goznet ...

David's diary: September 1998

Work was unmotivating, with only the arrival of a few new faces in the department to bring any interest to the day really. I really should start looking harder for something different to do, because a worthwhile job is very important when you consider the percentage of your time you spend in - or available for - employment. It might be easier if I knew for sure what I wanted to do, but I don't really; I suspect a complete career change could be just the ticket, but complete career changes open a bewildering number of possibilities, and the permutations even just within software development are mind-boggling enough to get my head around.

Still no word on whether it will be OK for me to take the rest of the month off as from the end of this week, and in a way I am now afraid to ask again in case the answer is no. Though I took last Friday afternoon off as I'd also similarly requested and got no interrogation this morning, so I'm presuming that everything is fine and Ian is just being his usual laid back self about boring things like holidays and so on. I've not really yet got anything planned as such, although this coming weekend is the 1998 Garden Olympics down at Heckfield in Hampshire again, which would be as nice a way as any to kick off a few weeks break with.

After the success of the Kids Club holiday and the likelihood that I will be assisting with the weekly meetings on a regular basis, it seems that Generation X is picking up again having died a death after the - albeit fairly successful - weekend down in the New Forest earlier in the year. The group used to be run by Gareth and Tash, somewhat grudgingly it now appears, so Denzil and Eve have taken it over and it looks like they're breathing some fresh impetus into it all, with a more regular programme of events and so on. Whether it will break free from its "married club" image will remain to be seen, but I'll give it a fair chance.

Thankfully it finally seems that the church database has at last been updated with respect to my move. It took a few prods, and waywardly-addressed circulars being pointed out, but Roger assured me tonight that everything was in order. Not so long ago, there wasn't going to be a new directory for a good while, but with the recent changes in the eldership, I guess things got pushed forward substantially, and I got panicked when Mark said tonight that he'd seen a sneak preview of the a list. The thought of people failing to contact me for another year or more was a bit daunting, though it seems now that everything's fine, thank goodness.

The Religion and Faith relaunch on Monochrome seems to be progressing smoothly enough, with lively if contentious discussion in most of the files. There's a few - mainly political - problems to be ironed out, but I am confident that everything will be fine, and I've received some nice seals of approval from various people of all religious persuasions, which is quite confidence-boosting. There were a few muted accusations of bias today, but I think I managed to defend myself satisfactorily, although it is somewhat inevitable that I won't be entirely even-handed in my treatment of the section, no matter how hard I try to be objective.

Whilst on the subject of relaunches, WaveCraft seems to have successfully revived itself as a free piece of software on the web. So far I've received about fifty feedback messages, of which the overwhelming majority are enthusiastic. There have been a few grumblers, but they seem to miss the point that the software is well over two years old in a very fast-moving area of the market, and that it's inevitably going to look a bit dated - and that just because software looks a bit old, it doesn't automatically mean the quality of its results is at all compromised. But anyway, almost all the feedback has been positive, which is great.

Amongst those contacting me about WaveCraft was my old friend Tim Cole from Sseyo, who had some interesting suggestions to make. Whilst at Last Unicorn, we had tried to strike a bundling deal, but my boss had demanded too much which blew the whole plan out of the water, but it seems Tim is ready to talk about possibilities again. Obviously, we won't be selling the existing version now it's been made free, but there are various other options we could pursue, including updating it substantially, or integrating it with their new web-based music creation system as a server-side analogue sample generator. Interesting stuff indeed...

Today's the first day of my much-anticipated month off work, and what a suitably glorious day it is - just a pity I feel too tired to go and do anything much with it; I suppose there's always the afternoon yet, though even that's fast disappearing now. It's been a pleasantly busy - and exhausting - weekend, so at least I have an excuse of sorts, and I'm sure there will be plenty of other opportunities over the next few weeks.

Saturday afternoon I drove down to the Millers House near Heckfield for the second annual Garden Olympics, courtesy of Steve and his cheerfully-suffering parents. The weather - and traffic - on the way down was absolutely atrocious, which I think took their toll on the attendance figures, which were well down on last year's, but they missed out on a beautifully warm, sunny - and fun of course - afternoon in the end.

As last year, the "competitors" who did make it enjoyed such delights as hay-bale tossing, egg-and-spoon racing, piggy-back fighting with inflatable hammers and so on. For some reason, the broom-course wasn't such a major event this year; perhaps there were too many incurable brain damage cases after last year's frivolities? Late-night croquet still happened of course, and was oddly more successful than the daytime variant.

New for this year was the wide game, a run-of-the-mill capture the flag type thing, but with the added interest of the river dividing the two bases and a ruling that it could be crossed by any means other than the obvious footbridge. A rowing boat and makeshift raft - reminiscent of the previous weekend's, but not quite as reassuring - were provided for the purpose. Our team narrowly lost, and I somehow avoided getting wet.

We were running altogether a fair bit late thanks to most people being delayed on the way, so by the time the barbecues were fired up after the wide game, everyone was right ready for food and drink. After last year's experience of over-catering, no-one this time seemed to think they were doing great favours by feeding the five thousand with catering packs of sausages and so on, and there was about the right quantity for everyone.

Simon provided the cool vibes into the night in his usual fashion. There was supposedly a Grease revival theme to all this, but not many people really seemed to get into that side of things - especially with regard to the fancy dress edict, for which most only seemed to make a token effort at best. Quite honestly - and I know I'm not alone in this sentiment - fancy dress almost inevitably spoils otherwise perfectly good parties.

After the usual civilised Saturday breakfast - courtesy of Steve's parents - it was time to hit the road to Norreys Evangelical Church in Wokingham, to meet up with Sax, and also - albeit briefly - Squirt and Signia. The place took a litte finding; Sax's map was accurate enough, but wasn't much use until I could work out where I was starting from and as a result, my leaving bags of time came to nothing, eventually arriving a quarter of an hour late.

Norreys was a world apart from MKCF, frankly, and I don't think I would have been able to stand it for much longer than I did. There seemed an incredible lack of enthusiasm from most of the congregation, and the leader of the meeting did little to really inspire. But - and the significance of this will become clear shortly - his sermon was nevertheless interesting, as the first in a series on the subject of anxiety, with lots of common-sense guidance.

Wokingham's decidedly mediocre Burger King was the next destination for lunch and a good natter with Sax - he'd been playing piano in the service itself, so we hadn't really had a chance to say much more than hello. Then a brief phone-call to John and Anne down where I used to live - having heard on Saturday that they had now finally returned from the States - and I was on the road to Odiham to see them all for the first time in well over a year.

"Little" Johnny was not so little any more, and very talkative, mobile and mischievous, although trying to convince him that I wasn't daddy was sometimes quite a struggle. Both Sarah and Amy had grown up quite a bit - but not too much to get their usual hugs, they insisted - and Amy in particular had picked up a very strong West Coast accent, though it will probably go soon enough now they are back at school, and they were glad to be home really.

The journey back to Milton Keynes was marginally better than the one down on Saturday, but traffic was still heavy and slow, taking a full two hours. I returned via the Kings Centre at Simpson, in the vain hope that with the pleasant afternoon weather there might have been a late summer picnic - not that I'd brought anything to eat - but there wasn't, so I had plenty of time to get home, cook up a pizza and prepare for our evening Celebration instead.

