goznet ...

David's diary: August 1999

Well any plans for a quiet evening in last night came to nothing, with everyone meeting up at Andy and Rosie's for a game of croquet, then going up to Stoke Bruerne, for a late night drink at the canal-side pub there, a most pleasant way to wrap up the day.

Today's been good if fairly uneventful, but I don't think anyone was really complaining. Zoe got here just after ten this morning, and we went to the morning meeting as usual, though numbers were a bit depleted with it being holiday-time and with a fair few people off at Days of Destiny for the week. It was good, though, with an excellent and typically provocative - in the nicest way - talk by Andy and lots of opportunity for ministry and testimony.

We didn't feel in the slightest bit hungry at lunchtime, so decided we'd last through until the picnic later in the afternoon, and watched "Antz" in the meantime, which Zoe had kindly brought on video. Not bad at all, but I'm still not sure which of the two recent ant-themed films I prefer, an indecision aided very much by them really being very different apart from being computer-animated and starring the same kind of insects.

The picnic later in the afternoon through to the early evening was all very pleasant, and really just a nice opportunity to be lazy in a sociable kind of way, not at all getting involved in the games of volleyball and football going on, and two or three times too old to go on the bouncy castle. It was a bit busier than last week, despite Days of Destiny and so on, though I'm sure the best are yet to come.

After the picnic, taking advantage of a nice cool evening - though no sign of the promised thunderstorms, alas - we took a stroll round Willen, then headed back home to watch a few bits of pretty appalling television, the highlight - if that's quite the word - being "Piranha", a Wuthering Hillocks type film trying hard to be "Jaws" on a budget, and never quite certain how serious it was supposed to be taken. Enjoyable rubbish, whatever...

A late night trip to the cash-point and KFC later, and it was about time for Zoe to hit the road back to Iver, but not before we had once again gazed skywards, failing to see anything unusual, but still in awe of just how amazing the universe is. So all in all, a relaxing kind of day, something of which I'm pretty sure both of us were in quite dire need.

It's been a fairly uneventful last few days, with no real highlights to report on really. Work's been plodding on, handling a steady flow of technical support queries from people who should read the documentation better, and generally reinforcing my opinion of my project manager as a know-it-all half-wit. To further add to my pleasures, I was instructed by him to take the main server off line for the rest of the week, unsurprisingly leaving me with a clutch of "it doesn't work any more" complaints which I'll have to deal with suitably tactfully. I can understand why we had to do it, to an extent, but I'm not sure our hundred or so users will be so easily convinced.

Interesting news of the day is that Phil's band Watershed are not only supporting the Manic Street Preachers at a charity gig later this year, but also Supergrass - should be a good gig all told, though the precise date is yet to be confirmed. He's been spending half the evening trying to sort out PA for a warm-up gig later this month, and I think finally managed to track down a suitably powerful amplifier before he disappeared off to a five-a-side football session up in Wolverton. So, with Mark still away coach-driving, somewhere en route between Kent, Spain and the south of France, it's another unusually quiet evening at the Springfield madhouse, and I'm quite enjoying it really...

This evening I spotted my first daylight Iridium flare, but since it was a couple of minutes late - according to the predictions I had - I very nearly missed it, catching it in the corner of my eye just after it had peaked. Certainly nowhere near as spectacular as the night-time ones, but I'll keep a better eye out for one scheduled for much the same time in a couple of days. I was pretty lucky to get to see anything at all this evening, given the weather earlier today, though I'm not really complaining when we've been in dire need of some decent rainfall like this afternoon saw. Still no thunderstorms though, which is a little disappointing, and with the evening sunshine evaporating the considerable surface water, it's gone uncomfortably humid again.

Had a good phone-call with Gavz a little while ago, the first time I'd spoken to him in quite a while. Gavz was a big help in getting me my first job after I graduated, working for the recording studio and music software company down in Hampshire, and a colleague of mine for the best part of the year I was there. He left to work for a big virtual reality company, and more latterly has landed himself a job teaching music technology at a local college, and seems to be doing quite well, with plenty of opportunity for expressing his considerable individuality.

It was overshadowed, however, by the news - or at least news to me - that my ex-boss had been involved in a long-running affair and had recently separated from his wife, and gone to live in America. They were like a mum and dad to me when I worked there, so to say this latest development came as a shock was somewhat of an understatement. Things were often strained by considerable business travel and so on, but they were one of the last couples on earth I would have expected anything like this to happen to, and so soon after the arrival of their third child.

So I'm at a loss to know quite how to react, given that they remain a family for whom I have a terrific amount of love and respect, but where I obviously need to tread carefully and tactfully. It's impossible not to look on them slightly differently after what's happened, but Anne and the children are the innocent parties in all this and by the sounds of it are needing all the support they can muster. I'll be down that way with Zoe anyway towards the end of the month, so maybe I'll drop them a line in the next few days and hopefully get a chance to call by.

Today's being decidedly mediocre, and I got very stressed for a few minutes before lunch, getting exasperated beyond breaking point by the sheer arrogant stupidity of my project manager, though I think he realised the error of his ways this afternoon and has been a little more cooperative since. It still makes me want to get out of here with a modicum of urgency, so I've been making a few more enquiries with regard to plotting an escape in the near future.

As I'm sure I've said before, when we spend anything up to a quarter of our entire life in employment, it's important to get it right, and at the same time there's far more important things than work issues - especially if in the wrong job - for us to spend our time worrying about. So all in all, it is entirely counterproductive to stay a moment longer than is necessary in a job that is getting you down in any way, because it's both wasted time and stress you don't need.

At least Gavz seemed fairly sure when I talked to him last night that I should be a lot more employable elsewhere than perhaps I fear; he felt in much the same predicament in the VR company, that his talents were being wasted and there was no real personal development, but he made his escape and seems to be thriving now. It's all down to instinctive ability and a willingness to learn; no-one ever starts a technical job fully able to do everything required from day one, with employers looking more for the right mind than absolute skills.

