Life goes on. The world turns – civilisation evolves and adapts. For the travelling community, nomadism – that intrinsic need to roam – is as much a choice as it is a survival technique.
From traditional Yurt communities, to Bedouin tribes and the Eastern European Roma, the gadjo (non traveller) represent a confusing mix of authority and conflict.
Settlement acts passed from the early 1960’s in former Communist states which intended for travelling families to establish themselves and work in the oppressive Land regimes forbade the use of identification as a Roma or Gypsy and forced integration into a society which, for many at that point in time, they neither had a natural affiliation to or comprehension of. Even British legislation prevented ‘vagabondism’ in most forms – causing the outlawing of occluding public by-ways and roads. Yet none of these techniques worked to incorporate a transient and mobile nationhood of people into host populations. Constantly persecuted, frequently misunderstood and a mystery to both the non traveller and themselves, the history of these people is a fluid and inflammatory story of optimistic struggle and straggling survival. One to which no one is immune, nor alien to.
Current popular interest in the lifestyle of traveller families has highlighted the differences between the old notion of extended support networks – which many Roma enjoy – and the insular autonomy of host nations which prevent, to an extent, the ability to disengage and re-engage at will into everyday life. The majority of Roma have settled due to financial stability which a permanent residence encourages; those that choose to continue a mobile livelihood face prosecution and persecution. This is undeniable. Media fear mongering – the idea of the gypsy as sly, dishonest, dirty – still permeates in news reports which ostensibly serve to both integrate and isolate the traveller community.
No solutions are advanced, the traveller community ‘travels’ and therefore it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to move on when the local community feels that this time has come. No other migrant community has such an uncertain future. Two days, three weeks, four months in one place at the most. When land is acquired, not only do they have to navigate a planning process which is confusing even to gadjo but they face the added suspicion as to how this would impact on local population. But does it really matter, in the long term? Surely a settled community – even one which flouts planning laws, is better than one who is hounded and hindered.
And this can be violent in its extremes. France and Italy have progressively legislated against traveller input into their respective societies. In Romania and Balkans areas violent attacks on settled traveller camps have increased according to the ERRC. Very few of these attacks are prosecuted, out of court settlements are meagre and do not reflect the severity of these. For instance, retributive justice, whether real or imagined, often take the form of burnings. Whole communities set alight. Maimed and broken. Women, children and men – those who have been neighbours – are targeted as embodiments of criminality and treated as such.
Trawling the archives of the ERRC and social sciences departments throw up truly sickening accounts, each followed by interviews by both victims and offenders. Offenders here is loosely used, frequently they miss the justice system. And similar justifications occur throughout these: we don’t want them here. They bring nothing to society. They dress provocatively. They don’t want to work. They have no respect. They deserve everything they get – taking our jobs, our benefits. It is a tale as old as time. One to which no minority community has been exempt. A basic lack of understanding of culture clashing, simplistic, indeed, but sometimes a simple statement starts a debate rolling.
Traveller children are instilled in respect of older generations, often they live in close knit groups and they have a very real feeling of family. In many areas there is a complete innocence toward everyday living. Education is secondary – and this is understandable to an extent. If no one is willing to see the person, the potential to excel, why invest in a system which is geared toward ideals they do not hold. Education is a key to future, a key to employability, but if no one will employ a traveller above a menial position, why bother? Why bother sending a child to school to be ridiculed, put in special institutes (a common practice) because they do not conform to a pattern of life which is so skewed against them? Isn’t it better to have the children close, to teach them what has been tried and tested as useful?
Gender is also an issue in traveller communities. Women are often not valued as autonomous people, but as glue to the community. They are an amalgam of mother and nurturer – an old fashioned premise but one which is diffused between all the group. Traveller women are usually proud of this role – and if lack of ambition is to be reviled then they truly lack a feminist impulse. But this is a contentious statement. Feminists everywhere will argue for and against, and here is not the place to pull this apart.
In times of recession scapegoats are easily found. Be they Jewish, Islamic, poor or rich…Aushwitz was home to over half a million Traveller families; marked by a ‘Z’ on entry. Hardly any were liberated. Mengeles systematically medically tested traveller people seeing them as subhuman, denying them an identity and a history. Denying them culture, as the Nazi regime sought to do with most disenfranchised groups, minority ethnicities.
Yet it is only within the last 30 years that the loss of life has been acknowledged by governments. They are a sideline in history, and for most travellers’ this collective amnesia has worked to preserve them. A people with no past or future can glide through life, but they cannot enjoy it fully. They cannot step proudly and say who they are. The controversy that has surrounded recent documentaries, the sensationalistic reporting denotes a change, a change in perspective in the gadjo community – could this be a recognition of the freedom that Roma enjoy – but with an ignorance towards the cost that this represents? Now is the time to see the bigger picture.
