Listening to the McCarthy women on the Irish news today: I don’t know where they will be tonight, and in spite of their cheerful talk, neither do they – but that is how life is for travellers.
People have asked me if the traveller scenes in ‘Micka’ are realistic. They are drawn from my experiences, starting in Birmingham in 1971, where we would be told on the grapevine about early morning evictions from unauthorised sites [they had no choice because their traditional sites had been built on]. It was the job of the support group to photograph the strong arm men as they hauled the trailers off the site, whether there were children inside or not. As we couldn’t afford film, we clicked away with empty cameras, trying to look official. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. At one of the evictions I met Grattan Puxon, still an activist, who is at Dale Farm today.
Later, I worked with travellers in Perthshire and the West Midlands. I’ve drunk gallons of tea and eaten heaps of sandwiches in many types of trailer, from the ‘flash’ ones with mirrors and Capo di Monte china to the less luxurious version with no running water or toilets. Traveller society is complex and the hierarchy is partly based on nationality, ancestry and wealth, or lack of it. There are probably other, more subtle factors at play. I never knew half of what was going on around me, and that was not because they were talking in Romany, it was because their everyday lives were as full of cataclysmic events as a three act Greek tragedy.
I can’t get inside the head of a bailiff who has been told to break up a community of families. I guess he will have to see these beings as somehow less than human, therefore not entitled to the same considerations we normally give to our friends and family. In ‘Micka’ I may have created an idealised picture of travellers, but the tolerance of children towards each other, the moments of generosity and hospitality, and the amazing organisation of the women, particularly for weddings and funerals, are real and lasting memories for me.
I wish the Dale Farm community could be guaranteed their safety and security, under a less tyrannical local authority and with the support of a less judgemental settled society.