A Message For The Masses

On Friday night, just after I had published the first part of Christopher’s story here for you to read, I opened Facebook to find a message from a friend with a brief but very important request. As you will see, I explicitly referred to Christopher as being male in his narrative, but they wondered if I would consider using gender-neutral pronouns (“they” and/or “them”) there or in future Third Time Enabled posts. This is a brilliant idea – a no-brainer, in fact – and I expressed such an opinion in response to the request, as well as an apology for not having thought of it sooner.

As I had been writing and showing them a piece of fiction, my friend suggested that I should perhaps only use said pronouns if I deemed it suitable for any given character, but I am yet to decide how and when they will manifest themselves. All I know is that they will appear as often as possible, and I am writing this post so that it can serve as a commitment to this fact, as well as to equality. I assured my friend that I was beyond keen to accept and act on their suggestion, since it is important for representation that these things happen in as many places as possible. Consider this my word, then – sooner or later, things are going to change around here!

Mason

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Emerald Swathes

The following is the full first part of the story I began in my Winchester taster session, detailed in “The Pull, Part 4”

The protests gradually faded away as Christopher ran further and further into the forest, and all sound disappeared along with the daylight. There was only silence, darkness and accompanying danger within these trees, and the only reassurance came when rays of distant sunshine leaked through the web of branches for a split second every few metres. Not that Christopher cared much at this moment. What coursed through his veins as his feet pounded along the rough terrain was not fear – he’d had more than his fair share of that in recent years – but determination and strength that overrode the burning in his lungs as he gasped for air, or the fatigue rapidly spreading through his limbs. He was on autopilot, with his eyes firmly on the ultimate prize that lay ahead – his freedom.

The more Christopher thought about this, the faster he went. He sprinted and sprinted, trying to ignore the searing pain from the gash on his knee as each new bramble and thorn pricked at him. He knew that he had to focus only on escape, and that meant running and never looking back. Christopher would never have a better chance than this, and he was actually quite glad to have realised that – he’d forgotten what true hope felt like, and to feel it again reminded him of the man he used to be. Five years ago, at 16, he’d had the ambition and the confidence of someone twice his age. As a matter of fact, what he demonstrated was borderline arrogance, always swaggering around like he had to be seen and heard. When he was lost in his own importance, he thought nothing of it. He saw himself as a character, someone fun whose energy would be irresistible to those around him. He eventually gained the benefit of hindsight; in odd moments he would remember all the times people rolled their eyes or moved away, always when they thought he wasn’t looking. He believed that he was loved by all, but he had only succeeded in alienating every potential new friend.

Following this, Christopher realised that his life was meaningless without real companionship from others. He had plenty of money and affluence, and assumed they would set him up for the rest of his days, but he was mistaken. When he realised this, he turned to rebellion, making the wrong choices and falling into the wrong crowds. They all seemed like groups of kind strangers at first, people who related to what he was feeling and were quick to offer a shoulder to cry on. They did, initially. There was warmth and understanding aplenty, and the more Christopher was shown, the more ensnared he was by his new friends. They had him under their spell – he just didn’t know it yet. He was so blinded by a façade of concern that it was all too easy for them to introduce the drink and drugs. He was led to believe that they would block things out, or make his constant state of misery more bearable. The moment he was under the influence, though, he was a marionette, completely controlled by his new puppet masters. It made him a highly dependable modern-day slave.

At this point, Christopher temporarily removed himself from his train of thought, and was awakened once more to his dingy and unforgiving surroundings. There was little point in trying to recall anything more about the past few years, since they all passed – quite literally – in a hazy blur. Christopher knew that his captors preferred it that way, and that the only time he ever spoke a word was when he was begging them for his next dose. When lucidity finally did come, it only did so in a fleeting moment, when he decided that enough was enough and that he had to get away. He was kept in such isolation that he didn’t know how many other slaves, if any, he might have left behind – but he had chosen to cast any guilt about who he could have saved aside for the time being. He’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

