One day, when parked up in a car park by the riverside on the edge of Cardiff, a man knocks on our door. He’s part of the local “keep an eye on your neighbourhood” group and he wants to know what we are doing in this car park.
I love talking to people, so I never have a problem with anyone knocking on the door to make a genuine conversation. It’s a shame though that in this case it starts on a hotbed of negative assumptions. While I’m pretty quickly able to convince him that we don’t leave rubbish, don’t do drugs and are quiet and considerate people, he still has misgivings. Even the fact that we clean the car park on a regular basis of debris that others just throw out of their car windows, doesn’t allay his fears.
What if our presence invites those other travellers that are real trouble, the ones that leave a terrible mess and take ages to evict, he says?
I sort of get where he is coming from, as I’ve seen how some places look once people have been, with no care for their environment. But I don’t agree with his conclusions.
Here is another way of looking at it:
1) Our presence in a car park means that:
a) We pick up litter on a regular basis
b) Others feel less inclined to engage in undesirable night activities (no-goodnicks feel watched by us)
c) If another mobile home were to turn up and abuse the place, we would knock on their door and challenge them on it.
So actually, having a caring traveller in a car park is a good thing!
2) Where else do you forbid something to everyone, just because a minority does not behave sociably? For example, would you forbid owning dogs, just because one dog owner lets their dog shit on the pavement? Would you forbid all front gardens in a road, if one garden is not kept to specifications? If one child of yours misbehaves, do you punish all your children?
When looked at it like this, I hope you can see how travellers feel discriminated against.
What is really behind the fear of accepting someone in your neigbourhood who leads a life different from yours?
In this day and age of climate emergency, shouldn’t we be welcoming people who choose to live a simpler life, with a lighter environmental footprint?
Considering the fact that life in a mobile home is also much more economical than owning or renting a house, this life style sometimes becomes a creative and empowered alternative to being homeless for people who fall on hard times. Shouldn’t it be in society’s interest to cater for people (by providing simple dedicated spaces, or allowing car parks to be used) who, by choice or necessity, are travelling folk?
I visualise a more welcoming solution. Dedicated spaces in every town or city, maybe simple facilities, and a basic ‘rent’. Like a car parking fee, not like a camp site. One could even specify that people need to move after a certain period of time, to avoid people settling (although this would only work if there were enough sites to move to).
The British don’t have this kind of negative attitude towards boat people. Somehow, living on a boat is more accepted, more romantic maybe? What’s the difference – the wheels?
In France, these places are called Aires. Here in Cardiff, there is no such dedicated space, but we’ve been fine on the car parks – we have largely been met with tolerance, even bordering on friendliness. The Police, the car park wardens and anyone else in a position of authority have been very friendly (we make a point of making contact with them, to allay any possible fears). Any trouble we had came from people who live nearby. That’s sad, don’t you think? How do we negatively impact on their lives, I wonder, that they would feel the need to get us moved on?
We enrich the neighbourhood, we bring live music and laughter (at reasonable daylight hours, not night parties! We go to sleep when the sun is down!). we’re also always willing to lend a hand where help is needed, as those who’ve followed our blog know.
Travellers have an age-old profession of bringing the arts (music, dance, performance), being seasonal helpers, and also being a carrier of news. We meet lots of people, and sometimes we are able to put people in touch with each other when we realise they share a common concern or project. We are a live version of Facebook!
If you pass by, do knock on the door for a chat!
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