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David's diary: January 2000

A new year, a new century, a new millennium - or at least one of those, depending on how pedantic you're feeling. Either way, welcome to the long-awaited year 2000, everyone. We've certainly had an excellent last few days, again travelling around quite a lot and catching up with people we'd not seen in ages, though I'm too tired to go into too much detail right now, so as with my Christmas report-back, that'll just have to wait until another day.

Oh, so far so good with my geriatric computer, by the way - the Windows File Manager is displaying the date as 02/01/:0, as I'd anticipated, but it seems to be internally storing the date correctly enough. The internal clock didn't actually roll over correctly, but my dealer remembered me from over five years ago and recently sent a helpful letter explaining what had to be done, not that it was rocket science by any means, and that's all fine now.

Right, it's Monday morning and I'm feeling marginally more awake than last night - and besides, at well after ten o'clock it was time I was getting up anyway, so this is a good excuse... After my happiness last night that my computer's year-2000 transition had happened as uneventfully as my dry runs and so on had predicted, I'm now not entirely sure it's right, though it's not likely to be a major problem given the kind of stuff I run on here, or that any future owners are likely to use.

Anyway, the last few days, that was what I was supposed to be writing about, wasn't it? Well Zoe arrived Friday lunchtime as expected, a little later than intended, but it didn't matter since we had nothing specific planned for the afternoon. We lunched at the Westcroft KFC, returning via the cinema, which - once parked - we timed just right to watch the new Bond film, which turned out to be an excellent way of passing the couple of hours before we needed to start cooking for the evening.

I should apologise that when I get into chef mode, there's not much that can stop me, and although I am happy to provide a running commentary to onlookers - so long as I can trust them with my secret recipes, of course! - they don't really get much of a look-in with actually doing anything much. Thankfully Zoe didn't seem too unhappy with that, apparently quite content with letting me get on with it, and besides, it wasn't long before I could just pop the lid on the pan and let it cook for itself.

We gave Andy a quick phone-call to let him know we were on his way so he could heat the oven up for us, and we packed the sweet'n'not-very-sour, some Christmas cake and ginger wine, together with our sleeping bags and stuff, and drove up to Bradwell. There weren't quite as many other people as we'd perhaps hoped, but it was good company nonetheless, with Andy, Rosie and Hattie, of course, plus Alan, Helen, and Mark, so there was plenty of food to go round when we got to that part of proceedings.

The meal started off with melons that Mark had brought, followed by our sweet'n'not-very-sour pork and a superb chicken korma Rosie had cooked up - all served up with rice, and not at all bad in combination - and with Christmas cheesecake and trifle to finish off proceedings. We played a few board games and so on to take us up to midnight, then it was time to see in the new year - and whatever other arbitrary multiples of years people were also celebrating - with party poppers and champagne.

Poking our heads out of the front door, we found it was tipping it down with rain outside, so although it didn't seem to be dampening neighbours' enthusiasm for fireworks and so on, we decided we'd be sad spods and watch the London celebrations on Andy's new TV tuner card. I don't remember doing a lot more after that, really, with most people disappearing off home shortly afterwards, and after a big glass of water we headed off upstairs to sort out our sleeping bags and call it a night.

Saturday, New Year's Day, was a fairly relaxed affair, getting up not too early, just in time for brunch, in fact - cereal, and crumpets with Marmite, yum! - followed by driving with Andy, Rosie and Hattie up to the car-park at the Galleon at Wolverton to have a walk near the canal. It was a bit muddier than we'd expected - especially in the narrow footpath tunnel under the aqueduct - causing inevitable problems with Hattie's pushchair, but it was good to get out for a short time while it was still light.

Then it was time for Zoe to make sure she had keys to get back in to Andy and Rosie's - since she was staying there again Saturday night - and we headed off south to Prestwood, where my parents live, and my brother Pete and his wife were visiting for the weekend. We stopped off for half an hour at the MKCF New Years's Day prayer meeting en route, but couldn't stay as long as we might have liked, wanting to travel in daylight. Pete was out when we arrived, but got back soon afterwards, and it was good to see everyone for the first time in wildly varying amounts of time! As we'd hoped, we stopped for a meal - various combinations of chicken kievs and chicken pie with vegetables, plus Christmas pudding and cake - and stayed around generally chatting until fairly late.

We arrived back in Milton Keynes just before midnight, driving straight up to Andy and Rosie's to drop Zoe off and confirm arrangements for Sunday morning - and just as well, since they'd not realised there was a change of venue from the usual one for celebration meetings.

Sunday was probably our most relaxed day of the weekend, in the end. Both the morning and evening celebration meetings were very good, with David Pawson speaking at both. He's someone whose words you have to weigh quite carefully, but he is a remarkably engaging speaker, and even when speaking on quite difficult subjects he still uplifts with constructive hope. He is clearly quite well known on a much wider circuit than I was aware, having spoken at various quite important events around the world as well as having done little things like baptising Cliff Richard and more recently managing to get a lengthy private meeting with the Israeli prime minister.

Anyway, in the morning David spoke about the miracle of Jesus's birth some 2000-ish years ago, and the prophecies he fulfilled in being so born, and of the prophecies he didn't fulfil, which are often used as ammunition against Jesus being the son of God, but are merely indicative of Jesus having two visits to the world planned - and with good reason - not just the one that so many people hoped for at the time, ending up bitterly disappointed. In the evening, he spoke on the thorny and harrowing topic of the Holocaust, its relevance to both Jews and Christians alike, again linking it into his central theme for yesterday of prophecy and prophetic fulfilment.

Lunchtime was quite fun, inviting Andy, Rosie and Hattie - not that she was eating much, needless to say - out to Pizza Hut, as a bit of a thank-you for putting up with us for the previous couple of days. After demolishing our Super Supreme pizza, and Andy and Rosie doing likewise to their Meat Feast - not to mention all the garlic bread - we drove a short distance to the ancient woods near Tattenhoe and enjoyed another short and again a bit muddy stroll round there, before heading back to their house to have pudding, collect Zoe's stuff, and generally relax for a bit.

So apart from our usual supper at KFC, that was about it for the weekend, but it was a good one, and well worth every minute, and I waved Zoe off into the drizzly murk at about eleven o'clock. All being well, Zoe will be up for a couple of days next weekend too, with a Saturday-evening dinner invitation for us both from our friend Sarah, making the most of a quiet house for a few hours.

Before that, indeed tomorrow, we'll both have to get back into the swing of work, however - that's going to be quite odd for both of us, for different reasons, though not entirely dissimilar when I think about it. Zoe's company is under new management, or at least beginning a fairly rapid hand-over phase, whereas my department is now technically part of a new group, which may or may not see much change on a day-to-day level. More to the point, for me, it's the apprehension of returning after over a fortnight away, during which time I'm sure there will have been countless problems just stacked up waiting for me to sort out on my return...

This seems to be the traditional time to do a sentimental retrospective of the year just ended, and although I'm happy to give an overview of what's happened over the last twelve months, I'm not going to be too afraid to mix the bad with the good as appropriate, so don't expect anything too rose-tinted.

1999 started happily enough, with a big new year's party here, but things soon turned sour with exaggerated reports on the wilder stuff that was going on - some of which was complete myth, and accepted as such by the eldership - but to keep the peace and help restore confidence in the authority of a church which had been battered quite a bit over the previous few months, a number of us, myself included, agreed to stand down from active leadership for a while. There were some further complications later emerging, which conspired to prevent me from getting back into things as I had been, but to be honest, I think that might have been a blessing in disguise, having allowed quite a change in direction and attitude on my part. I would never have wished for things to have happened as they did, but now the water's passed under the bridge, I have to say things don't look quite so bad after all, and although I don't know what 2000 will bring in this respect, I'm happy not still to be stuck in the same rut.

It was truly my year for musical involvement in the church, being in great demand throughout, though this is something I've had to be a little cautious about at times; it was all too easy to get caught in the trap of playing at every meeting, and sometimes I seemed never to get a chance to worship without technical worries, running orders, key-changes and so on to distract. However I seem now to have found a more comfortable level of involvement, playing once or twice a month at regular morning meetings, with a fairly flexible arrangement with Dan and Robbie for celebrations and evening meetings. What could have been my most harrowing musical experience of the year turned out to be quite fine, that being the week of Christmas entertainment - including a number of solo spots, which I was particularly apprehensive about, needless to ay - in Milton Keynes shopping centre during its busiest week of trading; having pulled that off with no major problems was quite reassuring for me, so nothing much like that holds a great deal of fear for me now.

Sadly 1999 was another dismal year for my own musical work, lacking in any great inspiration throughout, though I am hoping that buying a new music-oriented computer in the next couple of months will turn that sad situation around. A large part of the problem, as I see it, is that a lot of the ideas I have these days are based around electro-acoustic instruments rather than pure MIDI sequencing and so on, and my current computer system really isn't up to doing that kind of stuff, whereas something with good multi-track audio recording capability should be able to nurture those small snippets of ideas I have, growing them into something viable. At least, with a new stereo, finally - and a good radio-cassette in my new car - I'm finding myself listening to a lot more music than before in recent years, so I'm keeping abreast of what's happening in the scene in general, both in mainstream and Christian circles. Of course it also means I'm getting back into buying CDs for the first time in a while, making the CD rack Zoe gave me for Christmas very welcome!

I briefly mentioned my car there, and 1999 was the year I finally got shot of the old Austin Metro, now the owner of a relatively new, shiny and nippy Hyundai Accent Coupe. Back in the spring, the Metro was about to fail its MOT test quite disastrously, I believe - the 1998 test's report highlighted a number of very serious problems likely to need attention the next time - and with leaded petrol to become unavailable by the end of the year anyway, it seemed like a good time to say goodbye to it. In the end, it lasted me nigh on three years, not bad for a car I bought from my mum and was only intending to keep for a few months until I found something nicer to replace the Vauxhall Nova that infamously got nicked from under my nose in the summer of 1996. The Accent's running fairly well, though it's far from perfect, with a problem with the windscreen washer system now manifesting itself, to add to the slightly bouncy-feeling suspension. I'm not itching to get rid of it, but I'm keeping my eyes open nonetheless.

