Calum McSwiggan

Archive for the ‘Eat’ Category

Highwaymen

In Eat on June 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

Slums in India

‘You’ve seen this all before, life left on the shore, but we’re smiling all the same, you sail away again.’

– Ellie Goulding

Just as I was told there were no seats for tourists left on the train, I was cornered by three angry looking Indian men and told to hand over my bag. Determined to not get robbed a second time, I ducked out of their way, sprinted out of the train station, and went off in search of a safer way to my next destination.

I only had two days left in India, and I wanted to head to the Taj Mahal before catching my flight out of there. It seemed excessive to hail down a private driver to take me four hours across the country, but by western standards it was cheap, and I was running out of options.

We were driving for less than an hour when the traffic began to slow and eventually grinded to a complete halt. I craned my neck to see what was happening and saw flames licking the sky in the distance, an uproar of screaming and yelling filling the air, and black smoke that came down on us so thickly that I couldn’t see any further than three cars ahead.

We were only stationary for a few moments before I saw them, appearing from the slums at the side of the road, darting through the cars and disappearing into the thick black smoke, leaping from roof to roof in search of their victims. They wore bandanas over their faces, and moved with such quickness that they could easily distract lorry drivers while their comrades hopped in the back and raided them of their valuables. I called them the highwaymen. They were as mystifying as they were frightening, and it was only with their demonic presence that the highway truly came to life.

Children appeared and began weaving in-between the cars, selling bottles of murky water or falling to their knees in a plea for food; cattle broke free from one of the lorries and began wandering between the cars, hungrily pressing their faces up against windows and clumsily breaking off wing mirrors; a camel began calling out in desperation before choking on the fumes and collapsing in the heat of the ever thickening smoke; and packs of wild monkeys piled out of the slums like termites, and began raiding anything in sight in search of scraps of food.

It was chaos, we were no longer cars stuck in traffic, but a hectic village market, rife with crime and alive with trade. Music blared and fights broke out, a lorry driver waved his arms furiously as he was pulled from his vehicle and stripped of his treasures, and everyone was acting like this was normal.

Keep your doors locked and don’t make eye contact with anyone, my driver told me sternly, locking down the doors and turning off the engine. I was suddenly very aware that I was a perceived rich white boy in poverty stricken India, and things were probably about to get very, very real.

The cloud of smog thickened until I couldn’t see anything but the inside of the car. The chaos ensued, I could still hear the ruckus raging outside and the occasional footsteps as somebody leapt onto the roof of our vehicle before disappearing back into the mist. My heart was racing in my chest, and just as I leapt back in fear as a bloodied silk wrapped hand slammed against my window, the driver turned back on the engine and we slowly began to move.

We weaved amongst the vacated cars, winding and spiralling out of the slow moving traffic, swerving past two cars ablaze and a mourning family, until we were eventually out of the fog. We drove full speed, hurtling down the highway, away from the scene of the accident, and onwards to our destination.

I caught sight of a tuk-tuk speeding alongside of us, much smaller than the car I was in, and yet loaded with at least thirty people exposed to the luciferous heat. I slumped down in my seat, I felt ashamed to be cruising along in this air-conditioned vehicle while they were exposed to all the elements, and just as I closed my eyes to try to strike out their disgusted glances, we ran into something full speed.

My seat belt sliced through my neck as I was tossed forward out of my seat and slammed back down again. There was a loud thud and then the harrowing sound of screaming as the front and back wheels of the car rolled over something, sending us spinning across the highway. Just as the driver regained control of the vehicle, I turned around to see a writhing mass of limbs lying in the road, desperately trying to crawl to safety, leaving a trail of blood and entrails behind it.

Pull over! I yelled to my driver but he just shook his head. It was just a dog sir, don’t worry, he told me calmly, one of his eyes fixated on a gang of masked men at the side of the road. I was furious, swearing myself blue as I pleaded with him to stop the car, but he wouldn’t. I was sick of this country abusing its animals, but as the bloodied dog and its cries faded into the distance, I knew he hadn’t pulled over out of fear.

The car jolted again and began making some strange noises before the air conditioning cut out. We met our karma as the car became an inferno and eventually came to a rolling stop a few miles down the road.

I looked into the slums for signs of life as my driver hesitantly climbed out and began to assess the damage. He told me to stay inside, but I didn’t. I climbed out to see the bonnet dashed with spatters of red, one of the headlights completely smashed, and the bumper soaked with blood. I turned back to the slums and waited for the highwaymen to appear, to rob me of everything but the shirt on my back, but they didn’t. It was a small child that first appeared from the darkness.

He gasped and yelled something behind him, and then scores of people poured out of the slums, speaking loudly and quickly as they began to examine the vehicle’s damage before setting straight to work on repairs. It amazed me that, these people who lived so simply, in literal heaps of garbage, in houses built from scrap metal and cardboard, had the ability to fix something as complex as a car.

They procured fruits and drinks and even a deck chair for me to sit in while they set about rectifying the problems, children came running to see the white man who’d come to visit, and they took endless photographs with me, on a mish mash of cameras seemingly stolen from different eras.

These weren’t the same ruthless highwaymen I’d seen loot and pillage our convoy, these were generous kind hearted people who wanted to do nothing but help, and I felt I had to do something in return. I offered to help the women as they fetched buckets of water from the other side of the slums, and began teaching the children to draw with some pencils and a sketchpad I had in my bag. They looked at the pencils like they had never seen such an instrument in their lives, and as we drew together, they laughed wildly and clung to me as if I were their brother.

