The Pull, Part 10

What you see before you might not look like a masterpiece, but I felt it appropriate to share a photo of it here, because this meal – this humble stir fry – is the first one ever to be cooked by my own fair hands. As you might have guessed, Mum used her Yoda-like mastery to guide me so that I would know everything I needed to cook for myself in Winchester. When she announced yesterday that I would be making my own tea tonight, I was filled with a mixture of confidence, intrigue and the fear of the unknown, but now that the meal has vanished from my plate I can safely say that only positivity remains. I am very optimistic that I will easily be able to reproduce it on demand when I am living alone, and this is due in no small part to what Mum did to soothe my inner doubts.

After I had made sure my hands were well and truly washed, I rolled across to the worktop by the cooker to see that the chicken breasts had already been laid out on the appropriate chopping board. Mum explained that in Winchester, it may well be easiest for me to use chicken that has already been diced, but she took this opportunity to make sure I could cut it anyway. Obviously, raw chicken does not put up much of a fight against a knife, so slicing it into smaller pieces was hardly an issue for me. When they had been swept into the wok, to be coated in the hot oil I had poured there, I was surprised by exactly how quickly they all cooked through. There was an instantly noticeable transformation in the appearance of the meat, and I got to see this up close as I tried tossing it about with both tongs and a spoon. I concluded that the tongs were most effective when dealing with chicken, since I could examine and move each piece individually, but when the somewhat slithery vegetables went in, I favoured the spoon to turn them collectively. The grip tongs have on those isn’t quite as firm, that’s for sure!

Then came the noodles, specifically those of the “straight to wok” variety, which Mum had very thoughtfully purchased. They were tightly packed into a large block within their packaging, so it was suggested that I unpick them carefully over the crowded pan. I had expected to immediately drop the lot in with my butterfingers, but I was ultimately able to add them in small quantities – until the last batch, which did fall in a large cube that only narrowly missed the kitchen floor. It was in, however, and now only minutes remained before the contents of the wok would be the contents of my plate. I had never previously realised that cooked noodles did not change colour, so I learnt another small lesson when Mum told me that they only appeared darker in her meals because of the soy sauce she stirs in prior to serving. I used the spoon to break up the last of the noodles that were clinging together and after a couple more minutes, dinner was ready.

The wok is pretty heavy, especially in the hands of someone like me, so Mum initially doubted my ability to lift it and transfer the food to the plate, but I quickly proved that such fears were unfounded by easily tipping it all on. As it sat there steaming away, it was somewhat lacking in terms of presentation, but Mum – as you can see in the photo – had the foresight to try scattering the mangetout in an artistic manner (which might not have worked so well). With that, it was on the table, and in my stomach just as quickly. As I sat back staring at my clean plate, I wondered what else I might be able to accomplish in the kitchen with Mum’s ever-reliable assistance. She tells me that a simple plate of pasta in sauce will be next. A few days ago that might have daunted me, but I suddenly have no fear, and I can clearly see the benefits these new abilities will bring in just a few short weeks. Bring on the pasta!

Mason

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Operation Bottom Shelf

My long-time subscription to F1 Racing magazine recently came to an end, and following this I realised that it would be pointless to renew it before my move to Winchester. I will therefore acquire them individually in the meantime, but even this has so far proved to be easier said than done. In my formative years, and prior to my subscription, I would enthusiastically visit newsagents in various places to pick up my copy, knowing that Dad would be there to hand it to me from the shelf. Now I am older, I am going to such places on my own, and I generally do so eager not to draw too much attention to myself. All I want to do is glide in as quietly as possible, find the magazine, pay for it and glide out again. I want to do this without appearing to struggle, and to be almost completely unnoticed even in my conspicuous and cumbersome chair. As you might expect, however, the layout of many shops means that this is not possible. Lots of interesting magazines, including F1 Racing, tend to be positioned only within reach of those who are much higher up than me, so no amount of groaning or straining from my chair will bring what I am looking for.

I could just ask for help, of course, but it always seems so silly to interrupt someone’s work or browsing just so they can remove something from a shelf for me (it was different with Dad – he was there primarily for that reason). In addition, I would feel like I was admitting defeat too easily – and it’s a magazine, for heaven’s sake! Why shouldn’t I be able to buy one in the same way as everyone else? To answer this question, I have to search far and wide, going from shop to shop on my own personal mission. As I do this, I have to make sure I don’t look too strange as I circle it carefully before exiting without buying anything. I slowly weave my way around to where the magazines are located, trying not to obstruct any other customers, and I stop next to the shelves so that I can scan them as closely as possible. The motorsport magazines are generally grouped into the same category as the regular motoring ones, so I know the titles to look out for – F1 Racing, for instance, can usually be found near Autosport or Motor Sport. 

