The Roma have been feared and shunned for centuries – but who exactly are they?

Published in German in 2011, this book was the high point of a 20-year-old tradition of ‘Anti-Gypsyism Studies’, which suggested that all previous histories of Roma by non-Roma represented a self-serving, defensive ideology of oppressors demonising the oppressed. Anti-racist scholars should therefore stand aside from such colonialist impertinence and leave the actual history of Roma to be written one day by Roma themselves. They should concentrate on chronicling the racism of their own people – Europeans, and especially the Germans. The book is not, therefore, a history of Roma, and was not intended as such. The original title was Europa erfindet die Zigeuner, which means ‘Europe invents the Roma’. It

When did ‘pikey’ become offensive?

A policeman sent a colleague who was house-sitting for him a WhatsApp message: ‘Keep the pikeys out.’ He was sacked and last month failed in his appeal. A reader wrote to me saying he came across the word pikeys in the 1970s in Oxfordshire and ‘understood it to mean dishonest low-life characters, though not necessarily of a specific group like gypsy or other travellers’. He also remembered as a teenager in Cheshire coming across a hayfork being called a pikel, and wonders if the terms are related. They are, but not straightforwardly. Pikey dates from the second third of the 19th century as pikey-man, meaning a traveller who has come

I’m gypsy and proud

Exciting news from my father’s cousin in Canada. ‘You asked about our grandfather, there is much to tell,’ he writes. ‘You may be surprised to know that George’s mother was a gypsy. So it seems that we have some gypsy blood coursing through our veins.’ As I read the email, which my father had forwarded to me, I shouted at the builder boyfriend: ‘I knew it! You’re not the only gypsy in this household!’ He was outside checking the oil in my car, and shouted back to say he didn’t know what I was on about this time. But when he came back in wiping the oil from his hands

Why do we envy nomads but treat Travellers so badly?

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

A celebration of friendship: Common Ground, by Naomi Ishiguro, reviewed

Naomi Ishiguro began writing Common Ground in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. The title refers to both Goshawk Common in Newford, Surrey, where 13-year-old Stanley Gower meets 16-year-old Charlie Wells, and the threads that bind the boys despite their differences. Stan isn’t a talker; he tends ‘to stay quiet and stare at people’, which, together with his second-hand clothes and his desire to learn, has made him a target at school. Charlie is the opposite, with ‘his cigarettes and talk of girls and his recklessness and messiness’. Yet a friendship blooms on this ‘scrubby grass and tumbling hillside in the south of England’ — on common ground. We soon

Why Pontins thinks I’m an ‘undesirable guest’

Oh curses, one less option for the summer holidays. Pontins, the holiday camp for those who don’t mind bringing their own cleaning products, has been exposed for issuing a list of surnames belonging to ‘undesirable guests’. Under the legend ‘You Shall Not Pass’ on the company intranet was an instruction: ‘Please be aware that several guests are not welcome at Pontins, however some of these will still try and book… We have been informed by our Operations Director that we do not want these guests on our parks. Please watch out for the following names on ANY bookings.’ There follows a list of 40. There are the O’Briens, the O’Donnells