Monday, April 25, 2011


 Gypsy life... it’s not all about spray tans and grabbing girls

Alex Ross, Reporter

Sunday, April 24, 2011

NOTORIOUS for their spray-tanned brides and ‘girl-grabbing’ grooms - but also associated with underground crime and general mischief - the Romany gypsy community often gets a bad name but one Weston woman, who was born into a gypsy family in Hewish, claims the common public perceptions are wrong and has written a book to shake off the typical stereotypes and raise understanding of true traveller life.

Rosemary Penfold, aged 73, has revealed her experience as a gypsy child in A Field Full of 
Butterflies, already selling more than 20,000 copies in major book stores such as Waterstone’s.

The Dunster Crescent resident admits she may have since ‘settled down’ from her gypsy upbringing, leaving behind her teenage home to marry into a ‘godje’ lifestyle, but she has never lost her roots.

Born in a caravan in land called Heathgate, purchased by her family for £150 in the 1930s, Mrs Penfold says her ‘special childhood’ was a far cry from that portrayed in the recent hit Channel 4 TV series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

 “Our lives were nothing like what has been shown on TV.

“We started from scratch with no money, bought some land and lived off it - completely self-sufficient.

“But the image the TV show portrays is of big, glitzy caravans, flash cars and lots of money. It is so wrong.”

Unlike many of her friends, Mrs Penfold received full-time education at St Andrew’s Primary School in Congresbury.

Outside of school, she would help her mother with the cooking while her father and brothers ran the family scrapyard, spending days picking up metal to melt down to sell.

She said: “People say I had an underprivileged upbringing, but in fact I say I had a privileged upbringing.

“Despite times sometimes being tough, we were always smiling, happy and socialising. Childhood was a lot of fun for me.”

At the age of 18, however, Mrs Penfold moved out of her gypsy community to marry husband John and live in Weston.

She began a career in care work and has had four children, but she claims to have maintained her Romany roots.

She said: “I’ve written this book to help non-gypsies understand a little of how real Romanies lived in the early part of the 20th century, not in misery or deprivation but enjoying a way of life that many today would envy and yearn for, even as I do still.”


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