from The DiddakoiUpload your character
When I first read about you in Rumer Godden’s the Diddakoi back in 1972, I was nine. Just a year or two older than you were in the book. You were a little girl lost in an alien world, and I loved you for it.
Half Romany, half Irish, you lived with your great great grandmother, Gran. Your home was Admiral Twiss’s orchard, where Gran and her wagon had come to rest when their travelling days were over. Life was hard, but you didn’t know it. In spring, you helped make willow baskets and plant them with primroses to sell; in winter, you collected holly and mistletoe. Instead of toys, you had Joe, the last of the many horses who had once drawn the wagon. You were proud of where you came from; you had a connection with your culture and a strong sense of identity that I envied so much. I wanted to sit with you on your fish box by the fire, eating bread and dripping as if it were a feast. To wear my jumble sale clothes, and not care that I didn’t look like everyone else. And to be able to come home from a tough day at school and lie flat on Joe’s back, burying my head in his mane for comfort.
When Gran died, you were left alone. You needed a home, but people said you were wild, dirty, and that you had no table manners. Then Miss Brooke pointed out you couldn’t expect a child to have table manners when she’d never had a table. She took you in, and read to you though you put your hands over your ears; prepared meals though you refused to eat, mopped the bathroom floor when you flooded it. At weekends, you stayed with Admiral Twiss. Gradually, you made it through – and I learnt that people could behave badly not because they were bad inside, but because bad things had happened to them.
To me as a child, your story had a perfect fairy tale ending: you found a new family and a new place to belong. But now I know it was only the beginning. I wonder what happened next; what you grew up to be. You knew where you came from, and you cared deeply for your people’s past – but ultimately you weren’t bound by your culture. You had the luxury of being free to choose what to keep, and what to leave behind.
Wherever you are today, and whatever you’re doing, I know you’ll never forget how different your life could have been had it not been for those two people who decided to care – though you didn’t make it easy for them. Forty years on, and your story to me isn’t just about one lost little girl. It’s a battle cry for all the world’s lost children; a reminder of just how far out of reach a happy ever after still is for so many.
Back to gallery
The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.