goznet ...

David's diary: October 1998

The couple of days back at home I think did me some good, getting away from the hustle and bustle of Milton Keynes, although I returned to the news that Pete is apparently very unwell after his operation, suffering from a severe blood infection which looks likely to land him in intensive care for a couple of weeks at the very least. As a result, tonight's neighbourhood group meetings have been reorganised, with what should be a massive prayer session at Springfield School in a few minutes time. The prayer chain failed once again, with me only finding out about this change at the last minute through unofficial sources, but I've phoned Angela who's next down on the list anyway, so at least I am keeping my side of the bargain.

It was a bit chaotic back at my parents' house actually, although it was still enough of a change from Milton Keynes to be beneficial, I think. The kitchen was very much in the midst of being decorated, and I've probably got a bit of a headache from the airborne dust and the noise from the power-tools. Thankfully I wasn't around as my dad presumably screamed when he hit a live wire with his drill, or I think I'd probably be overdosing on painkillers myself by now... I got out for a short walk - or two, rather - yesterday afternoon, taking in the wonderful views over a very clear if damp Aylesbury Vale, from near RAF Halton, and then going on to stroll round Weston Turville reservoir - neither things which I can remember when I last did.

With a bit more space at my disposal here, I brought back my trusty SH-101 synthesiser which had been sitting at home for several months. I had forgotten just how cool it could sound when piped through a bit of delay and subtle reverb; it sounds excellent on its own, having just about everything its more famous TB-303 sibling offered, plus a whole load more - such as multiple mixable waveforms, sample-and-hold and so on - but put through effects it really does enter a class of its own for such a budget instrument. I don't know how if at all I'm going to use it now I have it here - I only ever really bought it to make a software emulation of it based on my MASE technology, and that never really got going - but it's fun to have to hand.

Last night's prayer meeting for Pete gathered about thirty people in the end, with representatives from all the Centre Church neighbourhood groups - not bad for such a short-notice change of plans, although I think most of them had more notice than I did... Yes, Pete really is in quite a bad way, with a very serious blood infection after the operation. He's on a life-support machine in Bedford hospital, and is expected to be so for a couple of weeks even assuming everything goes to plan from a conventional medical point of view.

But with people like Trevor and Colin there at the meeting last night as living proof that conventional medical views can go take a hike sometimes, there is genuine hope that once again miracles will happen and Pete can be released back to us in perfect health and finish his work in this mortal realm. It is understandably hard - especially for outsiders, but even for participants, sometimes - to believe that a few people praying can really alter anything, but time after time we have seen statistically unlikely results from doing so.

Sadly for me, I wasn't there in the best frame of mind last night and didn't participate as much as I might. I was really quite tired from a hectic day, and still more than a little annoyed at the manner in which I had - and indeed very nearly had not - found out about the change of the meeting. I know I shouldn't let these things affect me to the point of then affecting my interaction with others, whoever those others may be, and it's something I need to work on - although thankfully I think most people generally understand.

I turned down a late-night game of Scrabble round at Martin and Maureen's as a result, which was probably a good idea given that I have certainly been known - albeit thankfully rarely - to take it out on board games before if at all cross or frustrated about anything much. But my plans of going straight to bed instead came to nothing, finally turning in about when Mark got back, thanks to another chat with Smiley. Zoe seems to be someone who can listen impartially, empathise and encourage - attributes rarely all found under one roof.

I do feel more than ever that it is high time I sorted out a longer term relationship, and I'm not too sure where Miss Right is going to come from. Not so long ago, I had isolated the root of many of my problems being down to repeated and - to me unjustifiable - rejection, and I think the flip-side of that is that I desperately want to love and be loved. At the moment I take easy ways of fulfilling that, but ultimately they are just short-term substitutes for what I desperately - and I mean desperately - need in the longer term.

On the other hand, this is something that I have burdened God with, and I trust him to provide when the time is right - and as such, it will probably be one of his people, which is quite a relief given the complications that anything else has proven to bring in the past. As with Pete's disease, again, I suppose I lack a bit of faith in the power of prayer, and don't confide in the Lord as completely as I might, leaving me still anxious about how this is going to resolve itself - even though in my heart, I know he's got it all in hand.

I was going to write some really grumpy diary entry here, concentrating on everything that was possible to be grumbled about - and there are a fair few things - but hey, why should I dwell on bad stuff when there's also so much that's good going on around?

Pete had a relatively good night last night, after our impromptu meeting - it certainly seems that we helped, and that once again, prayer can contribute to the recovery of those at death's door. He's not out of the woods yet, and there are a few further - not too surprising - complications, but hopes must be higher now than they were before, and we keep on praying.

Kids Club tonight should be good fun, with Shine running a dance workshop as one of the activities. For those living on another planet, Shine are the latest act to hit the Christian music scene featuring Hanne and Nicola plus our very own Natasha and Loretta, attracting a lot of attention after their debut appearances at Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor earlier in the year.

They are mainly targeting secondary schools with their ministry - although their CDs will be available to all through the usual channels - so this promises to be quite a rare opportunity for younger children to catch them live and hopefully learn a bit of fun stuff in the process. There will be other stuff on tonight too, but Shine promise to be a popular attraction!

I'm very much looking forward to Sunday morning now, with my invitation to play at the monthly Celebration. It barely seems like a week has passed since last weekend when I was also playing, but I suppose that's what going home mid-week does. Monday's band practice also promises to be a good one, if it turns out to be anything like September's very much Spirit-led one.

Monday is of course also my first day back at work, and although that doesn't entirely fill me with joy, it will be good to see all my friends there - and probably some new ones, since I finished in the middle of a bit of a recruitment drive. Getting back to the refectory food will also be a treat, having lived rather on pizza, burgers and ready-meals for the past month.

With WaveCraft being a very popular download from the web, it's great to have made contact with a guy called Dale Ong, who just happened to have been synthesiser demi-god Bob Moog's chief technician for a while and with an incredible amount of knowledge about all things analogue. He's very enthusiastic about the software, and is an extremely useful contact to have found.

So yes, let's be thankful for what's good in life, rather than just dwelling on the bad. People often talk about the relative fullness or emptiness of cups, and they are right. It also works the other way - that if something isn't edifying or encouraging, then don't bother saying it. If I could remember and apply these things more completely, I'm sure things would look up immediately. As it is, all too often I don't, and I end up wallowing in some kind of pathetic self-pity and hurting people left right and centre for no reason whatsoever. Note to self: get a grip, Dave.

Kids Club went exceptionally well tonight, with some great activities and a substantial increase on our previous record attendance. Even before the official opening time, we had over thirty children signed in, and that had risen to 74 by the time everyone was accounted for. Shine were a bit depleted thanks to the girls having just started evening jobs - it's tough going full-time in the music business with minimal backing - but Natasha and Nicola still took about half the kids - mainly girls, unsurprisingly - and did some choreography stuff with them which they later performed in front of the others to rapturous applause. Other than that, bulldog and ladders were order of the evening, with the former managing a few more casualties than usual, mainly thanks to the numbers present, so we've changed the rules slightly to suit.

After that, it was back to Gareth and Natasha's with Matt, to watch The Rock on video - deemed to be a better watch than Gareth singing with Sting, anyway - but after popping out to grab a kebab, there were a few good comedy things on TV anyway, so Mr Connery will just have to wait for another day. Much amusement was caused by my being on first-name terms with Rob at the kebab van, though Tash later pointed out that it's actually Roberto - but claimed only to have known thanks to some treasure-hunt thing where finding out his name was one of the questions. I should hopefully be meeting up with Gareth at some point tomorrow, for our long-overdue discussion of my involvement in the band, not that there should be anything I find too surprising, but it is only right that he gets a chance to explain our objectives and everything.

