David's diary: May 1998
The bank holiday weekend away was fun and not earth-shatteringly adventurous, but I guess that suited me just fine. Friday afternoon Angela picked me up to drive down to Ringwood, just outside the New Forest near Southampton; Josie was supposed to have joined us too, but pulled out at short notice for one reason or another. We met with the other guys from the church - about 25 of them, all told - down at the campsite where we'd booked four of the static caravans, and hit Christchurch for fish and chips.
Saturday we all went into Lyndhurst in the heart of the New Forest and enjoyed a combination of getting back to nature with a barbecue in the wilds - taking the appropriate precautions against fire, I hasten to add - and then mooching around the village for a little while. In the evening we headed for Poole, taking in a typically exhausting game of Quasar - but untypically for me, I scored best hit ratio and second-best on points for my team - and then watched U.S. Marshals at the cinema there, enjoyable if you like that kind of thing.
Sunday's destination was Bournemouth, which didn't really excite me too much to be honest, and by the end of the day I have to say I was getting a bit stressed and rather wished I was elsewhere and with other people - though I think I was exhausted as much as anything, and a breath of fresh air did the power of good. The evening was much better though, having booked plenty of tables at a nice Indian restaurant in Christchurch, and I managed to pick a dish - chicken bhuna - which was, unusually, about the right strength for me.
Today, after booking out of the site mid-morning, we hit the coast again at Lulworth, enjoying the slightly strenuous walk to Durdle Door and the secluded shingle beach there. A couple of hours blissfully passed by in the glorious sunshine, and a few red bodily extremities later, we toddled back, found a nice cheap cafe in Lulworth - yes, there are some - and then hit the road back home, this time via the A31/M27/M3/M25/M1 route, rather than the more cross-country route we'd taken on the way down.
The campsite was probably fairly good as such sprawling affairs go, with hundreds of closely-spaced units, and a central area with a swimming pool, crazy golf, sauna and so on, plus some tacky pubs and things nearer the entrance. It would have been nice to take a dip, but the pool almost always seemed full of screaming kids, so the only facility most of us used in the end was the crazy golf, and that was quite fun. The caravans were cramped, and clearly designed for families rather than adult groups - in fact the site rules preclude groups, but we managed to persuade them we wouldn't cause any trouble...
As for the company - well I had been looking on this weekend as a better opportunity than before to get to know the Generation X crowd from the church, and I guess to some extent it did work, and I left getting on at least reasonably well with all of them, I think. There remains some pretty irreconcilable differences between some of us, but to some extent I guess it all depends what I expect from such a thing, and if it's just friendship, then there's no problem.
So overall, did I enjoy the weekend? I would say a qualified "yes". I certainly didn't enjoy the continual traipsing round the shops that is perhaps part and parcel of the activities of a group comprising mainly women, and I would have preferred a little more adventurous exploitation of what the New Forest had to offer. But overall, yes, I did enjoy it, and it was certainly better than the other option of having spent a long weekend in Milton Keynes, so I'm really not complaining.
Back to work today, though in truth I could probably have done with the day off. I didn't get a whole lot done, finding myself frustrated with my lack of understanding of these Ellingham diagram things that I have to get my head around for my next technology faculty project.
I completed my April monthly report well ahead of the usual schedule though, so it wasn't a completely wasted day, and I got some great feedback about the microprocessor simulation software, with Mirabelle delighted that I had addressed all the issues she had identified.
I got an anonymous mention in last Friday's higher education supplement in the Times, quoted from when I had to remind my science boss - who had contributed the Don's Diary for the week - that the deadline for his work was a day sooner than he thought, and he was stressed already...
Things never quite work out the way we so often hope when God's hands inevitably play their part. Such was certainly the case tonight, when I thought I'd better phone a few people, including some who'd left messages for me while I'd been away. So, just before I was planning on going to bed, I gave Eric a ring, and five minutes later was picking him up from his house for an extended chat about this, that and everything else.
As frequently seems the case, he had a lot to get off his chest and share, and whilst my understanding of many of the serious issues confronting him is simplistic and often sketchy, I think he appreciates me as someone who does try to hear people out, and he does find it hard finding people he can talk to openly.
Amongst other things, he is anxious to get into the creative side of music, and he is also starting to learn about computers and things with a view to a career change - seeing both of those as possibilities and springboards for fellowship on all levels, both with me and with others in the church and the wider community.
Leaving work in good time and it being beautifully sunny when I did so, I decided to take a stroll around Tongwell Lake, one of the few in the city that I had not yet tackled. Finding the car-park was a hassle, with the main one taken over by the water-ski club there and closed to the public. The walk around the lake, which was fairly attractive as they go, only took about a quarter of an hour, so I opted to go round again, running - or my unfit approximation to it - more or less non-stop this time, taking about ten minutes.
I was pleased to see, when I got back to the flat, that the broken interior door which had been partially blocking my driveway for almost a week had finally been taken away. I think it came from the flat downstairs, unsurprisingly enough, since I heard workmen drilling or something there about last Thursday. The ragged holes in it that looked like someone had been trying to punch their way through it - it was a lockable bathroom door - certainly gave the impression it hadn't come from anywhere else in the block of flats.
Work today was lousy, making precious little headway with understanding these Ellingham diagrams. I've just about grasped that they can be used to optimise processes like extracting pure metals from ore, but the rest is beyond me, unhelped by not having reference to the six preceding blocks of the course which I would guess lay down the foundations for what is accepted to be quite a tricky concept at the best of times. It is precisely because it is difficult that they want this software, but it's rather a catch-22...
Sheer annoyance of the day, though, was getting an e-mail from one of the academics complaining that I'd not made some requested changes to their Electrons in atoms software, despite having made it clear at the time that they were too late since the software had already gone off for duplication. My boss was very understanding though, and backed me up all the way. He was perhaps a little quick to forward my terse reply to one of his queries back to the academic, but he's not one to mince his words either, I guess.
My monitor at work is playing up, making it difficult to concentrate; it was as well that I've mainly been reading printed notes today. The Gateway Vivitron 17" screens are generally highly regarded, but for the last couple of days the brightness had been intermittently erratic, and today it became practically unusable at times. The fault has been logged, but my previous experience with our maintenance company has been less than wonderful, so I'm not holding out much hope of getting it sorted this side of Christmas.
