David's diary: June 1999
After quite a fun time away last weekend, this week's really been quite boring, with little to report, to be quite honest. Work's going reasonably well, although once again we've had to cancel a "live" student activity as part of the development project we're undertaking, which came as a bit of blow even if it's being realistic in the longer term. I'm settling in reasonably in our new office, now that we have the furniture all installed, workstations set up, and - finally - telephones connected... Neighbourhood group last night was not bad at all, prayer-walking round Springfield amongst other things, though I made a fairly prompt exit afterwards, feeling pretty tired and having promised to help Phil set up the Zip drive on his new computer.
Not exactly sure what's coming up this weekend; having not done so - apart from getting the odd loaf of bread, speaking of which, I ought to get another today to last me through to tomorrow morning! - for a fortnight, I really must do some food-shopping sometime, and a few people have recommended a PC dealer near Wolverton I think it would be worthwhile to give a visit tomorrow maybe. Sunday's a celebration day, so it will be back up to Wolverton again in the morning. I'm not sure if I'm required to play in the morning or evening. I hope not, in a way; much as I enjoy it, it's also important to have a break from time to time, and celebrations in particular seem to offer few such opportunities.
Summer seemed to be here this morning, but going out in not much more than shorts and a t-shirt turned out to be a bit of a mistake, with torrential rain this afternoon. Never mind, though; I got a fair bit done, and didn't get too cold or wet in the process... Having done my long-overdue food shopping in the morning, I took a trip up to Wolverton in the afternoon, to investigate prices of PC systems at the dealer a few people had recommended. I stopped off at St Andrews Bookshop on the way, and got a Hydro CD - it's quite good, typical mainly upbeat Bronnimann/Goudie stuff - and two stamps on my loyalty card - well on my way to getting a five-pound gift voucher once I've spent a hundred pounds there.
It was a good thing I did go via the bookshop because the rest of the trip turned out to be quite disappointing, finding the computer dealer looking decidedly closed, and another quite popular one I came back via seeming rather over-priced and anything but up to date on more or less everything they sold. As a last ditch effort, I thought I'd bury my pride and try PC World - though I got lost and somehow stumbled into Petsmart, which I know some readers of this diary will find a little amusing from past experience - but there seemed to be nothing there that was as good as the deal that Phil got recently, though certainly not all the machines were complete rip-offs. So all told I've been moderately unimpressed with what's on offer locally, which is a shame because I do believe in supporting local businesses where possible.
So I guess this means I'll just muddle along with this lowly 486 for a little bit longer, which I suppose isn't a bad thing, because it means by the time I do get round to doing anything, the next generation hardware will probably be out and widely available. This is apparently to include faster memory and graphics, as well as new CPU's that will no doubt push the price of the more affordable Pentium II and III systems down still further. It also gives me a little more time to research what the best data storage route will be - it may well be best to commit to SCSI at an early point if I plan on adding things like a CD writer and so on, because it will be all too easy to exceed the rather low maximum number of devices EIDE will support.
Sunday was a good day as ever, with the monthly celebration in the morning - and not playing for a change, deciding I wanted a rare morning off, though there was a bit of a panic when someone wrongly reckoned I was down to do chairs - pizza for lunch, nine-pin bowling - of sorts - with Generation X in the afternoon, and the evening celebration in the evening which I did agree to play at. The lunchtime pizza wasn't exactly what we had planned, having provisionally agreed to go for a buffet curry with Chris and Claire, though Wolverton high street was absolutely packed thanks to a car-boot sale - and one that claims to be a regular Sunday one, so I suspect another restaurant might be getting our custom in future, which is a pity, but that's market forces for you...
I'm still very tired this morning, unhelped by the hayfever season which seems to be in full swing now, though at least I now have some tablets which relieves the symptoms a lot I am sure. As I left for work I saw something very odd on the front door and had to take a closer look ... and a photograph, in true David Attenborough fashion. It was two huge amorous hawk-moths that had decided our front door was a good place to do the necessary. Very curious, and they seemed to be deeply engrossed and not at all perturbed by the door being opened and closed by all and sundry, or the flash on my camera. I wonder if they'll still be there when we get home this evening, or if the garden will just soon be awaiting the pitter-patter of multiples of six tiny caterpillar feet?
Feeling modestly exhilarated this morning, having been brave enough to risk the weather changing - though I've brought waterproofs just in case, being the eternal pessimist - by cycling into work. You see, it's National Car-Free Day once again, so last night I dusted down my badly-underused bike, took it for a quick spin round the block and proclaimed it roadworthy for today's foolhardy jaunt. Of course, now I'm in work, I take a look at the BBC News website and read a report that cycling increases the risk of male impotence, which isn't the most cheering reading on a day like today, though I'm not likely to be making too frequent a habit of it for the moment at least, even if I do aim to use alternative means of getting to work at least one or two times a week during the summer. Still, it was good to get some fresh air and some more exercise than normal, and it only took ten minutes to get from Springfield to the edge of the campus, from where cycling is officially prohibited. That compares very favourably with driving, which can take anything up to ten minutes, so - weather and numbness permitting - there's little argument not to try this a lot more often. If I was to do it more often, though, I think I might benefit from getting a better bike; although the one I used is very fast both on and off-road, the riverside cycle-way is quite uneven and I found it quite jarring hacking along at up to twenty miles an hour, so something with fatter tyres or suspension forks would be a lot more comfortable.
