Thursday, 29 September 2016

Men of the Road.

Yesterday at our Poetry meeting I read several of T S Eliot's poems about cats.   They always fascinate me because most of his poetry is really serious stuff.   As one of the poetry friends suggested, she thinks he wrote the 'cats' poems purely for himself.   Maybe he was a lover of cats.  Does anyone know?

Before I read those though I read a poem which we learnt at school, as did several others in the group - the learning of poetry used to be such an important part of the curriculum in those days (and not a bad thing, because it trains the memory as well as helping with rhyming combinations and spelling).   That poem was John Keats's 'Meg Merrilies'.   It is about an old gypsy woman if you don't know it.

Thinking about it this morning, I thought of my mother when I was a child.   Gypsies were a common sight in our village in those days.   The women would come round from door to door selling ribbon, home-made clothes pegs and dyed 'chrysanthemums' made out of shaved wood.  My mother would always buy something although we were never all that well off for money (I suppose that is why they always called because they knew she was a 'soft touch'.)   My father used to tease her that she was of gypsy stock because her
 grandfather lived in a caravan in the Lincolnshire village where they lived - and Dad always said that he kept his meat under the caravan in a bucket, under a sod of grass until he cooked it. This was long before my time, but she used to get very cross when he said it (which he did frequently).

But the tramps (or men of the road as they used to be called) were a different matter entirely.   You never see one now - or at least I have never seen one in all my adult life.   Maybe this is something to do with Social Services or something, but when I was a child there were tramps who used to wander from village to village.   My mother had the greatest sympathy for these men - often drop outs from society for one reason or another.
And, again, I suppose the reputation that she was sympathetic meant they always called on us.   She would always have a space on the table just inside the wash house (a building attached to the end of the kitchen) and she would always give them a meal.  Although we were not well off by any means, she was a very good manager and also a good cook, so that there was usually a stock pot on the hearth so that soup could be rustled up quickly.   Also, as she made all her own bread and cake, that would add to the meal.   I have come home from school many a time to see a man of the road eating a meal in the wash house.   She would also save any old clothes of  my fathers for them, but after once finding an overcoat she had given to a tramp draped over the hedge further down the road, she always made them try the garments on before they went, to make sure they fitted.

I presume these men would sleep in barns and sheds - and Winters must have been long and hard for them.   But as a child (and still to some extent) I had such a romantic notion about them.  I think that is why I love 'Meg Merrilies' so much.   If you don't know it, do Google it and have a read.

22 comments:

Jan B said...

Loved the poem...thanks!

Midmarsh John said...

I can remember, from the early 50's, my mother being cursed by a gypsy for not wanting any 'lucky heather' or dolly pegs.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

You can give me twenty years Mrs W but I also remember gipsies and tramps in East Yorkshire. Until you reminded me of those wood shaving carnations I hadn't thought of them in many years. I recall the gipsy clothes pegs were cleverly bound at the top with strips of tin from old sardine cans.

Derek Faulkner said...

Thanks for the list of poets in your last blog Pat, an inspirational list of people there. Just had a read of Meg Merillies, a simple but well drawn picture of a particular person.

Bovey Belle said...

There were plenty of gypsies and diddakois living in the area where I grew up as there was a sort of enclave or settlement of them along the Botany Bay road. Caravans gradually got replaced by static homes and later bungalows. The Goddards and the Bowers mainly, and their names appear on late Victorian censuses so they were in that area a long time.

Men of the road - there used to be an old boy who overwintered in a wriggly tin bow top shed which had been used for storage by the ruined cottage next to it when folk were still living there. It suited him well as he was out of the weather and could put his little tent up at the back and have his fire at the front for cooking on, warmth and . . . drying his socks! On market day each week he would pack everything up into the panniers of his little scooter/moped and go into town to get some shopping for the week. He was very careful not to leave any of his belongings behind, for fear of them being taken/trashed. He did no one any harm, but the local owner of the Big House really didn't like him being in there and called him a "B*m" . . . He would go travelling in the summer months and then come back in the autumn. Then we never saw him again and I noticed a paragraph in the local paper (Carmarthen Journal) about some old man of the road who had been found dead where he was camped out, so I guess that must have been him.

As you say, I guess Social Services sort them out these days, although another one I knew ended up tidying himself up and marrying someone I was friendly with further up the valley!

Cro Magnon said...

