Ja, La, Za

In my first post of 2023, I want to talk about that weird limbo week between Christmas and New Year. It brought many delights, among them the chance for Mum, Dad and I to spend time with my brother Louis and his boyfriend Ali, who came down from Birmingham for the festivities. Of course, these largely consisted of a great deal of eating and lounging, but we did also set time aside for a few games – including a couple of rounds of Scrabble. Let me tell you, playing Scrabble can be a real experience in our house, particularly if Louis and Ali are involved. While we’re all capable of spending a nice hour or two rubbing along without causing any disagreements, more often than not, we tend to very vocally challenge certain words that appear on the board. The boys are particularly prone to coming up with questionable suggestions.

Take the other night, for example. Once Louis, Ali, Mum and I had started playing, we were quickly faced with the age-old obstacle of a board on which large parts had been blocked off early. Certain Triple Word Score squares were impossible to reach, and elsewhere there was no room to spread out anyway, leaving us with no choice but to pick up what points we could with shorter, less rewarding submissions. This was where the disputes arose, and they continued without end until the final stages – the most notable of these concerned the three words you see at the very top of this post. You might be forgiven for thinking that they’re barely words at all, at least not in English. According to our 2012 Scrabble Dictionary, however, they’re not only clearly defined, but they’re all permitted in the game. ‘Ja’ is, of course, the German for ‘yes’, while ‘la’ is included in its capacity as the sixth note of the musical scale. ‘Za’, meanwhile, was the one that infuriated me most of all, since it merely appears to be an American colloquialism for ‘pizza’. A colloquialism – and an abbreviation too – allowed in Scrabble? Surely not. I think the game is going downhill, and I reckon any normal player would agree with me, but Louis and Ali are not normal players.

Louis won in the end. There may only have been seven points separating him and Mum in second, but we all know what it was that put him ahead – this farce has reminded us to get an updated Scrabble Dictionary, so we don’t have as many issues in future. It was a lot of fun, though, and while it might seem like a random story for me to tell here, it’s the kind of daft memory you want in black and white for posterity. There are good vibes, and I’m not actually going on an anti-Scrabble rant (hopefully you can tell I’ve written this with tongue planted firmly in cheek). I’m sure you’ll agree it makes for a fitting post to start the new year with – one that I hope will have plenty more good things in store for me. The first post I write next January will reflect on much more than just a board game, I’m sure of that…

Mason

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Not The Christmas Market

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Winchester, and on Friday afternoon I finally got the chance to have a look around the Christmas market I’d been excited to see for so long. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people, meaning it was very busy (even more so on Saturday, when I aborted an attempt to go back because 400,000 people had seemingly decided to drop by at once). I had to be vigilant however I moved, lest I knock over any children or elderly people in haste, but I was still glad to have gotten in for a browse. I couldn’t help but be amused at many selfies and family photos I had to duck out of – I’ll be very surprised if I haven’t been caught in a few, and immortalised in photobomb form!

The stalls there were selling all kinds of weird and wonderful things, from Christmas decorations, bath bombs and fudge to salt and pepper mills shaped like chess pieces. There was plenty of choice in terms of things to eat and drink, too. One of the first things you notice is how much you can smell, be it gluhwein, roasted chestnuts, hot dogs, fish and chips, or any of the other sweet and savoury delights on offer. You’re also struck by the joy that all of this stimulation is bringing people – there’s so much to see, listen to, feel, and all in the shadow of the majestic cathedral that looms over you as you take it in. Being able to witness it means it’s an even bigger shame that I couldn’t get a clear photo of anything, that I couldn’t capture any of these wonders to share them with you, although I should really have anticipated how popular they’d be.

I therefore came away empty-handed, but I was still determined to have something on Third Time Enabled for posterity, and what better alternative is there than the tree in the high street? It’s always impressive, but I personally feel this one is the biggest and best one yet, and I hope you agree. It might not be a photo from the Christmas market, but I feel it very much captures the magic of the season, the occasion, and my little holiday.