The other half of yesterday's environmental initiative went fine, with no inclement weather to spoil the occasion, though it was all too noticeable that I was travelling up - rather than down - the river valley, even if the slope was visibly imperceptible. I guess fifteen minutes for the return trip wasn't bad compared with the ten the outbound one took, given that I was quite weary by the end of the day. The extra exertion did mean I needed a bath before I could even think of going out anywhere else, though that did mean I could enjoy a rare opportunity to listen to drive-time radio, catching a very interesting news item on some miracles that had happened at an evangelical church in Surrey and other events. People spontaneously acquiring gold teeth and suchlike surely cannot fail to make even the most sceptical ears perk up with curiosity, given how definitive dental records are. Later in the evening, there was a worship band practice, which went very well, with a large part given over to discussion of song-writing as a ministry; at the next practice we plan to develop that aspect as appropriate. Once again, and mainly thanks to my hayfever, I was pretty tired by the time that had finished, so didn't last much longer after a short phone-call, and still didn't manage to make it out of bed before about half past eight this morning.
Booked my car in to be re-undersealed, so that the anti-corrosion warranty can be carried over - seemed worthwhile, given that the warranty potentially runs for quite a long time and I plan on keeping the car a while. Also asked if they could check the suspension; as I think I've said before, the car gives quite a bouncy ride and somehow doesn't seem quite right, so they've agreed to have a look at that in case there's something amiss. I also had to give my insurers a ring, since it is my responsibility to arrange cover for the courtesy car I get loaned for the day it's in the workshop. Autorama say they would love to be able to arrange the insurance themselves, but with an excess of four thousand pounds, it's really not viable... Normally, my insurers charge at least an administration fee every time someone sneezes, but this time they've agreed to do it for free - unless the courtesy car is something radically different to my Accent, which is fair enough - though I must contact them again when I know the details. All seems a lot of hassle, but at least it shouldn't cost me anything more than petrol, and the hundred quid or so the undersealing comes to, assuming that any repairs to the suspension will come under my warranty.
"The president and first lady of English folksong" is as apt a description of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson as is possible, really, especially after Martin's recent membership of the British Empire, and Norma's close-run thing in the Mercury prizes a couple of years back. Anyway, I finally got to see them as a duo last night, having been reminded just as I was leaving work that they were playing in Stony Stratford. It was a bit of a gamble, not having a clue how fully-booked the venue was to be, but I scraped my way into the Song Loft at the Cock Hotel - which, by the way, gives its name to the well-known term "cock and bull story", thanks to its neighbour on Stony high-street, the Bull, oddly enough - and it was well worth the bother and the modest admission fee.
There were various support acts, from both near and far, but Norma and Martin were of course the stars of the show, and covering generally quite different material to that which Martin has done when I've seen him as a solo performer on several occasions in the past. I had hoped to see them both on my birthday last year, but Norma was laid up in bed with flu, which - as she told me during the interval - is quite a hazard for someone like her, going from intimate smoky folk-club to intimate smoky folk-club, via germ-laden aeroplanes and so on, and she'd only just got over another bout of something or other before last night's performance.
Anyway, I'm glad I went, because it was a great evening out - only a pity I'd not remembered earlier that it was on; I'd noticed it mentioned in the local paper on Sunday, but forgot about it until it was too late to arrange to go with anyone else who might have been interested. I'm sure there will be more opportunities in the future, though, Stony Stratford being the undisputed centre of the local folk universe and frequently hosting artists of that calibre.
Not a terrific amount to report today, so it's probably barely worth writing this, but I'll try, if only to keep my regular readers happy... Last night's neighbourhood group meeting was typically good, if a little thin on the ground numbers-wise, but I was absolutely shattered by the time I got home, so went pretty much straight to bed, and only just made it into work on time this morning. While I was out, Steve left a phone message, hoping finally to visit next week to collect my broken CD player, which would be good, though I can't really get back to him to confirm that to be OK until I've heard back from Chris about getting the CD player back off him in the first place! I'm sure all will be fine though, and it will be a good chance to catch up with Steve who I've not seen since last summer, and haven't had an opportunity for a good chat about life the universe and everything since I was going through a tough spell relationship-wise a couple of years back. My mum may well be joining the microwaved-brain elite later today, since she's going to investigate mobile phones at a friendly dealer she's tracked down in Thame. She doesn't really plan on getting one today, but will discuss options and the issues she feels are important; from what she's told me, I think she should get good advice and the fairest possible deal when she actually signs up.
Sounds like quite an environmental and health catastrophe is unfolding in the north of the city. A fire at the Dunlop factory in Wolverton has resulted in many local major roads being closed, and urgent instructions being given across the Milton Keynes area to close windows and stay indoors. I didn't even realise there was a Dunlop factory in Wolverton; from the scale of the reaction, I take it there isn't any more.
If I didn't realise that Dunlop had a plant in Wolverton, I shouldn't be too surprised, because they don't. Electrolux do - or did, rather - however, and it was their depot that went up in smoke so spectacularly this afternoon. The pictures on the television news tonight made it look absolutely horrendous, and miraculous that - as far as I know - no-one was hurt. It looked more like an oil refinery ablaze than a fridge warehouse, and at the peak, apparently over eighty fire-fighters were dealing with the blaze, which was still being damped down tonight. One of the biggest risks to Milton Keynes as whole was from asbestos carried in the huge pall of smoke, and many local schools - even as far away as Bletchley on the south side of the city, Wolverton being in the north - were evacuated as a precautionary measure, though I would have thought it would have been safer to do quite the opposite unless the dangers were overwhelming.