Another grim day at work, with nothing of note accomplished. My monitor fault has been logged with Gateway, and - once they were convinced that my serial number was genuine, which I hasten to say, it is - they asked me to do some simple diagnosis before authorising a swap-out. Except that despite the problems being serious earlier today, could I get it to go wrong on demand? So I'm still stuck with what is almost certainly a dud monitor, but able to prove nothing. I guess I just wait until it goes wrong again, and hope for the best.
In the meantime, I spent half the day surrounded by a miscellany of screens and system units, intricately intercombined in the most ergonomically confusing configuration possible - like some kind of Chinese puzzle with me in the middle, unable to move an inch. And all for nothing. At least I discovered that our quite old 14" Dell monitor was capable of running 1024x768 non-interlaced at 85Hz refresh, though that's probably of not even the remotest interest to anyone in the world apart from me and my colleague Jon.
Preparing for the Waterson-Carthy gig in just over a week's time, I took the opportunity this evening of checking out the location of the Stables venue in Wavendon, and thankfully had no serious problems finding it. It was well signposted, although the lane it is down looks like it probably has grass growing down the middle at certain times of year, and is certainly of the single-track with passing-places variety - so it's as well I found it tonight rather than be crawling along in the dusk on a week Sunday evening.
Today is local election day, and I ought to make my democratic voice heard by toddling over to the local centre - even though there's a chance I'll be moving out of the electoral ward within the next month anyway. The Tories haven't got a hope, with a two-horse race between the incumbant Liberals and the Labour hopefuls. The only information received during the whole campaign has been from the Liberals, and from my experience, the only time Labour - certainly in the nineties - don't bother is when they know it's a lost cause.
I ought to get a move on looking for alternative accommodation, with less than a month left now. It's not yet panic time, but I ought to concentrate a little more on it. For the first week in several, I not only got the local free paper, but it also included the property section; the free paper deliveries have been getting very poor lately. I tried ringing Mark - whose offer of a room I am seriously considering - last night, but contrary to advice, he wasn't around, so I'm still hoping he hasn't already come to some other arrangement.
Lunchtime today I finally managed to prove my monitor was faulty. After an hour or so's fruitless trouble-shooting along the same lines as yesterday's, Jon and I swapped screens for a while, and the problems quickly manifested themselves on my monitor now connected to Jon's PC. The swap-over was not quite as smooth as I had hoped, since it turned out that the monitors were slightly different models of the Vivitron 17", and Jon's screen wouldn't support the 85Hz refresh rate my PC output. I had to go registry-hacking in Windows 95's safe mode to persuade it to work at all, and seconds after completing that, my monitor - connected to Jon's PC, remember - gave a nice big juddery flicker, and I could safely confirm the fault to the girl in finance looking after warranty claims.
Unfortunately, Gateway 2000 won't actually come on-site to swap the monitor, the process instead done entirely by couriers. As a result, I must have the faulty monitor boxed up and labelled ready to be taken away by the time they expect to deliver the replacement, sometime next week. So not only will I have to dig out some packaging from somewhere - I believe we keep a little, but bin most, since we have so many systems - but also sort out a good enough quality temporary replacement screen from somewhere for the indeterminate time between when I drop the faulty screen off and receive the replacement.
It was nice to have a rather more off-duty visit from Elaine this afternoon, in the aftermath of completing her Chemical equilibrium software. It made a pleasant change from her clutching pages of corrections and problems and so on, and we could reflect in a more positive way on the finished product. Of course, the real proof of the pudding will be in the feedback we get from students, with respect to both educational and technical issues. CES has a proud tradition of producing very high quality and robust software; of all the calls to the student helpdesk, the vast majority have been about problems with BBC/OUPC produced software, not ours. I hope that my contributions - both this and the Electrons in atoms software - can maintain that tradition.
It's definitely an altogether strange phase I seem to be going through at the moment, finding myself turning any which way for fulfilment. Eric phoned last night on Edna's behalf to invite me round for lunch on Sunday, which I had kind of previously agreed to anyway; Edna is an old and rather lonely lady, who values whatever companionship she can get, basically. I'm not sure who else is going, but it certainly seems Debbie is not amongst them, apparently a little put out at people making the assumption that she was going to.
Debbie also warned me that apparently Edna was expecting people to meet at her house before church - to travel there together - and that it would be an all-day affair, though Eric certainly didn't tell me that - indeed somewhat to the contrary - so I'll just play things by ear tomorrow morning. My main concern is not to upset anyone, so I'll go with the flow, but I certainly don't want to end up in the same situation as Debbie where almost irreversible decisions seem to be made for her without any real consultation.
I'm not even sure why Debbie was involved in the first place, since the idea of this was to allow single people to fellowship, and Debbie is not single. But her fellow is a policeman, so maybe he works odd hours, leaving Debbie alone on Sundays anyway. Certainly she seems to have a lot of freedom to do her own thing, but she also appreciates the value of family time when it's possible - hence the slight annoyance of being assumed to be coming to lunch, and to let someone know by a certain deadline if she was unable to.
This afternoon, walking into the city centre somewhat lonelily, I was praying that I should meet people I knew to be able to talk with them. Five seconds later came the call of "Hi Dave", as I bumped into Rosie on the way back from the shops, the first time I had ever met anyone I knew anywhere near there. Then a few minutes later, after popping to the bank, just as I was wondering who else I might meet, I spied Alan and Helen through the glass corner of Chappells, and they'd also seen both Lucy and Chris on their travels.
But apart from that, it's been a pretty mundane day. I was thinking of going to the motor-show at the Bowl, which is running today and tomorrow, but I would only have been able to be there for about an hour before it closed for the day, and I'm not really that interested in buying a brand new car anyway. Also, I'm finding the current heatwave somewhat oppressive, finding the shade inside at the flat a blessed relief after being out in the concrete and glass of the city centre; the Bowl I don't doubt would be ten times worse.
Just been out for two runs, the first round Willen Lake South, and the latter - itching for yet more when I got back to the flat - round the local park. The lake run was quicker than I managed before, though I still ended up briskly walking parts; with better regulation of pace, I should be able to do it non-stop. The park took a surprisingly swift three minutes flat, though it's probably less than half a mile.
Significantly, this was the first time I'd been out for ages in clothing appropriate to the activity. I normally decide to go for a run on the spur of the moment, and end up regretting the amount of stuff I'm wearing, but this time I kept it to an appropriate minimum, so least I wouldn't look quite so suspicious apparently chasing after people or looking like I was about to miss the bus or something.
