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David's diary: December 1997

Oooh, it's December, advent and all that. The final run-in to Christmas. Again. Oh what a wonderful time of year. The time of year for dead car batteries, too many lunches out, unproductivity at work and all that. Yes, I am speaking from experience here...

I went over to Kwikfit to get a free battery test, which proved that although the charge was somewhat low, the battery was basically OK. Though it now means I've got to find sometime to charge it - but the guy reckoned that my charger could well be defective since it had previously claimed it was charged when it quite patently wasn't, or so he said.

Well I suppose there's not too many lunches out, but there's at least a couple that I know of so far, and I wouldn't mind betting more will come out of the woodwork yet. When I was little, I thought Christmas was an expensive time of year because of all the presents you had to buy people, but now it's obvious that seasonal wining and dining is a far more significant factor.

And the unproductivity at work. Well it's not happened yet, but I'm rather fearing the worst, with mega-deadlines approaching like speeding express-trains, and what is undoubtedly going to be a winding down in the department and university in general. I still think I can pull it out of the bag, but it's going to be pretty tough going.

But after all that, then there is Christmas itself, and as yet, I haven't given it any thought whatsoever. I'll probably spend it at home, but maybe not. Presents for family and friends will undoubtedly be procrastinated over even more so than sorting out the car problems. Christmas should be a time of year for great joy and celebration, but sadly it's frankly just hassle I could do without.

And now, two days into December, winter is here with avengeance. There was quite heavy snow-fall overnight, and it's still not entirely stopped. It didn't settle too much - I guess it wasn't excessively cold on the ground - but there was a noticeable covering, and I was glad my poorly car had been garaged, unlike most of the neighbours'! But my office at work is nice and snug and warm, though I am convinced that it is such conditions that are a major contributor to the seasonal depression many people suffer, since snugness and warmth usually goes along with poor ventilation and stuffiness. I suffer from this to some extent, and cannot possibly solely blame the weather, daylight hours, or whatever, when I find a walk in the fresh air on a winter's day quite invigorating and refreshing.

Went out this evening to watch Alien 4, a.k.a. "Resurrection", with the guys from work. Probably the worst of the episodes so far, but still a good romp, with enough laughs and scares to keep the punters happy, and of course first-class special effects. Even the plot was reasonable if you ignored the ridiculous circumstances. Then it was on to the pub, where I felt extremely self-conscious as the only one drinking alcohol, but never mind...

Tonight was another car-playing session. Having been recommended by the bloke at Kwikfit to give the battery a charge, I started doing so this evening, but again the charger decided its mission was accomplished after only about five minutes. Rather suspicious about this, given that the car had barely started when I left work, I gave Halfords in Milton Keynes a ring, and they said they would be able to swap the charger for another, but for the fact that they were just shutting shop for the night.

Instead they directed me to their open-much-later superstore at Bletchley, a short trip down the road from here, but it turned out they had moved location, and I spent the best part of an hour searching Bletchley on foot and by car until I finally found them well outside the main town centre. They happily swapped the charger, without needing a receipt or anything bureaucratic like that, and I came home to try again, getting rather fed up by this time of repeatedly removing and installing the battery, especially when it's cold and dark outside!

Needless to say, the new charger was no different, but I gave the battery terminals and clips a good cleaning with emery and vaseline, and went through their recommended load-testing procedure, and everything seems a lot healthier, for no apparent reason. The real test will come tomorrow, of course, after no doubt another frosty night - even though I am garaging the car at the moment - and even more so in the evening, if temperatures stay as cold as they do, with the car out all day in the university car-park, then when I drive out to the first of several Christmas dinners - though I might well cadge a lift regardless of car functionality or otherwise.

Christmas is officially here now, I guess, having just got back from our church area group's festive meal out at one of the local golf clubs. The vegetables were a bit naff, and the coffee was cold, but the meat was absolutely first-class and the company similarly so, of course! Anyway that's one down, and one to go - with the work meal in a couple of weeks time - and I suppose I'll also have to face up to the reality of shopping for presents and all that now. Yes, like it or lump it, Christmas is here...

Oh, and by the way, I did end up driving tonight, and the car's being very good indeed. It's started like a dream every time since I was tinkering with it last night, even after a day in the university's windswept car-park.

