David's diary: November 1999
Saturday evening's event in Hanslope went very well as expected; there wasn't a huge turn-out, but there were enough people there from outside MKCF to make it well worthwhile. Musically, we could really have done with a piano player, but any more than that would have been a bit overwhelming for the size of the venue and the number of people present. Andy spoke on revival for a short while - recounting what he had seen happening in Wolverton over the last few years - and there was a good time of prayer for the village and the surrounding area. The event was deemed a success, anyway, and will no doubt be just the first of a number of similar ventures, which I would be happy to continue involvement with. I got a bit lost leaving the school afterwards, and with no opportunity for turning round, discovered a few villages I'd never been through before, but it wasn't too late a finish anyway, so even eventually returning via KFC for a rare Zinger Tower, I was still home in good time. The skies in Hanslope were frustratingly dark and starlit, though I still managed to get a good star-gazing opportunity once I was back at the house, even if the skies there were a lot more polluted with stray light from the city centre.
Sunday was as good as ever, even with having to set chairs out first thing - though it'll be the last time for a few months, assuming I've not resigned from the rota by then... As with last Sunday, I had to collect Zoe from the railway station, and we went straight to the morning meeting. Both yesterday's meetings were themed around Hallowe'en, with a good - if slightly sensationalist - talk from Dave in the morning, and an excellent time of fairly free-flowing praise, worship and prayer in the evening. It was great to see Harriet, Andy and Rosie's new little one, for the first time, whilst Daniel and Jodie were very obviously "together", with Jodie showing off her newly-acquired bit of jewellery.
Lunch was at Pizza Hut for the first time in quite a while, followed up by a brisk walk round Furzton Lake, counting herons and being chased by mallards. We wound up at the pub there - yes, the one with the tacky narrow-boat in a fake canal next to the car-park - where we bumped into Keith and Jason, who we'd not seen for a good while. That, and a little while looking at such astronomical delights as the Andromeda Galaxy - though it wasn't yet dark enough to get really good views - passed some time before we needed to be back at the school for the evening meeting, where I was playing, but I've already said pretty much what happened there.
Sadly by the time the meeting was over, it had clouded over and was spitting with rain, so there were no further opportunities to gaze sky-wards, and we headed off to KFC - where we met and chatted with Mark, Dave and Chris for a while - and thence to Iver, though we were glad we'd left in good time, because progress was very slow on the M1 due to the southbound roadworks. The journey back up to Milton Keynes was a lot more straightforward, though I'm glad that if I play my cards right, the next time I have to go and pick Zoe up - looking like next Friday afternoon, all being well - I'll be largely avoiding the motorway at least for the outward trip. As such, I didn't get back in until about two o'clock this morning, and I really am feeling the lack of sleep now, but if I can get an early night tonight I should be better by tomorrow.
I briefly mentioned next weekend, and perhaps I should say a little more. The plan is that I go and pick up Zoe from Iver on Friday afternoon - going via Tring to hopefully pick up my telescope which should have had the new motor and focuser fitted by then, assuming I take it down there in the next couple of days - getting back to Milton Keynes in time for the youth groups' bonfire and fireworks party in the evening. Chris and Claire have kindly offered Zoe a bed for the whole weekend, so she's actually planning on staying around until Sunday evening, taking in the big city fireworks display - and possibly another private one - and then our monthly celebration on Sunday. It's also Phil's birthday next Sunday, and he's invited us and a few other people round for lunch, but we might feel morally obliged to eat with Chris and Claire, I suspect, so we're leaving that a bit open at the moment. Whatever happens, I'm sure the weekend will be a lot of fun, and I think we're both looking forward to it all immensely.
It's been a bit of a disjoint day, but modestly productive, and still more to come. Having got some documentation stuff done this morning, and having all but skipped lunch, I ducked out in the middle of this afternoon to take the telescope down to Tring to get the focuser looked at. David's promised to find time between now and Friday afternoon - when I've agreed I'll collect it, en route to Iver - to get it sorted out one way or the other, and I've left my camera with him too, just to be double sure. I've taken away the new motor drive thing with me, and I'll try fitting that sometime between now and Friday, though it shouldn't take long, and certainly not require any drilling or other serious metalworking, unlike the one I took back...
Having got away from Tring in fairly good time - and only slightly delayed by some accident or other on the A5 - I decided I'd go back to work for a little while, which is where I am now, but heading off very soon, probably via the pub for something to make up for my lack of a proper lunch. This evening is the music practice for the forthcoming Bugsy Malone production - not that I ever did get the promised tape or sheet music from Tim, but never mind, I'm sure I'll manage - so I can't be hanging around too long, though my stuff is still all packed since I used it on Sunday evening, so there's no mad rush either.
Oh yes, while at David Hinds, I pointed out the plasticine I'd used to steady the slightly wobbly finderscope, lest they be at all alarmed, and it turned out that I had discovered quite a novel solution to a fairly common problem. They said they would have recommended black, rather than orange - even if it did go quite well with the Celestron logo - but they'd not thought of doing that before, and would be adding to to their accumulated wisdom!
Well I got away from work pretty much when I planned - even despite a late "wrapping things up" visit from Craig well after official home-time throwing me somewhat - though my detour was eventually via McDonalds rather than the pub, to save a few minutes, giving me a little longer to "play telescopes" and wander up to the school for the music practice.
I fitted the replacement clock drive to my telescope mount without any problems at all, and worked out the optimum voltages and so on for powering it from a mains adapter rather than the supplied battery pack. It's quite handy because I can use mains when I'm at home, and battery power if I'm out in the wilds someplace, and the "remote control" hand-box will be great for making fine adjustments to the tracking without wobbling the telescope. Whether it's really worth almost double the price of the old one is questionable, but it's certainly a lot nicer, even if it's a bit less elegant with three component parts rather than just the one. Of course, with the tube itself currently down in Tring, I haven't been able to test it for real, but since all my evenings this week are busy anyway, it's no great loss.
The Bugsy Malone band practice went very well, after a few initial hiccups in the WX/VL department; I'm not sure quite what the problem was, but it seemed to be fixed by moving to a different mains socket, so I suspect it was a noisy mains supply or something, perhaps unhelped by being right next to Sim's bass amp. It certainly wouldn't have been the first time I'd encountered such problems up at the school; I'll try and remember to bring along a filter for the performance itself, just to be safe. Anyway, we ran through all the songs they are doing, a total of six, and I now have a copy of the sheet music - well words, melody and chords, at least - so I should be just about OK on the night. Perhaps I'll see if I can find some MIDI files on the net somewhere, for me to practise along to.
Time's getting on now, though, and I'm needing all the sleep I can get at the moment, so I think I'll get this entry posted off, clear my bed of the clobber that's all over it, and generally start moving in a bedwards direction.
A pretty boring day, but it's almost over, and again I need to leave work in good time, with a celebration band practice at some point this evening; not sure quite when offhand, but I've got it written down at home somewhere... Still on a musical theme, I sadly didn't manage to track down any MIDI files for Bugsy Malone, so I guess I'll either just have to make do and hope for the best come next Wednesday, or maybe programme them up myself.
That was a worryingly frustrating music practice for me, with a recurrence of last night's technical problems with my VL synthesiser unit - the heart of my wind-synth set-up - and worse than ever before, cutting out every couple of minutes, regardless of where I plugged in. This completely scuppered my involvement in the songs we were practising, and the only saving grace was that it was a short meeting and most of the time was given over to other stuff anyway. It was worrying in particular because of Bugsy Malone in a week's time, miscellaneous Sunday mornings and evenings - including this Sunday's celebration, of course - and my apparently being down to play in the city centre throughout the week leading up to Christmas. Not good.