British Telecom are being as useless as ever, with pounds signs in their eyes more than a desire to be helpful. I've been getting very crackly lines lately, but it only seems to affect the incoming signal; whoever I'm talking to is completely unaware of any problem. Now I run a modem and two telephones from the same socket, so I did a few tests of my own before bothering them with something that could so easily be an equipment fault. However they would still not accept there was any problem, and started talking about the charges levied if an engineer came out and it was a fault with a non-rented phone and so on. They even tried to persuade me of the merits of buying a second line for the modem - even though I'd proved within 99% confidence that the modem and so on had nothing at all to do with the problem. But with only three weeks left here, it barely seems worth the hassle of getting sorted out now - especially if British Telecom are going to make life difficult - but it is annoying getting frequent dropped modem connections and so on, apparently because the line noise is so bad.
Late Sunday afternoon and I feel like death warmed up, thanks to a streaming cold which suddenly came on half way through the night. I very nearly went straight back home as soon as I got to church in the morning, but stuck with it for some unknown reason. Lunch at Edna's was all very civilised though, a nice salad in the company of Edna and Eric, plus Debbie for a while in the end. I came home to have a rest, but found myself unable to sleep really, so hopefully just a couple of hours of relaxation will do the trick.
The car may be playing up again; the brake fluid warning light flickered briefly this morning, and the advice in the manual is in bold, to stop immediately and rectify. However, I checked the reservoir, and the fluid level is well above the minimum, and braking still seems efficient enough. I'll keep an eye on it, of course, but it has to be said that the sensor thing on the cap - not that I quite understand how it works - looked fairly manky, so it might have got a bit of water in it giving slightly wayward indications.
Take one essentially happy life and one that's certainly on the up, turn upside-down, give back to rightful owner, walk off without saying a word. Yes, I feel deeply hurt by the events - or rather the non-events - of tonight, to the point where I am seriously challenging my own existence. How anyone could figuratively put the boot in so elegantly when I was known to be physically and mentally very frail, I'm not sure I will ever quite understand, and find hard to truly forgive - though forgive I ultimately must. Sure, I asked God for a sign, and boy did I get one - out of the blue - yet I don't think it came from him because he wouldn't be callous enough to choose timing like that, leaving me reeling and questioning my future in every aspect of life and life itself. But now, once again, I am left to pick up the pieces from inexplicable rejection; my paranoia and deepest fears proven beyond doubt. I've been through some pretty bad times in the past, but this really does seem to take the biscuit; the ultimate rejection, the ultimate denial, the deepest pit of my fears brought to hideous reality in the darkest of instants. In that instant, I lose friends, a roof over my head, and above all, those few shreds of hope that I clinged on to but were attached to nothing.
Knocked off my stride somewhat, and with time rapidly running out to sort out somewhere new to live, I've put in a request to take the last two weeks of May as leave. Apart from anything else, I really need some time to rest after the hectic last few months at work, so it will be a good thing all round. More than that, not much to say about today, really; I'm still reeling from last night's events, but facing up to realities of the situation rather better now. I'm still feeling physically pretty rotten, not helped by having un unsurprisingly unsettled night's sleep last night, but I'm over the worst of the cold now at least.
My dud monitor at work is now half way to being sorted out. There was the issue earlier today of there being no packaging for it, thanks to an over-zealous departmental policy of disposing of all boxes, but it was finally conceded that I wasn't going to be able to box it up properly. So goods in eventually accepted it delivered loose on a trolley with a slip of paper taped on to it, and until Gateway deliver the replacement, I'm making do with a 14" screen, though happily one that will run 1024x768 non-interlaced, so apart from having to squint a little, I'm not forced to compromise anything much in the meantime.
Eric dropped round again this evening, enjoying more CDs, herbal tea and just a nice opportunity to freely chat about life, the universe and everything. Key topics tonight were plans, goals and self-discipline; how we need plans to achieve our goals, and discipline to realise our plans - but also the acceptance that although God likes us to plan for the future - not least because that involves self-discipline - his thoughts are higher than ours, and at the end of the day he will have his way whatever it is we foolishly think we want. Oh and women, though in my current situation it was best not to dwell too long on that.
Highlight at work today was a workshop on Windows DLL writing and use, particularly aimed at people wanting to write modules using C++Builder or Delphi to enhance Toolbook applications, but with more general potential interest. Sadly I didn't get very far with the examples, only managing - after some considerable effort - to make a DLL that rather unexcitingly added two integer numbers together. It's the principle that counts, though, and with a little extra effort, I should be able to more fully grasp the concepts of passing more interesting data.
This evening was a break from the regular neighbourhood group routine, "getting into the community" by going to a quiz night at the local school. It was manically run, by the school's indescribable female ex-caretaker, with a good mixture of crazy and more sensible questions. We entered two teams; mine came a very close third - we were leading into the final, quadruple-points, music round - and the other nearly got the wooden spoons. Great fun, though I did stuff myself silly with the food we brought, so I'd better starve a little tomorrow.
Ah, sweet relief at having finished work for a fortnight - not that I'm planning on going anywhere too special of course, just needing some time to sort things out and some long-awaited relaxation. I'll hopefully be going down to Heckfield in Hampshire for a part of the bank holiday weekend, for a start-of-summer - near enough - barbecue and the usual croquet and so on at Steve's parents' house. But apart from that, the small matter of moving at some point, and of course going out this Sunday evening, there's nothing much scheduled, and frankly I'm quite glad of that. Andy's made a kind of open lunch invitation for the fortnight, somewhat bored at having to sit at home studying all day, so I'm sure I won't have any need to get lonely - and I have threatened the possibility of flying visits into work, but only really to pick up e-mail or sort out utter emergencies.
I took the car back to the garage in Wolverton this afternoon, having booked it in to get the brakes looked at properly. As I had somewhat suspected, the flickering light was because the front pads were wearing close to their limit; the mechanic said that probably another week's driving would have seen the pad wear indicator light up. All too often, apparently, people see the fluid light flicker, notice the fluid is on the low side - I hasten to add, mine was above the minimum mark, but low enough that sloshing around could trigger the sensor - and treat the symptom not the cause, by topping up the fluid rather than changing the pads. In normal operation, the only reason the fluid level should go down is due to pad wear, so if the fluid level gets low, it's trying to tell you something quite important really, rather than just asking for a little liquid refreshment.
