Hector and Arabella* live up a lane. Their main room is fourteen feet long. It is where they sit in the evenings with their four children, aged from thirteen down to three. It is true that it is their main room, it is also their only room, for they live in a towing caravan.
They have no sanitation and no running water, filling up five gallon drums at a local farm. They have a generator for electricity, but it will only generate sufficient power to provide lighting. The electric heater I gave them is useless, the generator is not strong enough. Caravans haven’t much by way of insulation and the children are cold much of the time. There is a fire that runs on bottled gas, but lighting it can bring on asthma in their little girl.
Hector and his family were living in a house in an estate on the edge of Dublin, but they became frightened by young men on the estate and went on the road. They believe living up a boreen in rural Ireland is preferable to living in fear.
They are very quiet people, Arabella is often hospitalised with depression and when there are rows with Hector, she retreats to a women’s refuge in a city to the south. Hector is nervous and uneasy; old before his time, his concerns in life are his children and visiting his numerous family members dotted around the south-east of Ireland.
Hector and Arabella’s children would do well, if they were given a chance; they are bright and polite and envy the lives of most other children.
Perhaps it’s because of the children that Hector has managed to enlist the support of a local politician and the owner of a local estate to champion his request for more adequate accommodation. His aspiration is for a bay in one of the serviced halting sites, or for one of the little houses that are now available on some of the sites.
Hector called this evening. It is bitterly cold and there was lashing rain. Arabella was visiting a relative at a nearby hospital. I wasn’t sure where the children were, perhaps in Hector’s car, perhaps causing apoplexy to some poor staff nurse who was probably already coping with at least twenty other members of Hector and Arabella’s community who had gathered to keep vigil at the bed of a critically ill friend/cousin.
Hector and Arabella did not choose their lifestyle, it is the only one they know. Sooner or later someone must break into the cycle of deprivation, under-education, community isolation and early death. In the meantime, I would welcome suggestions about the best response to their needs.
(*Hector and Arabella aren’t called thus, but using real names just reinforces stereotypes)