Resonating

Shortly after attending the taster session that was painstakingly described here, I decided to send a link to the University of Winchester via Twitter and see what resulted. Upon checking my tweets this afternoon, I was excited to find that they had indeed read the post – and, as a nice little bonus, they’d seemingly enjoyed it too! When I was writing it, I wanted every last drop of pure enthusiasm and joy to seep through the text, and to leave no stone unturned so that no reader could be in any doubt as to how much I was buzzing before, throughout, and after the day. It was clear that to some extent, Winchester must have got what I was trying to say. My sincere thanks go to them, first of all.

What was less clear, and therefore more of a surprise, was what their engagement with my little blog and one of its many entries led to. As it is hosted by WordPress, this has its own Stats page, on which I can check the performance of the site and the views that its content, tags and categories have had. At this point, just bear in mind that there must be millions of blogs on the Internet, all jostling for space and exposure – mine is a tiny dwarf planet in an infinite online galaxy of bigger rivals. I have a long way to go with Third Time Enabled before I can even begin to compete with them, so imagine how delighted I must have been when I noticed the 36 views it has had so far today. This must be due in no small part to Winchester’s interaction, and it is a monumental figure compared to what I can usually expect in a day. As a matter of fact, I don’t always get that in a week. Furthermore, the “University of Winchester” tag I attached to the post received 50 views, and whilst I like to showcase my own writing and experiences, I mostly wanted to convey just how awesome a place it really is, full of friendly and passionate people. If you don’t think I’ve managed to do that in any of the last three posts, my mission obviously isn’t accomplished yet – but if you have read this and my point has resonated, thank you very much indeed. You might just have made my day!

Mason

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Accentuate The Positive

Politics dominates the news we wake up to every day, and in the last couple of years, particularly following the Brexit vote and the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House, the world’s focus on it has only intensified. Generally, it doesn’t make reassuring or uplifting reading, and whilst I do understand the importance of paying attention to the events that shape the future, I don’t feel I can write about them confidently on Third Time Enabled right now. This occurred to me only a short time ago, when I was looking over Angharad’s most recent post. It was incredibly well-researched and had been written with clear passion and concern in the aftermath of yet another terrible American school shooting. She did, of course, hit the nail directly on the head with her content – you can see it right here if you wish – but in seeing this I realised that I could never match what she had done, no matter how strongly I feel about the topic.

If you have read all of the posts I’ve written since the beginning of January, it might have struck you that life has been very good to me of late. University looms, accompanied by a fresh and exciting start, and in the wake of accepting my place, my mood has been lifted infinitely. A year ago, I wondered if my life was heading in any sort of direction at all, but now I feel as though anything really is possible. I’d like this new-found positivity to be reflected regularly in my writing, both in the lead up to my departure from Somerset and beyond, when I am fully settled in Winchester. This won’t be at the expense of the more hard-hitting aspects of life, as I will return to those on a day when I can bear to face them, but for now I will leave their exposure on this blog to those who are eager to speak about them, such as Angharad and Will. To cover them in a proper and well-informed manner, a lot of potentially difficult reading is required, and I can rest safe in the knowledge that both of them are capable of doing the job well. If I’ve mentioned it before, you may remember that Will once told me this blog has what it takes to save lives with its positivity. If this is true, I’d better make sure it lives up to the hype – and at this moment in time, I have more of a reason to accentuate the positive than ever.

Mason

Sliding On Out

It might not seem like an important detail at first, but when I entered my Winchester taster session last weekend I decided to sit on a normal seat. This was primarily so that I could access a table more easily (although Lara had offered to move it) and be more comfortable on what was effectively a big sofa, although the decision may have had a slightly deeper motivation behind it. As I stopped my wheelchair next to the seat, lifted the armrest up and began to slide over, I must have been partly determined to show all of the new people in the room the independence I am capable of. Whenever I do transfer to another chair, it does tend to make a scene – probably because some people don’t expect me to move at all – and maybe, on that one occasion, I subconsciously used that to my advantage.

Firstly, the footplates on my wheelchair are swung back, ironically to stop them getting in the way of my feet as I move. If there is not enough room for them to swing all the way, I take them off entirely, meaning that I have to find a surface they can lean against until they are put back on again. This usually involves at least a small amount of clattering about, and on Saturday that did turn one or two heads. Then, as aforementioned, my right armrest is raised, removing the only obstacle stopping me from shuffling sideways into my designated new seat. I start to move, and my bottom edges off of my gel cushion. At this point people are really looking, but I take no notice – I certainly don’t take it to heart. On the contrary, it is a good opportunity for me to show that I am not fused to my wheelchair, as one girl in sixth form believed until we decided to set her straight one day. I arrive in my new location, and sit back as far as possible to make myself comfortable – on Saturday, when I had positioned myself squarely in front of the table I needed, I took a moment to smile at one or two people who were looking, just to reassure them that I was OK.

