The Flowerpot

Of course, this isn’t really a flowerpot, it just looks a bit like one from the side. Actual flowerpots aren’t nearly as interesting as this one anyway, because this is full of baked goods – or it was, up until I scoffed them all just before this photo was taken last night. There was a mini biscuit, flapjack, scone (complete with cream and jam filling) and brownie, and I have the two ladies of the cloth handing them out to students to thank. As luck would have it, I’m still boyish enough to pass as a student, so they never suspected a thing. The treats came inside a paper bag that had “have a snack on St Paul’s” scrawled on it, and they’d thrown a little leaflet on top for good measure, in addition to a sachet of Galaxy hot chocolate. None of that changed much for me faith-wise, because I’m still firmly an agnostic, but you have to hand it to the Christians. They’ve always seemed to grasp that the way to my heart is through my stomach. Yesterday, when I needed a sugar hit and a nugget of motivation, I got both – and free of charge, too.

Maybe He does answer my prayers after all?

Mason

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You Owe Yourself £2.85

If the title of this post looks familiar to you, it’s because it’s already shown up on this blog once before, when I wrote it on a Post-It note a couple of months ago. I presented it entirely without context, and predicted that I’d soon forget what the hell I was talking about. Sure enough, I have – it’s just as well it clearly wasn’t anything important. I actually found the note in the corner of my desk the other day, and now it just amuses me as a completely random sentence. I thought of it again over the weekend, when I was crossing the cemetery that separates the University of Winchester from the city centre. Passing a couple coming the other way, I heard a guy say to his girlfriend:

“You see, Milton Keynes is a brilliant middle ground.”

As it turns out, that cemetery is awash with out-of-context lines. I overheard this one just this afternoon:

“A lot of Hampshire is very Austenesque.”

What makes something Austenesque, I wonder? I don’t exactly know, but I bet you wouldn’t hear that in many other graveyards.

Mason

Mountain Goat

I’ve come to realise that with all of the recent job-related excitement in my life, I have neglected Dracula somewhat. In fact, I don’t think I’ve opened it at all since I last wrote about it some weeks ago. As I said in that post, it can be a tricky book to get into, even if you’ve read it before as I have. That means that I could be forgiven for being reluctant to dive back in, and in any other situation, maybe I would be. I’m yet to have a DNF in this book club yet, but if any novel were worthy of one, Dracula is surely it. Having said that, though, I will finish it – and when I do, I’m certain I’ll have seen it with fresh, reinvigorated eyes, because this new job has made me feel like a new man. And I’m only three days into it!

Yes, any link this post actually has to books or book clubs might be tenuous to say the least, but stick with me for a minute. Ever since I was offered my role, I’ve felt physically lighter. It’s amazing how much weight this has lifted from my shoulders – all that pressure to find ‘the next thing’, whatever that may be, is gone. If I were able-bodied, I’d be skipping around like a mountain goat. As it is, I’m still in the wheelchair and fairly static, but my life is finally going places, and so is my mind. For much of the last year it’s been foggy, and I’ve struggled to see the wood for the trees. Dad told me that things were far worse for the people of Ukraine, and while that might be true, everything is relative – remarks like that certainly didn’t help me at that time. Happily, things look a bit brighter again now, and I’m full of enthusiasm. My eyes are wider and my head feels clearer, and I think that’ll benefit not only my work, but also my personal life.

I’ll enjoy my solitude again – it started to bother me while I was unemployed – but in addition, I’ll feel better about mixing and mingling with others. If you’ll indulge another flimsy link to literature, I think there’ll be dividends where my creative pursuits are concerned too. When the book club started and I was still getting together with Lara and Nora, I’d often be the one keeping them waiting as I finished the last few chapters long after they had. Whether it was laziness or lethargy, I don’t know, but this time I have a feeling I won’t be dragging my feet. Instead, I’ll be surging forward with my head held high. I’m hoping the text’s density might not irk me quite so much along the way, but as we now know, that might be a promise too far…

Mason

Tote Bag And Pen

These days, if I’m going out and about or have an errand to do, I have to leave the room/house having listened to the right song. It sounds strange, I know, but pausing Spotify after just any old tune won’t do. What the right song is varies depending on the day or my mood, but on Tuesday I needed something upbeat, something that would really motivate me to power on through the day. I was somewhat undecided between Prefab Sprout and Bruce Springsteen, but ultimately Bruce got the honour of being the final song on this occasion, so “Hungry Heart” triumphed over “Looking For Atlantis” (they’re both cracking songs though, and you should definitely check them out using the links I’ve generously provided).

