Operation Book Club

I’m starting this post in Waterstone’s, a place I often frequent even though I mostly have no intention of buying anything. That’s certainly the case today – I already have an outstanding book to finish (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I bought here last year, and which follows the equally excellent Ready Player One), so there’s no need for me to emerge with any more. And yet the notebooks captivate me. There are all sorts on the shelves, ranging from blank ones, to bullet journals, to those specifically designed for lists or novel planning, and even one containing a Jane Austen witticism a day (just in case you want another reminder that she’s buried in Winchester – I rolled over her grave once).

The possibilities, then, are endless, and every time I’ve bought a new notebook in the past, I’ve done so with the same overriding desire – to make it the starting point for a new, game-changing project. Admittedly, this desire does come with some slight delusions of grandeur. I can’t help imagining myself putting pen to paper on a literary classic for the ages by candlelight like an 18th Century romantic novelist, or scribbling down my memoirs in a book small enough to fit snugly into the sidebag that hangs from my wheelchair.

Judging by my track record with notebooks, neither of those things will happen – and in any case, at this moment I can’t even decide whether I want a big one or a small one. I might have something entirely different in mind for it, though, thanks to a sudden burst of inspiration Lara has unknowingly given to me. In just over a week, I’ll be leaving Winchester – hopefully not for the last time ever – having finished my degree. Over lunch on Monday, Lara, Ben, Alysha, Ryan and I discussed the small matter of how we’ll stay in touch post-uni, and it was Lara who suggested we engage in a book club. I responded very enthusiastically. She said we could put books forward for consideration, and when we’d decided on one, we could obtain a copy, start it on the same day, record our thoughts and share them with each other at the end.

At the moment, only Lara and I are definitely up for it, but I hope others will agree to join, because it could be a great group activity – and it’s given me the perfect purpose for a new notebook. Not only would it allow me to make all the observations I need on what we read, but it’d also mean I could prise my eyes away from a screen for a bit and write the old-fashioned way. I’m sure my handwriting could do with the practice. One of my teachers used to say that reading it was like looking through spiders!


The Longest Film I’ve Ever Seen

I remember how surreal everything felt as the original lockdown approached last March. One day, I went into Winchester to pick up a new inhaler just before I went home, and what struck me was that between leaving campus and being halfway down the high street, I literally didn’t see a single soul. I suppose it was to be expected, since we were all being told to stay home as much as possible, but I’d obviously never known anything like a pandemic in my lifetime, so it was borderline eerie. When I did eventually encounter human life, it was in the form of queues outside the bank or the pharmacy, where people were being admitted on a strict one-in, one-out basis. Their conversation rang out in the open air, such was the emptiness of town, and there was clear anxiety on every face as they waited for their permitted essentials. It was like something out of a disaster film – and at that point, none of us could have really known that we were only at the start of the longest film any of us had ever seen.

Over a year on, the pandemic continues to dominate the news and our lives. According to the Government, however, the end is in sight, and 21 June will bring our collective return to normality, with all remaining restrictions lifted.

Really? Are we really expected to carry on with our lives exactly as they were before coronavirus?

The restrictions and the lockdowns have been hard for us all, but most of us have just done what we’ve needed to do to get through it, because it’s just been the way things are. And whether we like it or not, it’s still very much the way things are – there might be a decline in cases, and an ever-increasing number of people being vaccinated (I was Pfizered for the second time just under three weeks ago), but coronavirus is still well and truly with us. I myself have spent the last three days isolating in my room, thanks to a positive test for one of my flatmates. With that in mind, I’m not sure how I really feel about simply going about my daily business as if nothing ever happened. We’ll still have to take precautions, obviously, but fully opening society doesn’t quite sit right with me. I can’t help worrying that we’ll get complacent and end up right back at square one. I guess only time will tell how it pans out for us all – but I’m not holding my breath for a happy ending just yet…


Are You Still Watching?

I’ve had Netflix for at least three years now – and for a man with a particular interest in television and how it’s made, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t spent nearly enough of that time actually watching it. Not even an international pandemic and the lockdowns therein have prompted me to get a move on, much to Louis’ chagrin. I should clarify that I’m not quite as uncultured as I must immediately look – there’s a lot of film and TV that I have seen. It’s just that much of what I haven’t seen happens to be well-known, including all the latest sensations on the streaming service. For a long time, I could never be quite sure why. It would be oh-so-easy to for me to sit back and press play, so why hadn’t I?