Soon after walking back here, Jo-Daniel's Mini pulled up outside; it could mean only one thing - an impromptu YPF gathering. Only four guys in the end, rather than anything more chaotic. Friends, the last in the series of South Park and playing old Spectrum games - particularly Jetpac, which I brought back when I went home, amongst other games - took the evening into the small hours of the morning. Although there are quite impressive Spectrum emulators for the PC these days, capable of running at least as fast as the original hardware and using ultra-reliable snapshot disk files to load games, there is something indescribably nostalgic about the real thing's fuzzy screen display, connecting up the tape recorder, setting the volume levels, typing LOAD "", watching the coloured stripes, and waiting for the loading errors.

I had clean forgotten, but tomorrow evening is our Generation X big-screen video evening, at the Upper Room in Wolverton - a place I'd better find out the location of sometime! Mark's video projector blew up the other week, but we've managed to blag one out of Volkswagen for the weekend, so all is not lost; hopefully we can get it again for the similar event for Kids Club and Teen Club later in the term. Otherwise Mark will have to build the design he found on the web, which joins a conventional projector to the guts and screen of a Citizen pocket TV - certainly a cheaper solution than an eight-grand InVision data projector, anyway! Generation X means I'll sadly have to miss the YPF pizza night which Mark is subjecting our house to tomorrow evening, though I suppose if I conveniently can't track down the Upper Room...

It's now just turned noon on Saturday, and - unusually - I'm just about up and about properly. Still very tired after that long and busy evening yesterday, and I'm in two minds as to whether to go to this Generation X meeting tonight. I know I should do really, since I promised to myself that I would give them a fair go under their new leadership. But on the other hand, I've not yet heard anything official about what's happening or anything - only the existence of the video projector giving the game away that anything much was happening at all. I think I probably should avoid the pizza night anyway; if YPF numbers are similar to those for the green evening a few weeks ago, it's likely to be complete mayhem, especially as there's going to be cookery going on too this time. So Generation X it is then, methinks.

As planned, I escaped last night before the pizza-baking throngs arrived, but not before being delegated to set up the various computers we'd been donated for the evening. The Generation X film night got off to a shaky start, with no suitable lead to connect up the video recorder to the data-projector for some bizarre reason, but all was resolved in the end - after playing Pictionary with the projector's "scribble" annotation function - with Chris saving the evening by bringing his much more functional DVD player. So there had to be a bit of a change of plan as to which film we watched, since try as we might, VHS tapes simply wouldn't seem to fit into the DVD loading tray, ending up watching "While you were sleeping", an excellent romantic comedy - not my kind of thing usually, but good fun.

Back at the house, there were still a few YPF stragglers when I got home, and we ended up playing Lemmings, Kick Off, Space Raiders and Jetpac - oh, and a little puzzle game I once wrote for the Spectrum - into the small hours of the morning. I guess I got about six hours sleep, which is pushing it a bit for me, needing to get up early to play at Wolverton this morning. That went fairly well in the end, although without any decent foldback monitoring, I couldn't hear what the heck I was doing most of the time, even less during the couple of more praiseful numbers we did towards the end. I was close to digging into my bag of bits for my trusty Sennheisers, but thought that might be just a little too techno for the occasion, so instead just took a breather when things got too noisy.

Tim's asked me to play yet again tonight, which is fine since I was going to be there anyway - it really looks like October will be a very busy month for me, performance-wise, and there's also one of our regular monthly practices tomorrow evening. This morning's speaker had to pull out due to being waylaid in South Africa, unfortunately, but Jonathan Conrathe is apparently still on for tonight's meeting, with his proven gift for the miraculous as I mentioned at least before. I have a hunch Jonathan actually was the guy who we missed due to the Generation X New Forest trip earlier in the year, but I couldn't be certain - although he sounds like he's someone very much in the same mould and well worth sharing company with, and with some of our current health crises, his visit will be timely.

Today was my first day back at work after my month off, and one of mixed fortunes. There were no nasties to greet me, thankfully, but it later transpired that things weren't quite so marvellous. The T305 software I was working on had a deadline of the end of September, which I had always made clear was going to be a problem when I had outstanding holiday to take. Perhaps I didn't spell things out quite enough - I try to be tactful - but it wouldn't have taken an Einstein to deduce that if it was the beginning of September, and I had to take four weeks holiday by the end of the month, it was likely that those four weeks would be taken consecutively.

Anyway, the upshot is that the deadline has been and gone, and a CD-ROM has already gone out for testing lacking software they had hoped I would do - whilst potentially relaxing on some distant beach - and there is now an emergency rescheduled deadline for the end of this week to get half the stuff done, and the end of next week for the rest, basically. And the latest hitch is that we haven't even yet got final audio for either part, and what we will get will most likely be unedited, adding yet more tasks to my already busy schedule. Frankly, if I don't have a breakdown or something, it'll be a miracle - and a miracle is what I'm praying for, believe me.

Last night's meeting was very good, with Jonathan Conrathe speaking as expected. The stories he had to tell of his Slovakia trip were positively jaw-dropping, including the boy with deformed feet who was able to run and whose feet visibly straightened as people watched on incredulously, dozens of people cured of deaf-muteness, and several cripples able to walk for the first time in years. He also recalled a man who had gone up to him and demanded that his poor hearing should be healed; Jonathan simply told him to take his hearing-aid out, and he's heard perfectly since. As for healings last night, well Mark's asthma seems to have gone, for starters...

It's the being taken for granted as if part of some ever-present tool-box that really gets to me with this work thing. All these academics are so insistent that, oh yes, you must take your holiday, but can't quite understand that sometimes this will inevitably impact them, as their expectation that you will still do everything on their perfect - for themselves at least - timescale demonstrates. And to cap it all, they have this little ace up their sleeve called "study leave", which we don't get, but they use at very strategic times to wheedle their way out of tricky situations. More than once, academics have been contacted but refuse to help because they are "on study leave", that is assuming their "study" isn't being done poolside somewhere or other else uncontactable. Definitely a case of double-standards, and it does seem in this case that Karen is in collusion with them; in war-time she'd have been shot.

But on the other hand - and trying to blinker myself from the struggles ahead - it's good to be back with my friends, and they are friends rather than just imposed colleagues. As I have said for a long time, there are enough good aspects of working at the university to make it, on balance, worthwhile at the end of the day, and the friendship of my colleagues is certainly one of those good aspects, whether it's at lunchtime, over a coffee, a walk by the river, or a trip to the pub or the cinema. But all that could count for nothing if I can't pull this T305 thing off, because I will inevitably emerge as the villain if time runs out. Sure, I would have to admit I've not worked as quickly on it as I'd have ideally liked, but there were real problems trying to team-work with the imposed development environment. The only real solace I get from it all is that whatever happens, it should all be over in a fortnight.

At times like this I really wish I could be my own boss again, and ultimately be responsible for my own successes and failures - or at least have access to the right strings. I'm not sure what I would do if I went into business myself; perhaps I should be vague and just do any short-term computer stuff that came my way, whether that was programming, hardware installation, web design or whatever. Or should I just focus on something that I can get utterly engrossed in, as was the case with the music software in Hampshire? As I think I've said before, though, sometimes I feel I just want to leave the whole IT thing behind for the time being - it could always be a viable fall-back option if all else failed - but whilst there are plenty of IT jobs going in Milton Keynes, if I was to do something else, the range of options would be mindboggling, and I am one of the world's worst decision-makers with issues like that.

