The move to Manchester went ahead without me, both the Gypsy and Harry had left and my plans to sabotage their union failed. He took me back, on and off each day at a time, usually when he needed something. It got silly and irrational. I helped them move. I furnished him with my television, music system and VHS deck as a way to repay the loan money I had owed to him. I would make the train journey to meet with him, still hoping to reunite but he was only interested in seeing me when he needed twenty quid, or wanted to borrow something that he never returned. I always came with a goody bag of essentials, taken from whatever my mother could spare but I was kept in limbo – he was still playing me.
If I could write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self, among many things, I would tell him that one day he will meet a mysterious Gypsy. That this Gypsy would have a manipulative agenda that would turn his world upside down. That he would fall head over heels in love. I would explain that there is little he could do to stop those feelings and that they are natural feelings, which will run their course. Most importantly I would inform him that he will learn many invaluable lessons from the Gypsy that will set him in good stead for the future. I would advise about dignity, poise and control, so that perhaps his actions and his retaliation, would have been more measured and thought out. This is of course, hypothetical, impossible and somewhat indulgent.
On my final trip of mercy to Manchester, to try and win him back, he finally let it be known in black and white. Outside of his new place of work, Bar 38, I stood as he showed an unusual glimmer of pity and compassion. He explained that he had moved on and that we were not to see each other again. At all. That it was best for both of us. I begged. Humiliatingly, I stood there in the street and begged him, as his co-workers looked on from the window, laughing as I pleaded with no dignity or control.
That was it. He didn’t need me for anything at all now. His parting words with a pitiful look were, “Don’t listen to any of that depressing music and you’ll be OK”. I vowed at that moment, with all of my being, that I would never again feel that low, used, expired, humiliated and desperate. That another person could crush my spirit so magnificently, was a revelation that educated and strengthened me.
I coped and adjusted, I started the healing process by doing what most young gay men would have done. I cut my hair. I hit the gym, entered a new circle of friends and I got myself my very own Joan Collins.
ABOVE: I was deeply unhappy but forged new friendships
Over in my prison of brass and glass, as depressing as it was, things were getting better. I had evenings out with new and exciting people to look forward to and I could now serve the customers their pots of 2p coins and look them in the eye without turning my head to the side and letting tears drop from my face.
Deep in thought and almost comatose from boredom, I reached forward for my Jelly Babies and noticed in my peripheral vision, the security guard running out of the door in the most unusual manner. As my eyes followed him, I immediately let the sweets fall out of my hand as I locked eyes with a man, coming straight for me with a hammer and another man behind him.
Before the Jelly babies hit the floor I bolted upright, to allow myself to slide off my chair and onto the floor of the cash-box. Glass smashed all around me as I took shelter beneath the shelving. From outside, the deep masculine voices became inaudible terrifying vibrations, as resonant and powerful as the shaking prison I cowered in. The box shook and the glass fell all around me as the thieves took all that they could reach for. I pressed the panic button that in training had always been so important a feature to get over to the newly inducted and glazed over recruits. The wires were bare and it wasn’t linked to any electricity. There would be no help coming and I didn’t care. Even though all of that, I sat and thought about the Gyspy and I thought about how those men with their hammers couldn’t hurt me as much as he had done.
ABOVE: A poor image but the only picture I have of my cash-box.
The next day I did not turn in for my gruelling twelve-hour shift. Instead, I went to the management, who were always distant figures that controlled their six site arcades from their ‘Lucky Star’ offices overlooking the beach. I was so livid that I didn’t care who I would meet there, they were going to get a piece of my mind. I told them that they had compromised, in fact totally failed, to safeguard my health and safety and not only was I resigning, but I was also proceeding with legal action.
Sharon and Janet, the managers, looked at one another, as though visually examining each other for a clue what to do. Janet suggested they find a role that was more suited to my character and that I shouldn’t leave. Sharon looked in realisation and said “Yes, yes. You could be…? Be…?”, before Janet interjected with “Office and Stock Controller. Working 9-5, with no weekends and with your own office and then you can forget all about it”.
