There’s no truth in the accusation that I write ‘soft porn. I don’t even own a pornograph. You can search my house if you like.

 

However, I do sometimes wonder if some of my purple passages might qualify me for the annual literary Bad Sex Award. There are a few scenes in the Gypsy Model that I wonder about, and I did get a commendation in the Maroni Parish news as ‘perhaps going a bit too far.’ I fear my pallid efforts would pale even further into insignificance, though, against the excesses of former winners and nominees. In any case, I was constantly aware of trying to avoid twitching the sensibilities of Robert Buchanan who took great exception to the writings of Gabriel Rossetti and others of the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’. Invention in the Bad Sex field is unbridled. The Winners list in Wikipedia, will surprise you. Unfortunate past runners-up include both Amises and, I seem to recall, Philip Roth.

How does one get nominated? I wonder. It would be an honour to be up there with Tony Blair, who was in the running in 2013. Of course his work was not of a high enough standard to win. It must be said however that the concept of steamy encounters with Cherie, must rank high in the realms of invention if not fantasy.

The Gypsies in The Gypsy Model

So, what about the Roma? One of my readers told me that, when I got on to all that stuff about the travellers and the gypsies, ‘I lost’ him. I suppose there have always been conflicting views on the travelling community, with romanticism and hostile prejudices tugging this way and that. The conversation I imagined taking place between Kiomi and John Ruskin, proposed that, in a time of social, turmoil their life-style made them a reservoir of culture in a class that was chained to the demands of industrial development. Perhaps they were the folk musicians, the craftsmen, the artistes of their day. Their connection to the circus, to sport and especially their expertise with horses, gave them a level of professional dedication beyond that of most contemporaries. If nothing else, their semi-nomadic lives must have exposed them to a high level of contemplative thinking well beyond the scope even of those who were smugly spreading the benefits of the British Empire round the world.

Not surprisingly, then, the gypsies were popular with artists and writers of the day. Apart from Sandys and Rossetti, Watts- Dunton, and Munnings are recorded as having special interest in the Roma in general and in Keomi in particular.

Don’t sneer. I’ve tried to express something of this in the following verses, which you will recognize as being heavily dependent of the work of John Masefield.

 On the Road

I must take to the road again, to the eternal whims of Fate,

And all I ask is my bow-top, and my patient vanner’s gait,

And the wheel’s kick and the bird song and the harnesses a shakin’,

And a chill mist on the barley, and a cool pink dawn a breakin’.

§

I must take to the road again, for the wanderlust of the Roma

Is a wild call and a clear call that never will be over.

And all I ask is a new day to bring its random treasures,

The pinto’s might, and the blown dust, and morning’s early pleasures.

§

I must take to the road again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the raven’s way and the pilgrim’s way, far from worldly strife.

And all I ask is a sweet song from my loving fellow-rover,

And a quiet sleep, and a sweet dream, when my final day is over.

With apologies to John Masefield.

 

And, what about the artists, their stunners, their muses and their eccentric literary friends? Not everyone’s pot of paint, but whole tomes have been written about the Pre-Raphaelites. So, fat chance of anything very meaningful emerging from the following paragraph, but I’m arrogant enough to give it a go.

For a start, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was, itself, short-lived. The seven original members (Hunt, Rossetti, Millais, Woolner, Collinson, Michael Rossetti and George Stephens) met in George Millais’s studio in Sept 1848. Out of their rambling discussions, there seems to have emerged an agreement that their aim was to escape the fetters of the Royal Academy, and to paint more naturalistically and vividly than was fashionable. This, they started to do, producing paintings signed alongside the mysterious (and ridicule provoking) initials, PRB. Can it be true that Rossetti’s reputation gave birth to the ‘Penis Rather Better’, tag that started to be bandied about? John Ruskin, however, supported the PRB and was rewarded for his pains with Sandys’s brilliant satire of Millais’s Sir Isumbras at the Ford.

They published a journal, Germ, which failed after a run of only four editions and, until Ruskin gave them some support, their exhibited work came in for a lot of stick. As a group they were disbanded in the early 1850s, but from then to the end of the century, diverse artists came to be seen as Pre-Raphaelites. Included in their number, was Frederick Sandys, alter ego of Sands in the Gypsy Model. Their work and their foibles were diverse. Their ranks included libertines, drunkards, moralists and social reformers. Their models ranged from the lady-like Jane Morris to the whorish Annie Miller and the young gypsy, Keomi Gray. Rather more to Victorian tastes, than to modern ones, they were considered stunners. But let’s leave the stunners and the hangers on for another day. This is already starting to ramble.

 

But let it ramble on. Below is a review I did at Amazo n’s invitation, so I don’t suppose I was cheating (even though I did give it a top rating!

Review of The Gypsy Model for Amazon.

I love it. Well, I would, wouldn’t I, since I wrote it. Amazon invited me to review it though, probably because I bought a copy when it came out on Kindle, to see how the illustrations by Ngaio and my grand-daughter, Fiona, had come out. I have to say, I was delighted. In modesty, I can only leave my readers to draw their own conclusions about the 19C of the Pre-Raphaelites that I tried to convey. Whatever the the limitations of the finished work, it was for me a true labour of love. The three years from conception to publication took me on an odyssey into my family’s history. It took me back to gypsy roots which seemed to touch the world of that Brotherhood of artists, their stunning models and their eccentric literary friends. My researches took me on a journey round the art galleries of the UK, from Bristol, to Birmingham to Liverpool, Port Sunlight and, of course, to Frederick Sandys’s native Norwich. In Cumbria I rubbed shoulders with Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts Movement who’s stained glass graces churches in Staveley, Troutbeck, Ireby and especially in Brampton. In the course of all this a visit to William Morris’s Kelmscott Manor was unforgettable.

The Pre-Raphaelites, and particularly Frederick Sandys, came alive for me through their pictures., I came to believe that, in his painting, ‘Fred Sands’ expressed a growing obsession with his gypsy model. In the end though, it was a Burne-Jones masterpiece ‘The Beguiling of Merlin’ that encapsulated the sort of hopeless spell he fell under.

 

 

 

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