Page 1

… and badly dressed: A viewer’s guide to Pavee Lackeen By Mitchell Miller I. PROGRAMME NOTES

I will sum her up by saying that for every fault she had a quality for which she was perhaps all the more striking JVSQXLIGSRXVEWX7LILEHEWXVERKI[MPHFIEYX]EJEGIXLEX[EWHMWGSRGIVXMRKEX½VWXFYXYRJSVKIXXEFPI Prosper Merimee, Carmen, Oxford World Classics Edition -XIRHXSETTVSEGLQSWX½PQWEFSYX8VEZIPPIVW[MXLI\XVIQIXVITMHEXMSR8LI]LEZIEXIRHIRG]XSQEOI]SY feel as if you are being discussed in a very crowded room without ever being included in the conversation. Onscreen, and in a more tolerant age, the Traveller tends to appear in two guises. The Traveller can be a FEVSQIXIVSJWSGMEPJEMPYVIWTIGM½GEPP]EPMFIVEPHIQSGVEG]´WMREFMPMX]XSGSRJIVMXWKMJXWIUYEPP]YTSREPP its peoples. ‘It’s hard on the margins’ goes the conventional wisdom; Travelling is a miserable existence, an endless litany of (virtuous) suffering, the poor kids looking in on the sweetie shop. In others, the Traveller is welcomed, as in Merimee’s Carmen for its contrarian value, the picturesque savage clutched to the bosom of the cognoscenti as the latest ‘pure thing’. They have much to teach ‘us’ (as in, you, the reader, the watcher) but not themselves – (or, for that matter, ourselves). We/I after all, already have the secret, whatever that happens to be. Not that it’s Merimee’s fault – he learned from a past master: They are in such a state of purity that it sometimes saddens me to think we did not learn of them earlier, at a time when there were men who were better able to appreciate them than we. Michel de Montaigne, On Cannibals ;I´PPGSQIFEGOXSXLI*VIRGLMREQMRYXIMRXLIFEWXEVHKIRVISJXLI³+]T¾MGO´-VIPERHLEWFIIRXLIQSWX TVSPM½GSJXLI%RKPSTLSRIGSYRXVMIW8LMWMWRSXWYVTVMWMRK¯-VIPERH´W8VEZIPPIVTSTYPEXMSRMWYRPMOIXLIMVFVSEH counterparts in Scotland, England or Wales, large, visible and increasingly vocal. Films such as Trojan Eddie, Into the West and Traveller are to some extent an attempt to expiate Ireland’s biggest, darkest sin, for which the British for once, are not to blame. The Traveller as exhibit A in a wider social commentary was also adopted JSV&VMXEMR´W½VWX³(SKQI´½PQ.ER(YRR´WGypo, in which the eponymous east-European migrant shed light on the tensions and prejudices in an English working class family. Bosom-chokers would include Into the West, SVE½PQ-[EWSRGIEWOIHXSVIWIEVGLJSV XLEXRIZIVQEHIMXSYXSJHIZIPSTQIRXLIPP MR[LMGLERI[P] EVVMZIH6SQERMKMVPEPXIVREXIWFIX[IIREGEVXSSR[SVPHERHXLIVIEP8LI½PQMWSRLSPH[LMGLQE]FIJSV the best, but I took two things from it. Firstly that in 2005 Gyppos, Tinks, Carnies and Pikies were very much

the drouth

7


in vogue. Secondly, when it comes to depicting and understanding ‘these people’, there is a cartoon world, a real one, and a hell of a job getting to the truth.

undercurrents and the same recourse to the will as sophisticated Frenchmen. Carmen is ancestral to the girl in Pavee Lackeen – perhaps something of an embarrassing old aunt – but of a kind.

From my notes: Pavee Lackeen – inner world, the Lackeen’s hopes, Traveller, the relevance XSXLI[MHIVGSRßMGX0EGOIIRTIVGITXMSRW – Traveller, an objective truth … When writing essays the adoption of the pronoun is an important initial decision. In this case there is little TSMRXMRIJJIGXMRKHMWXERGI¯XLMWMWE½VWXTIVWSRVERX I am not an Irish Traveller (though they feature in my ancestry) but a Scottish Fairground /Show Traveller, and it should be understood we are chronic sufferers of Freud’s narcissism of small differences – threatened F]XLSWI[LSVIWIQFPIYWXLIQSWX7YJ½GIXS say, relations between Travellers like me and the Travellers of Perry Ogden’s Pavee Lackeen have not always been harmonious. But it is hard, nevertheless, RSXXSXEOIWYGL½PQWE little personally, given that these differences between Travellers are indeed (if we are to be entirely honest) largely ones of degree, fortune and circumstance. I approached Pavee Lackeen with customary trepidation – surely, yet another dogooding Director with a camera, setting out in search of the exotic – and in 2004-05 no less, the year of Kilroy.1 But English director Perry Odgen (undoubtedly a bright young thing) has done something rather special [MXLXLMW½PQ6SYKLIHKIHERHTVSYHSJMXMXMWE tale without plot or dramatic structure. All is clutter, WYGLEWXLI8VEMPIVWGPYWXIVIHEQMHWXXLI¾SXWEQERH jetsam of an industrial estate, painted in tones of concrete grey and dirty white. The plot focuses on detailing the experience of Dublin Traveller Winnie 1EYKLEREFVMKLXTVIXX]ERHHMJ½GYPXQMHHPIGLMPH of 10, and her attempts to gain an education as she tries to make the best of both her ambitions and her circumstances. When Prosper Merimee calculated the standard deviance of the Spanish Cale in Carmen, his descriptions of the heroin’s face, her wolf eyes and contrarian beauty is grade A romantic bluster; but it was also a step towards complicating the Gypsy in European popular culture, of giving it currents,

8

the drouth

3RTETIV3KHIR´W½PQMWRSXIWTIGMEPP]SVMKMREP – another exercise in British and Irish social realism MRXLI[IPP[SVRLEMVWLMVXSJXLI³GSQMRKSJEKI½PQ´ Like Billy in Kes (1969), Jamie in the Bill Douglas Trilogy (1972), Liam in Sweet Sixteen (2001), or Frankie Mac in 16 Years of Alcohol (2003), or most obviously, Christine in Christine (1987), Winnie is a Child Under Threat. Will she take command of herself, and her life, as she clearly could, or will she be sucked down into crime, TSZIVX]ERHHITIRHIRGI#Pavee Lackeen retreads the path to social breakdown favoured by such ½PQQEOIVWSFWIWWIHMJ]SYPMOI[MXLXLIJEMPYVIWSJ social democracy, even as they cry out for more of it. Familiar as it is, Odgen’s is a good interpretation of an old song, in part because of its audacious semidocumentary technique that is for the most part unfailingly honest about what is society’s doing, what is her family’s and what is Winnie’s. And, for ERYQFIVSJZIV]WTIGM½G cultural reasons, the child’s-eye view is in this instance an appropriate one. Travellers put an exaggerated premium on their children in a way entirely unconnected to post-modern moral panics. They tend to act through their children, and these children are so often the focus of their contact with the settled world, through schools, social work or, as in the case of Pavee Lackeen’s origins, the Children’s Court system.2 There is also a refreshing lack of dogma in Pavee Lackeen. As the succession of powerless social workers demonstrates, settled society offers no magical solutions. In Gypo, Jan Dunn applied Dogme techniques to the British traditional of social realism. 3HKIR´W½PQWLEVIWQER]JIEXYVIW[MXL(SKQI – what Shane Danielsen describes as ‘needs-driven’ ½PQQEOMRK¯MRXLEX3HKIRHSIWRSXQEOIETPSX or any sort of conspiracy out of the Traveller way of life.3 The narrative is almost perversely sparse, the rough framework of a threatened eviction from the family’s roadside camp. But most un-Dogme like [EWXLIPIMWYVIP]TEGISJ½PQQEOMRKWTVIEHSZIV


