Calum McSwiggan

Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Letters to Juliet

In Eat, Love on August 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Verona By Night

‘You are whatever a moon has always meant, and whatever a sun will always sing’

– E.E. Cummings

As the scorching sun slowly rose over Verona, there was a feeling in the air that signalled the last days of summer, and as I looked out over the shimmering morning river I thought of all the love I’d witnessed over the passing months.

I thought of the couples scattered along the Prague river-banks as they gratefully watched the sunrise, and of the teenagers sharing their final kiss as it set in the Swiss Alps; I thought of the love locks as they glistened in the morning sun along the Hohenzollern Bridge, and of the five-thousand strong crowd singing I Will Always Love You as they welcomed the twilight hours in Frankfurt; and I thought of the love messages beautifully crafted on my hotel room wall in Rome, and of the love and warmth I felt from two of my oldest friends in Vienna.

But most of all I thought of my best friend, and how we bobbed up and down in the warmth of the Mediterranean, laughing in the face of homelessness and joblessness, as we planned this very trip. We’d agreed to let the city inspire us with its picturesque winding streets; we’d promised to visit Juliet’s house, to grab her boob for luck, and to write her romantic letters; and we’d vowed to go to the opera to take in all the emotions and to let the music fill our hearts.

It was the perfect plan but somewhere along the lines life got in the way and I wound up here on my own- it was like going on the honeymoon alone after being left at the alter, it didn’t feel right, and there wasn’t a moment spent where I didn’t think of her.

So when I came to write my letter to Juliet, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I’d seen enough love this summer to last me a life-time, and so instead I penned a letter on my friend’s behalf. I began by scribbling down quotes from her favourite poems, books, and love songs, and then implored Juliet to take care of her, like she had taken care of me.

Before long I had a double-sided three page letter but still it wasn’t finished. I had so much more to say, to ask, to give. I thought of the long list of boys I’d kissed in the past year, and wished them all a lifetime of love and happiness, too. The German who taught me to love the world; the Italian who stood me up; the American who stripped me in a church; the English boy who thought I had AIDS; every boy I’d had a crush on; every boy who I’d looked up and down in the street; and every boy who’d made my heart thump wildly in my chest.

And when the letter was finally finished, I waited until the masses of tourists had scattered, clutched the letter tightly in my hands, closed my eyes, believed as I pushed it into Juliet’s letter box, and left for the opera.

I reached out for my best friend’s hand as I stepped out into the amphitheatre and took in the spectacular view of a thousand flickering candles wrapped in the shroud of the starry night sky. I sat down on the stone steps and watched the show with awe, the magnificent costumes, the heartfelt arias, the striking music, it was all so beautiful, even the bats that circled the orchestra looked dazzling as they glid through the spotlights before vanishing into the waking darkness.

I felt my friend clutch my hand as the protagonist discovered her dying lover and let out the song of a thousand years of heartbreak. My lungs swelled until my stomach burst, my mind opened, and my heart soared free, and as the fat lady sang and leapt to her death, with her, she took a small part of me. The elderly couple to my left clung to each other as they relived their own heartbreaks, and the teenage couple to my right dried their tears as they imagined what it would be like to lose one another. There were no words to describe what I felt, and as the crowd burst into rapturous applause and rose to their feet to deliver their standing ovation, I stayed frozen in my seat, wordless, speechless, breathless.

I stepped out into the bustling square, sucked in the late summer air and let everything concrete itself in my memory whilst thinking of my friend- she’d  been with me every step of the way, and without her none of this would have been possible. And so when a beautiful Italian boy pushed through the crowd towards me and invited me to come for a drink, I politely refused, telling him that I was enjoying spending the evening alone.

Except I wasn’t on my own, my friend had always been right there beside me, tightly clutching my hand.

Make Love, Not Warcraft

In Eat, Love on August 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Make Love, Not Warcraft

‘Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.’

