goznet ...

David's diary: September 1999

Another pleasantly relaxed day, doing nothing too enterprising, although there is a worship band practice later this evening - in advance of this coming Sunday's celebration - which should be interesting. It'll be the first time there's been a celebration practice for a long time, certainly there's never been one while I've been on the team, but it seems a good idea now Tim's properly back on board after his lengthy illness. Today's other modest highlight was walking out to the Barge for lunch, then remembering I meant to go to the Olde Swan, turning a short stroll into a bit of a trek. Still, at least it meant I had a good appetite for a spicy sausage hot-hob and chips, and it was all undoubtedly good exercise. I won't be able to afford to do that every day while I'm off work, but once or twice a week can't do any harm, especially if I combine it with a nice healthy walk.

Tonight's celebration band practice went very well, with Tim first of all talking a bit about his vision for the group before getting into teaching us a couple of new songs. We didn't get through quite as much as Tim had maybe hoped, but we weren't far off, and we've certainly got enough to be going on for Sunday. My scheduled high-point is likely to be a rather nice pipe solo bit in the middle of a rather Celtic-style song by Brian Doerksen, though on the morning itself, who knows...

The holiday's passing by fairly mundanely at the moment, but with another four weeks to go, there's plenty of time left to do things, and I was always expecting the first week to be a bit of an opportunity to wind down after such a long period without a proper break. Next week, with schools back which should make things somewhat quieter, I'll investigate doing some swimming and other such healthy stuff, the start of a fitness programme that can hopefully continue well after the end of my break.

Last night's neighbourhood group was very thin on the ground - indeed Carol said she'd probably have cancelled it if she'd thought about it beforehand - but we still had a good time together, especially when Paul arrived to make it a foursome... Church-related things should be generally back to normal next week, once the "summer recess" is over, though that also means an end to seasonal things like the Sunday afternoon picnics and so on - though I won't be missing the volleyball too much.

Another thing that will be back to normal next week - actually as from about ten minutes ago - is that we're a houseful again, with Mark finally back from his various travels and now preparing for the new school term. First driving coaches round most of western Europe, followed by missionary work in India, and wrapped up with a week getting irradiated in the name of youth-work at Sizewell, it's been a very busy summer for him; I'm not sure I'd have coped, but that's Mark through and through.

That was quite a reasonable evening out ... in the end. Yes, it took a little while to get going, but I think it was worth the effort and the wait. Andy, Rosie and Mark had gone to the Olde Swan a bit earlier than had initially been planned, to get a meal, but just before I was to join them, they'd decided to go home early and watch a video, so I just found a pubful of strangers. I phoned home to find out what was going on, and apparently they had paged me, but I'd not got my pager with me, so that wasn't much good. Anyway, Phil, Angela and Josie decided to join me anyway, and we had a most pleasant time, outside for most of the evening but adjourning indoors as it got a little on the nippy side. But now I'm really quite tired and ready to sleep, so with a fairly busy weekend coming up, I think I'll call it a day.

The weekend's been good and not too hectic - for me at least, if not for Zoe, who had a fair bit of travelling to do at unsociable hours. Saturday night we spent at Giles' 40th birthday party at Milton Keynes village hall - yes, Milton Keynes itself is small enough to justify a village hall - enjoying the sounds of Funky Cheesecake, various odd silly games and of course copious amounts of food and a little drink. Zoe had contemplated stopping over somewhere in the city, but eventually decided she'd return to Iver after the party and come back Sunday morning.

Wisely Zoe didn't get back up here for the early start I needed in order to play at the celebration, but instead - as I suggested she ought - arrived about an hour later at Wolverton itself. Celebration was very good, with the correct scheduled speaker for the first time in absolutely ages, something we consider quite significant for various reasons. Vic spoke in the morning about spiritual warfare, followed up at the evening meeting by a very timely talk about rejection, which certainly got me thinking in quite a big way. The music went very well at both meetings, although sometimes it seemed more by luck than judgement, especially in the evening, but we were well complimented so it can't have been too noticeable.

Lunch was at the Olde Swan, both Zoe and I enjoying the Thai chicken curry I'd tried a few weeks ago and been so impressed by, but with the day as hot as it was, despite not over-eating, we didn't feel much like anything more until after the evening meeting was over. As such a late-night visit to the A5 McDonalds seemed a good idea, and indeed it was, though we had to keep straight faces whilst walking through the crowds of youths posing around their souped-up XR3's and Renault 5's - I'm not sure if all McDonalds are the same at that time of night, but it certainly seems to be the trend in Milton Keynes.

It was in fact too hot in the afternoon to do anything too active, so we took out "Enemy of the state" on video from Blockbuster - which involved a bit of a rigmarole, when Zoe's card was no long valid, and we then had to drive home and back again for me to pick up an addressed bank statement so I could join - but it was worth the effort. I'd seen the film at the cinema, but had almost completely forgotten what happened, and Zoe had never seen it at all, so it was a good and enjoyable - if a little paranoia-inducing - choice. So that was about it, I think; not too crazy a day, but both of us were very tired so that was just as well really - even if I didn't have work to worry about this morning...

Today's ended up probably my laziest day of the holiday so far, only just wrenching myself out of bed on the right side of midday, and never getting further than the bin cupboard on the going out front - and I don't particularly plan on getting any more adventurous this evening, another earlyish night seeming a much more tempting proposition. Never mind though, I plan to more than make up for it tomorrow by going into London for the day, meeting up with a few friends at the Angel in the evening - and get my fix of Mr Wetherspoon's chilli nachos in the process. I'm not sure what I'll do for the rest of the time, but I'm sure I'll get some ideas once I'm there. If nothing else I'm sure I can easily spend a day in the vicinity of Oxford Street...