I was stranded at the side of the road for over four hours, and I’d never been made to feel so welcome in my whole life. Just like my first night in India, I had taken a broad brush and assumed all of the people living within the slums were dark-hearted criminals, but now I’d had my eyes opened to their kindness, even their admiration for the colour of my skin couldn’t outweigh my admiration for the colour in their hearts.

We left with just enough time to catch the sunset at the Taj Mahal, but I knew I was never going to find the true India there, because I’d already found it. Right here with the locals, stricken with poverty but always smiling, was where the real India lay.

The Elephant Emperor

In Eat on May 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Indian Elephant

‘Every king knows it to be true, that every kingdom must one day come to an end.’

– Ben Howard

The sadness in the eyes of the elephant penetrated me deeply as I walked into the stable and gently stroked her painted trunk. Raising it into the air, she placed it onto my shoulder, and shuffled her enormous feet as if she were trying to tell me something. I had waited for this moment for as long as I could remember, but as I handed over my rupees and climbed onto the elephant’s back, I only felt resentful.

I once lay awake in the Tuscan countryside, promising myself that I’d do something to help animals as I listened to the howls of distress resonating from the bottom of the garden. My host family slept in the next room, indifferent to the suffering they were causing and the cries of the tormented animals. I’d seen the hell that lay beyond that wall at the bottom of the garden; they’d taken me back there, through the gates of Animal Auschwitz, and into the torturous rusted barbed wire cages where they kept scores of afflicted animals that they claimed to love.

I’d shortly after penned ride an elephant in India onto my bucket list for 2013, thinking there would be no better way to show my affection for animals than getting up close and personal with these majestic creatures, but the ride that awaited me was everything but what I’d expected. I wasn’t helping anything or anyone; I was just contributing to the problem.

The elephant walked sluggishly as I towered above her in the cushioned saddle, I wanted to reach down and comfort her, but she was out of reach, and I couldn’t have felt further away. Her spirit had been broken so badly that I could only begin to imagine what might have been done to her to make her so dead behind the eyes. I don’t know why I didn’t call a stop the whole thing immediately, this was not something designed for an animal lover, this was something designed for a rich white man from the western world who wanted to feel like an emperor, superior to his fellow man, as he paraded through the streets.

It wasn’t even as if my money was going towards helping the community rebuild itself. To my right were palatial buildings, lined with priceless art and surrounded with lavish blooming gardens, and yet to my left were children living alone in the slums, without food, family, or water, digging through garbage in search of their salvation. The divide between the rich and the poor was so great that it turned my stomach, and here I was, playing elephant emperor, as the peasants fell to my feet and begged me for food.

It was as if somebody had removed the rosy filter from my fantasies and I was suddenly seeing the real world. The reality of spending a small fortune on an extravagance as ridiculous as an elephant ride, while children starved mere meters away, hit me harder than a careless tuk-tuk driver. I wanted the ride to be over, I wanted the elephant to be free, I wanted the poverty that surrounded me to cease, and yet still I did nothing.

Some of the children stopped searching the piles of garbage for a moment to stare at the white man, throwing me deserving looks of disgust as I passed through the streets. Everyone looked at me as if they wanted to con, rob, or kill me, and I couldn’t blame any of them. Everything about the whole spectacle was as offensive as a slap to the face, it was unforgivable, and it was only the young innocence of a boy named Anil that could see through my pompous charade.

He came running from the slums to the side of the elephant, waving his arms wildly, and desperately trying to catch my attention. He started bombarding me with questions, asking me my name, where I came from, what I was doing here, and where I was heading next. He reminded me so much of one of the students I taught in Switzerland that I had to double take to clarify that it wasn’t him. He was no more than ten years old and yet his English was exceptional, I had no idea where a kid like him had gotten such an impressive education, but I knew immediately that I wanted to befriend him.

Do you want to ride with me? I finally asked after watching him run bare foot alongside the elephant for a good five minutes, but I was quickly interrupted. Street rats don’t ride, the compassionless driver bitterly snapped as he began thrashing the elephant for trying to feed from a nearby tree. I wish I had reprimanded him, climbed down from the back of the elephant, demanded my money back, and used it on something worthwhile like a meal for young Anil. But I didn’t. I let everything continue to happen and watched him violently shoo Anil away as he lashed the elephant mercilessly.

The lack of compassion for his fellow man astonished me, and I could only imagine how uncaring he must be towards this amazing towering beast behind closed doors. Garbed in his expensive finery and golden jewellery, he was everything that was wrong with India, and all the while I did nothing but support his barbarous trade.

I loved that elephant so much, and yet I used and abused her like every other tourist who passed through the area. Before I left I thanked her for the ride but my words fell flat. I couldn’t believe I had been so naïve in actually crossing the oceans to come here to participate in something so outrageously cruel. Everywhere I looked I saw and learned more and more about the malevolence of the elephant trade, and with everything I learned I only grew more and more angry with myself.

There was absolutely no silver lining to my story, I was just grateful that I’d had my eyes opened so that I could share my story in hope of helping one day bring the kingdom of the elephant emperor crumbling to its knees.

