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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.

The Test.

large (5)When Jade Goody walked out of the Big Brother house back in 2003, I thought that all she’d taught me about life was a) never to have sex on TV and b) that salmon satin looks good on no one.

How wrong was I?

The woman single-handedly raised awareness for cervical cancer in young women.

Sadly, it took her dying to do so.

Left undiagnosed, it can become terminal and treatment can grow futile. Wishing to avoid this fate at all costs, I went for my annual smear test this morning.

As I sat in the waiting room for longer than anticipated, due to strains on the NHS, which we shan’t go into now, I grew anxious. As somebody who is, let’s say, unafraid to bare all, these nerves came as a surprise.

Will I wee on her face? Will she find a tampon up there from 2008 that has now turned into a foetus with cotton wool hands? Should I have shaved? Will she care? And WHY does this waiting room smell like poo?!

These were just some of the thoughts running through my mind pre-inspection that I thought I’d share with you because, well, nerves are normal when you’re about so show your private parts to a complete stranger.

But then my name was called.

She closed the door behind us and asked me to remove my pants in the same way you’d ask someone if they’d like to remove their jacket at a dinner party. Naturally I obliged, in awkward silence, and lay down on the bed.

She then pressed on with it – poor girl – and it was actually fine, aside from her awkwardly complimenting me on my pelvic floor muscles and the impromptu arrival of a young man looking for his umbrella. We had a laugh about his ill timing, I put my vagina away and all was well with the world within a few short minutes.

And now it’s over for the next 1095 days and I will endeavour to forget the whole thing until then.

But I don’t want you to forget it. Not the part about me opening my legs – you can definitely forget that part – but I don’t want you to put off getting yours done.

If you weren’t aware of what a smear test was before reading this, then hopefully it’ll spark an interest and if you’ve been putting it off: don’t. It really isn’t that bad.

I can’t help but feel that post-childbirth, I’ll look back at this post and think ‘Dear girl, if only you knew’.

But until then, I will continue to dread them in a mid-twenties, without child, ignorance but I will also endeavour to endure them on a regular basis. And so should you.

Good luck!

The Mind.

large (3)It’s very easy to assume that everybody is okay.

That person you stalk on Instagram might have been to four festivals this year, have the glossiest of hair and a butt to rival Nikki Minaj, but actually? All might not be well in their world.

It’s very easy to spot a cancer patient or somebody suffering with MS but when someone is sick in the head, nobody need know aside from them. And although we are a far cry from lobotomies and involuntary ECT, this means that issues are bottled up and left undealt with because it might seem easier to ignore than to seek help.

I happen to know quite a few people who have suffered and are still suffering from various mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety mainly, unsurprising in this day and age, and for me, understanding mental illness really was a case of not believing it until I saw it. Panic attacks look terrifying from the outside, feeling anxious for no reason looks burdensome and not wanting to eat and not being able to sleep can literally ruin one’s life. I’ve watched it happen and I understand how easy it is to say ‘chin up’ or ‘get over it’ when you see people having a down day. But for some, it’s not quite so simple as pulling themselves together, and getting up on a Monday morning might just be that little bit more difficult for them.

It takes a hell of a lot of courage to ask for help and it also, shamefully, costs quite a bit. Of course, there are options on the NHS but you practically have to be about to jump off Beachy Head to get help and private counselling isn’t always an option.

So what can you do?

When someone is bound to a wheelchair or has a visual impairment, it’s quite obvious how you can help them out on a daily basis, whereas when you can’t actually see the problem, you can feel a bit helpless. So think of yourself as free health care. And not just today on World Mental Health Day, but everyday, make sure you ask that person who has gone a bit quiet if they’re okay and cut people some slack if they’re not feeling their best.

And if you don’t feel like yourself at the moment, talk.

A good place to start would be to check out Mind or if you would just like more of an insight into the taboo topic of mental health, visit TED. Some of the talks on there really are quite insightful.

Most importantly, be patient with people; you’ve no idea what’s going on upstairs, or beneath that perfect exterior.

Enjoy your weekend.

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 Period.

largeNever before have I met someone with such a good working knowledge of menstruation than that of my current boyfriend. I’m going to put it down to the fact that he’s had a long term relationship, plus a few others before me, as opposed to him being a menophilliac.

I actually find his natural curiosity really quite impressive, although I do sometimes feel as though he knows my ovaries better than I know them myself. He has taught me everything from symmetrical faces and the rules of attraction during ovulation to the spots on my chin being a sign of things to come. I guess it’s just one more thing to add to the list of older men perks: an understanding of the female anatomy. But we already knew that one anyway…

For many blokes, however, this is not the case.

For instance, one guy at school, who i shan’t name and shame, once said: ‘I don’t get why girls moan so much. You just sit on the toilet, it comes out, and you’re done.”

I’m going to put this remarkable statement down to being young and immature but, if you know who he is and you’re still in contact with him, could you just make sure that after the ten years that have passed, he now knows that menstruating is not the same thing as taking a shit? In any way. At all. Ever.

Snowballing on from said blokes ideas about the female reproductive system, I’d like to clear up another assumption. It’s not like Noah’s bloody Ark crossed with The Shining when we’re on. Sometimes it does, in fact, feel like we are going to bleed to death (particularly on day two) but I can assure you, with some certainty, that we won’t. We may also be slightly cranky but no, we do not need you to tell us this. We may look a little paler and wear a hell of a lot more elasticated clothing; again, do not comment. We may leave tampons lying around that make you feel a bit uncomfortable and we may complain of swollen feet but FYI: asking me if I’m ‘on’, will lead me to ending your life – even if you do look like Ryan Gosling. Oh, and calling it ‘the blob’, is not okay. Ever.

