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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Friday, 12 August 2011

This is Home

It's been four days since I arrived back in my hometown- the small West Sussex town of East Grinstead. Of course, people are always sharing their unwanted opinions- 'but you spent all that money moving all your stuff up to Hull' and 'you should have known this would happen', but ultimately we are in control of our own lives and their direction, so no-one needs to worry about what I'm doing and why.

Over the past four days I have spent every day catching up with friends and remembering my place in the world. These are the people that made me. These are the people that shaped me and have never judged. These people are my family- the one I have created for myself. Life without the people you hold dearest is a lot harder than I ever thought it could be. And it doesn't mean you don't care deeply for the people you have left elsewhere, but you need to be around the people that are driven by what you are driven by, enjoy what you enjoy and share a similar attitude for life. It is those shared values that lead to a happy existence- or at least that is what I have learned.

Beyond the people, it is also such a relief to feel happy and confident about leaving the house. The view out of my window right now is green- with hoards of trees and hills and fields. The walk home is down a dirt track, surrounded by woodland and nature- it feels so sacred and unexplored, like nothing a city can offer. The town is brimming with pubs and local restaurants, which by 27, is more than adequate to satisfy my social needs. What I spent so long trying to get away from when I was in my late teens and early twenties, is exactly what I have run back to now that I have experienced city life. London is an hour away and I am ok with that.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Call me what you want, I love the south.

It's important to consider what we learn as we endure difficult times. My experience in Hull has been largely disastrous. I found that the city had very little opportunity and that living in such a congested deprived place had massive implications on my mental stability. But the whole episode has taught me some very important things.

  • I can honestly say, with total confidence, that I know myself better than ever. Being taken out of my comfort zone of the south made me sit up and accept who I am. I'm a southern boy, someone that is used to living in or right next to London, and I have trouble being in less accepting or multicultural surroundings. 
  • A break from being in London was definitely needed so that I could appreciate everything the capital has to offer.
  • My friends are the most important thing in my life. Being two hundred miles from all of the people I consider close friends was the most challenging and upsetting thing of all. I am a single and independent man, but my friends are everything to me. I didn't realise just how much so until now. 
  • I'd rather be broke and in a town I like and near my friends, than in a place I can't stand and be sorting out my finances.
  • Life is too short to be sensible if it comes at the cost of your own happiness.
  • Do not feel guilty about your choices. It is your life and will effect you more than anyone else. 
  • If you are unhappy and you need to change something, do it. I cannot stand it when people do nothing but complain, but never do anything to resolve their problems. 
  • I have a very short fuse with people in my own home. When I am at home I like to switch off. I don't take kindly to having my personal time or space invaded. 
  • I'm actually a pretty sociable person, but only around certain people. I am not one you can take out and can be the guaranteed soul of the party. It is very dependent on the people I am mixing with and the place. 
  • I would rather live in the middle of central London and risk being in a high risk terrorism area than be bored to death in Hull. 
  • I seriously dislike the North East of England and Hull in general.
  • I'd rather live in a tiny room with virtually no possessions in London, than have a large room full of belongings in the north. 
  • People from Hull are so different to those from London that you could literally be in a foreign country. The culture is stuck somewhere in the 1990s. There's a lot of chavs and a lot of indie kids. And that's about it.
  • Racism and homophobia appear to be more accepted in Hull than anywhere else I've been. As in people make racist comments and expect you to agree with them. It is appalling. 

I shan't go on as I can feel myself ranting on and on about how uneducated and grim people are in Hull and I'm sure I've already got my point across. Ultimately, I appreciate what I have in the south more than ever and I am itching to get back and make the most of it. 

Friday, 5 August 2011

Location, Location, Location

Let me paint you a couple of scenarios.

Scenario One

You’ve just reached your street. You finished work at 7pm so it’s already dark. The street is a cul-de-sac, a quiet road just off a main road in Kingston Upon Thames, apparently the safest borough of London. The attractive Victorian town houses are stood closely together, with a yard in front of each one before the pavement. It’s pretty quiet considering the proximity to one of the busiest cities in the world. The tree’s rustle in the slight breeze that’s blowing and the subtle buzz of traffic whispers in the distance. You walk on the pavement on the left of the road, as your house is the last house on the left. As you walk past the other twenty or so houses, you notice warm glows dotted around, inviting strangers in from the windows. You glance into the homely living rooms and wonder what your neighbours do for a living or what kind of life they lead. Are they as content as they look? Every few feet along the pavement is a large tree, standing tall in a protective state, like a bouncer. Orange light glows from the street lamps, which highlights the three cats that are strolling about the quiet street like they own it. Beyond the end of the road is a large park, with a black metal fence around its boundaries. You can see two separate people walking their dogs in the faint light that stretches that far.

Feeling safe and happy to be home, you reach your large black front door. In the darkness of the porch, you feel instinctively for your keys and open the door to the dark hallway. You close the door before turning on the light, stop and sigh. You always take this moment of arriving home to appreciate that this space is yours, and yours alone. On walking down the hall, you remove your jacket and hang it on the coat stand and place your bag and shoes neatly underneath. Your stomach rumbles, as it does everyday at this time, so you enter the large kitchen at the end of the hallway, place your Iphone on your Idock, press play, and investigate the contents of your fridge. Once deciding what to cook, you open the double French doors out onto the back yard to let the fresh air in as you cook. While your food is cooking, you prepare the lounge for your arrival, turning on the TV and getting one of your favourite TV shows cued up on 4od. You draw the curtains, turn on a singular lamp, re-place the cushions on the sofa and light a few candles. By 7.45, dinner is ready and now it’s time for your reward- a few hours to switch off and just be, untouched in your own sacred space.

