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David's diary: May 2000

It's Monday morning, but a bank-holiday Monday morning - though my body clock doesn't seem to realise it, so I'm up quite early even after a fairly unsettled night's sleep. I think the main reason for that was skipping my evening meal, leaving me ravenously hungry as I lay in bed, even after such a big lunch at Pizza Hut. Anyway, I'm up now, and with it being the first day of May, I need to remember how to adjust the date on my watch to read "1" rather than "31", then I'll treat myself to the increasingly unusual meal that is breakfast. OK, so I normally manage to grab something to eat for breakfast - being a great believer in the meal - but it's not often I get to eat everything I'd like to start the day with. As for anything happening later today, well there was some talk of going up to some country park out to the north of the city and just having a bit of fun for as much or little of the day as anyone wanted. Then hopefully we'll still be on for this Scrabble or whatever in the evening, and I've asked a few people if they'd like to join in, which would be cool if they could. But more boringly, having been at my parents' on Saturday I also need to fit in a trip to Waitrose sometime, so I think I'll do that once I'm up, dressed and breakfasted.

Well the trip up to Emberton Country Park with Gareth and friends was all very pleasant, visiting for long enough to enjoy a few hot-dogs, burgers and crips to eat and a bit of a kick-around. I went up with Mark and Darren, but we all had other things to do, so were quite happy to head off after a couple of hours. As it turned out, Waitrose was resolutely shut - bank holidays being the one day that the John Lewis Partnership's traditional policy of not opening on Mondays is implemented - but I got more or less everything I wanted in Sainsburys next door. Anyway, still no news of tonight's happenings, if any, though I'm hopeful that something will get sorted out one way or another. I think Mark's busy preparing for the new term, and I have no idea when Phil and Angela are likely to get back in, so we'll just see how things go as far as anyone else joining us is concerned, I guess.

Unsurprisingly, Scrabble didn't happen this evening, with everyone who might have been involved either out elsewhere, busy or just too plain tired to really be that interested - with me coming into that latter category. Not wishing to waste the evening, however, I decided I'd be healthy and walk out to Willen Lake, stopping off for tea at the Ship Ashore. However, despite taking quite a detour to go to the pub, I found they don't serve food on bank-holiday evenings, so made do with a bag of crisps instead and later went out to KFC with Mark. But now I really do feel shattered, so am going to have a bath and go to bed; at least it's only a four-day week this week...

Hmm, back at work, and - unusually after a weekend - in the office on time too, with breakfast inside me, no less. Not that I'm feeling particularly inspired or enthusiastic about anything much, of course, but mornings tend to be like that for me at the best of times. As my mum has pointed out in the past, I'm definitely not a "mornings person", though the trouble is, I'm not sure I'm much of an "evenings person" either, and afternoons can be a little touch and go... I guess this is part of the reason that I could quite happily go self-employed if I had enough work to be doing - because I would absolutely have to motivate myself, but would also have the flexibility to work when was best for me. But whether that's likely to happen at any point in the imminent future I really have no idea, though it's certainly a mid-term possibility I'd take quite seriously if the opportunity arose.

Ah well, today's singularly not living up to any expectations, however low, I might have had of it - and again, apathy to do anything much about it is setting in... But do something I must, having agreed with Dave the other day that the rut I'm in covers a lot more than just relationship issues, but reaches out into more or less every aspect of my life at present - and probably more than he realises. Still, at least I should get home in good time today, with what should have been tonight's astronomy club meeting postponed until tomorrow evening, presumably due to holidays and things getting in the way.

Today's being no better than yesterday. I really need to do something about this. I called it a rut. Dave only called it a groove. But I know it's more than that. Assuming I understand myself, which I am not really too sure about. All things are relative, I know, but I've no idea whether the world's upside down around me or if it's just me. At least people seem to care. Sort of.

Astronomy Club provided an upbeat end to an otherwise pretty dismal day, with a good round-up of the last month's news - including some lovely photographs of the aurora at the beginning of April - and a fairly interesting talk on the future of astronomy. The latter took a very different slant to what I had expected, not discussing the likely technological advancements, but more the theory of how astronomy might progress in terms of the statistical probability of further discoveries and when we might have discovered all there is to be discovered. Controversial stuff, certainly, and there was quite a lot of heated debate, though I think I'd have preferred something a little more "hands-on" so to speak.

Anyway, I got back home just under an hour ago to find a little package on the kitchen table from Red Sound, namely a version 1.06 ROM to install in my new DarkStar synthesiser module. Whether every customer got one, or whether it was just because I reported so many bugs with version 1.03, I'm not sure, but I got sent one for free anyway, so I'm not complaining. It installed smoothly enough and seems to have fixed everything major I had reported, plus a few other problems I had noticed since, so that's good and I can recommend the module even more than before to anyone into that sort of thing.

But now it's getting fairly late, and it's been a long day - with another long one coming up tomorrow - so I'm going to post this up, have a bath and head to bed, methinks. Hmm, maybe not just yet, seeing as the phone line's in use by someone else's modem right now - hence my again pondering buying a mobile at least for voice purposes - so I'll try again once I've had my bath... Hmm, maybe not this evening at all, actually, for reasons I am not really at liberty to reveal but involve the phone-line still being tied up even after my bath, probably somewhat indefinitely as far as tonight is concerned...

