Mission To Marwell

On Monday lunchtime, Flat 12 and I all came together for a group meal in Winchester before going our separate ways for the summer. The food was great, but as always, the company was the highlight. Alysha, Ben, Deacon, Ryan, Nora, Lara and I spent a lot of time reminiscing about our favourite moments from the past year. There have been many highlights, but if I had to choose a new and very recent one to go alongside them, our day out just under two weeks ago would most definitely be worthy.

We had decided well in advance to go to the nearby Marwell Zoo, firstly by taking a short train from Winchester to Eastleigh. Once there, we would board a bus running directly to our destination. Everything was ready as we set off in the morning, and we were lucky to have weather that was warm enough to allow me to leave my jumper in my rucksack. I’d booked my train tickets and assistance beforehand, so boarding the train was a piece of cake and we were in Eastleigh around ten minutes later. It was once we’d arrived that our plan started to go somewhat awry. Every sign around the bus station told us what we thought we knew – that at 10:23 sharp, a large and distinctive leopard-print bus would arrive to collect us, and the final stage of our journey would go without a hitch.

10:23 came and went, however, with no sign of our lift. Confusion reigned for a moment, since we’d all been chatting with our backs to the road and it was entirely possible that we simply could have missed it. We swiftly established that this was not the case – it would have been very difficult for all seven of us not to clock a leopard-print bus – so Lara phoned the zoo for some much-needed clarity. The lady on the other end informed her that by contrast to what the signs were telling us, those buses only ran at weekends. If we wanted to, though, we could get a regular bus part of the way to the zoo and walk the remaining distance, as there was supposedly a footpath close by.

We decided to take her advice. To my surprise, I was able to board the bus without paying a fare – upon learning that I didn’t yet have a Hampshire bus pass, the driver was adamant that I should never be charged. She took us out of Eastleigh and along a series of winding rural roads before we disembarked next to a pub car park. As we looked around us, we could see that whilst nourishment and alcohol were on offer if we wanted them, the promised footpath most definitely was not. What separated us from the zoo was actually a 50 mph road, evidently not built with pedestrian or wheelchair access in mind. The risks ahead were immediately clear to all of us, but seeing no other options at that moment in time, and having already come so far, we decided to try and tackle it as best we could.

We made our way along it slowly and in single file. Behind me, over the roar of the passing traffic, I could hear Lara reminding me to keep as close to the grass verge at the side as I could. Up ahead, Ben and Ryan were finding our mission increasingly stressful – this particular part was admittedly rather dangerous. After tucking ourselves into each lay-by and bus stop in an attempt to move as far as we could, we crossed to the other side, where the kerb was low enough to allow me to get up onto the grass. By now, though, it had dawned on us that we needed a backup plan – successfully reaching the zoo was fast becoming a very distant possibility.

We unanimously agreed that bowling in Eastleigh was the solution. After stopping for lunch once we had returned, we headed to the alley, determined to do something enjoyable with our somewhat pearshaped day. We played two games, for which I – being both disabled and more than a little bit rusty – used the ramp and bumpers, as did Alysha and Nora. I surprised myself and everyone else by drawing with Alysha for the win in the first game and coming a clear second in the next, and it was generally agreed that I was the most consistent player across the two. Meanwhile, Deacon took longer to get a strike than he would have liked – although I think he did win the second game – and Ben might not thank me for saying this, but I believe he was last on both occasions.

