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…

Mason

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Ja, La, Za

In my first post of 2023, I want to talk about that weird limbo week between Christmas and New Year. It brought many delights, among them the chance for Mum, Dad and I to spend time with my brother Louis and his boyfriend Ali, who came down from Birmingham for the festivities. Of course, these largely consisted of a great deal of eating and lounging, but we did also set time aside for a few games – including a couple of rounds of Scrabble. Let me tell you, playing Scrabble can be a real experience in our house, particularly if Louis and Ali are involved. While we’re all capable of spending a nice hour or two rubbing along without causing any disagreements, more often than not, we tend to very vocally challenge certain words that appear on the board. The boys are particularly prone to coming up with questionable suggestions.

Take the other night, for example. Once Louis, Ali, Mum and I had started playing, we were quickly faced with the age-old obstacle of a board on which large parts had been blocked off early. Certain Triple Word Score squares were impossible to reach, and elsewhere there was no room to spread out anyway, leaving us with no choice but to pick up what points we could with shorter, less rewarding submissions. This was where the disputes arose, and they continued without end until the final stages – the most notable of these concerned the three words you see at the very top of this post. You might be forgiven for thinking that they’re barely words at all, at least not in English. According to our 2012 Scrabble Dictionary, however, they’re not only clearly defined, but they’re all permitted in the game. ‘Ja’ is, of course, the German for ‘yes’, while ‘la’ is included in its capacity as the sixth note of the musical scale. ‘Za’, meanwhile, was the one that infuriated me most of all, since it merely appears to be an American colloquialism for ‘pizza’. A colloquialism – and an abbreviation too – allowed in Scrabble? Surely not. I think the game is going downhill, and I reckon any normal player would agree with me, but Louis and Ali are not normal players.

Louis won in the end. There may only have been seven points separating him and Mum in second, but we all know what it was that put him ahead – this farce has reminded us to get an updated Scrabble Dictionary, so we don’t have as many issues in future. It was a lot of fun, though, and while it might seem like a random story for me to tell here, it’s the kind of daft memory you want in black and white for posterity. There are good vibes, and I’m not actually going on an anti-Scrabble rant (hopefully you can tell I’ve written this with tongue planted firmly in cheek). I’m sure you’ll agree it makes for a fitting post to start the new year with – one that I hope will have plenty more good things in store for me. The first post I write next January will reflect on much more than just a board game, I’m sure of that…

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 7

A few months ago, I told you that Lara, Nora and I had temporarily put our book club on hold. I also told you that despite that, I’d be continuing solo, making notes on what I was reading even if I had nobody else to show them to. Well, I can tell you now that I’ve kept my word, although it took me a while. My notebook tells me that I started Stardust, which I finished on 27 November, all the way back on April Fool’s Day!

Opening those blank pages and writing by hand has really come in useful so far. I’ve never been all that confident in my abilities as a reviewer, largely because I never feel like I have an opinion that’s detailed enough on anything. I just know, instinctively, whether I like something or not, and I don’t feel much of an inclination to pick it apart. If I want to fill my notebook, though, I have no choice but to jot down a paragraph or two. Wouldn’t want to waste the money I spent on it, would I?

Everything goes down, no matter how scattered or disjointed my thoughts are, because I don’t worry about refining them for an audience. I don’t even worry about Mum or Dad taking the book from my desk and flicking through it (they’d likely struggle to read my handwriting anyway). That takes the pressure off to some extent, so for a long time I was adamant that nobody would see my notes, because it might change the way I looked at them myself if they did. Nevertheless, a conversation with Mum last week got me thinking about whether I should give you a sneak peek as a one-off, so I put a little more thought into my notes this time around.

They’re for the sixth novel I’ve read since the beginning of the book club, Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. During my recent weekend in Winchester, I fancied some crime fiction, and I wanted to see if Osman’s debut as an author really lived up to all the hype. I also read David Fisher’s Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara during the same period, but I figured my thoughts on that might not be as appealing to non-Whovians! Have a look at these words and see what you think – I definitely wouldn’t complain if you decided to enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve edited my original scribblings slightly for better clarity, but the general verdicts remain the same.

6. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Started 02.12.22

This was a fascinating murder mystery which was easy to follow, but still had plenty of depth. There was so much going on that I found I wasn’t even sure who I suspected – or if I suspected anyone at all – but this wasn’t a problem, as it just meant I was able to enjoy the story’s twists and turns without any distractions. I guess you could say I was savouring the journey, rather than concerning myself with the destination too much.

