Tuesday 24 October 2017

Amongst women: inside Dale Farm

Unusually for a Traveller site, Dale Farm seems to be run by welfare-class matriarchs, writes Paddy O'Gorman

Dale Farm Traveller site in Essex is run by women. That's unusual. Any other place I've met Travellers I've made a point of deferring to the men, even though it's their wives I really want to talk to. The women are better with words than their husbands are. But to get to talk to the women you have to first get the approval of their bosses, the men. Dale Farm is different. The few men there seem happy to stay in the background and let the women run the show. Ernest Hemingway once wrote that the way to get on with Spanish gypsies was to give the men tobacco and leave the women alone. On Dale Farm I gave the women tobacco and left the men alone. And the women made me welcome.

Last Sunday, when I got there, was the eve of the expected eviction. Most of the media were stuck outside the gate. Political activists with posh English accents and insufferable arrogance were telling us that we weren't wanted. Furthermore, there was to be no photography of them. These activists don't seem to have grasped that taking a public political stance entitles the media to report on that stance, including taking photographs. Where do these people get off?

Then, before I had time to get into a row, one of the true rulers of Dale Farm turned up. Margaret, a beautiful, middle-aged woman, gave me a big smile and in her strong, clear, Irish Traveller voice, welcomed me as the man who had put her and her sisters on Irish radio when I had been on Dale Farm last April. She took my arm and walked me in past the silenced Brits. Jesus, it was sweet.

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