The Pull, Part 15

You join me as I reflect on a small triumph. I woke up this morning in the knowledge that I am just a little bit richer, having claimed one-eighth of the £35 prize my team won last night for coming third in a university quiz. After what seems like the shortest eight months in human history, I am settled in as a student at Winchester, and in the last three days alone I have met more new people than I had in the preceding six months. Since we are all in the same boat, faced with an unfamiliar location full of unfamiliar people, everyone seems to have been very supportive of one another thus far, and this has soothed many a lingering nerve. Among the many new friends I have already made are Lucy and Elly, who threw me in at the deep end of university life after bringing out the shots on our first night there, and six of the members of the aforementioned quiz team. I did join this together with Lara, however, and I was delighted to meet her again after first encountering her at a taster session back in February. She brought along two of her flatmates, Nora and Ryan, in order to get to know them better, and when we reached the canteen to begin the quiz we found ourselves joined by four other team-mates – whose names I will admit to forgetting! We had not expected to be part of such a large team, but we were grateful for the extra brain power and the opportunity to get acquainted with some more friendly faces.

The quiz consisted of five rounds, with a short break after the first three had been completed and marked. The opening round focused on the news of the past week, and this was followed by a general knowledge round, two music rounds (requiring us to provide song titles, artist names and lyrics), a picture round and a finale inspired by the “General Ignorance” round on QI (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Each of these proved to be a real test for our grey matter, but as I suspected, those who previously doubted their ability to do well found they knew more than they thought once we had gotten started. We started off respectably, and everyone contributed whatever they could, but I believe that what clinched our eventual result was our new team-mates’ ability to flawlessly fill in Noughties pop lyrics where a gap appeared. We largely have them to thank for the £35. Having said that, though, I was particularly pleased with one of my own answers, which got us a bonus point during the picture round.

From a selection of photographs, we were asked to identify celebrities that included Serena Williams, Sir Elton John, Tom Hardy, Jonny Wilkinson, James Corden, James Blunt, Victoria Beckham and Oprah Winfrey. Once this had been done, we were challenged to find the link between them, and something of a blind panic resulted – we had no idea what the connection could be. Was it sport? Showbusiness? Were they the same age? Did they share a birthday? Was it something to do with Winchester? All were real guesses, and it looked increasingly unlikely that we would find the correct answer until I experienced a moment of clarity. I remembered seeing all of those celebrities together somewhere recently – but where? The moment of realisation then dawned – they had all been to Harry and Meghan’s wedding. I presented my answer to the rest of the group, and at the end of the evening we were ecstatic when it was confirmed as correct. I have taken part in many quizzes in my time, but no single answer has ever satisfied me as much as that one. I might be pleased with it for some time yet!

The proceedings ended, the scores on the doors were announced (with the superbly-named “Quiztina Aguilera” being crowned winners), and the money was distributed as we expressed our glee at what we had achieved. Seeing the teamwork and the camaraderie in abundance at the table was, for me, the biggest reward of all – the fact that I have met and bonded with so many people already is surely a huge indicator that university was the right step for me. On this positive note, I come to the end of “The Pull”, after fifteen instalments. The journey that the series set out to describe is no more – I have enjoyed the scenery, and now I must do all I can to thrive at my destination. If this week has been anything to go by, I have several reasons to feel incredibly confident. There’s no going back now…

Mason

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The Pull, Part 14

Allow me to present what is effectively Winchester Mission Control, just six days before we launch the rocket towards its destination. The large pile cluttering up the centre of the image above is made entirely of clothes I will be taking – in the process of clearing out the wardrobe, I was surprised to discover that I owned many more T-shirts than I thought I did! The garments that had to be retired after years of loyal service were consigned to one of two other piles, and as I write this they are destined either for the charity shop or to be used as miscellaneous rags in one of Dad’s many household jobs. I have to say that seeing everything I would definitely need grouped together made the whole exercise feel somewhat therapeutic – together with Mum I had been ruthless and made some sacrifices, which did feel quite calming. The first thing that introduced even a modicum of stress to proceedings was deciding what to wear to the ball I have booked a ticket for during my fresher’s week.

