goznet ...

David's diary: October 1999

A bit of a hectic lunchtime, but now I can wind down for a bit before whatever the evening might bring. I went swimming, as has become increasingly normal for me, and although it wasn't my most intensive hour ever, it was still worth it. With my holiday now all but over, and other things likely to take priority, I thought I would make a proactive effort to keep the ball rolling by buying ten sessions in advance. They do a special deal where you pay a total of eighteen pounds and get one such session free, and you can use the scheme in conjunction with their loyalty card and so get a couple of additional free sessions thrown in as well.

After stopping off for lunch at Stacey Bushes KFC, I drove up to Wolverton to pop into the St Andrews bookshop there. Sadly they'd not got any of the CDs I was after, but I was able to get a card for Maureen, who's still officially got a couple of months before she's supposed to be up and about properly after her accident. Unfortunately, I had been given unreliable information, and Maureen wasn't staying at Andy and Shaaron's - though she had been there earlier in the week, while Dave was at work - so I took a small detour on the way back to pop in to see her at home, and had a short chat with Dave too before he had to go to the bank.

But anyway, once again I'm finding myself really quite weary and will probably have a bit of a lie down before tea. I wish I would be able to go back to work on Monday thoroughly replenished and raring to go, but I really can't see it happening.

Oh well, the anticipated lie down never happened - or not yet anyway, and now I'm really very tired full stop - and indeed I went for quite a bracing walk a little while ago. It was blowing a gale, and a bit damp in the air, but I was finding it a little claustrophobic at the house for some reason and needed to get out, so I put my jacket on, gritted my teeth, and walked out to and round Willen Lake for the first time in quite a while. Now things are fairly quiet here again, with Mark gone up to Manchester for the night, Angela elsewhere and Phil relaxing downstairs. My walk was also a good opportunity to talk frankly with God about a number of pressing issues, and I followed that up by going through some interesting and thought-provoking stuff that Dave had given me when I chatted to him earlier. But now I'm really both mentally and physically quite weary, and will probably call it a day very soon.

A fairly typical Saturday afternoon, though I had to bear in mind while doing my grocery shopping that I'm going to be back at work next week and so had to get enough to last me through until next weekend. It seems to be sale-time at a number of other shops at the moment, and I came out of HMV with a nice little clutch of CDs, none for over seven quid. I'm currently listening to the Pet Shop Boys' excellent "Discography" - their complete pre-1991 singles collection - but also bought Electronic's eponymous album, to replace my decaying tape of the same, and a Michael Praetorius early music CD my mum had asked me to look out for to replace her decaying tape of the same. Dixons unusually came up trumps with an excellent sale deal on TDK blank minidiscs, so I've more than replenished those that have been "borrowed" by various people over the last few months. No sign of the other half of my winning McDonalds Millennium silver straw voucher, but a quarter-deluxe meal made for a most pleasant lunch in the sun in Queens Court, and by then it was time to toddle back home via Waitrose.

Home being where I am now, unsurprisingly, but in a surprisingly upbeat mood considering there's only a day and a half left of my holiday - I guess the knowledge that tomorrow will be special is compensation, not only with Zoe no doubt visiting, but it being a celebration Sunday too. I must admit that although I'll be glad to be back with my friends at work, overall I'm really not looking forward to going back; it's just been so wonderful to entirely switch off from the tedium and hassles of the Lyceum project, and I'm not at all sure how quickly or easily I'll settle back into it come Monday. One thing I can be pretty sure of is that I'll be thrown straight back in at the deep end, with the project undoubtedly suffering over the past month with a lot of gound to regain. It's not that I'm some kind of brilliant team member or anything, but when we're as understaffed and overworked as we are, I've been filling a number of gaps and keeping the ball rolling in a number of areas where otherwise it would have ground to a halt with other people being so busy on very specific tasks.

The inevitable has happened, finally, with me back at work today. All seems very quiet round here, with no sign of most of my colleagues - though there is a new contractor temporarily in the outer sanctum of this office, not that he has anything to do with our project - and only a few important e-mails. Well, hopefully only a few, because I deleted about a thousand without reading them, but they were only mailing-list type stuff so unlikely to be of any great consequence. As expected, it looks like I'm being thrown straight back in at the deep end from which I climbed out a month ago, with some new installer required for tomorrow - and of course three conflicting requests as to what it needs to do. If I had returned to work bouncing with energy, then I could have said that this has brought me back down to earth somewhat, but that's hardly the case and I have to say I feel about as apathetic as ever before.

At least the weekend ended up another good one, so I did end my holiday on a high note - even if an exhausting one. With Andy having finally just about finished his university project work - bar the printing-out - he invited a load of us round on Saturday evening. Rosie's now very pregnant indeed, with only a couple of weeks to go, and entertained us all with her electric shock machine - apparently designed to relieve pain during contractions, but instead just getting us all giggling like mad things. We had a game of Chinese checkers, which I lost as usual - I really can't think laterally enough for that kind of thing - and then Mark arrived, just back from Manchester, with a laptop he'd picked up at a computer fair. The latter was a bit galling for Andy, given that it was exactly the same model as his, but bought for only a tenth of the price, though it needed a bit of attention to get it working properly.

I woke up very bleary-eyed on Sunday morning, dragging myself up to Wolverton in time to get set up for the morning celebration. It was very busy, musically, with very little room to breathe up front, though thankfully we weren't playing for too long. The rest of the meeting was good, with a guy from Hazlemere - near my family home - speaking on "being Jesus". Zoe had joined me just before the meeting started, so we drove separately back to Springfield, where I was accosted by Chris and Claire inviting us to join them in going out for a meal somewhere. Somewhere ending up being the Jaipur, one of the best Indian restaurants in the country, though Chris had to dash back home when he found his shorts didn't quite comply with their slightly fussy dress-code; they were very nice about it, though, and I'm sure we'll go back sometime. It was a little pricier than some, but quite affordable and excellent quality.

We adjourned back to Chris and Claire's to watch Men in Black on video - not DVD for a change - which, although we'd all seen it before, was as entertaining as ever and not too cerebral for an afternoon when all of us were keeling over somewhat. Not that there was too much time to relax afterwards though, with my services booked up for the evening meeting too, which was a little more conventional though I must admit it did drag a little. It was uplifting to get some complimentary comments on my playing from some quite unexpected sources - not that it ultimately worries me too much one way or the other, but being human, a little praise from time to time doesn't go far amiss. Truly fit to drop, having had a brief telescopic look at Saturn and the Pleiades, our last port of call for the evening was the KFC for a not-too-late-night snack, then it was time to wave Zoe on her way home. Another great day - thanks!

Apathy is ruling here at work, with a partial deadline tomorrow and no huge inclination to do anything much about it. My e-mail inbox has been buzzing all day with people making all kind of stupid demands, the silliest being a request for me to be here during the week running up to Christmas. Needless to say, that will be over my dead body, having already volunteered my services elsewhere, as part of my Being More Assertive Campaign which came into force today. Perhaps these people should try taking a month off too, then they'll get a grasp of what reality is. Anyway, not much longer to go today, though my afternoon is not likely to be punctuated by my previously traditional visit to the shop - I can do without that, though I might pop along to the water cooler instead and see if there's anyone to say hello to in a getting deliberately waylaid kind of manner.

Ah well, it's now pushing on six o'clock and therefore time to go home. A modestly major relief, it would have to be said. It's really been quite a struggle getting through today, from both emotional, mental and indeed physical points of view. At least now I can switch off for the evening, be amused by the BBC's animated dinosaurs, and generally unconcern myself with anything of great consequence until tomorrow morning, when I really will have to pull my finger out and get back in gear. I would remind readers who might be muttering "Five weeks holiday and he's still whinging, he should count himself lucky he got any time off at all" that it was not by choice that I took such a long break at this time, and therefore not by choice that I come back to the project in that state that it is with such urgent deadlines to meet before my chair's even vaguely warm. Frankly, they're lucky I came back at all.