I still feel that given the right motivation, an employer willing to take a bit of a gamble, and a little time to learn the ropes, I could lend my hand to most technical things. It's just a matter of finding such an employer, but I'm sure there's one out there, and a lot of it will be down to my attitude in showing that I want to develop myself and build on my skills, rather than watch the rest of the world pass me by as I fester in the stagnant and insulated world of academia.

All in all, it's been a reasonably good three years here at the Open University, and a large part of me likes the environment - both physical, interpersonal and intellectual - but it's now got to the point where negative factors are more persuasive. It would be fair to say that I've landed some duff projects in the time I've been here, and things generally haven't lived up to expectations, but I've had enough successes to feel it's not been entirely wasted time. But it's time to move on.

Having been urged to do so by a friend, I decided I'd phone Anne rather than write, though I'll probably follow up my phone-call with a letter since our conversation this evening got cut short by visitors. Anne seemed generally in quite good spirits and full of sound advice about my current work situation, but it was obviously painful for her to talk about the other stuff, although she seemed to want to talk about it regardless, which I guess is a good thing.

I also had a good chat with my dad earlier in the evening, having temporarily forgotten my mum was away again for a few days. It's really quite a rarity to talk with him much on the phone, since he'll normally assume I'm after Mum and hand me over as quickly as possible so he can get back to watching the football or whatever... Conversation didn't really stray far from those timeless topics of the weather, cameras and financial matters, but every little counts.

Even earlier in the evening, my car had the rare pleasure of being washed, having been asked by Philip and Stuart from the church if it needed doing. They did a pretty good job, and were grateful for the fiver and king-size Mars bars in recompense; I'll know where to go next time the car's looking a bit grubby, for sure. For Philip in particular, doing this kind of thing is very important, facing his first summer without his dad, who died from cancer recently.

Having worked backwards in time so far while writing this diary entry, I'll close by jumping forward to when I phoned Zoe a short while ago, for what is always a most welcome chat, even if that was curtailed by a combination of my impending tiredness and Zoe's dinner being ready... I really don't know how Zoe survives with such unpredictable meal-times, but then I am the kind of person who thrives on a certain amount of routine, especially where food is involved.

Well Monochrome's finally back on line - if only to a limited extent - and the last week's worth of diary entries pasted in accordingly. The last couple of days have been fairly mundane, but entirely bearable, the highlight probably being an impromptu cheese and wine evening for yesterday's neighbourhood group gathering. We were planning on a walk ending up at the Barge, but decided it would be cheaper just to stay put and while the long evening away in the garden. Other than that, not a lot has really happened, I don't think; I've written a carefully-worded card to Anne, which I'll pop in the post this evening, but that really is just about it. The weekend is nearly upon us again, which is most welcome; the weather's sounding pleasantly ominous, which will suit me just fine having been decidedly disappointed by the lack of promised thunderstorms and so on over the last few days. So long as it's dry for the following weekend, when I'm camping at Cropredy for the festival I won't mind, though I guess if the worst comes to the worst I can always test just how comfortable my car seats are fully reclined...

And lo, just as a strangely-familiar-from-sometime-a-long-time-ago kind of fresh grass aroma started wafting in, I notice that the black clouds have finally given way to some pleasantly torrential rain. How long it will last will remain to be seen, but we need every bit we can get. At least the skylights are closed this time, recalling about the second-last time we had any rain to speak of, when I had to perform a bit of an emergency mopping-up operation in our machine room one Saturday morning...

Once again, we've come to that Saturday afternoon lull in proceedings, having done my weekly shopping excursion, and with a few hours to go before the evening's delights. It was a decidedly damp walk to and from the city centre, but modestly refreshing even if it could have done with being a little bit cooler. Certainly glad I didn't drive though, even if I was tempted.

This evening, I'm hoping to meet up with Janis, Steve and a few others at the Olde Swan, for a meal and a drink to celebrate Janis's birthday - apparently it's a "big one", as birthdays go, though I wouldn't like to speculate exactly how big - but hopefully not having too wild a time or late a night since I'm playing tomorrow morning and will need to be up bright and early.

Yesterday evening was spent with Phil, Angela, Gareth and Tash down at the Peartree Bridge Inn, where another friend Steve's band was playing once again, this time joined by an all-star brass section, featuring players from both the Boo Radleys and Dexy's Midnight Runners - the latter "covering" the famous trombone part from Gino that he originally recorded way back when.

Janis's birthday meal at the Olde Swan went all very nicely, even if there weren't quite as many people there as perhaps we'd hoped, and the conversation did continually gravitate towards topics I do tend to find a little wearing after a while. I was glad I went, anyway - I had also had the option of going to see the new Star Wars film with Angela, Phil and Sarah - by chance arriving only minutes after the others had arrived. I decided I would go for a little more than my usual hot hob filled baguette and chips, ending up with Wexford Stilton and peppered mushrooms for starters, and an absolutely wonderful Thai chicken curry with all the trimmings for the main course. A big helping of profiteroles - shared with Paul - and coffee finished things off very pleasantly indeed. So all in all, a great evening out, even if I'm sure I won't be feeling like eating a great deal tomorrow.

That was quite a different kind of Sunday, as Sundays go. It all started conventionally enough, the morning meeting - including me playing, which has been quite a rarity of late, and fending off a little too much predictable questioning, albeit playful, from certain people who shall remain nameless - followed by our semi-usual Pizza Hut lunch. With no evening meeting and planning ahead a little, on the way back from Westcroft we stopped by at The Point and bought tickets for the eight o'clock showing of the new Star Wars film, before having a short but time-killing wander round the shops and then mellowing out back at the house for a bit.

