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David's diary: January 1999

Wow - it's a new year, and once again one that I'm sure will hold many surprises in every possible way. 1998 was perhaps not a classic year, but still one with some important landmarks - some obvious, some not so, but all of them thankfully pretty positive. Highlights of the year I would say were my baptism and commitment - finally - into Milton Keynes Covenant Fellowship, Alan and Helen's wedding, and my return to regular youth work after quite a long break. Oh, and the small matter of meeting a certain Zoe, how could I possibly forget..? Work wasn't particularly memorable, though the success of my software contributions to the science foundation course made it all a lot more worthwhile than it could easily have been, and my failed attempt to change jobs didn't hurt too much.

My trip back home to my parents between Christmas and the new year was very welcome; with both Mark and Phil away with their parents, things were a bit quiet and lonely after the fun and busyness of Christmas itself, so for a number of reasons it was great to get a change of scene and everything. Prestwood is hardly the most happening place in the world, but it served the purpose just fine. The weather was generally atrocious while I was there, though - in stark contrast to the glorious bank-holiday Monday when I finally got out for my Christmas dinner work-off walk, and bumped into Jason from work and his girlfriend Jan at the Caldecotte Arms when I popped in for a quick bite to eat and a swift half - so most of the time was spent indoors, but there was enough to do, thankfully.

Wednesday back at home was quite a momentous day really, with both Zoe and me finally doing the Meet The Parents bit. Zoe drove up to Prestwood late in the morning and met my mum and my neighbours briefly, before we went out to the Plough near Princes Risborough for a light lunch, followed by a short walk near Whiteleaf Cross, by which time it was getting a bit cold and bleak. Returning home, both my mum and dad were there, so Zoe got to meet them both properly at some length. Later in the evening, we drove down the M40 to Iver Heath for a lovely meal with Zoe's parents and sister. I think everyone hit off really well; ones own parents I think always seem "weird", but to others they tend to come across as "interesting" on the whole, and that certainly seemed to be the case here!

Thursday daytime was relatively uneventful, and I returned to Milton Keynes in the early evening - with a few extra bits and pieces, both a few late Christmas presents and some other odds and ends, ranging from my dead CD player which I'm hoping Chris might be able to fix, to a rowing machine my mum no longer has room to use. I got back just in time to enjoy the last few minutes before the storm that was our news year's eve party, kindly organised by Simeon. The party went really well, with anything up to about forty revellers, and plenty of food, drink and computer games and so on for everyone. Hardly anybody got too worse for wear, and no-one got out of order - all told it was a great evening, although my head didn't agree too much when I woke up first thing in the morning...

So today, getting up late was the general trend, although by the time I was up, the YPF stragglers who had wisely decided to sleep over had long gone, leaving just Adam, who had kindly started the pretty monumental task of tidying up. This afternoon, those of us left - apart from Mark, who still wasn't properly back in the land of the living... - met up at Andy and Rosie's, and drove over to Stockgrove country park for what ended up a decidedly squishy walk in the woods there, but it was good to get some sunshine and fresh air and finally shake off any remaining cobwebs from the night before. Those with the energy - myself not included - are off to the cinema tonight to see either Prince of Egypt or the new Star Trek film, though I reckon their chances of getting in are next to nil.

But I simply don't feel I have the energy to do that now - last night is catching up with me finally, and I'm probably still not at my best after my recent bug, and a bit of a reprise cough I seem to have picked up from somewhere - so I'm looking forward instead to a nice quiet evening in. I might tidy my room a bit - to admit it's a tip would be a slight understatement - and I've said to Mark I'll gladly carry on any post-party tidying and washing up still needing doing whenever he needs to go out, but aside from that I have nothing specific planned other than getting a bit of rest and peace and quiet. The break seems to have gone so quickly - it's unbelievable that I return to work on Monday, but I suppose I should be glad to have got a decent break at all, unlike all too many.

As for new year resolutions, well I've failed too many times in the past with grandiose plans, learning in more recent years that if it's worth bothering at all, focusing on just a couple of realistically attainable things is by far the best plan. So my aim for 1999 is to lose at least a stone, by means of further tightening up on my already a lot more disciplined diet, and getting going again with a proper exercise regime. It's still too cold and dark to do much outside in the evenings, but the rowing machine I brought back should help a lot, and particularly concentrate on toning up my stomach, probably my main problem area - though it was quite gratifying being able yesterday to punch a new hole in my belt, at the tighter end I hasten to add, in case anyone was wondering...

Well just as Mark was leaving to pick up the others going to the cinema, he reminded me that there was a day of prayer at the Kings Centre, and we agreed that it would be a fine idea to support it. Mark hopes to go later, after the film, but I went earlier in the evening, and it was great to do an hour and a half's stint. There was, as Dave put it, a conveyor-belt of people coming in and out during the day, which runs from midnight to midnight, and all kinds of thing got prayed for as those people had it on their hearts. While I was there, probably about a dozen people passed through, and one of the key areas we concentrated on was that of youth work in its many forms within the fellowship - all very relevant with youth leaders, parents and grandparents all present and with a vested interest in this most important aspect of our future.