That's fixed now anyway, and they also cleaned out my rear brakes - they get full of dust, thanks to their composition, and make considerable noise while warming up - and adjusted a few bits and pieces that were way off where they should have been. All told, about thirty-seven quid for some peace of mind for the few months until I hopefully get rid of it anyway, didn't seem too atrocious. While in Wolverton, I took the opportunity to pop into St Andrews bookshop, getting the - apparently rather excellent - update to the Songs of Fellowship music book, though alas the accompanying floppy disk contains only the words, not MIDI files as I had somewhat hoped, but never mind, it would only have been a bonus. I also got a pocket NIV, just right for Sundays, when I want to read the same as what everyone else is reading and don't want to be carting around some great telephone directory of a book.
With mum coming up for my birthday on Sunday afternoon, and - as I suddenly remembered just before she reminded me anyway - staying over for the night too, not really wanting to drive back after what will probably be a late finish at the Stables, I really must blitz this place at some point over the weekend. It's just a bit of a mess with things everywhere, and it shouldn't take too long, but with the weather as it is, it's not something to be contemplating during the heat of daytime. I can also take advantage of the opportunity to sort out some of my stuff, and decide if there's anything that desperately needs taking home rather than moving on to my next abode. I've pretty much decided we'll go to the Barge to eat on Sunday evening, having taken some advice when a group of us went out to the Olde Swan Wednesday evening, though the Swan itself would be a good second choice if necessary.
Another astonishingly hot Saturday in Milton Keynes, but a touch on the humid side so it's not that pleasant, and if the weather changes I would somehow expect storms. Apparently I missed a good one here the other day; we heard it from work, violently shaking our canteen even from a couple of miles away, but here in Oldbrook it was like World War Three according to Sally.
Funnily enough, a couple of days after ringing British Telecom about the noisy telephone line - and them denying any fault - it seems to have been miraculously repaired. The nature of the noise suggested something wrong in the exchange system rather than the local loop, suggesting BT operate a classic "deny all knowledge but act on it if enough people complain" policy.
It's Monday, and not only the first day of my fortnight off work, but also the aftermath of my birthday. Not a huge number of people remembered - or probably even realised, come to that - but to all those who did, thank you very much, you helped manage to turn an otherwise somewhat nondescript day into something moderately memorable.
As planned, Mum drove up yesterday afternoon - Dad having left for France in the morning - and we went for a meal at the Barge in Woolstone - nice food at fair prices - and then on to the Waterson/Carthy gig at the Stables. Alas Norma was laid up in bed with a nasty bug, leaving just Martin, himself a bit under the weather, to run the show.
Despite being the lesser-known of the duo, with no Mercury music prize nominations to his name - unlike Norma - Martin Carthy is still a highly accomplished and respected singer and folk guitarist in his own right, and those misery-guts who left at the interval - or, being forewarned, decided not to come at all - missed out on a wonderful performance.
The Stables venue was extremely civilised, though the seating arrangement is a little on the awkward side. Although our seats were better than many, being on a slightly raised platform, a number of pillars prevented us from sitting quite as comfortably as we may have liked, but it was the kind of performance where it didn't really matter.
Mum stayed the night here, and this morning we walked into the city centre. She bought a few books and things for herself and my sister's children, lingering longer in the Cranfield Bookshop once she realised that "50% off all books" really did mean what it said, and we had lunch in the Ingredients cafe before heading back to the flat.
A year on from when I'd originally promised it, I finally sorted out a magazine article on mountain unicycling I had arranged to be written for Mum's cycling magazine, which was also an opportunity for her briefly - daytime phone rates, remember - to have a look at the World Wide Web, which she'd heard a lot about but never seen for real.
But now, with Mum safely on her way home, I can wind down again - not that I couldn't relax when she was here, but it's always a bit different when there's someone staying with you. At least in preparing for Mum to come, I binned about three sack-loads of rubbish, so it's all helped towards clearing this place out for leaving in a fortnight.
Well it's certainly relaxing to have some time off work like this, though it's still a worry that time is running out for moving out of the flat. I have basically now agreed to move into Mark's spare room, but still need to get in touch with him to finalise details of timing and so on, and won't be entirely happy until that's done - especially since I know there are two other people who have expressed an interest. It's not helped by him being notoriously uncontactable, and apparently having left his answering machine switched off. But when it's all sorted out, it should be quite a good solution to have arrived at; Mark is happy for me to pay weekly if I like, giving considerable flexibility, and he keeps odd hours, so I'll probably end up having the house to myself half the time anyway.
Flexibility is the key for me, because I am feeling more and more that the time will soon be right to buy a place of my own, and with more commercial-style letting arrangements, the attraction of the modest monthly savings made by paying a mortgage instead of rent can soon be dampened by losing out due to being unable to move at the financially most convenient time. It will be more than a bit of a U-turn for me to go back into shared accommodation, but a three-bedroom house will be a lot more spacious - both physically and psychologically - than a smallish flat. Geographically, Springfield is about the same distance from the city centre as where I am now, but more importantly, it's within fairly easy walking distance from work, a pleasant-looking stroll down the Ouzel valley, flooding permitting.
Something I was both intrigued and heartened to see at the Stables the other evening, was their "designated driver" scheme, introduced in February, which entitles one member of any party to free soft drinks all night. They claim it is "a new initiative ... in line with the new drink and drive laws", so whether it is something being voluntarily run in the spirit - if you'll forgive the pun - of the toughened laws, or something that we can expect to see universally implemented in time, I'm really not sure. For far too long, responsible drivers wanting to avoid alcohol have had to pay inflated prices for soft drinks, sometimes more than for the same volume of beer. I must admit that I have occasionally had a drink when driving, but there's nothing like a simple financial incentive to get people to behave more responsibly, and I will certainly support any such schemes when I see them.
Whether part of the same overall grand plan, or more a measure of desperation for whatever reason, I gather that the Cricketers pub round the corner from here - which I would never dream of driving to anyway, let me be clear - is now selling two-litre bottles of soft drinks, at a minimal premium over the price you would pay in the supermarket. I have heard suggestions that they are fed up with people taking their own soft drinks in - testament again to the overpricing of these drinks in most pubs - but whatever the reason, it's good news for responsible drinkers and drivers, and hopefully more pubs will follow suit.
