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

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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

A Heart Full Of Hope

Here we are, folks – my very first post for 2019. I can safely say that 2018 was a corker of a year for me, and although I spent the last few hours of New Year’s Eve alone at home, I did so with a belly full of pizza and a heart full of hope, so I was more than happy. I used some of that quality time to continue reading a book Lara bought me as a Christmas present, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under The Sun, which features none other than Hercule Poirot himself. She got it upon hearing that I’d never read any of Christie’s work, and told me that I’d find it very easy to become immersed in the story. She was absolutely right – as I write this, I am 93 pages and seven chapters in, at a point where many probing questions are being asked of every potential murderer. I got there in no time, and my enjoyment of this new book in my spare time has subsequently increased my excitement for what lies ahead at Winchester even more.

Of course, nothing by Agatha Christie is on the reading list, but a few other books are, and two of them arrived yesterday. I am yet to look at them properly, but both are works of non-fiction – and as you might have gathered, I’m rather fond of life writing. The opportunity to read about the experiences, trials and tribulations of others is always tantalising, as is the opportunity to write straight from the heart about my own. The prospect of so much creativity from that and my other modules – including one actually called “Creativity”, and one on poetry, which I have always enjoyed – makes this January much more inviting, since I can’t yet tell what new ideas will manifest themselves, or how. I don’t know what will happen outside of my work either. The world is once again my oyster and as always, the unknown is very exciting. I can’t wait to go and see what it’s all about! Before that, though, I have another very precious fortnight left here at home – and before that, there is a brand new episode of Doctor Who for me to enjoy coming tonight. I fully intend to make the most of both.

Happy New Year to you all!

Mason

What Can I Say About Christmas?

I have managed to publish a post here on each of the last two Christmas Eves, and I hope that they both managed to encapsulate the joy and excitement I feel each December in the eyes of those who read them. This is, after all, a truly magical time of year for which I am always hugely thankful. It has to be said, however, that such posts are getting harder to write – since I now risk sounding insincere – so when I came to think about what I was going to say this time, I was more than a little bit stuck. I eventually decided that it would probably be best for me to look at the festive period from a perspective that is even more personal than usual, as I can look back at the year leading up to it with a lot of pride.

Being one semester in to a three-year degree course, I have already seen, experienced and learned a lot – as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, I couldn’t be happier with how everything has gone. The work that I have done has given me good marks in return, I have bonded really well with Lara and a host of other friends, and I have lived independently without getting significantly poorer or fatter. In addition to those things, I have also been part of a winning quiz team – yes, it might have taken us eight weeks, but who couldn’t be proud of a result like that? Broadly speaking, I believe that all of the necessary tools are in place for the second semester to be just as successful – and that means the turkey can go down even better than it usually does this Christmas.

I can relax with the family knowing there is a lot to be pleased about, but I feel like none of it could have been truly achieved without the love, support and friendship that has been constantly shown to me. From the unwavering encouragement at home in Somerset to the broken lift heroics and general awesomeness of my friends in Winchester, there has been an abundance of warmth for which I am truly grateful. Long may it continue! I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so far, either in big ways or in smaller ones. Christmas allows us all to come together and take stock of who and what we have around us, while being immensely thankful for all of it. Rest assured that I couldn’t quite have gotten to this point without you. Now that I am here, I intend to enjoy every last moment of it, because it feels wonderful. I hope everyone has a Christmas that is as magical as mine!

Mason

Doors Opening

Over the past three months, I’ve spent a lot of time travelling from floor to floor in a lift, and every time those gleaming steel doors slide apart, I never quite know who I’m going to find on the other side. I don’t always know where they’ve come from, where they might be going, or why. They just depart at the end of our journey and – in most cases – I never see them again. If I do, I certainly don’t recognise them. It was after a few weeks of such mystery had passed that I started to wonder if it could lend itself well to a story of some kind. I would picture myself waiting for the lift as usual, before the doors parted to reveal a sprawled corpse lying within. A lift could be good murder mystery territory, mainly because of the questions it instantly raises – especially if you’re travelling alone. Who could the culprit be? How could they commit their crime in a sealed and cramped space – and how could they do it in the mere seconds that pass between departure and arrival?