a year or two living with the Travellers and using a species of dramaturgy to develop the small incidents ERHWMKRM½GERXQSQIRXWMR;MRRMI´WHEMP]KVMRH¯MR a sense, it is similar to the community based, groupmethod adopted in Zacharias Kunuk Atanarjuat The Fast Runner (See Lars Kristensen’s article on Inuit iconography in The Drouth 19) where an entire Inuit community contributed ideas, props and actors XSXLI½PQ-XMWEFVEZI¾E[IHZEPYEFPIHIFYX For a number of reasons, Joe Comerford’s Traveller set out many of the important features of the GypFlick from which Pavee Lackeen deviates, a sapient cousin further down the evolutionary ladder. Traveller represents in many respects a transition in Irish cinema from its experimental phase to the poetic realism of its maturity. This was the director’s feature debut, but it has the double distinction of being Neil .SVHER´W½VWXSRWGVIIRGVIHMXEWWGVMTX[VMXIVERH IZIREXXLMWIEVP]WXEKILMWWMKREXYVIMW¾YIRXERH recognisable. The extreme situations, plot twists ERHSRKSMRKWSGMEPGSQQIRXJEQMPMEVXSE½GMSREHSW of the Crying Game (as well as the somewhat GPYQW]MRWIVXMSRSJ'PMGO]EGSR¾MGXIH-6%QER  are all here in embryo, as indicated in the singularly gloomy strapline pasted onto the opening credits: ‘An ancient, intimate and dark connection exists between murder and politics.’ Although the narrative follows the ill fortunes of an arranged marriage, Jordan and Comerford make it clear this is a family drama with all the emblematic state-of-the-nation weight of War and Peace. As relics of Ireland’s past set adrift in an Ireland scarred by war and suddenly bloated with new capital, Traveller newlyweds Angela (Judy Donovan) and Michael (Davy 7TMPPERI JYP½PXLI8SPWXS]MERVSPISJlumpenproletarian Bezhukovs. Comerford ‘authenticated’ his ½PQXLVSYKLGEWXMRK Irish Travellers in Key roles, and punctuating the narrative with scenes depicting Traveller lifeways – lots SJGEQT½VIWSJXIR in pitch blackness, desolate scrapyards and bender tents, painted in Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s saturated, morose palette of KVIIRWKVI]WERHFVS[RW8LIVE[RIWWSJXLI½PQ stock, the lack of incidental music, simple camera work and naturalism embellish the script with ethnographic authority, the power of anthropology. We are being

presented here with what could be called ‘the totality’ WYGL½PQWWXVMZIJSV%PP8VEZIPPIVPMJIMWTVIWIRXIHLIVI framed, captured and projected, and the checklist completed; traditional music, arranged marriages, bowtop wagons, a good punch up and a police eviction. This desire to contain the totality of an entire culture is a strange thing – for who can say what the whole SJEXLMRKMWSXLIVXLERMXWS[RIV#-EP[E]W[SRHIVIH why Freud, who gleaned so much from anthropology, never considered their narcissism of small differences. Anthropology is of course, a Great Bourgeois Science: surely only Great Bourgeois Scientists would entertain the clearly absurd notion that the totality of a culture could be boiled down to a series of research papers, a VIIPSJGLIQMGEPP]XVIEXIHPMKLXWIRWMXMZI½PQSVE(: XETIJVSQXLI7SR]43HKIRYWIHXSQEOILMW½PQ But the apparent neuroses of anthropologists must [EMXJSVERSXLIVXMQI7YJ½GIXSWE]XLIMWWYIWHVMZIR ½PQQEOIVEXXIRHWEWMQMPEVGPMRMG-JXLIW]QFSPMWQSJ Michael and Angela’s forced marriage is overplayed, but with some subtlety; they are incapable of speaking to each other, yet uncomfortable within their own thoughts; when they do reach out, it is to lash out; when they want to demonstrate their love, or their feelings, it is through an act of violence. In short, TravellerMWE½PQEFSYX8VEZIPPIVWXLEXMWEGXYEPP]XEPOMRK about something else entirely – is the violent life depicted here endemic to Traveller society (implied in a punch up at Michael and Angela’s wedding), WSQIXLMRKZIV]WTIGM½GXSXLIGLEVEGXIVW MQTPMIHMR the way we so frequently share Angela’s thoughts), or the dictates of political symbolism (not so much MQTPMIHERHI\TPMGEXIH #-W1MGLEIP´WERXMGPMQEGXMG QYVHIVSJLMWJEXLIVMRPE[MRXLI½REPWGIRIWE GSRJYWMSRSJPSZI[MXLVIXVMFYXMSRSVETSPMXMGEPEGX# In Comerford’s Ireland not even patricide (a staple of Irish literature famously lampooned in Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World) can bring a satisfactory resolution. Nor does a violent break with the past make it an easier country to inhabit; in a typical Comerford ellipsis, XLI½PQIRHW[MXLEPP three protagonists ¾IIMRKEFVSEH ;LMGLMWEPP½RI and good – Traveller is well worth watching. But because it has a dual loyalty – to anthropology as well as to art – it also poses many problems for the audience. Where art and