Christopher was definitely getting somewhere in the dense woodland. A new spot of sunlight, which had appeared at the size of the eye of a needle at first, was gradually enlarging and welcoming him into its embrace ahead. It was brighter and warmer in colour than any of the light he’d already seen on his travels, and he took this as a welcome sign of positivity and encouragement, even though he didn’t know how long it would last or what it actually signified. He just knew that whatever lay ahead couldn’t possibly be any worse than what he had already endured. He was more than ready to persevere through some minor sunburn if it meant he’d be out in the open and free from claustrophobia. The patch of light was now big enough to hurt his eyes, causing him to squint, and he tentatively raised a hand to his forehead to shield them from it. The brightness continued to increase until there were no more trees to block it out, and Christopher was faced with a near-whiteout, unable to see a thing…

When it faded, and shapes began to form once again all around him, he found that he was in the midst of a breathtaking and lush green opening, with space aplenty. The undergrowth was thick, but rather than appearing dilapidated it was full of vitality, with small flowers blossoming on various bushes. Only a lone tree stump and faraway bursts of birdsong interrupted the swathes of soothing emerald vegetation. It would have taken a man more hardened than Christopher not to be overcome with calmness, and he duly stopped to savour this new pocket utopia while he could, exploring its perimeter and crouching down to examine some of the plant life. He was distracted by the beauty and serenity of this hidden gem for some time, but his focus on every one of its details was suddenly broken when he spotted a faded blue denim cap lying inside out and unclaimed in the undergrowth. Whilst he was surprised by its presence, he thought little of the object itself – people tended to lose things in the countryside all the time, after all – but could it mean that he wasn’t the first escapee to find this spot?

To be continued…

Mason

 

 

 

 

The Trooper

Just under a week ago, I picked up a brand new electric wheelchair. To the untrained eye, its somewhat unremarkable outward appearance and black paint job might make it indistinguishable from my previous one, but look deeper and you’ll find several improvements. The most notable of these is the addition of an extra set of wheels, so that it now has six instead of four. These have the effect of improving the chair’s agility – it is now much neater in its movements, requiring less input from me on the joystick when I need to get into a tight space. Furthermore, the two larger wheels that were previously at the rear have now been centralised, enabling me to turn on a sixpence more quickly. The chair does both of these things very smoothly, and is completely unfazed by bumps and kinks in the ground below – where its predecessor would shake and rattle dramatically in response to the slightest jolt, the new model is silent, the extra wheels allowing it to glide cleanly and gracefully around like a metal ballerina dancing on a bed of air. By this stage, you can probably tell that I’m very impressed with what I’ve been given!

The chair’s merits don’t just lie in the newer features, though. Since it is essentially a giant Meccano kit, which took an hour and a half to dismantle and reassemble before I received it, old parts can easily be screwed in amongst their replacements. When I first sat in the chair, its armrests were too far back and too short, making them inconvenient for me when driving. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem for long, as the engineer was simply able to attach my old ones instead, easily rectifying the situation. Part of my old seat was also carried over to the new chair to give me a similar sitting position, adding to the Frankenstein’s Monster-style feel of the machine. As a result of these modifications, I have a chair that is practically tailor-made for me – even before it was ordered, we requested that it be exactly the same width as my old one, so that I could still drive it into the back of our car. The control panel and buttons are all the same too, so there are no new processes for me to learn. It’s as the old saying goes – if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Lying amongst all of the old and new abilities this chair has is a single, fundamentally important one that was the main motivation for having a new one. The University of Winchester’s main campus is rather steep, to such an extent that taking my old chair there would most likely have been downright dangerous. I have tipped up in it before on a much smaller incline, so steeper ones would have posed a much more serious problem. Thankfully, due to the two extra wheels at the back, it is impossible for me to perform a wheelie now, so I am equipped with just what I need to tackle a brilliant three years’ study without any accidents. This new chair will be my little trooper!