I arrived back home, and plugged it all together again, and still nothing. I bravely opened it all up - never seen inside before, but this was not an appropriate time to be inquisitive - checked for the usual dry joints and so on, wiggled the various ribbon connectors, powered up the unit as a bare PCB, but silence still reigned. However, putting it back together again, resigned to giving Eric - a friend who just happens to work in Yamaha's repair department - an emergency phone-call, I noticed that a switch on the back panel was floating aimlessly between two of its four positions. Needless to say, nudging it correctly to "MIDI", rather than sitting somewhere randomly between "MIDI" and "PC-2" seems to have fixed it. Big relief.
Other than that, the evening went quite smoothly and productively, with a good discussion about what's good and bad with praise and worship at celebrations, a particular issue of concern being a drift back to rather over-large bands - not a problem in itself, but there are many other associated issues that often make this less than ideal for all involved. We also had a good opportunity to pray for each other and especially for Tim, who's taking yet another prolonged break from worship leading with his continuing medical problems, and also - with some spare time at the end - to pray over some of the schools work that Daniel is involved with, in particular the "Check-it-out" club for 11 and 12 year olds he's getting going again soon.
Anyway, that's about it as far as this evening's activities have been concerned, and I'm glad that it's ended on a positive note with my wind synth apparently back in full working order, but now it's about time I was wrapping this diary entry up and calling it a day.
Another day, and another false alarm, this time thinking I'd lost - or worse - my chequebook. I even went to the bank to see if I'd left it there and was close to requesting its cancellation, but then suddenly remembered where I'd put it. It's safely back at home, and any potential thief would have to rifle through some pretty unlikely places in order to find it... Anyway, it's being an otherwise fairly boring day, but will hopefully improve by this evening, when there were vague mutterings of an unofficial neighbourhood-group bowling trip, as some compensation for the main event being a bit too female-oriented for us blokes.
Just phoned Paul, and as I had done too, he'd clean forgotten about our "plans" for this evening, but he's seeing if he can sort something out now - even if it's just a case of meeting somewhere else and watching a film or something. We may well still go out bowling or something, but it's more likely to be a spur of the moment thing if we do. Whatever happens, it will still be preferable to some twee crafts fair thing, even if the latter is for a worthy cause.
Paul phoned back, and it looks like we're meeting round at Martin's - Martin still barely mobile after his recent fall, so that works out well - for a bit to eat, bit to drink, and to watch a film probably. So nothing too adventurous or too expensive, though I've said I'll bring along some food and wine anyway. The working day's nearly done, though, and it's been reasonably good, I suppose, getting a fait bit of documentation done - though it's tricky when I'm documenting software that's not yet complete, software that has to be finished, tested and released by noon tomorrow... Thankfully that's not really my problem, although I'll probably bear the brunt of any problems that arise - though I won't be around tomorrow afternoon anyway, so I should be able to conveniently avoid any teething troubles.
It's been a pretty lousy day at work, but a vastly improved evening, happily to say. I busted a gut this morning, only to find that it's been decided to put back our software release by a couple of days - good news in a way, but bad in others, because it means that for one reason or another it's likely to be released without documentation. That's because the documentation was my responsibility, being done on a "just in time" basis, and having left as agreed at lunchtime, well before the software was complete, I simply couldn't finish it off. If they'd been running to schedule, with the software done by mid-morning, I'd have been fine; I just hope the people that matter can see the problem I faced...
So I left work at about one, after grabbing a bite to eat from the shop, heading straight off to the Kings Centre to sort out some printing problems Maureen was having, and then trying and failing to change their e-mail configuration slightly. Sadly, my next intended detour - en route to Iver to pick up Zoe - via Tring wasn't to be, with David Hinds not having had an opportunity to look at my telescope this week, which was a bit disappointing in advance of Zoe's long weekend up here, but these things happen, I guess. The journey down to Zoe's was fairly grotty, and I got a bit lost a couple of times before discovering that Dunstable really is a dump, and a dump with a considerable excess of traffic lights at that. I wasn't too late arriving at Zoe's though, and had time for a swift drink of water before we hit the road back up to Milton Keynes, going via Amersham and Aylesbury so as to avoid the jammed up M25 and M1.
When we got up here, we found Mark's friends Tim and Helen - plus their four kids - having a meal, so we had a good chat with all of them, played a few games and so on, before heading off to the youth groups' bonfire and fireworks party at the Kings Centre. We'd bought a few rockets at a garden centre in Wendover, so had something to contribute to the display as requested. There was some trouble lighting the bonfire after all the week's lousy weather, but it eventually got going healthily - Dave's magic touch seeming better than any amount of petrol - and the fireworks were pretty good too, and not too spoilt by the light drizzle at times. It was a good social time too, and we made a few new friends in the process - particularly fellowship relative newcomers Sarah plus miscellaneous family and friends, with another kind offer of a comfy bed for Zoe to consider when she next decides to stop over.
Importantly, we met up with Chris and Claire at the Kings Centre, and travelled in near convoy back to their house, where Zoe is based for the weekend this time. We sat around for a good while there, listening to music, and drinking fine wines and trappist beer, generally mellowing out before calling it a not too late night. I'm not quite sure what time I'll be up and about in the morning, but I've been requested not to disturb Zoe until at least half past ten, but I don't think there's much risk of my being too conscious much before that...
I guess I should also have briefly mentioned Thursday evening, not that anything happened that radically veered from our plans to watch a film - eventually deciding on "Back to the Future", which I appreciated more than ever before - and have a bit to eat and drink. This was also when Maureen asked me to visit the Kings Centre to help sort out the aforementioned computer problems, and I also had a good - if long overdue - chat with Martin about his company's web and e-mail provision, something he'd asked me to look into on his behalf a while back, before he had his accident. Anyway, I'm feeling cold now and still a bit tired, so I'm going to relax in a hot bath for a while, before wandering down to Chris and Claire's to collect Zoe.
Today's been an excellent day, just the right balance of eventfulness and relaxation. Didn't get up excessively early or late, going in to the city centre with Zoe, Chris and Claire a bit before lunchtime. Chris and Claire had a little firm diplomacy to do at the post office, in connection with a major mistake in their handling of forwarding their ex-lodger's mail, but then Zoe and I went and did stuff we needed to do, going via Boots, Clinton Cards, Burger King and Waitrose in particular.
We spent a good part of the afternoon watching The Net on video, which was a very enjoyable way of passing the time, then after cooking up a pizza and some garlic bread, we headed back round to Chris and Claire's for Zoe to pick up her hat and scarf, and from there we strolled up to the city fireworks display. That was in a very different location to last year, altogether not as good for watching, and the sound system was inaudible if it was there at all, though the fireworks themselves were pretty good.
After a bit of a doze back at the house, we again wandered round to Chris and Claire's, though they were out so we put on a couple of CDs while we waited. They weren't too late coming back though, so we had a good chance for a chat about this and that, and it was also a fine opportunity - with our movements tomorrow being somewhat unpredictable - to give them the chocolates and trappist beer we'd bought them as a little thank you present. But everyone was pretty tired by then, so we all decided we'd go for a relatively early night, and meet up again at Wolverton tomorrow morning.
Yesterday was a good day from start to finish, really - and today's even suddenly got a lot better, or at least more, well ... interesting ... after a rather icky start, but more on that in a moment.