Back at home, and writing this to the strains of Electronic's brilliant eponymous first album, having just finished watching the first part of the BBC's "Walking with dinosaurs" series. Of course one has to weigh such a supposed documentary quite carefully, bearing in mind it is essentially fiction - whether in detail or overall concept depending on viewpoint - but it was truly breathtaking stuff in every visual way. I'm certainly planning on watching the subsequent episodes as they chart the progress of the ancient beasts from their early days to their extinction. Readers will not be surprised to hear that I am fairly sceptical about it all, but nevertheless feel it healthy to take a critical interest. Besides, with more money apparently spent on this series than any other BBC nature series ever, I would quite like to see the fruits of years of licence fee extortion...

If there was any doubt that summer is over and the slow decline into winter is now well underway, the semi-frozen slush that I wiped off my windscreen this morning was conclusive evidence. First frosts of the winter, and someone had kindly turned the heating off; no wonder I was late getting up this morning, I was taking longer than expected to thaw from my cryonics tube. But never mind, I soon warmed up, and with it being a bright and sunny morning it's really quite bearable. Knowing this strange office it might even become uncomfortably hot within the next couple of hours - sometimes I just wish the weather would do its worst and be done with it. Instead in autumn in particular, it dithers around, never quite sure whether it's going to be hot or cold, and you never know whether to wear shorts and t-shirt or full arctic exploration gear. And whichever you choose is always wholly inappropriate, obviously. Anyway, on with this installer thing I've got to make; I don't think it will be too hard, just a slight tweaking of one I made before I went on leave. I'll probably be working fairly late this evening, because there's a meeting of the Astronomy Club I've said I'd like to go along to, though I'll probably nip out at some point earlier in the evening for a bite to eat, seeing as I don't expect to finally get away until gone ten.

So much for maybe getting home by soon after ten - I eventually set foot inside the front door at getting on for half past eleven, having had quite an interesting evening in the company of the Open University's astronomy club. Thankfully I'd popped up to the Olde Swan earlier in the evening for a bite to eat, because there's no way I'd have lasted through otherwise, but it was well worth staying on a good while after the meeting proper had finished, because with a pretty clear sky, there was lots to be seen.

The main part of the meeting consisted of an astronomy news briefing - including more about the ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter, and more general things of interest to look out for during October - and then the main talk, which was about the progress being made in X-ray astronomy and some of the weir and wonderful objects found by Chandra and other orbiting observatories. Two of the guys had brought along their telescopes - a hefty fluorite refractor, and a compact but still very effective Maksutov-Cassegrain hybrid - so after being a little disappointed by an Iridium flare, there were rich pickings to be had looking at Jupiter, Saturn and the Pleiades in particular, but also reasonable views of the Ring Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Sadly the university's observatory itself is currently out of use for its intended purpose, but hopes are high that the Powers That Be will fund a major refurbishment and a nice new 16-inch telescope, though there's unlikely to have been much visible progress until about this time next year. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, willing to answer the daftest questions, and I am sure I will be able to get more good advice as I decide how to progress this hobby over the coming months and beyond.

It's been a so-so productive day at work, building, testing and cutting a CD-ROM of the installer I had been asked to produce for CML. So long as that gets mailed tomorrow there should be little problem, and I probably earn a lunch out as a small reward which will be fair compensation. The installer is quite a heap, but it should do for the moment, and a similar one I produced before I went on leave apparently worked quite well on everyone's machine but my own, so I'm not worrying too much. I worked a little late this evening, having taken an hour's break mid-afternoon to try - and sadly fail - to sort out a computer problem at the Shine office and then run Gareth into the city centre, but I'm home a lot earlier than last night, and plan on getting to bed in good time for a change.

Soon after I got in last night, Mark knocked on my door to say there had been a phone call for me earlier from someone whose name I didn't recognise, but I twigged this morning who it must have been, and when he phoned again this evening I was right. It was a guy I was introduced to at the Revive youth event a couple of weeks ago whose friend was hopefully going to be able to sort Shine out with a new PC. Ian's not a techie, and his eyes glazed over as his friend started discussing specifications, so I've got to contact Simon direct and come to some agreement on what's needed and at what price. Ian asked that I then come back to him, because he hopes that his church will contribute towards the cost of the PC, which would be very welcome from Shine's point of view, I am quite sure.

Well today's been singularly rubbish, with about the same motivation as a particularly apathetic housebrick, and frankly not very much done at all. I really hate work being like this; I don't enjoy it for one moment and would far rather be doing something worthwhile. But anyway, it's nearly time to go - then I'll be beyond worrying anyway - and I need to leave in good time since I've been reminded there's a bit of a special neighbourhood group meeting tonight and I've got to pop into the city centre to get something for it. Sorry, I can't give more details; it's all a little hush-hush at the moment. I'm sure I'll be able to tell all tomorrow, though!

This evening made the day with getting up for, doing something altogether different for neighbourhood group - what is apparently called a "baby shower" for Andy and especially Rosie, just a few days away from being parents. It remained Milton Keynes's best-kept secret until well after Rosie's arrival - how we managed I have no idea! - but then she had a great time unwrapping all the multitudinous gifts, being prayed over and so on. This wasn't actually my own neighbourhood group, but the north-west one which Mark has just taken over leadership of, and there were quite a few other visitors to make it a very special evening. Phil and Di were formally prayed out of their leadership, and Mark - along with Daniel and Jodie who will be assisting him - properly welcomed in a similar manner, and then there were plenty of nibbles for all. I made a fairly prompt exit, however, needing to make a few urgent phone-calls in advance of another quiz night I'd been asked to sort out a bit of a team for at very short notice. That's going to be tomorrow evening, when we will be defending our previous win, and presenting the newly-acquired trophy to the new champions, assuming we are unsuccessful in our own endeavours... Sadly our star team member John is unable to join us this time, so I think we're going to be facing an uphill struggle, but it will still be a lot of fun and for a good cause whatever happens.

After a hectic morning, it's a little bit of a more relaxed afternoon. The morning was spent slaving over the CD cutting machine, making about thirty copies of the installer CD-ROM for the modern languages department - and of course honing my FreeCell and Hearts skills on the machine next to it... Discovered in the process of so doing that contrary to Microsoft's claims, not all FreeCell games are possible, which will rather scupper one of my colleague's chances of methodically completing them all - assuming he gets to game number 11,982 this side of eternity. Anyway, the thirtieth CD-ROM got labelled up a bit after lunch, and Sam gave a most welcome hand getting them bagged up and so on, and we got them across to the post-room comfortably before the deadline. But now I can wind down a couple of gears, and prepare for the weekend, whatever it might bring - after tonight's fun and games at the quiz thing, of course.

Ah well, despite consuming vast quantities of food and even vaster quantities of wine, we still returned with our mission accomplished and a successfully defended title under our belt. We eventually scored a total of 121 points, a clear twelve ahead of our nearest rivals. We missed having John on our team, but another Debbie joined us at the last moment and helped us out admirably - even if she'd be far too humble and modest to admit it - and enabled us to claim two out of two engravings on the newly inaugurated trophy. The downside is of course that we'll have to return yet again to defend our undefeated status, but it's all good fun, and every time the Puddleducks nursery seems to do well financially from it all - and we seem to do well alcoholically! - so it's with great pleasure that we'll be back next time...

Today's being very relaxed even as Saturdays go, without even any great reason to go into the city centre as I normally would. Having eaten very little at home over the last week, there really was no justification for a big grocery shopping spree, being able instead to get the couple of loaves of bread and pint of milk I needed from the shop just across the road. I also bought a bag of flour, having been horrified to find - in advance of tomorrow morning's harvest festival for which I'm doing some home baking - that my existing stocks were crawling with - erm - little crawly things, and quickly ended up in the bin without second thought. That was only a temporary hitch, though, and the thoroughly insect-free dough is now proving in the airing cupboard, ready to go in the oven late this afternoon. I would have scheduled it all so I was baking it fresh tomorrow morning, but October unfortunately also sees me back on chair duty again, so I would have been in too much of a rush, I think. For now, all is quiet though, with Phil out all day somewhere or other, and Mark out with his friend Darren to help him look for a house, since he's planning on moving up here in the near future.

