That’s what my old GCSE English teacher used to say, usually when we had to write an essay. Given that she had to mark so many of them, she never had much time for people who went “round the houses” – in other words, those of us who took ages to get past the introduction to the crux of the matter. All she wanted was for us to make and explain our point, and to do it promptly. To get the thing tied up and finished. It could still take me a while to hit the nail on the head, and I can remember writing many a long-winded paragraph, but I got there in the end – and that small quote is advice I’d do well to remember today.
As you’ll know by now, I’ve long wanted to be the most versatile writer possible, but I’m invariably held back by the belief that I’ll never write anything worth reading or watching, or that I’m too rusty to take on a specific project (such as scriptwriting, which – Jed Mercurio video lessons aside – I haven’t done since I left Winchester in the summer). I lack a certain amount of confidence, but I also know that I won’t regain it unless I press ahead and write regardless, so sometimes it seems like a somewhat impossible situation. There is, however, a light at the end of this particular tunnel.
My friend Abi works as a photographer down in Cornwall (sometimes she doubts her own ability too, but she really doesn’t need to – as you’ll find out for yourself if you contact her via social media). Her mind is endlessly inventive, and I admire how she always tries to push herself and her business further in colourful and distinctive ways in order to stand out from the crowd. This includes utilising film and the written word as well as imagery, and for her latest endeavour she’s decided to create a video featuring herself and her camera immersed in her beloved Cornish countryside, while she explains her motivations for doing what she does via voiceover. This element of the video needs to be personal, profound and sincere, it needs to delve deep into the effect her environment has on her wellbeing and creativity – and writing such a thing is no mean feat. I should know, because it’s a task she’s entrusted to me.
I’m in two minds about whether or not I should accept it, largely because the lines are meant to convey her own perspective – so surely they should come from her? Nevertheless, I think I will, firstly because I want to help a friend, and secondly because it’s still an opportunity to show someone what I can do, even if it’s not on a massive scale. Abi doesn’t need to use any of what I’ve written once she’s seen it, but it won’t hurt me at all to carry on, even if it is only 500 words, and just do it.
Some years ago now, when I fancied myself as a bit of a poet, I found myself scribbling down verse on every spare bit of paper I could find. For a while it was constant, like some kind of obsession or compulsion, but looking back it seems to have been something of a forerunner to this blog, in the sense that I was looking for opportunities to write as regularly as possible. You could also say it provided a window into my deepest adolescent thoughts and feelings in much the same way this does at 24, although those tended to be much more cringeworthy – as I realised when Mum found one poem lying around one day. Thankfully, I’ve forgotten most of them now, and the few that remain are safely tucked away in my personal notebooks. One, however, still revisits me now and again, and I was reminded of it just the other day. As you might have guessed, it was called ‘January Scales’.
Now that 2022 has begun, it obviously seemed an appropriate topic of discussion, particularly because a great many of us will not long have navigated the post-Christmas blues, and that poem was one that tended to dwell on them perhaps a little too much. In particular, it told of one man’s nerves as he anticipates the first weigh-in of the year in his bathroom, fully expecting the numbers not to fall in his favour. I think by writing it, I succumbed to the habit of always viewing a new year negatively, as something to be feared – and why should that be the case?
I don’t know what the next year, 18 months or beyond will bring, but I’m going to try my best to embrace it as an opportunity at all times. It can be scary going into the unknown, but exciting too. As I once said six years ago now, a new year is a blank canvas, and it’s one to which I fully intend to add a lot of colour, no matter how long that might take.
As I’m sure I’ve said before, it’s nice to peel your eyes away from a screen and take in some proper paper pages every now and again. The book club I have going with Lara and Nora was meant to facilitate that a bit more often, of course, but that seems to have stalled somewhat for the time being. We were meant to finally discuss A Natural History of Dragons earlier in the week, and confirm Nineteen Eighty Four as next on our list, but thanks to me that plan fell flat on its face (although it should be easier to schedule now that I’ve finished work for Christmas).
