Brits Abroad: What To Expect

It happens once, twice, maybe even three times a year. We decide to step outside our comfort zone and venture out of our miserable, grey, wet country for hotter, sunnier climes. The promise of scorching sunshine and sky-high temperatures is too much to resist, and so we reward ourselves with a couple of weeks on holiday.

The premise is simple: take a break from our bleak, monotonous lives and soak up the sun, get a tan, be refreshed, relaxed, and come home rejuvenated and loving life.

Of course, nothing in life is this simple.

The entirety of the holiday inevitably is much more complicated, and invokes much more stress than is desired.

This all begins with holiday shopping. No matter how many suitable garments we have stuffed at the back of our closet, we feel the pressing need to purchase an entire new wardrobe.

We set out with the best intentions of uncovering a revolutionary, unique way of somehow looking stylish and chic at the same time as dripping with sweat and covered in sun cream. However, we soon realise this magical combination is utterly elusive, and so plump for numerous combinations of different colours of plain t-shirts, alternating between round-neck and V-neck. We justify to ourselves that the blue really brings out our eyes, and the black really highlights our biceps. Not to worry – we shall be looking reem by the pool after all.

Toiletries are then the name of the game. Being British, it is in our nature to fret over any and every possibility that may arise on our travels. To counter this, we buy literally (not literally) everything in Boots. Suncream. Aftersun. Tanning oil. Insect repellent (spray AND roll-on). Bite cream. Condoms. Mini deodorant. Pocket-sized fan. European plugs.

We kid ourselves into thinking we can get away with factor 15 suncream, but then soon realise what we think is ‘bronzing’ is in fact ‘burning’. It is at this stage we bless the decision to bring factor 50 ‘just in case’, and smother our throbbing red body in it, before adding the insurmountable defence shield that is the plain white t-shirt covering our torso and towel over our legs, and hide away in the shade for the next few days.

At the airport, we insist on buying a small fortune’s worth of junk in WHSmith including magazines, drinks, crisps, some book we like the cover of but will never read, more Euro plugs, and some sucking sweets to counter that weird ear popping sensation on the plane. We then visit everyone’s secret favourite place – the Duty Free Shop. This is the place where every cologne must be tried on. The place where oversized, surreal, Toblerone bars are thrust upon us. The place where alcohol comes in a plastic bottle. Obviously, we don’t actually buy anything. We just like to compare the VAT-free prices with normal prices. But – whatever you do – do not buy. It would be a bargain. It would make too much sense.

Free WiFi in the departure lounge is just too tempting to ignore, but just as we complete the tumultuous digital obstacle course to log on, our plane starts to board.

This is where the holiday really begins. From finding out you have been seated in the fire-escape row, and so being responsible for saving the lives of everyone on the entire flight in the case of emergency, to discovering the rent-a-car company you booked with doesn’t actually exist, this is where those ‘stories to tell the grandkids’ (or bore your friends with) happen.

Family holidays, lads holidays, stag dos, hen dos, honeymoons, school trips.

They’re all the same – get massively hyped for them, then realise the intense stress levels going on holiday actually invokes.

Go there stressed, come back burnt and jetlagged, in even more need of a holiday than when you went.

On that note, I wish everyone the most amazing summer holidays!



Adjusting To Moving Back Home For The Summer

University life can be so overwhelming and frantic that sometimes it is easy to forget that you have another totally isolated, ‘parallel’ life that co-exists.

Separate from relentless partying, flowing banter, and constantly feeling hungover, over-tired and hungry, is that other world: home life.

This is a different ball game altogether. A change of mind-set is required to successfully negotiate completely different everyday encounters. Behaviour and conversation-topics that would be embraced and lapped-up at uni, become taboo and inappropriate in front of parents and other family members.

Discussions over last-night’s drunken antics, banterous, witty, facetious comments are replaced with mundane dinner conversations regarding the recycling, The X Factor, and Dad’s train that got delayed by five minutes this morning. Riveting.

Instead of constantly meeting potential friends and sexual partners, you are treated to visits from long-lost family members, in which you are inevitably reminded how much you have grown, as if you had forgotten the natural process of human growth.

Within hours of arriving home for the summer, you delve into the ‘honeymoon period’ where you catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen in yonks. This is a very exciting, and sometimes emotional time, albeit abrupt. After all, there is only so much about university life you can share with family members without risking to indulge them in details only fit for the ears of someone your age.

You then begin to realise the sheer size of the task on your hands: you have literally nothing to do for the next three months. Of course, you failed to line up any sort of work experience, internship, or paid job. “I’ll do it tomorrow, Mum!” You never did.