Monday morning, back at work, but not too pressured, thankfully. Or at least not until Craig decides to show up, anyway - but I'm not holding my breath in any case, from past experience. This was another different kind of weekend, but probably not really one to remember, although there were a few highlights to make it worth talking about at all.

Saturday evening I was feeling really quite low, and just needed to get out of the house; I contemplated going for a long walk but ended up driving back to my parents for a while, which made for a pleasant change and a small reprieve from what I am quite irrationally finding a very oppressive atmosphere. I arrived back in Milton Keynes at a fairly reasonable hour - just in time to wake Zoe up with a phone-call about Sunday, anyway - but hit the sack soon after.

Sunday started well enough, even with chair duty to spoil my lie-in, and Zoe arrived just in time for the start of the morning meeting, a harvest festival thanksgiving. That was a bit different to the usual kind of thing, with a lot of short talks, songs, testimonies and so on - concluding with the dedication of Dave and Jo's baby Jack - though the Powers That Be had still been rather optimistic with their scheduling, and what should have been a short gathering ended up almost running the normal length.

For a change, we decided we'd try out the Pizza Express in the Winter Gardens centre for lunch, and found it completely empty with some very bored looking staff who were most willing to wait on us hand and foot. It's more than a year since I was there last, I think, and it had been completely refurbished in the eantime, but the food was as good as ever, even if Zoe probably wished she'd gone for the four seasons pizza I had rather than the rather overwhelming cajun one.

We thought we might go for a walk after, but the weather was looking a bit grey and threatening, so instead we rented out the Fifth Element from Blockbuster, which was quite an amusing yarn as surreal science fiction goes. Robbie phoned while we were watching that, asking if I could play for the evening meeting, which we agreed I could, so we toddled up to the school for half past six. There were a few PA problems, with some dodgy earthing - and Chris getting an electric shock for his troubles - and then half way through the practice, my "machine" started playing up as it had once before, followed closely by a worsening of a strange pain in the side of my neck, and generally a bit of a lousy evening for more reasons still to unfold.

Even Zoe couldn't really cheer me up too much - full marks for trying, though, and I'm sorry I was such a miserable so-and-so - and we eventually agreed that an early night was probably the best thing for me. So no late night trips to KFC or McDonalds this time, but probably plenty of other food for thought, even if I'd generally rather forget most of the day, sadly.

Tonight's band practice - postponed from last week - went very well, and, amazingly my WX11 was fine after being given a bit of a wiggle in the pitch-bend sensor department. I say "amazingly", but this is exactly the same as the last time it played up, so I shouldn't be too surprised - though I also can expect to go through the same routine again before too long, which is a little worrying. With rather a bombardment of new songs lately, tonight we were quite glad to practise songs we had played at least a couple of times previously, as well as doing some more general worship led by Alan. To give the practice a little more focus, it was agreed that everyone there would, if possible, play this Sunday, which means I get an extra morning over those scheduled on the rota.

I was pleasantly surprised - initially at least - to receive a few bits of post from Hyundai this morning, including not only a moderately interesting and glossy "lifestyle" magazine to read when I'm bored, but also a questionnaire of sorts, asking for existing customers' opinions on some details of the forthcoming revised Accent 2000 range. They admit that they cannot guarantee to take people's comments on board, but assure that everyone's views count - but how any of it will make any difference whatsoever is unclear, when the car's due for launch this coming January, and things like the grille design and colour range must have been finalised months if not years ago... The questionnaire's a nice customer-relations touch, for sure, but they obviously think we're stupid.

Still not quite in the swing of my back-at-work diet, I popped into McDonalds on the way home yesterday evening, and was the happy winner of an unclaimed-as-yet free portion of fries. My delight at my win was however diminished by the disproving of my theory as to the size of the millennium silver straws - as documented on 29 September 1999 - on finding that obviously even standard McDonalds straws vary in size, and not all are capable of ejecting the prize vouchers from their metallic cousins. Being typically resourceful, and ever mindful of the embarrassment that would be caused by having to seek assistance from staff who would probably have even less clue than me, I found that a folded "standard" straw was just capable of doing the business, and so my diet will duly suffer to the tune of a regular fries next time I'm round that way. Except of course that there are no monetary savings to be made, given that I almost always have a value meal, and an individually-bought burger, drink and free fries would be no cheaper. I'm sure that's entirely deliberate, given that you can only redeem one voucher per visit - give the customer a nice warm fuzzy feeling from winning absolutely nothing...

And so another long day draws to a close, though there's a bit of stuff I'd still like to do this evening. Tonight's fast-food naughtiness was courtesy of the KFC at Westcroft, where I happily partook of one of their delicious new Twisters, which consist of two chicken strips with salad and sauce in a soft tortilla wrap - very recommendable, and not too fattening I shouldn't think, though the less said about the accompanying chips the better... Good news of the evening so far is that I've managed to persuade my friend Dave to produce some content for the soon-to-be-overhauled MKCF web site. I'm hoping to spend a while this evening planning out the general form of the site, but Dave has agreed in principle to write a page to help allay parents' concerns about the internet as well as offer practical advice and so on. Dave's doing a Sunday evening talk on this kind of thing in a couple of weeks, so he was the ideal guy to ask, and he seems pretty sensible about it all, saying he'll be exploding many of the myths surrounding the 'net and tackling the issues in a sensible and non-sensationalist way - should be a breath of fresh air, and an ideal start to getting more people involved with the development of the site.

As intended, I did a little bit of web design late last night, purely a paper exercise at this point, but certainly something an implementation can be based on in due course. I've yet to come up with any kind of visual theme, but I have a few sketchy ideas floating around inside my head, and I'll probably see what I can devise this evening. Anyway, I now have about a dozen basic page titles to be going on, including quite wide range of topics - both fairly specific and of more general interest in nature - with plenty of opportunity to build upon the content-development cooperation that should be kicked off with Dave's agreed contribution. When I'll actually get this lot implemented is anyone's guess, but I would ideally like to have it ready for the new year; I don't think that's being too ambitious, especially if I expedite buying this new home PC so I can do a lot more spare-time development.

It's nice being able to be helpful - honestly, really, I guess it's something in my genetic make-up - but if I'd wanted a technical support job, I'd have applied for a technical support job. And more to the point, I'd have only applied for a technical support job if I'd felt capable of doing a technical support job - and I'm not, really. The occasional warm glowing feeling from truly and successfully sorting out someone's technical problem is insufficient compensation for the fact that this job sucks. Badly. Oh well. I wish my real boss could read this, or that I had the guts to send him a copy - I think he'd understand, and get me reassigned onto something commensurate with my abilities before I knew it, and, more to the point, while my intellectual atrophy was still reversible. Emphasis on the words "real boss" there, as distinct from the charlatan wannabe who would probably go off crying to personnel and start quoting the small print of my contract back at me. Still, at least I have a job at all, and it pays quite well - but money's not everything, and I'd still rather be doing pretty much anything other than this.

Lying in bed this morning, I started formulating a "letter" to my real boss. Of course, being in that semi-conscious state, I can't remember a lot of it now, but perhaps when I put my mind to it, a lot of it will come back to me. The main issues I can recall at the moment were:-

  • The internet conferencing project did not actively involve audio to anywhere near the extent original envisaged, and therefore my selection was in retrospect somewhat misguided;
  • My software design skills are being entirely wasted doing technical support and simple word processing, ruining my career development, with intellectual atrophy taking its place;
  • Any intended hope of being actively involved in software development was dashed, through the decisions to use non-standard tools of which I had no experience, with no facility for appropriate training in their use;
  • Technical support is impossible when the vast majority of the problems reported are with unsupported - and possibly even illegally used - third party software modules beyond our control, but we are unable to openly say so;
  • I have suffered more depression and near breakdowns over the last year than at any other time in my life, and my life's not always been a bed of roses;
  • When I was eventually able to take some holiday - thanks to the excessive number and urgency of deadlines over the previous year - I was too emotionally, mentally and physically drained to do anything constructive with it;
  • I am having to answer to far too many people, ending up between rocks and hard places all too often - it was agreed a long time ago that points of contact would be rationalised, but this simply has not turned out to be the case;
  • There is an attitude of "mushroom management", with a complete lack of useful communication between the project management and the active team members.