Mason

Not A Skunk, Not A Punk, But A Monk

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be setting sail for Winchester once again, this time primarily to sample the delights of its annual Christmas Market. I somehow completely neglected it during university, so I look forward to rectifying that, but I’m also excited by the prospect of any other new discoveries I might make. On my last trip there – during a mid-August heatwave – there were several, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember decorative hares dotted through the city for charity. There was also the refurbishment of my favourite coffee shop, a new ice-cream parlour (which I couldn’t take advantage of thanks to a pesky front step), and – most bafflingly of all – a monk standing at the bottom of the high street. Yes, you read that last bit correctly.

I had the good fortune to chat to him for a little while, not that I’d originally intended to. As I’m sure many of us are, I’ve always been quite wary of anyone who hangs around in the middle of town trying to sell something. Winchester seems to be a hotspot for that sort of thing, so over the years I’ve become adept at spotting people in my peripheral vision and weaving around them in such a way that doesn’t make it obvious I’m avoiding them. Unfortunately, that skill had deserted me on this particular summer’s day, and in any case, the street was so busy that I couldn’t have given this gentleman the slip without mowing down a number of other pedestrians in the process. I was funnelled directly into his path, albeit so suddenly that I hadn’t even seen him coming until it was too late.

I can’t remember his name, but he was around my age. He asked me how I was, who I was, and where I’d come from, and even though I was naturally perplexed by what he was doing there, we struck up a conversation. From the outset, he was keen to stress that he was “not a skunk, and not a punk, but a monk” (that’s a blog post title if ever I’ve heard one, I thought). He also told me how much he liked my “vibes” and how laid back I was, and he asked me for my secret. How could I be so chilled and calm? If the truth be told, in that moment at least, there was no secret – I’d stopped questioning the situation and was going with the flow, since it was pretty clear he didn’t mean me any harm.

However, it was also pretty clear that he indeed hoped to persuade me to part with my cash, and before long he’d handed me some kind of spiritual self-help book, whilst looking at me with those pleading puppy dog eyes. As brilliant as I’m sure the book was, I had no interest in paying for it, so I mumbled something about already having spent too much that day (which wasn’t entirely untrue – it was so hot that I’d just been forced to fork out £12 for a cap in Marks and Spencer). I thought that would be that and we’d both carry on with our business, but if this whole exchange hadn’t already been bizarre enough, what happened next really took the biscuit. He told me that I needn’t worry because he also accepted Visa and MasterCard, and with that, he produced an electronic card reader from his robes.

I stifled a laugh, which remained bottled up until I’d declined the purchase and left the monk’s company, at which point I was in hysterics at how surreal – and utterly brilliant – the conversation had been. I’d been a little bit annoyed when I first got stuck with him, but in hindsight I’m glad that I did, because those are the moments and the stories I live for. I’m a writer, I mine material wherever I can, and that afternoon I struck gold without ever expecting to. Until I started writing this post I’d kept it to myself, because I wanted to make sure I did it justice, and now that it’s finally out there I’m really hoping I experience something just as noteworthy this weekend. I’ll definitely be looking and listening, but I’d say I’m unlikely to find another monk near the shops. After all, at this time of year he might freeze to death without a big coat!

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 4

As I’m sure I’ve said before, it’s nice to peel your eyes away from a screen and take in some proper paper pages every now and again. The book club I have going with Lara and Nora was meant to facilitate that a bit more often, of course, but that seems to have stalled somewhat for the time being. We were meant to finally discuss A Natural History of Dragons earlier in the week, and confirm Nineteen Eighty Four as next on our list, but thanks to me that plan fell flat on its face (although it should be easier to schedule now that I’ve finished work for Christmas).

Lara’s generosity, however, means that we might have something else to talk about in the meantime. She’d been buying all of my books for the club anyway up to this point, but outside of that she also decided to buy one for each person in our friendship group, after making sure we hadn’t read it before. Ben was thrilled with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I also enjoyed earlier in the year, while I received The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, the second in Sue Townsend’s series of books about a teenage diarist navigating the numerous challenges of adolescence. I’d read the first of those in Winchester too, and was pleasantly surprised to find that while it appeared to be aimed at readers of a similar age to its protagonist, it also contained a lot of humour that adults would appreciate – and that would go right over kids’ heads.

