They say that our first love will always be with us. Time heals of course, but it lingers there as a reminder of the first time that we felt the force of real, grown-up emotions. A canvas that we projected all of our hopes and desires onto. This person is the one and so on – and mine psychologically scarred me for life. Anything that happens for the first time is a memorable experience and sometimes those experiences can be deeply painful but this is another level now. This is not a Blog about the subjective nature of love but rather a personal account of the time I fell in love for the first time and unfortunately for me, falling under the spell of a travelling Romany Gypsy Boy, could not have been a more unsuitable canvas to project all of my hopes and desires onto, let alone land at his feet my unsuspecting devotion, trust and infinite heart.
To explain how the horror began, I have to go back to the 90s, where cell phones were still bricks – the preserve of gadget geeks with carrying cases. The effects of the Spice Girls could be felt in those god awful trends, and it was still acceptable for me to have a head full of floppy hair in a center parting – and of course, I thought the world revolved around me because I was only nineteen. I had been living in Blackpool for one year before I met him. My parents had moved us there from a market town in County Durham, it was our 16th move on a chaotic roadshow – that, should you follow this blog, will get to know.
Blackpool raises eyebrows these days, but to a young gay man from a tough North-eastern town where just the movement of my eyeballs gave my ‘gayness’ away – this place was a playground rich in options and freedom. A new start for a boy damaged by childhood traumas and Section 28, now in a town where it was not only accepted to be gay but embraced, encouraged and allowed, where I could be the me I always wanted to be.
I was studying for a diploma in Media and Film Production at Blackpool and Fylde Media college that would have taken me to Manchester University in 1999, and at weekends I worked in a nightclub called Edwards to fund myself. Although a commercial chain, it was by far the only place to be for real music in the town, with regular Ministry of Sound nights. Fresh from being part of the 1990s Northern house music scene, loosing my mind in the likes of the Middlesbrough Empire, and the legendary Tall Trees in Yarm – I figured this was OK enough for Blackpool and at least, I thought, I could still say I was part of a cool set and follow the only things I cared about – writing, films and music! I believe in those books, he refers to this under the guise of his own experiences with the “Drug Barron’s”!
One night on a break from my straight music venues – when I just wanted to dance to poptastic crap until I bumped into a gay old hunk an got laid – I met an eager young man. We danced like idiots, drank like fish and had a brilliant evening, though the beer was yet to wear off. I believe he is the smiley, hearing aid wearing geek, Harry in those books – also Leigh, but he is known as Stephen (among other names) to me personally.
Anyway, that night, back at Stephen’s tiny rented single room, I squashed into his child’s bed with him and had an awful night’s sleep, the kind only a young lad can tolerate with ease, but I was not at home, with my MOTHER – which was always a plus!
When we woke, Harry announced that I should meet his ‘best friend’, who lived downstairs. It felt a little awkward as if Stephen didn’t really want me to meet him. This was a semi-detached by a neon horse carousel roundabout owned by a much loved and extremely popular older man on the gay scene, Ian Warren – who had turned each room into separate rented accommodations to help make ends meet, so I was hoping it wasn’t him. It wasn’t the kind of place one would hear the pop of a champagne cork and I was fully expecting to do the walk of shame down the prom within minuets.
Stephen’s friend’s living accommodation was the dining room on the ground floor, as is popular in Blackpool. I wasn’t expecting much, the house was cold, wood chipped and uninspiring upon entrance, so seeking out a new person whilst looking like shit and dying for a coffee? Awkward! So it was a bolt out of the blue when after theatrically knocking on the door and a voice within beckoning to enter – in total contrast to the rest of the house – Stephen opened it, to a sea of green – and a vision to behold.
It was a moment I would never forget. Turning from Sepia to Technicolor. From dank and drab to HELLO THERE! There, expectantly sat upright in bed and totally naked but for a pair of cheap tinted fashion glasses, there he was. The one. My young life changed right there and then, when I met, The Gypsy.
At that point in my life, I had not laid eyes on a more attractive, beguiling and breathtakingly confident young man. He was 17 – Reeking of Jean Paul Gaultier ‘Le Male’ – and to me he was exotic, exciting, beautiful… but intimidating. I was cute, he was stunning. He was tall, I was shorter. He had a southern twang, I was trying to hide my northern twang and so it went on — opposites attract? I thought so. I hoped so.
My type was an older man – solvent, mature, muscled and craggy. Preferably with tattoos, a skin head and filth in their eyes – that was my type! A type that wasnt working out too well and so this bolt out of the blue for sure spun me on my axis, and I knew, with all my nineteen year old soul… that we had connected in powerful ways. I sat perched on the end of his double bed, thunderstruck and mute as this Romany Gypsy on the run from his family in the final few months of his seventeenth year, and the camp he had just ‘escaped’ in time for his upcoming 18th – here he was, holding court with a ‘brave’ story of how he had run away from a life spent in a tin can, to finally be ‘discovered’ and become a fashion model.
ABOVE: The Gypsy “Mikey Walsh”
It was still early and Harry/Stephen decided that we should have a nap. I don’t think I said much at all – he was ‘handsy’ whilst I pretended to be asleep. I was so taken aback, I let him fondle me because something new was on the horizon. The Gypsy would much later tell me that I just stared at him, often with an open mouth – such was his vainglory to my naivety.
Yes, looking fixedly at my canvas, no doubt about it – damaged soul that I was – but I managed to fall asleep by wondering what on earth I could do about this threesome in which Stephen wasn’t welcome – but it wasn’t long before I was woken by a fully dressed Gypsy wiggling my big toe and tickling the sole of my foot, all eager and charming like he had found a new toy – an wow they do not let go, he never let go.
He announced that we should all head off into town, to the Disney Store which I loathed – having been forced to be the Mickey Mouse mascot during a Youth Trainee placement at Darlington’s Dolphin Center where I ran the soft play area and was terrorized by children. I thought I would never again have a thing to do with Mickey Mouse!
I would have done anything The Gypsy suggested though. The idea of spending the day with this person was so appealing and exciting that I would have agreed to go anywhere, dropped anything – in fact I did! Ah, those pictures of me as the mascot were featured in a promotion the Northern Echo – but I’m saving those images for a rainy day!
Anyways —- he felt up and analysed every crystal ball, ornament and soft toy there was. He went through every Disney musical repertoire there had ever been, it seemed – until he spied that his best friend Harry/Stephen was out of sight, and then he came at me over an assortment of Tigers and said in low hushed but firm tones, “I’ll get rid of him and meet you back here in an hour”.
Now as Machiavellian as this was of him, the charm offensive launched on me was so brilliantly executed and he, so gorgeous, that I was powerless to resist. That’s how they do it you see, I was now his absolute focus because I had many many things that he liked the look of but lacked himself and I couldn’t, I didn’t want to resist his charm, because I was so broken and in need of fixing, that this could only ever be the happy ever after everyone’s heard tell about, right?
Exotic, exciting, beautiful and beguiling and thirsty for me ? Of course I was showered, changed into my best and waiting with an open and trusting heart just an hour later, for my Gypsy Boy and what can now be viewed as a spectacularly doomed and sordid affair.