(No – not a recent headline from the Daily Express).
Buy my copy of the Big Issue this morning from the young girl who’s been selling it outside Sainsbury’s for – I think – a couple of years now. She is – I’ve always assumed – a Roma gypsy (originally from Romania, I believe). I’ve occasionally run into her- laden with a backpack of Issues – in the evening when detraining (dread phrase!) on the northbound platform at Harborough Station.
I’d always assumed that she must live in Leicester until a letter to the Harborough Mail from a lady associated with the one of the churches pointed out that she actually lived in Birmingham, was – I think – 15, and was looking after her younger sisters.
Now I sometimes feel that my daily commute to London is a bit of a slog, but I have to say that there is no power on earth that would compel me to commute to Birmingham on a daily basis. Although – as the crow flies – it’s no great distance, by train it actually takes longer than it does to London: it’s quite likely – in my experience – that you’ll have to stand, the seats are damned uncomfortable and then there are all the horrors of New Street to contend with. So hats off to her, I say.
Can’t help wondering how she can afford it, apart from anything else. The Daily Express view would be that she must be bilking her fare, but – frankly – it would be a great deal easier to make one’s way on forged papers through occupied Europe from Colditz to a friendly port than to travel from Harborough to Birmingham without attracting the attentions of the much-feared Revenue Protection Team. Unlikely to be true either that – on arrival in the country – Romanian gypsies are issed with free rail passes, in addition to their luxury apartments, free spectacles, lifetime subscriptions to Country Life and whatever else the Mail/Express axis alleges they are entitled to*. So unless she’s a shape-shifter of some sort and can transform herself into a pushchair or bicycle, she must spend most of her earnings on the rail fare.
Before this particular girl took over a slightly older Roma woman used to sell it from the same pitch. Didn’t see her again until I went to Oakham for the – now sadly discontinued – Oakham cricket festival (or match, at any rate) and heard the familiar cry “Yoohoo Big Issue” – and there she was. I think she’s the cousin (or possibly aunt) of our current vendor and presumably commutes in from Birmingham too – a more scenic journey, but lengthy too.
I do feel that this part of the world wouldn’t be the same without divers Egyptians at the fringes of its towns, whatever their cavalier approach to planning permission. John Clare, of course wrote about them “Tis thus they live–a picture to the place, A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race” (for instance) ; my Grandfather used to claim that he could remember gypsies living in Gipsy Lane in Kettering (now a fairly affluent area); Rothwell too, I think, has its Gipsy Lane.
*If true then, obviously, IT’S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!!!