Month: April 2014

Pages 114-117

It appeared to be the usual trouble of the gawje hostility to the Gypsy: the cuckoo in the midst of the thrushes. Happier when the cuckoo was surely on its way again to the foreign parts from whence it had come, and was no longer upsetting the peace of the fields nd the woods with its unlawful ways, and its restlessness and wild music. Calling, calling, calling: “Cuckoo, cuckoo!” all day long. The thrushes filled with hereditary suspicions and fears – and some of them warranted – would surround the cuckoo and mob it.

But Eiza’s husband, many years dead, had foreseen such trouble when he decided to settle his family. With money earned from horse-trading he had purchased the small tract of land, portion of the hostile earth. So that as long as the money was forthcoming for the payment of rats, the family remained secure in possession. Eiza, the bristles on her chin standing forth in her passion, brought out her latest rates receipt to show me. (I think as a Gypsy she resented paying rates: but it was necessary to hold her land, and therefore was accepted.)

“Look ye,” she said to Rose and I, “all is regular. So long as I’ve the shukoraws (sixpences) in me pootsi (packets) to pay rateses the gawjes can do their worstest, there’s no shiften’ o’ we. I’se knowd what ‘tis to be pushed ‘ere and there the year lorng by the baulos (pigs), an’ now I’se thankful to stay on in one place in comfort.”

Avaalt (yes), I said to cool her ardour, but I lowered my eyes. For I could not help thinking that Gypsies are better out on the road travelling the world, close to the pulsating breasts and thighs of Nature, not held in a black train through the years. The travelling life would have been more fortunate for Eiza’s plain pallid daughters, who might well live out their lives childless in the black train, their beds for ever empty of pleasure. But I could well sympathize with Eiza’s resentment concerning hostility of the gawje population and the endless hounding by the police when the Gypsies are jallin the drom (taking the road).

I said nothing of my thoughts, and instead turned my mind to the fact of the music within the train; the true Gypsy music. Loud breathing of the burning firewood as it opened out its feathers of crimson and gold, the sibilation of the fast-steaming kettle, the stirrings of the dogs as they beat the wooden floor with long tails in appreciation of the conversation, and the unceasing chatter of human voices, laced through with the bell peals of laughter.

I could see that Rose was enjoying the music and the picture of the Gypsy scene, and also the company. For her face was flushed and her eyes very bright.

In the last hour of our visit the Cooper family was increased by the arrival of the only unmarried son. He possessed some of Caroline’s darkness, and vitality, but was entirely toothless. He was tall of stature and well made. But there was little of the Gypsy recognizable in his appearance, other than the character of his big semitic nose and his very abundant crop of hair.

His sisters made much of him, giving up a chair in good position by the fire, filling his teacup and piling his plate, rolling cigarettes for him and even striking the matches for the lighting of them whenever he had need; thus proving what good wives they could make.

All of the family loved tobacco, and especially Eiza. She confessed that she was “more of a chimbley than a wooman”, on account of the amount of “baccy smoke that goes through me mooi an’ nock”.

The son worked as a builders’s help and seemed to be a Communist. I was able to understand his choice of political party when I thought upon the present-day official policy of Gypsy persecution in England and elsewhere. The Gypsies of Russia are reputed to live free from persecution and to have their rights respected. Few Gypsies in England possess and election vote, they being habitually people of “no fixed abode”. But those who are settled in houses and pay their rates, surprisingly almost always vote Conservative. The horse-trader Jim Vincent stated the reason plainly enough.

“We Romanies live orf the rich. ‘Tis the rich who buys our horses an’ keeps the fields alongside which we can graze our animals. Our hens need green stuff an’ our horses. ‘Tis the rich who buys our cartloads o’ dung for their gardens an’ our crack (fire- wood, Surrey Gypsy word), an’ does trade wi’ our wimin. Buys pegs an’ flowers, and will give along wi’ the tradin’, old clothes an’ boots; and their sarvints like having their hands dukkered.”

It was fortune-telling that completed the visit to the Coopers. Eiza, being a true artist in dukkeriben, and anxious to prove her talent, would not let Rose depart without having her hand read.

The willing Rose was then lead away from us all, out into the yard with the hens and the dogs, accompanied only by Eiza, to experience the old Gypsy’s fortune-telling art. Rose was away a good half-hour. She returned to us filled with praise for Eiza’s talent, wit which opinion I fully agreed.