When exactly will Lego lose its appeal? When it’s sent into space as a mini-naut by University students? When an 8ft Lego man named Ego Lennard washes up on the beach of Sarasota and becomes a global celebrity or when it costs over £500 on Ebay for a vintage ‘hard to find’ Lego Greengrocer ? Whatever your age, it’s very hard not to find the little brick men alluring. And for some, this simple toy creation is the key to endless stunning artistic possibilities .
I’m a big fan. I will indeed be slowly building a new Lego army to rival that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Should savings run out before then, I shall endeavor to donate surplus organs – such as the appendix or a kidney – in the hopes that one day I too shall be able to post a picture of a giant Lego street made up of the modular buildings collection.
For those who are living in isolation somewhere in southern Peru, then maybe the Danish building blocks have passed you by. Devised in the late 1940’s as a way of re-building after the war…only joking…but they were produced post WW2. The rather simple injection moulding interlocking pieces have crafted an empire which corners the construction toy market. So much so, in fact, that Lego are suing German manufacturer Best-Lock for breach of copyright in the USA. So far they have managed to convince US customs to seize over £200,000 of Best-Lock goods. If I were the Canadian firm MegaBrands I would be watching closely to see how things turn out.
Yet it could all have been so different had Hilary Page, who designed the rectangular blocks during WW2 in Britain, managed to set himself up. He could have left a legacy of Lord of the Rings inspired Lego, Superhero DC Lego, Winnie the Pooh Duplo. But it was not to be. At least Lego founder Ole Christiansen was kind enough to nod an acknowledgement at Mr Page at the very beginning.
Brick forums everywhere buzz with news of possible new Lego lines. Wish lists of ‘wants’ and ‘haves’ litter these sites. Trading of brick pieces, when sets are broken up and each piece is individually sold to the highest bidder, is rife. Leading this trend are middle aged men, but the lego-loving demographic is diverse.
It isn’t just Lego which enjoys such a large reveille. Transformers has reinvented itself for a new generation thanks to Shia LaBeouf. Sylvanian Families has been linked to many a secret hoarding scandal – check out the many Sylvanian Families collectors blog . Is it, as Michael Bywater suggests, because we are all, at heart ‘big babies’? Being infantilised by a nation, indoctrinated into believing youth is lasting, life is forever and everything is done for our own good? Is that why we hang onto Thundercat Lairs and Ghostbusters figures, in case we age backwards like Benjamin Button?
Or maybe it is because we have advert after advert on CITV reviving the Care Bears or Barbie. The Toy Museum of Prague, for instance, has an exceptional array of Barbie dolls, and the audience on a Wednesday afternoon wasn’t five year old girls, but lavishly dressed fortysomethings and their plus ones.
When our children get to an age to watch a whole film without being sick, demanding to be changed, then it is very likely that a classic Disney from our childhood is put on the TV rather than something modern. Look at the hype that surrounds cult classics – the Goonies, the Harry Potter series – the emotional ties to childhood, to nostalgia in general, ensures that people will revisit these times without any censure or regret and will momentarily get lost in the feeling that they are secure and comforted. For me, at least, this is why, when snow is on the ground you’ll find me making igloos and playing with Lego on an Autumn day.
Original thought may very well be dead – as Hilary Page found out to his detriment – the chances of someone else coming up with the same idea at the same time in a completely different country can often be 100%. Which is why Lego will be a national legacy of Denmark, rather than leading the British Olympics this year. The Bible will forever be translated into Brick . And James May will have made a house of Lego (Ok, so they knocked it down, but that is not the point).
An addiction, in fact, with hardly any social stigma attached. Except if the number of friends you have is below say, 70 or the number of followers is less than 12. Then there must be an issue with the person, rather than the social networking site that is akin, apparently, to a crack cocaine habit – as one internet surfing teen put it.
Where does this need for constant interaction come from – and, more importantly, where does it stop? Flitting from tab to tab at the top of a computer in the hopes that the number of comments, likes, status updates or tags have a certain relevance to the Universe of Me is not only really easy to do, looks relatively innocuous but is reassuring too. Dietrich was wrong when she said ‘I vant to be alone’. No one really wants that, it’s solitary confinement of the intellectual kind. Why are dating websites, or personal ads so popular? They have that ability to express yourself without any actual physical involvement in the exchange.
Technology is changing the way we communicate. There used to be a television advertisement – rather clever stop motion – where a guy never left his flat but managed to live using his phone and internet. It was advertising the Yellow Pages. Yet this isn’t an impossible ‘dream’ (or nightmare). Tesco delivers. Argos delivers. Both are online. Facebook offers a rather voyeuristic way of keeping in touch with those that we like (and some that we’ve only really met once). Not only are there TV beds with wifi, if they had a built in catheter and elimination system we need never move again.
