THE CITY

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When people think of their happy place, it’s normally a vision of white sands, blue skies and Caipirinhas on tap, right? Well my happy place – even after 25 years – is right here in this big city, and I will tell you why.

By day, we only notice the grumpy faces, the brisk walks and the litter on the pavement. It’s hard to see past the endless rows of chicken shops and aggy kids on the bus on the way to work. You seem to always need an umbrella, even in springtime, and you pay a fortune for pretty much everything- not to mention your bag getting knicked from right under your nose.

On a good day, however, the city comes alive.

And although I love my shabby home town and was oh-so-territorial when every man and his dog moved here after university (only to realise that they had all moved to Clapham and then I didn’t mind as much), it isn’t all about this little place that I call home; it’s just urban life that I love. And I love it for the things it has taught me.

Paris, for example, is where I learnt that (unfortunately) racism does in fact still exist in the 21st century. I also learnt here that it was okay to wear black everyday. Barcelona was where I, as a twelve year old, discovered the art world. It was also where I learnt – the hard way – to keep my belongings close to my chest in public places. Bucharest is where I learnt how to survive a coach full of people en route to a festival (you stock up on water and more booze and hope for the best). It’s also where I realised that it’s possible to buy beer for a pound. London is where I learnt to fall in love. And the Big Apple? Well, that’s where I learnt how to live.

Going from London to New York felt like flying home, rather than heading into the unknown. I padded those streets like an extra in Home Alone and pretended it was no biggie that I found myself in Brooklyn. Forget jungle exploration or bumming about on a beach, this was my Nirvana. The concrete, the smell of food, even the smell of “trash”, the greyness, the bustle, the paranoia, the anonymity. It felt so comforting and familiar, so akin to something else I’d known before: my first love, London.

They say the world is your Oyster, but I say there’s only one city where there’s an Oyster Card, and it’s right on my doorstep. So if you’re unable to travel the world, then find yourself a place smack bang in the middle of the capital. Yes, it’s expensive, but each borough, district or quarter is like flying to a foreign land and is therefore worth every single penny. With an array of delicacies, cultures and occupants, a tube ride from home can give you a completely different experience from anything you’ve seen before. And I mean that.

This Ode to My Hometown is nothing you haven’t heard spouted from the mouths of Londoners a million times before me, but in the depths of winter, when the Christmas lights have gone and summers spent in Hyde Park seem too far away to even think about, it’s very easy to forget how magical this place really is.

If you’re still not buying into it, head to Kings Cross Station, to platform 9 3/4 and see where THAT train takes you…

 

The North

Noel GallagherI’m a proper southerner.

I question the sanity of anyone who lives past Highgate and opted out of cheap beer for a university in Devon, but somewhere between my love of Ted Hughes and a burning desire to have written Wuthering Heights, I have ended up with a Yorkshireman.

Here in the south, we are still perplexed with prejudices about northern men. We mock them for being those “Brit-abroad” types: sunburnt in the Costa Del Sol, sipping on a Pina Colada in an England shirt – sounds a bit like my recent trip to Italy with a bunch of them actually – (I jest) – but I’m pretty sure that it’s not just the northern contingent who partake in such delights. So do the men of Essex, Plymouth and dare I say it… Chelsea. But for all their boisterous ways, they make up for it by being the most chivalrous, well mannered and caring of the male variety. They have a naturally warm nature and are fiercely loyal. They will pull your chair out for you, they know what a proper ‘brew’ looks like, and after five minutes you feel like you’ve known them for more like five years. They are, for the most part, quick witted and humorous, but they don’t mince their words and they’ll soon dig you out for wearing too much fake tan. But because they elongate their vowels, they somehow get away with it. Being called ‘our lass’, however, is something I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around.

But it’s not just the northern men that I’m here to praise. You know when you meet girls in the bathroom on a night out and you form an unbreakable bond for the next six hours, sharing tampons and lip gloss and tales of torment from the smoking area? The women of the north are like that, but all the time. There’s no time too short for a quick chat or a glass of vino and you’ll be hard pressed to find better company on a night out. But God forbid you sit in their chair or push in front of them in a queue – there’s no stiff upper lip action from these women – prepare to be told.

Not only are the people top dollar but the north comes with all the trimmings, and I’m not talking Yorkshire Puddings. Northerners are matter of fact, they don’t pretend that pastry isn’t the best thing ever invented and they don’t deny that, sometimes, a triple vodka just isn’t enough. They don’t cheat you out of £7.60 for a single gin and tonic and beer will never cost more than a fiver. But it’s not all cheap booze and laid back attitudes. The north is home to some of the UK’s biggest and best creatives in both the literary and music scenes; the Yorkshire Moors are (albeit terrifying in the middle of the night when you come across a dogging site and a lone hitch-hiker) one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; Whitby is the birth place of none other than friggin’ Dracula and Hull… is, well, shit. But we all have our flaws.

It IS far colder in the winter, there was that whole Northern Rock debacle back in 2008 and Paddy McGuinness isn’t exactly my favourite person in the world, but it’s hard to explain: the north feeds my addiction to nostalgia and is comforting in a way that the south will never be, a bit like beans on toast or ITV. 

But for all the fish and chips, industrial towns and Rovers Returns in the world, am I ready to leave the big city after 25 years?

Haway man.