A Romany Christmas

Mark Langton puts the finishing touches to the front of their house
Mark Langton puts the finishing touches to the front of their house
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Everyone likes a bit of bling as well as Bing at Christmas.

But call this a Big Fat Gypsy Christmas at your peril.

Variations on the “big fat gypsy” this that or the other have made some of our resort Romanies see red at media stereotyping.

Especially when, as Sarah Petulengro, 48, takes pains to point out. She’s shed at least a stone since last Christmas.

But with the best wlll in the world you could hardly call this Christmas lights display understated.

Spare a thought for the imagineer pressganged into putting it all up outside the house on Sunfield Close, Marton, while Sarah holds court within.

Sarah’s other half Mark Langton is adamant the display will start and end at the front of the property.

“I’m not doing the back. It takes an eternity to get this stuff up and then take it all back down again.”

Since their 26-year-old son William – popularly known as One Coat for his painting prowess – transformed the roof his dad is determined not to stick Christmas lights all over it.

“Time was we had garlands, fake snow and all sorts. It was a mess. Bit over the top really.”

Over the top? It looked like American 
Lampoon’s Christmas had come to town.

But locals loved it, queued around the block to see it, and still keep coming back for more.

One year Mark and Sarah’s youngest daughter singer and musician Nancy, 16, busked the queue with her accordion to raise money for charity. Now she’s a rising star in her own right after appearing with her two sisters bank adviser Sarah Jane, 27, and fortune teller Julie, 22, in Britain’s Got Talent and the X Factor. Nancy won praise from all the judges, including Simon Cowell, and has been hard at work in a recording studio since being signed up by an agent. She played her biggest gig, the definitive Blackpool Illuminations switch on, before a 20,000 strong audience. This weekend should be a piece of cake!

Sarah and Mark have lived on the cul-de -sac for 28 years – next door to Sarah’s parents Leah and the late Sonny Boy Petulengro (aka William Pattison). Sarah’s grandparents also lived at Sunfield Close – three adjoining acres of land purchased used to provide living space for other members of the family.

“I don’t think we could live anywhere else –and certainly we could never return to the old way of life now,” says Sarah (aka Julie Langton). “We moved when I was 15 to this house and have transformed it.” Prior to that the family lived at the cottage which is now a car salesroom nearby.

“We’ve always loved Marton. My parents lived in a trailer when they got married before moving to Hemingway and then built their own house – lovely, like a mansion really –on Jubilee Lane. But they didn’t like it there because it was so isolated. They missed having people around.”

Just who started the family festive lights tradition has passed into folklore, but Sarah’s parents made it their own. So much so that when Sonny Boy died the family dimmed the display in deference. “It was a mark of respect,” says Sarah. “But people really missed them. We had visitors knocking at the door asking what had happened and would they be back next year.” Five years on they are still blazing merrily away. Leah’s back on festive form too, the 
Petulengro/Pattison matriarch holding court on Christmas Day and cooking for around 30 family members.

“All the doors are open that day because we’re in and out of each other’s homes all the time - but how my mother manages to cook for so many and stay calm is beyond me,” says Sarah. “I’d be flapping. The family chip in with the vegetables and two prepare the desserts but really it’s my Mother’s Day.”

And this year they have special cause to celebrate for son William’s wife Whitney is expecting a baby boy who will be named Sonny in honour of both sides of the family – his late great grandfather and one of Whitney’s 
relatives too.

The gypsy lights switch on this weekend with the usual healthy rivalry between households as to which display is the best or brightest. “We try to outdo each other,” Mark admits. They also play pranks. He once wired his brother’s ladders to the house after helping with the lights. “He’s got a big iron gate and when the lights went on it became live!”

Within the impressive house, it’s very much Sarah’s domain, and the massive Christmas tree bears baubles with history. “We buy a couple of new ones each year,” she admits. “The rest are in the attic. It’s like a junkshop. Mark emerges covered in dust.

“I’m a hoarder, I keep everything we bought, or that the girls have given me - from the first baubles we bought in 1985 at Harrods to the Santa on a Toilet that Julie wants me to chuck out. No chance! I know the history of each bauble. It’s part of my family’s story.”