Or maybe I should - literally - take a leap of faith, and go and take a sabbatical year doing something completely different, like full-time voluntary youth-work, going to Bible College, or something similar. Others have done it, survived - sometimes with considerable struggle - and come out better people for it, and not just with respect to their faith. If I did that, my return to "normality" would almost certainly be marked by such a completely new outlook on life, and employment in particular, that it really would be a case of starting all over again - and maybe getting it right this time. I just know that something really has pretty desperately got to change in my working life; it's the one part of my life that really has become a bit of dead-wood furniture, whilst all around it everything has been revived and revised. You don't mix up old and new wine and wineskins; it's all or nothing on this walk.

Band practice last night wasn't too bad, covering three songs substantially, including two relatively new and unknown ones - although one of those I really felt didn't need a sax part, so I sang a bit. Tim spoke for a little while at the start of the practice before going off to an elders' meeting, and as usual, we wrapped things up fairly early - it often seems we don't get a lot of time at the end of the day, but it's pretty intensive while we're there, so maybe it's as well that it doesn't drag out for too long.

Work today was not good. The promised audio files - edited or not - didn't come through from audio-visual, delaying things still further; there really is very little point even touching the animations until the final audio is there to synchronise to, since otherwise I will just end up doing everything twice. This leaves just three days at the most to complete the first half of the software, and frankly if it had been vaguely feasible at the start of the week, even the faintest hope of that has evaporated now.

Added to that, scrutiny of the existing animations has shown them to be hopelessly wrong, even after considerable work had been done on them by the design studio over the time I was away - work based on the wrong version of the specifications. And no notice whatsoever seemed to have been taken of the versions of the software that I was asked to put up on the network before I left, with the net result that probably the last fortnight of my work will have been for nothing. At times like this, I just want to leave.

Thankfully, I can largely switch off from work things when I come home, and was glad tonight to be able hopefully to help out Adam from YPF. He's set his heart on becoming a sound engineer, but he's having cold feet about the study required, so it was great to be able to put him in touch with my old friend and colleague Gavin - and for me to have a proper chat with Gav for the first time in a while - who should be able to give some good advice, having just started part-time music technology lecturing himself.

Thankfully I've managed to buy a little extra time for the T305 software. The overall deadline remains unchanged - as much out of honour as anything - but the interim ones have been tweaked a little which takes some of the immediate pressure off, especially if I can put in a few hours work on Saturday. I hate coming in at weekends, but sometimes the ends will justify the means, and you won't catch me here on Sundays anyway.

Last night was cool, going to the Point to watch Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, with a load of the guys from work. Apart from not having sound for the first couple of minutes - I suppose we should have complained - the film was brilliant and hilarious, although obviously for some the strong language and violent themes might not appeal. Probably one that it's best not to discuss at church on Sunday morning, put it that way.

After that, we went to the Barge - my local really - for a swift couple of pints. It made a change from the fairly horrible fake bars in the Point centre itself, where we normally go after films. We were joined later - one I managed to get through to him on his mobile - by my housemate Mark, who I think was grateful for a bit of relaxation after what was apparently a rather stressful leaders' meeting earlier in the evening.

Mark's leaders' meeting was in connection with a serious, and bad, problem that is emerging in the church, and although he couldn't let on any more details than that, he did advise me in advance that tonight's house-group meetings have yet again been rearranged at short notice because of it all. Presumably all will become clear later, when we meet in Two Mile Ash, but, whatever the worst might be, I'm bracing myself for it...

Tonight's meeting was very painful indeed, simultaneously raising some very sensitive issues, and, sadly, marking the departure from the fellowship of someone of whom - in a strictly platonic sense - I had become very fond over the last years. I don't feel it is appropriate to go into any more detail here; suffice to say that the fellowship is left somewhat shocked, bewildered and betrayed at what has happened, but that we intend that - in more ways than one - this should be the beginning of a new era. Good news, however, is that Pete seems to be well on the mend, with the latest prognosis that his lungs might have slight scarring that might cause a certain amount of breathlessness if he exerts himself. He is still unconscious, but is now off sedatives; he has visibly and apparently emotionally responded to prayer and the word of God at his bedside, and the doctors hope to bring him round imminently.

Today was a relatively productive day at work, happily to say, getting about half of the audio editing done for the T305 stuff I'm working on so urgently. This editing involved working with an approximately 200Mb WAV file, slicing it up into about fifteen separate sections - which meant having to listen through most of its 80-odd minutes - and then going through each of those sections to cut out the coughs, mistakes and so on, leaving hopefully perfect sound files which could then be normalised to a consistently loud volume. I'll have to go in for a while tomorrow, when I will hope at least to get the second half of the screw-up editing done, and maybe start doing some of the nitty-gritty synchronisation work. I don't like working at weekends, and have had mixed success in the past with getting anything much done, but I really feel I need to at least try.

Kids Club tonight was extremely busy, probably our highest numbers ever yet again - nice to get an implicit vote of confidence after the recent unfortunate events and revelations. Star attraction tonight were the folks - and their furry, and not so furry, friends - from the Peace animal sanctuary. Half the group at a time enjoyed meeting the monkey and lemur, plus various snakes and tarantulas. The primates were caged, and the spiders were in aquaria, but the children got the chance to handle the snakes. Once again - as with the dance workshop last week - by splitting the group more or less evenly, numbers were generally kept manageable, but during the games at the start of the meeting when everyone was together, it was clear we will almost certainly have problems in the future if we can't make the secondary - generally quieter - activity pretty attractive.

We did indeed manage new record Kids Club attendance last night, at 85 on the tally-chart at the entrance. I was having a chat about it all with Mark this morning, and we really feel that only a month into the new term, we already need to rethink our strategies if we are to maintain the quality and safety of the various activities.

Last night's plans for an early night - after such a busy week of mixed fortunes - were dashed, with a phone-call from Phil, desperately needing to get out for the evening, so the Barge was my destination for the second time in three evenings. Phil's in quite a tricky situation at the moment, and appreciated the chance to chat, I think.

Then getting home, the multitude of cars parked outside gave away that YPF had descended upon us once again, so we ended up staying up until about three, playing computer games, drinking more beer, watching films and so on. Thankfully, despite needing to come into work today, I could lie in this morning proper, so I'm not too worse for wear.

I've managed to complete the audio editing that I wanted done, taking about two hours as I had expected. This means that on Monday I will be able to get back to the animations; tedious they may be, but at least I'll know I'm working with final versions of the audio files, so it should be the last time I have to go through them all.

This evening, YPF are back at our house again, for a local - i.e. on-foot - treasure hunt round Springfield, which should be quite fun. I was going to help Mark and Daniel plan it, but this audio work rather took priority - but that's fine, because it means I'll be able to take part properly now; I've not done one of these for a while.

Tomorrow morning I'll be playing again in church, where there are also supposed to be some very important commitments happening. The atmosphere is likely to be a little different after this week's events - certainly not a lot of cause for celebration within our own ranks - but hopefully we can rise above these problems to a large extent.

Last night's YPF treasure-hunt went very well; my team didn't win - that might have been seen as a set-up - but we didn't come last either, so face was saved. Afterwards, with the Amigas and Spectrum still set up in the lounge, it was time for yet more Space Invaders, Lemmings and Jetpac. Needing something to drink other than the copious quantities of trial-size Kilkennies in the fridge, I finished off a big bottle of Diet Coke; I asked if Mark wanted to hold on to the bottle, having been inclined to rather a lot lately. "No, it's alright", he said, then pondering for a moment, "Unless..." - five minutes later with the foot-pump from my car boot, a bung and pipe from a pooter, a big jug of water and the said bottle, we were in the garden terrorising the whole neighbourhood with high-speed water and compressed-air propelled projectiles. Took me back to my youth.

