The Lip In The Road

You’d think that now I’m rapidly approaching my 22nd birthday, I might be grown-up and mature enough not to overlook the important things in my life – especially not something as important as my wheelchair’s battery level. Sadly, though, it would appear that I still have much to learn, as that’s exactly what I did when going to and from work on Tuesday. The chair had supposedly been on continuous charge since the previous Thursday, when I’d last been out in it, so there was no reason for me to suspect that it would be anything other than full to the brim with power when I clambered aboard in the morning. That was, of course, until I turned it on…

The display told me that I only had five bars of power – two orange, and three red. That meant I had less than half a battery left, and I knew from previous experience that that was even less than it looked. Sure enough, as soon as I’d emerged from the garage and was halfway up the road, I was already down to two red bars – and they were flashing. Trouble seemed to be imminent, but I decided to continue on my way. I knew that the chair wasn’t designed to stop immediately when the last bar vanished, so I phoned Mum to update her, and then my workplace to let them know I would probably be late. The chair had never run flat in Winchester, with all its slopes and inclines, so what could possibly go wrong in the relatively flat Minehead?

The rest of the short journey to work passed at a range of speeds, since the chair tended to get faster and slower again at various points, usually depending on what the pavement was like. Going downhill, I found that gravity definitely helped – at one stage, an old lady with a walking stick moved over to let me past, and rather embarrassingly, I was as slow approaching her as she was approaching me! When I arrived at work, I reiterated my predicament to my colleagues, pulled up to my desk, and switched the chair off, knowing that it sometimes regained power when out of use for a while. Eventually, the time came to have lunch, and in hindsight maybe I should have stayed in the office to eat it, but I wanted some fresh air. Seeing that I had clawed back some additional power, I set off in the direction of the park.

As I had anticipated, I did lose much of that as I sped down the street, but I wasn’t going very far and there was only one road to cross. I’d do that, eat, get back and switch off again so that I would be fine to go home by myself. A foolproof and flawless plan, surely? Well, I was fully convinced that all would be well – until I’d finished my lunch and had to head back across that road again. By that point, the chair was covering most of my route at little more than a crawl – while it was just about still moving, there was no real power behind it. Imagine the true fear I felt, therefore, when I dismounted the kerb and the chair crept into the road at a snail’s pace, with a car approaching in the distance.

It stopped. I carried on, hoping that the camber at the side of the road would quickly flatten out so that I would speed up. Unfortunately, that took what seemed like an eternity, so opting to continue my day in one piece, I got back to the safety of the kerb, switched myself off once again and pondered my next move. I did try crossing at least twice more (with lengthy breaks in between each attempt), but I ultimately decided to give up altogether and send out an SOS. Another two phone calls to the office and Mum led to the latter coming to my rescue a few minutes later.

Once we were home, we set about trying to get to the bottom of the issue, which was still baffling me. I immediately plugged the chair back in upon parking in the garage and, as far as I was concerned, its display wasn’t lying – it was charging. So what was the problem? With some further exploration, Mum soon discovered that, in a nutshell, the charger wasn’t quite plugged in fully. Even though the readout was telling us what we wanted it to, the juice wasn’t going in as it should – so there you go. Everything that happened on that day came from one very small but crucial oversight. I’ll have to triple-check these things from now on, and I’ll make sure I push harder when I’m plugging in too!

Mason

 

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Warm Leather: The Movie

The last few weeks have seen a marked lack of inspiration where this blog has been concerned, so for creative fulfilment I’ve had no choice but to write something else. With more scriptwriting modules looming next year, a screenplay seemed an appropriate project, and Warm Leather the short story I wrote just before Christmas – seemed to be the perfect source material to use. Before it existed as prose, it had been a very rough short film, and now that the story has given me a better idea of where everything in it is going, I decided that it was time to redraft it in its original form.

In order for me to get at least one new draft finished, the script currently sticks as close as it possibly can to the story. I have removed certain lines of dialogue that feel awkward in hindsight, but otherwise I am simply imagining each scene as if there were a camera present. At this moment in time, I’m almost eight pages into a film that I wouldn’t expect to last more than half an hour if I was actually making it. That might not sound like a very long script, but as a general rule of thumb, one page equals approximately one minute of screen time – so the completed product should be around 30 pages long. Don’t forget that as I have an alarming tendency to procrastinate, eight pages is arguably quite an achievement!