Not a whole lot happening at the moment. Basically, preparing for deadlines at work with respect to the two main projects I am working on, and otherwise gently winding down for Christmas. Yet more bad news from Last Unicorn - the company I used to work for full-time, and still put in a little unpaid goodwill work for - though, is that they have apparently decided to scrap their web-site altogether, despite it being the only publicity they had, and despite options for continued web-presence that would have cost them absolutely nothing. In a way, this does not surprise me in the slightest, but once again they have gone and decided this without any real consultation, and without telling me until I applied the thumb-screws. Pretty pathetic, all told. Unless they can reassure me that alternative high-level publicity is going to be employed, I will be setting the wheels in motion to cancelling the licensing agreement for my product - shouldn't be hard seeing as I wrote the agreement in the first place! Their history of things like this is - as regular readers will know - abysmal, and makes a joke of the concept of a company supposedly run on Christian ethics.

Just got back from a rather extended lunch-break. I had a phone call this morning from the letting agents saying their plumber wanted to visit at 11 o'clock to sort out the leaking overflow the council had been complaining about, but then just before I was going to leave, they rang again to postpone it until 1 o'clock. Fine, since I could roll that into my lunch break more easily, and have a better chance of finding a parking space on my return. Of course, waiting back at the flat, 1 o'clock came and went, with it well past 2 by the time the guy arrived, clearly up to his eyes in work. Then we took about a quarter of an hour playing Hunt the Stopcock, eventually finding it by a process of elimination, in what would have been the cupboard under the stairs, if I'd had stairs. Then of course, he found everything was so badly corroded, he couldn't dismantle the ball-valve assembly anyway, so I eventually left him to it, roaring blowtorch in one hand and my spare flat keys in the other. I hope I get back tonight to a flat that's still in one piece, regardless of the leakiness or otherwise of the overflow!

Well I got back to the flat, and everything seems to be in order. There is a very grunged up looking ball-valve lying on my draining board - but the heating and water systems seem to be working, so I presume the old valve has just been left for me as a souvenir... At least the place is not burned down!

Doesn't seem too great a start to the weekend, feeling this tired, but maybe if it's nice weather I'll get out in the fresh air a bit. Otherwise I can see it just whistling past, and I'll be into another week, probably feeling worse than the last. Though next week is the last full week before the Christmas shutdown, and also includes various departmental parties and so on, so I'd better stay at least sufficiently awake to enjoy the alcohol!

I can't claim to have done an awful lot this week; I have deadlines at the beginning and end of January, and at the beginning of February, and they seem simultaneously both far too close, and just far enough off. I remain mildly confident that I can do what's necessary in the intervening time, but finding the incentive to do so is being very difficult. I still maintain that I never really got started again after my summer holiday - my mum suggests, probably rightly, that it took more out of me physically than I realised at the time.

Musically, nothing's happening, as ever, though I tried a bit of high-quality MPEG-audio encoding of my existing tracks the other day, and Quaestor will hopefully shortly be publishing the results on his web site. I would use my own site, but MPEG-audio eats server-space like nobody's business, and I simply haven't got enough room myself, hence keeping the versions on my own site as RealAudio only. I've been talking quite a bit to my friend and old colleague Gavin, about what to do about my sound synthesis software, with the effective complete demise of the company nominally selling it, and we've come to a kind of plan of action, though it wouldn't be fair to detail it before we've had a chance to discuss the situation with the company.

Having received a few cards in the post in the last couple of days, I thought perhaps I had better take advantage of a free day, and start my Christmas preparations rolling. I'm going to do my actual Christmas shopping some mid-week evening when it's relatively quiet in the shopping centre, hopefully, but I stocked up on a few other requisites in the meantime. The Christmas "winter wonderland" display in the city centre is now fully operational, and how awful it is, needless to say. Two carousels, some lethargically-nodding animatronic polar bears and pandas, dozens of craft stalls selling suitably tacky and overpriced gifts, and an hour-long (I know because it said so) queue to pay to let your child sit on some stranger's lap. Just as a little experiment, I thought I'd see how long it took me to find their token nativity scene, and after searching for about five minutes I spotted it, well into the taped-off grotto area. Needless to say, this least fancy and least conspicuous element of the whole display - despite having no music, no animation, no flashing lights - had some of the most spellbound children looking at it; maybe there is hope yet.

