This weekend it was brought to my attention that something happened in Cromer. Firstly, why on earth would I know about this? Because I know a few Norfolk based actors from a stint I did in East Anglia a couple of years ago and one of these lovely people mentioned something on Facebook that stirred my curious nature into googling.
So what happened in Cromer?
Apparently, not that much. I stumbled upon a BBC news report that said the theatre bar on the pier decided to close its doors for the weekend on advice from the local police and the whole of Cromer’s bars and restaurants followed suit claiming the small seaside town to be on ‘lockdown’. What was difficult to decipher immediately from this was why. The article hinted that ‘a source’ had suggested it was something to do with ‘the travelling community’. This is pretty vague but I actually would buy it. It turns out there were several disruptive incidents that night and they were being attributed to a group of travellers who had camped out in a park in Cromer on its Festival weekend.
I work in pubs when I’m not acting. I have done since I was 17 from which I have gained a hefty sentence of publican experience however I had only ever had one notable incident with the travelling community besides watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Snatch until recently. This was back in Hove years ago when a gentleman I suspect was of the Irish traveller persuasion launched his pint of Guinness at me over the heads of a row of butchers sitting at the bar when being kicked out. I was fine. I ducked. That was the only personal experience I had had of serving (or not serving) ‘travellers’. These two were not very nice men. They had been in the pub all day according to the day manager with a toddler and had been trying to make this toddler smoke cigarettes and the like which in itself was pretty disturbing. Whether I choose to judge the entire travelling community on two men is up to me however I do make a point in life of trying not to judge whole communities of people based on negative isolated incidents.
Don’t we all?
In the last year I have been more aware of the fear that the travelling community instills in landlords and bar staff alike than ever before. Everybody seems to be working off of stories that came from ‘down the road’. They are all usually the same; a group of travellers came to the pub one time, were served, then all of a sudden forty/fifty/two hundred showed up and refused to leave, were drinking their own booze and ultimately started a massive riot. Doesn’t sound very good. In my experience these stories promote only one action; exclusion. Don’t serve ‘them’. And the fear of ‘otherness’ takes over.
It’s interesting to me that gypsy’s frighten people so much. And I wonder why? Yes arguably some people have had bad experiences with some of these people. I did when that pint glass narrowly missed my head and shattered in a mirror behind me. But I can’t help think that a lot of this fear is spread through gossip and stories passed from pub to pub. That man was not the first man to be violent towards me at work and no I don’t judge every man I meet as if he’s about to throw a pint glass at me, spit at me or any of the other lovely things I’ve come across during my bar career.
That would be judgemental, discriminatory and silly.
A few months ago I got to work and the pub was closed because some travellers had come in and were getting comfy so the manager had chosen to feign a function and close the pub. I felt this was a queer over reaction but this is an experienced manager surely he wouldn’t go to the extreme of closing the pub based on fear? Would he? Similarly a few weeks ago we received a phone call from another frightened manager down the road saying to keep our eyes out for travellers as there was due to be a traveller funeral followed by a wake that could be ‘dangerous’. All of a sudden every ones heckles are up, looking out for the ‘them’, the scourge, the gypsy. This can be tricky as the main identifying factor is white skin and an Irish accent. Two lads appeared early on and were declined service. The same two lads came in later and were accidentally served by a slightly dopey barmaid who I wanted to kill and guess what?
They drank their drinks in the garden, well they drank half of them and then walked out into the park with their glasses. This is something I would usually challenge but I decided to leave them to it. I, too, had been infected with this fear of the unknown danger, fear of the otherness, fear of the gypsy. One of the lads came back the next day and started chatting to me while his friend was in the toilet and I found myself blurting out that I wasn’t going to serve him. At this point his friend came out of the loo and said to me ‘Is this man bothering you darling?’ clearly recognising my discrimination and nervousness but also the irony of the situation. As they left the other one said to his friend ‘What’s wrong with these people?’
I have respect for gypsies. They live by their own rules and go where they choose. They don’t allow modern governments or society to dictate how they live their lives and I’m all for that. I don’t believe in borders and I only returned to the UK to act otherwise I would probably still be living a gypsy like life in Europe, moving around, going where I wish, not paying tax myself. Are we more afraid of this community because they don’t conform to our societies rules? Does this make them more dangerous to us? Does it threaten our normality and our comfort? Is it more than that, even, maybe we resent the freedom of the travellers and their lifestyle? Are we jealous? Tied down? Unsatisfied?
I don’t tolerate violent or unpleasant behaviour from anyone and if any person is disrespectful, too drunk or aggressive in one of my pubs then I will show them the door. Arguably in Cromer there were several incidents like this and in a small town it’s no surprise that so many small businesses would be worried of what they had to lose and act on it the only way they saw they could. But for me it’s very sad that we are so quick to totally turn our backs on other human beings because of some form of reputation that has been built around them. I did it myself because everyone else was doing it and look back now at that moment ashamed of myself. I know better and to judge so quickly and give in to someone else’s rumour, someone else’s fear, that’s what is dangerous. It’s so very easy to jump on someone else’s band wagon because of what he-said she-said instead of standing firm and deciding for ourselves. When we do this we run the risk of enabling racists into thinking that discrimination is tolerable.
In a world where Neo-Nazis are defended by the President of The United States we need to be very careful not to get into the habit of judging so severely so quickly. Our society has successfully convinced half the country that all refugees are economic migrants, all Muslims are terrorists and all travellers are violent.
We could all slow down a bit here, think a bit more and experience things before judging. Yes there is always a risk that you may have a bad experience but there’s also a chance you might have a good one. What sort of a world do we want to live in after all? One that embraces people for who they are and allows every person a fair chance at life? Or one with a specific hierarchy that judges you on where you’re from, how you speak and what your heritage is?
Are we already there?
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com