As is the case with many other projects, I’m hoping that if I maintain some kind of routine, and write a little bit more of the script every day, I’ll have a draft done very quickly – something complete to show for my efforts if anyone asks to see it. Then I can re-examine it more closely, and make any initial improvements. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Surely I can stick to that plan…

Mason

Solid Proof

I may only be at the end of my first year of uni, but it’s never too early to start looking to the future. I’ve recently started thinking more and more about what my next move will be post-graduation, and it seems that one particular area may end up providing the answer. Obviously, my ultimate goal in life is to be a writer for a living, but that’ll have to be a target I work towards over time. If I’m to reach that stage, I’ll need to look for something that is relevant to both my ambition and the skills I have, and that also provides good experience. Having done some research, it transpires that proofreading may be just the thing.

It’s something that has often been suggested to me for a number of years now. As I’ve always been so focused on writing, I’ll admit that I haven’t always been warmly receptive to the idea, but since the start of my degree it’s become increasingly clear that it’s definitely something to consider. I’ve definitely been a stickler for good spelling, punctuation and grammar for as long as I can remember! My research into the matter began, as always, with some simple Google searches and emails. The former revealed that most professional proofreaders and copyeditors take industry-recognised qualifications before they begin work – and I quickly discovered that there are many on offer to novices like me. Those that seem to be especially well-regarded, however, come from the Publishing Training Centre and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Both were heartily endorsed by the people I emailed, including a lecturer from Winchester whose name had been passed to me by a friend.

These two institutions are therefore my next port of call, and I’m glad that all of my original options have been narrowed down to make this process easier. I need to look carefully through both websites to see what they can offer me in terms of distance learning, since that’ll probably be easier than attending a workshop (which is also more expensive). From what I’ve seen so far, they could both be excellent choices, so there’s much more digging to be done if I’m going to pick one over the other. The ball is now rolling, though – so you’ll have to watch this space.

Mason

Whiplash (2014)

From the very first scene of writer and director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, budding jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is presented as a man under pressure. Before we see him, we hear the rolling of his drum kit, getting faster and faster as he pushes himself to the limit, determined to improve and impress. When he is subsequently introduced to his formidable tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), he stops playing to greet him, only for Fletcher to ask why. He begins again, only to be challenged once more. Eventually, when Fletcher asks to hear Neiman’s rudiments in double time, he obliges, but becomes so engrossed that he does not initially see Fletcher leave the room. It is clear from the outset, then, that Neiman is not destined for an easy ride, and it’s this exchange that begins a dramatic student-teacher relationship. I was immediately both hooked and emotionally invested.

I felt my chest tighten seeing just how much pressure Neiman was under to succeed, as much from himself than anyone else. I shared in the intimidation he and his fellow Studio Band musicians felt in Fletcher’s presence, particularly when he is unleashing the full force of his fury upon them; Chazelle told Simmons to be “a monster, a gargoyle, an animal” during filming. He is established as a firm perfectionist who won’t think twice about punishing the band for rushing or dragging even by a fraction. His abuse is both physical and verbal, and we learn that a past student of his, Sean Casey, was driven to suicide as a result of his aggression. Nobody’s position in the band is safe, and many of the musicians are deliberately pushed to their physical limits in order to prove themselves. There are multiple scenes of sweat, blistered fingers and blood on the drums as they strive to play harder and faster to perfect a piece, and the sheer pain involved induced many a wince in me; I had never realised just what such determination can drive people to do. The strain is mental as well as physical; Neiman breaks up with his girlfriend and crawls out of the wreckage of a car accident in order to join the band at a performance, even though he is covered in blood and severely injured. The latter incident demonstrates just how Neiman’s priorities have changed as he looks to achieve greatness, and it also pushes him over the edge, as Fletcher’s lack of compassion leads Neiman to physically attack him on stage and get him fired.