The time for our departure had then come, for dusk was settling over the wood and the flittermice were abroad in the purpling sky. On the minute of departure Eiza skilfully secluded me from her family long enough to inquire of me concerning the withering of the looromengros upon whom she had spoken her curse. She was satisfied to know that since her cursing they were being almost emptied of the former power that they had possessed.

Finally Eiza put Gypsy blessing upon both Rose and me as we passed over the threshold of her home. Two of the elder daughter brought a bunch of wildflowers for each of us. All the lovely flowers of midsummer which the Gypsies know so well where to cull. In abundance of wondrous scented honeysuckle in the bunch, and linden blossom, mignonette, thyme, chamomile, scabious, all wild, and tightly bunched, possessing a fragrance like a dream, the flowers tied around with the customary pale green wool of the cooper family.

Rose and I said our farewells to all, sincerely grateful for the unceasing and kindly hospitality within the Cooper home. The family had well understood how to dispense true hospitality. It was sadly, and yet knowing contentment for the experience, that I left the black train. The yard dogs barked and danced again and Rose and I went by, and the hens also spoke. Then following after us came the chorusing good nights of the Gypsies. “Kushto ratti! Kushto ratti! (Good night)” and the ringing bells of Caroline’s laughter.

“Well?” I asked of Rose.

“A wonderful visit,” she declared. “All of it. Wonderful. I’ll always remember those Gypsies.”

“And old Eiza? What of old Eiza?”

“A true Gypsy, a very true Gypsy.”

Yes, Eiza Cooper, vendor of wild flowers, is a true representative of the Romany race. A Gypsy blessing on Eiza and her family. May we continue in friendship for ever.

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Pages 110-113

As Gypsies Wander - pic page 113 As Gypsies Wander - pic page 113 (2)

The Cooper family lived in a derelict train on the border of a wood. When I think back on that Romany home I recall the one colour of black, although the actual atmosphere of the place was colourful enough. But everything material of the dwelling was black, smoke-dyed by the endless wood fires that the Gypsies burnt in their strange habitation unsuited for such fires. Their home was almost without furniture and entirely without ornaments and other decorations. It could fairly be described as very comfortless and was barren as a piece of fire-charred moorland A wooden floor, black; wooden walls and ceiling, black; a few wooden chairs with sawn-off  legs to bring them close to the earth – a requisite of traditional Gypsy taste – black; a collection of boxes for further seating accommodation and two tables of nailed boxes, all were black. The centre-piece of the home was the big black iron kettle, hooked on the customary iron rod, and swinging above the smoky fire. In the dark corners of the place black cats lurked, their amber eyes like topaz stones, flashing out from the onyx shadows and from the dark curtains of smoke. For there being a strong wind blowing on that Sunday the fire was outpouring black volcanic clouds of smoke, which smarted one’s eyes and tickled the throat into coughing.

Our welcome was rapturous, our hosts having been keeping a look-out for our arrival. Never have I experienced more sincere pleasure from my hosts on any visits that I have made. Old Eiza bustled forth to embrace Rose, and myself, shrieks of laughter came from Caroline from behind a cloud of belching wood-smoke, and a chorus of greetings from the four older Cooper daughters present. The shrill female greetings came out from the gloom like the pipings of blackbirds heard in a dark grove. Outside in the rubbish-filled yard, big shaggy black and white cur dogs danced on their chains barking and coughing, and hens chirped and made excited flutterings with their stiff wings.

I had brought with me some groceries to help forward the tea party. The contents of my basket caused further orchestra of pleased exclamations from all members of the Cooper family, to which the yard dogs outside and the cats within added their own noises. What clamour there was! But also what good spirit and friendliness and merriment.

The tea was made immediately into the massive kekawbi (kettle), no pot being used. Into the tea, already bubbling in the kettle, a further handful of leaves was pitched to strengthen the present over-weakly brew of poverty. The kettle was never for one moment off the fire nor out of the use throughout my stay in the train.

Before the tea was served, a bucket of clean water was brought into the compartment which was used as the living-room, and where the black kettle reigned. Into that bucket all of the tea-cups, saucers and plates to be used at the meal were placed, and well rinsed before being set on the table. That cleansing rite reminds me of the koshering (cleansing. Hebrew word but also used in Romany) of utensils before eating that I have witnessed in the Yemenite tent homes in the mountains of Galilee. The traditionally nomad Yemenites are always in the eyes of the Gypsies of the Hebrew nation. And I loved and admired them most of all the Jewish tribes I met with in Israel.