It just seems crazy - though good business I presume they reckon - that companies of all descriptions are so happy to penalise people simply for being responsible. Apparently some government watchdog or other has slammed the manufacturers of sun-protection lotions, for taking advantage of today's more health conscious attitude by charging inordinate sums for the lotions, in particular - but not exclusively - the high-factor ones so recommended nowadays especially for children and those most susceptible to burning. Anything up to a 300% price difference between prestige and own-brand products simply cannot be explained away except through greedy capitalism at the expense of increasingly paranoid consumers, particularly concerned at the well-being of those they love most.
I'm not saying that all soft drinks, sun-protection lotions or whatever should be free, but if the business world showed the same responsibility as the consumers they are milking, pricing would be fairer, and almost certainly be outweighed by reduced casualties through drink-driving and other alcohol related incidents, and reduced sun-burn and skin-cancer cases. Face it, the government could probably amply subsidise the drinks and sun-protection industries and still make a net gain. But business being business, companies charge what they reckon they can get away with, regardless of the consequences; we as consumers have to prove them wrong. If the initiatives by the Stables and the Cricketers are the shape of things to come, then maybe there is hope.
Being on holiday certainly does cut down on the amount of real news to report, and today was no exception. Highlight of today was a briefish trip to the shops primarily to buy a loaf of bread, but one which ended up with me getting a whole load of other food too; I have to remember that without the work canteen to provide hassle-free lunches, I do need to keep a little more stock in my own kitchen. Tomorrow's proposed neighbourhood group fondue evening has suddenly become a pizza session instead, by popular consent, so I'll have a good excuse to make a load of my world-famous double garlic bread for the first time in ages.
I've still not heard back from Mark to confirm details about the room - apparently he tried phoning yesterday evening before he went out, but unsurprisingly got an engaged tone, so I can't really grumble too much. But I would rest much easier if I knew for sure that everything was on track; my tenancy expires a week on Sunday, a rather awkward day, so I don't want to be hanging around too much, and Mark wants a few days warning so that he can get the room cleared of its current temporary contents. The final week of May is half-term week, so, being a teacher, Mark should have at least a bit of flexibility and extra time then.
Well it's now official; I am moving into Mark's spare room in about a week's time. How long it will be for, I don't know, but he seems really enthusiastic - even excited - about it, and the price will be right, at well under half what I'm paying at the moment, especially once bills and so on are taken into account. He realises it may be a bit difficult going back to sharing, but I have quite high hopes, and given the anticipated company, it should be a lot of fun anyway.
It's certainly a relief to have got the moving sorted out now, though I still have a list as long as my arm of people who need to be contacted for various reasons - especially important since I'm not sure how quickly anyone else is going to be moving in who would be able to forward any mail to my new address.
Andy's invited me round for a light lunch and a walk, to give him a bit of a break from his studying, so that will give me a bit of a change of scenery too. I was thinking of going for a run, especially now the weather's cooled down significantly, but a walk will do just fine; there's plenty more days yet...
Lunch round at Andy's was a civilised cheese and ham toasted sandwich, and we then took a stroll down to Coffee Hall to see where we think it is one of our friends is moving to. Coffee Hall is generally one of the grottiest neighbourhoods in the city, but a fairly nice new estate has sprung up - where we think Alan is moving to - with quite competitive prices, thanks to the notoriety of the area as a whole.
We popped into the bookshop at the Christian Centre on the way back, for Andy to pick up a couple of CDs he'd ordered and also buy a bible for a friend's kid. I'd not been in there before, and whilst it is quite well-stocked, its selection is a little on the conservative side, especially when it comes to CDs and tapes. The service is friendly enough though and they will order anything, so it's handy to have locally.
Last night's pizza evening went very smoothly and was much enjoyed by all, I think. We didn't eat as one group; instead we split into a number of smaller groups, and the other ones I think did have fondue as originally planned. In my group were Sally, Alan and Helen, and Alan, freshly back from the latest Bosnia trip and with many tales to tell.
Chatting to Sally long after everyone else had gone last night, she advised me that I really ought to contact my bank in writing as a matter of some urgency about cancelling the standing order for my rent. Apparently if I didn't, the money could carry on being deducted indefinitely, so I dug out the details and sorted that out this morning.
Money, money, money ... does the daylight robbery never stop? Today I've been slowly working through the various people needed to be contacted about my change of address. Most have been straightforward enough, but needless to say, the car insurance is the pain - no wonder I procrastinated the most about sorting that one out.
Simply changing to an address where I can't claim to be able to keep the car garaged, has added over twenty quid to the premium. Not too bad, people might say - except that it's only to cover one month! If that's linearly extrapolated over the year, we could be talking a 250 quid increase when the policy comes up for renewal.
Actually, BT Cable is likely to be the biggest pain, but I'll be doing that one in writing to give myself a little security. I will have to convince them - perfectly legitimately - that they did promise to refund my latest payment to them if I moved at the end of May, since it was their foul-up that resulted in my renewing early.
Other than that, not a bad day so far. I met with Andy again for lunch, this time grabbing sandwiches and drinks from the local shop and going down to Furzton Lake for a stroll in the sun. Tomorrow I might go into London for Angela's birthday day out, now that I've sorted most things needing doing, but I still feel fairly tired.
The surcharge on the car insurance premium is certainly an annoyance, but not one that I will let get out of proportion - and I'm happier having at least been honest about it, especially given that knowingly providing false information is a criminal offence. The idea of almost doubling my annual premium in a couple of months time is not quite such an attractive one though, but it need not be seen as completely unavoidable.
Although I don't really want to return to Direct Line - unless they will take me as a new customer again and give me an introductory discount again - I specifically recall that they weren't interested in where the car was kept, and I'm sure there are other insurers with a similar policy. I mean, if there's one thing Milton Keynes lacks, it's garages, and if all the insurance companies milked the residents for something that was almost unavoidable I'm sure there would be an outcry.
Of course, it means going back to the rigmarole of ringing around for quotes, but it will be worth it if there's a couple of hundred quid at stake. Hopefully, not only will I have accrued a year's no-claims bonus by that time, but the theft of my original car will finally begin to be just a distant memory. Readers may recall that I saw my renewal premium jump by almost two hundred pounds due to that, having already been stung with a tight-fisted payout and the loss of any no-claims I might have hoped to have earned.
