Our travelling friends…

Channel 4’s “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” is proving to be one of their most popular documentary series, ever, probably down to the viewing public tuning in week after week in astonishment and bewilderment at what most people would regard as either mildly bizarre or just downright appalling bad taste.

Even their fellow travellers don’t like the programme, many of them have been interviewed on our local radio station over the weeks and all of them have derided the programme as sensationalist and focusing on the most tasteless families, one of the self proclaimed leaders of the largest group of travellers in this area, “Mick” (no surname, seriously, no surname),  who is based at their permanent purpose built site to the south of the city stated yesterday that he had been approached by the production company to be involved but had refused when they wouldn’t give him editorial control, no surprise there then “Mick” and that he hated the programme stating that he didn’t know anyone in the traveller community like the ones portrayed.

The debate continued on that radio station with a phone-in during which no-one phoned in in support of “travellers” of any description or genre, and to be fair I can see why having had regular contact with a group of Irish travellers fifteen years when we leased a warehouse on an industrial estate in the centre of our city.

And that is the problem with the general public perception of “travellers” – they don’t do themselves any favours at all with their behaviour, my experience with them was always bad and while they complain to the news media that ALL publicity against them is ALWAYS bad you cannot excuse the behaviour of those who we were unfortunate to come up against on a regular basis on that industrial estate – they have formed the basis of my opinion of their like ever since and if that seems unfair then that is how public perception works – perception is based on your own experiences.

For nearly two years we had a group of Irish travellers in our part of the city, from the equipment they carried with them they were building/roadworkers obviously finding plenty of  employment in the area but of course they needed to set up camp somewhere in the city and industrial estates was their preferred choice, presumably because there are usually plenty of wide parking areas on industrial estates, there is access to drainage on an industrial scale, and easy access to water supplies, the latter two existing when you lift the manhole covers and fit your own stand pipes as necessary – they never did replace any of the manhole covers after each visit, it was our local councils job to replace them before someone fell down the industrial sized drains.

They would turn up on a regular basis, every couple of months or so, it would take around four to six weeks for the council to get the necessary legal paperwork in place for an eviction and once served they would simply move 200 yards down the road to the next industrial estate for the cycle to start again, four months later they would be back on our site having moved in a predictable circle around all of the industrial estate in the area.

Truthfully no-one would actually have minded their presence on our estate, they used a part of the parking area that no-one else used, they were usually only five to ten families and they kept themselves to themselves, didn’t actually talk to you but weren’t threatening in any way either – its what they left behind that caused the problems and caused our local council to have to set up, under law, a “Gypsy Liason Officer” who’s job it was to speak to them during the legal notice serving process and then organise the clean up and sterilisation of certain areas after they had left.

I use the word sterilisation because as anyone who knows anything about a traveller caravan knows, they don’t bring their own toilets with them, they have what is known as “dry vans” in that they often won’t have any water in them at all and toiletry functions on our estate were performed in the two car parking space at the side of our warehouse, being shielded by a six foot high wall on three sides it made for the perfect toilet, I’ll leave you to imagine how much shit would be left behind after ten families had been using the space for six weeks, yes, it was quite a lot – enter our councils specialist cleansing department every time the travellers had moved on to the next industrial estate.

And it wasn’t just human excrement that they left behind either, it was the general rubbish that ten households would generate over six or so weeks plus any trade related rubbish that they’d failed to dispose of, one time it was a pile of fifty or so car tyres (why ???), another time it was a huge mountain of broken up tarmac from a job they’d been working on – after they left the council had to send a team of workers in to remove all of this.

And the burglaries, of course there was never any evidence that it was our visitors that did the break-ins, it was probably just a coincidence that most of the thirty or so industrial units on the estate were broken into through the nights when our traveller visitors were in residence and maybe we’re just jumping to conclusions but in most of those warehouses was valuable computers and IT systems not to mention the actual stuff they were stocking, none of this was ever taken on those break-ins when our visitors were in residence, only small items (mobile phones and the like) that could easily be shifted in pubs, and cash, the petty cash tins always got stolen, only stuff that could be moved on that same night before the police came calling the next day would ever be stolen, it was just the bloody nuisance of it all that was the worst.

The local police divisional inspector came to a meeting that we called where we insisted that the council do something about the issues after ignoring it for two years, the inspector said nothing during the meeting but afterwards when the councillors had left he simply promised that the travellers would be gone off his patch by the end of the week.

They moved on the next day – what he did was not politically correct but neither was it illegal, all he did was instruct his officers to make life difficult for the visitors, to not turn a blind eye to any motor indiscretions for instance, and to sit in the car park all night in a patrol car with its lights flashing and siren running intermittently, it worked, its obviously a ploy that all parties are well used to, they got the message and moved out of the city – victimised some may say, but perceptions and expectations are built from experience, and they did themselves no favours whatsoever on that count.



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