The answer recently hit me when I least expected it. Having finished the latest series of Formula 1: Drive to Survive, I was staring forlornly at the long watch list Louis had compiled for me, comprised of all the things he’d been insisting I devour for goodness knows how long. All things I’d probably enjoy, as countless millions of others had, but just had no motivation to start myself. Most of the things I had watched were either old favourites I’d seen several times, or newcomers not featured on the list. And why? Because I felt no pressure to watch them – they hadn’t been sat there glaring at me with the weight of expectation behind them, I’d simply found and appreciated them of my own accord.

That’s exactly where I think my problem lies. It seems that in 2021, there’s something new we should all be getting our teeth into almost every week – and that if you haven’t watched that film or binged ten episodes of that hot new series, then you’re lagging behind everyone else, out of the loop. There’s suddenly a plethora of pop culture references that will be lost on you if you’re not immediately in the know, and that’s a pretty daunting prospect, at least for me. It’s where the aforementioned pressure comes from, and it’s not much fun at all. Realising what’s been putting me off, though, has given me the perfect approach going forward. If I’m to get the best out of Netflix, I just have to take it at my own pace – even if that means having to put up with more of Louis’ incessant badgering as I prioritise what I want to see, rather than what I feel I need to. He’ll just have to wait a little longer for me to get to Stranger Things.


The ECP Diaries, Part 8

It is done. My ECP was at long last submitted seven days ago, and only three deadlines remain before my university experience is over for good. I felt a mixture of two things as I handed it in – the warm, calming feeling of relief and acceptance as I realised that this long process was over, and a degree of apprehension. My friends and I all agreed that we were too nervous about the eventual outcome to be pleased, but (as I’ve probably said before) I know in my heart that whatever happens, I’m always going to be proud of myself because I’ve come to Winchester, thrown myself into my degree, enjoyed it at every turn and – most importantly – I’ve gotten to the end.

With that in mind, I went about the rest of my day last Friday with a smile on my face. I unwound sitting outside in town with a bowl of parsnip, fennel and coconut soup (the university canteen isn’t open at the moment, so I’ve got to get my nutrition somehow). Later I bought myself the biggest celebratory McDonald’s imaginable, all while pondering what lay ahead. In terms of my remaining assignments, this consists of a series of freelance copywriting proposals, a radio script, and a short story. 28 May is the magic date, the endpoint – after that, I’ll be cut off from education for good, and cast out into the big wide world to fend for myself once and for all.

I don’t know what lies ahead yet – I don’t even know if we’ll be getting a proper graduation – but I’m going to go forward with my head held high, as I always try to. I’ve started by sending my supervisor a ‘thank you’ email. I always tried my best to incorporate her feedback, albeit perhaps not always as she would have liked (I guess the mark I get will tell me all I need to know). There were times when I struggled to hit the nail on the head with it, no matter how close I got. Some might say that as I graduate, she should get a medal for putting up with me! Arguably, though, that’s the creative process – trial and error, agreements and disagreements, with a healthy dollop of determination and passion thrown in for good measure.


The ECP Diaries, Part 7

Last Friday, having applied three days previously, I was granted an extension for my ECP. It was due on 23 March, but the deadline has now been extended until 16 April. The relief I feel is enormous, and if that wasn’t welcome news on its own, my third Copywriting assignment has been pushed back from 13 April to 4 May. Before these changes, I had five deadlines between 19 and 29 March alone, so I and many of my friends and cohorts were in desperate need of some breathing space – and thanks to a form we could use to get an extension without any evidence, we have it.

When it became clear in early January that I wouldn’t immediately be going back to Winchester after the Christmas break, Mum and Dad set up a small area in the corner of the living room where I could do my Microsoft Teams lectures and assignments in private on my laptop. It’s so far served its purpose well enough, but it doesn’t quite compare to a nice quiet study space in the university library. It doesn’t have all the resources the library has either, and that was one of the key reasons why I and so many others have sought to have the deadline moved. On top of that, even though I now have three complete screenplay drafts and a rough rationale draft to go with them, they still need work. That’s not to say that I’ve neglected them in any way – they’re shaping up well and I know that when they are done, I’ll be majorly proud of them. I just know that that’s not quite yet.

My supervisor agreed as much during our fourth meeting. That had been delayed for a couple of weeks, and while it was nobody’s fault, I was determined to get my full quota of six meetings before I handed my project in. Not everyone will choose to use all of theirs, and that’s up to them, but I can’t help but feel that it would be a waste if I left any outstanding. Each passing discussion is shaping my work for the better, and although its development is gradually coming to a climax, I know that there’s still more invaluable feedback to come before that end point in April.



