“Are you set lad, ready to go? Come on, the antique fair begins at nine. Haven’t got all day.” With a grunt of confirmation, a quick rub of my eyelids and a prolonged unzipping of my sleeping bag, I began my fourth day at Dale Farm. It was early in the morning and as Richard, a member of the Sheridan clan and my personal benefactor since the day I arrived, had stated, there was little time to waste. After getting dressed, imbibing a stiff tea and attaching my caravan to the back of Richard’s truck, we were off, leading a group of approximately fifteen other Travelers to Newick, a mid-sized city in Southeastern England and host of a two-day antique fair.
To make a living, many of the Travelers at Dale Farm trade in antique furniture. They are price savvy and extremely knowledgeable about the quality of antiques. They know the exact value of goods ranging from Georgian chairs to Victorian chests and can easily tell whether or not the craftsmanship of a given item is up to snuff or has been shoddily manufactured. Newick was one of the many antique fairs that Dale Farm’s Travelers would attend during the course of the summer.
After observing the Travelers haggle over the prices of various pieces of antique furniture throughout the first day, one thing became very clear: what Travelers lacked in formal education, they more than made up for in their business acumen. More than a few times, I viewed intrepid customers eye one of the Traveler’s antiques, resolutely approach the Traveler to inquire about the price and then look aghast at the Traveler as the price was stated. Unwilling to persuade a Traveler to lower his price, the customer would oftentimes become frustrated, throwing up his arms in frustration as he turned his back and walked away empty-handed. The aggravation soon passed, however, with many of the same customers, who had earlier said that they couldn’t possible pay a pence more, returning an hour later to begrudgingly hand over the Traveler’s desired sum into an outstretched palm.
Was this thievery or, in the eloquent words written on the website of Essex county’s local paper, ECHO, the work of “scum”? Although I heard a couple of customers, upset over their inability to purchase an antique at their preferred price, utter the word “pikey” under their breath as they carted away their goods, it seemed to me that the Travelers were acting as reasonable businessmen. There was no deception here, no trickery. The sale and purchase of goods within the market were transparent, fair and, most important, legal.
Staring out the window at the endless sea of green English countryside roll lazily by while listening to Richard do his best rendition of Sting on the way back to Dale Farm from Newick, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more Traveler stereotypes I would see proven false in the next ten weeks.
Posted By Zach Scott
Posted May 30th, 2007