Gypsy Roma Traveller Leeds
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Tilly Kelby was born in Salford in Manchester. In the following extract she talks about the differences between Travellers and "Country People" and her experiences of racism.
There are differences in the culture and the beliefs and in the way we live. Well me brother's married to someone who was brought up in a house, a girl from Leeds and he lives in a house. More boys seem to marry out than girls. You only hear of a very very odd Travelling girl marrying out but I know an awful lot of men that are married outside. I think it's because Travelling people have got their own ways. I know we do look the same, but we have got an awful lot of differences. Travellers are more strict. Travelling girls worry more, I think, about their reputation, of what people will say. If a Travelling girl was found to be going with an outsider, well that would be a scandal. It would be alright for a Travelling girl to go out if she went with other girls, providing her father knew the girls, knew their people, knew what they were like. Then it was alright, she could go. Travellers are very strict about their daughters. The older generation of Travelling people, they're even more strict. It has to be something really outrageous before the younger generation will talk about it but it doesn't have to be very much for the older generation because some of them are really ridiculously strict.
Probably because when they were younger they weren't allowed to wear a skirt above their ankles. Years ago, young Travelling girls weren't even allowed to wear lipstick, if you wore lipstick you weren't very nice, or if you wore a skirt above your ankles or even nail varnish. Single Travelling girls will go out now, to a night club or a pub or a disco and they'll have a drink which I don't see anything really wrong with, if they don't do any harm, then fair enough. But years ago, or even now, with the older generation, that was just unheard of you weren't a very nice girl to be doing that.
I don't know what it is, but in some ways Travelling people are more like Asian people about their daughters. Like Asian people, Travellers more or less years ago picked the husbands for their daughters. If they liked the boy and they liked his people and he was a 'decent enough boy', as we would say, then it was alright, it was fine. Go ahead, by all means. But if they were any kind of bad people, troublesome, or anything like that, then no. In that case, then, a girl would run away. They'd just run away and get married.
So there are lots of differences. We live different. We have our own way of speaking. We dress the same but you can pick a Traveller out, even if they were boiled in a pot. Put 'em into a pot of stew and boil 'em and pick 'em out and put 'em in a crowd and you can tell your own. You can tell 'em a mile away. I can walk down a street and see maybe two Travelling girls and maybe twenty young gorgio (non-Traveller) girls, and you can pick out the two Travelling girls.
I remember one day, I went into a shop in town and I was looking around. The man didn't bother, he didn't even give me a second look when I walked in, until I started speaking. I said something to my niece and as soon as he heard me speaking he looked at me and he wanted me out of the shop - he couldn't wait to get me out of the shop, because he knew what I was. When he heard me speaking he said he was closing the shop. I thought it was funny but I didn't say anything.
So I walked out and stood in an archway next door to the shop and I said to me Mammy "l'm waiting to see if he really is closing that shop." So I waited and he didn't close the shop, I was watching people going in. So I went back in and then I really did get angry. I said "You're closing the shop, are yer? You told me a minute ago you were closing the shop". I said "You know what you are? You are racist. The only reason you said you were closing the shop was when you heard me speaking, you knew I was a Traveller". I said 'I don't steal but if I were going to steal I would find something better than what you've got in here, because all you've got in here is a load of junk. You haven't got anything in here that I'd want to buy anyway. But I just came in here for curiosity, to have a look". And I walked out again. But it really hurt me, that he could be so bad-minded. I've had that a lot, it used to hurt me, but now it doesn't bother me.
I remember one time, we were staying in Manchester, in Salford and we were staying on a croft they call it, a big piece of waste ground, and the police came. First of all they started taking off the tops of the generators and they were chucking dirt down in the petrol tanks and then they started taking off the tops of the cans and emptying out all the water. They used to persecute us. If they wanted to shift yer, they'd come at the worst time they could. They'd come at about six o'clock in the morning, when you'd be in bed, or ten or eleven o'clock at night, of a cold night or a cold morning to shift yer. You're very vulnerable in a trailer, the minute something hits one of 'em, God forbid. If you put something straight through the window and hit a child when they're sleeping.
Have you ever noticed on a camp how Travellers go around, have you ever seen Cowboys and Indians how they goes in a circle, well Travellers do that? That's why they do that, they put the trailers in a circle. 'Cos you are vulnerable. And the motors stay in a large circle round the trailers for safety. You've got to know where to put your trailer, so that you are sort of protected. You can't just put it anywhere. The ones for small children are put in a circle in the middle.
You'll very rarely put your trailer near houses or near a bank or near a tree, 'cos it's dangerous. It's got to be out in the open where you can watch around. At night time you are a bit frightened when you're sleeping in your beds because you are very vulnerable.
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I think it was much better when I was a child than it is now, really. You hadn't as much money or anything, but things were cheap and stopping was good. You could stop on a roadside for forty-eight hours and they couldn't shift yer, with having horses and wagons – but now they shift you any time.
I was born in Dublin by accident, not by choice. My mother went up there and I was born in 1937. On my Register of Birth it says – "Caravan, so-and-so". Funny thing is that I was born in Dublin and never, ever lived there. My father always stuck to the North of Ireland.
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