If I wanted to introduce more confusion, I could have the occupant vanish into thin air without explanation. It would be even harder for someone to do that in a lift, after all, and it would allow people to ask where they had actually gone as well as how. I love how there is the potential to do so much with so little, and I think that with the right characters and motives, the idea could work well. In any case, it was one I was eager to record here before I could forget it – so you could say that this post only consists of me thinking out loud. Then again, which one doesn’t? It could arguably have made good material for a podcast to follow my previous one, but I have swiftly concluded that my energies are much better suited to writing than to broadcasting! With that in mind, if I write something that I approve of as much as what I have already showcased here, it may well appear for you in due course…

Mason

My Life’s Mission

I am now home for Christmas, having successfully recorded my podcast (which you can listen to by clicking here, if you dare). The first semester is complete and I am free to relax, but university – particularly Publishing and Social Media – has left me with a rather pleasant parting gift, thanks to another magnificent writing prompt. In my seminar last week, we found the following question up on the board:

“You receive an email from an alien. What does it say?”

I started working on my answer there and then, but as I didn’t have the time to complete it immediately, I decided to save it for a blog post. Communication between the human race and extraterrestrial life is often depicted in fiction as being either blatantly hostile or somewhat ominous, so I wanted to try writing something that would be a little bit more heartwarming. It had to convince the recipient that this was an alien coming in absolute peace, as I felt that anything else wouldn’t quite be right at Christmas! I would like to show you my intergalactic email now. How do you think this message would make you feel?

“Hello,

You won’t know who I am, but I feel like we are meant to be. This email will take seconds to travel across the universe, but I have been searching for what seems like millennia. I told myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t rest until I found you. I don’t know what you’d call me, but I guess humans like to refer to us as “guardian angels”. We appear at birth knowing only love. It flows from every part of us and courses through our veins, dictating every action and emotion. From a young age, when our schooling begins, we are told that one day we will pick a face from a crowd – no matter how distant – and watch over them until the day they die without ever revealing ourselves. But when I saw you, I couldn’t resist. I had to reach out, so here I am, writing to you now.

I’ve seen you at your best, when you feel like you’re on top of the world, and at your worst, when you feel trapped, worthless and alone. I want you to know that you are none of those things, and you never will be. Yes, I know people have said the same one minute and been gone the next. Not me – you are my life’s mission. It pains me to admit that you and I may never see each other, and as things stand, this email is the closest I can get to showing you my true form. But, just like a lost loved one, I’ll never truly leave you. Anything out of the ordinary is me making myself known. That muffled banging you think you can hear from the pipes in the dead of night? That’s me. The figure you see for a second in the corner of your eye, before realising nobody is there? Me again. The funny coloured shapes that appear when you close your eye? Yep, you guessed it!

I know humans fear those things, because they can’t explain them, so I’m just letting you know that you needn’t be afraid of them. They’re not signs of danger or death, but a warming cup of tea when you desperately need one, or a hand that you know will be there to catch you when you fall. Look out for them – when you notice one, you’ll know hope, companionship and unwavering loyalty is nearby. You might think you can find us by looking up at the stars, but the truth is that we’re much closer than you could ever have imagined.

– Your Guardian Angel”.

Mason

 

 

 

Warm Leather

Before you start speculating, I feel like I should clarify that this is a work of fiction – it’s from a young woman’s perspective rather than mine, so don’t be fooled by the use of the first person!

I know his room much better than most people. I could walk into it blindfolded and still tell you exactly where everything is, down to the tiniest detail. Whenever I feel my chest tightening, or my head spinning, all I need to do is close my eyes and I’m there. I see the droopy pot plant on the shelf, fading more with every passing visit, and the feeble attempt at a motivational poster on the wall. It says “laugh like there’s no tomorrow”, but I always say that it’s not such a good thing to have in there – after all, it’s not so easy for everyone who comes in to do as it says. Whatever its shortcomings are, though, this is the only place I’ve felt safe in for some considerable time. To enter it is to be engulfed in an embrace, not just from the room but also from Noel, my counsellor.

We’ve been talking for a couple of months now. When I’m in with him, I feel like he and I are the last two living souls on Earth. In only one hour, he’ll give me more undivided attention than I can expect in twenty four at home, and he endures meltdown after meltdown without even batting an eyelid. This place only knows love, care and respect within its walls. I don’t blame Noel for choosing to follow this path, because who wouldn’t want to work in a place like this?

