goznet ...

David's diary: December 1998

A fairly mundane last couple of days really, apart from chatting a lot with someone very special - you should know who you are if reading this - and certainly a pretty boring time at work. Slowly getting to grips with Director, and almost liking it for certain tasks, and I now have my mitts on Guy's source code for the CML stuff, so I should be able to start getting my hands dirty with it very soon. There was an interesting men's meeting last night - an interesting meeting, I mean, without wishing to cast aspersions on any of those present... - on the topic of "manliness". Not in the sense of machismo or anything worldly or superficial like that, but in terms of social responsibility, relationships, standing up for principle, and so on. Some food for thought for all of us, I think; we all have room for improvement and development in this area, and will continue to do so until the day we shuffle off this mortal coil I don't doubt.

Oh yes, had a short word with Reece last night, and he wants me to work as a regular Sunday school teacher as from early next year. He's not forcing me into anything, but is encouraging me to give it some serious thought over the coming days and weeks. It would mean helping teach the eight-to-tens age-group approximately alternate weeks, and alternate months, if that makes any sense. There would be full syllabuses and so on to work from, and a good deal of assistance from elsewhere - not least my team-mate, probably Jodie - but it will still be a big leap from me to go from learning to teaching. I still feel I am in early days in my walk in faith, but if they have the confidence in me that I can make a good job of it, then I'll certainly give the proposal all due consideration. There probably won't be a lot of action before about Easter-time, but that leaves plenty of opportunity to think, discuss and pray about it, as well as hopefully observe first-hand some of what goes on. I'm not sure how different it would be to when I helped Daniel out the other weekend; I have an idea the regular Sunday school gatherings are a little more structured, but that's partly where going along a few times just to watch would be very beneficial.

Annoyance this evening - apart from there being no barbecue sauce up at the kebab van - is that my ink-jet printer has finally died after seven or eight years' good service. I haven't used it that heavily lately, with its peak being in 1995 when it hammered out my final-year project, but it's had a fairly respectable life. Simeon popped in this evening, en-route to a band practice, asking if he could print out his play-list, but quite aside from not having an up-to-date enough copy of Word to load the document, the printer proved itself to be completely deceased. Not even a power-on light or a weary piezo-electric bleep. The power supply is fine, and the correct voltage seems to be getting to the main circuit board, but thereafter it's all surface-mounted stuff and pretty much impossible to follow what's going on. It's almost certainly not worth even trying to repair it, not when it's as old as it is, so I'll probably try putting the sheet feeder and the one spare ink cartridge I have into the Monochrome auction or something, so at least they hopefully won't go to waste. As for replacing the printer, well in truth I don't really print out a lot from home - though when I do, it's generally pretty urgent - so I probably won't make a rushed decision. For only a little more than the price as I paid for it in 1990 or whenever it was, I could now get a budget laser printer from a decent manufacturer, or save still further and get a colour ink-jet. Or alternatively, push ahead with getting the new PC I've been promising myself for ages, and probably get a free ink-jet printer with it anyway. But I'm not hurrying...

Add that to my long-dead CD player and the recently half-dead cassette deck, and this really isn't being a very good few months for electronic equipment here. The thing is, that all this stuff dates from when I was working before I went to college - a time when I had few other outgoings to worry about, so could afford to splash out on some quite nice "toys" - and it's inevitable that they will be starting to go wrong by now. For it all to happen in close succession is unfortunate, however, but just one of those things. I certainly think I'll let Christmas get out of the way before worrying too much about any of this stuff though; for the time being, I can play CD's on my PC even if the sound quality is poor and it keeps jumping for no reason, I can play tapes on my personal stereo and don't intend to record to tape much again now I have the Minidisc, and so long as I can think a day or so ahead, I can print pretty much anything - in colour even if necessary - at work. So, once again, I'm not hurrying...

Had a nice quiet and relaxing evening in last night, and hoping for more of the same this evening - though I have a slight hunch I might spend at least part of it on the telephone. Work today is being as mundane as ever, now starting to work through the official Macromedia documentation to Director, having decided that the book I was lent was a load of misleading rubbish. A nice surprise this morning though was to get a brand new pair of pretty decent Sennheiser headphones, so I can finally retire my nasty little personal stereo ones I'd been using here for the last few months. The old ones would have been reasonable, but for the tiny little lead they supply; the Sennheisers have a nice long one, so I won't have to do my audio editing with my head positioned about half way between the screen and the keyboard. Mind you, for the moment, the new ones are just doing nice service playing CDs and things - probably not quite the use they intended when they ordered them...

As of about twenty minutes ago, I seem to have become MKCF's webmaster, to add to my likely new roles as an administrator and Sunday school teacher. I had e-mailed Roger a few days ago offering my technical services in this area, but was yet to receive a reply, so I had assumed that when Mark and Dave had chatted earlier this evening, Dave had that offer in mind. But no, Mark had just got a bit carried away with reading through my own web pages and had suggested to Dave that it was something I might be able to do for the church, and Dave had got quite excited about the prospect. That I had contacted Roger previously had nothing to do with it, other than being the kind of "coincidental" confirmation we come to expect.

