Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Dale Farm

Life's too short to read George Borrow - his florid, long-winded prose was popular with readers in the mid-nineteenth century, but today you'll find Everyman Library editions of his books selling for a couple of pounds in most second-hand book shops. His most famous works - Lavengro, and Romany Rye - are based on the time he spent living among the gypsies, chronicling their lives and travels, and the problems that they faced. I wonder what he would make of what's happening today at Dale Farm, near Basildon in Essex, where nearly a hundred travelling families are being evicted from land which they actually own, over what is essentially a planning dispute. Some of the comments in the press have pandered to the usual stereotypes of the dirty thieving gypsy variety, always flouting the law, and never to be trusted. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I suppose nimbyism is the first line of defense for the xenophobe, but I'm willing to bet that once the travellers are evicted, the land will revert from green-field site to prime real-estate, and in a few years time will be an ugly new housing development. It was interesting to see that some of the complaints about the site, and about travellers in general, have come from second-home owning ex-pats in Spain and elsewhere, who think nothing of imposing themselves on those particular communities for six months of the year.
One way round the whole problem would be to turn Dale Farm into a heritage visitor attraction; the travellers could dress up like gypsies are supposed to, with bandannas and shirts open to the waist, and live like gypsies are supposed to, in brightly-painted bow-roofed caravans. The men could master horses, and fix pans and kettles, while the women sell pegs and lucky heather. An entrance fee could be charged, and a shop could sell souvenirs, and copies of George Borrow books that nobody will want to read.

There's the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever...

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