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The writing blog of James Christopher Sheppard. I am a 26 year old gay male from London, UK. Here I present my experiences, poems, thoughts and opinions...

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Saturday, 25 December 2010

Same Script, Different Part

               I thought I would experience some kind of profound epiphany about what Christmas really means to me today. For the first time in my some 27 years, this is the first Christmas Day that I have not spent it with family. As part of my contract at my part time job, I am responsible, along with the other weekend receptionist- my flatmate and good friend Chloe, to work all weekends and holidays. I have escaped working Christmas Day for the past two Christmases, but this year there was little evading. Due to there being no public transport on the 25th and 26th December, as a non-driver, wherever I am on the evening of Christmas Eve, is where I am stuck until the 27th December- unless someone is willing to drive me around, which given the season, is very few people. As my Mum is spending this Christmas at her home in Hull and my Dad is spending his with his wife and daughter in their home in East Grinstead, parents were out of the equation, which as a single person, doesn’t leave many other options. So to avoid both Chloe and I giving up Christmas to sit at a reception desk for 12 hours each day, I thought I’d just do it. That way I won’t feel guilty about anyone else having to do it, I’ll get double pay and I don’t have to fit around other people’s lives and feel the pressure of making Christmas magical.
               So here I have sat, since 6.45am, alone at my desk. The desk I have sat at for at least 12 hours every weekend since April 2008. I’ll be here until 7pm, in case you were wondering. Surprisingly I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I really thought I would be. In fairness, I have a delicious homemade Christmas dinner in the fridge that I cooked last night and brought with me, I had smoked salmon and cream cheese for breakfast, I’ve done some work, watched the Nativity and all in all, it could be worse. At least no-one is annoying me. I guess if the day is just about acceptable, it will surpass all expectations, making this possibly the best Christmas I’ll have had for quite some time.
               I loved Christmas as a child. For the first 9 years of my life, I would spend a sleepless night frustrated in my bed, waiting for morning to come. It was the longest wait imaginable. I’d be out of bed by 7am, go downstairs to the lounge with my Mum and sister and open the bundles of shiny wrapped gifts that had been neatly placed in two large sacks, one blue which was mine, and a white one for my sister. I would sit on one sofa and my sister would take the other, while Mum would usually kneel on the floor passing us gifts and assisting us in unboxing toys and checking how they worked. After all presents were unwrapped and the disarray of wrapping was cleared from the floor, my sister and I would retreat to our rooms and prepare for the arrival of our Grandparents. Our Dad would surface from his lay in at around 10am and begin cleaning and cooking. He was very OCD about cleaning and housework back then. It was best to keep out of his way when he was mid-cleaning splurge, which was most of the time.
               Our Dad’s Mum and husband Terry would arrive between 11am and noon bearing more presents. At around 1pm our Mum’s parents would arrive for dinner. For ten minutes maximum, the house would be bustling with both sets of grandparents, my sister and I happy and expectant and my parents doing their best to get on. That was possibly my favourite ten minutes of the whole year. Then my Dad’s parents would leave and we would exchange more gifts and then have dinner. Dinner was always the best meal we would have all year; a massive roast with Christmas pudding with thick cream and a glass of watered down wine. We’d sit around the dining room table until Granddad started to become less talkative and retire to the lounge for his annual afternoon nap. The evening would be filled with playing with new toys, watching Christmas specials and music videos and finally having tea which would be a cold salad style buffet.
               My brother’s birth in 1994 changed Christmas somewhat. I was no longer the baby of the family, but the older brother by nearly ten years- something nothing can prepare you for. Not only was the focus at Christmas on the little person in the family, but I had to give up my bedroom and share a room for the first time in my life, and throughout my teen years. Christmas changed but was still exciting and followed a similar formula. The biggest change came in 1997 when my Mum’s Mum past away, as I have written before. She died close to Christmas and so the season of joy and celebration turned to a holiday of sadness and loss. Since then Christmas lost its structure. There were no sleepless nights or piles of gifts and fewer and fewer guests came to our house.
               Now we are into the next generation and my sister has her children and husband, my mum lives 250 miles North with my brother and my Dad lives with his new family. I look forward to Christmas in the future when I am working full time and so the automatic time off work will be a welcomed break and I can visit friends and family at my leisure. I am now the visitor, the Uncle, the friend of the family; an interesting transition that, like being a much older brother, no-one can prepare you for.

I wish everyone the most magical of Christmases.
               