Just night was quite fun, with a bit of outreach in the city centre - one of those nothing to lose situations: good music, free present wrapping and an atmosphere of general peace and goodwill to everyone. Bit cold out though, and it's pretty persistently snowing today. This morning I dragged myself out of bed rather later than planned - not that it mattered excessively, but I try not to get into bad habits - and was finally just leaving for work, when I opened my flat door to find two little green eyes peering up at me, surrounded by utterly loveable black kitten. No idea whose it was, or where it had come from, but it seemed rather odd to find such a young cat wandering around - though given that it was still inside a secure block of flats, the chances are that it belongs to one of the residents. I knocked on all the doors but could not get any response, so I left a bowl of milk and a few tasty morsels, and stuck a notice inside the front door to the block. If the kitten's still around tonight, I'll obviously have to decide what Plan B is...

Well I got back home, the notice had been taken down from the main door and there was no sign of the kitten, so I presume all is well again. The milk had possibly been slightly touched, and that is about all there is to say, really. I consider it sad that anyone would be careless and thoughtless enough to leave a poor little cat like that in such a way, without food or milk, accidentally or not, but maybe whoever was responsible will now learn from their mistake.

Hmmmph, fed up - because my first Christmas plans for the year have fallen through, or so it seems, with my sister not coming down to see us this weekend after all. Probably won't get to see her for another year or whatever now. Still at least we have our carol concert and more outreach in the city centre on Sunday, so maybe the weekend needn't be such a total write-off. But I thought I'd got things vaguely under control. Next thing I'll hear, they'll have cancelled Christmas itself - which, off the record, wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing.

The work Christmas dinner today was good though, as expected, and dragged on for a suitably long time into the afternoon. As last year, we went to a local carvery restaurant with a nice large seating area - we needed about 50 or 60 places - and got stuffed with their superb self-service cold starter buffet, as-much-as-you-can-fit-on-a-plate main course, yummy and mainly alcoholic desserts, and so on. The cracker jokes were of course grim, and the party-hats less than substantial, but all told, a good afternoon out. At least a few things are going well...

Last night was probably the most festive of the year so far, going out carol-singing for Bosnia relief - it was getting late, so we kept the number of houses to a minimum and ended up stood outside the local M+W shop for a while instead where we would cause less disturbance. Best chorus of the evening had to be "Hark, the herald angels sing / I don't think, there's anyone in", but it was generally good spirited if a little embarrassing, and we made about twenty quid for Bosnia, which is no bad thing anyway. Then it was back into the warm for tortilla chips and cheesy dips, and a manic party game, the name of which escapes me, but is somewhat like Call My Bluff with a humour implant.

I feel somewhat grim this morning, but last night was a good evening out with some guys from the church - nothing fancy, just a few beers at one of Milton Keynes's few genuinely nice pubs, interspersed with rounds of that great game I'd not played for ages, Pass The Pigs. Nice to have Beamish for the first time in ages too - though I'm not so sure my stomach agrees with that sentiment this morning - and I won at least a couple of games, helped immensely by scoring the unthinkable, a Double Leaning Jowler, at a very critical point!

Hmmm... five minutes or so after I wrote that last entry, the inevitable happened, with a rather rushed visit to the big white telephone in the bathroom. I shouldn't need to go into any more detail, though I should add that after this very rare event - honestly - I really do feel a lot better!

Well it would be fair to say that I still feel very rough indeed, though I was able to drag myself, very wearily, into the city centre to do my essential shopping. Thank goodness all my Christmas shopping is out of the way. It's a pretty sorry state of affairs when I have to stop to rest even on such a short walk, but hopefully I will feel a lot better tomorrow - which is looking like quite a busy day.

Wow, what a day - and now a chance to wind down. I felt a lot better this morning - though still rather poorly - and dragged myself to our Christmas carol concert, with traditional carols interspersed with sketches, plays and so on. Then this afternoon - having turned down a couple of lunch opportunities through having next to no appetite - it was on to the city centre shops for another of our carol-singing and present-wrapping outreach things. It was much busier than last Tuesday evening, perhaps unsurprisingly. Apparently I've not been the only one to have had a dodgy stomach over the weekend, with at least one of those I went out with on Friday night similarly afflicted, so maybe I'll take back my pledge to turn tee-total! And finally, I'm in love again - possibly...