To be blunt, the evening Celebration provided everything that the morning service at Norreys hadn't. The music was utterly amazing, with probably the biggest band seen in a while - various guitars and keyboards, bass, drums, trumpet and harmonica, as well as the usual hot vocal line-up - plus Dave and Chris Richards from Basingstoke talking, as well as various other sharers of testimonies, visions and so forth.

A recurring theme throughout the evening - as in the morning - was that of anxiety, oddly enough; if the guy at Norreys had somehow got me thinking - not least his all-too familiar list of tell-tale signs of anxiety - by the evening it was clear to me that God was trying to tell me something and I felt compelled to respond. I don't think I had quite realised what the matter with me was, or I at least needed reminding...

More details of the miracles at Days of Destiny were recounted, particularly those surrounding John-Paul Jackson. Dave had been aware of an inexplicable shimmering near John-Paul, and asked his companion if he could see anything. "The angel standing next to him, you mean?" he replied... Similar visitations at other events were also recalled. With stuff like that, it'll be a miracle in itself if I don't go myself next year.

I now have the music rota for the rest of the year, and was perhaps a little disappointed only to have been scheduled twice, and indeed two consecutive weekends - though with the possibility of extra dates if the need arises. But on reflection, it's still early days for me, and I would rather find my feet a bit, and Mark has intimated that I'd be welcome to play at the November meeting he'll be leading at anyway.

There's a music practice this evening, which will be the first one I'll have been to with Gareth leading. This will be interesting given that Gareth takes a very different approach to most of the others. The end results are generally worth it, but whereas the last practice in early July - we broke off for summer - was very free and easy, I believe Gareth likes to take a firmer leading role and is quite opinionated.

This is quite aside from the fact that I know Gareth would like me to play a bit differently to what I have done so far, and he's said he'll try and fix up a date tonight for when we can get together and have a chat about it all. Of the two meetings I'm definitely playing at this autumn, one will be led by Gareth and the other by Daniel, which should be good experience in flexibility given their very different styles.

The Generation X programme for the rest of the year is also more or less finalised, at least with regard to the dates if not the content. They are a little less regular than Denzil had led me to believe when he phoned the other night, but at least they are happening at all and dates are being officially distributed in advance, which is more than seemed to be the case before, when everything seemed very ad-hoc and vague.

But for now, it's time to get up and dressed properly, and do something with the day before it's too late. Perhaps a walk by the lake, or a wander into the city centre. Or maybe something completely different. Although it's very nice having a month off and nothing specific planned - but a few things in mind - I do want to make sure I make the most of it, and it'll be all too easy for it to slip by wasted.

Day two of twenty, and again, time's getting on without having done very much with the day. But it's not all been wasted, by virtue of having finally moved across the last bits and pieces from my old room. My two old wardrobes were pretty jam-packed, so this was no small operation, but it's done now. There's various carrier bags of stuff here that will need to be sorted through in due course, but at least I'm more or less self-contained in this room now and the old one will be available for one of Mark's friends who's visiting this weekend.

Eventually yesterday, the stroll into the city centre won, especially when I suddenly remembered that being off work - and thus no access to canteen grub - meant having to get more food things than usual, and that my visit to Waitrose on Saturday was deliberately just for things for the weekend, since I needed a fair bit of stuff for the barbecue. So pretty mind-numbingly boring really, but it needed to be done, and I did take the opportunity to pop in to the jewellers and see Josie who I'd not really had a chance to talk to for a fair while.

Last night's band practice went fairly well, and was not quite as rigidly constrained as I had feared. It was actually fairly free flowing with plenty of opportunities to sing and play in the Spirit as well as rehearse pre-decided songs. It was great to have Giles back on bass, after his year at Duns - I'd clean forgotten he played, in fact, and he's actually been scheduled to play more than Sim this autumn. It took me a few songs to get into it all properly, but it was going quite well by the end, and I think I largely avoided the melodies!

As for the rest of the week, today and tomorrow I think are fairly quiet with nothing much planned, perhaps a nice chance to start doing all those things I've claimed not to have had the time to do over the last year. Things like getting back into song and music-writing, which I've not done to any great extent since late 1996, appallingly enough; now properly moved into this new room, with everything I need easily to hand, and all the time in the world, opportunities haven't looked better for ages. I just need to capitalise on them.

Thursday evening there is apparently a joint Springfield and Oldbrook neighbourhood groups' music and testimony evening at the school which should be interesting; I'm sure I'll contribute in some way, though whether by speaking, playing or both, will remain to be seen. This will be the first evening back proper for the neighbourhood groups; we had an unofficial gathering last Thursday - thanks to someone accidentally announcing it - when we watched Cool Runnings - a very watchable and surprisingly funny film based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsleigh team's attempts in the Winter Olympics - which ITV were showing, although the Springfield groups watched Mark's tape of it to avoid the adverts...

Then Friday evening is the first night back for Kids Club, and - anticipating an increase in numbers at least as big as that we've seen over the last year - the implementation of some new systems to speed up registration and also make the activity groups more manageable. We genuinely believe that even if we almost double in size, pastoral and other aspects of the club will substantially improve over last term, when things were starting to get a little out of hand due to the somewhat unforeseen explosion in numbers. If things get a lot busier, we will no doubt have to think again, but that will be a great problem to have and we do expect it to happen sooner rather than later at the current rate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly - given a healthy amount of cynicism, but more generally because of the nature of the upgrade involved - Monochrome isn't back on-line yet. It was hoped that it would return yesterday, but there was a substantial amount of software to be updated, and these things rarely go without a hitch, especially when Unix enters the equation. At least if it's been down all this time since Friday lunchtime, there shouldn't be any serious moderation to be carried out on the Religion and Faith section which was my main reason for trying connecting in the first place - along with putting up these last couple of days' diary entries. Hopefully Monochrome will be back fairly soon, though it doesn't bother me too much while I'm on holiday; it's just a bit annoying keeping on connecting at my own cost while it's still dead.

Instead, I took advantage of the opportunity - once I had finally got through on Demon's dodgy dial-up lines - to open the all-new Obscure Orchard web pages to the public at last, on http://www.orchard.jeamland.org, now that Andy's given them the green light. Even this had its pitfalls, though, thanks to my PC's perfectly respectable VT220 terminal emulation failing to impress the server's shell, with ed or vi looking increasingly ominous prospects for removing an "under construction, authorised use only" notice from the front page. Eventually - with 25% hair loss incurred - by a sheer stroke of genius, I thought I would try telnetting back into the server host from itself, introducing a level of indirection so that pico wouldn't be directly interrogating my PC, and lo and behold it all worked fine from thereon with no problems at all from the so-called "broken" cursor positioning.