This morning was a bit frustrating at church, musically, though I think it all came together in the end. Our regular PA guy is unfortunately unable to help us any longer, and his replacement really didn't have much of a clue about setting things up. Added to that, we were a couple of bits of vital equipment missing, so altogether, it was a bit chaotic, and I had to play without having had any opportunity at all to do anything more than the briefest sound-check. Even then, my requests for foldback monitoring seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, as did my protestations that I was sure I wasn't even coming over the main PA. This was of course strenuously denied, but miraculously rectified itself a few minutes later... I just hope that these were just teething problems due to lack of experience; we just need to allow plenty of time for everyone to learn, I guess.

I should be playing again tonight, having had the usual nod and wink from Tim as he picked up his keyboard this morning. Daniel has offered me his amplifier for the evening, which should help a lot, but if I'm still lacking a DI box, things may still be quite difficult. I've tried getting through to Hollywood Music, supposedly open Sundays, but all I can get is a few rings and the squeal of a fax machine; I'm just a little fed up, even though this is the first time it's really backfired, with taking part in the lottery of shared equipment, so really do want my own DI box. I spoke to my dad on the phone last night, and he's willing to give me - though I will insist on compensating him for it - a good-sounding compact powered AV speaker I know he has stashed away somewhere; that should help a lot for foldback purposes, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to collect it.

It is a very strange feeling to know that you will never see someone again, at least in this mortal realm. It is especially hard - and sometimes takes a while for the gravity of the situation to sink in - when they are someone to whom you are relatively close. Friends come and go, and some of the splits are more acrimonious than others, but normally there is a certain spark in friendship that cannot be extinguished; things can be patched up, misunderstandings can be forgiven and so on, and time can be a great healer. Maybe that is why we have such difficulty dealing with final and irreversible separations; as humans, we have as little grasp of the concept of "never" as we do of the infinite. Thankfully, it doesn't happen that often, but that doesn't take away from the emotion when it does, and it is made still worse when these things happen out of the blue, without warning, and with no chance to say farewell.

It is now over seven years since we lost Clare, a bright and ambitious girl I had been close friends with ever since our mothers met at the local baby clinic, slain in her prime by a stolen Golf driven on the wrong side of the road late at night with no headlights. One moment a bubbly, fun-loving friend for life - the next, yet another statistic. No time to say goodbye. We gain comfort from the fact that her death might have saved the lives of many by toughening up of the law - and particularly the penalties handed down - on so-called joy-riding, and a certain feeling of cold justice having been done that one of her killers now sleeps himself; he might have been spared that fate had he been in prison where he should have been if the law had been tougher at the time, rather than standing outside the chip-shop where he too was run down. But we lost Clare, in an instant. We will never see her again, and no goodbyes shared.

And now I lose another friend, though this time not to death, but to the law. His crimes may have been heinous and affect more people than we know, more deeply than we may appreciate. But I have still lost a friend, and still no time to say goodbye. If he is to contact me, he is committing a further offence; if I do not report any such contact to the police immediately, so am I. Needless to say, it would be an offence for me to contact him, if I even knew where he was. He may live on, but to me he has to be as dead as Clare. Even to see him on the street, should he ever have the liberty so to roam, would be to see but a shape, a shadow of any former trust. I can perhaps imagine exchanging a smile or a nod, but as part of this loss, I now know that he never was perhaps the friend I thought he was - every word a potential lie - which somehow makes his removal from my world altogether more surreal and intangible.

This is all very weird. A little while ago, the peace of the neighbourhood was shattered by what sounded like the alarm at the school going off. Hearing a couple of kids outside joking that the school was on fire didn't do a lot to inspire confidence in the situation, especially since we have a fair amount of equipment there today. But the alarm stopped after perhaps half an hour with no sign of emergency services around, so I presumed it was nothing to worry about. But just now, there was a thump on the front door, but going downstairs, there was no-one there, just a black bin-bag full of sweets and chocolate from the Kids Club tuck-shop.

Since those sweets I know were supposed to be kept in secure storage at the school, I've just given Milton Keynes police a ring, and they were as mystified as I was as to what was going on. They confirmed that it was the school where the alarm was sounding earlier, and said they had been in touch with the caretaker there, who seemed sure everything was in order. So why an unmarked bin-bag, full of loose sweets and things should appear unannounced on the doorstep, is beyond me. The officer I dealt with is going to get in contact with the caretaker again, and he should then get in touch with me; in the meantime, this is just plain weird.

But they were obviously dropped off by someone who knew who lived here - Mark and myself both working at Kids Club - and this frankly makes it all the more strange. Sadly Mark's not got his mobile with him, so I can't even quiz him to see if he might know anything more about it than I do. I've just phoned Richard, and he distinctly remembers putting all the tuck stuff back in the shed this morning; we had to move it aside to get to stuff we needed for the creche and Sunday school. Maybe I should try giving Reece and Linda a ring - but beyond them, apart from waiting for the caretaker or the police to get back me, there's little I can do.

Reece was completely unaware of anything that might be going on, but he suggested I might give our administrator Pete a ring - and he was similarly mystified. Pete had helped tidy the shed a lot this morning, having sadly been left in rather a state after last Friday's meeting - assuming it wasn't due to any more criminal intervention in the mean-time - but could not suggest anything, and had certainly not generated a bin-bag in the process. He suggested that it might have had a more innocent explanation, as an anonymous donation of sweets, but it does seem bizarre that any such donation would not even have an accompanying explanatory note.

So in the meantime, my best - and worst - explanation has to be that the alarm sounding this afternoon was as a result of a break-in, that someone, probably a Kids Club member, broke into our shed and stole as many sweets and things as they could fit into a bin-bag. The caretaker might not have been too comprehensive when checking everything was in order; I'm not sure if our shed is alarmed, but it is almost certainly accessible without using the obvious entrances to the school. Our music stuff temporarily left there would probably be safe and sound, but given that the caretaker might not have been looking out for it, certainty is impossible.

Said kid would have gone home with their bin-bag, torn slightly in their escape attempt resulting in a few sweets falling out. This would have aroused the suspicion of their parents, who on hearing the alarm at the school still sounding will have realised what was happening and demanded that the contents were returned. Kid would not have wanted to go near the school again in case there were police around, but instead decided he or she would return their haul direct to Mark and Dave's house but make sure they did a runner so that we'd never know who it was. Though I would certainly prefer the anonymous donation explanation, it has to be said.

The meeting this evening was very powerful after recent events; I for one felt considerably more touched than often is the case. Three days ahead of the bad revelations, we had heard that we were entering times of darkness and would need our night-vision goggles to get through it. With our goggles, we can keep focused on Jesus, and through him rise above and out of it. This latest thing is only the most recent in a series of dark events, and I am sure there are more - both related and unrelated, probably - to come. I hope our batteries are fully charged; it's all very well seeing in dark times, but you have to fight through them too to survive.

The Kids Club tuck issue has now been partly resolved, happily to say, although there may still be a few repercussions yet, thanks to the involvement of the police. Two kids have owned up to having stolen the stuff yesterday, when they found they had a key which fitted the shed, and today's confirmed break-in at the school was unconnected. Naturally, there is a little concern at the fact that the police have been involved in this, but the parents are apparently actually quite happy about this, since they could use some scare tactics to bring their youngsters on to the straight and narrow once and for all - unlike their older siblings, we gather.

Today I am resting, having been advised not to go into work. I came home yesterday afternoon, feeling like death warmed up, and was planning on going back today. But I really didn't get a good night's sleep last night for one reason or another, and e-mailed work to say I'd be in sometime this afternoon, but they promptly mailed me back to say if I was ill enough not to come in this morning, I really ought to do myself a favour and take the whole day off.