Caroline in her high excitement broke a saucer into two pieces. She thereupon immediately retired into the yard and smashed the saucer a further three times. On returning she informed us that such was a Romany custom to break apart her ill luck, and that failure to act thus would most surely mean that she would have been losing good crockery for the rest of the year. Now she had made herself safe from further losses.

The action of Caroline caused us to discuss Gypsy superstitions, and Rose and I learnt much. Amongst the good omens of which the Gypsies spoke there are, stars falling, a horse standing with its head over a gate – a white horse is especially lucky; bees entering a vardo (caravan) or tan (tent); birds jetting their droppings on to one’s hair or clothing – especially propitious being the droppings of pigeons and starlings; finding double flowers and double berries; a robin tapping on the vardo roof or window; a frog hopping upon the vardo steps. The feared omens are: an owl hooting closely after dawn – when the bird would positively be calling a soul from a human body; seagulls flying over the vardos – a threat of death to the family in occupation; a bittern brooming; a cuckoo heard after midsummer; and the crowing of a hen bantam – any hen bantam heard to crow would be killed immediately by her owners; the screams of a falling tree – the ears should be covered quickly by the hands when a felled tree is about to die. To burn wantonly flour or bread was particularly unlucky; no Gypsy would ever throw such substance into the fire. Neither would a true Gypsy burn green elder boughs, kill snails or water-wagtail birds. The reasons for the two final superstitions are very Gypsy. The elder is the favourite tree of the Romanies, it gives them so much: medicine for themselves and their horses, food in the rich berries and blossoms (the fresh blossoms dipped in flour and fried in batter), wood for numerous articles, especially pegs, riding and driving whips, seat-frames. Snails are traditionally spared from the cooking pot because they are symbolic of the Romanichals. The ancestors of the Gypsies came out of Egypt carrying their tents upon their backs, and the snail likewise carries its own dwelling place as it travels. The water-wagtail is the Gypsy bird – Romano chirickli – and is very lucky. When a Gypsy family nearing their journey’s end meet with a wagtail, they will travel no further, but finding the most suitable place close by where they saw the bird, halt there their caravans and pitch the tents.

Eiza then said that it was unlucky for a woman to give birth to a child without having had her ears pierced for the wearing of rings. She made Rose and me promise that we would have our ears pierced before such an event. She said, further, that she could do our ears for us that very moment if we were wishful. Just a darning needle hotted in the fire, threaded with a piece of strong cotton, much knotted after the threading. The needle then stabbed through the earlobes into a cork on the other side, the lobes well robbed with poppy-plant juices if the woman to be pierced be afraid of pain. But as neither Rose nor I wished to pass our Wit week-end with pieces of knotted cotton hanging from our bleeding ears, we temporarily declined Eiza’s offered operation.

Rosemary was well accepted by the Cooper family, and our conversation never ceased. They treated her entirely naturally and were as friendly and straightforward with her as they had always been on my lone meetings with them. Eiza and her daughter looked after their guests graciously, filling cups and plates instantly when emptied.

I have often been reproved by my friends for finding so much beauty amongst the Gypsies. I have been told that often enough: “In your eyes all Gypsies are beautiful.” But that is not true. In my Gypsy writings the majority of the personalities whom I have described have been beautiful. That happens to be because it is mostly the beautiful or the unusual characters met on my travels who have stayed foremost in my mind and given to me writing material for my books and poems. In fairness to truth I shall therefore tell that Eiza’s elder daughters were among the plainest women of any race that I have seen. It seemed remarkable that they would be sisters to the dark, vital Caroline. The three elder sisters were tall massive women, with scant tawny hair, and sallow shapeless faces. Their eyes were prominent, lacked expression and were pink-lidded. Their teeth very long and much stained a brown hue from incessant tea-drinking.