I reckon everyone else in our group might enjoy it. I don’t know if they’ll all read their respective books from Lara, but I hope they do. Not only will it allow them each to discover something new, but it might mean we can collectively review a number of different titles together – and aside from Ben, I don’t know what anyone else got, so it’d be interesting to find out. What’s more, by the time we finish them all, maybe Lara, Nora and I will at last be able to progress to George Orwell…

Mason

The Last Present

Last week, I had a small operation. It was the first time I’d had any kind of surgery since 2010, and it meant that I’d have to take it easy for a little while afterwards to allow the resulting wound to settle and heal. I could have chosen to fill my recuperation period with nothing but mindless screen time (and don’t get me wrong, there’s still been plenty of it), but instead, a sudden bolt of inspiration hit me out of the blue when I decided to finally use the last present left over from Christmas. I daresay that Mum was more than a little relieved when I told her about this.

I’m sure we’ve all had similar gifts to this one, in the sense that it was inadvertently forgotten. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it – far from it, in fact. Actually, it’s one of the most useful things I’ve been given in some time. It’s just that Iife, and more specifically a Creative Writing degree, got in the way for a little while, and the present in question – a little piece of paper kept safe in a plastic folder – was pushed aside. It was just awaiting the right time to shine, although I didn’t really foresee that being nine months down the line! (See what I did there? I’m a poet, and I don’t know it.)

What was on the piece of paper I refer to, I hear you ask? Well, it wasn’t so much the sheet itself that was important, more the information upon it – namely a gift code for an online BBC Maestro course in screenwriting from the Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. This consists of a series of video tutorials, which will guide me from the very first seeds of an idea all the way through to a completed script for a TV drama. At the time of writing, I’ve only watched the first two videos, but I’m intrigued to find out what – if anything – I can develop through the rest. Of course, there’s a certain amount of the process that I’m already familiar with, but as these lessons are presented from Mercurio’s personal perspective, it’s likely that they’ll each come with unique insights and advice that I’ve never heard before. It’s always useful for me to remind myself never to dismiss the opinions or feedback of others, because – as I’ve probably told you before – you never quite know how it might improve your work. I’m looking forward to making my way through the remaining videos and, hopefully, flexing my screenwriting muscles once again. I probably should have gotten round to it sooner, but better late than never, I suppose. I just ought to make sure that I don’t leave any of this year’s Christmas presents lying around for too long!

Mason

A Writerly Dilemma

After the year we’ve all had, it might come as no surprise to you that I had been struggling to feel as festive as normal. The Christmas lights and decorations have definitely improved that, though, and Mum and Dad have excelled themselves with our tree once again. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself sitting on the sofa and basking in its glow as I try to write something, be it for coursework or pleasure. I should probably place a certain amount of emphasis on ‘try’, because of late, not much new material has surfaced at all.

I’ve concluded that this is because of a constant battle, a dilemma of sorts, that goes on in my head. Every so often, I feel pressure to decide exactly what kind of writer I want to be, even though I’ve always maintained that I want to be as versatile as possible. As you’ll notice if you’ve seen the homepage of this blog, Third Time Enabled was created when I had time to kill after a Formula One qualifying session. Motorsport has always been a central part of my life, and so to some people the prospect of me going on to write about it seems only natural. It appears to be a logical step to me too, being the thing I arguably know most about.

The problem is, though, that only 50% of my brain thinks that. The other 50% worries about how well I could write about it – and beyond that, whether I actually want to at all. I’ve dabbled in motorsport reporting before, and because you’re talking about a fast-moving industry, where there’s a new story every minute, you largely have to stick to the facts, and you have to do so in a concise and easily digestible manner. Everything is black or white. I know you could say the same about any other form of journalism, but accepting that there seemingly won’t be much opportunity to spread my wings and show what I can do creatively takes a bit of getting used to.

The opinion piece, a much more subjective kind of writing, is more conducive to an inventive turn of phrase since it relies heavily on the author’s own view, but this is where another point of self-doubt arises. What if I publish something I have faith in and it transpires I have no idea what I’m talking about at all? Not doing a subject I love so much justice would be a great worry to me, as would pigeonholing myself specifically as a motorsport journalist. In addition to that, sometimes I think that I’m more comfortable just being a fan – kicking back and relaxing while I watch the Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon. Turning it into my job could, in my opinion, be somewhat risky, and growing to even slightly resent racing doesn’t bear thinking about.

