(Guest Author: Peter Moore)
After spending 62 years close to or right in North London, I moved to the country. I like it very much. I expected to miss the noise and the traffic and the luxury of having all the neccessities of life available in sight of my home, but soon adapted.
Of course one notices the seasons more outside of a City and it is colder. I spent winter like a hermit but now can venture out to explore my new territory. Driving down a pleasant lane I was gripped with unease when rounding a bend and seeing, well, an encampment. At this point I must stop and consider what I can call this encampment. First perhaps describe it?
A driveway leads off the road through proper gate posts and within can be seen brick buildings that are toilet blocks. All around are touring caravans and static mobile homes (a contradiction I know) and many small commercial vehicles. As I watch, the vehicles start to depart like Worker Bees off for a days toil. Each Transit is driven by a swarthy male and next to him a hard faced woman, hair pulled tight across her scalp. Next to her, chidren with short cropped hair.
This is not a Caravan Club location or a Park Home estate. I have found a Travellers site.
This is what I am allowed to call it I guess, not a Gypsy site, not a Tinkers site or Pikey site or Freelance Thieves site. No, this is the temporary home of Travelling Folk, living the life they choose in the way they want, with the local Council of course legally obliged to provide land and facitilties.
But, they don’t travel, aside from the daily forays in the Transits. The caravans stay put, I have never seen one arrive or leave.
Bigotry comes at once to the fore. I don’t like these people. At once I start to remember how I left my car unlocked in my own lane when someone stole the handbook out of the door pocket and every single key. Keys to the car, my home, my London home and my workshop. I remember how a very useful Pressure Washer went from my back garden and how, on deciding to put an Electric Motor Scooter on e bay, I found it gone from my garden shed.
Of course there is not, and never will be, any way of making a direct connection with this site and the vans sallying forth and my missing goods, but then a more distant memory comes to mind.
In London, my business premises which covered a large area, were next to a rectangle of waste land bordering a big main road and fenced all round, One day there was a major road accident and we saw and heard the Air Ambulance carefully setting down on this land. But the Medics could not get to the accident until some gung ho Police drove their Landrover straight through the locked gate leading to the road.
The incident was dealt with, the helicopter departed and the gates stayed on the ground.
After the weekend, three caravans appeared on the land with three pick up trucks. Within days there were eighteen caravans and vehicles and eighteen families. At once, the crime wave began.
The Archway Road, is a very long road indeed, lined both sides with shops, pubs, cafe’s and homes. The children from these caravans were well practised, going in to each shop or knocking on each door, with the youngest and least threatening asking ‘Can I have a drink of water please Missus ?’. Sure they got some doors slammed in their faces, but each time they found a gullible person who walked off to get a cup of water, in to their pockets went chocolates, cigarettes, food, magazines or anything of value from the table in the hall.
The local Copper just shrugged. ‘What can I do, they are too young to prosecute, I cannot search their caravans, if they run, I dare not restrain them, and whatever is in their pockets is there because “my Mammy bought these for me” ‘. Eventually the shopkeepers had an early warning system one to another ‘look out, they have got as far as 389 Archway Road, coming your way’.
My business involved cleaning motor components in very nasty chemicals. The process required the chemicals to be flushed away in running water and in a derelict house on our land we had a sink and a tap. Our new neighbours soon found this and filled their kettles and pots and milk churns. Concerned that they might poison themselves, the bravest of our staff found the Head Man of the caravan dwellers and warned him that the water was poisonous. He listened impassively and they continued drawing off the water and drinking it.
Then they found that the other empty rooms in the old house made a good toilet, the place soon stank.
We considered what to do. There were four of us, none much good at fighting and eighteen strong men opposing us.
The compromise was to put up a metal wall, but to show good intent to place a water tap, plumbed with clean copper pipe, on the wall adjoining the waste land. Now they had good drinking water.
After another weekend we found two new developments, our car park was a wide deep lake. The children had smashed and stolen the new tap and had taken as much of the copper as they could get hold of. The broken pipe had run at mains pressure for two full days. We hammered the pipe flat and now they had no water.
Further they had trampled down the fence that bordered Highgate Wood and this public recreation ground was their new toilet.
