goznet ...

David's diary: September 2000

Ooh, it's September is it? Time for a diary archive in that case - as well as a holiday. Indeed, today should be my last day at work for a little bit, though I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing with my time off. Ben and Sarah's wedding falls about half way through the break, which should work to my advantage, neatly marking a turning point. I expect I'll spend the first half just winding down, chilling out, swimming a bit or whatever, then try and be more adventurous for the latter half. Latest vague idea is just to head north with my credit card, tent and telescope, and see when I run out of land. For now, though, there's a few odds and ends I need to wrap up before I disappear off, so I'd better be getting on with them, I guess.

That's good, my holiday's been approved - only three minutes after it began, but hey! What's more, I managed to get done what I needed to get done, and the guy I was doing it for seemed quite cheerful when I just bumped into him, so I think I can toddle off home with head held high. Another year passes - and indeed I have just realised it's four years to the day since I started here! Not sure whether that's a good thing or not, really...

What is it with telesales people and their scripted patters? I just took a call from someone at British Telecom, wanting to talk to Mark, and it took about twenty seconds before I realised that my handset was muted and the poor girl couldn't actually hear a word I was saying... Sometimes I'm actually quite glad of the job I have!

Anyway, it's the first day of my holiday - though Saturday would of course be a day off anyway - and I'm taking it easy so far. Thankfully I didn't get woken up by Mark as he left in the small hours of the morning to take a friend to the airport, though it probably wasn't my best night's sleep ever anyway, for whatever reason.

Last night I had the misfortune of catching the late edition of "Big Brother", and I have to say I wasn't too impressed with it in practice rather than just theory. Considering I'd never seen it before, I seemed to know a scary amount about it, such is the amount it's been rammed down our throats even on proper news programmes and so on.

Hmm yes, that could be good for a giggle - or at least I'd die laughing. As of about half an hour ago, I've volunteered to join the "Race for Bosnia" next weekend. No, it's not a trans-European cannonball run, "just" a two-and-a-half-hour team endurance go-kart race at the local Daytona track. I don't know a lot more than that, and I've never been karting in my life, but there's a first - and last - time for everything... Anyway, today's been a fairly good day as Sundays go, with lunch round at Martin's followed very closely by the final picnic of the summer down at the Kings Centre - and one of the biggest crowds yet out enjoying the end-of-summer sun! It's been nice not having to worry about work tomorrow, though I will be catching the train down to London at some point, in advance of the evening's "micro-meet" at the Moon Under Water on Charing Cross Road. I haven't been to London for a good while now, so it'll be a great opportunity to do my usual tour of Oxford Street, Tin Pan Alley and all that - and hopefully not spend too much money in the process!

Hey, I'm connected from easyEverything on Tottenham Court Road right now - and getting a full 29 minutes for my humble pound. That's probably cheaper than peak access by phone, though obviously one has to factor a train fare into that too! Anyway, 14 minutes left on this ticket, then I'll be toddling off down Charing Cross Road hopefully to meet up with the others. Been to the Tate Modern today - not bad - then on to have a look at, but not inside, the dreaded Dome - surprisingly small - before having my usual mooch around the Oxford Street area and winding up here...

Safely back home in Milton Keynes now, after getting home not too horrendously late last night. Things wound up at the Moon Under Water soon after ten in the end, and as midnight passed I was cycling through Oldbrook, well on my way home. It was a good evening in the end, once I'd found the people I was looking for... Not as much long hair as usual, which threw me somewhat, but eventually - after half an hour and a couple of embarrassing cases of mistaken identity - I saw who I thought were some familiar faces. It was all fairly low-key, but it was a good way to wrap up a fairly busy day and I met some new people in the process. Overall, I'm not exactly sure why, but I'd have to say it was one of my less pleasant visits to London, generally a place I can lap up very happily in small doses. Still glad I went, though, but I'm not sure if I'll be doing it again during this time off work.

I had a phone-call from my mum this morning, but I was asleep so phoned her back later. It turns out that after a good deal of uncertainty, my sister's family is finally on the move from north Wales to Herefordshire. It's all very complicated, but until now it looked increasingly likely they were going to stay put, which was not ideal for a number of reasons but in a way was the path of least resistance. They've still to sell their old house and are renting a property for the time being, but I believe they do have some potential buyers. This move will bring them much closer to the rest of us - only a couple of hours' drive from here or my parents, and really "just round the corner" from my brother and his wife. It'll be a shame to lose the sea and all that, but overall I'm pretty sure the advantages outweigh any disadvantages for everyone involved, even if it'll take some getting used to.