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Haunting Past

I don’t know if it’s the life writing project I am currently in the midst of or if it’s the crossroads I am stood at in my life, but there are episodes and people from the past ten years that are on my mind more than ever. What did happen? Was I wrong to walk away from certain people at pivotal moments? What, if anything, do they think or remember of me? In my first serious relationship in 2002, I couldn’t accept its breakdown as I pleaded that one day we would die and the other one would be confronted with this and by then it would be too late. Over-dramatic maybe, but there is some harsh truth to it. We choose to eclipse people from our day to day lives, but if we were told later on that they had died, how would we feel about cutting them out? Are there people that we were once inseparable from that we will now never see again? Never speak another word to? Never know what they achieved or who they married or if they ever succeeded on their great life plan? I’m sure a large proportion of people we do loose along our paths are gone for good reason, but some, looking back ten years later, seem a great shame. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Depression Confession

Sometimes the wave of melancholy is irrepressible. Lethargy of the mind sets about preventing any useful logical thought and rusts the foundations I spent so long re-enforcing. Your voice is shrill and is burning my taught drum like spitting boiling oil. What will it take to make you realise that I don’t care? Make you understand that you are pushing me further towards the inferno? My forced smile is hollow. I do this for an easy life; so you will leave me alone. You don’t pay attention though, you don’t shut up. When will it be clear to you that I want to be alone? Want, need, crave- you’re making my lungs shrink. Yes I am hopeless in these moments of bleak clarity, because I cannot escape. You have the effect of electric drills being hammered into my skull; the dirty cold metal gritting through bone. It sets my teeth on edge. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Transience

Conceal them all
Demanded the queen of hearts
That way they will remain
Protected
Frozen
Indestructible
Pour concrete onto the garden
Prevent the stench from escaping
What good can come from rot and decay?
How did this road maintain its inhabitants before man grew so advanced?

Push up little one
Dislodge the suffocating slab of death
Trip the man that buried you
Shatter him as he falls
Plastic will not perish.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Unfortunate Fantasies

            Tomorrow I am going to see Patrick Wolf perform live at the Bloomsbury Ballroom! It will be the seventh time I have seen him. The first time was at Reading festival 2007 and from then the infatuation grew. I have even had very memorable dreams where Patrick and I are involved in a passionate romantic affair. While I’m not sure it’s wise for me to share such information, I find it quite amusing. Back in the summer of 2007 I had such a vivid dream where Patrick Wolf and I were so in lust with each other that I found myself longing for him for several days afterwards and obsessively listening to all of the albums he had released by that time.  Sadly, that was one of the last times that I experienced any sense of romantic feeling for anyone else, and to add insult to injury, he is a musician and it was purely fantastical.

            In gay land, in other words what is expected of me as a gay man, I seem to be a failure in the sense of romance and having a love life altogether. I’m often bombarded with questions from other gay men about how my love life is and ‘are you getting any action?’ I can't think what possessed them to ask such questions and what kind of answer they expect to get. Surely if I had found a love interest and things were going well I’d have mentioned it? Or you would imagine they would have noticed some sort of change in behaviour. But no, nothing seems to spark the questioning off other than apparent curiosity. Following my consistent disinterested response, they then take on a regretful, apologetic tone. Don’t be fooled however, this is not a tone of being sorry for dragging up such a mundane conversation stopper; this is their response to my ‘No, no, still single.’ They then proceed to try and council me as to why I am single. I cannot fathom why it is so immensely difficult for some people to understand that some of us are quite content in being single. They then ask ‘well wouldn’t you like to meet someone?’

            The thing I struggle with understanding the most are serial daters; people that have a total inability to be by themselves for any lengthy duration of time. Of course, it would be wonderful for all of us to meet someone we deem as amazingly intelligent, interesting and attractive and who feels the same way about us, but let’s face it, that actually very very rarely happens. I constantly witness forced relationships, where they are quite clearly doomed from the start. From my own experience, I have only witnessed a handful of loving committed relationships that have stood the test of time and I obviously can’t pretend to really know just how happy the two individuals really are. Adultery and divorce seem to be less surprising in today’s society than a lasting, visibly happy relationship. Perhaps this is the way it has always been, but in the past it was impossible to divorce and sex before marriage was harshly frowned upon.

