New Internationalist

Endpiece

Issue 238

new internationalist
issue 238 - December 1992

E N D P I E C E
Guilty of nomadism
All Nicola Gregory and her family want is a hard and simple life - away from 'the madness of the twentieth century'.
But that simple desire meets with complex hostility.

Illustration by CLIVE OFFLEY I am described as a lot of things by different people. To the police I am a 'New Age traveller', to the local authorities I am a 'camper' or 'hippy'. To Douglas Hurd, the former British Home Secretary, I am a 'mediaeval brigand'.

What I really am is the mother of three young children whom I wash, clean, feed and teach from 7:30 am until 8:30 pm daily. My name is Nicki and my children are Jessica, who is four, Rachael, who is two, and Lisa who is one. Their father is Richard and, together with our cat and dog, we live in a beautiful old trailer pulled by a big old (and legal) truck.

We left our rented accommodation in Birmingham, UK, in a converted bus four years ago hoping to find somewhere more satisfying to live. We wanted a place where we wouldn't have to fear walking in the streets, where we wouldn't have to worry about our children inhaling heavily polluted air every time we let them out to play. We felt something was wrong, something was missing, so we went searching for that missing something and to our delighted surprise we found many beautiful uncultivated pieces of wasteland', many little nooks and crannies which had been forgotten about.

In these places we found other people - there were ex-nurses, engineers, carpenters, financial consultants, social workers and even a vicar. All were living in converted trucks, buses, benders, horse boxes, trailers and wagons pulled by horses. All were seeking a different way of life - a better way of life - away from the madness of the twentieth century.

Anyone entering a travellers' site for the first time must be prepared for the culture shock. Imagine stepping back into the sixteenth century, seeing people working with twentieth century tools. They'll be wearing colourful, worn clothes and often have windswept hair and dirty, smiling faces. There will be a fire heating a large iron kettle - someone cooking, someone singing, a mother quietly nursing her baby, children loudly playing and perhaps the sound of someone playing a whistle, violin or barong.

You will find a close community who look after one another, working with others to survive. Here the life is hard. Each day we need wood for cooking and warmth, and sometimes we have to walk far to find dead wood which we'll then carry home, saw and axe into suitable pieces. Then there is the water to fetch and the washing to do. These are our daily chores which have to be done. In warm weather these activities can be a pleasure since you get to see the land around you and watch it change through the seasons. The winters are not so kind to us and I've been through more than one I'd like to forget. But that is when you really appreciate being amongst a community. You have to pull together, everyone has a part and all are equal. There are no thefts, no muggings, no rapes, no murders. The children are safe.

No strangers can come amongst us without being heard by the horses, dogs or geese. They will be watched, scrutinized and perhaps turned away. But they might also be led to the fire and given food to eat and something to drink. We are always suspicious of the police, the council and locals with shotguns. We have been hurt many times. So we sometimes hide. If we are seen, we'll be moved and every time we move we have problems. We can't live on local-authority land but neither can we live on privately owned land - even with the landowner's permission because the council will say the landowner hasn't got the landowner' s permission to let us stay! Often we can find places where nobody knows we are there for months. It seems strange to me that landowners don't know we are there until the council authorities, the police or locals tell them. Then suddenly we are evicted and the areas blocked off. Not for development but just to stop travellers from staying there. So where do we go?

Anyone who has travelled with children will understand the apprehension and anxiety I feel when we are forced to take to the road again. Not knowing where we are going or even which road to take, driving all day and night, looking for wood and water and wondering if we'll have enough money left for food after we have paid for the diesel that we need.

We are often told to go to the authorized sites for 'travelling people' but these places are unsuitable for our needs. This was recently recognized by the Scottish Office's Advisory Committee on Travelling People. The authorized sites are no good for benders - the dwellings that many of us make for ourselves. They are no good for our animals. And they are no good if you wish to have the right to live the way you choose without petty rules and regulations and with the freedom to travel.

We believe our way is one of the most environmentally acceptable ways to live on this island today. Staying only briefly in places, we use the land only a little, and the land will soon right itself when we are gone. We make use of dead wood in the locality which makes room for new trees and plants to grow and we often plant trees ourselves. We bury our bodily wastes which will quickly bio-degrade and enrich the soil. We use water sparingly. We collect and recycle other people's rubbish. You should never be able to tell where responsible travellers have lived.

So why is our lifestyle being criminalized?

Nomadism is a valid way of life yet we, like this planet, are in danger of extinction. Surely this is wrong?

Nicola Gregory is currently living in Scotland, UK.

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