Mason

Aussie Sunday

Today marked possibly the one day every year when a 5am wake-up call from my alarm does not bother me in the slightest. What it marks is the start of the frantic, unrelenting eight-month world tour that is the Formula One season, and within minutes I was out of bed and downstairs waiting for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix to begin. Since the end of the previous season in November, there had been plenty of speculation – as there often is – regarding how 2018 would unfold for all of the teams, but as the field lined up on the Melbourne grid the time for talk was over. Honda and the Halo would be forgotten for at least the next two hours, as only the race remained.

I can now safely say that it did not disappoint. Of course, you can never be entirely sure of what will happen during a season-opener, but as someone expecting another demonstration of Mercedes dominance from Lewis Hamilton I was pleasantly surprised to see Ferrari end the day with the upper hand, thanks to a win from Sebastian Vettel. Some may see his triumph as lucky or even controversial, since he plucked the lead from Hamilton in the pit exit during a Virtual Safety Car period triggered by maladies for effective Ferrari B-team Haas. It is not an outcome to be sniffed at, however, for if it is representative of what we can expect from the next 20 races this year, then I am very excited by the prospect of another close title battle between Ferrari and Mercedes. What’s more, it would be foolish for anyone to discount Red Bull, even if they didn’t show quite what they are capable of in Australia. Max Verstappen started the day stuck behind a fast-starting Kevin Magnussen, and ended it trying and failing to claim fifth from Fernando Alonso’s Renault-powered McLaren – his lack of pace can most likely be explained by damage his car picked up during an off-road excursion in the early laps. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo started from eighth on the grid following a three-place penalty, but spurred on by his home crowd, the man from Perth charged to within spitting distance of the podium, coming home fourth after an unsuccessful assault on Kimi Raikkonen’s scarlet machine. His more encouraging performance must surely indicate that Red Bull can once again challenge their biggest rivals in 2018, although whether they can usurp Mercedes from their throne remains to be seen.

Further back, there were a number of other noteworthy performances in a very tight midfield. The most commendable of these came from the Haas duo of Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. After Ricciardo’s penalty had been applied on Saturday, they found themselves locking out the third row of the grid and took full advantage of this as the lights went out, keeping themselves solidly in the top six. From the outset, it looked as though the American team were virtually assured of a valuable haul of points for both men, but their dream start would turn to a nightmare on lap 23 when Magnussen ground to a halt after his pit stop with a loose wheel nut. In the garage, the mechanics and engineers were visibly frustrated, but total devastation would follow just two laps later when Grosjean also retired at Turn 2 with exactly the same issue. Every team member who appeared on camera thereafter seemed genuinely inconsolable, and I struggled to think of another time when a team had been so upset following a crushing defeat such as this. It was impossible not to feel sorry for Haas, but the new VF-18 possesses a great deal of pace and they will have another opportunity to shine again next time out in Bahrain – after they’ve ensured that their pit stops run more smoothly. McLaren enter 2018 with a new papaya orange colour scheme and, as aforementioned, a new engine partner in Renault. During the Australian Grand Prix the Woking team’s new alliance paid dividends, as it easily achieved a double points finish. Alonso’s fifth place equalled – in just one race – the best result he was able to notch up in three seasons with Honda engines. It was incredibly uplifting to see such a great champion almost rejuvenated on track, knowing he can now be confident in McLaren’s ability to be consistent scorers and fighters once again. Indeed, he made the somewhat bold post-race claim that the team could now forget about lingering in the midfield and focus their sights on Red Bull instead. Perhaps nobody will really know whether McLaren can catch the Austrian giants until after a few races have passed, but surely no fan can honestly say they wouldn’t be overjoyed to see this happen after all the misery the squad have experienced in recent years. Finally, I feel as though I must give a special mention to Carlos Sainz, who finished tenth whilst battling a spraying water bottle and resulting sickness for Renault, and to veteran Swiss minnows Sauber. Marcus Ericsson was an unfortunate early retirement thanks to a loss of power steering, but his rookie partner Charles Leclerc completed his debut race in a respectable thirteenth, ahead of Lance Stroll’s Williams and Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso. In doing so – on the lead lap, too – he kept up well with the rest of the field, giving me hope that yet another team can move up from the back of the grid and into the mix against their rivals.