Lara’s generosity, however, means that we might have something else to talk about in the meantime. She’d been buying all of my books for the club anyway up to this point, but outside of that she also decided to buy one for each person in our friendship group, after making sure we hadn’t read it before. Ben was thrilled with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I also enjoyed earlier in the year, while I received The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, the second in Sue Townsend’s series of books about a teenage diarist navigating the numerous challenges of adolescence. I’d read the first of those in Winchester too, and was pleasantly surprised to find that while it appeared to be aimed at readers of a similar age to its protagonist, it also contained a lot of humour that adults would appreciate – and that would go right over kids’ heads.
I reckon everyone else in our group might enjoy it. I don’t know if they’ll all read their respective books from Lara, but I hope they do. Not only will it allow them each to discover something new, but it might mean we can collectively review a number of different titles together – and aside from Ben, I don’t know what anyone else got, so it’d be interesting to find out. What’s more, by the time we finish them all, maybe Lara, Nora and I will at last be able to progress to George Orwell…
We might have finished university now, but my friends and I will always find an excuse for a chat on Zoom and a quiz, and last Thursday night we did just that, thanks to Nora having the initiative to actually finish writing one (after I started one months ago that’s never materialised). I think many of us would agree that one of the big downsides of uni is that you bond with all manner of people, only to be torn apart and thrown into different corners of the country, so coming together again through technology can make things a little less lonely – especially when you’ve spent all week working from home in your room like me!
At the beginning, we all agreed that we felt a bit rusty, it having been so long since our last quiz, but we quickly hit our stride again. Well, five of us did – Alysha wasn’t able to join us until after we’d finished, and I came straight from my desk at the end of my working day to do it, foregoing my dinner and a shower. I’m nothing if not dedicated to the cause! Unfortunately, what that meant was that by the time we started, I was seriously flagging, and I ended up 15 points away from Deacon, who was ultimately the winner.
You could say my poor performance was down to my lack of knowledge of recently-released films and TV series, but I prefer to solely blame my low blood sugar – an issue I rectified with some cheese and crackers immediately afterwards. Regardless, it was nice to be reunited with everyone, and I’m hoping it’ll serve as a catalyst for regular quizzing again – and for another book club meeting between Nora, Lara and myself. We still haven’t discussed A Natural History of Dragons yet. In fact, I’ve almost forgotten what happened in it.
Speaking of Lara, I must get back to my online shopping – it was her birthday yesterday and there’s still the business of the ideal present to attend to!
It’s been a long time since I last wrote a post I would describe as really short – probably not since “you’re going to achieve grapeness” – but if anything warrants one, it’s surely this, my first ever byline in the January 2022 issue of Classic & Sports Car. It’s for an interview with a chap called Alex Riley, who co-hosts the ITV4 series The Car Years, in which he and Vicki Butler-Henderson dress up in period clothing depending on the year being focused on. This means he has a large vintage wardrobe, and that was the main area of conversation when we spoke. You might wonder what that has to do with cars themselves, but the interview was done for the regular Also In My Garage feature, where the subject discusses something else of particular interest besides classic cars – in Alex’s case, this was obviously his clothes, although he is also the proud owner of an immaculate Triumph TR7.
I was very nervous, since I’d never done an interview before, but Alex was a pleasure to talk to and had plenty to say – there was lots I didn’t have the space to include in the piece. It resulted in something I’ll always be very proud of, and knew I had to post here for posterity. In fact, apart from when I graduated, I haven’t been this proud of anything for a while, and it’ll likely be a while before I am again, so I’m savouring the feeling.
I’ll be sure to post a link when it goes online. Does this mean I’m a proper journalist?
You know when you make notes on something to refer back to later, but when you do they’ve been scribbled so hurriedly that they no longer make sense even to you? I’ve found that that’s happened rather a lot lately as I try to adjust to my new job. The notes have been growing by the day, whether I’ve been recording new conversations, methods or even interviews, but with every new scribbling has come the increased risk of confusion. Ironically, though, these may still be more of a help than a hindrance.
Back in Year 8, when I was doing French at school, I found myself doing pretty well (a few years later, I decided not to do the subject at GCSE, and my teacher was devastated after I broke the news). I could write it confidently and I wasn’t bad at speaking it either, with an increasingly accurate accent. There was, however, one small thing I couldn’t quite master doing work in my textbook – using a ruler. That wasn’t exclusive to any one subject – in every class, I thought the lines already on the page would be sufficient to keep my writing straight – but in French it seemed to be a particular problem for my teacher. With every passing week, it would slope further and further downward, and the same word would appear next to it without fail: “souligner!”