I think that's pretty much everything covered, and writing this has helped me get my thoughts together in advance of composing my letter. My absolute intention is to get a transfer onto a different project; we have plenty of other stuff both underway and in the pipeline, and there's even stuff I was doing before that's probably getting neglected now, though admittedly some of that I was quite glad to leave behind. Yes, it will leave the internet conferencing project in the lurch somewhat, but it's not as if I'm able to use my time that productively at the moment, so the loss should not turn out to be anywhere near as great as it might have been. The more I thought about it yesterday and early this morning, though, the more I realised that I had to be decisive, and the more I realised that the answer was not to throw everything in by handing in my notice. Although it's not somewhere I want to be stuck for life, the Open University is a good employer, offering an excellent working environment and general atmosphere, and my colleagues have become a lot more than mere acquaintances; I have no wish to throw all that away in an instant, even a long-awaited and apparently well-considered instant. No, I fully intend to stay here for the time being, but as far as this particular stinking project is concerned, it's adieu, with not even any fish to be thankful for.

Taking good advice from Phil, instead of simply bombarding my boss with my grievances, I mailed him rather more briefly and informally than I had first intended, requesting a confidential chat with him, though I'm yet to hear back. I think he's around at the moment - well his machine's logged into the network anyway! - and knowing him, he'll just walk in to this office sometime this afternoon; he tends to prefer face to face contact, which is a Good Thing, and something I wish I could initiate more often.

I had my requested meeting with Joel this afternoon, and it was a very productive and constructive time, as I'd fully expected. We didn't come to any hard and fast decisions, but we agreed that the current situation was unacceptable, and that come the forthcoming mid-November project review, we would take a long and hard look at my role in the project, probably reassigning me to something a lot more appropriate to my abilities. Of course, it would have been simply wonderful if he had agreed to transfer me right there and then - and I think he would have, grudgingly, if I had pushed for it - but in a way it looks better all round if I can stick things out for another month and avoid leaving people in the lurch. Joel was quite understanding about all my grievances - both personal and technical - and we were able to discuss them openly, without it just seeming like a shopping list of whinges; I never cease to be impressed by Joel's willingness to listen and his pastoral concern for his staff. Anyway, although that means I've got to keep sane for another month, at least I know there really is a light at the end of the tunnel this time, and that the people who matter really are on my side. To say that is a relief is a major understatement, and it's also taken the pressure off me as far as looking for other work is concerned - I openly admitted to Joel that if we'd been having our conversation any time earlier, I could well have been handing in my notice, and I'm very glad that doesn't now have to be the case.

Not the most interesting of days, but it's nearly over, and then the weekend will be with us once again. Craig finally materialised this afternoon, only a day and a half late for yesterday morning's agreed team meeting, and he seemed to be in a pretty chirpy upbeat mood - obviously he's not had his meeting with Joel yet, when I would hope my impending likely removal from the project team would be explained. I also had a quite enlightening chat with Lesley just before lunch, which certainly put a different perspective on a number of outstanding issues. But anyway, the day's almost done, and I'm still pondering the possibility of going up to London this evening, though in fairness I think I'm far too tired and would be better saving it for sometime when I'd be likely to be a lot more fun. Tomorrow, on the other hand, I wholly intend to go over to Tring in the afternoon, and have a look round David Hinds, the big telescope dealer there; I won't be pushed into buying anything, but it would be very useful to get a better idea of the kind of thing that's available - as well as the size, an important issue for me - and get some good advice on the most appropriate design for my intended use.

Saturdays are normally pretty relaxed - they're the nearest thing I get to a "day of rest", after all - but this one's been fairly hectic, up and dressed in unusually good time in the morning, and in the city centre for my weekly shop by ten. Any plans to get my hair cut came to nought, however, with far too long a queue at the barber's, so that can wait until next weekend or even longer if need be - it's not too bad at the moment, but is just beginning to get a little annoying, which is usually my cue to get it sorted out with something numerically brutal.

On the way back I tried to have a look at the controversial Gilbert and George exhibition at the new Milton Keynes gallery, but it didn't open until midday, and I wasn't really prepared to hang around given that I had other plans for the afternoon. Perhaps it was meant to be that way; the exhibition has been widely criticised for its selection as the gallery's opening feature, but I must admit I was quite intrigued to find out what the fuss was all about. Another time, maybe, though the thought of seeing two middle-aged men in their wrinkly birthday suits isn't one I would claim to be particularly attractive.

Lunch was another most delicious Twister meal at the KFC in Stacey Bushes, and I filled up with petrol at the BP station there, since our local one has closed, apparently for redevelopment. Then it was straight onto the A5 to drive down to Tring, to have a look round the telescope showroom there. The journey wasn't quite as easy as I'd hoped, but there was no problem eventually finding the showroom, at a small industrial estate just off the very road I entered Tring by, and perfectly positioned just in time to avoid what looked a bit of a tedious traffic jam ahead.

To say I had a good look round the showroom would be a slight understatement, spending about two hours being decidedly undecided, but all the time getting lots of helpful and non-pressuring advice and suggestions from the two staff there. I was quite ready to go home with some options to ponder, when suddenly the option of the Helios brand came up. I had been a little suspicious of these telescopes, because they appeared somehow just too cheap, but Adam there seemed very happy to recommend one even when it looked like I was considering a much more expensive Celestron model, or even one of their own-brand designs.

So we discussed that set of options a little longer, and eventually I put a deposit down on a 4.5-inch Helios Skyhawk reflector; this is a notable step up from the most suspiciously cheap model, by virtue of correcting its biggest failing, a rather insubstantial equatorial tripod mount. As such, it was somewhat more expensive, at a bit over two hundred pounds, but still a good deal less than pretty much anything else on offer. Not that they had any in stock, of course, but they offered to deliver it free when they could get one in - hopefully by the middle of the week - although we agreed in the end I would collect it in person, so they could talk me through its use and show me all the bits and pieces in the accessory kit I've also opted for.

I decided not to get the necessary add-ons to do astrophotography quite yet though; they would be easily installable at a later date, once I am fully familiar with the basic equipment. Happily, my ageing Pentax Spotmatic SLR should be up to the job as and when, with the necessary 42mm threaded adapter still in common use for Praktica cameras. Determined not to leave empty-handed today however, I also bought a nice sturdy sky-guide book, which includes a luminous planisphere built into its cover, and the latest Astronomy Now magazine, not even available from Smiths yet... The book in particular should be very useful, with lots of maps and other information, and it's very robust, which is vital for something that will probably spend a good part of its active life on dewy ground and so on!

I accidentally came home what turned out to be a far more straightforward way, avoiding Leighton Buzzard altogether and coming up the A5 instead. It meant a round trip of over fifty miles in the end, but David Hinds remains by far the closest dealer, and I was really quite impressed by their attitude and knowledge, so I don't begrudge the distance at all, or the fact that I'm going to have to do it all over again within the next few days...

After a bit of a wobbly start, it's been another great Sunday, but to be honest I'm pretty exhausted and ready for bed, so a more complete report on today can wait until tomorrow, I do believe. What work will be like tomorrow I have no idea, but I'm going into the new week in a better frame of mind than for a long time, which must be in my favour.

Just had a flurry of phone-calls with Adam at David Hinds in Tring, and the upshot is that I've upgraded to a slightly better model of telescope than I originally ordered on Saturday. Their supplier had no Skyhawks in, and weren't expecting any until mid-November, but they had a lone Challenger in stock, which I should be able to collect from Tring next weekend as originally hoped. Although pretty similar to the Skyhawk in terms of size and so on, it is a generally slightly better telescope, and naturally carries a small price premium because of that, but it's still great value and David Hinds himself appears to have had no hesitation in recommending it for my anticipated use.