It is then that you start to seriously fear for your sanity over the summer. After all, death-by-boredom is more common that you would think.

Your freedom and personal enjoyment seems extremely limited – you can no longer sleep as late as you like, come back as drunk as you like, at whatever time you like, with whoever you like, or play your music as loud as you like.

Living in a house of four does not leave a whole lot of time to be alone for some, er, ‘personal reflection’. There are only so many scowls and snide comments your mum can give you before you finally turn off the PS3 and empty the dishwasher.

Of course, there are some advantages of being home for the summer. The cleaner, dad’s credit card, improved phone signal and the warmth and love of your nearest and dearest spring to mind.

Soon enough, you learn to love (tolerate) the obsessive humming sound your dad makes, the constant smell of cooking in the kitchen, and the unnecessarily loud phone conversations your sister has with god-knows-who.

You embrace your endless free time. You set self-improvement goals for the summer. Join a gym. Explore your city. Study the entire works of Charles Dickens. Learn Mandarin. Become a world-renowned pick-up artist. Whatever.

Eventually, you actually start to enjoy the thought of having the entire summer to do whatever you want, with no pressing responsibilities.

That is until you get a bit sick of everything and everyone after just days back home. You pine for the freedom to do what you want, when you want, and how you want – without curfews, limits, and check-up texts from the rents.

Only 3 months, 13 weeks, 90 days, 2191 hours, 131487 minutes to go….


The Ultimate Guide To Surviving Your First Year Of Uni

University. It’s everything school promised to be but never was: sociable, entertaining and optional.

I would safely say that this year – my first year at the University of Birmingham – has been the best year of my life. I could not have hoped for more. I was unbelievably excited to escape the monotony of school life and start afresh in a completely new environment. I met people who I know will remain lifelong friends, embraced diverse experiences, and just generally thrived in the university scene.

However, none of this would have been achieved so smoothly and effortlessly without the set of vague guidelines by which I stuck.

These covered a wide range of bases, including how best to hack two nights out in a row, learning which lectures you can get away with going to still drunk (if at all), and how to juggle new friends, old friends, and family.

Below are the seven best pieces of advice any fresher could hope for:

  1. Freshers week is absolute carnage. The perfect mix of constant socialising, feeling like utter death curled up in a ball on your less-than-average-sized bed, and kneeling in front of your already disgusting toilet wondering if it’s possible to actually throw up essential organs. The key to limiting just how shit you feel is by manning up and drinking even more. After all, if you’re drunk you don’t realise you’re hungover. “A night not wasted is a night wasted.”
  2. After a week of relentless partying, the inevitable emails start flooding in from lecturers inviting you to your induction seminar. They seem to completely miss the point of uni. You are obliged to attend, but there is no mention of in which state – be it hungover, still drunk, bearing bodily scars, or still in last night’s clothes. Naturally, you immediately identify which geek is best to retrieve missed lecture notes from, and who the hottest girl is, in order to tactically position yourself close to her in the lectures, and offer any after-hours ‘tuition’.
  3. Everyone starts off by being *that* keen fresher who signs up to every sports team and society. However, sooner rather than later, you realise you’re just not that bothered about trekking 20 minutes to some backstreet pub to perform stand-up comedy to a smattering of tipsy 20-somethings, or representing you’re halls at ultimate frisbee in the pouring rain when you could be doing, well, anything else. Instead, you establish the familiar routine of sleeping in, going to the odd lecture, sleeping some more, drinking. Repeat.
  4. Eventually you will establish a solid group of close friends. These may consist of flatmates, vodka, coursemates, PlayStation, and mates you already knew from home. You will spend more time with them than anyone else, and they become your substitute family. You determine which girl is most dependable and will cook for you (mum) and which guy insists on cracking unfunny jokes at every opportunity (dad). These friends become your bedrock, you go on nights out with them, eat with them and, in some cases, sleep with them. Other good friends you will depend on include Night Nurse, Candy Crush, and Tesco Home Delivery.
  5. The university (and your parents) would have you believe that your main purpose at uni is to study. As if! But, as such, you are required to attend at least some lectures. You may even get into a healthy routine of going to every lecture…until you remember you only need 40% to pass the first year. Referencing is taken unbelievably seriously, and so that bloody Oxford Referencing Guide becomes something of a study buddy. Pencil cases and textbooks are replaced with a single biro and online texts. Required readings really aren’t very required at all, and you become pretty disillusioned when you realise all lectures slides, along with everything the lecturer said and handed out, are put online in full.
  6. Uni can sometimes be quite a lonely place. When not in lectures or out clubbing, you face a toss-up over wanting to see your friends, but not wanting to piss them off by dropping in unannounced and forcing them to hang out with you. Alas, you are forced to spend quite a bit of alone time. Chilling. Pondering. Sometimes you can even become so bored that you start a blog. You develop little ways to stay entertained, such as people-watching outside your window, playing disgusting amounts of FIFA, and going clubbing purely so you can use your hangover as an excuse to do absolutely nothing all day. You will most likely become nocturnal as your sleeping pattern gets completely screwed. As a result you end up watching obscure Chinese second division football matches on the regular, become hooked on several TV series at once, and Facebook stalk anyone and everyone just to pass the time.
  7. Your mum will definitely make you promise to keep your room clean and cook healthily. She may even send you up with some dust wipers, Dettol spray, vegetables and some diet Coke. Of course, these are immediately discarded once you realise she’s no longer around. Pot Noodle becomes your gourmet speciality, you accept Cost Cutter own brand cola will have to suffice, and tap water replaces Evian. You will become very short sighted and refuse to bulk buy as you convince yourself you will hardly even drink six Tangos, let alone a 12-pack. No matter how many times you fall in love with the tremendous waft of the latest Paco Rabanne cologne, you will plump for citrus-scented Febreeze as you realise your student loan just won’t stretch. Finally, you will refuse to make your bed (unless expecting female company) because, well, what’s the point if you’re just gonna get back in it again?