What does it mean, I hear you ask? Simple. “Underline.” It must have been there for weeks or even months on end, but I still wouldn’t make the effort to hold that ruler straight. When you have cerebral palsy, fine motor skills can be a tricky thing to master, but eventually, having seen one “souligner!” too many, I realised that particular ability was one I really needed to get on top of. Ultimately, of course, I did, and I’m willing to bet I did so much quicker than I expected to beforehand. I’ve never forgotten it, because it’s one of those tiny things that taught me never to be afraid of notes or feedback, regardless of how harsh they might seem, because at the end of the day they’re there to push you forward. That time in Year 8 taught me two things – a piece of French vocabulary and the correct way to use a ruler – and I’m keeping that in mind with every note I’m given in my new job. I’m bound to slip up mere weeks in, or even once I’m firmly established there, but what matters most is not the mistakes I make, but how I learn from them. Life is, after all, one big learning curve.
You may recall that recently, I started an online BBC Maestro course in writing television drama, presented by Jed Mercurio, the creator of Line of Duty. I got it for Christmas last year, and until the end of September was yet to start it – but now, as I write this post, I’ve made my way through six of the lessons. Of course, I have the advantage of a Creative Writing degree that included modules in screenwriting, but even so, it was fascinating to see Mercurio continue to break each element of the development process down in a way that I could easily record with bullet points. These latest videos covered how to develop ideas into workable projects, and establish whether they are worth spending time on in the long run. Distinguishing between a concept worth pursuing and one I should consider dropping has occasionally been a weakness of mine, so such guidance came in pretty handy – as did the notes that accompanied it.
As I went along, taking in each thing he said, I was thinking more and more about how I could apply it all to a script of my own. I don’t have an idea for anything that might be suitable for the small screen at the moment, but it has got me thinking about whether I could adapt something to it. After all, I’ve written more than my fair share of fragments that have been abandoned largely due to my own insecurities over them, or that were made short but could be expanded in one way or another. Whatever happens, though, it’ll be a good way to distract myself from the occasional pressures of my new job. It’s been going really well, I’m very fortunate to have it, and I know it’ll be invaluable, but it’ll also cause me stress at times (because of my own inexperience, if nothing else). Apart from that, it’ll allow me to write other, non-car-related things, so that I can keep on working towards the versatility as a writer that I’ve always strived for. Now it’s just a question of knowing what to work on – I feel like a mind-mapping exercise might be in order…
Well, that’s it. Having been a graduand up to this point, I am now officially writing my first Third Time Enabled post as a bona fide BA (Hons) Creative Writing graduate. One shake of Alan Titchmarsh’s hand in Winchester Cathedral was all it took, and it was the icing on the cake on a day quite simply awash with pure, unfiltered joy. It’s now been just under a week since the ceremony, and already lots of people have asked me how it went. I’ve noticed that the one word I’ve used consistently when describing it has been ‘infectious’, and I stand by that (although not in a COVID-y way, just to be specific).
What was infectious was the happiness in abundance, and the pride everyone had not only in themselves, but in each other. Creative Writing was always a very friendly course, and I can say that I’d probably stop and talk to the majority of people I met regardless of how well I knew them, but even so, it was heartwarming to be congratulated before and after the ceremony by so many people. I got the sense they were all genuinely interested in what lay ahead for me, and that feeling was entirely mutual. There was a lot of applause from everyone as each graduand took the stage in the cathedral, but it very much occurred to me that nobody minded one bit – we were all in this together, so no clap was too vigorous and no cheer too boisterous. I know I actively tried to be as loud as possible for everyone I knew! I’ve met a lot of people over the last three years who I think will go far in life, and I look forward to seeing and hearing what they can achieve.