All this neatly puts car insurers in much the same category, ethically, as the sun-protection lotion manufacturers and vendors of soft drinks from previous diary entries this month. They can offer nice competitive - possibly even excessively low - premiums to Mr or Mrs Perfect whilst clobbering those who for whatever reason do not quite fit their idea of perfection, even if it's not their fault.
Again, of course I would expect to pay a bit more for any of various reasons - though I do not believe premiums should be bumped up as a result of theft claims - but to unduly subsidise other people just so that the companies can attract the right kind of customer with unbeatable quotes stinks about as much as a mixture of sun-block and cola with added capitalist excreta.
So, once again I ask anyone reading this for any advice you might have to offer on choosing an insurance company. I have to admit that a lot of the advice I have received in the past has not turned out to be so good - the people I talked to just got lucky, I think - but I do prefer to go by recommendations rather than guesswork. Basically I would like an efficient insurer offering cheap but fair quotes, for someone without a garage and who had his car stolen two years ago.
I have used Direct Line and Kwikfit (Eagle Star), and have overall been somewhat unimpressed by both for various reasons. Insurers I have been recommended in the past and managed to instantly dissuade me most notably include:-
- Endsleigh - never bothered to get back to me
- Churchill - double the quote I finally managed
- Swinton - asked me to phone back when they were less busy
Someone has suggested I try General Accident but then he does just about as closely as possible fit the mould of Mr Perfect, so it might not work out so great for me. My parents seem very pleased with Sun Alliance, so I might well try them for a quote, but again, typical middle-class parents tend to nicely occupy that middle ground so beloved of insurers for attracting custom - and the inevitable recommendations to gullible friends - with unrefusable offers.
Anyway, I apologise if this entry has somewhat seen me thinking aloud, and if it's bored to tears those non-drivers amongst you, but it's certainly helped me get my thoughts together and I'm a bit clearer what my next move is likely to be. Thank you for bearing with me...
Saturday morning, and I really do feel like death once again - probably not much better than I did that fateful couple of Sundays ago. I'm certainly not feeling fit to go into London for the day, so I guess it'll be just another mundane Saturday. I'll have to go to Waitrose sometime, via a post-box, but there's not much else of urgency so I can take things suitably easy and hope I feel at least a bit better tomorrow.
For a long while - not quite since the day after I bought my current one - I've been thinking of replacing my home PC, but for the first time, this afternoon, I went to a local supplier to talk about the options. Central Technology will match any quote offered by people like Gateway 2000, so there's not a lot to be lost from supporting a local company. I'm not in the market for a top-of-the-range system, but I would like it to be moderately future-proof - e.g. to be easily upgradable to faster processors when they become realistically priced - and with no blatant corner-cutting; Central look like they can come up with the goods at the right price.
I was a little concerned about the availability of essential things like Microsoft Office, which Gateway and Dell will bundle, but Central offer it for a fraction of the retail price, so that need not pose a serious problem. Anyway, I took away a copy of their current - though obviously constantly changing - price list for more leisurely perusal, and would certainly put them very high on my list of possible suppliers when the time finally comes to grit my teeth and go for it. It will be a big purchase, but with care, I should be able to get away with paying little more than I did for my end-of-line 486SX back in 1994, and I was a student then...
On the way back from there, I stopped off at Willen Lake, and - although it was a little on the bleak side - walked round the whole of it for a change, just under an hour's leisurely stroll. The geese were out in force with myriads of cute little goslings in tow, surprisingly oblivious to - and certainly largely unconcerned by - their human company. It was pretty quiet really, only meeting perhaps a dozen people during the whole time; I'm sure if the sun had been out it would have been quite different matter, Saturday afternoon and all that. As it was, it was a good opportunity to get my head together about lots of things; I should try it more often.
I can't help but follow up on a somewhat heated topic in the diary discussion files, by throwing in my feelings on the subject of internet relationships and romances. These are obviously a relatively new phenomenon, and like most things that are new, there will always be a vociferous cynical backlash making all kinds of insubstantiable claims.
It is true that there have been many spectacularly-failing relationships of this kind, but I would observe that they are more notable because of their very public nature than because of any statistical significance. Indeed if anything, those internet relationships I have witnessed would tend towards the more successful side of any average failure rate.
Now I speak as someone who did have, if not a serious internet relationship, then certainly a fling - even if the girl in question was actually physically very local - and I will admit that for the time being at least, it was a failure. But that does give me some insight into why such relationships can, and indeed so often do, work so well; Monochrome has more than its fair share of successful internet relationships that led to happy marriage, and there are many other documented cases of similar success elsewhere.
One of the main reasons, I think, is because the nature of the medium is such that almost inevitably, the first contact between the two parties is not visual or audible. This means that at that critical "hitting it off" stage, there are no physical issues to be overcome or to distract; the parties can concentrate entirely on communication, sharing of feelings, likes and dislikes, and so on - all things that are much more important components of a successful and lasting relationship than mere good looks or performance in bed.
When the time comes for the parties to meet, or even just to swap photos or chat on the telephone, they are already more deeply devoted to each other than would be the case in almost any other kind of relationship, and if there were any difficulties that became apparent at that point, what had gone before would go a long way to encouraging the involved parties to work around them.
The only real problem with these relationships is the geography; maybe my friend only lived down the road, but due to the geographic freedom of the internet, net friends can be anywhere in the world, and fate so often seems to put those involved on diametrically opposite countries on the globe. Yet a disadvantage like that can be turned to good when it comes to determining a level of commitment; it is a mark of the devotion of those involved that they are prepared to talk on the phone for hours at international rates, or fly thousands of miles to be with their loved one. Such behaviour is not consistent with idle flirting, but the serious commitment to each other which is essential for a long-term and meaningful relationship.
Critics had better wake up, because it will inevitably happen more and more, as global boundaries get broken down wholesale. It may seem a somewhat nerdish thing to get involved with, perhaps because it uses computers, but when networked computers or set-top boxes become as commonplace in the household as the telephone or the television, it is inevitably going to lead to more and more of this kind of thing happening. For the reasons I have expressed, whilst it's certainly not the only way, it does offer many real advantages over more traditional methods, ultimately resulting in the most important thing for the survival of the family as the basic unit of society, and that is successful long-term relationships instead of failures.
There's no such thing as the internet one-night stand, is there?