I expect I picked up this bug either from Kids Club or YPF - a total of over a hundred possibly infectious people I might have been near over the last few days - but it seems no coincidence that this comes at a time when I am very stressed at work and church life is pretty fraught too. I should add that I cannot remember ever having taken time off like this in the two years that I've been working at the University, making the timing yet more significant.

Better news though - except that it contributed to my perhaps not getting to bed as early as I should have done last night - is that we have a new lodger here. Phil was understandably feeling very uncomfortable where he was living, and popped round early yesterday evening for a chat. He was pretty blunt about wanting to move in if he could; everything was suitably signed and sealed within seconds, and he started moving stuff across more or less immediately.

But he had far more frozen food than would fit on his shelf in the freezer, so we just had to call an entirely impromptu party. Not that many people were willing by that time of night, so in the end we only had one extra body, but between us we managed to demolish a load of pizzas and suchlike. Chris was able to enjoy a blast from the past - literally - by playing Elite on the Spectrum, a game he had been involved in developing and testing many years ago.

For now, I think I'm going to have a long hot bath, then probably go back to bed for a bit. It really is imperative that I get back to work as soon as I reasonably can, which was why I was intending to go back this afternoon, though that's now mercifully been vetoed by the very people I was to be helping by doing so... But they are right that I would be better going back when I can actually put in a decent day's work, and that's not going to be today.

Well I think I feel a fair bit better for a restful day, and with no plans for anything other than an earlyish night tonight, things must look good for a return to work tomorrow - though Karen seemed quite prepared to accept a longer absence if necessary. This is definitely a case of her more caring pastoral side showing through; remember, only a week ago she was being pretty unreasonable in her expectations.

Today I have unsurprisingly done very little other than sleep, eat - thankfully my appetite is pretty healthy - drink Lemsip, watch television and play the odd computer game to relieve the boredom of it all. That's the worst thing about being unwell, I think, the loneliness and tedium that result from forcing yourself to stay at home and take things easy. At least it's very rarely that I am this badly affected.

So it's now a whole day since Phil moved in, and he seems fairly settled already. I think he still has a few bits and pieces at the old house, but he's made his new room quite a home from home. He's got my old room here, and amazingly seems to have managed to retain a reasonable amount of floor-space compared with when I was there, but being a student, I guess he's not got quite so much unnecessary clobber.

People might have visions of Men Behaving Badly, with three young single guys sharing a house, but I think it will actually be quite civilised. I don't think any of us are madly in love with anyone at the moment, and any beer-swilling antics tend to be quite restrained. We all have different personalities and lifestyles, but we're all Christians and all pretty easy-going, so can coexist quite happily I am sure.

As often seems to be the case though, people eventually move out of here only when they do find love, and we often joke about when any of us are going to get married or anything, as if it's a certain inevitability living here. I certainly hope not to be around here too long, in that case, feeling more than ever that the time is right to sort out this part of my life which I think could really turn me around.

I guess I make it sound like I can go down to the local supermarket and buy my wife-to-be in a shrink-wrapped polystyrene tray. This isn't the case at all; I just know in my heart that this is something needing resolving sooner rather than later, but that I simply do not have the courage to be the one to make the first moves. But I have entrusted this to God, and I know he will provide when the time is right.

Anyone taking me on will have to appreciate that I can be moody and unpredictable, that I will be both emotional and unemotional at the wrong times, that I lack concentration and can't stay still for long - literally and metaphorically - that I will need time to myself as much as I will need time with them, and that I am a little too far over the hill for a wild life of late nights and eternal partying, I suspect.

I did return to work as planned yesterday, and felt reasonably good most of the time. Jon was off work, probably having caught something off me, but there's so many things going around at the moment it's hard to say for sure. I got a modest amount of stuff done yesterday, and am continuing to do so today, but am still ending up frustrated at the amount of work that needs to be duplicated for this project, with my temper not helped by running a slight temperature I think.

Yesterday evening, we had a Generation X night out at the city-centre Pizza Hut, which made a nice change from normal. That was probably the main reason I risked going into work, since I would have felt a bit guilty about taking sick-leave and then going out on the town. Six of us went in the end, and had a surprisingly good value evening there, coming in at well under eight pounds a head, including starters and beer - Pizza Hut's OK for groups, but a rip-off if you're alone.

After the pizza it was a case of deciding who had got the biggest television for watching the second half of the England/Luxembourg match. Alan had the dubious privilege of hosting us in the end - made worse by not actually having been out with us earlier in the evening... As it was, the football match was a load of rubbish, but the result was good enough I suppose, and I don't have much time for the criticism currently being levelled at Glenn Hoddle's coaching skills.

Tonight promises to be the first relatively normal neighbourhood group meeting for several weeks, with various recent distractions wrecking any kind of planned programme for this term. Danny - now into his last couple of weeks with us as a fellowship - is speaking on something or other, which is still a change to the official programme, but something closer to normality nevertheless, and it will be nice to have a Thursday night that isn't filled with doom and gloom for one reason or another.

Then Friday night is Kids Club night, and it will be an interesting experience, if numbers compare with those for the last fortnight, given that it's a "normal" night rather than one with anything special laid on requiring different grouping arrangements. I'm down to run an additional game if need be, but we've generally been running out of time - better than having time to spare - so I doubt I'll be called upon, but I'll try and have some ideas up my sleeve for something a bit different.

Saturday should be a busy and fun day, at least for the afternoon and evening, with a whole string of events laid on for dancers, singers, musicians and anyone else interested. There are workshops and so on during the afternoon, then the whole thing culminates with a special evening celebration, when presumably a lot of the stuff done during the day will come together in some kind of cohesive form. My presence has been requested throughout, so I'll have to cram my shopping in when I can...

Sunday is Danny's farewell party, with a meal laid on after the morning meeting, which I've been asked to provide a few edibles for. His actual formal send-off is the following weekend when we have brought the monthly celebration forward by a week, so that he can start serving in Northampton right from the start of November. I am sure both meetings will be quite emotional, since Danny and Chris have been wonderfully inspirational and loving brothers and friends to us all over the years.

But all things must come to an end, and it is right that people move on rather than stagnate. So, although there is sadness and apprehension about what might lie ahead, it is with our full blessing that they go at this time. They're not actually moving house for a bit, but will as soon as they can find a buyer, and will undoubtedly pay us frequent visits - I presume the church in Northampton is one of the same family as MKCF - so it's not a "farewell" thing, but it's still a big change.

Just into Saturday afternoon, and psyching myself up for this exceptionally busy - but hopefully very rewarding - weekend ahead. I've done my shopping, including the twenty tomatoes - though I have yet to wash them as requested - and getting my hair cut, realising I'd not had it done since late August. Fed up with the DI box lottery of the last couple of weekends, I finally went out and got one of my own, from Hollywood in the end - they had them in stock - which Chappells didn't, ridiculously for such an essential accessory - and ten quid cheaper into the bargain. But for now, it's a case of grabbing an early lunch - probably the very scrummy pain de campagne I picked up at Waitrose this morning - having a shower and a shave, and getting down to a day of some serious praise, worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship. Should be great stuff.

Kids Club last night was slightly down on last week's numbers; we could probably be quietly grateful for this, really, with things beginning to get a little out of hand. I'm not liking everything that I see, and although in a way I would rather like to wash my hands of it all, I think Mark is now very aware that there are problems, and it is probably right that I stick around to help ease through any changes that are necessary. About a third of the children did drama last night, but that still left about fifty for the main activities, which was really too many at times, and this "segregation" is only for part of the evening. I think we have enough leaders to maintain a sensible ratio, but there are just so many kids - and many of them without a great deal of sense of right and wrong - that it is still impossible to monitor everything going on.

