Oh for the open road! Who doesn’t want to abandon the suffocating suburbs – waking to an alarm at the same time every single morning, hearing brown envelopes pushed through the front door, filling the dishwasher, paying that damned mortgage – and head out for endless sunsets falling over infinitely empty land?
Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand as a woman who leaves her home behind after she loses her husband and her job and travels around the United States in a campervan, is predicted to win Oscar for Best Picture this weekend. The film, whose large cast mainly consists of real-life nomads, has led to a flush of appreciation and enthusiasm for a less settled life. This portrait of those who give up all worldly possessions for a modest motorhome calls to people whose lives are surrounded by picket fences. It’s a long held and very common dream. That bunch of keys – to the front door, the back, the garage and all those window locks – hangs heavy not only in your pocket, but on your heart. What would it be like to never have to turn a key in a lock again?
I’m just locking the door for the last time for several months, as I do every year, to go on tour with the circus in my 11-foot caravan home. As a circus person, I’m intrigued by the naïve wishfulness surrounding Nomadland and the travelling life. Because at the same time as Hollywood and settled people hold this lifestyle up as a romantic ideal, the same world condemns it.
Travelling people themselves have never been so vilified. A little mentioned aspect of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through Parliament is that it attacks the very existence of Britain’s last nomadic communities.