Why was my choice of musical accompaniment so important, I hear you ask? Well, I’d woken up in a buoyant mood because of what awaited me, and I was determined to ride that wave of positivity for as long as I could. You see, that afternoon I dropped by a little Careers Fair on campus, and I knew beforehand that there was the opportunity to make a lot of progress. At the very least, I could pick up a load of leaflets and brochures or a tote bag and pen – and I did, of course. You’ve got to get your hands on the freebies, everyone knows that. Luckily, though, I also got much more than that, and any nerves I felt about making the first move soon dissipated once I got talking.

I found an abundance of warmth and advice. I found people who took an interest in me and where I wanted to go – one company took down my details after I’d spoken to them, and another replied very kindly to an email I subsequently sent that included a couple of examples of my writing. It’s nice to feel you’ve accomplished something after so long getting nowhere, and I can’t help feeling that there’s still more to come. More smiles, more happiness, more hope. I met with one of the Careers and Employability team the next day, and at the end of a very fruitful meeting she told me: “you’re a great candidate and we’ll find you something, don’t worry about that.” I didn’t realise how much it would mean to hear those words from someone in her position, and now I have even more reason to be optimistic about the future – particularly as I’ve sent off another two applications since then. Looks like I might need a few more upbeat songs to play in the morning, because they must be good luck charms!

Mason

Another Satisfied Customer

As of last Monday, I am unemployed once again – for a few reasons, the job at Classic & Sports Car was just one of those things that didn’t work out (not that that should reflect badly on them, since they’d been nothing but supportive from the start, and they were more than happy with my contributions). What that means is that I have to go back to the drawing board, and while I might normally relish the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again from scratch, this time it feels markedly different. That job was, on paper, a perfect opportunity for me. Indeed, it would be ideal for any budding motoring journalist, and I sincerely hope my successor settles well. When it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, though, it left me in a somewhat strange position. I feel somewhat lost, unable to trust my own judgement with my confidence knocked, and not knowing where to turn at all.

With that in mind, I’ve a lot of thinking to do, but thankfully there are a few personal projects I can throw myself into in the meantime. For starters, there’s the voiceover I’ve been writing for Abi, which I alluded to last time. I spent days bashing out and deleting just over 300 words, convinced I still wasn’t the man for the job and that they’d be much better off coming from her. When I’d finally ended up with a draft that I didn’t completely hate, I took a leap of faith and sent it to Abi, hurriedly assuring her that I’d be fine with any edits she made, or if she wanted to discard it completely! To my considerable relief, however, she loved it, saying it was as though I’d taken the jumbled ideas and words in her head and put them in perfect order. It therefore looks very likely that it will be used in her video, and the icing on the cake will be the fact that she’s actually going to credit me for it, which is always a good thing for an aspiring writer.

That’s what I’m trying to focus on in the absence of full-time employment – getting my name out there as much as I can, no matter what it’s for. In addition to Abi’s commission, I’ve spent some time browsing some websites that were recommended during my Copyediting module in Winchester, including Fiverr, Textbroker and People Per Hour. These allow freelancers in all manner of industries to advertise themselves or pitch for projects posted by others, and I’m hoping that one or more of them might help me to gain some editing or proofreading expertise, since building a portfolio makes it a lot easier for people to make a name for themselves. Besides that, I’ve got an online meeting on Wednesday for something else I might get involved in, to which I’m hoping to take some interesting ideas. I can’t say what’s going to come from that just yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear about it in due course if it develops. I’m just glad to have leads to consider and pursue, helpful ones that could help me make my mark while I search for something more permanent. These are uncertain times for me, but such things really do remind me that there may yet be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mason

Graduation Day

Well, that’s it. Having been a graduand up to this point, I am now officially writing my first Third Time Enabled post as a bona fide BA (Hons) Creative Writing graduate. One shake of Alan Titchmarsh’s hand in Winchester Cathedral was all it took, and it was the icing on the cake on a day quite simply awash with pure, unfiltered joy. It’s now been just under a week since the ceremony, and already lots of people have asked me how it went. I’ve noticed that the one word I’ve used consistently when describing it has been ‘infectious’, and I stand by that (although not in a COVID-y way, just to be specific).