Day two of the new year, and much as I hate to admit it, that's two out of two days I've succumbed to the temptation of a Burger King for a late lunch. Having said that, I still think I've got off to a fairly good start, avoiding snacking in between meals - though it would have been a shame for those Wallace and Gromit cookies to have gone to waste - not eating excessively anyway, and moderately enjoying a not-too-arduous ten-minute session on my newly-inherited rowing machine this morning. The brisk walk into the city centre to do my weekly grocery shop did me good too, and I didn't damage the health of my wallet by being tempted by anything in the sales. This afternoon I finally got round to giving my room a blitz, and have rediscovered floor-space I never knew I had; there's still a lot needing sorting out when I have a decent opportunity, but at least there's room to move without tripping over everything. Tomorrow I've been volunteered to play at the combined morning meeting - should be good, though as far as I can tell, the worship is about all that has been finalised, with almost all the leaders conveniently off at some international conference. Tim's leading the musical side of things, having apparently made quite a recovery since last weekend's extreme poorlyness, but that's about all that is for certain...

I had a chat with Mark this morning about an idea I'd had as I walked round Caldecotte Lake last Monday, and he seems very enthusiastic about it. What I've said I'd like to do is to organise a sponsored walk, in aid of the Kids Club summer holiday fund, but instead of the usual dull affair, I intend for participants to walk round as few or many as they please of the multitudinous lakes within Milton Keynes - in one day, probably a spring-time Saturday. I, along with any other willing brave souls, would hope to "do" all the lakes encircled by a complete footpath route, but by carefully planning and publishing an itinerary, others would be able to support and join us as they pleased, either for sponsorship or just a nice walk. There are lakes all over the city, and of lots of different sizes, so it should be quite easy for anyone to join in at some point if they wanted to, and the final stage - either Willen or Caldecotte, probably - could well have the added incentive of a nice pub meal at the end of it. Mark's got a few more ideas that could have some mileage, such as combining a slightly scaled down event with a fun day at the Kings Centre, so I've said I'll look further into the logistics of my suggestion - such as determining exactly how much walking really would be involved! - and we can take things from there.

Three days, and three burgers, and I'm even more ashamed to admit that two of those actually ended up being yesterday. One of our friends had told us about a gig in the evening, so Matt picked up Mark and myself, and then went to collect Daniel from Stantonbury, but we couldn't see any signs of life at the supposed venue. So instead we went out to a nice pub I'd not been to before, called the Old Beams, and from there, on to Westcroft McDonalds to take advantage of their very generous special "birthday" offer on Big Macs - well for a pound a head, it was hard to say no, and they were very nice...

Speaking to our friend this morning, it turned out the gig was actually where we'd stopped off briefly, which shows how popular it must have been, and eyewitness reports suggest it wasn't much good anyway and we almost certainly did the better thing. This morning's meeting really went exceptionally well, considering most of the leaders were elsewhere, with Wilben ably concentrating on the attitudes of thankfulness, hopefulness and steadfastness. The music was really good, considering perhaps half the songs were ones I didn't know, but it seems that worship 70's style really wasn't too complicated.

This afternoon Chris popped round to do a little bit of digging via my net connection. He'd been trying to set up the internet connection on his Macintosh at home, but didn't have any record of the dotted quad IP addresses for Powernet's domain name servers or gateways, let alone a technical support phone number! Thankfully, it didn't take too much detective work at their web site - via my Demon connection, which didn't allow me full access, not being a customer... - to find the information he needed, though deciphering raw rich-text format documents is not my idea of Sunday afternoon recreation.

Then after a brief and most welcome chat with Zoe - and hopefully another one later, all being well - I thought I'd best take advantage of the beautiful weather while it lasted, and drove down to Willen and had a pleasant stroll round both lakes there. According to the research I am doing for the sponsored event I'm planning, the complete route is about two and a half miles, which I completed in just under three quarters of an hour. I must of course bear in mind that I tend to walk briskly when I can, and that if there are lots of us, especially youngsters, things will almost inevitably slow down.

Further research has shown that there are seven candidate lakes in the city - the qualification being that they are named and have a redway or leisure route all the way round their shores, not just that they have a decent pub! - and they range from about one mile to just under four miles in perimeter. The total distance involved should be just a shade over twelve miles, which means that even adding a liberal amount of meeting-up and travelling time, it should be easily possible to do it all in a day, and it should be such that quite a few people would be capable of doing the whole lot if they wanted.

But now I'm looking forward to a quiet evening in, with no evening meeting - we've not got going after the Christmas break yet, unsurprisingly - and hopefully getting a phone-call from Zoe later, assuming I don't get impatient and ring her first! Back to work tomorrow, sadly; the break seems to have whizzed past all too quickly, and I just remembered today that apparently there's going to be no hot food on campus for the whole of next week, due to electrical maintenance in the central canteens. That means no curries, no chilli con carnes, and no roast pork. I knew I should have taken the week off.

Not a good start to the working year, with not only no hot food on campus this week - we knew about that before the Christmas break - but still further chaos with the planned telephone system update failed, and the entire heating system off-line until this afternoon at the earliest due to a major fault. The latter is by far the most annoying at present - though by lunchtime the lack of hot food may be just as much of an issue - and at the moment I'm really wondering why I bothered coming in at all. Indeed, without food or heat, I can feel my metabolism gently slowing down, and before long expect to be searching for a hole in a tree in which I can tuck myself away for the next few weeks.

With no heating - might possibly be back tomorrow, we are advised - and no hot food on campus, Martin, Matt and myself took an executive decision and decided the Olde Swan was a much better place to go for lunch than the shop downstairs. I somehow doubt it will be the last time this week, and we might well get more support another time. All depends on the heating, I think - we can tolerate no heating but hot food, or working heating but cold food, but both together really is just too much in the middle of winter. So spicy sausage and cheese hot hobs for everyone was order of the day, and now the afternoon seems just ever so slightly more bearable.

