The Gym

What do you do when you want to go to the gym? You go, and you probably don’t give it a second thought either. I wish I could say the same. When I decided to venture into Winchester and try it out so I could write an article for Creative Non-Fiction, even I wasn’t prepared for all of the questions and careful consideration that lay in wait. The process began on Friday afternoon, when I sent a Facebook message explaining my circumstances and asking whether I could come in. After a brief wait, Hayley – the manager to whom my enquiry was passed – replied that evening. To my surprise, her response was favourable.

“Would you like to come down to the club at some point on Monday for a chat?”

Too right I would. A positive step – who’d have thought it? I was relieved that at the very least, whether I publicly humiliated myself in the gym or not, I would have some kind of development to write about. After the weekend had passed in a flurry of doubt and worry, the day arrived, and I made sure to head straight to the gym so that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’ll admit that on the way, I found it hard to focus. I was convinced that my disability would make all of this impossible, and that the end result would be a resounding “no”, but luckily you don’t have a pointless conversation to read here. Hayley was more than welcoming, although I was somewhat surprised when she asked me her first question.

“What are your goals?”

Blimey. Goals? That’s the sort of question you ask dedicated gym-goers, not spotty little whippersnappers like me. Fearful of giving a wrong answer, I reiterated that I was visiting for the purposes of an article and we moved on to my limitations. Hayley gesticulated at the equipment around her and asked what I’d like to have a go at.

“How about a rowing machine?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, I tried one at school a few times, but I had to be held onto the seat. It’s still feasible though.”

“The exercise bike?”

I looked over at it, and it was clear to me that I would be unlikely to magically climb onto it, but I supposed Hayley couldn’t have known. She made the perfect suggestion, however, when she said she could have some weights brought in if I waited a couple of days.

“Here’s my email address,” she said, scribbling it onto a piece of paper as I left. “Send me as much information as you can about yourself and we’ll sort this out.”

Two days later, I was back, and everything I needed was ready. Hayley had her colleague Steph on hand to show me a few things with the weights, but first, I parked as close as possible to the rowing machine – so that my wheels were straddling it, so to speak. I then started off by drawing the handlebars toward my chest and pushing them out again, and the resistance from the cable meant that this was much trickier than I had initially expected. My workout had begun in earnest, muscles I clearly hadn’t used in a while were already starting to burn, and I had to take my fleece off because I was already sweating. Evidently, it was doing me some good! Once that first exercise had come to an end, I was given the weights, which promptly became heavier when I mentioned that the first set was too light. I brought them up and down above my head, in and out in front of my chest and around in circles until I was physically struggling to hold them. It wore me out, of course, but the further I pushed myself, the more I saw why people warm to this kind of activity. The sense of accomplishment I felt made it impossible not to smile, and eventually, Hayley had to insist that I stop.

“I wouldn’t want you to overdo it. You’ve done half an hour,” she said.

“Really?!” I was so engrossed that I had completely lost track of time. Reluctantly, I put the weights down. I felt as though I was only just getting started, but I was still tremendously proud of what I had achieved. Hayley seemed pretty pleased, too.

“You look properly chuffed,” she beamed. “You’re more than welcome to come back if you want.”

I was seriously considering it, even after being told that I would soon be aching all over, and it still remains a distinct possibility. Hayley’s email address is still in my bag, and after such a positive experience, she could be hearing from me again very soon…

Mason

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Introverts And Orators

It is now Week 4 of the semester, meaning that exactly one third will soon be behind me – and that in turn means that it won’t be long before I have to start thinking about assessments. In my Creative Voice module, one of these will involve reading my work out loud, and since a lot of us on the course are somewhat introverted, there is a certain amount of apprehension surrounding the prospect. The seminar I went to yesterday morning attempted to reduce this by letting us know exactly what was expected of us – perfect diction isn’t, thankfully – and giving us some experience of reading aloud to each other so constructive feedback could be given. In order to do the latter, we needed something to read, and that was naturally the point at which we got to flex our creative muscles. Our tutor showed us a selection of photographs – some with prompts, some without – and we had to use the resulting inspiration to write a paragraph for each of them.

