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 though, 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, even nicked one of her eiderdown quilts from The Barron’s Hotel for him, 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 this Gypsy that will set him in good stead for the future.
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 softly 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 ‘posh’ 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 feral man, coming straight for me with a hammer, with 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 Gypsy 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 grueling twelve-hour shift. Instead, I went to the management with the swagger of Alexis. They 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 realization 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 – then you can forget all about it?”
I looked at these two ladies and I wanted to kiss them, to 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 up 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 because Caprice Bourret said it was all the rage and I stuck naked male torsos on the wall.
One free weekend, 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 that hideous 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 ten years time, I would still be there, being and doing nothing. He was finally moving to London. He was going to make it. He was startlingly clear-minded. He was beaming with pride, that his plan was forging on ahead, like a well-oiled engine and he had come to give me my final (at least I thought 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 to leave me holding my hand in mid-air, and that is when I said it… that is when I sealed my own fate. Calling out his christian name, the real one that his mama gave him – he turned to me, his shoulders hunched in anticipation, and I told him… “Good luck with your story!” I drawled, like Alexis… adding the barb, “the most interesting thing about you, is me!”
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
I didn’t believe him. I was devastated and prideful, but he wasn’t right in what he said. Sure he could go to London, even make true his dream – but that couldn’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 from Cheshire? 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 and I had finally written to my favorite writer, AA Gill at the Sunday Times. He didn’t reply direct – instead, like a snake, he took Jeremy Clarkson on a road-trip there, to rip the piss in the Culture supplement. Still… it was a thrill to have made an impression.
My life had taken a massive detour when I met that Gypsy, and when he left me, I was devastated. broken and lost – but it catapulted me into what became, a nonstop hedonistic indulgent cloud that lasted for years. I was often in a world that jarred with my flat northern vowels, or in one that never encouraged and I was pushed into a pretentious way of acting. I cried in secret. I told no one about my past – that is how many survivors cope. I didn’t care at all about any of this looking at the past business, I didn’t care if I died. I was wrong footed in life from the beginning, in ways that never allowed me to wake up.
Bad folk look for that – they look for people who are easily coerced, stupid, lost and trusting, and I was all four. So its safe to say that the London he conquered, is the London came to know whilst getting over him, and that quickly discarded as a want or drive.
The Gypsy was never far from my mind in those days. All of the people placed myself around were exciting and stimulating, which really helps mend a broken heart. I needed, a magical undoing – a chase for an idol, a savior – anything but the messes I found myself in and who looked back in the mirror at me, I was a complete mess. Not because of him, these relationship heartaches heal naturally and I exercised London out of my dreams the year after he left me. I mean because I was already so broken when he met me.
It was even lonelier over on the gay scene. When I wasn’t with these pretend jet-setters, all playing along with my Joan Collins gags, I was using Blackpool’s gay establishments like an annex to my living room. I was so comfortable there that I never stayed in. I was out every night. I freaked out when someone asked me where I saw myself in 5 years time.
From club nights, lazy pub nights, to festivals and good old Flamingo’s. I still had a home in music. For me, music was the biggest healing tool, and there’s nowt like dancing in a gay bar surrounded by kindred. The beauty, rush and love that came from the music was mesmerizing, and easy to hide in = bathed in light, smiles, alcohol and friendly men.
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. Usually because I was off my tits. Bathed in those bright lights, I found beauty and imagination. I was given the vacuous, one-dimensional, empty nick-name,’ Smiler.’ This behavior 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 moved on. I built a bridge and got over it.
The party was wearing thin and I still longed for sense and security. The scene and some friends, are just not good for us. I was sure that I was never to find true companionship, here on this scene. I had to find myself, first. It all gets too much, and I became aware that everyone was looking in the wrong places. I was so so wrong myself, and interfered with like you wouldn’t believe. One women, kindly told me that if her gay son was anything like me, its the only time she’d be ashamed of a gay.
My eyes were rolling in the back of my head mind, so it was the wake up call I needed. I was perpetually misunderstood or coerced, looked at like an idiot but at least she said something that resonated with me. Oh, that was some Christmas.