Late in the afternoon we headed down to the Kings Centre for a river baptism or three; getting dunked this time were Hazel, Nicky and Saori, the latter being extra special given that her engagement to William - who helped baptised her - was announced this morning. Nicky was also quite an achievement, given that I gather she'd been undecided for a long while, unwilling to take that final - yet at the same time initial - step. The river was a touch on the flooded side after the recent weather, but no-one was swept into the weir, and it wasn't too cold apparently. It brought back memories of much the same time last year when I was baptised at the same place, and made me realise just how much has happened in the intervening time.

Fighting a few hunger pangs, we lasted through until we got to the cinema - very grateful that we'd booked our seats in advance given the queues at the ticket-office, even if there were quite a few empty spaces in the end - whereupon we were able to feast upon our long-awaited nachos with cheese sauce and chilli peppers, and very much enjoyed the film. The Phantom Menace lived up to a surprising amount of the hype that preceded it, and successfully combined just about everything you could want from a science fiction drama, with only a few annoyances - certainly well worth a watch, though I don't think I'll be going back for second or third helpings just yet, unlike some...

Zoe had to fight a little to stay awake once we'd got back to the house, but seemed sufficiently alert to head back home a little before midnight. She was running low on petrol, so was going to pick up a bar of chocolate and maybe a can of drink at the Total station in the way out of the city; with those inside her and the windows rolled down, she should be just fine. I won't be seeing her next weekend, thanks to my being at Cropredy, and Zoe hopefully visiting friends, but I'm sure normal service will be resumed in a fortnight's time.

Hmm, time to go home, but no great inclination to do so, thanks to the - most welcome, don't get me wrong - rain lashing down outside. Today's been quiet and fairly relaxing, with no great worries and no sign of my project manager - the latter two observations very definitely linked. Altogether, there have been far worse starts to the week, and I can be extra specially happy because this week's only a three-day one anyway for me, thanks to Cropredy. I'm not taking any time off for this eclipse thing on Wednesday; I might pop out and have a look if it's not completely overcast, but I'm certainly not going out of my way on a very slim off-chance. I can get the sun eclipsed by the earth for free every night...

Once again, it's that time of day, and once again the weather's looking rather ominous outside. Not actually raining this time - or not yet, anyway - but very big black low clouds nonetheless and quite a chill in the air. I guess I'd better just run for it before they decide to shed their watery load over Walton Hall. Welcome as this somewhat cooler and damper spell is, I seriously hope it does cheer up a bit for the weekend, when I'm off to the Cropredy folk festival once again. Nothing much is more miserable than standing in the middle of a field getting soaked, and paying good money for the privilege, music or no music. Things are looking fairly hopeful, though, with Banbury - by far the nearest listed place to Cropredy, on the BBC weather web site - forecasted a cloudy Friday and a bright Saturday, pretty much ideal conditions really. Whether I'll get the tent up Thursday afternoon in dry weather is a little more questionable, but I'm being optimistic.

Today's been a reasonable day at work, starting with some early hassles, but I think I've convinced my project leader of the merits of my getting into doing a bit of programming for the first time in ages. I'll be making a log analysis tool for our conferencing software, hopefully transforming the raw data into something useful when writing reports on system usage and so forth. This would be the first substantial bit of software I'd have written in getting on for a year; I just hope I haven't lost my touch... When I'll actually get to write it is anyone's guess though, with this being a short week for me, and then only a fortnight to go until I'm off for a month - and a fortnight with no Sam, so a lot of other stuff on my already well-loaded shoulders. I'll look forward to it, though, and this time there is such a definite need for the proposed software, it shouldn't get conveniently shelved in preference to other more boring service-related things.

Quite a mixed last twenty-four hours, really. I'm not sure quite what happened yesterday evening, but I hit another very low psychological trough, turning what should have been a fun evening out into a complete nightmare for me. It really did feel just like the whole world had turned against me - even though I know it hadn't - yet I was almost watching what was going on from a detached viewpoint. Very odd feeling, and I did the sensible thing and withdrew myself from the situation before I might have done something for which I could barely have considered myself responsible.

I'm feeling a bit better today, and the long weekend away couldn't have come at a much better time. The eclipse this morning provided a welcome distraction, with an excellent view of the great sun-eating dragon from our departmental balcony. There was only a bit of light cloud to obstruct - but not entirely obscure - our vision, and we only lost sight of the sun altogether for a couple of minutes. If anything, the light cloud actually improved visibility, since even with approved blackened "eclipse shades" the sun was still a little bright and ill-defined when in clear sky.

Hey, I get to see my name in lights finally. This is from the BBC news web site today, with no prizes whatsoever for guessing the topical subject matter:

Very nice indeed! Not quite total in Milton Keynes, but at least we got to see it at all, unlike the south-west. Just the finest crescent, and ideal viewing through very thin cloud and an assortment of pinhole cameras and approved glasses. This combination reduced "flare" dramatically, allowing the crescent's shape to be seen with a lot more definition than would have been the case with a completely clear sky. When a bigger cloud briefly covered the sun, it went very gloomy, and at the peak, the lighting was overall somehow very strange, difficult to say in what way, just strange...
David Gosnell, Milton Keynes

Yes, it's true, I completely changed my tune over this eclipse business, going from being a fairly hardened cynic to being quite overtly enthusiastic. I guess it was when I realised I was going to be able to see something and be a little bit smug towards those who flocked to Devon and Cornwall and saw precious little other than grey skies from horizon to horizon.

It's being not too bad an evening compared with yesterday, but I'm taking things nice and gently to avoid getting too stressed. I worked a little late to get things more or less wrapped up before my two days off, but shortly before six, Mark paged me to invite me back for a pre-India-trip meal he was cooking for a few friends, so I didn't hang on quite as long as perhaps I'd been planning. Sadly his message arrived after I'd bought and devoured a bar of chocolate and some sandwiches, but I still managed to find a bit of room for his yummy chicken soup based concoction and raspberry pavlova. After that we watched Antz on video - which Zoe had left here for such moments - and with a glass or three of wine inside me too, I'm feeling really quite stuffed, mellow and capable of sleeping. I won't be rushing to get up in the morning, but I'll need to get my stuff for the weekend sorted out quite early to give me time to dash into town to stock up on the food I need and anything I'm missing before heading to Cropredy mid-afternoon sometime.

