David's diary: May 1999
It's Saturday afternoon once again, and my electric guitar is feeling much healthier for five-sixths of a new set of shiny D'Addarios. I say five-sixths thanks to breaking the bottom E string of the set before I even got to play it, and having to refit the grotty old one - the moral of the story being not to overstress strings while fitting them, and not to fiddle with them once fitted; we live and learn... Today's generally being hot and sunny, though I didn't quite succumb to wearing shorts into town earlier; it was a close thing though, and perhaps if the sun had been shining when I got dressed, it might have been a different story. Milton Keynes has thankfully been reprieved, though if the weather continues as it does, it will probably only be very temporary, especially with this being a long bank-holiday weekend. I'm still not sure whether I prefer hot or cold weather; I think I probably prefer something mid-way, the kind of bright but cool weather we've been having recently being more or less ideal.
We wake up this morning to the news that people have been arrested - though most of them bailed - and explosives seized, after police investigations into the London nail-bombings over the last couple of weeks, culminating in the fatal attack at the gay pub in Soho last night. According to Zoe, Slough was on high alert yesterday evening, with its ethnically diverse population an obvious potential target. Milton Keynes is probably safe, with no particular concentrations of ethnic minorities, although I believe there are a few gay bars around, and with these terrorists apparently hating anyone other than themselves, is anyone really safe? Having heard the chilling news that many of the victims of the recent massacre at the school in Colorado were Christians, and at least some of them specifically killed because of their faith, could such "believers" be the next arbitrarily-chosen victims here in the UK? We can only hope that the developments overnight will see an end to this hate-motivated "classic" terrorism.
Sunday's been decidedly good, all told, enjoying - in approximate order of merit, though in some ways that's a little unfair on some of today's activities - Zoe's company, a massive and delicious curry banquet this evening, the morning at MKCF as usual, a walk up at Bow Brickhill, a spicy sausage and melted cheese hot hob at the Olde Swan and a game of Risk with Angela, Zoe and Phil. All over now, though, and a much-needed bank holiday Monday to recover from the more indulgent of the above. There's murmurings of doing something recreational tomorrow, weather permitting, though quite what will remain to be seen, and I don't think I'm going to be conscious much before about midday anyway...
It's ended up quite an uneventful bank-holiday Monday so far, though there's time yet for it to get more interesting, I suppose... I wandered into town to do a little shopping this morning, getting a few odd boring things from Superdrug like shower gel, paracetamol and mouthwash, and also a replacement string for the one I broke when restringing my guitar the other day, a back-up lithium battery for one of my older synthesisers to replace one which by rights should have run out years ago, and a nice little leather-bound address book to finally replace my horde of miscellaneous post-it notes and backs of envelopes.
This afternoon has seen me sweating like a dog tidying my room - it's been a mess since I changed cars, with most of the contents of the Metro's boot all over the floor - evicting superwasps from my bedroom, and beginning to fill up the new address book, getting rid of many of the aforementioned post-it notes and backs of envelopes in the process. Being a hip and trendy address book, it includes spaces not only for mobile phone and fax numbers, but also for e-mail addresses; it's a sign of the times that although only a small minority of my friends are really "into computers", I would say well over half are on-line.
I expect I'll add most of the older addresses currently stored in my Psion, which will herald the end for that particular bit of equipment as far as I am concerned; it was useful in its day, but frankly serves little purpose to me now - hopefully someone, somewhere, out there can find a better use for it and be willing to pay a few quid for the privilege. It hasn't got the higher-resolution screen or the memory capacity of later models, but it's still well-specified, coming with respectable built-in application software, and I would throw in a serial lead, mains adapter and extra games software for good measure.
As somewhat anticipated, just as me and Phil were getting a bit on the hungry side this evening, there was a phone-call from Andy and Rosie, inviting us round to their house for the remnants of a barbecue. "Remnants" meant about four sausages - with rolls and a choice of relishes - and a couple of chicken burgers each, plus a big bit of lettuce between us, so we hardly starved. As well as Alan and Helen, Andy and Rosie's old neighbours Darren and Vanessa were there - Darren happily showing off his Astra now he's finally passed his driving test, and Shannon getting quite big and mobile now - and one of Andy's friends from university.