It's early days yet, though, and there will be a lot more to discuss - both between Dave and myself, and also between all the elders - but Dave seems quite emphatic that we should do something, especially since we have server-space with Powernet just ready and waiting for us whenever we decide to activate it. Issues needing discussion would include quite how much information we published in such a public forum; would we give full details of all our meetings and so on, or just an overview of what we were about together with some basic contact details? But whether they want a high-content site, or something just a little temptingly eye-catching, I feel it is something I can take a leading role in bringing to fruition.

It looks like for the first time in about three years, I'll be going to a Mono-meet in a couple of weekends. It's not very often there's one that it's too practical for me to get to, but Chelmsford caught my eye as a possible candidate as soon as it was announced. Then with my printer dying last night and Flippy showing considerable interest in relieving me of the sheet-feeder - maybe I won't bother with the auction after all, though I would still probably give any proceeds to the equipment fund anyway - going to Chelmsford seemed an altogether possibly even sensible idea. I wouldn't go for the whole weekend, I don't think, but Beardy's offered me some floor-space for the Saturday night, so frankly I have very little excuse not to go now. It'll be good to put faces to a few more names, and there's some definite and probable attendees I would really look forward to meeting. I last went to a meet in late 1995, I think, in Southampton - but it was a bit dismal really until Sunday, by which time most of the computer bores and surgically-attached couples had lost interest.

A few random musings to start the day off with... I was of course quite incorrect in saying that the 1995 Southampton meet was the last one I went to; although it may only have involved a couple of us, and didn't exactly follow the usual kind of run of events for such things, the last one was actually at this year's Cropredy folk festival.

Interesting that the new theatre in Milton Keynes has finally been named, and in keeping with the "does what it says on the tin" philosophy of naming just about everything in the city, it is to be the Milton Keynes Theatre. Some people were pleading for something more imaginative, but I think the chosen name was the best of the suggestions.

Also in yesterday's local paper was a report that my old neighbour Roy's jail sentence has just been reduced on appeal. Now I didn't realise he was actually in prison at all, though given his violent tendencies it's not much of a surprise. He had been locked up for three years for stabbing someone he thought was chatting up his ex-partner.

Before leaving work last night, I tried a few experiments with making MPEG Audio Layer 3 - a.k.a. MP3 - files from Minidisc recordings. I had been led to believe this would be very unsuccessful, with two incompatible psychoacoustic encoding schemes clashing horribly to produce an unmusical mess, but I have to say, it worked perfectly fine.

Managed another fairly early night yesterday, with moderately settled sleep. Nice to chat a-while with Zoe - getting to be quite a regular occurrence, admittedly - and was about to call it a day, then Mark got back from an evening out and we discussed the MKCF web site proposal for a bit and scoffed a few more of his birthday chocolates.

Today's seemed a very long day, and with another one most likely coming up tomorrow, I'm going to be aiming for an unusually early night. Highlight of work today was an S103 celebratory buffet lunch, for everyone who had been involved with the science foundation course; my contributions were the Electrons in Atoms and Chemical Equilibrium software modules. This evening was the joint YPF and Kids Club meeting at Radcliffe gym, which went very well considering the short-notice nature of it all, thanks to a double booking of our usual venue. Tomorrow I need to be up quite early to get my shopping done and hopefully my hair cut too, in time to pick Eric up at about eleven to finish off this decorating job down in Tinkers Bridge. What's happening in the afternoon and evening remains to be seen. I have some plans, which are much along the same lines as those for last Saturday; let's just hope things work out better this time!

An altogether wonderful Saturday just come to a close, and off to bed very shortly. Too tired to go into more detail for the moment, but I'm sure I will elaborate somewhat in due course... Another celebration Sunday tomorrow, but not playing - at least in the morning, anyway - thank goodness, so although I need to be up in good time, it doesn't need to be ridiculously so. But regardless, exhausted now as I am, I really do need every wink of sleep I can get. So goodnight, all...

It's Sunday night, and I'm going to call it a day very soon, but perhaps I can spare a few minutes to tell a little more about this quite busy and eventful weekend just gone. Friday night, as often seems the case, I got to bed too late again, but still had to force myself up in good time on Saturday morning with a packed schedule ahead.

First port of call was the barbers, realising my hair was getting just a little bit out of control, and close to the point of serious annoyance. Even at a quarter to nine though, the shop was already packed out, though thankfully the queue moved quite quickly, and I was out of there and home - via Waitrose - by fairly soon after ten.

Then, having picked up Eric, it was off to Karen's to finish the decorating job we'd started there a few weeks back. We didn't have quite as many people this time, but I think we still managed to work quite efficiently. I had to leave fairly promptly at one, but Alan had arrived shortly before, and I think they got it almost finished.

Then it was the afternoon, and expecting the imminent arrival of a VIP guest, I held off lunch - but as time wore on and I was getting famished, I had to concede and demolish some bread and Marmite. But the waiting eventually ended, and I spent a wonderful afternoon introducing my new-found companion to the delights of Milton Keynes.

