Freedom – a short story

Kate saw the truth spread out before her in the obituary pages as she travelled home on the tube. They were all the same. The names were different but they were all the same. And one day her name would appear between those pages above the same words.
‘I feel trapped!’ she told Chris that night after dinner.
‘I don’t understand what it is you want Kate? I just don’t understand why you’re not happy anymore.’
She tossed the plates into the dishwasher.
‘Can we just sit down and talk about this.’ Chris carried over the empty wine glasses. She pushed him out of the way and flung them in with the plates.
‘Talk! That’s all we do and we never get anywhere’
‘Argue more like.’
‘Why can’t you understand? I want to go places. I want to do things.’
‘We went to Antigua last month. I can take some more time off, we can go wherever you like.’
‘That’s not what I mean.’
‘Do you even know what you want? You wanted a career in the city, we moved to the city. You wanted to get married, we got married. You wanted this house, we bought this house. I have spent the last six years giving you what you want and now it sounds like you don’t want it.’
‘I’ve worked just has hard as you for everything we have!’
‘I know you have Kate. We wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for you.’ He grasped both her hands. ‘You are the most beautiful and talented woman I know. I just want you to be happy.’
‘I just want to be free. Free of everything.’ She pulled her hands free and picked up a pan. It went the same way as the other dishes. ‘I’m going to quit my job.’
‘Okay. Maybe I could slow down a bit too. We’ve both been so caught up with work we don’t spend any time together.’
She tried to smile as Chris hugged her but he didn’t understand. He understood the day she moved out.
Kate rapped the side of her paper coffee cup with her finger nails. Seven years hadn’t changed Chris; he still couldn’t arrive on time. She flicked open the magazine she’d picked up at the airport. Her image stared back at her in a double page article, her boat Freedom was moored in the background and Cheryl, the chairwoman from the Eco World Foundation, had her arm around her and a big smile on her face.
‘Adventurer Kate Ross sailed across the pacific in record time to raise awareness for the environment and raises £1 million’ read the opening paragraph. The rest of the article outlined Kate’s other adventures and her upcoming book. Cheryl had wanted more about the Foundation in the article but the magazine editor wanted a story about a Kate’s life changing experiences.
‘Kate you look terrific.’
She looked up from the magazine at Chris. He looked older, there were shadows under his eyes and he had put on weight.
‘Thanks’ she said ‘You look well too.’
‘I’m sorry I’m late. Didn’t get much sleep last night. Is this all your stuff?’ He picked up a battered suitcase which contained all her possessions.
‘Look if this is too much trouble I can book into a hotel.’ She tossed the coffee cup at a rubbish bin and missed. Chris picked it up and dropped it into recycling as they left the airport.
‘It’s not a problem. It was a surprise to hear from you after so long.’
‘It was a surprise for me too. I had no idea you owned a farm. It was Cheryl who suggested I take a break in the country for some peace and quiet.’
‘You’ll need some of that after spending three months at sea.’
They’d had little contact since the break up. Chris had written a couple of times but she had never read or replied to his letters. He’d been very generous over the divorce and she’d used the money to buy Freedom.
‘Maybe it would be better if I went to a hotel.’ What if he thought she wanted to get back together?
‘You’re more than welcome to stay. It’s not a problem. And Terri’s dying to meet you.’
‘So long as it’s not putting you out.’
‘It’s no trouble. We’re not busy this time of year so I’ve put you in the best lodge, you’ll have all the privacy you need.’
‘Who’s Terri.’
‘My partner in crime’
‘It must have been a big change moving from the city to running your own farm.’ Wasn’t Terri the geek from accounts or was it the guy from the golf club. She couldn’t picture either mucking out the farm yard. Maybe he was a silent partner, propping up the business when it ran on bad times. Chris loaded her bags into the back of the Landover.
‘Not really. I spent most of my summers on my uncle’s farm so it was like coming home. And Terri’s brother has the cottage next door. You’ll meet them tonight.
‘What happened to the TVR.’
‘Not practical anymore’ He threw a couple of crisp bags of the front seat and a trainer into the back. ‘Sorry about the mess.’
She swept a few crumbs off the seat before climbing in and belting up. They drove along in silence until they left the motorway and were driving along country roads.
‘It must have been lonely all that time at sea’
‘Sometimes. But I liked it. It was peaceful. You must find life in the country quiet.’
‘I wish. But I prefer the noise of the country to the city. Always have.’
‘Noisy livestock?’
‘Yeah you should hear the rumpus the cabbages make during harvest! It’s an organic fruit and veg farm. We’ve got a few chickens and the dogs but that’s about all. Don’t worry I’ll keep the dogs tied up while you’re about.’
‘I never got round to thanking you Chris. The money has been a big help.’
He shrugged.
‘The Foundation really appreciated it.’
They turned off the road down a farm track.
‘It was your money as well as mine. We both worked for it. I had enough for what I needed.’
‘ Chris I hope we can still be friends. I know it was hard for you and I’m sorry if I hurt you.’
The car pulled up outside a ramshackle farmhouse
‘You did hurt me Kate. Then I realised you were right. You were trapped, we both were. But you were the one with the courage to set us both free. We were both unhappy Kate,’
He smiled and looked younger, like when she had first met him. He carried her bags to one of the renovated barns at the back of the house.
‘You’ll probably want to rest after your flight. When you’re ready come up to the house.’
‘Thank you Chris’ she leaned forward and kissed his cheek.
‘Get some sleep you look tired.’
Kate unpacked her things. She wouldn’t stay. He was obviously still in love with her. She lay down on the bed but tossed and turned until she finally gave in and went up to the house. Chris was sat at the kitchen table, a mug of tea in one hand and a pile of paperwork in front of him.
‘You’re up. I’ll put the kettle on.’
‘Chris I..’
‘Darling I’m home’ the front door slammed. ‘Have you picked up your other missus yet.’
The kitchen door was flung open and a heavily pregnant woman waddled in.
‘This is Terri, my wife. Just ignore her she’s rude to everyone.’
‘This is your wife?’
‘Hello Kate. Is the guest house okay? Do you have everything you need. This idiot wanted to book you in down the road. It’s nice enough place but what was the point when we have the room and you must be sick of living in hotels.’
‘ Yes everything’s fine.’
‘Chris, Gary said something about the lettuce thingy. He wants you to call him.’
‘Oh god I hope its not slugs.’
Terri waited until Chris left the kitchen before turning to Kate.
‘Look I just want to say its fine. I know its completely over between you and Chris. You are two completely different people. It’s no wonder it didn’t work out between you. He admires what you’ve done with your life. We all do. I mean, you’ve given up everything and dedicated your life to good causes. But if you feel uncomfortable staying here I understand if you want to go to a hotel. I just thought you might like being around friends after spending so much time alone.’
‘It’s fine. I’d like to stay with you.’
Kate helped Terri make dinner but halfway through the meal she excused herself and went back to the barn. She sat outside listening to the family bicker and laugh through the rest of the evening. The next morning she packed her bags and said goodbye.

