Archive for the ‘Travellers’ Category

I remember a time when: 

arts subjects in schools were encouraged and children under 11 were helped, not to pass tests, but to blossom as individuals and to love learning. In my secondary school I had the chance to learn French, German, Latin, Greek & Spanish, art & pottery.

Teachers were happy to give up their after school time to arrange sports matches, direct plays, and help us with drama competitions, including, at my school, teaching us how to be a Greek chorus.

The Belgrade Theatre led the way with a permanent Theatre in Education company that went into schools and performed plays of relevance to their young audiences. Theatre in Education enabled children to enjoy live theatre for the first time; quality writing and performance of this theatre spoke directly to their hearts and growing minds,respecting their experience.

The network of Theatre in Education companies has vanished, along with the philosophy that arts funding should extend to children and people who cannot afford theatre tickets. Arts are now a business.

Like Thatcher, I came from a working class background – both my parents left school at 16. We had no money to spare for holidays abroad – we went and stayed with my grandparents. My education relied on free and excellent public libraries and a grant system that enabled me to go to university [the first person in my family to do so]. All through my childhood and young adulthood I could absolutely rely on free health care. 

As a result of this upbringing, I did not have a burning wish to make money. I wanted to work with people who had very little opportunity to make their voices heard. I worked in the poorest districts of Newcastle on Tyne, with travellers in Scotland and the west midlands. I saw there was still poverty and hopelessness where people felt left out of the affluent society that Thatcher encouraged. Her dreams were of goals that could simply be achieved by having more money. She was always a woman who knew the price of everything, and the value of nothing. And those values entered into the minds of a whole generation of children who now hold the reins of power and cannot understand that some people would rather spend their time helping other people.

That was society as I knew it. I still know people who cherish this idea, but they are getting older and the vision that we once shared is no longer accepted as anything but batty individualism. 

I’ve been an actor, director, puppeteer, playwright and novelist all my working life. Choosing the arts as a profession guarantees living on a shoestring. I’ve been lucky. I have never drawn the dole, or felt constricted by a lack of money. My life has been so rich in other things that matter more to me. 

Today as her funeral procession moves through London my heart will be with the silent protesters who will turn their backs on her coffin. I mourn what we have lost. I mourn the lack of strong and principled politicians who could stand up to her juggernaut of confident delusion, and show us, society, their voters, that there are other ways of thinking.


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As an English person, one takes a modest pride in the stiff upper lip and in Trying Not To Make a Fuss.  But yesterday, a short clip on this openculture link had me weeping like Niobe [whoever she was].

It’s the children’s faces, the adults gradually realising something randomly beautiful was going on, the kids taking their earbuds out to listen… and the music. Music  – especially violins – gets me every time.



Have a hanky ready. Oh, and subscribe to openculture. They are evidently a fine body of chaps.




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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.

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