The evening saw us off to the Barge for a superb meal and a drink. I was a little indulgent with the profiteroles, and I think am still "suffering" the consequences today, in a happy kind of way. Though having said that, enough happened yesterday to make me very happy that I'm sure it wasn't just the profiteroles that were responsible.

As we got back to the house from the pub, just before ten, Total Recall was just starting on the television, so all of us - including Mark, and also Angela later on who was able to happily resolve some of her more persistent questioning! - stayed up for that, then nattered on about all kinds of stuff for another couple of hours after that.

I was finally loved and left well into the small hours, but it was worth the bother, believe me. Even scraping the ice off the car, half falling asleep, and everything... So all in all, yes, Saturday was a totally excellent day, that simply got better and better with every passing moment. Thank you, you-know-who - you're wonderful!

Today has been altogether quite a bit more mundane, but still quite special - which must say a lot about yesterday's happenings, I guess. It was celebration Sunday again - this time a scheduled one, the first Sunday of the month, with Dave Oliver speaking remarkably well on the potentially rather doom-laden subject of death and dying.

A few of us went for a nice afternoon stroll up in the woods near Bow Brickhill - the playground of Milton Keynes, to many people. We started a bit later than we had perhaps planned, and it was getting pretty dark and gloomy by the time we got back to the cars, but it was well worth getting some fresh air for the hour or so we were out.

The evening meeting was a fairly typical affair, with Dave Oliver and his colleagues speaking on a few topics, followed up with the usual opportunity for free-flowing prayer. Again I "volunteered" to do car-park duty for a while, but it was bitter outside, and I was glad that Matt had insisted I only did the standard quarter-hour stint.

Then finally the evening ended with a good load of us popping down to the Barge once again - seems a common destination - for a swift half, and suitably cheerful end to a great weekend. I have to admit that I don't feel very refreshed and revied for the week ahead, but it was worth every bit, and I wouldn't have wished for anything less.

This years Christmas display in Central Milton Keynes has to be about the best one while I've been living here. It's all fairly tacky, of course, but there's a lot going on this year, with loads of animated creatures, fairground rides and a little train for the kids. Even the nativity scene was bigger and more prominently positioned - years of whinging from a good part of the population of the city has obviously finally paid off. There is hope.

I've still not quite decided what to do for Christmas myself. It's likely that I will take Seamus and Gill up on their offer, not really fancying another trek up to north Wales quite yet. I need to let them know within the next week or so, but that's fine, and at least it will stop me worrying and being indecisive about it. Mind you, I have still to do pretty much anything about Christmas otherwise - suspect it will be another last-minute job.

Spent a little while yesterday testing some computer speakers I had been lent by Karen - the lady we were doing the decoerting for on Saturday - to see if I could get them working. Rather bizarrely, these had been sold - albeit very cheaply - without a mains adapter, and from the nature of the packaging it didn't even seem there was supposed to be one, although the socket on the back of one of the speakers specified a 24V AC unit, not a standard item from any of the usual suppliers of electronic accessories.

I thought maybe they would operate unpowered; I have encountered such units before, which will run from an amplified speaker output and allow optional further amplification if powered - but got only complete silence. So I bravely tried connecting up a universal DC - not AC - adapter, starting at its lowest voltage, and finally got some distorted crackles. Bravely increased the voltage to its maximum of 12V DC, and although it won't go as loud without distorting as it would with 24V, it seems basically fine.

I guess that the first thing the speakers would have done with an AC supply would be to rectify it, and I suppose by giving it a DC supply to start with, the rectifier is just not having to do a lot. But anyway, that's good news for Karen, because she should be able to get a suitable adapter for about a fiver, and obtain much better sound from her PC than she's getting with her current tinny little speakers. I've got to give her a lift to a party tonight, so I guess I could break the good news to her then.

For only about the third time while I've been working at the Open University, I've taken a day off sick. I really do feel like death warmed up at the moment, and can barely even cough properly let alone do anything more adventurous - like go out to buy some throat sweets. I'm pretty sure it's due to having done that quarter-hour of car-park duty on Sunday night; it really was utterly bitter, and I suspect that walking around praying out loud as I did so allowed a lot more freezing cold air into my lungs than was really advisable. I think that with a good bit more rest today, I should be fit to go back to work either tomorrow or Thursday, though I do feel I have a long way to go before that will be a real practicality. My boss Ian seemed very understanding about it when I phoned in sick this morning, though he still took the opportunity to get some help with Delphi programming and ask me in advance to sort out part of my area on the departmental file-server...