I flew to Mexico, alone, that following spring. Certain to find some meaning in life again. 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 my time of birth; the sun projects an undulating pattern of light that suggests a massive serpent snaking down the structure.
I mean – that was one way I could and would find myself there? Oh, I had desperately wanted to do this with the gypsy but of course his story was more urgent.
If we climbed that Pyramid? Wouldn’t that be majestic I would say. These are normal thoughts for a 20 year old, right? Well later when I flew, alone – yes this was ludicrously self-indulgent – with only myself to indulge, why not hope renewal comes?
ABOVE: 5228.33 miles away from home
One evening as I walked along the beach, admiring the clearest and most awe-inspiring sky I had seen anywhere on earth, as I climbed a rock all of my own – a meteor burst across the heavens large enough to make a sound. Breaking at the moment I felt a clarity envelop me as I wished, yes like a proper lost soul, for my instantaneous heart’s desire in that moment. For the first time since I was a very little boy, for the first times since I was just the boy from willow road. I wished for the only thing that I wanted, couldn’t find and had never had since my grandfathers death. To be loved and to be loved in return. Understood and accepted, safe and protected is what my small mind imagined love to be and I knew that existed, because I had loved that boyfriend so much, it had to.
I could go without people, but I couldn’t go without a person, to love, touch and merge with. So I laid out my desires upon this lucky lucky shooting Mexican star, right after climbing my pyramid. Well I thought I had wished. It was more a premonition. So, my grandfather.
I knew that he would have to have a true spirit, as beautiful as his outer shell, and I knew he must have a shaved head or be bald, with a handsome face and tattoos, with a regional accent. We would have to complement each other, never compete. Finally, in a myriad of ways, he must also be a separate and individual character. This was passed to the star in a few seconds, in an affirmation of my heart’s desire. That I might never, ever again, be wrong footed enough to share a bed and a heart with a lair, a cheat and a dirty low down chancer full of greed, self and agenda. Trust, is everything. truth, is everything.
When I returned to England, I cut the friends and entered a new managerial realm in work, like a career – which had moved onto other areas since the Arcade robbery. Within six months of my Mexican jaunt, I met the love of my life. True story.
In the same manner, I met the Gypsy, I knew immediately how I felt about my star-man, and they are lightning bolts. Love at first sight is twice for me now. Happily, this time he felt the same way. I was giddy and casual on our first date, rather than insecure and mute like I had been, and unlike the Gypsy, this one was native, settled, older, masculine and looking for me.
We are of course, still together nearing two decades later, and as romantic and symbolic as it is, to look back at my wishing on that star, in a place I would never have been had I not believed in my own ways of interacting with existence – it has, in reality, more to do with the mental shift and belief that our minds can overcome.
That affirmation paid off. I never settled for anything less than love for love. I never used anybody, even though I could have and I never took from anyone. I just waited and watched 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.
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. Yes, 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 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 now love a man this hard, or feel this secure and content, 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 love today and held onto it, without having first experiencing this titanic Gypsy. I am proud that I loved him 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 psyche that I now draw such happiness from.
But something sinister was coming, that attempted to pull at my psyche once more and so it was with a nostalgic, uncertain and obscure fascination, when into my life through the media I so adored, came another premonition, or curse as it might well have been.
When I last parted company with the gypsy boy’s, ‘Harry’. I had not seen him for many years. But he was watching me like a sly fox, hidden in the corner of Queer, sly like a self satisfied lynx watching his prey back in 2004. Being me, I approached him and asked through awkward small talk, if he still saw the Gypsy. He said that he did, of course. In a tone that was creepy, smirking and weirdly knowing. I asked him, would you please tell him that I am sorry, and I said again – we were so young, and I feel that I didn’t handle things well at all, wish him well, please? I chose to do this because the gypsy had rejected my apologies as he headed to London, but here I was, still offering peace. Harry said of course he would tell him, but left me with a 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 but I was quite afraid and disturbed by his tone, menace and horrid eyes – the gypsy had refused to shake my hand all those years ago, and told me he was going to make it and I still desired closure, but I hadn’t been that bad – had I? I turned to my friend, who had that typical ‘yeah right’ gay blase look on his face… and I said, “Don’t for one minute think that he is joking, you don’t know the Gypsy!”