the drouth

9


anthropology are so convincingly sewn together, how much of its dramatic licence becomes an EVXMGPISJWGMIRGI#'EREYHMIRGIWVIEPP]XIPP#(SIWMXQEOIER]HMJJIVIRGIMJXLI]HSR´X# What is certain is that by borrowing heavily from 20thGIRXYV]IXLRSPSK]ERHXVERWTSWMRKPSRIP]GEQT½VIW with concrete jungles, Traveller established much of the Gyp-Flicks’ current iconography. Pavee Lackeen owes it a great debt, but it also updates the anachronistic picture Comerford and Jordan painted. It begins with a cup of tea supplied by a tap across a busy road; it ends with another cup of tea, extracted from a broken pipe on a scrap of brownbelt shielded by a fence. In short, in the RI[-VIPERHXLMRKWKIX[SVWI8LMW½PQRIZIVXLIPIWWLEWEWYTIVFP]HEVO sense of humour, avoids moralising in the bourgeois sense (but not in others) and is rarely awkward or contrived. It should of course be noted that as with Traveller, the Winnie Maughan of Pavee Lackeen is also Winnie Maughan, pavee lackeen. The Maughan family play versions of themselves in a version of their actual circumstances and are without exception, superb. %RSXLIV+SSH8LMRKEFSYXXLMW½PQMWXLEXSRFEPERGIMXHSIWRSXVITIEXXLI increasingly tiresome received wisdom that the travelling life is endlessly, but virtuously, miserable (though Ogden does not deliver up a barrel of laughs …). There is misery indeed, which we shall get to in a minute, but Pavee Lackeen EZSMHWEQSYVRJYPPEQIRXSZIVXLIHSYWIHGEQT½VI;LMPIELEVHPMJIXLI pleasures of Travelling can be considerable and are all too often omitted F]½PQQEOIVWMRXIRXSRXYVRMRKRSQEHMWQMRXSE(ERXIHEYRIVXLVSYKL XLIRMRIGMVGPIW'IVXEMRP]'SQIVJSVH´W½PQKMZIWPMXXPIMRHMGEXMSRFI]SRH the wedding, that there are joys to be had on the road. The introduction of Mary, the Traveller-activist tip-toeing in high heels through mucky water and slumming it in a suit is a master WXVSOIVI¾IGXMZISJXLIGYVVIRXXVERWMXMSRWMR8VEZIPPIVWYFGYPXYVI,IPIR.S]GIMWMRVIEPPMJIE8VEZIPPIV[LS has made it in the settled world. As Marie she nails exactly the queasy position she is in: a big shot with no power, torn between the carefully cultivated individual she has created, and the communal intimacy of being pawed affectionately by a pack of younger girls curious about her hair, her clothes and her makeup. From my notes: Whatever the differences, it is impossible to watch Winnie and her mother XV]MRKXSWIXXLIMVXVEMPIVPIZIPSV[EXGL;MRRMIKIXMRXSEÞKLXEXWGLSSPSV even just take a can to fetch some water objectively, or, to be more exact, as a total outsider. There is to too much I recognise in myself. Ogden acquired his cast, and thus his story, through his book Pony Kids project, and there is much about Pavee Lackeen that is photography rather than cinema. As a character study Winnie suggests frightening depths ERHMRXIVREPGSRXVEHMGXMSRWFIRIEXLLIVIP½RJIEXYVIWERHLYKIGEZIVRSYWI]IWQER]SJ[LMGLQE]EGXYEPP] be there, others that are undoubtedly extrapolation on the part of the audience. She has the bulk of screen time and in every glimpse of her we see something new. It is not unlike the qualitative difference the French XLMROIV&EVXLIWMHIRXM½IHFIX[IIRGMRIQEERHLMWFIPSZIHTLSXSKVETLW¯Pavee Lackeen is designed to be looked at repeatedly and elicit independent thought. It is something cinema has become increasingly bad at the more sophisticated it had become, and Odgen’s wilful primitivism is consequentially rather inspiring. Despite, or perhaps because of its sparse dialogue, the people within Pavee Lackeen come across as wellformed individuals independent of their onscreen personae. Ogden’s photography as cinema captures a bubbling surface tension, hinting, but never being so crass as to reveal, the depths underneath. While it can be terribly unsubtle in its multicultural politics, it handles issues such as Rose’s latent alcoholism with tact and subtlety, restricting it to private conversations between sisters and a minor altercation at the end. Such altercations rise – as they do in reality – out of nowhere, disturbing the relative monotony of the lives depicted. In short, it appears aberrant, and is aberrant – it is not normalised or rationalised as a feature of Traveller culture. Pavee LackeenXLYW½RHWMXWS[RGYVVIRG]ERHLIRGIMXWMRHMZMHYEPZEPYI*SVSRI-VMWL Travellers are not – as is common in many representations of them in Irish culture – represented as valuable because of their link to some folk-past-and-present. In Into the West the fairytale quality is what is valued; in Trojan Eddie, Gillies Mackinnon played on their medievalism. Perry’s approach is to make Winnie a complex child of her time, and in showing her divergence from traditional archetypes, goes some way to escaping the

10

the drouth


essentialist trap. In Traveller one of the best jokes is that as a Tink, Angela is asked to sing for Irish Republicans eager to live up their mythic past and makes them regret it. Winnie sings hip-hop to her social workers. When she dances, it is not to a jig but to a video game in an amusement arcade. In these ways, Pavee Lackeen makes merry with a number of symbols of Traveller culture greatly cherished by the ethnologists who study them. 8LIGEQT½VIQEOIWERETTIEVERGIRIEVXLIIRH SJ½PQ[LIR6SWI1EYKLERJEPPWQSQIRXEVMP]SJJ the wagon. Ogden shoots it from the opposite WMHISJXLI¾EQIWXSXLI8VEZIPPIVW[LSEVIEPP middle aged. The implication seems to be that this is an increasingly nostalgic exercise, from which even the younger generation is excluded. From my notes: Traveller’s value NOT measured in their connections to the Irish past. Winnie wants an afrocut. Ogden’s breach of the most cherished Gyp¾MGOGSRZIRXMSRWLEWQEHILMW½PQETTIEVJVIWL and new. They make Pavee Lackeen durable on a number of levels, and the effort to address what Travellers actually are rather than what they never were. But it came at a price: So we talked through the whole thing about it being acting and not a depiction of reality and it was sometimes hard for her and them to make that distinction. This is taken from an interview Ogden gave to the IO Film website where the director discussed the Maughan’s unwillingness to include a scene where Winnie and her friends sniff petrol. Odgen talked Winnie and her mother down, but the impression is that Winnie was especially concerned what the scene would do to her reputation, even her prospects for marriage. The hopping and skipping over the line FIX[IIRJEGXERH½GXMSRGEYWIHPIWWWIVMSYWFYX TIVLETWQSVIXIPPMRKGSR¾MGXWFIX[IIRGEWXERHGVI[ Many of the girls were unhappy over the quality of GPSXLIWXLI][SVIMRXLI½PQ[LMGLTIVTIXVEXIHSR them the double indignity of being not only poor and badly dressed. Winnie was also indignant over a scene where she scoops coins out of a fountain in the middle of Dublin, something she was adamant she would never do. Again, there is this uneasy question SZIVLS[QYGLMWEVXERHLS[QYGLMWWGMIRGI# What further complicates the picture is the opposition Ogden occasionally faced. In Pavee Lackeen Winnie is suspended from an All-Traveller’s school where family rivalries have boiled over