Emergency sirens outside, no doubt attending to the polling station staff at Springfield having dropped dead with shock at someone actually turning up to vote. That said, I voted earlier - having been reminded quite by chance - and there were a couple of other people around at the time, though I'm not convinced they had originally turned up to do their democratic bit rather than go to a usurped coffee morning or mother and toddler group. I really do confidently predict that with the exception of the London mayoral elections, these local polls will experience one of the lowest average turn-outs in history. As my colleague Sam - who used a postal vote, out of curiosity - just pointed out, there's been more publicity for some boring computing talk here at the Open University today than there's been for the local elections. OK, so Tony and his cronies did descend on the university a couple of weeks ago to launch the local campaign, but once the crowds had subsided, no-one really seemed to give a flying one what happened next. There has been only one leaflet that I've noticed, and no door-to-door canvassing at all - unlike last time when John Fairweather himself came to visit, not that he was actually our ward's candidate, but I guess he was the best they could get, and I was able to commend him on his diligence in getting wobbly paving slabs replaced and street-signs pointing the right way. Nope, this has been the worst-publicised election in my living memory, and I'm quite certain the official figures will confirm that across almost the whole country.

More extreme motivational problems work-wise, though that's hardly news, is it? Not helped at all by preoccupation from some surprisingly pleasant dreams last night that leave me only further confused as to where I stand and what to do next. I know they were only dreams, but how much notice should I take of them? But in the meantime, preoccupation or no preoccupation, there is stuff I really must get on with at work, or - to put it bluntly - I have to fear I mightn't have much of a job left to worry about... If only it were that easy, though.

It's D-day at work today, somewhat, with this sampler CD-ROM project pretty much absolutely having to be finished by the time I go home - whenever that might be. I don't think that's going to be a technical problem, but as you know, there are other factors at play here that may collude to delay me. Not least diary-writing like this, but that's far from being the most significant thing either. I do feel better than I did yesterday, thanks to a number of conversations I had yesterday evening giving me a much greater clarity of mind. Certainly the preoccupations I mentioned yesterday have subsided somewhat - my dreams were just dreams, and are happy to stay that way for the time being - and I feel a lot more at peace with my situation as it stands at the moment. Life is curious; I guess that's half the fun.

Last night was interesting and went almost entirely not to plan. I got away from work in modestly good time, giving myself a couple of hours to cook myself up some pesto pasta and have a bath and a shave before neighbourhood group at eight. However just as I arrived home, I bumped into my friend Ken the AA man, ending up having a lengthy chat with him about this and that, especially interesting since he'd just got back together with his girlfriend again, having separated from her at about the same time as Zoe and I took our breather. That's not to say he was pushing for me to do likewise or anything, but it certainly proved that dire situations need not be entirely hopeless, and I think he will prove to be a good friend to have, being yet another person who's not had an ideal life in that respect.

Then, back at home, finally, I gave my friend Sarah a quick ring, hoping to equally quickly drop off a couple of science books for her daughter Claire - one old one I'd had since I was about her age, and another I'd picked up in a book sale yesterday lunchtime - which I duly did. "Quick" didn't really enter into the equation in practice, eventually getting home only just in time to grab a slice of bread before going to Seamus and Gill's. So much for the pasta, bath and shave - and by the time I was back from neighbourhood group there wasn't much time for them afterwards either... Numbers at the group were very low for some reason, so we didn't do anything too formal or organised, but it was a good time together as always, and we've pencilled in a few future events while there weren't too many of us to disagree!

And guess what - still not finished, though I've made considerable headway today, and I'm confident that if I come back and put in a couple of hours once I've had a bite to eat somewhere, I can indeed cut a CD tonight and have it ready for Phil on Monday. Well I have to be confident, really, don't I? So, without further ado, it's tea-time, methinks...

... and back again, digging in for what's likely to be quite a long evening.

And lo and behold, I didn't get the CD-ROM finished last night - hence my being at work again now, on a glorious Saturday afternoon I'd far rather be spending elsewhere. Much more awake than last night too, thankfully, and making quite fast progress as a result. However, it's like climbing a mountain; I think I'm almost there, then find what I thought was the top was just a little half-way crest, with a much larger - and possibly less inviting - ascent still to go. I'm still pretty sure I can get enough done to have a draft ready for Monday morning; I'm in no great hurry to go home, being well-fed and everything, and I have a whole stack of music CDs to keep my sanity going. Hopefully I'll be away by about tea-time though, and I certainly could do without a late night, what with the BBC coming to film at tomorrow morning's Celebration meeting where I'm playing. Not that we're going to be famous or anything; it's just for the benefit of an Open University course, I believe, but Andy's somewhat paranoid about it all and needless to say wants everything to be 101% perfect.

The summit's in sight, but unfortunately there's a severe overhanging cliff between me and it, and no-one provided me with the necessary ropes, pitons and so on that I need to scale it. Yes, it's the little details that are thwarting me now, nasty little inconsistencies that will make the software look really dire. Things like the installer steadfastly referring to "1998", with no sign of the source-code in order to fix it - and I don't know what the installer's doing well enough to be able to re-engineer it, hardly the first time I've experienced this problem while I've been working here... I'm sorely tempted just to write an e-mail explaining that I've been in today fairly willingly, done what I can with the resources I have to hand, but that it's been impossible to finish. Sure, I said to Phil before that it was pretty much there, but he's been in the business long enough to realise that it's the final polishing that's often the hardest and can make all the difference between something good and a pile of utter dross. Well, on the basis that there's no way I can truly complete it without further input from a few people, which will have to wait until next week anyway, I may as well not worry too much about the sticking points, get done what I can today still - which is most of it, after all - and hope everyone understands when I admit that the CD-ROM presented Monday morning is "less than ideal". I mean, it was complete fluke I managed to get any of the original Delphi source for the thing at all, so they should count themselves somewhat lucky I'll be delivering anything on Monday. Anything other than my three months' notice of resignation, anyway.