– Sholom Aleichem

It was the first real date I’d been on since I split with my ex, and after five years of being out of the game, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After he’d taken me for dinner and for a drive in the countryside, I found myself sat on the edge of his bed, watching as he peeled off his shirt to reveal his bulging biceps and washboard abs. I was half expecting him to start unbuttoning his jeans or to start tearing off my clothes, but instead he threw on another t-shirt, sat down next to me, and handed me a joystick.

I was a little taken aback by his offer but found it strangely endearing and oddly romantic. I accepted and we played side by side, only interrupting game play every couple of minutes to lean over for a soft and tender kiss.

It was this memory that played on my mind as I watched two beautiful Australian Shepherds springing through the tall grasses in the Viennese countryside- I’d known these dogs since they were puppies, they belonged to some of my oldest friends, and although I’d known them for as long as I could remember, until that morning we’d never officially met.

We were the modern-day equivalent of pen pals, we’d met in an online game when I was a young teenager and, through the power of Facebook, I’d watched their relationship blossom, seen them get married, and over time began to consider them some of my closest friends.

After being tricked by a hot boy with a fake profile, I’m all too familiar with the dangers of making friends over the internet, but this was somehow different. They were friends who had always been there, they’d been there for the lengthy duration of my past relationship, offered their sincerest congratulations when we got engaged, consoled me when it all fell apart, and encouraged my exploits in my newfound singledom. They knew me so well that they were able to point out boys who were my type before I’d even clocked them, and they even included the skate park and local cruising spots in my personalised tour of Vienna.

Aren’t they those children you want to have sex with? they asked, pointing at One Direction as we curled up on the sofa and watched the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. They knew me inside out regardless of the fact that we’d only ever conversed via the internet. It seemed strange that many years ago we’d probably strolled through some virtual forest together, and now here we were, laughing and making jokes in the real thing.

Despite the reams of conversations we’d had over the years, though, there was still one unanswered question that lingered on my lips. I’d never asked them how they’d met, and when they gave me the answer I was surprised to find out that they too had found each other in an online game. After endless virtual conversations, they agreed to meet and shortly after fell head over heels in love.

And so as we sat side by side at their computer desk, guised as virtual prostitutes hustling young elves out of their hard earned gold, I was met with a pang of nostalgia. As I saw them playing together, like they had done for many years, I saw a beautiful yet unconventional connection and truly witnessed how in love they were. Unconventional love was something I was familiar with, a man loving a man, a woman loving a woman, an Italian mother loving her adopted Vietnamese son, it was something I could understand.

So when I hugged my oldest friends goodbye, I thought of the boy who wanted to play computer games on the first date, and for the first time I realised how lucky I’d be to meet another one just like him.

We Can Do Whatever We Like

In Eat on August 16, 2012 at 8:54 am


‘I believe that everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise’

– Margaret Atwood 

After hanging around with teenagers in Italy it was quite a big-leap to start spending all of my time with thirty-something professionals in Amsterdam-I often still think of myself as a teenager, and being reminded that I am in fact an adult was a very much needed and highly appreciated wake up call.

When I first visited Amsterdam in my late teens, I over-did it on the space cakes, and ended up making a complete idiot of myself by inappropriately bawling with laughter outside of the Anne Frank museum- I’d had my fill of weed and strippers, and so when I returned to visit a friend I made it absolutely clear that I had no interest in doing the tourist circuit.

I half-expected to be met with some resistance but my friend just turned to me plain faced and unblinkingly said you’re an adult, you can do whatever you like.

The phrase was coined as we walked around Rome until our feet bled, when we passed the Colloseum for the 86th time my friend threw up her hands in frustration and bee-lined for a taxi. The hotel is only two minutes away, I can see it from here, we told her, but she waved us away dismissively telling us that she was an adult, she could do whatever she liked.

Adult. It’s not a word I consider myself to be synonymous with, but she was right, I am an adult, and I can do whatever I like. It’s easy to forget that I have absolutely nobody dictating what I do and don’t do anymore. We spend so much of our time letting our families, society, our jobs, and our friends control our lives- it’s nice to remind ourselves that ultimately we are the only person who decides what we do.

