David's diary: August 1997
Well I don't know whether to feel flattered, or just sigh. This evening - having just had a minor accident with my studio set-up that had threatened to ruin my planned weekend of musical fun - I popped into Chappells to get a couple of MIDI extension cables, and as usual, struck up conversation with their assistant. Having bought the effects module there last weekend, I am getting quite well-known, and the guy suddenly said, whilst processing my debit-card, that one of his colleagues had told him I was a professional musician! I quickly put the record straight, though he said it was nothing to be ashamed of if I was - actually I felt rather flattered... Then I mentioned that I was pleased with the effects module I had bought from him, and suddenly he remembered that I was going to use it for my guitar. Wrong. Oh yes, that's right, I was going to use it for livening up my old synthesisers a bit. He'd never thought of using effects for that; now he might consider some for his PA set-up. Did I gig too? Well I can't be too cynical, because in the fast-moving world of music retail he can't really be expected to remember all the details of every customer, and at least he tried, which is more than I can say for staff at the consumer end of things in most high-street stores. I will be going back sometime, methinks...
Just got back from a Christian concert - definitely "Christian", but not so sure about the "concert" bit, well maybe in the loosest sense. Musically pretty grim, mainly comprising assorted rappers from round the country - with accompanying "massives" of course - doing their stuff over backing tapes, with the highlight being when the tape chewed up and they had to resort to human beatbox tactics to keep the show going. There was also a more traditional rock band, who distorted the lyrics of the usual covers to serve Christian ends. Other than that, the message was good, some kids got saved, and a good - if unconventional - time was had by all. For something free and just round the corner from me - although I left the flat too late to walk - I couldn't really complain, and the people were all really friendly, needless to say.
Well that was a nice day. Church in the morning - slightly down in attendance for the holiday season - saw some pretty gloomy prophecy, though nothing that should scare us if our hearts are in the right place. I gather this is by no means nothing new, but the prophecy was of a great disaster striking London, possibly an earthquake - apparently scientists have identified a geological fault that could soon subject London and the south-east to destruction on Los Angeles style proportions - that will mark the enforced end to the greed and moral bankruptcy that now infects our once great nation to the heart of its most respected institutions.
Reminders of past disasters included the lightning that seriously damaged York Minster after the ordination of the over-liberal David Jenkins - lightning from a blue sky on a fine day - and the disastrous fire at Windsor Castle, which started in the very private chapel where the Queen was confirmed - a Queen who has since headed a family where principles enshrined in her coronation vows and in law have been broken amidst a general deterioration in moral standards in society. Whilst I can't say I eagerly await the physical or even metaphorical destruction of London, if that is what needs to be done to bring us back into line, then let it be so.
This afternoon saw another picnic, this time in the church's office grounds. Not quite as good as the one last weekend, I don't feel, not helped by being attended about 90% by people I didn't know - I'm not the world's best ice-breaker, sadly. Nevertheless it was pleasant enough, and I got talking a bit more to one of the other area's pastors about the morning's talk, which was certainly enlightening and thought-provoking. The weather turned a bit miserable though and people seemed to be drifting off home, so I did likewise and got on a bit further with writing some new music for the first time in about six months.
Bit of a hectic day today so far. I had a fairly early meeting about this European language project, that looks like it's going from bad to worse in many respects. The main problem for us is that its main innovative feature - the telematics, i.e. remote access, element - has now all but been written out of the specification, making the whole thing rather a lame duck. It has also become abundantly clear that the content stuff the Open University is developing is so far ahead of that originally envisaged by the project, that it's unlikely it will be able to be properly integrated. It's all looking rather pathetic, really.
Then I got a message to "ring Ron the plumber" - needless to say, I had no idea who Ron the plumber was, but I rang him anyway, and he's coming out on Friday afternoon to at least look at a couple of problems in the flat. I had contacted my letting-agents about this a while back, but had heard nothing back, so it was rather surprising when Ron told me he had in fact been planning on coming out last week, and was apologising for having cancelled... Anyway, at least that's under control now, so hopefully before long I'll be able to run baths in less than half an hour, do the washing up without getting wet feet, and use the toilet without risking mortal injury!
Then I plucked up the courage to ring Adria and book my holiday flight, even though the guy I'm meeting up with seems to have temporarily vanished off the face of the earth. Alas the Saturday departure date I had agreed is fully-booked - thanks to it being bank-holiday weekend, I guess - and they are recommending I fly out on the Friday instead, though now I can't get in touch with my host for the week to confirm that's acceptable. Having said that, I'll probably book the Friday flight anyway, and if it comes to it, I'll just have to kill a day and a night in Ljubljana - though at the very least some advice on where to stay cheaply might be handy, but I have my Lonely Planet guidebook now if all else fails!