It's now Friday, and I think I have a good chance of lasting the day at work - I don't feel marvellous, but I've felt a lot worse over the last three or four days. I toddled into work yesterday morning, but fairly quickly realised it wasn't the cleverest thing to have done, so once I had completed a few simple tasks, I went straight back home again. I turned the heating on full, and crashed out on the sofa, wearing my coat and everything - but I was still very cold. I managed to get a couple of hours light sleep though, so all was not lost, but then things started going very pear-shaped. I got up, aware that I needed to go to the loo, which I duly did, but - without going into too much detail - came very close to passing out whilst so doing. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had actually collapsed, though Mark got in from work shortly afterwards so I suppose he could have saved the day had the worst come to the worst. Instead Mark found me shivering and huddled up next to the kitchen radiator, dripping with cold sweat - but at least I was vaguely conscious. I felt a lot better for some bread and some water, and managed to stay up for the news and most of the Simpsons, but then went to bed properly, sleeping through until about midnight probably. After that, my sleep was a lot more patchy and disturbed, and I think this morning I'm as much plain tired as anything. So today's a day to take things nice and gently, but hopefully get back into the swing of things, drink lots of water, and just hope I'm fit for the Chelmsford meet tomorrow. Thankfully I'm not now down to do anything special at Kids Club tonight, so I could give that a miss if I wanted; I'll see how I go.

Today's attempt at returning to work was a lot more successful than yesterday's, and it bodes well for the weekend now. I needed a bit of a rest after lunch, but generally stayed alert and everything throughout the day. This evening I even felt fit enough to give Kids Club a go, although I sat out for most of the livelier activities, as much for common sense reasons as anything. But anyway, I am fairly sure now that with a good night's sleep tomorrow, I should be fine to leave for the Chelmsford meet at lunchtime. Whether I come back late Saturday, Sunday daytime or evening will remain to be seen - more variables than just my health - but the fact that I should be able to go at all is good news indeed.

This afternoon saw Craig's official send-off from work, with his job in the City starting after Christmas, I believe. Craig started work at the university the same day as I did - indeed we even sat together in the visitor's centre awaiting our departmental escort - so it is particularly poignant for me that he is going now. But the job he is leaving for is something that he's wanted to do for years, but had never had an appropriate opportunity to pursue, so no-one really blames or resents him for jumping ship so readily and at such short notice. Joel is very aware of how easily-poachable we all are, especially when our salaries are considerably less than for comparable jobs on the more commercial market.

I may be tired this morning, my eyes may be feeling as if they want to propel themselves out of their sockets, and - no - I'm still not entirely over the back-end of the flu symptoms. But I've just had a great weekend away, and that's the main thing as far as I am concerned.

Saturday lunchtime I loaded up the car, and hit the road down to Chelmsford, via Kingston McDonalds for some semblance of lunch - though my lack of appetite defeated me a little. Arrived chez Beardy - or rather the municipal car-park next door - a couple of hours later and wandered down to the Globe J.D. Wetherspoon pub. There met up with Beardy (Dave) and Si, Kroz (Alan), Flippy (Mark) and Laluki (Phil), later joined by Smiley (Zoe), Quaestor (Ben) and Kitten (Sarah), and more or less stayed there until mid-evening when we headed back to Dave's. At Dave's, we got to meet Monty the head-banging and moon-walking cockatiel, and were later joined by Mordecai and Memnoch.

Everything was really quite civilised throughout, and being perhaps smaller than some meets, I think everyone who hadn't met already got a good chance to talk to everyone. It wasn't even excessively late when people started calling it a day, though of course I wasn't there right from the start of the meet on Friday evening, which I dare say was a bit more adventurous. But in my current state of health, it was all just about right, which really begs the question of why on earth I then agreed to do what I did on Sunday...

Yes, Sunday... Phil had said he needed to leave early to catch the train in and out of London to go to his church meeting. However, leaving at eight for an eleven o'clock meeting sounded downright silly, though I'm sure it would have been necessary. So instead I decided I would take him up on his suggestion of joining him, so we drove down to near Bromley a fair bit later than he would otherwise have been planning - and getting a bit more welcome sleep beforehand. We made good progress, with nowhere near as much congestion at Thurrock or the Dartford Bridge as we had feared, so there was plenty of time to grab some breakfast at his house - and listen to a bit of Shine for the first time, incredibly enough...

The Downham Ichthus meeting was very good, as Christmas family meetings go, anyway! There were a few Christmas-related performances and so on, and also a couple of dedications. Thankfully, almost all the music was familiar - this can be a real problem when going to other churches, even ones with similar philosophies - though I'm still suffering acute breathlessness after this flu, making it impossible to talk, let alone sing, for more than a few seconds at a time.

Time flew past in the afternoon, back at Phil's, and it soon got to the point that if I was going to go home - and with the most direct route home being straight through the middle of London anyway - I might as well go via the big Ichthus evening celebration in Victoria. Driving there was pretty hairy stuff, never having driven in London at all before yesterday - though it was even more terrifying leaving afterwards when I had only some scrawled route instructions and no navigator... The celebration itself was wonderful, with about a thousand people probably, and a powerful combination of all kinds of music, spiritual dancing and preaching.

The journey out of Victoria was actually a lot less painful than I had feared; I tended to find that if I stayed in the middle lane, the flow tended to guide me the way I needed to go, and although it took over an hour to get to the M1 start - from where things really were straightforward - it was relatively hassle-free and I didn't make any wrong turns. Sadly I missed the opportunity to fill up with cheap London petrol, but the Toddington services turned out to be nowhere near as extortionate as I had heard - six or seven pence cheaper than some motorway services I have seen lately - so at least I had some peace of mind for the last couple of dozen miles of the journey home.