Sunday morning at Wolverton went just fine, with no technical problems at all, meeting up with Zoe who had travelled up with Chris and Claire as planned. It seems that I really have solved that technical problem plaguing the last two practices, which gives me a lot more confidence going into the next month or so, which promises to be a very busy time indeed. Highlight of the morning in many ways was the formal announcement of Phil and Angela's engagement; as Phil's housemate, I knew about it towards the end of last week, but yesterday was when it became common knowledge.
While at Celebration, Andrea gave me a Bugsy Malone tape on behalf of Tim, so I'll be able to practise that properly at home now before Wednesday evening's performance. I also had a brief word with Maureen about what she had pencilled me in to do for our Christmas outreach in the city centre, and it turns out that not only am I likely to be in the band playing daily, but she also would like me to do a twenty minute solo spot on the Thursday afternoon before Christmas. She said to "think about it", but I reckon it would be quite an interesting challenge, though I've no idea when what I would actually do.
Lunch took the form of Phil's birthday party, but after the morning's announcement that obviously got rolled into a bit of an engagement party for him and Angela too, so there were plenty of presents and cards and so on. Helen and Angela had cooked up a truly wonderful lasagne, which was accompanied with plenty of salad and French bread, plus very yummy desserts. It all needed a bit of walking off, though, so we all - well, most of us, anyway - took a stroll down to Willen, though it was getting a bit cold and dark by the time we were back at the house.
After a bit of a rest, we drove out to Blockbuster, taking our longest ever in making a decision, eventually going for "Chain Reaction", a fairly fast-moving conspiracy theory type action thriller, quite an appropriate film to watch after "The Net" on Saturday... Zoe had picked up her stuff from Chris and Claire's earlier, though they hadn't been in for her to give them back the key, so after the film we popped back round there, supposedly just to say thank you and so on, but ended up staying there for a good while before we finally hit the road back to Iver.
The journeys both down and back up were unusually straightforward, after the last couple of nightmare trips, with no signs of any roadworks whatsoever and really good progress all the way. Even stopping for a fair while back at Zoe's - munching yummy coconut and cherry cakes - I was still back home not too long after midnight and was able to get a pretty good night's sleep.
As for today, though... Well I dragged myself into work on time, and found quite a mess, project-wise. Our software had been released yesterday morning, of all times, after it appeared some of our guys had done an all-nighter on Saturday, and there were hundreds of messages reporting problems. I'm sure there were a lot more people who didn't experience problems, but this really was not good news, and some of the problems were entirely avoidable, which was doubly annoying. So we're slowing working through the issues, trying to make the right kind of noises as we so do, but it's going to be a slow process, and I still have that documentation to wrap up now the software is "finished".
We were rattled, however - if not entirely surprised - by the announcement that Craig, our project leader, is leaving the university, and this coming Friday at that. He's taken a job in Silicon Valley, and wasn't really in a position to hang around, given the way recruitment tends to work out there. This is probably the biggest blow to the project so far, but in its own way I think could be the best thing that happens to it, given that it will force a radically different way of working, hopefully free from the petty politics that have hampered us right from the start.
Anyway, better get on with things this afternoon, so at least that mountain of problems won't seem quite as high come tomorrow morning...
Ah, it turns that that there was indeed music at Saturday night's city fireworks display, but that the "award winning" sound system really was so poor hardly anyone could hear it. Apparently it was X-Files themed, with what we thought was a police helicopter circling the ground actually part of the show, pursuing a missing "Mulder" with its big spotlight. I'm sure the show would have made a lot more sense if we could actually have heard the soundtrack, given that there were otherwise inexplicable pauses in the pyrotechnic barrage, but not to worry, it was still good fun... I just hope they plan it a bit better next year.
The squirrels on campus are getting podgy and dopey, as they prepare to hide themselves away for the next couple of months. Although I am happy to be keeping my weight down, I am jealous.
Seems like the change in the weather's caught up with me, because I'm not too well this morning, and am taking the day off work. I feel like complete death, with the only saving grace being the lack - at least for the moment - of any signs of a fever. I must admit I'm thinking more about tomorrow night's Bugsy Malone performance than anything in deciding to take things easy today, though I'm sure my colleagues will appreciate me not infecting them if I've not done so already. But for now it's time to make up for lost sleep last night.
Today's been suitably quiet and relaxed, making up for a bit of last night's lost sleep, having a nice long hot bath, and keeping dosed up on Lemsip. I need to get dressed and pop out shortly to buy some throat sweets from the shop across the road, but I certainly expect that to be the extent of my endeavours today. Thankfully I made best use of my opportunity last night to run through the Bugsy Malone tape from Tim, so assuming I'm well enough by tomorrow evening - which I truly hope and pray - I should be able to get away without any further practice to speak of. There's been no real point in contacting David Hinds to see how he's getting on with my telescope tube - despite saying I probably would today - given that I won't really be in a position to collect it until Thursday at the earliest now, and even then probably wouldn't get a chance to use it until Friday evening, weather permitting.
I'm thankfully feeling a good bit better this evening, still a little sniffy, and going through my usual phase of having painful skin - no idea what causes this, does anyone know? - but I feel a lot better in myself and was able to confirm to Tim that barring a serious relapse I would be able to play tomorrow evening. Whether everyone else will is a different matter altogether, though, with some misinformation being innocently spread around at the weekend that the show had been cancelled due to Tim's poor health, so I hope no-one's gone and made alternative plans now... Anyway, it's nearly nine o'clock, and I'm still playing catch-up sleepwise, so I think I'll wrap up this entry and call it a day very shortly.
Still feeling a bit rough today, but good enough to come into work, and getting a fair bit done, even! Overwhelmed with stuff to do, though, with pushing on probably five hundred e-mailed queries to work through, plus a manual to write and illustrate and a thousand-record user database to update. Fun, fun, fun, all the way to the asylum. But today's nearly done, and I'll be leaving promptly tonight - perhaps even a little bit early if I can get away with it - to give me time to eat and get ready for Bugsy Malone this evening. I just hope I don't run out of energy before it's all over...
I'm seriously looking forward to this thing being over tonight, though. I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun, but the songs have been spinning round my head big time for the last couple of days, even to the point of making it difficult to sleep - as if I needed any further hindrance with that at the moment. Of course, just because the show's over doesn't automatically mean I'll just forget about the songs, but I suspect that part of the reason for their lurking around my mind is because I'm worrying just a little bit. I'm sure it will all go fine, though; my last run-through on Monday evening was quite acceptable, and besides, I don't think we're likely to be too audible anyway, playing with minimal amplification against the combined voices of about seventy kids.
Well it's all over, so perhaps I can sleep easier now... Bugsy Malone went really quite well, as amateur productions go, with only a few minor hiccups, and certainly nothing that anyone in the audience would really have noticed. Our little band did the honours quite nicely, and we each got a bottle of wine for our troubles, which was a most welcome surprise from a pretty cash-strapped school.
Having only had time for the briefest of bites to eat earlier, I drove down to KFC for a Twister and some fries, a visit spoilt only by some whinging cow - if you'll pardon my French - who was obviously impossible to please and was only happy once she'd got their manager's phone number so she could complain about how "rude" they'd been to her. That was the only bad bit about the evening, really, but I'm pretty tired, so after a nice hot bath I'll be calling it a day.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month saw at least a few people - myself included - trying not to forget, though the rest of the day has been fairly forgettable, in a modestly productive kind of way. However now I need to head home, and not forget to look out for the new meteor shower predicted for tonight. Though having said that, it'll probably be cloudy anyway, which would help me not forget to go along to neighbourhood group a quarter of an hour after when the predicted peak of the shower is to be.