The rule quickly became the mantra for the remainder of my trip. Every question was greeted with the same answer. You’re an adult, you can do whatever you like. 

Can we eat dessert before dinner? Can we eat ice cream for breakfast? Can we stay in bed til four and spend the whole day watching bad 90’s sitcoms? Do we have to pay for this dreadful beer and appauling service?

We’re adults, we can do whatever we like.

The phrase got so catchy that I found myself saying it out loud to nobody in particular. Do I have time to wash my hair this morning? I’d quietly ask myself and immediately find the answer. Should I really be spending all of my savings on mojitos? I’m an adult, I can do whatever I like.

So when I uttered my final goodbyes and everyone asked where I was headed next, and I answered with Budapest, I was greeted with a chorus of why? I answered with nine sweet little words that concluded my trip.

It was a fool proof expression that could justify pretty much any decision, that was until the ticket inspector asked me why I was sat in 1st class with a 2nd class train ticket. He didn’t appreciate my response and I had to evasively run down three carriages to avoid getting thrown off the train.

I’m an adult, I can do whatever I like.

Goodbye Frascati

In Eat, Love on June 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Frascati by night

‘Goodbye to the town we lived in, goodbye to the place we met, goodbye to our future, goodbye our regrets’

– Jools Holland

Leaving day is usually a day of excitement, a day for looking forward to the future, and a day for embracing a new adventure, but when I was gifted the opportunity to go live and work near Florence, I felt nothing but a cold dark emptiness.

I had only spent two short weeks in Frascati, yet the relationships and memories I’d forged made it seem like I’d lived there a lifetime. It had been the closest thing to home I’d felt in as long as I could remember. When I left Derby, the place I’d lived for six years, I struggled to find any kind of emotional response, but now I had found my home away from home, I didn’t want to leave.

I couldn’t walk down the streets without being invited in for coffee by a friendly face, it was a place where everybody treated you like family, a place where everybody was your best friend, a place where jobs offers were handed out like candy- it was the most quintessentially Italian town I’ve ever visited and I didn’t ever want to leave.

I peered out of the carriage window as my train began to pull away from the station and watched my host family blowing me kisses from the platform. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window and saw that I had splotches of strawberry gelato on both cheeks from where my Vietnamese brother had kissed me goodbye. I smiled at first, slowly and unsurely, and then my lips began to tremble and my whole face went into spasm, I swallowed hard as I felt a lump beginning to form in the back of my throat, and then looked down into my lap, desperately not wanting them to see me upset.

It was only when they were completely out of sight that I let myself collapse into a fit of heavy yet silent tears, I bit down hard onto the insides of my cheeks to try and stop myself but it was useless. The sun beat down on me and the tears fell from my eyes faster than I could catch them, melted hair gel ran down my forehead and streaks of strawberry ice cream drizzled down my cheeks, and before I knew it I was hiccoughing and sobbing noisily in a crowd full of confused and petrified Italian men.

I thought of all the good memories, to try to compensate for the sadness of leaving, I clutched the turtle pendant that now hung from around my neck, I spun the friendship bracelets on my wrist, and gently massaged the cigarette burns on my arm- I was decorated with memories but they only made things worse.

And so I sat there and let it happen. I stopped holding back. I therapuetically cried my heart out in front of everyone, listening to beautiful music and watching quaint villages and ancient aqueducts slowly tumble over the hillsides. But I wasn’t sad, not really, I was just so thankful for such an amazing experience, and although I didn’t want to leave, I knew deep in my heart that one day I would definitely come back.

Goodbye Frascati, I’ll miss you, I’ll miss your teenagers with loose morales, and most of all, I’ll miss your wine.

