HAPPY PLACE

Whenever something goes wrong, I head to Hyde Park.

Whether the god-awful Winter Wonderland is on or whether it’s hot enough to take a dip in the lido, it’s the place that I go to do all of my best thinking. I’m hard pushed in central London to find places to clear my mind and, as one of the more greener settings in the capital, it really helps to escape the concrete and just… breathe.

Luckily for me, the park is walking distance from my parent’s house. Yes, I know. This means that I can just slip on a pair of boots and take a wander to my happy place at a moments notice.

This weekend, for no particular reason, Ryan and I decided to cycle to that happy place and it was as DI-VINE as always.

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  Whether you’re visiting London or have lived here longer than I have, an afternoon spent exploring our most famous park is an afternoon well spent.

THE HURT

cc9b98bcb67ced3ed24e5fbd9d8cf0f8Every time I feel like a boy has been mean to me and I cry as though my world has come to a swift and somewhat brutal end, my mum asks me the same question: ‘Is it your heart that is broken, or is it your ego that is bruised?’

Megan from Wonderful You posted a piece about heartbreak recently. As I read it, I could feel the pain in every word that she had written and it made me think about my own bouts of heartache. Now, I have had pretty much everything possible happen to me in a relationship. I have been dumped, humiliated, lied to and now, cheated on but I don’t feel hard done by. I just feel experienced. And as a result of this, I am able to offer Megan some (potentially) quite good advice.

When you see someone you love move on with someone else, I think you’ll agree that it can hurt more than the break up itself. Even if you were the one to finish things once and for all, jealousy can still strike. But when it does, be sure to ask yourself: is my heart still broken or is it just my ego that’s a little bruised?

The way to work out the answer to this is to note down the thoughts that are popping into your head as you scroll through photos of them on Facebook or as you listen to tales about them from mutual friends. If you can’t believe that he bought her that super expensive Christmas present or you can’t fathom why he would be with someone so vanilla when you’re so god damn chocolate chip, then I think you’ll find that your ego is bruised. This can be cured with a night out or a spot of speed dating. Basically, distractions.

If, however, you’re wondering how he could cuddle her at night, whether he calls her that pet name and if he slots his foot into the crease of hers in the same way you did when you were spooning, then it’s most definitely your heart that’s broken, and I’m afraid, that one’s a lot harder to fix.

But what is some practical advice to get over it?

Talk. Talk to your girlfriends until you’re sure they’ve phased out and are now contemplating whether gorgeous Charlie will ever make a return to Girls. Talk to your mum until even she is wondering whether gorgeous Charlie will make a return to Girls. If you write, write it all down. If you don’t write, write it all down. It doesn’t have to sound like a best seller but the act of writing can be some form of therapy (which is why you sometimes probably think I overshare). Finally, don’t taunt yourself. As curious as you are about where they’re headed on their summer holiday together or what she does for a living, just don’t go there. Who cares what she does? If your heart is still aching, then his is too; men just tend to mend things a lot quicker than we do. Nothing will change the time you spent together, so allow yourself to bask in the happy memories but don’t get bogged down in them. Chances are, she’s probably feeling pretty insecure about what you both had too.

Figuring out whether it’s your heart or your ego, much like a diagnosis from your doctor, will allow you to work out how best to treat your injury. A broken arm takes around six weeks to heal in a cast, a bruise tends to fade by itself over a week; see what I’m getting at? If you’ve worked out that your heart is broken, then the only way to take action is to wrap it up in cotton wool and hold it together as tightly as you can. If this means that you have to lie in bed for a few days, or dance the night away every weekend for a month, then do just that. There’s no prescription for a broken heart I’m afraid, just sound advice from someone else who has experienced it.

I broke my wrist around ten years ago now, and whenever it gets a little bit cold outside or I sleep on it funny, I get a twinge of pain; a reminder of my broken arm. The same goes for your heart: even after it has been mended, and you are happy with someone else, you’ll always wonder what might have been and you might still even feel a momentary ache. But don’t worry, it’s just a little reminder of how you strong you are.

Just give your heart some time. But whatever you do in that time, be kind to yourself.

The Travel – A Guest Post

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Seeing The World: What Better Way To Spend Your Time?

