Friday, 10 May 2013

Tales of the Gypsy Dressmaker by Thelma Madine. Book review.

It's taken me three weeks to read this book, picking it up for twenty minutes at a time just before I go to the land of nod. I can't seem to find time to read during the day, far too much to do, so a little read in bed sends me nicely off to sleep. I never did see the TV programmes about gypsy weddings, so I didn't have much idea what this book was about when I took it off the shelf at the mobile library.  
Thelma Madine tells an interesting story about her dealings with the gypsy travelling community. After her marriage broke down and a messy divorce, she found herself skint and living on benefits with children to support. She looked for some way to make a living, using the skills she had as a dressmaker.

One day she was asked to make some dresses like 'Gone With the Wind', and it wasn't long before she had dozens of travellers asking for the same. A few years later she was asked to make a wedding dress with a 107 foot train, and eighteen bridesmaid dresses. From then on she was known as the dressmaker to the gypsies.

There has been a lot of ups and downs in Thelma's life, one of which was that she spent some time in prison. She fraudulently claimed benefits while not declaring her earnings from her business. She admits it was an oversight on her part as she was struggling to pay her bills.

I always thought it would be nice to be able to move around the country and go wherever the fancy took me. It conjurs up a romantic nomadic lifestyle, where all the stresses of life can be left behind as you move on. Thelma's insight into the travelling world is a bit of an eye opener. I had no idea that there are quite a lot of millionaire travellers who have substantial properties in Ireland, yet they choose to live in caravans. They are very secretive about the wealth they accumulate, but not afraid to splash the cash when it comes to flash cars and expensive weddings.

The life of a traveller is far more complex than it appears. We see them in their encampments, and we see them in the news when they are turfed off a site for which they haven't got the necessary planning permission.

Read Thelma's book if you want to learn about gypsy travellers. This book will shock, amaze, and make you laugh, and bring the secretive traveller world to life.

13 comments:

  1. Hi Ilona, I have watched a few episodes of My Big gypsy wedding here in the US. At first, I didn't get it. I have learned now that these so called "gypsies" are not what I thought they were. Actually, most of them have a lot of money and some of them here in the states actually live in large houses, not caravans. I can't understand why they are called "gypsies" because they are mostly living in the south and seem to be unrelated to the Romany lifestyle. My daughter who is an attorney, has a gypsy woman (um, not what you think she is) as a client. She's got a lot of money and lives in a large home near the beach. When I was a kid, the gypsies I saw were living in a store front and were telling fortunes and reading your palm.
    I just don't get it! What makes them gypsies? I have seen some shows on BBC where gypsies are living in caravans on farm land and seem like they live the stereo typical gypsy lifestyle, but then there are the other ones who do not live like that. It's very confusing.

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    1. I agree, it is confusing. The true Irish gypsies have clearly defined boundaries, and are not encouraged to marry outside their clan for want of a better word. I think to us outsiders it is difficult to understand the system, as there are so many variations to it. They seem to do exactly as they like, bending the rules to suit themselves.

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  2. Hi Ilona. I love reading but never get enough time to read all I want. I especially love reading about people and different lifestyles and different times so I am glad my local library has this book. I will give it a go.

    Like Kearnygirl, I find how the gypsy identity is determined very interesting. We have gypsies here in Australia too but don't have the issue of encampments and travellers.

    I am a nester, but some of my family find the idea of moving around, very freeing. I think my dad's family had some gypsy in them. No one ever settled in one spot - they travel and lived around the country, constantly on the move, needing to be free, and moving on to see new things. That side of the family still do.

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  3. Some of my ancestors were Romany..not to be confused with gypsies or travellers.
    Jane x

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  4. Does the book inform you about the appalling domestic violence towards women in the travelling community?

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    1. Yes, it does QCat, warts and all. The girls are not educated to a high standard, their role being future home makers. They are encouraged to marry at an early age, and get on with the job of rearing a family. They seem to have very little say in their future.

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  5. I shall look for this book, it sounds very interesting. I agree, I like to wander, I am forever moving house and hearing my family and friends telling me I have gypsy blood. I was never happier when I was in my caravan.

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  6. Aren't Romany people referred to as gypsies? I always thought they were, but Jane and Chris say they're not? Please explain.

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    1. I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that, maybe Jane will come back and enlighten us.

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  7. The TV programs were the eye-openers for me....maybe I'll give the book a go as well.

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  8. I have watched some of the programmes and recently saw a little of a programme about the wealth some of them have. It showed a well dressed 16 year old young man, politely spoken in his bedroom in his parents house which was a mansion, and he was then shown in his father's helicopter. He was asked by the presenter if he loved the helicopter and he said he didn't because he hadn't earned it.

    His father has earned his money by mobile phone shops and also operating sites for mobile homes but I think he was brought up very poorly in a travellers lifestyle. Both father and son were well dressed and well spoken and you would never believe it if you hadn't known. They didn't 'display' their wealth in a loud and gaudy manner either. I would have liked to have seen the rest of the programme.

    I can't begin to imagine how much work goes into those wedding dresses and wonder what happens to them afterwards? She is a very talented lady.

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    1. I saw that programme as well, and was astounded by their wealth. It's a complete mystery to me how someone can earn that much money when they come from a travelling background. But I suppose if someone has an entrepreneurial spirit anything is possible, as Alan Sugar keeps telling us.

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  9. i've just read this book i could not put it down it was gone in less than half a day. really interesting.

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