River Wissey Lovell Fuller


September 2020

As a child in Sussex I remember sometimes seeing a gypsy family camped along a nearby country lane. They were recognisable away from their camp because they smelled of wood smoke. They were part of my childhood and I never felt intimidated by them. Gypsies were the seasonal workers of yesteryear, moving from place to place picking fruit, vegetables and hops, conveniently bringing their homes with them. The men made pegs, sharpened scissors, knives, shears and scythes and dealt in rags and bones. The women folk sold the pegs, and baskets, lace and artificial flowers they’d made, also lucky white heather. For food, when able, they ate what nature provided with the help of a long dog or two, snares and catapults. They were opportunists; there were trout to be had and game, hares, rabbits, hedgerow fruits and plants. But they still needed money to buy a few essentials such as flour. Words from the Romany language are still in use today. It can be traced back to Sanskrit Romanes, a language, with variations, used by gypsies across Europe. Romany is the British version. It was originally only a spoken language, never a written one. Those who transcribed it had to guess at the spelling. Surprisingly, there are words we are familiar with used either as slang or as being derogatory. Slang words appearing in our dictionaries are COSH meaning a stick = truncheon, NICK to steal, LOLLI means copper coins = money, CUSHTI means good = cushy or easy and Gaffer derived from GAVVER meaning boss. Romany words used in a derogatory way are PIKIE, which originally meant a gypsy expelled from his tribe, often now used when referring to gypsies and travellers in general. Another association is because gypsies used to beg at turnpikes. In pure Romany DIDICOI means someone who is half Romany or having very little Romany blood and GORGIO refers to anyone who isn’t a Romany. A Romany living wagon is called a VARDO. The stove inside is a QUEENIE and provides heat although most cooking is done outside over a YOG (campfire). To keep up with modern times new words have been added to the Romany language. The one I love is the word for a television set. DINNILOS-DICKING-MUKTAR translated as a fool’s looking box. There is a Romany Gypsy museum near Spalding which we found very interesting, likewise our visit to Appleby Fair, the mecca for gypsies. We talked with several as they travelled along surrounding country roads in their magnificent horse drawn wagons. There are six designs of which the grandest are elaborately decorated in glorious colours, including gold, and worth six figure sums. A combination of different woods were used to make them, including oak for the wheel spokes, beech for the axle, ash for the shafts and pine for the floor and panels. The owners are equally proud of their horses, more often than not black and white. Although vardos were cherished, by tradition, they were burned when the owner died.

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