If music - other than playing at church - was a bit of a disaster, 1999 was a much better year for another emerging hobby of mine, that of astronomy. I'd always shown a passing interest in the stars and planets, especially since my sister gave me a small refractor telescope many years ago, but it was possibly my housemate Phil's determination to learn about this stuff that got me interested again. I fetched that ageing telescope from home one weekend, and never looked back since, really. During the summer, I would often be out of an evening, spotting planets, satellites and so on, then in the autumn I took the plunge and bought a smallish "proper" telescope. That was a bit of a rigmarole, but it all worked out fine in the end, though sadly by the time everything was working as planned, clear nights seemed to have become a thing of the past, so I've not had as many opportunities as I might have for making observations. Whenever I buy my own home, I'll consider getting something quite a bit more powerful, but while I'm sharing a house here, something easily portable and stowable seemed the best option for the time being.

Work at the Open University in 1999 was a mixed bag, being recruited on to the Lyceum project team, which promised me a lot but ultimately delivered very little and contributed greatly to several bouts of quite bad depression during the year. Lyceum is a Java-based internet conferencing system we have developed largely in-house, combining real-time voice chat with a whiteboard and other visual tools. I was tempted on to the team with promises of working with digital audio and so on - that being one of my known specialities - but given the "black box" nature of the voice system we were using, all that turned out to be completely hidden from us, and once it was evident I was never going to get along with Visual C++, I took more of a support role, although as a linchpin of the whole team, it was not a job without its stresses. It turned out, however, that a lot of the problems were in fact due to our project manager, and when he suddenly left towards the end of the year, things took a very rapid upturn, and I would say that we finished for Christmas on quite a high note, with an entirely unexpected bonus for the team being the icing on the cake.

Holidays were a bit of a non-event once again, not really using my generous holiday allowance that constructively, though a lot of that was due to work pressures preventing me from taking time off when it was much use. As such, the undoubted highlights were a spring weekend with friends from the church, staying in a caravan park on the Suffolk coast, with trips to Norwich and the local zoo amongst other attractions, camping once again at the Cropredy folk festival in mid-August, getting rained on a lot but winning friends thanks to my big umbrella, and finally travelling up to Wales with Zoe for a few days just after Christmas, seeing my sister and her family in their new house on the coast at Criccieth. There were other odd short weekends away and so on, including the third annual Garden Olympics at my friend Steve's house in Hampshire, which Zoe also joined me on, meeting a good number of my friends from when I used to live down that way a few years ago.

Friendships generally fared well through the year, both with my colleagues at work - even though our lunchtime gang is now almost entirely relatively young-uns who I think look up to me for some bizarre reason - and with the people at church, managing slowly to shake off my identity of being just Mark's lodger. I'm sure the latter has been helped immensely by the flourishing of my relationship with Zoe, who, although we had been seeing each other regularly for the last month or so of 1998, was not properly introduced to the folks at MKCF - particularly the leaders - until the new year. Zoe went down a storm with most people, thankfully, and I think everyone fully accepts her now, and although she is still technically only a visitor to the church, she is welcomed as much as anyone as one of our number. Although in some ways I shudder to think about such things - not that I object, it's just a bit of an alien concept for me - we are definitely seen as a couple, even if a couple of individuals, something reflected in about three quarters of the cards given to me this Christmas.

So, what are my expectations for 2000? To be honest, I really don't know; it's all a bit of a leap into the unknown. I suspect it could be the year I set up home on my own, and perhaps find a new job, but more than that I really wouldn't like to say - and even that much is fairly idle speculation. I just hope and pray it can be a year that can pass a lot more smoothly than 1999 did, without the problems that beset the first half of the last year in particular, that can see all that is good in my life continue to flourish and go from strength to strength. Do I have any goals as such for the year? I don't think so - I have aspirations, of course, but they are so open-ended that to have to mark them twelve months down the line as successes or failures really wouldn't be at all fair, so apart from generally striving that each year should be better than the last - whatever "better" means, of course - it's very hard to say.

Gareth phoned earlier this evening, hoping I'd have a chance to get the new Shine PC set up at some point during this week, in time for their return to work next Monday. With me back at work tomorrow, and expecting quite a busy week ahead picking up the pieces of the inevitable disasters over the Christmas break, I eventually agreed I would take custody of the PC back here, so I could work on it during any odd moments I had spare, rather than having to plan ahead to arrange access to the Shine office.

So we nipped over to the office this evening and picked up the system unit, keyboard, mouse, printer and a load of software, and I've had a brief look at it back here. Everything seems to be in order, though I had to install the Olivetti printer driver and adjust a few settings as usual - things like the keyboard language and so on, which people always seem remarkably tolerant of being incorrect - but I've packed it away again now until I've had a chance to go shopping for a few bits and pieces needed to get e-mail working.

Specifically, I need a modem lead and a few telephone socket accessories, but I've made a bit of a shopping list and will pay Maplins a visit sometime in the next couple of days. Somewhere, I have a spare four-way mains block which will also come in handy given their general lack of mains points in the office, but if I can't find it, I gather one of the DIY warehouse places do one for well under a fiver, so I'm not going to dig too deep through the clobber in my room if I can't find my one pretty much immediately...

Anyway, Mark and I have just got back from having a bite to eat at McDonalds - with me benefiting immensely from their laziness in preparing a quarter-pounder deluxe by just sticking a bit of salad and mayonnaise in a regular quarter-pounder - and I'm shortly going to give Zoe a phone-call, hopefully get these last couple of diary entries on-line, and take advantage of an early night before my first day back at work tomorrow.

So far, so good, back at work, with nowhere near the volume of technical problems I'd expected, though I expect I'll still be working through the backlog by the time I should be heading home this evening. Thankfully most people seemed to have got the message that if I was off work from the 17th of December to the 4th of January, it was unlikely I'd be able to do anything between those dates, though there were still enough dimwits around to raise a slightly annoyed chuckle as I scanned through my multitudinous mailboxes and helpdesk conferences. Anyway, it's pushing lunchtime, so I'll post this entry up, go and investigate who else has survived the Christmas break, and check out the new spring menu in the staff canteen...

Well, lunch was good - some kind of variant on a pork steak, with a nice spicy sauce and big potato wedges - with plenty of my colleagues around to keep me amused. This afternoon has been tediously boring, however, having basically run out of stuff to do, and I'm going to head off very soon to pop into Maplins to buy those odd bits for the Shine computer before they close for the night.

It's been quite a busy evening, with the phone hardly stopping ringing for various reasons, and setting up e-mail on the computer for Shine in the few spare minutes when it wasn't. In spite of the many known drawbacks, we agreed I'd get them a Freeserve account, at least to get going with; such an account allows unlimited e-mail addresses and so on, good practice for when they get a proper domain or whatever in the future.

I think it's all done now - including some quite exhaustive testing of the Freeserve account - and I also installed StarOffice 5.1 in place of Lotus SmartSuite, so I'll probably give Gareth a call tomorrow night to arrange to take it back to the office and get it all physically installed in time for their return to work on Monday. The modem's a bit on the slow side, but it'll do for the moment, and it cost us nothing.

As I'd hoped, I also managed to pick up a pair of cheap powered multimedia speakers from Maplins - in addition to the more essential modem and phone leads - so they'll be wired for sound too, only appropriate for a pop group, surely... The speakers are inevitably a bit on the tinny side, but they're better than nothing, and far from the worst I've ever heard, though their "120 watts" claim is of course a joke.

Anyway, with that all done, and time getting on, I think I'm going to start getting ready for bed - this being back at work lark is quite tiring, even without an evening like this one...

Excellent - I've just given Gareth a ring, and he's going to try and find time to get the Shine computer installed this evening. That's great, because I'm not going to have many other opportunities this week, he needs it done by Monday, and besides, it's taking up space in my room that I really couldn't spare in the first place... He seems quite pleased at what I've managed to do with it, and amongst other benefits is looking forward to being able to send out monthly newsletters and so on by e-mail rather than post; even with a slow 19.2k modem - which normally seems to connect at an even slower 14.4k - that alone has got to save them enormous costs over the coming years.

Otherwise, it's being yet another tediously boring day, with nothing much to do, and not a lot of company other than at lunchtime. Still, it's only two hours until I can head home, and if I walk to the water cooler, that'll kill a few minutes, then going to the loo soon after can kill a few more - minutes, that is - and I'll be well on my way to the home-time klaxon. Frankly, if this is the best that the exciting new improved world of 2000 has to offer, I think I'll have the old one back please.

The Shine PC I'd been configuring for the last couple of days is all nicely installed now, and I've briefly run Gareth through the basics of e-mail and web use - including a potted guide to using AltaVista - though I'll need to pop back in next week at some point when we all have a bit more time in order to introduce him to StarOffice and make sure the printer's working properly. I found I'd made a slight slip-up with the e-mail filter configuration - with incoming messages being wrongly sorted - and I haven't yet been able to test whether the corrections I made will work better, so that's something else we'll need to test next week.

Still, at least it's all connected up and basically works, even if some fine-tuning may be required, so Gareth and the girls can start publicising their e-mail addresses and generally join the wonderful on-line world. Even if this fairly basic P120 system doesn't turn out to give an astonishing performance gain over their old Compaq 486 abomination, the mere fact that it's a properly upgradable system, which they can easily improve further as funds permit, is enough to make it worth their while, especially when the only costs incurred so far are those for the bits and pieces I bought yesterday, which I may well cover myself anyway.

But now I think I've done quite enough for the day, and I'm feeling pretty tired, so I'm going to try and get a relatively early night, via a long hot bath followed by a phone-call to hopefully make up for not getting round to ringing Zoe last night.

Ah well, the early night didn't really materialise, with a slight enforced delay before being able to get on-line to paste in my diary entry, let alone phone Zoe, with it being pushing on midnight before I could finally brush my teeth and say goodnight to both Zoe and the world. Today's being predictably dull, but there's only a short while to go - which reminds me, I must pop down to the shop while it's open and pick up my Welsh photos which I took in for developing yesterday - then I can go home and get bored there instead.

