The Travellers are back. Each spring they return to a small corner of Birkrigg, usually about five to six caravans and trailers, a couple of flat-bed lorries. They park just below the farm, near top sea woods, with a view stretching out across the Bay.
Last year I met an elderly woman and a young man, her grandson? They were walking along the beach. I’m sure they were from the camp on the common. She was small and had bright eyes, very alive looking, humorous. With her thick white stockings and men’s carpet slippers she reminded me of my Nana, she wore men’s slippers, too. This lady had a dog with her, a Yorkie, who yapped loudly at Roy. “We call him Napoleon, on account of his size, but he’ll take on anything!” Her grandson smiled, such affection in that smile. He held her elbow, she leaned on him a little.
“Fine looking dog you have. What’s he called?” Roy. “Roy, eh, King Roy!” We smiled and she and her grandson went and sat on a bench. I turned round; saw her pointing with her stick across the Bay to Pen-y-Ghent.
They stay on Birkrigg till someone turfs them off. Used to have a fair up at the Ghyll till the area was tidied up and raised slate flower beds were added to the car park – “to spruce it up” – didn’t realise tho, that it was impossible to get the fair’s dodgems and trucks, vans and trailers on the Ghyll car park. My sister had her fortune told once, at the fair “Don’t tell mam!” while the tune “Dizzy, mah head is spinnin’, like the world will ne-e-ver end,” blared out from the tinny speakers as someone on the dodgem car turned yellow and vomited.
The Romany children would come to our school for a few weeks, maybe longer, I recall David coming to school barefoot, smiling sheepishly, dark brown hair, curly, tanned face, an ear ring in one ear and a girl – what WAS her name? – beautifully dressed in frills and lace, long hair ringletted, very shy girl. I loved her clothes, and her hair. Nana would ringlet my hair, too, wrap strands of hair in strips of old cotton, torn from worn out dresses. For the boys in the family she’d spit on her forefinger and thumb and twist a few hairs into a coiff/quiff. “There!” she’d say and the boys’d step back, turn their heads to one side, like sulky calves.
“VeeO-let VeeO-let, my mother’s pet, with her hair in a PLET and her pinny all WET! VEE O LET!”
A skipping rope song mam would chant as we danced around the kitchen.
Now the larks are back on Birkrigg, spiralling the air with song and spring as new coils of bracken unfurl their own green tune.
Geraldine Green from Salt Road, Indigo Dreams Publishers