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

The Pull, Part 10

What you see before you might not look like a masterpiece, but I felt it appropriate to share a photo of it here, because this meal – this humble stir fry – is the first one ever to be cooked by my own fair hands. As you might have guessed, Mum used her Yoda-like mastery to guide me so that I would know everything I needed to cook for myself in Winchester. When she announced yesterday that I would be making my own tea tonight, I was filled with a mixture of confidence, intrigue and the fear of the unknown, but now that the meal has vanished from my plate I can safely say that only positivity remains. I am very optimistic that I will easily be able to reproduce it on demand when I am living alone, and this is due in no small part to what Mum did to soothe my inner doubts.

After I had made sure my hands were well and truly washed, I rolled across to the worktop by the cooker to see that the chicken breasts had already been laid out on the appropriate chopping board. Mum explained that in Winchester, it may well be easiest for me to use chicken that has already been diced, but she took this opportunity to make sure I could cut it anyway. Obviously, raw chicken does not put up much of a fight against a knife, so slicing it into smaller pieces was hardly an issue for me. When they had been swept into the wok, to be coated in the hot oil I had poured there, I was surprised by exactly how quickly they all cooked through. There was an instantly noticeable transformation in the appearance of the meat, and I got to see this up close as I tried tossing it about with both tongs and a spoon. I concluded that the tongs were most effective when dealing with chicken, since I could examine and move each piece individually, but when the somewhat slithery vegetables went in, I favoured the spoon to turn them collectively. The grip tongs have on those isn’t quite as firm, that’s for sure!

Then came the noodles, specifically those of the “straight to wok” variety, which Mum had very thoughtfully purchased. They were tightly packed into a large block within their packaging, so it was suggested that I unpick them carefully over the crowded pan. I had expected to immediately drop the lot in with my butterfingers, but I was ultimately able to add them in small quantities – until the last batch, which did fall in a large cube that only narrowly missed the kitchen floor. It was in, however, and now only minutes remained before the contents of the wok would be the contents of my plate. I had never previously realised that cooked noodles did not change colour, so I learnt another small lesson when Mum told me that they only appeared darker in her meals because of the soy sauce she stirs in prior to serving. I used the spoon to break up the last of the noodles that were clinging together and after a couple more minutes, dinner was ready.

The wok is pretty heavy, especially in the hands of someone like me, so Mum initially doubted my ability to lift it and transfer the food to the plate, but I quickly proved that such fears were unfounded by easily tipping it all on. As it sat there steaming away, it was somewhat lacking in terms of presentation, but Mum – as you can see in the photo – had the foresight to try scattering the mangetout in an artistic manner (which might not have worked so well). With that, it was on the table, and in my stomach just as quickly. As I sat back staring at my clean plate, I wondered what else I might be able to accomplish in the kitchen with Mum’s ever-reliable assistance. She tells me that a simple plate of pasta in sauce will be next. A few days ago that might have daunted me, but I suddenly have no fear, and I can clearly see the benefits these new abilities will bring in just a few short weeks. Bring on the pasta!

Mason