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The Field No 7 - Rob, Maggie, the horse and caravan

Tom Winnifrith
Wednesday 1 March 2017

One day we woke up and there was an old style gypsy caravan, the ones with a rounded wooden roof, parked in our field at Butterwell Farm in Byfield. Next to it a horse stood gazing. My mother, a free spirit of the 1970s, had offered out our field to a couple called Rob and Maggie who spent their lives as new style gypsies.

I am not sure that my father, who was not exactly a free spirit, really approved but our guests were made most welcome. They were not actually gypsies but had just adopted this way of life. It was the sort of thing you did in the mid 1970s, like growing your hair long and having sex with complete strangers and describing that act as love.

I cannot remember how exactly Rob and Maggie earned any income but that was perhaps not relevant for they were free spirits. I can remember going for a ride in that caravan. Rob took the reins and I sat beside him, my mother and Maggie in the back. We headed up the Boddington Road from Butterwell up to the cross roads at the end of the village. Turn left and you head back to the other side of the village and you stay in Northamptonshire. Straight on past the reservoir was Boddington and Oxfordshire. But we headed right towards Priors Marston and Warwickshire

The first part of that road was a long straight stretch which ended with a sharp turning amid a small group of trees. These included the large horse chestnuts where each autumn boys - including me - would head to throw sticks up in the air to bring down conkers for conker fighting. I seem to remember being told in a school assembly that this was private land and that we should not go there. But such warnings made it only more exciting and were thus completely counter-productive.

A short while after the crossroads Rob handed me the reins and said "over to you". Wow! It was not hard. Hit old horsey on one buttock and he moved one way and on the other and he moved the other way. Hit him gently on both buttocks or his back and he just trotted along at what seemed to me to be a terrifying old speed. I suspect it was not but it was certainly faster than I could have run for any distance.

Think of it now. No seat belt, indeed nothing to hold me on my seat at all. And a boy of 5, 6 or 7 in charge of this horse driven caravan on a public highway. I somehow suspect it would not happen in the safe space world of 2017.

We never saw Rob and Maggie after that summer. They would by now be in their mid seventies to mid eighties. Are they still alive? Surely they must have abandoned life on the road years ago? Did they end up as suited accountants or middle managers living in Stevenage dreaming of the gold old days on the road?

I think I'd rather not know and instead just remember hurtling along the road to Priors Marston at a terrifying speed back in the summer of 1970 something.

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About Tom Winnifrith
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Tom Winnifrith is the editor of TomWinnifrith.com. When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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