After eating, we played mini-croquet for a bit, which turned out to be just as ungentlemanly a sport as its more traditional big brother, even if the rules were slightly weird - since when have there been nine hoops and two posts in croquet? I lost thoroughly, only displaying any kind of form whatsoever once the games were over, just knocking my ball around a bit afterwards - and actually doing quite well, in a non-competitive kind of way. I think - lawn permitting - a decent croquet set is going to have to be added to my List Of Recreational Things For Setting Up Home Properly, along with a pool table and a Playstation...
Andy had just bought a surplus PC from work, and I got a bit carried away testing out the higher resolutions on its rather nice 21-inch screen, panicking a little when it went beyond the displayable frequency range. "Surely it'll go back in fifteen seconds?" "Not when you do it from QuickRes..." Thankfully I vaguely recalled having done something similar at work once, and hacked the Windows 95 registry in safe-mode for a few minutes, eventually finding the appropriate key and setting it to something more displayable. Worrying moments - and you have to wonder how someone who didn't know what they were doing would have reacted under similar circumstances - but all was well in the end.
With Phil needing to do some more revision for his finals, and me almost fit to drop after what's ended up a fairly active weekend I suppose, we headed home soon after, but it was a nice evening out nonetheless, and it certainly solved the impending problem of what to eat for tea... The idea of returning to work tomorrow is not one that appeals that much, to be quite honest, but I guess it has to be done, and it's only a short week until next weekend now anyway!
It has since been pointed out to me that it's not necessary to hack into the Windows 95 registry in the manner I was perhaps dangerously advocating in that last entry. Windows' safe mode seems to override all control panel settings, so you can apparently just go into the display properties and do it from there, even if there is no immediately visible effect - I had somewhat assumed they would read "640 by 480" rather than still contain the settings that had caused the problems. Trust me to do it the hard way; believe me, it's not the first time...
That was quite a fun Generation X evening out, billed as "games and grub at Andy and Ro's", and doing pretty much what it said on the tin. Mini-croquet, Rummikub, Taboo and Pass the Bomb fulfilled the games aspect admirably, with ample crisps and things seeing to the grub bit with similar aplomb. Still no opportunity to use my free sausages - been hopeful on the last couple of visits to see people - but I'm sure they'll be gone soon, now we're into the barbecue season with a vengeance. Anyway, it's been a long - but really quite productive and fun - day, so I think I'll draw it to a close very soon.
Today will go down as a classically bad day, and probably mark my entry into yet another of my all-too frequent periods of self-pitying professional depression and despondency. It's hard to put my finger on quite what went wrong, but it was one of those days when everything seemed to collude against me, and even what should have been positive things ended up being anything but. The working day's over now, though; I generally go a fairly good job of putting my job to bed when I leave in the evening, and I'm certainly not going to let it get me down now. This evening will hopefully be quiet and relatively uneventful; I really need time just to relax and cast my worries away for a few blissful hours. There's a good many important things in life to spend time worrying over, but a grotty day at the office isn't one of them, and I'm sure the future in every respect is a lot brighter than it sometimes looks.
Compared with yesterday, not a bad day at work by any means, and quite satisfying having not only done a lot of work on the Lyceum FAQ web site, but also dared to put it on-line for the students to use - well it had to be better than what was there before, so there was very little to lose, and my boss on this project generally likes such "executive decisions". I feel a little less pressured now, perhaps, since as of this morning we've applied a bit more "project management", but things still aren't ideal.
Other good web-related news is that I'm definitely demonstrating the proposed MKCF web site to the full-time leaders on Monday morning; hopefully we will be able to get the finalised version on line within a couple of weeks from now, which should please a lot of people no end. I'll make a few adjustments over the weekend, I expect, but it's basically as complete as I can get it without asking other people for essential contributions - I will only do that when the basic design has received the thumbs up.
Still no time to check out my new PC which arrived yesterday; it's been tucked away for the time being, and given the lack of space and essential socketry in my new but temporary office - especially with a new recruit apparently sharing it with me from Monday, hence a flurry of activity on Adam's part to create any space whatsoever - I expect it will have to wait until I move into the main project room, which could be up to a couple of months at the present rate of progress on getting furniture sorted out.
