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David's diary: September 1997

This is a deliberately concise account of the Slovenia trip. I will be producing a far more comprehensive report in due course, which will be published - along with plenty of photographs, hopefully, airport X-ray machines permitting - on my web site, at a URL to be announced!

I flew out from Heathrow on Friday 22 August, having checked in far too early, and consequently waiting around for substantially longer than the two-hour flight itself. The plane arrived at Brnik airport near Ljubljana promptly at 6.30pm CET, and I met David with no problems, and we drove back to his home city of Maribor, about a further three-hour journey. The evening was spent at David's favourite al-fresco bar in Maribor, drinking from rather large and heavy two-pint glasses.

On the Saturday, we did some shopping and I changed my money into Tolars, getting far more to the pound than I had anticipated. It turned out that the pounds sterling I had brought "just to get started" were more than ample for the entire trip... In the afternoon we drove to the top of a rather high hill near Maribor, and walked a bit from there, and also visited a local waterfall which was good walking practice in less-than-ideal underfoot conditions.

On Sunday, we drove to David's parents' country cottage near the Croatian border, where they have extensive vineyards, and plied us with delicious food. Having shopped for supplies for the more serious part of the trip - that is to say, climbing Mount Triglav, Slovenia's highest peak at about 9500 feet - and packed our rucksacks, we had an early night, setting our alarms for 2.45 the following morning.

So on Monday we got away from Maribor at about 3.15am, and set out from a car-park near Lake Bohinj shortly before 7am. The walk started with a stiff climb up a 2000-foot cliff called Komarca, rising out of the mist into what was to remain mainly pretty glorious weather. We proceeded up the gentle and picturesque Triglav Lakes Valley - detouring slightly because David wanted to see all the lakes in the valley, two of which were omitted on the route we would otherwise have taken - then up and over the not-so-nice Hribarice, a climb which seemed to go on forever, before arriving at the rather busy Dolic hut where we stayed the night, after well over nine hours of walking.

Tuesday we didn't rush to get up, but were still out by 8am, making the best of the cooler part of the day. Triglav itself was our main objective, though but for a little inclement weather we would have hoped to walk considerably further. Nevertheless the climb up Triglav was quite substantial enough, the final assault being about a 1200-foot steep rocky ascent, mostly with the aid of metal hand-holds and provided ropes; where those weren't provided things were a little hairy for my liking, though I kept my head thankfully! The summit was a little crowded and the view wasn't that amazing thanks to poor visibility, but the temperature was pleasant when the sun gently shone. As we descended, it started to rain, and we ended up stopping the night at a hut we had originally intended to pass by.

Having had a relatively easy day on Tuesday, we were able to get up bright and early on the Wednesday and have a full day's hike back to the car, pretty much retracing our route back over Hribarice - which didn't feel quite so bad at the start of the day - along the valley and down Komarca, that final descent incredibly being quicker than the climb, especially amazing since it briefly poured with rain and made the conditions decidedly slippery. We arrived back at the car - I don't think I'd ever been so glad to see a car! - just before 3pm, and got back to Maribor mid-evening having stopped off briefly at the resorts at Bohinj and Bled.

Thursday was definitely a recovery day, popping into Maribor to do a little shopping and sight-seeing. Alas that was the one day we were forced to use the family Yugo rather than the rather nice Celica, and it unsurprisingly broke down, with both ignition and clutch problems. Thankfully David's father was around to rescue us with the Celica, though it did make the following morning rather complicated, with only one car and everyone needing to be in very different places, but we managed somehow, despite torrential rain.

So Friday was my last day, and with the lengthy journey between Maribor and Brnik airport, we had to make an early departure. Having changed my remaining Tolars back into sterling and grabbed a McDonalds in probably the worst rain I have ever known, we arrived at Brnik well in time for the 1.30pm flight. We bid our farewells shortly afterwards and the plane left fairly promptly, and all too soon I was back at Heathrow and on the bus back home.

All in all though a great trip, a total change of scene, good company, and a fully accomplished mission.