Christmas Eve, and still sat at work trying to rustle up the enthusiasm to blitz the last few remaining problems with this software in advance of the hand-over for developmental testing right at the start of the new year. What time will I get away this afternoon? Who knows - and for me, Christmas can't really be said to be here until I've got back to the flat, loaded up the car and am well on my way home to my parents.

In between getting in from work, yet more carol-singing - this time by special invitation - and getting much needed sleep, I did all my present wrapping last night. Not that there was a huge amount to do, with more gift vouchers than ever before, but what there was, was either large or extremely irregularly shaped, so it was not an easy process for someone for whom wrapping anything more than a paperback book normally presents major difficulties.

The carol-singing was all very pleasant, a bit differently run to the last neighbourhood one, but still a lot of fun and we made a fair bit for the local hostel for the homeless. Mulled wine beforehand, with mince pies and sausage rolls afterwards, made for a most pleasant evening in good company, which will be my last church-related event until the new year, I suspect.

Spending Christmas at home is a case of the lesser of two "evils", really. I know that it's extremely unlikely there will be any significant truly festive atmosphere there, and in the past it has been well-nigh impossible to get in touch with any friends etc to escape with. But the alternative would be to stay here in Milton Keynes, and although I have received a couple of implicit offers of Christmas dinner if need be, I am not in the business of being a charity case. I would feel more enthusiastic about this all if it wasn't for the fact that it now seems very unlikely I will be seeing either my brother or sister, contrary to previous tentative plans, so things are likely sadly to get somewhat claustrophobic. I just hope I'm doing the right thing; my mum said I should never feel obliged to come home for Christmas, and that she wouldn't feel offended or anything if I didn't, but I just feel it wouldn't be right not to, even though it is almost certain that the week will end in tears.

So, with a fresh burst of resolve to get this horrible sound-recording and coding done, I'd best concede that there will almost certainly be no more entries until the new year, so I'll take this opportunity to wish all those still reading a very ...

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I should point out that I more or less kept to my word, with the next three entries edited whilst at home, using my Psion, and added here after my return to Milton Keynes on new year's eve.

Boxing Day, pushing on lunchtime, and still not out of bed. Must have been the combined effect of all that sherry and wine yesterday, since I've not done a whole lot else to get tired.

So Christmas itself was quiet but pleasant, with the customary drinks next door - one of the very few times each year that all their family are to be seen under one roof! - followed, as the sun tentatively dipped below the trees and the Queen took to her microphone, lunch - nothing too heavy, but suitably festive, which was fine by me. Then was the chore of present-unwrapping, with everyone seeming well-pleased with their haul. Then some choice TV and radio, a bit of tea - cheese, biscuits and mince pies - a few games, and thus ended the day.

I was pleasantly surprised on returning home on Christmas Eve that my parents had gone to the trouble of getting and decorating a Christmas tree. Only a very little one, mind, but it's a living one, in a pot, so we should be able to keep it and not need feeble excuses in future years!

It is now later on Boxing Day, having been out for a short walk this afternoon. The weather was mild, and periodically a bit damp, but it was good to get out for a while. I have a bit of a cold and sore throat so I didn't want to overdo it, but there's not much that some fresh air won't help with, and I do feel better for it.

Still, at least we've had power here the whole time, unlike my sister and her family in North Wales, for whom electricity was restored only as it got dark on Christmas afternoon, after storms and high winds on Christmas Eve. Other friends of hers were still in darkness this morning or worse. At least my sister has limited gas and solid-fuelled heating and cooking appliances, so they had no need to go too hungry or cold, but it is still amazing and depressing how much we take electricity for granted.

It's now the Sunday between Christmas and the new year, and things are shaping up surprisingly well back at Prestwood. I've had today to myself, basically, with my parents away on their trip to see my brother down in Gloucestershire, and I am still not quite sure when I'll return to Milton Keynes.

Platonic friendships are great, aren't they? Especially when they are the explanation or excuse for something that really did, on the face of it, look quite different. I still insist the relationship in question is platonic - having nothing concrete to suggest the contrary, and wary of my previous apparent disposition for jumping to over-hasty conclusions - but it is hardly surprising that more than a couple of people have been ever so slightly curious about - and sceptical of the claimed platonic innocence of - a couple of perhaps overly close friendly exchanges.

