Living in Horse-Drawn Caravans
Travellers are proud of their culture and their traditions and wherever they live, whether in trailers or houses, their walls will usually be hung with pictures of horses and old fashioned caravans.
It was the same in 1972. Then it seemed inevitable that the horse-drawn tradition would soon come to an end. That has not happened. There are still Travellers on the road behind horses.
The majority of these are ‘New Travellers’, also sometimes called ‘New Age Travellers’ or ‘New Age Hippy Travellers’. They are Gorjios who have taken up some aspects of the lifestyle of traditional Travellers.
There are also still some Romany Gypsies and traditional Travellers behind horses, just as there were in 1972.
Mr Ezra Price was living in a horse-drawn caravan although he did not at that time have a horse to pull it.
Mr Johnny Connors was living in a trailer on a series of patches of derelict land in the industrial midlands. During a period when he was wrongly imprisoned he had written, in capital letters in prison notebooks, an extraordinarily poignant account of the life of the horse-drawn Traveller that follows. Johnny also brings this story up to date to cover some of his experiences while living in a modern trailer in the English industrial midlands.
Mr Ezra Price
‘I would never eat from a tin.’
As I approach I see him standing by a deserted canal washing out a bowl, his back to me, with that apart, turned-away quality which so many Travellers have when they see Gorjios. Beside him sits a dog which is growling at me.
I go closer to him and introduce myself.
Behind him I can see his home – an old horse-drawn varda, drawn up delicately under the trees.
‘We’ve been here for eighteen years, we have, sir, with a bit of land that a councillor gave me. He’s not on the council any more. There’s many has tried to move us, the Health men, and other Gorjios, they tried to poison my chickens and my horses and my dogs. And they used force on me, not in direct ways but in all sorts of indirect ways. Why can’t they let us be?
‘Like it says in the Bible, the poison that’s in you, it’ll just poison you yourselves.
‘We lost one of us Travellers a couple of weeks ago, she was an old lady, one hundred and seven.
‘Of an afternoon I go to get my living for there’s no work around, there hasn’t been factory work for some years. I do a bit of knife-grinding, that sort of thing.
‘I’d sooner get a couple of swedes from the field and a few potatoes and boil ‘em up into a stew, throw a bit of bacon in. The food that’s around today is useless. The bread goes mouldy within twelve hours; the bacon, at one time when you bought the bacon you used to be able to hang it up for six months and it would still be good whereas now it goes bad within a day.’
I asked him whether he would like to go back on the roads.
He said, ‘I am on the road.’ And he said that he would like to travel farther, but he hadn’t a horse right now and the shafts were broken.
‘There’s not many left in the old horse-drawn vardas.’
After he’d finished cleaning a cooking pot we went back to his caravan, an old barrel-topped varda, beautifully carved, with wonderful wooden horses on the front, festoons of grapes along the sides and tiny little high windows at the back.
‘Gorjios are all poisoned now. Their minds are poisoned. I don’t know what has happened to you in the last twenty-five years but things have got bad, the country has got bad.’
‘You seem a happy man,’ I said to him.
‘Yes, I am happy. I’ve got a philosophy of life but it’s the same philosophy that anyone should have who’s not round the bend. Ninety-nine percent of the country now are round the bend. The Gorjios, can’t they see what’s happening? Their own children are turning against them.
‘And they’re poisoning themselves. From the tins. I’ve never eaten from a tin, no, never once in my life. A cooking pot like this is the best, enough to put a couple of hares, a couple of rabbits in them. Why we had such a huge pot is so we can feed five or six people and the dogs as well. Say you had a couple of dogs, you want to let them have it since they gets them, gets them down to work at catching it.
‘And the tenderest thing in the world is a hedgehog.
‘Not in the summer when they’ve been running. They’re no good then, just like dish water. No, when they’re really good is in the winter when they’ve been asleep, laid up, that’s when they’re really good and tasty.
‘There was a man camping, he was an earl, and I took him over some hedgehog one day, not knowing he was an earl, and he thought it was so delicious that he paid thirty pounds for a pair of dogs that I had trained to catch hedgehogs.
‘It’s not hard to train those dogs – you have to know where the hedgehogs go, no good training them to go for the hedgehogs that’s on the road, you have to know where they are.
‘Nettles is good, nettles is very good for you, very good for the blood. And dandelions also, they’re very good for you. Well, soon the winter will be here.’
When I asked him whether he’d ever lived in a house, he said, ‘No, never been in a house, except to go with a Gorjio woman, and I’ve been with one or two of them I can tell you.’
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