Just been out for a late lunch - or early dinner? - at Pizza Hut, enjoying an almost completely empty restaurant for a change. I came home via the Daytona kart circuit at Rooksley, to try and get some idea of what I'm letting myself in for next weekend - and now I don't just think I'm being crazy, I know it. I had a good chat with one of the receptionists there who went through a lot of the routine, talked about the cars, and so on, but it wasn't enough to put me off the idea, thankfully. I might pop back later, actually, when there's a 100km open race, so I can see it all in practice, but I need to keep in mind that our astronomy club is starting up again tonight after its summer recess so I probably wouldn't be able to stay for the whole event if I did decide to go along.

Well I've just phoned Adrian to confirm my availability to drive Saturday evening. Yes, I did go back to the Daytona circuit earlier this evening, and yes, even the practice session looked absolutely terrifying - but hey... Astronomy Club was OK, though a bit low on numbers and without a main talk, but it was a good chance to catch up on the summer's happenings and inspect - though not use, thanks to the grotty weather - one of the club's new toys, an ETX125 bought with the "spare change" from the observatory upgrade.

First swim of my break, even if not fantastically successful, only lasting for about half an hour - and not too intensive a half hour at that. It was a start though, and I did what I felt capable of before things started to hurt too much. I'm sure my KFC lunch afterwards more than outweighed any good the session did me, but as time goes on, things should improve, and I certainly intend to go back a few times before my holiday's over...

Last night saw a big worship team meeting, with Tim definitely making up for lost time after his illness. I believe everyone involved in worship across all four congregations was invited, and it certainly was a pretty packed house. Tim and Andy spoke for a total of a couple of hours on all kinds of topic, from the meaning of worship to the character of worshippers. Lots of "don't answer this now" types of question about where people were at and so on; I should imagine not many - if any - people left the meeting without something to ponder hard over the coming weeks. So yes, it was quite lengthy, but altogether very worthwhile and I am sure heralds better - not that it's been too bad lately - times to come!

So much for getting my hair cut, going to the bank and so on - they can wait another day - but I went and had my swim. Again, only half an hour or so, but then it effectively only cost me twenty pence for the locker, since I've long since forgotten shelling out for the sessions in advance... This time, all my hard work was undone with the Pizza Hut lunchtime buffet, though that was itself at least partly undone by lugging my new mattress from Argos to the car, from the car upstairs to my room, and of course removing the old one. Quite why it's taken me this long to get around to changing it I'm not sure, since it's been noticeably uncomfortable all the time I've been here. I think, however, it was seeing Phil's old room - which I used to rent, years ago - now empty, with the last mattress I bought lying unused for the moment, that finally persuaded me to make that trip to get a new one for myself. Oh, and I was served by my friend Wendy, who I had no idea worked there until I saw her!

Paid my credit card bill, got my hair cut. That's about the extent of my day - so far, at least.

The only further highlight was a trip to the Barge in the evening with Darren, where we also bumped into newlyweds Phil and Angela. Today I've been trying to take it a bit easy before this evening's fun and games at Daytona, though not entirely succeeding...

Wow! Incredible! Amazing! Exhilarating! Wow - yet again! OK, so we didn't finish on the podium, or particularly well at all, really, but that still rates as one of the most amazing things I've ever done - and all for a good cause too, raising several thousand pounds for Bosnia Relief! We eventually finished twelfth, though somehow during my stint I managed to hold on to ninth place, sadly to be lost by Nigel who span off a couple of laps into his shift. Definitely the biggest buzz I've had in years - having 390cc of throbbing engine right next to your ear as you powerslide out of a chicane is really quite something - and I'd recommend it to anyone! I'll definitely be back next year - if not sooner! My apologies if I've already said this, but... Wow!

By some miracle it's still Monday morning, though I suspect I'm still quite a way from getting up properly. A much better night's kip than the one before, when my mind and body were in bitter disagreement over whether or not I needed to sleep at all and eventually struck a rather unsatisfactory compromise... Anyway, so I enter the second week of my holiday, still part of the "take things as they come" phase, so it's no disaster I don't really feel like doing anything too much right now!

"Motorsport is dangerous" - those were amongst the first few words of the safety briefing on Saturday night. Despite being shown all the different colours of warning flag, and a list of dos and don'ts as long as your arm, we still had to sign a little bit of paper basically absolving the venue of just about everything they legally could be.