My Vietnamese Brother

In Eat, Gay on June 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm

My Vietnamese Brother

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new’

– Brian Tracy

As I hopped off the train in Frascati, a town famed for Miss Frascati (pictured above) and renowned for its delicious and extremely alcoholic white wine, I met the family I would be living with for the next couple of weeks- they were the average Italian family, charming and well groomed, passionate and welcoming, loving and friendly. They first introduced me to their daughter on the platform, and told me that they had another special somebody for me to meet back home.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I was half-hoping that they had found me an Italian Stallion, but when they pushed open the door to their home and I heard the gentle pitter-patter of teeny-tiny feet, I knew that it was something even better- they’d found me a new best friend.

A five year old Vietnamese boy bumbled around the corner, charging towards me and yelling ‘Ciao Bello!’ excitedly. He latched onto my leg and looked up at me with a wide and cheeky grin, he was the most adorable creature I’d ever met, and we instantly became friends.  

We were inseparable, him and I, when I got home from work at the end of each day, he’d run into my bedroom, sit on the end of the bed and pull funny faces or sing songs about monkeys. We were fascinated by each other, whenever I turned my back I’d find him rummaging through my backpack, pulling things out and making a dreadful mess, examining every item with his wide expressive eyes before putting them all back in the wrong place- usually I hate children touching my things but he was a special exception.

I was amazed by how attentive and loving his adoptive parents were, constantly telling me what a precious and special child he was, and revealing that it cost them an astounding £25,000 to go through the adoption process. They showed me scores of baby pictures of him in Vietnam where they flew out to collect him, and they both welled up with sheer pride as they showed me pictures of his first steps. Their children were their world in a way that I’d never before witnessed.

So, then, imagine my horror when I came back from having a shower to find my beautiful new brother holding my dildo. Hidden away in the recesses of my suitcase I had a clone of an ex boyfriend’s penis- we’d bought a kit online and created a latex copy of his member, thinking it would be funny, and now a Vietnamese child was waving it around in front of me- it was clean and unused but I was still absolutely mortified.

Not knowing what else to do,  I snatched it out of his hands and stuffed it back into my suitcase; confused by my sudden aggression he scampered off to get his mother. Moments later they returned and she told me that I had a toy he wanted to play with.

I don’t know what you’re talking about, I said in the most unconvincing fashion.

He immediately ran over to my suitcase, yelled something in Italian, and began rummaging through my things- I watched in absolute terror, praying that he wouldn’t find it again and whip it out in front of the protective woman who loved him so much that she paid £25,000 to adopt him.

Thankfully she pulled him away before he could find it again but for the duration of my stay there I had to play hide the dildo every single day, thinking up new and inventive ways to keep it out of sight.

I’d like to say I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this- nothing is private when you’re living with young children, and it’s an alarmingly difficult task to keep things out of reach. Considering what had happened, I decided it would be a smart move to hide my copy of Bareback Skater Boys 3 in my Kylie Minogue CD case.

I got quite the fright when I played musical chairs with eighty children a week later and decided to whack some Kylie on.

Don’t Talk About AIDS

In Gay, Love on June 1, 2012 at 8:18 am

‘The subject no longer has to be mentioned by name. Someone is sick. Someone else is feeling better now. A friend has just gone back into the hospital. Another has died. The unspoken name, of course, is AIDS’

– David W. Dunlap

A couple of months ago I went on a date with a boy I met on Grindr, we did the usual dinner and drinks combination, and he slipped away at the end of the evening with a gentle goodnight kiss.

We got on really well, and I eagerly messaged him the next day asking if he’d like to meet again, but disappointingly I received no response. Just to be sure that my previous message hadn’t been lost in the cyberspace, I tried getting in touch about a week later. I asked how he was, asked whether he’d like to meet again, and this time he responded.

 ‘Hey… I had a really nice time but you having aids really scares me, I’m sorry but I don’t think we should meet again’ 

I was well and truly baffled as to where he’d drawn this assumption, I don’t have HIV/AIDS, and never alluded to the fact that I might. By the time I attempted to correct him and explain that it was all a big misunderstanding, though, he had already blocked and deleted me from both Grindr and Facebook.

