Behind the bar, one of the managers and myself struck up a lively conversation about a topic I know so little about, but thanks to Guy Ritchie, I have a general idea: Gyppos.
You know, gypsies, Irish travellers, tinkers, knackers, or simply, deliciously, "fuckin' pikies."
To say I was tickled by this conversation is an understatement. I was overjoyed. I was giddy. I was fascinated-- but the kind of fascinated that makes me dance up and down on my tippy toes (an odd idiosyncrasy, I know). Here's what I learned from my coworkers:
-Gyppos live in caravans in motor parks on land that they often, surprisingly, own. Their semi-nomadic culture and the land they live on is protected by the government (much like Native Americans in the US), and if they decide to come into your town, you better be sure they are not moving out until they decide to. The cops won't ask them to leave. The mayor won't either. Fucking Superman would put on his horn rim glasses and try to cover up the giant S on his chest. All because everybody is too afraid to talk to them and possibly to try and move them. Logic, force, law, etc. all have no jurisdiction when it comes to pikies. They do as they please.
-All fucking pikies are criminals. "It's just a fact, mate."
-Gyppos shit in the open.
-You can't understand a word they say.
-They have bare-knuckle boxing leagues where it is often the objective to physically scar your opponent for the rest of their lives-- not to speak of beating the piss out of them.
The most priceless quote that sent me into a childish fit of laughter comes from a good buddy of mine, "My Dad tells me he had to fight five gyppos for the love of my mum."
I couldn't stop asking questions. What do they look like? What do they eat? Do they have jobs? Have you ever met one? Can they serve in the military? (Immediately Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series, jumped into my mind. If these guys are as tough as they say they are, man, can't they be crafted into the deadliest, most bloodthirsty supersoldier squadron ever to defend the fucking British Isles? Fuck! They are already nomadic. Afghanistan would be a friggin Sunday retreat for these guys! True, I don't think Osama would accept a bare knuckle challenge for a broken caravan, but it's worth a goddamn try!)
I wasn't so interested in the answers to my questions as I was in the reactions of those I spoke to. I wanted them to keep talking, to keep describing, to keep telling stories, because everybody that I spoke to had the same reactions, best summarized by "fuckin' pikies." Nobody said, "Oh yes, I once met a darling gyppo. He saved me mum from a tree." Or, "Gyppos? Splendid chaps they are! I once knew a gyppo who gave out candy to disabled children in Uganda on Christmas during a typhus outbreak."
Instead, it was "Gyppos? I fucking hate gyppos. They eat their own shit and drink the blood of Christian children."
Gyppos are like dragons (or, for a better visual, ogres). Fantastical creatures who live far away, living their violent lives according to their own rules, beyond the reach (and hope) of civilization. Nobody really personally knows a single gyppo, but everybody has a story. There are sightings, and even a few relics. And once in a blue moon, they come thundering down from the hills in their cacophonous caravans of death, and the common, decent village folk flee in terror, trying to save the goat herds and their youngest daughters from rape and slaughter, respectively. Inevitably, a kid of 2 years is unintentionally left behind and raped mercilessly in the village square. Her sorrowful bleats could be heard for miles.
And thus, gyppos. A mysterious peoples of unknown origin and uncertain future. But one thing is certain. When you go home tonight, lock your doors, hide your liquor, and check under the bed, because you might be unlucky enough to discover your worst enemy-- our own ignorance.