A civilised Sunday, and my last with this flat as my home. Church in the morning was good if unremarkable, though Cathryn made her commitment, which was probably the first time I'd seen it done while I've been there; it'll probably be my turn before too long. Lunch saw me back at the Barge at Woolstone, in the company of Mark, Alan and Jon - various steaks for them, lemon chicken again for me - then it was back to Jon's for ice-cream and coffee, joined by Joe who had just passed his driving test and was proudly showing off his newly-acquired wheels.
With a few other distractions coming up over the next couple of days, it was a good opportunity then to pop into Mark's to finally check over some details before I move in there later in the week. Things will be physically tight in my room - the bigger room which I can use in a couple of months time will be a vast improvement - but manageable, though my lifestyle will have to adjust a little. The garden there is small but pleasant, with a frog-pond and backing onto parkland. So all told, I think things will be fine, even if they take some getting used to.
Bank holiday Monday morning, and psyching myself up for the journey down to Heckfield this afternoon. Having determined that the Hoover - yes, a genuine one - that seems to have become part of this flat's unofficial inventory does indeed work, I'll probably break the journey by popping back home to drop off my one - also a real one, of the classic upright design - since I won't be needing it either at the new house or for the final blitz before I leave here.
The weather's looking most pleasant, and if it stays like this, it'll certainly be a good chance to air the shorts for the first time since Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, which was itself the first time this year. The barbecue is, after all, supposed to be celebrating the start of summer, so I ought to get into the spirit of things if nothing else. And talking of spirits, I must remember to stop off somewhere for some booze - and maybe some food - to take along.
Yesterday evening, for the first time, I managed completely successfully to remotely pick up my e-mail from work - mainly because I was hunting for a phone number I suspected to be in there somewhere, which indeed it was, but also out of curiosity. A feature of the newest versions of the Microsoft Exchange server is that it can operate as a POP3 server, enabling use with standard e-mail packages anywhere, if set up appropriately by the administrator.
I gather they are technically breaking JANET regulations by opening their mail server to the outside world in an unrestricted fashion - and I know Di at work was a little sceptical when I said once before that it was theoretically possible to collect my mail via my Demon account - but I really don't see the problem, since it's as well password-protected as any on-line service, and apart from anything else, it may well have saved my skin being able to access it.
Phew! Back at the flat after a hectic 24 hours out and about. Bank holiday Monday lunchtime I left for the barbecue at Steve's parents' house near Heckfield in Hampshire. Although I did take the few things I wanted to drop off at my parents' house, since I was going to be stopping off anyway on the way back to pick up a table and chair, I decided I'd be brave and go direct, motorway all the way. I'd never before done so much motorway on one journey, and certainly not including the so-called magic roundabout that is the M25, but it all went very smoothly and increased my confidence no end.
However, being unable to anticipate even remotely how long it was going to take me to get down there - what with it being bank holiday as well, and not quite sure if I could remember exactly which little single-track lane I had to turn off down - I got there far too early. But that was fine because Steve was preparing for the afternoon almost single-handed, and could certainly use some extra hands for moving garden furniture around and making salad and fruit punch.
The barbecue itself was not as busy as last year's Garden Olympics, with probably only about twenty people at the most, but it was a most pleasant occasion and a good opportunity to catch up many of the friends I still have from down that way but see very rarely. The weather was very kind to us - considering some of the later arrivals had fought through zero-visibility torrential rain to get there - and only started turning a little inclement as darkness approached anyway. Even then, it was good, because in adjourning to the kitchen, it brought together the two groups the guests had somewhat polarised into while outside.
I drove back this morning, leaving shortly before nine, but little expected the traffic chaos that was awaiting me on the Swallowfield bypass approaching the M4. All good experience, though, driving-wise, and at least I proved that my fan is still working, as engine temperatures soared - and impatience got the better of some motorists, performing suicidal U-turns over the central reservation. Once on the M4, it was fine, if sometimes a little slow-moving, and it was basically a clear run back to Prestwood - though I really don't like the roundabouts they've built in High Wycombe where the new supermarket's going up.
Back at my parents' house, all was quiet, but my neighbour Jill popped round to say a quick hello and goodbye before she headed off to the railway station in a taxi, en route to Edinburgh to see Gil. Finding the table and chair I wanted proved to be a little more difficult than I'd anticipated, seemingly having to almost empty the summer-house to dig down to where I thought they were going to be - where they thankfully were, but more by luck than judgment.
Grabbed a bite to eat, loaded up the table and chair, and hit the road back to Milton Keynes, finding more than my fair share of slow-moving diggers and such-like to get stuck behind, but otherwise having a pleasantly uneventful journey. The weather looked a touch threatening at times - intermittent wipers would come in handy; remember that when I'm looking at new cars - but it didn't come to anything. I left the table and chair in the garage for the time being; no point bringing them upstairs to the flat since I'm not going to need them until I've moved.
So it's the last few days before I finally wave goodbye to this flat after the best part of two years. Being here has had its ups and downs of all sorts, but in a way I am rather sorry now to be leaving, since it has become more of a home to me than anywhere else I've lived other than my parents' house. It seems a shame that now just about everything that was ever a problem - from the dangerous toilet-seat to the nuisance neighbours - has now been resolved, it's time to go anyway, but that's just the nature of life, I guess. At the same time, it does feel like the time is right to be moving forward - perhaps not only with respect to accommodation - and I think this move will both strengthen and discipline me in many ways, and make me more prepared for the inevitability of buying a place for myself which I am sure will follow soon.
I guess I really am officially on the move now. Tonight I've been given a couple more keys to add to my collection, and the first post has arrived at the new address. Oh, and I've paid Mark his first rent cheque - thought it would be nice to pay him more than promptly, since he's not asked for any deposit or anything. Mark says my room is still in a bit of a mess, but it will probably be fine to start moving a few things across, and hopefully be completed by Friday or Saturday. It's certainly a real bonus having this flexibility to be able to move things at my own leisure, especially when I have only a smallish car at my disposal - though I hasten to add that various people have offered to help if need be.
Wednesday afternoon, and I've just transferred the first car-load of stuff to the new house, and in the process successfully tested the front door keys I'd been given. I think there's probably two car-loads to go, but there's no hurry; I aim to be essentially out by Friday, in time to blitz the place, defrost the freezer and so on, and drop off the keys at the estate agent on Saturday, and that still leaves two whole days for packing and transporting.