Sharing a house has certainly had a major downward impact on my phone-bill, with my share of the one just arrived adding up to just under twenty quid, compared with well over a hundred on the bills at my old flat. Ionica's call charges seem to compare very closely with British Telecom's, I have to say, with no real surprises neither to horrify nor impress me. It's nice having the identity codes enabled - I think they call them "call centres" or something in telecom-speak - so it's easy to work out how much each of us has to pay without tedious calculator-bashing or arbitrary bill-splitting. Of course, it's open to abuse, since there are no PIN numbers or anything, but we all trust each other here and aren't out to rip anyone off. A fair chunk of my slice was internet use, mainly while Mark was away and I could use the phone with minimal inconvenience to anyone else, which was very useful during the lengthy process of setting up my section on Monochrome; I don't expect that use to be anywhere near as high in the future.

The rain lashes down outside and thunder echoes around relentlessly. Not the most conducive day for going out and exploring previously uncharted delights of the city, but once again I do need to go into the centre. This time, the car looks an inevitability; Mark had wondered last night if I'd even been outside the house for the last two days given that the car hadn't moved an inch in that time. It's actually now a moderately clean car, since Liam and Ben dropped in last night looking for odd jobs to do for a small consideration.

I got a rejection letter this morning from Zergo, but I can't really say it disappointed me. Graeme had asked a while back that I sent him my CV somewhat speculatively, but I wasn't too enthused about the idea of commuting to Hemel Hempstead, so I hadn't treated it with the greatest priority. In any case, the jobs listed on their web site really looked pretty uninspiring; network security wouldn't have been the most exciting career change to have made, and it would not have offered the "step up the ladder" I'm really looking for.

Although today's weather would seem an unlikely incentive, I do feel a considerable urge to arrange a barbecue and party here. At a pinch, I could just about use my moving in - albeit three months ago - as an excuse, but it miht be more appropriate to organise it in celebration of my forthcoming commitment to the Fellowship whenever that might be. I think there would be enough space for those who would be likely to come, and with this month off, planning would be easy, although obviously I would need Mark's permission.

Shopping done, and almost a Minidisc recorder "better off", having been extremely tempted in John Lewis - the new Aiwa portable recorder is just about the smallest and cheapest yet, and apparently takes full advantage of Aiwa's close affiliation with Sony in using the latest generation encoding technology which otherwise high-quality competitors such as Kenwood and Sharp lack. Impressed as I was with the sound quality and everything, it can wait though, and with prices tumbling as they are, it wouldn't surprise me if it was a fair bit cheaper a couple of months down the line. It was interesting that John Lewis are only stocking recorders, whilst Dixons have a number of playback-only devices - but with only about twenty pounds price premium for the recorders, it barely seems worth the saving possible by getting the cheaper ones, even if the recording features weren't a priority.

It's good to see the format establishing itself well, though; I can remember when Minidisc and DCC were launched by Sony and Philips as direct rivals, and with the recession in full force, it seemed highly unlikely that either would succeed, regardless of their undoubted merits. DCC recorders are now being sold off at bargain-bucket prices - who really wanted to go back to mechanically-unreliable cassette technology, even if it did sound good? - whilst Sony seem to be pushing hard to make Minidisc the definitive portable and home digital recording format, particularly as a superior replacement for cassettes. I'm sure though that the backers of DVD and CDR will have their own aces up their sleeves, and it might just be canny marketing by Sony and its supporters to sell double the amount of stuff by persuading everyone to upgrade to something completely new in a year's time.

Still no sign of Mono having come back from the dead, and once again, half the day's gone before I've hardly even started. That said, I've already made a trip to Argos to buy a new mattress for our spare room. I'm not sure which was the trickier: the assistant getting the thing over the collection point counter, dragging it to the car, somehow contorting it to fit in the boot - none too big even with the back seats folded down - or driving back to the house with virtually nil rear visibility. But it's done anyway, and Mark now owes me a few quid rather than it being the other way round; I wonder how long we can go on with debt tennis?

Maybe it's a typically blustery and changeable September, but the weather keeps changing remarkably quickly; with it greyed over and spitting with rain only about half an hour ago, I just stuck a load of washing in the tumble drier, but now there's glorious sunshine and with the wind as it is, maybe I ought to put it out on the line if only to freshen it up a bit. But I know if I do, it'll almost inevitably start pouring with rain or something, so maybe I won't bother, but I must keep an eye on the drier since the timer seems to have stopped working and the last load I did roasted for about three hours or more.

Having rather let things slip over the last month or more, I got out running again yesterday. I tried to time it when it was cool and damp, but - as would be expected - ended up very hot and steamed up when the skies cleared once again. For a change - and so as not to be demoralised by an almost inevitable drop in performance - I took a different route, going out round Campbell Park, down to and along the canal, and back via the bottom end of Springfield. The terrain was far more varied - lakesides are inherently flat! - and I suspect a little longer than my usual route, though I stopped and walked a fair few times too.

I suppose that sometime I should load up and no doubt slightly revise my testimony in advance of this evening's joint neighbourhood groups meeting. I don't have my printer currently hooked up, but that's no bad thing since I think I would prefer to work a bit more spontaneously from brief memory-jogging notes than from a completely pre-prepared "speech". But I do need to remind myself of a lot of its content, and probably add a few more things that have happened lately - especially as I think that's what tonight's meeting is concentrating on - so that'll give me something to do when the weather turns again as it surely will.

Mono's weekend down for an operating system upgrade has dragged itself out to a full week off-line now, but with me officially being on holiday anyway, that's no sad loss really. I daresay there might be some announcement about it in my e-mail, but I've not collected that for a few days - I guess I should do sometime, even though it's likely all the 30-odd messages waiting will be either WaveCraft feedback or spams'n'scams, both of which can wait.

While out shopping at lunchtime I bumped into Danny who was helping run the Alpha kiosk there, and having had a sticky iced bun and bought him a BHS coffee, we tentatively agreed that I should get committed to the Fellowship this Sunday. This is a little more sudden than I'd maybe been planning, but with my moves later in the month somewhat uncertain, this would be an ideal opportunity for sure, and the logical step forward after my baptism a few weeks ago.

Last night's joint meeting was very encouraging; I didn't have an opportunity really to share anything myself, with it being a little more stage-managed than I'd thought it was going to be, but what others shared was immensely powerful. The theme was loosely that of "neighbours", and the force of good that neighbourhood groups could be, but several people stretched that theme a little to tell of great work by God in healing and so on. Excellent stuff all round.

But my updating my testimony yesterday will be useful with this coming Sunday in mind. I don't know if I will be expected to give a full testimony, but certainly I think they will want me to talk a bit about myself, my background and how I came to Christ, as well as why I consider Milton Keynes to be my home and MKCF my chosen family. I've said I'll ring Danny this evening, when we'll probably semi-finalise some content and indeed confirm I'm doing it at all!