As for yesterday, well as I said, it got off to a wobbly start with all kinds of worries as to where Zoe had got to, notable by her absence from the morning meeting, though when I arrived back home, she was sat outside in her car, having been held up by lengthy traffic jams and diversions after a major accident on the northbound M1. Perhaps the highlight of the meeting was the formal appointment of Paul as the new leader for Centre Church, a development I had thought to be in the offing for a long time, though many people had been sceptical.

After the meeting, I had already agreed to go out somewhere for lunch with Mark, so when we found Zoe, all three of us drove over to the Westcroft KFC to demolish three pretty much identical Twister meals, though Mark topped his up with another portion of crispy strips... All very yummy, as both Mark and I already knew, and Zoe was very soon to discover for herself!

It was a slightly chilly afternoon, but far too beautiful to just stay indoors, so Zoe and I decided we'd better go out somewhere and make the most of it while it lasted. When I'd driven down to Tring on Saturday, I'd passed the Three Locks, a rather nice canal-side pub near Soulbury; I'd been there with my mum a couple of years ago, but had quite forgotten about its existence, and thought that it would be a nice place to take Zoe sometime. So that was where we went for part of the afternoon, enjoying a nice stroll up the tow-path, and a swift half at the pub, before it really got just too nippy to stay outside any longer. I finally managed to use up my camera film, though, so I can get that developed - the film includes pictures from the Star Wars theme party at the bank holiday weekend, which I've been itching to see for weeks!

We got back to the house just in time to catch the repeat showing of the BBC's "Walking With Dinosaurs" episode that I missed on Monday night, which was quite interesting, if even more speculative then the first one. Before leaving for the evening meeting, we also caught the tail-end of a rather amusing fly-on-the-wall documentary about a family who agreed to adopt a Victorian lifestyle for a few months; the reactions of the rebellious teenage daughters were particularly funny, though one couldn't help but have a lot of sympathy for them.

The evening meeting was very good, if quite long, but thankfully there was no repeat of last week's events, when I really struggled to make it through the time. Having not eaten since lunch, we made a late night visit to McDonalds - via Blockbuster to drop off a video - where we not only bumped into Daniel briefly, but also William and Dave, who we had a good chat with before calling it a day. Dave is on a justified high at the moment, having effectively been let off for a very serious offence; his probation officer had been pressing for a community service order for an aggravated burglary and GBH charge which his victim had already forgiven him for, though the judge said he had no choice but to send him to prison for 21 months - but suspended for two years owing to the exceptional circumstances!

Time was getting on, though, so Zoe was on her way home very soon after we arrived back at the house, her car seeming perhaps a little healthier than it's been lately - obviously because it was due to get looked at today... Anyway, after that initial slightly worrying hitch, it was an altogether very good day, and I'm looking forward to the next one already...

Anyway, it's been a modestly productive day - though not without its annoyances of course - but it's time to head home, hopefully have a nice quiet evening in, and an early night to make up for the last few days...

Great minds clearly think alike, because both Zoe and I tonight seem to have taken the unusual step of going out and getting some moderately serious exercise. In Zoe's case it was ice-skating, and in mine it was swimming, even if there is a rather big difference in our relative proficiencies at the respective sports - and yes, it is my swimming which is the worse of the two, before anyone asks.

This was the first time I had been swimming since my regular trips during my time off work; I think I mentioned before that I'd bought a block ticket for ten sessions to give me an incentive to at least sometimes get a quick swim in after work. I only lasted about half an hour, but it wasn't as crowded as I'd feared - or not in the lanes at least, though the rest of the pool was a bit busy with the tail end of swimming lessons going on - and it was well worth the effort.

The reward for my self-discipline was my customary visit to Westcroft KFC, though as has been the case for my last few swimming-unrelated visits there, I stuck to the much more healthy Twister rather than my other somewhat greasy favourite, the Zinger Tower. But now I'm really quite tired, so I'm shortly going to have a nice unhurried bath and call it a day...

Not too stiff today, thankfully, after yesterday evening's unaccustomed exercise, though when I'll go swimming next I'm not too sure - Monday or Tuesday next week would seem most likely, though there's also a lanes session late this evening which might yet tempt me. Today's being decidedly boring, with immediate pressures off, and a typical lack of motivation on my part. As such, I had contemplated taking this afternoon off, to go and collect my telescope from Tring, but it's not in yet so that plan to make things more interesting is duly scuppered. They say they'll give me a ring when it is in, though, so I guess I just wait for the word now; they're still very confident it will be by the end of the week, though, in time for the weekend. Hopefully there will be drearily overcast evenings between now and then, so I needn't feel too deprived.

I'm pondering what accessories to get with the telescope when I collect it, whenever that might be. I had been planning to leave the necessary bits and pieces for astrophotography until I was familiar with the basic mechanics, but I'm not so sure now, especially given that I'm increasingly thinking a right-ascension clock drive would be a good buy right from the start, and that would be the single most expensive part of the astrophotography extras. Unfortunately, photographing the planets is likely to be a bit disappointing though - and with Jupiter and Saturn at opposition, that was quite a persuasive factor originally - because the affordable kind of SLR mount behaves pretty much like a 35mm eyepiece, that is to say, only giving about 28x magnification in conjunction with a 1000mm focal length. Mind you, that kind of magnification would be ideal for capturing deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies, where a good long exposure on low magnification can yield some truly spectacular images, with a lot more colour and detail than would be possible without going down the photographic route - and with a permanent record as a most welcome bonus.

But anyway, I have a couple more days to think about that, unless David Hinds surprise me with a phone call a lot earlier than I'm really expecting... Just got to find some of that elusive motivation in the meantime.

Oh, in the meantime I can have a good chuckle at some of my photographs, having actually remembered to take my newly-finished film in to the OU Shop to get it developed yesterday, and the prints back promptly today - not a bad service for four pounds, when the shop is about two minutes walk away. Hopefully I'll have a few of them scanned sometime in the next couple of days, then still more people can - as appropriate - tremble in fear at Darth Gozza and miscellaneous other photographed persons from over the summer months.

Well I guess I asked for it to be this way, but it's still pretty depressing nonetheless - the weather's foul today, cold, damp and murky, no immediate sign of it clearing up at all, and even the forecast for the weekend not looking too promising. Perhaps not the best time for my windscreen washer system to have gone faulty into the bargain. I think there's a blockage somewhere, because the pump still sounds healthy enough, and the jets bubble furiously, so I'll have a look at it sometime when the rain's stopped and see if there's anything I can easily get at to remedy it. Other than that, it's being a totally mundane day, devoid of anything worth me writing about - so I won't.

After a foul night's weather, it's a pleasantly bright morning, though I'm still awaiting that confirmatory phone-call from David Hinds to let me know it's worth driving down to Tring again tomorrow afternoon. Neighbourhood group was good last night, with a "Mr and Mrs" style game to see how well we really knew each other - all very relevant of course, honest! - and a few other bits and pieces. The really good news though is that my friends Andy and Rosie are now proud parents of a baby girl, with Rosie "doing the honours" in the small hours of yesterday morning after a mercifully short time in labour. Anyway, on with today for the moment; Craig's called a meeting for this afternoon, which I am sure will be a complete waste of time - though it will be hot on the heels of one he is having with Joel, which might well make things more interesting, especially if Joel breaks the news of my anticipated release from the project. And then it will very soon be the weekend, and what a relief that will be...

Oh well, the weekend's here and David Hinds' supplier still haven't come up with the goods; may it continue to be murky for another three evenings, so I needn't get too frustrated in the meantime. "Two to three days" has become the best part of a week; one has to wonder quite how these places stay in business - certainly their supplier seems to carry the bare minimum of stock, although I was assured there was a unit physically reserved for me, so I guess they are just using lousy delivery services, or plain forgot. Anyway, the day's just about over, and with it the week. It's not been a good week, really, and I'd rather just forget it. Next week will be worse, though...