Once we had done that, we had to choose our own personal favourites so that we could expand on what we’d written and read it to our groups. My chosen photograph was a close-up shot of the face of an older man with a grey moustache baring his slightly dirty teeth at the camera. I just want to share what I wrote with you – the paragraph is from the perspective of a character who has had to deal with the loss of their father. I was able to read it well despite having a voice that is weaker than normal due to illness, and fortunately the rest of my group couldn’t see much wrong with it. Can you?

“When Dad passed away last year, I was numb with grief for months. Nothing helped – I wasn’t in the mood to eat, listen to music or talk to my friends. I think my circumstances were made worse by the fact that I only had memories of Dad, and surprisingly little that physically reminded me of him. I didn’t even have a decent photo, but I eventually found the most unlikely perfect snapshot. Dad was a clever and caring man, but to say he was slightly clumsy would be putting it lightly. Sometimes it would be like he couldn’t even chew gum and walk in a straight line, but he always took these shortcomings with good humour – that was Dad, laughing until the end. There’s no question he’d want me to laugh too, so what could be better than that infamous photograph he tried to take one family barbecue? When Dad was faced with brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents all jostling for position in one shot, he was evidently looking at a recipe for disaster. The best that he ended up with – thanks to his endless fumbling with the camera – wasn’t something that could take pride of place on our mantelpiece for years to come, but a close-up view of his distinctive grey moustache and his not-so-pearly whites. It doesn’t even show his whole face, but to my surprise, I really couldn’t care less. I know if he were here now he’d be laughing, and it was thanks to him that for the first time in months, I was able to laugh too. It was the best parting gift I could have asked for.”

Mason

Snowball Territory

Allow me to present those of you who may not have seen it with another photo I simply couldn’t keep from you. The snow arrived in Winchester yesterday evening, and the university had earlier anticipated that it would be bad enough to cause significant disruption. They therefore announced that all classes would finish at 4pm, and resume at 12pm today – one of my tutors seemed very pleased when he discovered mid-seminar that he would be going home early. The expected onslaught was slow to materialise, however, and I did not see any kind of real flurry until 7pm, on my way across to Lara’s flat. By the early hours of the morning, though, the snow had become considerably heavier, and our curiosity to explore – even at around 1am – led to the picture below being taken. It might look like a fairly light dusting of icing sugar compared to some of the images you’ll see today, but believe me when I say it was ideal for snowballs. An annoyed Ben discovered this the hard way when he wouldn’t come out, leading Lara to take one to his bedroom just so he could be pelted with it!

Mason

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Grapeness

Just in case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, or don’t follow me on Twitter, I thought I’d post this photo here (I couldn’t resist, frankly). In an ideal world, I’d have something mildly interesting to say about it as well, but the simple fact of the matter is that it just made me smile – and I hope it can have the same effect on you. Have some Monday motivation, courtesy of something I found on a university lift!

Mason

The Cultural Relevance Of Apple Crumble

You know how I’ve showcased a few small pieces of miscellaneous writing on here recently? Well, the first examples of 2019 are ready! The first is the title of this post, one of those bizarrely amusing phrases I felt I had to note down, even though it does not actually refer or apply to anything – not even apple crumble. It was just a throwaway remark made in my Creative Non-Fiction seminar last week, but as soon as I heard it, I knew it was destined to end up written somewhere, probably here. Shortly afterwards, I also heard the phrase “an envelope full of Austrian tea”, and that was another strong candidate for a title – but given the dessert-based title of the last post, I thought it best to keep that minor theme going.