into the playground. The playground is a real one, but does not belong to the school Winnie actually attended. Her school thought Winnie too vulnerable to take part in such a disruptive – and manipulative – process, especially as her paycheck gave her the funds to fritter away the hours in Dr Quirky’s amusement arcade. Ogden notes that: But of course they’d [the Traveller kids] been going to Dr Quirky’s since before they could walk. Which seems fair enough, but it hardly dispels Heisenbergian principles. Doesn’t it matter that XLIVI[IVIGSRWIUYIRGIWSJXLI½PQGVI[FIMRK XLIVI¯FSXLKSSHERHFEH#-WMX3/XSTEVXMGMTEXI in a crappy situation just because it existed before ]SYKSXXLIVI#3KHIRHSIWRSX-XLMROHIEPWS[IPP [MXLXLIWI1SVEPHIPMGEGMIW7YJ½GIXSWE]XLEXLMW ½PQQEOMRKTVSGIWW[LMPIIPIGXVMJ]MRKMRMXWVIWYPXW leaves us with many uneasy questions. And, like Traveller, Pavee Lackeen is every bit as concerned with presenting the totality of the Traveller existence – but in a highly selective manner. The issue boils HS[RXS[LEXI\XIRXWYGLE½PQWLSYPHFIEFSYX the Maughans, and to what extent it must represent all possible truths – a debate possible only to outsiders with superior resources – and control over what the great documentarian Humphrey .IRRMRKWHI½RIHEWXLI³QIERWSJVITVIWIRXEXMSR´

II. GREEN-INK MARGINALIA And control is effectively what it comes down to. So let’s talk about me now, because I’ve been itching to for at least 3,000 words and it’s getting unbearable. I unwittingly came up against the issue of who controls these means of representation just last year, during an otherwise pleasant amble in the Botanical Gardens, I was (of all things) blindsided by the makers of Taggart. I very soon stopped watching the ‘wrapper without a sweetie’ that was the post-McManus show, not least because the hormonally crazed teenager is rarely in at the right times. As was my self-centred wont, I assumed that most other people had stopped watching too, which is why, 16 years after ‘Evil Eye’ aired, I was entirely unprepared for the irate call from my big sister, fuming over last night’s Taggart, which LEHRSXJSVXLI½VWXXMQIHIGMHIHXSXYVR8VEZIPPIVW into a cartoon to revive an otherwise ditch-dull plot. The cop show has a distinguished history of sticking it to the Gyps. I really don’t think they like us, and GERSRP]WYVQMWIXLEXEWMGOP]KSPH½WLSVTSGOQEVOIH XEVQEGSVQE]FIEHIEHKSPH½WLWYWTIRHIHMRXLI black amber of a badly landscaped driveway has

the drouth

11


something to do with it. One of John Hannah’s ½VWXTVSQMRIRXVSPIW[EWMRXLIITMWSHI ‘Evil Eye’, playing Danny Bonnar, murderer of an old Romany fortune-teller in the halycon days of Mark McManus. The silly, but very entertaining plot had the hapless Hannah cursed by his victim in a decent enough reworking of a very old chestnut, LIV½RKIVWJVS^IRMRELI\WMKREWWLII\TMVIHMRE roadside camp. Going for a bit of grit and realism, the screenwriters had Taggart and his entourage dourly grunting over Gyppos and trying hard to GEVIEFSYXXLISPHFEKFPIIHMRKSRXLI¾SSVSJLIV trailer – which had the virtue of honesty about it. Beyond that, the plot was none too remarkable. Leaving aside the bad writing, the ‘eye-rolling’ style of Scottish acting and the complete lack of a Taggart (I always felt the rational course of action following Mark McManus’ death was to launch a spinoff featuring Jean Taggart as a Scottish Ironside4), the show’s latest nomadological adventure is hard work. Essentially Deliverance in sheepskins and sovereign rings, ‘Law’ depicted showground Travellers squatting in Glasgow brownbelt merrily bump off any of their kind who dare to marry outside ‘the community’, betrothing their children at birth and practicing customs that sanction murder. The ‘Showfolk’ have all sorts of taboos wonderfully conducive to a subpar police procedural.5 But what really angered my mother in particular was the poor state of their curtains, the awful tiger skin upholstery in their cars, and the loopy notion we put our living room furniture not in our wagons as would sane and rational residents of the world’s wettest country, but on a patch of wasteground in the open air, for all the world like the forthcoming, long-awaited Edinburgh Fringe production of The Bill as rewritten by Beckett. My niece, whose taste in fashion is apparently impeccable, shared Winnie Maughan’s horror at the assumption of the programme makers that the signifying trait of the gyp is sartorial ineptitude.Yes, more double indignities – evil, and badly dressed. I was summoned from the leafy West End to the family yard in Parkhead. The crush of Jeeps and Land Rovers parked in the yard should have been

12

the drouth

WYJ½GMIRX[EVRMRKXSVYRVYREWJEWXEW-GSYPH But I dared to tread, up the old steps and on to my mother’s couch (placed, incorrectly of course, inside our mobile home …), trying to drink from the Good China without nervously rattling the cup in the saucer. I was surrounded by 10 or so [SQIR[LSLEH¾EROIHF]FMKWMWXIVQSWXSJ[LSQ I was related to (another of whom I’d had a very unsuccessful ‘night of passion’ with in Dumfries in the mid-nineties, now on child number four – not mine though), assembled from almost every Showman’s ]EVHMR+PEWKS[-RXLI½RIWXXVEHMXMSRSJ'LMRIWI Whispers many in this matriarchal assembly (down the line a bit, near the porcelain ballerina) had even gained the impression I was somehow involved. Pleasantries were ruthlessly dispensed with as we settled down to talk about what I was going to do. Like the immaculately dressed activist of Pavee Lackeen I was being pawed at, prodded, studied and tested. My sister (imperative enough to do as I was told) ¾EROIHF]XLIGSYWMRWERHXLIEYRXMIWERHXLILEPJ aunties and the quasi-aunties and the half-cousins and the pseudo-aunties gradually burnished my ears to a sunblush hue. I was in the media; couldn’t I call XLITISTPI[LSQEHIXLITVSKVEQQI#(MHR´XXLI] ORS[[IHMHR´XEVVERKIQEVVMEKIW#;LS[IVIXLI Travellers who had co-operated with the programme ¯WLSYPHR´X[IXLVS[XLIQSYXXLI+YMPH#,EH- XEPOIHXSXLITETIVW]IX#7SQISRI´WHEYKLXIV[EW KSMRKXSKIXQEVVMIHXSE¾EXXMI6 couldn’t we put XLEXMRXLITETIVW#'SYPHQ]³FSSO´SV[LEXIZIVMX MWRSXTYXEREVXMGPIMREFSYXMX#7LSYPHXLI][VMXI to Anne Robinson on Watchdog#;EW-KSMRKXSNYWX WMXEVSYRHERHRSHSVEGXYEPP]KIXYTSJJQ]EVWI# I had not seen Pavee Lackeen at that point. The feeling – and sentiment is unavoidable here – is hard to describe. On the one hand, there is the sense of being punished for your own deviance in acquiring all the XVETTMRKWSJEH]IHMRXLIWLIITWOMR¾EXXMI%RH]IX and yet, it tugs hard at the heart to hear (as I did later) your otherwise tough-enough niece has run LSQIJVSQWGLSSPMRXIEVWSVXLEX]SYV½ZI]IEVSPH nephew has been pelted with stones by kids who were friends last Friday, all over an extremely dull cop show


