Sunday, 13 June 2010
If you went down to the woods today, you were in for a big surprise - in Milton Country Park that is, where I came across the first old Gypsy caravan close to the entrance. Milton Country Park was home to Gypsies, Roma, Travellers - by invitation, as part of the Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month.
Proud owner Bill Goodman was happy to chat and let me have a closer look at his small caravan dating back to the 1910-1920 period, lovingly painted and with doors open so you could see the interior. An almost delicately cast lovely old stove on the left, the raised bunk bed at the back which we laughed would be a problem for a six footer like myself, and the ceiling which was covered in padded patterned fabric for insulation.
I had to return home to get my camera as the photographic opportunities were fantastic. Candy Sheridan who had organised the event told me "We wanted to have a meeting going back to the old values!" And consequently the fields of the Country park now housed an assortment of caravans and vehicles that shouted out the pride of their owners through the lovingly and highly decorated and furnished interiors of the painted caravans to the gleaming spaceships of the road in chrome and steel of the seventies, with their cut crystal glass windows.
My impromptu stay extended to nearly three hours as I not only photographed the sights (see slideshow above) but also talked to the open and generally very friendly travellers there. As a long term camper (with tents), I recognised the relaxed air in which the plots are settled and the neighbours getting together to help each other out.
By six pm, a small open wood fire was on the go with three men tending a pot of bubbling water and adding the vegetables, whilst the young woman from a nearby caravan came across to start off the lamb mint burgers in a pan on the fire.
The event was the brainchild of Candy Sheridan, a Gypsy councillor from Norfolk, two months ago - when it became apparent that previous venues (e.g. Strawberry Fair) were not available. With the help of Sarah Baylis they found Milton Country Park willing to host the event.
Candy's caravan had a constant stream of visitors and friends as she cheerfully chatted with me and expressed her delight, that for once this was a wholly community organised event without agencies and other charities, that had fulfilled her desire for a family day out for both visitors and exhibiting travellers.
She introduced me to others from the Gypsy community actively involved whether politically (such as herself and Richard Sheridan - President of the Gypsy Council and regular advisor to local and national government) or culturally such as broadcaster, photographer and film maker Simon Evans - also author of "Stopping Places: A Gypsy History of South London and Kent". Patricia Knight, the National Coordinator for Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month, also turned up later, resplendent in a lovely golden orange shawl.
The pleasant leisurely afternoon with camera and conversation provided a gentle antidote of extensive business traveling with clients in the past week (though that too had its pleasures) and was a welcome start to the weekend.
If you missed the event this year, look out for the next one in 2011!