The Indian Sunrise

In Eat on May 20, 2013 at 10:57 am

Delhi Sunrise

‘Throw those curtains wide, one day like this, a year would see me right.’

– Elbow 

Just as I thought I would never see my suitcase or any of my possessions ever again, a voice boomed from behind me and a young suited man appeared with a large stick and thrashed it violently, rescuing me and my belongings from the clutches of the mad man.

Please sir, I will stay with you, keep you safe, he said reassuringly, handing me my suitcase and leading me in another direction. His name was Vibhor, he worked behind the reception in the hotel and, worried for my safety, he had followed me out. We were both twenty two and shared a birthday, he was very good looking, and had I not been so disorientated and shaken up, I probably would have felt a spark as he put his arm around me and guided me through the streets of squalor.

We walked for what seemed like forever until he finally presented me my salvation. Nestled in the front of a garish yellow building and blocked by a ten foot spiked fence, an ATM light blinked weakly beneath a neon lit sign that read 24/7 free cash withdrawals. Vibhor approached the tightly locked gate and shook it violently, yelling to a none existent security guard to let us in immediately. He tried this for a good few minutes before nonchalantly concluding that we should climb.

Without second thought he lifted himself up onto the filthy railings, tarnishing his clean tailored suit, and offered me he his hand to help me up. I left my suitcase on the ground behind us and we began to climb over the barbed fence. We must have looked like the most unusual pairing, me in my now ripped t-shirt, my pale white skin shining beneath the moonlight, and him with his dark skin and expensive suit, leaping from the fence and brandishing his stick aggressively, preparing to defend me from unseen guard dogs whose howls drew nearer and nearer.

I punched in my details into the ATM over and over but each time my card was declined. I looked at Vibhor despondently but he told me not to worry. You are with Vibhor now, and Vibhor will not let anything bad happen to you.

We hopped back over the fence and he began leading me back through the poverty stricken streets of Delhi. A small girl dressed in rags fell to her knees in front of us and held out her dirt covered hands to beg. I wish I had something to give, I said to Vibhor, who immediately withdrew his wallet and handed me fifty rupees. I thanked him before placing the money into the palms of the small girl who was too weak to even raise her head in acknowledgement.

Is very sad, Vibhor said, but thousands like her in Delhi alone, you cannot feed them all, then he laughed and added, first sir must learn to feed himself. I laughed nervously, I wasn’t in the mood for jokes but appreciated the firm grip he placed on my shoulder as he pulled me in close and lead me back up towards the hotel.

We were greeted by the smiling manager who spoke quickly with Vibhor before turning to me and handing me a glass of minted cranberry juice and a key card. Best room in hotel, she said, free of charge.

Both dazzled and amazed I thanked her over and over again before Vibhor picked up my suitcase and lead me to my room. Sleep well sir, he said, opening the door to the penthouse suite, I will see you in the morning. I told him to wait, and as I reached into my pocket to pull out my wallet, I saw the single American Dollar that the thieves had left me with, and handed it to him. He looked confused but understood the gesture and nodded with an appreciative smile before closing the door behind me.

The room was enormous but I was too tired to care or even take notice. I collapsed on the king size bed and lay with my eyes wide open, thinking about the warnings of those Israeli boys who couldn’t have been more right, before slowly blinking into a dream. I don’t know how much time passed but what seemed like only moments later I was awoken by the sound of chanting in the distance. I sat upright and felt the strong scent of orange blossom filling my nostrils as I opened my eyes to the spectacular morning sunrise.

Without having to leave my bed, I had panoramic views over the beautiful tropical city, magnificent birds soared and caught in the rising sunlight, and the sound of the prayers of thousands pulled the sun from the darkness so it could warmly kiss my cheeks. I rose from the bed sheets and took a piece of mango from my freshly prepared fruit basket and stared down into India with awe.

Two pillars framed the glowing sun as it lit up the city, vibrant colours swayed in the gentle early morning wind as the markets set up in the streets, and as I stood there, I simply couldn’t believe that this was the same cruel city that robbed me of my money and dignity. For the first time since I arrived, I was glad to be in India, and even the cruel actions of those who lived in the darkness could not outweigh the generosity of those who’d tried to help me.

I climbed back onto my bed, sat cross legged, and even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I silently prayed with the masses. I expressed my thanks for the hospitality of the Indian people, my thanks for the help I received in making it through the night, and finally my thanks for the glorious Indian sunrise.

This is the final part of a three part series, you can read the first part here, and the second part here. 

The Indian Twilight

In Eat on May 12, 2013 at 5:41 am

Foggy Delhi Streets

‘Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low, only hate the road when you’re missing home.’

– Passenger 

I jumped up and down and tried to attract the attention of one of the tuk-tuk drivers speeding down the blaring highway, but it was hopeless. Everyone was far too busy focussing on the chaos of the motorway to notice the skinny white boy cowering at the side of the road.

I gazed into the fire that blazed on the horizon and was very nearly ready to give up and try to figure my way back home. I’d been in India for less than two hours and I was already ready to leave, that was until, as often happens in India, a cow appeared out of the darkness and began playfully licking my fingers.

I didn’t try to shoo it away, I appreciated the company, and began stroking its injured side. Cows are considered sacred in India, and I’m almost certain it was this act of compassion that urged a rickshaw driver to pull over and offer me a lift.