Also, a far cry from when we’re ovulating and feeling like we are the most attractive thing on the planet, craving a child and wanting to eat the universe, we couldn’t feel less attractive when we have a piece of cotton stuffed up our vaginas or a nappy strapped to our pants. We feel fat and spotty, our tummies are sore and what IS it about being one HUNDRED degrees? So please do not tell me that ‘you don’t mind’ and try to have sex with me. Instead, remember that reaching for a hot water bottle or getting us a pack of Maltesers from the shop-for that moment in time- is better than a diamond ring or a Marc Jacobs purse.

I, for one, have no qualms about holding my hands up to the fact that I am a complete and utter biatch in the week leading up to my period but when I, or a woman you love, gets a little too much during her time of the month, just imagine this: bleeding. from. your penis.

Yep, that should put things into perspective.

Now I have a question for you: what the fuck is a moon cup?

The Sibling.

GELLERSThe other day, my brother sent me a picture which read: ‘You haven’t had a childhood unless you’ve jumped from one sofa to the other to avoid the lava.’ I had a chuckle to myself and then a thought dawned on me: what would it be like to be an only child?

What would I do without that someone I can share childhood memories with? And what would I do without someone on this planet who understands how utterly insane our parents actually are? Who else would’ve embarrassed me in front of my teenage boyfriends or told me, when no one else would, that I needed to lose a few pounds? Who else would have watched All Dogs Go To Heaven with me on repeat, followed up by The Land Before Time, every single day for about eight years?

Only a sibling, of course.

When I look back on the past 25 years, many of my favourite memories include my brother. That trip to Disney Land (during his fat-phase) where he drank the bottomless drinks dry, that time he stunk out the mini van with his old trainers, that time he almost choked to death and I was laughing too much to call an ambulance and that time he came to visit me at university and… ahem… got on really well with my house-mate. Oh the joys (and double standards) of siblinghood.

As I’m sure we all could, I could regale you for hours with tales of our childhood, teenage years and even our twenties. In fact, the time he called me at 3am when he tried to escape the wrath of a one night stand but set the burglar alarm off is worth a mention- but aside from that one story it would be pointless to share the rest as they just wouldn’t be as funny to you as they are to us. Besides, you have no idea who Granny Helen is-or Gizmo for that matter. And Leysdown and Westgate probably just sound like made up words to you. Never would anyone else have shed an actual tear on my graduation day and never will anybody understand the utter heartache we went through in 2006 better than him.

So, my dear big brother, you’re off on a brand new adventure, half way across the world right now, and this time: it’s without me. Have a blast, but more importantly: look after yourself.

Even though you annoy me more than words can say and you cut all of my hair off the day before my second birthday party, I would still like you back in one piece. With a panama hat stored safely away for me in your rucksack.

Happy travels you petulant human.

The Orgasm.

largeThere’s something about a fake Fendi, Rolex or Marc Jacobs that leaves you feeling less satisfied than as if you had the real thing. So what to do when you find out that your other half fakes it like a cheap watch?

Lying, in any form, is bad for a relationship. But as for the subject of faking orgasms? I’m pretty sure it’s been decided that ignorance is bliss.

As an ardent feminist (FYI: someone who believes in equal rights and also ADORES the company of men), I think it’s a little unfair that, on the whole, it’s just accepted that it’s harder for women to orgasm or that it’s okay for us to fake it, while men have all the fun. I’m not for one second saying that the blame should reside entirely with our hairier halves either. In fact, quite the opposite. If your bedroom buddy is telling you that what you’re doing is spot on (five hundred miles off the beaten track) and you’re still doing it that way, then, in fact, you’re being an (albeit incorrect) attentive lover by doing what the woman says she wants.

And guys, I do understand that you have a tough job: I had a girlfriend call me up the first time she climaxed and it had taken her sixteen years to perfect it herself, so we’re not expecting you to get it in the first go. But don’t assume that we aren’t putting in the leg work to get you there either. To quote Samantha Jones (again): ‘they don’t call it a job for nothin’.

I think the key, anyway, is to stop thinking about blame and instead wonder: when did this age old tradition, as deep rooted in our society as a turkey on Christmas day or a vow of silence on the tube, become so widely practised?

‘They’ say that 70% of us have faked it. Call it 90% and that’s probably a lot closer to the truth. I say this because I always find it funny that when I ask the men around me whether they believe a woman to have faked it with them, they laugh and respond with a firm, “NO. NEVER.” But when I ask the women around me if they’ve told porkies, they laugh and respond with a firm, “YES. ALL THE TIME.” Now, I’m no good at maths but the facts just don’t add up.

Also, men of the world, you are not exempt from the faking it brigade! We know you do it too; it’s just a little harder to be deceitful with your jet hose in tow. But you and I both know, that after a few vodkas, we’re none the wiser.

I’m not saying that sex can’t be pleasurable without an orgasm, but it IS a little bit like getting to the end of a Cornetto only to find that the chocolate bit at the end of the cone is missing. It was delicious, but without that, we might as well have just had a magnum, or in other words, done it ourselves.

So back to my main question: what do you do if you find out that your better half is faking it?

Well the road to any sort of recovery from a bad habit begins with a confession. So I think if everyone held their hands up to doing it, at least once, then we could fix the bloody problem. Let’s not leave it up to the people in white lab coats to decide what sort of orgasms women can have. Instead, get naked and experiment with your chosen lover. And men, take some of the blame and pay closer attention to when we claim to climax: we ain’t no Katherine Hepburn and you ain’t stupid.

For those of you who are infuriatingly still reading this thinking: “No one has ever faked it with me. I am a sex GOD and have totally knocked the socks off of everyone I’ve ever slept with”, go and download When Harry Met Sally.

And once you’ve watched that scene in complete dismay, remember this immortal word and repeat after me:

foreplay.

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