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

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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A Heart Full Of Hope

Here we are, folks – my very first post for 2019. I can safely say that 2018 was a corker of a year for me, and although I spent the last few hours of New Year’s Eve alone at home, I did so with a belly full of pizza and a heart full of hope, so I was more than happy. I used some of that quality time to continue reading a book Lara bought me as a Christmas present, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under The Sun, which features none other than Hercule Poirot himself. She got it upon hearing that I’d never read any of Christie’s work, and told me that I’d find it very easy to become immersed in the story. She was absolutely right – as I write this, I am 93 pages and seven chapters in, at a point where many probing questions are being asked of every potential murderer. I got there in no time, and my enjoyment of this new book in my spare time has subsequently increased my excitement for what lies ahead at Winchester even more.

Of course, nothing by Agatha Christie is on the reading list, but a few other books are, and two of them arrived yesterday. I am yet to look at them properly, but both are works of non-fiction – and as you might have gathered, I’m rather fond of life writing. The opportunity to read about the experiences, trials and tribulations of others is always tantalising, as is the opportunity to write straight from the heart about my own. The prospect of so much creativity from that and my other modules – including one actually called “Creativity”, and one on poetry, which I have always enjoyed – makes this January much more inviting, since I can’t yet tell what new ideas will manifest themselves, or how. I don’t know what will happen outside of my work either. The world is once again my oyster and as always, the unknown is very exciting. I can’t wait to go and see what it’s all about! Before that, though, I have another very precious fortnight left here at home – and before that, there is a brand new episode of Doctor Who for me to enjoy coming tonight. I fully intend to make the most of both.

Happy New Year to you all!

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

All Is Immersion

It has been exactly a month since my last post here, which was my first as a university student. What followed its publication was four weeks of total immersion – both socially and academically – in my new life, so I really ought to apologise for my silence here (and any silence that might be forthcoming). I am writing this sitting at the kitchen table in Lara’s flat, having successfully escaped a cloud of hysteria regarding how to discuss The Night of the Hunter in my Scriptwriting essay. I should be writing more of that now instead, since it is due in exactly a week’s time, but old habits die hard and I am here doing this instead.

You should know by now how thrilled I am to be at Winchester. It has given me several new friends, a fascinating degree to study, a beautiful and vibrant new city to explore and some much-cherished total independence. What I still have to work on, however, is a solution to my status as a chronic procrastinator. No matter what I try, the infamous thief of time is never far away. I have taken to working within the tranquillity of the library, since going there offers fewer potential distractions than my own room, but even then very little is needed to divert me from the task at hand. In that case, I will usually clock myself staring randomly into space, or making an excuse in my head for a visit to the coffee machine or the toilet. Even though I know the work is important, getting on with it is sometimes easier said than done. That means that I’ve now had to step the precautions up a notch.

If I am going to the library, for example, I might not take my phone with me. This would put me at a disadvantage in the event of an emergency, but at least it stops me sneakily scrolling through Twitter or Facebook. I tried this approach the other day and it worked like a dream – I got almost two hours of solid work done, so it’s definitely a tactic I will be employing again. Unfortunately, though, my tendency to procrastinate doesn’t just affect my university work. It also affects this blog – I am finishing this post now several hours after actually sitting at Lara’s kitchen table. It looks like I am going to have to go back to the drawing board to think about how to tackle this, and fast. Firstly, though, I really am going to write some more of my essay – I’ve promised that to my audience now, so there’s no going back. Maybe I will order a pizza afterwards as a reward.

I will be back when my hectic studying/socialising schedule allows!

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

Resonating

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

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

Mason