystical allure of the Speaking Clock

What is it about the words "At the third stroke..." that so beguiles and delights council workers in north-east England? They seem to have developed a bit of a fetish about them. A Freedom of Information request has elicited the information that five councils, including Norwich and Durham, spent a total of £2,500 last year on ringing the Speaking Clock. They spent a great deal more ringing directory enquiries and premium line phone numbers, but it's the Speaking Clock expenditure that stands out. It's true the lady who tells you that "the time, from BT, is ten twenty-tooo..." has a uniquely amused and charming voice, but that cannot be the only reason for the clock's popularity. What ghastly weltschmertz or terminal ennui has so enveloped Durham City staff that they need to check the time every five minutes (at 31p a pop)? Are they so keen to leave on the dot of 5pm? Couldn't they ask the person sitting next to them? Couldn't they consult the clock on their iPhone, like teenagers do these days? Couldn't they – and this surely is the clincher – check their wristwatch? Or are they waiting for the brass carriage-clock that comes with retirement?

A dose of something unlovely

Do you ever see an advertisement that really turns your head? I recently did, and not in a good way. I nearly crashed the motor while driving past a bus-stop hoarding that featured the new fragrance from Diesel.

It showed a tempestuous-looking naked woman clutching to herself a giant, heart-shaped bottle of pink perfume. It was called Loverdose.

Who in the name of God's holy trousers thought that a good name for a perfume? What marketing department brainstorm produced that misbegotten collection of syllables? But wait, here are the product notes: "Loverdose ... represents a woman who is sexy, playful and irresistible. She receives an overdose of love from those around her, but she wants more. She desires pleasure, adrenaline and passion."

Oh I get it, it's an overdose of love, do you see? Although, when you see the word, you don't pronounce it "Loaver-dose" do you? You'd say "Love-a-dose" as in the phrase, "Would you love a dose of the clap?" The marketing people go on to tell us that the Loverdose bottle "represents a beautiful but deadly weapon of seduction". I think I'll pass, thanks.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Balls has ruled out a return to politics - for now  

For Labour to now turn round and rubbish what it stood for damages politics even more

Ian Birrell
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?