Right, I've done all I can for now. The CD writer machine is currently building an ISO image, and I truly hope and pray that it'll all fit, especially as I probably need to add some bitmaps next week which will eat up a few more of any precious megabytes left over. Annoyingly, the Sophos anti-virus software decided to perform an auto-update and full scan of the hard disk just when I wanted to start the CD writing software going - not much fun when I just want to go home - but thankfully that's over now, and all being well, I should be out of here sometime in the next half-hour or so. As far as I can tell, next week I need to get brief descriptions - and screen-shots in some cases - of the new software from the contributors, and try and sort out the installer thing to say "2000", then - QA permitting - we should be ready to roll. Phew.

Three megabytes over! Three megabytes! And why couldn't it have told me before it made the ISO image, or am I missing something fundamental about the way these things work? Anyway, I found a load of 24-bit uncompressed bitmaps that I've managed to squish by two-thirds, saving me enough to tip the balance and leave a bit to spare for any extra screen-shots required next week. Anyway, I've set the CD cutting machine building another ISO image as I listen to Shine's album to pass the next half hour or so, then I really and truly should be able to head home - probably via KFC or somewhere similar given my current fast-food addiction.

And bang goes another half hour of my evening, having found that some fool put a half-hour power standby setting on the CD cutting machine, so it can't even cut a whole CD unattended without being interrupted. For those who don't realise, even the slightest glitch during a CD cutting session is enough to limit production to nothing more than glorified golden coasters. Still, at least I know when the ISO image has been made this time, because it's copying files straight off my hard disk. I can just watch for the drive activity light to stop flickering, then toddle across to the multimedia lab to check the writing phase has started properly. After all this, the CD had better basically work, or I think I'll be driving home via Beachy Head.

Right, all done - or as much of it as I can, for the moment - and I've sent off an e-mail to Phil explaining exactly what I think has and hasn't been done. And now I'm finally going home - yippee!

It's Monday morning, and I feel pretty dead - though not half as much as my colleague Francisco probably did, who I caught leaving just as I arrived this morning, so goodness knows how long he'd been in for; certainly made my Saturday afternoon/evening stint look like a walk in the park... Needless to say, I didn't do much more on Saturday night other than get my music stuff ready for Sunday morning - and clean forget to sort out my Microverb and a few other bits I'd apparently promised for Chris, though it didn't matter in the end.

Sunday morning itself up at Wolverton went fine, with the BBC camera-crew conspicuous but not too overwhelming; there were just a couple of guys with handheld DV cameras and big microphones, so it wasn't too disconcerting as they wandered around getting close-ups of various goings-on. As expected, Andy's talk was pretty basic down-to-earth stuff, and was much appreciated by just about everyone there, and there were also a few powerful testimonies and things for good measure.

I had lunch at Martin's - stopping off at the corner-shop on the way for a few bottles of Stella - enjoying a very yummy Chinese stir-fry with noodles, spring rolls and so on. Time flew, though, and by the time we'd sorted out a couple of things on his computer - including installing FrontPage Express, not that the installation itself was that "express" sadly, but that's another story - it was just about time for tea and to head off to the school for the evening meeting.

I'm not sure if I'd heard Tony Morton before or not, but he was a superb speaker, with just the right balance of humour and more serious stuff to keep people's interest. The music was good too, led by Robbie - with Doug on violin adding something quite special - even if I would question starting with the juxtaposition of "God is good", "The happy song" and "I've found Jesus", though I suppose it was my own stupid fault for being so energetic... Maureen had a word for me, which was pretty cool, but I think I'd better have a bit more of a chat with her about it before I say much more about it - but suffice to say it was quite inspirational and certainly lifted me up a lot.

Anyway, by that time I was utterly shattered, but still a little hungry, so I persuaded - without too much difficulty - Mark to drive us over to KFC for a late-night snack, then checked my e-mails and so on and hit the sack. Not that I had the best night's sleep sadly; I was fully expecting to be out like a light, but as so often happens to me, just being tired is by no means enough to guarantee settled sleep. Still, I was up in time for a proper breakfast and to get into work on time, so it can't have been too bad.

Yesterday was a fairly relaxed day, after the busyness of Saturday and my otherwise all too short weekend. Phil seemed quite pleased with what I'd done as regards the departmental sampler CD-ROM, and we're both confident that the remaining bits won't be too problematic. Yesterday evening was fairly quiet, doing a bit of Shine web-site stuff, and briefly researching a small problem my friend Martin was having with his web browser - thanks to a very non-hip little unwanted feature called "GoHip" - before having a nostalgic chat with Mark and Simon, Simon visiting to collect a surplus synth module for South. And that was about it, really - even if I didn't quite get the early night I might have intended. This morning I didn't quite manage time for breakfast, and was a little disconcerted on leaving for work to see a number of police vehicles - including a riot van - outside a friend of mine's girlfriend's house, though since she lives in a terrace, it probably had nothing to do with her.

Why am I in such a thoroughly negative mood this evening? It's not as if today's been exceptionally bad on any greater scale of things, and no-one's done anything to upset me. I guess it's just me being my usual temperamental self, and having picked up a nasty little cold from somewhere's not helping much.

It's exactly a week until my thirtieth birthday - what joy to be approaching that little hillock of decrepitude... Still it's also approaching my car's third birthday, and it'll be having its party a few days after mine would have been if I'd chosen to celebrate it much - which I've decided against. Of course, its party involves things like an oil change, getting its windscreen washer system looked at - finally - and the true sign of vehicular coming of age, its very first MOT test.