I looked at these two ladies and I wanted to kiss them and do a can-can dance. Office staff used to turn my stomach with deep envy when they finished on a Friday evening, as early as 4pm. I would be confined to my prison of brass and glass for at least another thirty hours until they cheerily said hello, come Monday morning. Yes, I wanted to kiss them there and then but I simply and calmly said, “If I can decorate my office and have a clothing allowance, I will take your offer”
ABOVE: My new office. The nightmare of the cash-box was over and I am not talking about the robbery. I decorated it in mustard paint and stuck naked male torsos on the wall.
I was having a drink in a bar, ‘The Flying Handbag’, when the Gypsy walked straight in and across to the gentlemen’s. Still wearing the ankle-length trench coat and still, by the look of it, on a mission. My heart was in my mouth. In those few seconds of seeing him again, I felt a dread pull me into my seat and I was physically shaking. Please, no I thought, this is going to set me back again.
I followed him to the lavatory, where he was stood waiting and breathing heavily. I greeted him with smiles and said, “I can’t believe you’re here, that I’ve seen you”. He looked at me with vengeful abhorrence, his body language was in self-righteous posturing and he launched an unbelievable, unprovoked and shocking attack on me. He had deliberately come back to Blackpool, found me and walked in there knowing that I would follow him, with the sole intention of wiping the floor of the gentlemen’s toilets with me.
He told me that I would amount to nothing, that he was not surprised to see me because if he came back to this ‘dump’ in fifty years time, I would still be there, being and doing nothing. He was moving to London. He was going to make it. He was startlingly clear-minded. He was finally off to London, he was beaming with pride that his plan was forging on ahead, like a well-oiled engine. He had come to give me my final Gypsy Boy blast.
I was really shocked, the last time I had seen him he warned me not to listen to depressing Portishead music and told me I would be alright. Here he was in front of me, giving me this tirade. Things were on the up for him and I held out my hand, I wanted to wish him all the best of luck and say goodbye in a proper manner but he wouldn’t take it, barging past me and leaving me holding my hand in mid-air.
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
I didn’t believe him. I was devastated but he wasn’t right in what he said. Sure he could go to London and make it but that won’t alter me, it won’t take my integrity away, that’s his life. What he thinks about me, he has no right to think. Of course, I was healing my broken heart but I was not as weak as when he last saw me and I did not let him win. It just left an uncomfortable feeling with me. He wouldn’t grant me the decency of closing that chapter. I thought it would have been healthy for the pair of us, to shake hands like men and not hold any grudges but he knew better.
Meanwhile, what better surroundings could I have wished for, to heal my broken heart, than in the company of my new glamorous female friends? What’s more, is that I was blessed with this new job. Every weekend was free and I had more money. I swapped the vulgarity of Blackpool for Lytham St Annes and Alderley Edge, Cheshire. I was taken to many of London’s finest Park Lane establishments and I was educated in how things are done. It was a seductive and smart world of fast cars, top restaurants and private members clubs. I met people that I had only read about in magazines and seen on the television.
My life had taken a missive dip when I met the Gypsy. When he left me I was devastated but it catapulted me into what became, a nonstop hedonistic indulgent party which lasted for years. It was often a world which jarred with my flat northern vowels and I was pushed into a rather pretentious way of acting but I didn’t care at all about any of this. I was healing, learning and growing. The Gypsy was never far from my mind in those days. All of the people around me were exciting, engaging and stimulating but I felt quite alone. I was never really, truly open with them and I was never happy being alone. I needed to be loved.
It was even lonelier over on the gay scene. When I wasn’t with the jet-setters, I was using all of Blackpool’s gay establishments like an annexe to my living room. I was so comfortable there that I never stayed in. I was out almost every night. From club nights, lazy pub nights, to festivals. I found a home in music. For me, music was the biggest healing tool. The beauty and the love that came from the music was mesmerising.
Trance, Hi-NRG, Classic Disco and Progressive House. It didn’t matter. I was a brilliant dancer. Intuitive to the sound and to the beat, I was uninhibited and relaxed and I shook my little ass as the bass massaged my chest and heart. A circle of people would form around me. Bathed in those bright lights, I found beauty and peace. I was given the vacuous, one-dimensional, empty nick-name, Smiler.
his behaviour continued for a long time until I had been in another failed relationship and the Gypsy and the hurt he caused me, was not such a painful memory. I could smell Jean-Paul Gaultier without thinking of him right away. I had long stopped thinking about him every day. I had healed, grown and moved on. I built a bridge and got over it.