It may be a fairly typical-sounding Sunday afternoon lull in proceedings, but it's been a pretty hectic weekend up until now, having only just this morning got back from being at Cropredy since Thursday evening. I took Thursday off work, which left me plenty of time to get stuff ready, and I arrived at the festival site soon after four in the afternoon, I think.

Signs reading "floods", "diversion", "no camping with cars" and so on were an unwelcome sight, however, although the latter turned out to be a bit of a false alarm, although the field in use was about as far from the arena as was topologically and geographically possible, and had minimal facilities considering it was home to the bulk of the Thursday night campers. I got pitched up anyway, and had a short look around to see if I could find anyone I knew, and failed - other than tracking down the slightly reduced Franciscan contingent, who are always very friendly and welcoming. On the Saturday morning, I found a couple of people I met last year, though the great thing about Cropredy is just how friendly everyone is, so I had no trouble making new friends as the weekend went on.

Thankfully by the time the show started at Friday lunchtime, the path from the camping field down to the arena had been opened up, shortening a half hour trek to a ten minute stroll, and I got to the arena just in time to hear Blazing Homesteads, the band with the dubious privilege of opening the festival, and really nothing very special. Pick of the first day were probably Pentangle and Richard Thompson, although Barrage who I missed due to returning inclement weather - and having been asked if I could accompany a few people back to their tents - I gather were very good. Dave Swarbrick made a most welcome short appearance after his recent demise, but was generally upstaged by his performing partner and spent a good part of his set on bottled oxygen.

With everything looking very damp by the close of things and not having had my most comfortable or quiet - I must get some earplugs, for festival use - night's sleep the previous night, I thought I'd try out the passenger seat in my car. It was not too bad, though it only really suited me sleeping on my back, which wasn't ideal, so I didn't try that again, but it's worth knowing fo emergencies. At least I got a fairly good night's sleep from it though, and had been completely oblivious to the noise that others were grumbling about in the morning.

Saturday opened with Barrage again, but thanks to the path having been closed off again due to the overnight rain, I missed most of their set due to having to take the long route round, but what I heard of them sounded pretty good. Pick of the bunch for Saturday for me were Maddy Prior, Robbie McIntosh and their respective bands, although Maddy's raven infatuation got a little wearing after a while. Fairport Convention themselves were predictably good, but although they always headline on the Saturday and essentially hold the festival together, people don't really go to hear them, because there are few surprises. Their guests made it special though - after a bit of a fallow year last year, with no real treats - with guest appearances especially welcome from Jerry Donahue, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick.

Apart from a sharp and thundery shower mid-afternoon, the rain on Saturday largely held off, though conditions underfoot remained somewhere between revolting and disgusting. It was announced at one point that it was officially the worst weather the festival had ever had, though it had to be said that it was nowhere near enough to really spoil proceedings and the organisers had done a sterling - if very difficult - job of keeping things going, safe and clean, especially given that it had been a pretty lousy week throughout.

All told though, I was quite relieved to get away this morning; two eleven-hour days of non-stop music really is quite draining, and the weather didn't help in many ways, though overall it was still great and I'm glad I went again. So, like my neighbour on the site, I decided I'd either get away early or late, either way hopefully avoiding the rush. Things seemed generally very quiet when I packed up and left a bit after eight this morning, and I had no problem getting out of the site, even if I did have to drive through some pretty yucky mud in places to do so.

Another bonus of leaving early was to be able to get back to Milton Keynes in time for the Sunday morning meeting, which I duly did, via a hot bath and an overdue shave. This afternoon the picnics will be resuming, weather permitting, which should wrap things up nicely for the weekend. Quite what Zoe's up to this weekend I'm not sure, but I'll catch up with her later no doubt - normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, fret not, folks...

Monochrome's down again thanks to continued air-conditioning faults in the City University machine room, but there are no such problems in the Springfield mad-house, so diary writing can continue as normal for the time being. Not a lot has really been happening over the last few days - especially with Mark in India and Angela away on holiday in France - but there's a couple of things I probably should have mentioned before...

Firstly, my new nephew has finally got a name. Now my oldest nephew Jed had pleaded with my sister to give the newcomer an ordinary name - pointing out that these weird names were all well and good, but a little embarrassing at times - and there had been high hopes that Alison would choose "Jack" or "John" in honour of her father-in-law who's about to shuffle off this mortal coil. However "Jack" was deemed far too common, and it turns out that "John" was only an assumed name and her father-in-law is really a "Josef", so my new nephew is Rafael Josef. Wouldn't have been my choice, but could have been a lot worse, I guess!

Secondly, hot on the heels of their engagement announced a couple of weeks ago, William and Saori have clearly decided not to hang around, and have invited everyone to their wedding - to take place during the morning meeting at the August bank holiday weekend in a week and a half's time... Sadly Zoe and I are committed to being elsewhere that Sunday - which reminds me, I must start planning an appropriately Star Wars themed fancy-dress outfit for that weekend - but I'm sure we'll hear all about it in due course; I'm sure it'll be a complete riot, knowing William's friends in particular.

Thirdly ... oh, sorry, there is no thirdly. Well I did say "a couple of things", so I am being strictly correct. I've been spending this evening updating my CV, which seemed quite a timely thing to be doing, though there really is depressingly little to add since I last edited it well over a year ago, when I was applying for the job in Leighton Buzzard which just vanished into thin air for reasons unknown. Oh how different things could be been by now, but then perhaps other things wouldn't have happened the way they did either, so there's no use speculating.