I am clearly blessed with the gift of prophecy, because it was indeed cloudy last night, and persistently drizzling too, just for good measure. I went home from work via Kingston McDonalds, having had little more than a sandwich for lunch, though I was sadly pretty unimpressed by my Jungle Chicken burger this time. No meteors to be seen, needless to say - and no reports in the news this morning of anything particularly special having been missed - and I very nearly didn't go to neighbourhood group anyway, being more than a little croaky still. I'm glad I did go, though, with Carol - in Paul's absence - hosting a worthwhile continuation of our discussion from a fortnight previously, when we had been tackling the thorny issue of how to actively make newcomers welcome to the church whilst not being overbearing. I also had the chance for a good chat with Chris and Claire about a number of things, which is always an opportunity worth making the most of, being a couple uncommonly full of wisdom and understanding.
I didn't get back home until pretty late in the end - considering the group officially finishes at half past nine, anyway - and by then was just about ready for bed, via a short phone-call to Zoe to catch up on the day's happenings and non-happenings. This morning I noted that Mark had indeed collected his new car as I had understood he was doing yesterday, so now the white AX in the drive is replaced by a dark blue Mondeo saloon - not a car I would have chosen, but it's probably just about right for Mark, being a happy compromise between the extremes of his last two vehicles. But now I'm at work, and it's being a blissfully quiet day, mainly thanks to our servers having been taken off-line yesterday evening to give us a chance to sort their problems out once and for all, so for the first day this week, there's not a couple of hundred e-mails from complaining students...
Ah good, I am advised by David Hinds that my telescope tube has been duly modified, and is ready for collection, which I plan to do tomorrow afternoon. As expected, he's fitted a new focuser and moved the primary mirror forward a little, which will make just enough difference to allow an attached SLR camera to get a nice sharp image, rather than the fuzzy blob with a black splotch in the middle from the secondary mirror that was the best I could manage before. Having already successfully installed the clock drive - replacing the impossible-to-fit logic drive - this should now mean, barring unforeseens, that I will have a fully functional telescope that should do me until such time as I ever decide to upgrade to something altogether bigger. Just have to hope for some clear nights now, especially on Sunday...
Well the week's all but done, and weekend's all but here. Craig's now gone - even if he's threatening to stay in touch for the time being - and the project's future is hanging in the balance, but that can wait until Monday now. Had a ride in Mark's new car a little while ago, going for a bite to eat at KFC to give Mark an excuse to drive somewhere, though I think he's gone out again now; I know he was hoping to get a longer run. Anyway, it's been a long week, and I'm still feeling the after-effects of my cold, so expect I'll have a long hot bath and an early night tonight, and hopefully I'll feel a lot healthier for the weekend!
It's been a fairly busy Saturday, doing both my regular weekly shop in the city centre and going down to Tring to pick up my telescope tube. I was just starting to walk to the centre, when Martin and Kerrin pulled up and offered me a most appreciated lift in, especially welcome given that the weather was starting to turn a little bleak and I probably avoided getting rained on. While up in the centre, I noticed that Chappells finally had the new-ish Yamaha CS6x keyboard in stock, so I took the opportunity for a short demo of that. I was really quite impressed with the way Yamaha have made this an altogether more professional instrument than its forerunners - which had some jaw-dropping features, but some equally hair-tearing omissions - and it's certainly one I might show some serious interest in at some point in the future.
With all my food shopping and so on unpacked, I headed off south to Tring, for what will hopefully be my last trip down there for a while. David had indeed fitted the new focuser - including a T-adapter which interchanges with its eye-piece adapter - and adjusted the primary mirror, the cost of which was actually a good deal less than I had been advised, coming to only a fiver more than the cost of my original, refunded, "universal" T-adapter. Of course, I also had to pay the difference for the new clock drive, and I also picked up a copy of a rather impressive general astronomy book - going for a tenner less than its cover price - but they threw in a little red-light torch I wanted for nothing, as some compensation for the extra travelling I've had to do, and the final bill was nowhere near as horrendous as it could have been.
Anyway, now it's just a case of hoping the skies will clear, so I can get a good opportunity to put this new stuff through its paces. Otherwise I'm hoping for a nice quiet evening - everyone else seems to be out at one place or another - and probably another earlyish night, before whatever fun tomorrow brings!
It's a bit of a bleary-eyed Monday morning for me, but it could have been a lot worse, as I was back home in fairly good time last night after running Zoe back to Iver, and slept like a log once I made it to bed a little after one o'clock. It took some trouble to convince myself it really was Monday this morning; it was only a few visual clues round my room that finally persuaded me it might be a good idea to get up and go to work, for the first day in this post-Craig era.
Anyway, yesterday was another excellent Sunday, starting by dropping off my music stuff at the school - lest anyone think I'd forgotten I was playing in the meeting - before driving over to the railway station to pick up Zoe. The morning meeting was fairly typical from what I can remember of it, with Paul talking on passion once again, and after a bit of a natter with a few people we headed off to Chiquitos for a couple of chicken chimichangas with the appropriate trimmings. We were really quite well behaved, though, skipping both starters and desserts, and that still kept us going all the way through to a not-too-excessive-either supper at KFC en route back to Iver.
Before it got too cold and dark, we took a stroll around Lodge Lake, one of the city's smaller and more secluded lakes, returning home via Blockbuster with a rented copy of Plunkett and Macleane on video. That film passed the time quite pleasantly; hardly the best of its type, but still entertaining at times, if a little lacking in the plot department. Passing a little more time before we needed to be at the evening meeting, we watched a bit of Voyager and a fairly interesting nature documentary, and then strolled back up to the school.
I'm glad we walked rather than drove, because sadly quite a few cars were vandalised during the evening - aerials snapped, wing-mirrors smashed, paintwork keyed, and so on - even despite fairly visible "security patrols", which we have had in place since this kind of thing was first a problem a year or more back. It wasn't enough to spoil the evening for most people, though, with the bulk of the time given over to a very interesting talk by Wilben about faith in the workplace. Although it's not the first time I've heard people talking on this, someone like Wilben adds considerable clout, being not only someone we know very well as a brother in the fellowship, but also someone who has a proven and impressive business track record that has been underpinned by his unswayable principles.
So that was about that for yesterday, I do believe, but it was still a truly great day, even without any opportunities whatsoever for star-gazing - it was totally overcast for the whole time - which was a pity, but there will surely be plenty of time for that in the future, and besides, with both Zoe and myself still getting over our colds, perhaps it was just as well we weren't loitering around outside at all hours.
This first day of the post-Craig era is actually not being too bad, with the highlight being a very useful meeting with our new acting manager, a fellow Dave, and perhaps one of the most level-headed people I've had the privilege to talk to here. It made such a refreshing change to be dealing with someone who talked plain simple common sense, was interested in other people's opinions, and was not obsessed with the "spin" being put on things over and above actual deliverable content. Strangely, the project just seems to have taken a turn for the better; we're not out of the woods yet by any means, but in Dave we have someone who's not let the vision thing get the better of him to such an extent that all contact with reality is jeopardised.
Had a nice quiet evening in yesterday, doing not a great deal in particular, unsuccessfully trying to phone a couple of people, and getting a nice early night. Still tired this morning, of course, but surely not as much as I could easily have been. Today's been a bit of a disjoint day so far, with the highlight - loosely speaking - being popping out to sort out the Shine computer yet again, the problem this time being a classic case of "I was told these floppy disks were blank", when of course they were jam full of someone's old hard-disk backups. Still, it was good to get out for a bit, even if it was a struggle to find a parking space on returning, thanks to a combination of the external examiners still being on-campus and a funeral at the church.