It really is a truly boring evening, clearly not being amongst those neighbourhood groupies who get told when there's not going to be a meeting, so being back at home, not even able to do what I was hoping to in such an eventuality. I'd planned to take advantage of the spare time by getting cracking with updating the MKCF web-site, but I've hunted high and low for the notes I made towards the end of last year, and needless to say cannot find them anywhere.

I have a hunch they're at work somewhere ... or just possibly in my briefcase. Yes, just this moment found them, so maybe this won't be such a non-productive evening after all! I'm not sure what I can do quite yet - I was kind of hoping I'd have sorted out my new home PC by now - but I'm sure there's a bit more fleshing out I can do to expand on the basic list of snappy headings on the sheet of paper in front of me, and maybe start writing a bit of the text.

It's promising to be yet another dull day at work today, though I have yet to log on to SecondClass to see what kind of chaos there might have been overnight, so I may still have something worth doing. But then it's the weekend, and I can pack up all my troubles for a couple of days, and with Zoe coming up tomorrow afternoon, I'm sure it's going to be a good one again.

Having found my web-site notes last night, I spent a while writing a short piece about Milton Keynes itself; most of the sections I realised were mainly going to be rewordings of existing content, but this was one of the few parts that needed doing from scratch, and it was a good opportunity. Now all I need to do is beg, borrow or buy a digital camera from somewhere so I can go around the city and grab a few illustrative photographs - including the concrete cows and a sample roundabout - though I'll also need the same for other aspects of the web site redesign, so maybe I'll hold fire for the moment, especially since I may well go for a bundled camera whenever I get round to buying this new computer for home.

I also gave Chris and Claire a phone-call to sort out somewhere for Zoe to stay on Saturday night, which was a weight off my mind, since I'd forgotten to mention it to Sarah when I spoke to her earlier in the week, and it seemed better that way anyway for various reasons.

Anyway, on with today's lack of fun and games; we've just entered the daily "at risk period" for our conferencing servers, so now would be an excellent time to do any messing around with the databases and so on that's necessary after any overnight crises.

Well, with an hour to go, the working week's coming to a close, and today's been as boring as predicted. I think Sam's back in the office on Monday, which will at least bring a bit more life to the place.

I made full use of the "at risk period" this morning, though, with a couple of irksome problems needing sorting out that took us a couple of minutes past the official deadline. The database for our system is an utter nightmare, with about half a dozen interrelated text files, and virtually impossible to integrity-check, so we just have to wait for people to report problems before we can really do anything much. Still, I guess it's something to do, so mustn't grumble...

Not quite sure what's happening tonight; Gareth's been testing out his new e-mailing ability, and has mentioned there's something good on at Zaks in Wolverton later this evening, which I might well go along to if I'm not feeling too tired.

As I'd hoped, I was out last night, up at Zaks - one of Milton Keynes's top live venues, behind the Queen Vic in Wolverton - to see a couple of bands. The Larry Miller Band, the headline act, weren't expected to be on stage until well after ten, so most people weren't aiming to be there until a bit later. However, I liked the sound of the support, a local band called Mowbray Park, so got up there somewhat earlier. However, even Mowbray Park didn't start their set until after ten, so there was a bit of a boring wait, and Mark, Gareth and Darren turned up about half way through.

Mowbray Park were probably worth that wait, however, especially when doing more bluesy stuff, but Larry's band, who eventually appeared a bit after eleven, were definitely the stars of the show. I'm not sure it was really my taste in music - although it was all original material, I think, it was a bit "classic rock'n'roll" in feel - but you couldn't fault the energy and vitality of Larry in particular, and although he was certainly the "main man", he left enough space for his colleagues to have their own identities, something many bands named after their leaders lack.

Anyway, it was a comparatively short set for a Zaks gig, and once Larry's band had done a couple of nutty encores, I made a quick exit so as not to be ringing Zoe too horrendously late; she was just about getting to sleep, apparently, as the phone rang at about a quarter to one, but I think I was forgiven. Zoe's going to be driving up here earlyish this afternoon - hopefully in a car that feels a bit more like new - so I really ought now to be getting up, breakfasted, dressed and all that, before heading out to the city centre to do my first proper grocery shop in about a fortnight...

Monday afternoon, back at work, and a bit better today thanks to Sam's return from his extended Christmas break. When I've been used to having an office-mate for almost three years, it's quite difficult getting by without the company, even if it's just to natter during quieter moments, to jointly chuckle over the odd web page we find, or whatever. I'm on my own at the moment, though, having had to miss lunch due to an ill-scheduled demonstration of our software, but I'm sure all will be back to normal within the next few minutes, if not seconds by the sound of the murmurings in the corridor...

Anyway, it's been another excellent weekend, since last writing, with Zoe arriving mid Saturday afternoon as expected. Soon after Zoe arrived, and making the best of the limited daylight hours, we went for a stroll around Caldecotte Lake, ending up in the pub there as the temperature went down as fast as the sun did. It was good to get out for a little while, though, and the rest of the weekend proved to be comparatively inactive in that respect, it had to be said.

We returned home, and listened for a while to the Leftfield and Apollo Four Forty CDs I'd bought in the morning, as part of my Christmas HMV voucher cash-in "haul" - a mixed bag, but good stuff on both of them, and they were both cheap in the sale. I also bought an old Corrs CD, which I'd heard before and quite liked, but it was a bit of an anticlimax after the other two, in my opinion, though Zoe seemed to like it enough. Anyway, all that passed the time quite pleasantly before it was time to leave for Sarah's, getting there a bit before seven.

Di arrived soon after, but not before we'd cracked open the bottle of ginger-fortified sparkling apple juice I'd brought along - I tend not to make assumptions about people's alcoholic preferences, though a bottle of wine would have been fine, it turned out - so her wine contribution got saved for another day... Sarah had cooked up a simple, but most delicious, meal of fried chicken pieces served up with salad, coleslaw and jacket potatoes, followed by an interesting - I think that's about the best description! - home-made strawberry ice-cream.

We adjourned upstairs - this being a three-storey house - to the lounge and chatted for a good while about this, that and the other, before someone noticed time was getting on somewhat, and there seemed to be a general move towards going home. It was an altogether very successful evening, though, and one I think we've all vowed to "do again" sometime soon; for one reason or another, Sarah doesn't get a lot of opportunity to do that kind of thing, and I think really appreciated the company.

Zoe and I had panicked a little earlier when we found Chris and Claire to be out, and no sign of the key having been dropped off, but they arrived back from a shopping trip to Ikea just about as we turned up having returned from Sarah's, and everything was fine from then on. I can't remember much else from Saturday night, but I think we probably chatted and watched television for a bit before finally calling it a night.

I was about to walk round to Chris and Claire's on Sunday morning to pick up Zoe, when Chris phoned on his mobile to ask me to bring along to the meeting a certain audio lead he knew I had, so I actually bumped into Zoe on the way down, and we walked up together to the school. The morning meeting was a bit depleted thanks to a number of people - including most of the leaders - being away for various reasons, but Giles led proceedings, and gave an excellent talk - and not too long either!

We'd contemplated joining a few others for lunch at Andy and Rosie's, but arrangements seemed to keep being changed around, and for one reason or another I wasn't very keen anyway, so instead we drove to Newport Pagnell to have lunch at Pizza Gold up there. However we found the relevant arcade of shops decidedly shut-looking, and were en-route back to the car when we passed the Raj, a nice-looking Indian restaurant offering a good-value buffet, which served our needs just fine, with an extremely delicious chicken tikka in particular.

After lunch, we popped into Blockbuster, finally managing to find the Starship Troopers video in stock, and that passed the afternoon in quite entertaining fashion. I'd seen it at the cinema, but it was a new film to Zoe, and we both enjoyed it a lot. Fairly violent and gory, but funny at the same time, exploiting to death just about every science fiction cliche in the book and with very impressive visuals throughout. With no evening meeting, after a bit more television, we decided we'd call round to Chris and Claire's, mainly to pick up Zoe's stuff, but we ended up there for most of the evening, unsurprisingly.

Not feeling too hungry after eating so well for the last two days, but still being a little peckish, we drove over to the Westcroft KFC, via Blockbuster again to drop off the video, and had a Twister each, before returning back to the house, getting the ice-scrapers and hot water out and generally defrosting Zoe's car in advance of her journey home. So much for the early night we'd promised ourselves - and Zoe's parents, still a little concerned over the reliability of the car - with Zoe unlikely to be home before midnight, but it was a good fun evening, wrapping up an excellent day and weekend.

Anyway, it's now time to hit the road back home, after an altogether somewhat better day at work. I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing this evening, but I need to make a copy of a tape - and become familiar with its contents - by Wednesday night, when we've got a band practice for a forthcoming event, so I dare say that might figure in my would-be plans.

I might well have a few more grey hairs than the average 29-year-old - my three years at the Open University seem to have made quite sure of that - but how geriatric do you take me for, Rachael? I mean, excuse me! I have a full complement of my own teeth - even if that's more by luck than judgement - and I am not too seriously in need of assistance with my personal hygiene, or at least no one's told me so lately.

Not that these were the scurrilous allegations Rachael was making, of course, but rather that I would know all the songs on the tape she gave me and Phil last night to familiarise ourselves with. Oh, by the way, Rachael, should you ever happen to read this, please don't take this at all personally; it's certainly not intended that way, and I accept that my musical tastes are perhaps a little "younger" than many in our generation.

That the tape started off with gramophone crackle really didn't bode too well, and it was again by luck that I might have recognised perhaps half the "golden oldie" tracks that followed - and those were the ones that had received the cover-version treatment at some point in the last thirty years or so.

Rachael's instructions "not to worry about Mack the Knife" might not have fallen on deaf ears - I still have my full hearing too, believe it or not - but I certainly couldn't find any song on the tape that might have been so entitled, so I'm left fairly oblivious as to what not to worry about. In fact, almost half the stuff - once I had managed subconsciously to filter out the hisses, crackles and generally poor recording quality - was still hideously tuneless dross, with the sax solos and so on not only completely out of tune, but also out of key, with the vocals.