that can’t even be bothered doing decent research. In such moments the tussle between sentiment and intellect is grossly uneven. I took the tape home, I watched it, and with a sinking feeling realised I was in this for the long haul. This was not simply a case of interpreting our culture in a hostile or critical way – I would have defended Taggart in such an instance (probably from a position near the door) – it was laziness that verged on libel to downright slander. In the timehonoured fashion of the protocols of Zion, or the numerous American colonial ‘Captive Narratives’, they had invented ever more lurid ‘facts’ to prop up a series of plot points that could not exist had they not invented these ‘facts’ about Travellers. It was a bit of shock, given the efforts in recent years by everyone and anyone to reach out and be nice. It was a retro feeling that took me right back to the playground. Director Ian Madden and writer Mike Cullen had called me a HMVX]+]TTS¯[LEX[EW-KSMRKXSHSEFSYXMX# The question I had to answer before thumping the tub was whether this was ignorance, stupidity or EGXYEPLEXVIHSRXLIMVTEVX#-[EWTEVXMGYPEVP]WXVYGO by the extent to which the makers had gone to make us an ‘other’, by casting English actors as the ‘show folk’ despite the fact that around 500 families have spent their winters in Glasgow for over 150 years. It was the meanest trick Taggart had to play (and surely leaves them open to subsequent accusations of Anglophobia) – not only accusing us of murderous traditions we simply don’t have, but denying us even a connection to the city so many of us call home. But what had really touched me – our ‘community’s reputation be-damned’ – was that people were throwing stones at my nephew because of this rubbish. So, suitably calm, cool and obviously objective, I did what I could, which was of course, not very much. I called the Herald to get some column inches, met them halfway on a long letter and had some fun with it. I invoked poor old Kilroy (suggesting he might have found new work; hint for all would be Gyppo activists – never pass up the chance for a good dig below your enemy’s diaphragm. Then follow with a swift left cross, and give it some elbow.). It got a fairly good response from all sorts of people, including a mental health campaigner who was clearly concerned for my

wellbeing. I also wrote to Scottish Media Group who make Taggart (no response) and to Ofcom, voicing my concerns that a primetime cop drama, whose reputation is based at least in part on its ‘realism’, was behaving in this manner. I got a letter back from them, which informed me they would be doing precisely nothing about it. I had been aware of course that the media is jealous of the reality it creates. But I was involved now, so I called the name at the bottom of the Ofcom letter. We had a long and entirely frustrating argument. 8LI½VWXHIJIRGISJXLIHIGMWMSR[EWXLEXTaggart was a drama, therefore permitted to interpret WSGMIX]EWMXWE[½X-TSMRXIHSYXXLIHMJJIVIRGI between slander and interpretation, and wondered how Ofcom would respond to a plot where nuns were depicted drinking blood (actually, an old wives’ tale that was popular in America for a time). As the conversation wore on, I realised that Ofcom tends to see its role as a defender of media licence. My attention was drawn to that episode’s use of the detective drama chestnut of the ‘Stockhausen copper’, the plod who starts to sympathise with the suspect. In this case it was the ginger haired gay cop played by Colin Macreadie who tried to understand ‘our culture’ and got a knife in the belly for his trouble. But, I argued, if ‘our culture’ has been IRXMVIP]JEFVMGEXIHWYVIP]XLMWKIWXYVIMWF]HI½RMXMSR entirely worthless, playing solely to the private QIWWMELJERXEWMIWSJXLIWLS[´WGVIEXSVW#%RH[EWR´X it grossly patronising to depict one deviant’s deviance EWEYXSQEXMGEPP]QYXYEPP]MRXIPPMKMFPIXSERSXLIV#7 (It occurs to me that as a civilised human being, I was entitled to slap the terribly well-meaning 3JGSQSJ½GIVMRXLIGLSTW¯IRXMVIP]JSVLMWS[R good, of course. I concede this may be totally unfair to the man – it could well be that he believed not a word of the theology, and thinks that Pikies and all related species should be herded up and jailed. In which case, I quite forgive him.) From my notes They chori8 clothes from a Third World clothes bin – oh sweet irony! But that’s just my own perversity of spirit – prejudice I can deal with, but outreach, the Blairite principle of Command and Conquer,

