Stories from guests, volunteers, trustees and friends of Devizes Opendoors  

One of our regular volunteers, Caroline Reid, who is a shift leader and trainer, has been getting to know some of guests and volunteers and in this regular feature on our website we will publish her stories.

Here is Caroline's latest interview with regular guest Karl.

Life for a travelling family can be challenging, local councils issue the 28-day tickets and they have to move along to a new spot. It was easier back during his childhood to find places to set up camp, because the councils didn’t keep such a close eye on the camps. Travellers are a fluid community, meeting up all over the country, exchanging news and staying in touch. Karl said he didn’t really enjoy the 3 years with his Gran because he missed moving around, missed being in the countryside and the sheer enjoyment of being in the open. He keeps in touch with his siblings and his Dad who, despite being in his 70s, is still travelling.

Sure, times can be hard. You get hungry. But when you love the outdoors and the moving around, you find ways of making do. Summer berries, whatever you can find in the hedgerows plus a bit of hunting with traps and catapults. Rabbit, pigeon, even hedgehog. But, how do you prepare a hedgehog, I asked, what about the prickles? Wrap it completely in clay and cook it in the ashes of your fire! When you peel off the clay, the skin comes off, prickles n’all. Hedgehog is apparently a delicacy! Some might not agree with the killing and eating of wildlife on principle, but this is the reality of life outside the system. You make do with what’s to hand.

This is where places like Opendoors can be a lifesaver: 3 hot meals a week, plus a shower and clean towels, fresh clothes and people to talk to. It’s the social event of the week, says Karl. He’s been in Devizes for 5 years now, and found out about Opendoors through the informal network of homeless people that exists here, just like any other town. Now, let’s be clear, Karl doesn’t consider himself homeless, and never has.

He has a home, his caravan which has a cooker and a wood burning stove! His current campsite sounds like a real plus, too. The farmer on whose land he has been parked invited him to set up camp so he and his group could provide security on his land. Animal rights activists had recently set fire to some buildings, killing 70 sows and numerous piglets as a result. Since Karl’s group has been on the property, there has been no further trouble! The farmer also provides some work round the farm, so everyone’s interests are served.

When I asked Karl what was the strangest food he had ever eaten, he replied, kangaroo and shark. Well, I didn’t expect that! I also didn’t expect Karl to have travelled as far afield as Peshawar (in the disputed territory between India and Pakistan), where he stayed for a while. Madness, he said, it’s madness there, everyone carrying guns around with them, it’s a war zone. And a far cry from Devizes. For a traveller to stay 5 years in one community, something must be working for Karl, no matter how insecure or difficult his life might seem to those who live in the system. When I asked him what one thing he would change about his life, he gave the question some thought and said, nothing really. How many of us can say that about our own lives? Thanks very much to Karl for telling his story, and to Caroline for recording and writing it up.  

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