David's diary: June 1998
Today is the first official day of my new tenancy; I suppose I was technically homeless for nine hours yesterday, but seeing as I've been sleeping at the new place since Saturday night, that's somewhat academic. Everything really did fit in the end, and once I've had the opportunity to sort through some somewhat chaotic paperwork - at least half of which I am sure is eminently binnable - things should be better still.
Slight panic Sunday afternoon - just before the guy turned up to inspect the flat and relieve me of my keys - when I accidentally locked myself out while going downstairs with my neighbour to have a look at his vandalised car, but the estate agents' spare set of keys came in useful for the first time ever, and the day was saved. They said they would return my deposit in about three working days, so everything was obviously in order.
So far so good with the inevitable early morning bathroom scramble. Both weekdays and Sundays are a potential issue, but there's been no problems so far, and so long as we all stick to a moderately predictable routine, it should stay that way. Alas it means the end for my long relaxing soaks in the bath, though it is true that showers are not only quicker but more invigorating too, certainly to start the day off with.
Internet access from home is going to be dramatically reducing, if it happens at all. It's simply not fair with only one line in a shared house, and besides, I have heard some fairly bad things about using modems with Ionica. For general use Mark has found Ionica to be very good though - unlike many other people's experiences, I gather - and the service includes nice features like access codes to do per-person itemised billing.
But back at work today, after a two-week break, and feeling uninspired to get back into the Ellingham diagrams I am supposed to be getting my head around. Nothing alarming seems to have happened while I've been away; the only hot gossip being that the BBC Production Centre here are rumoured to be pulling out of multimedia software development after the chaos of some of their S103 contributions, but it's not quite that simple.
Moderately useful day at work; I managed to track down a metallurgy book I wanted to borrow from the library, and also enjoyed a wonderful - circa 1979 - video on Ellingham diagrams and oxide reduction in general. The book I am assured will be utterly impenetrable - but I have it out until December, so there's time enough - but the video, after two runs through, was actually modestly comprehensible and, although somewhat rough and ready in its delivery, wasn't so loaded up with hilarious 1970s-isms and Blue Peter style props that I was forced to disturb all the other library users with maniacal laughter.
My negotiations with Endsleigh ended satisfactorily, by the way. They did - as is the usual procedure with insurance companies - want to charge me some more, explaining that the premium for my current policy had almost doubled with my change of address, but - unlike all the other rip-off companies I have dealt with - they were gracious enough to absorb the extra for the one remaining month. They tried to get me to renew in advance for next year, tempting me with a policy only costing 50% more than this year's, but I said I would rather wait until the renewal came up properly, and then consider some alternatives.
The Ellingham diagrams project seems slowly to be making some progress; with time to reflect on the video I watched yesterday, things really do seem to be making sense now, and I've been able to come up with a skeleton plan for the kind of things I feel the software should cover, but nothing specific enough to be able to devise actual screen layouts. Unfortunately that plan doesn't fit in too well with the vision for the software that the academics had in mind, but I daresay some compromise can be reached. I get the impression they still think this will be ready to trial at this year's summer school, but frankly they are dreaming if they really believe that, and nothing has ever been promised on that count.
I got my first help-desk queries regarding the Electrons in atoms software today, and I am confident not only that they have been resolved, but that neither was as a direct result of any bug in my software. The first one appears to be related to a faulty - or more likely, dirty - CD-ROM, since the first symptom manifesting is the operating system saying it cannot read from the CD-ROM drive. The second query was a little more strange, with it unclear whether the problem was really reproducible, and I think it was most likely to have been a result of the student not following the instructions. In any case, they tried again, and it worked - which makes me wonder why they didn't do that in the first place...
There were more violent storms today; it really has been a wet year so far, all told, and the Milton Keynes area has certainly experienced some of the worst of it. Lunchtime saw some very big flashes of lightning, and one of my boss's running-mates witnessed a house in Woughton-on-the-Green - about a mile away - having one of its gables blasted apart by a direct strike. This evening it is still very damp, and a short walk with Lucy and her dog Charlie ended up with me pretty drenched - and Charlie dyed a pale shade of red from the colour running out of his collar. Both the weather and myself had dried off by the time I wandered back from her house a little while ago, but the damp has made me more tired than ever.
But for now, it's getting moderately late, and I need my sleep more desperately than ever; my annual bout of hayfever does little to help, making my eyes very tired, and this weather has a decidedly soporific effect on me. Hopefully the factor of getting up about twenty minutes later than I have been accustomed will cumulatively help things, but I really do seem to suffer from a chronic tiredness that both I and others seem, sadly, almost to take for granted. I've been like this at times in the past, and the doctor has found nothing much wrong with me, but I'm sure it's something that could be improved by a more active and therefore healthy lifestyle, and that's certainly something I'm working on fairly intensively.