Travel Tip – Renting a Villa

Renting a private villa for your holiday is a great idea if you are a large family or a group of friends. You have the comfort and intimacy of a home in a holiday location. With lots of booking sites like homeaway and airbnb it’s become easier to find and to rent a holiday let for a few days or a few months. But sometimes it can end in disaster, anything from the property not being as described to the property not existing. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when booking a villa abroad and in the UK, thankfully so far I’ve avoided a complete disaster.

1. Use Google maps to get a satellite and road view of the property. Google maps are updated every 1 to 3 years. Its handy to know if the villa has that large pool as it claims or even if it actually exists.

2. Check for reviews about the property on different independent sites. This can be difficult however some properties do have reviews on TripAdvisor

3. Read all the reviews. This is handy because what suits one person, may not suit another. A 2☆ review from someone who hated the remote position maybe a 5☆ review from someone loved the secluded privacy.

4. Check reviews for the company you book through. Some booking sites monitor listed properties and deal with false representations, others don’t give a damn.

5. Look for local agents in the area. A local agent in the area you are visiting will have local knowledge and be able to find a suitable holiday rental. But again, check for reviews about the company.

6. Paying by credit card or paypal if possible. Alot of villa owners rent their property when they aren’t using it, so they may not have the facility to take paypal or card payment. You can always ask but don’t suspect anything wrong if they only accept bank transfer.

7. Arrive during daylight hours. If theres a problem you can try to sort it out with the owner. Once you’ve ‘moved in’ you’re in less of a position to argue as you have ‘accepted the condition of the property’

A Very British History Romany Gypsies -a review › programmes

A Very British History Romany Gypsies is distinctly different from other documentaries about Gypsies as it is presented by a Romany Gypsy. Damian Le Bas is a writer, journalist and a British Romany Gypsy. In this documentary he explores how Gypsy people in the 1960s were forced to abandon their nomadic way of life for a more settled existence.

I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary. I didn’t scream at the TV, shake my head, walk away in despair, or begin a long letter of complaint to the producers, unlike some so called ‘real’ documentaries (MBFGW)! This is a genuine, from the heart documentary about British Romany Gypsies.

I found it informative as well as interesting, there’s some great footage from the 1960s and it shows an accurate account of the situations and feelings of both Gypsies and the settled communities.