Enjoyed a fairly quiet evening last night, punctuated only by popping out for a short while to bust a gut helping Gareth, Tash and Matt move Shine's PA gear from Alliance's offices into secure storage for a while, and later giving Zoe a phone-call. Somehow time still whizzed past and I didn't get an early night, but enjoyed much more settled sleep than of late, although the legacy of the previous two nights' very limited and disrupted sleep is still affecting my general alertness and desire to get up in the morning.

Highlight of today so far has been the restoration - finally - of the heating at work, so although there's still no hot food to speak of, at least we won't freeze on the outside any longer. I've still to pluck up the courage to remove any of the three fleece tops and jackets I'm currently snugly wrapped up in, but it hopefully won't be long until the air temperature goes some way to matching that of the now piping hot radiators. Just as we were about to go and buy sandwiches from the shop, an e-mail arrived announcing that there were a few places on campus doing a limited hot food service, so we gave the Berrill canteen our custom today - all very nice, and different from the usual fare, enjoying vegetarian pizza, a bacon and cheese turnover, chips and a jam doughnut.

Got a phone-call from Rosie shortly after I arrived home from work last night - was I going to the Generation X meeting? Ah yes, I'd completely forgot ... but yes I was going really, and yes I could give her and Andy a lift. The meeting itself was modestly tedious, primarily being a planning meeting for up until about June-time, though it looks like we have quite an interesting programme taking shape, including stuff like video-games, Quasar, bowling and so on, as well as more thought-provoking things and hopefully a weekend holiday once again. Stayed a bit longer afterwards though chatting with various people, mainly about Bosnia - seems we might have a few more people interested in going in the future, both on the relief missions and to help with the youth camps and so on.

Back at work now though, and enjoying the now fully restored heating - though we might even have to open a window sometime, I suspect. Just been reminded that it's about time I was compiling and submitting my monthly report for December, though having spent about half the time learning Director and trying to familiarise myself with my new projects, and the other half off work either on holiday or dying, I somehow don't think it's going to make very substantial reading. But I'll see what I can concoct anyway...

An evening and morning of interesting phone-calls and discussions, and a lot of food for thought as a result. First up was a chat with my mum, with the news that after all the talk of my sister's family having set their hearts on moving to a house in Criccieth, close to where they currently live in Wales, now it looks like the north Devon coast is going to be their destination instead. This doesn't totally please my parents, given that they were hoping they might move closer to home - Gloucestershire or the midlands, perhaps - but realistically we have to admit that Devon would be very "them", and can't honestly visualise them ever living far from the sea again. But this is still all very speculative, though they have friends down there, and friends who are also house-hunting on their behalf, so for the time being, this does sound like what's going to happen. Devon's probably a bit further for me to get to than north Wales, but there's not a lot in it, and to be honest I've liked Devon and Dartmoor even more than Wales and Snowdonia, so I'm not over-concerned so long as they end up happy and in a decent size property for the seven of them.

The other main discussion was with Mark, who had just returned from a leaders' meeting with the news that he was going to take a break from his church duties for a while. One of the immediate casualties sadly is going to be Kids Club - due to restart tomorrow - which will now be put on hold until replacement leaders can be recruited. All this came about as a result of a little high-spirited foolishness at our otherwise very successful new year's eve party, which gave bad impressions to some people - and I have to be honest and admit that I was involved to some extent too. So I thought hard and prayed about it last night, and decided I should be open and honest, and as such telephoned Dave this morning to discuss my position. Thankfully, since I am not a church leader - merely a helper and administrator, rather less high profile and authoritative roles - Dave didn't feel that any action was called for, so long as I tried to be a bit more careful in future about the image I project. This is fair enough, and I am happy and in broad agreement with that, and Dave was glad that I had felt able to talk the issues through with him so frankly.

Really quite a mundane day, all told, as was yesterday. Although having said that, I did have a meeting yesterday afternoon that was potentially quite interesting, but I didn't really understand half of it because it was mainly high-flying business stuff. But today really has been altogether pretty tedious, just plugging on with slowly learning Director, familiarising myself with the voice conferencing stuff, and generally trying to muster up motivation for anything much. News that yet another of our colleagues is leaving - after a relatively short time on board the Good Ship CES - has perhaps got a few of us thinking, especially given that Jason's going self-employed. Anyway, the weekend now beckons, and I'm not quite sure what's on the menu activity-wise; Kids Club is not on tonight, for reasons explained yesterday, and I'm not scheduled to play on Sunday morning - though probably will in the evening, the way things usually pan out when Tim's heading things up - so perhaps I'll just have a nice quiet relaxing time instead. Or maybe not. We shall see...

Well the excellent news tonight is that, although Kids Club didn't happen this evening, new leaders have already been brought on board, and things should get under way again from next week; they seem quite happy to continue using the programme Mark had planned and are impressed with the material he's built up over the years. As expected, it's a couple, but what I hadn't expected is that it's our good friends Dave and Mandy from Wolverton; I don't know why, but I'd really not considered them when I was pondering who might be approached. They already have a daughter in the club, and Dave has helped out at several meetings and last year's summer holiday, and we're confident they'll do a fantastic job. I'm really glad it's people I know and get on with so well - I'm sure that any choice made would have been a good one, but I feel that this is about as good as it could get, and I for one am really looking forward to working with them on a regular weekly basis.

