The Gypsy (Pt 3) Ivy Grows

Mark Stevens AKA Mikey Walsh

“When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall, we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper.”

Anthony Trollope

Things calmed down at the site. The fire had been vanquished. My sister had held my hand, as I dealt with the rage of the landlady. Now I needed to go to the diner. I had to tell the Gypsy, that everything had gone, our home was no more. It was a hellish, atrocious ordeal and I felt so incredibly guilty that I couldn’t breathe. I was totally numb. I cannot even put into words the horror, shock and overwhelming conscience of responsibility that I clutched to my reeling heart.

Not only had I burned down our brand new home, that we had not even become unaccustomed to but I endangered the life of my sister, I made myself and my beautiful boyfriend homeless and I had wrecked the property of a landlady that had known me for the unimpressive length of one week.

All of this havoc, distress and upheaval, was due to a simple, thoughtless action. The irony is of course, that I emptied the ashtray into the bin because it looked unsightly for my visitors, for my first dinner party. Out of the purest intentions, a monstrosity can rise.

Over at the Super Bowl and Diner, he was allowed out and we sat on the bench outside. I told him. He didn’t believe me at first, just watching the passers-by for a while but then eventually surrendered to the dreadful truth. We stayed at my parents that night. The next day and for the next six weeks, whilst the flat was renovated, he stayed with two girls from the Diner. They had a spare room that they sub-let to him, an attic conversion with children’s decorations but it was for a peppercorn rent and well, beggars cannot be choosers.

ABOVE: An adoring Anka put the Gypsy up for six weeks

If ever there was an opportunity to break up with me and if anything could test our relationship to its utter limit, this was it. He could have been free of me completely. He found the fire very difficult to take in. He was without mercy or care for how I felt, yet he continued with our relationship with a renewed might, that was clearly fuelled on fury and umbrage. He was massively resentful and at times spiteful about the fire but it gave him more power over me. I was still convenient for him and my new found, expressively remorseful and regretful state, was perfectly advantageous.

I was so anxious and distraught, I was silently dying inside but I couldn’t put myself ahead of what I had done to the others. I just had to put myself last. I decided. I had to do all I possibly could do to make it up to them all.

There were not enough hours of work offered at the nightclub, Edwards. I wanted to get a full time job and have more money to make our lives better when we moved back into the renovated flat. So I abandoned college. I adored it. I was in the same year as Jody Prenger, who would later go on to win Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s BBC talent show, I’d Do Anything and storm the West End.

I loved every second of studying film, photography and media. Being around all of those creative and talented people was marvellous. I was doing so well that my tutor followed me outside of college and around town, begging me to come back. He put up a fight. My class mates were also adamant that I was making the biggest mistake of my life but I left anyway.

I left because to me this was not the number one priority. I left to sort out the mess I was in and I left for love. Love has always been more important to me than anything else. To love and be loved in return would have been worth the sacrifice.

ABOVE: Me at Blackpool and Fylde College, Lancashire.

To renew relations with the landlady I went to the flat every day and I scrubbed and cleaned. I helped with the restoration of our flat even though her insurance covered everything, I was compelled to help the professionals and I did as much as I possibly could day and night.

Before work got underway, The Gypsy surveyed the damage and we collected anything that could be salvaged but he didn’t step foot in there again, until it was finished. Saying to me in his caustic drawn-out, southern vowels, “I won’t put a foot through that door until every, last, f**king, thing, is, in, place”. It was as though he hated me from the depths of hell. Who could have blamed him? I hoped it would pass. I hoped he would forgive me. I thought we would move on.

In retrospect, now that I am a grown man, I could not imagine letting my partner go through any of that alone. With no compassion or comfort for the suffering they felt. I couldn’t let them scrub charcoal off walls until their nails bled. Whilst I watched videos with the girls, floated through the Disney store, or hugged a diet coke in a gay bar for hours, telling all that would listen about the latest catastrophe to befall this Gypsy on the run.

He took out a bank loan for £1,500. We needed to replace items of clothing. He gave great consideration, to buying me something, or to splitting it in half. I was eager to take half from him, not because of the cash but because it was a commitment. I mean he is serious about me, he is giving me all this money and he won’t leave me if I owe him money, will he? Perfect.

So we jump train to Manchester and do what all sensible young gay men do when their wardrobe has gone up in smoke. We headed straight for Vivienne Westwood of course. Unfortunately the fire didn’t claim his ankle length black trench coat. It had the seams cut out of the inner pocket, so that he could drop stolen goods down into the bottom of the jacket seams, evading alarms on the way out. (I was always very daunted by shopping with him after he was caught with an unpaid Mariah Carey CD and marched to the cop-shop).

None the less we needed some new kit and I plumped for Ricky Martin style leather trousers, ‘Spice Girls’ inspired pumps and a myriad of tight Lycra tops. During our shopping trip he would walk two steps in front of me. I would have to walk faster to keep up and it wasn’t easy in those shoes. He is taller than me and he was still raging as he took strides around the city. I felt like an unwelcome appendage. I remember talking to one guy in Manchester’s Cruz 101 who was shocked that he was my partner, as he had ignored me the whole night and flirted with people right in front of me. I still thought it would pass. I hoped he would forgive me soon. He was just angry.

ABOVE: Oh dear. What can I say? That is ‘bed head’ by the way.

Back in Blackpool, the tables had really started to turn.  I don’t for one moment blame him for my decision to leave further education but I did fall even further into the palm of his hands in doing so. He encouraged me to do it with an air of expectancy.

I had arranged with the management to pass on to Sean, my part time job at Edwards bar. He despised the diner and its polyester uniform that reeked of chip fat and he dropped his Super Bowl friends, like hot potatoes for the funkier Edwards set.

Yes it was a real turn of fortunes that had a rather parasitic element to it. He was now working fewer hours, in my sociable old role at Edwards, bonding with my old colleges. Whilst I now inhabited a darker world, a world where there was no college and no college friends. Where there was no funky Edwards bar, for me at least. A world where there wasn’t even any love and affection coming from the Gypsy, just an overarching pressure, obligation and guilt.

I had found full time work in an arcade at the bottom of our road. Counting teddy bears and sitting in a ‘cashbox’, handing out 2p buckets of dirty coins for 12 hours a day, six days a week. It was a garish, tacky place. No taste nor aesthetics. No thought for comfort and style.

There was no natural daylight. It was a box. It was a place where people would eat from polystyrene containers. Where you would see trainers worn with trousers that had never seen an iron. Some people say that Blackpool is a British Las Vegas. They have clearly never been to Las Vegas.

I was trapped for 12 hours a day in an alien environment. Literally locked into a cashbox of brass and glass. The only other staff I had access to during these unbelievably long shifts, where the ‘Floorwalkers’ who were all part of a specially hired family of dwarves, whose responsibility and sole purpose it seemed, was to clear jams in the coin machines and terrorise children.

I was constantly bathed in fluorescent light and random emissions from the multicoloured flashing machines. They made the noise of a thousand cheap animated birthday cards, all opened at once. Yes, as bright and garish as this was, I now inhabited a darker world.