Arrived back at the house soon after ten, which wasn't bad at all, considering that I didn't leave Victoria until getting on for nine I shouldn't think. Very tired, needless to say, and didn't last all that many minutes longer, and got a remarkably good night's sleep - though still, as seems a little sadly customary, woke up with some bizarre panic attack. An early night tonight is called for, I think, and I might just about be back to normal...

Anyway, thank you to everyone involved for a great weekend away - good to meet many of you for the first time, and it was good to see the rest of you again. I doubt it will be the last time we meet - maybe Milton Keynes next time, though..?

Christmas and a number of other important events are are looming rapidly, and still no great sign of me shaking off this bug once and for all. I feel approximately not too bad, but still going through some quite violent and disturbing - both to others and myself - coughing fits, and running a slight temperature. In a bizarre kind of way, I wish I felt worse because at least I could then feel at peace with myself if I took another couple of days off work. Instead, perhaps unwisely, I feel I can muddle along, so should. I just hope I can have made a real improvement by Thursday, when our work Christmas dinner is, and even more so, by Saturday when there's a big Sixties charity gig in aid of Shine and Zoe's coming up to visit again. I would say that on average, every day I'm feeling a bit better, but I really could do with a more marked recovery sometimes.

Went to bed shockingly early and slept pretty much solidly for about thirteen hours last night, and pretty sure I needed every last one of them. I think I shall try and do the same again tonight, and hope I can feel at least vaguely bright and cheerful for the departmental Christmas lunch tomorrow at Shenley Church End. Thankfully I do feel a bit better today than I did yesterday, but still far from recovered.

The trouble is that although no-one really minds people taking a couple of days off work if really ill - as I was - once you decide you're fit to return, there's very little you can do to reverse that decision, short of keeling over on the spot and being rushed to hospital. Needless to say I have no great desire for the latter to happen, so guess I'd better just muddle on, taking things as easily as possible and getting some serious rest when I can. At least I'm pretty sure I've not been contagious since about last Thursday; I've not been made aware of anyone dropping like flies in my viral wake, anyway.

At least our annual Christmas charity quiz has provided a small diversion today, and the powers that be will kind of expect us to be spending at least a little time on it, which sounds fine by me... In years past, it has been mainly a photo quiz, but this time there's also some Dingbats-style puzzles, a section on the real names of various celebrities, and sections where you have to work out the first lines of nursery rhymes and Christmas carols given only the initial letters of each word. For once I seem to be doing quite well, though the combination of Encarta and Altavista does provide a wonderfully powerful research tool.

Another slightly better day, health-wise. I don't think I'm going to be completely on form for the weekend, but I should be a lot better than the same time last week, certain people should be pleased to hear. Highlight of work today was the annual - as these things tend to be - departmental Christmas lunch in Shenley. That was all very nice, and I managed to muster up sufficient appetite for a not-too-mountainous plate of the usual seasonal stuff. A good economic indicator was that the wine was paid for by the powers that be - obviously good times lie ahead. This evening I might be going to Fono's Christmas gig; they've been touring the world lately with their record-label stable-mates All Star United, but have come back home for a show in Milton Keynes. But on the other hand, I might well make it three early nights on the trot, which should pay off with another busy weekend ahead - though it would be good to get out and do something different if I could cope.

Perhaps unwisely I did go to last night's Fono gig in the end, though it didn't finish quite as late as I had been led to believe it might. That was possibly helped by one of the support bands not turning up, though On Target and especially Striker weren't bad at all. Fono are probably not really my thing, a little bit too raw for my liking, but still very good and definitely the best act of the night even if they lacked some of the cult following of the others. Got a free CD out of it too, so altogether well worth the evening out, and I think it did me some good, even if my ears aren't quite so sure this morning - it's been a long time...

Ah well, it's the run-in to the weekend now, and the last one before Christmas, no less. There is talk of substituting our usual Friday afternoon coffee-break with a visit to the Cellar Bar for a swift half or three instead, just for a seasonal change - sounds good to me, though having to drive home has its disadvantages. This evening is a special Kids Club, as the last one of the term, and a nice chance for us leaders to sit back and let someone else do the hard work for a change, since we're all off to Activity World in Bletchley, always a popular party destination. As with the joint Kids Club / YPF meeting a fortnight ago, I've been asked to help with the "back-up plan", that is, waiting at the school for a few minutes in case anyone has clean forgotten about the change of venue or needs a lift anyway. There's a leaders' party afterwards, but I'll see how I go; looks like I have a busy day coming up tomorrow, so I might well decide to keep things to a minimum.