Occasionally, I like to go the extra mile, just to demonstrate that I really can be fine without help. At Winchester this meant using my initiative to take my notebook and pen out of my bag before transferring, pairing them up together neatly on the desk as I leant across to it. I politely declined an additional offer of assistance from Lara (perhaps wanting to impress her and make a good first impression), and only asked for her help when I realised that getting my things back across to my bag would be slightly harder at the end. As I got back into my wheelchair again, she kindly kept her eye on me to make sure I would be safe, although she didn’t intervene directly – she could evidently see that I had everything under control, so I must have gotten my point across to her. We left with big smiles on our faces, having bonded so well – and, through something that is so normal to so many other people, I might just have shown her that I’m not completely helpless. That’s important, and I look forward to conveying it more often in September!

Mason

The Pull, Part 4

Any excuse to visit Winchester is fine by me – and on Saturday I had the best one possible when I set off with Mum and Dad to attend a second open day at the university where I will be studying from September. I knew from the outset that it would be just as immensely enjoyable and useful a visit as the initial one in October, and I was duly proved right. As we parked up and signed in after a three-hour car journey, my thoughts turned immediately to something I hadn’t initially had the chance to participate in at Winchester – a taster session in my chosen Creative Writing course.

In just one hour, the session would give me a condensed sample of what to expect in the three-hour classroom gatherings I will have as a student – and, predictably, I immediately liked what I saw. I have always felt comfortable as a writer, and any opportunity to demonstrate this is instantly seized, but even I was surprised by how naturally writing came to me in an academic setting. The session was well-attended, presumably by many of the students I will soon have the chance to collaborate with and befriend, and as I sat waiting for everyone to file in I found that was I seated next to a lovely girl called Lara. We hit it off immediately, and could hardly stop chatting – during the course of our conversation I discovered that she too had already accepted her Winchester offer, so I think we were both relieved that we’ll already know each other when we start! We worked really well as partners too, reading what we’d written to one another and feeding back accordingly.

What exactly were we writing, I hear you ask? Allow me to explain! After a brief introduction to the course, and a few minutes in which we examined short descriptive sentences and shared our first impressions, we were presented with a photograph to work from. It showed an open but secluded woodland spot, bathed in bright sunlight but surrounded by forest that was denser, darker and much more sinister. Just as before, our first task upon being shown this was to jot down what we thought of it. Rather than immediately noting what I actually saw in the image, I found myself thinking about its potential metaphorical significance, and seeing the part illuminated by the sun as a glimmer of hope – a hidden gem – in a sea of despondency. A light at the end of the tunnel for someone, if you will. When it came to placing a character in this setting, we were invited to choose anyone from a small child to an elderly pensioner, before taking a moment to think about why they were in the woods and how their behaviour might be influenced by their circumstances. I chose to make my character a teenage boy named Christopher – I’ve always given characters fairly random names, and he was bestowed with his for no other reason than St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, apparently. Once I’d clarified these basic details, I started to think more about his background and what had brought him into the great outdoors. It emerged that he’d had an affluent upbringing with money in abundance, but that his life had been turned upside down following a kidnapping which resulted in him being a prisoner for some considerable time. On the day that he found himself amongst the greenery, he was running as fast as he could – terrified, dishevelled and devoid of the confidence he had been bursting with prior to his ordeal. He was running because this day represented his best possible chance of escape. I introduced him like this, joining him as he dashed through the gloominess and into warmth:

“Christopher sprinted through the darkness, trying to ignore the searing pain from the gash on his knee as each new bramble and thorn pricked at him. He knew he had to focus on escape, and that meant running and never looking back. He’d never have a better chance than this.”

I couldn’t quite write quickly enough to expand on that opening, so when we were told to stop after the sentence we were on, Lara had more than I did. Her story, if I recall correctly, concerned a woman who was out walking her dog in the countryside with her husband and child – both of whom had been driving her mad. She appeared worn down, tired, overworked and underappreciated, and neither they nor her mischievous dog, whom Lara named Scruff, were making things any easier. I thought it was a beginning with a lot of potential, and I was interested to see just how far the lady could be pushed, or if her luck might change dramatically. And what part would the scenery play in it?