At a bit of a loose end today in comparison. I've now settled all the bills for the quarter, and no-one's really around to give me any guidance on my current projects. Lunch - a nice Mexican Quorn casserole, finished off with scrummy chocolate dessert-cake and cream - lies heavy on my stomach in a happy kind of way, and I feel set up for a highly productive afternoon - maybe.
Last night, a group of us walked out to a lake-side pub in Furzton. I still have no idea where it was that we went, really, though it was a beautiful evening in the end - earlier the weather had looked very ominous, and we felt a few drops as we walked out, but it cleared up, and just became one of those lovely long warm evenings, and getting a bit lost on the way back wasn't so much of a disaster!
Yippee! The flight's now booked and I should have the tickets early next week. This is a massive weight off my mind, leaving me with far more interesting and less expensive issues to sort out. The girl on the phone was very helpful, telling me where to check in, and so on, and advising me to arrive early to avoid the rush - Ljubljana might not be a very popular destination, but the check-in is shared with Air France, and that's likely to be pretty busy!
Had a very scrummy barbecue for lunch, followed by drinks for one of our colleague's leaving do - only for maternity, not permanently. I'm heading off home tonight after the plumber has finished his plumbing, then off down to Hampshire for the weekend, for another barbecue and hopefully meet up with loads of friends from when I was living down there last year.
Oh well, the plumber's not coming today after all; he just rang a few minutes ago to apologise that he's got an emergency call-out, someone knee-deep in water... He's coming Monday evening instead, but now that means I've got well over an hour until I can get away from work tonight, though at least it means I can hit the road back to my parents rather earlier than I would have done otherwise. The atmosphere is certainly not conducive to working, with this supposedly the hottest day of the year so far, the delightful smell of emulsion-paint pervading the corridor, and someone gratuitously drilling holes somewhere upstairs in a manner that resonates the whole office in sympathy.
Just got back from what for me was one of the very best weekends I've had in a long time. I drove home Friday night, then Saturday lunchtime drove on down to Hampshire for an event billed as the "First British Garden Olympics", hosted by my old friend Steve at his parents' beautiful house and grounds. Afternoon events included welly-throwing, sack races, egg-and-spoon races - yes, believe it or not, this really was a grown-ups' event! - croquet, wheelbarrow races, hay-bale tossing, tug of war, piggy-back jousting with inflatable hammers, the same again but on air-beds in the river, and last but not least, the infamous broom-course - of which more in a moment...
After the games, which our team lost pretty hopelessly - not helped by my being the only bloke - we had a very nice barbecue and a bit of music and dancing. Many people headed off by about ten, but they missed the real fun which was to ensue. That is to say, the half-past-midnight game of croquet, with the hoops marked out by night-light candles and nobody having a clue where anyone else was, or even whether they were hitting the right balls... And the final event which was the revenge of the broom-course. For those unaware of such things, the broom-course involves turning around a certain number of times, with head down, forehead touching a broomstick or similar object, then amusingly negotiating an oh-so-simple course of traffic cones. By the small hours of the morning, however, the competition had simply become who could do the most rotations, with our host Steve, finally managing the unbeaten record of 38 before doing a fine impression of a headless chicken, then unceremoniously depositing himself in a nearby bush.
I was surprisingly well come Sunday morning, considering the exertion and alcohol of the previous day and evening, but still didn't manage to get away until nearly 11. I had previously agreed that I would go and visit the family where I used to work, because they are shortly heading off to California for a year. They were all in good health, with John Jr now ten months old and incredibly smiley, and the girls looking forward to San Diego's sun, sea, sand and surf just a little bit! I was also introduced to these wretched electronic simulated pet things, that beep at you when they are bored and so on, and that "die" if you don't satisfy their needs, and was also persuaded to watch a video of the girls' school play from last year.
Then I remembered I had agreed I would go and see my old colleague's new house he had recently moved into, so I gave them a ring, but they were just off out to lunch, so I was bracing myself for another two hours of virtual pets and piggy-back slavery, but then they phoned back to invite me round to where they were going, which was at the house of yet another old friend from when I was down there, where we had a lovely indoor-picnic lunch - complete with chequered rug! - of all kinds of cold meats, salad, tortillas, dips and so on. Then it was back to the new house I was supposed to have been looking at - all very nice, overlooking the cricket green and beautifully furnished, as one would expect from a furnishings design specialist with Royal Doulton blood...
And finally to the local mansion for a cold dip in their pool, which after initial apprehension, turned out to be fine and utterly welcome, though it became a little bit violent at times... All good fun though, and the perfect way to round off a wonderful, if rather hot, weekend. It was great to see all my old friends again; I think there were only a couple of them that I didn't see over the course of the two days, so there was a lot of catching up to do, with quite a lot of them in new jobs etc since I had last seen them, plus a couple of new arrivals to the world! So yes, it was a fantastic time, and now I am utterly shattered and looking forward to sleeping like a particularly inert log.