Meanwhile, tonight, things hit an all-time low. Thankfully, the things in question were the strings on my guitar, as I lowered the action as far as I reasonably could. The advantages in doing this very much outweigh any pitfalls, increasing the output levels dramatically, giving a better sustain as a result, as well as making the whole instrument a lot easier to play thanks to not needing anywhere near so much pressure on the fret-board. I had immense fun a little while ago, hammering out grunge-style power-chords, keeping up with the frenetic tempo set by my drum box pounding out a heavy-metal rhythm pattern at well over 160 beats a minute. Maybe I'll try 180 tomorrow, and see just what my limits are... Guitar-playing is generally just so therapeutic, an excellent outlet for pent-up emotion of all kind, even anger or aggression - I'd recommend it to anyone, though for best results a detached house is definitely recommended.
Zoe and I were discussing last night how Saturday really has become the Sabbath again, at least for the active Christian, with Sundays often being at least a busy a day as any from Monday to Friday. This Saturday has however proven to be anything but a day of rest, rushing around almost non-stop - admittedly via a barbecue, more about which in a moment - and only just now really getting a chance to rest a while. My quick shopping trip turned out to be a lot more drawn-out than I had been anticipating; present-shopping is something I must admit that I am not too keen on, at least until I find that ideal gift. In this case, it took about three hours, and much driving around Milton Keynes; I hope it was worth it...
I also gained my level-two membership of Gadgets Anonymous, with one purchase that must be kept secret for the moment, I am afraid, and also a text pager. I've been wanting one of these for a while, but only recently have the purchase prices become truly attractive. So I have a nice little PageOne MiniCall, in a delightful iMac translucent turquoise, and can be contacted on it at more or less any time - I'll probably keep it on all the time as they recommend, seeing as the battery lasts for ages and messages received while the unit is turned off are apparently lost - on 01523 408776. Be warned, though, that calls are not too cheap, at a fixed cost of 55p standard-rate, and 35p cheap-rate from normal phone lines.
Having finally done all my necessary shopping, I drove up to Shane and Sandy's - via Staples again, since they had kindly omitted the battery and user manuals from my pager! - for a barbecue to celebrate the brief return of Jon, Sally and their family. We'll get to see them again tomorrow morning, but this was the more official get-together, and a good time was had by all, with the weather largely kind to us. Tomorrow, I have to help set the chairs out for the morning meeting, but will be heading off to Iver Heath for a late lunch as soon as I can, then in the evening we'll be going to Holy Trinity Brompton, which should be a most interesting experience, as well as a good opportunity to meet more of Zoe's friends.
Gosh, excitement of all excitement ... I just received my first pager message. Having not actually told anyone my number at the time of writing this, it was never likely to be anything exciting. And nor was it. Just the lottery results, which I am not in the least bit interested in. I believe you can disable unwanted services, and I think that will be one of the first to bite the dust when I get round to ringing their helpline. I'll probably keep the news headlines one, depending on how often those get broadcast, but I really don't have a lot of need for European Cup football results. I guess these things are useful to some people, but that doesn't include me, so I'll have to investigate how to turn them off.
It's a bleary-eyed Monday morning for me, but it's worth it with a day like yesterday's to blame... Chair duty turned out to be a pain, with the school not having been opened up when it should have been, so spending half an hour waiting around in the cold, but it was fine in the end, and Alan didn't even adjust the positions of too many of the chairs as far as I could tell! After the morning meeting - finishing a little later than planned - I headed down to Iver, just in time for a very scrumptious roast beef dinner with all necessary trimmings and more. Following some birthday present giving, and a brief walk in Langley Park - where I'd not been for perhaps about twenty years, and never for anything other than school environmental studies trips - and a quick visit back to Zoe's parents for a drink and a sticky bun, we headed over to Richings Park to join members of her ex-Alpha group for the long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated trip to HTB. Thankfully we were able to avoid driving, for a pleasant change, though it turned out to be quite a straightforward journey to Brompton if coming into London via the M4 as we did. The church itself was a remarkably tasteful combination of old and new, with a fresh and contemporary yet entirely reverential feel to it, and this was reflected in the nature of the evening service itself. Overall, I think if I was living locally, I might well make HTB my chosen place of worship; in many ways it was quite similar to MKCF, though in other ways it was very different. Altogether, it seemed an enlightened set-up, bringing modern-day relevance to tradition, something that all too many churches of all denominations struggle to attain. We'd hoped we might go and have something to eat somewhere nearby as a group afterwards, but that wasn't to be, so once we were back at Richings Park, Zoe and I headed off to Heathrow where we knew there was a late-opening McDonalds, which set me up for the journey home really quite smashingly. So all in all, it was an even busier Sunday than I am accustomed, with a hefty part of the day spent travelling to one place or another, but it was all well worth it. Roll on next weekend!