I think that's about it for the moment, though I'm kind of hoping someone might be organising something for later this evening. It was this time last week we went to the new Hogshead pub in the city centre, a trip I really didn't enjoy in the slightest for one reason or another, but I feel altogether a lot more positive this evening and it would be nice to try again - at least so long as discussion isn't pretty much exclusively about the less savoury details of pregnancy and childbirth this time.

Happily to say, yes there was a trip out last night, and it went infinitely better than the one last week. I think it being all blokes helped immensely - with all due respect to any of the fairer sex who might be reading this. Also, that the Galleon in Old Wolverton sells Old Hooky was a real bonus - I had it last weekend for the first time since the same weekend last year, and didn't think I was going to get it again until next year. Anyway, it was a good evening out, and I got to meet some new people - it was mainly folks who'd been to a regular inter-church five-a-side football evening, so there were a few guys there from Stony Baptist as well as those I often join for a swift half or three of an evening. Not quite sure what's happening tonight; I have nothing particularly planned, but if the weather's good, I might hit the road a few miles out west to get the best view of a -9 magnitude Iridium flare soon after nine o'clock, which would my brightest yet.

Despite slightly temperamental-looking weather, I ventured out with Phil on a satellite spotting mission to the west of town. The ideal viewing point was anywhere on a line running north-to-south through Wolverton, and I think a small car-park right on the western city limits was just about as perfect as we were going to get.

As the appointed time approached, it wasn't very obvious whether we were looking up at a twilight clear sky or clouds - both can look rather blue at that time - but as our eyes adjusted we could make out a few fuzzy stars, indicating thin cloud cover. Phil complained of a stiff neck so lay down in the car-park, and shortly afterwards, Iridium 20A flared into view pretty much exactly where I had predicted. Despite being a predicted magnitude -9, it wasn't exceptionally visible thanks to the clouds, but that it was visible at all was indicative of how bright it really was.

But then perhaps it wasn't 20A after all, because a few seconds later, whatever we saw was followed by another similar one, with both simultaneously visible. I would fairly reliably guess that since Iridium 20A was a 1998-launched replacement for a malfunctioning Iridium 20, the latter is still in the same orbit and at much the same attitude - so as to catch the sun in the same way at the same time - even if not operational, and we saw both, though which was which I couldn't begin to speculate.

It was a pity the sky wasn't clearer, but Phil still seemed quite impressed, and it certainly made it interesting to see two Iridium satellites in close formation. Hopefully next time there's a bright one we'll get a really nice clear night, though, because an Iridium flare in its full glory really is something quite special to witness.

I had contemplated travelling up to London last night to see Phil's band play a gig in Islington, but in the end, neighbourhood group seemed a much better idea, and there will be much easier-to-travel-to places to see Watershed in action in the future. Neighbourhood group was typically low-key, with quite a few people away and so on, but we still had quite a bit of fun, playing games and watching a video Cally had sent from Brazil, where she's working in the favelas. We also sorted out our group's share of the catering for William and Saori's wedding; I'm not going to be there on the day, alas, but had no problem with agreeing to provide a little of what was required.

Back at home and just about ready for bed, I gave Zoe a sleepy phone-call, though she seemed far from ready to hit the sack, so we had a most pleasant chat for a while. I didn't hear Phil come in, but saw him this morning before I left for work, and it seemed the gig went quite well last night - they were one of four bands, each of which got about half an hour on stage, which is typical of such show-case events from my experience. They didn't get anywhere near enough fans in to start making any money - typically you need twenty people to come with flyers before the venue starts paying you a penny - but it was all good experience, and any exposure is valuable.

Anyway, the weekend is only a few hours away now; I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to be doing - at least on Saturday - but at some point I need to sort out anything I need to buy for next weekend's fancy-dress festivities as well as do the little bit of shopping I had promised for the wedding. I was contemplating driving down to Barnet tomorrow to maybe buy my long-awaited new mixing desk, but I think with everything else I need to do, that can wait until my time off work next month - but you never know...

My relaxation time has come a little late for the average Saturday, but I'm not complaining because today's been pretty good. I got my shopping done by late lunchtime - including the orange juice for the wedding reception thing, and some face paints for the Star Wars themed party it clashes with. The latter took a bit of finding, ending up getting them at the Early Learning Centre, though I later found Sainsburys stocked the exact same ones, but in any case I can now transform myself into Darth Maul and probably terrify everyone in sight.

Once I'd offloaded everything and had a quick browse through the latest Sound On Sound magazine, I gave Digital Village in Barnet a quick phone-call and was on my way down the M1 to relieve them of a little of my hard-earned cash. Leaving the M1 at junction four, you would be forgiven for thinking they didn't want you to find Barnet - I'm sure even if Zoe had even once wanted to live in Barnet, she'd never have got there - and when I eventually tracked it down, it took me ages to find where the shop was; near the tube station, yeah right.

Anyway, any worries of them being less than honest about the stock quantities they carried and so on proved to be false alarms, and half an hour later I was the happy owner of a Behringer 2642A mixing desk, a Beyerdynamic TG-X58 dynamic microphone - rated as one of the best available for sensible money - and a microphone lead long enough to sing amongst the crowd at Wembley thrown in for nothing. Heaving that little lot back to the car, parked at the other end of the town, was a bit of a hassle, but at least the mixer packaging had a nice handle.

It's half set up now, but I really need to do quite a reorganisation to make the best of what I have, and almost certainly buy a few extra leads. So far so good; everything seems to be working, and sounding exceptional. The mixing desk is of course paid not to have any particular "sound" of its own, though it's got pretty good EQ facilities and so on for when I do want it to add a certain je ne sais quoi. The microphone's very pleasant-sounding, and I'm sure will serve me well for the time being - for once, I can actually enjoy my voice!

Anyway, that's about that for the moment, and I'm looking forward to what will probably now be quite a quiet evening - though I wouldn't turn down any better offers, certainly. I'm on the dreaded OHP duty tomorrow morning, but at least that doesn't mean quite as early a start - for Zoe or myself - as if I was playing, so I'll count my blessings and be happy.