Tomorrow does indeed look like it's going to be very busy, but at least I'm now on the healthier side of average again - just a slightly "heavy" feeling in my head; I wonder if my sinuses are a bit blocked or something. In the morning, I'm going to sort out all my Christmas shopping once and for all. I have no idea what to get anyone really, so I suspect there's going to be a fair few gift vouchers bought, and I also need to sort out what cards I'm going to send to who. Then in the afternoon, Zoe's driving up - guess we see what the weather's doing and pass the time accordingly - but in the evening we'll be going to the Shine fund-raiser gig in Bletchley which should be very good. That will make it two gigs in three days for me, though I somehow suspect that tomorrow's will be a little more civilised than last night's, with sit-down food and everything, and I'm pretty sure the PA system is likely to be a little quieter too, which will be good news for these ears.

Plans for the seasonal afternoon drink fell flat, on finding that none of the bars were open, so it was the usual can of coke and a packet of crisps in the coffee-bar instead. However, there is now talk of ducking out of work a little early and going to the Swan, so I think I'll partake in that, but only for a truly swift half since I must be back at the house at about the normal time if I'm to fit everything in that I need to do tonight.

What a weekend - and still more to come, needless to say... Utterly exhausting, and I'm still not totally well, but I wouldn't have missed any of it so far for the world. Friday evening was the last Kids Club meeting of the term, and for a bit of a party, we joined forces with Teen Club - or at least their younger, less snooty ones - and booked out Activityworld in Bletchley for a couple of hours. Lots of opportunity to run around on the so-called "structure", though adults had to be a bit careful since a lot of it is designed for kids; I only slightly brained myself on one bit, completely midjudging the height of some beam or other. I was unimpressed at being dragging quite unwillingly into a very energetic game of tag, but I survived and probably had as much fun overall as any of the youngsters. After that we we going to go back to Andy and Rosie's for a leaders' end-of-term party, but there was a last-minute change of venue which I very nearly never found out about since for some reason Andy had got the idea I wasn't coming at all, but never mind. Instead we all piled round to Dave and Elaine's for a bit to eat and drink - all very civilised.

Saturday morning I managed to do all my Christmas shopping - or at least all of it that I've remembered so far anyway. As I expected, it's going to be a bit of a "gift voucher Christmas" for a good many people - it's so very difficult to buy stuff for my sister's children when they all seem to be growing up so quickly, with accordingly rapidly changing tastes. In the afternoon, Zoe came up to visit again, and after a slightly bleak walk round Willen - not quite snowing, but something a bit frozen coming down anyway - and a generous bite to eat at the Olde Swan, we went to the Sixties night in aid of Shine. It was a really good evening, with our very own Funky Business kicking things off, followed by a brief appearance from Shine, and then the Real Beatles, who just happened to be fronted by Shine's manager - explained how we got them for free... Really was back to Andy and Rosie's after that though - a good chance for Zoe to meet everyone in a nice relaxed setting - and then finally back to ours before calling it a day.

This morning's meeting was a special Christmas one, with songs and sketches from the various children's groups, and Christmas carols for everyone. There's no meeting tonight, though I think a good load of us are going to gatecrash Oldbrook Christian Centre's candlelit carol service, which should be quite fun - and back to Alan and Helen's afterwards. For lunch today, about ten of us descended on Westcroft Pizza Hut, which made a pleasant change from the norm. Even more pleasant was getting a slightly out-of-date beer, which not only did they not charge us for but they also replaced free of charge - so we got three perfectly good Boddingtons for the price of one. But for now, I suppose I ought to write out a few more cards, and maybe have a lie down for a bit - my head really is spinning and swimming after this flu; I suspect my sinuses are congested or something. It doesn't hurt, and it doesn't seem to affect my concentration or anything, but it's not a very pleasant feeling to have.

The candlelit carols at Oldbrook provided a very pleasant change from the usual, though only Alan and Helen made it there from our lot, apart from me of course. We agreed it was a little bit too preachy for a service targeted at least partly at the general public, but it was all very nicely done and well worth going to. We skipped the coffee and mince-pies afterwards, going straight back to Alan and Helen's instead - for our own similar refreshments - and were later joined by Andy and Rosie. Unfortunately, my head was getting rather odd again by that time with the problems I'm currently experiencing, and I had some Christmas card-writing to finish, so I left them to watch some film or other and headed home. Chatting to my mum on the phone later, she seemed pretty sure from the symptoms I had described that I was indeed suffering congested sinuses, so I got some nasal spray stuff this morning which she thought should help clear them, though it's yet to have much effect and it's difficult to tell how well it's spraying in the first place.

Had a quiet evening in and an early night last night, but still feel pretty strange this morning. The nasal spray might have improved things a little, but not entirely, which makes me wonder if there's something else not quite right. I doubt it's anything too serious, and I'm sure I'll just wake up one morning and not even notice it's gone, but it's still a little concerning in the run-up to Christmas.

Hopefully Mark will have a new car by the time I get home this evening. Regular readers will know that he's had a 2.9-litre Granada for a couple of years, but he has finally seen the light of sensibility, and is trading it in for a 1.0-litre Citroen AX. He'll have to get used to the slightly diminished acceleration and so on, but I'm sure using two to three times less petrol will be easier to stomach.

Meanwhile it's now only a few minutes until the annual QA Bash, which sees the remaining stragglers let down what hair they have over a selection of food and especially drink. Of course there was the formal Christmas meal last week, but this one has become somewhat of an institution over the years and normally ends up surprisingly well-attended considering its timing so shortly before the end of term.