Last Sunday afternoon saw another very welcome Zoom game session between myself and the uni gang. After the resoundingly successful game of Trivial Pursuit we’d played in the first instance, we were all keen to pursue some more ways of keeping ourselves entertained, and thanks to Alysha we had something new to enjoy. This was 30 Seconds, a game which required players to pair up. Lara was unable to join us on this occasion, so we had six players rather than seven – and that meant we had three perfect pairs, with nobody left out. Before we started, Alysha told us she was concerned that it would be too easy and we’d quickly get bored with it, but it proved more of a challenge than she thought, and we found ourselves unearthing a new favourite.

The rules were simple. Each pair would take it in turns to describe five words to their partner, who would then have to guess them before the titular 30 seconds were up. At the end, the pair with the most correct answers would be victorious. The words in question looked easy to convey on paper, but tended to be harder in practice – especially seeing as they could be completely random. Something like ‘mattress’ (“the big thing you sleep on in bed”), ‘hospital’ (“the place you visit when you’re sick”), or even ‘Audi’ (“German car company – four rings”) could be followed by a word much more difficult that you never expected to see or just could not get across. Examples of those included ‘grasshopper’ – which I tried to explain to Ryan as “green insect which leaps through vegetation”, sadly to no avail – and, most infamously, ‘decoder’. I didn’t even know where to start with that, so I swiftly moved onto the next one. Thankfully, it wasn’t too detrimental to our points total!

I’m sure one of the others will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Ryan and I won that afternoon, and as I’ve already mentioned, we were all pleasantly surprised by how good the game was. I even suggested that we could play a homemade version using words we come up with ourselves. I’ve no idea if that’ll happen yet, but it’s definitely something to consider, and the trial of yet another well-received game has got us thinking once again about what we could do next. I’m sure that whatever it is, it’ll be great fun, and it’ll certainly help to relieve the sizeable amount of dissertation and assignment pressure that’ll be looming very soon…


The ECP Diaries, Part 6

There are now around six weeks to go until the biggest deadline of them all. Things are really starting to hot up, but – believe it or not – I’m as cool as a cucumber (although I can’t guarantee I’ll feel the same with a week to go). As I write this now, my three complete short screenplay drafts have been scrutinised once more by my supervisor, and I spent last night applying some of the latest round of feedback to them. Now I have a new aspect of the ECP to consider – the accompanying essay, a rationale that will explain every decision I made throughout the writing process and why I made it.

When those of us in Creative Writing were briefed on the dissertation and what would be required from it in early March last year (in a room packed with people – the most dangerous thing in the world 12 months on), we were told we didn’t even need to cite any sources if we didn’t want to, although I wouldn’t dare leave them out. At the moment, I’m taking my usual ‘skeleton’ approach that I use when writing all essays, where I create a version containing all the fundamental points I wish to make before going back and adding the quotes to back them up. Since rationales are all about describing your own actions and processes, I can never quite be sure how much to add in terms of additional sources, both primary and secondary. It’s a bit of a balancing act, and it will take careful consideration, but it isn’t daunting me just yet – I will continually re-assess the situation as each one is added. Furthermore, I have been recording every development in the project on a large Word document since late June, so I have an abundance of notes to draw from. It’s thanks to these that at this precise moment, the first draft of the rationale is coming along very nicely. I believe I have three meetings with my supervisor remaining, so my next step is to show her two of the screenplays (the third still needs a lot of work), along with the essay. If her previous feedback is anything to go by, what follows should be invaluable, and it’ll only boost me further as I enter the final stage of this lengthy, but ultimately satisfying, creative process.


One More Yellow Question

Picture the scene – the game is in its closing stages. Seven players started out, and seven are still in contention to win. I have gradually powered my way through Geography, Art and Literature, Science and Nature, Sport and Leisure, and Entertainment. History, the yellow category, is all that stands between myself and glory. Five slices of the cheese wheel are in place, and I just need the sixth. Unfortunately, it’s the same for everyone else – the last slice eludes them all – and the questions aren’t quite falling my way.

This was the climax of the Trivial Pursuit game I played with Lara, Nora, Ryan, Ben, Alysha and Deacon last weekend – socially-distanced, of course. It was possible thanks to the magic of Zoom, and worked an absolute treat. Ryan had the board and pieces in front of him, we decided on our counters, and he rolled the dice and moved them all on our behalf. We played for first place, then second, then third, all the way down to seventh, and there were plenty of laughs throughout. We all miss being on campus together dearly, so we’ve found that meeting online for quizzes and banter has served us very well indeed.

We have another Zoom call pencilled in for tomorrow lunchtime, and I can’t wait. We’re going to give some new games Alysha has suggested a try, too – we all agreed it would do us good to diversify from quizzes every so often. They’re much less complex than Trivial Pursuit, too, involving little more than old-fashioned pen and paper, so they seem rather refreshing in that respect. I’m sure that whatever is different about the games we’re playing, though, one thing will stay the same – the spirit of competition between all of us.