The staff of The Corporation Of London arrived and the Travellers watched them digging holes and inserting concrete posts and running chain link fencing with barbed wire topping. Job done they departed. One Traveller appeared with bolt croppers, cut the fence and peeled it back. They continued pissing and crapping.
‘Clear case of Criminal Damage’ I told the hapless Copper. ‘Yes’ he said ‘but with eighteen big men, mostly dressed alike and with similar haircuts, can you point at the one who actually cut the fence?’
Then Haringey Council stepped in, bringing a site toilet ‘Portaloo’ for each caravan. Next day, the pick up trucks were busy taking the Portaloos away to be sold, until only a few remained. We were busy preventing the batteries and spare wheels going from our customers vehicles.
The one useful aspect of this ongoing chaos was that it had been caused by the actions of the Metropolitan Police and they were acutely embarrassed. If the open gate that gave initial access had just fallen down, they would not have been much concerned. No more concerned in fact than they were about the origin and ownership of the many goods and the van loads of carpets that were arriving at and leaving the site on a daily basis.
An approach to Haringey Coucil may just have produced a leaflet drop in the London N6 area, circulated by the Travellers Liason Outreach Officer and entitled, in many languages, ‘Understanding The Colourful Culture Of Your New Neighbours’ and interspersed with slogans such as ‘All Property Is Theft’.
But, the Coppers identified the Department of Transport as owning the waste land and the legal processes commenced.
In the meantime, the Traveller children started another traditional game. As one would enter the remaining Portaloo’s, others would creep up and quickly run a rope around and around, thus holding the door closed. Then they would tip the cubicle over and roll it along the ground while the young person inside would make his traditional cry ‘ You Feckers, you fecking feckers, I will fecking kill you. you fecking c—s ‘. Eventually the victim would emerge, as the Portalooo leaked its contents on to the earth.
Just before E Day, E for eviction, I had my own smalll encounter with these kids, it was nothing major. On our land was an old mobile home that had been made in to a radio studio. All the windows were curtained and it still was habitable with bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. One night I was inside when someone knocked on the door. I opened it and there were the Traveller children.
The lead child stepped through the door as I opened it and I naturally stepped back as you do when someone is ‘in your face’. His companions stepped around him and around me. I was not being threatened, but now I could not watch them all at once. The main kid fired questions at me ‘Who are you Mister, do you live here mister, what do you do here? Is this a pirate station mister? Do you go on air from here? Are these here your records, how many have you got?’
I had to/have to admire the kid, with utter confidence he had stepped on to my property and established a superior position where I was answering his questions rather than saying ‘F— off out of here’.
His young companions eyes flicked back and forth ‘Records, CD’s Tape recorders, CD players. Record decks, an electric kettle, cupboards with food in’.
I got them out in the end by saying that it was indeed a pirate station liable to be raided any moment, when anyone in the room would be arrested. I did not have to gut the place of all valuables, since soon after, like locusts having scavenged one area, the Travellers were gone, just as fast as they had arrived.
All the remained were a couple of wrecked caravans and all the household waste that eighteen families create and which would normally be put in dustbins. The Haringey Council dirty squad cleared the land and the Dept of Transport erected a 12ft high fence about 200ft long. The Corporation of London made good their fence. Somebody paid for all this.
I wonder what became of these kids, they will be adults soon. Did they decide to become Quantity Surveyors or Architects, or study Law or Accountancy. Or did they find a Traveller wife and did the Community band together to get them a glittering caravan and a Toyota 4WD to pull it with and are they now teaching new infants the basic skillls of petty larceny?
So, as when I see hooded youths sauntering toward me taking up all the pavement and I assume that they are ‘wrong un’s’ is it reasonable or not to look at my local ‘Pikey site’ and feel fear and disgust.
The matter of an illegal encampment in Basildon Essex is about to come to a head. Watch for the news. Basildon Council feel that they will have to spend Eight Million clearing the land. No doubt a self appointed spokesman will leap up to claim persecution and discrimination.
At this point I am saying no more, but I am locking my car, chaining my gates shut, padlocking my sheds and putting up Security lights. Yes, I also now have the Big Dog.
I can still enjoy my country retreat, but with a sense of trepidation when I hear a vehicle late at night or when the dog barks. If I find an intruder and use violence, which one of us will end up before the courts?
Author: Peter Moore.
from: A Bit Moore