Mountain Goat

I’ve come to realise that with all of the recent job-related excitement in my life, I have neglected Dracula somewhat. In fact, I don’t think I’ve opened it at all since I last wrote about it some weeks ago. As I said in that post, it can be a tricky book to get into, even if you’ve read it before as I have. That means that I could be forgiven for being reluctant to dive back in, and in any other situation, maybe I would be. I’m yet to have a DNF in this book club yet, but if any novel were worthy of one, Dracula is surely it. Having said that, though, I will finish it – and when I do, I’m certain I’ll have seen it with fresh, reinvigorated eyes, because this new job has made me feel like a new man. And I’m only three days into it!

Yes, any link this post actually has to books or book clubs might be tenuous to say the least, but stick with me for a minute. Ever since I was offered my role, I’ve felt physically lighter. It’s amazing how much weight this has lifted from my shoulders – all that pressure to find ‘the next thing’, whatever that may be, is gone. If I were able-bodied, I’d be skipping around like a mountain goat. As it is, I’m still in the wheelchair and fairly static, but my life is finally going places, and so is my mind. For much of the last year it’s been foggy, and I’ve struggled to see the wood for the trees. Dad told me that things were far worse for the people of Ukraine, and while that might be true, everything is relative – remarks like that certainly didn’t help me at that time. Happily, things look a bit brighter again now, and I’m full of enthusiasm. My eyes are wider and my head feels clearer, and I think that’ll benefit not only my work, but also my personal life.

I’ll enjoy my solitude again – it started to bother me while I was unemployed – but in addition, I’ll feel better about mixing and mingling with others. If you’ll indulge another flimsy link to literature, I think there’ll be dividends where my creative pursuits are concerned too. When the book club started and I was still getting together with Lara and Nora, I’d often be the one keeping them waiting as I finished the last few chapters long after they had. Whether it was laziness or lethargy, I don’t know, but this time I have a feeling I won’t be dragging my feet. Instead, I’ll be surging forward with my head held high. I’m hoping the text’s density might not irk me quite so much along the way, but as we now know, that might be a promise too far…



The Best Possible Way

Before I left Somerset to move back to Winchester in January, I jokingly said to the (always very helpful) lady in the job centre:

“In the best possible way, I hope I won’t have to see you again.”

We both laughed, but at that time I didn’t know whether that line might come back to bite me on the behind a few months later. Happily, after Monday’s news, I know that it won’t – at least not for a little while. Why am I bringing this up? Because yesterday morning, at precisely 11:40am, I had the opportunity to repeat those words to the gentleman I’ve been speaking to in the Winchester branch, and I can’t pretend it didn’t feel good. Not because I necessarily have anything against job centres or the people who work in them – they’ve done everything they can to guide me in the right direction – but because I now feel vindicated.

Many have reacted with genuine interest upon learning of my plan to move purely in the pursuit of work, but a few have definitely betrayed a distinct note of scepticism in their expressions and responses. There’s no doubt about it, some of them must have thought I was destined to fail. I guess I can understand that, in a way. It is quite a gamble to do this with no solid plan, but in little more than a month, that gamble has paid off. That’s possibly what pleases me the most about the whole thing, actually – even more than sealing the deal. It pleased the man I saw yesterday, too (who told me he also hoped I wouldn’t be back). Maybe it’s official, then. I’m not so deluded after all! I won’t be after I’ve signed my contract, anyway.


Very Few Words On The Day

On 30 January last year, I told you that I’d resigned from my job. I tried my best to sound reasonably hopeful, but in reality, the future was something that I really feared – it was cold, uncertain, and at the time it only seemed like bad things were in store for me. In the 12 months that followed, I often wondered if there would ever be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, I accepted the offer of a new role, and I have an induction for a voluntary position in the morning as well. At long last, I can see that light.


Yellow Smoke

How did you spend your Valentine’s evening? I spent mine not only single, but shivering outside too, having set off the fire alarm by burning some microwave rice. As it turns out, sometimes you have to put it in some water before you can microwave it. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, at least not until yellow smoke was filling the kitchen. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed, and I’ll make sure I read my packets much more carefully in future.