Because it’s presented by a British Romany Gypsy it’s naturally more sympathetic towards Travellers but it still creates a nice balance. Many articles written by members of my community can be very disheartening as they focus alot on the racism and prejudice from gorjas, which is an everyday occurrence. I sometimes think everyone hates me because I’m a Gypsy. While this documentary highlights these everyday racisms it also shows us the people who are true humanitarians and people who overcome their fears and prejudices to help the travelling communities.

I’d recommend this documentary for all Travellers as their is some great footage from the 60s and I’m sure you’ll recognise some of the people, and also it’s nice to know that their are genuine people out their who are willing to fight our cause.

I also recommend it to anyone interested in learning about British Romany Gypsies, how they lived and how they live today.

The documentary is currently available on BBC catchup. I’d be interested in knowing other peoples opinions.

Beloved -flash fiction

My wife is unhappy. I try to talk to her but it’s no use. She went for a walk today, so I joined her. The sun is shining but it’s cold, autumn leaves are falling. We walked silently through the park together and up the hill past the little church. I put my arm about her waist. She pulls her coat closer together and shakes me off. She stops walking and the tears flow.
‘Charlotte’ I whisper softly.
She doesn’t hear me. Through bitter salt tears she reads the epitaph on the tombstone.
‘Here Lies Henry. Beloved Husband of Charlotte.’

I wrote this piece ages ago for a 100 word flash fiction competition and it got shortlisted. There was no theme but I wanted to try a ghost story.

End of Winter

A watery sun, sleepy and wakeful

Coolly warms the bare fertile field.

The ancient oak beckons with broken fingers

To twittering birds drifting in the breeze.

Grubs stir to life

Decaying leaves nurture

Verdant green peeks through crusty covers

Birds trill for the longest dawn

And feast after the long fast

It is the death of Death

The end of sleep

Recovering our Heritage

Image: Gypsies arriving at Epsom by Sir Alfred Munnings. The woman driving the carriage is Mrs Margaret Stevens, my ggreat aunt Mag.

I’ve started a journey, a strange, complicated and enlightening journey. A journey into history, my peoples history.

I’m not talking about my ancestry, I know my family history. I know the stories about different ancestors. I’m talking about the history of my race. The history of British Romany Gypsies.

I was never taught anything about Romany history in school. I only found out that many Roma were killed in concentration camps when my mother mentioned it while we were watching a documentary on WW2, even though the holocaust was part of the national curriculum. So I thought I would look into the history of my people. I knew we had one, there have been Romany Gypsies in Britain for centuries. And that’s when it got complicated.

Most history and factual books and articles are written by non Romany and are often bias either depicted a romantic nomadic lifestyle of innocents or a vagrant degenerate band of thieves. Some recent academics claim to be Romany or have Roma ancestry but they have lied to get funding for their work.

This was what I was told when I asked which books to read. I was then directed to a webpage chronicling a long list of anti gypsy laws dating from the 1531 resulting in continuing persecution and segregation.

I felt there had to be more to our history. How can a race of people be persecuted so long and still survive. How is it possible that we can be segregated yet still manage to flourish.

I was told not to bother reading these books by non Romany and fake Romany. But I believe they should not be dismissed out of hand. I remember my history teacher saying, ‘examine all the historical sources but remember that all sources are bias. Ask yourself:

  1. who wrote the source?
  2. Who were they writing for, in other words who was their audience?
  3. Why were they writing the source?
  4. When did they write the source?’

My next problem was getting hold of the books and articles I intended to read. Books on Romany history are hard to find, my local library doesn’t have any. I can find them on Amazon but they cost in excess of £25. And many academics and societies who have documents and reasearch on the subject guard their treasure troves jealously and charge fees for the privilege of seeing them. I never knew studying history was so expensive.

Undeterred I have found George Borrows Lavengro and Romany Rye available on project Gutenberg so I shall start with these. I shall be reviewing books and articles as I find and read them. I shall be writing about historical events Romany men and women have been involved in throughout the centuries. I’m not an historian or a scholar and any opinions or conclusions I form will not come from an academic education but from the beliefs and knowledge gained by being a Romany Gypsy. I’m looking forward to the journey and I hope you will enjoys my posts.

The Wizard of Evesham by M.C. Beaton – book review

This was one of three books I bought on offer in a discount book shop. Out of the three books there was only one I enjoyed. This wasn’t the one.

The Wizard of Evesham is no. 8 in a series of mystery novels by M.C. Beaton. The main character, Agatha Raisin, a middle aged woman who is enjoying a an early retirement while indulging in s spot of ameteur detection. Some of her fans describe her as a fun loving, wine loving and man loving independent woman. I didn’t find her so. She was bitter, desperate and had a chip on her shoulder because she wasn’t ‘part of the village’.

