Nicola's Reviews > Here To Stay: The Gypsies and Travellers of Britain

Here To Stay by Colin Clark
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Sep 25, 10

bookshelves: race, non-fiction

According to a MORI poll quoted in Here To Stay, more than 30% of people in the UK admit to negative feelings towards Gypsies and Travellers. Thirty percent! And that's not including covert racism. (Ever used the word "gypped" to mean "cheated"?) With chapters written by a number of experts, Here To Stay positions itself as a thought-provoking attempt to dispel the tabloid sensationalism that had led anti-Gypsy feeling to be an 'acceptable' form of racism.

However, the resulting book is incredibly dry, academic and lacking detail about the everyday lives of Gypsies and Travellers in the UK. Despite its worthy and interesting subject matter, it reads more like a dissertation than a book that any layperson might wish to read to help them understand what it means to be a Gypsy in the 21st century.

The authors' attempts to be sensitive to the Gypsy plight also result in Here To Stay lacking a critical edge. (Critical in the academic sense, not the colloquial sense.) There's none of the social discourse that characterises other 'cultural studies' books. For example, there's no discussion of the impact of inbreeding that has become common, as members of tight-knit communities choose to marry their cousins because there are few other alternatives, or, indeed, the outdated patriarchal structure that characterises Gypsy life (women marrying young and then staying home with the children).

Personally, I'm torn. I know that racism against Gypsies is very real and ought to be stopped. But the amount of special pleading in Here To Stay is extraordinary. I completely agree that there should be higher-quality local authority sites available to Gypsies; and I think teachers, doctors and council workers should be more sensitive to their culture. But, at one point, an author suggests that one of the reasons Gypsies are more prone to poor health is that they struggle to attend doctors' appointments because 'they don't have the same concept of time' as the rest of society. The line of personal responsibility must be drawn somewhere, and I think it should be drawn at expecting Gypsies to buy a damn clock and calendar and attend appointments about their health!

The fact is, I find Gypsy life to be fundamentally outdated, and it is thus difficult for me to rationalise pouring public money into accommodating a small minority who live in this way. Travelling life belongs in an age when our tiny, overcrowded island still sported lush green spaces where Gypsies could stop and make camp without bothering anyone -- now most of those spaces have been developed or protected as green belt land. Gypsy life belongs to a time before congested roads and overflowing landfills. A time before wide-ranging government regulation.

I can't help thinking... are we just supposed to turn back the clock and undo our highly-regulated (but also highly-efficient) society because a tiny section of the population wish to roam the countryside in the same way as their elders?

The fact remains that anti-Gypsy feeling should not go unchecked. But, to be honest, I can’t see the situation with Gypsies and Travellers getting any better in the UK. Not when even a Guardian-reading bleeding heart like me finds their plight so unsustainable. I hoped to find convincing solutions in this book, but instead there was just a lot of special pleading.

Plus, as a book, it was boring. SO BORING. Why do academics couch all their arguments in such deathly prose?
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message 1: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Neman I had no idea that the word 'gypped' was derived from dealings with Gypsies...I don't hear it used much now, but it was really common in Chicago in my youth. But then we were used to terms that would now probably all be considered 'politically incorrect'.

Personally I've always had a fascination with and for Gypsies and that way of life...and when you say Gypsies and Travellers, I'm wondering what exactly is meant by 'Travellers'? I consider myself a traveller (small t) because I am kind of a Nomad, liking to wander around a lot (walkabout, the Australians call it).


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