Nothing else of any consequence happened today that I am aware of, and I've just been hanging around a little later than normal since Sam's close to getting a working version of the re-written conferencing server, and I've agreed to help test it. But I doubt there will be any more action today now, so I'm going to start unsubtly putting my coat on and edging towards the door... Ah, but Sam's just said he might well have fixed the last bug we spotted, so maybe I'll hold off for a few minutes more.
It's been a fairly busy evening, and I'm shortly going to call it a day. Arriving home from work to clear skies for the first time in a while - and no Leonid meteors around quite yet; hopefully it will be clear tomorrow night too - this was an ideal opportunity to get my telescope out for the first time since it came back from having its new focuser fitted. Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon were still up there as expected, as well as several thousand stars, and the new motor I'd fitted myself did a pretty good job of keeping up with them as they hurtled at unfeasible speeds around our stationary earth.
Unfortunately, there is still a niggling problem with the camera mount, but I'm pretty sure it's one I can rectify myself, without need for further trips down to Tring. Thanks to the new focuser, my camera can now very nearly, but still not quite, focus on objects at infinity, and my proposed solution should solve another potential problem into the bargain. I plan on replacing the 20mm collimation bolts with longer ones; David had moved the primary mirror as far forward as it would go with the supplied collimation bolts, but a set of longer ones should allow me to move the mirror just that little bit further forward to assure perfect focus with the camera. This would also allow more flexibility in any future collimation necessary - there's not much room for adjustment when the supplied bolts are as far in as they'll go!
I also found a slight problem this evening with a sticking RA setting circle, but it's the first time I'd noticed that happening, and I'm pretty sure that a squirt of WD40 in the right place will do the trick. Hopefully I'll be able to get both the bolts and the WD40 at Maplins tomorrow; I'm pretty sure the bolts I need are 30mm M4 ones, at a thoroughly extortionate 40p for ten, and their catalogue lists a number of different light oils that should do the trick with the setting circle.
This evening also saw written confirmation of our church's plans for the main Christmas entertainment in Middleton Hall up at the city centre, right outside John Lewis, in a prime spot next door to Santa's grotto. As expected, I'm down to play as part of a band for the last hour every day from Monday to Thursday in the week before Christmas, and I'm also down to play in a carol concert on the Friday afternoon, as well as a solo spot on the Thursday afternoon. I've still to decide exactly what I'll be doing for the solo bit, but the letter today put things into a better context, which will be useful in coming to a decision.
There was a bit of confusion over a practice called at rather short notice for tomorrow evening, since it clashed with another practice for a different event, involving many of the same people, but having phoned around a bit, I've ascertained from Robbie that it is to be a combined practice. Alas it means a quite late finish is anticipated, which might thwart Chris's plans to go to some nice dark place to watch the best of the Leonids meteor shower due tomorrow night. I would also imagine some people mightn't be so impressed at missing the football, though these things happen, and I would guess it's not being shown on terrestrial television anyway.
It's been a fairly uneventful day so far, testing a few more bits of Sam's new server code, with the highlight being an early-morning visit to Maplins to get the replacement collimation bolts and a can of WD40. It turned out that the right bolts - or are they screws? - were actually M5, not M4 as I'd thought, and M5 bolts were not available in the 30mm length I wanted. I think the 25mm ones I bought will be fine, given that I thought the length included the head, which is not actually the case. I also bought some sticky pads for a few pence which should make a better job of keeping my finderscope steady than the plasticine I'm current using; the plasticine works, but it's not quite so robust a solution, and the pads will look much nicer too. Anyway, it's just about lunchtime now, and Wednesday's a curry day at the staff canteen, so no sandwiches for me today...
Hmm, so what is the difference between a bolt and a screw, hardware-item-wise? The best definition I've seen so far is that a bolt goes through something, and is secured with a nut, whilst a screw self-secures into the surface it is presented with. However what if you use a bolt as a screw - i.e. without a nut - as appears to be the case with the collimation whatevers on my telescope's mirror? And if you go into a hardware shop, do they know or care what you're going to use that bit of threaded metal for? The definition above is based around usage; as far as a form-based definition goes, the best I can come up with is that a screw generally has a tapered thread whilst a bolt has a straight one. The inconsequential things I seem to concern myself with...
Well the regional weather forecast for tonight is looking pretty good, with clear skies across the midlands. The best time to start looking skywards is apparently after about 11pm, which will actually work out quite well, given the band practice due to finish a short while earlier. I very much doubt we'll get to Coombe Hill tonight, though, especially not via Iver Heath, but somewhere a bit closer to Milton Keynes might be a possibility for the braver souls amongst us. I just hope it'll be worth all the fuss...
It wasn't. But I tried, so my spirit of adventure is obviously healthy enough. Shortly after the band practice - which went quite well, even if I was decidedly unfamiliar with many of the golden oldies, and I've now been roped into the other event the practice was also for - Chris phoned from his mobile, and I met up with him twenty minutes later near Woburn Abbey, south of the city. Bitterly cold, but getting increasingly cloudy, and by the time we gave up - a little after midnight - it had even started to spit with rain. So much for "dry and clear", BBC Weather Centre.
Wondering what weather was on its way for later in the night, we headed out a little way north of the city, but it just got murkier and murkier, so we headed back in a generally homewards direction. I was still more or less up and about at two o'clock - the predicted peak time for the Leonid shower - and can vouch that the weather did not spring any pleasant surprises. Having not found any suitable late-night eateries open - not even a kebab van - we headed straight back to my place and heated up a pizza and some garlic bread, and shortly after, called it a day.
Earlier in the evening, I had time to fit the new collimation bolts I'd bought, and I'm happy to say they've made all the difference, and I can now focus the telescope with my camera, so that was a very cheap and effective solution. Unfortunately I seem to have over-lubricated the equatorial mount in trying to free up that bit of stickiness, because its functionality seems to rely on a certain amount of friction, so I'll have to look at that when I have a bit of time on my hands, but it should just be a case of stripping it down - I think there's basically one big bolt holding it all together - and wiping off the excess WD40...
Yesterday evening saw a fairly quite neighbourhood group meeting; not quiet in terms of numbers - or not exceptionally so, anyway, even if there were a few noable absences - but in terms of the level of participation of those present. I think everyone was pretty weary - certainly Chris and myself were after our failed meteor hunt the previous night - and we very nearly finished in good time... There was still some worthwhile discussion though, this time about "destroyers of passion", which linked in well with the central theme in the current teaching.
The skies were frustratingly clear for a good part of the night, but there were no Leonid meteors left to speak of, so nothing to see in that respect, and I didn't really feel like lugging my telescope downstairs again, especially when I could do with a moderately early night. I did have a go at stripping down the equatorial mount, though, but alas I couldn't find a socket in Phil's socket set that would both go round the bolt, and fit into the hole the bolt was recessed into, so I'll probably just have to live with it for the moment, and hope the excess lubrication gradually starts wearing off. In the meantime, I should be able to use a strategic blob of blutack to keep the setting circle steady while positioning the tube; a little inconvenient, but no big deal really.
By that time, it was getting fairly late - especially given how tired I was - but it seemed a good time to give Zoe a call after her day at college, and I think I timed it quite well given that she'd been talking to an old friend of hers for getting on for a couple of hours. So we chatted for a bit, finally calling it a day a bit after midnight, and I personally slept like a log for at least most of the night. I even got up enthusiastically enough this morning to have time for a proper breakfast, which is an increasing rarity.