I think that it was the monotonous and miserable existence that those unwedded sisters endured, segregation in the train, that much accounted for their drab and unattractive appearance. For year after year they lived on in the smoke-blackened train at the edge of the lonely wood. They passed their days and their years bunching the wild flowers or making artificial ones for their mother and youngest sister -Caroline- to sell in the towns. Caroline was sent out with the hawking baskets because she was attractive to the gawjies, and thus sold the wares more readily than the others. Romance passed them by as with the Lady of Shalott. The little of the world that they saw was through the smoke darkened windows of their home. The nearby wood might have been some vast trackless forest, holding back for ever the coming of the princes of romance. Poor women; and in the great heart of that wood the nightingales were singing their songs of love, and young cuckoos were trying their wings, learning to fly in readiness for far romantic journeyings to Africa and India.

Over the tea-cups Eiza and her daughters told of the tribulations that they had suffered on account of attempts by people to get them evicted from their train dwelling place.

Pages 101-109

 

CHAPTER VI

 

Eiza Cooper – Wild Flowers’ Vendor

 

 

Eiza Cooper,  Vendor of Wild Flowers, hawked all the saleable wild flowers of Surrey, the tem wesh (wooded country) of the Gypsies. The passing of the seasons was recorded in the blossoms in her large square Romany baskets of plaited and woven willow.

Commencing her flower-selling when the white of early spring snow swathed the woods – with the flowers of the snow, the snowdrops – she went into mid-spring with the blooms which take their hue from sunbeams or from the sun itself; the sulphur of wild daffodils and primroses, the ochre of cowslips – so honey-breathed; the beaten cooper of marsh marigolds. Then later the twilight blue of wood hyacinths and violets, finally ending with the flower which imitates the tint of the sun’s dying, in that lovely sun afterglow of midsummer, the briar rose, most fragrant and fair of the Surrey’s wild blossoms.

Very knowledgeable was old Eiza as to the nurseries of the flower wildings – rosalis Romanis (Gypsy flowers), and of the medicinal herbs. It was Eiza’s family who taught me to make a fragrant tea from dried primrose and cowslip flowers, with wood-sorrel leaves for added tartness. A tea popular with Surrey and Kent Romanies and looking and tasting like elfin honey.

The Gypsy flower-seller was hawking bunched briar roses when first I met with her, the sweet frangrance from her laden baskets coming to me across Leatherhead High Street. It was a good sight for my eyes, the figure of the old Gypsy; for since my return from Mexico few Romanies were to be met with in the Leatherhead district.

In Mexico I had been studying Indian herbal medicine, not Gypsy, and in an unpopulated part of that continent, Baja California, where there was no work or trading to attract the Romanies. I had met with one solitary Gypsy lace seller only. But in Mexico it is known that the Gypsies are free to lead their traditional nomad life, and they are happy and healthy.

But the Surrey Council seemed to be knowledgably and systematically taking all of the traditional camping places of the Gypsies. Well I remember on my return hastening to the river site where I had taken leave of Emily and Rachel and Joe, and many of the dark Coopers, and finding there no caravans, instead an object new and -apparently- permanent: a tall white post and board banning all Gypsies. It was a curse upon the place! The freedom of the river fields was thereby all ended. The notice stated that a fine of five pounds, and further daily fines, would be imposed upon the owners of the caravans and suchlike which stayed within some great distance of the notice.

And there had been others. I searched; and in all the habitual Romany camping places were the big notices blighting the green countryside. Such things were a slap in the face for all Gypsies – and for me also, because it hurt my friends. The notices, on that first meeting with them, had brought me near to weeping with anger – and sadness. I had pulled up clots of earth and moistened them in the river then flung them at the imperious boards, an action senseless as that of the angry child who strikes the portion of earth that is imagined to be the cause of the fall. I would have set fire to the boards if such action could have brought the Gypsies back to my river fields again; but I knew too well that it would prove of no permanent avail. The hideous, insulting notices, so jarring to the eyes against the greenness and undulating rhythm of river and field, were but a symbol of man’s increasing regimentation and power over the earth. Modern man has become like the dullard unromantic gardner who will not tolerate one wilding from the fields to grow in free rhythmical beauty in the area of land under his ruling. The Romanies are the wild flowers of the world: they always have been. Their seeds blow free in “the wind on the heath”, they are not planted in neat, controlled drills.

I knew further, concerning the Surrey Council notice-boards, that the Gypsies were likewise aware that the firing of them or the hurling of them into the river would never restore to them their well-loved camping places, or they would all have gone into wreckage before the new paint had known many days of life. I was told later by a farmer who knew of my friendship with the Gypsies that the notices had been erected soon after some Epsom Gypsies had been convicted of firing several ricks of a farmer who had refused to let them fill their water-cans at his tap.