I’m very sorry sir, he said, I have room for you but you will have to leave behind your cows. I looked around to see that another cow had crept up and was chewing on the handle of my suitcase. I nodded and climbed inside, bidding farewell to my bovine companions before balancing my suitcase on my lap and taking the long and terrifying journey into Delhi. It turned out that the men that had robbed me had driven in the opposite direction.

I was no longer inside the security of my air conditioned taxi, I was exposed to all of the elements, and was white as a sheet by the time we pulled up outside my hotel. I pulled out my five hundred emergency rupees from my sock to pay the driver and rushed into the reception to tell them what had happened. I frantically pushed past the gracefully bowing doorman and collapsed on the front desk, panting and trying to tell them everything all at once.

Do you have the name of the taxi company, sir? they asked. License number? Name of the driver? Anything? I shook my head, in the madness of it all, I hadn’t thought about taking down any of it. They looked at me like I was the dumbest tourist to ever walk through their doors before offering their sincerest apologies and offering to check me into my room and deal with it tomorrow.

I was still shaking as I handed over my credit card and punched in my pin number as they prepared some chai tea to calm my nerves. I took small sips and just as I thought everything was going to be okay, they told me that my card had been declined. They tried six more times before apologising and turning me away, telling me to try the local ATM, and to come back tomorrow.

I protested and bargained with them but they assured me that there was nothing they could do. They wheeled my suitcase back out into the street and left me alone in the maddening darkness. With no money and nowhere to sleep, I began carefully navigating myself past the naked children lying in the street and the packs of wild dogs that bared their fangs when I approached to walk by. I had no idea where I was going, but no matter which direction I went, I was met with another crippling vision of heartbreaking poverty.

Frail hands reached out to me in the darkness, wanting for nothing more than a mouthful of rice or a splash of clean water, but I had nothing to offer them. All I could do was lift my luxury filled Calvin Klein suitcase over their bodies and continue on my way. I desperately wanted to help them but I was so scared that I could only see them as a threat.

I kept my guard up as I walked, and only when I began to feel secure that I wouldn’t be attacked, a bearded dishevelled man hobbled to his feet and began yelling and waving his arms. Grabbing hold of my suitcase, he raised one of his bloodied fists, and threatened me with a menagerie of foreign screams. His ribs jutted out of his bare chest, he was starving and clearly prepared to do anything for food, and I wasn’t about to stand in his way. I let go of my suitcase and slowly backed away.

Every one of my worldly possessions was packed inside that bag, and as I watched the starving man’s fingers prying at the zipper, it was as if I was watching all of my memories disappear. Letters, souvenirs, even my dildo, everything was tucked away inside. I had thought the moment I got off that deadly highway that my nightmare was over, but now suffering the terror of the harsh low lit Indian Twilight, it was obvious to me that it was only just beginning…

This is the second part of a three part series, you can read the first part here, and the final part here. 

The Indian Highway

In Eat on May 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

Elephant in India

‘But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?’

– Bastille

Be careful white boy, the handsome Israeli boys told me as we boarded the train to Madrid. I had just told them I was heading to Delhi, and after giving me a quick look up and down they concluded that I wouldn’t last five minutes. I desperately wanted them to look past the colour of my skin, I wanted to convince them that I was as savvy as they come, and so I began bombarding them with stories to try and prove my experienced traveller status.

I told them about the time I’d accidentally taken a train to Moscow, how I’d gotten into a fight in Budapest, how I was left stranded after my flight to New York was cancelled, and how I’d had my drink spiked in Munich. The worst had already happened, I explained, but they just laughed even harder.

I hope you’re right, white boy, one of the boys said patting me on the shoulder, but it’s a whole different world over there, man. I swallowed hard but assured them that I would be fine. It seemed everyone was giving me the same advice, my boss, my parents, my friends, even the boy who gave me the lovebiteeveryone was imploring me to stay safe. I thought about those words as the plane soared over the Arabian Sea and prepared to land. I was confident I’d be fine, I could take care of myself, I mean, how bad could it be?

 I wandered into the airport terminal in the dead of the night and began scouting for the international arrivals gate, and as I walked past the dozens of people queueing to enter on Indian passports, I quickly found myself to be the only lone foreigner.  I was puzzled as to why everyone was staring at my pale white flesh, I didn’t understand where all my fellow ex pats and tourists were, there was just me, and suddenly I felt terribly alone.

The glass doors to the exit slid open and I stepped out into the warm smoke filled night, coughing and spluttering and drawing the attention of the masses. Like letting fresh blood drop into a shark tank, they turned on me within seconds, trying to sell me things, their prying fingers pulling at my pockets, reaching for my backpack, and pulling me this way and that.

They were suffocating me, and had my saviour not appeared on the horizon, I probably would have fallen into blind panic. He stood atop his radio taxi in the distance, hand extended generously, waving and calling me over. With a beaming smile he shooed away the masses and placed my suitcase into the trunk of his car. Climbing inside, I found myself sat with the driver and two other men, it wasn’t until we began to drive that I knew something was terribly wrong.

They all spoke in Hindi loudly and quickly, pointing at me and laughing, and when I asked them why the meter was switched off, they claimed that it was broken. How much then? I asked, handing over the address of my hotel. One thousand rupees, the driver answered quickly and without thought. No, I laughed, thinking I was very clever having looked up the price beforehand, I won’t pay any more than five hundred. The car slowed slightly as he turned around and glared at me, his gentle features now pointed, and told me that he wasn’t in the mood for bartering, and that I could pay his price or get out.