It's been a fairly ordinary Saturday really, but I've appreciated the opportunity to generally relax a bit, and besides, Phil got back from his Christmas break early in the afternoon, so there was a bit of catching up to be done anyway. Did my weekly shop over lunchtime, taking full advantage of Burger King's ninety-nine pence bacon double cheeseburger offer, and also getting a nice pair of fleece gloves - I'd been getting rather fed up with my fingers ending up the wrong side of the lining lately, and I was a little inspired having just yesterday got a lovely fleece hat from my brother as a late Christmas present. En-route to Waitrose I bumped into Rachael, Abigail and Charlotte, so stopped and chatted for a few minutes sharing customary hugs and so on; the girls were a little disappointed I couldn't stay with them - I guess shopping with mum isn't always such terrific fun - but I really did have to get to the supermarket before they ran out of nice bread, and only just got there in time...

So whilst I left an empty house - with Mark off driving lorries since some unearthly hour - I returned to a houseful, with Phil back too, presumably returning to college on Monday. This meant having to sort out the fridge again, having shuffled things around recently after a serious leak from the drip-tray thing at the back - I had been getting a little fed up with eating soggy bread - but we think it's fixed now or should at least hold out for a good while longer. Now I'm just having a pretty stress-free evening, listening to a few musical instrument demo CDs, and probably looking forward to an earlyish night again; I've been sleeping unusually well lately, and am trying to make the most of it while it lasts. I dare say I'll try telephoning Zoe in a bit, and distract her from her college assignments for at least a little while. She's a bit overwhelmed with work at the moment, I think, and fed up at not being able to get out too much as a result, but a telephone call could be just the ticket.

It's been a very different morning meeting for me today, having agreed to sit in on the Trailblazers sunday-school group to see what happened, with an eye to maybe becoming a teacher later in the year. First impressions were very good, I have to say; the group was a very nice size - though that obviously fluctuates with various factors - and mainly comprised children I knew very well anyway for one reason or another. The activities seem to have just the right level of variety to keep thir attention, although sometimes the leaders need to show a little imagination where the material provided falls a bit short or seems badly targeted. I've agreed to go along to a few more Sunday mornings yet before making any final decision, but I'm fairly sure - providing I don't find myself overloaded with other stuff - I will take the plunge in a few weeks' time. Thankfully the worship rota has worked out quite well for me, and I'll hopefully be able to remove myself from the chair rota, so I don't think I should be too pressured by other things if I decided to go ahead.

Lunchtime today I visited Jon and Sally and their family in Oldbrook. It's been absolutely ages - perhaps even getting on for two years - since I'd been round there for a meal, and several months since visiting at all, so that made a nice surprise and change from my regular fairly mundane Sunday routine. They are still on the move shortly, sadly, though it's something which just has to be done, and I'm sure we won't be losing touch with them. Jon's been working in Wiltshire for quite some time, with the company footing his week-time hotel bills, but - quite reasonably - they have now insisted that he moves down there properly if he wants to keep the job, and try as he might to find something in Milton Keynes, nothing has come up, so they will all be moving as soon as they can find a buyer for their current place. I will miss them heaps, because in one way or another they have been like a second family to me while I've been living in the city - though perhaps not quite as much since I changed neighbourhood groups - and have always offered a listening ear.

There was some excellent news out of last night's meeting, concerning our church's relationship with Central Milton Keynes shopping centre - soon to be the biggest in Britain once again, when the new wing opens. For the last few years, we have operated an authorised but somewhat ad-hoc free gift-wrapping service in the shopping centre, but the times they are a-changing...

This Christmas just gone, we made the bold step of using a proper little craft cabin - you know the kind of thing - as the base for the operations, and in return for its free use, were invited to give our proceeds - from voluntary donations - to a charity of our choice, in our case Pregnancy Crisis, a local Christian charity offering support and counselling to women needing any kind of help during pregnancy. The cabin was unfortunately one of the outside ones in Queens Court, and the weather was apparently very bleak, but we still raised about three hundred pounds for Pregnancy Crisis - but even better was yet to come.

The shopping centre management were so impressed by it all that they have nominated Pregnancy Crisis as one of their main supported charities in 1999, which should assure a lot more funds for their vital work. Added to that, they asked if we had experienced any problems, and the main one was the windswept location of the stall, so next Christmas we're going to be inside, and part of the main Christmas display in Middleton Hall. And finally, the shopping centre management have apparently been having increasing difficulty securing good music for the Christmas display, and as a result we have been invited to provide the main live seasonal music throughout the week leading up to Christmas.

A lot of work - and we may yet regret the music offer! - but is that cool or what?