In case you were wondering, no harm came to anyone, and no firefighters were required – the smoke cleared once the windows had been opened and the extractor fans turned on. The microwave, which perished during its ordeal, has been replaced as well. For its safety, and that of my flatmates, I’ll be veering away from eating anything hot tonight. The last thing we want is another disaster, so I think I’ll tuck into some crackers instead…


Operation Book Club, Part 8

Reading has come in very handy when I’ve been trying to unwind after searching and applying for jobs lately. It relaxes me, it clears my mind, and best of all, there’s no pressure to do it in the first place. There are none of the same expectations from others that come with looking for employment, so I’m free to take as long as I like on a book, and that comes in especially handy when the work in question is a weighty tome like my current read, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In actual fact, it’s a re-read – I first tackled it for one of my degree modules in 2019, an experience I found myself reflecting on in my book club notes once I’d decided to revisit it:

“I was one of the only people in the class to read this from cover to cover during my Rewriting and Adapting module – all 418 pages of it – but at that time assignments were looming, so I was feeling a certain amount of pressure to absorb every detail. Because of that, the novel felt like a hard slog, like it was never going to end. Eventually, I forced myself to stay in the library until I’d finished it, and I now suspect that that blinded me to some of its finer points. I do remember thinking that its approach to storytelling – its habit of switching between different perspectives and presenting these in epistolary form – was unlike anything I’d seen before. It was a refreshing change from what I normally saw in prose fiction, and it must be worth a reappraisal if I’m writing about it here!”

I scribbled that paragraph at least two weeks ago. Here’s what I wrote when I actually got going on the first chapter a little while later:

“At Page 15 – this book is just as long-winded as I remember! There is a lot of exposition, with nearly every detail of Jonathan’s surroundings and encounters brought vividly to life. This immerses you in the story and builds a clear picture of the danger that awaits him, but it also makes you feel like things aren’t moving very quickly, and you’re sat there willing the chapter to go a little faster.”

Even if you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about here, you probably get the idea. Yes, Jonathan’s journey to Castle Dracula might be a long and arduous one, but do we have to hear about all of it? I’ve barely even scratched the surface yet!

I’d like to think I’m a fairly resilient reader, so while many might give up at this point, I’m going to press on. It’s true that you should never judge a book by its cover, but it’s also true that you shouldn’t judge it by its first 15 pages, even if they do feel more like 1,500. There are plenty more still to go, and I’m sure they’ll be better, won’t they?

Won’t they?!


Tote Bag And Pen

These days, if I’m going out and about or have an errand to do, I have to leave the room/house having listened to the right song. It sounds strange, I know, but pausing Spotify after just any old tune won’t do. What the right song is varies depending on the day or my mood, but on Tuesday I needed something upbeat, something that would really motivate me to power on through the day. I was somewhat undecided between Prefab Sprout and Bruce Springsteen, but ultimately Bruce got the honour of being the final song on this occasion, so “Hungry Heart” triumphed over “Looking For Atlantis” (they’re both cracking songs though, and you should definitely check them out using the links I’ve generously provided).

Why was my choice of musical accompaniment so important, I hear you ask? Well, I’d woken up in a buoyant mood because of what awaited me, and I was determined to ride that wave of positivity for as long as I could. You see, that afternoon I dropped by a little Careers Fair on campus, and I knew beforehand that there was the opportunity to make a lot of progress. At the very least, I could pick up a load of leaflets and brochures or a tote bag and pen – and I did, of course. You’ve got to get your hands on the freebies, everyone knows that. Luckily, though, I also got much more than that, and any nerves I felt about making the first move soon dissipated once I got talking.

I found an abundance of warmth and advice. I found people who took an interest in me and where I wanted to go – one company took down my details after I’d spoken to them, and another replied very kindly to an email I subsequently sent that included a couple of examples of my writing. It’s nice to feel you’ve accomplished something after so long getting nowhere, and I can’t help feeling that there’s still more to come. More smiles, more happiness, more hope. I met with one of the Careers and Employability team the next day, and at the end of a very fruitful meeting she told me: “you’re a great candidate and we’ll find you something, don’t worry about that.” I didn’t realise how much it would mean to hear those words from someone in her position, and now I have even more reason to be optimistic about the future – particularly as I’ve sent off another two applications since then. Looks like I might need a few more upbeat songs to play in the morning, because they must be good luck charms!


Very Few Words On The Week

I had my interview on Wednesday morning. It went well, and the people asking the questions were very nice, but unfortunately I didn’t get the job. I’m still feeling positive, though, and there is one thing I did get – my much-anticipated campus Internet access. That means that this post isn’t coming to you from a library or a coffee shop, but the desk in my own room. I won’t be taking that for granted any time soon! It also means that I could finally use the app I needed to operate the machines in the laundry room, so I won’t be taking clean pants for granted either (not that I didn’t have any, I was just getting dangerously close to running out – an emergency trip to Primark was on the horizon).

