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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

"Rabbit stew and a penny or two" by Maggie Smith-Bendell

A memoir of her childhood as a Romani Gypsy traveller on the road in the 1950s. They picked snowdrops and daffies and sold them door to door; they picked peas and beans for farmers; they bought and sold scrap metal. This is a fascinating record of that transient life including the hardships, the fights, the premature deaths.

There is quite a lot about the dreadful racism suffered by the Romanis and many of us house-dwellers should be ashamed of ourselves. There was one point on which I disagreed, however. During the Second World War Romani men (and their horses) might be conscripted. She seems to regard this as persecution. Of course, house-dwellers were also conscripted and it might be argued that the Romanis should have been exempted because the war was not being fought 'in their name'. Although, of course, the fate that Romanis suffered in Nazi Germany, where they were exterminated in gas camps, might suggest that at least to some degree the war was being fought 'for' them. Which brings us to an interesting 'social contract' type question: to what extent does a person who cuts themselves off from benefits from society nevertheless be obliged to contribute towards society?

There are some great stories. I found the funniest the one in which young Maggie, at school, played her first game of hockey. She understood the basics - you had to hit the ball with the stick - and ran up and down the pitch scoring goals. There was a commotion. The teacher pointed out that she should only score goals at one end because she was in a team. She hadn't understood the concept of teams.

Some great lines that possess sometimes a very different metaphor or perspective:

  • "A good, big fire would put the frost in its place wherever we  pulled in." (p 30)
  • They would go through the breeding of the horse, chamming [boasting] on for what seemed like hours.” (p 104)
  • I know what you’s like with the lush [alcohol] down your neck.” (p 111)
  • He got as drunk as a handcart.” (p 155)
  • We were not young enough to be put to bed, not old enough to be treated like adults.” (p 171)
  • If a stranger has come upon us they would’ve thought we'd been touched by the moon.” (p 186)
  • She would’ve laughed if her granny’s arse had caught fire.” (p 235)
  • To other travellers, my name became bigger than me body.” (p 250)
  • Retrospective was the new way forward!” (p 251)
  • I ... know me run as good as any rabbit in his warren.” (p 259)
Well told with some great stories, simply written. I could feel the pleasure in an outdoor way of life, knowing about badgers and pea plants, whilst at the same time regretting the hardships. I loved the integration of Romani words. But most of all I enjoyed her unique perspective on life.

December 2017; 276 pages

Other memoirs reviewed in this blog include (in order of how much I enjoyed them, favourites first):
  • Memoir of the Bobotes: by Joyce Cary: a brilliantly written memoir of the author's time as a medical officer during the Balkan Wars (pre World War I): the writer became a novelist and his craft shows; full of humour and keen observation
  • My Family and Other Animals (and the sequels) by Gerald Durrell: Beautiful descriptions and hilarious accounts of an eccentric family living on the Greek Island of Corfu between WWI and WWII
  • A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble: a well-written, frequently humourous account of Pacific paradise
  • Bus Stop Symi by William Travis: the account of three years spent on the remote and at the time unspoilt Greek island of Symi: well-written, charming and amusing
  • Surprised by Joy by C S Lewis: an account of the famous author's life, mostly from the perspective of his Christianity: beautifully written
  • A Death in the Family by Karl-Ove Knausgard: the first volume of a series in which the author, in the guise of writing novels, portrays real people with real names: the writing is brilliant
  • Beautiful People by Simon Doonan: The story of a young gay man: well-written with moments of marvellous humour
  • Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the third volume in the series that started with Angela's Ashes
  • The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles: a reasonably well-written account of a year spent living in Venice
  • A Detail on the Burma Front by Winifred Beaumont: a nurse's story from one of the theatres of World War II: more compassion and humour: reasonably well-written
  • Whatever Happened to Margo: Margaret Durrell's account of running a boarding house in Bournemouth: sometimes muddled but often funny
  • Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two by Maggie Smith-Bendell: an interesting and reasonably well-written account of a Romani Gypsy childhood
  • Not for the faint-hearted by John Stevens: the autobiography of a senior police officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story
  • Forty Years Catching Smugglers by Malcolm Nelson: the memoirs of a senior customs officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story

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