Rokkering to the Gorjios by Jeremy Sandford (Interface/Univ. of Herts. Press, £11.99)

Rokkering to the GorjiosI need to know more about Jeremy Sandford. His landed-gentry Irish grandmother travelled in a horse-drawn vardo (covered wagon) and spoke Romani. He went to Eton, yet wrote Cathy Come Home and continued his family interest in Travelling people by editing the Romani paper Romano Drom (Gypsy Road) and writing this book, which was initially published in 1973 as The Gypsies. The book had a large sale at the time and was, for many people, their first introduction to the culture of Travelling people. This book is the 2000 edition, introduced by Charles Smith of the Gypsy Council, once a really lonesome Traveller who picked up the original book, wrote to the the organisations listed in the back and got drawn into organising.

Sandford tries to cover the various strands of the Traveller world, Anglo-Romanis on the road and those who live in houses, Scottish Travellers (including the singer Belle Stewart), Irish Travellers and even some of the then nearly extinct group of “water gypsies” who plied their trade on the canals. At the time he was writing he was also able to speak with Travellers still living in bender tents. It is hard to imagine that there are still people doing that now. Indeed, the book was suffused with a sense of time passing, some people being left behind and others facing an unsure future as it was harder and harder to retain a traditional Traveller life. Indeed, there were many Sandford interviewed who wanted out, and who wanted their children to have an education and to live in houses.

Not all the characters in the book were of interest. I was keen to move on from Prince Nathaniel Petulengro Lee who started the book. The most interesting was the fifty page section at the end written by Johnny Connors, a man who had eight hours of schooling in his life and who taught himself to read thereafter. Connors described his Irish childhood – including the snow storm in which he and his family, living in tents, had to be dug out and barely survived. So often he suffered from prejudice, including a Walsall Hospital sister who refused to treat his family, an area where the local Council and police attempted to drive all the Travellers out.

Rockering to the Gorjios - the Anglo-Romani title means speaking to the non-Gypsies – is well illustrated with period photographs, though annoyingly put in sometimes irrelevantly to the section being illustrated. Like the Five Leaves title Beneath the Blue Sky about life in the 60s, this is a period piece, but it also feels a bit dated in editorial terms. Perhaps people are better at doing oral history than in the 1970s.

Ross Bradshaw

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