            As I look to the future, I don’t envision myself in a relationship with anyone. I like to think I will one day find someone that I am attracted to that is attracted to me (both mentally and phycially), but these things are out of our control. People tell me I won’t find anyone if I don’t go out into London’s bustling gay scene regularly, but I cannot imagine realistically meeting  someone I could form a serious bond with in an alcohol fuelled, dark, loud, heaving environment. I am 26 now. I am happy in my 26 year old self, but I feel my days of heavy nights out are probably behind me. Every now and again I like to go out and go crazy, but for the majority of the time, give me a cocktail bar and get me home by midnight, thanks very much! Coming to university at 23 I think has held me up in meeting potential partners. Despite the age gap generally only being five years, I have discovered that we are completely different places. 21 year olds are all about sex. They want sex whenever they can potentially get sex, especially if they are gay and male, maybe because it’s so much easier. Another thing people don’t seem to grasp- I could get laid if I was desperate, I do get offers from all kinds of random places and people, but random sex just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. It’s boring and leaves me feeling unfulfilled, used and dirty.


            In reference to my previous blog, the snow thawed at the weekend, even though it is now back to below freezing, and my leg appears to be healed. I’m having quite an unusual December at the moment as my money has run out and I am due to be paid next from my part time receptionist job at Clayhill halls of residence on Wednesday 22nd December! This means I have bought NO Christmas presents yet. Originally I thought we were going to be paid on Friday 17th which would allow me to attend the staff Christmas meal that Friday, buy all the presents I need on the Monday and Tuesday, get them wrapped and then have a few days before Christmas to see my friends in my hometown of East Grinstead. I am then scheduled to work 7am to 7pm on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Now, however, I cannot attend the staff Christmas meal, can’t see friends on the Monday or Tuesday as I will still have no funds, do all my Christmas shopping on the 22nd and 23rd and then have Christmas Eve at my disposal! What a nightmare! I have even had several dreams where I have awoken on Christmas Day and to my horror failed to get presents for anyone! I cannot imagine anything worse than not being able to give my friends and family gifts at Christmas. It is really playing on my mind how unprepared I am and how out of my control the whole situation is.

Until next time! If you wish to leave any feedback, please utilize the comments facility provided here. All comments to this blog have so far been so kind and encouraging, so thank you all!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Sound of the Birch Tree

I miss the sound of the birch tree swaying in the slightest wind,
though the wind was more than slight most days back then.
The howl would seep through the houses, blanketing the hills in freedom.
From one floor up, the distant glisten of orange lights would twinkle over the almost black landscape below, filling my eyes with pleasure.
A countryside filled with memories,
Stories of battles and love, life and death, repeated and encased throughout.
The sky above beckoned with chances and lust; it is the passion and vastness that enthrals.
The belt, shining brighter every night would make me feel home.
From the Opera house I looked to the same sky,
I saw Orion again and the heavy penetrating moon.
The light was as tranquil wherever I would be, but nothing could compare to that with the sound of that birch tree.

Ten years and forty miles I have drifted since then,
With polluted sky and baffled air consuming the towers of concrete grey.
My home was just a feeling,
Now just a memory.
Every now and then I see the faint belt of Orion trying to get through;
I hear sounds similar to that of the birch tree and a howl between sirens.
The light isn’t the same in this city.
The sound is just a murmur of cars racing;
The non-stop life I thought I needed to always hear.
The volume of life so severe that I would be cocooned by the safety in numbers theory let me down. 
As reminders die and time grows I consider returning to ten years ago, for nothing since has ever compared to the sound of that birch tree.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Star Shaped Snow




               The snow hit Kingston with force last night. I actually shot out of bed early, following five hours sleep, to see how covered everything was before it got ruined by people fatally stepping and driving through it. I first went to my living room, braved the cold radiating from the large bay window, and put my face right up to the glass. A thick layer of snow had neatly decorated every square inch of the road, paths, trees, bins, hedges, signs and the field that lay to the left of the house. Beautiful. I proceeded in getting myself ready for my favourite lecture- (Auto) Biography and Memoir writing with Vesna Goldsworthy; the lecture that I spent about ten hours preparing for yesterday.

               Just to be sure, I booted up my lap top and signed into Student Space. ‘TUESDAY 2nd DECEMBER- UNIVERSITY IS CLOSED DUE TO HEAVY SNOW FALL AND MORE PREDICTED’ read the top notice. Vesna is Serbian. I have read her memoir, Chernobyl Strawberries. On page 116, she writes ‘The city was frozen in the middle of a blackout, without electricity and heating. Trams and trolleybuses stood abandoned in their tracks. The Yeti woman walking through the snow drifts was me. I wore two vests, a checked flannel shirt, a heavy woollen jumper, two pairs of stocking, green moleskin dungarees and red snow boots, and – over all of that – a mink coat of syrup coloured pelts, a birthday present from my parents, and a red fox-fur hat with earflaps drawn tightly under my chin.’ Now, I couldn’t believe that 10cm of snow in modern day Kingston would prevent Vesna from getting to uni, despite it’s apparent closure, so I prepared my bag with uni work, a copy of J.M. Coetzee’s Summertime, a bottle of water, a pad and a pen and I left the house.