The dress code is very much a formal one, but even though that seems straightforward enough, it did open up something of a small can of worms, because “formal” can mean any one of a number of style choices. I tend not to be good at those, so I turned to my new flatmates for a spot of fashion advice – I had no idea whether I should choose a jacket, waistcoat, shirt and tie, bow tie, or anything in between. Panicking, I put the question forward, but the response was encouraging and it really helped to defuse the situation. The general consensus was that I should go for whatever I felt most comfortable in, since all of the contenders fell under the umbrella of formality. I have therefore decided to keep it simple – as things stand, I will be opting for a shirt, a tie, and a nice pair of trousers in an attempt to look dapper.

That particular dilemma was thus resolved, but what remained proved to be just as difficult. As I plan to take my record player away with me, I needed to choose ten albums that I simply could not do without. Panic filled my brain – what if I sorely regretted one or more of my choices, and couldn’t do anything about it? This notion immobilised me for a moment, causing me to flick through my collection aimlessly before I gathered my thoughts and decided my choices had be well-established, undoubted favourites. You can see one of them in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture – Oasis’ Be Here Now (1997). It is one of two albums by the Manchester greats that I selected. The other was their debut (and absolute finest hour) Definitely Maybe (1994), and that in turn was accompanied by Blur’s Parklife (1994), Pulp’s Different Class (1995), The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow (1984), Jamiroquai’s Automaton (2017), Busted’s Night Driver (2016), Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations (2006), Moby’s Play (1999), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979). They have now been separated from their fellow LPs ready to be packed up, and I have reassured myself that if I do regret not bringing one or more alternatives, I can just listen to them on Spotify instead. That’s it now, though – final choices are being made and the final ball has been set in motion. When those records next see the light of day, they will be two whole counties away…

Mason

 

The Pull, Part 13

I am writing this only a day after officially half-registering as a student at the University of Winchester. I’m only half-registered because I still need to enrol formally on the day I arrive, but the first part of the process has all been done online. I had no real expectations of it before diving in, but as it turned out I would have had absolutely no reason to be intimidated – the registration only needed me to confirm or correct various personal details the university held for me. It was a most straightforward step-by-step task that took no longer than 15 minutes, by my reckoning. Once I had given Winchester all they needed to know, I was sent a confirmation email. You know what those can be like – they’re generally fairly run-of-the-mill acknowledgements of whatever it is you’ve done or provided for someone. In this case, however, the email acted not only as thanks, but also as a reminder of the increasing number of responsibilities entering my life as I approach my university adventure.

Some of these have been written down on the new to-do list Mum has created. As things stand, three items have been ticked off, but several more remain and time isn’t totally on our side. They include especially important money-based matters, and as someone with a particularly appalling track record in Maths, it’s fair to say I am unsettled by the prospect of making sure it is all in the right places and dealt with sensibly when I am living alone. Thankfully, I still have the wisdom of others to lean on until the end of next week, and this afternoon the building society will get involved when Mum and I go for a meeting there. It might be my money that we’ll be discussing, but I think I might let Mum do the majority of the talking – there are still a few things I need to get my head around before I fully understand my financial situation. I think it needs to be explained a few more times, so I’m very fortunate to still have eleven days to figure it out. Are all aspects of independent living as complicated?

Mason

As If It Were Yesterday

I am back within the sanctuary of my own four walls, after an excellent but very tiring weekend at the local festival I mentioned on Friday. It brought great music and a great atmosphere in equal measure, even if the weather was a touch on the windy side (although we couldn’t expect much better being exposed on a hilltop). Nothing was going to stop anyone from having a good time. Everyone seemed to be intoxicated in some way, either by the entertainment or copious amounts of alcohol – it wasn’t always easy to tell. Whatever the case, spirits were high, and this was a joy to see as I gradually explored the site. Alongside the food and drink on offer, there were independent stands selling numerous products of all shapes and sizes, and a couple of other tents hosting artists who weren’t on the main stage. Hordes of festival-goers left them bursting at the seams as they all jostled for position inside – those who only saw futility in such an exercise opted to peek in from the edges, listening patiently and hoping to catch at least one glimpse of the acts up front.

I spent a considerable amount of time as one of those people, a quiet but interested observer as I wove my way through the crowds. Some faces were those of strangers, some of firm friends and family, but others occupied a strange – and yet very welcome – space in between. I refer to the people I spoke to whom I had not seen in some time (years, in certain cases), but was delighted to see and pass time with again. To my surprise, several of them seemed pretty pleased to see me as well, rushing forward to say hello as if we had never been apart. One or two people even gave me hugs, which definitely weren’t expected! The conversation was perfectly normal – we updated each other on where we’d been, what we’d done and what we were looking forward to most – but I didn’t mind that at all. I liked the fact that the other person was comfortable enough to talk to me as though we were the closest of friends, even after so much time had passed between encounters. In one way, it also reassured me, since I do tend to worry about being a nuisance or inconvenience to others, that perhaps I’m not such a bad person to talk to after all. These people were therefore able to have a significant impact on both my weekend and my general outlook – it just goes to show that taking even five minutes out of your day to chat to someone really can go a long way. They may be surprised to read something so deep about my meeting them, but I thought it important that they should know what it meant, however fleeting the greeting.