Regardless of how successful each of us had been down the lanes, it was clear to all of us that we’d had the great day we wanted after all. Even at the beginning, when nobody knew how it was going to turn out, we were laughing together. The fun we eventually had was just a welcome bonus, since all good friends really need to enjoy themselves is the company of each other. Flat 12 is now slowly being vacated, as everyone will be living off-campus from next year, but we have already discussed how and where we can meet up and the things we could do. I’m already counting down the days. For now, I’ll leave you with some wise words from the key ring Lara kindly gave to each of us:

Mason

 

Snowball Territory

Allow me to present those of you who may not have seen it with another photo I simply couldn’t keep from you. The snow arrived in Winchester yesterday evening, and the university had earlier anticipated that it would be bad enough to cause significant disruption. They therefore announced that all classes would finish at 4pm, and resume at 12pm today – one of my tutors seemed very pleased when he discovered mid-seminar that he would be going home early. The expected onslaught was slow to materialise, however, and I did not see any kind of real flurry until 7pm, on my way across to Lara’s flat. By the early hours of the morning, though, the snow had become considerably heavier, and our curiosity to explore – even at around 1am – led to the picture below being taken. It might look like a fairly light dusting of icing sugar compared to some of the images you’ll see today, but believe me when I say it was ideal for snowballs. An annoyed Ben discovered this the hard way when he wouldn’t come out, leading Lara to take one to his bedroom just so he could be pelted with it!

Mason

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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

 

 

 

Five Flights Of Stairs

When the security guard told me I’d have no choice but to stay where I was last Monday night, I knew what ensued could be both interesting and amusing. The lift in Lara’s block of flats had broken, and because she lives at the very top of it, I was obviously unable to get to the ground floor in order to reach my own flat. I instantly considered myself lucky that I wasn’t stuck with a group of people I didn’t know so well, and even more luckily for me, Lara and her flatmates were all too happy to have me. Once security had confirmed that the lift would not be fixed until the morning at the earliest, I retreated back into the kitchen – where we all usually socialise – to hatch a plan, while Lara and Ben went to my flat with my ID card to collect some of my things. They swiftly returned with a change of clothes, the leads for my laptop and phone, and my pyjamas, among other things – and they were all in a bag Deacon had lent them, which I still need to give back! My orange manual wheelchair was also summoned, and it waited patiently in the corner of the room for its call to action. Lara then very kindly said I was welcome to sleep in her bed, and that she would take the floor (insisting that the cushions from the sofa in the kitchen can be very comfortable when laid out correctly). We therefore had the sleeping arrangements covered rather quickly, and showering was a doddle too, even in a shower not designed for a disabled person like my own. I just had to keep my balance on my knees as best I could, without a seat to use!

The real challenge came the next morning, after Lara and I had giggled our heads off in the middle of the night thinking of names for disability dating sites (don’t ask). I would have to get downstairs somehow in order to reach my 9am lecture, and we had initially agreed that I would be carried downstairs in my manual chair with everyone in the flat bearing some of the weight. When we got to the top of the long staircase, however, we discovered that a Plan B would be needed, and fast. Ben had been confident that he would be able to lift the front of the chair all on his own, but it transpired that he had severely underestimated its weight with me sitting in it, as he immediately hurt his back upon trying to lift it. I joked with him beforehand about the risk of injury to anyone who tried hauling me around, but I was not actually expecting it to happen – thankfully, after apologising profusely multiple times, I think the risk of a lawsuit has now subsided. With Ben out of action, I then tried crawling down the stairs myself so that I wouldn’t hurt any more of my friends, but these stairs had sharp metal edges that dug into my legs and impeded my progress. Our third attempt finally got us to the ground, and it was one that I took part in on my own two feet, with Lara and Ryan each supporting one arm as Nora carried my wheelchair down behind us. Fortunately for her, it was a whole lot lighter without a passenger, and her back would emerge from this unscathed.