Those who must have wished for much better things from their afternoons include the aforementioned Williams and Toro Rosso teams. In the case of the former, it was an uneventful and disappointing drive to fourteenth for Stroll, whilst the second debutant on the 2018 grid, Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin, pulled off after only three laps with a brake failure. Toro Rosso were hampered by a blown Honda engine for Pierre Gasly – after the Japanese powerplants had performed faultlessly in pre-season testing – and a last-place finish for Hartley, who was left a lap down after an early pit stop and unable to regain lost ground. It was also a surprisingly unremarkable race for Force India; deserted by their usual pace, they left Australia without a single point for the first time since 2009.

Thankfully, we are only one event into a long season, and those affected by the misfortune that is typical of motor racing have many more chances to strike back. As I have already suggested, there are plenty of unknowns and questions to be answered as this year’s Formula One narrative takes shape, and whatever they may bring, I can’t wait to be on hand to witness the twists, turns and everything in between. Let’s go racing!

Mason

 

The Top Twenty Records Of All Time, Part 2

A little while ago, I gave you the first four of eight songs I’d take away with me to a hypothetical desert island, as all guests do on Desert Island Discs. I promised that the rest would follow in a second post – since it was such a difficult list to devise – along with my chosen book and luxury. There’s no time like the present, so without further ado, I give you all my remaining choices. Songs first!

Just bear in mind that these will be listed from 1 to 4 again, as WordPress doesn’t seem to allow me to enter 5 to 8. I wouldn’t want to confuse you, would I?

  1. “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” by The Smiths. Like Muse, I knew that The Smiths would be assured of a place here as soon as I started thinking about the lucky eight songs. There are many legendary musical names, such as Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, that are often grouped together in iconic pairings, but – somewhat bafflingly, in my opinion – singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr are rarely put up there with them. I view them as the greatest duo in history. The impact they had upon their band was such that when Marr left in 1987, they had no choice but to disband. This is because neither man was expendable, and no incarnation of The Smiths could have survived without either of them. They complimented each other perfectly, despite their differing styles – Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics and delivery shouldn’t match Johnny Marr’s upbeat and chiming riffs on paper, but in reality they were a force to be reckoned with and remain so to this day. Their talents have made Morrissey a legendary lyricist and vocalist – whatever you think of him as a person – and Marr the most distinctive and talented man ever to play guitar. Furthermore, their partnership was an incredibly fruitful one, in spite of the fact that it lasted just five years, from 1982 to 1987. During that period, the band produced four studio albums in quick succession, along with a whole host of compilation records – Hatful of Hollow stands out among these in my eyes – singles and other non-album tracks. You might expect that this level of productivity means there are many gems to choose from in The Smiths’ catalogue, and you’d be right. It was “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” that eventually won the toss after much deliberation. It’s one of the songs I often find myself retreating to when I’m in a reflective mood, perhaps as a result of sadness or regret. Like many of the group’s tunes, it resonates with me primarily because of its lyrics. They tell a story of misunderstood love, something to which many of us can surely relate (“how can they see the love in our eyes, and say they don’t believe us?”) For reasons I’m not willing to elaborate on, it resonates very clearly with me (not because of “hatred” or “murderous desire”), and every time I hear the song I am transported immediately back to a difficult time. The song is a thing of such beauty, however, that I often overlook the darkness, feeling only the admiration stirred up by such a great piece of art.
  2. “Lift Me Up” by Moby. I have loved dance music for as long as I can remember, and for me Moby is akin to royalty within the genre. His album Play is my second-favourite of all time – when it comes to the albums I consider to be the very best, I always find that they offer something very different to anything else, and that’s usually something I can’t quite put my finger on. I found Play a relaxing and somewhat dreamlike record when I listened to it for the first time – tracks like “Inside” and its biggest hit single “Porcelain” are the best examples of this – but Moby’s interest in other musical styles, such as gospel, also caught my attention. “Lift Me Up”, however, does not actually feature on this album. It would not surface for another six years, until the release of Hotel in 2005, when Moby ventured into the field of alternative rock. My track of choice would be issued as its lead single, becoming a Top 40 hit in the UK. What seals its inclusion on this list, however, is the role it was given a year later as the theme music for ITV’s Formula One coverage. From 2006 to 2008 it formed part of a very prominent soundtrack to my weekends between March and November, so ignoring one of my biggest passions when choosing the music for this selection was simply never going to be an option. This is the first F1 theme tune that I can properly remember hearing from my formative years, and with the exception of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, it may well be a contender for the very best of all. Hearing it now takes me right back to watching some great seasons unfold – even though ITV would always insist on showing continuous adverts during the race…
  3. Murray Gold’s 2010 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune. Continuing on the TV train of thought for a moment, I give you one of the many awesome variations of this iconic show’s signature tune, composed by Gold for the fifth revived series – the first to feature Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. I have chosen this version of the piece mainly because of my fondness for said series and the memories it evokes – described here – but it also stands out because of how it fuses a traditional orchestral arrangement with modern synthesised elements. This combination is, in my eyes, very effective. Although it arguably lacked the grandiosity and clout of the previous exclusively orchestral post-2005 themes, it did convey the start of something new and exciting while also retaining the sense of spooky alien mystery that makes Doctor Who great. A match made in heaven!
  4. “D’You Know What I Mean?” by Oasis. We have now made it to the eighth song on my list, and I have decided to save a slice of rock and roll until last in the form of one of the many barnstormers from Oasis’ Be Here Now album. My mind was made up because of my admiration for this record – the black sheep of the band’s catalogue, slated by fans, critics and Noel Gallagher himself – because it showcases rock star extravagance like no other disc I can think of. Those who enjoy it do so because of the very things that alienated its audience (albeit not before it sold eight million copies) – very long, very loud and excessively over-produced songs. “D’You Know What I Mean?” is the first of these, a bombastic, seven-minute number one hit often cited as one of the album’s saving graces. The moment walls of roaring sonic volume fill my headphones, I feel a sense of euphoria of the kind created by all great anthems. I also see the band as they were at that time, enjoying the peak of their fame and all it had to offer. The critics have said that this was to the detriment of Be Here Now, since it has been described as “over-indulgent and bloated”, but I don’t mind that at all. On every listen I revel in being transported back 21 years to an era where proper rockers like the Gallaghers still roamed free. Sadly, it seems that we can only dream of such people in 2018. On the whole, there seem to be very few true characters entering the music scene, and this makes me even more grateful for albums like Be Here Now and songs like the aforementioned. It’s a great shame they aren’t more widely appreciated, but I hope I can rectify that to some extent by listing one of them here.