Last night was another quiet evening, spending a little bit of time on-line and on the phone, but - feeling a little groggy with this cold - I took advantage of an exceptionally early night, slept really quite well, and still struggled to get out of bed this morning. I did manage, though, and had time for breakfast, for which I'm sure I'll be grateful. It's so much healthier to have a bowl of bran flakes and bread with Marmite, than iced buns and bars of chocolate, I'm quite certain!

Well that was a superbly good evening - honest! OK, so it didn't get off to the best start with me rushing home a little early from work to sort out my Minidisc recorder and accessories I'd promised for Mark and Gareth, hunting high and low for blank discs, and it seeming now that their planned recording session never happened after all. Still, I needed to find those discs anyway, so it wasn't all in vain.

But it was fine thereafter, meeting up with Dave at the cinema a little after six to watch "Galaxy Quest". We had half an hour to kill, though - we'd been expecting queues for some bizarre reason - so grabbed a burger at McDonalds before returning for the obligatory nachos with cheese sauce and chillies. The film was as good as I had been led to expect - completely silly but visually breathtaking, and an excellent skit on the Trekkie culture. Definitely one of the films of the year so far and well worth a watch.

Back home now, though, and all is quiet - and everyone's out, more to the point - though having slept so well after my early night yesterday, I think I'll try the same again tonight, once I've collapsed into the bath for a little while and read a bit.

Yesterday was an unusually productive day at work, motivated a little, no doubt, by the prospect of having one of the pro-vice chancellors on my back in regard to getting this CD-ROM done a little earlier than we had perhaps originally anticipated. Hopefully I can keep this slight "roll" going today, and cross off the last half-dozen or so very minor issues from the list Phil dropped on my desk yesterday afternoon. Yesterday evening was fairly uneventful, testing my home PC for a newly announced problem affecting some Pentium III systems, but thankfully mine was in the clear, as was Mark's and also my machine here at work, it turns out. Then it was on to neighbourhood group, which was almost entirely spent talking and praying about the difficult work situation of one of our members. Decidedly overcast skies later in the evening thwarted any plans to look out for auroral activity, but possible geomagnetic storms are forecast for the next few days, so I'll be keeping a watchful eye out for such things.

This diary is too dull. It's mundane. OK, so it's an accurate documentation of my life, but all that means is that my life must be dull and mundane too. Yet one of the purposes of my diary is as a self-help thing; I lack motivation in many areas, but by making sure I write down what I do, it ensures that it will stare blankly back at me if I don't get off my backside and at least do something. Even if it's not something very exciting. But I'll try and make my diary more interesting, anyway, in recognition of the poor souls who somehow feel duty bound to share in my very middle-of-the-road existence. Any suggestions most welcome; you never know, you might even make my life more interesting in the process!

Well, since writing that entry last night, I've gained one extra "favourite diary" status, and an assurance that my life seems "sorted", rather than dull. But it didn't take much reading between the lines to see that the main problem is with my life, rather than my diary, that this "sortedness" is actually not everything it appears. You don't have to dig deep to find someone who may largely be secure in his humdrum existence, but someone who is dissatisfied with what life has to offer at present. But anyway, this merely serves as further confirmation of what I really do know - and have shared - already, so gives me even more resolve to do something about it. Anyway, having just got back from a late lunch at Pizza Hut, I've got a busy evening coming up, happily to say. First of all, I'll be going to Dave's housewarming barbecue - hopefully not literally - for a while in about an hour's time, then proceeding to Martin's wine-tasting evening. The latter such events are notoriously fun, I understand, and - unlike the experts - we swallow...

Well the wine-tasting evening on Saturday was fun enough - as was my brief visit to the house-warming barbecue beforehand - with Martin and Chris desperately trying to outdo each other on the bouquet detection honours. "Do you get peppermint?" Hmmm. More like balsa cement. Still, it was a good evening, and a pleasant way of drinking lots of different wines from all around the world - most of them fairly reasonable, if not exceptional - without getting too drunk, even if Giles did shock us all by telling an unexpectedly rude joke. More to the point, Martin reckoned we probably raised about a hundred quid for Shine, which was the idea of the evening in the first place, so although we didn't get as many guys along as we'd hoped, it was successful in that respect.

Sunday ended up quite busy too, making the most of what must have been the warmest day so far this year. Having dropped off Sarah and Laura to the railway station - far too hot for them to walk - I drove on over to Andy and Rosie's for lunch, with Matt already there and Mark arriving a little later. Various people phoned while we were there, but in the end no-one else visited, but before long it was time to head down to the river behind the King Centre for Dave's baptism. David and Carrie Grant were there and helped do the honours, with three Daves ending up in the water, actually. Not including me, thankfully - I had my time getting on for two years ago. A good number of us then went back to Alan and Helen's for a bite to eat, then on to the evening meeting to round up the day.

Yes, a fairly factual account, but a surprisingly active weekend being described there. This is being a bit of a voyage of rediscovery.

Too ... hot ... Though I try not to complain given how I also whinge when it's cold, damp and miserable. More to the point, I could definitely smell the pollen on the air today, which means that my hayfever will no doubt strike with a vengeance very shortly. Hopefully the girl selling the Big Issue was right when she said that camomile tea was an effective remedy for it, because I stocked up on it as a result the other day. If it works, it's certainly got to be better than all these nasty chemicals - some of them now proven extremely dangerous - I've traditionally polluted my body with at this time of year. Mind you, she also told me that fluoride supplements in toothpaste are all part of an evil plot by dentists and the government to make our teeth go rotten, so 'm not banking on her being right, even if I am a bit of a conspiracy theorist at heart.