Once again, it looks like I'm going to be relieving Alan of his keyboard amplifier in the near future. He's finally bought a much lighter replacement - for which his back is thanking him already - and has named a price for the Peavey; thankfully it's a price I like the sound of. Of course, having seen his new amplifier, I rather like the look of that - it's a compact active wedge monitor from Laney, nothing fancy, just sounds great, looks the part, and won't be responsible for any hernias. Things are slightly complicated by the fact that I now have a perfectly reasonable little monitor speaker anyway, now the one my dad gave me is generally behaving itself. But I don't think the choice of being able to use another bigger one from time to time would go amiss, especially since the Peavey includes things like multiple inputs, reverbs and so on, which would be useful if I was ever in need of a relatively compact "instant PA system". Once again, Alan has said I can borrow the Peavey to see if I like it; I think I shall take him up on the offer forthwith...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Well it did for a while, and enough to make driving into work quite an interesting experience, but now it's turned into rain and everything's really rather damp and horrible outside. Even driving as cautiously as possible on the estate roads, I still found the car going in unaccustomed directions this morning, and what looked like nice clear tarmac in the car-park at work turned out instead to be lethal virgin slush. But no harm done, and probably overall a bit better driving conditions than last night, when ice even on the inside of the windscreen made things quite fun and I almost ran into an MG-F trying to use my sixth sense to get out of the car-park in one piece.

Later yesterday evening, Andy and Rosie dropped in unexpectedly, and Phil and myself joined them to go for a short walk and a drink. It was very cold out, of course, but we wrapped up warm so could enjoy the fantastically clear air and starlit sky to the maximum. Pity I'd just a few minutes earlier put my fleece jacket into the wash, because otherwise I could have gone for the "full fleece" look, with my new hat and gloves too. But never mind, it was good to get out in the fresh air for a while, and then huddle round the open fire at the Old Beams with a pint or two of AK's. Mark joined us later, and we went on to McDonalds for a swift quarterpounder, having found Burger King shut, and that was that...

So all in all a good, and unanticipated, evening out. There was a slight panic when someone mentioned something about a worship practice, at which time I started recalling something about being supposed to be elsewhere. But then someone else then mentioned something about Gareth being in Belfast today, so there couldn't possibly be anything on after all - and it hadn't been mentioned on Sunday's notice sheet - and I worried no further.

Sadly things were not quite as done and dusted as I'd thought regarding the news year's eve party incident, as reported in my diary last week. Apparently, inaccurate - and in some cases a little malicious - gossip has been spreading far and wide about the drunken debauchery allegedly going on, and particularly the less-than-ideal example being set by youth leaders and helpers; the church leadership have therefore grudgingly decided that further action was justified. As a result, Andy - who nominally oversees all youth work - visited late last night, and we have agreed that I too should take a short break from Kids Club and also my tentative first steps into Sunday school teaching. It was - as with Mark before - all very amicable, and no-one's finger-pointing too much or apportioning blame, but it seemed the right course of action to take under the circumstances and I am cooperating fully. Andy knows I don't have an ongoing problem with drinking or smoking - the two main bones of contention - but has nevertheless offered his full support if there is anything I need to work through with the elders; he's on my side, if "sides" are an issue, which is good to know. He hopes that I can be back on board within a month or so; it will no doubt seem an eternity to me, but I think it's a reasonable opportunity to reflect and catch up on a few other somewhat neglected things in connection with my faith - and besides, I can look forward to returning all the more!

Yesterday at work was as unproductive as ever; I have hundreds of pages of documentation for the voice conferencing API, which I have been asked to familiarise myself with, but without any specific programming objectives at present, it's just a mass of disjoint information. It's all relevant to some extent, and it's also probably fairly straightforward, but with no application my eyes just glaze over and my attention wanders... Hopefully I can soon actually get my teeth into something, source-wise, and it will all start to make some real sense.

The evening was fairly quiet, once I got home. I stayed in the office quite late, doing an interim update on the Religion and Faith section stuff on Monochrome. A recent "audit" had revealed just how massive the section was compared to most others, and how little activity many of the discussions were seeing, so I did some fairly drastic trimming and merging on those parts that were my responsibility. I hope my assistant Neil will do similarly with his discussions, especially when his are arguably more numerous and less active than most of mine.

So I got home fairly late, and shortly after, a few people arrived to watch a video with Mark. I started watching it - Con Air - with them, but I was expecting a phone call from Zoe, which she duly made a few minutes later, so I'll finish another day; it's on a week's rental, and I gather it's not too bad. Had a good long chat with Zoe anyway, with youth-work preoccupations being quite a major topic of discussion, but at the same time trying hard not to be too doom-laden. Then Angela unsurprisingly popped round, and a late night was had by all.

Today's being a little better at work than of late, having had a modestly productive meeting late in the morning - at the expense of a decent lunch-time, needless to say... It was about the voice conferencing stuff, and it's beginning to make some sense, particularly its integration into the generic Lyceum conferencing software we are currently developing. Still not any actual source code to get my hands dirty with, but I'm promised that I won't be waiting much longer for that, and that it's technical issues getting in the way.

Last night saw the first neighbourhood group meetings in absolutely ages. I had moved to one of the Springfield groups last autumn - having finally resigned myself to the fact that Springfield was my home and not Oldbrook any more - but for one reason or another, all the groups were disbanded shortly afterwards, so nothing actually happened at all. Now, there's been quite a reshuffle and meetings are finally underway again - and although I was initially a little miffed at the group they put me in, in practice it's looking great.

Paul and Carol have all the promise of being very good and flexible group leaders, and I would say that I get on at least averagely well with everyone who's ended up in the group, so everything bodes very well. There's a good spread of ages, and everyone's at least moderately vociferous if need be, so overall it should be a good fun group to be part of. I have a feeling there won't be a very rigid programme of events, although there are a few more organised evenings thrown in, but I think that will suit most people quite well.