My question was about to be answered. The next stage of story development saw us invited to pick an item from a table at the front of the room that our characters could find in the landscape – we could demonstrate how well we knew them by thinking about their reactions to these. Lara kindly went over on my behalf, and gave me a fading and slightly dirty blue denim cap, claiming she knew it was right for my story as soon as she saw it. Great minds think alike, don’t they? I agreed, and instantly began scribbling away just as it landed on the desk. Just as Christopher emerges into the sun’s embrace, the following occurs:

“Taking in the beauty and undoubted serenity of this hidden gem, Christopher spotted a faded blue denim cap lying unclaimed in the undergrowth. He thought little of the object itself – people lost things in the countryside all the time – but could it mean that he wasn’t the first to run out here? For a moment, Christopher kept his eyes fixed on the cap, briefly forgetting the desperation of his own situation. If its owner had escaped too, with or without their cap, had they found safety?”

As I finished this, I looked up to see Lara putting her own pen down. The object she had taken from the table was a jewel-encrusted brooch, which she also chose to cast to the ground in her story. By this stage, Scruff was off his lead and totally uncontrollable. He had rushed off, far away from his struggling owner, but stopped an instant when he saw the brooch gleaming before him. He alerted the woman to its presence, and she was immediately and understandably intrigued upon examining it. She may well have been distracted by its striking and colourful appearance, but was determined to get to the bottom of what it was, taking it to an antique shop. Lara never got the chance to reveal what had happened there, but it was definitely an interesting proposition in a well-structured story. Would the brooch make the woman and her family millionaires, or had she gotten her hopes up all for nothing? Alternatively, would it be something tainted in some way, or even cursed? Lara and I both saw that the possibilities were endless.

That was what made the session great. The amount of creativity in the task at hand made us both feel right at home and very comfortable indeed. Neither of us had any doubts about the university choice we’d made prior to the session and, if it was possible, we had even fewer when we emerged. Thanking the lecturer for such a fruitful and enjoyable hour, we left and said our goodbyes, even more excited for what is to begin in just over six months’ time. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day, feeling certain that the session was the start of many things, including academic and creative satisfaction, endless social and personal benefits, and at least one wonderful new friendship with Lara. Life is good – very good indeed. You could say that just one year ago, I felt as though I was going nowhere. Twelve months on, with each passing day, I’m feeling as though anything is possible. What’s more, I’m going to make the most of every moment of it.

If you’re lucky, you might even discover Christopher’s ultimate fate one day…

Mason
 

Things I Wish I Knew As a Teenager

​I’ve been an adult for a little while now and have spent some time learning a little bit about just what that means. Having said that, though, I’ve also had time to reflect on my time spent as a teenager. So here’s a few things I wish I knew back then.

1. People will bitch and backstab and gossip. As will you. Don’t take it to heart.

2. Work hard and save as much as you can. Trust me, you’ll need it.

3. Everyone has struggles. Everyone has their shit. Some just hide it better than others.

4. You don’t have to do things or squash yourself down just to fit in.

5. Before you stress about something, consider if it’ll matter in five years’ time.

6. Take pictures. Every chance you get. Everyone you love. You will treasure them.

7. It’s okay to not like things everyone else likes. And vice versa.

8. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular, unpopular or somewhere in between. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference the minute you’re out of school and into the real world.

9. Find your passion and don’t let anyone laugh at you for it.

10. It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life. I’ve already changed the career I was working towards three times, and gone back into education twice since A-Levels.

11. Honesty really is the best policy. People value it and you’ll value it in other people.

12. No one has it all figured out. I don’t now, and I doubt I will when I’m 80. That’s just life, I guess.

Emily

Wake Up, America!

It’s a cliché phrase, one which has been tossed around by conspiracy theorists for decades. But today, I mean it very seriously. Wake up, America.

Your children are being murdered en masse. In the first seven weeks of 2018, you have suffered no less than eight school shootings. Furthermore, the perpetrators are often not some kind of 50-year-old illegal immigrants who snuck assault rifles across state borders. They are overwhelmingly committed by young white American men, with legally obtained firearms. Men who were no doubt denied the help they needed, or whose victims’ reports to authorities were ignored. Some people have speculated that had the perpetrator been Black, or Mexican, or Middle-Eastern, the outcome would have been incredibly different. Trump said in a speech regarding the recent Florida shooting that “the difficult issue of mental health” should be tackled, when only last year he “repealed an Obama-era rule allowing the names of certain people on mental health benefits to be entered into a criminal database”. You made it a lot easier for people to access weapons, Trump, you cannot play the sympathy card now.