With independent confirmation now received of the death of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, at the age of 87, I have to note the coincidence of this sad - although inevitable - event and those terrible ones of last weekend. I think these events probably are indeed coincidental, but it is a double loss, a double loss of two of the world's most controversial, yet clearly utterly respected women, who did an enormous amount to help others. I doubt Theresa's death will spark even a small fraction of the reaction to that of Diana, and it barely warranted a mention on the television news with all attention focused on the Queen's impromptu speech and the announcement of Diana's funeral arrangements, but the world may unknowingly miss her just as much. As I said, I'm pretty sure it is just a sad coincidence, though I cannot - as someone who believes in greater forces for good and evil than we can immediately comprehend - rule out some deeper meaning behind the loss, so chronologically close, of these two great women of compassion.

I wrote some time ago about the prophecy of an earthquake - figurative or otherwise - striking London's institutions catastrophically, an act of a God growing tired of the moral route we are taking to oblivion. I now believe that Diana's death itself was that very earthquake, shaking Britain's most noble and respected institutions - the royal family, the press and Harrods, amongst others - to their very foundations, in a way that could never have been anticipated. If that was the case, then her death and subsequent funeral - and those of Mother Theresa - could be the herald of a new age of faith, with millions of people hearing the word of God possibly for the first time, and in direct connection with one they clearly so loved.

"A funny thing about regret is, that it's better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven't..." Which philosophy resulted in my standing for about two hours on a windswept motorway bridge, awaiting a moment so very brief yet poignantly special, and no, I don't regret having done so. If anyone had asked me two or three days ago whether I would have been there, the answer would have almost certainly been no, but having witnessed on television this morning a funeral service so beautifully touching, sensitively respectful and yet striking a chord with the feelings of so many people, I felt compelled to go and pay my own homage, however brief it might be. I can't really explain why; when emotions get involved, these things are never simple, but I suspect it is a combination of the loss of a wonderful woman, grief for the sons she leaves with so much responsibility on their shoulders, and I suppose a certain amount of corporate mourning reflecting the mood of the nation. I think what finally clinched it for me was seeing the card on top of the coffin, simply marked "Mummy" - that really did ram home once and for all what this was probably really all about.

So there I was on the M1 bridge at Tongwell. The mood of the gathering crowd - young and old, rich and poor; a fitting representation of the local community - was cheerful yet respectful; there certainly didn't seem to be an atmosphere of grief, rather of restraint. As the time of the arrival of the cortege approached, so the motorway embankments also filled up with onlookers; the police were tolerant but safety-conscious and repeatedly urged the people to keep back from the carriageway itself, yet at the time the cars and motorbikes finally arrived, the hard shoulder was packed, and some were even venturing on to the road itself to leave flowers. The south-bound carriageway had come to a stand-still, with people out of their cars, parked in the fast lane. But still the police kept their tact, making it clear that they understood why people were doing what they were doing, and quietly turning a blind eye. The actual cortege passed swiftly on its way, flanked by police in cars and motorbikes, the crowd catching just a glimpse of Diana's flower-adorned coffin, before it headed off north. People seemed unsure how to respond; there was some muted clapping, a Buddhist monk beat on a drum, and a few cries of "God bless you" - all were probably right, in people's different ways. As soon as it had gone, the onlookers broke away, the bridge swiftly returning to normality. Yet like all who were there, despite the brevity of the final objective, I was glad I had come. "There will never be anyone else like her", one man said to me as we walked back into Willen. How very right he was.

It's been a few days since my last addition, but not a huge amount has really been happening. Last Friday evening was - literally - cool, meeting at the beacon in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes, to pray for the city; the different areas of the church were meeting in different high places around the city - though the height of the market-square in Wolverton was somewhat debatable. The following Sunday was all very nice, with an afternoon birthday get-together for my friend Dave from the church, with loads of familes, bouncy-castle, beer, tortilla chips etc.