This evening I've finally got round to doing something I'd been meaning to for absolutely ages, and that was to get started on working through the "Toolkit for discipleship" folder I was given way back at about Easter time. The folder comprises a number of single-page exercises designed to get the participant thinking about aspects of their life, which are then confidentially discussed with others to derive an action plan for personal improvement. The first page looked quite easy at an initial glance, but when it came to actually putting my thoughts into words it suddenly became really quite challenging. It's with some trepidation that I'm looking forward to following this up, but I know it will be a worthwhile and character-building experience.

Yesterday's trip into London was not very eventful as such things go, but good fun nonetheless, and well worth doing - no regrets, certainly. I didn't get away from home until getting on for lunchtime, so by the time I'd cycled to the station, caught the train and arrived at Euston I was pretty hungry. Knowing I was going to be on the JDW chilli nachos in the evening, I limited myself to a bacon double cheeseburger meal, and that just about lasted me through.

As I think I've found in the past, it's quite easy to pass five or six hours in the vicinity of Oxford Street - exploring the numerous gadget shops on Tottenham Court Road, the various musical instrument shops on Denmark Street and Charing Cross Road, and the endless book and record shops on Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street itself. My only spoils of the day however were a couple of Edward II CDs not available in Milton Keynes, to bring my total to three - a complete set, I believe, and perfect listening for a mellow Wednesday morning.

Eventually it was time to make my way to Islington, hindered initially by an exremely packed Northern Line - unhelped by earlier rolling-stock problems - but still getting to the Angel on time, and having no problem meeting up with Kit, Bec, Lou and Rob, closely followed by Alan and various others. As I'd hoped, it was a good opportunity to talk to many people I'd only really briefly met at the big London meet in July, and meet a few new faces into the bargain.

Hardly the most imaginative evening ever, but it was the perfect way to wrap up the day and I was quite happy to stay until closing time, catching the last Virgin express back to Milton Keynes, recovering my bike and trying not to get too cold cycling home, bearing in mind I'd forgotten to take any jacket at all... Anyway, it was an excellent day out, if one I can't really afford to do too often - but this is supposed to be a holiday, isn't it?

I'm not sure exactly how many muscles the human body is supposed to contain, but I certainly rediscovered a fair few of the more obscure ones today, when I went swimming for the first time in ages - and probably more intensively than ever before. Call it fate, providence or what you like, but I was very grateful to get to the pool just as the "lunchtime lanes" session was starting, which was about as cheap as you can get, and with no distraction from any of the other fun things available at certain times of the day.

It's only a start, and at a mere two pounds a session I expect I'll be back soon enough, but I managed eight lengths each of breaststroke and back crawl plus another two lengths of front crawl, before my arms really started aching so much that every stroke was agony and I could simply go no further. I'm certainly one of the world's weaker swimmers, but every little counts, and it remains one of the best forms of all-round exercise. I've lost a fair amount of weight - well, a quarter of a stone, but a few people have commented that it's noticeable - in the last couple of weeks, and I'd like to keep the ball rolling.

Afterwards, I had a quick and probably utterly unhealthy KFC lunch at Westcroft, then returned to Shenley for a quick look round the shops there, especially the cycle shop and Netto. I ended up getting a compact pump for my bike - one that will easily fit in my small rucksack, rather than risk getting nicked if I leave my bike anywhere, bearing in mind I plan to cycle a lot more - and a rather handy plastic storage unit with three good-sized drawers in a fairly sturdy frame, which will be ideal for keeping all my various leads and things tidy when not in use.

So that's about it for today so far; I'm pondering maybe going home this evening for a day or so, especially given that there's going to be a bit of a houseful tonight with some of Mark's friends round for dinner, though I need to be back for Sunday morning when I'm officially scheduled to sing for the first time. That should be an interesting experience both for me and the congregation, but with Helen, Loretta - now a full-time professional singer, with an impressive list of credits to her name - and Rachel alongside me, at least everything won't be resting on me to provide that perfect performance...

I made it back to see my parents as I'd hoped, and had quite a fun time as such things go. A pleasant aside was to meet Rebecca's boyfriend Gerhard for the first time - he seemed friendly enough, and full of grins - and I got out for a nice walk with my mum this afternoon. Keeping my recent dietary successes in mind, I declined my usual Saturday lunchtime sausage and chips, going for a most delicious home-made pasta and tuna bake instead. I hit the road soon after tea, remembering to bring back the telescope I'd promised Phil, and the home-grown apples and other assorted food bits Mum insisted I took.

There's a slight change of plan for tomorrow morning, as I discovered when Gareth phoned this morning - I left my parents' telephone number on his answerphone last night - in that since he is now leading worship instead of Mark, my vocal cords are no longer in such urgent demand. Needless to say, I don't get let off the hook completely, being asked to "blow my machine" instead, a less unusual prospect, but at least a job I know I can do without any big problems. I'm sure my time will come for singing though - and sooner rather than later, given that I think this is a bit of a one-off on Gareth's part.

Monday mornings don't come much more bleary-eyed than this, but at least I'm still off work - as is Zoe this week, indeed - so it doesn't really matter too much. Yesterday was typically good, with Zoe up here all day, me playing both in the morning and the evening - the latter being particularly fun - lunch at Pizza Hut, a work-off-that-fourth-slice stroll round the woods near Tattenhoe, then the rest of the afternoon spent watching "The Voyage Home", which I'd not seen the whole of and Zoe had never seen at all before. After the evening meeting, and finally getting a little peckish, we went to McDonalds for a bit to eat and drink, then back at home briefly looked at Jupiter through a rather hazy sky - so none of its moons clearly visible, unlike on Saturday night, when Phil and I got a very good view - and not long after called it a day.