Some distant relatives of mine bought a dilapidated house in Surrey only to find much later that there was a tramp living in a hidden garden shed. They let him stay there, and eventually he became part of the family and moved into the house. I've no idea what happened to him, but their children always called him Uncle X.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I think I remember that T S Eliot wrote his cat poems to amuse his god children when he wrote letters to them. It seems to me to be an excellent reason to write verse.
My grandmother always said it would bring bad luck if you turned a Gypsy away from the door. When I was a youngster we were also visited frequently by Sikhs who carried suitcases full of rich fabrics which they tried to sell door-to-door. I've often wondered if they were the same Sikhs who later bought up the Harris tweed industry.

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

There are still folk around of that sort, but times are very different now, and mental illness manifestations regarded in a totally different light - "Autistic" was "Likes their own company", you know the sort of thing.

Joanne Noragon said...

There were a fair number of hobos at our door, post World War II. Both my parents were kind to them. My father's roots were poor Irish, my mother's German, treated suspiciously during the war. They understood.

Wilma said...

One of my favorite things about your blog, Pat, is how it elicits such interesting and thoughtful comments from your readers. Even poems now and again! Always a treat to visit your page.

Frances said...

Dear Pat, this post's topic are quite interesting. I wish that memorizing poetry had been part of my own early school days. Instead, I guess we just learned the words to various popular songs...not quite the same thing.

But that somehow leads me to remember a recording I bought and gave to a friend who was a poet. The record was of T.S. Eliot himself reading the Cats poems. I wonder if you have ever heard it?

I am going to google the poem you mentioned and also see if I can find images of the hand made clothes pins or wood shaving mums.

xo

donna baker said...

Gypsies not regarded in a romantic connotation in the area where I live, so I'll not say more, but your mother sounds like a wonderful woman. I think it was T.S. Elliot that wrote a poem I love with a line, "and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." I really spoke to me at the time.

Heather said...

I have a vague recollection of Meg Merrilies so perhaps I learned it at school too. I love the stories of your mother and the tramps - what a kind person she was. We have had tramps in and around our little town in fairly recent years and they always make me feel sad for them. They no longer seem to call at houses. I wonder if the ones from our youth suffered from PTSD after the second world war.

A Heron's View said...

I recall as a child and also as a teenager in Devon that tramps were often seen. Some people told me that they were men who because some crisis in their life were unable to settle down and keep a job. Others said that some were paid to keep away from their families - I suppose the truth lies somewhere in between. There were a few in Ireland too, but the social welfare stepped in twenty years ago and they were housed in the various small towns.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Such interesting replies - and such a wealth of information - so thank you for that everyone.

Rachel said...

We used to laugh about gypsies when we sang the Wraggle Taggle Gypsies at school. We don't anymore.

the veg artist said...

I remember a gypsy woman who would call at my grandmother's farm. At the very least, lucky heather would be bought, just to prevent her cursing us all. We kids were terrified of her. I also remember a gentleman of the road in our area. He was a much gentler soul, and I remember thinking then, that if he wanted to live like that, then why not? He kind of odd-jobbed his way around the area, appearing regularly a few times a year.

coffeeontheporchwithme said...

Your post brought back a childhood memory of a man who showed up at our door one day. My father wasn't home, perhaps he was at work and I was young enough to be at home still. My mother prepared a meal for him which he ate sitting on the porch steps. I remember being frightened because he was unknown and looked "different" and it was odd to have someone eating on our porch. I don't think he ever returned. There is currently a man who I see hitchhiking along a local road. My husband has given him a ride before. I do not know where he lives, if he has a regular residence or not, but he always carries a large bag with him. -Jenn

Gwil W said...

Tony Benn had a tramp living in a shed at the bottom of his garden. He was there for years. You can still meet the odd tramp in Austria. The Austrian word for a tramp is a Sandler.

By the way, I'm using your link as mine have disappeared into the ether.

thelma said...

We had gypsies camping on the back lane to Pickering over summer, they arrived with a small typical gypsy waggon and three ponies that eat the grass on the verges and were positioned from place to place. Two young lads on bikes always to be seen riding round the countryside, the father had a sign for knife grinding. Then a small caravan appeared and it seemed they were hunkering down, but no up and departed at the end of summer, their camping ground left clean and tidy. They were a lovely and unusual sight, long may the 'Romany' tradition go on.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Gwil I did know about Tony Benn - there was also a lady in a van but I can't remember where she was.
Haven't the faintest idea what you meaning about 'using my link' but feel free!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to you all - again such interesting comments