Anyway, I'd better get a move on now, having popped down the Cellar Bar for a while this evening to join Callum in celebrating his first day off his typhoid antibiotics, and with our neighbourhood group meeting in a few minutes.
Neighbourhood group was very good this evening, and only overran by about three hours in the end. The main teaching topic was that of fourth-generation time management, which seemed all far too sensible for that time on a Thursday, but the evening ended up with a select few of us - particularly myself, Gareth, Martin and latterly Kerrin - imbibing pleasant quantities of fine wine and Irish liqueurs and penning a rather nice worship song, somewhat imaginatively provisionally entitled "Jesus". Anyway, it's been an excellent evening, but with another busy day coming up tomorrow, I probably ought to call it a day and go bed-wards.
Back at home, and mightily relieved the working week is over, and that anything outstanding can wait until Monday. The trouble with bank-holiday weeks is that after the happiness of the long weekend, you still need to fit in five days' work. It's been a lousy but productive day at work; lousy because I would rather have been productive with things I was supposed - and scheduled - to be doing, rather than a whole pile of stuff that just got given to me because certain people seems to think that they can get away with anything so long as they smile and tell me I'm doing a great job. I didn't get away from work too early, but in a way I wasn't in too much of a hurry, with torrential rain all afternoon and most of the evening - and my umbrella and coat safely in the car boot...
Anyway, that's over with until Monday - and I'll be in late then by virtue of going via the Kings Centre to demonstrate this new-fangled MKCF web site I've been working on - and already a good part of my weekend seems to be planned for me... Tomorrow night there's a bit of a birthday party for Helen, starting with pizza, and ending who knows where - but probably back at Alan and Helen's for a video and some games. Sunday morning, hot on the heels of last night's epic song-writing session - it still sounds good today, by the way, so we weren't suffering the musical equivalent of beer-goggles - Gareth's asked me to play at celebration in Wolverton, and possibly in the evening too, depending how things pan out with Zoe and any other commitments that might come up during the day.
Thankfully, I did manage to get out last night - if only for a swift drink at the Old Beams and an adjournment at Andy and Rosie's - and it did me a world of good. I was really quite psychologically low earlier in the evening, and was quite prepared to have a good sulk and an early night. For a while it felt - quite irrationally, I should be clear - as if everyone was conspiring against me, and that I was likely to bite the head off the next person who even tried speaking to me, but once I was finally invited out, I found it hard to refuse - and just as well, because I really needed it.
I still feel far from being on top of the world, and can only force the occasional tentative smile, but maybe it'll be better once I'm properly up, bathed, dressed, nourished and out in the refreshing spring-time sun. I'll probably go and get my hair cut too today; being able to feel good about my appearance is a vital - even if superficial - step to feeling good about myself in a more holistic manner. I certainly hope so; I hate feeling as I do, particularly because it does inevitably rub off on those around me, but realising that all is not well is a vital first step to overcoming it.
But at the same time I must not feel defeated, as I did at one particularly low point last night; it's one thing admitting things aren't right, but quite another to consider oneself a lost cause and beyond help. At times like this it is vital, whilst not being blinkered from reality, to concentrate and build on the positive things in life, even if it does sometimes seem a lot of my world is falling apart around me. The bad things in life can be all too obvious, but I have only to open my eyes to see lots of good too. Is that glass of mine really half empty, or is it actually half full?
As Sundays go, this one's been pretty epic, playing at church both morning and evening - with exceptionally long times of praise and worship at both - and a most pleasant afternoon in the company of the lovely Zoe by the canal at Stoke Bruerne, not to forget a yummy barbecue tower meal at KFC and a very swift closing-time half at the Olde Swan with Gareth and his dad and Matt. Tomorrow morning, I'm demonstrating the web site; I have no idea yet how I'll present it, but if I'm up in reasonable time, I'll be able to fit in a couple of hours of final tweaks and giving some thought to what I'm going to say, particularly about future plans and wishes. Anyway, I'd better be getting some sleep now; last night was a bit unsettled, and with a busy day just gone and another to come, I think I'll need every bit I can get.