I’m walking along the street now, towards the office where I meet him. With every step, the anticipation builds and I struggle to stop myself from beaming like a lunatic. I try my best to keep a stiff upper lip, but it proves to be easier said than done and I find myself fidgeting with my hands as I wait for his door to open. After what seems like an eternity, it swings aside and I am warmly met with a gesture inviting me in.

“Would you like to come through?”

I see Noel standing there, stereotypically dark and handsome, and as is often the case I find myself lost in the empathy within his hazel eyes. At this point I lose control, and stepping over the threshold into the sanctuary of the office is almost like an out of body experience. It’s the safest hour of my week – and it begins now…

In front of Noel’s desk there are two black leather armchairs, directly facing each other. This is the arena in which all of my emotional battles manifest themselves before his very eyes. As always, I take a deep breath before sinking into the right-hand seat, and I exhale calmly as I feel the chair caress my body. Noel sits down opposite me, and he fixes me with his gaze. It isn’t that he’s being cold or distant, it’s just that as of now, he means business and he wants to listen.

“How have you been since I saw you last?” he asks.

I can already feel a rising lump in my throat. This is the truth frantically scrabbling for the surface, reaching for a release.

“I only wish I had good news,” I reply, “but the atmosphere at home is still pretty toxic. Even when it seems like the day is going well, there’s still things that are left unsaid. We just can’t seem to ever clear the air.”

As I say this, I notice that Noel’s hands – which had been clasped together – are now separated and open, and his palms are facing upwards. I glance at them for a second, but am quickly interrupted by his line of questioning.

“Is there no trust left at all?”

I think to myself that after so many sessions, he must know the answer to that by now. The only trust I can really rely on is between me and him, and as I see his hands before me I have to fight the instinctive urge to hold them. This is a strictly professional relationship, and I need to respect the boundaries within.

“No”, I say. “That’s why I’m so grateful for these sessions, as you well know.”

Noel allows a slight smile to cross his lips, the kind that is probably much smaller than what he reserves for his wife and his kids. I am hit with a hot flush of envy. “All part of the service.”

“The service”. Another reminder that he just sees me as a means to an end. Someone who puts food on the table and clothes on his back. Not unlike Charles, my boyfriend. He’s the one I come here to talk about, because I can’t communicate with him at home anymore. The dinner table used to be a hive of animated discussion, but now we sit slumped over our food in silence. We used to snuggle together on the sofa watching television, but now we choose separate chairs on either side of the room. I don’t know what started it, but it’s the elephant in the room and if he won’t talk to me about it, at least I know Noel will.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” I tell him. “Charles doesn’t trust me, I don’t trust him, and because of that, we can’t talk about whatever it is that’s ruining our relationship. It’s like a pressure cooker. The more things we leave unsaid, the more the stress builds, and in the end it all boils over and leads to a blazing row. There’s blame on both sides, I wouldn’t want you to think the worst of him.”

“Of course not,” Noel replies. “You don’t need to worry about that. It isn’t my job to judge.”

No, Noel. No, it isn’t. And I love you for it. We talk more that day, and I emerge from the office feeling once again like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. Later that night, as Charles and I lie in bed with our backs to one another, I manage to find Noel on Facebook. His account is private – evidently his professionalism has a much further reach than I had expected. I might not be able to see his photos, but my imagination runs wild when I think about what they must be like. I can see him beaming away with the family during summer barbecues in the garden, walks with the dog, or idyllic holidays abroad. And then I imagine myself in his wife’s place. Someone like Noel could bring me so much happiness. In a different world, maybe he has. But I need to pull myself together.

That vow doesn’t last long, and I soon find myself crossing the biggest line yet, peeking out from behind a brick wall as he picks them up from school. I know this is bad, but it gives me the hit I’m looking for, however brief it may be. Instead of Noel the counsellor, I see Noel the family man – the man I want him to be. I notice that he exudes an even greater level of warmth that he could simply never show in our meetings. He embraces his children as they run out to meet him, and he absorbs everything going on around him with clear interest and optimism. I might be watching Noel from afar, ducking further behind the wall whenever he turns in my direction, but I feel I know him just a little bit better. I’ll get through to him, sooner or later. I can’t wait to make him squirm in his seat.