The protagonists are people you truly care about, and reading about the residents of Coopers Chase and the members of the titular club is a delight. Their speech patterns and eccentricities are so relatable and well-observed – I found myself picturing some of my own relatives as I went along – and they’re endearing too, undoubtedly contributing to the book’s overall warmth. There is some room for the reflection on loss and mortality that can accompany old age, but above all, The Thursday Murder Club serves to remind us that every second of life is precious and there to be lived. As long as it’s still in front of us, there’s still time for it to be well and truly grabbed by the horns.

I can’t wait for The Man Who Died Twice!

Finished 15.12.22

Mason

Back In The Driving Seat

This piece was written for the December 2022 issue of Caitlyn Raymond’s fantastic Details Magazine, which is out now – you can find out more about it by clicking here!

Whether it’s for this magazine, my own blog or any other outlet, I always try to write about my own life from a ‘glass half-full’ perspective. And why wouldn’t I? After all, there’s enough misery in the world at the moment without me adding to it. Unfortunately, though, my sunny disposition on the page isn’t always reflected in real life, and that’s never more true than now, at the tail end of nine months of unemployment (so far). I sit, I dwell and I overthink, and it seems like there’s something different for me to mull over every single day – I never quite seem to be able to catch a break. It’s hard to admit that without moaning, but I’m just telling my truth.

Last week, that troubling thing was time itself – more specifically, the feeling that it was passing me by, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d turned 25 and I was sitting there, in the thick of November, with seemingly very little to show for my year. That’s a hopeless situation, let me tell you, and when you’re down in the dumps like that it can be very easy just to wallow in self-pity. I definitely know what that’s like, because it’s usually when the comfort eating starts! So when it happens, what do I do about it? I take control, I make changes, but not necessarily the kind you might expect.

They aren’t major life alterations. There’s plenty of time for those, and in any case, it’s always much better to take baby steps – and I mean baby steps. I’ve realised I have to seize the initiative wherever I can, even if that means deciding to eat my dinner an hour after Mum and Dad have finished theirs, as I have done recently. It’s caused a little bit of debate, and I suspect they think there’s something driving me away from them, no matter how many times I try to convince them otherwise. But the simple fact is that they won’t dictate when I’m hungry: I will. They can’t complain if I spend too long in my room either, because if I have my solitude, I’m calm and content, and those moments are worth their weight in gold.

You may well think I’m immature, or I have a screw loose (now that I’ve written about my dinner routines, I’m wondering if I do too). But in a life that’s increasingly felt like it’s getting away from me, it allows me to climb into the driving seat and get back behind the wheel. That might only be for five or ten minutes at a time, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable. It provides a light in the darkness, it helps to guide me through uncertain times, and it makes the long-term unknown that little bit less daunting.

Mason

Not The Christmas Market

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Winchester, and on Friday afternoon I finally got the chance to have a look around the Christmas market I’d been excited to see for so long. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people, meaning it was very busy (even more so on Saturday, when I aborted an attempt to go back because 400,000 people had seemingly decided to drop by at once). I had to be vigilant however I moved, lest I knock over any children or elderly people in haste, but I was still glad to have gotten in for a browse. I couldn’t help but be amused at many selfies and family photos I had to duck out of – I’ll be very surprised if I haven’t been caught in a few, and immortalised in photobomb form!

The stalls there were selling all kinds of weird and wonderful things, from Christmas decorations, bath bombs and fudge to salt and pepper mills shaped like chess pieces. There was plenty of choice in terms of things to eat and drink, too. One of the first things you notice is how much you can smell, be it gluhwein, roasted chestnuts, hot dogs, fish and chips, or any of the other sweet and savoury delights on offer. You’re also struck by the joy that all of this stimulation is bringing people – there’s so much to see, listen to, feel, and all in the shadow of the majestic cathedral that looms over you as you take it in. Being able to witness it means it’s an even bigger shame that I couldn’t get a clear photo of anything, that I couldn’t capture any of these wonders to share them with you, although I should really have anticipated how popular they’d be.

I therefore came away empty-handed, but I was still determined to have something on Third Time Enabled for posterity, and what better alternative is there than the tree in the high street? It’s always impressive, but I personally feel this one is the biggest and best one yet, and I hope you agree. It might not be a photo from the Christmas market, but I feel it very much captures the magic of the season, the occasion, and my little holiday.

Mason

Not A Skunk, Not A Punk, But A Monk

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be setting sail for Winchester once again, this time primarily to sample the delights of its annual Christmas Market. I somehow completely neglected it during university, so I look forward to rectifying that, but I’m also excited by the prospect of any other new discoveries I might make. On my last trip there – during a mid-August heatwave – there were several, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember decorative hares dotted through the city for charity. There was also the refurbishment of my favourite coffee shop, a new ice-cream parlour (which I couldn’t take advantage of thanks to a pesky front step), and – most bafflingly of all – a monk standing at the bottom of the high street. Yes, you read that last bit correctly.