Other than that, things are being quietly mundane, and I can't say I'm too sorry about that. I had a short meeting this morning about the voice-conferencing project, and have taken away a two-page document to mull over by tomorrow afternoon, but that's about it really. I expect I'll work through until the university closes Thursday afternoon, but it's not likely to be the most stressful days of my life.

Ah well, a fairly unproductive day at work really, but I doubt anyone still around did much better. The QA Bash was all right, I suppose - plenty of food and drink for not too many end-of-term stragglers, anyway, and a fair number of people crawled out of the woodwork probably not to be seen again until next year's event. It's a little sad, but the QA Bash, the Christmas lunch and fire-drills are the three best ways of finding out who our colleagues really are.

This evening, my office-mate Jon's lift home was going to be very delayed, and with a few bulky bits and bobs from his daughter's Christmas party earlier in the afternoon, he readily agreed to my offer to run him and Philippa home instead of catching the bus. Of course this meant having to be introduced to the delights of Polly Pockets, various - pretend I hope - medical implements, and Philippa's infamous new Ikea bed, the saga of which I had already been told.

But now I'm back at home, and no sign of Mark - nor his new car which he was going to be buying "in about an hour" as I left for work this morning - so I suspect I'll go for another quite evening and an early night, at least to get some energy for the festivities which seem to be starting tomorrow evening. Tomorrow evening it's a bring-a-bottle party at Di's - ably assisted by Andrea - then Christmas Eve, I believe there's a gathering at Freddie and Jackie's.

I finally spoke to Seamus and Gill on Sunday morning, to confirm our Christmas Day arrangements. Everything seems to be in order, and it should be a good houseful there, with our friends Shane and Sandy there too, plus a few of Seamus and Gill's children and relations, making a healthy nine people altogether. It's a relief everything's sorted out now - I really feel I can finally begin to enjoy Christmas - though it would be nice if my head would clear a bit.

As I expected, not a wholly rewarding day at work, but I managed to peruse in some depth the voice-conferencing document I had been asked to comment on, and make those comments by e-mail, so it's not been a totally wasted time. Although I didn't get to see Mark in the end last night, I did get to see his new car when Angela's leaving shortly after three in the morning vaguely woke me up, and it looks pretty nice - as F-registration Citroen AX's go anyway - and I got a better look at it this morning as I left for work. Pity it's white, but it looks quite smart I suppose, and I am a fine one to talk, with my white Metro - though I had little choice in the matter. Mind you, the car the Metro replaced was a white Nova, and that was at least partly my choice, so perhaps I should be a little less cynical about Mark's choice of colour... Anyway, the police stop white cars less than others, assuming the rumours of car-snooker in many forces are founded in truth - though the chances of a one-litre AX breaking the limit seem a little slim in any case.

Oh joy of joys, that was a wonderful evening out - not. That's right, got across to Oldbrook to find a very apologetic Di explaining that the party had been cancelled for lack of interest. But as seems usual with these things, there had been a complete communication breakdown at some point in the chain and no-one had been told this. I'm not too bothered - and I'm not mounting an enquiry to find out who was responsible - and could probably use another quiet evening in, but it is annoying when things like this happen. I've phoned Freddie and Jackie, and their party - though they say it's not really a party, more just a gathering of friends and neighbours for mince pies and sherry - is still definitely going ahead tomorrow evening, so all is not lost, as they'll gratefully accept my now-spare bottle of wine. Boxing day brunch at Gareth and Tash's has also now been confirmed, and I've got to bring some bread and crumpets, which shouldn't pose too much of a problem if I can find a spare few minutes to go shopping at some point tomorrow. I think I shall take the opportunity - having already spoken to Zoe tonight - to practise my carols for the Christmas day morning service, at which Gareth confirmed tonight he would like me to play. Today I bought some pretty tinsel to decorate my otherwise boringly black WX11 in some seasonally festive manner, so I might have to investigate exactly how I'm going to do that too.

Or maybe I'll just have a long hot bath instead. Playing a few Christmas carols and attaching a bit of tinsel can't really be that hard, can they? Or maybe I'll phone Zoe again. Or maybe some combination of all of those things. Either way, need to do something worthwhile...

Well it's Christmas Eve, and I'm going to call it a day soon, work-wise. After the disappointment of last night's party not happening, I managed to make the most of the evening after all, doing all the things I had contemplated. My head's still not quite right with Christmas just round the corner, but it feels much better than it has done for a while, and shouldn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the day. I did a little shopping for the Boxing Day brunch at Gareth and Tash's this morning, but couldn't get the crumpets I needed, so am going to have to try elsewhere for those this afternoon, which is another good reason to not hang around here too much longer.