I crossed the High Street and bought briar roses from Eiza. They were in neat bunches, their stems wound with pale green wool, with which Eiza and her daughters usually bunched their wild-flower gatherings and their herbs. The rose stems were trimmed of their thorns – “To make ‘em fit company for the vastis (hands) of a rauni (lady).”

I spoke long with Eiza Cooper at that first meeting. She accompanied me down a side street, “away from they starin’ gravvers (police) wi’ their bawlo-nocks (pig noses) a-pokin’ inter ewery person’s business”. Fro she possessed in full measure her people’s hatred of their hereditary enemy – the soldiers, who in the days of the coming of the Romanies, “the Egyptians”, to England, had used them to hunt them down and take them away, shackled like animals, for hanging without trial: the very fact of being an Egyptian was sufficient reason for immediate execution.

She took the wild leather kipsi (basket)(carrying slings) from off her shoulders, and rested her baskets of roses upon the pavement in the shade of a tree. And I leant my back against the tree, and she faced me with her hands upon her hips in easy position, and in the summer twilight we stood and gossiped at our leisure. From that time there commenced a friendship between us which was to bring many pleasant further meetings.

That morning I think that I would have followed Eiza anywhere, so much was the pied piper power that she had over me. It was once again for me to be bewitched by the eternal magic of the Gypsies, which is so well and truly told in the ancient Somersetshire ballad of unknown author – “The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies”.

 

 

She’s taken off her high-heeled shoes

All made of Spanish Leather, O.

She would in the street with her bare bare feet

All out in the wind and weather, O.

 

What makes you leave your house and land?

Your golden treasure to forgo?

What makes you leave your new-wedded lord,

To follow the raggle-taggle Gypsies, O.

 

What care I for my house and land?

What care I for my treasure, O?

What care I for my new-wedded lord, –

I’m off with the raggle-taggle Gypsies, O!

 

 

Doubtless many persons would have seen Eiza Cooper merely as an old crone, but to my eyes she was both picturesque and beautiful. Her age must have been apast seventy years, yet her form stayed as straight and as upright as one of her own Gypsy yoosering-koshts (broom sticks) made out of the symmetrical fir-boughs. She was tall and spare, and her head crowned with dignity her long neck. He gait was particularly rhythmical and graceful; as with the Red Indian people, the Gypsies generally tread the earth well, for they are earthy people. Her face was one of the keenest that I have beheld amongst Gypsy women, the skin being of the general Romany type, brown and horny as tree-bark, and as etched with furrowed lines, all put there by the weathering of the elements -wind, rain, sun and frost, and also by her laughter and her anger. But the skin was no more the typical copper colour of glowing larch or fir-bark, the red blood no longer coursed there and it was  become the grey-brown tone of the oak. Her high cheek-bones were prominent knobs below her grey-blue eyes, which were unusually alert and penetrative for an old woman. Her long, bony nose was powerful and semitic, a rocklike crag above the upturned chin which was most notable for its stubble of yellowing wiry hairs, many of them so coarse that they were almost bristles, and gave her countenance to added bizarrerie and power.

Her garb was distinctly Romany. On her piled greying hair, once of tawny hue, rested a tall hat of night-blue beaver. Brass hoop ear-rings pushed through the grey dishevelled locks, and her further adornment was a satin dicklo (neck scarf) of the same sober blue hue as was the hat. Her long coat was of fallow stuff and very raggedy; and below that hung a sedge-green skirt, reaching almost to her ankles. Beneath the coat Eiza wore, further, and apron of black alpaca, which she showed to me on inquiry. The apron was of interest because it was distinguished by the possession of a Romany mongamus pootsi, the habitual begging pocket of the Gypsies, and the first of its kind that I had seen. A big roomy inside frontal pocket, with an outer opening and into which swift brown hands could slip a multitude of things. Such things as: the silver pieces of dukeriben (fortune-telling), or a life kanni (hen) or dead shoshi (rabbit) or kamengri (hare), a clutch of yoris (eggs), or many pounds of pobbles (apples) and quantities of ezzaws (clothes) – so Eiza told me.