I had the good fortune to chat to him for a little while, not that I’d originally intended to. As I’m sure many of us are, I’ve always been quite wary of anyone who hangs around in the middle of town trying to sell something. Winchester seems to be a hotspot for that sort of thing, so over the years I’ve become adept at spotting people in my peripheral vision and weaving around them in such a way that doesn’t make it obvious I’m avoiding them. Unfortunately, that skill had deserted me on this particular summer’s day, and in any case, the street was so busy that I couldn’t have given this gentleman the slip without mowing down a number of other pedestrians in the process. I was funnelled directly into his path, albeit so suddenly that I hadn’t even seen him coming until it was too late.

I can’t remember his name, but he was around my age. He asked me how I was, who I was, and where I’d come from, and even though I was naturally perplexed by what he was doing there, we struck up a conversation. From the outset, he was keen to stress that he was “not a skunk, and not a punk, but a monk” (that’s a blog post title if ever I’ve heard one, I thought). He also told me how much he liked my “vibes” and how laid back I was, and he asked me for my secret. How could I be so chilled and calm? If the truth be told, in that moment at least, there was no secret – I’d stopped questioning the situation and was going with the flow, since it was pretty clear he didn’t mean me any harm.

However, it was also pretty clear that he indeed hoped to persuade me to part with my cash, and before long he’d handed me some kind of spiritual self-help book, whilst looking at me with those pleading puppy dog eyes. As brilliant as I’m sure the book was, I had no interest in paying for it, so I mumbled something about already having spent too much that day (which wasn’t entirely untrue – it was so hot that I’d just been forced to fork out £12 for a cap in Marks and Spencer). I thought that would be that and we’d both carry on with our business, but if this whole exchange hadn’t already been bizarre enough, what happened next really took the biscuit. He told me that I needn’t worry because he also accepted Visa and MasterCard, and with that, he produced an electronic card reader from his robes.

I stifled a laugh, which remained bottled up until I’d declined the purchase and left the monk’s company, at which point I was in hysterics at how surreal – and utterly brilliant – the conversation had been. I’d been a little bit annoyed when I first got stuck with him, but in hindsight I’m glad that I did, because those are the moments and the stories I live for. I’m a writer, I mine material wherever I can, and that afternoon I struck gold without ever expecting to. Until I started writing this post I’d kept it to myself, because I wanted to make sure I did it justice, and now that it’s finally out there I’m really hoping I experience something just as noteworthy this weekend. I’ll definitely be looking and listening, but I’d say I’m unlikely to find another monk near the shops. After all, at this time of year he might freeze to death without a big coat!

Mason

In My Lap

After a brief hiatus, I’m back writing for Details, and what makes that even sweeter is the fact that I’m doing so feeling creatively rejuvenated. That’s because even before our monthly editorial meeting, I’d already had an idea that’s a great fit. It didn’t need any crafting or developing – it was just there, and it naturally suited our theme better than I could ever have imagined. Up to that point, I’d already abandoned two potential articles because they just weren’t flowing, and if something’s forced, it isn’t sincere and certainly isn’t worth publishing. With that in mind, I couldn’t offer Caitlyn material that I knew would detract from the otherwise excellent quality of her magazine, but at the same time, I didn’t like missing all the fun. Details is a vital, colourful and inclusive outlet with an enormous amount of room to grow, and I’m determined to be a part of it for a long time to come. If you’re reading this, Caitlyn, the only way you’ll get me off the team is by firing me – and that’s a promise!

But I digress. My point is that sometimes, as I must have said before, the best ideas just fall straight into your lap. That’s a very welcome feeling at the best of times, but it’s especially satisfying when you feel like you’ve lost that drive to put words to paper. Of course, not only will Details benefit from that, but Third Time Enabled will too, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve written once it’s done. As things stand, I only have one paragraph at most, but I’m fairly confident that the rest will write itself. I hope so, anyway, otherwise those might be famous last words…

Mason

Unused Substitute

It’s another short post from me today, and all because some photos are too good not to share on their own. With that kind of introduction, you might be expecting a picturesque Mediterranean sunset or a rolling African savanna, but alas, no. It’s a card, and a somewhat poorly aged one at that. It was sent by my cousins Adrian, Matthew and Dominic just after I was born, and I’ve seen and laughed at it a number of times since. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will already have seen it, but what the hell – if anything should be preserved for posterity on Third Time Enabled, it’s surely this.

25 years on, I still haven’t made the team, but I’m on the bench if they need me!

Mason