22 July 2017

Review

I decided to tell my father everything about Joseph and what he had done. But as I told him, falteringly, about what was happening.his eyes exploded with rage at my gruesome 'lie'. He 
began to shout above my pleas,then, not being able to quieten me, he slammed his fist into my mouth, splattering my lips through the gaps of my teeth. He did not want to hear it, and it only made my punishment worse.I knew then that I could never tell anyone. I was utterly alone. (p112)

This short extract is from the middle of "Gypsy Boy" by Mikey Walsh. It is a true story. Here he is eight years old and bewildered by the brutal attentions of his paedophilic Uncle Joseph. But his father Frank Walsh isn't listening. Little Mikey is used to physical punishment, including being hosed down whenever he wets the bed. His father is a fearful bully, unable to accept that his first born son will never be a gypsy prizefighter.

The book reveals some of the inner workings of Romany life. There is brutishness but there is also honour and togetherness. There are long-established moral codes and the "Gorgia" householders they live amongst are viewed with disdain and invariably downright animosity.

Mikey's father makes money by ripping off unsuspecting "Gorgia" pensioners.. He lays tarmac at massively inflated prices and the quality of his work is dreadful. He even steals the tar and grit required. Of course as Mikey grows older he ends up doing all the manual work, frequently receiving cruel beatings when his father is not happy with his work.

Entering puberty, Mikey comes to realise that he is gay which in the Romany world is simply unacceptable. Eventually he runs away to begin a new life but the joyfulness and the terror of his upbringing remains with him.

This was a very easy book to read. There is a lightness about the narration that rarely obliges the reader to ponder despite the sometimes horrific cruelties that Mikey endures. It's all so matter-of -fact. Mikey doesn't come across as embittered or psychologically damaged, he just gets on with the task of telling his story.

When I was a boy, gypsies would pass through our East Yorkshire village every year. We would run to the school gates to watch them with their horses, painted caravans and ragamuffin children. They seemed so exotic, so different - a mysterious race in our midst and I often thought of them. Even though Mikey Walsh was born as recently as 1980, his book nonetheless reveals some of the secrets of that community which persists to this day in spite of everything.

26 comments:

  1. It sounds like a really good books. My dad has brought me two in to read. I hope they're as good as that one sounds like it is.

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    1. Give me your address and I will mail the book to you then immediately delete your address from these comments.

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  2. Your comment that this was an easy book to read was surprising, given the excerpt. I'll watch for this to hit our side of the Atlantic, as it's a topic I would like to learn more about.

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    1. I meant the style of writing rather than the content Jenny.

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    2. Ah; thanks for clarifying.

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  3. There are many serious issues in Mikey's story .

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    1. It's true but there's also a thread of optimism.

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  4. So much for the picturesque life some people imagine gypsies (used to) have! I guess the animosity, disdain and prejudice that to this day exist on both sides started on both sides, too... and people like Mikey's father contributed to them by behaving as they did, stealing and doing dishonest, shabby work.
    Thank you for the review. I am yet to start "The Old Ways", which I bought in Ripon based on your review.

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    1. "The Old Ways" is in my humble opinion a great read but harder work than "Gypsy Boy". It's well-researched but wouldn't appeal to everybody. It's main appeal will be to those interested in walking and history. It will be interesting to read your review of it.

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  5. That sounds like a fascinating book. I'm going to find a copy! Thanks for telling us about it.

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    1. You are used to reading more cerebral books than this one Steve. Even so, you might well appreciate it.

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  6. The Romany culture certainly has different values and customs to 'ordinary' folk. Sadly the thieving, dishonesty, violence and mess of modern day travellers (although their caravans are immaculate)reflects badly on them.

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    1. In this book a distinction is made between Romanies and Irish travellers. The traditional Romanies with their origins in Eastern Europe and before that possibly Egypt see the Irish travellers as modern interlopers.

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  7. It always upsets me that people can be so cruel to their children or force their kids to do things that don't come naturally to them (such as expecting the boy to become a prizefighter). There are so many people who cannot have kids and it is heartbreaking to see that some people just don't care for those they have.

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    1. The casual cruelty that Mikey endured was appalling. At the end of the book we discover that his father is dying of throat cancer. I wouldn't shed a tear for that monster.

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  8. I too remember the real Romanies passing through when I was a child. The women - usually very colourful - would come from door to door selling ribbons and pegs and 'chrysanthemums' made out of wood shavings. I loved it.

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    1. Ah yes those chrysanthemum flowers. My mother always bought one or a few pegs reinforced with a bit of waste tin wound round the top.

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  9. I remember seeing and hearing a lot about the Travelers when we were in Spain. I looked at their dwellings above the sea in the cliff and saw their children being playful as all children are. But, it broke my heart to see how they were treated in marketplaces, in the streets, outside establishments. I know that people probably tire of them, their begging, their unclean bodies and clothes. But, to treat them so unkindly and with no regard for them as humans just made me cry and think a little less of the people treating them this way.

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    1. I saw the same phenomenon in Hungary and of course in Nazi Germany, Hitler went for the gypsies before he went for the communists and the Jews.

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    2. He went for anyone who was "different" - Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, mentally or physically handicapped, and so on.

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  10. It surprised me when you said it was an easy read because I would not find it easy to read a book like that ( but yes I do understand what you meant !). We don't have Gypsies here thank goodness. I've seen their camps on the side of the road and the mess they leave behind them in England . No thanks !

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    1. Modern day gypsies and Irish travellers are in many ways so different from the gypsies of yesteryear.

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  11. Maybe because the gypsies travel in groups they are easier to malign and criticise than people of similiar ilk, who are scattered throughout society and are therefore harder to target.

    Either way it's a terrible childhood and a tribute to the resilience of Mikey Walsh that he was able to survive all this horror. And then write about it.

    Alphie

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    1. Indeed it is a tribute to him but I understand that he has become quite reclusive. The effects of such a childhood can never entirely leave somebody.

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  12. A sad, sad story...I doubt it would be an easy read for me...it would make me very angry, indeed.

    I'm bingeing on Netflix and Stan at present. In one of the series I'm glued to... "Ray Donovan" starring Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight (among others)...a paedophile priest is killed by Ray Donovan...he and his two brothers, when they were kids had been molested by said Catholic priest. I cheered when the bullet went through the priest's head. It was the best punishment, in my opinion, because the courts and the church are far too soft on such monsters. I give paedophiles no quarter, whether fictional or factual.

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  13. I too remember the real Romanies passing through when I was a child. The women - usually very colourful - would come from door to door selling ribbons and pegs and 'chrysanthemums' made out of wood shavings. I loved it.

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