The ‘blonde angels’

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Anyone old enough to have swung on ‘Beaver’s Boats’ in the late 40s/early 50s around Dublin and Dalkey in the South of Ireland, might still remembered the dark skinned couple, Maree and Patrick (known as Beaver) who owned and operated the beautifully carved and painted swingboat ride. They might also remember the scruffy, cheeky blonde kid on the bike. That was me.

Dad was a traveller, born and bred. He was a respected man among the Roma, with whom he had ties. My mum, on the other hand, was not born on the road nor was she Rom, but she looked the part with her black hair and olive skin. They had one child, and she was as blonde and blue eyed as Cinderella. The eyes later took on a green shade, the hair darkened, but in  infancy she could easily have passed for one of those ‘blonde angels’ the gypsies are said to be always stealing.

However, I was a little blonde traveller and no angel. I hated wearing shoes so I stuffed the new pair mum insisted that I wear under a bush before we moved on. They were never found. I turned a brand new toy pram into a lumber wagon. I tried to escape to Narnia in a wardrobe and tipped it over (before I’d even read the books!). No one ever accused my parents of stealing me – for one thing, I was such a little monster that I could only be a traveller child in general opinion, and ‘blonde angels’ are ten a penny in Ireland. There’s no profit in stealing one when anyone can make one. Those vikings made sure no DNA went unblonded.

Of course I heard the stories. “My mum said I shouldn’t play with you because you steal children away.” My reaction to that was always, “Why? Who’d want you?” Our adults didn’t steal children, but they rarely got out of town without having to pluck their own kids out of a donnybrook with the locals. “Dirty Gypsy” was mild compared to some of the insults thrown our way. Even in my early 20s, sauntering down the road in my best coat and heels, I was accosted by a girl who spat at me and called me ‘dirty gypsy’ because she’d seen me coming out of the traveller camp.

What to make of that? I never understood it. I could read and write, I earned my own living, I was mad about clothes (although I would never have dressed like those girls on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, my dad would have killed me. But I do remember we faced a lot of prejudice and the silly myths that we had to contend with – like stealing children. Among the Rom, and many travellers, the bottom line rule was that no child would go homeless or unloved. If tragedy took one or both parents, or a struggling single mother couldn’t go on raising her child, someone else would take care of it.

Yeah, they bent the rules. They never bothered telling ‘the authorities’ who would just have taken the orphaned or abandoned children away from everything and everyone they knew and loved . The authorities never understood that the tribe simply cannot relinquish its young. It goes against every deepest instinct, which are to protect the children and keep the families together. But neither were they so jealous of ‘blonde angels’ that they just had to possess them. They had plenty of kids of their own, both dark and fair

It’s been hard to watch the hysteria building up over Maria and the Irish children,  because I was little blonde gypsy too. And I’m not the only one. It showed me that these old racist views have not gone away, they have simply become buried in the psych, and all it takes is a scratch to have it erupt again, like a boil, all over the innocent. It is still there, the stupid fear drummed into settled children, “Be good or the Gypsies will take you away.”

Is that really the only weapon they could think of to discipline their children? As a card carrying little mischief maker, I was treated with amused tolerance or made to make reparation for any damage or upset my mischief caused. No one ever threatened me that ‘the authorities’ would take me away, even though that was far more likely. Shoulder to shoulder, man to man and woman to woman, that would never have been allowed to happen. Travellers and Rom love their children, and the children of their sisters and brothers of the tribe. What happened in Greece and Ireland will take a long time to heal for those families. It truly is their worst nightmare.

 

Halloween countdown: The Trees

The Trees

ghost gums

The trees are driving me crazy. Can’t anyone else see what they are up to? They are colluding, whispering together. Getting closer, I could walk between these two a week ago. Now they block my path, like threatening sentinels.

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Even in the city they creep up, they invade, they terrorise humans going about their business. What do you think these two are up to?

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At night I fear them most of all. They gather around my house, rustling and muttering, shaking their branches and leaves in the moonlight. What do they want? Why are they becoming so bold and intrusive?

ghostly gums

At night the ghost gums come haunting, creeping through the darkness toward the house, drawing close to each other in conspiratorial silence, yet I can hear them whispering to each other, rustling and creaking, and watching us.