Working backwards in time, Saturday evening was good fun. With Helen's birthday today, a load of us met at the city-centre Pizza Hut for pizza - oddly enough - and pasta as appropriate. Despite officially ending in March, their Sicilian deal is still running, offering any Sicilian pizza and two decent-size soft drinks for a tenner, but they are instructed only to offer it if the customer asks and is quite specific. So remember to ask, folks, it's well worth it! They twisted the rules slightly and allowed us to have beers instead of soft drinks, which was even nicer, but don't rely on that one every time...
Going via Sainsbury's to get some orange dessert thing which I think was later destroyed in the microwave during a defrost attempt, we then trooped back to Alan and Helen's for a few games of Worms on their Playstation, more Rummikub - this seems to have taken over from Jenga as the game of the moment - and to watch the Truman Show on video. The film was a lot better than I had understood it to be, well worth watching, I reckon. With a busy Sunday coming up, I didn't loiter for too long after the video finished, but it was a good evening out. Just a pity my relatively early night wasn't rewarded with particularly settled sleep, but never mind.
Now just waiting with anticipation and a certain amount of apprehension to see what, if anything, Angela sorts out for my forthcoming birthday - I said I really wasn't too fussed what she sorted out, and that I would try not be too much of a misery, but I can somehow imagine just about everyone else getting more into the party mood than me; it's just not my thing.
An altogether indescribably awful day at work, really, but things were otherwise not too bad, and generally actually quite good. This morning's demonstration of the MKCF web site went very well indeed, with a well time-scaled plan now to get a preliminary version vetted and on-line within about three weeks. For the first time in a couple of months, we had a worship band practice tonight, proceedings slightly muted by news that Pete's in a very bad way again and apparently losing the will to live, so we actually spent more than half the time in prayer. Miracles can - and do - happen, and there's certainly one needed now.
Work's perhaps marginally better than it has been over the last week, but there's still a long way to go until it can truly be called rewarding and satisfying. Just being able to - literally - pay the rent isn't enough, so I'm hoping things can improve dramatically and very soon. This evening should be fun, and an experience if nothing else; Roger phoned the house this morning asking if one of us could give Wilben a lift back home from Heathrow, and muggins here agreed - despite only ever having been there once before, and that was on a bus. I figured it was something I would have to do eventually, and that it might be better for my first such journey to be with a little warning, and at what should hopefully be a fairly quiet time of day. I'll have to be away from Milton Keynes soon before eight, to give myself plenty of time to get lost, though I gather it's all quite well signposted once there. Since it's work-related for Wilben, I'll get my travelling and parking expenses covered, so I may as well just make the most of it and enjoy the experience. The good thing about doing something for the first time is that next time you're an expert...
Oh well, it's been an evening of disappointments really, in a strangely ironic kind of way. I didn't particularly want to do that drive down to Heathrow airport, but nevertheless I was quite keyed up for doing it - and needed the experience - so it was a bit of a blow when news filtered through that Wilben was going to be stuck in Vienna overnight. I guess there's worse places to have to kill time in, though since he's delayed enough as it is, I would imagine he'd much prefer to be safely back at home. Thankfully I found out about a quarter of an hour before I was due to leave, which was definitely preferable to standing around Terminal 2 for half an hour waiting for someone who wasn't coming.
Similarly, my friend Steve's proposed visit late tomorrow evening was, on the face of it, going to cause quite a few problems, with my housemate Mark's mum staying over for a few days - especially since Steve too would need a bed or a few square feet of spare floor-space - and a neighbourhood-group cheese and wine evening which would result in my exact location being a little indeterminate. But I was still looking forward to it - as was Chris, probably, so he could finally get shot of my broken CD player, which Steve is going to cannibalise for the front-panel display - so it's a little disappointing that Steve's now decided it was a crazy idea, and has postponed his visit for a couple of weeks.
Still, at least tomorrow's cheese and wine thing is still on as far as I know, and in a way I'm quite enjoying having a nice quiet evening in tonight, so all is certainly not lost. Since I'd mislaid Steve's phone number again, I had to go via my friends Gavin and Lucy, who I'd not chatted to for a while, though Lucy had to service the needs of young Gemma so we didn't catch up with each others' happenings as much as we might - but never mind, I'm sure I'll get down there to visit them all soon enough. There's so many old friends down Hampshire way that I see all too little; I'm just going to have to find a time when most of them are around, jump in the car and kill a dozen birds with one stone.