Plans for a moderately early night last night came to nothing though, with an unfamiliar voice emanating from downstairs just as I was about to turn in. Simeon was there, being cheered up by Mark while Ali is in hospital, and plenty of beer, wine, rock videos and two hours later I finally did call it a day. And guess how I feel this morning...
Today I've been fleshing out my plans for the Ellingham diagrams software. They probably don't cover enough ground or depth, but at least I more or less understand everything I've included, so there's hope yet. There's been a couple more queries from the student helpdesk about problems using my Electrons in Atoms software, but nothing that has been proven to be a fault with the software so far, though there's plenty of time yet, I am sure.
Last night's neighbourhood group meeting ended up with the guys meeting down at the Swan, while the girls wasted money on end-of-season clothing. Angela's Canadian friend Adam was there, a non-Christian, but one who essentially believes in God and is seeing so many amazing things it cannot be long before he finally turns. Fairly mundane really, with the highlight being Adam failing to guess Angela's mobile phone PIN code one too many times.
The weekend ahead should be a busy one, with a line-dance evening tomorrow night, and - being first Sunday of the month - Celebration at Wolverton the following morning. I've not done line-dancing before, and wasn't planning on going until Cally masterfully pulled everyone's heart-strings as never before, but we have been given a truly watertight guarantee that it will be fun, and I'm happy to try almost anything like that at least once.
As expected, the weekend was indeed fairly busy, but marred more than slightly by probably the worst hayfever I've had for a good many years, really laying me quite low at times. Mark kindly gave me a couple of Triludan Fortes - now banned, apparently - making yesterday evening manageable, and hopefully today similarly.
The line-dance Saturday night I suppose was quite fun, though I'm not sure it is something I would be persuaded to do again in its own right. I guess my memory and coordination really is as bad as I suspected, making me more of a liability than a participant. Food and drink were included though, so at least I got my money's worth.
I'm somewhat relieved to be able to say that things are now officially "off" between me and Lucy; things had been getting very strained and confusing lately, and neither of us were at all sure if it was right to carry on - I think we were both living a lie to an extent - so we happily agreed to remain friends but go it alone.
Praying what to do next, perhaps it should not come as a surprise to receive in the post a news cutting from my mum, asking for volunteers to run a summer camp near Mostar. Maybe it is just a small world, but the organisers are Salt and Light's very own Novi Most, which should make it very easy to get involved if I wanted.
But it's back to work this morning, and back to planning this Ellingham diagrams software. I'm supposed to be meeting with the academic in charge at some point this week, but he seems impossible to tie down to any specific time. I'm sure everything will work out, but I hate it when projects take so long to even get off the blocks.
Oh and Saturday afternoon, I visited the Herald motor exhibition in the shopping centre - not quite as big as the Citizen's event at the Bowl a month or so ago, but at least I got to it. Lots of horrible cars, and a few nice ones. Very few of the far-eastern models inspired anything better than nausea, with the main exception of the Hyundai Coupe, which was probably the nicest car there that I could ever hope to afford - ruling out the very nice DB7 Volante on that basis, of course.
Most sensible car there that I really liked the look of though was the Spanish-built Seat Arosa - based on a shortened Polo chassis, and essentially a Volkswagen on a budget - coming in at about 7000 pounds for the basic model, but alas too new for there to be much second-hand market yet. Nonetheless, I took away all the information about it that I could, having been very impressed with Seats in the past; my brother has had an Ibiza for about three years and has been very pleased with it.
Scrabble fortunes seem to be improving, but I think can be put down purely to random factors. Mark almost always wins if he is playing, but I won fairly convincingly the other evening. However it was only thanks to managing to place my first rack of letters comprising V, G, I, A, N, I and a blank around an R and get 72 points for "arriving", which rather set me up for the rest of an otherwise somewhat unspectacular game.
Last night was little irksome, with a surprise visit from a good friend, but rather than being a social call, instead a bit of a begging mission to scrape together the deposit for a mortgage. I felt a bit difficult about it all, because although I almost certainly could have afforded to write him a cheque for what he needed, I'll probably be having similar expenses of my own to worry about before too long, so I had to politely decline.
He was understanding about it though, and as much as anything was grateful that he felt he could even approach me in the first place and get a fair hearing. He felt called to "go to the Body" for help, and we fruitfully discussed how the Body has many parts, all with different specialities, not like some Borg collective or something. Maybe he was called to see me, but maybe my chosen role was to talk about and clarify the issues.