So with many of us not having previously been in the same group, and Paul and Carol relatively new to the fellowship anyway, we kicked things off with a surprisingly fun ice-breaker game. Everyone had to write down three statements about themselves, only one of which was true, then the sheets of paper were all mixed up and people had to work out whose was whose. Good spirits were dampened a little by a solemn announcement that had to be made at one point regarding a past member of the church, but otherwise things went great.

Anyway, the day's now drawing to a close, and with it the working week. No Kids Club for me tonight, of course - and no indication yet as to when I'll be doing it again, but I'm now fairly happy about the situation. Zoe's hopefully visiting at some point during the weekend - a fine excuse to get away from her studies for a little while - though I'm not sure exactly when. We've been invited to dinner on Saturday night if Zoe wanted, but I'd quite understand if she would prefer to do something different, or visit Sunday instead.

Well, after an indifferent week at work, it's been a really good weekend, pretty much from start to finish. Things got going at lunchtime on Saturday, with Zoe's arrival, swiftly adjourning to the Olde Swan for a bar "snack" - even deliberately trying to moderate, still a little on the excessive side. Then straight on out to Caldecotte for a most pleasant and sunny stroll around one of the lakes there - a far cry from our last outing, round Willen, when we seemed to get hit with about every type of inclement weather Mother Nature had to throw at us.

In the evening, we took up Seamus and Gill's dinner invitation, and had a most pleasant chicken curry with all the trimmings there. There was a party later at Dave and Elaine's which Gill arranged for us to go to too, though for one reason or another we couldn't all go together. Instead I walked Gill round there with Zoe, and agreed we'd call it a day whenever Gill wanted to return and let Seamus take over on the "being sociable" bit. It was a nice chance for both of us to meet and have a chat with some new people - a really nice evening altogether.

So we walked back home with Gill at about ten, I suppose, chatted a while further then went back to my place for a bit. Was quite hard to be too tactful about wanting to go to bed - alone I should add - but Zoe insisted I should say so if I wanted to. So Zoe finally went on her way soon after eleven, I think, and I lasted only a few minutes longer before calling it a day. Overall, yes, it was a great day; things just seem to get better and better with every visit, happily to say, and I'm so glad that Zoe is hitting off really well with everyone.

Sunday was fairly ordinary, but still most pleasant. Lunch was at Burger King, taking advantage of their bacon double cheeseburger offer while it lasts, and in the afternoon a few of us had a surprisingly short game of Monopoly - the first time I'd played the game in perhaps ten years... And I lost fairly hopelessly, but never mind, it was quite fun. The evening meeting was a good one, with Jonathan Conrathe paying one of his fairly regular visits, both dishing out and recounting many more tales of healing and miracles - a truly inspirational guy.

Today's been fairly ordinary, but thankfully I remembered - just before I was due to leave for my regular midday refreshment at the staff canteen - that there was a special T305 course-team lunch at the Olde Swan, that most frequent of haunts for me! So about a dozen of us walked over to the pub for a late lunch - unsurprisingly, a spicy sausage and melted cheese hot hob for me - and a drink, followed by a walk back in the rain that had decided to arrive half way through proceedings. Nice to see some new faces though, and good fun.

Oh, and I finally sorted out and posted off the prizes for the WaveCraft competition I'd been running from my web site. The competition had closed at the end of the year, but only this morning did I finally get the postal address for the last of the five winners, so was at last able to package up the CD-ROM prizes and pop over to Walnut Tree post office. I'd forgotten how complex overseas mailing is, though I was very happy with how cheap it ended up, at only a shade over a fiver for the lot, including three to the USA and Canada.

Things really are altogether fairly mundane at the moment, but I'm appreciating the opportunity to get some sensibly early nights for the last few days. It was getting to the point recently where an early night was anything the decent side of midnight; my brain and body really were never meant to work like that. So this morning I was, unusually, actually able to get to work on time - it's more of a personal pride thing than anything, given that I'm normally still one of the first to arrive regardless, and there's certainly no-one clock-watching too zealously. I would also hope that if I could get up a bit brighter and a bit earlier, I might find time to actually do things in the morning other than just making a mad rush through the bathroom and kitchen before setting out to work.

Last night was fairly uneventful, mainly playing around - successfully at last, to a large extent at least - with some HTML to go towards the MKCF web site I'm almost certainly going to be designing and administering in the very near future. I had been trying on and off over the last few days, and fairly fruitlessly, to design a graphical element that would display MKCF's banner-style logo, automatically resizing according to the user's browser width. Finally I cracked it last night, with a solution that seems to work on all modern flavours of Netscape and Internet Explorer. It doesn't look so good with a few other third party browsers I have access to, but suspect that the effort to correct what is purely a cosmetic problem would be better spent on something more generally useful.

Just as I was about to go to bed - though I made sure my early-night plan wasn't foiled too seriously - Alan and Helen popped round, amongst other reasons, to drop off the keyboard amplifier I had tentatively agreed to buy from them. Having not seen it for quite a while, I'd forgotten quite how big it was, and it's incredibly heavy too - the reason of course that Alan's selling it, what with his bad back and everything, though I thought he might have been being a little more sensitive to that aspect than average. I've not tried it out yet - it was late last night after all - but probably will this evening. Apart from the problem of its bulk, I'd say it would be ideal for me, even if only for occasional use, though it's not the only purchase of expense I'm currently considering...