And yes, despite all reservations, my imagination is of course still working over-time. Ridiculous that nothing ever really changes. There's me, thinking about weddings and stuff, and "it" - whatever that might be - hasn't even started yet, if it's going to at all. And I don't want to rush into anything; just because at last I have perhaps found a young single Christian girl who vaguely likes me, does not mean we necessarily have anything much in common or that she was trying to be anything other than compassionately friendly to a guy who looked dead on his feet.

And I still say the relationship is platonic. Whatever anyone else might think. But there's no prizes for guessing who I'll probably be on the phone to within the next couple of days...

The year is drawing to a close, and with it another Christmas at home - I'm tentatively considering going back to Milton Keynes tomorrow, leaving while the going is still good... So, now would seem a good opportunity to briefly review the year through my eyes.

On a personal level, the start of the year was dominated by Kate's attentions, rising to a crescendo in the summer with our trip to Brighton for a friend's wedding, and then rapidly falling apart through a combination of mistrust and apparent sabotage by a jealous rival - though we remain friends, thankfully - and needless to say, there are those who say that was all it ever was. A couple of disappointments later, my hopes are alive once again, and the start of 1998 promises to be just as exciting and as unknown a future as that of 1997.

Highlights of the year were during the summer, with the aforementioned trip to Brighton, and also visits to Hampshire and to Slovenia. The former was primarily for the sake of the 1997 Garden Olympiad at Steve's parents, but also took in visits to a number of other old and dear friends. The latter included a very successful expedition to climb Triglav, the new country's highest peak, one of the south-eastern foothills of the Alps.

Family has seen more downs than ups, really. Easter-time saw the death of our much-loved cat Tom-Tom, after an illness which the vet thought could be treated, but turned out to be terminal. My brother's wife seems to have spent the year in and out of hospital with severe psychiatric problems. My brother is bravely sticking by her, however, where others might throw in the towel - something that sadly cannot be said for my sister, who believes that her own marriage has no future, and has started a trial separation from her husband of over ten years, with their five children caught somewhat in the middle.

Work was without any particularly significant highlights, but saw me pulled inexorably into the giant and resource-swallowing S103 science foundation project, which has presented both difficulties and triumphs. We had a few fun social events during the year, including a Burns Night musical party and a few pizzas and films here and there. I moved into a new office, benefiting immensely from sharing with human life, and also took delivery of a new PC, still one of the most powerful in the department and probably the whole university.

Church was similarly unspectacular, but for me this was a year of generally getting to know people better. The start of the year saw us embark upon Enemies of the Soul, an Argentinian bible study, but after promising beginnings, this petered out when summer arrived, and it now seems unlikely it will be resumed. Autumn saw forty days of prayer culminate in a big multi-church prayer and music bash in the city shopping centre, and since then we have enjoyed several smaller joint services, with no sign of these abating as we move into 1998 with a better vision than ever before.

Musical creativity-wise, 1997 was probably best forgotten, with nothing significant written. I did re-record one of my 1996 tracks at a friend's studio, and rehashed two of them as candidates for the recent NMS/MEMS show's demo-tape slot - an amusing but hopelessly unsuccessful exercise - but new material was very thin on the ground. Late 1997 also saw my involvement in the Res Rocket Surfer project finally come to an end, and it seems my relationship with my old company, Last Unicorn, will now suffer a similar fate - both chapters I enjoyed while they lasted, but that were ultimately spoiled not by any lack of enthusiasm, but by apparent mismanagement.

Outside my immediate world, looking on to a broader world stage, a number of key events shaped the year. Princess Diana's death simply could not be ignored, and I was able - little though I would have expected it - to share in personal grief, as her funeral cortege passed through Milton Keynes. Thrust SSC's difficult but spectacularly successful quest to break the land-speed record and the sound barrier cannot fail to have at least slightly excited anyone with any sense of adventure, and the Mars Pathfinder mission with its radio-controlled buggy and stunning photography inspired similar emotions - both projects not necessarily in themselves particularly valuable, but appealing to a delight in the exploration of the unknown and living on the edge, in a way we are all too unaccustomed in our ever-so-safely cocooned existence. And of course May saw the general election, and the long overdue ousting of the Conservatives; sadly, not everything seems to have gone quite right since, with some very unpopular policies announced, but I am patiently waiting, realising - as many seem to have now forgotten - that they did inherit an absolute mess of an economy, and that certain realities finally had to be faced, rather than trying to bluff their way as their predecessors all too often did.