Anyway, as for when this diary next gets updated, I'm not too sure. I'll be in or around Milton Keynes for much of the time, so there probably won't be quite such a communications black-out as there was last year, but I certainly intend staying well away from Monochrome or diary-writing tomorrow. So Boxing Day looks a more likely day to make a return to relative normality... So in the meantime, I'll take the opportunity to wish all readers a very happy Christmas, however you choose to celebrate it - or indeed whatever you choose to call it. Either way, it's a special occasion, and a welcome winter-time celebration, so make the most of it, and have lots of fun!

Christmas is now safely just about over, and now it's time for the run-in to the new year - though I'm not yet sure exactly what I'll be doing for then. As I expected, it's been one of the better Christmases in recent years, and although I've perhaps not had the energy to participate as enthusiastically as I might have liked, I've had a lot of fun in my own more quiet and reflective way...

Sherry and mince pies round at Freddie and Jackie's on Christmas Eve ended up very good, and although I actually ended up having very little sherry and very few mince pies, there was plenty else on offer. With Freddie performing a few conjuring tricks and a few party games I think everyone enjoyed themselves lots, and it amply made up for the disappointment of the previous evening's non-events.

Christmas morning I played "armadillo" in church as expected - complete with seasonal golden tinsel decoration - and it seemed to go quite well considering it was new material for me from an instrumental rather than singing point of view. We did a non-stop medley of carols to kick the meeting off, and after a short address from Dave, we closed with a couple more. Good fun, and a packed house too.

Then it was on to Seamus and Gill's for the rest of the day, starting with lunch of course - although with lunch a little delayed, present-opening actually came first. Miscellaneous edibles and wearables on the whole for me, plus a very interesting new twist on the bible from Zoe, which I started reading late last night. Everyone else seemed to have got great presents too, happily to say.

Lunch was wonderful as expected, although with nine of us it was crowded. Abi wasn't too well just before lunch, but thankfully it didn't seem to have done her appetite much harm, though quite what the matter was with Jonathan's was anyone's guess. Turkey and honey-roast ham with all the trimmings went down a treat though, plus probably the best Christmas pud and brandy butter I can remember.

More friends - some I knew, some I didn't - came across for the afternoon and evening, and we had a great time playing games and so on, and generally eating, drinking and being merry in a suitable fashion. Thankfully I was on foot, so had no great worries about enjoying a few beers and whiskies for a change. Finally left at about nine, in time to give Zoe a quick ring, before turning in.

Thankfully my head felt absolutely fine throughout the whole day - even with a bit of alcohol buzzing happily around it - which was a major relief after recent days. I had been really quite worried I wasn't going to be able to get through the day, but in the event there was no trouble at all. It felt a bit odd again last night, but it's been fine again today, and that's the main thing.

Today, after getting up pleasantly late, it was a slightly longer stroll round to Gareth and Tash's for Boxing Day brunch. I guess there were probably about twenty of us there altogether, enjoying crumpets, pains au chocolat, muffins and various cookies. I seem to have not only returned with my loaf of bread bu also a bag of Sainsbury's jam doughnuts, but I think everyone was pretty stuffed.

So now I'm back home with a quiet day ahead of me, probably - and I think I need it. Although my head's fine at least during the daytimes, I am still lacking in energy quite a bit and need a fair bit of rest to keep going at other times. So I think I shall probably read a bit more of the book from Zoe, maybe phone a few people, and generally take it a bit easy - should be just what I need.

But all in all, it's been a great few days, and memorable for all the right reasons. All too often I have had great expectations which have been quickly dashed with feelings of disappointment and anticlimax from all concerned. That was why as a family we chose to do things very differently this year, with my parents in Wales and me doing my own thing - and it seems to have worked a treat.

Boxing Day has been quietly uneventful since brunch, but certainly not without its pleasant moments. Apart from the sheer delight of sitting here slowly savouring the utter ecstasy of some certain Thornton's Alpini that were unwrapped yesterday afternoon, I had a nice long on-line chat with Zoe earlier in the evening, although I daresay I might have got Ionica out of their financial crisis in so doing... I ventured out into the rain and gales this afternoon to get a thank-you card for Seamus and Gill - it was such a totally wnderful day round there yesterday that it seems appropriate to mark my thanks in this manner. The weather has been utterly disgusting all day, though, and I've felt uninspired to do anything else energetic whatsoever.

Tim - our overall worship leader - is sadly not at all well again; I gave him a quick phone-call this evening to confirm arrangements for tomorrow morning, but he seems to have taken a real turn for the worse since yesterday morning when he seemed fairly chirpy. He's one of those guys who seems to have been afflicted with problem after problem over the last few years, some of them connected, some not, I don't think. But like so many similar people, he also has a remarkable capacity for bouncing back, and has a great ministry in life to fulfil. We get a real sense of a spiritual battle waging, with Tim as a battleground, and know that ultimately powers of good must win - but that every passing day before that victory is taking its toll.

Sunday lunchtime, and hopefully I can have a fairly restful remainder of the day, with no scheduled evening meeting or anything. This morning went fine, despite Tim's absence, though it was quite a relief to return to familiar praise and worship material rather than Christmas carols, from a performance point of view. There was an interesting twist on the nativity play, with various oldies taking most of the key roles - all good fun, and a bit of a laugh can help make the important all the more memorable.

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