Now that all of my songs have been selected, I must choose a book to go with them. I do consider myself highly literate and a keen reader, but although I have read quite a few books in my time, none have really made an impact big enough for them to be included here. The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook is the only published one that really comes close, since it provides such a great insight into the production of modern TV and the lives of those who write it, but the one that has been most useful to me is one that is yet to be filled. My definitive choice is my own red Moleskine notebook, bought in Waterstone’s during a lunch break last year, in which I now record the majority of ideas that appear on this blog and in other musings. It goes wherever I go, resting snugly in my wheelchair’s sidebag with a pen accompanying it, and a few weeks ago it served as the receptacle for Christopher’s story during my taster session in Winchester. I can’t wait for it to be with me for many more when the course begins. If it’s going to go with me to a hypothetical island, however, it needs to be much longer – so I’ll take it exactly as it is, with all the notes I’ve already made, but with the minor addition of infinite pages so that it lasts forever. I’m going to be there a long time, after all. That’s doable, right?

Finally, we come onto my luxury, and something I was never in any doubt about. Quite simply, I want a TV – although how you’d connect it on a desert island remains to be seen – capable of showing full live and uninterrupted coverage of every Formula One Grand Prix. The future of Formula One on free-to-air TV is a very prominent issue among fans at the moment, and in the UK, Channel 4 is entering the last year of its three-year deal to broadcast the sport. It would nice to have no worries about losing it from weekend afternoons, and alone on a desert island I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone interrupting the start either!