It's relaxation time on Saturday afternoon, having had a fairly busy day up until now - even without my hoped-for trip down to Tring, which I now suspect might possibly have been scuppered by industrial action at Parcelforce, though that's sheer speculation. Despite not having managed a particularly early night - thanks in part to Phil's sister Beth being up to visit for a few days - I got up in fairly good time this morning, and spent a while looking at the car, specifically trying to fix the troublesome windscreen washer system, as I mentioned before.

Unfortunately, on the Accent, Hyundai have followed the increasingly common trend of mounting the washer reservoir in the wheel arch, with only the neck poking through the metalwork into the engine compartment. I thought that perhaps removing the front moulding from the car would give access, but despite tracking down all its fixing points, it wouldn't budge, so I shelved that idea - especially as the rain started to fall... To get my screwdriver underneath the car to unscrew the moulding, I had to jack it up a little, whereupon I discovered a hitherto unknown omission from the car's toolkit, namely the wheel-brace that should have been supplied. Not that I needed it for the procedure I was attempting, but it was still a little worrying, given that I would have been completely stuck in the event of a puncture.

So I phoned my Hyundai dealer to query that, and also ask advice on the washer problem. Regarding the former, they said the wheel-brace - and perhaps a few other assorted tools - certainly should have been there, but we agreed it wasn't really worth the fuss of them ordering one specially when I could get one from somewhere like Halfords easily enough. Regarding the latter, they reckoned that access to the washer reservoir was actually via a panel under the wheel arch, and I would need to remove the wheel to get at it at all easily. So I needed the wheel-brace there and then anyway, so in the end I had little choice but to add it to my Saturday shopping list.

Obviously now slightly paranoid about the risk of puncturing or something, and with enough rain now to dissuade me from walking as I normally would, I drove tentatively into the city centre to do my shopping, and I had no trouble getting a suitable universal wheel-brace at Halfords - and it looked a lot more substantial than the Hyundai one did in the pictures in the manual, so I'm sure it was a good buy for about a tenner, especially being an extendible one allowing plenty of torque. Parking wasn't so easy, eventually ending up on the top floor of the food-centre multi-storey, which in itself was an experience, though the car-park seems to have been designed with a lot more manoeuvring space than many more modern abominations.

By the time I got home again - having had a very yummy Bacon Whopper meal for lunch, and finally got my hair cut - it was looking bright again, so once I'd unpacked my food and stuff, I decided I'd get my hands dirty with the car again. I jacked it up nice and high, and had a good look under the wheel arch, but really couldn't see any panel that looked like it was going to come off at all easily; I might try again sometime when I'm not going to be kneeling in puddles, but I suspect that this might well be a job for someone who really knows what they're doing. So I didn't actually use the wheel-brace in the end, but it was still very wise for me to have bought it today, because I would never have been able to drive with any peace of mind knowing it wasn't there in case of an emergency.

But not to be defeated, I thought I'd see what I could do to the washer system without needing specialist knowledge. I located the rubber hose that led to the bonnet-mounted washer jets, and managed to pull it apart at a joint. Blowing into the end attached to the jets didn't seem to pose any big problems, with a fine spray ejecting itself from the jets, and what seemed like perfectly reasonable air-flow against my hands. Blowing into the other end caused the washer reservoir to froth furiously like a witch's cauldron - especially with the green screenwash mixture! - so there was no obvious problem there either. But, putting it all together again, it still didn't seem to be working at all near efficiently, so I'll have to have another look, and if I don't have any joy, refer it to my dealer for what would hopefully be a warranty repair.

Phil suggests that next time I fiddle with it, I try sucking as well as blowing - it'll probably taste disgusting, but be harmless enough, and if there is a blockage somewhere, it should help further in dislodging it, even if "it" ends up in my mouth... That will do for now, though - especially as there's now thunder and lightning around too - because although it's a little annoying that the washer doesn't work properly, it isn't completely dead, so I can muddle along a little longer if need be.

Running a couple of hours later than I was last Saturday - when I got there too early and didn't really want to wait around - I finally had an opportunity to look around the controversial opening exhibition at the new Milton Keynes Gallery, or MK G as it now appears to be known. Having heard a lot of opinions - mainly vociferously negative - about the work of the modern artists Gilbert and George, it seemed only fair that I should brace myself and judge for myself, especially when it was all for free - or quite likely subsidised by my tax.

Yes, their pictures are frequently shocking and in fairly poor taste, but they remain challenging and interesting, even if they are not works I would want gracing the walls in my own home - not least because the artists, who often appear in their work, are hardly the most photogenic blokes in the world. In fairness, the Rudimentary Pictures are a little repetitive, especially those based around street-maps and photomicrographs of bodily fluids - though the first few seem quite imaginative - but they are certainly worth a look for anyone not too faint-hearted or easily shocked.

Despite a lot of fuss being made about the artists' full-frontal nudity - which was more humorous than anything, given that they are hardly spring chickens - and the bad language featuring in many of the titles and content, I would say that probably the most tasteless picture of the lot was one of bluebottle flies in various states of dismemberment. And yes, to be honest, I was quite entertained by trying to spot all the dubious street-name references in "Sex City", and tracking down the one picture where Gilbert and George were not similarly attired, though it was fairly obvious in the end...

Can't remember if I did anything much Saturday evening; I suspect not, given that I thought I might have to be up quite early Sunday morning, so was looking towards getting an early night. With Zoe's car effectively out of action, I was going to have to collect her from the railway station, and what with doing chairs and being on the worship team for the morning, it was going to be a bit hectic. Thankfully, Gareth was happy to release me from the worship side of things, which left plenty of time between doing the chairs and the start of the meeting to go and pick up Zoe, so I was able to get up at a far more sensible hour.

The highlight of the morning's meeting was almost certainly the announcement of the engagement of our tireless Signpost schools workers Daniel and Jodie, which was terrific news, though I have no idea when they're planning on actually getting married - I would normally have predicted sooner rather than later, but there are other circumstances which might draw things out a little, I suspect.

Zoe and I were invited for lunch round at Chris and Claire's, which was a most delicious Chinese prawn stir-fry concoction of Chris's own making, followed up with apple and strawberry strudel - an interesting but very tasty combination. We passed the rest of a rather murky afternoon watching The Undiscovered Country on video - I'd seen it a few times before, but it is a good one, probably the best of the "serious" original-cast Star Trek films - and a bit of Voyager and the Simpsons. Chris had to leave early to go and set up the PA for the evening meeting, and we all followed soon after, stopping off at the shop for get-through-the-evening liquid refreshments.

As expected, the evening meeting was very good, with much of the time given over to Dave's interesting and long-awaited talk on integrity in technology, with a particular slant on the internet. With only an hour or so to talk, and wanting to offer some common-sense guidelines to parents and employees, he openly apologised for the fact that he was spending most of the time dwelling on the negative, but was quick to point out that the 'net offers lots that is wholesome and worthwhile, and - as he had told me he would - he exploded a good number of the more malicious myths surrounding the whole subject.

I had agreed I'd run Zoe back home after the meeting - her parents had given her a lift to Watford Junction in the morning, but it wouldn't have been so easy to arrange the same for the return journey - so we left promptly, stopping off at KFC and the BP garage before hitting the southbound M1. It was a little tedious at the roadworks on the M1, but I was glad we travelled when we did, because when I came back, it looked like there must have been an accident or something, because the traffic was tailed back about three miles, which would have been no fun. Zoe's dad had just gone to bed when we got to Iver, but we had a good natter with her mum before she did likewise, then it was time for our customary goodbyes and for me to hit the road back home.

I got in just a little bit after one o'clock, which wasn't too bad, though with not much more than about six hours sleep, I can't say I much wanted to get out of bed this morning. It was altogether another very good day yesterday, though - different once again, and we are both so glad to have Chris and Claire as friends; they seem to have such a deep and wise understanding, always so reliable, willing to help, stand up for us, or whatever, without being pushy, conclusion-jumping or at all judgmental. People like that really are priceless.