Other than that, there's not a lot of news, really. I'm pleased to say - though this is hardly news either - that I'm now officially going out with Zoe. Well it says so on the world wide web, so it must be true... Seriously though, it's great that once again things are back on course in my love-life, and almost certainly with better prospects than ever before. I've had relationships in the past, but they have been plagued with so many practical difficulties, lack of mutual trust and commitment and so on. This time it just seems so very very different, and knowing that God is truly looking over us and smiling with us at our happiness is immensely reassuring for what the future might hold for us. We don't know what lies ahead, but we do know that it's going to be an exciting ride.

Well I tried out the keyboard amplifier last night, and it's brilliant. It has a really good dynamic range, is clear as a bell, and goes scarily loud. Drums really kick through it, and the wind synthesiser sounds incredible. Impressive with my guitar too, it really is a great all-rounder. The reverb on it is a bit weak, but I would probably not bother with it too much, especially since most of the equipment I would ever plug into it is already blessed with such features anyway.

But - after all that - I've decided I'm not going to buy it. My heart says "go for it", but my mind says "hang on a minute". The main problem stems from its being far too heavy and bulky. Getting it up and down the stairs last night was a real pain, and not something I would want to do with any regularity; it's physically impossible for the average person to lift it more than a couple of inches, and although it's well-built, things like the reverb unit could easily get damaged.

So what of my suggestion of not using it regularly, but just keeping it for special events? Yes, that idea could still apply, but - realistically - where are these special events going to come from, and how often? I know enough people with similar bits of kit that if I really needed to borrow one at some point, I shouldn't have too much problem, but frankly I can't foresee any such necessity for the time being. So laudable though that suggestion might have been, it doesn't wash...

I hope Alan won't be too disappointed with my change of mind. I did borrow it on the understanding that I was trying it out, otherwise I'd would have paid him immediately I suppose, so it shouldn't cause too much upset. I'm a little disappointed myself though, because I really did want to buy it, and could still do with something similar, but I really do need to be realistic, and also bear in mind that I'm not that strong myself; I don't want to join Alan in the Bad Back Club.

A slightly more interesting day than of late, yesterday - but a fairly late night too, so it was once again quite painful getting out of bed in time to get into work before nine. So I didn't. There was quite a useful meeting yesterday afternoon about the voice-conferencing project, which was also an opportunity to be properly introduced to some of the other team members as well as bring back a load of development tools which I should have had ages ago really. This meant I finally had something I could start getting my teeth into - albeit somewhat unsuccessfully - and only when a homeward-bound Joel walked past the office saying goodnight did I realise quite how time had been getting on...

Yesterday evening was the first in a series of studies on Hebrews, run by newcomer - but a newcomer with impeccable credentials - Paul Vallance. I must admit I tend to find bible studies fairly tedious at the best of times, though knowing Paul quite well now, I did go in with higher than average hopes - thankfully this was justified. He couldn't escape Long Word Syndrome too easily, but was suitably apologetic about it - and explained that it was useful to know the long words if only to be able to avoid them, because they generally have negative connotations - and managed to keep people's full attention for the hour and a half he had to play with anyway, so it was all well worth the effort.

Other than that, the evening was taken up with giving Mark some moral support to get through his backlog of marking that really needed to be done for today, and later going out to grab a burger or four with Mark, Matt and Hanne. Burger King was of course closed, as it always seems to be at the most useful times of day, so their cheap bacon double cheeseburgers were not an option. Thankfully the McDonalds was only a few yards away, and their Easy Cheesey offer is now well under way, so we all loaded up with triple cheeseburgers and miscellaneous accompaniments. My share of a bottle of wine and a very nice phone-call from Zoe later, and it was about time to call it a - most productive - day.

Well the week's over, and a good weekend coming up, all being well. I had hoped I might be taking a little trip down to Iver Heath this evening, but the driving conditions really would have been fairly treacherous with fog and ice, so I've agreed to go down late tomorrow afternoon instead - and hope it'll be at least a bit better by then. But this evening was certainly not wasted, joining Angela, Andy, Rosie and friends at the Swan for a nice drink and a natter, though hopefully I can catch up on a bit of lost sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning's trip into the city centre will be typically hectic, I expect, what with probably getting my hair cut too, though at least I'm not meeting up with Zoe until rather later in the day than often seems to be the case - from that hurry point of view anyway, can't wait otherwise...

The end of a long - but wonderful - day, or is it actually just the start of a new one? The latter I think, actually - must go to bed soon, seeing as I've got to be up early to do the chairs. After doing the usual Saturday boring stuff, it was off down to Zoe's - via my parents to drop off some bits I'd bought for my dad - for an utterly delicious curry out, yet another good natter about everything under the sun with Zoe and her parents, and of course a generous helping of "other stuff" for good measure... Coming back on the M1 at about midnight, I was surprised to pass my housemate Phil's car stopped on the hard shoulder; I was in two minds as to whether to turn round at the next junction - and felt quite guilty when I decided against it. Just as well I didn't though, because he actually arrived home only a few minutes after me; his engine was just flooding as usual...