With an afternoon spare, I decided I'd give Danny a ring earlier than I'd said, and ended up popping round to his house for a half-hour chat this afternoon. I'll definitely be going for it on Sunday, Danny taking the opportunity to briefly recap on what commitment - both the process and the state of - entailed, not that there were any real surprises for someone who's been with the Fellowship for nigh on two years anyway. Tithing, as always, came up as an issue, and I feel more comfortable with the idea than I did not so long ago and would certainly see it as something to enthusiastically strive towards. I think it was discovering recently that the church ran a financially much tighter ship than I had perhaps been led previously to believe that tipped the balance for me. Whilst I'm not promising to dive in head-long with the full tenth from day one, I certainly feel that with my reduced outlay living where I am, I can afford to make some monetary sacrifices for the benefit of the church and its work, and that once I get used to the idea, inevitably changing circumstances in the future - with regard to employment, housing, family or whatever - should not have too much impact on that. Of course I give fairly generously - if somewhat sporadically - already, but when a church is having to guarantee funding of paid pastorships, overseas workers and so on, on an entirely practical level it is vital for them to have assured regular cashflow, and everyone's contribution towards that helps.

It's Sunday afternoon, and I did the promised deed this morning. Considering the circumstances, it was amazingly not at all nerve-wracking - it's incredible what a quick prayer can do to calm the nerves before talking to a packed house. I spoke from notes for about ten minutes, or so I am told, which in itself was quite an achievement and something I'd not done since project presentations and so on at university, and those were before a far more select audience. Danny was perhaps a little taken aback by the detail I went into with my testimony and my reasoning behind making the commitment; some people apparently keep things very short, but there was so much I was bursting to tell, that brevity simply wasn't an option, concise as it may have been.

Various people shared words, pictures and prayer for about a further five minutes, though there was such a bombardment once this got started that I'll have to beg Linda for the recording that I presume was made as usual; there was some great stuff in there which I appreciated at the time, but can't remember all the detail of now. It certainly seems that they expect great things of me, and that I have locked up talents and gifts yet to be aired. I'm not sure exactly what they meant, but I am sure it will all become evident in due course, and I can't wait to find out - though several people shared words that I should walk and not run, so eager as I must be, I should not be impatient; it is otherwise too easy to stumble or take the wrong turns.

Kids Club last Friday evening was very good, with far higher numbers than we would have expected for the first night back of the new school year - indeed we were only three down on our highest attendance ever, so the signs are that we will continue to expand at least as quickly as we did last year. Splitting the kids into semi-permanent teams worked well, making tuck-shop and games much easier to manage, as well as having a good potential impact on pastoral aspects. Also - thanks to having lots of leaders - running two main activities in parallel looks like proving to be a popular change, suiting those children wanting something a little less frenetic very well by giving them something constructive to do, rather than get bored sitting on the sidelines.

Last night, we had the YPF here, for a "green" theme evening - the colour green, nothing more environmentally virtuous. With suitably coloured lemonade - relabelled as Sellafield Spring - and ice-cream provided by us, various other green foodstuffs, lighting and clothing, the evening certainly lived up to its billing, with the - green, of course - icing on the cake provided by Flubber on video. Not a bad film if expecting childish nonsense, I guess, and fun for the purpose anyway. Various sketches and games - including the ever-popular Chubby Bunnies - followed. Amazingly, we'd finished cleaning the place up - and it needed a little - by about eleven, so I got an unusually, and much appreciated, good night's sleep last night into the bargain!

Thankfully, the recording Jo-Daniel made of yesterday morning's proceedings did include my commitment bit and the stuff people shared afterwards, so I'll be picking up the tapes from Reece and Linda this evening, and probably make my own copy of the relevant parts, plus a transcript. The evening meeting yesterday was somehow different to usual, though it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but it seemed to "work" for most people there, and Andy's contribution was as good as ever. Andy wins for me as a preacher, by being one of the most open, honest and down-to-earth men I know, not scared to admit his own faults and weaknesses and yet with some of the most jaw-droppingly amazing true stories to tell. If there's one criticism, it is that some of his - and his family's - experiences are so amazing that they can be a bit demoralising to the vast majority leading a more mundane spiritual life, but for those seeking encouragement in their belief and faith, I would certainly prescribe a weekly course of the wonder-drug that Andy undoubtedly is.

A late-night trip with Mark to McDonalds turned out to be a less than wonderful outing, getting my car driven into in the car-park there. It all happened quite slowly, and it's highly doubtful there's any real damage to either vehicle - there's a bit of scuffing on the plastic bit on the passenger-side end of my back bumper, and we couldn't see anything obviously amiss with the other guy's car, but we had to go through the rigmarole of swapping insurance details anyway, just in case anything else became evident in daylight. There's the possible slight added complication that the other car was actually a company car, so someone might yet decide to pursue a claim, though fault almost certainly lies with the other guy since we were stationary at the time and he simply wasn't watching where he was going while his front end was swinging out as he backed into a space. Just an annoyance and a waste of time more than anything, and for the moment, no further news is good news, although the guy did say he'd phone anyway to let me know the score.

A quick look at my e-mail via Demon's POP3 CGI wrapper revealed that the system upgrade to Monochrome had indeed not gone entirely to plan. Apparently there are a number of problems needing rectification, meaning that although the system is technically up and running, it is not able to accept any connections, making it all somewhat academic. I don't recall reading any projected date of availability; I guess that with as many problems as there are, and with Norm's imited time to devote to fixing them, it's impossible to say with any degree of certainty. Other mail, as expected, mainly comprised WaveCraft feedback forms, which I've not bothered to read yet, though I am sure they will continue the pattern of being about three-quarters enthusiastic and grateful. Alas trying to check my work e-mail was not as productive; it seems they've changed something so that my mailbox is no longer externally accessible - the system acknowledges my mailbox exists and that my password is correct, but just won't let me into it - but at least I tried to do as I promised.

Having a few days to be lazy at home has unfortunately opened my eyes to the latest daytime television craze to sweep the nation. Gone are the naff but almost-tolerable cheesy grins, waterfront views, sumptuous sofas and housewives-choice special guests, replaced by a seemingly endless - and absolutely definitely unavoidable - supply of these American live scandal shows. They are identifiable at a glance by the italic-script logos all over the screen and the phosphor-burning captions like "ex-boyfriend dated family pet" and "mother doesn't know she slept with husband", and inevitably feature live-action heartbreak, riots and actual bodily harm, to the apparent delight of an alternately cheering and hissing studio audience.

I guess these shows get made because there's a huge enough potential home audience of bored housewives for them, but more worrying is the fact that people are actually prepared to appear on them and defend their beliefs and actions in the first place. Some of the stuff is so hurtful that I really doubt it would get discussed even in private, so I can only assume that those participating are doing so to attack in the most publicly humiliating way possible with only bitterness and revenge as motivation. It was bad enough a while back seeing a clip from Simon Mayo's show where a girl confessed having only chatted up the guy she married as a drunken dare, but the idea of whole shows given over to this kind of stuff is frankly obscene.

And to me, it's not even particularly entertaining watching vengeful and generally inarticulate American slobs slug out their most personal battles both verbally and physically; if it was done with a time-out bell every three minutes, I suppose it might just about count as sport. In a way it would be a relief to hear that the whole thing was a set-up by - somewhat unconvincing - actors for the amusement of the viewers, but I doubt the shows would be anywhere near as popular if they were merely Alan Partridge with fisticuffs and sleaze. Maybe next time I'm off work for any time, the storm will have blown over and we can return to nice safe daytime fodder like Dale Winton and Loyd Grossman; in the meantime, I just hope the weather perks up.