I was particularly conscious of the sax solos, those being what I'll be expected somehow to emulate, but I'd probably need to fit a MIDI note randomiser somewhere if I'm to truly get that original feel on the night. Actually, maybe some of the festival-ready ear-plugs Zoe gave me for Christmas would come in handy to ensure that whatever I did bore no relation to anything else the band was playing at the time.

Anyway, I've just made my own copy of the tape, so Phil can have it now, though I'm not going to get any real chance to practise a single note of it before Wednesday night's rehearsal, but I guess at least I've listened to it all the way through, which will probably be more than some will have done... Actually, the choice of tracks bore so little resemblance to the ones we did at our last practice, I suspect many of them may well yet get vetoed, but I'm not relying on that, so I'm preparing for the worst.

Finally, I seem to be getting somewhere with replacing a number of CDs from my collection that are faulty due to a manufacturing defect. This "disc rot" problem has been known about for a long time, but PDO - the pressing company responsible, a division of Philips - seem only recently to have properly acknowledged it, and would appear now to have someone on the case who is authorised to replace affected CDs free of charge. Of course, they can only do this where the CDs in question are still available, and in the case of at least one recording I know that's not the case, so I expect I'll have to find "alternative means" for that one.

But anyway, it's a start, and hopefully they'll get back to me soon so I can set the ball rolling with getting the half dozen or so affected discs - I need to have a thorough check through my collection, in case I missed any - replaced. Indeed, I found yet another disc had started to rot last night, to the point where the last track clicked all the way through until it gave up completely, hence PDO's advice to check all potentially faulty pressings at least six-monthly.

I would urge anyone who has PDO pressings in their collection - generally identified by the words "MADE IN U.K. BY PDO" etched on the inner hub - to check for disc rot, which appears as a progressive discoloration inside the CD's laminated layers, working from the outer circumference inwards, potentially destroying the musical data on longer-playing discs in particular. The problem afflicted PDO's production process from 1988 to 1993, apparently, but it's not always easy to tell exactly when a certain pressing was made, so it's worth checking any CDs that might just possibly have come from that era. If you find any problems with your discs, please let me know, and I will share my experiences with dealing with PDO on this matter, so you can be well-informed when you subsequently claim your replacements!

It's being a fairly mundane day at work, but I managed to escape for a while at lunchtime to go and sort out something for Shine at their office. They'd been e-mailed - thanks to the system I set up for them! - some artwork by their producer, but were having a few problems reading the message attachments, so I extracted, repaired and printed out the JPEG files from the messages which Gareth forwarded to me at work, and dropped them off at the office together with a bag of sandwiches and other miscellaneous lunch sundries.

It was also a good opportunity to demonstrate how to use the Outlook Express address-book, StarOffice and the printer, but then Andy and Daniel accosted me to rope me into another meeting at Hanslope on Saturday evening. Unfortunately, this clashes with a worship-team social Mark had planned, so I'm not sure exactly what will happen; apparently he'd been planning it for ages, but only announced it at the weekend, so it's a bit of a six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other situation as I look at it, with both events being announced and finalised a lot later than they needed to be.

Anyway, Andy and Daniel are going to sort things out and get back to me with whatever's decided, though ultimately, although it'd be a shame for the effort Mark's no doubt put into planning the social thing, I think the Hanslope thing would have to take priority.

It's not too much of a hardship, if still sprung on us rather suddenly, but Phil's just asked Sam and myself to run a seminar on the project we're just about to get shot of, before we do so... Thankfully, he's keen for it to be as short as possible, hoping we can compete with the since-unchallenged CES record of forty-five minutes set by Joel some time ago, and we've agreed we almost certainly can.

It's going to be sometime before the end of the this month, which is fine, given that the less time we have to plan it, the less we'll have to say. Phil's not really expecting a lot more than a demonstration of the system, a bit of waffle about Java and perhaps the background to the project, and that's just about our lot. Perhaps the hope is that if we can sell it nicely enough, someone else will enthusiastically come on board to whom we can hand our development and support batons, but I suspect that's rather wishful thinking.

Of course, this seminar was supposed to have happened about a month ago, but Craig - who was scheduled to run it, even though I suspect he'd have delegated it to us anyway - upped and left just too late for anyone to do anything much about making alternative provision, and we were snowed under with stuff at that time anyway.

It is about time I was doing a seminar, though; sure, things have gone a bit slack in that respect lately anyway, but the general idea was that everyone's supposed to run one once in a while, and three years is a little bit longer a while than was ever intended. Of course, with the department grown as much as it has in the time I've been here, it was inevitable that - if any work was going to get done - the frequency of seminars from anyone in particular were going to suffer, but I'd be lying if I claimed not to have got off very lightly so far.

Right and wrong. Such absolutes. Or so I thought until last night, anyway, and now I really have no idea what to think. Family stuff, don't you just love it? I'd hate to have to put anyone through this, but if everyone thought that way, humanity would die out very quickly. Perhaps not such a bad thing really. Confused? I know I am...

Other stuff from last night was more positive, though, with an interesting meeting of the OU astronomy club, including a good talk on "castaway astronomy" - the art of determining your location on the earth's surface without benefit of new-fangled GPS technology and so on - and news that the various bids for funding to renovate and re-equip the observatory seem to have succeeded. This means that over the next year, the structural integrity of the building will be improved, a new dome fitted, and a shiny new telescope installed. It was an overcast night last night, though, so there was no actual viewing to be had, but we've really been very lucky for the last few meetings, and I think everyone was right ready to head home anyway.

Better family news is that my nephew Cass has apparently finally been withdrawn from his private school - where his class had dwindled to a mere two in number and his teacher had resigned to do something a bit more rewarding - and has now started at a local primary school. Sure, Cass thrives on one-to-one attention, but having only one class-mate was a bit extreme... Like most Welsh primary schools, his new school teaches in Welsh, which he is not used to, and I understand he returned in tears on his first day, but he's settling in now. I think he's picked up a fair amount of Welsh over the years - and quite right too! - but it's very different being thrown into a "survival situation", so it was obviously going to take a bit of effort.

Oh, something else quite funny about Cass's transferral is with regard to technology use at his new school. At the Steiner school, they seemed very anti-computers and so on, whereas it's quite the opposite where he is now. Indeed usual procedure there is to prepare work in rough, then produce the final version on the computer. I suspect Cass has barely even used a computer before, though I'm sure he'll pick it up quickly enough, knowing him. But what was funny about all this was that apparently Cass felt compelled to extol the virtues of the importance of having neat and tidy handwriting and so on, to the headmaster, no less. Surely it's supposed to be the other way round, isn't it?

With this band practice tonight, and no other real chance to listen through the tape again, I've been listening to my Minidisc copy of it as I've been working just now. There's definitely no "Mack the Knife" on it, with a distinct lack of any lyrics about sharks with pretty teeth or Polly Peachum, so that's one less thing to worry about, I guess, given that we're apparently not doing that one anyway.

While on the subject of recordings that crackle and pop, I went through my CD collection last night and tracked down all the PDO pressings that were starting to deteriorate, and happily there's only four I'm too bothered about at this stage. Only two of them are unplayable at this time - including the almost certainly irreplaceable Jams one - but I suspect the other two will die too eventually.

I'm still awaiting any response from the related e-mails I sent yesterday, but I've since ascertained that PDO have an 0800 telephone number set up especially for UK customers to report "disc rot" cases, so I may try that if I don't hear anything useful within the next couple of days. In any case, it shows they are taking the problem fairly seriously, even if they don't check their e-mail that much...

Last night's band practice went well, rehearsing about twenty rock'n'roll songs in the space of three hours, which bodes well for the event itself, where we will be required to be on stage for well over two hours. There's another practice yet, when we'll have to do a few more songs, but I think we're just about there, and I'd almost say I'm looking forward to it all now. We were home not too long after eleven in the end, early enough not to wake Zoe up too much when I phoned her, though my tales of family doom and gloom mightn't have been the most cheering note to end the day on.

The Saturday night clash has now thankfully been sorted out, with it agreed that we'll somehow manage to go to both events. If it's the same kind of deal as last time, the Hanslope thing will be fairly early in the evening, and not too long, so we should be out of there in time to catch at least the last half of Mark's social, so no-one need feel too short changed. Once again, it looks like we're going for a fairly minimal band, though we would like to get a keyboard player this time if possible, but it doesn't really matter too much, given the size of the venue and the likely congregation.

Gareth's just phoned to ask if I would be available to steward and de-rig for the Shine gig up at Stantonbury tomorrow night. I couldn't think of any immediate reason why not - and I wasn't looking for reasons, anyway, let's be clear - so I've agreed to do that. This is the second time Shine - or Shine MK as they are now officially known for reasons many bands will probably appreciate - have been invited into Stantonbury, which is a major achievement given the background to the school. If it's as good as the last gig there, it should be a truly excellent evening for everyone involved.

Heck, you can't even go into the bank and just get cash these days. As a result of popping in to the bank downstairs to get a few quid to see me through to the weekend, I now seem to have got not only a leaflet about NatWest's new internet service, but also a CD-ROM for it - yes, it's yet another BT Click rebranding job - and even a t-shirt. No, you are quite right, I wouldn't be seen dead openly wearing a t-shirt advertising NatWest, but at least I can hide the logo in a way I wouldn't have been able to had I opted for the baseball cap. Still, mustn't grumble; after all, freebies are freebies...

It's not really been a very good evening, to be perfectly frank, although to be equally honest, I probably didn't go into it in the best frame of mind, what with recent family concerns and so on as well as being generally weary. But even so, something didn't feel at all right at neighbourhood group, and it soon dawned on me that one of the underlying problems was a decided lack of people of my own age, or other single people. At least the latter was certainly confirmed by the fact that the only people to make any great effort to join with me in conversation were Martin and Lesley, and it only took a quick glance around the room to confirm the age problem also to be all too real.