But imagination, that precious thing which allows us to have ambition and dreams, often fails us as soon as we log in. Our days are never as exciting as our best friends seem to be. Our comments never as witty. We lack the ability to entertain ourselves and suddenly, consumed by insecurity we open Google as another tab to hide the screen of Shame for at least ten minutes until we check again.
All forums have this. It’s like the first day of school but forever virtual. More people who we could have a connection with. More people to ego trip us out of the obscure. Is this really a good thing? Cravings, anxiety and depression…surely enough in the physical day to day existence for some, yet clearly not for others. I made the rather exciting discovery that I could live without a mobile phone. Liberating. Exhilarating. Yet at the same time it caused slight concern: what if the car broke down and I was attacked by Zombie penguins on the beach – how could I contact civilisation? What if I had a really important thought which meant cancer could be cured in half an hour – how could I write this down and send it to someone of note? Firstly, red telephone boxes still appear at the roadside, and secondly, Post Offices provide a means of sending communication via paper without the need to top up by £10 or sign an 18 month contract.
Seriously though, think about the amount of time we spend online. Everyday. For some, it is a whole way of life, it is how they pay the bills and live at night. Yet is it really what we need to do? Should the apocalypse occur this year – which is very doubtful, as personally I believe the Mayans probably just got fed up counting rather than had a secret hidden knowledge – then the world may very well lose the internet for more than a day. Should that happen, I would hope we wouldn’t be doomed to an Escape from LA situation. Life is so much more than programmed software and Times New Roman.
There is something to be said for self reliance. Diversion from reality, whatever we deem it to be, is awfully enjoyable. And necessary, but not the be all and end all of Humanity. Legacies are not left in words alone (Unless, of course that is your career) but in how we make others feel, not how others make Us feel. Preachy, maybe, but it would make a good Facebook soundbite all the same.
So, here we have the tale of a perfectly satisfactory humour novella turned into global Hollywood hype non-conformist style, thanks to the genius (or is that genii?) of Aardman Animation – the animated whizzkids behind the Mel Gibson vehicle ‘Chicken Run’ and the much admired Lancashire one man and his dog. (Which shall not be referred to again, as it is pretty much given that everyone understands it is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ not ‘Turner and Hooch’ – which is about the only other option available.)
How could this film, which is clearly not aimed at youngsters, have caused controversy prior to public release? Or, cynically, how could this clearly not aimed at youngsters film (but still an animation) have highlighted itself during the dour dull days of January? Let me explain the premise of the film in a nutshell. Partly by digressing and explaining the point of the book.
Gideon Defoe, talented scamp that he is, wrote The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists to impress a girl. Simple.. If I was that girl, I would be impressed. (Maybe I am easily impressed, but a book has to make a dedication, and the dedication in that book made me go ‘aww’).
The Pirate Captain, played in the film by the devilishly foppish quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant. (I saw him filming the fight scene with Colin Firth in Hyde Park. Which was nice.) needs adventure and recognition for his services to Maritime sailing. There’s the Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, an exciting duel or two, some religious Bishop-ry. It’s all in there. And all good. Even a very short meeting with lepers.
What?! Lepers! Are they, the Gods of film, mocking the afflicted for the sake of cheap entertaining thrills (although clearly not taking science, sailing and deformed dead people seriously, leaving aside the casual religious mockery that has been thrown in)? Lepra Health in Action suggest so.
The fuss lies in the connotation of leprosy as, well, all about arms and legs dropping off, and of being contagious. Shun worthy in fact. Let’s face it, leper boats existed. So in terms of historical accuracy, Defoe is dead on. In terms of contagion, it is. Though treatable, so don’t panic.
Surely Lepra Health in Action should welcome the fact that leprosy, long thought of as a disease of the past, has been brought to the forefront of our armchair viewing opinion?
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. The book is funny, the film should be funny. Leprosy, horrible disease that it is, has massive comic potential which has been exploited time and again, with only a modicum of complaint.
Not to sound like a Daily Mail reader (which I do read but only to cut my teeth on and sharpen my claws) it really does seem like political correctness gone mad. Arms do not just fall off. They are not made of plasticine and Hugh Grant does not look like a thin Brian Blessed, as portrayed in the film.
Use your common sense, if you have been affected by the issue of leprosy there is probably a helpline to ring in confidence. And as the prevalence of leprosy has globally decreased, isolated to underdeveloped countries with poor standards of sanitation who will probably not be watching at the Imax in 3D a low budget brightly written and scripted comic caper, then I think cutting a whole chapter of the book was a little bit of overkill, but brilliantly stage managed to correspond with box office opening, especially as it’s a small cult classic.
Cynical, moi? Not really, just realistic, and looking forward to watching the film.