The Gypsy Fair has gone and the trampled grass verges are greening up with the rain. In a few days you will hardly notice that anyone has been there. But the post mortems are just starting. First through the door was a letter from the police requesting feedback about their handling of the event.
A lot of people will be pleased because for the first time in many years there was very little trouble. It was certainly one of the quietest fairs I have ever experienced. But the atmosphere was less than pleasant. Sometimes in town it seemed that there were more police than visitors. Only two pubs were open - Appleby has seven - and several were boarded up. Those that were open found themselves surrounded by a cordon of police, some on horseback. Appleby might just as well have put up a ‘Gypsies not wanted here’ notice.
The gypsies mounted a silent protest, which I missed. They drove their horses into town, set them loose and stood completely silent, blocking the traffic in all directions, with the police facing them on the other side. Apparently the atmosphere felt menacing, until they gathered up the horses and cleared the road. There was no violence.
But there was no exuberance either, or the sense of joyous celebration that comes with the fair. A lot of people on holiday, enjoying themselves. This year, by Saturday evening a lot of people were leaving. And instead of staying until Thursday, most of the caravans left on Monday.
I can understand why some of the people of Appleby feel as they do. With the fair comes a certain amount of drunkenness and bad behaviour - the local pubs are used to taking up the carpets and removing anything that isn’t nailed down - and a certain amount of crime. Where you get huge numbers of people there is always an element who will use that as cover. There is also a huge amount of litter and garbage - hedgerows get used as toilets and it’s not pretty. But Appleby doesn’t have the infra-structure to cope with the number of people who come.
There’s also the inbuilt prejudice to Romanies that seems to exist across Europe - it Italy it’s the same. I found myself wondering what it must be like to belong to an ethnic group that everyone seems to hate.
But if the gypsies stopped coming to Appleby, it would lose a huge part of its annual revenue. For some businesses their income over ‘Fair Week’ (as it’s known locally) is all that keeps them going. And the horse fair is Appleby’s main claim to fame for the tourist trade. Quite a dilemma.

If you want a flavour of the Fair in its sunniest mood - Neil shot this little video on the instant camera -  the musician is Catherine Ashcroft.


  1. It seems that human beings have a default position of becoming tribal and then being distrustful or hostile to "the stranger".
    I think it is the biggest single tragedy of humanity.

    On the positive side what a wonderful opportunity an event like your fair can be to bring people together and provide a glimpse of the wonder that is another culture.

  2. Yes, tribalism is at the root of most conflicts. When I was a young teenager someone once told me off for being enthusiastically British by saying 'Nationalism is poisonous to world peace'. I didn't understand what they meant, but now I do.
    But it's difficult to know how tolerant to be - the gypsies don't always treat their animals well and their women and children are often badly treated as well - there's little education or health care, girls are married as young teenagers, and there's a high degree of domestic violence.
    How to live and let live with another culture while seeking to change aspects of it? I can't answer that one.

  3. Education (especially for women) seems to be the best way to address many issues across cultures.
    I would guess these problems don't lie with the culture per se.
    These are problems that are pretty widespread in the mainstream, what has changed is the awareness of their acceptability (or perhaps simply there is less cheek turning).


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