Sunday afternoon, many of us witnessed a horrific crash at Monza in Italy, with the marshal's death being the first in Formula One since the notorious Imola meet of 1994. Yet less than twenty four hours earlier, a marshal was almost taken out during the race before ours at Daytona, and during our race itself, Robbie's kart span off and lost a wheel which almost bounced on to the busy A5 slip-road next door...

Motorsport is indeed dangerous, and although every sympathy should be with those directly affected by tragedies such as Sunday's, all involved should know the risks they take.

Most cars - whether at Daytona or on the A5 - need petrol to work at all, though, and at lunchtime today, BBC News 24 said supplies in Milton Keynes were expected to run dry by this evening's rush-hour. Yes, I like probably every motorist in the land would like to see cheaper fuel - even though I'd admit I'm a relatively light user compared to many - but I remain utterly unconvinced that this ongoing protest is doing any good whatsoever.

The government says it won't cave in - and if it did, they would just have to tax us elsewhere - and the protesters say they're not going to give up. Stalemate. And all the while, petrol prices ironically rise, due to a combination of the forecourts trying to stave off panic buying, and the fact that crippling businesses has forced the pound to its lowest level for years, rendering dollar-priced crude oil even more expensive to buy in the first place. A number of smaller garages are facing closure as a result of all this - what a victory for a campaign claiming government taxation as its target!

We're already hearing reports of people dying because of emergency services failing; I don't doubt the honour and good intention of many of those involved in the blockades and so on, but they are sadly - and indeed now tragically - misguided in their actions. At the end of the day, what this protest has really shown is just how desperately - and indeed selfishly - dependent we are as a nation upon petrol, and ultimately I'm pretty sure that'll be what causes most of the protesters to throw in the towel. I just hope it's soon...

In the meantime, I am having to face the prospect not only of Ben and Sarah's wedding in Southampton being difficult to get to this weekend, but also the holiday I had planned for afterwards being scuppered. Both non-essential journeys, strictly speaking, but that's cold comfort when the problems are caused by a campaign with which I have ever decreasing sympathy. If I cannot get away, I will have wasted over a thousand pounds worth of booked leave; that's more than I spend on petrol altogether in a year.

At the end of the day, it seems that "mob rule" is increasingly taking over in this country, and time and time again it's proving to be misguided and hypocritical. Whether it's anarchists doing what they do best, rioting in central London in some bizarre belief they're smashing capitalism, "Sarah campaigners" attacking Welsh paediatricians, or now this latest outrage, I sadly have to say the time is now to take a firm line against this kind of activity, which is utterly undemocratic and ultimately does much more harm than good.

This perhaps leads in nicely to my third and hopefully final whinge of the day - it seems easy to campaign like this, not always so easy to consider what the consequences may be. The easy option is not always the right option, and I believe there is also a saying that "the primrose path to hell is paved with good intent". I've never read Scott Peck's "The Road Less Travelled", but I understand that its basis is that it's not always the easiest route through life that brings the most rewards and ultimately gets us to the right destination. Without going into details - because I don't want this to come across as a personal dig - all too often I find myself having to clear up the mess left by people not doing the right thing, but doing the easy thing instead. I'm sure I'm far from being whiter than white myself in this respect, and I'm sure I cop out lots too - indeed I know I do - in which case it's something endemic in human nature, just more endemic in some than others...

Meanwhile, I'm hoping to meet Gareth tomorrow afternoon to discuss all things web related, now they're back from America and had a bit of a holiday for themselves. I think my role from now on will solely be as webmaster, even though I've been involved more broadly in their IT provision up until now. That suits me fine - even if it's a little frustrating having to let go of other stuff I thought I had quite a firm hold on - because I don't really have the time to put into it on a day to day basis. I've no idea what Gareth's got in mind for the web site, but he assures me he has got some ideas to put forward, and I have a few of my own, so I'm confident we can agree on a way to go with it!

Well that was very nearly - but thankfully not quite - a nice way to waste a few more of my precious litres of unleaded... Went to try and get Ben and Sarah's wedding present, and of course it was the one item the shop in question was out of stock of. Hopefully there's another shop that I can fare better at - if a little more expensive - but I can walk for that one. Anyway, the journey wasn't entirely wasted, because I managed to fill my tank up at a BP station, even if I had half an hour's wait to do so - and that was only after passing three completely lifeless Esso and Shell stations on the way. Several minutes longer wait than it need have been, of course, due to people selfishly queue-jumping, but I guess that's inevitable when the whole thing is fuelled - if you'll excuse the pun - by greed and self-interest, whichever way you look at it. I don't now intend to use my car until the weekend, which will put an end to my plans to get at least a little bit fit swimming - though at least it gives me a better excuse to go for car-unassisted walks to Willen and so on...