Admittedly, this was a bit of an unusual evening in that both Springfield groups were combined, and I don't thrive well in crowded situations at the best of times, but I'm not really sure even our regular group would be much better. It's absolutely no reflection on the individuals involved, but I really feel I just don't fit in with a group with virtually no under-forty representation, especially when Chris and Claire don't attend so much these days. I'm not sure what Mark's future is, neighbourhood-group-wise, with the group he's been caretaking having finally been appointed a permanent leader as from this evening, so he might be making a return to our group I guess, but he might equally feel settled where he is, even in a non-leadership role.

Anyway, I don't plan on making any rushed decisions, but this is something I'll be giving some serious thought to, and talking to a good number of people - both leaders and other trusted friends - about, because I'm sure there is a solution that can work well, but I don't want to hurt anyone in the process. Although in MKCF our neighbourhood groups are generally organised geographically - hence their name, obviously - even tonight Paul talked about the possibility of alternative groupings based on other factors, so I guess there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it was perhaps no coincidence that I was feeling as I did on a night the topic was brought to the forefront.

It's half past ten, and I still feel like sleeping - and it's not as if I didn't get a fairly reasonable bit of kip last night. With busy nights out tonight and Saturday, if I'm awake for Zoe - or anyone else for that matter - on Sunday, it'll be a miracle. To make matters worse, I've just realised I made a poor choice of day to have my annual appraisal; next Friday morning isn't that clever in retrospect, given that I hope to be staying up late - or getting up early - to watch the total lunar eclipse only a few hours beforehand, and the Friday evening's likely to be another long one thanks to a final band practice. Maybe it'll be cloudy, just for a change.

To my horror, whilst bored and playing with my shoes whilst waiting for neighbourhood group to start properly last night, I found that my soles are falling apart a little where they flex. Or more than a little given that one of the cracks that's appeared goes all the way through to whatever the soft stuff is in the middle that obviously gives the nicely cushioned feel. I just know that the next time I step in a puddle I'm going to get very wet feet, though hopefully my remedial treatment will go some way to minimising the soaking. Yes, I knew that Superglue was going to come in handy again sometime, though I must admit I'm not overly confident it's going to do a lot of good given that the cracking obviously originally occurred because it's a stress-point. It was worth a try, though...

Right, it's almost time to start winding down from what's seemed quite a long week. There is of course still tonight's Shine thing to go, though Martin's offered me a lift up to Stantonbury, so that's one less thing to worry about. This means I'll almost certainly be hearing about his new PC, which was due to be delivered today, and about which I think I already know every specification in minute detail... It's been a week of considerable ups and downs, which has left me emotionally, spiritually and physically quite drained, but I guess things can only get better.

Yesterday evening was long, tiring, but altogether worthwhile, all-go for about six hours, with one thing and another, the main event of course being Shine's end-of-week gig at Stantonbury Campus, wrapping up five days of dance, music and RE taught by the girls at the school. Martin collected me two minutes late - which was quite an embarrassment for him - but it was thanks to Windows 98 not shutting down properly, and the evening was to end with me sorting out a few bits and pieces on his new "toy", as I'm sure I will explain shortly.

The Shine gig was pretty well all rigged up by the time we arrived at Stantonbury, a little before seven, so there wasn't really a lot to do other than for Gareth to brief us about our stewarding duties and to patiently await the doors opening. I was stationed at the front, as with one of the recent Revive events, but had little anticipated quite how bass-heavy the sound would be since they invested in some better PA - my ears are still feeling the effect, I think, and I really should have remembered to take the ear-plugs Zoe gave me for Christmas.

Loretta had been out of action all week, unfortunately, but the other three girls rallied around to fill her place quite magnificently, and the gig itself went very well indeed. I don't think they were singing any new material since the last Revive, although it was certainly a very different set than the last one they did at Stantonbury, so anyone who had been to both won't have been disappointed. Stewarding proved to be no problem at all, with a remarkably well-ordered crowd, happy to have lots of fun but not spoiling it for anyone else.

De-rigging afterwards proved quick and fairly painless - the main hassle being having to transport the stage blocks elsewhere - and unloading the van back at the office was even quicker, many hands definitely making for light work. With it considerably earlier than we have often managed to finish up in the past, there was still time for everyone to pop into the Plough for a swift pint, but I'd earlier agreed I'd offer Martin a few minutes of my time to sort out a few details of his PC, so we were glad not to be hanging around for too long.

Martin's PC generally seemed to be behaving itself, and I saw no repetition of the problems he'd been having shutting it down, so it was probably just one of those random glitches, and I seem to recall something similar having happened to me once after first setting up Windows. The main thing we still needed to get working, though, was the internet access, finding that contrary to expectations the relevant software wasn't installed, though once we dug out the appropriate CD-ROM, it was all fairly smooth, and Martin soon picked up how to use the web.

E-mail presented a technical problem, when we found that although the installation software had asked what Martin wanted for his e-mail address and so on, it hadn't actually set up Outlook Express. When it started asking about POP3 and SMTP servers, I started worrying a little, and my guesswork was almost, but tantalisingly not quite, correct, though we eventually found the necessary information on a web FAQ, changed the settings, received gateway.net's "welcome" e-mail - hence why it asked for Martin's address, we guess - and were in business.

Martin insisted that the first person to get an e-mail should be a friend or relative of his in Australia, so I showed him the basics of composing messages and using the address book, and he soon got the hang of it all. We also did a few other little bits and pieces, like setting the keyboard layout to British - this really should happen automatically, but never does - and adjusting the default font in Word 2000, but by that time our "few minutes" had turned into the best part of an hour, so we decided anything else could wait for another day.

Anyway, it's Saturday morning now, I've had a reasonable lie-in, but probably ought to be getting up and dressed, since today's going to be a fairly busy one too, I think. So with that, I'll sign off for now, and I may well not get another chance to write before Monday - we'll see how we go, OK?

Owing to a slight change of plans - namely the fairly last-minute cancellation of tonight's worship group social, thanks to its original announcement being fairly last-minute in the first place! - I am able to sneak in a quick update of my diary this evening, which is perhaps as well since it's been quite a busy day, and it saves you all from getting bombarded with reams at once on Monday.

My lunchtime shopping trip was fairly mundane and typical, or at least until I dropped into Dixons, eyeing up all things photographic and digital, particularly one rather nice looking little Kodak box of tricks. "It does a million pixels per inch", I was unreliably uninformed by their resident expert, amongst other rather spurious claims. However, for the modest price, it was still a rather impressive little gadget, and it was only the fact that they couldn't find the one they had in stock - though I suspect it was the one on the shelf - that stopped me from shelling out there and then. My procrastination didn't last long, however, when I found the same model in the nearby camera shop, and they would not only sell me the one on display - they say they only ever get one of each in, because models change so often - but also lop fifty quid off to match Dixons' pretty tasty sale price.

The camera, a Kodak DC215, doesn't get the most enthusiastic reviews ever, from what I can tell, but for the use I want to put it to - mainly web-related stuff, I envisage - I'm sure it'll be just fine, and for the price I paid it's hard to complain. In summary, it is a "megapixel" digital camera, which is to say that its resolution is generally considered sufficient to produce 7 by 5 inch prints, with a feature set broadly similar to my conventional compact camera, including a 29 to 58mm equivalent zoom lens with close-up capability. There's the usual colour LCD on the back, but thankfully - unlike some digital cameras - there's an optical viewfinder too, to allow at least some semblance of battery longevity. It can also display the images on a television set, which is quite fun, and indeed offers the best viewing quality without using a computer - as with the Red Shift software I recently bought, it requires Windows 95 or 98, yet more incentive to sort out my home system upgrade - but that drinks battery power still more. Mercifully, the camera can also run on rechargeables, so I invested in a set of NiMH batteries and a charger at Argos - using my Premier Points card to save a few quid - which should help keep running costs low.

And so my photography enters the digital age; will I ever look back? Well, yes; please let me explain... The DC215 takes my tally of cameras to the grand total of three, all serving quite different purposes, as I see it - I'm getting to sound a bit like my dad here, with more cameras than most of us have had hot dinners, though still to "go digital" at all. First and foremost, I have my workhorse Olympus Mju Zoom compact camera, which travels with me quite a lot, and I can rely on it for shooting off large quantities of informal pictures that I'm going to want to view primarily as prints, perhaps scanning the occasional one. Second is my Pentax Spotmatic SLR, which I use for more critical work, when I can justify heaving around quite a bulky beast, and it is also the only camera I have that would really be suitable for astrophotography. And finally is the new digital camera, which I expect to call into service for web-related use mainly, but also any other time when I need pictures more or less instantaneously and the JPEG digital format is acceptable or even preferable.

Anyway, that was that, and I didn't have time to play around with the camera as much as I might, because of this event up at Hanslope this evening, for which I needed to leave the house well before six to get up to in time. I had no trouble remembering where the school was this time, and didn't get anywhere near so badly lost driving home later, either, though I did probably take a slightly longer route than I needed. Once again, the evening went very well indeed, with a good mixture of praise and worship - led by Daniel, Jodie and me - testimony, prayer, and a typically upbeat talk by Andy. There were probably about thirty people there altogether, perhaps a slight increase on the last time, which is a good thing, and everyone seemed to be quite enthusiastic about it all. We're not sure quite what the future holds - are we ever? - but there seems to be some move towards further involvement with Hanslope's Christian community, and it will certainly be exciting to see what transpires over the coming months.

When I arrived back home, there was an extra flash on the answerphone, a message from my friends David and Alison, inviting Zoe and me round for lunch tomorrow. It's been ages since I've visited them at home, and Zoe's never been at all, so it'll make a most pleasant change from the pizza or curry norm. They asked us a while back to arrange a day when we could go round and see them, but because we normally only finalise things late on the Saturday night, it's not always really practical to spring that kind of thing on people at the last moment, and besides, I always feel uneasy inviting myself anywhere... So it was good that David initiated things this time, and I'm sure Zoe will be all too happy to join us all, even though, as usual, we've yet to finalise things of course! Speaking of which, it's getting fairly late now and I'm quite tired, so I think I'll sign off for the moment, post this entry up, give Zoe a call, and collapse for the night.