Throughout my teenage years and early twenties, travelling was always something that I felt I probably should do, rather than actually wanted to. Being the painfully OCD freak that I am and so very attached to London’s home comforts, the grim logistics of backpacking oddly never appealed to me. Needless to say, not showering for days on end, scooping dinner out of a tin (if at all), and nursing foreign hair infestations was not on my list of things to do. Regretfully at the ripe old age of 27, I’ll happily say I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s the best thing I’ve ever chosen to do.

Obviously there were holidays over the years: family trips to Spain, boozy city breaks with mates, South Africa with Seany, jollies with the missus and music festivals, all of which I’m hugely fortunate to have enjoyed and loved. This trip, however, is something else entirely. The places, people and cultures have been so dramatically diverse, heart-meltingly humble and astoundingly helpful, to the extent I often believed these encounters were an elaborate scam or robbery. They never were.

Views so beautiful they have literally taken my breath away, surroundings that no iPhone, digital camera or even SLR can truly capture and I can’t even attempt to describe in words the sheer size and scale of these places. And the beer, let’s not forget the beer; at any time of day and more wallet-friendly than water on most occasions; smashing three course lunches for about £1.50 in Bolivia and frankly inhaling the dirt-cheap steaks and red wine of Argentina, as if someone were about to steal them from under our noses. The people we’ve met along the way have also been (for the most part, I’ll get to that) terrific human beings and I wouldn’t think twice about putting any of them up in the big smoke.

But despite those seemingly endless praises, travelling does carry its darker undertones. So’s not to put you off, I’ll try and keep this brief. Here’s what those Lonely Planet books don’t tell you:

The Comfort Zone

Travelling with my girlfriend has been hugely rewarding both on a personal level and in terms of our relationship. We’re now so close, it’s become common place to discuss the consistency, colour and volume of our shit, after EVERY trip to the toilet. Sometimes it’s even reported through the bathroom door, bellowing with sheer joy and relief that it’s a, ‘SOLID ONE!’, having beaten the diarrhoea roulette. Your partner’s face is also seriously important, you better really, really, like it, for the only time you don’t see it, is when you’re asleep or during those brief milliseconds of respite when you blink.

Tossers

I’ve made a point of mentioning how amazing the people we’ve met are, and on the whole, we’ve been very lucky. Of course, as a law of averages, there are going to be exceptions, or, ‘tossers’, as I like to call them. Company so intolerable, that it makes you think perhaps you’re being punished for something in a past life. Wankers so unfathomably annoying, that I frequently found myself pushing an imaginary sock into their mouths, in the hope of putting a plug into the know-it-all, anti-government, anti-commercialism, anti-job, anti-McDonald’s, anti-fucking-anything to be honest chat. One chap in particular spoke at length to us at how large household brands and corporate companies were destroying the world and killing people, as in actually murdering them for land. The same cock sat there telling us all of this in a pair of Nike tracksuit bottoms, guzzling a can of Coke with his Marlborough Lights, showing us ‘proof’, on his sodding iPHONE. We got some comic mileage out of this knob though, so not all bad.

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Even after nearly thee months, the concept of this still unnerves me. “Hi eight total strangers, so we’re all just going to sleep in this hotbox of a room together, stacked like free prisoners, pretending like this is all completely normal behaviour?”. It has to be done at times and there’ll be a good few more to come I imagine, but I don’t like it. Not one bit. The sound of incessant snoring, persistent crotch scratching, phlegm-hocking and and bilingual sleep talking will always hold a dear place in my heart. As will the Venezuelan girls puking solidly between 3-4am, then ignoring their 5:30am alarm call for what felt like an eternity, until they were literally shaken to consciousness by my main bitch – she can get scarily Belfast when she needs to. Thankfully we’ve not bore witness (that we know of) to any camel-feeding, sausage-eating, todger-pulling or finger blasting. Yet. We did however come across one harrowing account of a dorm experience, where a charming Aussie girl insisted her new love conquest refrained from, “Spitting in her fanny”, at which point the neighbouring bed occupier had enough and threw them both out. Bravo.

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Having digested all that, I’m sure you’re busy clicking through Sky Scanner web pages with your calculator, and so you should be, it’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make. You won’t remember that car or designer handbag you bought on your deathbed in years to come, instead it’ll be some naked Slovakian boy on the opposite bunk, who in his sleep-induced state decided he was going to sit on the end of his bed and glare into your soul, while you pretend to be engrossed in the latest free download on your Kindle. Good times.

photoWritten by Alex O’Brien, my real life older brother. No we are not twins, yes I am the better looking one.