That's Shine sorted out for a little longer, having had an "emergency" call from Gareth, who'd just had a monitor blow on him, rather hastening my planned visit to their offices this afternoon. There was nothing I could do about the monitor, but we've managed to find a spare one that'll do for the moment, though he's hoping he might be able to get a couple of better ones shortly anyway. As planned, we also had a good - if frequently interrupted - chat about web stuff, and I think we have some vague semblance of a way forward for that, though I think it'll be a little while yet before we have much to show for it.

With no word from Giles about this evening's proposed band practice, I presume it had been cancelled due to the combination of a lack of obvious venue and the petrol crisis. Instead I had a quiet evening in doing a bit of web stuff, then going - via the new city centre KFC, being somewhat starving - to see Darren for a bit. OK, so that means my intention not to use my car until Saturday has now fallen flat twice already; I guess it just goes to prove the dependence so many of us have upon these gas-guzzling coffins on wheels.

I've decided to go on strike. Why? To show the government what a disgrace I feel it is that a quarter of my wages vanish in income tax, and are not reinvested in bettering the workplace. This heinous abuse of power has gone on far too long and it's got to stop - and a quick straw poll of my friends indicated almost complete support. The fact that I'm on holiday at the moment is irrelevant - this is a matter of principle! And when I get bored with that, in a couple of weeks time, I'll be boycotting clothes - not that I buy many anyway - on the basis that not one penny of the extortionate rate of VAT I pay for them as an adult goes back into subsidising the clothing industry! And when I need some clothes, I'm sure I'll find something else to whinge about. Like the fact that all the clothes shops have gone bust...

Today's been fairly uneventful really; the weather's been pretty atrocious, but I managed to make best use of a small period of relative dryness to go and do some essential shopping. Finally I managed to get Ben and Sarah's wedding presents, and I also stocked up on a few food essentials to see me through until at least next Monday. Not exactly panic-buying, and there wasn't much evidence of that happening at Waitrose anyway, but I guess there was a little more urgency than usual in doing so. They were clean out of "ordinary" bread though, so I had to make do with their delicious but rather expensive French stuff, though there didn't seem to be much of a problem with anything else on my mental shopping list.

This evening there's supposed to be a big church meeting up in Wolverton, but I've no idea whether it's still on or not, and I'd count that as a non-essential journey anyway when I'm trying to conserve petrol for the weekend. If someone phones to offer me a lift or something, I'll maybe go, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it if I don't. I'd have to be honest and say I am feeling a bit negative about church stuff at the moment, and I really doubt I would hear much tonight to fill me with enthusiasm about what the future had to hold. I do feel I've been let down a bit in a few important areas, but the problem I think is with the system rather than the people - but as usual I have just too much apathy to do anything much about it.

Instead, we've been trying out Mark's new DVD player which was delivered by courier this morning - and failing miserably because it appears to be broken. We're more than a little suspicious about the way it arrived without its original packaging and so on, and it won't play discs for more than a few seconds before hanging, with the picture brightness fluctuating wildly as it does so. Anyway, Mark's not getting stressed about it but will give the suppliers a call soon to hopefully arrange a full refund - especially since exactly the same model of player is available ten pounds cheaper in Woolworths!

Oh well, I just had a sudden fit of conscience and have decided I will go to this evening's meeting up in Wolverton after all - I just hope it's worth it now... I'll be going up with Chris and Claire, though, so it's much more sensible use of limited resources! I just need to go with the frame of mind that what I'm going to hear will hopefully be positive and offer something for me that's better than at present. That might sound selfish, but the simple fact of the matter is that MKCF is by no means the only church in town, and if there are others that might offer a more balanced relationship and look after all their people more evenhandedly, then perhaps I should be keeping my options open.

Last night's meeting wasn't too bad after all, and I'm glad I managed to find the enthusiasm to go. Just an opportunity for all the various leaders to report back on their areas of responsibility for a few minutes at a time, so nothing earth-shattering, but still useful.

Meanwhile, the saddest news in yesterday's local paper was the report that Radcliffe the cat has passed on to moggie heaven. Radcliffe adopted the Wolverton school of the same name - where we have our monthly celebrations - fourteen years ago and had been there ever since. He often used to raise a laugh as he would walk across the stage, oblivious to the importance of whoever might have been speaking at the time or whatever, miaowing loudly and resisting any attempt at removal... RIP, Radcliffe.

