Why, in this land of common sense and tolerance, do we hate travellers?
We do, apparently, so much so that even the United Nations, always ready to take up causes that deflect attention from its inadequacy in dealing with persecution and hunger in deprived countries, feels compelled to pronounce its concern about a situation in Essex. The question relates to the problem Basildon council is experiencing with a large traveling community on a site – owned by the travellers themselves, it must be mentioned – on which a couple of dozen permanent residences have been built without the required planning consents.
Passing over the observation that travelers who live in permanent homes are not exactly living the alternative lifestyle they claim is their right, the question is most easily answered by listening to the experiences of people who find themselves, often unexpectedly, living close to what they would have us believe is your typical travellers’ camp. They seem united in their hostility, which is almost invariably based on complaints of excessive and constant noise, fly-tipping and littering, and loutish behaviour, often threatening in nature.
Are the travellers’ reluctant neighbours nothing more than bigots, prone to exaggeration prompted by crude ethnic stereotyping and mischievous mythology? The only other explanation is that the nature of the complaints is so consistent that there must be something to them.
I have no doubt that there is some truth to the former, even if Vanessa Redgrave believes there is, but it also has to be said that a great deal of evidence also points to the latter.
My own exposure to travellers has been limited, but it is hardly such as to stimulate my innate liberal, live-and-let live tendencies.
There is a permanent ‘gypsy’ encampment no more than a couple of miles from my house. It has been there for years, and I have to say that at first glance it looks neat and well-ordered. But that favourable initial impression is always sullied by the rubbish, often comprising old kitchen appliances and mattresses, dumped in the otherwise pristine country lane on which the camp sits.
And a few years back, a small band of travellers, living in two caravans, camped in the car park at our local railway station. When this group left after several weeks, finally evicted by court order, they left behind a small mountain of household detritus including, according to some locals, a dead dog. I can’t possibly claim that these cases are typical, but they are evidently far from unusual.
Now, it has to be said that failing to bury a dead dog is hardly a capital offence, and dumping an old sofa into a field qualifies to fall short of heinous. But both are despicable.
I can summon up nothing original to say about the travellers, or their rights, except this: if these folk want to be accepted by, if not integrated into, the community at large, then they must learn to observe the rules by which the rest of us, or at least the majority of us, try to live.
There, I AM turning into a Daily Mail reader.