Today's looking a bit busy at work, with some testing of our software scheduled for some point, and I also need to plan a presentation I'm doing in Newport Pagnell tomorrow lunchtime. The latter is a pain in the proverbial, but these things have to be done, I guess, and of course we're even shorter-staffed now then ever before, so I don't mind mucking in a bit, especially given the midnight oil some of my colleagues have been burning lately.
It's been a long - if modestly productive - day, and I'm not hanging around here much longer, especially what with this presentation thing tomorrow lunchtime. The highlight of the day was probably Peter's leaving do, quite a lengthy social gathering with cakes, coffee and so on. Normally the only "event" when people leave is a short gathering in Joel's office, followed by a presentation and mock-tearful speech, but Peter had decided to do it in style. I guess it made up for the fact that Craig and Rufus left with minimal formalities, but it left us wondering what we would have to do next time anyone goes. A celebratory departmental trip to Alton Towers was my best suggestion - and met with a good deal of approval - though a barbecue seemed a little more feasible, if still slightly unlikely. Mind you, I'm surprised somebody didn't decide to throw a massive firework display to mark Craig's departure. Especially once he'd gone. With champagne. Anyway, enough's enough for now; I'll have to come in tomorrow morning to plan the presentation, but at least that means I needn't feel guilty about taking a day off in lieu as soon as I can get away with it.
Well it's Saturday morning, and I think I've just about got this presentation thing planned, only needing slight changes to the slides I used back in July. It was a good thing I read the memo I was sent a few days ago a bit more carefully than I had done previously, because it turns out that this presentation isn't actually what I initially thought it was. I had assumed it was yet another briefing for the OU Business School's MBA tutors, but it's actually part of the Associate Lecturers National Conference, so will be drawing in delegates from a very wide range of academic disciplines. It means I can be a little more general and less technical, which is a good thing, and I shouldn't have to field so many questions from irate tutors wondering why the software still doesn't work as advertised... I just hope the short demonstrations I do will work, given the slightly shaky state of things at the moment. I'll do a dry run back here first, where I have access to the servers if they need rebooting or anything, then it will just be a matter of gritting my teeth and going for it. Anyway, better get on with wrapping this stuff up and copying it across to the laptop, so signing off for now.
The presentation went fine in the end, although due to the lunchtime drop-in nature of the way it had to be run, it was touch and go at one point whether I'd get anyone along at all, but in the end I had perhaps forty people in two batches, and was able to run through my PowerPoint slides and the live demonstration twice each. The technology generally behaved itself, with only a couple of Java crashes - due to bugs in Sun's code, not ours, I hasten to add! - to raise a few chuckles from those who knew a little of the kind of problems we've been struggling with over the last couple of weeks. I managed to finish more or less on time, and the training centre had laid on an absolutely enormous plate of sandwiches, vegetable parcels and sausage rolls for me and a couple of other people who'd been running a similar kind of presentation on technology for disabled students, so I scoffed what I could manage of those before heading back here to drop off the laptop, projector and miscellaneous bits and bobs. So here I am in my office, just winding down a little before I make what should be a fairly quick visit to Tesco to get my weekly groceries in. I would go to Waitrose as normal, but time's getting on and its too damp to walk into the city centre. Not go a lot planned for tonight, and quite happy it's that way; I think I'll be fit to drop once I'm back home in an hour or so's time.
I know I said I was weary, but frankly I feel like I'm not going to survive another hour at this rate. It wasn't helped by a rather protracted shopping trip, forgetting that Kingston Tesco - already one of the largest supermarkets in existence - had recently doubled in size, making efficient navigation a completely impossible task. Then I found that since the expansion wasn't yet complete, some products were tantalisingly visible but not for sale, so I also had to visit the corner-shop across the road from the house, which took just about as long again to get served. I'd really just about had enough by the time I'd got home, and now I've cracked open and downed a bottle of Stella, I really feel like doing absolutely nothing more. So I won't.
Thankfully I managed a fairly early night on Saturday, and was able to get up quite late Sunday morning, having agreed to pick Zoe up from the station well after ten for a change. Being the third Sunday of the month, the meeting started with coffee and biscuits, enabling this slightly more leisurely start to the day, something both of us - as well as Zoe's dad, who drove her to Watford Junction - much appreciated.
Once the morning meeting got started a bit before eleven, it was pretty good, with another of Paul's quite engaging talks. It made a pleasant change to be able to just enjoy the meeting from the congregation; although I'm not playing quite as often as I used to, it still seems all too rare an occurrence, in a making-up-for-lost-time sense.
Lunch was of the Pizza Hut variety, unsurprisingly going for the usual super supreme Italian-for-two deal, almost certainly their best offer for a long time, with no immediate sign of it coming to an end. In a vain attempt to at least work off a slice or two of that yummy pizza, we took a - slightly cold, or at least I thought it was, anyway! - stroll round Caldecotte, saying hello to the ducks, geese, and swans as we did, though the coots, cormorants and lone grebe weren't as sociable.
We returned home via Blockbuster - becoming almost as predictable an event as our Pizza Hut visits - borrowing "The Faculty" on video. Neither of us had seen it before, but I'd heard good things about the film, and it was immensely entertaining in a cheesy American-teen-drama kind of way - definitely one to recommend. While we were watching that, Robbie phoned, trying to get a band together for the evening meeting, and I left it open whether I would be able to help, though I did in the end.
Unfortunately, however, my little amplifier blew up, with sparks flying out of the input jack as I hooked it up, followed by non-functional silence and a good deal of concern from Chris, who had experienced similar problems in the past due to faulty earthing and so on. This was a bit of a pain - though no problem last night, with plenty of other foldback amplification to hand - since I'll probably have to buy a new one now, though Chris says he has a spare one I could buy off him, so I'll look into that.
The meeting itself went well, with the bulk of the time being given over to the prophetic team, who had a number of encouraging words for people - including Zoe, happily to say! Andy's "five more minutes" of course turned out to be more like half an hour, but we still got out in fairly good time, a little while later heading off for our customary late night visit to the KFC at Stacey Bushes. I needed some stodge inside me, so I broke with Sunday night tradition and had a Zinger Tower meal, whilst Zoe stuck to the more usual Twister meal. All very yummy anyway, and the perfect set-up for the journey ahead.
The run back to Iver was quick and straightforward enough, and I stayed down there chatting to Zoe and her mum for about half an hour before heading back up to Milton Keynes, wrapping up another great day. Next weekend, Zoe's hopefully coming up for a bit longer again - quite how long depends on a number of factors - but that should be good fun, probably taking in the Shine fund-raising quiz night on Saturday as well as stewarding at the Revive youth event on the Sunday night. Whatever happens, we're both looking forward to it immensely!
Today's being fairly dull and slow-moving, unhelped by still being a good while from being able to go home - though I grabbed some food from the shop before it closed for the evening, so I shouldn't go too hungry. Having had a successful internal trial of our hurriedly re-written software - after the fiasco of the failed launch a couple of weeks ago - we've agreed to let it loose on some volunteer tutors tonight. That will really put our improvements through their paces, given the wide variety of dodgy ISP connections and so on the tutors will undoubtedly be using, so if tonight's tests go well, we should be all clear for a relaunch within the next couple of days. If they don't go well, we're probably doomed.
The software tests are over, and they were a qualified success. The general impression was of a vast improvement over the last bungled release, though there were still a few residual problems preventing an immediate announcement of reavailability to the students. But it wasn't a complete failure by any means, so hopes are high that we can get something sorted out very soon. Anyway, it's seven o'clock, and high time I was heading home.
