Bulldozer

Since Halloween, Mum and Dad have seen me a few times here in Winchester, and have spent the entirety of Christmas and New Year with me at home in Somerset. In that period, they have failed to notice one thing. Whilst it is inconspicuous enough to avoid attracting too much attention, it is unquestionably staring them in the face, sticking out like a sore thumb. There’s no denying it; my wheelchair is bent. The arm supporting its controls and the bag that hangs underneath is drooping downward, although I have done my best to straighten it and minimise the damage. As you may have guessed, I wouldn’t be mentioning this if there wasn’t a half-decent story behind it. Only a select group of people know it thus far – and they all agree that after keeping it under wraps for so long, it’s about time I told it…

The flat in which I spend most of my time at university is not my own (as some of you will know), but the one in which my friends live at the top of the block next door. As the end of October approached, it rapidly filled with various Halloween decorations. In the kitchen there was a neatly-carved pumpkin in the windowsill, numerous plastic spiders scattered around, a blood-spattered tablecloth and several balloons floating above the floor. Remember the last two – to be honest, I’m surprised they haven’t given me PTSD.

Picture this. It’s late on the evening of 31 October, and I am conversing casually with Lara, Nora and Ben when someone absent-mindedly begins throwing one of the balloons around. Let’s face it – what else are they good for? Very few people can resist batting them back and forth like Roger Federer on a Wimbledon winning streak, so it wasn’t long before we were all joining in. The strikes against the rubber became increasingly ferocious as we tried harder and harder to outdo each other, so the balloon quickly gathered speed. Nora passed it to Ben on her left. He shot left again towards Lara – and before I knew it, it had darted in my direction. It missed my hand. Engrossed in the ferocity of our competition, there was only one thing I could do as it fell beside me. In a flash, my seatbelt was off and I was diving head-first towards the balloon. Looking back, if I’d had any sense I would have made sure my chair was switched off. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

My entire bodyweight pushed the joystick forward as I dangled helplessly over my armrest, and the chair ploughed through the table before me like the world’s most pathetic bulldozer. Since I was hanging upside down throughout, those few seconds were a rapid blur, and I very quickly ended up in a miraculously uninjured heap on the floor. Nora and Lara were similarly lucky, since they narrowly missed being pinned against the wall, and their laptops likewise avoided an untimely end as they teetered on the edge of the table, mere centimetres from disaster. Ben was out of the danger zone, which meant he had a clear view of the whole thing, much to his considerable amusement. Even if he pictures it now, I think he still finds it funny! We could all laugh once we had established that no harm had been done, and we still do months later. We returned the table to its rightful position, straightened the laptops and got on with our evening, watching The Great British Bake Off. The only evidence that anything had happened came via a tear in the tablecloth and my chair’s bendy battle scar.

Oh, and Mum and Dad visited again last weekend. They didn’t notice then either.

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

 

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

The Pull, Part 7

Well, July is now officially upon us, and as I sit here writing this I am just over three weeks away from the start of my summer holidays – and beyond that, my great Winchester adventure. In the meantime, however, there is still work to be done, and not just in my day job. There is also the small matter of my poetry project. The titles for my poems are all present and correct – you saw them in “Accordion” – but what form the accompanying material will take is still yet to be seen. I do have some rough opening lines for the first poem, “Time Off For Good Behaviour”, but those were mainly written as an excuse for me to open a new notebook and are therefore likely to change.

Beginning a new notebook of any kind is always a treat for the senses. Everything about it is something to be cherished – the spotless and totally unspoiled cover, the pristine pages that lie within, and every magical indentation your pen makes upon them. The notebook I am using for this particular project came from the University of Winchester itself, and I told myself that it would never go to waste playing host to half-finished ideas. It was therefore set aside for poetry, and that in turn meant that I could not start writing in it properly until yesterday. I will admit that it has been increasingly difficult to resist, sitting patiently on my bedside table, always lingering in the corner of my eye. No matter how big the temptation got, though, I told myself that the end reward would be well worth the wait. I only allowed myself to sign and date the first page, so that everything written in it could form a time capsule I can look back on with fondness in the future.

I wrote the first paragraph of this post yesterday, when I had not yet attempted to change the opening lines I had already composed. I subsequently opened the notebook – and, deciding once and for all that they simply did not work, I crossed them out and started again. The new lines that resulted from this flowed much better and felt less forced. I am planning to show the completed poems to my coursemates before you get to see them here, but I will give you little snippets along the way. Make of these what you will!

For a few precious months, the shackles are off. Lie down in your bed, or feast in your trough.

This freedom’s a nectar you simply can’t waste. Feel every last drop flow through you with haste.

Mason

 

 

A Long Way To Go

Whenever nature calls, wherever we are, we must answer it. This is obviously the case regardless of whether you are able-bodied or disabled, but as some of you will know from “The Sixpence Test” – which I wrote last year – I have had a number of wildly different experiences where toilets are concerned. When said experiences are not so good, I am sadly reminded that society still has so much more to do before it can be truly accessible to the disabled, and I was unfortunately faced with yet another one just last night. It came in a local restaurant, which I was eating at for the first time. I found it easy to get into, thanks to a ramp the staff folded out for me, and the meal was to die for. The establishment would, however, lose crucial marks when it came to me needing to spend a penny later in the evening.

Having been told by a fellow diner that the toilets were just around the corner from where we were sitting, I excused myself and left to look for them, confident that I would be able to cruise into the disabled cubicle with ease. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that there was no disabled toilet at all – and that neither of the others could accommodate my wheelchair. I initially wondered if there might be another one located elsewhere in the restaurant, but they promptly indicated that this was not the case. Hearing this both angered and frustrated me. I had assumed that it was a legal requirement for public places such as restaurants to provide such facilities for disabled customers, but it would seem that either I was wrong, or there is a loophole allowing proprietors to avoid including them. Either way, people like me were clearly going to be in for a nasty surprise if they wanted to do their business in this particular eatery.