Oh, and I got a nice and fairly unexpected bit of post this morning - yet another wedding to go to this year, the fourth I'll have been to and the fifth set of friends who'll have taken the plunge... This one promises to be different, in a quite bizarre kind of way - it's certainly not just another wedding to tick off the list - but at least there's plenty of time to prepare for it. I'll manage somehow, I'm sure!

Presents wrapped, posh clothes ironed, shoes polished, casual clothes in the tumble drier, route planned - I think I'm just about ready for tomorrow now...

And now I'd better go to bed and get some sleep!

A great weekend so far, with the highlight obviously being Ben and Sarah's wedding down in Southampton yesterday. All went smoothly with that, travelling down via Letchworth to give Emily a lift, and arriving at the church with a comfortable quarter of an hour to spare. The wedding service was typically lovely, and was pitched at just the right level for a bunch of people of very mixed beliefs and lifestyles. Not being amongst the contingent of family and close friends, we spent the rest of the afternoon along with a good many others at the Standing Order, before adjourning to the Joiners for the evening party. The music was to be pretty much non-stop until goodness knows when, but after I'd woken myself up with a can of Red Bull and Sarah had made a short speech, we headed off at about midnight, dropping off Emily at about two and getting home myself a bit before three. Too tired to make it to church this morning, as I'd anticipated, but I was up and about in time to go to and have lunch with Seamus, Gill, Jonathan and Lesley, from where I've got back just in time to write this before I toddle up to the school for the evening meeting.

Monday's been a mundane but nevertheless quite busy day - or at least once I'd dragged myself out of bed and through the bathroom... Almost dodged the showers to do a bit of essential - and not so essential - shopping, now the supermarket shelves are a little more stocked - especially with regard to bread - and now that Eliza Carthy's new album is out! I'm listening to that for the second time now; not sure what to make of it yet, but I suspect it'll be a grower. Also bought a bed-and-breakfast guide and a campsite guide, in advance of my anticipated few days away, though I'm hoping to use youth hostels to a large extent and as a result of a telephone conversation with my mum I should be driving down to Ivinghoe hostel tomorrow evening to join the YHA and hopefully pick up a guide book. Tonight was of course our regular pizza buffet night, though with Dave away on holiday it was just Darren and myself this time.

Another meteorologically foul but nonetheless quite productive day. Got a lunchtime swim in, before popping down to the Kings Centre to discuss a few things with Gareth and replace the faulty modem in their main PC. Pretty hungry, Pizza Hut had to be the next stop - yes, that's twice in as many days, but I probably won't be having any for a while now, so I don't feel too guilty about it. Back at home, I gave Ivinghoe youth hostel a phone call, and it turned out it was as well I phoned when I did, because their opening had been delayed and the warden was about to head off for the night! He was happy to wait half an hour for me to brave the weather and drive down, though, so I'm now a member of the YHA and have the hostels handbook and so on. I've already given Borrowdale hostel in the Lake District a ring, and have booked tomorrow and Thursday nights there, so I guess that means tomorrow's the day... The plan is for me to get an early night tonight and get up in good time tomorrow morning, giving me a chance to do any last minute shopping and so on before hitting the road. I need to be up there by six if I want an evening meal, which is my intention, so I need to leave by late morning at the latest - and earlier if possible!

Good news! The journey planner on Multimap says my trip tomorrow should only take about four hours - much quicker than it used to be when I went with my parents, but then we didn't have the M1 almost on our doorstep... This means I don't have to do any packing tonight, so long as I'm up in good time tomorrow. Will be off to bed shortly though, once I've emptied the tumble drier in a few minutes so that I have some clothes to take with me!

The following few entries have been transcribed approximately from a Minidisc-based "audio diary" I maintained during my holiday. I've tried to avoid changing anything more than necessary, so these are all pretty rough and ready, just with a few ums, ers, hesitations and factual inaccuracies amended as necessary...

There you go, the sweet sound of a lakeland brook - well I think it's probably the River Borrow or something, I'll have to check on the map later. Eurgh, there's the guts of a pigeon down there... Just gone out for a little walk from the youth hostel basically - to see what I can find, see what I can see; it's somewhat pretty here. I gather if I walk about twenty minutes this way I'll get to Seatoller, but I don't know if I'm feeling that ambitious this evening; I need to be back in time for the meal at seven o'clock.