Now at a break in the proceedings on Sunday - though not for too long, since the morning's festivities went on well into the afternoon. This morning's meeting was very different from usual, as our congregation's send-off for Danny and Chris as they move on to pastorships new in Northampton. Even with separate activities running for the youngsters, it was still a packed house, and all told it couldn't have been a more fitting way to let Danny and Chris go on their way. After the inevitable speeches and so on, there was a very decent buffet lunch and some further musical entertainment by Martin with a little assistance from Bob "Daniel" Dylan.

Danny and Chris are of course not rushing off quite yet, but today was the last meeting of the Centre congregation before they start commuting to Northampton; their house still isn't sold. On Thursday evening, we will be saying our goodbyes to them as temporary neighbourhood-group leaders, and there will be yet more food, thank-yous and so on to be shared there. Significantly, it will also be my last meeting with the Oldbrook group, since I have finally decided that my loyalties in that respect should reside geographically with one of the Springfield groups, and so I have agreed to join Cally's group as from the following Thursday's meeting.

It will not mean breaking off from the Oldbrook group in any way, since I have many friends there who I have no intention of losing touch with, but it looks very likely that almost all the core members will be moving out of the immediate area over the next few months. This coupled with the fact that I now see Springfield as a more permanent home than I perhaps did when I moved here, really did suggest to me that it was time to formally acknowledge where I'm living. We are a little concerned about what will happen to the Oldbrook group, since it will go down to only about three or four regular members, but people are urging me not to feel guilty.

This morning went fairly well musically, although we were severely limited for time with all the other stuff going on, and were also a little lacking in musicians. I've been invited to play again tonight, when Daniel's leading - standing in for Tim who normally does evening meetings - but I'm not sure whether I'll feel up to it, having done over half a dozen meetings on the trot now. But I still have very little voice, after this recent cold and a rather over-enthusiastic participation in "Ham and eggs" on Friday evening, so in a way I'd be better off playing than singing, although it is important to get the right balance with these things.

Although we are very careful not to allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in the music, and keep our hearts focused where it matters and everything, nevertheless, playing up front does introduce additional issues that are not always helpful in furthering ones relationship with God. On a practical note, that half the time when the congregation are praying, speaking in tongues or whatever, the musicians will be busy untangling cables, isolating annoying hums and crackles, or deciding whether to do the next song in D or E, really does not help things, and I would often far rather be taking a back-seat role. I must learn to say no tactfully...

The evening meeting saw five extremely tired musicians fight their way through most of their intended play-list, and fit to drop by the end of it. Thankfully things ended a little earlier than has recently become the case, thanks to recent complaints - though Andy implied he'd have made it even shorter if he'd realised what state most of the people there were in. The weekend's activity had certain had its toll on the attendance, but most of the musicians didn't have a lot of choice really.

Plans for an altogether early night came to nought, however, with a fair bunch of YPF folk round as usual for computer games, singalongs and miscellaneous frivolity. Thankfully, they were mostly out of here by eleven, so it's not excessively late now - but bed beckons in a matter of minutes. I've got to be up in good time in the morning, since I've offered to take Mark down to the school in Bletchley while his car's off the road with engine problems, and I need all the time I can get at work.

So for now, it's time to get some hard-earned sleep. I wish the weekends could be an opportunity to refresh and recharge so that I can face the rigours of the week ahead, but if anything it works out the other way round, with the week at work being my recovery period to face the next weekend... But I'd rather drop dead from exhaustion than die from boredom, so it doesn't worry me too much - though treating work as a relaxation exercise isn't always too helpful when there's deadlines to meet.

Today at work was not too bad, I guess, getting a fair bit done - and learning some of the more complicated, but still surprisingly useful, features of the authoring software I am being forced to use. In so doing, I managed to avoid duplicating a considerable amount of effort today, although I still fear I may hit some nasties yet when I really have no choice but to manually copy each and every element of some complex diagrams. But I am now more confident than ever that I can get all this done by our revised deadline of the end of this week, which we agreed in the light of my illness and everything else.

Tonight has been a nice relaxing evening as planned, after the hectic weekend. Main bit of fun was finally getting around to messing with the vocoder on my Zoom effects rack module; having realised that guitars do actually pack out a fairly reasonable electrical punch for a passive device, it seemed ideal to try merging my Pacifica with my SH-101 synthesiser to at least see what happened. The results - once I'd got the guitar and the synthesiser into the correct sockets on the Zoom! - were at first unimpressive, but with a little work started becoming really quite interesting, and worth persevering with.

Pretty much rubbish day at work today, saved only by complete and utter success in something I really thought I wasn't going to have any joy with at all. This Friday, repeating a previously successful formula, we have a "big screen cinema" evening for Kids Club and Teen Club combined, but Mark's video projector blew up the other week, leaving us rather stumped as to what to do. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my department at work agreed without any question at all to lend us their old projector, and indeed to hang on to it for the whole week in order to exhaustively test it - bearing in mind the technical fun and games we had with the one we borrowed for the similar event at Generation X a few weeks back. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" is certainly an adage that came into play here - I really didn't expect them to agree, and only really asked to placate Mark - as does "Ask and you shall receive", especially the bit about reaping rewards in abundance!

Although we've not yet been able to test the projector with a video recorder, we've successfully run Lemmings through it with the Amiga's composite output, so everything should be just fine so long as we have the appropriate lead - that was the main sticking point at the Generation X evening, I seem to recall. I feel quite tempted to run Doom or something through it from the PC using the VGA input, though I'm not sure how well it will handle the 320 by 200 screen resolution, and it's rather a lot of hassle to set it up again when I know it should be fine for the purpose we borrowed it. Once tested, all we then have to do is decide what film to watch; Flubber is looking quite a high probability, being fairly innocuous fun for kids of all ages. There's a little bit of mild nudity, I seem to recall, but I don't think there's anything that will cause anything more than a slight giggle amongst the most easily excitable types, assuming anyone really notices it at all.

Oh well, I succumbed to temptation and got Doom working with the projector. I decided against the sound effects - just too much to set up for a short experiment - but would imagine that with full audio-visuals, it could be pretty absorbingly scary, especially playing close up to the projected picture, so long as your head didn't cast a tell-tale shadow. The picture quality with moving visuals wasn't quite up to what I might have expected given that the projector has a TFT matrix, but it was much better than many other LCD devices I have seen - including Mark's old one, I have to say - and perfectly passable. Interestingly, it didn't make any attempt to display resolutions higher than the documented 640 by 480; I know our newer projectors at work will fudge at least some kind of intelligible output from signals the matrix wouldn't otherwise be able to cope with. This was a little disconcerting, because it meant that returning to Windows from VGA or MCGA games yielded a worrying blank screen, necessitating blind window navigation from memory... Anyway, I think that will do for experimentation, at least until we get the video recorder we'll be using hooked up to it - after all, I don't want to wear it out before we've even started, and I remain understandably a little paranoid about being entrusted with a bit of kit like that in the first place. Grateful as I am that they agreed so willingly, in a way it would have been a relief - at least for me, if not for Mark and the youth groups - if they'd said no!

I do believe that 23 October 1998 will go down as a day either to remember for posterity or to utterly forget. It will certainly go down as one of my longest and most exhausting days, for good reasons and not so good ones. Right now, I am seriously running on vapour, and the prospect of YPF descending on the house in a little while is one that I have to say does not fill me with the greatest delight - though I will either join them or sleep like a log, I guess.

The day started with my alarm going off at six - though technically it started at midnight since I didn't get to bed til about one, and then slept less than soundly. Mark, Andy and myself had spent a couple of hours after neighbourhood group getting some new trailers sorted out for the cinema night tonight - probably the less said about that, the better, just suffice to say it didn't go anywhere near as smoothly as we'd planned, and I had to call my sanity into question.