How about seven hundred, then? I said, not wanting to have to go back to the suffocating mob of the airport. It was 4am, I didn’t mind being ripped off, I just wanted to get to my hotel quickly and safely. He begrudgingly agreed and we turned off onto the hectic Indian Highway. Tuk-tuks, rickshaws, and trucks loaded with farm animals swerved in and out of the path of the taxi, honking their horns incessantly, and bumping into us from all sides. I marvelled at the wondrous paintwork and incredible writing displayed on all the vehicles and I flinched as a pack of wild dogs chased a famished child into the path of a moving school bus loaded with cattle. I was so caught up in the insanity that I barely noticed the driver holding out his hand and demanding over and over that I pay him.

I handed over the 700 rupees without thought and turned my attention to an elephant that was stealing from a lantern lit roadside fruit stand. Seven thousand, we agree seven thousand, the driver said, interrupting my wonder and forcing me to turn back to face him.  Seven thousand, he repeated now raising his voice. I laughed and truthfully told him that I didn’t even have that much, but he only got louder and more aggressive. Seven thousand! he yelled, jerking the car abruptly, scraping the side of a van loaded with chickens and sending them berserk, flapping their wings in wild panic as some of their eggs escaped into the low lit neon madness.

The man sat to my right reached for my wallet just as I snatched it out of the driver’s reach and retreated to my corner of the taxi. Seven thousand or you get out, the man said calmly, reaching over, popping open the lock, and gesturing outside the fast moving vehicle. Blaring Hindi music and the sound of screeching horns filled the air as he forced open my door onto the moving highway and demanded I hand over my money.

I only have three thousand, I lied in a state of absolute terror, just managing to close my door as an  entire family whizzed by on a single moped. He demanded that I show him my wallet, and when I refused, he knew I was holding back. The driver swerved into the path of a lorry loaded with camels and sleeping women and pulled over into the unlit darkness at the side of the motorway.

Out, he said with a new found calmness, and everyone but me climbed out of the vehicle. I sat perfectly still, clutching my backpack for dear life, and watching their every moment, clueless of what was going to happen next. Seven thousand, the driver yelled again, a last warning before he carefully lifted my suitcase out of the trunk and hurled it into the ditch beside the road. I climbed out of the vehicle to try to stop him, but as soon as I did, they were on top of me.

They demanded my wallet, stripping it of my Indian Rupees, Thai Baht, British Pounds, and Euros, and leaving me with just one American dollar before getting back into their car and driving away. I didn’t even attempt to join them; I knew they weren’t taking me any further. They disappeared into the screaming hell of the Indian Highway, and left me alone in the darkness. I stood in the path of screeching moving traffic, and closed my eyes, praying for a happy ending that I knew might not ever come…

This is the first part of a three part series, you can read the next part here, and the final part here.

Viva Forever

In Eat, Gay, Love on April 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Gay Barcelona

‘Viva Forever, I’ll be waiting, everlasting, like the sun.’

– Spice Girls

A booming voice sounded over the loudspeaker as I began stripping out of my work clothes and scrubbing the oil and dirt off my body in the airport bathroom. I had left work early to make sure I arrived on time, but after breaking down in the mud, I had done everything but.

The last call for Barcelona sounded again as I threw on freshly creased clothes and tried to fix my dishevelled hair. It was only as I ran for the departure gate with an overnight bag slung over one shoulder that it dawned on me- this is now how I get ready for a night out.

Long gone are the student days where my friends would come around to pre-drink as we complimented each other’s outfits and fixed each other’s hair before lazily sauntering out of the front door and into the nightclub across the street. To see my friends now, I have to get on a plane.

The sun had long since set when the plane touched down at midnight and I greeted one of my oldest friends. We’d agreed to meet in Barcelona and hadn’t worried about making plans in advance, forgetting to book a hotel, and not bothering to figure out in which direction we were going. It didn’t feel like we were meeting up in one of the clubbing capitals of the world, it was all so familiar, as if we’d jumped into a taxi for a night out in our home town.

It wasn’t until he pointed it out that it struck me that we hadn’t seen one another for almost two years. The last time we got drunk together very well may have been when we were eighteen years old and stumbling down some private golf course, howling The Spice Girls’ greatest hits after escaping our senior prom.

Life has started to move ridiculously fast, so fast that six months seems to disappear between sips of coffee, and the dream of the future begins to fade into the memory of the past. I saw my sixteen year old friend turn into a confident young twenty-something as he confronted a pick pocketer who tried to swipe his phone; we relived old house parties as we unashamedly taught the locals to slut drop in some underground basement club; and then as we counted back the years of what seemed like a new friendship we both said at once, Fuck, that was seven years ago.

It wasn’t memories of my last trip to Barcelona that danced through my mind as we wound through the once vibrant streets and the now deserted markets, it was memories of the last seven years. It takes seeing an old friend to truly realise how much has changed- the friend who was late for music class everyday because he was making another tea; the friend who brought a house warming gift when I moved in with my ex; the friend who told me he wasn’t worth it anyway when it all fell apart; the friend who text me from Scotland to tell me that he was going to live in China; the friend who was now lay out in the sun beside as me as we nursed our hangovers and rubber necked at all the gorgeous topless men.