The journey up here was very straightforward indeed in the end; no problem at all. Left at about a quarter to twelve in the end and got here at about a quarter to five. So it was about a five hour journey in the end, and I stopped for twenty minutes for lunch at Keele services - so the AA's estimate of 4 hours 40 minutes was fairly accurate in the end. Yeah, the guy was right, this path's quite rocky... I was going to get away a little earlier this morning, but then I went into town to do some shopping, then remembered there was something I needed from home that I'd forgotten, then when I went back home I couldn't find it anyway, but never mind... but as it was, as I said, I arrived at a quarter to five which was pretty good timing in order to get access to the hostel.

There are two other guys in the dormitory I'm in at the moment, and I've booked two nights here, dumped off my stuff in the kitchen, and just gone for this little stroll while I can. Let's see if I can climb up this cliff, and if this will be better walking conditions, or if this is a completely stupid idea. Ooh, that's nice - all mossy and stony. Haven't been here for about ten years I reckon - I'm trying to remember exactly when it was I did last come to the Lake District, and I think this was where I stayed last time I did - here and at Hawkshead hostel, which wasn't quite so nice.

So here we are, looking down to the river, and up to some unknown fell. I've bought a map, but it's not with me. I didn't even bring my camera with me, or at least not on this little walk; that's a pain. But anyway, let's see if this first log, stardate 20th September, has worked.

Yeah, it seemed to have worked fine - the only thing I forgot to do was to put it into mono recording mode, so it used three minutes of 74 minutes, rather than three minutes of 148, but never mind, I think I'll live. I've got no way of listening to this until I get back to the hostel, because I didn't bring my headphones with me, so I'm trusting that it's working. I'm looking at the little VU meter, and it's deflecting nicely as I talk, so it should be OK.

Actually, I've just found I can plug the microphone into the headphone socket, and although it's not very loud, I can actually hear it, and most of it's recorded OK. There was one point that it broke up - I don't know why that happened, probably just because this microphone's a bit rubbishy, so maybe I will bring out my small headphones next I do this if I'm out walking or whatever. I don't know how many of these logs I'm going to make, but the main reason I brought this along was in case I got any inspiration for songs and things like that; whether I will, who knows, but nothing ventured nothing gained, and all that.

Anyway, what's the time... a quarter to six. I think I'm going to wander back to the hostel now and read for a bit, before they call for dinner at seven. Signing off.

Well that's surreal - I just parked my car here, and a chicken's walked across! Parked in the middle of nowhere, and a chicken with a big red comb has just walked across. Bizarre...

So I'm just parked in a little National Trust car park outside Buttermere. The weather forecast for today is pretty lousy, so I figure it's a case of doing what I can while I can - I mean it's beautiful at the moment, all nice and sunny and gorgeous, but I don't think it's going to stay that way. They're forecasting rain coming in from the west and visibility dropping very low, so I'm out doing stuff while I can. I'm going to go for a walk probably round Buttermere and maybe round Crummock Water, depending on how long it takes before the weather starts getting bad. I believe there's a little pub in Buttermere that it would be nice to pop into for a bit of lunch - I hope they do bar snacks there.

Apart from that, not a lot to say really. I came over Honister Pass to get here, and did a bit of sheep dodging - but that was quite entertaining, and I might take up Andy's recommendation and try out Hardknott Pass, though that's quite a little way away, and the way the roads work round here it's a bit out of the way, but we'll see how we go.

But anyway, I'm going to make the most of this weather and go for a little stroll round these lakes here. Oh, and by the way, the river at the hostel wasn't the Borrow - of course, it was the mighty Derwent, because it runs into Derwent Water which I'd passed by, and if I'd taken any notice at all it would have been patently obvious.

Anyway, signing off for now... chicken's still there - maybe it's saying "lunch" to me or something like that! Ah yes, I am indeed having barbecue chicken for dinner tonight, that'll be nice. Not that chicken, though, I don't think. Anyway, signing off - bye!

Well, I'm now back at the car; I had a nice little stroll. First of all, walked down to Crummock Water, then found that particular path wasn't going to go any further, and it was going to be far too much of a walk anyway. So I retraced back to the car, which was just as well, because I'd left it unlocked, stupid me... And then basically had a walk round Buttermere, which was all very pretty. Not much to say about it really, but there were some nice views, nice waterfalls, and looking up to some equally nice mountains. Lots of people to bump into and chat with, too - all very friendly.

And now it's lunchtime, but I couldn't see any sign of any places open in the village, so I think I'm going to go into Keswick, back over the Honister Pass, to do a little bit of food shopping, especially since it turns out most Scottish hostels apparently don't do catering to speak of.