Mason

 

 

 

The Pull, Part 5

Ever since it was decided that I would be going to university in Winchester, I have tried to increase the amount of time I spend writing, so that I can be as experienced as possible in my chosen field before I start. The first three months of 2017 saw just eight posts published on Third Time Enabled, but so inspired am I twelve months on – in no small part thanks to the adventure I will embark on in September – that double that is here for you to read so far in 2018. You can at least be assured that these “The Pull” posts will continue until my arrival in Winchester, and I’m sure that as always, there will be much more to come besides.

I’m not just talking about this blog. Since Christmas I have also been working on a script for a short film, of which I almost have a complete first draft. In addition, I have missed writing about Formula One since my abrupt departure from F1Today back in August, and ahead of the new season getting underway next weekend I am considering getting back into the game. I spent part of this afternoon browsing the Internet for F1 websites looking for knowledgeable volunteers, and I quickly found one that I believe could be an open door for me. In fact, you join me as I am peering at a contact form for it, in front of the Punta del Este ePrix on TV. An email demonstrating my enthusiasm for my craft and the sport, and my previous experience, could pay dividends. I’ll never know if I don’t try, I suppose.

Whatever endeavours I attempt will be united by their contributions to my ultimate goal of versatility as a writer. Regardless of whether the task at hand is a poem, an epic 300-page novel or anything else, I need to be able to work comfortably and confidently. Anything I try on the way to my target will be enjoyable, such is my drive to excel in what I do, but to combine one passion with another once again – in the form of F1, the fastest and most dramatic narrative on the planet – would be even more of a pleasure. Let’s see what this email brings, shall we?

Mason

Minutiae

I often find that amusement and humour can be taken from some of the smallest things that life has to offer, such as the conversations we overhear or the quirks we find in the personalities of others. I look and listen out for these wherever I can, lest they provide my notebook with useful inspiration, but just every now and again something seems to fall directly into my lap, begging to be written about. Such a gift was presented to me yesterday afternoon, when I got home and read a text that had been accidentally sent to me earlier in the day:

“Hi Oli – sleepover numbers for 16th March. 56 children, 11 adults and 4 vegetarians. Thanks, Sharon”.

Once I’d opened this, I had three options. I could either ignore it, take advantage of the situation to pretend I was Oli and completely mess up Sharon’s plans (“the vegetarians have cancelled, sorry – meat only”), or politely respond that she’d simply sent it to the wrong number and leave it at that. Being the gentleman that I am, I went for the latter:

“I think you might have the wrong number 🙂 sorry! Mason”.

I saw the smiley face as an important inclusion. Without it, the text could have seemed snappy and rude, and I couldn’t have that. Since the original message had put a smile on my face – thanks to its random and unexpected nature – I had to convey as much in my response, and that was obviously the thing most likely to do the trick. Having released it to Sharon, I put my phone down, expecting the matter to go no further. Ten minutes later, however, she was back again, having also seen the funny side:

“Whoops! So you don’t fancy a sleepover with 56 kids and 4 vegetarians? LOL”.

I obviously knew that the offer wasn’t genuine, but I was relieved all the same. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how being surrounded by 56 overexcited kids – probably all bouncing off the walls with no intention of getting any sleep – could be at all appealing to the 11 adults who would be there. I certainly kept them in my thoughts, as they’d need all the willpower and luck they could get. All that was left was to respectfully and jokingly decline Sharon’s offer:

“I’m afraid not! Best of luck with it though :)”

That really was that. Part of me hoped we had started a chain of updates as the seemingly chaotic sleepover approached – events that would provide me with more potentially useful material – but it was not to be. This particular flame of conversation had burned all too brightly and all too briefly, but it had once again proved that life’s most enjoyable aspects don’t necessarily have to be the biggest ones. Thank you, Sharon, for showing me that and, in doing so, improving a stressful day to a small extent. What’s more, if you are due to be an adult volunteer on 16 March – tasked with the welfare of 56 kids – I hope reading this has made you feel a little less apprehensive ahead of the big day. Look on the bright side, you’re only going to be totally knackered for one day!

Mason