I was very disappointed with this book. From the blurb and review snippets on the back cover I expected to be plunged into a mystery following a modern Miss Marple as she untangled a web of clues. I expected black humour in a distinctive setting of Evesham, a place I know. What I got was the character moaning about her life for first half of the book, a village setting which could be anywhere in England, unbelievable events surrounding the death, (I doubt the police would attend a suspected bout of food poisioning), and my idea of black humour must be completely different to everyone elses. I skipped ahead to see if it improved. It didn’t. I did not finish the book.

I met some other characters before I gave up, there sole purpose was to give Agatha someone to moan about or to moan too.

The book probably wasn’t that bad but it wasn’t what I expected which has led me to be highly critical. It’s catergorised as ‘humourous mystery fiction’ but I thought it was more ‘women’s fiction/mystery’ as the story mostly centres on the main characters life, the murder is more like the subplot.

This is a popular book series and has been into a tv series, maybe the others books are better, personally I don’t think I’ll be trying another.

The Vagabond Clown by Edward Marston – book review

I picked this up in a discount book shop on a three book deal.

Its book 13 in the Nicholas Bracewell/Elizabethan Mysteries. When a murder and a riot occurs during a performance by Lord Westfields Men, Nicholas Bracewell suspects someone has a grudge against the theatre company. Evicted from their permanent residence in London the troupe tour the countryside of Kent but disaster and death follows them.

This was very easy read. The historical setting was depicted faithfully without being preachy. There was enough action to keep me interested if I didn’t want to puzzle out the mystery and there were enough clues and red herrings if I wanted to put my brain in gear and start thinking. The dialogue was entertaining and the characters interesting.

I believe this isn’t the best in the series but it hasn’t put me off reading the others. Overall, a good entertaining book.

What does it mean to be a Gypsy?

I’ve been hanging around alot of cultural forums recently and one question that keeps cropping up is how do we identify ourselves? As Gypsy, Romani or Traveller? This has led to other questions. Is there a difference? And how does a person identify as a Gypsy, Romani or Traveller?

I’ve never questioned my racial identity or felt the need to prove it. I am an English ‘Romani’ (old language) / ‘Traveller’ (modern language) / ‘Gypsy’ (outsiders language). Sorry for the excess punctuation.

For many of my community it is an irrelevant question. We are what we are. But there is a growing movement amongst the community to challenge outsiders perceived opinions about what a Romani, Gypsy or Traveller is, and this has led us to question how we define our cultural and racial identity.

Ask anyone who has little or no knowledge of RGT communities outside of the media or fiction and they will almost always define the following:

Romani – a nomadic wanderer living a romanticized life in a horse drawn wagon.

Gypsy – a dirty thief, vagabond, criminal with no regard for other people.

Traveller – an uneducated layabout tax dodger who buys expensive designer stuff and who lives on illegal encampments

I am none of the above.

Current UK goverment legislation defines Gypsies, Romani and Travellers as ‘Persons who wander or travel for the purpose of making or seeking their livelihood’

I am also none of the above.

So if I am a typical Romani and I am none of the above, how do the 300,000 other Romani in the UK identify themselves? I say 300,000 but the figure is likely to be more as many Romani will not admit their racial ethnicity on censuses and forms through fear of racism and predjudice.

Recently London Gypsies and Travellers (a UK charity) have started a campaign #weareallsomanythings. Its aim, to show the wide variety of people contained in our equally varied community and to show that we have the same values and goals as everyone else.

So how would I define the rich and varied cultures and communities of Romani, Gypsies and Travellers? There is no denying we are a community set apart from other communities but there is no one tradition, religion, or origin which defines us as a culture.

A value of family life, traditional or otherwise, a respect for older members of our community, and a strict code of cleanliness are not unusual in any culture, particularly one with nomadic origins. We have no common religion or country origin which binds us together. Yet a Romani from the England might speak with a Romani from Spain and recognise each other as from the same race of people.

Perhaps the thing which defines our race is the centuries of segregation and persecution we have suffered. It has created an inherent mistrust of any outsiders, a mistrust which has fostered further predjudism. If the continued segregation and predjudice had lessened it may be that Romani would have been absorbed by their adopted country and our culture and language disappear completely.

Romani across the globe are organising themselves. We are challenging predjudice and everyday I see small successes. So perhaps we should be asking ourselves what it means to be Romani or Gypsy or Traveller, define our culture by our own standards and be proud of it. If we don’t we may lose the very thing we are fighting for, our racial identity.