If it is on the third shelf up or higher, any efforts I make will be in vain. Whilst I understand that not every magazine can be placed on a low shelf, my constant inability to independently collect what I want without any fuss does start to grate after a while. I can generally rely on one shop in my local area to always place F1 Racing on its lowest shelf, although there are admittedly a few I haven’t yet looked in. Said shop is occasionally without its copy, so maybe my next trip out for one should feature another mission to these uncharted territories?

Mason

 

The Pull, Part 9

Yesterday morning Mum and I were poised and prepared to go shopping for university, and I for one was very excited. I have never been as eager to write a list as I was when I sat down – once again at the kitchen table – to compile one on Friday night. As I look at it now, it features 15 items, although I am pretty much certain that I will have overlooked others of considerable importance. I was assisted in my efforts by my laptop, and a blog post written by a past student featuring everything that she had put in and around her room. Some were essentials and others were sentimental in nature, but I obviously focused on getting those in the former category down first – although I’m sure some reminders of home will join them before I move. My beloved Scrabble mug will definitely be accompanying me!

The hastily-scribbled selection of items we took was as follows:

  1. Notepads and stationery.
  2. A cheese grater (it may be random for this to be so high up on the list, but Mum insisted I include it before either of us forgot).
  3. Pots and pans.
  4. Cutlery.
  5. Mugs and glasses.
  6. Bed sheets, pillows and cushions.
  7. A doorstop, which is good for sociability.
  8. Toiletries and towels.
  9. A bin, unless one is already provided in my room.
  10. A plentiful supply of wipes.
  11. A selection of wardrobe additions.
  12. Any desired oven trays.
  13. Kitchen utensils.
  14. A kettle and toaster, if necessary.
  15. A microwave lid to go over any food (as an afterthought, we did consider that we might actually need a microwave as well when the time comes).

We came home with most of what we were looking for after a day of frantic but inspired trolley dashes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Supermarket Sweep. The shiny new haul is now waiting patiently in the corner of my room for the big day to arrive in just over a month, but there is still plenty that needs to join it. The acquisition of what remains will depend on seeing the accommodation when I move in – that currently consists of the stationery, bed sheets, doorstop, bin, wipes, kettle and toaster, and the microwave and lid. Extra thought needs to be put into them anyway, and whatever else I might not have considered – I will keep you posted on my progress. Any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated, so please feel free to comment on this post if you think of anything!

Mason

 

Bolt Upright

The persistent itch that drives me to write something can sometimes be a difficult one to scratch. Many of my new ideas pop into my head at the most inconvenient times, in the dead of night or when I’m already pre-occupied. Otherwise, I can find myself attempting to scrape the bottom of the barrel out of pure desperation, and that only tends to produce mediocre results. I’ve recently come to the realisation that my usual sitting position can’t help matters much either. I write most of these posts slumped on the sofa in the living room, and whilst that might be one of the more comfortable ways of achieving productivity, it’s much better to be sat upright at the kitchen table, as I am right now.

I am level with the laptop keyboard – neither straining upwards nor bending down to reach it. That in turn means that I am relaxed, alert and focused on what I want to say. I recently saw a Facebook post that said:

“If you’re reading this, release your shoulders from your ears, unclench your jaw and remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth. We physically tend to hold onto stress in the least noticeable ways. Relax.”

I took a moment to do all of those things and, sure enough, I did notice a difference. I could breathe easier and felt just a little less weight on my shoulders. It might not be stress that I bottle up when I’m struggling to write on the sofa, but it must surely be the case that sitting at the table with renewed focus has relieved some degree of tension, allowing this post and the ideas within it to flow more freely onto the page. Who would have thought that the kitchen could provide such a useful writing desk?

Mason

 

 

 

Tech a Step Forward

The poetry project is coming along well, even if I do have the occasional crisis of faith in regards to their quality. The student bank account is officially open and all related numbers are in the process of being crunched. As I sit here writing this, I am simultaneously badgering Mum about the university “big shop” and when we’ll actually be going to do it – by next Christmas, I might have a definitive answer. The final preparations are therefore all progressing nicely, and one in particular has got me very excited, as last week – after a great deal of insistence from my family – I finally became a smartphone owner, acquiring a shiny new iPhone SE.

My previous phone, a white HTC Wildfire S, had served me well for almost seven years before its demise on the bathroom floor a couple of months ago. I had seen no point in changing my phone at all, hence why it lasted so long, but towards the end of its tenure the HTC was becoming increasingly tired and obsolete. Yes, it still called and texted as I wanted it to, but its limited memory meant that there was very little room for apps – indeed, the app store I originally got them from had been upgraded and no longer opened – and those I did have were of poor quality or did not work properly. I couldn’t see or use emojis in texts, weather updates were non-existent and on the outside, the phone appeared dirty and battle-worn. The time for change had finally come, so I was somewhat glad when the HTC was pronounced well and truly dead. It may have been considered smart in 2011, but it had been left far behind by its rivals in 2018. I now had to decide on a replacement – and in the meantime, Tesco would provide a temporary substitute.