After some deliberation I recalled that we had had a conversation about AIDS over dinner, where I had explained the difference between HIV and AIDS to him, and told him I knew of some people living with HIV in the local area. He must have confused what I was telling him, and assumed that I was a carrier myself.

When sharing this story with friends, they all had the same painstakingly obvious advice for me: when you’re on a first date, don’t talk about AIDS. It goes without saying that bringing up a potentially fatal illness over dinner doesn’t exactly scream romance, but then it dawned on me that those out there living with HIV don’t really have a choice.

People living with HIV commonly consider it their responsibility to make it known that they are a carrier as soon as possible, and to be constantly slammed down with rejection in response can’t be anything but soul-destroying.

UKPositiveLad anonymously blogs about his experiences of living with HIV, and after reading extracts about his dating life, and how he was once almost driven to suicide, I was well and truly moved to tears.

As a community we attach such a negative stigma to HIV/AIDS- we slap the HIV positive with the label of being a slut, we make jokes about them, refering to AIDS as the Anally Injected Death Sentence, and some even deny that HIV/AIDs exists at all. It’s truly revolting that we can behave this way.

Without the risk of pregnancy, it’s become pretty common for gay men to have regular unprotected sex without concern, not truly realising what risks they are really exposing themselves to- HIV/AIDS isn’t just a myth made up to stop us having fun, it’s real and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

I think one of the main problems with AIDS awareness is that nobody is talking about it- it’s a hard subject to deal with but I think it’s important that we do. I recommend watching House of Boys and Philadelphia, both are heartbreaking stories about gay men living with HIV/AIDs, and they’re both likely to spark up conversation.

Do your part to spread AIDS awareness today

 Let’s talk about AIDS.

All The Best Men Are Gay

In Gay, Love on May 8, 2012 at 9:01 am

‘Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night’

 – Woody Allen

Just the other day I fell down the stairs in the library to be caught by a beautiful boy with piercing blue eyes and enormous arms that could carry you to heaven and back- then, just as he was asking me if I was alright, his girlfriend came round the corner, wrapped her arms around his waist, and cattily shooed me away – That bitch.

I bitterly texted my friend, who responded by telling me to stop going after straight guys because all the best men are gay. It’s a phrase uttered by pretty much every single woman I’ve ever met, and is quite possibly the most irritating thing you can say to a gay man. I know it’s probably intended as a compliment, but really, what are you girls basing this on?

It’s usually followed up with a short-list of two or three famous hot gay men and an anecdote about this one hot gay guy they met once at a party, and that’s where it’ll end.

I go on to list all of the straight celebrities I would quite happily let have their way with me – (Andrew Garfield, Ashton Kutcher, Austin Drage, Adam Levine, Aaron Johnson – And those are just the A’s.) – and then point at the nearest hot straight guy because there’s always one around.

The sad thing is, I see a lot of gay men completely sacrificing their standards because of their limited options. Their type becomes any gay guy they see and they jump from gay guy to gay guy searching for unachievable satisfaction in a self-destructive manner.

We are attracted to such a small number of the population, when you factor in the small amount of gay men in comparison to straight men, it’s no wonder we find it to be slim-pickings. I always give a flirtatious half-smile when I come into contact with an attractive guy, and it’s quite soul-destroying to never get a smile back- and sometimes even get a what the fuck are you looking at?

The truth is, I’ve only ever really been attracted to three gay guys in my twenty-one years of living. I’ve reasoned that some have been alright but rarely do they tick-all-the-boxes. Maybe I’m just picky; maybe I am holding out for the real-life equivalent of the Call Me Maybe Guy; maybe I don’t want to settle for a boy who wears make-up, has highlights in his hair, and shaves off all of his pubes; but maybe that’s okay?

I don’t think it’s just me that has this issue either- only a small percentage of straight people use dating sites, but I don’t think I’ve met a gay man who doesn’t use grindr. We’re limited in options, so we seek out alternatives for meeting gay men.

