Travellers. Walking people.
I’m a walking man myself.
One day, I was walking from Sligo Town to Drumcliff, and felt the need to feed the weeds.
I waded off the roadside into some trees, and found something I didn’t expect.
There was a traveller’s campsite there, and it had been thoroughly trashed. There were clothes scattered everywhere, children’s toys; their caravans had been vandalised, and they were going about the business of trying to clean it all up.
And they were not happy to see me.
One of the men came up to me and asked (in English) what I was doing there; the list of expletives that he used would make a William S. Burroughs novel seem like a children’s book.
“I just needed to have a piss. I’ll go somewhere else.”
Then an argument began, not between me and the man, but between him and an elderly woman.
They were speaking in “Cant” or “Gammon”, or “Shelta”, or whatever you want to call it; I could hardly understand a word, except for the occasional inclusion of English cursing. I didn’t want to turn and run, because I’d had some prior experience with these folks; also, I really needed to piss.
After he got his scolding from the old woman, the man (still angry), told me to have my piss and be on my my way. So I relieved myself and then offered to help them clean up whatever disaster had befallen them; my offer was less than politely refused, and so I left.
You can read every bit of academia on “Travellers” on earth and you’ll still never understand them. People call them “tinkers” and “gypsies” and “pikies” and all sorts of other things, usually derogatory in nature. The reason you’ll never understand them is that they feel no need to be understood; in fact, they don’t want to be understood; they just want to be left to themselves.
Which is admirable.
I’ve known many people both in Ireland and the States who have been swindled by travellers; I’ve also known many people in many countries who have been swindled by their governments, churches, friends and relatives. People are people.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
My first personal experience with a traveller was when a friend of mine persuaded me to have my fortune told by a woman who practised palmistry. The only reason I agreed to do so was that this woman looked quite a bit like Mammy Fortuna from “The Last Unicorn”. I thought it would be fun.
Her caravan was immaculate; near the door she had a bell, a book, and a candle. She offered me tea, and after we had a cup, we began our “session”.
She looked at both of the palms of my hands, and told me some things about myself that any observant human being could deduce; and then she said;
“You belong to the Devil.”
What I wanted to say was “no shit”, but I asked her why.
“Look”, she said. “You have inverted pentagrams in the same place on both hands.”
It was true; I’d never noticed it before; but they were just lines on my palms, which doesn’t mean anything; they’ve since changed due to manual labour; that doesn’t mean anything, either.
I offered to pay her for her services, but she refused.
(By the way, the true reason my friend took me to this woman to have my fortune told was in hopes of getting me into a bare-knuckle boxing match with one of her grandsons; I know you were going to bet against me, Phil. Ass.)
Travellers are somewhat of a dying breed these days, as far as the travelling goes; in the States, they’ve settled down into fairly large communities in the South; in Ireland, many of them have taken to housing estates in the hopes of their children getting a “proper” education and living a different sort of life-style. They have many strange customs, some of which I find abhorrent, but I’ve never feared, despised, or neglected them, because of something my grandfather did, long before I was born.
A group of travellers was passing through his town, and needed a place to set up their campsite. They went door to door, but no one was having it. My grandfather had a good-sized backyard, lined by pine trees on one side and a crabapple orchard along the back. They asked him if they could stay for a few days.
He said yes, which did not go over well with his neighbours; he didn’t care.
I believe he didn’t care what other people thought because he’d spent a few years as a “sapper”, or combat engineer, in WWII, and had seen all sorts of horrific things happen to people of lesser means, had enough of it, and wanted to help. So these people stayed on his property for a bit, and then went on their way.
And you know what they did to repay him?
They gathered fallen wood from the pine trees and orchards, and also from scraps along the nearby railroad tracks.
And they built him a set of furniture that would make a Mission-style enthusiast weep with envy.
They left it on his porch in the middle of the night, and then they left as well.
That furniture is still standing.
It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that, in general, the way you treat people is the way they will treat you in kind.
Sure, you’ll be cheated and lied to from time to time.
I could write a book about my experiences with “Travellers”, but other folks have already done that. You should read their books; you may learn something valuable, you may not.
You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.