Monday afternoon I took my car into Kwik-Fit to have the brakes checked over. The rear brakes had been making some rather peculiar noises, and the handbrake was not as positive as I would like. They put it up on the jack for about three quarters of an hour, and after close inspection and some false alarms, they diagnosed it as absolutely fine! They gave it all a good clean-out, and I think tightened the hand-brake cable, and since then, there's been no extraneous noise to speak of and the handbrake has been a lot more positive. And thanks to the helpful explanations from the engineer, I now know a whole lot more about cars... The total cost of this expert service? Absolutely free!

Today was fun at work - or at least lunchtime was - with a visit from a team of academics from Korea, demonstrating and talking about robot football-playing technology, which they pioneered and in which they are world leaders. Combining advanced vision and pattern-recognition systems with precision engineering and digital radio technology, 8cm-high robots in coloured uniforms battle it out, three-a-side, attempting to "kick" an orange golf-ball into the goals at each end of a table-sized enclosed pitch. In the final show-down, Soty and Mira - the world's third and fourth best teams - scored a memorable 2-2 draw, and no doubt inspired many of the audience to maybe get their Lego Technic out of the attic again...

Regular readers might possibly recall that on 2 August I went to a locally hosted concert of Christian music that was musically "pretty grim", if I remember my words correctly. One reason it was so grim was because they had the sound system turned up to distortion point just about all the time, quite unnecessary in a small community hall and a fairly conservative audience...

But the reason I bring this up again is because I see reported in today's Times that the Potter's House, the people who ran this concert, are currently the target of some legal action associated with noise nuisance. Near their London HQ, it is claimed that children are finding it difficult to sleep, and so on. The church claims their sound system is not excessively loud, and is only as loud as it is in order to be audible over the congregration, but from my own experience, I suspect their not-so-happy neighbours have a rather good case!

The weekend back at home was quite nice, going for a walk on Saturday afternoon, then on Sunday afternoon visiting some old friends of mine who I get to see all too rarely - it's alarming how their children have grown up in the space of "only" a couple of years since I saw them last, and it was nice to see their new house they only recently moved into! Today at work was pretty dull and unmotivating, though I got some stuff done that I was glad to get out of the way. This evening was fun though, meeting up after work with fellow Open University Mono-ite SBJ for a long overdue beer or two - he wasn't at all how I'd imagined, but we got on well, and it turns out he's shortly moving into a house only a few minutes' walk from me, which - with the Cricketers pub also only a short stroll away - could well do my sanity a lot of good in the long winter evenings ahead.

Work's been up and down these last few weeks in a big way; I've found it very hard to get remotivated after coming back from my holiday, and the chemical equilibrium stuff is turning out to be a millstone of epic proportions. I thought I had it more or less done, then a significant extra part suddenly popped out of the woodwork, and I have a horrible suspicion that it won't be the last to do so. Still, things have been going a bit better for the last couple of days, and I am confident once again of getting it done satisfactorily within the projected time.

Musically, I've done little new, but I have decided to focus on getting an album of sorts out, motivated in part by a Swedish friend of mine doing much the same thing. I've got a certain amount of upbeat material already written, and intend to intermingle it with more ambient compositions, but wrap up the whole thing with something which I think most listeners will find rather surprising - I'm saying no more at present, but it will deliberately not be in keeping with the rest of the album if everything goes according to plan!

With a view to maintaining at least a semblance of fitness after my epic mountain trek - well, epic for me, anyway - I've been trying to get into a regular walking regime. I figured that if I put in half an hour's brisk walking somewhere nice after work every day, it would give me a reasonable amount of exercise, help me get away from work earlier than I had frequently been accustomed, and give me some much needed guaranteed quiet time for all kinds of meditative pursuits. I think I have now walked round all the lakes in Milton Keynes, but there's enough of them that I can probably do a two-week rota and not get too bored in the process! The problem is of course that the evenings are now getting darker, and the parks don't have the best reputation as safe places for lone walkers etc, so I'll also be looking at alternative ways of keeping fit.

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