Mason

The Pull, Part 12

Here it is – the pasta in sauce I told you I would be making after my stir-fry last week. I had it for my dinner last night, and whilst it obviously wasn’t the most complicated dish in the world, I am at least glad to have something else under my belt to reproduce in Winchester. With such a simple cooking process, there was very little that could go wrong as I sat alongside Mum at the worktop, although carrying a newly-boiled kettle with a broken lid on my lap did bat a few eyelids! I also had trouble seeing what I was doing at certain points. When it came to pouring out the correct amount of pasta on the electronic scales I was struggling to see the readout, although I did choose to disregard it to a certain extent anyway, since this was my first time and I wasn’t too worried. Mum had very cleverly bought a metal chip basket for the pasta to go into – she thought it would be too risky for my hands to get too close to the hot water, and that simply lowering it into the pan would be a much safer option. Whatever I did, I still kept my oven gloves firmly on to prevent my clumsiness costing me dearly – after we had finished Mum admitted that it might have been easier for us to pre-boil the water in the pan, to avoid any potential accidents with the aforementioned kettle!

Once I had managed not to scald myself terribly, it was time to heat the pasta sauce – and, if possible, I wanted to do it without permanently staining any of my clothes. Mum handed me the jar and asked if I would be able to open it. Recalling my struggles with the lid of the sugar jar we had at work (which always seemed to be welded on), I replied in the negative, only to find that the lightest twist was needed and I wasn’t such a weakling after all. The jar was not a new one, and half of the sauce was left, but Mum instructed me to only use a small fraction of it on the pasta. I was therefore determined to tip the jar as daintily as possible, with the ultra-cool precision of a brain surgeon. It would seem that there’s still some work to do on that approach, however, because no sooner had I made the slightest wrist movement than the whole lot had gone in. When it had heated up in the saucepan, I obviously had to stir it with a trusty wooden spoon, which would thankfully not be conducting any heat! I couldn’t really see the contents very well, but Mum assured me that perfect vision was not strictly necessary as I was only stirring to coat the pasta. I moved the spoon a few times clockwise, and then anti-clockwise, just to reinforce the illusion that I actually knew what to do – and then pasta and sauce were ready to become one (my clothes survived the experience unscathed). A brief mix then culminated in a bowl that is surely worthy of a Michelin star, don’t you think?

OK, so it’s hardly a work of art – but it’s yet more progress of which I can be proud. Every achievement is relative in magnitude to whoever has achieved it, and for me this is another big one. I don’t know what will be next for me to cook, but I look forward to potentially finding out next week, and if it’s something more interesting than this another photo and post will follow. I am now looking ahead to the exciting weekend before me – I will shortly be off to a local music festival, at which I will celebrate my 21st birthday tomorrow. I never cease to be amazed by how quickly each birthday seems to creep up on me. They feel like they come and go almost as quickly as my haircuts, and I have one of those every five weeks!

Mason

 

The Stage And The Stars

Prior to last weekend, I had been lucky enough to see three Shakespeare plays, and these opportunities all came during my A-Levels. I saw the first two – a modernised adaptation of Twelfth Night and a more traditional version of Romeo and Juliet – on trips to the University of Exeter, and I was then incredibly fortunate to see Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre in London. We studied the latter two plays as part of my English Literature course, and as we did so it was hard to notice the lack of enthusiasm creeping around the room at times. Maybe that was because we were made to read and endlessly analyse them, but I still thought it a shame to see. I knew these plays were great, and that everyone else would find them a lot easier to engage with when they saw them unfold on stage.