Yet again, rather weary this morning, after a moderately self-inflicted late night yesterday. But it was all worth it, with some flesh put on some musical ideas I had the other day, my CD player collected off Chris, a trip to the Old Beams with Mark, Phil and Angela, and my friend Steve's visit for this evening - to collect the CD player, at last - as confirmed as it will ever be. Oh, and the not-so-small issue of wishing a certain special young lady a happy birthday, which could only really be done after midnight anyway; sorry I woke you up though... Anyway, been getting a fair bit of stuff done today, mainly going through our project web site here with a fine-toothed comb and updating as necessary. All to the most pleasant accompaniment of Eliza Carthy's excellent "Red Rice" CD box set, a fine recommendation from Hern - a.k.a. Stu - here on Mono.
He arrived a good deal later than had been hoped, but Steve did eventually make it last night. He'd been in Warwick all afternoon, and had hoped his meeting would have finished soon after six, but in the end only managed to get away at about nine, I think. So he arrived here a bit after ten, and we got to the pub just in time to catch Andy and Rosie before they headed home; thankfully Mark and Angela agreed to stay a little longer, and Phil joined us briefly later. I think all of us were pretty shattered one way or the other so didn't last much longer, and with a meeting in Milton Keynes this morning, Steve sensibly decided to stay the night. He's taken away the broken CD player now, which he will cannibalise for the LCD to replace the faulty one on his. It was good to see Steve for the first time since last summer; I guess the next time will probably be at this summer's Garden Olympiad, scheduled for the last weekend in August, though I daresay I might go down that way sometime before then.
Earlier in the evening, my mum phoned, with some simultaneously surprising and not so surprising news. That being that she's decided not to get a mobile phone after all - she seemed pretty dead set, and was just deliberating over the exact choice - and has followed my lead and got a pager instead. Hers is a BT EasyReach, which she got at Currys, but it seems broadly comparable to mine, and was much the same price, both to buy and for people to contact. Her main wish is to be reachable whilst out and about, and I think she's probably made a good choice. If she decides at some point she really did want a mobile phone after all, then thirty pounds - and no further running costs to her other than the occasional battery - for the pager won't have been the worst financial disaster ever to have happened. Speaking of my mum, I got my birthday present from her in the post this morning, a rather nice navy cotton jumper thing, though I've yet to try it on and all that; I'm sure it'll be fine though.
Last night was an unusually nice quiet evening, doing nothing much in particular and generally quite enjoying that. Highlight of this morning, so far, has been discovering that my pager bleeps exactly in time with Sash's "One and One" - so much so that I couldn't be sure it really was my pager chirping at me as I drove into the car-park at work... Other than that, things are being fairly mundane, which is probably as well, because things have been quite busy lately, and my hayfever's making me wearier than average as it is.
Alas it was another altogether mundane day at work yesterday, modestly productive but thoroughly unexciting, and certainly nothing noteworthy enough to report on here. The evening was more interesting, although quite a difficult time in many ways, being a big meeting up in Wolverton with representatives of the local police and social services to update us on - and answer some quite emotionally-charged questions about - how the recent problems in the church are being dealt with, where they thought mistakes had been made in the past, and how things could be improved for the future. Some of the news was less than cheering for a number of reasons, and the police in particular came in for a fair bit of criticism, though I think that under the circumstances, everyone involved has behaved in a very responsible and sensitive manner. Mistakes were made by a lot of people, but there's little point in pondering "what if" scenarios; we have to look to the future now.
Got a fairly early night last night, needing to be up in time to get my car in to the garage for the undersealing and suspension work being done on it today. I'd sorted out the necessary insurance for the courtesy car on Wednesday, but when I got up to Autorama, they found the car I'd been promised - a white T-reg Accent Coupe i - had been borrowed by one of their staff, so I had to phone my insurers again to change the details to being a similar vehicle, but a red S-reg. Needless to say, I got outside, and found the car was in fact a 5-door Accent LSi; I've not contacted my insurers again, but I doubt it will matter, and the information I gave them was in good faith. This Accent is decidedly lower specified than mine, though it has power steering - which I actually find too light, quite disconcertingly so when on roundabouts and so on - and an airbag, and the side-rear visibility is a bit better, due to the slightly changed shape of the 5-door model.
As true rubber-neckers - but not as much so as our pastor, who is apparently visible in one of the newspaper photographs - we took a slight detour coming back from Wolverton, to go via the Electrolux warehouse which burned down so spectacularly last week. It really was a scene of complete devastation, with only the distinctive road-side wall still intact. Certainly didn't look like they would be able to do a lot with the building as it stands - or rather as it doesn't. Apparently, for all its lack of charm, it is a listed building, however, so I guess they might yet decide to take some kind of restorative action.
Since they'd not got back to me as they had promised - they all seem as bad as each other in this respect - I gave the garage a phone-call at about five o'clock, and they said my car was ready, so I left work promptly and drove up to Old Stratford to collect it. They had done the anti-corrosion treatment as expected, but they said they couldn't find anything wrong with the suspension when they took it out for a road test. Whether they really found nothing was wrong, or just nothing serious enough for them to want to be bothered with, I'm not sure, but it was definitely not quite right. They accept this, and have asked me to keep an eye on it, and bring the car back if it's still not right after whatever they did to it, but it's a little annoying anyway. They're being quite nice about it though, and they say any repair would be covered by the vehicle warranty, so I'm not overly concerned, but I'm pretty sure the next speed hump I go over will show the problem to be just as bad as it was before. I should hasten to add - as I also said to them, of course - that the courtesy car was beautifully smooth on all surfaces, so it's not just the way Accents are made, as I had perhaps thought might be the simplest explanation.