Feeling a little queasy this morning, and I can't help but think it must have been the pickled baby octopuses I ate - and have to say I enjoyed eating - last night. I've never had a very bad reaction from sea-food, but on the other hand it rarely totally agrees with me either, and I have to suspect that this was no different from the norm. Even thinking about the little critters with their suckered tentacles is enough still to make me squirm, though the flavour and texture were really quite interesting.

Altogether yesterday was very good, in a pleasantly understated kind of way. OHP duties in the morning went as well as ever, though with Giles leading, the selection of songs was decidedly on the bizarre side, though it made some kind of sense in a waking people up kind of way - always a tough task first thing on a Sunday morning. After the meeting, we dropped the orange juice - bought for the following weekend's wedding - round at Martin and Maureen's, and lunched up at the Ship Ashore in Willen village, where I'd been a few days previously and been completely taken by their fantastic Cajun chicken.

From there, it was a case of finding a parking place somewhere nearby to go for a short stroll, our first choice being full of gypsies - which I should have remembered, given that the local papers go on about it on a weekly basis - and the second being packed out to overflowing. We found some space in the sailing club car park though and took a wander around the relatively peaceful north lake at Willen, where we'd not been for quite some time. A slight bit niffy round the sewage works with the wind in just the wrong direction, but good to get out anyway, and we didn't have to feel quite so guilty about lunch.

Then it was back to the house, sit down ever so briefly, and pack some food for the afternoon picnic. Nothing exceptional on the menu, although conscience dictated that I ought to get a smaller packet of Pringles, so we were a lot more healthy in that respect. The picnic was typically fun, and I managed to avoid getting roped into volleyball this time, only really getting up for a bit of a kick-around last thing. That was just about the right level of exertion, followed up by even less as we spent the rest of the evening slumped round at Chris and Claire's, watching the Shawshank Redemption and Apollo 13 and - at least some of us - munching on the aforementioned octopuses...

Well that was an interesting lunch-hour, to say the least. I had agreed I'd pop into the Kings Centre to sort out a problem with their e-mail, but when I got there, Maureen was off sick, with only Andy around - and he had no idea what needed fixing. Anyway, the only thing I could find wrong was a message stuck in the Exchange outbox - presumably because someone had tried to re-edit the message, which causes the send sequence to be aborted until you specifically re-send it - which it also turned out had been wrongly addressed. I sorted that out, wrote a brief note to say what I'd done, and was ready to drive back to work when Andy came downstairs for a bit of a chat about life, the universe and everything. It was several months since I'd really had the chance to talk to Andy, and for one reason or another this was a very appropriate time, and it was very useful for clarifying a few things - some highly amusing, some more serious - and generally catching up on the pastoral bit.

Had a nice quiet evening yesterday, with Angela back from her holidays but making up for lost time out at the pub with Phil. Played a little further with the mixer, hooking up a few more bits of equipment to it - just the wind synthesiser and guitar to go, and they'll need a few extra leads - and testing some of its more advanced capabilities. Found a few little glitches in the cross-talk department, but that's probably not to be unexpected on a budget unit, and they weren't major in typical use - and might even have been down to my dodgy cabling. Also had a quick look at the International Space Station as it passed overhead at a nice visible magnitude 0.9 - nothing out of the ordinary to see, of course, but interesting in its own way, simply given what it is and what it is to become. A short phone-call to Zoe later, and it was time to head bed-wards - not too late, but I still didn't feel much like getting up this morning.

OK, I've related this story to Zoe now, so I guess it's all right to share it with a wider audience, and it is quite funny. Fairly soon after Zoe and I started going out, Andy - who I had a chat with yesterday lunchtime, when this story unfolded - was visiting, probably due to the cigarettes and alcohol episode. While he was there, Zoe phoned, but whoever answered the phone - possibly Mark, given that most other suspects have now been eliminated from enquiries - didn't recognise her voice, passing the receiver to me saying he thought it was my sister, and I evidently never set things straight at the time. So over the following months, Andy has seen my relationship with Zoe growing in quite a big way, watching us become very close and affectionate, under the misapprehension that something, somewhere, was very very wrong...

Tuesday evening, and a nice quiet house again, with Phil out playing football, Angela at the cinema and Mark still in India, though he's returning tomorrow at some point, if only for a couple of days before he goes off on a youth camp. I left work promptly tonight in order to pop into Maplins before they closed, and got the extra leads and things I needed to get going properly with my new sound stuff. So for the last hour or so I've been plugging it all together and testing it, and all seems well now. There's still some improvements I can make when I have the inclination, but it will do for the time being, with everything hooked up at least to some extent. Things like the drum machine I can do better with, because I'm just running a single mono line out of it at the moment, whereas it's potentially stereo with two extra outputs for sounds wanting different effects or whatever. But anyway, that will suffice for the moment; now it's time to start justifying this little lot... It was rather sobering to be reminded that I've not written any significant piece of music since 1996, and my life - as well as instrumentation - has changed in many ways since then, so I'm sure can find some interesting new inspiration to get me started now I have the wherewithal to do so properly.

It's been a fairly relaxed day - especially with my project leader still away, though he's back tomorrow, unfortunately - with only a bit of a panic late in the afternoon when a routine CD-cutting exercise turned into a complete nightmare, generating enough gold coasters to host a royal drinks party. Quite what went wrong I am still a little mystified, but everything seemed OK once I'd realised that changing the name of a file to something other than "setup.exe" made things start working again. Other than that, the highlight of the day has been a very spectacular thunder and hail storm while I was working on the CD problem; there was some very nearby lightning, which was quite entertaining. Anyway, I think I've done everything I can usefully do today, so I guess I'd better head home and see if Mark's back from India yet.

