Author Damian Le Bas will be talking about his one-year trip to traveller sites around the UK and France on 6 September, writes Jessica Aszkenasy…
The author and poet will give a reading of his book The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain at Dulwich Books on Croxted Road.
The book recounts his journey to traveller spots in Kent, Cornwall, Scotland, Wales and the South of France. During his time on the road, he spent a week on a site in Gipsy Hill, which takes its name from the presence of travellers that are thought to have established themselves where Oaks Avenue and Woodland Road now stand by the 17th century.
“It had been brewing away in me since childhood because I had family that lived on the road they had a different strength and mindset. They could earn a living with their wits and really survive hardship and seasonal change.
“They were very skilled at harvesting plants and wood, they conjured a survival out of nothing.
“They had a tremendous memory for geography and roads although they were illiterate. They were very intelligent in that way,” Le Bas told the News.
The thirty-three-year-old started his journey in the summer of 2015 in a transit van that he kitted out with the bare essentials, sometimes accompanied by his wife actor Candice Nergaard, who starred in BBC drama Call the Midwife and Stuart: A Life Backwards alongside Tom Hardy.
He set out to shed some light on his heritage, which is a mix of English, Irish and Romany gypsy, from an insider’s perspective.
“There are lots of myths. Some of it does contain a bit of truth some of it contains no truth whatsoever.
“One of the big stereotypes in the child-snatching, that gypsies steal people’s children.
“There’s no documented event in history ever of a gypsy stealing someone’s child.
“Not everyone in my family approved of me writing the book. People think I’m going to reveal too much about the community, they can be cagey when it comes to describing people to outsiders.
Le Bas grew up on his grandfather’s land outside Worthing around a big extended family, but this was his first time living on the road.
“I miss the excitement of not knowing what I might see when I opened the van door in the morning and not knowing where I might end up, but I absolutely don’t miss how hard it was to get a good night’s sleep and contending with the elements,” he said.