If you want to keep updated on his escapades, home or away, follow him on twitter here. He’s kind of funny.

The Visit

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It must seem to my regular readers that I spend most of my time getting medical practitioners to look at my lady bits. I can categorically tell you that this is not the case, however, if it makes you feel better about getting your own private parts checked out, then so be it.

I’ve heard that HIV is on the rise again in young, gay men and although I myself am clearly not a young, gay man, I’m well aware that we are all at risk and that I’m not immune just because I’m a heterosexual female. I also know that it isn’t just HIV that we should be protecting ourselves from either: there are 27 different types of STI that are waiting to latch onto our genitals, so it really is worth spending the time using protection and getting checked out, however old you are and however many sexual partners you’ve had.

If you’re under 18 and reading this, then I can understand that STIs might still be a little bit taboo for your age range. When I was at school, anyone who took a trip to the clinic was there primarily to collect a ton of condoms to throw around in class and if you were caught coming out of one, it was immediately assumed that your knob had fallen off. If, however, you’re old and ugly enough to take responsibility for your dental hygiene and general health, then there’s no excuse for neglecting yourself from the waist down; you should be leading the younger generation by example.

It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t had a test since 2009. Shameful. Four years, and a few sexual partners later, I could have caught something and have passed it onto a bedtime buddy already. A quick debrief of my sexual encounters would tell you that it was highly unlikely that I’d have contracted anything from a list of bright, well brought up, good looking and charming university graduates (not) but it’s not as clear cut as having chocolate on your chin: sometimes it’s too dark or I was too drunk and just because you’re called Harry doesn’t mean you don’t have Herpes. So I took the plunge and got myself booked in last week.

My clinic is the sexual health hub of West London and had been a haunt for most of my health conscious friends and boyfriends growing up, but I hadn’t visited the place in years. And you know what? Not much had changed. The same hushed waiting room was still there: rows of chairs filled with people avoiding eye contact at all costs, an old radio playing the same tracks from 2006 and as I was visiting so close to the festive season, a comforting array of washed out tinsel was strewn decadently about the room. Something that had changed however, was my attitude to getting this done. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I felt proud of myself and of the people around me; I’d had a bikini wax and was ready to take on the swab. I did still want to be invisible however, so when I sneezed and a guy said “Bless you”. I thought, “Dude, we’re not waiting for a bus here. I’m trying my very best to be as discrete as possible so could you please just not”.

This was all quickly forgotten when I was told by the nurse that swabs were a DIY job these days. I could’ve jumped on her I was so relieved – and I’m really not that shy about my vagina – so hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a little anxious, to take the leap. If, by some chance, some clinics do ask you to drop your pants, please don’t panic; it really isn’t that bad and it will be over really, really quickly. And to those guys who think they have it worse when it comes to sexual health screenings: woman up. It’s a cotton bud, not a machine gun.

My brother and his mates used to visit the clinic together for moral support. Afterwards, they’d treat themselves to a Nando’s for being so brave. I don’t care what it takes to get yourself checked out; whether you want to have sex with your girlfriend without a condom or if you need to justify getting your Peri-Peri fix that week, make like Nike and just do it. Remember that those who are there to assist you have seen a lot worse (confirmed when my gyno made a cameo appearance treating genital warts on Embarrassing Bodies a while back) while those who are waiting to be seen are only there to look after themselves, just like you.

Yes, it’s embarrassing when you’re about to show your foof to a complete stranger or when you’re asked a long list of questions about your sex life but it really is so important to make sure you’re clean as more serious diseases are found in young people today. Oh, and a little FYI: never respond with “erm… I tried it once but stopped because it hurt” when asked if you’ve had anal sex during your health questionnaire; the nurse is trying to figure out if you’ve been exposed to potential risks, not whether you’re an experimental lover. Just a little heads up, this definitely didn’t happen to me…

I received my “all-clear” text just this morning and I can tell you that the relief of that message far outweighs the 60 seconds of embarrassment in that nurse’s office or the scratch of the needle from a blood test.

Drop your trousers and get it checked.

All of you.

The Pornography

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Porn was first thrust upon me, much like anyone else who grew up in the noughties, in the charming form of Two Girls, One Cup. Suffice to say, I haven’t had a great relationship with the medium since.