Tonight's cheese and wine evening at Seamus and Gill's was good fun - doing modestly well on the "name that cheese" game - and tomorrow evening's booked up too now, joining Debbie, Martin and John to hopefully win a quiz night at some nursery school in Old farm Park. Debbie has a horrible feeling that us blokes will be the only ones there, but there was no suggestion made whatsoever that it might put our team at an advantage, perish the thought. I made sure I got print-outs of the MKCF web site today, and Maureen now has them - I wasn't expecting to see her tonight, but that's sped things up by a couple of days, since she can get them copied up by Sunday now - so things should very soon be moving along nicely on that front. Other than that's it's been a fairly mundane but productive day, and I'm pretty shattered now to be honest.
The quiz night went very well, aided immensely by emphatically thrashing all opposition, eventually winning by a clear ten or more points, if I recall correctly. I think a few eyebrows were probably raised that the threesome that Debbie dragged along with her - we suspect most were expecting three old ladies with woolly hats when she said she was going to bring along friends from her church - and I think we proved ourselves to be really quite normal. We weren't the only blokes there in the end as we'd somewhat feared, though we were certainly quite outnumbered. Anyway, to add to the fairly large quantity consumed during the evening, we won a load more wine, and unlike previous quizzes I've entered - though never actually won - there was no suggestion that the winners should be the next quiz-masters, thank goodness. About a hundred and fifty pounds were raised for the nursery it was held at, which was good news, and I expect we'll be back...
As Saturdays go, this one's been fairly quiet, at least until the evening. I did my shopping and stuff earlier, my most exciting purchase being a six-metre microphone cable so I should never be left in an under-amplified state in the worship band any more - last Sunday evening was a bit of a fiasco really, thanks to communal XLR cables having gone walkies in the morning. This evening, with Mark's mum, Phil's sister and Angela's sister visiting, we rented out Breakdown on video from Blockbuster. I remember seeing the trailer for it ages ago, and reckoned it would probably be one of the most boring and uneventful films ever - if they couldn't make the trailer look appealing, it said little for the rest - but it actually wasn't bad at all, and is probably worth a watch. Anyway, tomorrow's vaguely sorted out, with Zoe hopefully getting up here soon after ten, and we'll take things from there.
Sunday was good ... it's very hard to come up with suitable adjectives, but it was, and there are no prizes for guessing who that was mainly thanks to! The main highlight - other than testing out Pizza Hut's new Italian meal-for-two deal, even better than the old, and presumably finally now discontinued, Sicilian one - was going home to see my parents for a little while. We were going to go out for a walk or something, but the skies looked a bit ominous and we couldn't think of anywhere too exciting to go anyway, so instead drove back to my parents for a brief chat and a meal.
Only five minutes late getting back for the evening meeting too, and it didn't start on time anyway, so that was really pretty good timing. Just for a change, we went to the Barge in Woolstone with Angela and Josie after the meeting, and then whiled away the minutes until midnight, when I could finally legitimately open a sizeable heap of birthday presents. Best of the bunch was a Delirious CD I'd been meaning to get for ages, but there were also plenty of chocolate edibles - including a teddy-bear, from Zoe's mum needless to say - and a few other useful bits and bobs.
So far, so good, then, and today's not being too depressing a day at work. I think my customary cakes went down well with my colleagues; well they had all gone by about lunchtime anyway, so I'll take that as a thumbs-up.
- Bread that's old
- Grows fluffy mould
- And dry-stone walls grow lichen
- But for software designers
- The sign of the time is
- The cake in the second floor kitchen
The party Angela had promised to arrange is now scheduled for next Saturday, which suits me just fine, and will be a barbecue at Andy and Rosie's, which also suits me just fine. I expect this evening will be pretty quiet - maybe go out for a pint or something, but after a late night last night, I think it might be more sensible just to take things a little bit easy.
Oh, and got a nice little message from Zoe this morning - making up more than amply for Monochrome's automatic one being broken, today of all days - reading something like...