The streets were alive with fire eating and sword fighting but I was almost far too busy laughing to even notice. We shared stories of our shared and separate pasts, making fun of our old teachers as we gorged ourselves on food and wine, and sharing stories of recent romances as we watched gay couples holding hands against the backdrop of roaring waves and sun-kissed sands.

He gasped as I told him about the student I had a crush on in Germany, about the Vietnamese child who found my dildo, and about the boy who gave me the lovebite that still lingered on my neck, and then I howled with laughter, throwing my head back to the blazing sun, as he told me stories that were equally as scandalous.

I do miss my old lifestyle, I do miss partying every single night, and I do miss having all of my friends at my fingertips, but still I wouldn’t change it for what I have now. Sustaining and pursuing friendships and romance is so much harder but in exchange I know that every day brings new adventure.

It’s never hard to say goodbye to any of my friends scattered around the globe because I always know that it isn’t the last time we’ll meet. I don’t know where either of us will be when we see each other again, but I do know that there will be wine. Hasta manana my friend, I’ll see you again soon.

The Lovebite

In Eat, Gay, Love on April 2, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Boys kissing

‘Keep your head up, keep your heart strong. Keep your mind set, keep your hair long.’

– Ben Howard

I pushed through the crowded Brick Lane curry house and sat down with the entirety of my best friend’s immediate family. I was desperate to disguise the enormous lovebite protruding from the neckline of my low cut shirt, and so when they asked me where I was last night, I clapped one hand over my neck and fumbled my words as I tried to change the subject.

Nobody had taken any notice, and yet still it burned with the same intense heat of the Indian spices, as if everyone were staring at it. My cheeks flushed and I nervously shuffled back and fourth in my seat, only relaxing when I caught my best friend’s eye across the table. She knew exactly where I was last night, and probably knew that the carousel in the back of my mind was skimming over and over the events of that morning.

The tube bustled noisily in the underground, and was so overcrowded that my body was pressed up firmly against my date’s. I grazed his fingertips out of sight of the commuters and looked longingly into his syrupy brown eyes. He was trying to tell me something in his ever so slightly Essex accent, but I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy counting down the stops until we’d have to part ways.

I’d been in this situation so many times before, and knew I was about to make the same mistake I’d made time and time again. The train’s doors would open and I would leave without a proper goodbye and then probably never see him again.

More and more people left the train, and our bodies were no longer forced together as the carriage began to empty. We gradually grew further and further apart and all I could think about was how I’d let my last date slip away without a goodnight kiss; how I let fear get in the way of me kissing that boy in Berlin; and how badly I wanted to kiss this boy right here and now.

A voice inside my head was screaming itself blue, commanding me to not let another boy disappear on a train, imploring me over and over to just kiss him, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

See ya then, I spluttered to my date. I knew I’d let myself down, but as I turned to hop off the train, I felt his lips catch mine, and if only for a second, my soul caught light and I was lifted off my feet. Nobody had ever kissed me in public before, and it gave me the kind of rush I’d wanted from the boy who stood me up in Rome, the kind of rush the boy in Frankfurt failed to give me, the kind of rush that I was searching for when I penned find a boy who gives me butterflies on my list of goals for 2013.

I was so dizzied that I could barely make out his silhouette as I stepped off the train, re-gathered my senses, and watched him disappear into the blackness of the tunnel. I had to stop for a moment to catch my breath, and as if his lips had been sweet amphetamines, my heart rate began to steady and the butterflies in my stomach soared into my chest and propelled me and my feet off of the ground.

I had all but lost sight of finding a boy who gives me butterflies until that unexpected kiss. The passion that lead to the lovebite on my neck meant nothing in comparison to the intensity of that moment, and it was that memory that left me wordless as I scanned the table of friendly faces in the curry house. I knew that I would soon be departing back to a life of work and stress, a life of responsibility and pressure, a life away from the warmth of familiar company and the pleasure of sweet lips, but now things suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

In the company of good food and good friends, everything seemed perfect. A little kick of warmth and acceptance rose from the pit of my stomach and I relaxed and dropped my hand from my neck. I was secretly quite proud as I raised my head up and caught sight of the lovebite in my reflection across the room, because for now, if only for a moment, it was a reminder of both the adventures in my past, and the adventures yet to come.

The Ex & The Ecstasy

In Eat on March 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Ibiza Rave

‘A drug is not bad. A drug is a chemical compound. The problem comes in when people who take drugs treat them like a licence to behave like an asshole.’

– Frank Zappa 

I popped the pill onto my tongue, threw back my head and enveloped myself into the surging crowd of ravers.  The flashing lights consumed me and the thumping electro sound absorbed my entire being. It took a long time for anything to happen, but when it did, everything happened all at once.

I reached my hands up to the sky and tried to catch the lasers that danced between my fingers, and as I span on the spot, wrapping myself tightly amongst the music and the crowd, I smiled at the pair of DJs who’d shared with me their supply.

We’re not here for the girls, they told me, as I watched the girls brazenly tearing off their tops and gyrating tastelessly beneath the neon lights. We’re here for the music. The three of us danced until our legs couldn’t bear it another moment and then we collapsed on the beach to welcome the glowing Ibiza sunrise. Dazzled by the pleasure coursing through my veins, I slipped in and out of a lucid dream, remembering my last run in with the drug.