I came third on that day, by the way. The question that clinched it?

‘Which king abdicated the Spanish throne in 2014?’

King Juan Carlos, in case you were wondering.


The ECP Diaries, Part 5

As 2021 dawned on New Year’s Eve, I was spending my afternoon scratching my head over my laptop. Something just wasn’t right with the stage plays I was developing for my ECP, and I was annoyed that it had taken me until late December to figure that out. For so many months, through three official meetings, I’d insisted to myself that I could still make it work and that live performance for a real audience was definitely the way to go. They needed to react to these pieces in real time, they’d undergo an assault on the senses and it would absolutely be doable. So why all the doubt? I’d assumed that the amount of time I’d spent getting stuck was just down to my own fears and lack of confidence, my insistence on questioning every word or sentence I ever put to the page.

That day, though, it suddenly occurred to me that while my ideas could be realised on the stage, that didn’t necessarily mean they should be. During the very first discussion of one idea, back in early July, my supervisor noticeably bristled as I told him of my intentions. He asked how much experience I had of theatre (certainly not much in the age of coronavirus) and why my script specifically needed to be written for it. He then subtly indicated that I should consider reimagining them as screenplays – and I now realise he’d been right all along. While I did and still do enjoy writing for the stage, I’d been struggling to move forward because there was nothing in either of my two scripts that justified its use at all. The action could take place easily enough, but it was too contained, and it wasn’t using all of the stage space as effectively as it should have been (that’s a key part of the marking criteria).

A quick email to our course leader was the answer to my problems. Once I had been assured that it wouldn’t be a problem to switch to screenplay format, I got to work – and now, just over two weeks later, my first short film drafts are complete. I had to resurrect an idea I’d scrapped previously, since at least three screenplays must be submitted, but it was much easier to write in its new form. In fact, I felt much freer with all of them, and I think what I’m trying to communicate to the viewer can be conveyed much easier. I thought the journey ahead looked bright before, but it looks even brighter now, although plenty of changes will still need to be made. There’s still an accompanying essay to consider too…


A Writerly Dilemma

After the year we’ve all had, it might come as no surprise to you that I had been struggling to feel as festive as normal. The Christmas lights and decorations have definitely improved that, though, and Mum and Dad have excelled themselves with our tree once again. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself sitting on the sofa and basking in its glow as I try to write something, be it for coursework or pleasure. I should probably place a certain amount of emphasis on ‘try’, because of late, not much new material has surfaced at all.

I’ve concluded that this is because of a constant battle, a dilemma of sorts, that goes on in my head. Every so often, I feel pressure to decide exactly what kind of writer I want to be, even though I’ve always maintained that I want to be as versatile as possible. As you’ll notice if you’ve seen the homepage of this blog, Third Time Enabled was created when I had time to kill after a Formula One qualifying session. Motorsport has always been a central part of my life, and so to some people the prospect of me going on to write about it seems only natural. It appears to be a logical step to me too, being the thing I arguably know most about.

The problem is, though, that only 50% of my brain thinks that. The other 50% worries about how well I could write about it – and beyond that, whether I actually want to at all. I’ve dabbled in motorsport reporting before, and because you’re talking about a fast-moving industry, where there’s a new story every minute, you largely have to stick to the facts, and you have to do so in a concise and easily digestible manner. Everything is black or white. I know you could say the same about any other form of journalism, but accepting that there seemingly won’t be much opportunity to spread my wings and show what I can do creatively takes a bit of getting used to.

The opinion piece, a much more subjective kind of writing, is more conducive to an inventive turn of phrase since it relies heavily on the author’s own view, but this is where another point of self-doubt arises. What if I publish something I have faith in and it transpires I have no idea what I’m talking about at all? Not doing a subject I love so much justice would be a great worry to me, as would pigeonholing myself specifically as a motorsport journalist. In addition to that, sometimes I think that I’m more comfortable just being a fan – kicking back and relaxing while I watch the Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon. Turning it into my job could, in my opinion, be somewhat risky, and growing to even slightly resent racing doesn’t bear thinking about.

I have done my best to strike up a balance between writing about motorsport and everything else the world has to offer. This blog has a sister site, MOH Racing, founded in February last year – but as I type this now, only nine posts have been published on it. There must be some way I can overcome these lingering self-confidence issues, give equal attention to both of these blogs and any other projects, and maintain the versatility I’ve always wanted. Only time will tell – perhaps it can be a secondary New Year’s resolution for 2021.

Merry Christmas everyone!