A few weeks pass. We have become an inseparable and dynamic couple. We spent long days in bed just eating toast, drinking tea and cuddling. The world outside could wait. We bonded with what felt like a magnetic force, as though we were two sympathetic elements, which had sought one another out. We were wildly different yet quite the same. We both grew up in tough male dominated surroundings, whilst being slightly effeminate and inherently afraid of machismo and fighting. We had faced fear, beatings and bullies. We had both yearned for that place to belong, as many young harassed ‘different’ boys do.
Growing up knowing, instinctively feeling, that you are different from other boys is the universal problem that many gay men face. Some can easily hide it and others, like Sean and I, could simply open our mouths to speak and it put pay to any doubt. Actions too, could involuntarily give the game away and display a slightly less than masculine quality to a very stout-hearted activity before we were even old enough to have any notion, of these differences. Differences which would push us into an alternative lifestyle. However, it was much harder for him, as this wouldn’t just push him into an alternative lifestyle but an alternative culture.
He was soaking up this new environment all of the time. We spent hours in the Disney store, Basils on the Strand (Blackpool’s original gay bar) and ‘Funny Girls’, the towns famous drag act, cabaret bar. Although dated, cheap and quite tacky, at our tender age this was the most glamorous thing we had ever seen. He was transfixed by Miss Bette Legs Diamond, the comical and talented star of the show.
I had an annoying habit of tapping him when I was speaking to him but he wouldn’t look anyway from the stage, or even blink it seemed. Simply batting my hand away as though I were a fly. He was utterly captivated by the camp renditions of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as I soaked up the atmosphere. Here we were, in this magical place where gay and straight people mixed and I had a boyfriend to stand proud with. Some looked on with fondness, other straight people, with pity and condolence but I didn’t care. I didn’t care because here we belonged. Here, we were happy and proud to be gay for the first time in our lives.
ABOVE: A late 1990’s performance, from the original ‘Funny Girls’ team, as it was when we were regulars.
By now I am now very familiar with his story. How he came to a decision, hatched a plan and ran away from the travelling community, leaving his family and his strict father far behind. How he was helped by his first boyfriend Calum, who orchestrated the getaway plan and dropped him off with enough money for a B&B for a week. He also arranged him a job, at Blackpool’s Super Bowl and Diner.
His mind was always elsewhere, never with me, never truly open. His love affair with Calum was short lived. Calum wanted to help out this young and beautiful Gypsy but couldn’t see a future in it. Some gay men are notoriously fickle when it comes to other peoples ‘baggage’ but he was thoroughly decent enough to help him out all that he could but ultimately, he was left alone in Blackpool.
He always described the moment when they were driving away with such affected but entertaining pomp. They blasted out Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and he felt particular relief and confidence in the lyrics ‘I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, and be someone’. Yes, he was on the run with a plan and he already had a canvas to project all of his hopes and desires onto, his story.
Because of Calum, Sean’s heart was closed off from me and although he was with me on the rebound, that didn’t stop him telling me that he loved me in less than a fortnight. He acted as though we were a unit that could face the world together, whilst concealing his true feelings. Covertly, he wanted somebody to make his life temporarily more comfortable now that Callum had left him, to fend for himself. I practically fell into his lap gift-wrapped. I was perfect for him, until it was time for him to move on. It was a cold, cunning and calculated advancement of his story.
ABOVE: The Gypsy. On the run with a plan.
I didn’t want to acknowledge, or admit this to myself. In retrospect denial can be breathtakingly effective when we want it to be. I was totally head over heels in love with him. The inflections in his voice, the way he would talk but trail the sentence off into a drawn out high pitched laugh, the colourful language he peppered his sentences with, his exotic smell and his touch made it a labour for me, when we were apart.
I missed him with a physical force. He was omnipresent in my mind and in my dreams. For the first time in my life I felt the physical force of grown up emotions, of love. Any notion I may have had, of things not being what they seemed, where very quickly and effectively pushed to the recesses of my mind. It couldn’t be, it was too perfect and wonderful and right and he does love me, he will love me.
“It’s alright for you” was his constant adage. Indeed, it was alright for me. I only worked 16 hours a week and lived rent free in my parent’s hotel, where meals and laundry were provided and shamefully I didn’t even have to make my own bed. I had a good life and was doing very well at college. I wanted it to be alright for him too. I loved him. I wanted to share the burdens he faced and I wanted him to be happy, settled and to belong.
Very quickly I decided that we should move in together. He would immediately have all of his bills slashed in half; better amenities, more electrical appliances (He didn’t even have a television or an iron) and more benefits than he could have twirled a baton at in the current position he was in, working at that down-market diner. So he didn’t have to give it much thought at all.
My mother was horrified but up to a point, she had always let me make my own mistakes. I would never have listened to anyone that said it was a bad idea. The basement flat below my older sisters flat had become vacant and she arranged with the landlady and my mother, for us to move in. It was rather chintzy for two young lads but it was an upmarket place for Blackpool.
We likened it to a ships cabin. It was a basement flat in a stone brick townhouse, kitted out entirely in wooden panels and clean plaster work. We had our own kitchen and bathroom, hallway and spacious bedroom and sitting area. There wasn’t a piece of cheap artex, or wood chip in sight and it was our palace. It was a place that he would never have been able to afford on his own and was a world away from where he currently resided.
It was a Friday afternoon. The Gypsy was at work at the diner and I was getting ready for a half day at college. We had lived there for a full week now. I was beaming with pride. The place was immaculate and I planned on inviting people back for dinner that evening. It would have been my first dinner party.
Back then I could cook two dishes, Spaghetti Bolognese and Lasagne but I felt incredibly grown up and independent here in my own flat, with a boyfriend that I was so proud of. I took one last look around at the immaculate flat and noticed that the ashtray was full. It’s hard for me to even imagine myself smoking now but it seemed like everyone did it back then and I was no different. I took the ashtray and emptied it into a wicker bin and off I went on my way to college.
When I arrived my tutor had that look, the look that makes you think somebody has died. He took me to a room where the police where already on the phone line with the incomprehensible words, “Mr Barron, there has been a fire at your home”.
I was taken back to the flat. The shock of it all was like an out of body experience, that I simply could not get my head around and my mind revolted its possibility, until I arrived. There were two fire engines, a sea of spectators, the police and my poor sister in her dressing gown being held up by two elderly ladies as thick black smoke flooded out of our basement windows. There was no breeze and it hung in the air around us all. It was a horrifying, creeping fear and doom.
Directly above the basement fire, my sister had been very ill in bed with a fever and only stirred because of an unusual, roaring noise beneath her. She had initially thought that the heat was a symptom of her fever and was quite inconsolable as she had laid in bed a long time before she realised her danger and alerted the emergency services.
I don’t know how I got through the hours that followed.