 I stared at the ceiling unable to fall asleep, my eyes tracing the marbled patterns and then darting back towards the door every couple of seconds, willing him to come home. I had just started University and the boy I was dating had abandoned me in the pursuit of ecstasy. The moment I saw him slip that pill between his lips, I was gone, I didn’t want to be a part of it.

I looked at my phone, fighting the temptation to call him, but eventually gave in and hit dial.  Nervously listening as the phone rang off, I tried over and over until he finally answered. I could hear a ruffling sound and far away voices. What’s a boy like you doing here kissing a boy like me? Let’s go somewhere private. I can’t wait to take off that belt and…

I woke my flat mate by banging on his door, and without saying a word I handed him the phone. He put it to his ear as I stared solemnly at the floor and he instantly realised what was happening. He put his arm around me as I sat down on his bed, and together we listened to the phone call.  Hang up, he told me, you don’t need to hear this. A faint moan and a gasp escaped from the receiver, and I hurled it across the room.

My flat mate confronted my ex when he eventually slinked through the front door. He screamed abuse, called him a miserable excuse for a human being, and insisted that he leave. He didn’t leave, though, he pushed his way into my bedroom and curled himself into a ball on the floor. I turned him over, stared into his milky vacant eyes, and I didn’t know who he was anymore. The slurred smile on his lips was everything but his own, and as he laid eyes on me, he screamed in terror, and begged me not to hurt him.

Take everything, take my money, take the T.V, take the fridge, just don’t hurt me. 

I’m fully aware of the mind altering capacities of drugs but that person who lay on my floor that night wasn’t anybody I knew. So when one of those DJ’s unfolded their palm and offered me this tiny pill, I withdrew for a second, recalling these memories before popping it onto my tongue. I couldn’t visit the Mecca of the rave scene without taking ecstasy, that would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids or going to Hanoi and not drinking snake’s blood. It was a decision I’d made from the moment that monster lay on my bedroom floor, and many years later, I was going to learn what it was like.

My heart beat in time with the music, and I felt like if I stopped dancing that I would cease to go on living. It was the same rush I’d felt when I’d had my drink spiked in Munich, only this time it was more intense. I was overcome with a rush of happiness and I became increasingly tactile with my beautiful new friends. I caressed their arms and mussed their hair and insisted on hugging them every fifteen seconds. I was in a state of serenity that I didn’t know was possible, and as glitter and streamers rained down overhead, I didn’t know what was and wasn’t real anymore. It was electric, eclectic, eccentric.

My new friends woke me up and helped me into a taxi, and I woke up later that day tucked up safely in my hotel room. Ecstasy was responsible for one of the best experiences of my life, but it was also responsible for one of the worst. Every time you slip that pill between your lips, you’re taking a gamble with your emotions and your life. It’s a game of roulette where the only outcomes are pleasure and despair, and after only playing twice, I’m taking all my chips off of the table.

The Dating Game

In Eat, Gay, Love on February 17, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Gay Piggy Back

‘I hear the birds on the summer breeze, I drive fast, I am alone in the night. Been trying hard not to get into trouble but I’ve got a war in my mind.’

– Lana Del Rey

I stepped out of the blood clinic and made my way across London to meet one of my closest friends. By legally donating blood after a year without sex, I had ticked one item off my list of goals for 2013. The truth, though, was that I had a secondary motive for my short time in England. There was another goal I wanted to accomplish.

Everything was beginning to shape up exactly how I’d planned it would. I’d had to dodge a few curve-balls and make a few last minute decisions but it seemed like I was on the right track to ticking off every item on my list. Lessons were being learned, travel arrangements had been made, and I was making bold steps in terms of my writing and my career.

There was only one goal that was being left in the dust. The pursuit of romance was being forgotten about amidst the other exciting steps I was taking, and it was seeming less and less likely that I would find that man who’d give me butterflies.

Living in Spain, an hour’s drive from the nearest gay bar, makes dating seem almost unfathomable. In England I could open Grindr to find that the nearest suitor was a few metres away, but here it’s a couple of miles. I’d like to be able to go down to one of the local bars and flirt precariously with a hot stranger but my fear holds me back.

The language barrier doesn’t worry me, that never stopped me before, but it’s terrifying to hit on a man knowing that they’re most likely straight and you don’t know how they’ll react. Some gay men have the confidence to do it without first loading up on liquor, but memories of past homophobia prevent me. Even when I catch the eye of a stranger and offer them a friendly smile, I’ve a constant fear that they might react violently to even my most subtle advances. I rarely make a move on anyone outside the safety of gay friendly establishments.

The internet is one way I can pursue boys that I like. There’s hundreds of good looking boys I could taken on a date if only they were on my doorstep. I regularly flirt with gorgeous Italians, cute Scotts, and stunning Americans, but without taking time off work and splashing out on an expensive flight, they’re way out of my reach.

So, knowing that I was flying back to England just before Valentine’s Day, I knew that it would be the best shot I’d have at romance until I finally moved to New York. I decided that I’d donate my pint of blood and then spend an evening wining and dining somebody special to celebrate, and all I had to do was find them.

With time ticking away, I had to act quickly. My fingers tapped on every gay dating app available, scrolling through thousands of gay men’s profiles, trying to find the small handful of people that jumped out at me. Plucking a few London based suitors from the masses, I set about laying the usual groundwork. Finding out about their interests, showering them with compliments, and building myself up to the big question of asking them on a date.