The next thing I remember was a school trip to Wales, where boys who had only seen nudity in print, were passing a copy of Nuts Magazine around the coach. They shared their thoughts about a lack of pubic hair and different shades of areola, as us girls looked on with both intrigue and fright.

My boyfriend during these younger years was caught watching porn by his mum – an act as alien to me then as peeing standing up – and despite it being a moment of awkward humiliation for them both, she took it upon herself to stand there and give him a rollicking for objectifying girls: what a woman.

Following on from my teenage years, my male friends at university developed my fascination with porn by introducing me to the delights of ‘Sausage Pizza’. One of their favourite past times was to leave ‘Meat Spin’ running on my unattended laptop during dissertation time for me to return to as a treat after running off for a quick toilet break.(If you’re not sure what either of those food related porn titles are, take it from me, it’s better that way.)

Back in the day, and by this I’m only talking ten or so years ago, porn was taboo and the only way to get yourself off was to watch the 10 minute preview to an adult film on some obscure 900 Sky channel or switch over to TOTP where Rachel Stevens was doing her thing. Nowadays, we can access a whole world of sexual fantasy, in ultra high definition, from behind a computer screen, or even more conveniently, through our smart phones.

The majority of both my male and female counterparts watch porn on a regular basis and I’ve even known guys to share porn between friends. It has become so much a part of our daily lives that questioning the morality of it would be like questioning the morality of a roast potato. But aside from the fact that (some of) the stars of the small screen make a stack of money, how else is it enhancing the lives of these men and women who are having sex for cash? To me, there’s no difference between this occupation and that of a hooker on the streets of London, and any monetary transaction that exists when having sex, whether a punter or a production team is paying you, is just wrong in my opinion.

There’s obviously a darker side to the industry, and between the inappropriate videos out there and how easy they are to access, I can’t help but fear for future generations who are watching this stuff as children. Not only are they being educated in the art of bad sex, but these films are taking ideas of brutality and domination, and normalising them. In fact, these films are such a poor example of what sex is really like, that I’d probably give those sex education videos from my school days a little more credit. I also think more time should be given to educate those of an older generation who aren’t aware that these films are but a click away from their child’s reach, but I’ll save that for another day.

A guy I was seeing at the end of last year said that there was something he found shameful about masturbating and that he always felt a little self-deprecating afterwards, like he’d done something really wrong. I think it’s important to recognise that there’s nothing wrong with a little self love, but it’s the tools that are used to get you there that might be the problem.

Perhaps porn is a good way to vent mismatched sexual desires that you don’t share with you partner, or to tide you over until your next conquest, but we need to remember what it was like to be obsessed with what sex was going to be like before we had it. The whole world is obsessed with it because it’s amazing. And why is it amazing? Because you get to touch another person’s body, feel great and if you’re really lucky, connect on a higher level. Watching porn, albeit a fantastic form of contraception, just means more time spent staring at a screen as opposed to each other and I find that tapping at a keyboard to watch people have sex is much like staring through the window of a great restaurant to see people eating instead of heading inside and trying the menu for yourself.

Taking all of the moral questions surrounding the industry such as how these people are being treated behind the scenes and how many of them have chosen this as a career choice away, I don’t actually have a massive problem with it being watched, even within the realms of a relationship. I’m safe in the knowledge that my boyfriend isn’t thinking about me as he watches Jenna Jameson’s puppies jump up and down onscreen, but I’m cool with that; after all, my boobs will never be as big as hers and I wouldn’t want him to miss out, being the boob man that he is. But when it comes to my turn, why am I expected to enjoy ‘female friendly’ films?  I feel a need to let all of you porn producers out there know that not all of us girls want to be caressed with scented oils or fed fresh strawberries and I find it simply hilarious how this new age porn industry can be so regressive at times.

As you can see, I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the whole porn debate, but as a little experiment, I think I’ll steer clear of it for a while.

Think that might take too much will power as the winter nights draw in? Film your own and be safe in the knowledge that both parties have consented, are being taken care of (in more ways than one) and I’m sure you’ll feel far more satisfied watching a demonstration by someone with a good working knowledge of the female anatomy, because FYI, what they do in porn films is not good sex and I can guarantee it will not get your girlfriend anywhere near where you want her to be.

I am, shamefully however, looking forward to Fifty Shades of Grey coming out at the cinema next year.

Does that count as porn?

Who even knows anymore.

The Chub

large (4)Although being almost eight months into a relationship is quite the achievement for me, what isn’t an achievement, is gaining half a stone.