Went swimming again this lunchtime, and lost count of how many lengths I did. Not that it was a colossal number, but I was looking more at the clock, getting about an hour in the water; it was probably somewhere around about the 25 lengths mark, though, which is quite satisfying. This afternoon I'm going to walk into town, to get a few bits and pieces I'd promised for tonight's worship band barbecue, and also to buy my brother an HMV token on behalf of my parents. Mum had phoned a few days ago asking about such things, and I had rather expected she'd eventually ask me to do the honours, even though she denied it at the time... Since that was specifically what my brother had asked for for his birthday, I think I'll add a few pounds to the fund and get a higher-value one from all of us; he's impossible to buy for otherwise, a typical brother, no doubt.

The worship group barbecue went very well, even if the start time was a bit vague, with people turning up over a period of an hour or more, but that worked out fine in the end. Had a good chat with Richard, a recent newcomer to the church, but someone quite likely to be joining the worship group properly very soon with his excellent guitar technique. After eating, we had a short time indoors, with Gareth formally handing over the baton of worship leadership to Mark, now that he's going full time with Shine.

Speaking of Shine, I have agreed to pay them a visit at their office at the Kings Centre tomorrow morning to get them set up with e-mail, internet access and so on once and for all, as I'd promised Gareth a while back. I expect I'll have to go and buy them a modem - Chris has recommended a suitably cheap trade supplier in Crownhill - but I'll need to see exactly what kind of PC they've got before being able to. Hopefully we can get everything going by the end of the day, though, and for not too much outlay.

What was supposed to have been a swift visit to the Shine office, followed by a shopping trip and some screwdriver wielding, turned out to be quite the opposite, spending quite a while there and doing no shopping at all. Alas, what I had been told about their PC turned out not to be entirely true, and whereas I was hoping just to pop a modem card into it, we've agreed there really is little point investing in a system that really is a dead-end. It's a Compaq Presario 460, one of those all-in-one things predating the iMac by several years, but for some reason unfortunately opting to go for a ploddingly slow 486SX processor rather than the Pentiums which many other machines sported at the time. There are a couple of expansion slots, but there's not even anywhere to put a CD-ROM drive, and with only 4Mb memory, persuading it to run anything more than the Windows 3.1 that's on it I suspect would be an expensive joke. So Gareth's going to be putting his case to the trustees to get a new PC, and I've been asked to help specify something suitable, which I'll probably do in consultation with Chris who knows about getting stuff at reasonable prices.

While I was there, Maureen nabbed me to sort out a problem she was having with the screen-savers on her office machine, and once I'd done that and had another quick chat with Gareth, I popped back home to pick up my swimming stuff and went for another hour of lane swimming at Shenley. I felt weaker than before, but this time somehow managed thirty lengths, ten each of breaststroke, backstroke and front crawl - or some close approximation to the three. Bearing in mind that it was the front crawl on my first visit that completely killed my arms, that's a definite improvement, though I was very ready to get out by the time I had done my thirty. Returning via McDonalds, I had a quick look in Maplins, knowing they sold cheap refurbished PCs, but although they were reasonable value, they would need some upgrading before they would be properly usable, and the monitors left a lot to be desired. I'm sure through Chris's channels we can get something a lot better for about the three or four hundred pound mark, which Gareth seems to think would have a good chance of being acceptable to the trustees, ever conscious of the tightness of the team's budget.

A typically sleepy Wednesday morning, but there comes a point where physical sleep just becomes an impossibility for me - unlike those lucky people who can just close their eyes more or less anywhere at any time and drift off into unconsciousness - so I may as well try and wake myself up properly now. Yesterday evening I spent contemplating the possibility of getting a better telescope, having read how poorly-regarded Tasco ones - like mine - are. A brief look in the Yellow Pages revealed a unsurprising distinct lack of local dealers, although there are perhaps two or three within a twenty-mile radius, even if none of them claim to be astronomical specialists. Trouble is, with most of them advertising as "by appointment only", I would feel a certain amount of moral obligation to come away with something, rather than just look out of curiosity.

So no big developments on that front, and much of the rest of the evening was taken talking to Chris, getting back to me about sorting out a reasonably up-to-date and future-proof PC for the Shine office. We seem to have tracked down a couple of options for brand new systems costing between about three and four hundred pounds - though applications software would be a hurdle still to overcome - and if the trustees won't release that much money, Chris seems pretty sure we can go lower if we get haggling and blagging. Bluntly, pretty much anything we can lay our hands on will have to be an improvement on what they've got at the moment, though we have to bear in mind they're unlikely to want to seriously upgrade again in the foreseeable future, so we need to be a bit forward-thinking - but thankfully that doesn't seem to mean breaking the bank, and hopefully the trustees will agree.

So, apart from a nice - albeit quite early - bedtime phone-call to Zoe, that was about it for the evening. Quite why, twelve hours on, and after a fairly good night's sleep, I'm still feeling so zonked, I'll perhaps never know, though I guess the swimming and stuff will have a fair bit to do with it - and I'm certainly not ruling out the possibility of going again today. Exercise-wise, the problem is likely to be keeping the ball rolling once I'm back at work, but I seem to have devised a cunning plan, which is that for every four times - a figure plucked out of the air, and eminently adjustable - I go lane-swimming on a Monday or Tuesday or Saturday evening, I can treat myself to one of the fun sessions with the slides and stuff. I'm also genuinely determined that I will cycle or walk into work a lot more - I had planned to a while back, but for one inadequate reason or another it had just never come about - and do more running, skating and other such activities as time permits.

Not that I'd particularly planned anything for this afternoon, but if I had, that certainly wouldn't have been it - but never mind, it was all worthwhile if exhausting. Before I left for what is becoming my daily swim - though a short one today, due to time pressures - I gave Gareth a ring at the Shine office to see if he wanted to go out for lunch afterwards, a good opportunity to relay Chris's findings from last night. Gareth unfortunately had an appointment early in the afternoon, so I agreed I'd bring along some fish and chips instead, which were very gratefully accepted - even if they weren't quite as hot or as early as I hoped, once I'd got disoriented driving from Shenley to Simpson.