It really highlighted how bizarre the concept of dating really is. If we like somebody, instead of showing them how incredible we are, we bombard them with praise and tell them how incredible they are. It’s so far removed from every other aspect of our lives. Dating should be more like a job interview, that’s something I understand. We should be able to unashamedly boast about our personality and our best traits, exaggerate about what a compassionate partner we would be and how good we are in bed, and then give them a list of references from our ex-partners.

Instead, we do the equivalent of walking into a job interview and showering the interviewer with praise. We tell our potential employer that we think they’re amazing, tell them how gorgeous they are, and then without sharing with them any of our best qualities, we awkwardly ask them for a job.

It’s all backwards. It’s a game where the majority of us end up making complete fools of ourselves and yet we continue to play because we want the end prize so badly. I always make the mistake of coming on too strong, finding a gay man I’m attracted to comes so rarely that I get way ahead of myself and start planning our third date before we’ve had the first.

I played the dating game to the very best of my ability, but when the moment came to strike with my offer of dinner and a show, I was met with tumble-weed on each and every occasion. So I resigned myself to the fact that romance just wasn’t something I could force. I can plan and make arrangements for everything I want to achieve this year, but when it comes to romance, I’m well and truly blind.

I did what I should have done in the first place and offered to take one of my closest friends out instead. I had such a good time that I almost forgot about my search for romance, and when a cute Londoner invited me to come for a drink, I passed up his offer and stuck with my friend. As much as I loathe to admit it, it really is true what they say. You can’t go looking for love, you have to wait for it to find you.

There’s an on going war in my mind between me and my inner control freak, it’s hard to sit by and just let fate guide me towards romance, but I know kicking and screaming won’t help. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Boys Will Be Boys

In Eat, Gay, Love on January 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Hot Gay Guys

‘Boys will be boys, and even that wouldn’t matter if we could prevent girls from being girls.’

– Anne Frank

It’s that time of year when the excitement of a fresh start begins to wane and the big love day is almost on top of us, and for the majority of the single population, we start to panic about the fact that we don’t have a partner. I’m no exception, and over the past few days I’ve noticed an emptiness that just can’t seem to be filled, and while searching for something to fill that void, I stumbled upon some tweets from last summer that pinpoint exactly what it is I’m looking for.

Calum McSwiggan Twitter

The family I was staying with had gone to the beach and neglected to leave me a key, and after thoroughly searching for an open window or an unlocked door, my attention was caught by a faint roar catching on the wind. My ears pricked up, and as I wound through the olive gardens, following the sound across the Italian countryside, I found myself standing before the local football stadium.

I pushed my way through the crowd and leaned up against the railings with a group of twenty-something Italian men. What’s the score? I asked in the most dishevelled Italian anyone has ever spoken, and they interrupted their flurry of cheers and profanity to tell me. I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to join in with their foreign football chants, and when the match was over and the stands began to empty, I realised that despite years of fulfilling the gay stereotype and openly proclaiming my hatred for soccer, this was actually quite enjoyable. It was just the beginning of a new-found obsession.

Calum McSwiggan TwitterI found myself suddenly spending my evenings watching the football at home with my host family or out at a bar with the local teenagers, and this surprising new love of football even started bleeding into my work. Twice a week I told my students to put away their books and brought them outside for a ninety minute match under the warmth of the Tuscan sun. I just couldn’t get enough. And yet despite all this, alongside my daily intake of pasta, when I finally left Italy behind for the summer, I left my passion for soccer behind too, and it’s only now whilst reading back through my own words that I realise how much I miss it.

Calum McSwiggan Twitter

 But it’s not the football I miss, not really. It’s the feeling of being part of something masculine, and being accepted as one of the lads. Since the end of my last relationship, male companionship is something I’ve been lacking, and that’s what I really miss. It isn’t that I’m lonely, I have plenty of friends to keep me company, nor is it a craving for sex, I could quite easily toss aside my celibacy vow and pick up a guy if that’s really what I wanted- the thing that I’m really missing is somebody I can be a boy with.

I think somewhere in the process of coming out and redefining my new identity, I embraced all of those repressed feminine parts of my personality, but in doing so I lost sight of the masculine. Suddenly it was okay to dance to Britney and admit I liked One Direction but I forgot that once upon a time I liked football, skateboards and video games.

With very few straight friends I have nobody to embrace these parts of my personality with. I love going out to gossip at fancy French restaurants but sometimes it’d be nice to have a boy over to eat greasy take-out with while nuking the shit out of zombies in our underwear. Instead of being the gay best friend and asserting my much needed opinion over dresses in boutiques on the high street, it’d be nice to dip into Foot Locker and have somebody help me choose a new pair of high tops. Instead of going ice skating and holding hands while we skate in slow romantic circles, it’d be nice to drop the pretence and race them across the rink.

I’m looking for somebody who would wrestle me to the floor when I try to change the channel, somebody who thinks yes, it would be a good idea to roll down that sand dune, somebody who can educate me about the offside rule, teach me to burp the alphabet, and call me a girl when I cry at the Titanic. Maybe that’s why I’m so often attracted to the straight acting guy, I’m more interested in bromance than romance, and that’s why in the lead up to Valentine’s this year, I’m not looking for a boyfriend, I’m just looking for a boy to be my friend.