I think they are angry. I think they want us to know that they have had enough of us. I think they want to cut us down as we have been cutting them down, to uproot our houses and our lives and reclaim the land from us. I think they hate us because of this…

Note: The idea of this is to use the photos I’ve taken of random objects that have ‘faces’ embedded or have a spooky or weirdly human quality, as prompts for Halloween prose and poetry. Feel free to copy the images and use them as prompts for your own stories. Leave me a link so I can see the results 🙂

Halloween Countdown: How did I get here?

Another Halloween story suggested by a photo in my collection.I spotted this sad eyed stag at a twilight market, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

how did I get here

How did I get here?

Stop. Stop! Don’t just walk past. It’s me! Look closer! You can see it’s me.

Stop sniggering at your new husband. His joke was lame, and you know it. “Oh dear, oh dear. I think he lost his head.” Pathetic. You actually laughed. Do you think it’s funny that I, Antonio, the love of your life, is nailed to a piece of wood? Look at me! Don’t you recognise my moustache?

Oh Laura, what happened to me? Yours was the last face I saw on that night, with the full moon shining in the window, before everything went black, and I woke up on the wall in my father’s house. That huge ornate mirror he bought in Florence was on the opposite wall, and I could see what had become of me. I didn’t realise at first – only after days of staring at that damned mirror did I understand that my head looks like this now. And it isn’t attached to my body.

I have been thinking that my papa mistook me for one of the deer on his estate. These are a fine pair of antlers, I must say. So big. He must have spotted me and shot me, not knowing it was I, Antonio, his only beloved son. For years I hung there, unable to communicate, watching you visit Papa’s estate and take care of him in his old age. Every time you came he asked you the same question. “Have they found my son?”

I watched you weep at his funeral, and laugh when they read the will and he left everything to you. Then the men came, the buyers and the dealers, and everything was sold and bundled out. Including me.

Oh look, the little one is speaking again.

“So, Laura, did you tell him, at the last, of your powers? Or was he still too dazzled by your beauty to know you are a witch?”

“Not a full time witch, Paulo. Only when there is a full moon at Halloween. Then I can do anything I want. Poor, poor Antonio.” She reached over and stroked the dark mark beneath my nose, the exact replica of my moustache. “Come, Paulo, now you have come into your uncle’s fortune, you can afford to buy me a peach gelato, no?”

Yes,” he said adoringly. “Gelato, and diamonds, rubies, anything you want.”

Her laughter tinkled as they walked away. Poor, poor Paulo, too besotted to realise that tonight was Halloween, and the moon was full.

Halloween Countdown: Nevermore

In the lead up tp Halloween this year, I am going to be posting photos of ‘found’ faces – you know how you look at some random object and there seems to be a face peering out at you. I have been making a collection of such objects, and some of them are inspiring me to write as well. So, without further ado, here is my first offering. This isn’t a gravestone, although it looks like one – it is a monument at one of our local parks and the closer I got, the more I felt I was being watched – b y Edgar Allen Poe, maybe…Honestly, I haven’t touched it.

who is that in there

Nevermore

I am haunted by Edgar Allen Poe. Everywhere I go I see his face, peeking out at me from bushes, clouds, gravestones…as I drift off to sleep, I hear his voice – nevermore, nevermore.

I toss and turn, I throw off the blankets because I am too hot, I shiver because I am too cold…nevermore, nevermore.

As a sickly grey dawn seeps through the curtains, my eyes spring open, unable to close. I stare up at the ceiling, where the growing light coils and snakes across the darkness, filling my soul with dread, my mouth with the taste of graveyard dirt.

I am no stranger to fear, but I have never known anything like this. This is no mere sickness of the body, no mere derangement of the mind – this is a malady so bone deep, so soul centred, that I weary of life.

Nevermore, he whispers. Nevermore.

It cannot be true. I drag myself from my bed, across to my writing desk and press the switch above the keyboard. The grey screen echoes the grey morning outside and my mood. The last photo I took, Poe peering at me from a headstone at the cemetery, his eyes following me as I walked among the graves.

Nevermore. Nevermore.

I crash my fists on the keyboard. He continues to mock me as I struggle with the words that won’t come. Of course he mocks. He must have known this terrifying abyss, this pendulous pit of dried up inspiration, this ghastly wasteland of a head empty of any ideas at all.

The well is utterly dry, the grave barren and the screen remains blank. Of  all the horrors in the human mind – nothing compares to writer’s block.

He laughs and whispers – never more. Nevermore.