When I got back from work last night, Mark's car was there - as was Phil's - but there was no sign of anyone, with the front door locked. Mysterious, given that Mark was probably going to be in no fit state to go out so soon after returning from India. All became clear later though, when Phil arrived home with Angela and explained that Mark wasn't back yet and his car had just been dropped off by his friend Tim who had been borrowing it for the fortnight. It wasn't much later that Mark arrived home, however, in fact surprisingly awake, despite having been up for almost 24 hours by that point. So after I had done a little satellite watching, including SL-16 - a rather impressively tumbling object - and something very odd I'm asking people's advice about, and let Mark catch up on a fortnight's-worth of e-mails and so on, we toddled out to McDonalds for some late-night munchies. The McDonalds summer deals seem pretty pleasant stuff, especially their somewhat mis-named but still most delicious "nachos" and salsa.

Anyway, back at work now, and my project leader is - in theory at least, because we have an important meeting this afternoon - back from his short break. There's been a couple of queries as a result of the CD handover I rather hurriedly did yesterday afternoon, but I think everything's basically OK, with maybe some need for some errata or addenda in the documentation somewhere for a few people with odd set-ups. But there's been nothing too major to get stressed over, and Lynda's being very reasonable about it all.

Well this afternoon's meeting wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared, but it was still a little fraught at times - though I was able to keep out of the most heated debates thankfully. Not too many action points for me coming out of it, I'm pleased to say, given that I'm not going to be around very much for a while... Tomorrow's looking like it'll be a bit of a mad rush day, having finally got the go-ahead to sort out some urgent aspects of our server provision, just a day before I leave for a month.

Still, all this may become somewhat academic in a couple of months time with the latest doom-laden predictions of global catastrophe - apparently, someone reckons some strange objects spied in the darkness of the solar eclipse earlier this month are coming our way and will collide with the Earth in early November. Could make for an interesting Guy Fawkes night, I guess... I'm treating this with a hefty amount of scepticism, I must emphasise - apart from anything else, there's a lot more things need to happen before the world can end - but I'll still be following developments closely.

Whilst on the subject of space oddities, I've received no response as yet to my queries about last night's strange astronomical sighting. It really was very peculiar - something, somewhere, that emitted a series of incredibly bright and short flashes over a period of somewhat less than a minute, with several seconds between flashes. Not like an aeroplane, a tumbling satellite, or an Iridium flare; it was more like a strobe light pulsing in the sky, but what would do that I really have no idea.

Well last night's flashing object mystery is solved, and it's not really too exciting, though interesting nonetheless. Contrary to my saying it wasn't an Iridium satellite, it was, although not flaring in the usual sense, but rather catching the sun's light occasionally but repeatedly as it tumbles out of control. Iridium 27 is one of a number of dead satellites in orbit, and although it should generally pass over at the appointed times, its attitude with relation to the Earth and the Sun is rather less predictable, and it is quite likely it will be visible in the way I witnessed on many passes.

Today's my last day at work for a while, and as I said yesterday, I have a fair bit of stuff to do, specifically commissioning two new servers, and moving a load of stuff from an existing one to be split between the two replacements. I'm glad I didn't start work on that as soon as I arrived this morning, because the logistics of the operation have just been enhanced no end by a guy from network services coming in quite unexpectedly - even though I'd been requesting it for ages - and installing a new UTP hub, alleviating the major network point crisis in our office. So I can be getting on with that now, happily to say, though whenever I get it done by probably won't be early enough for my project leader - but that's his problem, not mine, especially when come five o'clock tonight I'll be out of here and not excessively worried about what I leave behind.

Last night's neighbourhood group gathering - can't really call it a meeting at the best of times, let alone yesterday's - went quite well, being a cheese and wine party, combined with Giles's group from the north-side of Springfield. Mark and I arrived a little late, having gone via McDonalds and Sainsburys, but it was a very informal evening so it didn't matter at all. Amongst other things, it looks like Zoe and I will be going on what is billed as a ramble on bank-holiday Monday. It's a while since we've been on a walk much longer than the perimeter of Willen Lake, and I'm sure it will do us a lot of good as well as be a great fellowship opportunity - weather permitting... We've also been invited to Giles's birthday bash next weekend, which should be fun, with live music and everything, so my holiday-time is beginning to look quite active already!

Well I've managed to get things moved across to the two new machines, but there's still a fair bit of fiddling around that needs to be done. Particularly, there's some DNS tweaking to reflect the fact that one machine and an alias have become two distinct and different machines, and also some setting up of user groups, permissions and so on, somewhat of a black art as far as I am concerned, and certainly not the kind of thing I have any great wish to learn about three quarters of an hour before I go on holiday. So what I intend to do is write an e-mail explaining where I've got to and what I think still needs to be done, and make sure I don't hang around long enough after sending it to get any whinging reply. I'm sure there's loads of stuff I was supposed to have done that I've not, but our project leader is notorious for rarely putting anything in writing and making vague verbal requests, and besides I've been working pretty much single-handed lately, struggling to do a lot of stuff I was never meant to. But never mind, in three quarters of an hour I can just switch off from this nightmare for a month. A whole month! Sure, it'll all come back to haunt me when I return, but by then I might have got a better idea of my future - elsewhere.

Right, I've done all I can; I have two e-mails to send as feasibly simultaneously with shutting down my machine and locking the office door as I can, oh and probably setting the BIOS password while I'm at it, knowing certain people's tendencies to consider our machines fair play for snooping around. I'll be around on Monochrome, but obviously not to quite the extent some may be accustomed, but I need to look after my sections and so on as well as keep up to date on all the chat and so on. Have fun while I'm away a bit more than normal, then, and don't do anything I wouldn't do, etc.