The points above are just a selection of things that will inevitably occur in your first year at university. No matter how much you promise yourself that you will attend every seminar, persist with table tennis club and drink less alcohol, it just won’t happen.

I can only encourage you to embrace and cherish every moment of your first year, because in the blink of an eye it’ll be over!


The Anatomy Of The Haircut

I’m sure you must have noticed, but I’m going to point it out anyway: having a haircut is a very awkward and uncomfortable process.

From the moment we timidly shuffle into the barber shop, work out who is in the queue and who is merely waiting for a mate/child, and then proceed to hide behind the red top newspaper on the table, the whole experience is one tactical game of chess.

The premise is simple: keep the barber happy in order to ensure the best haircut possible.

This tricky task is often challenged and ultimately compromised by a series of obstacles, the first of which is set in motion as soon as we are eventually called up to the chair.

We must decide almost instantaneously, without even a shred of self-doubt, which exact cut we are hoping for, and then describe in intense detail how we expect the barber to go about achieving this look – completely forgetting it is, in fact, their actual job to know how to do this. We may even feel the need to show them a picture of some extremely good looking celebrity with hair we can only dream about having, in order to guide them, or even a picture of a previous haircut we had that we actually liked.

After giving the barber a step-by-step guide to our dream haircut, this is when the most important stage of “Operation: Keep Barber In A Good Mood” is undertaken. We must decide whether to sit stone-faced and silent throughout, or engage them in conversation. Inevitably, we opt for chit-chat on a wide range of topics including football, the weather, football, football, and that murder that happened last week. “Terrible, far too young.” “I know, awful.” “So, you gonna be watching the big game on Sunday?”

This next bit is crucial.

We must must must, at all times, keep in mind which football team the barber supports. This is absolutely imperative as one slip of the tongue leading to us criticising his team could result in catastrophic repercussions for our hair, or even our personal safety. After all, he’s the one with the scissors.

The best bet is to just agree wholeheartedly with everything he says – even though it’s probably all garbage.

We must always remain as polite as humanly possible throughout the interaction, as the haircut can seem like a very tense and stretched process. Everything that is involved seems like it is achieved at a slight push, and we invariably act as if everything we ask/do somehow inconveniences the barber.

Almost subconsciously, we automatically weaken and modify our requests to suit the barber’s needs. This is done by adding ‘…if that’s ok’ after asking him to take your sideburns up a bit, and saying ‘…as long as you don’t mind’ when he asks if we want some gel in our hair.

When he shows us the back of our head in his little mirror, we nod approvingly.

When he hands us a tissue as some sort of going home present, we thank him profusely, pretending that we actually wanted it

When he asks if we like the haircut, we lie through our teeth and act overwhelmed with joy and happiness at his ‘fantastic’ job.

When we pay him, we always leave a pound tip, regardless of our satisfaction. (However, I do not agree with this custom:

Finally, when we leave we rush home as quickly as possible, avoiding as many people as possible, itching the back of our neck as much as possible, have a shower, and then weep in front of the mirror, pining for some sort of miracle hair growth to fix the monstrosity we have paid an extortionately overpriced fee for.