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David's diary: January 1997

Just a quick edit, to wish you all a happy and prosperous 1997!

Longer edit to follow when I get the chance...

Eek! Hope the car will make it home tonight. Needless to say I diligently went to the Shell station to fill up this morning, but the locking petrol cap was chock full of ice when it came to taking it off...

Well after about half an hour (and half a can of de-icer spray) and some luck and brute force, at lunchtime, I managed to persuade the cap to come off, and promptly replaced it with a non-locking one, which I'll keep on while it's cold - for the benefit of anyone wanting to illicitly siphon off some petrol.

Oh dear, I seem to have let it lapse again. Mind you, it's good because my excuse is that I've been fairly busy at work of late, and appropriately exhausted come the evenings. Anyway, I have a few minutes spare now so will try and update you on what's been going on in my life.

Christmas and the new year were not really too exciting events, and understandably a little muted after the sad events of the previous few days. It was nice, all the same, to see my sister and her ever-growing family for a few days when they came down for the funeral, and a chance to offload their Christmas presents without a trek up to Wales myself or for the Royal Mail. I stayed at my parents' house for the whole fortnight in the end, and barely got out to see anyone, thanks to the fairly abysmal weather conditions apart from anything else. The funeral was a very dignified affair; I'd only ever been to one once before and that was a rather different due to the tragic circumstances involved and being a full-blown church thing, so I really didn't know what to expect of a run-of-the-mill crematorium funeral. The priest had made the effort to make it a pleasantly personal event, with just the right amount of anecdotes and so on. We sang one hymn and said the Lord's prayer, and the curtains closed both in the chapel, and upon a generation of my ancestors, though not upon my memories of you; I will never forget you, Granny.

So anyway, at work, we finally got somewhere with the technology faculty, and now have a few projects from them to be getting on with. The main one I am to be working on is a materials discipline simulation of composite beam loading, where the student can model the behaviour of beams made out of various combinations of materials such as balsa, mild steel, fibreglass etc. There is already an existing system which works in the GEM operating environment, and they want it converted to a native Windows 3.1 or 95 version. However the existing system was itself ported fairly unimaginatively from a very old Commodore PET program, so it was considered that this might be a very good time for a complete overhaul, rather than a simple porting exercise. I've got a simple prototype working in Visual Basic, but am probably going to do the final implementation in C++, or more likely Delphi. The abominable French system won't go away though; I am supposed to be on a 50:50 time split between the two faculties, and I have already had very concerned e-mails from the language faculty wondering what's going to happen now I can't spend all my time on their stuff - I say tough, since they've had it lucky up till now. I'm also going to be doing a stint of looking after the departmental web pages, which will be interesting, and increase my experience in that area no end; I've done a fair bit in the past, but I suspect the new versions, not yet on-line, are using increasing amounts of advanced HTML 3.2 features of which I have little experience at present.

Musically, no real news. I've obviously been over-playing the WX11, because the reed split a couple of weeks ago; thankfully replacements are very cheap, and Chappells have got a few on order for me which should be with me within the next few days. I've also finally tracked down what seems to be a cheap source of spares for my SH-101, Roland themselves no less - I had heard in the past reliable rumours that they had no stocks of spares for their old models, but this apparently is not the case and I have a phone number to ring when I get round to it. The sliders I need are a pound each, which does not strike me as extortionate, though they have a slightly high minimum order value, so I'll probably get a full set of sliders and replace some other bits which are a little dubious.

I'm experimenting a bit with doing some Windows socket network programming. I started trying to understand the definitive Addison-Wesley text on the subject but gave up hope early on. Thankfully I managed to track down a respectable and completely free Visual Basic VBX control with a full set of easily-comprehensible example programs for things like telnet, ftp, http etc. I'm basically trying to write a client program for the JeamLand system, which has now been officially released. I know there are various mud-client programs around for Windows, the best of which is possibly GMUD, but I hope to produce something that can be customised for JeamLand, including pop-up windows to do things like internal e-mails etc. I managed to modify the supplied telnet application to work in line mode with an editable command history, which is a sart, and hopefully things will just kind of develop from there.

Finally, I should say that I am genuinely hopeful I have sorted out a rather important thing which has been missing from my life, causing me a good deal of misery, and possibly the indirect root of many other problems I have had over the last few years. Whether this is why I have been brought up to Milton Keynes - I've been wondering why for a long time, believe me - and whether it really is the answer to the prayers that I know people have been saying for me, I'll maybe never know, but I get a good gut feeling about it, and if I am right, it will undoubtedly change me a lot for the better. It would be unfair to say anything more until I know for sure - I may just be jumping to premature conclusions - though those people who know me well will probably know roughly what I'm on about, and will understand my caution in saying more at present.