Work is getting me down again, feeling utterly uninspired to press forward significantly with the Ellingham diagrams software. Reading through the academic's proposal document again, I really cannot relate it to the treatment of the subject area that I feel is necessary, and he's being remarkably difficult to pin down to have a meeting to discuss this. To cap it all, time is running out if they want anything done for this summer.
Sometimes I feel I want to leave, but it would be a lot of hassle, and I do enjoy everything about working here apart from certain aspects of the work. That is to say, it would be a major wrench, and a tricky one at that. So once again, I'll just do the best I can, weather the storm, but all the while, keep my eyes open. But sometimes it drives me so low that I have to worry about my well-being, which is perhaps when I should be more decisive.
It would be nice if I could have someone special to go home and talk to every evening. Sure, there's Helen, or Mark, or Alan - and perhaps others - but they are still not people in whom I can confide with my deepest feelings and emotions; it wouldn't be fair on them, apart from anything else. Although it was a relief to hear what Lucy said the other day, it does once again leave a gaping unknown void in my life that I know needs filling.
That is, it's more than just a personal thing, it's something far deeper and harder to put into words than that. It's a matter of knowing there is someone there for whom your problems are their problems, your joy is their joy, and so on, for both the negative and the positive events and issues in life. Instead, without such a person, joys are selfishly clung onto, whilst even small problems in the meantime expand to bursting point.
Friday at work didn't particularly buck the recent trend of not being able to get into my current software project, though a meeting with the academic at the end of the day was somewhat more productive. I was hoping he would explain a load of stuff, though it turned out that from the rough plan I had compiled, little did I know it, but I had actually more or less fully understood it and he has given the go-ahead for me to push forward with implementing the software essentially based on that plan.
In the evening, I had foolishly agreed that I would help Mark out with his Kids Club walk down to Willen Lake. It's several years since I have done anything like that, so I had a fair bit of apprehension about it all. As you can tell, I survived, though, but much as I essentially enjoyed it, I'm not sure I would want to make any commitment at least for the time being. Apart from anything else, I somehow feel too old, lethargic and miserable, though I guess those are things that could improve.
Saturday morning, some of the Springfield people had organised a free car-wash, and I wasn't planning on going, but en-route to the shops, I met Cally and Reece who were trying to drum up support for the event. So I did end up going, but there were plenty enough people armed with buckets and sponges in comparison to the number of cars there to wash, so mine ended up getting done too. I think we got one new recruit, newly moved into the area and looking for a church, so it was all worth it.
In the afternoon, Andy phoned, so I drove to Oldbrook under the pretences of there being a game of Scrabble about to start. There wasn't - for various reasons, most notably Mark being asleep - but a few of us went into town for a coffee and a cake. A few more folks joined us later in the afternoon, and then in the evening, we all trooped up to the Crauford Arms in Wolverton for the final Jacob's Dream gig before they disappear off on their ground-breaking tour of Bosnia in a couple of weeks time.
Having seen Jacob's Dream - also known as Robbie's Nightmare - at their first performance, a mere six hours after they had formed, it was good to hear how much more polished they are now. They will be taking their now extensive repertoire of both cover-versions and own-written Christian and non-Christian songs on what will apparently be the first tour by any foreign band in Bosnia since the war. They are specifically targeting the youth of the country who certainly need some cheering up if nothing else.
Sunday afternoon, and staying indoors to escape from the infernal hayfever, though I must admit that looking at monitor or television screens doesn't do a lot of good either when my eyes are as tired as they are. Today's Folk on the Green day up at Stony Stratford, but I think I'm better off where I am to be quite honest, and besides, the line-up doesn't look anywhere near as good as last year's. I could yet pop up there for a little while, I guess, but I doubt I'll succumb to temptation.
Church this morning found a popular formula, as a relatively informal short family service with minimal preaching as such, but lots of music, videos and children's activities. It was promoted as an opportunity for non-Christian guests to come along and hear what it's all about, and I think we had a few such visitors. The meeting was followed by a relaxed indoor picnic lunch, an unusually good opportunity for people not to rush home to cook the dinner or whatever, and have a chat instead.
Tonight will be one of our more regular "all four churches together at Springfield" evening meetings, which almost always end up as very powerful events. When I started at MKCF in the autumn of 1996, the evening meetings were somewhat haphazardly run, lacking any particular structure, appreciable attendance, and sometimes even a consistent starting time. Since they recently relaunched them though, they have become very popular events, and are often at least as lively as the morning ones.