Not much joy yet finding a shop in Keswick, but I'm pretty sure there is one somewhere; I just need to be a bit more imaginative looking for it. I'm going to go back down and park there in a minute, but while I was looking for a shop I happened to see a signpost to Castlerigg, where I wanted to go anyway - there's a nice stone circle there; it's the "famous" stone circle, apart from Stonehenge, the one that's normally photographed with stormy skies and windswept moor around it. It wasn't anywhere near as spectacular as that today, so I didn't actually take any pictures; I'll leave that to the professionals who come here when the weather's more inclement. But it was nice to come up here, and now I'm going to go back down into Keswick.

I managed to find a shop in Keswick in the end. It was called a "Lakes Supermarket"; I don't know if it's part of something bigger, but they seemed quite reasonable, and I managed to get free parking there, which is better than I could have got anywhere else in the town.

Then having done that, I went for a little drive around Cumbria. I went down the A591 out of Keswick, and eventually managed to find my way to the Wrynose Pass - not as in the single-horned beast! - leading on to the Hardknott Pass, which, as I said, Andy had recommended I gave a try if I ever got up here. Gosh yes that was a drive and a half; I'm not sure what hurts more, my feet or the car. Quite a few squeaks and rattles have developed; I hope it's just luggage rather than anything worse. But my feet are quite painful from all the clutching and braking I've been having to do.

Then, having got over there, which really was a hill and a half, I went and did something I'd never have done when I came up here with my parents, and went to the Sellafield visitors' centre, just outside Gosforth. I'd never been there before, and it was quite interesting. Not very well signposted, so you didn't realise quite how much of it there was, but I think I saw all of it. Quite interesting - lots of things to do, even if a lot of it is aimed at children rather than adults, but I came out with a good glowing feeling there, and then I came back via Loweswater.

Hit the tail end of the Loweswater Show, unfortunately, which meant either having to stop to allow to pass, or being stuck in convoy with, large horseboxes, vans and stuff like that. But eventually I got back, and went over the Honister Pass for the second time today - because I didn't actually manage to find Honister Pass one of the times! - and now I'm back at the hostel, and I've got to look for a few bits and pieces that I'm sure are there, just somewhere in my luggage and I don't know quite where... Anyway, signing off; bye for now.

It's Friday morning - I think! - or Friday lunchtime rather, and I'm just sat in a layby off the A9 out of Perth, somewhere between Perth and Pitlochry. As vaguely planned, I managed last night to book into Loch Ness youth hostel, although the girl who handled my booking didn't know how to take the money off me initially, so we had to wait until the actual head-warden arrived later to relieve me of sixteen quid for two overnights at Loch Ness.

I don't know if I'll see the monster - though you never know! - but either way it'll be interesting; I've never been there before, so that'll be an experience and a half. It's a long old haul up to Loch Ness, but it's on good roads so I'm making reasonable progress. I don't know quite how far I've got to go, but it's only lunchtime, and I think at this rate I should be up there by mid afternoon which would be pretty good. Anyway, I've had a bit of lunch, sat in this layby, and I think I'll be on my way... Speak to you soon!

Edinburgh was a nightmare, I meant to say. The signposting was appalling, and I actually ended up going through the place - not right through the centre, but through the outskirts of it, though still, it was quite pretty going along the waterfront. Then it was time to go over the Forth Road Bridge, which was quite impressive. It's a toll bridge, and eighty pence for the toll, but that wasn't too bad, and saved me going into Stirling anyway. I think that was about all I forgot to say...

Gosh this place is absolutely mindboggling. I got up to the hostel at about quarter to four, and popped in, but reception wasn't open until five o'clock, so I thought I'd go for a drive around the lake, and it is absolutely fantastic. It's just indescribable; I mean the roads are just fantastic, it's beautiful driving and fantastically scenic. I've just stopped in a layby to take some pictures of Loch Ness - no sign of the monster, yet... But it's absolutely amazing.

I don't know what the time is now... yeah, it's about twenty to five; I might even be a bit late at the hostel now, by the time I've finished this route, though it should be faster on the other side, but I'll probably hit Inverness at rush hour now. But wow, yes, absolutely amazing, absolutely mindbogglingly amazingly beautiful. Anyway, signing off for now.

Yes, finally I've managed to get this microphone working properly. I had a little technical problem - like a wire had come adrift... Anyway, so here I am - by the sounds of the waves lapping upon the beach, you could think I was in some far-flung tropical land. But no, here I am, sat right on the shore of Loch Ness, with the waves at my feet. How idyllic?

