Certainly politicians, national and local, have once again failed miserably. Foresight and recognising the possible consequences of their decisions appears to skip the gene pool when it comes to our politicians and they have long since lost their moral compass, if they ever had one. We are now faced with Basildon council enforcing, very publicly, the green belt planning regulations that they should have enforced years ago before the illegal half of the site became established. At the same time our national government are de-regulating planning so that more housing can be built on, yes, the green belt. On our small over populated island these issues are always going to be hotly debated, not surprisingly people feel very strongly about protecting the natural environment. There was a time when Gypsies were an intrinsic part of that environment, and as one of my characters, Marguerite Buchanan, states, ‘Gypsies were really rather green.’ Certainly they were largely self-sustaining, needing little more than some grazing for the horses, a stream for water and something for the pot.
As Greer points out, we have no idea just how many travellers there are in this country and equally uncertain are the statistics for Roma. They have poor health and living on the margins of society, little formal education. As a society we still have to find a way to reconcile where the Roma that remain and the travellers who came after them can live out their nomadic lifestyle, balancing their needs and those of the settled community at the same time as protecting the green belt from whatever or whoever encroaches on it. Politicians beware!
Greer concludes that planning departments are known as ‘hotbeds of cronyism’ and that Dale Farm incenses local residents who see that the regulations have not been applied fairly. I would agree with her about the injustice and I certainly feel that the green belt must be protected from all development, after all that is the point of it. There is also fear of the ‘other,’ I live in a county that is on the way to nowhere, deep within the local community lies suspicion of the stranger, it has eased a little with the influx of incomers, but at heart that suspicion remains; we are all foreigners here and would do well to remember it.
This summer magazines were awash with pictures of beautifully restored Gypsy caravans and shepherd’s huts, it seems when our credit is crunched we yearn for a simpler way of life. But contrast this with the eyesores, the shanty, often illegal sites tucked on to scraps of unusable land beneath flyovers or beside highway grit stores. Perhaps if our home grown nomads, the Gypsies and travellers had retained their painted vardo/wagons they would be given attractive sites, embraced and seen as Greer says ‘proud, noble and picturesque’. As it is our opinions appear to be caught in a hinterland between tolerance and prejudice, romance and squalor.
If you would like to know more about rural life and Gypsies here are some suggestions.
The Museum of Rural Life. Reading. Berks. Which holds the Robert Dawson collection.
Gordon Boswell Museum. Spalding. A wonderful collection of Gypsy Vardo and a wealth of information on the Gypsy way of life.
The Patrin web journal. http://www.geocities.com/Paris/ 5121/lexicontrol.htm