It's Monday morning, pushing lunchtime, and an altogether not too productive day this far, mainly because I'm still pretty tired after a busy old weekend.

Yesterday was another excellent Sunday, with the main highlight of course being going round with Zoe to David and Alison's for lunch - chilli con carne with all the appropriate accompaniments - as planned, followed by a walk around Willen with them all, testing out my new camera as we went, capturing a few nice sunset scenes in the process. It was good to see David, Alison and their family properly for the first time in ages, and I think Zoe made a good impression with everyone.

Before we left for the evening meeting, we had the chance to review the pictures on the television, and this morning I experimented briefly with downloading them onto my work PC, which was a bit slow and painful, though I've found a much better way to do it now.

With Zoe's car again off the road, she caught the train up in the morning, so I had to run her home afterwards, but thankfully the evening meeting finished promptly at nine, so having made our regular visit to KFC for a bite of supper, we didn't have too late a journey, and I didn't have to feel too hurried while chatting to Zoe's parents.

With light traffic and good conditions, I was back home in fairly good time, going pretty much straight to bed and sleeping well, even if the idea of getting up this morning was a rather unwelcome one, but hey, needs must - to use someone else's expression...

If anyone knows of a wildfowl sanctuary that would take custody of three adorable little farmyard ducks, summarily rejected by my spoil-sport housemates, please let me know. OK, so they won't survive for very long in the semi-wild, being of flannelette and kapok construction rather than feather and duck-meat, but it would be nice for them to have a home anyway, for no matter how short a time. Actually, I think I might already have some takers, with Zoe's bathroom wall having already shown an interest - "you should have fun things in the bathroom", I was informed by the Zoe's parents - but this was a good excuse for a silly diary entry anyway.

It's been a bit of a non-evening, really, not getting home from work that early, and finding the time had passed by before I knew it; having just got out of a nice hot bath, it's pushing on time to call it a day. The highlight of the evening was a visit from Alan and Helen to collect the CD lens cleaning disc I'd promised to find for them yesterday but had forgotten to look for in time for the evening meeting, and they were both also quite fascinated by the new camera, with Alan already decided that he wants one, dropping less-than-subtle hints to Helen...

However, half way through Alan playing with the camera, the original alkaline batteries finally gave up the ghost - hardly surprising after a couple of days of quite intensive general tinkering, use of the flash, LCD screen, TV output and serial link - but then we found that the brand new rechargeable batteries I'd bought weren't any cop either. Still, we got enough juice out of the alkalines to get a not-too-flattering picture of them both, which I made sure they witnessed me irrevocably deleting after dire threats of what would happen if it found its way onto the web.

With the help of my trusty multimeter, I later ascertained that one of the NiMH rechargeable batteries was completely empty - 0.0 volts, versus the 1.3 that the others read - although I seem to be having more success attempting to recharge it on its own now. I'm suspicious that one of the compartments in the charger might be defective, although it's difficult to be sure. I'll take advantage of Argos's quite reasonable 30-day exchange policy if I'm in any doubt whatsoever - which I think I am - because I need the charging process to be reliable if the camera is going to drink battery power as it clearly does.

Well the NiMH camera batteries seem to be OK now, and I've been merrily snapping everything that moves today, plus doing a bit of LCD and serial port use, with no sign of shortage of power. However I'm still not entirely happy if it's going to be a bit of a lottery whether the batteries charge properly each time, so I may well take them back to Argos anyway and perhaps get them swapped out for something more positive looking. It would be nice in the meantime if there was a reliable way to test the charge level on a rechargeable battery, but it's not too easy unless the thing is completely dead as it was yesterday. Normally, you can see what current a battery will kick out through an ammeter, but rechargeables have such low internal resistance you'd probably fry both the battery and the meter - and quite possibly yourself - in the process, so some other technique is called for. Anyway, I'll keep going with this set until they run out, then try recharging them again and see what happens...

Right, the batteries are now drained - or at least the camera refuses to power up, but since NiMH batteries give peak performance until they expire, they should be more or less empty - so it'll just be a matter of putting them back on charge when I get home and seeing what happens. One charge appears to have been good for taking, previewing and downloading over forty pictures, many using flash, which seems fairly reasonable.

Today's otherwise been fairly dull to be honest, not feeling that motivated get on with preparing for my appraisal this Friday, though I really must get a move on since in theory I'm supposed to fill out this form at least a week in advance of the interview... It should be OK so long as I can get it to Ian tomorrow sometime; I don't think there's a lot to be said really, and certainly not much that should come as any great surprise.

Hopefully this will be my last diary entry for a while about rechargeable batteries, having just got back from a successful trip to Argos to get them and the charger exchanged - their no-quibble guarantee really is just that, with the most difficult question the lady asked being whether I wanted an exchange or a refund. Since it was a package deal, I couldn't just get the batteries - or just the charger - swapped, but I wasn't entirely sure at that time exactly what the problem was, so I didn't mind about that in the slightest. I'm quite happy leaving it for Ever Ready to investigate, if they don't just go straight in the bin...

I tested the voltage on the four "drained" batteries when I got home from work, and found that three of them still read about 1.2 volts, and the other one about 0.04 volts - I could have explained the opposite being the case, but this certainly pointed towards the 0.04 volt one being dud, and prompted my jumping in the car and driving to Argos. Anyway, out of curiosity, I tested my replacement batteries in the same way, and was intrigued to find they all read about 1.16 volts straight out of the packet. Obviously they are shipped at least semi-charged, which confirmed that the one that read 0.0 volts after a supposed five-hour charge cycle was dead from the start.

Anyway, hopefully that's the end of the saga, with the new batteries just starting their five-hour charge downstairs in the kitchen; who knows, with four fully working batteries, my happiness at the camera managing to take, preview and transfer over forty pictures - even with a dud battery fitted - might be heightened yet further... Forty really is quite a few, given that even for the MKCF web site revamp I don't anticipate using more than a couple of dozen pictures - even if I end up taking more and rejecting them, of course - with five hours' charge time and a few pence worth of electricity being next to nothing running-costs-wise.

Meanwhile, having only had a risotto type thing for lunch - albeit a very nice one, with bean sprouts and spinach - I stopped off at McDonalds on the way from work, and was surprised to see some very Beatrice, Hester and Joel-like faces as I walked to the entrance. Alison of course followed shortly afterwards, explaining they'd succumbed to the temptation of the golden arches after going swimming. They'd received the sunset picture I'd e-mailed them from our walk on Sunday afternoon and were suitably impressed, but it was cold, they needed to get home and I needed food, so we didn't chat for long.

Yesterday evening was a fairly busy time, but quite good fun in its own way, with quite a late finish by the time I'd phoned Zoe back. I didn't get in from work too early, and was unsurprised to find a message to give Martin a ring. As I expected, Martin wanted a hand setting up his printer with his new PC, so having chatted to Mark and Nic for a bit - and munched a few chocolate-coated coffee beans - I walked round to his house. Ascertaining that I'd not eaten - well, apart from those coffee beans, anyway - he cooked me up a yummy jacket potato with loads of chilli con carne, and we shared a couple of beers while having a bit of a chat, before tackling the printer problem. I was expecting the printer driver not to have been installed at all; au contraire, there were at least three instances of it, but all referring to the parallel port, not the new-fangled USB port which the Epson ink-jet was really connected to. I tried various combinations of the usual configuration tricks to try and get Windows 98 to recognise the printer, without any joy, though I eventually managed; I'm not sure what I did, exactly, but it was simple if non-obvious. It all worked just fine in the end, and having sorted out a few little issues with Word 2000 and dissuaded Martin from using his new Fuji DX10 digital camera as his sole snapper for his summer holiday, time was getting on and I headed back home.

Tonight - or rather the small hours of tomorrow morning - sees a total lunar eclipse, weather permitting, so I spent a little while last night preparing for that. As a complete experiment, I thought I'd try setting up my telescope with the 25mm SMA eyepiece - that's the lowest power one - and just rest the digital camera up against it, whilst pointed at the moon. I had to experiment with exposure settings, and I need to work a little further on focusing and framing, but the initial results were startlingly good. The shots were a little fuzzy, but not unbearably so, and indeed if I resampled the images down to the kind of size I would use for the web, I doubt anyone would notice at all. So that all bodes well for tonight, assuming, as I said, that the weather plays fair this time - for a change - and that I don't sleep through the whole event. The eclipse runs from about 3.00am through to about 6.25am, with the blood-red totality anticipated between about 4.00am to 5.20am. I hope to get perhaps half a dozen nice pictures, but thankfully images of the night sky seem very light on the camera memory; I took eighteen high-resolution pictures last night and the memory is only half full, so I should have plenty of leeway for taking a few duff shots as I'm sure I will, and besides, the long intervals between shots will allow plenty of time for reviewing and deleting any completely useless ones.

It's being a fairly boring day today, but there's not much longer to go - though whether the evening will be any better than last Thursday will remain to be seen. I might actually give neighbourhood group a miss tonight and get some sleep in before I at least try getting up at three for the eclipse - seems a reasonable excuse... Highlight of today though was getting an unexpected phone-call from my brother, who's going through a rather difficult time at the moment, which I have mixed feelings about. At the end of the day though, like the rest of the family I'll be behind him whatever happens, and it was good to make contact with him since he's been understandably lying a bit low for the last couple of weeks, and the fact that he's now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is good news for just about everyone concerned.

Well, I'm yawning and sighing my way through the afternoon, but at least the weekend's almost here, and with this evening's scheduled band practice now officially cancelled, I should be able to get some proper sleep tonight. It was with a certain amount of relief that the skies remained resolutely overcast last night, so although - ever hopefully - I set my alarm for various points during the night, there was no incentive to go far beyond looking out of the window in search of anything vaguely eclipse-like, and I managed at least a bit of much-needed sleep. I mightn't have had the most settled night ever as a result, but at least I was vaguely conscious for my appraisal this morning, and it seemed to go well enough, even if my worst nightmare of a return to the dreaded Ellingham Diagrams project has been all but confirmed. As I expected, I did give neighbourhood group a miss yesterday evening, even if I didn't quite get the early night I was hoping, but I got a most worthwhile time of prayer and Bible reading in instead, a good chance to talk with God about - and get some insight into - some of the family-related and other stuff that's been troubling me of late. I was about to phone Paul to let him know I wasn't going to be at neighbourhood group, when he phoned anyway to book my services for Sunday morning and also advise me of the date and time for the rescheduled worship team meeting, so that saved me a few pence. Anyway, there's just over an hour to go here at the office, and I have a few bits and pieces needing wrapping up work-wise, so I guess I'd better be drawing this diary entry to a close - seeya!