It’s good to celebrate some small wins now and again, isn’t it?


Not Going Back Just Yet

I might have happily settled back into Winchester life, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been one or two teething problems. One is my lack of campus Internet connection – the last post was written in the public library, and this one is being composed in my favourite coffee spot, the Open House Deli – and the other is me not having properly got to know my (very nice) flatmates yet. Together, what these both mean is that I’ve had a very interesting weekend thus far, as I can’t really entertain myself or hang out with anyone else. So what do I do when I’m in that situation?

First, I go into town, and I stay there for as long as I can. Not only does this get me some fresh air, but it benefits my wheelchair too, draining its battery as far as it’ll go (I only like to charge it when absolutely necessary). While I’m doing this, I daydream – but not without also looking where I’m going on those busy city streets – and I observe what goes on around me, because anything can be inspiration, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Then, eventually, I find that much-needed safe haven where I can get into the swing of things. A balance of busy and quiet often works for me, because if a place is too quiet, I can think of nothing else, and no work will be done. When I get that balance right, I start scribbling or bashing away at the keyboard, and on a day like today I don’t stop until there’s absolutely nothing more running through my head.

I do my best to multitask, and I’ve juggled my latest set of solo book club notes – on the brilliant One Million Tiny Plays About Britain by Craig Taylor – with all the useful details I can think of ahead of my interview on Wednesday. All of the different duties I’ve performed, every stressful situation I found myself in at each workplace, that kind of thing. After all, the more forthcoming I am when I’m asked those questions, the more likely I am to get the job. If there’s anywhere I don’t want an awkward silence, it’s there!

It’s a satisfying process, but it feels a bit like mental gymnastics. I’m pushing myself further and further, because if I run out of things to say I’ll have to go home, and then I won’t have anything to do or anyone to talk to. So I keep going, and if I pause at any point, I stroke my chin, or I look at the four walls around me, and I try to refocus. The fruits of this labour, which I can see now at the end of the day, are in black and white on the pages of my notebooks. I feel much better about my job interview, and I’ve even decided on my next book and written an introductory paragraph about it – I’m going to reappraise Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I seem to have clearly demonstrated the benefits of having no Internet access in a matter of hours, and they almost make me want to disconnect more often, but who am I kidding? I love getting out and about, but when the web is up and running again, I definitely won’t be taking the ability to surf in the privacy of my room for granted. It’ll be especially useful over the next few months.


Pizza Autonomy

A few weeks ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was having a conversation with Mum in which I uttered the following ten words:

“Mum, you don’t understand. I need to have pizza autonomy.”

Let me tell you that I absolutely loved how “pizza autonomy” sounded out of context. Straight away, I typed it at the top of a new draft and saved it here, certain that it would make a brilliant blog post title at some point (almost as good as my previous food-based choices, such as ‘Grapeness’ or ‘The Cultural Relevance Of Apple Crumble’). Beyond being a silly soundbite, though, it does have some actual significance, so I thought it would be a good idea to contextualise it after all. You see, what it refers to is my recent habit of choosing when to have my own dinner, which I’ve written about before – it’s something that allows me to take back some form of control over what is currently a rather unpredictable life. More specifically, of course, it refers to pizza, one of the only meals on Earth that never really disappoints. It’s also one of the only meals I can conjure all by myself, so long as the pizza is already made and frozen, so you can imagine why I was miffed when Mum suggested she could heat it up for me instead that afternoon. Firstly, I’m 25, and secondly, how dare you dictate when I eat? What is this, a police state?

I’m joking, of course, but you get the picture – this independence, this private time, is very important to me, even if it only comes in small doses. I didn’t quite know then that I’d be getting more pizza autonomy than I’d been expecting heading into 2023. More autonomy full stop, in fact. And why? Because – as some of you might have guessed – I’m back in Winchester!

To my amazement, I’m staying in my original flat on the university campus until mid-June, while I look for some work in the area. I’ll freely admit that it’s a risk, but at this stage I think it’s one worth taking, and in any case I’m thrilled to be back somewhere I love so much. I have already made a little bit of progress, since I have an interview for a part-time job next week, and that’s taken some of the pressure off for the next few days. I’m looking forward to updating you on my fortunes, at least whenever I have consistent web access – I’m writing this sat in the library in town, because I’m not connected on campus yet. Hopefully, by the time I am, that won’t be the only good news I have to share…