,--------------. ,,, | Hey David... | (o o) _)-------------' ---ooO--(_)--Ooo------------- __ __ / / / /___ _____ ____ __ __ / /_/ / __ `/ __ \/ __ \/ / / / / __ / /_/ / /_/ / /_/ / /_/ / /_/ /_/\__,_/ .___/ .___/\__, / /_/ /_/ /____/ ____ _ __ __ __ __ / __ )(_)____/ /_/ /_ ____/ /___ ___ __/ / / __ / / ___/ __/ __ \/ __ / __ `/ / / / / / /_/ / / / / /_/ / / / /_/ / /_/ / /_/ /_/ /_____/_/_/ \__/_/ /_/\__,_/\__,_/\__, (_) /____/
Always nice to be remembered - and I didn't really think two real birthday cards was a touch on the excessive side at all, my dear...
It's the last few minutes of my birthday, having just got back from the pub, this time choosing the Lone Tree on the Buckingham road out of Milton Keynes, who probably sell some of the finest beers in the area. Phil was celebrating a little too, having just been made a very attainable offer to do an MA at Goldsmith College in London, and we dragged Andy out too - not that he took much dragging, oddly enough. Anyway, once again, I'm pretty tired, and hopefully I can have another reasonable night's sleep now.
Now 29 for a day, and I'm not really feeling a lot different for it to be honest. Still weary, still struggling with a lot of things in my mind, still quite insecure. But something tells me this is going to be a year of big change in many aspects of my life, a time of really beginning to get things together and build a future in which I figure. There's a fair way to go before I'm out of the woods, though, with wasted days like today symptomatic of that, but I feel the end is in sight one way or another. It's a definite boost knowing I'm not walking alone, whichever way I look at it.
This evening's been good though, deciding to take a wander into the city centre to try and get the new Moby album "Play", released yesterday. Why they release records on Mondays I'll never work out; it wastes a weekend of potential sales, but I guess they have their reasons. Anyway, HMV was still open and had plenty of the CDs in stock, and I also got the new Delirious album "Mezzamorphis" which I'd briefly heard and enjoyed a couple of weeks ago. That will add very nicely to the one Zoe bought me for my birthday - just need to get that new CD player now to properly enjoy them all.
It's been a very good weekend so far, and still a fair bit to go, and I have no reason to believe it's about to deteriorate in any way... Friday evening, got a rather urgent phone-call from Kenny, wanting to be driven back to his parents in Suffolk, since one of his little sisters had suffered a nasty accident a few days previously, so I did that, getting back just in time to pop out to KFC with Mark - and later half of YPF - for a late night binge.
Saturday was pretty good, with Zoe arriving for a late lunch out at the Olde Swan. With the glorious weather, we thought we would walk down for a change, and by the time we were back home it was pushing six... In the evening, we went out to a combined barbecue and birthday party for me and Angela; sadly this clashed with a church fund-raising line-dance, but we didn't know about that in time to rearrange things, but it was a good evening out anyway.
Today must have been the first Sunday I've spent without Zoe in several months, but it's still been quite fun, going round to David and Alison's for lunch - it's ages since I last went, and quite a lot had changed in their garden and so on - and later to Nigel and Christina's for a Generation X meeting on callings and suchlike. I'm "blowing my machine" tonight, so I guess I'd better get this entry blasted off, have a bite to eat, and get ready to go.
Last night's meeting was very good as expected, with four baptisms, plenty of testimony, and a number of other real triumphs, some of which I only found out about later. Afterwards, there was an unprecedentedly big celebratory trip to McDonalds - there must have been over twenty of us, including many who never do such things... I guess that was just one obvious sign of the power of the evening's events. The future is going to be interesting and difficult I suspect - and see a lot of changes to the way the church portrays itself - but exciting too, and with the prospect of being immensely rewarding for all concerned.
It's the AUT strike day today, and things are decidedly quiet round here at the Open University - I doubt a huge amount of work is getting done, even by those who ventured in. Unlike the last time, management seem to be taking a harder line on non-AUT members, which has probably resulted in more people being around than during similar action in the past. Indeed it's quite possible there are even people here who wouldn't normally be, since they're being a bit stricter on people working from home and so on than usual.
