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Raggle Taggle


Jeremy Sandford

Incorrigible rascal, generous father, breaker of hearts and second-hand motors, restless, caravan-dweller, spendthrift with his fivers yet a shrewd driver of bargains - that’s Jim, who inherits from his Gypsy ancestry his happy-go-lucky ways, his need always to be on the move.

But, though his life lies in the tough world of scrap dealers in the Industrial Midlands round Birmingham, Jim is still able to draw on a wealth of country lore from the days when he and his father and family travelled the countryside in a horse-drawn varda in Ireland. When his child falls sick, it is to the countryside he goes to find a remedy.

And he is proud of his ability to survive anywhere. ‘Put me on the moors with an old pram and I’ll bring you back a fiver where another man will get nothing.’

His girlfriend, Maggie, is not a Gypsy. They met on the Herefordshire hopfields. It wasn’t till she was involved with him that he told her he was a Gypsy.

At one point the idea was that he would take up her life. But Maggie got involved in the ways of the Gypsies ... and she realised that Jim could never live in a house - as he says; ‘I get sick as a trout when I’m in a house.’

Extravagant, deep drinking, the life of Jim and his family is a constant tightrope walk above an abyss of insolvency - and Jim walks the rope with style and a reckless enthusiasm - despising nine-to-fivers for the sedentary ways - pulling off a successful coup only to destroy it next moment by some improvident act. ‘The free life is the best life.’

We see him on a totting expedition with friends - three lorries moving into a residential district to pick up old washing machines, etc. They go to a genteel pub where they crack jokes, swap stories, and are given the freeze by the genteel management. At the scrapyard to which they take their day’s booty, Jim’s little brother, who has been travelling with them, surprises them all by producing a large statue of semi-precious metal he’s been given by an old lady - a present worth all the adult takings put together.

We see something of Jim and Maggie’s life together as Maggie adjusts to be a ‘Romany Rakli’. She is romantically in love with Jim and the Gypsy lifestyle but she’s not completely accepted. There is hostility towards Maggie shown by the Gypsy girls. And talk about the new laws which in England and Ireland are having such a devastating effect on the free and easy ways of the tinker Gypsies, making their traditional camping places unusable by ditching, wire or piles of rubble, forcing them to compete for the pitifully few places on local authority sites.

Just as Maggie is getting used to her new way of life, she suddenly finds herself being swept off with Jim and his lorry to a new destination. As a surprise for her and because he thought she might object if he explained exactly what he has in mind, Jim has not yet told her that they are on their way to County Cork where Jim has heard from cousins still in Ireland that there is a vast pile of 250 rusting lorries and motors.

He knows that for breaking up these cars he can get a large amount of money. But where to get the two thousand pounds to buy them?

Within a couple of hours, Jim has sold his caravan, paid the £2,000, moved into the pile of cars, and given Maggie £250 for a month’s housekeeping. A mini is the bedroom, a Rolls the master bedroom and a tank the living room.

He knows that, broken up, the metal from the motors will be worth far more than that. A slight complication when the owner appears and demands more money.

Jim is visited by Irish cousins who have heard he is here. Maggie is presented to them. They help Jim out with a loan and, soon after, unexpectedly themselves pull their trailers on to the site.

The Prince, a patriarchal Gypsy figure, lectures them on fortune-telling and spells. Jim doesn’t take these all that seriously. Maggie is intrigued by the Prince’s widespread knowledge of Romany ways and tries to get used to the particular lifestyle demanded by having her bedroom (especially in a thunderstorm) in a gutted Rolls Royce. Most other activities, come rain or shine, take place in the open.

There is talk of their possible eviction from the site by the Guarda. It’s getting colder, she’s pregnant, and now finds Jim’s Gypsy and unpredictable ways too much for her, especially his arrangements for her having the baby.

The Prince suggests she has it in the traditional Gypsy tinker way, building her own bender tent with fresh straw.

She runs away, back home, penniless, and has various adventures as she begs her way back to her mother’s house in England. Life in suburbia seems claustrophobic after the Gypsy life.

Jim completes the gargantuan task of breaking up the cars. He decides to return to England.

Missing Maggie, lonely and living in a pick up truck but with a lot of money in his pocket, he visits Appleby, the great Gypsy horse fair in the North of England.

Not so long after the Fair, the Gypsies find themselves involved in a major eviction. Jim and the others are constantly hounded. Caravans from many parts end up on the one vast piece of waste land. Jim’s family are there and they welcome him back. ‘There’s somebody to see you, by the way,’ says his father, and there stands Maggie with his baby son. She has been waiting with his Dad, knowing that he would turn up sooner or later. Immediate acceptance by all the Gypsy women follows once they see the new baby.

