The summer holidays are here, and up and down the country children are telling parents: “let's go camping”. To the accompaniment sometimes of parental groans, it's time to drag out the sleeping bags and tent, and wonder what's happened to the ground sheet.
Some (like the family in my Wild Thing Goes Camping) are heading to one of the Festivals that now make up a big part of the British Summer. Others are just heading for a nearby field. Either way, they are taking part in what is becoming a major British ritual – the family camping trip.
Few of them, though, will be sleeping in a traditional, horse-drawn gypsy wagon. But this is where Kizzy, the heroine of children's classic, The Diddakoi, by Rumer Godden, is born and raised, even if in latter years it has been parked in the orchard of the stately home that belongs to Admiral Twiss.
And then the owner of the wagon, Kizzy's great-great gran, dies, the wagon is burned, and Kizzy's life changes forever.
This beautifully crafted story is about a half-Romany “traveller” child, Kizzy, who has to leave her wagon and live in the non-gypsy world. Reading it recently, I found it just as powerful as when I was a child.
|The current edition|
|The 1970s version|
Despite the very romantic cover on the current edition, the book is anything but sentimental or rosy-spectacled, whether about gypsy life, childhood, village communities or anything else. It has a rags to riches storyline, but when it comes to human nature Godden is both clear-sighted and hard-headed. (There is a bullying scene that is more violent and shocking than anything you are likely to find in a contemporary book.) And it explores wonderfully the position of a child who feels like the “outsider” in every “community”: a theme probably even more relevant now than ever.
It also wonderfully evokes Kizzy's urge for the outdoors and open spaces, and the terrible frustration she feels living in a small house, in a small village.
Her sympathetic foster mother, Olivia, says, “my cottage is the last in the village...Kizzy might not feel shut in” but Kizzy does, and dreams about taking to the road. One of the saddest moments in the book is when her beloved horse, Joe, dies and her dream goes with him.
For Kizzy there is a happy ending – she ends up being adopted by the lord of the manor, Admiral Twiss, and his rolling acres and her own pony (and miniature wagon) help satisfy her need for freedom. (Well, I said it was rags to riches!)
For modern kids, that's unlikely to be the solution. Most are short on outdoor space, while research shows that the radius kids are permitted to travel from their own (non stately) homes is smaller than it has ever been. Schemes like Project Wild Thing are attempts to counter the increasing separation between kids and the wild outdoors. (Their work includes initiatives at Festivals - my heroine Wild Thing would approve!)
|Going wild while camping at a festival|
Parents are surely doing the same thing when they take their kids camping. For whatever the claimed educational benefits to kids, I suspect most parents are after something more basic: the chance to give their kids some fun and freedom in the great outdoors. (And maybe the chance of a crafty beer by the fire while their kids are off discovering the joys of nature.)
Enjoy that camping trip, if you're going. And if you're looking for a superb read, do try The Diddakoi.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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