Anyway, that's the working week over with, and I'm hot and tired - not the most wonderful combination, but I don't plan on doing a great amount this evening other than perhaps relaxing in the bath for a while, and no doubt making a couple of phone-calls as appropriate. I'm not entirely sure what the weekend is to bring any more than I normally am at this time on a Friday night, but I'm sure it'll be good anyway, and if the weather stays like this, it will be a fine opportunity to get out and about a little. My hayfever's being a bit troublesome; I would say that perhaps more than ever before I seem to be suffering from the "fever" bit of it, even if the more outward symptoms like the runny nose and itchy eyes are being kept at bay by the medication I'm on. This week I'm trying a - presumably - new treatment called Zirtec, which Gareth had recommended, but I can't say I'm wildly impressed with it, and will probably go back to Clarityn when I stock up at Superdrug tomorrow morning. Clarityn seems to have done the job reasonably well for the couple of years that I've been using it, though obviously it's hard to say quite how effective it is, when I don't know how bad I'd have been suffering if I had been taking nothing.
I know I didn't exactly get an early night last night, but I'm still ridiculously tired for a Saturday morning - or what's left of it - and I have no real idea why, other than a cumulative combination of many factors, only some of them avoidable. Last night, Mark and I had planned on going to see "The Matrix" at the Point, but the mid-evening showing was - perhaps unsurprisingly - fully booked when we got there, so we went and had a drink and a chat about life in general at the Lone Tree instead, returning via KFC in Stacey Bushes where we met up with a load of friends from YPF. Made a short but sweet phone-call to Zoe when I got in, shortly before midnight, and headed off to bed very soon after.
This evening, we've been invited to go to a see play in Portsmouth, in which one of Zoe's old college friends is performing, but it would be quite a long haul down there, especially going via Iver, and I'm not sure that it would be too clever an idea in my current weary state, with quite an early - and busy - start needed tomorrow morning, being on both the chair and music rotas. But for now, I'm going to get up, have a bath and breakfast, and maybe - just maybe - get out and at least start my regular Saturday shopping before lunch time - though I doubt it...
After nigh-on two years of being CD-less - and more latterly finding myself cassette-less too - I've finally got round to replacing my broken hi-fi equipment. Now I really couldn't justify spending vast sums of money on something that would be for entertainment use only, so I buried any pride I ever had and opted for an all-in-one "micro" unit, rather than some fancy separates system. Admittedly it's a Sony one, so not too cheap and nasty, but it didn't break the bank either, and does just about everything I would ask of such a system whilst keeping the bells and whistles strictly to the music being played, not the user interface. So this means I can finally use those blank tapes that were amongst what Zoe gave me for my birthday, and it's also got an optical digital output jack, so I can record Minidiscs just as easily.
Since I still have my old - and somewhat bigger - speakers hooked up to my "studio" equipment, finding space for the new stuff proved a little tricky, but I think the solution reached is quite reasonable, with the new small speakers perched horizontally on top of the older ones, which conveniently places them at the optimum ear level. Despite being substantially smaller than the ones I am used to, the new speakers pack a surprising punch, though they really do need the bass-reinforcement function turned on to make the most of them. I never used to see the point in having RDS on home hi-fi equipment, but it seems fairly standard on all but the cheapest equipment now, and it's certainly a nice touch to have the radio station name displayed, and they wisely seem not to have implemented the traffic announcement features...
First there was the exploded myth of the "paperless office" where everything was going to be done by telephone and on computer. Then some spoilsport - probably sponsored by the paper industry - went and invented the fax machine, and many people even prefer to read their e-mails and web pages in printed form. Now the same thing is happening in this increasingly "cashless society". In the good old days, you had paper bank-notes, and - on average - as you spent them, the amount of paper in your wallet decreased. When you ran out, you got some more, but that involved cashing a cheque at the bank, which reduced the amount of paper in your wallet in other ways. But now we have the miracle of widely acceptable credit and debit cards, such that you only need real cash any more in a very few circumstances. Great - except that every transaction you make now increases the amount of paper in your wallet, often with both a till receipt and a card slip per purchase. Add to that all the mini-statements and withdrawal slips cash machines routinely spit out, and all told, a typical weekend's shopping can fill your wallet to bursting point. Then to add yet further wastage, many banks have changed to an even more excessive form of monthly statements - of course with extensive accompanying junk-mail trying to justify their decision. I said "probably" before, but now I'm certain the paper industry is heading up this crazy conspiracy... All I can really say is thank goodness for paper recycling.