There was always something missing though. The party was wearing thin and I longed for more, I had accidentally fallen into this ‘Smiler’ mode and I decided that I had to shake it off. The scene and some friends were just not good for me. I was sure that I was never to find love, here on this scene. I had to stop this. I had to find myself. It all got too much and I became aware of ageing.
I flew to Mexico alone. I had long since read about Kukulcán’s Pyramid and its descent of the snake god. I was born on the Vernal Equinox (March 21) and at precisely my time of birth; the sun projects an undulating pattern of light that suggests a massive serpent snaking down the structure. I was sure that I would find myself there if I climbed that Pyramid. This was ludicrously self-indulgent but I only had myself to indulge and boy did I indulge myself.
ABOVE: I sought solitude and reflection so that I could take action
One evening as I walked along the beach, admiring the clearest and most awe-inspiring sky I had ever seen, a magnificent shooting star, burst across the heavens. At that moment I felt a total clarity envelop me and I wished for my heart’s desire, for the first time since I was a little boy.
I wished for the only thing that I wanted and couldn’t find. To love and to be loved in return. I knew that it existed, it had to. I felt so strongly about it that I had discounted everyone that made advances toward me because I didn’t feel that immediate connection like I had done with the Gypsy. So I laid out my heart’s desire upon this lucky star.
I knew what he would look like, from his shaved head, handsome face and manly tattoos, to how his sexy regional accent sounded. I knew that he would have a spirit just as beautiful as his outer shell and that he would love me as much as I loved him. We would complement each other in a myriad of ways yet still be separate and individual. This was passed to the star in a few seconds, in an affirmation of my heart’s desire.
When I got back to England, I cut the friends that were not working and I entered a new managerial realm in my work, which had moved onto other areas since the Arcade. I stopped the partying and within six months I met the love of my life. In the same manner, I met the Gypsy, I knew immediately how I felt about him and it was like a lightning bolt. This time he felt the same way as I did. I was giddy and casual, rather than insecure and mute like I had been before and unlike the Gypsy, he was native, settled, masculine and I was just his ‘type’.
We are of course, still together, and as romantic and symbolic as it is, to look back at my wishing on that star, it has, in reality, more to do with the mental shift and belief that I had in my mind. That affirmation paid off. I never settled for anything less than love for love. I ever used anybody even though I could have, I never took form anyone knowing that I did not love them, I just waited and trusted and believed I deserved it. I waited for the one who would love me back and even though I had never met him, I knew exactly who he was.
“Weaving Spiders Come Not Here”
– William Shakespeare
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. It was like a canvas that I projected all of my hopes and desires onto. 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 but in doing so and falling in love with him, the subsequent fallout from it educated me in invaluable ways.
Nobody can penetrate what I now share with my partner and whatever happens in the outside world, whatever anybody does to me and whatever life throws at me, it is cushioned and softened by that unity and that love. The foundation that we have built our lives on is not accessible to threat, nor rot from the outside.
I wouldn’t have this love, security and continuity without the lessons of the Gypsy. I feel that we must be crushingly unsuccessful at something in order to make a success of it in the future. Perhaps I may not have found this love and held onto it without having first experienced the Gypsy.
I am proud that I loved the Gypsy with such depth. The love for him and deep pain that I felt because of him came from the same well inside of my heart and soul that I now draw such joy and happiness from.
So it was with a nostalgic, uncertain and obscure fascination that I parted company with Harry. I had approached him in a Manchester bar recently. I had not seen him for many years. I asked if he still saw the Gypsy. He said that he did, in a tone that was creepily smiling and knowing. I asked him, can you please tell him that I am sorry, we were so young and I feel that I didn’t handle things well at all, wish him well, please.
He said, of course, he would tell him and then left me with the parting line. “You make quite an interesting addition to the story of his life and they are turning it into a film”. I smiled as he walked away and I turned to my friend, who had a that typical ‘Yeah right’ gay look on his face and I said, “Don’t for one minute think that he is joking, you don’t know the Gypsy”.