Rather than brave the massed pickets on the main gates - I forgot to get bull-bars and wire netting fitted to my car at the weekend - I decided I'd take advantage of the glorious weather and take a healthy stroll in via the back footpath entrance. Incredibly, there were no pickets there at all, which was surprising given the number of people who cycle or walk in, but I wasn't really complaining. I arrived about ten minutes late which was a bit annoying - I fully intended to work a strict nine to five-thirty day, but never mind, I think I made up for it at lunch time.
I'm not a union member, but I basically sympathise with the AUT's demands; I guess that makes me the kind of employee the unions despise, one who's quite happy to reap the rewards of their action, but won't actively support them with my membership... Just seems to a lot of us that a hundred quid a year is quite a bit of money, and it might seem a cynical view, but it sometimes seems that union members have to strike for more pay at least once a year to justify the expenditure.
I'm well aware that the AUT, like most unions, does a lot more than rally support for industrial action, but it has to be said that generally the Open University is a very fair employer and there are not many times that people here have felt forced to go to the union to get a fair deal on anything other than pay. I'm sure the AUT could quote a whole string of things that wouldn't have happened but for them - other than my erroneously receiving a letter the other day advising me to seek alternative employment - but I doubt many would affect me, to be perfectly honest.
I used to be a lot more militant than I am now; I was a very willing participant in the anti-loans campaigning of 1988 and have no regrets about marching on the Southampton Conservative office and the odd dispute with the police. Maybe I've just got apathetic in my old age, but I simply don't feel anywhere near as much motivation in that kind of area as I used to - I guess part of it is a growing-up process and realising that everything in the world is actually a peculiar and complex shade of grey rather than the black or white that many people in the opposing factions would have us believe.
Well it's time to go home, and today really has been typically unproductive. It's not helped in the slightest by being excessively hot in this office - we can't quite work out why, because other offices on this side of the building have even more heat-belching machines than we have in here, but still remain cooler. Anyway, I have been cheered up by the deployment of my new mouse-mat - a slightly cheeky Lara Croft "Come on boy, I'm waiting..." one I got from Andy and Rosie for my birthday - and the news that the new office furniture is apparently arriving tomorrow, so I should be able to move into a cooler - if a little more crowded - office very soon, and finally unpack my whizzy new Gateway PC that's been sat in its unopened box for the last month due to lack of space.
Wednesday's been a long, busy, but alas not really that productive day. Soon after I arrived, the long-awaited furniture guys finally turned up to install the new desk units into the main project office where I am shortly to be moving on a semi-permanent basis. Needless to say, there was little or no room for the units in there thanks to miscellaneous machines, packaging and general accumulated junk, so there was quite a rush to shuffle stuff around sufficiently that the guys could at least start the job. It somewhat reminded us of one of those sliding block puzzles, particularly the tricky kind with different sized blocks... Anyway, my part of the office was completed soon before lunchtime, but then there was complete chaos in the other half when it was found that the floor-plans had obviously been drawn up wrong, because the furniture simply wouldn't fit in the required spaces. We were able to compromise a bit, and everything did eventually go in, but I somehow suspect that Craig won't be too overjoyed with it, considering the ridiculous time we had to wait.
With a decent amount of desk-space - and two offices temporarily - I took the opportunity finally to unbox and set up my new Gateway, which had been sitting around unopened and untested for well over a month now I think. I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen with it in the medium term, because I have also got a new Dell with Windows NT for the specific project I'm currently working on, whereas the Gateway is for more general CES work. I guess I'll just end up with both on my desk, which won't be ideal; to be honest I don't really want the NT box, but Craig's keen for us all to have them as our primary machines for some strange reason, particularly bizarre given that our software doesn't even work properly under Windows NT... So for the moment, it's the new Gateway that's set up, and it's fairly nice, a Pentium 3 with just about everything bar the kitchen sink. It doesn't seem astonishingly quick or slick considering that it's twice as fast as my old machine amongst other improvements, but I'm sure I'll get used to it and begin to appreciate it in due course.