I want to say a bit more about Granny. Her decline was mercifully rapid, though I knew that every time I saw her could well be the last, and I do remember kissing her goodbye on what was indeed to be the last time. She raised her children, including my dad, in Watford, later moving to Croxley Green, but spending most of my lifetime at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, where we often used to go for days or weekends when I was little, enjoying her wonderful roasts and M&S cup-cakes. Granddad died several years ago after a very slow and sad decline into dementia; the family tried to persuade Granny to move closer to the rest of us, but she was fairly determined not to, and believe me, she was the kind of woman who tended to get her way. Eventually she was persuaded, and she moved in with my uncle Colin and his new partner Brenda, who thankfully she survived long enough to see getting married. She very much enjoyed living with them, after some initial reservations, though equally enjoyed getting away from time to time, visiting Colin's first wife's family in Wales and visiting my family for odd days and for longer periods when Colin and Brenda went on holiday.

I remember during these recent happy years some quite specific times. The funniest was at a bit of a gathering at my aunt Valerie's house, where somehow the conversation got onto the subject of illegal drugs. Now my mother is open-minded, but my father is very conservative about anything like that, so when Granny suddenly asked quite boldly, "David, have you ever smoked pot?", I of course had to be extremely tactful. I can't remember exactly what I said, though I would guess that with my father in the room if would have been hard for me to say anything other than no. More surprising though, was when she then said that she would have smoked it herself if it had been around when she was younger... She also came down to visit me when I was living in Hampshire; she loved the country estate, horses and dogs where my flat was, and we even went for a short stroll by the Basingstoke Canal. She had a pretty huge and delicious chicken curry at the Queens Head, but true to form, found something or other trivial to complain about - but that was just her nature, just one of the things that made her who she was.

Just like her alleged dislike of mountains - though this I now understand to have been a wind-up which my dad completely fell for - and her intolerance of "blacks" and Germans - though when confonted with the fact that she was likely to be treated by the dreaded "blacks" whilst in hospital, she pointed out that they were "educated blacks" who were clearly different in her estimation. I can't claim to have sympathised with many of her views - though I suspect they stem from a time when sentiments were different, and in fact she mellowed out a lot in later years - but without them, she wouldn't have been who she was, and at the end of the day, she was a kind and loving grandmother who would not in practice turn a blind eye to injustice on any scale.

It is kind of weird knowing I'll never see her again, and it is thankfully not something I've had to go through too often. But then maybe I will see her again, if what I believe to be the case is really true, but that's just one of life's great mysteries. I live in hope though.

Oh yes, yesterday I had what was surprisingly my first confirmed sighting of the almost mythical creature Openuniversicus Ancietica, characterised by the unusally large growth of facial hair, and the wearing of sandals with socks.

I did of course consider shooting, stuffing, and donating the above mentioned creature to the Natural History Museum. However it scuttled off into the dark recesses of a materials department technician's store room before I could load my hunting rifle, and thus it will go down in the books alongside such beasts as the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster whose existence is suspected, but never sufficiently documented to attract scientific credibility.

I am very happy at the moment, though also very worried through fear of the unknown. It is likely that today I will have to tackle the issue of my faith, with Kate, the young lady mentioned between the lines at the end of my last but one long edit. This could make or break things, though I believe that God has brought me this far, and if he wants me to go further, and I just take things gently but openly, then things will work out well. We prayed about this at our house group yesterday evening, and I am sure it will be fine in the end. If she is a Christian or has Christian tendencies, then all well and good. If she is not, but is tolerant, I believe that we have established that we love each other enough that it needn't get in the way. If we do decide to move ahead with the relationship, as I dearly hope, then she will have to accept - regardless of her own faith - my opinion on issues like cohabitation and sex before marriage, although I would also have to accept her opinions on these and other issues, as is the case with any genuinely two-way relationship. If she won't tolerate this at all, then we're going to have to make a hard and regrettable decision, but I have faith that this is not going to be the case.

Previously I was very cautious, lest this all be a big misunderstanding - and I still wouldn't like to say I'm 100% sure I'm right - but the more I think about it, and the more we talk, the more I really do thing there's something in this. Something very odd happened a couple of days ago that could be attributed to coincidence - after all one doesn't comment when coincidence doesn't happen - but I think there's more to it, it was just so uncanny. I freely admit that I am spiritually unreceptive. I don't have visions, I'm very bad at praying, I don't read the Bible anywhere near enough, I don't speak in tongues, and I can't ever claim to have heard God's booming voice - although I have plenty of friends, in whom I have utter confidence, who do. Therefore I believe God is trying to show me His will through different kinds of channels, and the question of what I should do about Kate was one I had asked Him a few times, and never received a clear sign, until this...