Then things started veering away from any semblance of a plan, with Mike arriving for his appointment, which turned out to be of a carpet-ripping-up nature. I had previously agreed I'd lend a hand shifting furniture around, but when removing the existing carpets turned out to be a much more involved and strenuous process than had been hoped, I didn't have the heart to leave them to it. As such I ended up doing two or three hours of pretty hard labour - Mike suggested this was the kind of thing community service was invented for - interrupted only by having another quick look at the main church office PC, which Roger thought was playing up but turned out to be fine.

So I finally bowed out - leaving the paid professionals to it for a little longer - and arrived back here at about six o'clock, just in time for the news, and no doubt looking forward to another blissfully early night. My arms really are completely dead once again, a combination of the quite intensive half-hour in the water, scraping decaying foam underlay, tearing hessian-backed carpet and moving filing cabinets and so on around. All in a good cause though, and it can ultimately only help me get fitter - though next time anyone mentions carpets, I'll probably give it a miss, just the once...

Poking its metaphorical head through a rare hole in the otherwise murky cloud cover, Saturn made itself visible tonight, and was fairly clearly ring-endowed. Not quite the glorious spectacle we had been hoping for - as Chris said on Monday, we get spoilt with the pictures from various space probes and so on - but it was clearly not just a round blob, and if we had been able to keep the telescope more steady, we might have been able to make out the extra baggage as rings. We also got a very nice view of the Pleiades cluster, with even a fairly poor telescope like mine making out dozens more stars than the seven or so visible to the naked eye. Anyway, I'm ready for bed now, and looking forward to a relaxed day tomorrow - I don't expect I'll be going swimming, needing a day to recuperate from today's over-exertion.

Another murky day, not too inspirational to do anything too enterprising, but then as I said before, I could probably do with a relatively quiet and uneventful day. I suppose this rain is much-needed after such a long dry spell, and I suppose it is better for steady replenishment of the water-table and so on for it to take the form of a persistent drizzle rather than a torrential downpour. But I would far prefer it happened quickly and during the night, preferably with accompanying spectacular thunderstorms. Oh well... The trouble is, that with weather like this, I have no great inclination even to bother getting up properly, and I'm certainly not contemplating walking into the city centre while it stays as it is. Well, I suppose I could at least run a bath and relax there for a while, then look out of the window again and reconsider things.

That's the end of my "day off", with neighbourhood group shortly - the first proper one since the holidays, I would imagine. I took a wander into the city centre as expected, and came out with such various goodies as a clutch of magazines - including a computer one and an astronomy one, to satisfy those particular current interests - and a John Renbourn CD which was only three quid in HMV and hard to resist, plus a pair of work-gloves and a wire stripper from the market. An odd selection, maybe, but the CD in particular has given a good three quid's worth of listening pleasure already, a real treat for anyone with an interest in acoustic guitar virtuosity and more. Anyway, I'd better get this short entry wrapped up and posted before I need to get ready to go out.

Neighbourhood group was far from being a normal meeting, not only at a different venue - namely Giles and Jeanne's - but a bit of a social to celebrate the marriage and visit of Cally and her Brazilian husband George who she met while doing missionary work out there. There was a good chance for them to talk about their continuing work out there, how they met and so on, and plenty of time for questions, prayer and cake. Maybe next week will be normal...

Back at home, with a gloriously clear sky, the telescope just had to come out again, and we found the best, and obvious, way to avoid the wobbling that beset all previous attempts - namely to avoid touching the thing at all while looking through it. By so doing we got some absolutely incredible views of Saturn, with the rings beautifully visible in classic positioning - it's hard to imagine quite how amazing it looks until you see for yourself.

Not the most straightforward day so far, but actually in the end quite uneventful - although there's still plenty of time yet... Gareth phoned this morning to explain that he'd given my e-mail address to Zarc Porter for him to send "some music" via on behalf of Shine. Now much as I'd love to get e-mail from Zarc - he's one of the top British dance-music producers - I wasn't too overjoyed about the prospect of having my e-mail jammed up with attachment-laden stuff like that, especially when it wasn't clear what form the music was going to take. So Gareth was going to give Zarc a ring to find out exactly what he wanted to send, and to get Zarc to call me to agree the best way of getting the stuff across from Manchester. But time passed by and there was no phone call, and I really wanted to get back into my lunchtime swimming routine, so come a bit before one, I just packed my towel and trunks and left for Shenley. Needless to say, arriving back home after an hour - and thirty lengths, ten each of the main strokes - in the pool and a quarter-pounder deluxe meal in McDonalds, there were no further messages on the answerphone, and "1471" reported no new callers since Gareth, so I'm glad I didn't hang around waiting. But as I said, there's still plenty of time for action...

Wrapping up warm, a little while ago I ventured out onto the patio armed with my telescope once again, this time focusing - metaphorically, if not literally - mainly on fuzzy objects in the night sky. Things like the Andromeda Galaxy and various other Messier objects, and although they weren't overly impressive, I'm pretty sure I found what I was looking for. Attempts to spot the distant planets Nepture and Uranus weren't so successful, and certainly weren't conclusive one way or the other; the sky really is just too polluted with stray streetlight here in Milton Keynes - oh to be living somewhere in the country. Still, my sister would probably be amazed to know I was still using the telescope she gave me as a present so many years ago - possibly anything up to twenty years ago, my memory gets a bit dim past a certain point - although I must admit that I am sorely tempted to pay David Hinds in Tring a visit, and at least see what kind of thing I could upgrade to at not too much expense. First though, I should probably talk to Tim, MKCF's overall worship leader, who is a keen astronomer and may well have some advice to share. Jupiter and Saturn remain the biggest treats in the sky, though, and I'll probably be outside again before the evening's done, once they're a little higher in the sky and away from the worst of the accursed city glow.