As for the rest of the weekend, well it wasn't bad at all. Saturday night - with Mark and Phil out elsewhere - I made the rare step of going to the evening prayer meeting, which was quite good, even if I nearly smashed into the pastor's car as I reversed out of the Kings Centre car-park, which wasn't too clever... Sunday morning, Zoe came up in time to help set out the chairs for the morning meeting - for which I am sure Nigel and myself will be eternally grateful - then after the meeting, we went with Chris and Claire to a really nice lake-side Chinese restaurant I'd walked past a few times and really liked the look of. It certainly lived up to expectations, and the help-yourself buffet was exceptionally good. We spent the rest of the afternoon round at Chris and Claire's watching Lethal Weapon 4 - fairly harmless Sunday afternoon veg-out fun - and then getting ready for the evening meeting, where Gareth wanted to make a recording of the new song he and Martin had written with a little input from me. This meant digging out some leads I'd not used for ages, and also bringing along my Minidisc recorder and effects units, but it all went very well, once we'd cleared the hall of people under the influence of the Spirit in rather disruptive ways... The main part of the meeting was good too, yet another load of baptisms; we've had a long fallow period, but now finally things seem to be getting going, and I am sure the coming weeks and beyond are going to see yet more people saved in a spectacular manner!
After quite a late night watching Terminator 2, it wasn't too cheerfully that I had to get up at about half past three this morning to go and mark the rising of the summer-solstice sun over the Campbell Park beacon. The church has had a significant solstice presence there for many years; others come and go, but we seem to have quite effectively staked our claim on what is the highest point of the city for an hour at the start of the longest day. We're fairly blatant in the message we proclaim - worshipping the Creator rather than the Creation, beautiful though it most definitely is - but we try hard to get on with others of different beliefs who share the venue; generally things are quite good-spirited, and we often get chatting. Surprisingly - given that it was the first year in ages that the rising sun could even be seen! - there weren't many others there this year; normally there have been quite a few people who've been there through the night - with a mountain of beer cans to show for it - but this time, there were only about three or four others, and they didn't look like they'd been there much longer than us. Despite being moderately woken up by the end of the proceedings, I forced myself back to bed at about six, and managed another couple of hours sleep before having to get up for work. I'm still a little queasy for lack of sleep, but some nice yummy Finnish chocolate mints from Lesley have perked me up no end, though I doubt I'll be going for a late night tonight if I can possibly help it!
Had a nice, uneventful, but not very quiet, evening yesterday, discovering the joys of playing guitar along to CDs - and finding that the songs in question are not normally as difficult to play as they sound... That's one good thing about guitar-based music - it tends to be in relatively easily playable keys, compared to pure electronica, where it's all too easy to arbitrarily transpose the whole lot and make it nigh on impossible to join in with.
Going back to the more electronic side of things, I finally ordered that Kenton Pro-Solo MIDI/CV interface I'd been meaning to get for ages. It's a couple of months now I think since I got the original quote, and it seemed about time I did something about it, so that's now on order and, all being well, should be delivered here at work tomorrow. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to using this little box to breathe new life into my trusty '101.
True enough, the Pro-Solo arrived here at work this morning, and I didn't even have to collect it from the central post room as tends to be the case with such deliveries. It powers up OK, scrolling a surprisingly legible welcome message across its three-digit LED display, though I'm not sure exactly when I'm going to be able to test it for real. You see, it doesn't come with any cables - which is fair enough, given that in the days before the standardisation that MIDI brought, each synthesiser manufacturer used different combinations of connectors - so I'll have to pop into Maplins to get those, and I don't think they're open very late tonight, and I would have to go home first to remind myself of exactly what cables I would need anyway. Some might be available off-the-shelf - I think the main gate and CV connections are by 3.5mm jack, which is nice and simple - but I think to make use of all the available features I will also need to make up at least one custom cable, which will be a bit of a pain. Actually, I think I could get away with buying three 3.5mm leads, plus an adapter for when I want to use the clock input, which is on a quarter-inch jack. Yes, that's a much more sensible - and possibly even cheaper - idea, and if I leave work promptly at half past five, I shouldn't have any problem getting it all going this evening, which would be cool. There's nothing like a diary for helping you think through a problem logically!
Went to Maplins last night as planned, but found they had only got one of the leads I needed three of, so since I wanted three the same, I bought the bits to make them up myself. Alas this worked out more expensive, but I made the most of it, by getting the wire cut to custom lengths and everything, and the bloke there did me a deal anyway out of sympathy. Making the leads up was as tedious as it always is, especially with the quite fiddly 3.5mm plugs, but at least I didn't forget to thread the plug covers onto the cables before doing the soldering, like I normally do...
Once I'd got everything set up, the Pro Solo worked fairly well. On the bread-and-butter stuff of converting MIDI notes into the analogue gate and CV signals the SH-101 requires, it performs very solidly, though I had to change a couple of exotic settings to get it working quite as I'd hoped. A little worryingly, though, it seems to deal with pitch-bend and modulation signals badly, though I'm not sure whether it's the Pro Solo or the SH-101 that's at fault - I've been asked to ring Kenton's technical guru later this afternoon to try and work out where the problem lies.
This morning, there was a load of post from Kwik Fit Insurance, most notably including a quote for my forthcoming renewal. Their covering letter said: "We think you will agree that this adds up to an unbeatable offer". I'm not sure whose definition of "unbeatable" almost a thousand pounds would come under, but it's not mine. Not one to panic, I've made a few enquiries, and things aren't as bad as they seem. "We are pleased to advise that your existing insurer remains the most competitive". Funny how the other two quotes I've had today have both almost halved theirs, then!
