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

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

The Pull, Part 6

The formalities separating me from the start of university are gradually diminishing day by day. Last week, I participated in an assessment arranged following my application for Disabled Students’ Allowance – something which proved to be very fruitful indeed. It answered more of the questions Mum and I had about the support I would be entitled to as a student, and at its end I was relieved that my pre-Winchester to-do list was one item shorter. She and I travelled with Louis to the offices of a company that I was subsequently told would collaborate with the university to work for my benefit; once there I met with a very helpful man who started to ask me about how cerebral palsy affects me in certain situations. Obviously, as you might expect, the questions mostly related to education and how I have coped within it.

Among other things, the man asked what I found difficult during my school years, and what I still find difficult now. He asked about the people and the resources I have had at my disposal to make things easier, and based on my feedback he was gradually able to recommend the support that would best suit my needs on my new course. As I had anticipated, there are many options open to me, and I intend to pursue a great deal of them – not least to acquisition of a piece of software to assist me in lectures. My handwriting is somewhat slower than that of others, making it hard to keep up when I need to jot down a series of notes. With this equipment, however, I would no longer have to worry about such an obstacle. It is compatible with a microphone that can record a single voice whilst excluding all other surrounding noise, meaning that every crucial piece of audio can be captured without a problem. On a computer, this audio can then appear along with the breaks in speech, allowing the user to isolate any given section – this can be especially helpful if a particular piece is more relevant to an essay than another. In addition, these sections can be colour-coded to help them stand out, and notes and photographs can be placed alongside them as further visual aids.

I saw this all demonstrated in my assessment, and was left absolutely sure that it could be beneficial to me once I am settled in Winchester. I expressed my enthusiasm and was told that I am entitled to four hours of tuition in the software’s use (although I don’t have to use all four of them). If I do go on to accept it properly, I will be very eager to see how it can help me, and it was very encouraging to hear about everything else that the company and the university could do for me. It just goes to show that anything is possible if you ask for it – and this positive mindset makes the prospect of requesting help at Winchester even less daunting. Very few questions remained before the assessment, and Mum and I were already highly enlightened on arrival. It is even better to know that we are now tantalisingly close to being fully knowledgeable about what lies ahead.

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