Finally a chance to sit down and truly relax for a while - it's been a very busy bank-holiday weekend so far, with yet more to come tomorrow. Saturday morning was mainly spent trying in vain to find anywhere that sold the plasticine I needed to provide the final touches to my fancy dress for the evening's frivolities, eventually finding something vaguely similar at the Early Learning Centre, a shop that's saved the day twice in the last week or so... I didn't manage to leave quite as early in the afternoon as I'd hoped, thanks to a bit of confusion over whether the church really wanted to borrow my Minidisc recorder and then a few further related hiccups and distractions, but I arrived down at Iver to pick up Zoe, with time to grab a quick lemonade, before heading on to Heckfield for the afternoon activities.

There was a typically decent crowd down at the Miller's House for the 1999 Garden Olympics, and once suitably numbed with Steve's "rocket fuel" and other assorted beverages, teams were picked for the games, and battle commenced. Zoe and I were on different teams, but the way things worked out, our teams tended to follow each other around. The events were much the same as those on the last two occasions, but with a couple of new ones for 1999, the most bizarre - and potentially painful - being the three-legged wheelbarrow race, which could only really be made much worse by combining it with the infamous broom course. By some stroke of luck - or more precisely, Roger joining at the last minute - my team won, which meant we had to do the human pyramid bit after the barbecue, but with ample champagne as reward...

Once puddings had been generally devoured, prizes awarded, and Piers and Roger bombarded with crab-apples whilst stood in the river, it was time for everyone to metamorphose into their various Star Wars themed alter-egos for the evening party. I had realised fairly early on that I was not going to be the only Darth Maul, but I wasn't expecting half a dozen or more Sith apprentices to emerge from various mirror-equipped rooms in the house. That said, a lot of them cheated and used masks, and many people commented that my outfit was probably the most sinister - even when I smiled - I'm looking forward to getting the pictures processed... Zoe's Jedi outfit was simple but effective, and the gown came in very useful as it became decidedly chilly later in the evening, especially once the disco wound to a close.

Getting too cold and too tired, we declined the late-night croquet games - good fun though, I gather, and past experiences have been quite amusing - and headed for bed instead. We had hoped we might go to my old church while down there, but this morning's meeting was to be sung matins or something similarly inappropriate, so we were able to be a lot more leisurely, breakfasting and getting packed just in time to go and see Gavz, Lucy and Gemma in Hartley Wintney as we had previously arranged. Finding their house turned out to be a bit tougher than I'd remembered, but we got there in the end, and weren't late really. Gavz had to pop out to pick up Jo, whose car had broken down in Camberley, but a yummy lunch of pasta, vegetables and cheese sauce, followed by rhubarb and apple crumble, was soon on its way.

Good news of the day was that some friends down there who had been going through an extremely rocky patch in their marriage have gone on holiday as a family - I doubt they're out of the woods yet, but this is a good sign. I had thought I might call in to see them, but if they were back at all, it might have been rather a sensitive time. Sad news of the day though was that the landlady at my "local" - not that it was that close to where I lived, just happened to be where I frequented most often for various reasons - had recently suddenly died, aged a scarily young 33, apparently due to an undiagnosed heart defect, exacerbated by considerable drinking and smoking. Lucy was the life and soul of the Cricketers; that the church was packed with over two hundred mourners for her funeral was testament to her popularity.

We got away from Hartley Wintney at about three o'clock, and had a good journey back to Iver and then, for me, back to Milton Keynes. This was in stark contrast to the journey down, which had been really quite tedious at times, especially on the dreaded M25. I got back here at about five, just in time to pack a quick picnic - or rather the raw materials to make one - and head down to the Kings Centre for what I think was probably the last such gathering of the year, now the summer holiday is nearly over. The main reason I went was to collect the Minidisc recorder, effects unit and so on I had lent Chris for the morning's meeting and wedding ceremony, which appears to have gone well apart from Martin falling from quite a height off a ladder and injuring his heel very badly while setting things up at the start.

Anyway, that's the day's activities over, at least for the moment - though nothing would surprise me, from past experience. Tomorrow there's a joint neighbourhood group ramble, starting from somewhere up near Towcester on the A5, which Zoe's going to join us on, happily to say, aches and strains from yesterday notwithstanding. I'm not sure how many people will be out, but a fair few seemed committed to it when we last met on Thursday, so I think that what with families and so on, there should be quite a good crowd.

Well the bank-holiday weekend's just about over now, and I'm really pretty shattered - and mighty glad that work's not my destination for the time being. Today kept up this year's reputation as being a good weekend, with an excellent all-day walk in conjunction with Giles's neighbourhood group.

Zoe arrived just as I was having breakfast and preparing to make a packed lunch, and we drove up to Pury End - just this side of Towcester, a short way off the A5 - to meet the others. Parking at the village green turned out to be a little difficult, thanks to a flower festival or something, but thankfully they had opened up a field next to the church, so we were able to put our cars in there for the day.

The walk itself was all very pleasant, through not-too-strenuous gently rolling countryside, stopping for lunch at a farm-shop type place that sold ice-creams and so on. In combination with Saturday's exertions, we had a few aches and pains by the end of it all - though probably not quite as many as the children who were out and did admirably well, especially given how hot the weather was - and were quite happy to slump in front of Cool Runnings for a couple of hours before heading out to a busy Pizza Hut for supper.

Neither of us was on for a late night, so Zoe was on her way home soon after nine, with shared happy memories of a good, fun and more than a little bit exhausting weekend.

The first day proper of my holiday passed by fairly uneventfully, getting up pleasantly late, toddling into town to get my food for the rest of the week and a few other odds and ends. Suffering from the well-documented HMV syndrome, which also applies at Chappells to a lesser extent, I also came home with an Edward II album and a new plectrum. Edward II were the pick of the crop at Cropredy in 1998 with their insanely catchy and upbeat folk-tinged reggae, but I'd not seen their CD around before, and playing it now is bringing back memories of what was undoubtedly the definitive sound of that summer. Other than that, I've been doing a little bit of music-writing; nothing too much to show for my efforts as yet, but the promise is there and I now have both the time and resources to turn that situation around.

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