the drouth

13


leaves me gasping for a gust of stale unrighteous air. An incredulous Scottish Traveller matriarch once told me about a proposal by her local council to hold a mela celebrating Chinese and Traveller culture. She had no clue even as where to begin on that one. The Travellers were disdainful, the Chinese insulted that their vast and complex society was to be given the same number of bullet points/brightly coloured poster/papier mâché moulds as a caste of ex-tinsmiths and foragers. Travellers simply didn’t understand what hawking scrap ERH½RHMRKEHIGIRXGEQTWMXILEHXSHS[MXLXLI1MHHPI/MRKHSQ.YWXPMOI1V3JGSQXLIVIMWXLMWFM^EVVI assumption by some outreachers that we on the margins are grateful for a bit of company. It is, I would argue, a supremely arrogant assumption of supremacy, masquerading as philanthropy. What incensed this woman was how abstract her culture, her problems and her life were to this nice man from the council, who was clearly pursuing an entirely separate and disinterested agenda and cared not whether he dealt with Pikies or Pakis; targets were being reached regardless of which social deviant was being brought in from the cold. 4YXERSXLIV[E] 4EYP:EPIV]´WXSFII\EGX IZIV]XLMRKMW¾EXXIRIHMRXSERMQEKISJGSJJIIXEFPIW[IIXRIWW EHERKIVSYWWSVXSJTLSXSKVETL][LIVIXLIWYFXI\XWMHIRXM½IHFIRIEXLXLIWYVJEGIEVIMHIRXM½IHF] ERH[MXLXLIHSQMRERXEKIRHE8LIVIMWXLYWEHERKIVMR½PQWWYGLEWPavee Lackeen, which nearly loses its footing in attempting to depict the burgeoning spirit of a multicultural Irish Republic. With a heavyhandedness reminiscent of Loach at his most preachy an extended sequence follows Winnie as she visits a Russian video shop, a Chinese video arcade and an African hairdresser’s. She is of course, the only ‘white girl’ in these situations, untainted and unmarked to those whose difference is more marked. And there is the ring of truth about it; to the likes of Eldridge Cleaver my foibles would no doubt seem petty – but it is still tokenism, and in contrast to Ogden’s restraint and subtlety for the rest of the runtime, he is all thumbs here. Much better – and funnier – is the scene where Minnie and her sister Rosie rob a recycling bin where Irish benefactors can send their old clothes to the Third World. But setting aside the sentimentality of multicultural festivities, their real problem is that they are the very wit and soul of The SpectacleEWSYXPMRIHF]+Y](IFSVH 7II#8SPH]SYXLI*VIRGL[IVIGSQMRKFEGO WSQIXMQI lover of the distinguished Sino French Gypsiologist Alice Becker-Ho (maybe we were too hasty over the Chinese ©# %WEWTIGXEGPIXLIQYPXMGYPXYVEPEKIRHEFEWIHSRSYXVIEGLVIPEXMZIYRHIVWXERHMRKERHEGGSQQSHEXMSR of differing beliefs and values distract, in the case of the peripatetic nomad, from the very real underlying problems that reshape him or her as the ravenous beast lurking in the lay-bys and village greens who must be tamed, restrained and penned into a site, preferably tucked behind a waste treatment plant or railway line. Despite all its best efforts, multiculturalism has failed to counter these lurid images, or educate even the writers of Taggart%RHMXMWWMKRM½GERXXLEXXLI]LEZIRSXJSVEVIRSX8VEZIPPIVWMRWSQER][E]WYRWYMXIHXSXLI ³IXLRMG´QSHIPSR[LMGLQYPXMGYPXYVEPWSGMIXMIWEVIYRMXMWIHWYVIP]8,)XIWXGEWIJSVXLIQYPXMGYPXYVEPQSHIP# For the left, guilt over Travellers does not stem from the fact Travellers are corralled into grim, soulless ‘approved’ sites, but their persistent deviance from the social democratic system and their failure to become ‘socialised’ into the values bound into every inch of these facilities. Staying on a council-run WMXIQYGLQSVIWSXLERKSMRKMRXSELSYWIVIUYMVIWEHIKVIISJWYFQMWWMSR8LISJ½GMEPWIQTPS]IH by the council to run these places are by and large, decent people. They are supposed to be called by the new name of ‘site manager’. I’m happy to report that most Travellers still call them wardens. It would help the left to admit that the wilful nonconformity of Travellers makes them, on a deep and profound level, offensive to many of their most cherished ideals, whereas for the right, they are entirely the wrong sort of individualist and thus, can be attacked from a fairly consistent ideological standpoint. Travellers’ persistent clannishness and pre-modern sensibilities make them repellent to either ideological poles on a number of levels. They are anarchists who never attend the peace marches. In fact, the Traveller is something of a natural Tory of the pirate breed. In coming up against the perplexity of wellQIERMRKSJ½GMEPWSZIVXLIWITIVZIVWIRSQEHW-EQVIQMRHIHWSQI[LEXSJERI\GIVTXJVSQXLIFSSO Mediocracy – Inversions and Deceptions in an Egalitarian CultureLIVIHI½RMRKXLI[SVH³FPEGO´ Ethnic culture which advances egalitarian values is cheered and promoted, but blacks who identify with bourgeois values are shunned. Mediocracy, written by the Oxford economist and PricewaterhouseCooper account Fabiano Tassano, is one of those nastily useful little books the right have an annoying tendency to produce. Tassano’s astute observations of the much-pummelled language of public discourse are delivered with the delicacy and intellectual agility of a beached whale – and Mediocracy is, of course, purely a left-wing vice – no mention of 1YVHSGL&IVPYWGSRMSVXLI8LEXGLIVMXIGVYWEHIXSIRGSYVEKIXLIJIGOPIWWXS[EVHWMRWXERX½RERGMEPJIGYRHMX]

14

the drouth


The book is a polemic, a battle of hegemonies and occasionally, a mass evacuation of toys from the pram. But his analysis of the word ‘black’ is a little too truthful – and transferable – for my liking. Francis Fukuyama, a right-winger who also knows what it is to be ‘black’ in inverted commas, recently came out against multiculturalism in an essay for Prospect: The old multicultural model was based on group recognition and group rights. Out of a misplaced sense of respect for cultural differences – and in some cases out of imperial guilt – it ceded too much authority to GYPXYVEPGSQQYRMXMIWXSHI½RIVYPIWSJFILEZMSYVJSVXLIMV own members. Liberalism cannot ultimately be based on group rights, because not all groups uphold liberal values. %KEMR-½RHMXLEVHXSHMWEKVII7S[SYPHQSWX Travellers, of any stripe, I know. One thing that strikes me in conversation with them is how much a Stewart loathes the idea of being represented by a Gilheaney, or a Wright by a Codona. It’s good to have a Mary (or a Mitch …) to translate the absurdities of the wider world to the horizons of a site or the level of a ground, but so many non-Travellers come to me in a state of perplexity over the constant shifting of the goal posts. Just as a council or social work department thinks they have learned what ³XLIWITISTPI´[ERXXLI]½RHXLEXMXQE]MRJEGX be entirely the opposite. And the looks on some of the faces of non-gyp colleagues who have come EGVSWW8VEZIPPIVGYWXSQWERHEXXMXYHIWJSVXLI½VWX time are etched permanently into my occipitals.9 Travellers are ‘black’, but in all the wrong ways. Of course, it helps to understand that the group or ‘community’ has been given a new currency, a theological degree of goodness, of softness and warmth. Being of and in a group is assumed to be good, benevolent, transmissive of caring values. But – and it’s a big but – these groups must be of a large constituency, superseding the family. Hence, the creation of an ethnic group of Gypsies/Travellers JSVWSQIX]TIWSJ8VEZIPPIVEHI½RMXMSRXLEXLEWWS JEVJEMPIHXSWEXMW½IHER]SRI MXLEWERSFPMUYIMRMX for Christ’s sake!). Travellers of course, hold family above all other institutions – so the transmission of these egalitarian, social democratic values are almost inevitably stymied. In that sense, Travellers do not uphold the correct values for multiculturalism to function properly within a society so dedicated and so constituted. Put another way, not only have they not been turned into Labour voters, they have barely been turned into voters at all. The marriage is not much better than Michael and Angela’s. So let’s apply Fukuyama’s notion of the illiberal group with a broad, tarry brush to Travellers. On a ‘community’ level, there is every good reason