I have done my best to strike up a balance between writing about motorsport and everything else the world has to offer. This blog has a sister site, MOH Racing, founded in February last year – but as I type this now, only nine posts have been published on it. There must be some way I can overcome these lingering self-confidence issues, give equal attention to both of these blogs and any other projects, and maintain the versatility I’ve always wanted. Only time will tell – perhaps it can be a secondary New Year’s resolution for 2021.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Mason

Endless Miles

I’m writing this sat alone in the Learning Cafe, having just finished tinkering with one of my essays, due on Friday. There is almost total silence, save for the background hum of a generator an annoying high-pitched whine I can’t quite trace the source of. Despite my solitude, I am happy, since I have a Christmas meal at Lara’s flat with all of the gang to look forward to tomorrow, and I’ve just listened to the new Coldplay album, Everyday Life, which is simply brilliant. Once I’d taken my headphones off at the end, I started thinking about my own adapted set of Coldplay lyrics, which I’m working on for Composing Song Lyrics.  I had to take them into class earlier this week so they could be critiqued by everyone, which is always a nerve-wracking experience. Even though I know it’s highly unlikely, I always expect everything I write to be completely torn to shreds, so you can imagine my relief when the lyrics came back with only a few notes for improvement at this stage.

My version of ‘In My Place’, entitled ‘Endless Miles’, is an intentionally cliched love song. Since I greatly admire the original, I was worried about accidentally making a mockery of it with my own words, but I knew I wanted to include it in my portfolio – and that any other lyrics I wrote for it would probably be no better. We are, of course, discouraged from including cliches unintentionally, but as long as you can justify your use of them, anything goes. Cliches can help to make a song more relatable or accessible to a listener, and as you might expect, they can be beneficial when you want to parody something. I wasn’t trying to do that, but I still found some of my lyrical choices laughably cringeworthy! I include ‘Endless Miles’ here for what I hope will be your enjoyment – although I haven’t made any of the changes that have been suggested just yet. Listen to the original track as you read these lyrics, and decide for yourself how well they fit:

(Verse 1)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Following your trail

But in the end, in the end

I rounded the final bend

And I saw no more

 

(Chorus 1)

There, the last call to let you go

There, no footprints left in the snow

There, the curtain to end the show

I go

 

(Verse 2)

Coming home, coming home

No-one and nowhere to roam

No-one on the phone

Is this love? Is this love?

You’re dropping me down from above

Down into the rain

 

(Chorus 2)

Here, the next chapter of my life

Here, when will I be free of strife?

Here, you cut me just like a knife

A knife

 

Darling

Why? Why? Why?

Why did you have to go?

No, no

Why don’t you say you’ll stay?

Now, now

Come on and talk to me

Please, please

I’m here at home

 

(Verse 3)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Now we’ve reached the end

The end.

 

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

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

 

 

 

Christmas Eve Fever, Part 2

So, the second-best day of the year has come again, and I find myself seated comfortably in the front room just as I did last year, watching the lights on our Christmas tree enchant me as they always do. We have now introduced a string of warm golden lights alongside the regular multi-coloured lights, and whilst I was initially sceptical about how they would appear together, they do ultimately compliment each other very well. As they fade slowly in and out, somewhat hypnotically, they can have a magical effect on an otherwise dimly-lit room. They entice you, drawing your eyes towards their vibrant embrace, and for a moment you can lose yourself fully in the magic of Christmas.

That never changes, it’s the same year after year, but in this instance – as we head into 2018 – I feel like the lights are a bright appetiser for an exciting twelve months to come. As I write this, I am on the brink of finishing my university application and sending it away, and when I do it a period of intriguing uncertainty will begin as I await an offer. Of course, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be wanted, but the apparent strength of my personal statement has given me a lot to be optimistic about, so I intend to keep my head held high whilst I wait for news. The excitement has made Christmas that little bit better for me so far, and whatever happens I will keep you all updated on the situation from the start of this new year. Right now, however, I must live in the moment, and that means eating, drinking, being merry and watching Casino Royale with my nearest and dearest. Whatever you’re doing tomorrow, and for the rest of December, make it happy, stress-free and fun. I know I will. Merry Christmas, one and all!

Mason