The Gypsy’s slippers were the most neglected part of her otherwise neat attire, being very broken and worn and mended with string. Caked deep in clay they were, from the Surrey downland, where at sunrise that morning she had pulled the dew-drenched briar roses to fill her baskets. Eiza’s stockings were also noteworthy, for despite the young summer warmth, she had on three pairs, the uppermost pair showed fawn, the underlying ones a bright azure, and the fine were black: rents above the heel revealing this. Oh Eiza Cooper from where did you get your bright blue stockings! Where they heritage from some ancient Gypsy ancestor? -for only a Gypsy could spot stockings of suck kingfisher plumage gaudiness. As I did not want to hurt the old woman’s sensitive feelings by comment upon her torn and also unusual stockings, I shall never know the story of the blue pair.

Eiza Cooper was skilled in dukkeriben, and there in the sunlit street we discussed together the reading of her hand and mine. She saw well a ring of dark-natured people who had gained possession of some of my herbal work and were grievously exploiting that work to enrich themselves. One of them she saw as yellow-haired as the stamens of the wild roses that I held in my hand: and that was true. There and then the Gypsy took my hand into the grasp of her own, and with strong horny thumb rubbed fiercely the area of the palm where she said she saw the enemy – the kawlo looromengroes (black robbers), as she called them. Never before had I met with the Gypsy procedure of the rubbing-out of enemies, and never before had I heard uttered such a passionate and formidable Romany savloholoben (curse). Fire seemed to spark about the bristles on the old woman’s chin, and bubbles of saliva formed at the corners of her grim lips. The are of my hand where the Gypsy had rubbed-out the enemies and continued to burn and throb in manner most strange for a long time afterwards.

I must record that at the time of my meeting with Eiza Cooper the looromengroes possessed much power to bring harm to herbal work. But since the Gypsy’s cursing, that power had waned with remarkable speed and eventually became withered and lifeless in company with the briar roses which had come to me from Eiza’s baskets.

 

 

I enjoyed many further meetings with Eiza Cooper, and came to know also her daughter Caroline. She was the youngest of Eiza’s ten children and was in the early thirties. A hansome, buxom young woman, dark-haired and poppy-cheeked, very mirthful and warm-hearted, differing greatly from her tawny-coloured, shrewd, deep mother.

Caroline was always gusty with laughter, the winds of laughter being as constant to her as the warm breathings of the South which accompany the coming of the Summer solstice. On meeting with me during her kawking of wild flowers – or pegs, when the flower season were ended- I could be sure of enjoying a storm of laughter from her. I had but to make some remark concerning the kawlo-bali rom (dark-haired husband), whom she was for ever seeking, wanting to get herself wedded, and she would at once lower her baskets to the pavement, place her hands upon her wide hips, and rock with laughter, so that the coral beads which she always wore circling her plump dark neck, would give a jingling musical accompaniment to her mirth as they rose and fell around the pulsating throat. The eyes of the young woman too, flashed with merriment, and became more beautiful – which meant very beautiful – for she possessed fine eyes, dark and smouldering, of lovely shape, a true Romany feature.

Her sable hair was also very Romany, both in its dark abundance and great length. She wore her hair either in two thick plaits, one lying over each powerful shoulder, or as a flat coil around her head, in patter of much similitude to the broad handles of the hawking baskets. Her hair was often flower-decorated, a posy of cowslips behind one ear, a spray of wild roses, a narrow crown twisted from a larchen bough when bearing the tufted rosy flowers, or in the autumn a trail of honeysuckle, with its blood-bright berries, bound around the black plaits, or worn circling the brow and matching well her necklace of coral.

On one cold spring noon of driving rain, I invited Eiza and her daughter to take coffee and doughnuts with me in a Leatherhead cafe. It needed much persuasion from me to get the Gypsies to enter the cafe, the drawing back and declaring that: “The likes o’ we be not kammered (welcomed) in such places.” They excused the snobbery of their fellow men with the observation that no doubt their big hawking baskets got in the way of the tables, and their clothes generally being so “raggity” they troubled the eyes of the gawje (non-Gypsy).

“Nonsense,” I said. But nevertheless the Gypsies’ words troubled me as they followed me into the cafe, for I could not bear that through fault of mine they might meet with some hurt to their feelings. Eiza’s and Caroline’s words had recalled to my mind the fact that there are many cafes and inns in England, especially in the southern counties, which display the hateful and shameful notice: “No Gypsies served here.” Much of a kin to the Jew-hating notices of former Nazi Germany.