At this point, relieved that Neiman’s torment was over, I assumed that the film’s conclusion would be smoother for him. The emotional rollercoaster continues, however, when Neiman, having subsequently abandoned drumming, re-encounters Fletcher at a club. They chat in a manner that is almost friendly, but I was convinced this was too good to be true. Sure enough, when Fletcher offers Neiman a drumming spot at a local festival, he reveals he knows Neiman got him fired, getting his revenge by forcing him to play a piece he has not learnt. Fletcher’s status as a total villain is sealed, as it seems he has humiliated Neiman in front of an audience. Neiman hits back with a performance that eventually earns Fletcher’s respect, and in the closing moments of the film the two exchange smiles. It’s a satisfying ending to something that toyed with me from the start. It’s what Chazelle and his cast do so well; I felt fear, anger, determination and disappointment, all alongside our protagonist, and that is surely the mark of a truly great film.

Mason

Hooked

When I went out for lunch with Will recently, he asked me about a film I’d reviewed for Creative Non-Fiction a little while ago – the critically-acclaimed Whiplash. As we discussed our shared enjoyment of it, it occurred to me that I have never published a film or TV review – or at least a post of appreciation – here before. What I wrote for that film may yet be uploaded, but for this post I’ve decided to focus on Speechless, an American sitcom that has only just arrived on British screens. There’s so much comedy on offer to us nowadays that the good examples must really shine in order to stand out, and Speechless had me intrigued from the very first episode I saw. It’s being broadcast on E4, but I knew straight away that I had to dig deeper to make the most of it, so I found the rest of its three seasons on YouTube.

In case you haven’t seen it, Speechless follows the exploits of the weird and wonderful DiMeo family, consisting of mum Maya (Minnie Driver), dad Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), and their three children, Ray (Mason Cook), Dylan (Kyla Kennedy), and JJ (Micah Fowler). The latter is the one around whom all their lives revolve. Like me, JJ has cerebral palsy, albeit in a more severe form than me or the actor who plays him. He is given a great deal of physical assistance from both his family and his aide Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), with whom he forms something of a double act. The show’s title alludes to the fact that he does not speak – instead, he uses a laser pointer and word board to communicate, and Fowler had to learn to use both of these prior to taking his role. The result of this is a wide array of reactions and expressions, all of which allow the viewer to connect and laugh with him, without ever needing to hear a word. Of course, it is immensely satisfying to see that despite his differences to others, JJ is accepted and engaged with like any other teenager by his peers. So far, I’ve seen him join his school choir (using Kenneth as his “singing voice”), get drunk at a house party and find love, and I can’t wait to see him get up to more mischief – he isn’t made a total saint…

What’s even more pleasing to see, though, is cerebral palsy itself being highlighted so prominently on TV, and so brilliantly by Fowler. Whilst I have seen disabled characters and actors before (albeit not often enough), I can scarcely remember another occasion when I have seen someone with my condition. I’ve never met anyone whose cerebral palsy affects them in the same way mine does, such are the differences between cases, but to see it at all means a great deal. It’s therefore such a shame that Speechless has literally just been cancelled – I can’t help but feel that this important, entertaining and very much cherished show has been cruelly snatched away from me just as I’m getting hooked on it. Nevertheless, there are plenty more episodes for me to devour just yet!

Mason

 

Five Seven Five

When my Winchester flatmate Sam and I cross paths, often in the kitchen at odd times of the day or night, he’ll frequently ask what I’m writing at the moment. In the last few weeks, with no academic work to do, the answer has tended to be “nothing much”. Even when I’ve prompts in mind, nothing has been fruitful, but one very small thing has suddenly helped to change that – and I could find it rather useful over the coming months at home.

When I saved and submitted my poetry portfolio at the beginning of last month, I assumed that I was letting go of the last batch of verse I would write in a while. I’d had trouble gelling with the module, and – excluding one on song lyrics – I haven’t chosen to take any poetry modules next year. That was that, or so it seemed. Just the other night, using the pen and notebook Louis bought me for my last birthday, all it took was three lines to reveal that perhaps I have unfinished business with it after all. In a haiku, I have a simple outlet for all of those fragmented thoughts and emotions I’m keen to express. It’s also good for the ideas I have that aren’t quite big enough for me to expand on substantially, those that start out as words, phrases or images. If I get them down on paper in this way, I’m shifting my writer’s block and expanding my portfolio, albeit more gradually than I would like.