Hmm, it seems strange being back in Milton Keynes; something doesn't feel quite right, though I can't put my finger on exactly what it is. Mind you, it's only been a few minutes, so it's probably nothing to worry about, and I'll no doubt feel a lot better in the morning.

You see, very much on the spur of the moment on Friday evening I decided I'd go home and see my parents for a couple of days. True enough, it's not long since I'd last been home, but that was for a bit of a special occasion, and besides, a lot has changed in the family since then and it was good to have some quality time with my mum and dad and get a bit more "in the picture" about what's happening.

Ever hopeful, I packed my telescope, but yesterday evening's temptingly clear sky didn't even last until I got to Aylesbury, let alone Prestwood, and although we made the most of a few minutes this evening to look at Jupiter, it soon clouded over - even if it's clear again now I'm back in Milton Keynes, naturally enough.

We didn't actually do anything special together as such, although I ventured round to see my neighbours Jill and Becca this evening for a chat and a glass of wine, which was all very pleasant, including a bit of school-days reminiscing; Becca's now working at my old school, and it seems half the senior staff from my days are still there, twelve years on and greyer than ever.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty tired now after the journey back here, so I'm going to give Zoe a quick call and start getting ready for bed; I have a hunch tomorrow could be a long day...

Sunday did end up being a long day, but not quite for the reasons I had anticipated, rather just because we weren't in too much of a hurry to part company come the end... Thankfully insurance and so on seem to have been sorted out on Zoe's mum's new car, which they collected on Saturday, so Zoe was able to drive that up yesterday morning - and very nice it is too, a Peugeot 306 turbo-diesel with all mod cons.

Zoe arrived in time for us to walk up to the school early, because I was down to play for the morning meeting, although once up there, things started going somewhat pear-shaped. It soon became evident that the worship leader for the morning - whose name shall be withheld, out of courtesy - had been dropped in it somewhat at the last minute, had as a result done next to no preparation but nevertheless chose yesterday to be the morning to introduce three or four new songs, with only a few minutes to practise them on the day. We didn't even have the benefit of chord sheets or anything, so it was hardly surprising that half of us - myself included - simply walked out of the pre-meeting practice and took our seats amongst the congregation. In our states of mind, we simply would have been unable to lead the people in worship, and it was better for everyone that we did what we did.

The worship leader involved was apologetic enough afterwards, but it didn't get round the fact that the whole thing was a complete fiasco, and quite honestly, apart from a good talk from Dave at the end - even if it was very similar to one Andy had done very recently - the rest of the meeting wasn't much better. We have a meeting next Monday evening where the "new look" to morning meetings is to be introduced to - and hopefully discussed by - everyone involved, from musicians to administrators to children's workers, though if yesterday morning was a taster of what's to come, I anticipate a lot of voting with feet, one way or the other.

Thankfully the evening meeting was a vast improvement, indeed one of the best I can remember - Andy is always an inspirational speaker - and the music went much more smoothly, with Robbie in charge this time. I pondered giving playing for the evening meeting a miss, but Chris persuaded me that I probably should join in, in an effort to purge memories of the morning, and I was glad I did. As with last week's evening meeting, there was a prompt start and a prompt finish, so we were out of the school by soon after nine, though there was quite a gathering of various folks back at the house afterwards, so it was gone eleven by the time Zoe and I made our usual late night visit to KFC, gone midnight by the time Zoe was on her way back to Iver, and pushing one o'clock by the time I hit the sack after chatting with Mark.

We weren't too hungry at KFC, though, still being pretty stuffed from our lunch, which was a trip to Pizza Hut with Chris and Claire. Zoe and I were going to go there anyway, but Chris phoned just as we got back from the morning meeting, and our twosome quickly became a foursome. The highlight of the meal was undoubtedly Chris's epic trip to the salad bar, masterfully optimising angles of slope and construction technique to bring back one of the biggest plates of salad I think I've ever seen, let alone participated in consuming. He claims to have done better before, though, once having received a round of applause from the entire restaurant for his civil engineering prowess.

We all went back to Chris and Claire's afterwards, and slumped down in front of "Shakespeare in Love" on DVD, a film I'd not seen before but found quite entertaining, though I think I'd have found it more so if I'd been more of a Shakespeare fan and so able to spot more of the references. It passed the time most pleasantly, and a bit of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and the Simpsons later, it was time to toddle up to the school for the evening meeting, and the rest you know already.

So it was overall not too bad a day, after that decidedly wobbly start with the morning meeting music, and it's not too long until the next weekend now - even if Zoe has got the small matter of a couple of exams between now and then - when I suspect Zoe might come up on Saturday and stop over again hopefully.

Yesterday evening was fun, even if it eventually dragged on a little longer than I might have liked. It was Martin's birthday - not that he'd said as much beforehand, but never mind - and he had invited a good handful of his colleagues from his World Vision days for a nice home-made curry. Martin no longer works at World Vision, but seems to maintain good contact with the folks there, such that pretty much the entire Finance and IT departments were round at his house last night. I knew a couple of the guys anyway, but soon seemed to hit off with the others too, and it was a good fun time for everyone.

Unsurprisingly, there was a slight sting in the tail, which was to sort out a few more "problems" with Martin's new PC, this time working out how to import a client database, how to view and print a PowerPoint birthday card he'd been sent - which involved downloading Microsoft's PowerPoint Viewer from the web - and also how to use an Ordnance Survey atlas CD-ROM. None of these presented any great problems once we'd worked out what was going on in general, but it was still getting fairly late by the time I was able to make my exit.

Wanting to get to bed in reasonable time, I gave Zoe a quick phone-call pretty much as soon as I'd arrived back home, although we had to put up with extended interference from Mark's mobile all the way through, unfortunately, though he was very apologetic afterwards, realising what he'd done wrong. For reference, using a mobile right next to a landline doesn't do much for the sound quality on the latter, and surfing the net on the former doesn't always do a great deal for the owner's bank balance...

I slept well, I think, and unusually both had time for a proper breakfast and to get into work just about by nine - normally one or the other bites the dust - though it was a bit annoying having to scrape a thin but very persistent layer of ice off the windscreen, and then even more so to find that the wiper blades were perishing to the point of falling off. Superglue tonight, Halfords as soon as possible, I do believe...

My wiper blades were spared the Superglue treatment, but instead will be getting the dustbin treatment, since I found the opportunity to nip down to Halfords in Bletchley straight after work. Had they been fully-stocked, I'd have had the choice between buying complete new wiper assemblies for probably about fifteen quid, or new blades for about six. Thankfully for my wallet - even if it's not the recommended course of action just to replace the blades - they only had the latter in, though it made for some interesting fumbling in the dark removing the old blades, assembling and fitting the new ones, cutting them to the right length and so on. But it's all done now, and hopefully the new ones will last a while. I also happened to notice that Halfords sold the recommended washer pump for the Accent for under a tenner, which will be interesting as and when I get round to booking the car in for that to get looked at.

Tea started off as a fairly mundane few slices of bread and Marmite - having had a very pleasant gammon dish for lunch - though I wrapped it up with a few of the bits and pieces Martin insisted I took home last night. The cheese I knew was nice, and that was soon demolished along with a load of the accompanying biscuits, but the Safeway appleade left a great deal to be desired, and I wished I'd gone for the cider instead - though I'm trying to save that for when Zoe's up next... My wondering at how they could make a sugar-free appleade when apples naturally contain sugar - and healthy sugars, if I remember rightly - was put to rest by the realisation that it wouldn't be a problem if the drink didn't contain anything even vaguely apple-like in the first place. Oh well, I'll just have to remember that as one drink definitely not to buy next time I happen to be shopping in Safeway, which I admittedly very rarely do.

Probably the most interesting thing to happen at work today was a chat this afternoon with Phil, our acting head of department. A couple of years ago, one of my ex-colleagues had been in charge of making a CD-ROM "sampler" of examples of our department's best work, as something that could be shown to academics and so on to inspire them with what was feasible with multimedia development. Anyway, the CD-ROM's now looking a bit dated, and with my knowledge of the Delphi programming language that the main catalogue system was created in, surprise surprise, Phil knocked at my door asking if I'd like to oversee the necessary revisions. This would be a project with a fair bit of kudos - though probably not quite as much as when Peter originally pulled it together - and although there are likely to be as many political and interpersonal problems as there will be technical ones, I think it's a good one to get involved with.

I'm bored, tired, stressed, saying things I probably shouldn't be saying, writing things I probably shouldn't be writing, and I want to go home. Now. Not in three hours' time.

I managed to escape work pretty promptly at half past five, thankfully, though the drive home was a gingerly one at least to start with, through a real pea-soup of a fog, though it was clear by time I was back in Springfield. I'm having a quiet evening in now, doing a bit of web design - just on paper for the moment - for Shine and for MKCF, though I've probably done about as much as I can without getting my hands dirty with HTML and style-sheets, which will really have to wait until I'm using a better machine here or elsewhere. I was hoping to have gone out tonight to watch a video round at Alan and Helen's, though there was a decided lack of interest - or more accurately, availability - from anyone else, so we decided to postpone that, and I'll probably aim for an earlyish night instead. This morning I woke up at seven, closed my eyes, opened them again and it was eight, so I'm definitely in need of rather more sleep than I'm actually getting at present, and tonight would seem a good opportunity to clear a bit of that backlog.