Hmm, a quiet night last night - once I was home, anyway - and a pretty tedious day today, with still another ninety minutes to go until I can make my escape. Having received notice of a "fantastic offer" on Gateway computers from my credit-card company, I thought I would do a little investigation to find out what the savings really were. No wonder the promotional information omitted the full prices for comparison; for a 600MHz Pentium III system, the price difference was an extremely tempting six pounds. Impressive, eh? I'd buy one - or maybe even half a dozen! - tomorrow if my payment protection premium on a 1400 pound purchase didn't come to almost ten pounds... Or maybe not. Anyway, that was the sole amusing happening for today, really, other than a surreal lunchtime conversation about obscure breakfast cereals - or was that a cereal conversation about surreals? - supermarket rivalry, and our next proposed low budget film production, Escape from Milton Keynes.
I suppose one modest highlight of yesterday evening was having a short chat on the phone with my mum before she left for a week up at my sister's in Wales this morning, with our main topic of discussion being the recent announcement of Cherie Blair's pregnancy, specifically wondering whose business it was where the Blair Titch was conceived. Tuscany, Balmoral, the back seat of their car - or even not at all, with at least some commentators suggesting it's all just a big exercise in spin? In actual fact, who even cares, outside the sensationalist, gutter-dredging, world of journalism? Though having said that, apparently Anglo-Italian relations have hit a near all-time low by the Blairs' denial that the former was the case, though whether the Queen was "not amused" has not been officially announced by the Palace though speculation is naturally rife. So long as the poor kid doesn't get the middle name Vectra or Rover, I really don't care, and I truly hope I am not alone in my well-intentioned apathy. But all the best to the lot of them, anyway, in the meantime.
That's more than a little annoying; I go to bed fairly early, sleep quite well, get up a bit later than usual - and still I feel dead to the world this morning. What is wrong with me? Anyway, yesterday evening was fairly well-spent time, picking my dad's brains about photographic matters, tidying my room in advance of the double-glazing people needing access within the next few days, and of course phoning Zoe just before I finally called it a day. This morning I bumped into Roger in the car-park, who was looking under the bonnet of his Peugeot diesel as I pulled up, and am now about a thousand percent more knowledgeable about fuel injection systems than ever before...
Prayer definitely works, you know. Even prayer about quite inconsequential things. Even prayer about wanting chocolate pudding to be on the staff canteen menu. With chocolate sauce. Wished I'd prayed for chicken tikka too though, because the lamb dopiaza was fairly mundane, though not as fatty as it's been lately, which was most welcome. Anyway, on with the afternoon's activities, so I needn't feel too guilty about making a prompt exit later in order to go shopping for a cable release for my camera... Oh, speaking of which, apparently my camera is now "officially" a classic - nice to know in case I hit hard times and have to sell it, I suppose.
It's cloudy at the moment, so no wonderful night for astronomy - let alone astrophotography - but I managed to buy the cable release for my camera as planned. What's more, at Tecno it was even cheaper than I'd expected, at a penny under eight pounds for a twenty-inch one. But tonight is no night to be testing it, and indeed will probably see me heading off to bed very soon; hopefully I might at least be half-awake by this time tomorrow morning...
Did I get an early night? Yes. Did I feel awake come eight o'clock this morning? Did I heck. OK, so being woken up a little after midnight by the sound of the washing machine downstairs, and then somewhat later to the sound of the burglar alarm going off either at the school or the shop - not sure which - didn't help much. I don't think I lost too much sleep in the process, but it was enough to throw my sleep patterns, I am sure. Today's annoyance is that a long-awaited pub lunch out with selected folks from my project team and the modern languages department has been postponed until Monday, after most of the people involved - including the organiser - clean forgot about it, and had other things planned. Still, I guess that gives something to look forward to, and at least the staff canteen menu today wasn't as dire as it often is on Thursdays, so I didn't have to compromise too much.
Right, time to go home; it's been far too long a day, though fairly productive, getting a new version of our software out in a form ready for tutors to test over the coming week. I think my homeward-bound trip will still be via McDonalds, even despite having had chilli con carne for lunch - force of habit is just too much of a persuasive factor round here, I'm afraid...
My conscience got the better of me last night as I drove home, and I avoided going to McDonalds altogether, destroying half a loaf of bread and copious quantities of Olivio and Marmite instead - probably marginally more healthy. Neighbourhood group was a little unusual, in that included a bit of music and breaking bread as well as the more typical kind of discussions. Thankfully we didn't finish too late, and I was able to get a fairly good night's sleep, even if some of my dreams were decidedly weird - "stroboscopic" multiple blackbirds and psychically induced snowstorms, anyone?
I was still fairly tired this morning, but at least I made it into work before eleven o'clock - private joke - and today's been fairly fruitful as Fridays go. It seems our software relaunch to tutors last night wasn't a complete disaster - unlike previous efforts - which bodes well for the student release next week. The only serious problems seem to have been due to a few people still not grasping the concept of case-sensitive usernames and passwords; hopefully this morning's bit of gentle re-education will have done the trick, and we can have some useful testing over the next few days.
Meanwhile, I also have to sort out quite what's happening this weekend; Zoe's supposed to be coming up - or rather, I'll have to fetch her from Iver Heath - tomorrow afternoon, in order to go to the Shine fund-raising quiz in the evening. However, it's looking a bit doubtful whether we have any semblance of a team, so I ought to phone Martin - who's organising the event - to determine what it's worth doing. Whatever happens, Zoe's looking forward to visiting for a bit longer again, and Chris and Claire have offered to put her up again, so it doesn't really matter too much either way.
Right, it's well over half an hour since I could have gone home, and I think I will do just that very shortly. It's been a decidedly above-average kind of day, but it's left me feeling quite drained, so although I'd quite like to hang on a little later and work on this long-promised Win32 bouncer system I volunteered to produce, I think I'd be better off giving up while the going is good, and having a nice relaxing evening - probably - instead. After all, the weekend's looking pretty busy already, so I'm probably going to need all the energy I can muster...
That's the first part of Saturday over with, and now I can have a short breather before the second - and undoubtedly far more exciting - part starts with a drive down to Iver to pick up Zoe, who'll be up here in Milton Keynes for the rest of the weekend. I was up in surprisingly good time this morning, enjoying a proper breakfast before I walked up to the city centre to do my weekly shop. The only things bought of any note were a couple of monthly magazines from Smiths, and a much-appreciated jacket potato with cheese for my favourite Big Issue seller. I contemplated having lunch at McDonalds, but their long-awaited BLT meal looked a bit poor value, so I ended up with my usual Burger King bacon double cheeseburger meal.
Back at home, I did a little essential maintenance on the car, specifically pumping up the tyres a bit, and giving the windscreen a good wash, since I still can't persuade the washer pump to do a great deal. Must get that seen to properly when I can part with the car for a day or two - maybe the week before Christmas when I'm probably off work anyway would be a good time... I'm still pretty sure it must be a blockage somewhere, because the motor still whirs quite healthily, and some water gets squirted, but nowhere near as much as should be. As I think I said once before, unfortunately it's impossible to get to the washer system without knowing exactly what you're up to, so I'm pretty sure this is one for the experts.