Cool news, just spied on the newsgroups, is that the completely wonderful Martin Carthy - please see last month's diary for even more enthusiastic words - was awarded an MBE in the Queen's birthday honours list for his services to English folk music. There can't be many musicians who've got a gong from the Queen, still less ones that I have seen live and my mum claimed to have chatted up. Congratulations to Martin anyway, especially since I know there is no danger whatsoever of him getting smug about it.
On a similar - but different - kind of theme, it was interesting to see my next-door neighbour's ex-boyfriend on the six o'clock news a few days ago, giving his environmentalist opinion on something to do with genetically modified crops. I thought I recognised the face as soon as it appeared, and although his surname was unfamiliar - I never knew what it was anyway - it was indeed Jim. Helen commented that he had a funny beard; I guess one gets used to such things in time, but she was right, I suppose.
Took an unusually early night last night, after enjoying the final episode of the Voyager two-parter and some much-needed practice on the wind synthesiser. Voyager I really do now believe to be probably the best of all the Star Trek incarnations, with only The Next Generation as any kind of competition. The original Star Trek still holds some appeal, but the newer series far more successfully combine the essential elements for success.
This morning, I succumbed and left the car at home, in order to support today's "green transport" initiative. Walking in took about 35 minutes, and it certainly was a pleasant route, through leafy Woolstone, and up the river to the campus. I met a few people to talk to, and only had to backtrack once to avoid flooding. I'll do it more often, and perhaps cycle in sometimes, once I've found a good place to leave my bike during the day.
The weather this morning was glorious, though it's come over rather grey now, and it'll be somewhat hit or miss whether I can get home dry tonight, though I've brought some waterproofs with me just in case. They were forecasting sunshine with showers, so I would say I have quite a good chance, but in any case, it wouldn't do me any harm even if I did get caught out; indeed, with the heat as it is, it might even be refreshing...
Yesterday's - otherwise successful - green initiative was blown straight out of the water with hypocrisy, when I agreed, after a rapid exchange of messages, to drive over to Cambridge for the evening. Andy was down there from Halifax on a firewall training course, and it seemed a fine opportunity to meet up for the first time in ages. Sure, it is a fair old trek over to Cambridge but it's closer than Halifax, so I should count my blessings. My colleague Jon pointed out that there are no train or bus services to there, so I felt slightly more justified in polluting the atmosphere a little.
The trip across was a little slow at times, hitting the tail-end of the rush hour, but there's some nice stretches of dual carriageway, especially between Bedford and Cambridge, so I still got there in about an hour, and fairly easily found the guest-house Andy had been booked into. We had agreed we would go and try out a curry house his boss had recommended, and - once we'd found somewhere to park - we enjoyed a superb meal, with excellent food, and swift and courteous service. Thank you once again, Andy, for footing the bill - I'll owe you one next time you're anywhere near Milton Keynes.
After a swift pint at the pub next door to the guest-house, I hit the road back to Milton Keynes, with barely any traffic in sight. If it hadn't been for my getting slightly lost on the outskirts of the city, thanks to some confusing temporary signposting, I would probably have got home in not much more than three quarters of an hour. I don't know why it is, but even though there's roundabouts about every half mile in Milton Keynes, whenever I get lost, I invariably find one of the few stretches of road that goes on for miles with no opportunities for turning round.
Before I left Milton Keynes, I filled up with petrol, and calculated - shockingly - that for the kind of driving I am mainly doing, i.e. commuting within the city on a stop-start kind of basis - the Metro is only managing about 25 miles to the gallon. Amazingly, in contrast, when I got home from Cambridge, I noticed that despite having done well over 100 miles on the round trip, the fuel gauge needle had barely moved. I know it's not the most economical car at the best of times, but I would guess that the run to Cambridge was at least twice as economical than my typical day-to-day usage.
A nondescript day at work, getting a little bit of programming done towards the Ellingham diagrams project, and otherwise a day only notable for an hour of CES presentations at the CALRG educational software conference this morning. Simon demonstrated his music analysis summer-school software, whilst Geoff and Fiona did a joint presentation on the S103 science course, concentrating particularly upon the Block 8 molecular structure activity and the interactive questions that feature throughout the entire course.
There was a whole load of mail forwarded from my old address waiting for me when I got home this evening. All of it - bar one bit of Littlewoods prize draw junk mail - should have come direct to this address if the relevant organisations had got their act in order. Also, finally, was the refund from BT Cable - for even more than I had expected, no less - which means that the Council Tax refund is now the only outstanding issue in relation to my move, and they're stalling - as one would entirely expect of them.
