I AM ANNA

Oslo was never top of my list. In actual fact, I had never really thought too much about Norway beyond the confines of my university halls on one fateful Eurovision night. But, as it happens, a surprise trip to this snowy city makes for the perfect Christmas present. In truth, Oslo surprised me from beneath a blanket of snow. It was like spending a weekend in Narnia and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. Especially when you’re with your favourite human.

Welcome to Oslo.

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THE SUNDAY PAPERS

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It’s the last Sunday before Christmas, so you’re no doubt doing the rounds with family, barging your way through the crowds on Oxford Street or stocking up on booze for the festive season. However, if you’re anything like me and constantly overdo it when it comes to Christmas parties, you’re probably in bed nursing a three day hangover with a large quarter pounder meal. And if you’re that person, then kick back with me and my favourite reads from the last seven days.

Be Chill This Year

Sexy Art

Let’s Talk Loans

Depression

Tinder at Christmas

Nigella

Office Party Decorum

Help

Family Feuds in December

New Year, New Job

Friends are for life, not just for Christmas

Christmas Wisdom

FEMINISM

Have a great week of food, festivities and fun.

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 JOURNEY

ebeec88a001103e9404aa36dddf55c44There is nothing better than a train ride to cleanse the soul; unless you’re not a fan of thinking, that is.

Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings was where I first saw train journeys as something other than a means to an end. Before sitting in that A level English lesson, trains to me had merely equated to a packet of cheese and onion and a can of coke on the way to Glasgow, running through Victoria because I was late (again), or being way too early for my departure because mum was in charge of the tickets.

After leaving school however, train journeys changed for me and they became the only way to reach the men in my life; I enjoy long distance, and my own space, it seems.

I started seeing a guy on my gap year who was in his second year at Durham, so naturally I decided to go and visit him for the weekend. The four hour train ride up there consisted of me feeling nervous, ticking off a mental checklist about all of the things hidden in my way-too-large-for-three-days bag and growing excited about the historic sights of the north. The return journey was somewhat different. A four hour trip turned into an eight hour test of endurance due to (probably three inches of) snow and a completely unprecedented delay; a tut for every single person who visited the buffet cart to grab their complementary drink due to weather conditions and a chance to reflect on the god-awful weekend I’d just had and how much I wouldn’t fit into Durham life for love nor money.

I then set off for university myself, where my next experience of trains was with the same guy. We were clearly too young and stupid to realise that weekends away didn’t work for us, ending up in him travelling for over ten hours from Durham to Exeter to see me, only to turn around after a further, excruciatingly bad, twelve hours to complete the return journey ahead of schedule. It was at this point that we called it a day. However, all was not lost as he did make the effort to text and tell me how beautiful Wales looked at that time of year and thankfully for him, he still had his untouched cheddar ploughman’s from the journey down to keep him company.

Throughout my university years, the train line between Paddington and St Davids was my time to cope with things; be it the transition of moving from home to a life in halls, an essay that I’d left to the last minute or a never ending break up. It was the place where I did most of my thinking as it was when I was at my most sober and I actually had a minute to stop and think about how weird being a student actually was. Each time I landed at either destination I would feel as though I didn’t belong and missed the former, but for those couple of hours, all of that didn’t matter because it was just me, my music and a mediocre cup of tea.

Being British, I obviously didn’t want anyone to sit next to me, I still feel a completely irrational pang of guilt as the ticket inspector makes his way through the carriage and I never pay for a first class ticket because, well, why would I? Trains are far more poetic than journeys in the sky or on the road, so what more could an extra fiver get me aside from a hot chocolate that tastes like… well… chocolate?

Travelling is a time to reflect, to read, to do the things that you can’t do at home or at work because they seem outdated or a waste of time when you could be checking Instagram; that’s why I pity those who take their laptop along for the ride. Train carriages are that half way house where you’re always leaving something behind and heading towards something else. You’re transient, for the four, five or fifteen hours spent on that train track and it’s a small chunk of time that you have completely to yourself, unless you’ve managed to book yourself onto the same carriage as a BYOB stag do en route to Leeds, of course.

Although you might not realise it, the Great British Railroad is a beautiful thing that connects us all. It’s very easy to forget when you’re surrounded by concrete that, although it might not be aliens, there really might just be something else out there beyond the 9-5 or your morning flat white fix.

So embrace the railway and explore our greener pastures, even if it is through a rain sodden train window en route to a raucous weekend in Newcastle. After all, life is totally about balance.

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.

Dormz

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.