Oh well, I guess it was pretty much inevitable, but I've picked up a cold from somewhere. To say I feel pretty lousy is somewhat of an understatement, though it doesn't have the feel of something likely to be long-lived, so I'm hopeful that if I take it easy today I might even feel better by tomorrow. With both Mark and Angela suffering, I really didn't stand much of a chance of escaping, to be honest.

Needless to say, I didn't hear from Gareth or Zarc again yesterday, but I thought I'd better remotely check my work e-mail anyway, since that was the address Gareth had given Zarc. Big mistake, because there were quite a few messages needing fairly urgent attention, even if most people realised I was away. One was something to do with my contract, which I thought had been resolved but clearly hadn't...

Anyway, for now it's time to get up and dressed properly - yes, it's gone three o'clock, I know - and do the little bit of shopping I need to see me through the weekend, then probably just put my feet up for the rest of the day and just hope this cold goes away.

Saturday did indeed end up pretty relaxing, and it paid off, because come Sunday night I've pretty much completely shaken off the cold, feeling a great deal better. Today's been another most pleasant Sunday, with Zoe visiting as has become a regular and most welcome feature. I managed to avoid playing or singing both for the morning and evening meetings, although by the evening I was of pretty strong voice anyway and could probably have taken up the invitation to play, but it seemed as well to take it easy.

Lunch was at the Eastern Paradise balti house in Wolverton, where we'd not been in ages for one reason or another, but it was as good as ever - apart from the broken stereo system there, though they did give Zoe a nice carnation as some compensation. Pity we forgot about the carnation when it was time for Zoe to leave this evening though; maybe it'll still be fresh next weekend if I keep it in water... With a very damp afternoon, we braved the flooding around Blockbuster to rent out Face Off on video, which was quite fun nonsense, though the weather had cleared up sufficiently later to go for a short wander round Campbell Park before the evening meeting started.

The evening meeting was themed around restoration - of which I received more than my fair share, I think - though it was overshadowed by the somewhat alarming and upsetting news that Mo had been involved in an accident while she was with Dave, visiting the church in Swindon where they had first met and married, as a celebration of their fortieth wedding anniversary. Thankfully, it appears her injuries were not as severe as had been originally feared - she was struck below the knee by an out-of-control car which had mounted the pavement, ending up on its bonnet - and she's on her way back to Milton Keynes tonight.

A late-night trip to KFC, followed by a fun chat about anything and everything with Mark, Jo-Daniel and Catherine, and it was about time to see Zoe off on her way back home - though her car barely started thanks to the damp, coughing and spluttering its way out of the estate, but I'm sure it got much happier once it had warmed up a bit. Anyway, that's about that for the day, I think; I'm pretty tired, so I'll draw things to a close now, and probably take it easy again tomorrow, before getting back into the swing of things on Tuesday I should think.

My plans for taking it easy today are being successful so far, waking up at getting on for lunchtime, and not exactly rushing to get dressed or anything like that. Despite being very tired last night, I didn't get the most settled sleep ever, which no doubt contributed to my late rising this morning, but never mind - I guess that although I was quite tired, I had a lot of things whizzing around my mind, and I'm not complaining. I'm pretty sure I can avoid having to go anywhere much today, being well-stocked on food and so on, and no other specific plans to get in the way of a pleasantly lazy day.

Monday remained as leisurely as I'd hoped, not really venturing that far from the front door, and generally keeping warm to prevent any backlash from the now pretty much defeated cold. My brother phoned yesterday evening which was a nice surprise - though I had kind of forgotten that I should be expecting a call, since I'd posted him the HMV tokens the other day - and we had a good chat about all kind of stuff. I must go and visit sometime soon; it's really not that far down to Gloucestershire, but I've never been, and I know both he and Fiona would like to meet Zoe at some point too.

Anyway, I've not done a lot yet today, but the day is still young, and I'm going to let breakfast settle a bit more before going swimming for at least a little while - I dare say I won't be up to full strength, so I'll see how it goes and not push too hard - and then shopping for a few bits and pieces to keep me going. Tonight there's a birthday party for Alan, though the venue appears yet to be confirmed, but whatever's happening I'll gladly join in. Zoe had hoped to come up for the evening, but it's a bit of a long haul when she's working, and she couldn't borrow the car anyway.

The rest of today was fairly busy as expected, going for my semi-regular lunchtime swim - even if I only did about twenty lengths, playing it a little safe after my weekend cold - then shopping for a few bits and pieces, including some new swimming goggles and another astronomy magazine, before resting a little while ahead of Alan's birthday meal out. Phil drove us across to Alan and Helen's at about seven o'clock, but our booking wasn't until eight, so there was plenty of time to play Gran Turismo which Alan had received for his birthday. Rosie was there too, but Andy was busy and joined us later in the evening - but at least it meant we could all fit in one car for driving into town. The meal ended up being at TGI Fridays in the newly opened theatre district of the city, and apart from a few slip-ups, went very well and ended up surprisingly good value for money at about ten pounds a head including drinks. We adjourned back to Alan and Helen's for coffee and birthday cake, calling it a day a little after eleven. With fairly cloudless skies, it was a good evening for astronomy, with Saturn still at its best and Jupiter clear enough to show off its banded weather systems. The lowly Moon is another rewarding object to observe, with very high visible contrast in the craters at the point of "sunrise" in particular. Unsurprisingly, though, it's about time I was heading to bed, so I think I'll get this entry posted up, and do just that...

