I feel like I’ve been away for so long, having visited family in London for the past three weeks. I must admit the jet-lag is still kicking in from time to time but I was keen to get back to it again so hopefully I won’t make too many slip-ups!
While I was away I read a book called The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney who wrote the Tenderness of Wolves which I really enjoyed. The story is set in England and based on Gypsy culture and centers around a girl who has gone missing from their community. Not a bad story but what was interesting was the reference made to the gypsy craft of carving flowers out of wood. It was something I had never heard of before and found it difficult to imagine what the finished article would look like. Imagine then my surprise, when a few days after finishing the book I found myself at a local apple festival and there was a man sitting whittling pieces of wood, making these very intricate chrysanthemums – it was weird to say the least!
Anyway I had a good chat with him, his name was Ivan and he was born in a horse drawn caravan down on the marshes, not far from where I grew up in Plumstead. He told me how traditionally they would get work at local farms throughout the spring, summer and autumn but in the winter there would be no work for them and this is how the craft of flower carving came about. It was a closely guarded skill and they would carve them out of off-cuts from the elder bushes during the winter and sell them for a small amount of money. Ivan even gave me a few words in his native Romany language which I have to say sounded like no other language I’ve ever heard before. He also told me he was 78 and on my way out the lady at the gate saw I had one of Ivan’s flowers in my hand and said “he’s a bit of a character isn’t he? – He told me he’s 92?!” Which left me wondering – perhaps he fancied his chances with me if he’d knocked off 14 years!!