Of course, those people include Lara and Nora, and as always it was delightful to be reunited with them again. As with a lot of people, my palms were practically red raw from applauding them so hard in the cathedral, and afterwards we got the chance to celebrate further by having a couple of drinks together (non-alcoholic for me, obviously). We were joined by Lara’s mum, who was also over the moon for her daughter, and Ben, who just happened to have been working in the nearby museum. Many laughs were had by all, and they were definitely made all the more special by the fact that we likely won’t see each other for some time. There’s been talk of us meeting at Christmas, or in the spring, but in the meantime we might just have to stick to our Zoom quizzes. Lara’s already volunteered to write one, and now that our schedules all differ, she’s suggested that we focus on making them more streamlined – otherwise we tend to mess about and let time get away from us! It’s all about optimising the moments we can spend together, and all of those are precious indeed, especially now we’re entering the next busy stages of our lives. We therefore ended a brilliant day in the best possible way, and the nerves I felt going into it became a distant memory. Trust me, I was physically shaking as I put my robes on – as brilliant as everything was, I dread to think when I’ll next be that apprehensive!
In eight days’ time, I will start my new job at Haymarket with the brilliant team at Classic & Sports Car, whom I met via video call on Monday. They very kindly allowed me to sit in on one of their weekly editorial meetings, in which they discussed different elements of the next issue, which will be complete when I join them. While I therefore didn’t have any proper input, it was interesting to see their way of working first-hand, and I know it will come in very useful when I actually get going. We all seemed to gel nicely, which I would say bodes well for that day and the 18 months that lie ahead. It was also reassuring to find that they had a great deal of confidence in my abilities, which I must make sure I repay as fully as I can. If I can do that, anything is possible going forward.
Another thing I need to do is find accommodation in London, which after several weeks is still proving to be very difficult, although there could soon be a small light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been referred to an organisation called the Journalists’ Charity, who offer a fund for those breaking into their first job in journalism who need additional support. In my case, a little more money to cover my expected rent would come in very handy! With that in mind, I submitted an application with Haymarket’s help a few days ago, and even though I’ll have some questions to answer from a caseworker before a verdict is reached, we all seem pretty confident that it will be favourable. I’m hoping the financial boost will allow me to look at a wider range of properties which may be more suitable for me and my needs. I’ve already browsed some of these, and although there have generally been small details that have ruled each of them out – a shower over a bath, for example, which would be inaccessible for me – but in my gut I feel I’m getting warmer. There are fewer and fewer of these obstacles to be seen now, so I feel that I surely won’t be waiting much longer before I find somewhere I can properly look into. In the meantime, I’ll start my new job from home, and that milestone is getting ever closer – but there is, however, the small matter of my graduation to attend to first. We’re setting off for Winchester in the morning, and I can’t quite believe the time that seemed so far away in September 2018 has finally come…
Last Tuesday, for the first time since 14 February 2020 (when Nora and I, both dateless, saw Parasite in Winchester), I set foot in a cinema again. Do you remember the first lockdown, when we all had plenty of time to reflect on the experiences we missed and how much we took for granted? Going out to see a film, as I recall, was one of the most-cited examples, used as evidence that you never quite know what you’ve got until it’s gone (to paraphrase Joni Mitchell). As more and more time passed without the magic of the movies, that sense of anticipation you feel as you creep through dimly-lit corridors towards the right screen was slowly forgotten – so imagine how special it was to feel it again last week, and for a film we should have seen 18 months ago before something came up.
I’d seen both of the James Bond films immediately preceding No Time To Die – Skyfall and Spectre – in the cinema on their respective release days. I couldn’t continue that trend this time around, because I had to isolate for a short period after my operation, but I was still keen to see it as soon as possible, so I wasted no time in booking tickets for Mum, Dad and myself at the earliest opportunity. Luckily, I was able to get a wheelchair spot I could easily cruise into for the 7.40pm showing, one which I believed to be a pretty important part of the whole experience. There’s something more special for me about going in the evening, and especially when it gets dark at this time of year. It makes the whole thing more atmospheric, and it gives us an excuse to have dinner beforehand – which I also paid for, earning me extra Brownie points with Mum and Dad. They were pretty pleased when they found they had the special reclining seats too, even though that was just a stroke of luck!
Ultimately, of course, the later start time meant we could finish off the day with a great film, and without saying too much, No Time To Die was most definitely worth the long wait. It might have been two hours and 43 minutes long, but the most immersive cinema experiences make even the heaviest films pass in the blink of an eye, and this was one of them. Daniel Craig will be a hard act to follow, but I look forward to seeing who does take that plunge, and I’m glad I could witness his swansong on the big screen at last. It might have been a while since that trip to see Parasite, but once I was settled, it very much felt like I’d never been away.