I think it’s important that, as gay men, we don’t lower our standards because of our limited choice options. Better still, it would be great if our female-companions would stop complaining that all the best men are gay; especially if they have just made-out with a boy we would wear a wig and a dress just to trick into coming home with us.

 Women and gay-men are going to forever have this on-going battle, and I think in all honesty we’re probably all just guilty of wanting what we can’t have. Let’s, then, all agree on one thing: all the best men are taken.

With A Little Help From My Friends

In Eat, Love on May 6, 2012 at 10:01 am

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…

It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival’

– C. S. Lewis 

Young people don’t hug enough, the old woman said with a smile as I greeted my best friend in the bus station with a hug. It was the first time I’d seen her since January; and I already know what you’re probably thinking- we can’t be that close if we go five months without seeing one another- but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Laura,  who is a self-confessed expat, has been on the move since I’ve known her. She points at a random place on the map and then books a plane ticket, I’ve always found that inspiring and the long-distance friendship has only made us closer.

We owe this friendship to the magic of the internet- it doesn’t seem like it’s been five months since I saw her last because I see her every couple of days on Skype; we don’t need a lengthy catch up because we share every sordid detail of our lives with one another on Facebook; and we don’t have to do tears and dramatic goodbyes because we’re never really apart.

Our friendship represents new and old technologies working together in harmony. She emails me her manuscript, I edit it and post it back to her, she sends me an Audrey Hepburn postcard, and I send her links to naked men. We work with what we’ve got, but in this day and age we’ve got quite a lot.

I know a lot of people would suggest that the internet is leading society down a dark and shady path, and I’m fully aware of the dangers, but I think we don’t take the time to appreciate what we have. My parents have lived in Spain for several years now, and although I only see them for a couple of weeks a year, I never feel apart from them. Like all my long-distance relationships, I owe a large part of this to the internet and social media.

I find it’s the friends that don’t live close to me that are the ones that I find the most inspirational. I met a couple from Austria a couple of years ago and since they’ve been married they’ve given me high hopes for what my future love-life could be, friends in America and Hong Kong constantly show me how small the world really is, and my readers all across the globe invoke feelings of world-wide community- we’re connected more now than ever and I find it incomprehensible that this is seen as a negative and not a positive thing.

One thing I will admit, though, is that the old woman in the bus station was probably right. Young people don’t hug enough- but when separated by miles of land and sea, air-kisses on Skype are definitely the next best thing.

In This City

In Eat, Love on April 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm

‘And I found that round here, in this city,

That I won’t disappear, in this city,

I got nothing to fear, in this city.’

Iglu & Hartley

  Four years ago I arrived in Derby as an eighteen year old boy, and in exactly one month’s time I will be packing up my bags and leaving as a twenty-two year old man. A lot has changed in these four years, friendships have been forged and lost, relationships have come and gone, and stories have been lived and told.

The feeling of spending my first summer here in Derby, living free and independtly, was empowering; perched by the open window, breathing in the spiced air, sipping corona, and gawping at the topless gardener who mowed past every couple of minutes. The temptation to try to re-live these long lost memories is overpowering, but I know more than ever, that now is the time to leave.

This city has been a stepping stone for me, there was once a time when the dull-lights of Derby seemed overwhelming, the streets seemed so full of opportunity, and every person I met revealed a whole new world to me. As I leave, it’s obvious to me that I’ve exhausted this small city of all it has to offer, and it’s time to explore the rest of this expansive world.

I’m taking with me those few possessions that matter, the memories I’ll always cherish, and those few friendships that will last a lifetime.

With a year’s savings in the bank-account, I’m first headed to Spain to visit family, and then on to spend another summer teaching hyper-active children in Italy. Where I will go after that, however, is still an enormous overhanging question-mark. I spent two years planning a move to America, that despite my greatest efforts, has everything but fallen through. I have the opportunity to move to London with my dearest friend,  and creative partner, but where I will end up is still unknown.

What I do know for sure though, and I type this with a heavy heart, is that I won’t be returning to Derby – the place that has served as a loving home for the past four years.