Memories from a Romany Childhood P2 By Chris Smith

21 April 2020
Chris Smiths family (c) Courtesy of the Smith family

This week we are pleased to bring you the second story in the series ‘Memories from a Romany childhood'  by Romany Musician and previous TT manager, Chris Smith from Herefordshire  

My dad, Leonard Smith, enjoyed the simple pleasures of life........writes Chris Smith. An introvert who was grateful for good food, a warm trailer, the love of his family and a peaceful existence. He was not brash or lary, but he was clever. He could do sums in his head that many couldn’t do with a calculator these days. He taught himself to read and write. His spelling wasn’t great but his understanding was.

A thinker who didn’t mind his own company, he was no pushover. At his core he was a decent principled man who felt emotions deeply without needing to make a song and dance of things. He only had a handful of friends yet they would have died for him if necessary. His best friend was probably his brother-in-law, my uncle Mooshie whose death, before I was born, became a legend in our family lore, and who me dad spoke of so often that I felt I knew him too.


Leonard Smith in the 1980s in Withington Herefordshire
Leonard Smith in the 1980s at the Smith family home in Withington Herefordshire

Our tan was on the edge of the village green, and we lived there for over twenty years in Yarkhill, Herefordshire. Me Mam and brother worked on the farm where we lived and Dad worked on the next farm over at Shawle Court, Monkhide, alongside four of his brothers and sisters.

Dad always wore a flat cap even though he had a great head of hair right up until he passed over in February 2009 at the age of 91. He also carried a walking stick, he didn’t need one but it was his weapon of choice if there was ever a need to defend himself or his family. He was good with horses and kept chickens too, not in a coop, he let them roam freely and us kids enjoyed spending hours searching for the nests of eggs. Some hens always evaded us though and one particular Sunday morning in the summer of 1971 a hen appeared with ten chicks. 


Leonard Smith in the later years of his life
Leonard Smith in the later years of his life

Every time Dad walked near her or the chicks the hen would puff up her feathers and fly at him, pecking his legs. My brother and I were watching from the trailer window when we saw me Dad finally lose his temper with this particular bird and he tapped her lightly on the head with his stick. The hen immediately fell to the floor, and me brother said “oh dordie me Dads mullered the hen”. We then watched open-mouthed as Dad dropped onto one knee, took his hat off and frantically started to waft his cap back and forth over the birds head, whereupon the hen stood up looking a bit dazed, before making off with her youngsters in tow. Dad smiled and looked extremely relieved that he didn’t have orphaned chicks on his hands and the hen left him alone after that. 

As he walked back into the trailer, in a moment of synchronicity, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road began playing on the radio. Me brother and I started to sing along “Where’s your mama gone, where’s your mama gone, far, far away” and then fell about laughing. Dad looked at us like we were divs, though he couldn’t help but laugh too.

Leonard and Elizabeth (Betty) Smith
Leonard and his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Smith

Main photo: The Smith family in the mid-seventies in Yarkhill Herefordshire.  All photos featured are (c) Courtesy of Chris Smith