The telescope saga unfolded still further today, with yet another change to my order, this time a lot more significant than before. David Hinds received a shipment from the Helios supplier this morning, and were surprised to find that my telescope was not included, unlike other customers' units ordered later in the week. They immediately queried this, and it turned out that an inexperienced salesperson at the supplier had reserved me their sole demonstrator unit, which they were naturally unwilling to part with! With no likelihood of further imported stock arriving until next year possibly, I pretty quickly decided that I was on to a loser with the budget brands available through that supplier.

Ever full of worthwhile ideas though, Adam suggested that I might be interested in a second-hand 4.5-inch Celestron that had just arrived - minus one of its eyepieces - that he would be willing to sell for a very nice price once they'd checked it over. The lack of the eyepiece would be no big deal to me, given that the accessory pack I was going to get anyway includes a 9mm eyepiece to more or less replace the 10mm missing one. The only real pain is that the telescope is substantially longer than the nice compact short-tube one I had been hoping for, but when it's going at less than half price and will probably be optically better anyway, it didn't take a lot of pondering to decide this was an offer worth taking up while I had the chance. So my name's against the Celestron, and all being well with its check-over, I should be able to collect it Wednesday afternoon, and I'll finally be in business!

Last night was fairly uneventful, really, or at least by the time I was back home, anyway. I left work quite late, having had a bit of a natter with various folks in the department about this and that, and was feeling really quite tired and looking forward to an early night. For a number of reasons, I didn't get one in the end, but it was still quite a relaxed time - despite everyone feeling more than a little itchy at the merest mention of headlice, one of those unfortunate realities for Angela as a primary school teacher - and after a nice hot bath and an even nicer phone-call I got one of the best night's sleep I can remember in the end.

Curious about just how big this telescope I'm hopefully collecting on Wednesday will be - yes, I saw one in the showroom, but there was little to compare with for scale - I measured out the thirty-five inches of its length, and was quite surprised to find it was only about a hand-span longer than my existing one. Obviously, by virtue of being a 114mm rather than 40mm aperture telescope, it's bulkier in other dimensions, and the heavy-duty tripod and mount will be quite significant extra components, but it's still not quite as massive as I'd perhaps feared, and it'll be smaller than my electric guitar anyway, and I'd never considered getting a half-length one of those...

Not too interesting a day at work, but a better - if quiet, thanks to both Mark and Phil now being away - evening, with a couple of welcome phone-calls to pass the time.

First to call was Tim, unusually ringing on completely church-unrelated business. He's still going through the wars with problems recovering from numerous operations, and his baffled consultant has now referred him to a plastic surgeon, having done all he can, never having seen anything like it in his thirty years in the profession. Anyway, apart from having the inevitable natter about all things astronomical - Tim being one of those people who fired up this recent resurgence in my interest - the main reason for Tim's phoning was to recruit me into a small band he's getting together for his school's forthcoming production of Bugsy Malone. He assures me it should be a lot easier than anything we do in church, which is just as well given that we're only likely to have time for one practice before the show itself in a fortnight's time... It'll be different and fun, though, I am sure, and I feel quite honoured to be invited over and above all the other probably more worthy candidates Tim knows and could easily have called upon.

Mum also phoned, with not such good news, though it was still good to have a decent chat for the first time in a while - normally I seem to be in a hurry to go out somewhere, or she phones on Sunday evenings when she really should know better, but never mind... Anyway, Mum's suffering from some strange problem with her left eye, which the doctor initially thought was a detached retina, but that appears now not to be the case, not that they seem to have any better ideas either. Whatever it is, her vision is quite impaired with that eye, and she's pretty sure she can see blood cells; she's been advised to take it easy for a few days, then see how things are. The other bad news was that our old friend Dave had recently been knocked off his bike on the Tring bypass, and suffered a lot of broken bones and other injuries. Thankfully it seems that his helmet saved his life, judging by how mangled it was; Dave was apparently hit at something approaching 60mph by a motorist blinded by the low sun, so he's really very lucky to be alive.

But after a late night yesterday - and still feeling pretty tired as a result - I'm going to call it a day soon, via another nice long hot bath, and hopefully recover the energy to put in a good morning's work tomorrow before - all being well at David Hinds - I disappear off down to Tring for the afternoon.

Needless to say, the phone carried on ringing last night, with Zoe calling just as I was about to run my bath, not that I'm complaining for a moment, and I still just about managed to get to bed on the better side of midnight - and yes, I did get my bath in the end, in case you were wondering.

Been thinking a little more about this "Bugsy Malone" thing; I really hope I can live up to Tim's musical expectations, especially since I think we're going to be quite a compact band. Tim will be on piano, naturally, and the only other people he mentioned were Craig on drums and Jonathan on bass, so I'll be quite "exposed". He's going to drop round a copy of the sheet-music and a tape in the next few days, though, so I should get plenty of opportunity to practise at home in advance of the rehearsal and the performance itself. Apparently the whole musical is about an hour long, which is a bit shorter than I'd perhaps feared, though I would imagine it will be rather more intensive and tightly-directed than the average Sunday morning or evening's praise and worship "performance" which tends to be relatively easy-going and free-flowing.

I'm trying to remember the last time I did anything even vaguely like this; it was of course when I was at school myself. It was either my relatively run-of-the-mill chorus parts in "The Mikado" or "All The King's Men" operas, or my undoubted thespian high-point as the back half of a pantomime cow in "Joseph". Anyway, it'll be an interesting experience, though I'll be a lot happier once I have a copy of the music to really let myself know what I've been so willingly dropped into...

Excellent stuff; just phoned David Hinds, and Adam's got the telescope set up in-store, checked over, collimated - that's adjusting the mirror to make sure it's properly aligned for optimum focus - and pretty much ready to go. So having already warned relevant people here at work that I was likely to be out this afternoon, I'll make hay while the sun shines - and hope the stars do similarly this evening - and head off down to Tring pretty much right now.

Needless to say - at least for the eternal pessimist - there was good news and bad news about the telescope. The good news was that I did indeed collect it from David Hinds this afternoon, and I've had a lot of fun star-hopping tonight. The bad news was that most of the extra bits and pieces I bought - other than the main accessory pack, which was astonishingly good value - appear to have serious shortcomings that I won't be happy until resolved. The basic telescope is great, and I got most rewarding views of Saturn - including its moon Titan for the first time on my own telescope - Jupiter and our own Moon with the higher power 6mm and 9mm Plossl eyepieces, whilst the lower power 15mm Plossl and 25mm SMA ones were great for more distant objects like the Pleiades and the Andromeda Galaxy. The Barlow lens, which effectively doubles the focal length of the telescope, gave mixed results. It certainly does seem to be the case that trying to get a lot more than about 200x magnification relies more on wishful thinking than anything; in theory I could get about 300x with the 6mm and the Barlow, but in practice that combination is just unusable. There is a rule of thumb that the highest practical magnification you can hope for is about 50 multiplied by the aperture in inches; that seems fairly accurate in reality.

My general delight was however soured by finding that the clock drive and the camera mount are both problematic to the point of uselessness, and I'll need to phone David Hinds tomorrow to consult them on what's best to do - especially since together they are worth the best part of a hundred pounds. The clock drive seems to work fine electrically and mechanically, but - despite Adam taking some time to make sure he sold me the right one for my mount, or so he thought - it simply won't fit. The instruction leaflet says you may need to drill holes for it, but this was supposed to be the specific drive for my mount, and in any case the shape of the bracket is such that even if I did drill some holes I doubt they would do much good. Similarly, the SLR camera mount is as good as useless as far as I can tell. It fits my Pentax perfectly, but it simply won't come anywhere near focusing. Trying to view Jupiter, for example, all I could see was a fuzzy image of the secondary mirror in a bright circle; even at the extremity of the focusing range, Jupiter was nowhere near discernible. I dare say I might have been forgetting something obvious with the camera mount, but that gives me all the more reason to phone David Hinds as soon as possible to get their advice on that and the apparently incompatible clock drive.