Today's been an uneventful and unproductive day, not really helped by temperamental weather and being pretty tired after another less than wonderful night's sleep. To be honest, I've not even set a foot outside the door so far, though I guess there's still the evening to come. So there's now a week and a half left of this holiday of mine, and no real sign of anything too exciting to show for it, at least in terms of going away anywhere much. That's a shame, but I'm not over-concerned; it's taken me this long really to recover from my last year at work, and if I needed that much time, then so be it. I really should be more forceful about booking time off when I want it though, and stop allowing myself to become so pivotal and indispensable in my projects at work. If, for example, I decided I wanted to go and see my sister in November - and she agreed, of course! - and that just so happened to clash with some project deadline, then there should be enough slack in the system to cope, and if there isn't they should create it. Feeling constrained by supposedly important deadlines on a near-weekly basis, in an understaffed project team, is not really very accommodating when it comes to taking anything more than the shortest weekend break, let alone making a serious impact on our generous annual holiday entitlements. I've taken the whole of September off two years on the trot now, and I have no wish at all to make it an annual occurrence, but I know that unchecked, it will happen again and again - and that would be an incomprehensibly Bad Thing.

Pony trekking, that wonderful pastime of trying to prevent some gruff old dobbin from eating more bracken rather than going anywhere much, and then trying to persuade it that galloping through the undergrowth wasn't quite what you had in mind when it finally concedes. I've been two or three times, I think, and certainly the last time I distinctly recall looking more like a mounted policeman than whatever it was I was supposed to have been. The reason? Because - and please, no jokes - I have what can only be described as a physically somewhat large head, and finding suitable protection in the average tack-room normally proves difficult. As such, even the biggest riding helmets they can find end up perched on the top of my head, and I'm sure would do me no good at all in the event of a tumble.

Generally it's not a serious problem, though I have to say that these new "one size fits all" swimming goggles of mine blatantly are not living up to their promise, at least when it comes to fitting round my cranium without leaving me looking like an owl afterwards. They're right at the maximum size setting and they still fit far too tight, and the plastic bit that goes over my nose doesn't help matters either when it comes to lasting visible evidence. I'm tempted to take them back from whence they came, but they weren't that expensive so I'll probably not worry too much. At least an hour after leaving the pool most of the marks have faded to a large extent, but I'm still not entirely happy, and they really were incredibly uncomfortable for a respected and recommended brand, so I'll see...

Anyway, I had a bit of a different kind of swim today, still in the water for about an hour, but concentrating more on quality than sheer quantity. This included practising things like my leg action, which lets me down on more or less every stroke I do, and trying to pick up some better breathing habits for breaststroke and front crawl. The latter in particular is a big sticking point for me, meaning I still mainly swim like a submarine with a periscope, but with a bit more perseverance, I think I'll improve greatly. Of course, that will also have the worthwhile side-effect of speeding me up, because a head-up style really doesn't help cut through the water. Maybe soon I'll even be able to graduate out of the slow lane at the pool, though I'm not holding my breath - figuratively, of course!

Torrential rain - glorious stuff... Just a pity there's no sign of any thunderstorms amongst it, because that really would be simply marvellous, though perhaps they'll wait until the evening when they'll make for a much better son-et-lumiere. I'm very glad I've not got to go out for another four hours, though, I would have to admit, not particularly enjoying getting soaked to the skin. Sitting indoors on the other hand, watching the torrents of flood-water coursing down the road, is just wonderful - second only to being in a nice snug tent in the middle of the same kind of weather, even if the one of the last times I was in such a situation, I found in the morning I had inconveniently pitched my humble abode in the middle of an impromptu stream...

Neighbourhood group was very good last night, covering a typically wide range of topics, from the siege of Samaria - including the delightful thought of eating dove-droppings - to discussions about the forthcoming Alpha courses, and giving Mark a good send-off. The latter came as a surprise to many - I knew a couple of weeks ago - but he's off to lead one of the other neighbourhood groups, which should be good experience for him. There was also more news about Mo, who readers will remember was knocked down by a car on Sunday. She is back at home, and nothing is broken, though it's still going to be a few weeks before she'll be back on her feet properly. The driver of the car involved has apparently been charged with dangerous driving - though it seems like it was just an unfortunate brake/accelerator pedal mix-up during a parking manoeuvre - and the police have said that if it wasn't for a very fortunately positioned lamp-post that took the bulk of the impact, Mo - and quite possibly Dave too - wouldn't be with us today. Powers of evil are at work - the circumstances of the accident were just too coincidental to be random - but thankfully miracles continue to happen too.

Anyway, I'd better be getting up and dressed, now I've remembered I've got a fairly busy day ahead of me. There's a few things I need to do during the daytime, then Mark reminded me that there is of course a Shine concert tonight, which I had volunteered to help rig and steward for. This concert is the culmination of a week Shine have spent at Denbigh School, traditionally one of the toughest schools in the city in which to spread the word, so it's quite an achievement. I guess that with Shine probably now having about as good a reputation in the city's secondary schools as the Signpost team have in the numerous primary schools, any schools that don't invite them will now be seen as missing out on something quite special. Signpost run school assemblies, with very well-received drama of a Christian nature, and have even been commended by OFSTED inspectors - even being considered the best part of the day at some inspected schools. Shine on the other hand run dance workshops, RE lessons and so on over a number of days at each school, developing a tried-and-trusted formula from Manchester's very successful World Wide Message Tribe and other similar projects around the country.

It's far too early to be up and about on a Saturday morning, especially after such a long and busy evening out yesterday, but up and about I - at least approximately - am, and gradually waking up, to the delightful strains of another excellent John Renbourn CD I bought yesterday. The Shine concert went very well last night, although not without a few worries and other problems to keep us on our toes. Having already asked if I could be there an bit earlier than originally planned, Gareth phoned while I was out shopping yesterday afternoon, asking if I could get across to Denbigh School as soon as possible, which I duly did, getting there a bit after half past four in the end. They had a few technical and practical hitches that were slowing things down and all early help was much appreciated.