Our little trip meant – as the title of this post suggests – that we had to traverse the entirety of A Block and descend five whole flights of stairs. The support I had was sturdy enough to mean that falling over wasn’t really a concern for me, but it was for the other two – since I, the only non-walker of the trio, was going quicker than they could! Lara feared that I might end up pulling her over, and Ryan was losing the circulation in his  arm holding mine, so we stopped and started again wherever we needed to. Eventually, after many a hop, skip and jump (since I couldn’t get an entirely firm foothold on any of the stairs), we got to the bottom and I was able to transfer to my chair, much to Lara and Ryan’s shared relief. Once Lara had gotten to grips with pushing me along on the slopes of the steepest city in Hampshire, it was a straightforward downhill run to the lecture theatre – but going back up was a different story. When it was time to do that, Lara had to bend over in order to push properly and avoid slipping, so her inability to stand up straight – and my considerable weight – caused her more than a little bit of discomfort. Before long, the lift had been fixed, so she didn’t have to endure this for very long, but after all of her help and kind hospitality, buying her mac and cheese for lunch was the very least I could do. I am tremendously grateful for the assistance that everyone in her flat gave during the ordeal – above all, I think it served as a strong reminder of the importance and value of friendship. I just hope the lift stays reliable for a while…

Mason

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

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

Faith Restored

On Monday afternoon, my struggle against inadequate disabled facilities continued. Keeping the recent experiences outlined in “A Long Way To Go” firmly in mind, I considered things to have hit an all-time low when I was guided to a cubicle in a local car park by a friend in my time of need. I had my RADAR key with me, so opening the door was not a problem, and although it was a touch on the heavy side, my upper body strength meant I could move it independently. When the doorway was clear, the daylight revealed a room that should have been just the right size to accommodate my wheelchair – doubts remained, however, so I only tentatively moved in. Unable to hold the door behind me any longer, I relaxed my arm, and it slammed shut with a hefty thud. It was then that I faced my biggest challenge yet, and not in negotiating the toilet. I was suddenly finding myself stuck in pitch darkness, and unable to find a light switch!

There was absolutely nothing for my eyes to adjust to, so aside from the fact that the door was behind me, and the toilet somewhere in front, I had no idea where anything else was. I had no choice but to unzip the bag strapped to the left side of my chair and fumble for my phone. I pulled it out and the screen came to life, only to illuminate the positively disgusting lavatory visitors were expected to use. It was almost full to the brim with long sheets of discoloured and soggy toilet paper, as well as the leavings of the last poor soul who struggled in there. The walls and floor weren’t much cleaner, and the sink and taps – ironically for items that exist to wash your hands – were most likely dirtier than the fingers of anyone who has just done their business. I will admit that I can’t recall what the handrails were like, or even if there were any proper ones at all, but in any case, this was a toilet I simply could not use without a light and some degree of sterilisation.

I was desperate and without relief once again. I was also naturally angry, since I was having to take yet another detour just to perform a common bodily function, but thankfully the next disabled cubicle was only a short distance away. Out came the RADAR key again, and with the help of a kind stranger – who waited and held my umbrella outside whilst I did my thing – I was in. This new toilet was not spotless either, but it did at least contain a window, so natural light was in abundance. Space was plentiful too, and upon approaching the bowl I was grateful that it was positively poo-free. Lovely. Well, it wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. Within a couple of minutes I was done, having been able to wash my hands without touching anything thanks to an automated system. I emerged onto the pavement again, and the stranger handed me my umbrella with a smile. The kindness of ordinary folk can manifest itself in the most insignificant ways, and that was one such way – but, with my toilet ordeal now over, the stage was set for another to appear.

The time came to go home, and that meant getting on the bus. This particular bus had evidently seen better days, however, and any modern designer with a shred of common sense would surely have made the wheelchair space much bigger – not that I could access it anyway. The issue on this occasion lay not with another wheelchair or a pushchair, but with a sea of suitcases belonging to several holidaymakers. Bear in mind that the disabled space must always be given first and foremost to someone who really needs it. In this case, I was that person, but before I’d even edged onto the ramp to board the bus, the owners of the cases were complaining about having to move them. Luckily for me, the driver stood firm, insisting that I had to be allowed on and they would have to do what they could to fit me in. What followed was a series of inch-by-inch shuffles and slides as I did my best to squeeze, but even when it seemed impossible, we managed it – almost certainly defying physics in the process. This was in no small part due to the determination of the driver, who showed a great deal of patience as I lurched into my slot. Indeed, she held the bus at the stop until I was safely seated, and when I needed to get off again ten minutes later, she made a very nerve-wracking departure a whole lot easier. People like her are those I probably don’t give enough credit to when I’m moaning about others, but now is her moment and I wanted to express my thanks for her consideration here – not forgetting the umbrella-holding man either. Your contributions to my day may have been relatively small, but they have not gone unnoticed. My friends and family are there for me on a daily basis, and they should always know how valued they are, but in your own little ways, even you help restore my faith in humanity.

