I returned to Winchester yesterday morning for the start of my second semester, and I must admit that upon doing so, I found a room that was just a little bit tidier than it was when I left it a month ago (not that it was a pigsty). I often live in a state of what I like to call “organised chaos”, in a room that is somewhat cluttered and yet still easy enough to navigate – in spite of any mess, I still know where everything is. When I entered this room, though, in its current condition, I did for once appreciate just how relaxed and satisfied a totally uncluttered space could make me. Having thrown away most of the paper from last semester that was no longer needed, I could actually see most of my desk, and to preserve this newfound neatness Mum stacked my books at the back of it, right against the wall. This simple touch means that it will be much easier to work on it and move things around it as I please. As I sit at my desk now, typing this, with my phone to my left and a coffee and arrowword book to my right, I am calm, and I know this because of how easily I am writing and how well the words are flowing. This feels like a good omen for the weeks to come.
No matter how comfortable I am here, though, I couldn’t leave Somerset without something to remind me of home. In this instance, I have a lemon drizzle cake Mum lovingly prepared the day before we left. My brother got one to take with him too, although Mum informs me that his is slightly misshapen compared to mine, so I’m going to take that as cast-iron confirmation that I am her favourite son after all. Nobody is more surprised than me that the cake is still with us, and that it hasn’t been completely devoured mere hours after my return. At this moment only one slice is missing, and the entire dish sits obscured from my view – on a table behind me, tightly wrapped in foil – so that I can’t be tempted. So far, the plan is working a treat. It needed to, judging by how quickly I demolished most of the chocolate I received on Christmas Day. For the time being, it waits patiently, while fulfilling two important roles. Not only is it a delicious piece of home baking that will soon be very gratefully received by my stomach, but it is also a reassuring presence that soothes me even further – I know it could potentially be valuable comfort food at a time of need.
Recently, I was asked to name one or more of my pet hates by a friend. Aside from the obvious things we all hate – racism, sexism, homophobia, snobbery and the like – every single one of my peeves escaped from my mind at that very moment. I definitely have them, but I couldn’t think of them when they were needed. I was, however, reminded of a particularly elusive pet hate through a chance remark someone made in front of the TV soon afterwards. As a Mastermind contestant sat down in the show’s famous black leather chair, they revealed their chosen specialist subject to the host, and it was to this that my companion uttered two highly infuriating words: “That’s sad”.
Upon hearing this, I felt an instant hot flush of anger. Sad? How dare you! To suggest such a thing is to fail miserably at looking big or clever, and to ruthlessly belittle someone else’s passion. Yes, there are plenty of differences between us, and we might struggle to understand what other people see in their respective areas of interest, but it is immature and needlessly disrespectful to criticise them for enjoying what they do. The mentality that leads someone to do this must be of the “glass half-empty” variety, and incredibly cynical. I pity those who are like this. Wouldn’t it be much better for them to listen and learn about what they don’t know rather than dismiss it immediately? Let’s not forget that this would have an added bonus, in that you’d be indulging their enthusiasm whilst doing so. What’s not to like? Above all, make sure you remember that the people who are unlucky enough to be ridiculed as “sad” are actually – and very ironically – the exact opposite. They will engage with whatever they love the most regardless of where they are or who might be watching, and it’s all because they’re not sad in the slightest. They’re drunk on pure, undiluted passion, the best possible natural high. There can never be enough of those in life, so if you don’t have anything nice to say when you witness them, don’t say anything at all. Especially nothing so childish!
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!
I recently heard the words “good for the soul” uttered by a character on an episode of Home and Away (popular culture is never far away from this blog). If I remember rightly, they were referring to the effects of a bowl of chicken soup, but I wanted to think about some deeper applications of the phrase. So my natural instinct told me to ask around amongst some of my friends. One offered the predictable – but not incorrect – suggestion that “friends and happiness” were good for the soul, whilst another suggested “allowing yourself to make mistakes” was healthy. On the other, more unexpected hand, there was Will’s answer, namely “if I don’t believe in anything to do with spiritualism, I’m not going to believe in the soul.” Interesting.