Other non-astronomical highlights of this evening included having my musical services called upon once again, and a bit of action on the estate. The former was Daniel, asking if I could play at a special celebration service in Hanslope on Saturday evening, which I was quite happy to agree to. I'm not exactly sure what it will involve, but it should be quite fun, and playing in a different venue and in front of different people will make a big change. As with Tim's forthcoming production, it sounds like it's going to be quite a stripped-down band - this time with Daniel on guitar, me on saxophone and hopefully Alan on keyboards.

The latter exciting event seemed to be a fire at the local "dump" across the road. I'm not sure what the official designation of the place is, but it's somewhere that people can leave larger items for free collection and disposal by the council. In any case I would imagine that bored kids or similar troublemakers had set fire to a skip-load of stuff there, because there was quite a column of smoke rising - even at the late stage I became aware there was something untoward going on - and the fire brigade were in attendance. I also heard a police siren later, so I guess they were investigating what had happened and who had done it.

I can tell it's going to be one of those days that drags on forever, and I'm honestly in no fit state to be participating. I'm really not quite sure what happened last night, but I very nearly didn't go to bed at all - even though I knew the consequences would be dire - though I eventually forced myself sometime after about two o'clock. Perhaps it started with me feeling excessively hungry at about half past eleven, and deciding I'd make an unprecedented lone trip over to KFC for a late-night snack. Well it was that or a kebab, really, and a Twister meal seemed by far the more pleasant option. I got to Westcroft and found the main restaurant had closed, so I bought a drive-through meal instead and ate it sat in my car in the car park there.

All very nice, as usual, but once home I just had no inclination whatsoever to sleep, even though my body was yelling at me to give in. That's always annoying - to sleep really well, you have to be both mentally and physically tired; otherwise, the best you can hope for is an unsettled night, or worse. So I managed about six hours of patchy sleep in the end, I guess, and painfully managed to drag myself in to work shortly after nine, though I'm sure if I put my head on my desk for more than about five seconds, I'd be out like a light for the rest of the afternoon.

I phoned Adam at David Hinds this morning to query the telescope's troublesome clock drive and SLR adapter, and needless to say he was quite baffled, even sceptical. In any case, he asked me to phone back later this afternoon, once he'd had a chance to think about it, or - more likely - consult his boss. I'm confident we will come to some happy resolution, but how quickly is quite another matter, especially since I'm not too keen on driving down there again quite yet if I need to demonstrate anything in order to convince them there really is a problem.

But meanwhile, I have a few things needing to be done with some urgency, so I guess I'd better get on; at least they will pass the time and keep me awake - maybe. Or on the other hand, perhaps I should just rest ... my ... head ...

Yesterday was quite a satisfyingly productive evening, after a day that really did drag as I had somewhat expected. As I often do on Thursday nights, I came home more work via Kingston McDonalds, and found - contrary to less than enthusiastic reports - that their Jungle Chicken burgers are really very nice indeed. I don't normally go for McDonalds' chicken stuff, but I daresay I'll be making future exceptions for this particular promotional concoction.

I got back home, and not quite sure of when Mark or Phil were going to be returning, thought I'd better tidy up a bit while I had the chance; my telescope might only be a relatively small one, but it and its packaging and accessories were still taking up half the lounge. Somehow I managed to find space for it all in my own room, though there's a load of stuff that really needs to go in the loft now, but that can wait until I can get a housemate's shoulder to stand on, given our distinct lack of a step ladder or similar to get up there via.

I got all that finished just in time to have a shave and toddle down to neighbourhood group, which was a fine way to wrap up the evening. With it being half term and many people away, only five of us were there, so we didn't do anything too crucial, but we had an excellent discussion about various things. With Paul recently having taken on pastorship of Centre Church, he was very keen to discuss issues of perception of the fellowship particularly to newcomers and so on. As a relatively recent recruit, I had a fair bit to contribute, and it's likely I'm going to be quite involved with a project to produce a proper welcome pack, which will of course also have great relevance to the web site developments.

We overran by about an hour in the end, but I still managed to get a modestly early night, and slept reasonably, even if I still didn't really want to get up this morning. But hey, it's almost the weekend, and I should certainly be able to catch up on lost sleep tomorrow morning, even if the rest of the day is likely to be quite busy, especially with this Hanslope thing in the evening.

Just phoned David Hinds, this time speaking to David himself - Friday evidently being Adam's day off - and seem to have made a bit more headway in solving the problems of the clock drive and in particular the SLR camera mount. David's taken a fairly detailed description of the problem with the clock drive installation and will look into that further - he says he wouldn't be surprised if the wrong bracket was fitted, from his lengthy experience in the business - and he's pretty sure he knows what the trouble is with the camera mount.

As I had observed, it simply seemed that the camera wouldn't move far enough in on the focusing rack to get a clear image, and David is fairly sure that it will be because Celestron corrected a slight failing in the rack's design about six months ago. My telescope pre-dates that change by a few months, but the camera mount I was supplied assumed the change had been made. Thankfully it shouldn't be at all expensive to rectify - though he thinks it will need an extra mounting hole drilling for some strange reason - and hopefully they'll refund me for the mount that I would no longer need, since the replacement focusing rack includes a built-in one, making the extra outlay really quite minimal. Of course, this also raises the issue of whether the clock drive doesn't fit because Celestron redesigned the equatorial mount too, but David's pretty certain that's not the case.

I have to say that although Adam is very helpful and enthusiastic, David seems a lot more knowledgeable and I felt a lot more confident dealing with him. I guess Adam - who I suspect is his son - is just a bit new to the job, and whilst quite astronomically experienced, is perhaps not so familiar with the problems customers might encounter. Anyway, we came to no decisions today - other than that I would almost certainly want to fit the older focusing rack, rather than the less satisfactory measure of fiddling around with the primary mirror - and I've been asked to phone David back tomorrow afternoon to see what he's discovered about the clock drive from the description I was able to give him.

But now it's five o'clock, and high time I was thinking about going home. Altogether it's been a moderately good week, I suppose, but I'm still mighty glad it's the weekend.

A late Saturday afternoon lull in proceedings, though today's been fairly relaxed so far, getting up pleasantly late, enjoying a proper breakfast for the first time in a week probably, and collapsing into a long hot bath to take me up to lunchtime. Walked up to the city centre to do my shopping, a trip which included an interesting chat with the lady selling the Big Issue outside Waitrose. The only particularly interesting purchase I made - other than the Big Issue, of course! - was a copy of the recently re-published "The Manual (How to have a number one the easy way)", a classic book by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. I'm not sure if it still comes with its famous guarantee though - namely that if you followed all the instructions and didn't top the charts, you got your money back. Oh, it does, actually; though the contact address looks suspiciously out of date...

Back at home, played Whirlpool for a while - a dangerously addictive, if extremely frustrating, game - and then as requested, phoned David Hinds to find out how they'd got on with investigating the clock drive problem. It turned out that I was going to need to drill holes in order to install the drive, and even then it was going to be a tricky operation, so we've tentatively agreed that I'll upgrade to a better drive which will definitely be directly compatible with my equatorial mount and offer certain other advantages. David agreed that they would be able to help out with fitting that and installing the improved focusing rack, though it means I'll need to travel down to Tring again - and indeed probably twice, given that he's suggested I leave it there for a couple of days. Yes, there's extra expense involved, alas, but at least once that's all done, I should have a more than satisfactory system that will get me off to an excellent start.

Daniel's been phoning throughout the day trying to get hold of Phil, who's supposed to be getting back home at some point today, hoping he'll be able to play piano at tonight's event in Hanslope, since Alan's definitely not available. It's looking increasingly unlikely, however, so the "band" is going to be extremely minimal, with just Daniel on guitar and vocals, me on sax, and someone else on vocals too. I'm sure it'll be fun anyway, and it'll certainly make a change from the usual kind of event I get involved with. It's apparently a joint celebration for Christians in Hanslope, some of whom are members of MKCF and some of other local churches; it should be a good community-building and friendship-fostering event, and I'm looking forward to it immensely.

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