This afternoon's load of stuff consisted primarily of sound equipment, the idea being that they are the most bulky items and also those that having gone from here will now eliminate the most obvious distractions to getting the rest of the job done. OK, so I've kept the computer here for the time being, but without sound facilities, it's not too exciting, and besides, I may yet need it to write letters to anyone important that I might have forgotten.
There still seems to be a lot of stuff here - indeed anyone visiting for the first time might not even realise I was in the midst of a move - and it's mostly bitty stuff, the kind of things that will probably live in large carrier bags under the bed until I next need them. And also the kind of stuff that if I really wanted to, I could probably sort through properly and bin about half - I could do so yet, I suppose, but I'll see how I do for time.
It certainly will be quite a tight squeeze in my room at the new house, but with the help of the odd bits of furniture I brought from home the other day, I'm sure it's going to be possible to fit everything in. Besides, almost all the stuff I just moved is in its original packaging, so once the various boxes are stowed away in the loft or something - some of them could probably be temporarily flattened - the equipment should just about halve in volume.
The house is a definite upgrade for me overall though; it's a three-bedroom terraced town-house with a large kitchen and lounge, and a modest garden and patio. Although technically on the main estate road through Springfield, the corporation estates tend to be built so that such roads have smaller service roads running alongside, off which the actual properties lie, so I anticipate it being altogether a lot quieter than where I am at the moment.
I forgot to mention before that amongst the other geographical advantages, is that it's only about five minutes' walk from the school where we have our regular Sunday morning and evening church meetings. That will turn out to be even more convenient if I get more involved in the music group, and I don't doubt that with my forthcoming commitment to the fellowship looking fairly certain, there will be other advantages yet to be fully appreciated.
Another car-load packed and transported this evening, and finally this flat is beginning to look like it's being moved out of. In fact, I think I can do the rest with one more trip, mainly clothes and food, though I may as well take things gently, especially as there are a few things I really want here until the last possible moment.
My bike will cause a few problems, I suspect, with nowhere I can put it immediately at the new house, but getting it there in the first place will be even more fun. Unless I can get a lift here to pick it up and ride it back, I'll probably have to walk back here from Springfield - thankfully it's only a mile or so, so it could be worse.
Just as I was about to return here, Alan and Helen turned up after an evening out so I stopped a little longer for a cup of tea and a chat, finally getting back here somewhat after ten and almost fit to drop after a pretty hectic day, all-told. But first, I thought I deserved a nice cool beer, so I'm enjoying that as I type right now.
Bright and fairly early Thursday morning, and just got a letter through from the letting agents requesting I book a time for them to "check me out" of this property. I just this minute telephoned them and thankfully, Sundays are fine for them, so - despite a little initial panic - it needn't disrupt my planned moving schedule at all, and if anything actually buys me a little extra time.
So I officially finally leave sometime after 3 o'clock Sunday afternoon, but I must in the meantime prepare a detailed inventory, since there always have been a few inconsistencies and I don't want to risk losing any of my deposit if I can possible help it. They will probably end up slightly better off overall than they'd hoped, but there are a few listed items which have never been here.
Well I've just done an inventory pre-check, and things are nowhere near as bad as I'd previously thought. There are still a few missing items - pillows, a tea-pot, and a cheap desk chair - but they will gain two electric fires and a genuine Hoover, amongst other things, so I doubt there will be any problem. In any case I still have the ace up my sleeve of the unacceptably delayed essential maintenance on the flat, which I do not intend to play unless things start getting difficult, but could claim up to about 200 pounds from them if I was determined.
A slight change of activity today, but still very much linked with the move. I cycled across to the new house with a bag full of books, parked my bike at the back of the house - until the one in the shed can be returned to its rightful owner - and started unboxing the stuff I had already transported there. Helen popped in briefly to pick something up, and Mark arrived just as I was leaving but was heading to bed after an early start today and a busy evening ahead.
I walked back to Oldbrook via the city centre and specifically the Endsleigh Insurance office, to drop in the notification of my change of address for my household contents insurance; I am expecting them to phone back shortly to confirm things and I'm hoping to get away without paying any surcharge. Just after finishing a McDonalds meal, I bumped into the Greenways and friends from Wolverton, which was a nice surprise, having not seen them for at least a month.
With non-essential clothes and food now being packed away, I really am fast approaching the final stages of this manoeuvre, and the PC must surely follow very soon indeed. As such, readers, please anticipate a diary black-out in the very near future. This may well not be the last entry before I physically move, but on the other hand, don't be at all surprised if it is.
It's amazing to see my previously stuffed-to-overflowing wardrobe and so on now lying bare but for a little dust, but it was somehow more definite than when packing for a holiday - none of this "shall I, shan't I" dilemma stuff; there was no choice, if it was there, it had to go in the bag. I'll take a load of stuff across tomorrow sometime, hoping to have not much more than the clothes I stand in and the bedding I sleep on - and what I need for Saturday breakfast and lunch - left here by Friday night.
It's Friday evening, and the move is very nearly complete. I spent the afternoon at the new house, sorting stuff out and setting things up, including the PC, finally. Everything that is going to occupy what would otherwise be living-space in the room is now in place, so I finally know for sure what it's going to be like, space-wise. The cupboards are not entirely cleared yet, so I'm holding off with the remainder of my clothes, and there's some food items and miscellaneous oddments still to go.
So the flat around me really is looking quite bare tonight, with only a few bagged and boxed-up things remaining to be moved. With only my 12" black and white television and this aged Psion left for entertainment, I really cannot now wait to be finished - though I suspect the final stages will be tedious in their own way. Tomorrow will see me cart the remaining stuff across, and then carry out a full-scale clean of more or less every square inch; some parts I have observed appear not to have been done for years.
Late last night, the freezer chose a most opportune moment to give up the ghost, though performing an emergency defrost at half past midnight was not my idea of fun. Very little food was affected, just half a pizza and a stick of garlic bread, which solved my problem of what to have for lunch today anyway. The timing was more or less impeccable though, given that I was going to have to defrost it tomorrow whatever happened.
Endsleigh telephoned while I was out this afternoon, but left a message asking me to contact them when I got in. By that time though, they'd closed their local office, and the central call-centre were unable to advise what, if anything, the problem was. They shouldn't be wanting more money from me, given that everything about the new place is better, but readers will, I am sure, quite understand any cynicism I might show where the fairness of insurance companies is involved.