MAKING THE VARDOS
im Alfie Lane, my grandfather.
Sitting on the doorstep
he picks up his churi,
makes the first cut into the oak,
the finest for small vardos,
he’s taken to this since moving into the ken,
he’s made one for two of his children,
now he’s on the third.
The jook watches him as he carves the door,
he thinks of painting it red,
Mary’s best colour.
He works quietly,
dropping the shavings into a bowl.
He remembers making the pegs,
chinning the koshtie’s, they called it
when he was on the drom.
They had always sold well,
the rackleys used to say he was the best
peg maker in all of Kent,
he didn’t like the fuss
but he was proud of what he did.
His dad taught him the craft,
how to grind the tips until they were sharp,
how to make the handle level so it fitted snug in the hand,
never scolding him if he got it wrong.
He rubs the tiny door down with sandpaper,
holds it up to the light,
brushes his fingers across it,
‘Smooth as a pebble, eh Butch?’
The jook barks.
He yawns, the dog yawns.
‘I’m tired, let’s jell t’woodrus boy.’
Tomorrow he’ll paint the door,
when it dries he’ll stencil on the drabo’s,
all in keeping.
‘These little vardos are all we got now, eh Butch?’
Vardos – gypsy wagons; Ken – house; Churi – peg knife; Jook – dog; Chinnin the koshtie’s – making the pegs; Rackleys – women. Romany chal – Romany man; Jell t’woodrus – get to bed; Drabo’s – good luck charms/symbols.
sleepin’ under trees or in bender ‘uts, can’t afford a vardo, some call us mumpleys, we’re the gypsies that ‘ide in the shadows, we don’t know anythin,’we ‘ave to chore now and then, ‘ow else do we get by?
me sister goes barefoot, her chockas wore right down, until the soles were flappin’ when she walked, one day she tripped up, fell flat on ‘er face.
‘throw those chockas away ryala, there’s nuthin’ wrong wiv goin’ barefoot, the earth is warm and I’ll lend yer me socks.’
we laughed and then dug an ‘ole, buried ‘er chockas deep in the earth, that night we ‘ad dandelion broth and the tastiest of bread, it ‘ad been thrown out by the farmer’s wife. we toasted it over the yog.
the next day we went out callin’, got some kushti ‘ole togs then sold ‘em fer a few bob, we bought fish’n’chips, proper grub. we sat on a bench pookerin’ about our ‘ole dad, he used to sell scrap iron from an ‘andcart, made is livin’ from it. he ‘ad a stammer, yer couldn’t understand much of what ‘ee was sayin’ ‘alf the time. ‘ee’d play the mouth organ at night and ‘ee always cooked us tatti-tatties and gave us apples.
Mumpleys – not quite a true Gypsy but not a Gadje, living on the road; Vardo – gypsy wagon; Chore – steal; Chockas – shoes; Calling – selling; Pookering – speaking; tatti – tatties – baked potatoes.