Despite the heat - and probably thanks to having all the doors and windows open, with a massive fan blasting the air through the office - I managed to get a fair bit done today, including what could well be a release candidate for the CD-ROM sampler I've been sweating blood over lately. I was almost thwarted at the last when I found the graphics room with the CD-ROM burner had been taken over by some very boring looking meeting, but thankfully there was another machine in the department I could use, and it actually worked out for the best that way, because that one was able to warn me in good time that I was again a few megabytes over the limit of what would fit on a disc. This was in stark contrast to a couple of weekends ago, when the machine waited twenty minutes until it had created the whole ISO CD-ROM image before deciding it was going to choke.

Nothing to report today, really, except that there's a nice breeze making the weather altogether much more bearable. Erk ... weather. If the best thing I can find to talk about is that, then I really shouldn't bother. Oh, and I finally got rid of this CD-ROM thing, or at least the version for the pro vice chancellor to take on some ultra-important trip or other. But more than that, no, nothing to report, nothing to read; please move along, ladies and gentlemen.

A reasonable day so far, as days like this go. The "cake in the kitchen" seems to have mostly been demolished, and there has been a small scattering of well-wishers commiserating me on this inexorable passage of time. Still, I'm glad the pressure of the last few days is now relieved - assuming that Diana doesn't report hideous problems with yesterday's CD-ROM - and I should be free to enjoy this evening's low-key festivities without too many preoccupations. Not too many, although one snippet of news this morning was a little bitter-sweet for a day like today, though I shouldn't really have been too surprised really, and I think it's probably for the best ultimately. At least it leaves me open to explore and pursue other avenues in life without feeling any kind of duty, although what those avenues might be I really am not at all sure. But today's as good a day as any - and better than many - to be the first day of the rest of my life.

Today was also the second day of my new lunch policy. I've been growing steadily more disillusioned with the canteen fare over the last few months, more often than not ending up having either a filled roll from the shop or a cold salad. It's always a bit of a scramble to get decent rolls though, so I decided I'd do the unthinkable and make myself packed lunches instead, at least for a trial period. However, not to be content with boring old Marmite sandwiches and so on, I've been making quite imaginative concoctions, having bought a load of ciabatta rolls, interesting cheeses and so on at the weekend. As such, today's roll was hot melted Saint Agur - a kind of poor man's Roquefort - with bacon and olives. Delicious, and well worth the quarter of an hour or so spent making it last night, though I'm not sure I'll be able to afford the time every day. Nice treat though, that much is certain, and not too filling given that we're going out for a curry or something tonight.

Well, it's the second day of the rest of my life, and yesterday evening was jolly good fun I have to say. Even more people than expected turned up in the end, with the waiters at the Bekash in Stony Stratford thankfully not even flinching when we asked for a table for eleven. We timed it well, though, because the restaurant soon filled up afterwards, and I doubt we'd have been so fortunate half an hour later.

Most of us - Mark, Phil and Angela, Seamus and Gill, Darren, Dave and myself - met up at our place, then drove to Andy and Rosie's - via the railway station to pick up Emily - and from there up to Stony for the meal. As I'd hoped, it was the Kashmiri night at the Bekash, with more food than hardly anyone could eat for a tenner, and apart from Seamus being a little disappointed with the spiciness of his so-called "madras" I think everyone was most satisfied. Needless to say I got some very nice presents and cards too, so it was altogether a most excellent evening out, in superb company.

People parted ways a bit when we left Stony, but a few people joined us back at our place for a little while for a coffee and a natter, then Darren took Emily back to the station - though we have a hunch he might have run her home - and it was time to do a brief e-mail check, dispatch a few spaceships in Planetarion, and call it a day.

Considering that not so long ago I would have refused point-blank any suggestion of a birthday party of any sort, I think we did quite well really, though I'm still glad we didn't go for anything more extravagant. It seemed just right to do something that we might have done spontaneously on any day for any reason, but with the extra factor of it being a more special occasion. Thanks everyone, once again; just got to sort out the photographs now!

Quiet day, no great excitement, nothing much to report really - or at least not from today, anyway. I got the curry photographs sorted out last night, though I bodged up and a few of them are not as good quality as they should have been - makes them smaller for people to download, but rather fuzzy, so it was a decidedly mixed blessing. Neighbourhood group was as good as ever, mainly memorable for being quite short - but that seemed primarily to be so that there was plenty of time for eating birthday cake, which was a pleasant surprise. Oh, and Mark gave me a tape of Moby's album "Play"; I had this already on CD, which he didn't realise - wrongly assuming that the fact that it's top of the charts meant it was a new release - but we agreed it'd be useful for the car anyway, especially now that albums don't tend to fit on one side of a C90 cassette any more. Oh yes, and while swapping tapes this morning, I found my long-lost astronomical torch in the glove-box of my car. This has been missing since last autumn - and was perhaps one of the reasons I've not done as much astronomy lately as I might - so that was a welcome surprise too that I'd never have known about if Mark hadn't given me that tape...

Yesterday evening was more hectic than most Friday evenings, these days, but quite fun in parts, and certainly productive in others. I drove home via Westcroft - yes, to give the KFC there a visit, Kit, going for a Zinger Twister meal - coincidentally finding myself right behind Andy for most of the journey. We said hello briefly once we were there, before Andy headed off to get his hair cut, though "see you later" turned out to be strangely true, since a number of us later piled round to his house to watch "Tombstone" on DVD, which was fairly enjoyable as westerns go.

With my car's third birthday celebrations coming up on Monday, I thought it might be a good idea if I checked a few things, particularly the tyres. Wear on the passenger-side front tyre is particularly heavy, so it was worth moving the wheels around to share it a little. I still suspect it's barely legal, and I won't kick up a fuss if they complain about it during the MOT test on Monday, but it was still worth moving them around anyway, as something you're supposed to do every so often. It took a while - and a bit of shed blood, typically - but while I was working on it, Ken the local AA man walked past to pick up his son, and took an interest, the upshot being that when my RAC cover runs out next month he should be able to get me a very good deal on AA membership.