Just phoned John in Kenton's technical department, and had a good chat about the problem I'm experiencing driving my SH-101 from the Pro Solo interface. Considering that he's pretty certain that it's the SH-101 that's at fault, he's being remarkably cooperative, and is quite sure that the problem is resolvable. I need to do a few more experiments, which I should be able to find some time for tonight, but he's given me their ex-directory out-of-hours support number so I should be able to contact him over the weekend if need be. I guess this is what specialist technical support and putting the customer first really is - never passing the buck saying "it's not our problem", and not resting until the customer is satisfied. Even if my delight at the product itself has been somewhat muted by the problems experienced, I can't fault the attitude of the company in trying their best to help resolve them.
The good news tonight is that I've managed to get the Pro Solo working fully and faultlessly. Although John at Kenton didn't solve the problem as such, what he did say got me thinking laterally enough to work out what was going wrong and why. Rather embarrassingly, it was just one minor switch on the SH-101 that needed adjusting, but if it hadn't been for what John had said, I would never have considered that to be the possible source of the problem. Put simply, with the synthesiser set up as it was, it would interpret the rapid pitch changes associated with vibrato and some pitch-bend operations as being new notes. Changing the triggering system from this smart - or not so smart, as it turned out - mode to one that didn't try to be too clever for its own good, was just the ticket, and now it works just fine, happily to say.
Not the nicest way to be woken - but no serious harm done - with me happily enjoying my last hour of morning sleep when my dreams were penetrated by the crunch of metal on metal and breaking glass. It was the lady two doors down who had been reversing her car out to go to work at Marks and Spencer, and been hit by a white Transit pick-up truck speeding up the pavement, which failed to stop. I put my dressing gown on and went outside, just as her friend had rather conveniently found the van's number plate lying in the road... Thankfully the young man saw sense and eventually returned - probably once he realised the victim had vital material evidence! - but had little to say for himself more than the odd monosyllabic grunt. He seemed to think he was insured and everything, but frankly I'll believe it when I see it. Anyway, the lady seemed to have regained a bit of her composure once we'd gone through the routine of noting down loads of stuff, and was happy to park her car back in the driveway - she's not going to work today now though, sensibly enough.
After all this morning's fun and games, I forgot to take my hayfever tablet before leaving for work. Unsurprisingly, I am just beginning to feel a little bit lousy, and it will only get worse, alas. I guess I'll see how I go - if it gets very bad, I'll just have to go home at lunchtime and rectify the situation, but I'd rather not if I can help it.
Telephoned Hyundai Insurance a little while ago, and their quote wasn't quite as good as the one from the AA, but still in that 500-ish pound bracket. Kwik Fit really do seem to be preying on complacency, assuming people will just go with the flow, though when "the flow" is a hike to almost a thousand pounds, it would be a fool who didn't think twice.
Latest car insurance quote is from Privilege, at my housemate Phil's recommendation, and it's the best so far, albeit only marginally. They want 470 pounds, which is still a bit more than I'm realistically aiming for, but it would be bearable if need be; Mark has said I should aim for 300, but I think that's going to be quite a tall order judging by the quotes received so far. I'm still waiting on a few responses from on-line quote services - including Admiral, which several people have mentioned - but I have a fortnight yet to sort this out, so there's plenty of time. So long as they will match my best quote - as they said they should be able to - I will probably end up staying with Kwik Fit, however, because I am generally quite pleased with them, and I would almost certainly keep my low excess and protected no claim bonus.
The hayfever's being bearable today, and wasn't aggravated too much by us deciding to have lunch outside rather than in the canteen. Thankfully we didn't decide to go for a riverside walk, as we often do on such nice days, because I'm sure that would have really set me off. I've suffered from hayfever for about as long as I can remember, specifically recalling having an allergy test when I was about seven. In the early days I used to have weekly injections at the doctor's for it; I'm not sure whether it was really more serious then, or if tablets have just become altogether more popular over the years. I don't think I suffer quite as much as I used to, but again, that could just be down to the quality of the medication available these days, and it's impossible to speculate how I'd be faring if I wasn't taking anything for it.
It's been a good, and not too eventful, weekend, taking things nice and easily on Saturday - the only real break from the norm being to drive over to the coachway in the evening to pick up Mark's brother Stephen who was visiting for the weekend, then going on to KFC for a quick bite to eat - and with a typically rewarding Sunday.
Zoe had a few things she needed to do back at home in the morning, so arrived up here for a late lunch at Pizza Hut - an Italian super supreme, garlic bread and Stella deal, as often seems to be the case! - then a slightly damp walk round Willen Lake, taking an umbrella just in case, but only needing to use it for a couple of minutes thankfully. Just as we got back, there was a rather frantic phone-call from Andy Forbes, hurriedly trying to pull together some semblance of a worship team for the evening - with Tim still not too well and Gareth taking a break for a while - so Phil, Mark and myself ended up helping out on that front.
Sadly for me, half way through the worship, my "machine" - a.k.a. Yamaha WX11 - started doing very odd things, which came to a head when it simply wouldn't play in tune, so I quietly sat down and pondered how much it's likely to cost to get fixed, assuming it wasn't just some temporary glitch. Otherwise the meeting was very good indeed, with yet another baptism - this time a girl called Sally - and plenty of opportunity for some very powerful prayer on an individual level.
After the meeting, quite a few of us - including Eric and newly-saved Alan, I'm pleased to say - descended on the Barge for a quick drink, then on to the A5 McDonalds for a bit of supper, the latter being most welcome since with the meeting being an hour earlier than usual, I suspect most people had gone out on an empty stomach, especially the musicians who were only given a few minutes' notice!