Girls, you know what I’m talking about: nights out dancing with your mates are replaced with romantic meals out, salads at lunch time are quashed by brunch at our favourite places which means too many cappuccinos and a silly amount of avocado. And sadly, from inside this cloud of candy floss, it is very easy to forget that cake equates to calories.

So a friend, who has been with her boy for over a year now, text me to comfort me and let me know about the vicious cycle: they feed you because they love you; they still think you look great. They keep feeding you; you diet; they ask you where your tits have gone-you start eating again.

My boyfriend’s housemate and his dancer girlfriend have avoided this weight gain by working out together (outside the bedroom you ‘orrible, crude lot). It’s a great idea in theory but a duvet day, particularly as the Autumn weather kicks in, is far more appealing.

This isn’t the first time that love chub has hit either. It seems that every time somebody loves me, they want to feed me up good and proper – I guess men really do prefer something to hold onto. And lads, if you don’t, you’re going about things the wrong way: stop feeding me or muffin top you shall receive. I practically rolled through the summer of 2012, found it tricky to fit into my car along with my uni stuff after my first year and felt bloated for the entirety of my seventeenth year on planet earth.

But I’d rather be fat with love than skinny and alone, right?

Coming from an Irish background, food, to me, defines love. Any rejection of food is, as a result, a rejection of that love. I’ve been told the same goes for Italian families: a mozzarella ball is practically a giant hug.

If you’re not of Celtic or Roman descent and are still not convinced that the two go hand in hand? Think about one of the greatest gestures of love: when a mother feeds her baby. Think of tea with friends, family dinners, baking for besties and food in the bedroom: these are all signs that, like it or not, love comes with calories. And I think I’m fine with that.

My beloved Kate Moss however, would disagree. She once said that, ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. Well little miss, you know what I’d say to that? You haven’t actually been in love.

Someone pass me a scone.

The Break Up

large (11)I watched ‘The Break Up’ last night and felt totally cheated.

Before you download it, you should know that that it’s more of a Rom Con than a Rom Com. I wanted rain, maybe even a bit of snow. I wanted an exhausting sex scene or a fireworks display to declare their love for one another. But, no. I got ‘see you around’. For once, real life is more exciting than the movies. My break up history, on reflection, could probably make for a pretty good script.

Having been through only two major break ups in my life, I feel a little inadequate on the discussion of relationships falling apart but I reckon the first is always the worst. Not because you love them more than any later lovers, just because it’s so new. At the age of around sixteen, you find yourself completely falling for someone with the entirety of your heart, body, mind and soul. So when the inevitable happens and the relationship crumbles due to conflicting university choices, travelling, or worst of all, cheating, your whole world seems to fall apart. Once you’ve been through The First Love Break Up, whether you are sixteen or forty-five, a lot of things are put into perspective. It makes you a little colder, a little more guarded and far more cynical about the future…

But once the first is somewhat behind you, you follow it up with what is normally The University Break Up, or as I like to call it, ‘the early twenties freak out’. You get to twenty-one, final year of university and think ‘I have one year left to go wild. What am I doing?’ You call it off, there are tears, a lot more break up sex than you could ever possibly imagine and then that period where you decide that it would be a good idea to see who can hurt each other more to make yourself feel better. This is the worst phase of all. It is the numbness of this break up which is the scariest because it is nothing in comparison to the childish hurt you felt from the first. You think you don’t really care as much as the first time. But you do. You just have to hope that when you realise you made a mistake, it’s not too late.

The Long Distance Break Up isn’t much better I’m afraid. This one appears to be all about how much effort you put in, how much you love each other or the amount of distance between you. In reality, it isn’t any of the above. Instead, it is simply just really really hard to be away from the one you love. The whole reason you are with someone is because you enjoy their company, you find them physically attractive and because your life is much better when you’re around them. You can’t experience any of these things to their maximum potential over Skype or through text messaging which is why these relationships generally fail. Think about it. How many long distance relationships that you’ve experienced, first hand or not, have actually worked out? I don’t know any that have. If there’s an end in sight then it might be worth the struggle, but if not it might be time to think about the cut and run.

The thing you need to remember until you find ‘The One’ or at least ‘One of the Ones’ is that “Love always begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop”. No matter what you do.

As long as you know this, you can only live for the moment.

But is it all worth it? I think I’ll leave that one up to you…