Reece dropped round the tape with the stuff from my commitment on it last night, and, once I'd run off my own copy of it, I worked through into the small hours transcribing it for my own reference. I think listening to it all through again jogged my memory as to what people had said, and although there were mainly recurring themes, there were a few bits that didn't fit in quite as easily - I guess they might not have been true words of God, but anything that people had it on their heart to share about me I feel is worth taking notice of anyway.

Pete and Dave C spoke of hidden talents and God-given gifts yet to be revealed, and Martin felt that I was perhaps being wary of letting out what there was, that I should be brave and try things regardless of the response I might get from others. As I said before, Sally tempered this by emphasising that I should walk, not run, but these need not be at all incompatible. Dave R's word was a little worrying, raising the issue of treasures on earth with the famous passage, and there might have been some truth in there I would have to admit.

For anyone interested, I will try to get the transcript of Sunday morning up on the web at some point in the near future. I think there are bits in there that many people might find encouraging, useful, or just interesting - and the first part of it was probably the fullest testimony I've ever shared, although it still merely skimmed the surface in many ways. Of course, it's lost most of the um's, er's and you-know's that punctuated my talk, but I've tried to keep it otherwise accurate to the event, and therefore quite free-flowing and informal.

Well Mono is back on-line in a manner of speaking, with at least a couple of the cluster machines now accepting connections. I logged on briefly earlier, though obviously I kept things quick what with daytime phone-rates and everything, and there hadn't been a huge amount of action in the religion files, and certainly nothing needing any urgent moderation. I probably won't get a chance to connect properly until at least tomorrow evening now, since I'd better leave the lines open tonight in the hope that my sister might get back to me about me going up to see them shortly, and then there's the first Generation X meeting in a considerable while at Denzil and Eve's, which will probably run until fairly late.

I ought to pick up my e-mail properly though, since there's a lot of messages; I suspect at least a few of them are in connection with problems with the WaveCraft binary download, which has now been rectified, and I should contact anyone who had been having such problems as soon as possible to let them know that everything is fine again now. But that should only take a couple of minutes at the most, so I'll probably do that in a little while this afternoon. All other stuff, like responding to any contentious posts in the religion section, or getting this hefty load of diary entries from the last week or so on-line, though, will just have to wait until things are cheaper - as I say, probably tomorrow evening.

Those reading closely will spot that I didn't wait until tomorrow evening to update all these diary entries, but that's probably as well because I expect to be in quite a rush by that time. I've provisionally agreed to go up to North Wales on Thursday to stay with my sister and her family for a while. How long will remain to be seen, and will depend on mutual tolerance, but since the children will mainly be back at school now, things will be a little less hectic than at some times in the past. I've "booked" the garden caravan which will give me a bit of peace and quiet to myself if the need arises, and allow me to wake up when I want and not when Saffron or Fern - in particular - might otherwise dictate.

This evening's Generation X meeting went well, with a few new faces - both familiar and unfamiliar - in our number, and the early signs of a good programme of events up until Christmas. Things like film nights and sports evenings are all on the calendar, as well as a few more general gatherings at people's houses. Whether things will really start buzzing in a way they never seemed to before - at least while I was there anyway - will remain to be seen, but hopes are high, and with a more planned programme, at least it won't wander aimlessly from one week, month, or geological epoch to the next with no real focus or direction. Denzil and Eve seem efficiently proactive in sorting stuff out, anyway, which is great.

Tuesday evening, and now back from my long weekend up in North Wales, and pretty shattered with it. I drove up Thursday morning, getting up there in a shade over four hours - not bad for a two-hundred mile journey, a fair part of it on winding mountain roads - and only having to wait about five minutes before Martin got back with at least some of the kids. My sister Ali was a bit more delayed, showing up - with the rest of the family - a couple of hours later.

In fairness, it was a pretty uneventful few days, really just trying to be helpful with fitting into their day-to-day termtime routine. Ali was having some trouble with her back, which got progressively worse while I was up there, so she needed a fair bit of TLC from everyone - and got it from most of them. Walking Beth was another practical thing I could help out with a fair bit, sometimes accompanied around the lanes by one or two of their four cats.

Cass was as difficult as ever, if not more so, though. It's unclear what the matter is with him, exactly, but I really do feel his behaviour is cause for concern. Of course children vary immensely, but - say compared with the eight-year-olds at Kids Club or similar - he is emotionally very immature and almost impossible to reason with, although in many other ways he is really quite bright and able to absorb himself in perfectly reasonable things.

I hate to say it, but I think his behaviour was probably the biggest reason I came home when I did. The others may not be angels all the time, but Cass was almost certainly the biggest instigator of trouble amongst all of them, perfectly happy to shatter any established peace with unprovoked attacks, snatching toys - especially anything vaguely Teletubby-like - and meaningless whining and grizzling, enough to get anyone wound up to the point of desperation.

Towards the end of my time up there, I really did feel my patience with him coming to an end; a couple more days really might have seen me lash out quite unpredictably, and even while there, there were times that I wonder if I overreacted to some extent. But I refuse to see any of my other nieces and nephews, or Ali - bad back or no bad back - getting pushed around so inconsiderately and I don't think I was anything less than fair with any of them.

I left Garn mid-morning today, after the kids had gone to school and before my sister was off to see the osteopath about her back, and enjoyed a very straightforward journey home. There was absolutely no congestion on the motorways - even on the usually notorious M6 roadworks and junction with the M1 - and if it hadn't been for getting stuck behind a series of Montego estates on the roads through Snowdonia, I think I could have done it in under four hours.

But now I'm back, and I don't think there's anything significant happened over the weekend. No word from anyone after my minor crunch the weekend before I went away, so I presume that's the end of that little episode, and the only post for me was a letter from Dave and Mo welcoming me into MKCF after my recent baptism and commitment, and a few clippings from the YHA's Triangle magazine my mum thought I might find interesting, but have yet to read in any detail.

I popped into the city centre to do my shopping - my shelf of the fridge was looking very empty indeed, other than beer - and also check out prices of keyboard amplifiers at Chappells. With playing at church increasingly, as well as regular practices, being able to be self-contained sound-wise would be a real plus - otherwise having to go through the mixing desk, which can be tricky if there's already a lot of vocals and other things using up channels.

Torque amplifiers start at about 230 quid for a 50 watt unit with Celestion driver, but I think it's a bit lacking in other features, going up to a whopping 350 quid for the 100 watt one with a decent amount of channels. Back in 1995, Maplins used to do a substantial-looking - and hopefully sounding, too - 60 watt one with good features for about 200 quid; I might well pop into their shop here tomorrow to see if they still do it and for how much.

Whatever I get can also double up as a guitar amplifier, since my effects box outputs line levels similar to those from a keyboard anyway, and includes enough distortions, overdrives, and things to be going along with without needing those on the amplifier too. Most include a simple reverb line as a matter of course, but that will be quite welcome if I ever run my drum machine though one of its channels, since that is otherwise a little dry-sounding.