Anyway, I have just over an hour before I need to hit the road down to Zoe's, having agreed to pick her up soon after four o'clock. Chris and Claire popped round just after I'd finished breakfast and dropped off a front door key for Zoe, so that side of things is all sorted out already, and they've also invited us round for lunch tomorrow, which will be most welcome. I phoned Martin last night, to confirm it was still worth Zoe and me going to this evening's Shine fund-raising quiz night despite not having had a chance to pull a team of four together. He seemed pretty sure there would be quite a lot of other people looking to make up numbers, so that's all-go too, and should be a good fun start to an excellent weekend.
It's coming to the end of a busy, but not terribly productive, Monday back at work, after a weekend that was at least as good as expected. Today's highlights were the long-awaited lunch with the Modern Languages lot - or at least three of them, plus my colleague Sam - which ended up being at Chiquito's in the city centre, and an interesting demonstration of a product that might be seen as somewhat of a competitor to our own. So precious little work's got done, but it's been an interesting and busy day nevertheless.
As for the weekend though... Well I arrived down in Iver pretty much bang on schedule, and after a short chat with Zoe's parents - while her dad did some running repairs to Yvette's ice-hockey stick - and being given a nice Dairy Milk advent calendar - never had one of those before! - we hit the road back to Milton Keynes, going pretty much straight round to Chris and Claire's for Zoe to drop off her stuff. The Shine fund-raising quiz evening went very well, even if we lost horribly, with the event raising well over a hundred pounds clear profit for Shine, and excellent fish and chips all round. There was lots of wheeling, dealing, bribery and so on, but Martin eventually cancelled out all the bonuses and penalties, so no-one was able to bribe their way to winning, making it quite fair whilst raking in a lot of money...
Sunday morning was a bit of a potential nightmare, but I kept my head and didn't bite anyone else's off, thankfully. I had agreed to collect Zoe from Chris and Claire's soon after ten, but just as I was leaving the house, I noticed a note on the table asking if I could do OHP, which was not at all convenient or even possible at that late hour, and pretty inexcusable anyway under the circumstances. Them having got round to Chris and Claire's, there was another message there asking if I could bring Phil's guitar... Well, I conceded on the guitar bit, but the OHP was strangely inoperative during the first song until they realised that I'm not that much of a soft touch.
Lunch was round at Chris and Claire's as planned, and was a really delicious chicken roast with all the trimmings, a veritable mountain of a meal - and a mountain I didn't quite manage to finish - but well worth the wait, especially rounded off with a yummy chocolate gateau. Feeling uninspired to do anything more energetic - and neither Chris nor Claire in the best of health this weekend anyway - we decided against all going for a walk, and instead watched Under Siege on DVD, which passed the afternoon quite perfectly. Mind you, by then, Zoe and myself really did feel just too much like couch potatoes, so took a stroll - even if it was only to the Barge for a Pepsi and a packet of crisps.
Then it was on to the Oldbrook Christian Centre for the briefing meeting before the evening's Revive youth service. Having listened to Cliff on the radio - just got to Number One in the charts! - we found our way into the Centre, and were immediately provided with dayglo yellow vest things to show we were stewards. Unlike the last Revive, Zoe and I ended up in quite different roles, with Zoe inside the hall doing general stewarding and collection-taking, and me doing door-duty with a guy called Lee, counting people in and out of the building and handing out various leaflets and so on. From what I heard of the service, it was pretty good, with the various speakers keeping the youngsters' attention without any problem, and top notch music courtesy of Shine and the Revive worship band.
By the time we were out of there, it was time to be thinking about bringing our weekend to a close, going via the Stacey Bushes KFC as has become somewhat customary - Twister meals and barbecue sauce all round, of course! - before hitting the road back down to Iver. The run down was fine enough - though the gusty crosswinds made things tricky in places - though the return leg was a bit wet and murky, with lots of spray off the lorries and so on, so I was very glad to get back home and swiftly disappear bedwards.
Had to be up in fairly good time this morning, though, so I probably only managed about six hours sleep, which is a lot less than I can get away with, so I was quite glad really that today's otherwise been not too fast-paced, even if there's been a lot on. I had to get up earlyish because Mark confirmed last night that the double-glazing was to be fitted today, probably starting with my room, so I would need to clear the area of the window, which was no quick job with the amount of junk I have lying around. I just hope that after all the fuss, my window got fitted.
Anyway, that's about that for the moment, I think. Mind you, I'm sure there's important stuff I've missed out, so don't be surprised if I add more later...
Arriving back home last night, I looked up to my bedroom window, dismayed to see the old dark wooden frames still there, which was more than a little annoying considering the time I'd spent moving stuff in my room, when I should have been catching up on sleep. However, on closer inspection, I noticed that I was mistaken; my window had been replaced, it was just not the white uPVC I'd been expecting, though now I think about it, I'm sure Mark had mentioned we were going for wood-effect, and it's much nicer that way anyway. I think they only did my bedroom window and the bathroom window yesterday, and there's still a little finishing to be done today. It's so nice to have not only double-glazed windows, but also ones that don't require coins to be jammed into the hinge mechanisms to stay open...
What a stunningly clear night it was last night, for the first time in what seemed like ages. So stunningly clear that I really shouldn't have been at all surprised to get a phone-call from Chris suggesting we drove out to somewhere well away from the city to do some serious observing. I actually had the telescope set up on the patio when Chris rang, and had already attained better views than ever before of the Andromeda Galaxy - and one of its satellite galaxies, for the first time - so a trip into the country was definitely going to yield results. It was also a good opportunity to get out for the evening, most welcome with my room still somewhat unusable, half-way through this window-fitting exercise.
First, however, Chris wanted to watch Deep Space Nine - which I must have completely lost track of, not having a clue what was going on these days - so after that we cooked up some chicken soup with the bits left over from Sunday's roast, and hit the road to Woburn Park. There was patchy fog around, but it was perfectly clear on the summit, in stark contrast to our last visit there for the meteor shower a couple of weeks ago. To rub that in still further, we saw a couple of really nice meteors too! However, the deer were showing more than a passing interest in our activities, and there were quite a few passing cars destroying our night vision, so we headed off to a very quiet country lane in the back of beyond, just outside the village of Battlesden and set up in the entrance to a field there.
The number of stars visible even to the naked eye from there was simply incredible; it was difficult to make out the constellations, there were just so many stars to be seen - I never thought I'd have to ask "where's Pegasus?" but, well, I did... Levelling and aligning the telescope proved to be trickier than expected, thanks to the squishy ground there, but we eventually managed some semblance of polar alignment, certainly enough to be going along with for general viewing, even if we had to make a few more running adjustments than we'd have liked throughout the evening.
We started off by looking at Jupiter and Saturn, with rewarding views using the 6mm eyepiece - that's about 150x magnification, so we could probably have got away with the 9mm and the Barlow if we'd wanted. On Saturn, we could quite clearly see the cloud belts, the shadow cast by the rings, and the Cassini division in the rings themselves. Then we had a look at a few stars, starting with the ever-rewarding Pleiades, then comparing the electric-blue colour of Rigel with the rich red of the super-giant Betelgeuse, and moving on finally to the nearby Orion Nebula, a spectacular sight.
We tried to view the Andromeda Galaxy, but we were going to have to re-adjust the tripod, so thought that was a good opportunity to have our chicken soup, even if the noodles never came out of the flask - hopefully they did when Chris washed it up later... But then Claire phoned, summoning Chris home, so we carefully packed everything away, and hit the road back to Milton Keynes. Or at least that was the plan, temporarily delayed when the squishy ground had the last laugh and the car wouldn't budge, except in a deeper-and-deeper kind of direction. We eventually got moving, and arrived back home pretty much on the stroke of midnight, and I for one got an unusually good night's sleep, happily to say.