It's been a different last couple of days at work - or rather at our training centre in Stony Stratford at the other end of town. By popular request, we staged a two day series of discussions on the future of our department in what is a rapidly changing operating environment. It was heavy and intensive stuff, and as such quite tiring, but I think everyone agreed it was a worthwhile exercise, and we have formulated a response of sorts to the proposals which have been made and which would otherwise most likely be inflicted on us without any proper consultation. Thankfully it's all over now, and tomorrow's just a relatively ordinary day in the office, though I suspect it could be a bit of a hectic remainder of the week, needing to alter the installation files for some software and cut a load of gold discs by Friday - and I'm hoping to make an early getaway Friday afternoon to help with a big Shine event in the evening. Having found that my colleague Callum lives only a few hundred yards away in Fishermead, I'd been giving him lifts to Stony and back yesterday and today, and we stopped off for a light meal and a drink at the Olde Swan - unsurprisingly enough, though oddly it wasn't our first choice, except that we couldn't locate the fabled Stacey Bushes Pizza Hut - which was a nice way to wrap up these couple of days. So now I'm enjoying a nice quiet evening - indeed turning down another trip to the pub in the process - waiting to hear from Zoe who's been doing a database systems exam tonight, and otherwise looking forward to a nice early night and catching up on the sleep that's been stolen from me for the last two mornings of having to get up ungodlily early.

Things are being typically mundane, with a combination of fairly unexciting work, uneventful evenings and relatively early nights. Highlights of the last couple of days have probably been finally sussing out how to make professional-looking installation files for Windows, going to a very short-notice Shine prayer meeting last night - and having to go hungry for an extra hour as a result - and going down with another load of cold-like symptoms. Other than those, and a nice microwave curry last night to make up for missing lunch due to a late meeting, that's really just about it at the moment.

Neighbourhood groups are meeting as normal tonight, and I would hope that - much as I am not exactly looking forward to it - they'll finally make the formal announcement about what's going on as a result of the new year's eve party debacle. I've not yet heard anything official about when they want me to return to my duties, though Mark seems to think that half-term would be a sensible time. I must chase Andy though, and hope the leaders have at least discussed the situation by now - I can just see things dragging on ridiculously otherwise, and seeing as everyone I've talked to just wants me back on board as soon as possible, the delays are helping no-one.

The neighbourhood group meeting last night went very well indeed, including all the necessary ingredients for a productive evening of fellowship. As well as just generally meeting and chatting, we also studied a psalm, prayed for a few tricky situations and started planning our pancake night - oh, and got a little independent financial advice from Paul. As hoped, the announcement about the repercussions of the infamous new year's eve party was made, although Paul largely left it for Mark to explain what the situation was, and for me to echo somewhat. There were no raised eyebrows or subsequent interrogations, so - certainly within our immediate group - that seems to be the end of the matter, thankfully.

I still feel a bit rough today, but no worse than yesterday, I don't think, and I felt well enough to give Gareth a ring to say I would be able to help with the Shine event this evening. I'd been hoping I could help from somewhat earlier in the day, but workloads are such that I really can't afford the time at present. So I must get away from work promptly this evening, have a bite to eat - thankfully I had a nice filling chilli con carne for lunch - and head off to Stantonbury for the counselling briefing before the concert itself starts. I've said I'll then stay around for the whole evening, really doing whatever's required of me - it's going to be a massive event, and everyone will need to muck in.

It's Saturday afternoon, and after a bit of a lie-in and my regular trip into the city centre to stock up for the week ahead, I think that's just about it for planned things for today. Last night's Shine event went really well, I thought, with a packed house - slightly bolstered by Teen Club members, but still impressive anyway - and a decent crowd of youngsters responding at the end by wanting to become Christians there and then. I'm not sure if the music was my cup of tea - some of it appealed more than other bits - but it seemed to go down very well anyway, and there was just the right mix with testimony and so on to ensure it wasn't just the trendy sounds that were making the impact on the audience. Afterwards it was on to the Barge for a pint with just about the whole crew, then to KFC for a late night snack, and then - oddly enough - to bed, and slept like the proverbial log.

This afternoon, I decided I would go and have a look round a couple of computer shops, with a view to getting a new printer. Regular readers will recall that my trusty BJ-10e gave up the ghost a few weeks ago, scared at the prospect of printing off a play-list for Simeon, and I thought it was worth seeing what's available these days. It's amazing how much cheaper the printers have become - although the ink cartridges don't seem to have done similarly, sadly - with the nearest thing available to a direct replacement for the BJ-10e - but still hugely better, with high resolution colour and everything - going for considerably less than half the heavily-reduced trade price that I paid back in 1990 or whenever it was.

Once again, Canon caught my eye with probably the best value printers out there, and with some of the lowest ongoing running costs. The quality of output from their BJ-250 - retailing at well under a hundred pounds - was simply astonishing; it wasn't quite photographic, but it wasn't far short, and certainly much better than the hideously expensive Tektronix printers we have at work for colour stuff. I'm not rushing into buying anything though, because there's quite a high chance I'll be getting a new PC in the next few weeks anyway, and if a printer doesn't come bundled with it, I might well be able to negotiate an especially favourable price.

On my travels around Staples - which seemed a lot better than PC World for just about anything computer-related, I have to add - I also bought some OHP acetate sheets that Mark had asked me to look out for, and for myself, a "home file" - basically a lockable metal box with suspension files for storing A4 documents - which should offer me a bit of an incentive to finally sort out about a dozen carrier-bags full of miscellaneous paperwork, some of it quite important like insurance stuff and so on, which have been festering untouched since I moved in here, and some of them even longer, I'm ashamed to admit.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty tired now, so unless there's anything astonishingly exciting going on tonight, I think an early night is called for, with quite a long and busy day coming up tomorrow, I expect - both doing the chairs and playing in the band tomorrow morning, and then round at David and Alison's for lunch for the first time in getting on for a year, which normally finally winds up sometime after supper...

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