Ooh, stop press on the musical front... It turns out that Alan is selling his Peavey keyboard amplifier, and apparently knows I might be interested. It would be pretty much exactly what I'm after, and he's only selling because it's a bit heavy with his periodically troublesome back. I don't know quite how much he'd want, but it would certainly be less than anything I could get for new, and Alan cares for everything meticulously, so it would almost definitely be in mint condition.

Also, Mark's invited me to play this Sunday morning - he's taking over from Gareth for the day - and not only play sax as usual, but also at least a few notes of guitar on Light the fire, which would be an interesting new experience if nothing else. It's a song I can more or less play on guitar anyway, so it shouldn't present too many difficulties apart from the slight factor of being up in front of a couple of hundred people. But there's a first time for everything, I guess.

A trip into town of mixed fortunes... Having accidentally left my walking boots here when I went up to Ali's, and in the expectation of doing at least a little bit more walking than I would really want to wear trainers for, I bought a pair of cheapish suede and fabric boots at Outdoor World in Porthmadog. They claimed waterproof properties, with something akin to but not exactly the same as Goretex as a lining, but this claim soon turned out to be a little on the optimistic side - especially when the suede got soaked through from walking in wet grass and so on - so I bought some proofing spray today that should improve things somewhat. They are very comfortable though, and although they are not substantially lighter than my existing fully leather boots, they should be a bit more suited to less adventurous summer walking. I wouldn't want to wear them for anything too taxing, since the soles are not up to Vibram standard, but for the use I got them, and intend for them, they'll be fine.

As well as getting a few other necessary bits and pieces from Waitrose, I also paid Maplins a visit, and was most disappointed to find their flagship keyboard amplifier discontinued and replaced by an altogether horrible little unit for barely less money. A mere two input channels, a feeble 35 watts and disgusting appearance really doesn't cut it for me; unless the old one really did have some hidden nasties, it baffles me why they should drop something of such apparently high quality for something so completely naff. They didn't even have one of the new ones on show, but the 1998 catalogue entry said it all, really. The girl there advised that I might trying contacting their customer services department to see if there's even a remote possibility of there still being any of the discontinued models languishing in their warehouse, but I'd rather do that once I've seen what Alan might have to offer, now, since I would probably be rather committed to buying if they did have one still.

I've now made a little progress on the keyboard amplifier front - and might even be able to be self-sufficient for this Sunday. Phoning Maplins customer support line drew a blank as far as locating any remaining stock of their previous model was concerned, but Alan has agreed to lend me his Peavey one with a view to purchase, and I should be able to collect it tomorrow evening. He's not sure how much he wants for it yet, because he hadn't really made any effort thus far to sell it. One of his reasons for wanting to get rid of it is because he feels 100 watts is possibly a bit excessive when it's used mainly for monitoring purposes, and I have to therefore wonder if I won't find the same. But although his back problems are obviously a major concern too, in an ideal world it would surely be better to run a 100 watt amplifier at low power than thrash a small one at full power, so if I could tolerate the size and weight, it would undoubtedly be the superior solution - certainly over and above the mosquito's flatulence the 35 watts of Maplins' new model would offer. Added to that, with the option of XLR inputs on one of the channels, it can easily double up as a small mono PA unit; Alan used to play a lot at small meetings - being able to provide a self-contained system that would support vocals, keyboard and guitar was a big plus.

Looking back on my long weekend away, I have a few more random reflections and observations to share. It was my longest single journey, travelling up there, and I now know that for my own peace of mind, a full tank of four-star does do the trick, although one of the petrol stations at Porthmadog or Tremadog has to be an urgent port of call before the return trip or going out anywhere. Filling up there is no cheaper than here; this I found surprising given that Milton Keynes is generally considered expensive for petrol - anything up to five pence a litre more than the national average - and that North Wales is an economically pretty run-down area where market forces would generally be expected to drive flexible prices downwards. The cheapest petrol I saw on the journey was at a service-station just outside Shrewsbury, and up in Wales, it seemed to make very little difference whether you bought from one of the major companies or one of the ones you might expect to be a bit cheaper. Indeed, Shell offered the cheapest petrol I saw once up there - by a mere penny a litre.

Driving through the mountain roads was an interesting experience, generally finding the corners a bit sharper than expected, and other traffic either going far too fast or far too slow. Being the next best thing to the filling in a high-speed HGV/coach sandwich is not one of the most relaxing experiences possible. Nor was the first encounter with the military jets that still do their supposedly-outlawed low-level training over the area - basically fine once I realised what the rapidly loudening screaming in my ear was, but a little unsettling beforehand, and still enough to make me jump a little; you hear the lowest ones last... Radio reception in the mountains was next to nil; the journey was the first time I had used my radio in earnest - possibly even at all, come to think of it - but any hope of getting traffic updates were soon dashed when Radio 4 long-wave was the only station that could be received with any clarity. The Archers and similar radio dramatisations were all very well, and kept me company I suppose, but were not exactly what I had in mind.

Since the marriage difficulties of the past year, it sadly seems that Martin has more or less completely withdrawn himself from the Bahai faith which he held so dear. They seemed a basically good bunch of people, but it looks like they rejected him big-time when he started having relationship problems. The faith is very strong on the value of family - no bad thing, in itself - and therefore do have a problem with marriage break-up and related issues, but any faith that really cared about its followers would surely support and try to help heal rifts rather than cold-shoulder "offenders" to the point of virtual excommunication, especially when it was Ali who decided things couldn't go on the way they were, not Martin. As it is, Martin appears no longer to have anything to do with his old friends, drinks a fair bit, and has taken up smoking again. Moderate drinking or smoking are not cause for alarm per se, bu what is worrying is that as far as I can see it was rejection by a faith supposedly based at least partly on Christian values that has driven him to this.

As it is, Martin I now fear - behind his generally cheerful exterior - has been left scarred by this whole episode, and the only saving grace is that it appears that he and Ali have successfully weathered the worst of the storm and will be staying together at least for the time being. Yet at the time Martin joined the Bahais, he clearly felt he needed faith, and now that has been stolen, possibly irreparably, through perhaps one of the grossest possible breaches of trust and mutual understanding. I wouldn't blame him if he now refused to get involved in anything like that again, although - and I make no apologies for being biased - I do not feel he would have received the same treatment from any Christian communities of which I have been a part. They would have counselled, supported, perhaps even "laid down the law", but they would not have made him feel an outcast and drive him away; Christians have no perception of living in utopias of squeaky clean perfection, and it is their recognition of human weakness that is their strength and raison-d'etre, ultimately.

As I said before, I was finding some of the children very wearing by the time I decided I should be on my way, but my experiences over less than a week must be nothing compared to Ali and Martin who have to cope with it day in day out. I think however it is probably right that they seem to have given up smacking, even if there were times when I don't think it would have gone too far amiss - but I'm no expert. All kids are different - thank goodness - and will respond in different ways to different forms of discipline, which makes a mockery of th sweeping generalisations made by the anti-smacking brigade which effectively state that it has the same effect in every case. But I feel in their circumstances, with quite a large family in a claustrophobic setting where keeping the peace really has to be the prime objective, such responses will only serve as a catalyst for further unrest, which is clearly undesirable, although sometimes there did seem to be a "let them do their worst" attitude, rather than using any alternative or distractive tactics to establish peace.