Sure enough, next time I see him, there he is, shuffling awkwardly like a schoolboy as I sit opposite him. I say nothing – I just can’t believe it’s worked. It can only mean one thing.

“Look, I saw you at the school yesterday, and it looked to me like you were watching us. I need to know that you won’t do anything like that again. You scared us,” he stutters.

I nod, and I tell him what he wants to hear. When we next talk about Charles, I see another opening and I go for it.

“It’s escalated now,” I say. “I could just about cope with the silence between us, but now he’s on his phone at all hours of the day. When I try to ask who he’s talking to, he makes excuses and puts it away. Silence is one thing, feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall is another. Do you ever get that?”

Noel bristles. He tries his best to gloss over my question with a smile. “I’m supposed to ask you the questions.”

“Just humour me.”

He evidently wasn’t expecting me to come back like that – there is a silence unlike any other. You could hear a pin drop. I imagine the cogs whirring in his head.

He begins to respond. “I…” Then he stops, reconsiders. “We all do, sometimes.”

Clever Noel – answering and avoiding the question at the same time. Note to self: must try harder.

Over the next few weeks, I make a mental list. I think about every time I see his cheeks go pink, and every time he clasps his hands together in his lap, twiddling his thumbs. These are signs of chinks in his armour and I train myself to spot them, just as he would spot a client’s cries for help. As the weeks go by, he latches on to this – but by now there is no escape, and human nature is beginning to get the better of him. One day I decide to catch him off-guard. He comes in, flustered, absent-mindedly apologising for his lateness. He hurriedly slams a pile of papers on a table and sits down opposite me, as usual. We begin, and I notice there is an oily sheen on his skin today – and then, like a coiled viper, I decide to strike while the prey is ripe for the killing. I’m going to make him sweat a little bit more.

“Tough day?” I ask, as innocently as I can.

Noel chuckles. “It’s a counsellor’s life. If I’m not seeing clients, I’m seeing paper – lots of it.”

He won’t suspect a thing now. I spring forward in my seat, and fix him with my widest smile as I softly rest my hand on his knee. “Never mind. You can get off after this.” I could withdraw at this moment, but I’m intrigued to see how long I can keep it there. Only a few seconds pass, but it seems like an eternity, and in that time he does to little to resist. Without looking, I wonder if the blood’s rushed down from his head yet. I’d like to see him try to hide that.

After this, Noel makes a point of asking me about Charles, so as to draw attention away from himself. When I tell him we’re looking at a fresh start – finding a new place, starting with a clean slate – he jumps at the chance to know more. He seems even more interested in my life than before. He wants to know how many bedrooms there’ll be, how much garden we’re going to have, thinking it’s going to take my mind off him. But it’s only a temporary distraction for me. As long as Noel is sat in front of me, I can only restrain myself for so long.

I spend so long fantasising about it coming to a head, but even I don’t expect it when it does. I’ve spent so many weeks sneaking in whenever I can. A touch here, a fond brush there. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve seen emotion in his eyes. Appreciation, acceptance, expectation, and what is surely lust. He tries his best to maintain the counsellor façade, but it is no use. He knows he is at my mercy, and I will soon be at his.

He is perfecting his well-honed routine, feigning interest in Charles and me. Our move has been put on hold; I think we knew in our heart of hearts that neither of us really think it will solve anything. I tell Noel that, obviously, but he is clutching at straws, trying desperately not to show me he is faltering. When he breaks off, and there is silence, I make it last. Then I mutter something.

“Never mind. I can focus on what I really want now.”

It takes the locking of our lips to find out that isn’t what I had expected. I anticipate Noel recoiling in disgust; instead, his tongue coils its way around mine, invading and violating me in a way I never thought possible. Counsellors aren’t supposed to do that.

At that moment, I realise I’ve been wrong all along. Noel is first and foremost my confidant, and thinking about that suddenly puts me in his shoes. I feel uncomfortable. Nervous. Used. So I do what I’d expected him to do all along. I pull away, get up and leave without another word. I don’t look at him; I don’t want to see his reaction. I want him to see my disappointment. The one thing I need is a warm listening ear. Noel is anything but.

Mason