In the cafe I stacked the baskets of the Gypsies into a corner, and then ordered our food. We were served promptly. All the tension then left my friends and they became very gay, and proved happy guests at my table. Eiza drank her coffee from her saucer, and when she saw that I was not enjoying the drink myself, she poured my cup into her saucer also and soon emptied it. She declared that my coffee tasted sweeter than her first saucerful, because my lips had made it so. Caroline’s gusts of laughter caused the cloth to rise and fall upon the table. I thought that the old woman’s remark was a suggestion that she wanted another cup of coffee, but I could not get her to take more.

One thing I did observe very surely about my guests; they were hungry people. I know from experience how hungry people eat and swallow their food. In my travels I have met with over-many hungry Gypsies and tramps. Present-day life becomes increasingly difficult for the raggle-taggle tribes. Their markets of handmade smallwares are vanishing, being flooded by the cheap, shoddy, mass-produced articles of the factory. Clothes-pegs, baskets, copper-ware, artificial flowers, the factory produces all. Likewise people have become too materialistic to take pleasure in, and to purchase, the wild flowers and berries from the Gypsies and too hygienic and apprehensive to buy their mushrooms and watercress, and finally too scientific to delight in their art of fortune-telling. The Gypsies, furthermore, have lost much of their wild produce which formerly added bulk and health to the food in their cooking-pots. The modern farmer ruthlessly eliminates the healthful weeds from his fields, considering them to be harmful to his crops and cattle, whereas, in reality -and the Gypsies know so- they are preventive against insect ravages and are mostly highly medicinal and nutritive when eaten. The machine harvesting deprives the Gypsies of their harvest gleanings, and with more and more acreage being placed under plough, free grazing for their horses becomes very scarce. “Times be ‘ard for we Romanies, ‘tis ‘ungry years upon we now, ‘ard an’ ‘ungry.”

Eiza brought our meal to an end with the happy observation that “The old cobbler be showin’ ‘is mooi (face) in the hev (sky). For her the sun was always the cobbler, though she could not explain her word beyond the fact that: “We needis (Gypsies, Surrey Romany word) allaways do call the sun the cobbler aroun’ these parts. P’raps because the cobbler must be early at ‘is work, and when the old cobbler shows ‘is red mooi in the hev we too must git sharp to work. The wildly blossims an’ yerbs must be picked in early ‘ours to ‘ave ‘em in proper freshniss, every Romany knows about that. The cresses too do be coolest an’ sweetest then; an’ the ‘edge berries.”

She then straightened her scarf, pulled her hat down upon her brow, and moved from the table. I knew the reason for her haste and I fully shared the same sentiment. She was a Gypsy, and outside, one of her gods, the sun -the cobbler- was calling to her, she would not stay in the airless cafe when the sun was painting the rain-wet road with its golden light. Ture Gypsy that she was, she had become more hungry for the sunlight than for further food. Eiza expressed herself by saying:

“It’s time I’m orf on a visit to the cobbler, ‘e’s not been seen around ‘ere for the past week or more. Me toes be itchin’ in me boots, they’s wantin’ the road agen.”

“I’m with you,” I agreed. “We’ll visit the cobbler quick before he goes and shuts himself away agen. Me toes be itchin’ too.”

Eiza wiped the crumbs off the table with the skirt of her coat and then the Gypsies took up their hawking baskets and we went out into a golden afternoon.

 

 

Many times Eiza Cooper and Caroline asked me to visit them at their home in the countryside near Dorking. I promised to do so on the Whitsuntide Sunday when neither they nor I would be working.

I took Rosemary, a friend, with me to Cooper dwelling place; one whom I believed would be acceptable to the Gypsies. When the Second World War had commenced, Rosemary had abandoned her training as a ballet dancer for forestry employment, which had taken her to the Forest of Dean, where I had first met her. Later we had been together again when she was employed on similar work in Somerset. We had also done field work together in company with the Gypsies, in the New Forest. Rose could speak some Romany and she shared my admiration for the Gypsies. I believed that the Coopers would have pleasure in her visit, for apart from other interesting qualities of character, she was fair of face. The Gypsies do love beauty in all forms, whether it be  in a shawl, a flower, a horse, a dog, a camping place, or fellow being.