Moreover, gun-lovers, you cannot demand that school shootings should not be politicised. They must be politicised as soon as they happen, because we cannot dismiss this debate. I am not even an American, so technically none of this should affect me or my country, but it does. Europe is devastated by the preventable tragedies which keep occurring in America. There is a Zeitgeist, and this is evidenced by the students themselves, who are speaking louder than they ever have before against the defendants of the Second Amendment. One key example was the riveting speech of Florida school student Emma Gonzalez, who announced a student walkout and march on Washington, which she named “the march for our lives”. I cannot fathom why some American pro-gun parents are content to send their children to school, knowing that there is a high chance they won’t come home. I read accounts now where schoolchildren are dressing according to a school shooting drill: “if I wear these clothes, I can escape faster”, “I shouldn’t wear sneakers with lights because they could give away my position”. They’re children, not the CIA! They should not have to consider these things over their own grades!

Do you know what the Second Amendment says? “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. The quote which has caused so much bloodshed was originally a reference to militias. Military forces. Not civilians. America, you’re a self-fulfilling prophecy – you wanted guns to begin with, now they’re becoming a necessity. Are you going to send your children to school with little AR15s of their own next? Will you train them to shoot before teaching them to read?

Your government system has turned schooling into a real-life Hunger Games; here, the survivors are the ones who get to sit their exams.

I fully support the upcoming student marches. We know that marches are effective, and I’ve no doubt they will be this time, too. I would send my thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims, but we all know by now that this does nothing to ease their pain. Instead, I send my support, and my hope that there will one day be enough pressure on the American Government to push through some effective mental health and gun legislation. Until then, perhaps America should focus on making more coffins.

“Home of the free, land of the brave”? To that, I propose a new, more accurate line: “Home of the ignorant, land of the murdered”. Wake up, America.

Angharad

 

A Bit Annoyed, Actually

A Note About The Lecturer Strikes

On average, I am scheduled to have 11 contact hours (lectures) per week, not including extra-curricular modules. There are 11 weeks in each semester. For my poor attempt at maths, if we multiply 11 by 22 (total number of weeks in the academic year), we get 242 hours. Then, 9,000 divided by 242 equals around £37 per lecture, most of which last only 50 minutes.

I have already been informed that so far, I will lose 2 hours of lectures due to upcoming strikes. That’s £74. I may then lose another 2 hours, which brings it to £148. Furthermore, there is a possibility that after my half term, there will be more strike days, including a planned five-day walkout from 12-16 March. If this does affect me, and all of my lecturers happen to be on strike, I and other students would have lost around £407 of lectures and valuable information.

Before I continue, I would like to stress my support for my university lecturers, and lecturers across the country: they are not to blame. They are doing what they are within their rights to do, which is defending their pensions. If the government succeeds in implementing this change, current and future lecturers could be left up to £10,000 worse off regarding pensions. This could mean that by the time they are ready to retire from their careers, they then might not have enough income to live comfortably. I don’t know about you but to me it does not sound like an attractive concept.

The government must understand that if there is no financial security, this will serve as a deterrent for potential lecturers. Why would you do a job if you are inadequately paid, or have no certainty of retiring with a decent pension? That’s right: you wouldn’t.

We have seen this happen already with the NHS – nobody should be surprised that we are suddenly in a “crisis”, because the number of doctors and nurses has fallen significantly. The Guardian has reported that since the referendum in June 2016, “around 10,000 EU nationals have quit the NHS” not only because of the uncertainty, but also because of overworking and underpayment. Similarly, in 2016-17, “just under 33,500 nurses” left the NHS. You can therefore see the correlation between working conditions and number of employees who quit. The same could happen for lecturers nationwide – lecturers who very much want to do their jobs, but who are reluctant to do so if it means making potentially destructive concessions to the government.

I am grateful for my education. Throughout my schooling, I have experienced some pretty low points in terms of government policy shafting people in the education sector, but there have always been a handful of truly dedicated teachers. Now, I find that my lecturers are the same, as some really do go all-out to help their students as best they can. In their position, I would be striking, too. In fact, I would like to take this chance to express my disappointment in the Cardiff University Students’ Union for denouncing these strikes and refusing to support our hardworking lecturers – I believe they cannot see the forest for the trees.

Students, I empathise if these strikes affect your education, I really do, but let’s not lose sight of the ones who are really behind the strikes – Theresa May and her cronies. All they are doing is making unnecessary cuts so they have more money in their own pockets. As you’ve probably now gathered, I’m a bit annoyed, actually.

Angharad