The second piece of writing comes from my Poetry class on Monday – and, more specifically, from a supplement my tutor received with his copy of The Guardian, dated 12 January. In one of our creative exercises, he tore out a page for each of us, and we looked through these for interesting words and phrases we could use in a poem. As I recall, all that was required was a sudden change in tone at the end, and although it was challenging to incorporate this, I gave it my best shot. See what you make of this – pieced together from what I found in two entirely unrelated articles.

“The lonely life of an outsider

He nonetheless professed to cherish

Six months’ house arrest

And five years’ probation.

 

But as he tried to make sense of the stars

An undying love affair with the cosmos began.

Stars look like snowflakes

Astronomy is an art

The most beautiful sight in orbit

For a journalist-turned-teacher

And alcoholic boyfriend.

That may not be a story you’re familiar with

But trust me, it’s not one you need to know.”

 

Mason

Lemon Drizzle Cake

I returned to Winchester yesterday morning for the start of my second semester, and I must admit that upon doing so, I found a room that was just a little bit tidier than it was when I left it a month ago (not that it was a pigsty). I often live in a state of what I like to call “organised chaos”, in a room that is somewhat cluttered and yet still easy enough to navigate – in spite of any mess, I still know where everything is. When I entered this room, though, in its current condition, I did for once appreciate just how relaxed and satisfied a totally uncluttered space could make me. Having thrown away most of the paper from last semester that was no longer needed, I could actually see most of my desk, and to preserve this newfound neatness Mum stacked my books at the back of it, right against the wall. This simple touch means that it will be much easier to work on it and move things around it as I please. As I sit at my desk now, typing this, with my phone to my left and a coffee and arrowword book to my right, I am calm, and I know this because of how easily I am writing and how well the words are flowing. This feels like a good omen for the weeks to come.

No matter how comfortable I am here, though, I couldn’t leave Somerset without something to remind me of home. In this instance, I have a lemon drizzle cake Mum lovingly prepared the day before we left. My brother got one to take with him too, although Mum informs me that his is slightly misshapen compared to mine, so I’m going to take that as cast-iron confirmation that I am her favourite son after all. Nobody is more surprised than me that the cake is still with us, and that it hasn’t been completely devoured mere hours after my return. At this moment only one slice is missing, and the entire dish sits obscured from my view – on a table behind me, tightly wrapped in foil – so that I can’t be tempted. So far, the plan is working a treat. It needed to, judging by how quickly I demolished most of the chocolate I received on Christmas Day. For the time being, it waits patiently, while fulfilling two important roles. Not only is it a delicious piece of home baking that will soon be very gratefully received by my stomach, but it is also a reassuring presence that soothes me even further – I know it could potentially be valuable comfort food at a time of need.

Mason

The Old And The New

New Year’s resolutions, as we all know, are tough things for anyone to keep. Say you’ve opted to give up chocolate for a month – or alcohol, perhaps as part of Dry January. It might be that you sail through successfully without so much as a second thought, but for some people, mere hours will pass before that next morsel or drop touches their lips. When that happens, they’re straight back to square one, retreating sheepishly from their broken oaths with their tails between their legs. Whilst I can’t recall personally making any major resolutions in recent years, I would be very surprised if I haven’t been guilty of something like that at one time or another. With this in mind, I have decided that the two resolutions I have made for 2019 will stay between me, myself and I – and will not be widely revealed until further notice.

You might have guessed that this is simply because I will not have to face the embarrassment of breaking either resolution after having loudly announced it to everyone. If I pursue them, and they are resounding successes, I can tell you all about them with pride and no shame. If they don’t work out, I can tell you, but I won’t feel quite as much of a numpty if I do so without having made a fuss beforehand. That’s the strategy I’m going to follow – it is likely to provide me with some future blog material, if nothing else. It means that for now, I’m going to be cryptic. One of my resolutions will be a blast from the past that might be familiar to some of you, and the other is something new entirely – but both will be anonymous until I decide otherwise. Who knows? I might actually get around to doing something I’ve told you I’ll do!

Mason