Then after watching some of the day's highlights from Glastonbury - a mixed bag, certainly - it was time for me to get to bed, and wave Zoe off on her journey home. So altogether, a very good Sunday once again, and roll on the next one!
Well that was a singularly boring and unproductive day at work, with little done altogether really. I guess I have quite a lot on my mind, which doesn't help, but I think there's more to it than that. My thoughts wander enough at the best of times - though I'm beginning to control the worst of that, happily to say - but when I have a lot of genuine concerns too, the day-to-day and essential stuff doesn't really have much of a look-in. But anyway, that will do for now; it's time to brave the rather threatening-looking weather outside and head homewards. I've no idea what the evening will bring; I just hope it can be relaxing, however it ends up.
Good news this evening is that my WX11 doesn't, after all, appear to be faulty - or at least not reliably so, as it were... It didn't work when I plugged it all together, then I changed one setting on the VL70-m tone module - which I had adjusted quite a few times last night, I hasten to add - and suddenly everything sprang into life. So I'm still pretty mystified what the matter was or why exactly it resolved itself this evening; I'm guessing it maybe got stuck in a bad state somehow, but more than that, I cannot even speculate. Anyway, I'll be keeping a close eye on things, needless to say, but at least the immediate crisis appears to have been averted, which is a big relief for both practical and financial reasons.
Having got the WX11 and VL70-m working properly again, and not wishing to tempt fate too much by playing for too long, I went back to my electric guitar for a bit, this time experimenting with retuning the low E string down to a D - something I know both Mark and Phil do quite a lot, but I'd never tried for some reason. This was prompted by trying to play along to some of Moby's heavier stuff the other day, and not quite managing to reach a few of the lower power chords he played. Retuning in this way made it all make sense, as well as making the guitar easier to play more generally, though I made sure I tuned it back up to E before putting it away for the night, for the sake of saving future confusion if nothing else.
Another less than marvellous day at work, with the undoubted highlight being Phil - the departmental deputy manager - coming into our machine room, and only by my shrewd observation being prevented from half-inching our main student-facing voice conferencing server. In a way, we reckon it would have been better to let him take it, because it would have highlighted the sheer lunacy of running important software like that on a machine that was just a personal desktop machine that someone didn't particularly need for themselves, and that as a result, according to records, was free and available for better use. Phil conceded that it probably ought to be left be for the moment, though what the longer term plan is, I am not quite sure. I think the intention is to try and get people to migrate to our next-generation software, and decommission the server for the older one fairly soon, but given that the newer software requires end-user machines to be upgraded quite dramatically - in terms of both CPU and memory - I've made it fairly clear that the existing servers will have to be shut down over my dead body. You don't give a child a toy, then snatch it away from them without warning, and I don't see why our students should be treated any differently. Thankfully, I believe the overwhelming opinion concurs.
As a result of some discussions with our friend Matt last night, I've been briefly looking into second-hand laptops, and have had some considerable success a lot quicker than I was ever expecting. He wants something that will be good enough for e-mail and a bit of word-processing while he's on the move, and I've found two good candidate machines at fair prices. I found a fairly reasonable one for sale at the web site of one of those Tottenham Court Road discount surplus shops, but the best value one would seem to be one that my colleague Sam is wanting to get rid of, an NEC 486 DX4 with a good amount of memory and hard disk space, running Windows 95. Matt would need to get a UK modem for it, but I've seen fairly fast PCMCIA ones advertised for next to nothing, so I don't think that will present a major problem. The keyboard is also an American one, so lacks the curious symbol that us Brits call a pound sign, but I doubt that will dissuade Matt given the very reasonable asking price. Anyway, since it seems moderately likely a sale will be happening soon, Sam's borrowed a serial lead so he can - albeit slowly - clear out the hard disk onto his desktop PC, and he hopes to bring the machine in tomorrow so I can have a better look at what's on offer, and hopefully make a decision one way or the other.
The good news today is that the NEC Versa laptop Sam's offering looks like it will be ideal for Matt's needs, and, still better, he's agreed to let me borrow it, and quite possibly not give it back - though obviously appropriate payment would be agreed in the latter scenario... It's a fairly dated design, but not too horrendously so, and it seems fairly good on the performance stakes. I found a magazine review from 1995, where that exact model won their best buy award, so it was certainly well-considered once. The screen is a bit fuzzy when there's a lot going on, as one would expect from a dual-scan colour LCD, but it's bearable, and there's quite a few tweaks that will make the mouse pointer more visible if need be. The internal modem actually works fine, though it's quite slow and not a UK approved one I don't think, so it would probably be best from all points of view to get a faster one with the appropriate approval.
I didn't manage to get in touch with Matt last night, but hopefully I'll see him at tonight's barbecue, and be able to give him a quick run-through with the machine in front of us. Even if Matt decides against it, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find a taker, with Mark showing considerable interest too, and I might even be interested myself if push came to shove.
Tonight's aforementioned barbecue should be quite fun; it's a "half birthday" party for Andy and Martin - I guess two halves make a whole - with the "half" theme played on a lot in the invitations and so on. I expect it will be quite busy, and appears to mark the start of the barbecue season in earnest, with another neighbourhood group one tomorrow evening, a surprise one to celebrate Seamus's birthday.