Monday, 30 December 2013


There is a fear - largely irrational in my view - that we are about to be inundated with Roma beggars after January 1st.   I see today in the Times that Romania's Prime Minister has said that we should be far more concerned about bankers taking our millions than about beggars asking for pence on street corners. Certainly a comment worthy of thinking about.

Where we live it is rare to see anyone begging in the street.  I am sure this is not the case in the big cities.   There may well be homeless people up here - I am ashamed to say that I don't know whether there are or not.   There was one lady a few years ago who chose to live in her car but that situation seems to have sorted itself out.

But all this made me think back to my own childhood.   I don't remember beggars round our village, but tramps were an everyday occurence and my mother always welcomed them with open arms.

She had the ability to make a meal out of nothing; we always had plenty of veg in the garden and as she regularly prepared game and fowls for the butcher she often had a plentiful supply of meat (which she loved).  Tramps knew they would be welcome.

We had a stone wash house attached to our house, where my mother did indeed do the washing.   There was a brick copper which was lit every Monday morning and there was a black range which she kept clean and ready to light.

There was an old scrubbed-top table, which she always kept clear, and it was here that she sat any tramp who happened to call at the back door.   If it was cold weather she would light the range to warm things up and she would tell him to make himself comfortable in front of the range and wait for his dinner.

Any old clothes of my father's or my brother's would be passed on to the tramp.   He would warm himself up,  eat his dinner (which would always be substantial - she was a great maker of suet dumplings in the winter months) and then he would be on his way.

As far as I remember there was only ever one woman and she was called Pyewipe Liz (Pyewipe is a hamlet on the side of the Foss Dyke between Lincoln and Newark).   She used to come round regularly with her small daughter in tow and I rather think she lived in an old caravan.

These tramps seem to have largely disappeared these days.   Could be that they are now what we term 'the homeless' and that they gather in the towns and cities or it could be that they end up in Old Peoples'  Homes, although as I remember it they were not all old by any means - rather inadequate at coping with life.

It used to be said that tramps would leave a mark on the gate post of any house where they were welcome but I never remember any mark - but however they knew, word got around that tramps were always welcome at our house.


Frugal in Derbyshire said...

A few years ago I made a tramp a cup of tea and gave him the end(half) of a Christmas cake.
Later my husband noticed a sort of scrape mark on our dry stone wall and said it was done by the tramp to tell others that they would be welcome .We weren't inundated with tramps afterwards as you might expect, just the very occaisional one.
And oooh blackleading the range.. what a job that was!

Heather said...

My granny had a blackleaded range which she used in the colder months to cook on. We lived down a track off the road which went through the village so I don't think any tramps came calling. I'm sure granny would have looked after them had they done so. I think there must be richer pickings in towns and cities these days.

Linda Metcalf said...

When I was small we lived about 7 blocks from a train station. Tramps came to our door and my mom would make them 2 sandwiches one to eat then and one to take with them. If we had chicken in the fridge she would wrap that up for them to take and a piece of cake. They sat on the stoop of the porch with a cup of coffee and their sandwich. You never see the tramps these days. I guess they are going to soup kitchens.

Gwil W said...

I've just been reading a special Reuters report about homeless men in Japan. They are rounded up by gangs who get paid $100 per 'recruit' and taken to dirty construction jobs such as Fukushima where they have to remove radioactive debris. It seems 90% of Japanese construction workers are employed by these kinds of gangs. The men are paid less than the minimum wage and the cost of their food and shelter is deducted from their wage so that by the end of the month they are left with nothing. These horror stories constantly coming out of Japan remind me of Dostoyevsky's House of the Dead. So why don't they go the full mile and give them a taste of the the birch while they are at it. In shackles of course.

Frances said...

Thank you for sharing your remembrance of your family's farm giving assistance to tramps. That description does seem so very far away from what we see on city sidewalks. I am now old enough to remember a time in New York City before the term "the homeless" was coined. Yes, there were some very down and out folks who gravitated to areas such as The Bowery. Perhaps there were many others who were not quite so visible.

You've given us much to think about.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Not many would feel safe offering a table and a meal to a tramp these days - so I'm sure that they have been reduced to begging on the streets - it is sad to see such awfulness. When we drive into Seattle it is very evident that many people don't have adequate shelter or food - makes my heart break.

I always think that those people have family somewhere - or had family - or they were someone's child - hopefully a happy one with good memories - I suppose I romanticize it, since they say that today's homeless in the US more than likely came from a homeless situation and have no hope of getting out. No one should have to live like that.

When I was still working, a wonderful man would come in the office to warm up - and one thanksgiving I brought him a pumpkin pie - you would think I'd given him pure gold - he was so excited. My boss found out somehow (I always suspected the low-life boss had secret cameras int office) and the sweet homeless man was banned from the property. What good examples of charity they were.

He said he would save up his money and rent a motel room once in a while to watch a science show that he especially liked - yet most nights he slept out in the open on an old bench behind a grocery store.

Gwil W said...

Frances, some good Bowery stories in O. Henry's short story collection. G

Bovey Belle said...

My daughter works for a Charity helping the homeless in a big city, and I think many of them might have been tramps a hundred years ago. I think the reasons for their homelessness have changed considerably since that time though, with drugs, alcohol, family breakdown and even workplace exploitation by unscrupulous employers being part of the mix. Of course, a good few of them are from abroad now too, which makes them even more vulnerable.

How lovely it is to read of how people's grannies or folk would help such people in the past (and today too, as Jo-Ann mentioned.)

Elizabeth Wix said...

Super new header,Pat.

Sadly, all too many homeless people here.
And they will buy/acquire DOGS.
There are soup kitchens and homeless shelters but far too many of the homeless are mentally ill or simple-minded. A very vexed and complicated problem with no easy solutions. I offered to buy some fruit from the corner stand the other day for someone who asked for obey who replied, "Don't need bananas..."!
Only problem with begging Roma ( according to my Finnish policewoman friend) is that the beggar him/herself is often working as a part of a ring with some low-life 'master mind' actually getting the money.

MorningAJ said...

I see quite a few homeless people around Nottingham - in fact I had to rescue one of them several months ago when he was found passed out just up the road from work. (I put him in the recovery position, called an ambulance, and kept an eye on him until it arrived. Nothing heroic.)

There is one genuine 'gentleman of the road' that I see sometimes on the road leading around East Midlands Airport down to the M1. I've never seen him anywhere else, but he must go somewhere. It tends to be around Easter and September. I have no idea why. He carries his possessions in a back pack and always looks cheerful. And surprisingly clean.

Cloudia said...

I so appreciate your memories. They live in my head like passages from a worthy historical novel.

Cro Magnon said...

The UK's benefits system is the most generous in Europe; hence not many 'real' tramps any more. The younger 'Crusties' (with dogs) are more of a lifestyle choice; although why, I don't know.

It is the UK's generosity towards all benefits claimants that is so attractive to the Eastern Europeans; they WILL be arriving. Many of them from over here.

Robin Mac said...

I grew up in a small country town and I remember swaggies (as they were called in Oz) calling at our back door asking for bread and dripping (definitely not butter) and a pannican of tea. They would not accept any rich food and would love offer to chop some wood in payment. My mother cooked on a wood stove so she was always glad for the chopped wood
I love your new header. A happy New Year to you, may it bring what you wish.

thelma said...

I remember occasionally seeing a tramp walking the country lanes, and as everyone says they seem to have moved into the cities. I also remember my young teenage son being quite impressed by his friend who turned into a 'crustie' and the somewhat heated words between us about people who are sick down themselves ;)