Further harassment of the Gypsies here now follows. They are in despair as they are driven from pillar to post. Through her knowledge of how to relate to house dwellers (Gorjios), Maggie is able to jump the queue and get them a place on an official local authority site. They travel to take up their pitch on the site.

But Jim decides not to go on the site. Despite the fact that harassment of Gypsies is making life on the road intolerable, both sides of the Irish Sea, he reckons that freedom is still preferable to life on a local authority site, enclosed with iron mesh and barbed wire. Maggie remonstrates with him and then realises she would be wrong to stand in his way over this.

With a breakdown of reason, Jim delivers one of the Prince’s curses.

And then Maggie, Jim and the baby are out there driving the roads again.


(from the author’s book ‘Gypsies’)

To arrive at a Gypsy camp-site in the evening. To pick across the rubble or mud towards the caravans where they stand so snug and inviting, lit through their pink vinyl curtains by yellow Calor gas; to see the pretty Gypsy girls returning home with their gleaming jugs full of the evening’s supply of water; to see the men come back in their huge lorries piled high with scrap, lurching back towards their home; to see smoke begin to rise from the chimneys ... How often have those of us who have become involved with Britain’s Gypsies felt our heart turn over at this moment, turn over perhaps with some stirring from inherited memories of the time when we were all nomadic, or perhaps with the realisation that ultimately in this life nothing is fixed; there are as many lifestyles possible as there are people around to live them. That is one side of the picture ...

To be with a group of Gypsies squatting and sitting by an open fire where a huge tureen of stew is brewing, drinking bottled beer, passing the evening in conversation and song, watching where, propped against the embers, a battery-powered portable television is transmitting the Hughie Green Show. That is another side of the picture ...

The child needlessly crushed to death during an eviction at Dudley; the three children who unnecessarily died during an eviction at Walsall; the two children burned to death in a tent in Lanarkshire on the same day that their grandfather was killed by a car; the many other Gypsy children who died not through anything as simple as an eviction but because the Gypsy life is hard - they died of exposure or malnutrition. That is another side of the picture ...

There are many Gypsy people who die unnecessarily. Proportionately, for every seven of us who live over the age of sixty-five, there is only one Gypsy.

Extermination has been suggested as a solution to the Gypsy problem by a Midlands councillor, and as a solution to various problems by a Chief of Police. In this we can see a tragic echo of that German policy which resulted in the extermination of 300,000 Gypsies.

It is my desire that this work may help change the public’s attitude towards Gypsies so that the law will be changed before it is too late. I hope it will not be just a record of another priceless part of the British heritage which it was in our power to have preserved and profited from, but which instead we chose to sacrifice on the plastic altars of standardisation and expediency.

Against the odds, I still hope that time will bring a climate more favourable to our Gypsy citizens, and they will be accepted for those valuable things they have to give us, and that their suffering will approach its end.

There is little time to lose. Before our eyes the fabric of this entire and unique culture is in the process of being dismantled. It is a crime to which every one of us non-Gypsies in this country are accomplices.

Now, as the power invested in local authorities in the Caravan Sites Act begins to grip, a new type of suffering is being added even to that suffering which already exists. It is a suffering whose extent is hard even to conceive, let alone describe in words. Let us make change soon.

All the incidents in this script are based on real events that have occurred over the past few years in Britain, and are mainly based on things I witnessed or reported when editor of the Gypsy newspaper ‘Romano Drom’.

Raggle Taggle

Raggle Taggle is a film depicting with wry wit, passion and irony, the lingering sickness of a British middle-class mentality.

The film traces a love-story between a second generation Anglo-Irish girl called Maggie, and Jim, a Gypsy caravan dweller, a second-hand car dealer, an incorrigible rascal - generous, yet a shrewd driver of bargains.

The film compares a free-spirited life on the road with urban home dwelling. It captures the passion of a relationship forged by a couple from contrasting cultures. And examines the middle-class Saxon prejudice against ‘wandering’ lifestyles and the official policy of eroding common land.

The film will be shot with a fluid, almost documentary, feel. Actors will inhabit the main rôles but an authenticity of minor characters and situation will be achieved by using a real caravan of Gypsies who travel the Welsh borders and coast, the Midlands and Ireland. Their knowledge of Gypsy customs, the Romany language and distinctness of dress and character make them invaluable.


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