This came in the form of a MobiWire (no, me neither), which – until Friday – I had been using since around mid-June. It was about as basic as phones get, and actually had buttons on it, but it would have to do for the time being. I had certainly forgotten how long it used to take to send texts before the advent of the smartphone – it may have been what you might call a “first world problem”, but having to select each individual letter from groups of three or four very quickly started to drive me round the bend. This annoyance was thankfully ended when I settled on the iPhone and the perfect contract deal that came with it. It was swiftly delivered the next day, and I gratefully extracted it from its box to set it up. Once this had been done, I thought about what I needed from it, keeping my Winchester future firmly in mind. My old phone number and contacts were all immediately swapped over, before my focus turned to the vast array of apps potentially at my disposal.

Excluding a couple of games, as well as Facebook and Twitter, I only have things that are relevant to university installed at the moment. There are two mobile banking apps, the recording software I will use in my lectures, a social network allowing me to connect with other students, a portal to various student discounts, and an app from my mobile network that will provide me with relevant updates. I think you’ll agree that as statements of intent, these initial additions are very mature – although I’m sure I’ll be seduced by the lure of mobile gaming at some point! I haven’t forgotten WordPress, in case you were wondering, since that has pride of place on my home screen too. University work may prove itself to be intense at times, but as long as I keep on top of things, nothing will get in the way of Third Time Enabled. You’ll be with me every step of the way!

Mason

 

Trouble In The Airwaves

For the first time ever, at the beginning of this Formula One season, I found myself feeling something other than delight. Yes, there is still half a season standing between me and it, but it is there nevertheless, staring me in the face undeniably. I refer to the imminent loss of free-to-air TV coverage in the UK, which threatens to leave me without regular access from 2019. Just like running water, it has always been something I have taken for granted during every race weekend. I could find solace in knowing that I would have a constant, eight-month stream of race action to make everything better in my life. It would be uninterrupted (apart from the ad breaks on ITV and Channel 4), and as far as I was concerned then, things were going to stay that way. Unfortunately, however, this is no longer the case – one of Bernie Ecclestone’s last acts as F1’s leading man before being removed by Liberty Media was to close an exclusive deal with Sky, allowing them to continue showing every lap live from next year onwards.

That makes 2018 the last season for Channel 4’s coverage. As I write, no replacement channel has been announced, and this prolonged silence is making the prospect of not seeing next year’s races even worse. At university I may end up with a TV licence, but I won’t be able to afford a costly Sky Sports package. This causes me to be infuriated even more by the deal, since I have put at least 15 years of time and enthusiasm into the sport. I have never willingly missed a race in that time. I have invested in race tickets, video games and merchandise, and this is how I am repaid – by being deprived of my main link to F1. Yes, there is excellent radio coverage provided by the BBC, but F1 is a visual sport – and listening to the lights go out on the grid, or a collision between two title protagonists, doesn’t have quite the same impact as it would on screen.

Since taking the helm in early 2017, Liberty Media have impressed many by keeping the humble fan at the centre of attention. After their early efforts, they are yet to truly put a foot wrong, but their work is far from over. They are compensating for the changes in TV coverage with the launch of a new online streaming service, but the live racing action it provides is not yet available in the UK. We now live in a world where it would be foolish to ignore the internet and social media in promoting F1, but I feel Liberty urgently needs to address the TV situation in order to make a long-term impact. Is it really worth focusing on an online presence if it will completely exclude those fans who cannot join it?

Mason

The Pull, Part 8

I come home from my haircut. Louis has gone to work and the house is empty and tranquil. I am on my own, and I take a moment to soak up the peace, not only in my surroundings but also in my life. I have now finished work, which means that what had previously seemed so far away is almost here at last – I move to Winchester in just under seven weeks’ time. I enter the living room, where I see the delivery I received yesterday lying patiently on the sofa, waiting to be used. It is the audio notetaking software that will surely come in very useful when I have a new phone and laptop to accommodate it – and acquiring those things in good time is among my top priorities before September.

There are many other small things that need to be done in that time. There will most likely be a big shop, in which everything I will need at university will be purchased in one fell swoop, and I also need to ensure that I open a student bank account as soon as possible. At some point, a presentable photo of myself must be taken and uploaded for my Winchester student card. All of these things, among others, are close to the top of my list, and to some it may seem like a daunting one – but I am largely unfazed.

A number of people have asked me about the nerves I might be feeling ahead of this new adventure, but the honest truth is that I am still yet to feel any. I am under no illusions whatsoever that there may be tough times ahead, but overall I prefer to look at university as something utterly beautiful. The road to the future rumbles on for a few more miles until September, and so does “The Pull”. This particular series of posts will end once I am settled in Winchester, but there’s a little way to go just yet – so let’s just sit back and enjoy every last morsel of excitement, right through a truly great summer.

Mason