Anyway, it's now Saturday morning, I have nothing specific planned - although it's a beautiful day and it'd be a shame to waste it - but after quite a long and busy week I'll be taking it nice and easy.

It's been a fairly relaxed Saturday as they go, but making the most of the fairly nice weather by going out for a walk with Andy, Rosie and Harriet this afternoon. Just round part of Caldecotte Lake, dodging the raindrops a little, but it was good to get some fresh air. The most exciting thing I bought while out shopping this morning was a bottle of oil for my bike, to help make sure it's roadworthy for Monday, when it'll need to get me from Old Stratford to the Open University and back while my car's having its birthday party up at Autorama. My slight annoyance for this evening was popping in to work to run off a couple of high quality colour print-outs, and finding that the room with the printers was locked. I suppose I shouldn't really have been too surprised, but I'm sure they've been available at weekends in the past, though the print-outs are nothing that can't possibly wait until Monday or whenever.

As expected, it's being a fairly busy Sunday, but far from being unbearably so. The weather was grotty this morning, but by lunchtime it was looking a bit more pleasant. By the time I went out for an after-lunch stroll with Ken - having demolished a pizza each, taking full advantage of an empty house while his son and girlfriend were away - it was actually a little bit sunny and decidedly humid with it. Ken needed to be back on duty by three, so we didn't go quite as far as maybe we had intended - just to Willen Lake and back - but it was all good exercise we both needed. I've just finished doing a few bits of maintenance on my bike, in advance of using it to get to and from work tomorrow while my car's in at the garage. Just little things like oiling the chain and pumping up the tyres, but all better done today when there's not too much of a hurry, so that all I have to worry about tomorrow morning is fitting the bike in my boot. I have a choice as to whether or not I play at this evening's meeting, and - bizarrely - it may well depend a little upon the weather. In this case it's because I've promised I'll pick Sarah up if the weather's anything like it was this morning, though I have to say it's looking like the worst of it's passed now, so I might well yet decide to oblige Daniel with my musical services.

But for now, I can relax a little, although this room seems to have descended into being a complete tip again, and is starting to get more than a little bit annoying. I think it's yet another sign that I really should be looking into buying my own place in the near future - I just have too much stuff for one room in a shared house, and even with the best will in the world it becomes impossible to keep on top of everything. Yes, a good deal of the stuff I have is probably highly disposable rubbish, but frankly it would now take an operation bigger than I can contemplate while staying here to truly sort everything out into what to keep and what to throw away. The prospect of having a bedroom that would just be for sleeping in - with storage only for clothes - and another room for all the hi-tech clobber, really is just too tempting... But when it'll actually happen is anyone's guess, but hopefully sooner rather than later - not because I have any huge urge to move out from here other than for the reasons above, but sometimes one just has to act decisively and swiftly, seizing the moment. Not something I've really been much good at over the years except in a few cases - not always with very positive results - but this would certainly be a good opportunity to get some practice in!

Yesterday evening was good, with the prophetic team doing their stuff for the first time in a while - though nothing specifically for me this time round - and me on car-park duty for a little while towards the end of the meeting, which was a good opportunity for some fresh air apart from anything else. I had the opportunity to play in the worship band if I'd wanted, but having promised I'd pick Sarah up if need be - and in the end, she phoned back to ask even though the weather looked OK, too tired to walk - I decided not to, and I think they did well enough without me.

I got an earlyish night, but didn't sleep too well for one reason or another, which wasn't very helpful given that I needed to be up in good time this morning to take the car up to Old Stratford and cycle to work. I managed though, even if I was about half an hour late into the office, but that was no disaster, and I still beat my office-mate to it by at least five minutes... It took me about an hour to get from Old Stratford to Walton Hall, but I'm quite expecting to take half as long again going back - me being tired, and the route being a little uphill - so I hope the garage give me a ring soon to let me know my car's done and ready.

They've not phoned to say there's any problem, though - but I took a longish lunch-break, and I hope I didn't miss any calls - so hopefully it'll all be straightforward enough. I was quite expecting them to complain about that decidedly worn-looking passenger-side tyre - now on the back rather than the front - but maybe they'll just flag it as something that will need attention soon and let me sort it out myself. I did tell them just to do what needed doing, but they say they insist on phoning first just to avoid nasty surprises and irate customers. As such, I'm taking their silence as a Good Thing, though if they've not phoned by four or so I ought to give them a ring anyway, especially since I'm not sure exactly what time their service department closes this evening.

Utterly cream-crackered, and more than a little bit saddle-sore, but I'm back at home with my car safely collected - and in full working order, it seems - and my bike locked up at the back of the house once again. I got caught in the rain a little on the return journey to Old Stratford, but it only took me an hour once again, taking a slightly more planned route along Standing Way and Watling Street. I must have cycled a total of about twenty miles altogether, which can't do me anything but good apart from that aforementioned bit of soreness and a painful blister on my right thumb that burst just as I got to the garage. I really should get more exercise like that, though, and Rob kindly pointed out a bike shelter right next to our block at work, so I might well look into cycling in more often, especially now the weather is generally better and the evenings lighter. Don't hold your breath though; I'm sure I've said exactly this kind of thing before!