The lack of a toilet did, of course, make the situation at hand more desperate for me. By the time we had established that there was definitely nowhere I could use in the restaurant, I really did need to go, and the only alternative was to do so in the pub across the road. Just getting to that involved a short detour, since there was no dropped kerb in front of the restaurant, and that meant another unwelcome prolonging of my discomfort. Having crossed safely, though, we got in, and I weaved through the throng of drinkers to reach the toilet door. I grabbed the handle and frantically tried to open it, but to no avail. It was locked, and we had to ask for the key at the bar. This seemed unnecessary to me, and in the circumstances it only annoyed me, but I still understood that it was most likely done to prevent misuse of the toilet by people who really did not need to be in there. In any case, whatever annoyance that made me feel was nothing compared to what I felt when I finally got in. Up to now, we had been inconvenienced to such an extent that I could only just hold it in when I was able to relieve myself, and the configuration of this toilet also did little to help me. I found it at the end of a small corridor, and whilst I had all the space necessary to manoeuvre my chair as I needed to, moving my actual body once out of it was less easy. The toilet was positioned between two walls, as you would expect – but they, and the rails bolted to them, were rather far away from it. That meant they were completely useless, since I was unable to lean on them, and was left with no choice but to perch awkwardly on the toilet seat when adjusting my trousers.

I was astounded that it had taken so long to do what other able-bodied patrons could do in no time at all, and upon emerging I was certain of two things – that I would relate my latest tricky experience to you here, and that as long as there is negligence and a relative lack of education regarding disability, daily life will continue to present many unnecessary challenges to the disabled. I am now wondering how such education might be made more prominent in society. Maybe I will use Third Time Enabled to let you know again, if I have any ideas. In the meantime, we still have a long way to go – in my case, literally!

Mason

 

The Pull, Part 6

The formalities separating me from the start of university are gradually diminishing day by day. Last week, I participated in an assessment arranged following my application for Disabled Students’ Allowance – something which proved to be very fruitful indeed. It answered more of the questions Mum and I had about the support I would be entitled to as a student, and at its end I was relieved that my pre-Winchester to-do list was one item shorter. She and I travelled with Louis to the offices of a company that I was subsequently told would collaborate with the university to work for my benefit; once there I met with a very helpful man who started to ask me about how cerebral palsy affects me in certain situations. Obviously, as you might expect, the questions mostly related to education and how I have coped within it.

Among other things, the man asked what I found difficult during my school years, and what I still find difficult now. He asked about the people and the resources I have had at my disposal to make things easier, and based on my feedback he was gradually able to recommend the support that would best suit my needs on my new course. As I had anticipated, there are many options open to me, and I intend to pursue a great deal of them – not least to acquisition of a piece of software to assist me in lectures. My handwriting is somewhat slower than that of others, making it hard to keep up when I need to jot down a series of notes. With this equipment, however, I would no longer have to worry about such an obstacle. It is compatible with a microphone that can record a single voice whilst excluding all other surrounding noise, meaning that every crucial piece of audio can be captured without a problem. On a computer, this audio can then appear along with the breaks in speech, allowing the user to isolate any given section – this can be especially helpful if a particular piece is more relevant to an essay than another. In addition, these sections can be colour-coded to help them stand out, and notes and photographs can be placed alongside them as further visual aids.

I saw this all demonstrated in my assessment, and was left absolutely sure that it could be beneficial to me once I am settled in Winchester. I expressed my enthusiasm and was told that I am entitled to four hours of tuition in the software’s use (although I don’t have to use all four of them). If I do go on to accept it properly, I will be very eager to see how it can help me, and it was very encouraging to hear about everything else that the company and the university could do for me. It just goes to show that anything is possible if you ask for it – and this positive mindset makes the prospect of requesting help at Winchester even less daunting. Very few questions remained before the assessment, and Mum and I were already highly enlightened on arrival. It is even better to know that we are now tantalisingly close to being fully knowledgeable about what lies ahead.

Mason

Good Medicine

Everyone says, very accurately, that laughter is the best medicine to help see us through difficult times. An equally effective antidote, however, can be found in that funny luminous orb which occasionally (but not often) decides to show its face in Britain. Sunday was thankfully one of those days, and although I have a difficult relationship with the more rural parts of the world – generally preferring somewhere more lively with people going about their business – I was happy to write in the garden with a cool drink. I had opened my notebook with thoughts of my summer poetry project – described in “Accordion” – firmly in my mind. I found myself once again needing to prove to myself that my poetry could be half-decent, especially if I was going to spend my summer focusing on it, so I gradually scribbled some verse while my family watched on. What did I use as inspiration? The sunshine, of course, and specifically how it was lifting my spirits with its warm embrace. You can read the poem below – just bear in mind that it was composed hurriedly and may not be of as high a quality as something more considered. This time I can’t hide behind the fact that it isn’t finished yet!

I hope you like it – it has certainly made me feel even more eager to begin the poems that lie ahead:

I never thought that much of you
Your green and pleasant land.
But then I see a different side
When I am in your hand.

I feel your rays within my veins
I feel your tender touch
Your beams do dance upon my skin
Loving me so much.

You let us share you with our friends
Unite our lives as one.
As we forget our small divides
To bask in summer sun.

And though you do go in again
The memories remain
Like bright and vivid Polaroids
Unblemished by rain.

And when you are not in the sky
I save you a place
In my mind so that you can
Still shine upon my face.

Mason