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Monday, 30 March 2009

A house on wheels

London getting ready for spring. I had Whitehall almost to myself. A meeting at Great Peter Street then back to Euston via Strand where I saw a ferret man whose little thieves - male and female - are under contract to run cables through conduits. I swear he told me the hob was registered as an electrician's assistant with Unite. * * * An accident, an illness, a suicide. "There's so much death in the news" said Mum "The poor Redgrave girl, Jade Goody, Ted Hughes' son." At Brin Croft I saw pictures stored in the smaller house for lack of wall room - one of me as a child on the steps of a Showman's Wagon bought by my grandmother some time after WW2 and placed in the meadow at the end of the garden at Mill End. Some time in the late 40s, my stepfather moved it (I don't know how) to a field next to the river Kennet near Midgham. My parents worked in London but often spent time in the country, which did not always coincide with school times for my sister, Bay, and I. On the occasions they'd gone down to Berkshire separate from us, we would be put on the train at Paddington by our childminder (she wasn't called that in those days but nor was she a nanny) to travel in the guard's van under his watchful eye, beside baskets of pigeons marked for release along our route. Mum met us at Midgham, a few minutes' walk from where we were encamped. She and Jack, my stepfather, lived in the waggon. Bay and I slept in a tent beside it - a child's Eden, long before the country round there became an extended London suburb on the London-Reading-Newbury-Swindon corridor. I had lots of time on my own, all the time. I fished - unsuccessfully - for dace with a bamboo tackled with a hook, small shot pressed round the gut, no float. In the summer I wore gumboots. Years later our friend Fritz Wegner, who I'd met as a child, drew the sketch for a piece by my mother in Farmer's Weekly. She was Women's Editor. The wagon became a fishing hut for The Piscatorial Society and I never went there again. I mistook the wagon for a vardo and was kindly corrected by a cyber-friend - a giorgio who speaks Romany, he pointed me to this:
Though sometimes Gypsy-owned, this type was the one most favored by travelling showmen; unlike the Gypsies they kept to the high-roads, did not need high wheels to cross fords, and preferred the greater floor space.
Later we spoke for a good while on the phone. He's a blacksmith - Les Wattam - working in Hull. I was intrigued with his knowledge of different carts, wagons and carriages. I remember the smell of the wood, the strength of the thing, a house on wheels.* * * Cycling in Inverness, with Oscar in my basket, between Seafield Industrial Estate - leadville - and Eastfield Retail Park, I turned into the car park of the Holiday Inn and, though it was close, found no route to the Eastfield, until I spied a desire path through a fence, down a gully, up and over a fence and across a soggy stretch of grass beside another car park, then a slip between Govan House - Highland Enterprise Board - and Pizza Hut's car park into the shops. * * * A novella by Maria Strani-Potts called The Pimping of Panorea was recently published in an abridged and translated version on pages 14-15 of ISLAND magazine, Summer/Autumn 2008 (on this link roll forward to the next pages). In Greek it's called Tο πούλημα της Πανωραίας - Μαρία Στράνη-Ποττς (Corfu Books 2008). It is available in Zervopoulou bookstore in Corfu. The author wrote recently that those who take the trouble to read her book 'will see that it is far from a rant against the destruction of Corfu, but a tragic allegory. Interested readers who care about Corfu and the environment may find it contains some food for thought.'
Somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, where the East joins the West, where Christianity walks in parallel with Islam and the deep blue sea is full of grey froth, oil and sewage, there happened to live a beautiful woman whose real name has been forgotten. Many years ago a passionate admirer, enchanted by her charm and beauty, decided to call her Panorea [A woman whose beauty is above compare]. This was thought to be most appropriate and so it was decided that this would be her name from then on. People speculated that Panorea had come down to the seacoast from Olympus, like most exceptional creatures in that part of the world. She was beautiful, with long silk green hair and deep blue eyes. Her body was soft and well shaped, her face angelic. She was kind and loving like no other, but above all else she had a unique quality: she was seemingly eternal. Panorea had been created in the infinity of the past and had been blessed, it was said, by some supreme power, which had contrived to make her superhuman and immortal. Everybody around her was born and then perished, but Panorea was always present, always alive, always there, full of beauty and goodness. By an accident of fate she was surrounded by an enormous clan or tribe of relatives. The members of the clan, although closely related to Panorea, bore no resemblance to her. They were mortals. They had emerged from wombs and ended up in graves. They needed food to survive. They fornicated, bore children and died as soon as they had lived their allotted spans of time, only to be replaced by others, almost identical to them. Panorea’s background and qualities had made the clan proud of its connection with her. Members of the extended family or tribe boasted of their kinship with her, and kept declaring that they adored her; they claimed that her history was their history, and more often than not they were reluctant to move away from her, or to travel to see the rest of the world. The idyllic connection they retained with Panorea had made them complacent, idle of thought, self-satisfied. Having an Olympian as a relative gave them the impression that they too were God’s gift to the world. Their hearts filled with pride every time her name was mentioned. They believed that their fate was intertwined with hers, in spite of their difference in nature. While close to Panorea, they loved to laze around smoking, philosophising, drinking coffee and gossiping. For years they had hated hard work and had come to resent the fact that they had to work in the fields and on the sea in order to survive. It is not known who had the idea first, but the notion that the time was ripe to exploit Panorea and to benefit from her eternal qualities sprang up suddenly and quickly spread widely amongst them. They decided that if they turned Panorea into a prostitute, they would benefit enormously. Panorea was so well known in the world, so popular, that they would have no problem in selling her charms at any price; so one morning members of the clan woke up, determined to take the lead in becoming her pimps. This would be beneficial to all, they proclaimed.....(continues on Maria Strani-Pott's blog)
Πωλείται = For sale


  1. Gosh, you've crammed a lot into this post - and I don't know which is the strongest of the images, the ferrets (I had no idea they were used in this way), the wagon or Panorea.

    The word 'Vardo' conjures up memories of reading the 'Romany' books. Spect you know them?


  2. Thanks to the net I was found by Les Wattam who, relying on Fritz's drawing based on a old photo and my mother's memory, and realised my childhood home-on-wheels might have been Gypsy-owned but not necessarily. Thanks for your remarks. Les and I agree that that Showman's Wagon might still be around. I don't know the Romany books but I will certainly find out more. Gypsies have run through my life as friends of my family and teachers and more recently as political supporters of a local environment campaign in which I've been involved (e.g. Ted Rudge's Brum Roamin' - look up Black Patch Park). Thanks again.

  3. Simon, First of all, I love the article on London and the picture; then the mention of that book at Zervopoulou bookshop-very interesting indeed. I was trying to locate you-are you in Corfu now?
    Best, Liana

  4. Indeed we are. Looking forward to Easter and meeting you in town for a coffee and to see your new book, or you're welcome to come back to Democracy Street, your village! Xerete Simon & Lin


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Simon Baddeley