There were plenty more problems to come, though, with impossible-to-extend lighting stands, disintegrating par-can electrical connections, and so on. Somehow, everything was all in shape by the time doors opened at about half past seven, and the concert itself passed without a hitch - even if a couple of us did have to rush to steady the aforementioned lighting stands "before they killed someone". I understand that about a couple of dozen of the teenage kids responded after the evening, and that the school has invited Shine to return on a regular basis - a massive achievement for a school which had previously been so closed to the Gospel. There's a big youth gathering at the Pitz - one of Milton Keynes's top live venues - this Sunday evening, and there will be plenty more follow-up activities to keep the ball rolling for the youngsters who took their first tentative steps last night.

Having cleared the school hall and got the gear dropped off elsewhere, those of us left - thirteen in number, I believe - adjourned to the city-centre Beefeater restaurant, conveniently open for both food and drink until very late. One scampi-and-chips and a good chat later it was well past midnight and time to head home, listen quietly to the start of that John Renbourn CD, and give Zoe a quick phone-call before hitting the sack and pretty much going out like a light - a rare, but most welcome occurrence for me. So it was altogether an utterly exhausting but extremely satisfying evening; it's a very nice feeling when you're shattered but you know it's been worth it.

It's been a quiet and uneventful Saturday so far, and I'll be quite happy to let it stay that way, given how much I've been yawning my way through the afternoon after last night's fun and games. Somehow, I managed to dodge the worst of the downpours when I nipped into the city centre briefly to get a magazine and a couple of other little bits and pieces, but that was about it for today's action. I was a little miffed to find that the telescope catalogue from Optical Vision which arrived this morning omitted both a price list and the promised local dealer information. As such, it's nowhere near as useful as it could have been, though it still contains enough information to be a valuable resource as I ponder my shorter-term astronomical options.

One week to go of this break from work now, and quite exhausted once again after a busy but most rewarding Sunday. Saturday night was quite a late one too, getting bored and ending up round at Chris and Claire's while Chris finished copying a digital recording onto tape so I could have my Minidisc recorder back, followed by watching "Lost in space" on DVD. The latter was quite fun, though had far too haphazard a plot to be much more than a special-effects flick; it passed the time, anyway, and I just about dragged Zoe out of bed when I phoned her afterwards to sort out Sunday's arrangements.

After an understandably late start and a bit of a grotty journey, Zoe arrived just in time for the morning meeting, about an hour after I'd had to be there to get set up to play. The main highlight of the meeting was the dedication of my neighbourhood group leader Paul's boss's baby, followed by an entertaining - and no doubt one day useful to all of us - talk by Dave about the responsibilities of parenthood. Thankfully, it was a considerably shorter meeting than usual, given how tired I was; many people commented afterwards that it actually ended up a very nice length, allowing time to socialise afterwards, which is often not practical with people rushing off to have lunch, especially if burdened with fractious kids.

Lunch, unusually, wasn't at Pizza Hut, the Eastern Paradise or KFC, but was instead in the good company of Pete, Wendy and family. They are well-known faces to everyone, but not people I could claim really to otherwise know much about, so this was a great opportunity for everyone to learn a bit, and perhaps blow away a few misconceptions. They only live a fairly short stroll away on the north side of Springfield, so there was no need to drive, and we were able to go via the local shop to get a nice bottle of wine to share. I guess we spent about three hours round there, before we had to go and help Gareth and friends transport gear and set up for the evening's Revive youth event.

So once again, we were called upon to load up the van with sound equipment, but this time heading to the Pitz, one of the city's best live venues - and likely to remain the home of Revive for a good while to come, with provisional bookings throughout next year too. Zoe and I had done everything we could by a bit before six, so we headed off for a bite to eat - finally making use of my free Burger King meal token - and a brisk walk around Furzton Lake, before arriving back at the Pitz at about seven. We'd agreed we'd help steward, which meant wearing fluorescent yellow badges, and, in our case, standing in front of the stage in case of mishaps, and passing round the buckets when it came to time to take any donations for what was otherwise a free event.

The actual event went exceptionally well, with two or three hundred people - mainly teenagers - attending, and no serious problems that we were aware of. Things kicked off at eight with MC Gareth getting things going with a couple of games, followed shortly by a half hour set from Huddersfield's finest, Glass. Or is it Glass. Or Glass. Oh, never mind, you probably had to be there - though you might guess, given that they were northerners in a foreign land... They'd been the support act at the Shine gig on Friday, although in a more acoustic "configuration"; this time they were in full-on rock mode, and went down very well I think. The praise and worship bit was quite different, a subtle but effective combination of backing tracks and live performance. I feared it was going to sound very artificial, but it worked fine, and was the perfect lead-in to an excellent talk by Paul from Glass.

With both of us very tired by that point, and the prospect of another hour on the road for Zoe, we made our apologies and headed off home soon after the end of the event, and mellowed out for a bit to the strains of the incomparably excellent John Renbourn. Soon after, however, any plans for a peaceful evening were happily dashed, with the arrival back home in close succession of both Mark - with good fun and chatty friends Rosie and Helen in tow - and Phil, who had been away for the weekend celebrating his brother's wedding. By about midnight it really was time to call it a day, however, and for the second weekend running I had to wave Zoe off into the murk in an unhappy car; hopefully her journey was a bit more straightforward this time, though.

Anyway, that was that, I think; a very different kind of day to a "normal" Sunday - whatever one of those is - good fun in its own way, but extremely busy and exhausting. It's probably my accumulated tiredness from the last few days taking its toll, but I really didn't feel too lively at any point, I'd have to be perfectly honest. But I don't think it mattered too much given that there was plenty of stuff to keep us all busy from start to finish; I can't help feeling that if I'd been calling the shots, it would have ended up a lot less interesting and rewarding.

That was a fairly interesting and productive trip into the city centre, this time solely to give Evesham Micros a visit. Evesham fared very well in a recent service and reliability survey carried out by the highly-respected Personal Computer World magazine, so I thought they would be worth a try given that they have a local showroom. Tiny and Time also have local showrooms, but I wouldn't touch either dealer's machines with a generous barge-pole given the remarkable lack of good things people have to say about them.