Neighbourhood group was so-so last night; it was Danny and Chris's send-off, and also my last meeting before I move to the Springfield group next week - we're on the golf driving-range; should be fun. So we had a whole load of food and drink, and played games and stuff. Something just didn't quite click, however, and it all rather dragged out, which didn't help when we still had the stuff to do on Andy's computer before we could finally call it a day - or a night.

I was in work by soon after seven, prepared for an extremely busy morning ahead in order to meet my lunchtime deadline for the first SDL section of the T305 software. Lunchtime came and went - though lunch didn't; it seemed to have got lost somewhere at the wayside - and the software wasn't done, but not for want of trying. I eventually got it wrapped up shortly before six this evening, able to leave work just in time to get ready for the cinema night at the school.

Needless to say, there was no way I could have got through such a long day, after such a minimal amount of sleep, without some chemical assistance. I hate to think quite how much Pro Plus and Coke I got through, especially during the morning, and I have to say I don't think it did me a lot of good, spending half my time making unscheduled trips to the loo and trying to rehydrate myself. When I started losing focus and shaking, I realised things really weren't so great.

But nevertheless, I got done what I needed to, even if it was about six hours late. Not bad though for a project that's been "running" - in the loosest sense of the word - for a couple of years now apparently. I'm sure deep down Karen was pretty furious about the delays, but was nevertheless very grateful and typically nice about it when I handed the software over, though I expect she had another couple of hours of slaving over a CD writer before she could go home.

With a rather high value of video projection equipment in my possession, I decided I'd better drive up to the school rather than risk getting mugged. Trouble is, the car wouldn't start - it turned over most enthusiastically, just the engine wouldn't kick in. Someone's muttered something about distributor arms and suchlike alien terms, but I'm going to give Autohome a ring tomorrow since it's not now too desperate, and I have home-start cover with them for such times.

Thankfully, Daniel had had some trouble getting into the school, and called by the house just as I was cursing my Metro, so I got a lift up with him in the end. The actual cinema thing went quite well, though Flubber probably wasn't the best choice of film - but it's difficult finding something really suitable for such a wide range of ages - and the kids never really settled down. Only downer was blowing one of the projector lamps, but I don't think it'll matter.

So now, hopefully a much more relaxing weekend ahead, so that I can be full of energy for the second part of the SDL software next week... I have nothing much planned for tomorrow, other than doing my shopping and calling Autohome out. Sunday is a special meeting, when we finally hand Danny and Chris over to the Northampton church, and thankfully I have not yet been asked to play; I think I would politely decline if there was any choice - I really do need the rest.

Not the best Saturday to be car-less, with perhaps the most miserable weather since I've been living in Milton Keynes forecast for today. I was going to walk out to the city centre to do my shopping first, then worry about ringing the breakdown service - but on second thoughts, I might well risk not getting the nicest bread at Waitrose but at least stay dry failing to do so, later in the day. That is, assuming that whatever's wrong with the car is something not too drastic; it had been a bit "lumpy" - especially at low revs - over the last few cold and damp days, rather like when there's not enough choke, and I suspect that - although the journey home from work last night was comparatively smooth - it's very much connected.

Just as well I tried turning the ignition key before ringing Autohome, because the car started first time and almost instantaneously. Weird, when yesterday evening it really did seem very poorly indeed on the starting front. So I did manage to do my shopping early, get nice bread at Waitrose, and stay more or less dry in the process. Of course, I am still not 100% confident about the car, but it seemed to run very well indeed without any obvious lumpiness, so I guess I'll just worry about things the next time it happens - and hope I'm not stranded somewhere awkward when it does.

Shopping was typically boring, with the only light relief being having a good look through the various bits of South Park merchandise in HMV and Clintons - loads of t-shirts, mugs, greetings cards, soft toys, key-rings and so on between them - but not buying anything for the moment; all just a little too expensive for what you actually get. Interesting that Dixons have finally - and quite spectacularly - broken the 200 pound barrier for a portable MiniDisc recorder, but I'm not sure how good the Sharp one is, and besides, I would have needed a special money-off voucher I didn't have.

But that's my Saturday schedule over with, so maybe I really can have a bit of a long-awaited rest now. Mark and Phil are both away for one reason or another, so I don't expect any major late-night invasions from YPF or anyone. If I'd known they were going to be away, I'd have probably arranged to have people round here myself at least for lunch or something, but with me as tired as I am, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that I didn't know. As so often seems the case, it's only when you put your life on pause for a moment that you realise just how utterly drained you are...

Bored and in the safe knowledge of a consolation hour's sleep with the clocks changing tonight, I drove across to Andy and Rosie's for the evening, also dropping off a couple of videos at Blockbuster and saving Mark some fines in the process no doubt. They were looking after baby Shannon, grown enormous since I last saw her, so couldn't go anywhere much and I think were grateful for a bit of company - and Andy appreciated a hand setting up his PC and laptop at home again after the cinema thing last night. As it turned out, Darren and Vanessa were back quite a bit earlier than planned, so we all had a good chat together about everything from mountain climbing and Bosnia relief runs to the relative merits of different numbers of elements on ham radio aerials - not that I know much about the latter, I should emphasise. But still feeling a little apprehensive about the car - it was a little lumpy going across to Oldbrook, but fine on the way back - I didn't want to leave too late, though I must remember that I've changed my watch and clock already, and that it isn't really only half past nine. No-one's phoned yet trying to persuade me to play tomorrow, so I take it that I've got a morning - and maybe an evening too, if I'm lucky - off for the first time in about a month, which will be quite a relief, I can assure you, meaning I can lie in tomorrow and at least double-up on that extra hour.

Well I made the most of my extra hour with an uncustomarily long - for me at least - Sunday lie-in, although there was a knock on the door shortly before nine thirty, with Chris from Coffee Hall on his bike wondering why no-one was at church. Of course, he thought it was nearly ten thirty, but he was right in any case that church was elsewhere this morning. I got up to Wolverton nice and promptly - the car running very nicely, I would add - immediately accosted by the sound guy, asking if I knew I was playing this morning - which I didn't, and I explained that even if they'd asked I would probably have politely declined. As it was though, Tim sprung a surprise on all the combined congregations' worship team members who weren't already up front, by calling an on-the-spot impromptu choir, on-stage. Not quite what I had been hoping for, looking forward to a nice quiet morning in the congregation for a change, but at least it involved little hassle on my part.

So we finally got to formally send off Danny and Chris this morning, with the Northampton folks out in force to accept them into their number. It was an emotional and poignant time, for two people who have been with the fellowship since its planting out way back in 1983, and who have been pastors for many of the latter years. But it was also a time to understand and accept that people have to move on, and we are not really losing them in any sense of the word. If there is substance in the words shared this morning, Danny and Chris can be assured of a struggle like none they have experienced before in their work in Northampton, but that the rewards will be immeasurable if they can fight their way through as surely they will. So for all of us - both in Milton Keynes and Northampton - the weeks ahead will be a great adventure, and one that we look forward to with anticipation, excitement and apprehension, but also the sure knowledge that it's all for the best.

This afternoon I was supposed to be going to a Generation X meeting back up in Wolverton, but quite aside from not particularly wanting to make the journey twice in one day, I really felt I needed some time to myself, to get a few things straight between me and God and so on. For some reason, I just felt really quite irritable earlier today, and felt maybe I was getting some priorities wrong somewhere, so the rare chance to just spend a couple of hours without too many distractions, temptations and so on was not an opportunity I was going to turn down.

Mark phoned just as I got back from my walk round Willen, and it sounds like he's about to buy a Zoom 3030 guitar processor, just like mine and Phil's - that'll make three out of three in this house! The guy selling it only wants something like fifty quid for it - they currently retail for about a hundred quid more than that - so I don't think Mark had to think too hard, but he was just a little concerned about how the memories worked and if he could recover settings that the previous owner might have wiped; I think I managed to allay his fears on that.