to dislike the whole lot of them – and even more so on a civic one. They are exclusive – extending fellowship in lukewarm degrees to those outside the group, and almost gratuitously to those inside it. They generally have no politics and arguably no public moral dimension. Their representatives tend to be anti-modern. Some of them (but not all) keep their daughters away from school after a certain age. They still call Afro-Caribbean’s ‘darkies’ (which a lot of people still do of course, but Travellers perhaps have less excuse). They are anti-education, therefore antiintellectual. They admire royalty and other established forms of thuggery as good, family businesses. In the SJ½GMEPPMXIVEXYVIWSJGYVVIRXKSZIVRQIRXWERHXLI CRE, a ‘community’ is spoken of, despite the fact that half of it thinks the other half the government LEWGPEWWIHEWFIPSRKMRKXSMXWLSYPHFIHMWUYEPM½IH – and for that matter, doesn’t especially like being lumped in with half of its own relatives. As they preen over their small differences countless ‘liaisons’ and support workers fall over themselves to show how well versed they are IN these small differences, and even become more protective of them than the 8VEZIPPIVW¯XLI]LEZIEJXIVEPPMHIRXM½IHXLIXSXEPMX] of what they are. On even this base, basic analysis, the Traveller is utterly corrosive to the egalitarian spirit. No, the only reason to not dislike Travellers (I leave liking to personal taste) to be sympathetic to ‘us’ is purely existential; we are likewise human, subject to frailties and like everyone else our culture gives as much drag as it does lift. Existentially, there is the argument that whatever is presented to us on a ‘community’ level, each and every gyp, pikie and carnie has the same potential to be more than just a constituent. Our lifestyle, similarly, could also be replete with its own measure of potential. The ultimate truth alluded or eluded by Travellers onscreen, is that the social or liberal democratic state can only ever realistically engage with, or redeem the individual. As soon as they become subsumed within a gross bureaucratic unit as a ‘community’, subtle creatures such as Winnie are lost to us. From my notes: To what extent does it matter that the Maughans are Travellers, and to what extent they are poor? Rich Travellers – like rich Gorgers/Flatties or otherwise, elevate themselves through buying power – land to develop their own sites, buy nicer trailers. The prejudice doesn’t magically end with the bucks, but layers of insulation are suddenly affordable. This is shown in Mary the activist. It is of course, great to want to understand, to have the patience and ingenuity of a Perry Ogden or Joe Comerford. I would rather see them in work

the drouth

15


than stomach more trash from Madden and Cullen. But I can’t help feel that the fatal mistake of multiculturalism is, on the one hand, to confuse ‘understanding’ for excusing groups from the rigours involved in sustaining an open society, and on the other (and far, far more seriously) mistake it for an endpoint rather than a process. But there is very little I, or my niece or Winnie Maughan can do with understanding and sympathy. There are several ‘home truths’ to be admitted. Firstly, that the economic basis of our society has changed in ways that marginalise the Traveller and prioritise the integration of those groups most/more valuable to the economy. That is, it makes sound commercial and economic sense to accommodate a large labour market such as the Poles, or South Asian immigrants, and absolutely none to accommodate a pack of itinerants. And yet, the multicultural agenda must automatically attempt it, lest its internal logic falter. Nor can Multiculturalism recognise that the main issue for Travellers is not mutual recognition (almost overwhelmingly, they just want the state to leave them alone) but the appropriation and TVMZEXMWEXMSRSJGSQQSRPERH8LIMRXIRWM½IH development of land by avaricious councils and land-hungry contractors has wrinkled the ‘smooth space’ of the nomad described in Gilles Deleuze’s Nomadology,S[GER8VEZIPPIVW½RHXLIXMQIXS make Chinese lanterns when the common ground MWPMXIVEPP]FIMRKIVSHIHJVSQXLISXLIVHMVIGXMSR# The real issue lies in the application of the law, and common understandings of rights and responsibilities before it – and if that sounds like classic liberalism then that’s because it essentially is. To solve the problem of the Maughans may be beyond us, but a start would be face up to the real issue of land use and the innate hostility of settled society to its nomadic counterpart. Foraging, hawking and entertaining were always disreputable professions, but they were admirably free spirited, well suited to the nomadic habit. Such foraging has been replaced for many, by income support and all the worst tendencies welfare dependency elicits. This is in part the fault of Travellers too in love with their wide-boy/girl heritage – happy XSKIXWSQIXLMRKJSVRSXLMRK&YXMXEPWSVI¾IGXWXLI painful inadequacy of Travellers in a world of written (VMZMRK8IWXWERH2EXMSREP5YEPM½GEXMSRW[LIVITYFPMG space no longer exists, and that the economic niche 8VEZIPPIVWSRGI½PPIHMWEPPFYXKVSYXIHSZIV;LIR it comes down to it each Traveller must face this as

16

the drouth

an individual – mindful, naturally, of the Grand Confederation of Aunties and Pseudo-Aunties – but recognising, as I think many do, that their traditional group culture is WMQTP]RSXIUYMTTIHXS½RIWWIE world without the village green. Then we have to contend with the whole issue of guilt – and I do not just mean my guilt at daring to tippy-toe through the puddles, but the insidious cult of guilt at which so many of us chattering classmates worship. Few mainline as regularly or to such a degree as the leaderwriters of The Independent, turgid with pent up liberal fury emitted in terrifying, thrapple-cracking screams. The Independent sets out to educate, entertain, inform and make you feel very, very bad.You, incidentally, refers to its chief demographic which is (shockingly) the white, QMHHPIGPEWW[IPPIHYGEXIHPMFIVEPSVRS½\IHTSPMXMGEP abode. The Indie knows what its readers want. Greed was Good, now Guilt is Great. It is magnanimous to feel guilt. The issues that lead almost every Indie front page are things going bad on ‘our’ watch: guilt = culpability = responsibility = control = power Put another way, the expression of guilt at least reassures the bourgeois centre of its relevance – maybe even its supremacy. Mere victims are, after all, never guilty. Look at Winnie’s face and WIIMRRSGIRGI=IWXLIVIMW¾EXXIV]MQTPMIHMR being an oppressor, however unwitting, and even more in being a bystander ready to bundle your GAP jeans into the Third World recycling bin. It is in short, a very kinky sort of outlook. I had hoped to give some reasonable guidance as XSXLIGSVVIGX[E]XS[EXGLE+]T¾MGO¯-JIEV I leave you burdened with the mercurial guilt of the kombinator. As a parting shot however, might I direct you to Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, Freaks, which says all the things I have struggled to say in QIVGMJYPP]JI[IV[SVHW#-XMWLEVHRSXXSXLMROSJ multicultural politics during the scene in Freaks where the eponymous cadre of dwarfs, pinheads and extraordinary folk try to induce Cleo, the shyster bride of the midget Hans into their circle. Gleefully chanting the nonsense rhyme ‘one of us, gooble gobble gooble gobble’ and passing round a stirrup cup, drooled into several times by the infantile pinheads, they proffer it to the hapless vamp – only for her to quail at the last moment. The move is entirely Machiavellian on the part of the Freaks, perfectly aware that Cleo is taking their friend for every last


cent. How many times have similar manoeuvres been used in even more extreme circumstances, pitting the natural individual response (to decline the GYT EKEMRWXERIZIVQSVIX]VERRMGEPKVSYTPSKMG#

Endnotes Having stuck it to the dirty Arabs, the maverick chatshow presenter fronted several campaigns against the development of Gypsy sites in England. He even EXXIQTXIHXSNSMREJEQMP]JSVE[IIOJSVE¾]SRXLI wall doc, but was, er, refused planning permission. 1.