Happily, it looks like my car insurance renewal premium might not be as astronomical as I had feared a month ago. They just sent me the new schedule, and according to that, my additional premium for the last month of my policy was about three pounds, rather than the twenty-three they charged me. Needless to say, I phoned them to query it, in case I had been overcharged originally, but they explained that twenty pounds of my additional premium would have been a flat-rate service charge for changing of details.
So, although I obviously feel a little annoyed at over three-quarters of the money I paid being squandered on excessive administration costs, it should mean that my change of address will only really mean an increase of about thirty pounds annually, which would be entirely bearable. I should get a year's no-claims bonus, and they might even start getting amnesia about my theft claim from almost two years ago, so there's a good chance I will actually see it reduce, though I'll believe that when it happens.
Our neighbourhood group meeting for tonight - since Andy is away, and nothing too specific has been organised - is a social, agreed to be a circular walk from the Barge in Woolstone. The Barge only about ten minutes' walk from here, so - weather permitting - I'm not taking the car, and as a result will be able to drink a little more than usual if I so desire. But, that being the case, I'd better wind up this diary-writing thing for now, and get ready to go out, especially since I am nominally the organiser!
Hardly anyone turned up for the neighbourhood group in the end; Alan the trucker arrived at the pub shortly after me, followed some time later by Alan and Helen who drove over, having been waylaid by the Simpsons. But when noone else graced us with their presence, Alan and Helen decided to go off and do some shopping instead - it's only a month until their wedding now - leaving me an unusual opportunity to share a couple of pints with Alan the trucker and talk about all kinds of stuff.
As I got back to the house, Mark and Angela appeared out of nowhere, and after they'd had a bite to eat, we agreed we'd go out for a drink - making it twice for me in one night, which is more or less unprecedented. It was the Olde Swan this time though, not the Barge, but only because they thought I could use a change of venue. So I'm really quite mellow now, and looking forward to a good night's sleep, and just hoping that tomorrow I can feel a bit more perky than the last couple of mornings.
Friday evening was Kids Club time again, this time one of their more normal meetings - i.e. just games and stuff - at the school. It saw record numbers turning up, though - over fifty, and no sign of the meteoric rise slowing - and I think Mark is quietly rather relieved to have got a few more adult helpers around to keep some semblance of order. I'm still stopping short of making a commitment as such, though I think it is increasingly likely that I will help out at least semi-regularly.
Saturday I can't remember much about, to be perfectly frank, though probably only because I didn't really do much of note other than the run-of-the-mill stuff like conspiring to commit phase one genocide on the ants in the garden and so on. Oh, and I ferried Alan to and from Newport Pagnell a couple of times while he got his car's MOT sorted out. It was an exceptionally hot day once it started, so I think I probably otherwise stayed indoors as much as possible, to avoid both the heat and the pollen.
After watching South Park, I took an early night - just as well, getting up at about half past three Sunday morning in order to walk up to the beacon in Campbell Park to see in the summer solstice. There were probably a couple of dozen of us MKCF folk up there, plus a small handful of more hippy types and dazed revellers from Saturday's Ozzfest to heckle us appropriately. It generally went off well, though, and it was beautifully warm considering the time of day and what a clear night it had been.
Sunday daytime was rather more conventional, with the usual complement of morning and evening meetings - although the evening one, as I only discovered half way through, was one of the special "building together" ones with representatives of many local churches in attendance. I took a walk down to, and then around, both lakes at Willen in the afternoon, which was some most welcome exercise, but not as welcome as the breeze which brewed up out of nothing and gave some brief respite from the incredible heat.
Phase two of genocide on the ants was in progress when I got back, with a potent combination of further ant powder, petrol, matches and running like heck. I think it would be fair to say that the chances of there being more than a tiny fraction of the pre-weekend ant population still in the garden would be extremely slim. Ants in the garden don't generally worry me, but they were undermining the patio, and frequently getting into the house, so I can't say I raised any objections to the action taken.
Sunday evening, after the meeting, I ran Chris back to his flat on Coffee Hall, intending to go to bed myself pretty much straight after - remembering I had been up since the small hours of the morning - but by the time I had got back, a modest crowd had gathered at the house, so those plans went out of the window. Instead it was Scrabble time - seeing as I'd already watched South Park on Saturday night - in which I only narrowly came third, finally turning in - and sleeping like a log - at about one o'clock.
Yet despite such a weekend, I still managed - for the first time in a week - to get into work before nine, and even do some modestly useful stuff when I did. This week should be a little less hectic than last in most respects, and will have some distractions hopefully, such as helping run the S103 demonstrations at Wednesday's TTAA Day and Saturday's Open Day. I also need to find time to finish off a couple of web sites I am working on, and think there's a fair chance of that, as well as getting some more much-needed sleep.