Any previous hope that the MOT test would be entirely event-free was dashed when I phoned Autorama at about four - getting a little anxious since they'd said all the work should be done by three - and they said they'd had to put it in for a re-test having replaced that dodgy tyre and also adjusted the suspension. Yes, finally, the suspension appears to have been fixed, having been not quite right since I've owned the car. Regular readers may recall I had it checked over last summer and they claimed there was nothing wrong with it, but they agreed not to charge for it so I'm happy enough. Mind you, my journey home didn't really test that aspect of things, so I'll have to wait until the speed-humps at work tomorrow morning and the big bump on Marlborough Street tomorrow evening to see how much better it really is now. The windscreen washers now appear to work fine too having had the pump cleaned out or something, so I didn't have to be too alarmed at the eventual bill of somewhat over two hundred pounds.

While I was waiting for the car to be brought back from the MOT station I had a bit of a nose around the showroom there, not looking too seriously at the new-shape Accents, and even less seriously at the - nevertheless decidedly nice - Coupes. A young man I vaguely remember from before politely accosted me and asked if I needed any help, then clearly realised he recognised me too - from over a year ago! He even remembered what car I'd traded in for my Accent, quite an impressive feat considering the throughput of customers and cars they must get at a place like that. I have to say that although in many aspects of their business they seem no better than the crowd - e.g. not phoning when they say they will, and producing over-complicated invoices - the personal touch is appreciated by many, I gather, and I would seriously consider buying from them again in the future.

Well the car seemed happy driving into work this morning, with only the slightest juddering as it went over the big speed humps on the way into the university, as distinct from the textbook simple harmonic motion it used to demonstrate. So that was a job well done, and with the windscreen washers working too now, I feel altogether a lot more confident about the whole vehicle. I know they're ultimately only a ton of metal and plastic, but it's amazing the effect that the wellbeing - or otherwise - of a car I find has upon my own.

Well it's been a fairly dull day, really, getting a bit more done towards this carpets CD-ROM that I was working on before this departmental sampler thing came up. The main thing I've done is recompress a couple of the video files that played skewed on Windows NT because they had a silly pixel width of 319 or something rather than the required multiple of four. The weather's depressingly wet outside, and I'm mighty glad I'm not on my bike again today, or I'd be getting utterly soaked by now. But that'll do for now, especially if I can't find anything better to talk about than the great British weather.

Breakfast didn't really happen this morning, but it wasn't for lack of time but more for lack of inclination, having eaten a rather massive amount of food last night. Having popped round to Sarah's for a little while after work to drop off a few pictures for Claire, I was getting quite hungry so gave Darren a ring to see if he felt similarly. And so, a few minutes later we were sitting down at Elements in the city centre, for the first time for either of us - and it was quite an experience. I had heard mixed reports about the place, but I was overall fairly impressed, even if ambience wasn't its strong point - probably not a good place for a romantic candlelit dinner, though it might be OK for a first date in a non-threatening environment. At least they'd got rid of the bench seating that I understand had put a lot of people off, though it still had the overall feel of a school canteen. It's basically a bit like a self-service oriental version of McDonalds - quite stark and "mass-produced", but selling really good Chinese and other eastern food at a fair price. Their evening menu is more expensive than the lunchtime one - but there's a better choice, including the essential crispy aromatic duck pancakes - hence our determination to get our money's worth, and my subsequent lack of hunger this morning...

I clearly have no strength of character where eating out is concerned, having quite easily been talked into having a Pizza Hut yesterday evening - and not even by anyone who was going to be there too, or pay, or anything like that... As such, what little money I've saved thanks to my packed lunch - not "launch" - regime has more than been cancelled out, probably several times over, by the last two nights' combined indulgence. But it was all very pleasant anyway, and got rid of a large chunk of what would have otherwise no doubt been quite a boring evening. I don't think I'll be doing the same again tonight, however - though a brief stop-off at McDonalds or KFC mightn't be entirely out of the question - especially with neighbourhood group later where I am expecting to play as part of a one-off evening of praise and worship, assuming Seamus managed to find someone else willing to help on the musical side. The hope was that he would persuade Paul to play guitar, which would also be good practice for Sunday when Paul is leading worship at the main morning meeting for the first time, which we are expecting to be quite good fun.

Neighbourhood group last night wasn't too bad. There were not many of us at all - in fact only myself, Lesley, Seamus and Gill - but we had a good time anyway. As planned, most of the time we spent in praise and worship - though I ended up playing guitar for most of it for one reason or another. It was surprisingly tricky choosing songs that all of us knew to any degree - having not had a chance for any planning as such - but we found enough to keep us going for about an hour, and it was quite fun. We also prayed a bit, nattered a bit, then called it a day.

Today at work's been OK, delightedly cracking a problem with the sampler CD-ROM that had raised its ugly head during QA testing yesterday, with one extra line of code ensuring compatibility with Windows NT and more predictable behaviour with Windows 2000. I've handed over what we hope to be the final gold disc for testing; all being well, this will be the last I see of that particular project for the time being, although there is still the issue of the actual on-body printing for the CD, but that's largely not my problem as I understand it.

I also had a good chat with my old office-mate Jon this afternoon, who's heading up a moderately interesting project I've had some time pencilled in to help with. It's all to do with XML and so on, so I've got a lot of research to do since I know just about precisely nothing about it right now... Fun, fun, fun, and a bit of a spade to dig our own grave, given that the project is supposed to enable the science faculty and the BBC to more easily produce multimedia without our department's intervention - but I guess that's just the way things are going, and I think there are plenty of other faculties' projects in the pipeline for us all.

As for this long bank-holiday weekend, well I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm supposedly meeting up with Dave this evening for a video and a take-out pizza - yes, with my KFC last night, that's four nights out of five this week - but even that's looking a little questionable right now, though I'm still hopeful. I kind of intend to get home at some point during the weekend, but since I'm required Sunday morning, I'm not at all sure when that might end up being; probably Sunday afternoon coming back on Monday at this rate, but that would be fine by me.