Sure enough, when we eventually did go on the trips, I could tell that they were more enthused by watching them in the flesh than any sweaty classroom reading. There’s a certain magic I feel watching a Shakespeare play that no other piece of theatre has, no matter how good it is. I’m not entirely sure what it is, or where it comes from, but I know for sure that I felt it again on Saturday night when I attended an outdoor production of Hamlet along with Mum. It was a warm and pleasant summer’s evening, and our surroundings weren’t bad either – that’s high praise coming from someone who doesn’t always get on with the countryside. The show was to be performed by the five members of a theatre group known as the Three Inch Fools, who would use only a simple wooden stage (adorned with a string of fairy lights for when it got dark) and the various props and costumes dotted around it to play multiple parts each. I was intrigued by this minimalist approach as soon as we arrived, and I liked the fact that everything had been laid bare for the audience to see.

I was not disappointed. I welcomed Shakespeare’s words again as though they were old friends, and every one was delivered beautifully by the actress behind Hamlet, Rose Reade, and the rest of the cast, whose projected voices were carried all the way through the audience and across the hills by the light breeze. Everyone present was both respectful of the actors and totally captivated by humour and pathos alike. The English language was a very different thing in Shakespeare’s day, but as it manifested itself in front of my eyes I had no trouble at all understanding and interpreting it. It felt almost like I had become suddenly and instantly fluent in French or another foreign tongue. This helped to make me very comfortable with what I was seeing, even when I was also on the edge of my seat – this was a feeling only exacerbated by how well the cast made the entire piece flow. Each actor was also an equally proficient singer and musician, and many of the props they performed with were traditional folk instruments that matched the time period the play was set in. In such gifted hands, these were able to provide excellent interludes that either served as useful bridges between scenes or illustrative devices at key points within them. Any movements to and from the stage were gentle and hardly noticeable, as was every costume change – anything slower or more stilted was made a part of the performance, usually with a line from one character that put another back on track. Not once did any of the cast slip out of character. If anything, with every passing scene they seemed even more at one with their roles. This added a little more comedy to every laugh, and a little more gravity to every tragedy – especially the multitude of deaths at the play’s climax.

I originally started writing this post on Sunday morning, only hours after we had returned from Hamlet. What prevented me from finishing it in one sitting was mainly my lack of confidence as a reviewer – I was worried about publishing it and appearing as though I had no idea what I was talking about (I might not anyway, but you can be the judge of that). Ultimately, though, I decided that it was more important for whoever did read this to know how much I appreciated the Three Inch Fools and the evening of first-class theatre they gave us. As that particular performance was the penultimate one on their summer tour, I was glad to have been able to see them before their break, and I have no doubt that everyone who sees them when they are next on stage will feel exactly the same way. Look them up if you haven’t already, and if you do feel inclined to witness them at their best, I am certain you won’t regret it in the slightest.

Mason

The Pull, Part 11

As part of my ongoing Winchester preparations, I am now coming to you live from a brand-new laptop! It is, in a way, another statement of intent bought with practicality and working in mind. I chose – after a long period of deliberation with the salesman in the shop – an HP Envy, coincidentally the newer version of the laptop Louis had a few years ago. Like many laptops you can buy today, it lacks a disc drive, although I intend to buy a portable one soon. This saves a considerable amount of weight from something that is already very light, and that was key for me when I first considered what to buy, as I need to be able to transfer the laptop from table to bag as easily as possible – preferably with one hand. It has the USB ports and headphone jack I wanted, as well as a more powerful processor that can deal more efficiently with multitasking (perhaps at the expense of some storage space, although Louis says I can save documents to the cloud if I need to).

One of its other, more unexpected features was re-discovered only this morning, just as I had begun this post. Louis had been silently studying the laptop for a little while – particularly its hinges – and he suddenly pointed out that I might have bought a laptop which folds all the way over and doubles as a tablet. We nervously tested his theory and he was right – when it is folded over, the laptop asks you if you want to enter tablet mode, and even in its regular form it features a touch-sensitive screen. I remembered that I had already been shown this in the shop, but had completely forgotten it since. I will probably put it to good use at some point in the future, but seeing as the laptop is brand new, I don’t really want to put fingerprints all over the screen just yet!

This post is the first productive thing I have done with it. The aforementioned portable disc drive will be particularly important when it arrives as it will finally allow the audio notetaking software I have to be downloaded. As I may have said before, I already have the app on my phone and the microphone to plug in – thanks to a test I carried out with Louis, I am pleased to report that it works perfectly. All that’s left is to install the disc, and Microsoft Office at a later date, and this laptop will have everything it needs to serve me well at university. I couldn’t be happier with my choice so far, and I definitely couldn’t be more relieved about how much easier it is to carry!

Mason