My challenge for this week ... is to see how many days I can survive without having a snack half way through the afternoon. I was really doing quite well between the time of my visit to the doctor which highlighted the need for a slight change of diet, and my moving house at the end of May. But the last couple of weeks have seen a terrible back-sliding, and one that I really do wish to reverse.
Certainly, when I have conceded and made that fateful visit to the shop - which, teasingly, is immediately underneath my office - I've made an effort not to buy the most fattening snacks possible, but I felt so much better while I managed to stay away altogether, and so did my wallet. With two hours to go this afternoon, I might just last out today, but even that's not certain, but I must try.
I've definitely lost a bit of flab since I started this diet of moderation, but have noticed that the last few days have seen a regression, which is somewhat inevitable, especially since the amount of exercise I've been undertaking has decreased dramatically too. So all told, it's time to try again with this regime; I know I'll feel better for it, because I've been there already and it worked.
May I reassure readers that I haven't reverted back to being a complete lazy and over-eating slob, but that this is just a sign that even small measures can make massive differences where things are on a critical knife-edge. I'm still enjoying my breakfasts of bran flakes with raisins and fresh apple, and I'm still walking around town when possible, but I know I'm not doing everything I could.
Well I am ashamed to say I didn't last out the afternoon, but working on the basis that - as one of my colleagues once credibly suggested - it is more the need to punctuate the afternoon's work than to be nourished that forces me to make my daily trips to the shop, I limited myself to just a can of Diet Coke.
I think that tonight - having recently got a bum-bag specially for the purpose - I will try reviving my running programme. Willen south lake in less than twenty minutes would be extremely pleasing, though having been lax for the last few weeks, I might take a bit more easing back into the regime I had started.
To be brutally honest, though, I have to admit that part of the reason I need to punctuate my afternoon with even a five-minute wander downstairs, is because I'm bored with my current work. Although I've perhaps made it sound like my diet-breaking was linked with my house-move, that just came somewhat in between projects, between ones that were involving and engrossing, and ones which frankly do little to inspire. The latter stages of the S103 project really did hot up, and I got into it more than I ever thought I would, and the microprocessor simulation software was surprisingly satisfying.
This Ellingham diagrams software will, I am sure, eventually get going in the same way - the Chemical equilibrium software for S103 was a particularly slow sarter for me - but that getting going bit remains a daunting hurdle of uninspiration, and even obesity seems somehow preferable to boredom when my mind really doesn't know which way to turn next in the hunt for fulfilment. The hayfever's not helping one bit either, leaving me feeling very weary and unmotivated, and making even looking at the monitor screen a tiring experience, which is not so great when my job depends on it for almost everything I do.
Last night's run round Willen lake was very successful, and I could probably have done a bit better if it hadn't been on rather a full stomach. I'm still not exactly sure what the total distance around the lake is, but I think it's getting on for two miles, which I completed in a satisfying 18 minutes - and without pausing even briefly. My target was 15 minutes, so there's still more to be done, but I am sure I can attain that shortly. And then I'll just have to revise my target...
I know my friend Jon can do it in about ten minutes, which I'm sure I won't be managing for a while yet, but who knows quite what the future holds, and although 18 minutes seemed a struggle last night, with practice, that will become routine, and faster times will become entirely attainable. I feel I've found a resonant pace that I can sustain, so any progress will have to be through extending my stride, which I'll happily admit is rather feeble at the moment, but must surely improve over time.
My legs are feeling kind of healthily stiff after last night's little jaunt round Willen lake, and I'm vaguely looking forward to a repeat - and perhaps improved - performance tonight, especially since the weather's a little cooler today. I've taken a bit of advice on technique, and been assured that my 18 minutes wasn't too atrocious, so I should be able to progress a bit more confidently now.
As far as I know, everything bureaucratic related to my move is now settled, with the Council Tax rebate finally arriving at the weekend, and duly paid in to the bank this morning. A day, they said it would take to clear; I thought this might be something to do with the hologram on the cheque, but it was for the far less hi-tech reason of Milton Keynes Council banking with Nat West too.
I've been scheduled in for a one-hour stint at tomorrow's TTAA day. I should primarily be demonstrating my S103 software - the Chemical equilibrium and Electrons in atoms activities - though with only four of us to cover the course during the whole day, I suspect we might have to demonstrate some of our colleagues' work too, which will be interesting, since I have hardly any experience of it!