I have to say that now is not being a particularly wonderful time for me for a number of largely unrelated reasons. Although I have my air tickets now and everything seems in order there, I'm having serious hassles trying to get the foreign currency I really ought to have before going out there - the bank incredibly says they aren't allowed to supply Slovenian Tolars, even though they are a recognised international currency, with a registered code-name (SIT) and the country is shortly going to be joining the European Union! Instead they recommend taking clean small-denomination US dollar notes and hoping for the best, but can't guarantee to be able to get those either. Really a pretty dreadful service, and I wonder if their information is hopelessly out of date. Thankfully I am assured by my host that if I take what I want in pounds sterling, I will be able to change that into Tolars once I get there, though I'm sure the rates won't be too competitive. Another plus is that we have finally decided to use the mountain huts rather than camp, which will cost a little bit more, but allow us to travel lighter, especially useful when the main day's hike is likely to be quite long and strenuous.
The heat is really getting to me in a bad way. There was a brief thunderstorm last night, and it's generally overcast today - indeed it's raining lightly right now - but it's still just so hot and humid that I am finding it very difficult to concentrate on anything much, or do anything in the slightest bit physical for more than a few minutes at a time. Work is inevitably suffering as a result, though of course I finish on Friday, which will be a big relief. There's some software evaluation I could probably do if I wanted to, which might be refreshingly different at a time when I am certainly finding it hard to keep interest in what I am supposed to be doing.
Then there's the problems with the plumbing in the flat; the plumber came the other day, and was able to fix the bath tap, so I can finally have baths if I prefer instead of just showers, but needed some special screws to fix the toilet seat, and needs permission from the landlord - who hasn't generally been very forthcoming in the past - to replace the sink, and potentially the worktop too, since it's a custom-fitting thing. Then to cap it all, I asked if he could quickly check the overflow on the water tanks, which seemed to be leaking rather - much to the delight of the local bird population who are taking full advantage of the free drinking-water! - and after expressing a few expletives not appropriate for a non X-rated diary condemned the hot-water tank outright. Thank goodness I won't be having to pay for any of this stuff, though it's surely going to mean considerable disruption over the next few weeks.
With the grouse-shooting season started two days ago, I see today is the day of the ritual media shooting-down of the latest crop of university hopefuls. Now I would have to admit that standards in A-levels probably have dropped over the years, but why is it that every year, just before thousands of students get their important results, the media are full of allegations that those results are worthless and so on - can't they at least wait until there is a proper inquiry into standards, as seems to be essential to maintain confidence if nothing else? This year, we hear sensationalist - and largely unfounded, I am sure - allegations of illiteracy and innumeracy amongst sixth-form school leavers. A-levels are generally agreed to hold only one purpose, and that is as criteria for university entrance; if universities are so worried about any falling standard in A-levels, then surely they can simply adjust their entrance criteria accordingly, rather than criticise the performance of the poor students on what for most will be a day with many other issues to worry about a this important juncture in their life. The media have a hell of a lot to answer for in my opinion, adding yet another kick in the teeth to an increasingly disillusioned young student population, already paranoid about the prospect of hefty fees, loans and so on.
Well, as Mono becomes largely unavailable for a fortnight, so indeed do I. Only about an hour left at work, then I can truly relax for the first time in ages. That is, before getting down to the busier aspects of preparing for the Slovenia trip, but never mind... I'll be in Milton Keynes for a few more days, then heading home to my parents for a few more, then off to Heathrow and thence Ljubljana, Maribor and Triglav. All good fun, and I hope to be back on-line approximately when Mono does similarly - what a coincidence; it's almost like it was supposed to be that way!
See you all, and have a good remainder of the summer!
Well, back from my holiday, which went really well .... more on that in due course when I have got some words together. Today though has been utterly overshadowed by the tragic news of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, her partner Dodi al-Fayed, and their chauffeur. I am no royalist, but consider what happened, and the events leading up to it - i.e. the continual hounding by the press - to be completely shocking, and Diana's death will be a severe loss to the nation and those many charities and good causes she embraced. I hope that as with all untimely deaths, some good will eventually come out of it, and to me, I would specifically like to see landmines finally eliminated, and a severe change in approach by the British press, who may not have directly employed those animals who appeared to have caused the fatal accident, but are certainly their paymasters when the scoop photographs get taken. Longer term thoughts of course have to lie with her sons William and Harry, who have now to get through probably the hardest part of adolescence without the support where they arguably need it most, and I genuinely hope Charles can rise to the occasion and give them both the strength they so desperately need at a time which would be hard anyway, but infinitely more so as a result of this tragically unnecessary waste of human life.