We were both logged into an internet talker, which had recently had a feature added where you could give other users a gangsta-style street-name, comprising two parts randomly selected from a large database of words. Anyway, someone street-named Kate as "Polarbear-Bucktown", then someone else immediately street-named me - completely randomly, remember - as "Polarbear-Salt". Now I would imagine, from my experience, there's probably about a hundred names in the database, so there were 100:1 odds on that happening. This may not seem too amazing in itself, but here's the really weird bit, that starts stretching those odds to more astronomical levels. Only the previous day, I had sent Kate one of those web greetings cards, the ones that anonymously - if you want - send the recipient the web address for a personalised on-line card with animated pictures and music. What did that greetings card depict? It probably wouldn't surprise you to hear it showed two hugging polarbears.

Well what on earth did I have to worry about? Kate's fine about it all, thank the Lord. In fact I was completely tongue-tied, but she knew what I was trying to say - I had to account for my having been out the previous evening at a church meeting - because she had seen my web page where I mentioned my faith, though we had never discussed it in the slightest up until then. She's not too sure what to make of it all, but she loves me enough that it need not be a problem. It's early days yet, and I'm sure that as with any relationship there will be a lot more difficulties to overcome, but God has brought me this far, and I have been assured by many that if I do His will, then everything will be all right - my experience so far has certainly confirmed this, and I have no reason whatsoever to believe that it will stop.

Everything over the last few months has been leading up to this, from the timing of the end of my last job, to my getting the job here in Milton Keynes with the Open University, to the workloads I've had - and not had - to having the Demon account with my web page, to having free net access at work - over which we can talk a lot during office hours! There have been obstacles cast down in my way - even before I knew Kate - but my determination and God's help have led me unhindered into what I think promises to be a beautiful relationship and a wonderful future, a final release from the emotional shackles of what has been a few years of decidedly mixed fortunes.

Boy, I must have looked silly driving home Friday evening, though, singing praises to the Lord at the top of my voice!

So Friday night was a bit of a celebration for me - though sadly Kate was already going out elsewhere. There was a party organised by one of my colleagues which was billed as a "Wine and Whine" evening. This involved getting hopelessly drunk, and then pretending to have the ability to sing/play songs. I took my guitar and collection of various whistles and recorders, and was actually complimented on my playing and singing, though I suspect it was more out of courtesy than anything - it was apalling. But not as apalling as the headache and bad stomach come Saturday morning, which I am just abuot over now, as I type this on Sunday afternoon. I think it was the drinking of large quantities of red and white wine that did it. Never again... though knowing me, I'll conveniently forget next time and go through the whole anguish again. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, though.

Is this really what love is supposed to be like? I guess so. I took something she said entirely the wrong way, and ended up getting an emotional earful, though everything was happy in the end. Nevertheless, it still left me feeling really stupid for the rest of the day, and angry with myself that for one foolish instant I treated what she said quite so superficially. Although I wasn't really suggesting anything different, it rammed home all too clearly that we are going to have to take things very gently and not rush into anything over-hastily. If we can do so, I think the immediate and medium-term future is probably very rosy. I'll just have to learn to keep my big mouth shut at the appropriate times. This whole thing means more to me than most people will probably ever know, and the last thing I would want to do is blow it all through some silly and inconsequential misunderstanding.

I'm getting on quite well with this new project of mine at work, a computer simulation of the stress loading of composite beams. Delphi - the programming language I have chosen - is generally behaving itself, though needs a little more respect than Visual Basic, which I am more used to. Particularly, making sure object variables are explicitly initialised (constructed) before manipulating them, even when it doesn't look necessary. I was getting an endless stream of inexplicable general protection faults, until it suddenly occurred to me to do a CoresList:=TStringList.Create - whereupon suddenly the day's work equally suddenly became strangely more worthwhile. The French thing hasn't gone away yet, but I think it's going to start going down a very different route as from next week - if they take my advice, that is...

On Saturday, I picked up the new reeds for my WX11 wind controller, which is now feeling much better again. I gather Chappells got the spare mouthpiece I ordered in on Monday, so I'll pick that up sometime, though there isn't the same urgency as there was with the reeds. Although the WX11 is still playable with a split reed - unlike a real wind instrument - the feel was changed sufficiently that it was quite urgent to get it replaced. At only just over a pound for a replacement, I couldn't go too far wrong.

Anyway, time's getting on and I'm utterly exhausted. I'll probably call it a day soon, but not until I have had a bit of a play with the WX11 again, and maybe had a few circuits on Microprose Grand Prix, which I finally got round to buying on Saturday, now it's available on budget CD-ROM! I'd played in many times in the past and liked it a lot, but never had it myself, so this was a good opportunity, in fact I think it's the first PC game I've ever bought, mainly concentrating on musical things in the past! Designed to run reasonably on 286 PC's, needless to say it rocks on my 486, in a way these newer driving games almost certainly would not...

I simply can't get the song 'She moves through the fair' out of my head. It's been buzzing around for days, and I keep telling myself not to give in to it, but it's grown still stronger over the last few hours. Whatever happens, Kate, there will always be a place in my heart with your name on it.

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