They're not getting very far with trying to sell their current place, sadly. They have their eye on a huge house in Criccieth, which would be quite a culture shock for them, being in one of the bigger towns in the area, and lacking the gardens and so on they currently enjoy in their extremely rural and somewhat isolated position. But six bedrooms would be just ideal and avoid many of the difficulties currently besetting them. Ali and Martin do have a potential buyer, but they seem to be running into problems with arranging the mortgage or scraping together the deposit - or so they claim, though Ali seems to think they are partly deliberately stalling. Ultimately, though, Ali and Martin have no requirement to sell to them, and if an altogether more reasonable and immediate offer comes up, they can easily change any allegiance with a pretty clear conscience. But the advertisement in the local paper is terrible, and their current potential buyer apparently only came to look out of curiosity, so they're not holding out a lot of hope of action for the time being.

A bit miffed, because tonight's neighbourhood group has been replaced by everyone going to the black meeting at Cornerstone. It should have been a "bring a friend" meeting, with food and stuff, an opportunity to work in our communities as we are called to. But instead we will now be sitting in on a meeting that will quite possibly have very little relevance to most of us - and probably not an ideal place to bring any friends who might already have arranged to have joined us for the advertised event. Thankfully I had not got anyone in mind to bring at the time the change was announced, and I was going to defer doing anything on the food front until today anyway, so shouldn't really complain too much from that point of view.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be interested in black issues, but I recognise that in our church, the numerous black members have a very strong and obvious cultural identity - many of them having been born in Ghana and elsewhere abroad - and I feel it might even be unfair on them to have their meeting gatecrashed wholesale. I don't think I'm just finding excuses for being at all racist; I believe that - especially where cultures differ - to pretend we can just ignore people's race can be just as offensive as being prejudiced about it. So long as we acknowledge that at the end of the day, they are fellow human beings and - different as they may be - in no way either superior or inferior to us, then I think we are on safe ground.

In the nicest possible way, the black people in the church are proud to be black, and proud of their cultural background - even if some of their life histories are less than glorious due to the struggles in their native African countries; we have at least one exiled orphan princess in our number for a start, and others who have lost their whole families to genocide and politically-motivated murder. But in recognising this, I feel we should give them room to express their beliefs with like-minded folk in a certain privacy - not that anything they will discuss should be kept secret or anything, but simply because I fear that anything else could stifle the richness of the contributions they may have to bring to their group.

But, when all is said and done, the decision has been made to change the meeting, and I just hope now that everyone can make the most of it. I hope that we can learn more about the culture of these people - a culture that although we may catch small glimpses is still largely alien - and join in with fellowship with them on the basis of us all being brothers and equal in the eyes of the Lord. I hope that without just being lemons at the back, we shouldn't in any way cause our black brothers to feel that they are being impeded in their expression of anything whatsoever. And I hope that whatever else happens, a good and encouraging time can be had by all, that everyone may be strengthened and heartened by the shared experience.

This afternoon I decided I'd take a drive up to Wolverton, as a place I'd never really any more than passed through before, and certainly not had a good look around other than the bookshop. I can't say I was really too impressed, though, and left empty-handed anyway. One of my main excuses for going up was to have a look in Hollywood Music, apparently one of MKCF's preferred suppliers, to see what they had by way of amplifiers. But it really was very rock-oriented indeed, with only a reasonable DJ department other than just wall-to-wall guitars, basses and drums. Good if you want that kind of stuff, I guess, but it's a shame there remains no real competition to the generally unimpressive - and Yamaha strangleheld - Chappells within the city. All their amplifiers were guitar ones, and therefore unsuitable for my current needs. There was a 60 watt Kustom PA system that looked moderately reasonable and portable - and certainly affordable - but probably a bit excessive for me; lugging around two or three units when one could do the job perfectly well isn't my idea of Sunday fun.

It's now the morning after the night before, and reflecting on the wonderful events at the black meeting - the Lord did provide, and in immeasurably more quantity than I could ever have expected without his help. Things got off to a bit of a slow start - although the music, provided by some of our band, was as good as ever, even with the hindrance of yours truly roped in to help with the OHP acetates - but as the evening went on, we witnessed a whole series of truly visionary and gifted black leaders, both from Milton Keynes and further afield. They were pretty blunt about what they considered their calling to be, and as such were in no way exclusively preaching and ministering to blacks only; everyone was made to feel very welcome and a part of the great things that happened. I think it would be fair to say that I have never felt so strongly the presence of the Spirit at any gathering, personally benefiting by the healing of my chronic neck problems in an instant - just the very slightest residual ache, and that's disappearing quickly - and seeing many others receiving similar blessings.

There's more tonight, and the focus is unashamedly going to be on miraculous healing, with us challenged to bring along the blind, the crippled, the dying or whoever to receive of yet more of God's abundant healing power. Sadly I won't be able to go to the whole meeting, with Kids Club commitments for the early part of the evening, but you can bet I'll be back at Cornerstone as fast as my Metro will legally carry me come half-past eight. I'm not missing out on this one for the world. If you'd asked me this time yesterday whether I'd be going to the follow-up meeting, I doubt I would have been a fraction as enthusiastic, but when God through the Holy Spirit truly has his hand in things, the miracles - both large and small - never cease. Yes, you could say these things can get addictive and intoxicating, but it is so immensely encouraging in the face of so much negative comment from today's society to see and experience for oneself just how powerful, awesome, loving and above all real, our God is. As I have heard more than a couple of times recently, you can't see, hear, smell, taste, or feel the wind from a distance - but those standing in it know its effects sure enough and cannot ignore it.

Saturday lunchtime and I guess I ought to get up properly sometime, since I've at least got to do my weekly shop before the nice bread runs out. Last night's Kids Club seemed to go quite well; it was slightly different from normal, but a bit of variety never did anyone any harm. We ran a fun musical quiz, followed by a short game, tuck-shop, and a teaching session from Pete. Numbers were slightly down from last week's record attendance, but I suppose it is a little over-optimistic to expect a rise every week, even if we do most weeks! I went straight on to the latter part of the second evening of the meeting at Cornerstone, but it somehow didn't click as much as the one on Thursday evening, and seemed to drag out a bit - but not as much as it must have for the stewards there, who were apparently understandably pretty miffed at the hour it overran by. Jon and myself who were packing up MKCF's contribution to the PA stuff carefully nipped out before anyone could object to a drum-kit none of us were able to transport being left there overnight - great as the meetings were, certain elements of the organisation left a lot to be desired and could well sour our relationship with Cornerstone, which would be a great pity, since it's a terrific venue for gatherings like that.