2. A

good example of this would be a local authority site (referred to, not entirely in jest, as ‘reservations’) I visited in the West of Scotland where the dominant family of Irish Travellers apparently used their children to perpetrate acts of vandalism against other families – Scottish Travellers – attempting to set up on the site. At least three families were forced back on to the road or, much against their will, into housing. Were the balance of power to swing the other way, it may have been the Irish taking to the lay-bys. The Travellers who had been forced off, to their credit, made no pretence at sainthood. As one mother said to QI³[IKIXXSSGEYKLXYTMRSYVOMH´W½KLXW[IQEOIMX our battles’. Then again, as at this site, it can work the other way. Similarly, Rose Maughan took many decisions over what her children could and could not be shown doing, with a view as to what people needed to see.

male. Contrary to the plot of ‘Law’, women ‘marrying in’ – and quite a few do – actually gain acceptance fairly quickly – much more so than men trying to do the same. Marriages on the fairground have been described as a rude form of business merger. It is hard to adequately describe the feeling of being sized up by a member of the opposite sex, knowing that your bum and biceps are not the only assets being appraised. The truth is, I don’t go with Traveller girls anymore because a) most of them my age (30) are already married and b) they really don’t suffer fools. As a rule, no one tells a woman on the showground whom to marry – she has tremendous power to choose. 6.

Non-Traveller, a.k.a Gorjer, Gadgie, Country Person, etc.

7.,EZIR´XKE]WWYJJIVIHIRSYKL#-RXIVIWXMRKP]XLSYKLXLIKE]

‘community’ do share something with the Show Travellers, MRXLEXKE]WYWIHXSWTIEOEZIVWMSRSJXLI6SQERMMR¾IGXIH Italianate cant language, Parlyaree (gays scholars such as Paul Baker term it more phonetically as Polari, and rather unecumenically forget to mention that whereas Polari is largely an artefact of Gay and Lesbian history, Show Travellers in the UK still speak it – largely oblivious to its other associations). Edinburgh readers should know this one – chori is Romany for ‘steal’. 8.

9. And

yes, I’m afraid I DID laugh.

Ogden consulted with production crew from Lars von Trier’s Festen and Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey Boy. 3.

I am sure the Taggart producers will be delighted to hear I have many, many excellent suggestions for improving their programme, including rocket packs for all Maryhill CID operatives, a hilarious talking robot and a wacky Forensic Pathologist who keeps borrowing Blyth Duff’s hairspray. If you guys are reading this, reach me @ 07919 035 037. 4.

Beyond the use of actual fairground rides hired for making the programme not a single observation was accurate. Show Travellers have not practiced arranged marriages for over 150 years. The fairground economy makes the system unworkable, especially given the exceptional economic and social power enjoyed by our females. By the age of 10 Show Traveller kids are important breadwinners and from that point on, start to exercise increased economic independence within the family. Accordingly, there is no dowry, and to comment on their assertion that we practice murder as a normative form of censure against those of us who deviate from ‘the law’ is beneath contempt. They even got the caravans wrong – holiday site statics rather than roadworthy wagons. As for marriages, it is true that they have a strong economic element, and that it is hard for an outsider to gain acceptance, if they are 5.

the drouth

17


WOLF (The Implication) By Johnny Rodger I’m deeply uncomfortable with this trope of stereotypical coupling. Though granted, that’s not the sort of thing you expect to hear from a rabbit.Very JYRR]LYL#&YXFIEV[MXLQIEWXLI]WE]-QIER]SY hear it everywhere – the tortoise and the hare, the fox and the hedgehog, the cat and the mouse, the lion and the lamb – even the fox and the gingerbread man, for goodness sake. Can’t they just let us alone to lead ourselves to our own special and autonomous ruin rather than giftwrapping us in a political twinning with some quite alien species – and usually one whose long evolution has proved singularly incapable of breeding out elementary social vices like halitosis. The implication – at least for us grass-eaters – is not just that our existence is monotonously dull (I could accept being dismissed on the grounds that we are cautious and predictable) but that our life is somehow easy. And therefore, so the thinking would apparently run, our own sociable and equitable polity is to be despised as in one way or another it is either caused by, or results in complacency. An invitation arrives to speak about our relationship with XLI[SPJ;LEXMWSRIXSHS# Our relationship! Even if we were to countenance openly and publicly amongst ourselves our bearing in that respect, ‘relationship’ is decidedly not the word we would use. But we can hardly ignore the invitation. Naturally our society thrives on mutual respect and responsibility and as such can only afford to recognise behaviour which operates under those parameters. Otherwise the delicate balance between our numberless citizens will be upset and our whole system, casual though it may appear from the outside, would collapse. It is alas, precisely this failure to recognise, and perhaps thus also to react to alien approaches, temperaments, and operations that lays us open to the charge of complacency. We are nonetheless, not provoked even by this damning accusation: how can we be to blame for the outrages visited upon us by those who have never been capable SV[MPPMRKXSIRXIVMRXSGMZMPMWIHHMWGSYVWI# Then again, what sort of civilisation turns its back

18

the drouth

on the concert of circumstances which lies at the VSSXSJWYJJIVMRK#%RHMWMXGMZMPMWIHMRXLEXWIRWISV even practically convenient, to insist on innocence as an absolute prerequisite for recognition when the historical keynote of the community has been one of a relaxed and worldly acceptance that each goes XLIMVS[R[E][MXLMRSYVPMQMXIHFYXGSPPIGXMZI½IPH There are bound, that is to say, to be clashes and disagreements – even amongst ourselves too – over the complicated etiquette evolved in such a crowded environment. Sure, we generally resolve these disputes amicably, but the point is that the claim to possess an established moral order cannot possibly be exclusive of an at least tacitly acknowledged presence of hatred and maliciousness, and an understanding of some of their typical strategies in practice. Otherwise we have no morals but only habits. I don’t want to come over all Marxian on you – we have very few real believers amongst us after all – but I’d raise both my lucky paws in the air and vote for snarling fangs to be bared in the open here rather than persevere with a radically TVIXXM½IHRSXMSRSJ[LEXMW really going on down here in the meadow. What I’m saying is that preserving a vision of an isolated, perfect, smooth as clockwork society ultimately and necessarily entails that some greater one or some greater thing has wound it up and set it all in motion: and in the long view the weight of such a great furry demiurge leaning over your moral shoulder to check on the day-to-day running of His creation becomes just as oppressive and disabling as hearing a pounding and a barking at your actual front door in the middle of the night. Get this: I’m no revolutionary rabbit. But there is a time to speak. The wolf, whoever he is, whatever his beliefs and his tactics, has a daily reality for us in his GPE[WERHJERKWLMWQERK]TIPX½IV]I]IWERHHEQT square nose. Admittedly most of us have not yet seen LMQMRXLI¾IWLEWMX[IVI8LEXHSIWRSXQIERLI is any less real for us: by the time we get to feel his ½PXL]XIIXLWMROMRXSSYV¾EROMX´WEPVIEH]XSSPEXIXS consider whether he presents a problem or not. But okay, while few of us would be ready to describe our condition until recently as one of ‘ease’, it would not

Pavee lackeen mm iss23  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you