After asking just three people, I already had a fairly wide range of responses to my question, but I was still convinced that there could be more, so I continued to privately ponder it whilst gradually forming this post. I have been writing this over several weeks, and there was a time when I wondered whether it would see the light of day; just when all hope seemed lost, though, I found just what I was looking for. As a regular user of Facebook like many others, I am used to messages coming and going on a daily basis, but I came across the kind of message I’m not so accustomed to last week. Logging in as normal, I spotted a message from one friend – who I haven’t seen in some time – which looked an awful lot like a very unexpected invitation. “Would you be free…”
I had only opened the initial drop-down inbox menu, so the end of the question was cut off. What would I be free to do? Instantly, I had to find out. It was indeed an invitation, met by the widest of smiles spreading across my face. The friend in question was one with whom I talk quite happily very often, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that they were actually asking me for a meeting, not the other way around. “Would you be free one evening on the week of the 18th? I have a Christmas card I’d like to give to you!” Wow. I had just had a clear example of what was good for the soul unwittingly handed to me on a plate, and it warmed the cockles of my heart. Very festive. Having felt as though I was holding people back for the majority of my short life so far, it was wonderful to see more evidence suggesting that maybe this isn’t the case after all, and that people want to see me as much as I want to see them. “I think seeing people is an important element of Christmas, more so than the frugal exchange of gifts,” said my friend. Amen to that. Of course, I gladly accepted the invite and we’re meeting this coming Thursday. For them, it might be nothing more than a pleasant evening out with someone they like, but for me, it is a simple but remarkable Christmas surprise that will be very much appreciated. It confirms that to some extent, I am worth something to people, and if my friend is reading this, they can consider my soul duly enlightened.
Yesterday marked Mum’s birthday (I’m far too chivalrous to reveal a lady’s age), and to celebrate it we went out for a meal. Yes, my main was fantastic, yes, the slice of chocolate fudge cake I had afterwards was very generous, and yes, I laughed a lot as well – but I’m going to cut to the chase here. The evening’s crowning glory lay not in the food, drink or company, but in the disabled toilet facilities, which stood head and shoulders above many others I’ve used recently. When the able-bodied amongst you are out and looking to spend a penny or more, you are probably able to take the environment in which you do so for granted and without a second thought. It is unlikely to prove impractical to you in any way, shape or form, and as such you can breeze in and out leaving only the commanding hum of the hand dryer – and no trail of devastation – behind you.
I and my fellow disabled loo patrons are not always so lucky. The history of the disabled toilet is littered with major blunders that make these cubicles, which can be designed with a foolish lack of foresight by people who will never have even the slightest reason to venture into them, completely inaccessible to people with handicaps of all shapes and sizes. Over the years I’ve visited disabled facilities so small that even the most compact wheelchair user could not close the door behind them, let alone have enough space to transfer safely between toilet and chair so they can do their business. Those who dare to provide rooms so inadequate are showing blatant ignorance towards the needs of the disabled, and their disrespect is therefore equally as clear and insulting. When I find myself with so little room to manoeuvre and do what is necessary, it becomes apparent that perhaps the only reason some business owners install disabled toilets at all is to tick a box and satisfy legislation. I can only assume that said people still have more reading to do on what equality means.
There are, of course, people who get everything right with regards to disabled provision. The toilet I used last night was clear evidence of this. You could definitely swing a cat or two in there, and upon entering my wheelchair was able to turn perfectly on the spot – or “on a sixpence”, as some like to say – without either end activating the hand dryer or scraping paint off the wall. I could park up and move between gel cushion and toilet seat with room to spare, and without having to worry about getting tangled up in the emergency cord and pulling it by accident. The whole process was a breeze, just as it should be, and this was thanks to a great deal of careful consideration from a proprietor who realised their duty to make every disabled customer’s experience a comfortable one. When it was suggested that I write a post about this, I was encouraged to name and shame those who show neglect and disregard for disabled comfort breaks. I cannot do this, as I fear it would be a hot-headed affair, but I can live in hope that they realise the error of their ways and do their bit to make our everyday lives that little bit simpler.