A friend of mine lives in a small cul de sac of pretty red bricked houses at the end of which is a well mowed green area watched over by an ancient larch tree.
It is a rather grand part of town. The houses are well maintained with manicured gardens and wisteria trailing artfully around the doors.
Recently she told me of how an old man had arrived and standing under the tree eased his bag off his shoulders.
He then proceeded to unpack some rolled up cardboard and spread it onto the ground. On top of the cardboard he carefully placed a large piece of tin foil and finally a sleeping bag which had no zip.
Watched with curiosity and maybe slight alarm from behind the french lace curtains of the various windows, he eased off his shoes and then his socks which he hung carefully over the lower branches of the great tree.
No one approached him and he whistled a merry tune as he went about his business.
Daylight faded and so did the interest of the residents of the cul de sac, plus they were the polite type who didn’t like to cause a scene.
All the same, they double checked their locks that night.
The man, I shall call him a tramp not because he had a long beard and his coat looked as though it needed a good wash but because the word ‘tramp’ to me means someone who spends his life walking, an admirable trait, had a small dog with him. A terrier of sorts.
And the last thing he did before he lay down for the night on his makeshift bed was to tie the dog’s leash around his ankle. The dog then curled up happily at the foot of his master.
The idea of this last manoeuvre was presumably if approached at night the dog would jump up barking and in doing so alert the man.
The night passed peacefully and in the morning the tramp was, once again, watched with interest as he placed another piece of tinfoil on the ground . This, my friend told me, he filled with twigs and a few cones from the tree, which he then lit and when he had a nice hot fire going, he placed a battered old pan on it and proceeded to fry up a load of rashers and sausages.
Thats where he made his mistake!
That’s when he passed the unspoken acceptance barrier.
A makeshift bed on the ground is one thing, but a fire means a home and a sign of settling in and the good people of the well to do area, though prepared to turn a blind eye to an overnight stay, could not tolerate anything that looked more permanent!
By the time he had finished his fry (half of which he shared with his dog) the guards had arrived. and he was ‘moved along’.
‘Do you know who reported him?’ I asked my friend.
She shrugged ‘Probably one of the men. I’d say it’s a long time since a fried rasher was allowed in any of houses round here, their wives watch their cholesterol like hawks. they were probably jealous!’
I thought a lot about the tramp and which was the most undignified thing for him. Sleeping in the open, or the indignity of being hustled along by the guards?.
I’d imagine the latter.
The next time I was invited for coffee, I stood for a while under the tree and wondered what would happen if I, a normally dressed person, slept under it for the night and made my coffee on a small fire in the morning. Would the guards be called or would I be left in peace?
‘Don’t you dare’ my friend laughed over coffee when she saw the gleam in my eye.
There are many places I would love to live in before I die, and though under a tree is not one of them, there are a few near enough (once when coming through a park I noticed a very cosy clump of laurels that had a dry circle of earth in the center underneath the canopy of glossy leaves and the thought struck me momentarily that if I got locked in the park by mistake I’d have a good place to sleep for the night).
To those of you interested , here is my list of appealing abodes: A yurt, a barge, a tree house(though i’m getting a bit too old for scaling a rope ladder) a vintage caravan.
I often wonder if their is a bit of traveller* in my blood, but, coming from norman stock, that is highly unlikely.
We were trampers of sorts. With our sturdy legs we traipsed uncomplaining across England, stopping for a while near oxfordshire before arriving and settling in royal meath and becoming ‘more irish than the irish themselves’
When my second youngest sister was getting married, the reception was held in an country house hotel in connemara.
Right on the sea.
The hotel and church was far from Dublin, and we, being Peppards, saw the opportunity of making a weekend of it and mass booked the rooms.
As we queued at the reception to register and get our keys, a conversation was overheard between my mother and the receptionist;
My Mother (gazing round at the foyer) ‘ oh such a lovely place you have here’
The receptionist leaning over her desk confidently ‘it is indeed! but a bit shabby, needs a bit of refurbishment’
My mother( regarding the comfy old couches surrounding a fire) ‘Oh no I wouldn’t touch it. It’s gorgeous as it is’.
Then equally confidingly she leans forward and says ‘we’re used to the caravan you know’
The receptionists eyebrows shot up under her fringe! ‘Goodness is this a travellers wedding?’ she asked
My mother needless to say was horrified…….
I better add here that my parents loved to head away in their little caravan to connemara where my father would fish and paint watercolours of the various lakes and rivers they camped at, and my Mother would knit and read to her heart’s content.
A sort of traveller’s life I suppose you could call it.