Transferring files from my old machine on to it proved to be a rather tedious process, even with quite a fast UTP network connection between the two. With files split between three 2Gb partitions on the old machine, I was hoping to be able to copy all three partitions in parallel, but this proved to be an absolute performance killer, with about a ten-hour estimated completion time rather than the hour or so it took doing it sequentially. Network performance amply redeemed itself later however when I grabbed a copy of StarOffice from Imperial College for my house-mate Phil. Over sixty megabytes arrived in a mere two minutes, though I was naturally gutted to find I'd actually downloaded the German rather than UK edition - but that was quickly rectified with another not-too-tedious two minute wait. I downloaded it from Imperial because Star Division's own server was down, but alas we still need to access it to get an authorisation code, so it will have to wait. Thankfully Phil's away for a few days, so there's no major hurry, but it's still a bit of an annoyance.
It's bank-holiday Monday evening, and for the second such holiday this year, the day has been spent at Southwold and Covehithe down on the Suffolk coast. Unlike last time, this was no day-trip, though, coming at the end of a long weekend away with a load of friends. We booked a holiday caravan just a little way up the coast from Southwold, at Kessingland, near Lowestoft, and just had a generally relaxing time - though I'm still pretty exhausted anyway.
I was going to drive up myself, but managing to get away from work in good time, I agreed to go with Alan and Helen, which worked out very sensibly, though stopping off in Lowestoft for a McDonalds - by the way, their McChicken Korma is definitely flavour of the moment - we arrived at the site just after reception had closed, so struggled to get our key, and were eventually sent to the wrong caravan... We found the right caravan in the end, though, which was right on the cliff-top, with good views over the foreshore and on to Lowestoft, where we could watch the illuminated ships arriving and leaving at all hours. Rosie arrived with Ian - Andy being waylaid finishing off an assignment - just as we were looking clueless about what to do next, but all was well in the end, and we settled in quickly.
The caravan seemed a little more civilised than the ones we stayed in last year, somehow just a little wider and better furnished. The beds - apart from the "mum and dad's" one, which Alan and Helen took - were still mainly shelves with padding, but seemed perhaps just a bit more bearable than before, though still Ian decided he couldn't fit comfortably and ended up sleeping in the kitchen after the first night. Any shortcomings weren't too serious, though, because apart from a rather damp Sunday morning, we didn't spend a lot of time in, and at least the lounge area was comfortable and spacious enough.
Saturday's main attraction was going to the local wildlife park, which was quite fun, including a ride on the "train" that took us round the bigger attractions like the lions, zebra, cheetahs and so on. Andy arrived later in the day, giving a nice choice of three cars for us temporary non-motorists. Pick of the bunch had to be Ian's Eunos Roadster - basically a Mazda MX-5 in disguise - though both Andy's Ibiza and Alan's new Astra seemed to hold their own a lot of the time and with a lot less noise, fuss and fun.
We went into Beccles for the evening, having a nice meal at this very extensive pub, choosing the Library. Pity most of the books were stuck together or sawn-off to fit - there were some quite interesting titles amongst them; I remain particularly curious about "Naive Set Theory" - but the food was top stuff, and the puddings were enormous. Back at the caravan, after a game of beach croquet in the rapidly dwindling half-light, we watched Psycho on television - the first time for most of us, I think, and although it was quite watchable, it's not too clear in this day and age what the fuss was all about. It might have helped if we'd not known half the plot - apparently audiences of the day were told to keep it secret, and cinemas turned away late-comers - because that took away most of the shock aspects.
After a damp game of crazy golf on-site, Sunday was spent in Norwich, which we have to say did not live up to expectations. There was a quite interesting museum at the castle, but you had to pay extra to look at the battlements and dungeons and so on, which we politely declined. In the evening, we drove into Great Yarmouth and found a Pizza Hut we didn't have to queue at for about an hour to get into, though it was very cramped, and they still managed to bodge up the order - all very well for Alan and Helen who ended up getting their pizza for free. After watching The Firm - well worth a watch, by the way - us lads toddled down to the beach for late-night luminous frisbee and playing chicken with the waves.
We had to be out of the caravan by ten this morning, so it was a bit of a rush, but we just about managed. As previously mentioned, we went via Covehithe and Southwold, just a little bit south of where we were staying, and that ended a good weekend away most pleasantly. I'm sure if I was sorting out a holiday for myself, I'd have chosen very little of what we did, but it was great anyway, and so good to get a change of scenery and a bit of fresh sea air.