What was infectious was the happiness in abundance, and the pride everyone had not only in themselves, but in each other. Creative Writing was always a very friendly course, and I can say that I’d probably stop and talk to the majority of people I met regardless of how well I knew them, but even so, it was heartwarming to be congratulated before and after the ceremony by so many people. I got the sense they were all genuinely interested in what lay ahead for me, and that feeling was entirely mutual. There was a lot of applause from everyone as each graduand took the stage in the cathedral, but it very much occurred to me that nobody minded one bit – we were all in this together, so no clap was too vigorous and no cheer too boisterous. I know I actively tried to be as loud as possible for everyone I knew! I’ve met a lot of people over the last three years who I think will go far in life, and I look forward to seeing and hearing what they can achieve.

Of course, those people include Lara and Nora, and as always it was delightful to be reunited with them again. As with a lot of people, my palms were practically red raw from applauding them so hard in the cathedral, and afterwards we got the chance to celebrate further by having a couple of drinks together (non-alcoholic for me, obviously). We were joined by Lara’s mum, who was also over the moon for her daughter, and Ben, who just happened to have been working in the nearby museum. Many laughs were had by all, and they were definitely made all the more special by the fact that we likely won’t see each other for some time. There’s been talk of us meeting at Christmas, or in the spring, but in the meantime we might just have to stick to our Zoom quizzes. Lara’s already volunteered to write one, and now that our schedules all differ, she’s suggested that we focus on making them more streamlined – otherwise we tend to mess about and let time get away from us! It’s all about optimising the moments we can spend together, and all of those are precious indeed, especially now we’re entering the next busy stages of our lives. We therefore ended a brilliant day in the best possible way, and the nerves I felt going into it became a distant memory. Trust me, I was physically shaking as I put my robes on – as brilliant as everything was, I dread to think when I’ll next be that apprehensive!

Mason

Nora, Lara and little old me – official Winchester graduates!

Getting Warmer

In eight days’ time, I will start my new job at Haymarket with the brilliant team at Classic & Sports Car, whom I met via video call on Monday. They very kindly allowed me to sit in on one of their weekly editorial meetings, in which they discussed different elements of the next issue, which will be complete when I join them. While I therefore didn’t have any proper input, it was interesting to see their way of working first-hand, and I know it will come in very useful when I actually get going. We all seemed to gel nicely, which I would say bodes well for that day and the 18 months that lie ahead. It was also reassuring to find that they had a great deal of confidence in my abilities, which I must make sure I repay as fully as I can. If I can do that, anything is possible going forward.

Another thing I need to do is find accommodation in London, which after several weeks is still proving to be very difficult, although there could soon be a small light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been referred to an organisation called the Journalists’ Charity, who offer a fund for those breaking into their first job in journalism who need additional support. In my case, a little more money to cover my expected rent would come in very handy! With that in mind, I submitted an application with Haymarket’s help a few days ago, and even though I’ll have some questions to answer from a caseworker before a verdict is reached, we all seem pretty confident that it will be favourable. I’m hoping the financial boost will allow me to look at a wider range of properties which may be more suitable for me and my needs. I’ve already browsed some of these, and although there have generally been small details that have ruled each of them out – a shower over a bath, for example, which would be inaccessible for me – but in my gut I feel I’m getting warmer. There are fewer and fewer of these obstacles to be seen now, so I feel that I surely won’t be waiting much longer before I find somewhere I can properly look into. In the meantime, I’ll start my new job from home, and that milestone is getting ever closer – but there is, however, the small matter of my graduation to attend to first. We’re setting off for Winchester in the morning, and I can’t quite believe the time that seemed so far away in September 2018 has finally come…

Mason

Graduation

My graduation ceremony is now just under four weeks away, and I write this having recently booked my tickets, photographs, and gown for the event. Clicking those confirmation buttons made my one remaining university obligation seem that little bit more real, but I’m nevertheless looking forward to seeing everyone and celebrating their achievements, even if it is the last time I’ll see certain people (such as Lara and Nora) for a while – or ever, as the case may be. That’s both a sad and slightly odd thought, isn’t it?

In a stroke of amazing coincidence, I finalised all of that almost three years to the day since I moved into halls in Winchester, and it’s come at a time when I’m graduating in a couple of other areas of life too. In my last post, I alluded to an exciting new opportunity coming my way, and at long last I feel it’s advanced far enough that I can talk about it (for those who don’t already know). Very soon, I’ll be starting as an Editorial Apprentice at Haymarket Media Group, rotating through the three car magazines they own over a period of 18 months. It’s an invaluable chance I can’t wait to get started with, but besides being a new job, it also means I have to relocate to the bright lights of London – so it’s not only a professional change, but a personal one too. One I’ve never seen the like of before, in fact.