Mason

A Question Of Sincerity

When our friends or family are going through troubling times, we automatically jump to be there to support them. We do everything we can to offer them a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, day or night, whenever they might need it – and when we’re in a position to, we gladly allow them to take up said offer in an instant. But what happens when there is distance separating us from the person in need? Such an obstacle is more easily overcome for some of us than it is for others, so when we have no choice but to assist from afar, we often turn to social media to voice any concerns. Messages can be continuously swapped, and every one can be written with unbelievable sincerity, but the problem is that it can be difficult to accurately convey tone when they aren’t being spoken in person.

That, in turn, can lead to worries – at least on my part – that the gestures will be perceived as hollow and meaningless, even when they are exactly the opposite. I have a few friends facing difficulties at the moment, and without the option of being physically around to help them, I can do little else but use the aforementioned medium to be there instead. The paranoia that comes with the fear of seeming uncaring is bad enough when you’re talking privately with someone (being one of only two voices), but when you’re part of a group – as I am in the Creative Winch Buddies – you have to insert your words amongst everyone else’s. Everyone sends theirs with as much care and concern as the next person, but if mine come after they have all had their say, I worry that it looks like I’ve offered them out of obligation rather than anything more genuine. As I’ve thought about this more and more in recent weeks, this blog post serves as something of a promise, mainly to the friends I care about so deeply whenever they need support. Whether you are near or far away, and regardless of how said support might be expressed, it is always given from the very bottom of my heart – and nothing else but an abundance of love.

Mason

Can’t Wait To Collaborate

Just under a year ago, I included one of my friend Grace’s documentaries in a blog post (“What Gives You The Right?”) that discussed the plight of the homeless. As she had been too busy to contribute a post to Third Time Enabled, I thought that the video would both ensure she was well-represented and raise further awareness of a very important issue. In her latest project, and as part of her degree course, Grace is once again utilising the power of the documentary in exploring another one of life’s most pressing problems; loneliness. More specifically, she will be looking at loneliness from the perspective of someone who finds themselves immersed in city life, surrounded by people but still very much alone. This is the feeling I have been asked to capture in some spoken-word poetry, which Grace intends to include in her film.

When she asked me to write the piece, I was certain about two things – firstly that I couldn’t accept the offer quickly enough, and secondly that I could not underwhelm her with whatever I created. With this latter point in mind, out came my notebook, and I very tentatively began to craft some opening lines. Poetry is something I haven’t turned my hand to in quite some time, so as I did this I was well aware that it wasn’t going to be something that was complete in ten minutes. Even getting to two verses took at least a couple of days. Now, however, I have something that increasingly resembles a finished poem, and this morning I decided I was confident enough to show what I had to some of my future Winchester course-mates in our Facebook group chat. Just as I’d always expected, we’ve been getting on like a house on fire, and I feel blessed to have found such a supportive group of like-minded people to share my works in progress with. If any of the “Creative Winch Buddies” are reading this, I want you to know exactly how awesome you all are, and how lucky I consider myself to have met you. I can’t wait for us to be introduced in person come September!

True to their supportive nature, the group seemed to like what I’d presented to them, and their feedback was exactly what I needed to put many of my worries about the poem aside, at least for the time being. I have a first half down on paper – I can focus on any further alterations to that when I have a second. That’s likely to be a much bigger hurdle, but one I will relish not just for the creativity involved, but also for the opportunity to show the end product to the group and Grace herself – surely two of the most appreciative audiences a writer could wish for.

Mason