Compared with some of the other dealers I have visited, I was immediately impressed by how new and clean everything on display was at Evesham - obviously a much higher stock turnover than many others - and was both surprised and delighted to find that the salesman I accosted was entirely on the same wavelength as far as my intended musical use of any PC I might buy was concerned. Their prices might not be the most cut-throat in the industry, but their standard warranties are unusually generous, and I would feel very confident that my salesman wasn't going to try anything on, so I think I could end up ultimately getting better value for money than via some potentially cheaper sources.

That said, I do still have a couple of other avenues I had promised to explore, so it's by no means done and dusted yet - but unless someone can offer me something pretty much identical at a fraction of the price, I have a strong suspicion that Evesham could well be getting my business in a couple of weeks' time. I don't want to rush into anything, but updating this machine is now two or three years overdue, so I really think it is about time I was getting my skates on, and regular readers will recall that this was just one of a number of things I was hoping to get sorted out during this break from work.

Monday evening was blissfully quiet and uneventful, with Phil up in London enrolling for his new course, and Mark ill in bed having apparently come home from work early. When I saw Phil later, he mentioned having seen a very bright "star" early one morning recently, guessing it was possibly Venus. I was able to confirm that almost certainly was the case, and on finding myself vaguely awake at about six o'clock this morning, decided I'd go out and have a look.

As Phil had said, it really was very bright, a fair bit brighter than Jupiter even - though after a certain magnitude, the human eye adjusts and it's hard to say - and looking through the telescope revealed an extremely bright crescent, like a tiny but intense quarter Moon. Thankfully I was able to get back to sleep quickly again afterwards, getting another four hours of most welcome rest for my mind and body, and I now feel ready to face the day - pretty much...

I seem to be back in the swing of things today, having a good midday swim - a mixture of lengths of miscellaneous strokes and some technique stuff - followed by a most welcome bar snack at the Olde Swan. The briefest of trips up to the local shop to buy a loaf of bread unexpectedly extended itself by about an hour when I bumped into a friend of mine and was unable to avoid being invited back home for a cup of tea and a slice of very yummy cake. So much for that diet of mine - though I'm happy to say that although my quarter-stone weight loss doesn't seem to have got any further, at least I'm sustaining what I've managed without too much difficulty or too consciously having to refrain from things I enjoy. Anyway, I'm feeling very tired now, so am probably going to have a lie down for a bit and see if I can't catch a few winks of sleep before whatever the evening decides to bring.

It was a mercifully uneventful evening, as far as I can remember, playing a bit of guitar - possibly getting a bit of a riff going for a new song - and enjoying a nice warm bath, interrupted only by a phone-call from Zoe which I returned later. Phil was out with Angela most of the time, and Mark had Daniel and Jodie round to discuss their forthcoming neighbourhood group activities, so I was quite happy to keep myself to myself for the evening. Tonight will be a lot more active, though, with a band practice ahead of next Sunday morning's celebration, though I'm not sure quite what state Tim's going to be in to run it - or the music at the celebration itself - given that he is apparently suffering yet more complications after his recent surgery.

Another good lunchtime swim, almost back up to speed, or perhaps I've just found a sustainable amount to do. Today's session included what were probably my fastest ever lengths of back crawl, and I'm happy to say that my goggles are fitting a lot more comfortably than that first time when I emerged from the pool looking like I'd been in a fight or something. Lunch was at McDonalds, finally getting a winning silver straw - and discovering why they make them a slightly larger diameter than standard straws, cunning stuff. It was only half of a twenty pound "collect and win" prize, so the only thing I really won will probably end up being a worthless scrap of paper, but never mind. But for now I'm resting back at home, regaining a bit of energy before the evening's band practice.

Tonght's band practice went very well, and was mercifully short for various reasons - not least, Tim's continuing poor health. Nevertheless, we still tackled a couple of new songs, and a couple more we'd played for the first time at the last practice, so it was really quite a productive time, and we should be fairly polished come Sunday morning and evening. Soon after I got back in, Mum phoned, having been away for a few days and with a few bits of gossip to share, but now I'm pretty tired once again - I almost nodded off earlier this evening - and will probably have an early night.

As Zoe reminded me - after I'd mentioned it a few days previously, but temporarily forgotten! - last Sunday was what we might rather cheesily call our "virtual anniversary", a year to the day after we first chatted on-line. It was still another couple of months until we were officially - whatever "officially" means, exactly... - going out together, but very early on we realised what a lot we had in common and that we were gravitating towards some kind of significant relationship. As someone who's never had a lot of time for cyber-romance and all that stuff - though I wish all the best to those who can make it work - I will however not truly consider us to have been going out for a year until the anniversary of that day when Zoe first stepped through the front door, with a real-life hug, a real-life kiss, and a real-life smile. A life-changing hug, kiss and smile, no less - and I've never really looked back since, though I try to look forwards too, even if I am looking into uncharted territory.

I'd like to say it's been a wonderful year, and in many respects it has been the best year of my life, but it's not all been roses and indeed I've been through some of the most emotionally difficult times I've ever experienced. My Christian faith has held fairly strong throughout, though, with Zoe an anchor without whom I am fairly sure I would have drifted away both emotionally and spiritually, and possibly physically too. 1999 in particular kicked off very badly, with a series of problems dramatically affecting my involvement with various aspects of my service to the church, and it's only very recently I think I've really started to see the fruits of getting released from that burden. Satan doesn't like that one bit and continues to try and throw his spanner in the works, but I am determined to turn my back on the past and live for the future - though I'm not going to the pretend it's going to be easy for one moment, and there may still be further cobwebs yet to be blown away during my walk.

There is a little bit more I would like to say, but having tried in vain to string some words together, I really don't think the time or place can be quite right to do so.

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