It's been a good weekend ... but you can wait a little longer for some detail, cos I'm tired and need to make my lunch for tomorrow before I can get to bed.

OK, a whistle-stop tour of the weekend coming right up...

Friday evening Dave visited as planned, and we got a big fully-loaded pizza with suitable accompaniments from Domino's plus "The Sixth Sense" on video from the Blockbuster next door. A good film indeed, if somewhat predictable - the much-vaunted "twist" was no surprise at all - but well worth a watch if you've not seen it before. So good, indeed that I actually watched it again on Saturday night, with Mark and Darren this time, just to clarify a few bits of the plot that had passed me by a little first time round.

Saturday was a bitty day, but the highlight was probably going with Mark up to a computer fair at the cricket ground in Northampton. It wasn't very big, but seemed to have most of what Mark was after, which was the main thing. I didn't go with anything specific in mind, but I left with a game - namely "TOCA2", an excellent touring-car simulation - I'd seen before and liked a lot, and what will hopefully be a fully functional 32Mb upgrade SIMM for my sound card, finally. Lots of chips on it - should work fine...

Sunday was quite fun, playing at church in the morning as planned, which went fairly well - though remind me never to agree to play solo again, or at least not to open a song doing so... Once I'd sorted out a few things needing sorting out and filled up with petrol, I spent the afternoon and early evening round at Trevor and Jan's new house - first time I'd been there, and a good while since I'd spent any time with them at all - before hitting the road back to my parents for the rest of the long bank-holiday weekend.

My parents were fine, and still on a bit of a high having not that long been back from their trip to Ireland, and they had plenty of photographs to show for it. My mum was nursing a bit of a sore ankle, but it had thankfully cleared up by Monday, so we went for a short walk around Wilstone reservoir, making the most of the dry afternoon. After tea - pork loin steaks casseroled in home-made barbecue sauce, my idea - I popped round next door for a bit, then hit the road home to Milton Keynes, getting in at about ten.

And that was my weekend... Well, there were a few other bits and pieces of modest note, but they can go in another entry I think.

Probably the biggest talking point back at home was to do with our over-the-road neighbours having fairly suddenly upped and moved down to Cornwall. Well actually, we knew a few weeks ago it was happening, but there were no boards up outside the house, adverts in the paper, or anything like that, and they just seemed to have fairly swiftly disappeared without much ceremony at the end of last week. I suppose they always did keep a fairly low profile - though were always very friendly when approached, and I am going to try and stay in touch if I can - so I suppose it didn't come as too much of a surprise that things happened as they did. They've been swiftly replaced by a family where the guy seems to be in the drive-surfacing business, prompting all kinds of thoughts about botched cowboy jobs and so on, but I'm sure there must be at least a few reputable such people, and their family car is a Volkswagen Passat so business can't be that bad. Or they overcharge... In any case, it means there's a lot more vehicles around than ever before, including a big Transit van, but it's inevitable there's going to be a bit of chaos while they're still in the process of settling in.

Other than that I suppose there's not much to write about; visits home are rarely that exciting, but nevertheless provide a good break from city life up here, and I'm glad I've had - and made the most of - a fair few opportunities to get home lately. The walk round Wilstone with Mum was quite pleasant, even if we weren't able to get close up to the reservoir for much of the time. The swans were out in force, accompanied by very cute cygnets - how they could ever be described as ugly ducklings I really have no idea - and I had plenty of opportunity to try out the binoculars Dad's loaned me. The binoculars are very good, but somewhat bulky, so they're not ideal for taking out on walks and so on, but he mainly lent them to me with astronomy in mind, where models with big objective lenses are an absolute necessity for efficient light-gathering, such that pocket ones really don't compare. These ones have 40mm lenses, which should yield some good results, although the summer skies are far from being the best for making observations, so I may well have to wait a few months before I can really use them effectively.

Not a very productive morning, really - a dozen destroyers rolling off the Planetarion production line may be good, but it doesn't really get much work done - and I'm not expecting the afternoon to be much better, given that I'm out for what might be quite a long lunch break, back at Elements in the city centre - this time with my colleagues from the modern languages department. Last night was quite fun in a geeky kind of way, writing some JavaScript-enhanced HTML to make the ASCII-based board from Mono's duplicate Scrabble game - see keypath <RGWWR> - rather more aesthetic. It's not my most elegant code ever, and it'll probably be completely rewritten within the next few days - or weeks, months or whatever... - but it works, and looks very cool with authentic scanned tiles, bonus squares and so on. Will be interesting to see how many people use it, given its very specific task...

Elements was as good as ever, not suffering too much from the diminished lunchtime menu - only forty rather than eighty items on offer - and costing me nothing, since it was a thank-you for the time I've put into modern languages stuff lately. In our group were Lesley, Mirjam, Markus and myself, and I think we all did quite well with the buffet - there may have been less choice, but that just meant we ate more of what there was - and it was a good time together, anyway. Nor will it be the last time, we have agreed...

Hmm, and now I've been invited for a meal tonight. I emphasised that I really wasn't that hungry, but there seemed no easy way out, though Martin said I could have as little as I wanted, so I'll be OK I'm quite sure! Oh, and Mark paged me a little while ago wondering if I had Publisher on my home PC, which I don't. But this was the first time I had heard the tune on my pager since I had the news reports cancelled - which seemed to involve a firmware upgrade - and it's something really quite bizarre that I don't recognise at all, something totally unsuited to a pager or mobile ring-tone certainly... Odd.

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