               I wore my black raw denim skinny jeans, vibrant blue Statue of Liberty skull t-shirt, Ben Sherman thick woolly cardigan, scarf, stone coloured leather jacket, fingerless black gloves, a grey beanie hat and my Osiris high top silver and black trainers. The cold pricked my skin like it was alive and trying to penetrate my pores. The air was crisp and awakening and filled with flying little white stars. Literally every flake of snow I studied that attached itself to my coat was in the shape of a little star. I walked carefully in the cloudlike soft icing carpet and made my way to Knights Park campus. Yes, it was closed, so I walked home disappointed. The void will not be filled today. So far I have sat here at my computer, rattled around on facebook and written this while listening to my playlist, titled ‘The best Glee songs’. There’s nothing quite like a bit of Glee to get you through the day.

               Oddly, it was 13 years ago to the day that my Nan, Patricia Carter, passed away. It snowed that day too. I recall it snowing every Tuesday for around 6 weeks, which unusually happened for a few years in a row. I remember having my theory that if it was a Tuesday, it would snow. Nan died at 56 following her second battle with breast cancer. At the time I didn’t appreciate how young that was, being 13 myself. I remember not being able to cry at the funeral and feeling like there was something wrong with me as my the rest of my family sat around me were struggling to keep their sniffling to a minimum and failing. Something just didn’t sink in. I almost wanted to cry, because I was sad that she had died, but for some reason my heart wasn’t hurting- it seemed unable to grasp the reality of the situation; my Nan, my Mum’s Mother, really was dead; was no more; was gone; wasn’t coming back.

               Following the funeral we stood outside and viewed the collection of flowers that had been bought in her honour. There were several displays of flowers made into words or numbers. One read a selection of numbers which referred to a Frank Sinatra song that my Granddad, Brian Carter, and Nan loved. One read ‘Nan’, and one read ‘Mum’. I looked numbly, until I reached the ‘Mum’ flowers where I stopped and stared. It hit me like a bolt of food poisoning tearing upwards through my body, like vomit, and in that instant I exploded into tears. I felt shame as my Mum hugged me as I was crying for her, which I felt was inappropriate at the time. The realisation that my Mum had lost her Mum was what took hold of my heart and squeezed it until it ached. I’m still no good at funerals, or at the news of death.

               Patricia Carter, I believe her maiden name was Duffy, and her middle name was Anne, although I could be mistaken, was a woman that, in my memory at least, loved, laughed and was happy. Defiant in the face of fatal illness, she never let on the gravity of her cancer. I was so adjusted to knowing that Nan had cancer from the first time she had it, that when she told me that she had it again, I shrugged and claimed ‘That’s ok, you beat it last time, you’ll be fine.’ She never let on that she wouldn’t, and I’m grateful for that. The last time I saw her was Saturday 29th November 1997. She wore her wig and sat in her usual seat, at the far left of the three seated sofa. It was a typical Saturday evening in the Carter household; Nan, Granddad, me, my brother Patrick, who would have been 3, my sister Samantha, who would have been 16, and Mum and Dad were sat around the lounge, having finished our Chinese takeaway. Often my Auntie Julie and cousins would also be in attendance, but I know they weren’t there on this occasion as I remember Julie phoning Nan as we left to get home. I remember us all watching ‘An Audience with the Spice Girls’ at my request, and Julie rang as they sang ‘Mama’ to dedicate it to her.

               A year or so before her death, I started to visit Nan when I didn’t have school. She had taken early retirement and so was home alone most days. On one occasion she picked me up from Hurst Green train station in her Citro├źn and got stuck in the car park. We reversed, we went forward, reversed, went forward, and so forth until she stopped the car, burst out laughing and said ‘this James, is how you do a 53 point turn.’ After several more attempts, the car was facing the right way and we headed back to her house on Pollards Oak Crescent. Once we got there I offered to play her my new Mariah Carey compilation cassette that I had made, which reminded her that she had recorded me ‘Mariah Carey Live at Madison Square Garden’, which we sat and watched together while scoffing bacon sandwiches. She was very patient and accommodating with me when I look back. I wonder what she’d make of me now. I wonder what she’d make of all of us. I wonder if my own family would have fallen apart had she have beaten cancer again and lived on. I am sure the world, or at least my world, would be a better place.