Roadside Mum

Can we talk for a minute about how you don’t think you know any Travellers, or Gypsies please?

I think you do. I think I know why you don’t realise you do. 

First let’s talk about the press we get. Almost without exception, the press sell fear. Attention grabbing, emotionally inflaming horror stories engage and ensnare you.  From the infamous EU banana “war” to Harry moving to Canada, it’s all written in the tone of OMG, LOOK!

The easiest victims for the press are any group that cannot easily answer back. It has been a feature of different travelling cultures over centuries to not engage much with the mainstream settled world.  That’s our greatest asset, our distinction, our unique heritage…

It’s also our greatest weakness. If I told you some outright lie about us, what basis would you have to challenge it. 

Here’s a lie – travellers don’t eat oranges. 

Now, think hard, how would you factually challenge it? If you don’t know us, you can’t. See what I mean? The press know we’re a mystery to you. They also know you don’t notice us until and unless someone is doing wrong. I can promise you almost all travellers of any stripe (there are many, I will come to that), cringe and recoil from incidents of bad behaviour, same as you do.

To a man, every traveller I know is gutted for the family of PC Andrew Harper for example. He, a policeman, died attending a crime, where traveller people were allegedly involved. I say allegedly as it’s still in the courts. We are heartbroken for his wife.

All of us.

I can state honestly, and many of us can, I have never made a mess of a camp. Ever. It’s a matter of honour for many of us. Some of that comes from families, culture, backgrounds, but more so it comes from that I am just a person and I see things a lot like any other person.

The press know you don’t know us. You see me pull up and you are scared.

What you are scared of is the unknown. So you try to know and what you find is a press happy to feed your fear. We are invaders, criminals, a plague, animals even. 

Hi. I am not an animal. I am Roadside Mum.

Can you imagine for a second what happens when I am standing in a playground and chatting to some mum and it comes up that I don’t live in a house?

Can you imagine how isolating and upsetting it is, to know all she’s just heard is invaders, criminals, plague, animals?

So you might forgive me, if my stock answer to “where do you live” isn’t the whole truth- “just up the road there”. 

You might forgive me, if for the sake of my children, I don’t mention who they really are. 

I just let them play. Because they are children.

On job applications I don’t give my address. I give the details if I am offered the job. It works way better. I get way more offers. When I hear people being racist I don’t always out myself. Depends if I think I am safe or not. Depends if them turning on me would hurt me. I am not alone in keeping that to myself. A survey found that 4 in 5 of us have done it, at least sometimes. 

We have to. 

You hate us. (Or the majority of you do- 3/5). It’s all very well saying but you should be the shining example, change perceptions. I can’t!

The perceptions run deep over centuries of misunderstanding and are broadcast by a press who makes millions by perpetuating them. I am no saint either (I swear. I pick my nose. I have opinions on people’s baby name choices)…

I’m one mother, I can’t take on the whole world.

So we hide. We carry on with a foot in 2 worlds. There is home culture, what you are when you are with family, and work culture, what you are in the other world. I assure you home culture is rarely ever what the press sells you, to scare you, for their own financial gain.

So what is our home culture? Who are the travellers?

It’s complicated. 

Some are:

  • Gypsy / Romanichal
  • Roma
  • Irish Traveller /  Minceir / Pavee
  • Scottish Traveller
  • Travelling Showman
  • Boater/ Bargee
  • New age traveller / new traveller

And many more.

Most of us who have a traveller ethnic heritage (of any line) are actually settled, living in houses, same as you. Your favourite lovely neighbour could be my sister, my uncle, my child. Of those of us who move, most are on sites, only a tiny number are roadside, like me.

Roadside is really precious to us, from any tradition. It’s a deep part of who we are and why we are. It can be cold, lonely, scary and isolating to be out here. It can also be affirming, authentic and vibrant. It’s real, 24/7. 

Roadside is essential to who we are. 

Even Roadside, I am still one foot in your world. When I go to work, school, the doctors, shopping, the park, the zoo, wherever, I don’t have 2 heads. You can’t see me.  Again the press tell you you can, our men are thuggish, our woman have tarty taste… Total crap.

The last barmaid who served you, do you know for sure she’s not Showman? Last doctor? Roma? Last teacher? New age traveller?

We are everywhere. We are in everything, to varying degrees. Examples? There are loads of us in the recycling industry. Only a few of us in politics.

We are your neighbours & your colleagues, we are your service workers & your bosses. We are your school friends. We are the positive story in the local press about some singer or writer or scientist from your town, who won a prize. We are the person you pass on the street.

You think you don’t know us, but you do. 

You think we are a weird exotic danger, but we’re not.

You think you can see us, but you can’t. 

You know us.