As I’ve said, it could come in especially handy over the next few months while I’m back in Somerset for the summer. It’s fair to say that I’ve been more than a little bit apprehensive about returning from Winchester and facing numerous questions about what I plan to do with myself. I’ve been embarrassed about admitting that right now, there are no plans to speak of – but I’m hoping that writing and the ideas I have will help to ease that as I work on making some. It doesn’t matter whether they manifest themselves as bigger things or smaller ones, or in three lines or more.

Mason

 

Mission To Marwell

On Monday lunchtime, Flat 12 and I all came together for a group meal in Winchester before going our separate ways for the summer. The food was great, but as always, the company was the highlight. Alysha, Ben, Deacon, Ryan, Nora, Lara and I spent a lot of time reminiscing about our favourite moments from the past year. There have been many highlights, but if I had to choose a new and very recent one to go alongside them, our day out just under two weeks ago would most definitely be worthy.

We had decided well in advance to go to the nearby Marwell Zoo, firstly by taking a short train from Winchester to Eastleigh. Once there, we would board a bus running directly to our destination. Everything was ready as we set off in the morning, and we were lucky to have weather that was warm enough to allow me to leave my jumper in my rucksack. I’d booked my train tickets and assistance beforehand, so boarding the train was a piece of cake and we were in Eastleigh around ten minutes later. It was once we’d arrived that our plan started to go somewhat awry. Every sign around the bus station told us what we thought we knew – that at 10:23 sharp, a large and distinctive leopard-print bus would arrive to collect us, and the final stage of our journey would go without a hitch.

10:23 came and went, however, with no sign of our lift. Confusion reigned for a moment, since we’d all been chatting with our backs to the road and it was entirely possible that we simply could have missed it. We swiftly established that this was not the case – it would have been very difficult for all seven of us not to clock a leopard-print bus – so Lara phoned the zoo for some much-needed clarity. The lady on the other end informed her that by contrast to what the signs were telling us, those buses only ran at weekends. If we wanted to, though, we could get a regular bus part of the way to the zoo and walk the remaining distance, as there was supposedly a footpath close by.

We decided to take her advice. To my surprise, I was able to board the bus without paying a fare – upon learning that I didn’t yet have a Hampshire bus pass, the driver was adamant that I should never be charged. She took us out of Eastleigh and along a series of winding rural roads before we disembarked next to a pub car park. As we looked around us, we could see that whilst nourishment and alcohol were on offer if we wanted them, the promised footpath most definitely was not. What separated us from the zoo was actually a 50 mph road, evidently not built with pedestrian or wheelchair access in mind. The risks ahead were immediately clear to all of us, but seeing no other options at that moment in time, and having already come so far, we decided to try and tackle it as best we could.

We made our way along it slowly and in single file. Behind me, over the roar of the passing traffic, I could hear Lara reminding me to keep as close to the grass verge at the side as I could. Up ahead, Ben and Ryan were finding our mission increasingly stressful – this particular part was admittedly rather dangerous. After tucking ourselves into each lay-by and bus stop in an attempt to move as far as we could, we crossed to the other side, where the kerb was low enough to allow me to get up onto the grass. By now, though, it had dawned on us that we needed a backup plan – successfully reaching the zoo was fast becoming a very distant possibility.

We unanimously agreed that bowling in Eastleigh was the solution. After stopping for lunch once we had returned, we headed to the alley, determined to do something enjoyable with our somewhat pearshaped day. We played two games, for which I – being both disabled and more than a little bit rusty – used the ramp and bumpers, as did Alysha and Nora. I surprised myself and everyone else by drawing with Alysha for the win in the first game and coming a clear second in the next, and it was generally agreed that I was the most consistent player across the two. Meanwhile, Deacon took longer to get a strike than he would have liked – although I think he did win the second game – and Ben might not thank me for saying this, but I believe he was last on both occasions.

Regardless of how successful each of us had been down the lanes, it was clear to all of us that we’d had the great day we wanted after all. Even at the beginning, when nobody knew how it was going to turn out, we were laughing together. The fun we eventually had was just a welcome bonus, since all good friends really need to enjoy themselves is the company of each other. Flat 12 is now slowly being vacated, as everyone will be living off-campus from next year, but we have already discussed how and where we can meet up and the things we could do. I’m already counting down the days. For now, I’ll leave you with some wise words from the key ring Lara kindly gave to each of us:

Mason