Tom Lloyd's Romany Rai, a film worth watching.
Entitled Romany Rai (Romany Gentleman), the film features footage shot at the fair over quite a long period of years, much of it of horses and horsemen, but also featuring some interviews about the travelling life. Being both frank and non-judgemental, the film strikes a tone which mostly sidesteps the usual pitfalls of films about Travellers. We see good, bad and indifferent horsemanship, which is exactly what you would see if you filmed the non-traveller community at a show or out riding. There are some nice interviews, mostly with older members of the community, some of whom express themselves quite eloquently, as well as footage of Walter Lloyd giving his take on Gypsy/Traveller history and his own family's background of generational mutual acceptance with them. If this film occasionally strays into a slightly romantic view of Travelling People, that is probably out of respect for Walter, who died just a few months ago at 93.
Walter Lloyd was well known around Cumbria and among Fell Pony people. The Lloyd family breed ponies under the Hades Hill (Hades rhymes with fades) prefix, and Walter was considered a bit of an eccentric and something of a hippie, locally - both of which were deserved, in the best possible way. What a lot of people didn't realise was just what a renaissance man he was. He held an MA in agriculture from Cambridge, fought in WWII, farmed in Cornwall, Lancashire and Cumbria, worked in civil defense for Rochdale and emergency planning for Manchester, helped organise the safety and emergency side of rock festivals like Glastonbury and The Isle of Wight, taught coppicing and charcoal burning, built bow top living wagons .... well, you get the picture.
During the years I lived in Scotland I met many Scottish Travellers, both through my traditional music work and my time with horses in East Lothian. Speaking of traditional music, there are some nice musical moments in this film, too. I was attracted to it more for the horses than anything, and there are certainly plenty of horses here. I suppose that like Walter Lloyd, there is a side of me which intuitively (or perhaps only romantically) connects Traveller horse-culture to ancient Celtic horse-culture. That connection may or may not be on solid ground, historically. I've read attempts to unravel the question, but not deeply enough to feel satisfied. Also, like Walter, I am simply fascinated by alternative ways of life. During one of the early scenes of the film, we see directly into one gentleman's living wagon while he is being interviewed, and I found myself thinking how nice it would be to move into that, and just melt into the countryside. The truth is, I know that year-round life travelling in a bow top is almost impossible in Britain now, even for people who like cold, wet weather as much as I do.
Romany Rai is available to rent or buy on Vimeo.
A chapbook collection containing the short story The Wild Mare, plus four poems which share the theme of horses.
Size 8.5" x 5.5"