Thursday's being another fairly boring day at work, though it's passing by rather more happily than yesterday did. Thanks to being required to do an approximately two-minute demo of our software, I missed going to lunch properly, though it didn't matter too much because I was only planning on having a filled roll anyway, since I'm probably eating at McDonalds this evening anyway. You see, my friend Dave - who's now working up this way but commuting from Wokingham - is looking at a house this evening, and I've agreed to meet up with him for a bite to eat before I hopefully head off to neighbourhood group. I have no real excuse not to go to our neighbourhood group meeting this week, and besides, having had a week to think things over - and to cool down - it's perhaps only fair I give them another try before doing anything too decisive about it.

This evening's been an interesting time, overall on the more rewarding side of average, I think. My rendezvous with Dave worked out fine, with him finishing looking at a possible cottage to rent in Nash a bit before seven, and us meeting up for a meal at the Arena McDonalds shortly afterwards. It was good to see Dave for the first time in ages, anyway, and hopefully once he's living up here - as he will be shortly, one way or the other - we can meet up a bit more often. With lengthy queues and rather understaffed tills, we didn't get our hot apple pies and ice cream as quickly as we might have, and I was a little late arriving at neighbourhood group.

The meeting hadn't properly started, of course - it doesn't normally get going for at least half an hour - but Claire was there, so I had a good and frank chat with her about this, that and the other. After the meeting, Paul saw me out, and knowing that all was not entirely well from our phone call a week ago, had a brief if chilly natter about a few things. I was glad to get some things off my chest, I have to say, because I should be able to trust Paul, as my pastor, but it's not always easy when I fear the possible reactions. Anyway, I was able to share about the family stuff that's troubling me - which I hope I'll be able to fill in a few gaps about in here soon - and about my unsettledness within the group.

The latter I was particularly able to talk about because one of the things Paul announced tonight was that the neighbourhood group provision is to be rearranged, and I had been assigned to a new group run by Seamus and Gill. This was music to my ears, frankly, since they have always been people I could get on with, and other members are to include Chris and Claire, Dave and Elaine, and a few other single and young people. It will probably be a fortnight before things happen, for one reason or another, but the end of my unhappiness with neighbourhood group should now be in sight, and I'm quite sure that this is a direct result of my petitioning to God about how I felt.

With last Friday's band practice cancelled, things were looking altogether a bit disorganised for tonight's event, and indeed it was only by a certain amount of fluke that yesterday evening we finally got a set list and directions to the venue. As a result, there's a good number of songs we've not had the chance to practise at all, though I am probably in a slightly advantageous position as a saxophonist, since it's quite easy for me to duck out of the odd song in a way that no-one else in the band could really get away with. Thankfully the others are more experienced than me at this "covers" business, though, so I think it will be fine.

The only slightly annoying thing, really, is that we've been asked to be at the venue - some hitherto unknown pub in Linford - for a 6.30 sound-check, which seems a bit excessive considering we're not actually on stage until nine, and I've no idea how well fed and watered they'll keep us in the meantime. I suspect Robbie's also seeing it as a last-minute chance to run through a few less familiar numbers, though seeing as we'll be going almost non-stop from nine through 'til midnight anyway, I hope we're not going to get too intensive; a five-hour stretch really would be just a little too much for everyone's fingers and lungs...

Still, it should be quite fun, and although quite a big deal's being made of it, in many ways it should be a lot more relaxed than the shopping centre entertainment before Christmas, which we combined a couple of our practices with. But first I need to get through today, and that's what I'd better be getting on with!

Reading yesterday's Milton Keynes Citizen local newspaper, I was curious to spot a full-page full-colour advertisement for Kingston Tesco's babyware department. I would presume that this unprecedented publicity drive was entirely coincidental, having nothing at all whatsoever - perish the thought, slap my wrists - with the fact that Kingston Mothercare, right next door to said Tesco, burned down last weekend.

Not of course that Kingston Tesco is in any great need for publicity, already one of the biggest supermarkets in the country, and allegedly the largest man-made structure visible from space. OK, so I exaggerate slightly, but after its recent doubling it is truly massive, and certainly no-one in Milton Keynes can be oblivious to its existence. It's so big you get a map when you go in now, apparently - not that it's something I often do, preferring Dartmoor for getting lost during hiking adventures.

Having still not received a word back from the PDO - that's Philips Dupont Optical, for the benefit of anyone searching for them on the web once this posting is archived - e-mail helpline, and having found that their 0800 telephone helpline was next to useless, I've taken the oh-so-twentieth-century step of writing them a good old fashioned letter. Regular readers will know that I'm trying to get replacements for a number of CDs that are afflicted by "bronzing", a pretty - but thoroughly damaging - discoloration that spreads through the inside of the disc, from the circumference inwards. They claim to have a service to replace affected discs free of charge - where they are still available - but I have to say that so far I am decidedly unconvinced. Still, a letter can't do any harm, and I was surprisingly non-confrontational in it, considering that this will be precisely the fifth time I'll have tried contacting them about this over the last couple of years. Hopefully this time I can have at least a little success.

It's Saturday afternoon, and I'm finally able to take a bit of a breather from a busy weekend so far - and likely to continue that way. I'm expecting a phone-call from Zoe imminently, to let me know she's on her way up here, but in the meantime I can catch up a little on what's been happening so far.

Last night's event - which I can now safely reveal was a surprise birthday party for Pam - went really well. The 6.30 proposed sound-check unsurprisingly never quite materialised, with the band only complete by getting on for eight in the end. I fluffed one solo, which was particularly noticeable because almost everyone else had stopped at that point, but generally everything was fine, and our near-uninterrupted three-hour stretch seemed to pass by quite quickly in the end.

It was a late finish, but perhaps not quite as late as I'd feared, and there was time to chat to a fair few people before driving back home. Zoe had said that if I was in before about 12.30 to give her a ring, but I couldn't get any response when I tried at about 12.27, so I suspect she was sound asleep like I wish I could have been for the rest of the night - which ended up surprisingly unsettled considering how utterly fit to drop I was by the end of the party.

This morning was quite an early start as Saturdays go, having been invited last night by Jeanne to go along to Hannah and Peter's bring-and-buy sale in aid of some Blue Peter appeal or other. Needless to say, most of the stuff on sale was not really my cup of tea, though talking of such beverages, I did have a couple of those - with accompanying biscuits - and so was able to contribute towards their revenues of a bit over thirty pounds, not at all bad a sum to raise doing it off their own backs.

I stayed for a little bit longer, mainly to wait for Ellen who wanted a lift into the city centre, and was introduced to their rabbit and guinea pigs, amongst other things. Fighting through heavy traffic, I dropped Ellen off outside the shopping centre, parked back at home and - as planned - promptly walked back up to the city centre to do my own shopping. Apart from a brief late lunch in Burger King, I confined my activities to Waitrose - or would have done had they stocked the salad seasoning I was after, which I later found in Sainsburys.

So that's about that for today so far, as I wait patiently for the phone to ring. We've not got anything specific planned for tonight - or not yet anyway - though we hope to go out for a meal somewhere as we did when Zoe last came up for more than just the day. Tomorrow's likely to be quite fun and interesting, with the fourth Revive youth event in the evening - back at the Pitz again this time - which we are down to do stewarding for once again. What else we'll do tomorrow I have no idea, but I'm sure it will be a great day as always.

For various reasons, Zoe was a little later arriving on Saturday afternoon than I'd anticipated, but it meant I didn't have to be in too much of a rush, and because we had nothing specific planned for the evening, it didn't matter in the slightest. With neither of us ravenously hungry, we decided we'd give eating out a miss, and instead cooked up some yummy pesto pasta - with appropriate accompaniments - based on a recipe my mum had served last time I went home. OK, so I've just realised I forgot the grated cheese, which really would have finished it off nicely, but that can wait until next time - and we are agreed there certainly will be a next time for this particular dish!

Sunday was a busy day, though thankfully I wasn't playing in the morning, which meant I didn't have to rush to get up. I walked down to Chris and Claire's to collect Zoe, and found Claire was running a bit late, so we all went up to the school together. The morning meeting was one of the better ones of late, with no repetition of last week's fiasco, no strained endless repeats of songs, and a good message from Paul based on parts of Ephesians and 2 Kings. With Chris having recently bought a load of fish, he invited us round for dinner, cooking up an extremely delicious fish pie - something I'd not had before, but really quite an experience, if not in a calorie-counting mood.

We stayed at Chris and Claire's for the afternoon, being completely degenerate and watching Star Wars, which for some bizarre reason I'd not seen for years, and not at all in the widescreen format we were treated to yesterday. Whether it's really the greatest film ever made is a little doubtful, but it's certainly an excellent production, which reveals more to the viewer every time. This was the remastered Special Edition, which I'd certainly not seen before at all, but even the many special effect scenes which had not been overhauled by Industrial Light and Magic remained as impressive as ever, and I'm sure the original film would stand up well were it to be released today.

From Chris and Claire's it was on to the Revive event at the Pitz, arriving just in time for the seven o'clock planning meeting - even if I did dash home immediately afterwards to go and get my ear-plugs, having been posted right next to one of the dreaded Shine speaker stacks. The event itself went very well - Zoe and I agreed it was probably the best yet - and I was able to get a few pictures too. The main guest act was a brand new dance group called V:enna, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Steps, and very good as such acts go. The live worship and the talk on prayer by Matt Woodhouse were also top stuff, making for an altogether excellent everyone for everyone.

Having dropped our stuff back at the house, we nipped out for our customary visit to KFC, but unusually both went for a Zinger Tower meal - with barbecue sauce, of course. It was much quieter than last weekend; indeed for most of the time we were the only customers in the restaurant, I think. We were both very shattered after such a busy day and evening, so we didn't hang around for too long, with Zoe finally on her way back home at a bit before eleven if my memory serves me correctly - well I vaguely recall listening to the eleven o'clock news on the radio as I got ready for bed. I slept well, I think, but was still pretty tired this morning, though it was certainly worth it...

By the way, I should make it perfectly clear - in case it wasn't already - that I am not a Steps fan, and as such do not consider them to be "very good". Their music may be catchy, but the same could be said of some of the most abominable bands of the past too. V:enna simply did what they were doing very well, and I can appreciate talent without having to particularly like it. Get it? Got it? Good. That's that cleared up then.

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