Scenario Two

You alight the bus a five minute walk from your house as it’s the closest you can get. A five minute walk wouldn’t usually bother you, but it’s not the exercise you dislike, but what you have to walk through. You live on the outskirts of the city of Hull, one of the most deprived and financially depressed areas in the United Kingdom. ‘Cheers Drive’ the three people in front of you mumble as they get off the bus. ‘Thanks’ you say with a smile, trying to be polite. It’s 8pm. You finished work at 7, but it takes you an hour to get home as their isn’t an earlier bus. You cross the wide concrete road and make your way through the housing estate, the biggest in Europe. Houses are everywhere and they all look the same; somewhere between the colour of grey and beige, with the same windows spaced the same distance apart. This is not a place for individuality. A house is a house and you’re lucky if you’ve got one. Where lights are switched on inside the houses you pass, curtains are closed. The air is a wash with the sound of children screaming and hollering at one another. ‘It’s kicking off’ one of them shouts at the top of her lungs in her most threatening tone. You can’t see what is apparently kicking off, but you can hear male voices shouting obscenities to each other and womanly screams. These are throat blistering screams too, not just little girl ‘I’ve seen a spider’ screams. You continue to walk down the straight path to your house, with houses and alcoves of more houses surrounding you from every angle. The roads, the paths and the houses all appear to be the same colour, which reflect the street lamps dull ache of a colour. You see a group of youths walking in the same direction as you a few steps ahead, so you slow down, as to not overtake them. They walk slower and slower, to the point that you are going to have to walk around them, but you bottle it, taking a sharp right turn at the last minute. You can still get home via this labyrinth; it’ll just take longer. Thankfully you aren’t followed.

Eventually you come to your house. It looks like all the others, only every light pours out of every window on the lower level, and two on the first floor. The garden looks vulnerable, protected only by a broken old wooden fence. To the right of your house is a car park and to the front, a public pathway from the local shopping centre. Concrete city. Someone has left the key in the door so you have to knock. Your mother opens the door- ‘Hello!’ she welcomes you. You try to smile, but it convinces no-one.
‘Hi’ you manage back, but it sounds more like a sigh. You’re immediately in the kitchen diner. To your left is double doors that lead to the lounge. Your adult brother and his girlfriend lay on the sofa watching television and say hello. As you’re replying, one of your mum’s boyfriend’s pre-teen children bounds through the room from upstairs and embarks in a very loud conversation with their Dad, who is sat at the dining room table in front of you playing on his phone. Your Mum has now sat back at the table to join him. Your mum’s boyfriend’s other pre-teen child then comes into the kitchen from the lounge- ‘Hi’ they say. The radio in the kitchen is playing, ignored for the twelfth hour, but still it plays too loudly. You accept there is limited opportunity for any stimulating conversation and so make your way upstairs to sit alone in your room, where you can at least pretend you have your own space and some control. You turn on your lap top for lack of anything else to do and download a TV show to watch. The house doesn’t have a television areal so the internet is the only way to watch things. You can hear the TV playing in the lounge underneath you, you can hear children and adults speaking and getting annoyed with each other, but it dies down eventually as you tune into your own world as best you can.
SLAM! Your whole body jumps in shock. Hostile shouting and screaming comes from your brother’s bedroom, two rooms away. His girlfriend screams at him, he swears and shouts back. There’s banging, slamming, crying. You do your best to ignore it, but your body has already reacted by shaking. You’re unsettled and uncomfortable, like you were as a child listening to your parents before they divorced. Finally, you decide to try and block it out altogether and put some music on. Within half an hour you get a text message. It’s from your mum- ‘Can you turn it down a bit please? The kids have just gone to bed. x’ The kids of course, sleep in your old bed in the room next to yours.
The following morning, you have to leave the house at 8.15am to get to work on time. Your alarm goes off at 7.30am, you jump up and open your door. The bathroom door is closed and locked. So you sit on your bed and wait. Fifteen minutes later, you hear the door, so you open your door again. No, it’s closed again. Either your mum’s boyfriend, one of his children or your brother’s girlfriend is in there. You, the only person out of these people that actually lives at the house, don’t get a shower and go to work as you are, because you couldn’t get in the bathroom. That evening, if you have to do it all over again.

Hopefully this helps to clarify just some of the reasons why I find living in Hull so desperately depressing and awful. I have come from scenario one, into scenario two. I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t appreciate how much so. So yes, I am moving into a tiny bedroom at my father’s house in my hometown of East Grinstead. I will have very little personal space, but it’s home. I love it how a Hull person loves Hull. I know the people and the places. I have many, many treasured friends there and will have some form of social life back. I have outgrown the ‘let’s go out and get off our tits’ mentality that all Hull people seem to be about. I want conversation, I want art, I want gigs, I want to feel secure taking my macbook to a Starbucks and writing all afternoon. I tried to appreciate Hull for what it has to offer, and I think if you’re in a settled family unit, it really isn’t bad- plus it’s very cheap. But for a single person that is career orientated and treasures friends and intellectual stimulation, Hull is slowly killing me and I’m the first one to always offer the advice- ‘If you don’t like your situation, get out of it’.