So that was my 1997 - if not a vintage year, then certainly somewhat of an interesting one, and not without some considerable achievement and disappointment. My hopes for 1998 are particularly that personal, work and family aspects will improve immensely, and that I can generally keep the resolve to make myself the new person that 1997 began to see, but that needs a lot of work yet!

Well I am now back in Milton Keynes, as expected, and everything seems to be in order here at the flat. No telephone messages, only one bit of post, nothing at all romantic or anything - just a brochure and booking form for the 1998 Days of Destiny week in Harrogate, which I might consider going to if I had some company... There probably won't even be any e-mails when 6 o'clock arrives and I can financially bear going on-line for a little while.

This afternoon I drove into the city centre to stock up on food and things, but it was frankly the busiest I can ever remember it, with queues of traffic stretching almost to the south-side residential areas. Finding a parking space was - needless to say - impossible, but once in the queue, turning back was not an option, so I slowly inched forward, and eventually made it "round the block" and back to the flat, from where I walked in instead.

The January sales were of course already in full swing, and I was eyeing up a MIDI controller pedal and an autoharp - I'd love an electric one of these, from what I've heard of them - at Chappells, but it was far too busy to do any major bargain-hunting today so I quickly moved on to Waitrose and did the necessary there before trudging back in the dwindling daylight.

This evening could have been a turning point, taking the brave step of telephoning the young lady who had been so affectionate to me the other afternoon in the shopping centre. We chatted about this and that for well over an hour, until the subject moved on to "that" afternoon - it turned out that she too had taken a bit of stick from various fairly high-ranking people in the church, and had denied anything more serious was going on just as vehemently as I did at the time. However, she was insistent that we should meet up more, which was fine by me, describing me - as few others have done before - as lovely, wonderful, caring, considerate and a few other flattering adjectives. I emphasise again for the benefit of anyone who might have got the wrong idea through anything seen or said, that we are not going out together, just getting to know each other better, that we both believe we are going to find love in Milton Keynes, but with whom we do not know.

I took another stroll into the city centre at lunchtime to have a better look at the sales, and was frankly pretty unimpressed. At John Lewis, you would barely notice any difference from a regular trading day, certainly with no savings on anything much that I would contemplate buying. Chappells were of course stacked high with nasty and heavily-reduced home keyboards and not much else; I picked up a brochure for a nice low-cost Tascam DAT recorder there, but they denied ever having stocked it or having any intention to - weird - and the brochure on the MIDI foot pedal thing I was also looking at was as good at useless on the vital aspect of information. I didn't even try finding any information for the autoharp, but instead amused myself watching various people try and fail spectacularly to play the thing. Other than that? - well Big Mac meals certainly don't come any cheaper in the sales, that's for sure... Quite honestly, it has to be said that Milton Keynes is not a place to even think about bargain-hunting for just about anything; it's not a bad environment for shopping as such places go, but I can safely guarantee any real savings are to be had elsewhere.

Then I got back to the flat mid-afternoon; no messages on the answerphone, but the old faithful 1471 revealed someone had tried to contact me from a local phone box, so I'm guessing that either someone had maybe tried to visit, couldn't get any response and had tried phoning in desperation, or alternatively were out and about in the town and wanted to meet up someplace. But either way, I wasn't here, so it's completely academic. It's just of course that I feel these are very critical times at the moment, and I want to be as accessible as possible should the need arise.

So what's planned for tonight then? To be frank, not a whole lot. Much as I'd like to go and party the night away, I know I wouldn't be alive to return to work on Friday - and probably Saturday too, if I value my job that much... - so I'll probably have a quietish evening in, welcome the new year with Clive Anderson, Angus Deayton or whoever TV's flavour of the moment is this year, enjoy a beer - if my stomach can face it - and expire shortly after midnight. Except of course that someone has promised to phone me just after midnight, so I'd better not be making the cocoa too early. All this is of course assuming that no-one else contacts me in the meantime offering me the chance of a lifetime - nothing would really surprise me - but I'm certainly not pinning any hopes on that.

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