With it being half term, there's no evening meeting, which will again be quite a welcome break for me. Next Sunday is another celebration; I thought today's was next week's one brought forward a week, but it was actually an extra one. Perhaps foolishly, I actually volunteered to play next weekend if necessary, an offer which unsurprisingly was gratefully accepted, though it's not clear whether it'll be Tim or Gareth leading. It's also likely I'm going to helping doing some decorating next Saturday, so when I'm going to get home next is anybody's guess.

Yesterday evening was quite cool, with a few older friends visiting in the evening - and not too late, thankfully for us working types - but closely followed by a load more YPF folks. While a small delegation went to Blockbuster, Phil and myself fudged together a connection between our decrepit video recorder and the projector - making the most of it before it had to go back this morning. We eventually got it working just as Mark got back from his weekend away, and as the delegation returned with Good Will Hunting. A most enjoyable and feel-good film, a complete contrast from the frankly rather poor Flubber we had last had the displeasure of watching Robin Williams star in.

Last night I was hoping for a quiet evening in watching the Simpsons and Deep Space Nine, before turning in not too late, but - although it didn't interfere with the Simpsons too much - when I got in, I was kindly informed of a short-notice meeting in connection with the forthcoming Hallowayne party. This was quite useful actually, answering many of the questions that had nagged at me since I'd rashly agreed to help out a couple of weeks back. Quite how they hope to fit everything into the ninety-minute slot is beyond me, but they seem to know what they're talking about - although any issues of time-keeping in connection with MKCF have to be treated with a great deal of caution, from experience. Anyway, it looks like the evening, this Friday, will be a lot of fun, and offer a wholesome alternative to the kind of stuff many of the kids would probably be up to; previous experience has shown the event to be very popular with both youngsters and parents alike, from both Christian and non-Christian backgrounds. I get the impression that regardless of any more sinister aspects of Halloween, a lot of people - given the choice - would rather be doing something else to actively enjoy themselves, and we're offering just such a "something else" that really does seem to go down well with everyone.

A miserable evening outside, and quite happy to be snugly inside doing not a lot in particular - though I have tentatively agreed to go for a drink with Phil later, so I'll probably have to brave the weather yet. I'd rather not drive though, with my car being embarrassingly ill on the way home from work today, developing next to nil power half way round Springfield roundabout and only getting round at the most tedious of crawls. I've finally finished converting the transcript of my testimony and commitment into HTML, so I daresay I'll get those up onto the web within the next few days, though it would be nice to add in my baptism photographs too. I ought to give Phil L a gentle reminder prod that he was going to give me the scans he had used on the card he gave me, otherwise I'll have to risk the unknowns of second-generation scanning. It was quite encouraging reading through all that stuff again; I've been a bit low lately for one reason or another, and to read the uplifting words, readings and so on really did pick me up a lot, and should ultimately help me refocus on what I'm currently doing with my life. I realise that I have a long way to go, and all too often I seem to take one step forward and two steps back, but with the right focus, I know I can improve, advance, increase my faith, and flush out the detritus of my more recent past with something completely fresh, new and invigorating.

The car seemed a little happier today, having smothered most of the electrics in wet-start this morning. Opinions widely differ on the merits of the stuff, but Phil seemed to think it would be a good idea, and although the car was still a little lumpy going in this morning, this evening it was perfectly smooth, so maybe it just took a little while to act. Naturally, I'll be keeping a watchful eye on the situation - as if I could avoid it - but I'm hopeful that the problem has now been fixed. I also now understand a lot more about vehicle electrics, having had such vital parts as the coils, distributor and so on pointed out to me; up until now, these had been a mystery to me.

Work today was moderately good, leaving me well on my way to finishing the second part of the SDL tutorial software. There's still a fair way to go, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be possible to meet my Friday deadline, and hopefully a little earlier in the day than I did with the first part of the software last week. It is particularly important that I make a quick getaway from work on Friday evening, since I'll be expected to help set up the Hallowayne party from about six o'clock onwards. Hopefully I can manage to complete this part of the project without any chemical assistance; I really don't think that helped at all, last week, and if anything made me feel even worse.

The Hallowayne party replaces Kids Club this week - as well as it being half-term anyway, when we wouldn't normally meet - but as from the following Friday, there are going to be some major changes to our whole operating philosophy. Specifically, we are no longer going to operate on a virtually "open-door" basis - resulting in the spiralling numbers we have seen over the last few months - and we are going to be a lot stricter on enforcing age limits and so on. It's a shame in a way, but ultimately it should improve things for everyone, and we have already made arrangements with other local youth groups and so on, so that noone need be left in the cold as a result of the changes.

I was pleasantly surprised to find some post from Wall's this morning; I had filled out a feedback form on their web-site on Monday, which offered a free pack of sausages to anyone who completed it. I wasn't really expecting a pack of chipolatas to fall through the letterbox, and indeed, it was only a voucher, but nor was I expecting such a quick response - and even with a personally-signed letter and a recipe booklet. They also entered me into a competition to win a barbecue, so who knows what I might hear from them next... I expect I've opened the floodgates to a huge amount of junk-mail, but that's a small price to pay for a nice pack of sausages next time I go shopping!

Stiff arms, hand and fingers - and a little weary too - but yesterday evening down on the Wavendon driving range was quite an experience, and something I feel I ought to persevere with, utterly grim though I was. It was mainly members of the two Springfield neighbourhood groups plus a few invited friends, and Luther, who is a pretty good golf coach and spent quite a lot of time showing us all the ropes both on a group and individual basis. Quite a few of us were fairly reasonable golfers anyway, so there was a fair bit of mutual guidance too - getting advice on my swing from Dave took the idea of pastoring to new heights though, even if it didn't particularly do the same to the ball. All good fun, though, and at the nineteenth hole, a rare opportunity to catch up with a number of people, though now I'm a member of the North Springfield group, it should be but the first of many such times.

But for now, it's Friday again, and another tough deadline to meet - though this time I have not been gullible enough to agree to too specific a time to hand over the software. I did a lot yesterday, but didn't seem to make a lot of actual progress as far as working through the draft script was concerned. The problem is when there's a section with heavy animation content, rather than just flashing up - and sometimes highlighting - symbols. I had a brief leaf through the remaining parts before I went home last night, and apart from the bit I'm currently in the middle of, there's one other part that looks like it has significant animation content, but the rest of it looks quite straightforward - if lengthy - so it should just be a case of getting my nose to the wheel and churning the stuff out. There will be more to come for next week and beyond, but it shouldn't need be half as rushed.

It's been one of those productively unproductive kinds of day at work - the ones where you feel you've done a lot, but haven't actually made much perceptible progress. As such, I didn't manage to keep to my deadline for the second part of the SDL software, but I am confident that I can now complete it on Monday, and Karen seemed moderately happy with that. I think I might have managed it today if it wasn't for hitting on a part of the software that looked from my initial scan-through as if it had been more or less finished by the design studio, but was actually full of howling errors, requiring a very methodical approach to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Besides, I had to leave nice and promptly for the Hallowayne party this evening. That went very well, I think, and we ran out of time for the planned activities - which is always better than planning too little and getting left at a loose end. Quite a few kids turned up unbooked, but we had ample space and no-one had to be turned away. Thankfully, everyone seemed to have taken notice of the request for no fancy dress and so on, allowing us to keep the whole party a blissfully hocus-pocus free zone. Next week it's the bonfire party, and the great news is that many of the neighbourhood groups are now coming too, so we'll be able to afford lots more fireworks.

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