My annual appraisal is a week away now, and I've been spending the last day getting my thoughts together for the preparation phase. That has to be submitted today, and asks for my feelings on how I've progressed and achieved objectives, areas of work giving satisfaction and so on. It sounds onerous, but it's supposed to be a positive thing, and I do find it helpful to reflect in this way.
Tuesday evening, for the second night running - no pun intended - I managed to do Willen lake in about 18 minutes, which was quite impressive for me, given that my legs were killing me during the daytime. Having now proven that my performance wasn't just a flash in the pan, I am now in the position to step things up a bit. I didn't go out last night - had other more urgent things to do - and tonight's neighbourhood group I think is an outdoor games evening, so my next attempt will probably be at the weekend.
The TTAA day yesterday went quite well. Not too many people seemed that interested in the software I was demonstrating, though I was still busy talking to people for about half the time, so it was worth the effort. Alas I have still to pluck up the courage to get back to one guy there, who I will have to disappoint with the news that he won't be able to license the S103 software for external use until our marketing department get their act in order, which will probably be sometime next millennium, from past experience.
Last night I was busy updating my CV, which I hadn't done since I applied for this job. I keep forgetting how much hassle it is, especially condensing the information down to a neat two pages or whatever, whilst avoiding missing out anything crucial. I'm not really seriously stepping up my efforts to get out from here, but I did stumble across an advertisement yesterday which looked both interesting and within my capability, so it seemed a good opportunity to revise the CV to include details of my current work.
The weekend ahead promises to be quite hectic, probably helping with Kids Club again on Friday evening, the Open University Open Day on Saturday, and the Kids Club / Teen Club fundraising Fun Day on Sunday afternoon. I've still to receive confirmation on what exactly anyone wants me to do for any of those - and I'm rather hoping I can just enjoy Sunday's event as a visitor - but I certainly expect to be involved in all of them on some level. I just hope the weather can settle down a little bit compared to lately.
It's a grey, damp, Friday afternoon at work - though nice and snug in my office, of course - and another fairly unproductive day. This morning I had a brief meeting with Karen, who's running my appraisal interview on Tuesday, basically to agree an agenda and so on. I have quite high hopes about the value of the appraisal, even although it's unlikely anything earth-shatteringly significant will come out of it.
Having said that, a good set of objectives that I can meet with flying colours will put me in very good stead, because this time next year, decisions will be being made as to whether my post becomes permanent or not. Last year's objectives Karen felt were a bit vague, so we'll be hoping to come up with some clear and well-defined ones with highly quantifiable success criteria, to paint a nice positive picture.
But the cat's been put among the pigeons by a swift reply to the job application I made yesterday, with the guy wanting me to come down for an interview as soon as possible. Overall, I get good feelings about this, though I have to admit I'm scared witless. The job is with an established music company in Leighton Buzzard, and looks very interesting as well as being at a nice commuting distance from home.
Tonight at Kids Club, Mark's asked if I can do some photography; he was going to do it himself, but he had no film in his camera, and I plan to take a few more pictures over the weekend anyway, so it seemed a good opportunity to use my film and be helpful. Mark is building up a portfolio of photos of what goes on, and he wants me to take some showing the various stages of the meeting throughout the evening.
I had a good chat with Mark last night about where Kids Club was going in various respects, and we discussed the question of my making a formal commitment to them. They are breaking off for summer in about a month's time, and that would seem to offer me a good opportunity to reflect a bit on what I'd seen over the preceding weeks, and hopefully be able to make a firm decision before they restarted in September.
At tomorrow's Open Day, I'll be helping out on the S103 software demonstrations for about two hours in the afternoon, I think. I had been scheduled to do an hour, but my colleague Jon who was supposed to be on for the hour before me is currently ill, and it looks very unlikely that he will be able to do his bit. So my offer to stand in for him if need be was unsurprisingly jumped at by the course team...
So, with the Fun Day on Sunday afternoon too, it certainly is another busy weekend coming up, and I'm sure I'll be more than a bit preoccupied about this job interview thing too - though first I must phone the guy back to arrange a date and time - so I'm sure I will not be in the slightest bit refreshed come next Monday. But I'd rather it was that way than not have anything much to do and get bored to death.
A busy weekend as expected, with the Kids Club photography on Friday evening, the university Open Day on Saturday, and the MKCF Fun Day on Sunday afternoon. Needless to say, I took more photographs than I'd planned, managing to shoot off a whole film with the help of a couple of pictures at the Open Day and Fun Day, so there should be plenty of nice shots for Mark to put in his portfolio thing.