Given my disability and its associated challenges, I need to find somewhere that is accessible as well as relatively affordable (although, as I’ve said to several people, the latter in particular can be easier said than done in London). This is the main barrier to taking up my new post, so even though I’ve signed and returned my contract, I don’t have a start date yet – the idea is that I and my three fellow apprentices will all start at the same time, so I need to have some idea of where I’m going before that can happen. Thankfully, Haymarket have stepped in to offer whatever help they can, and I’ve been doing a spot of networking myself to get the ball rolling as much as possible. This has led to a small breakthrough, as Mum and I have a Zoom consultation booked in for Monday afternoon with a company who help disabled people into appropriate accommodation. I’m not sure quite what it’ll lead to, but it’s nice to know there are people out there willing to fight my corner and help me to reach my goals. You can rest assured I’ll update you very enthusiastically when I do find the right place from which to start my next journey. Let’s just hope it isn’t too long before that comes along!

Mason

Operation Book Club

I’m starting this post in Waterstone’s, a place I often frequent even though I mostly have no intention of buying anything. That’s certainly the case today – I already have an outstanding book to finish (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I bought here last year, and which follows the equally excellent Ready Player One), so there’s no need for me to emerge with any more. And yet the notebooks captivate me. There are all sorts on the shelves, ranging from blank ones, to bullet journals, to those specifically designed for lists or novel planning, and even one containing a Jane Austen witticism a day (just in case you want another reminder that she’s buried in Winchester – I rolled over her grave once).

The possibilities, then, are endless, and every time I’ve bought a new notebook in the past, I’ve done so with the same overriding desire – to make it the starting point for a new, game-changing project. Admittedly, this desire does come with some slight delusions of grandeur. I can’t help imagining myself putting pen to paper on a literary classic for the ages by candlelight like an 18th Century romantic novelist, or scribbling down my memoirs in a book small enough to fit snugly into the sidebag that hangs from my wheelchair.

Judging by my track record with notebooks, neither of those things will happen – and in any case, at this moment I can’t even decide whether I want a big one or a small one. I might have something entirely different in mind for it, though, thanks to a sudden burst of inspiration Lara has unknowingly given to me. In just over a week, I’ll be leaving Winchester – hopefully not for the last time ever – having finished my degree. Over lunch on Monday, Lara, Ben, Alysha, Ryan and I discussed the small matter of how we’ll stay in touch post-uni, and it was Lara who suggested we engage in a book club. I responded very enthusiastically. She said we could put books forward for consideration, and when we’d decided on one, we could obtain a copy, start it on the same day, record our thoughts and share them with each other at the end.

At the moment, only Lara and I are definitely up for it, but I hope others will agree to join, because it could be a great group activity – and it’s given me the perfect purpose for a new notebook. Not only would it allow me to make all the observations I need on what we read, but it’d also mean I could prise my eyes away from a screen for a bit and write the old-fashioned way. I’m sure my handwriting could do with the practice. One of my teachers used to say that reading it was like looking through spiders!

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 8

It is done. My ECP was at long last submitted seven days ago, and only three deadlines remain before my university experience is over for good. I felt a mixture of two things as I handed it in – the warm, calming feeling of relief and acceptance as I realised that this long process was over, and a degree of apprehension. My friends and I all agreed that we were too nervous about the eventual outcome to be pleased, but (as I’ve probably said before) I know in my heart that whatever happens, I’m always going to be proud of myself because I’ve come to Winchester, thrown myself into my degree, enjoyed it at every turn and – most importantly – I’ve gotten to the end.

With that in mind, I went about the rest of my day last Friday with a smile on my face. I unwound sitting outside in town with a bowl of parsnip, fennel and coconut soup (the university canteen isn’t open at the moment, so I’ve got to get my nutrition somehow). Later I bought myself the biggest celebratory McDonald’s imaginable, all while pondering what lay ahead. In terms of my remaining assignments, this consists of a series of freelance copywriting proposals, a radio script, and a short story. 28 May is the magic date, the endpoint – after that, I’ll be cut off from education for good, and cast out into the big wide world to fend for myself once and for all.

I don’t know what lies ahead yet – I don’t even know if we’ll be getting a proper graduation – but I’m going to go forward with my head held high, as I always try to. I’ve started by sending my supervisor a ‘thank you’ email. I always tried my best to incorporate her feedback, albeit perhaps not always as she would have liked (I guess the mark I get will tell me all I need to know). There were times when I struggled to hit the nail on the head with it, no matter how close I got. Some might say that as I graduate, she should get a medal for putting up with me! Arguably, though, that’s the creative process – trial and error, agreements and disagreements, with a healthy dollop of determination and passion thrown in for good measure.

Mason