I have never been so angry at work as I am right now. I don't get angry very often; normally I'll get cross or annoyed, but right now it's just ice cold anger that's clenching up the pit of my stomach.
I was in the kitchen having lunch, reading and chatting with four or five others that were in there, and the conversation turned onto this week's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which has come back on the television this week. It has to be said that, while entertaining, this programme isn't known for being the most objective look at Traveller culture, focussing on the aspects of that community which get the most drama; violence, ignorance, over-sexualised teenagers and silly outfits... so basically everything that the mainstream community in Britain is infamous for too. And you know this is going to happen as soon as the comedic melodian tune kicks in, making it all feel a bit like a circus. I'll admit I do watch this programme and get a giggle out of seeing the costumes and the lengths that some people will go to in order to one-up each others' weddings but I'm not foolish enough to think that BFGW represents the everyday state of the Traveller lifestyle any more than Police, Camera, Action! represents my drive to work. And equally there's a big difference between good-humouredly poking fun at something and slagging off a someone elses way of life.
Which is what some (not all) of my colleagues started doing.
It started with a few second-hand stories of when gypsies had visited areas near them and made a mess or stolen things, then the stories grew into sweeping generalisations "Well they're all theives, aren't they, did you see those cars?", then the slang names came out, "gyppo", "pikey", and then the overzealous threats. "I think they should all be shot." "If I saw any of those feral kids where I do my rounds I'd bury them all and leave 'em there." The only guy who genuinely had been wronged personally by Travellers didn't have much that was condemning to say, but with the others it got worse and worse, more and more inhuman. In the end I just got up, said something like "I'm not going to stay here and listen to this," and left the kitchen, blind furious. In a sense, I don't even care if the stories were true or not, I WILL NOT just SIT there let someone speak about other human beings that way. It was either leave, or start screaming at them.
Yeah, I'm sure there's truth in some of it, and I'm not trying to be all idealistic and romantic about the Traveller way of life. Time ago it probably wouldn't have mattered so much that they moved around all the time, because everybody moved round more then, settlements were smaller, work was more seasonal, but now we live in a country that wants to know the last 10 jobs you had and who your fifth-aunt-twice-removed is before they'll even consider giving you a job so if you don't have a fixed address and don't want to then how exactly do you get work by legal means? And if you're never in a town more than a few weeks because you get driven off the land why exactly would you care about the people you leave behind you when you go and what state you left their heath in? And if your family tradition is to travel abroad or wherever you want, and then suddenly someone invents cars that constantly need to overtake your wagons, and puts in immigration laws, where exactly are you supposed to go? It's the same old story, progress is made to benefit the majority but in the process it fails to consider smaller groups and they become pariahs, and resent us for it, and so it begins. They leave a mess, so we bring down the police on them, so their kids throw stones at our kids, so we protest against their trailer parks... Maybe it's too late to wipe the slate clean now, but guess what guys, sitting about in your nice cosy kitchen and talking about other people as if they were animals... IT'S NOT HELPING! I thought your whole point was that you were suposed to be the civilised ones here. This isn't primary school any more! No wonder nobody ever solves anything if that's your attitude!!
I'm not saying the blame falls completely on any one side, but it's a culture clash and someone has to make the first move to reconcile it. Has anyone tried that? Saying "Actually, never mind what they did, I'll go first". I've not seen Travellers in Loughborough so far but we used to get some come round in the summer when I lived in Norfolk, and everyone would go and start muttering about the "theiving pikeys" who were dirty and didn't go to school and didn't take care of their horses. Even then I used to wonder - had anyone ever talked to any of them? Had anyone ever actually met a Traveller, or spoken to them? If they left a mess that needed tidying then couldn't you just go round, maybe take them a cake or something like neighbours are supposed to, and kindly ask them if they would? What was stopping everybody? If they didn't take care of their horses then why didn't someone go offer to help? And yeah, maybe you'd have to stick at it for a while in order for them to let you, maybe be a bit self-sacrificial for a change, maybe actually invest some time into being a friend, but why couldn't you do that?
I still don't know why.
I seriously need to find a way to cool off. I'm gonna go fold some boxes for the office move next week, maybe that'll help.