In the end, Jon did turn up for his hour at the Open Day, having been off work sick for most of the week before, so I had a bit of a chance to wander around the other exhibits as well as doing my scheduled spot. We had a fair few people through the room, looking at printed material and software relating to the various science courses currently on offer, with a considerable amount of interest generated.
The Fun Day was a fairly laid-back affair, more of a social with a few stalls than the full-blown fete which I got the impression some people were kind of expecting. As such, it was a nice - and rare - opportunity to sit down and talk at leisure with other folks from across the city. There was a barbecue going, with burgers, hot-dogs and so on for sale, so it was an all-round pleasant occasion.
As far as the job in Leighton Buzzard is concerned, I telephoned the guy late Friday afternoon, and he seemed most anxious to get me in for an interview, saying he found my CV very interesting. On the basis therefore of there being no time like the present, we've agreed to meet after work this evening, avoiding encroaching too much on my day here, although I'll have to duck out a little earlier than usual.
I'll go with an open mind, though I fear it might be hard to say no if he did decide he liked what he saw. My notice period required might still be a stumbling block, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, and the personnel department here have advised that I might be able - as I know others of my colleagues have - to trade off outstanding holiday entitlement against the nominal three months required.
It's certainly a change job-hunting whilst already working; in the past, I have always been unemployed, and the pressures are entirely different. When desperate for work, job-hunting is very intense, with ones whole livelihood at stake, grabbing whatever's going, but while in a job which might not be perfect, but is certainly bearable, one can pick and choose, and it's not a disaster if it all goes flat.
Anyway, I'll go along tonight, see what goes on there, what kind of people they are, and so on, trying not to let my judgment get excessively clouded by any disenchantment I'm feeling at the moment. The early signs may have been good to exceptional, but it's impossible to form any real opinions until I have been there, met the crew, and of course discussed nitty-gritty things like pay and conditions.
Saturday evening, for the third attempt on the trot, I managed my usual running route round Willen Lake in almost exactly 18 minutes. The difference was that this time I felt nowhere near as drained afterwards - even though I couldn't have gone any faster - with my legs much less stiff on Sunday morning than they had been the morning after previous runs, so something's improving.
Sunday, due to the Fun Day, there was no evening meeting, so instead Mark, Angela, myself and a few others tried out the Suffolk Punch in Heelands. As fake pubs go, it wasn't bad at all, with some good beers on offer. Highlight was probably phoning Andy up on Mark's mobile, unexceptional but for the fact that Andy is currently half-way down to Bosnia with the Jacob's Dream gear van.
What's more, thanks to further miracles of modern technology, Andy is even contactable on the move by e-mail, with a borrowed AOL account, a laptop with the appropriate Dacom modem card, and a list of dial-up POP telephone numbers for all across Europe. He's not replied to my message yet, but I gather he's already contacted Rosie that way, so everything seems to be in order.
It's now the morning after the evening before, and time to reflect on my interview in Leighton Buzzard. The trip down there after work was straightforward enough, though it took a bit longer than I'd perhaps hoped - especially with a speed-trapped 30mph limit through Stoke Hammond, and I think I might have been snapped - and Leighton Buzzard itself is a nightmare to navigate around and poorly signposted.
My interviewer, the company's director and also Director of Music at the church next door, seemed friendly and enthusiastic, showing me around the five-storey office before everyone went home for the night. The tour took in just about everything they did there, with interesting looking musical instruments in every nook and cranny; they've probably made more products under well-known brand names than their own.
I seemed more than a little shaky when asked direct technical questions - such as "what are the connections on a MIDI port?" and so on - but afterwards he said he was happy enough with what he'd seen, and felt I would be capable of doing the job, which would essentially be a product management position with a technical bias. He has a couple more people to interview, but will hopefully get back to me very soon.
Pay would be a slight increase on my present salary, with the likelihood of a couple of thousand a year in bonuses, and a little extra optionally earmarked for pension use. I would have to weigh that up against the increased travelling time and petrol use to get there, but I think overall, if he offered the job - and my rather lengthy notice period wasn't a major problem - then I would be inclined to accept it.
Hot on the heels of yesterday's interview, was today's annual appraisal. It is designed to be a helpful exercise, rather than one on which the employee's future livelihood rests, though the objectives we compiled were designed to be helpful given that I will have the opportunity to become permanent as a result of next year's appraisal. Karen certainly took a very different approach to Ian last year, and hopes to have her notes written up shortly for me to approve or adjust accordingly. I think I came across much as I feel, as someone who is content, but perhaps not getting as much out of the work as I could; whilst obviously stopping short of announcing that I was tentatively plotting my escape, I was able otherwise to be perfectly honest without jeopardising my current security.