Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Simple existence

When I was about 10 years old or so, whenever I was with my father, driving along in an old, beaten-up car and we past a traditional, elderly tramp by the roadside, my dad would say, "Look at that. I wish I was a tramp. What a wonderful life, with not a care in the world."

As you might have guessed, we went through a lot of money troubles when I was a kid, and most of them were caused by living in a massive house which my parents could barely afford to keep up with their meagre incomes. The tramp's obviously harsh lifestyle seemed attractive to my father, in comparison to his own. At the same time, in rural France, the charcoal burners would spend the winter tending the smouldering fires that produced artist-quality, willow charcoal for Parisians, which they would sell in the spring, then live for the rest of the year on the proceeds.

In those days, proper tramps were to be found wandering the roads in ragged clothes, and they did not necessarily have the drink, drug or mental illness problems associated with their modern-day equivalents.

There were also real gypsies who traveled in horse-drawn carts and caravans - not the white Transit vans with towed living-rooms equipped with televisions as you see today. The first person to teach me the rudiments of stone-carving was a gypsy with black hair and what was known as a 'swarthy' complexion. The difference was that he lived in a huge and expensive house in Surrey, and was obviously wealthy. He kept a fabulous painted wagon at the bottom of his garden, just to remind himself of his roots - or lack of them.

I think if it were not for H.I. and the family, I would probably be living in a little hut in a wood right now - maybe tending a cold-smoker with which I would supply various restaurants with all manner of smoked meats and fish. No internet, no rent, no family, no future, no blogging....

I looked out of my friend's flat in Bremerhaven one morning, and saw the above - a little corrugated steel, road-builder's trailer which would have fitted nicely on the back of my Volvo, and I found myself daydreaming:

"Now, if I cut a couple of little windows into it, and put a little pipe out through the roof for a wood-stove...."


  1. Don't people live on gondolas on the canals of London? That would be fun.

  2. Yes, Cro, but it has no wheels. A friend of mine calls it 'The Turdis'.

    Funny you should say that, Grouch. A man I know (who used to live in Bath and went to the same college as me and Cro in Farnham - Tony Spagoni as he was called) lives on a boat in London near Little Venice. He is - by now - virtually a tramp.

  3. Yes, I know the area (Little Venice). Right behind Paddington Station bordering the Arab district. Very Posh!
    I was asked to leave an apartment I was staying in there for smoking on the balcony. I had no idea that total buildings (including outdoor balconies)were smoke free.

  4. They aren't Grouch - you could have told them to 'f*** off'.

  5. This brings back great memories Tom of staying with my Grandparents in Braceby. There were often Gypsies down the road near the quarry with their horses and wagons. My sister and I used to go and visit them. I forever wanted to be a Gypsy when I was young, envious of living with horses and bangles and campfires. Now I think of what a mother would say if her kids came home and announced they had spent the afternoon at the Gypsy camp. My grandmother would always walk past their camp on the first few days they were there and ask them to kindly leave the spot clean when they left. They must have thought this funny in retrospect, but she was always on very friendly terms with them. We also would love it when a tramp came through the village as she would let us take him a sandwich. As you say there was no fear of them being drugged out.

    Your blog would be much missed if you went into the woods Tom.

  6. My sister just informed me that they had caravans not wagons.(faulty memory) She said they always had horses though.

  7. My mother said
    I never should
    play with the gypsies
    in the wood.

    If I did
    she would say
    'naughty boy
    to disobey'!

  8. I don't know that I would fantasize about that particular little trailer, but I have to say the wandering life definitely has its appeal. I think if it weren't for the kids, I would be content to move house every year or two to some new, exotic location.

  9. I remember those old tramps. My mother used to keep a permanent place laid at the old table in the outside wash house so that any tramp who turned up at lunch time got a good meal. They used to leave a mark on the gate to tell other tramps that this was a good house to call at.

  10. I always daydreamed about a cave all to myself on a desert island.

  11. I hope - for your sake - that your dream never comes true, Dolores.