My neck is still not perfect yet; I genuinely believe that something significant did happen at the meeting on Thursday night, since it offered immediate relief to considerable pain, and it is still better than it was. Maybe the healing solved the cause of the pain, whatever that might have been, but there are still some residual muscular aches - that's fine by me, since even with conventional medicine I entirely believe in attacking causes rather than symptoms, preferring an early night to an aspirin or whatever. Anyway, even if it merely offered a day's relief, that's great, but I think it will turn out to have been more successful than that, especially with further ministry perhaps tomorrow evening. Sunday morning, music-wise, is looking a bit up in the air, with Mark probably not leading now - since he will only get back from driving a coach to Scotland at about three or four in the morning - and it's unclear exactly who's deputising or which musicians they'll be wanting. I was going to be playing MIDI sax and guitar, but it's likely I will only be playing sax now - not that I would be too disappointed by that - and even that's a little doubtful, especially as I've never played when Alan - who's probably standing in - has been leading, and don't really know his style.

Went into town and did all my boring shopping and stuff. I thought I'd check in Chappells to see if they did DI boxes and for how much, but whilst they did sell them, they conveniently had none in stock, although at about thirty quid, they're not too much of a rip-off if I do get one there. I don't think I'll need one of my own for tomorrow morning - I am definitely playing now, usual disclaimers permitting - but it's always a bit of a hassle when we only have about three of the things in Centre Church stock, and you really need one for any instruments that aren't otherwise miked up. DI boxes basically convert the typically high-impedance outputs of guitars, electronic instruments and effects units into the low-impedance microphone levels many mixing desks expect. Without them, you have the potential for all kind of undesirable sonic mayhem, and possibly even damage to the input stages of the mixer in severe cases.

Alan now seems vaguer than ever on whether he wants to sell his amplifier; I was going to borrow it this weekend, but now he says he does want it on Sunday after all - despite having some other speakers he often uses - so it's not clear what the situation is. At this rate I really will end up building one of my own as I have threatened on several occasions in the past - it shouldn't be too difficult, and should end up very competitively priced and have all the features I want, rather than what some arbitrary manufacturer decides I should. I would use low-cost Maplin loudspeaker and amplifier modules, stick them in a home-made wooden case - with a 19" bay for an effects box or two - and mount a "micro mixer" on the top as a highly-flexible input stage. I would design it to be easy to add a stereo slave speaker to it - which I have not seen on any commercial models - for an easily portable complete stereo PA system.

Taking advantage of Ionica's half-price weekend rates - hopefully! - I had a nice long chat with Smiley, a.k.a. Zoe, this afternoon. She lives fairly locally - well, the other end of the county, anyway - and as well as being living proof of how great Alpha Courses are, she's also about to start part-time study at Bucks College in High Wycombe, which was where I finally graduated three years ago almost to this day. I get the impression Zoe has been through quite a few similar experiences study-wise to me, not least having the pressures of going back to university and having to pay her own way - a major burden, but one that really can get people to knuckle down, believe me! I found it made such a tremendous difference going back to college as a mature student, with like-minded people all around - people who were there essentially because they wanted to, rather than feeling academically pressured by schools or whatever.

Today has been a wonderful Sunday from start to finish, and hopefully the start of some real involvement in the worship side of MKCF as a whole. As expected, I played MIDI sax this morning with Alan - standing in for a very tired Mark - leading from keyboard, and he was very pleased with the way it went. We only did about three or four songs in the end, for various reasons, but they all seemed to go quite pleasantly to me. I managed to ad-lib around the songs reasonably in most cases, only resorting to taking the melody on one of them, I think.

Then for lunch, it was out to the hockey stadium Burger King with Mark, to take full advantage of their special 99p offer on double cheeseburgers, and a good opportunity to chat about a load of stuff, from the virtues of onion rings to the rights and wrongs of Sunday trading. With the weather slightly cheered up, a load of us - including newcomer Phil, to give Jon a bit of rest from his apparent hyperactivity - went for an afternoon stroll around Furzton Lake, and I proved that the waterproofing I had done on my walking boots last night had worked.

But before we went for the walk, Tim - MKCF's overall worship leader - phoned, and having been intrigued when he popped into Centre in the morning to pick up his keyboard, agreed to Mark's suggestion that I might play in the evening. That went exceptionally well, everyone thought, and was interesting since I was often duetting with Chris on clarinet. As a result, I'm in Tim's good books and I've been asked to play at the full Celebration - in front of probably 500 or more - next Sunday morning, which should be a great opportunity to establish myself.

I hope I'm not sounding like I'm blowing my own trumpet - or virtual acoustic trumpet, as the case may be - here; I just feel that having committed to the fellowship, it is right that I should find one or more things that I can truly get involved with and contribute to. Worship and Kids Club are probably enough to be going on with for the moment, until the Lord leads me some other way as I am sure he ultimately will, and so long as I can make the most of any giftings I may have in those areas to the glory of Jesus's name, then I will be happy.

A major part of this evening was taken with praying for Pete who is going into hospital tomorrow for major and risky surgery on his cancer. We were timelily reminded of a whole list of folks in our fellowship who are still with us who by all "rights" shouldn't be except by the grace of God - some of them still provoking utter amazement at local hospitals - which served as a great encouragement for success with Pete, and we trust in the Lord to do his stuff, whether before, during or after the operation which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

Still on the subject of healing, next Sunday's Celebration should be a good one - despite my playing - with a guy with a track record of truly miraculous healing. Andy gave a bit of a taster of what was to come, recounting when the guy was touring Czechoslovakia and had caused a crippled boy's stunted limbs to visibly grow and enable him not only to walk, but to run, right there and then. I missed a similar kind of meeting earlier in the year due to the Generation X holiday in Hampshire, so I'm very glad indeed I will be able to go to this one.

This time next week I'll have been back at work for a day, and I suspect it will be quite a culture shock after a month off. The projects I was working on all seem but distant memories now - I vaguely recall something about Ellingham diagrams and something to do with communications, but more than that I really couldn't say for sure. But before then I'll be going home to my parents for a couple of days, since I've got a few things to take there, and could use the change of scene anyway, and then obviously I'm busy on Friday and Sunday.

This afternoon I sorted out the Kids Club contacts file as I had promised Mark I would do at some point, and also compiled a few statistics on the meteoric rise in our attendance figures. The contact cards had previously been in age order, so it was easy to tell who was next to go up to Teen Club, but it made it tricky to locate individuals' cards quickly in the event of an emergency - for which they were really designed. So now they're alphabetically sorted, but with an age-ordered index sheet in the front, getting the best of both worlds.

There's a distinct possibility that Mark might be moving in the short to medium term future, which raises some interesting - yet somewhat familiar - issues for me. He asked me last night if I might be interested in buying this place off him, and I initially said a fairly firm "no", but on further thought, I have told him I would at least entertain the idea. There's nothing at all definite yet, with many variable factors involved and neither of us wanting to make too hasty a decision, but I should know by the end of the year if it's likely.

Other than that it's been a pretty mundane day. It's a shame in a way that apart from the few days up at Garn and going to my parents later this week, I've not really done a lot with this time off - or nothing involving being elsewhere than Milton Keynes anyway. But on the other hand, having not had any substantial time off since the Slovenian trip last year, I think I've needed all the rest and relaxation I could get. I still don't think I'll be exactly refreshed when I return to work, but at least I've given myself a chance to recover.

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