Yes, so I got to the hostel a little bit before six and signed in. It took me two hours to go round the lake! Incredible! I was just thinking yesterday as I was walking round Buttermere, that this was being a bit like a home from home, going for walks round lakes, but this time I go for a drive round a lake and it takes two hours... I mean, it is an absolutely massive lake; I think it was probably about a fifty-mile-plus round trip, but it was well worth it, for some fantastic driving.

But yes, so now I'm at the hostel; it's a little bit more basic than I've been used to - but it looks comfortable enough, though the dormitories are a bit crowded and there's not much storage space, and they also want me to move dormitories tomorrow morning, which is fine - it's just because they've got a bit of a crisis with fitting people in I believe.

I was going to write some postcards this evening, but they don't have a very good selection at a reasonable price at the shop here - they just do twelve for four pounds, which is a bit more than I want to spend, and a few more postcards than I want! So I'm going to go to a proper shop tomorrow, and buy some and write some; it's not critical that they get sent off by any particular time.

I think the weather's looking a little bit temperamental again - you can probably hear the wind - and so I think I've going to wander back up to the hostel and cook myself up one of my curries or chillies I bought. Yes I think it's about to start raining, and the waves are getting stronger here; let's see if I can catch some wave sounds - hear that at all?!

Well it's Saturday morning, it's a moderately bright looking morning, and I think I'm going to take the same lead as the two Aussie girls here and go to the official Loch Ness monster centre at Drumnadrochit down the road. I've just moved dormitories into the chalet rather than the main house, so they could find room for a family of six or something in the dormitory I was in last night. I seem to have got the same room-mate; definitely a Basque gentleman - certainly not to be called Spanish! Anyway, I'm going to be off out in a minute. Yes, some of these room-mates I've had... At Borrowdale I had quite a loud, sleep-talking Geordie guy, who I actually ended up giving a lift to Carlisle yesterday morning - he was very grateful for that, as he didn't stop explaining! Saved him quite a few hours on coaches and things as he was going back to Newcastle in the end; saved him a lot of time.

But anyway, it's about time I was off out and seeing what I can see round here. I think there's enough places along this shore of the lake that I can find enough to do for a day, and then I'll sort out where I'm going to go on to tomorrow. Anyway, signing off for now.

Ah yes, back to my favourite bit of Nessie shoreline. It's been quite a long, busy day, my full day up here near Loch Ness. I've learnt quite a lot today; it's been quite an educational day. I've learnt quite a lot about the monster - fact and fiction! - I've learnt about sonar depth sounding, and I've also learnt what walking seven miles along the A82 feels like, that power-showers and flimsy nylon curtains don't mix - and that rubbishy microphones like this are more trouble than they're worth...

So, left the hostel in fairly good time this morning after sorting out my room-change, and walked into Invermoriston to buy some postcards and things at the little shop there. I sat and wrote them under Telford Bridge in the village before popping them in the post and walking back.

By then it was lunchtime and time to go on to Drumnadrochit. I had three objectives in mind, which were to go to the Nessie centre, to have a trip on a boat on the lake, and to visit Urquhart castle - and I did all three of them, which was good.

I made sure I went to the right Nessie centre, because there are two. One's a lot better than the other, and thankfully I got the recommendation to go to the good one, which had lots of video presentations and things like that, all very interesting. Of course, they came to no decisions as to whether they really was a monster in the lake - although the merchandise at the shop at the end of it obviously left nothing to the imagination, in the nicest possible way.

Then I had a few minutes wait before the next boat-trip was due to start, so had a look around the whisky shop and things like that, and then had a very interesting trip on the boat, which was one the boats they've been using in the survey of the lake, so it was all loaded with state-of-the-art sonar equipment and stuff like that, and the skipper had very interesting things to say. It was well worth the trip, and we came back close to Urquhart castle so we got a good look at that from the lake - and a nice opportunity for photos, though there was no sign of the monster, no mysterious blobs showing up on the sonar, but it was good anyway.

Then went on to the castle, and had a look round that, basically. It used to be the biggest castle in the United Kingdom or something, they said - or maybe when they said "country" they meant Scotland. It's all very ruined now, but it was interesting anyway. Then had a burger at the van there, and back at the hostel.

Had a shower, and flooded the corridor doing so - great... Anyway, so it's now just turned five o'clock, and I'm going to wander back up to the hostel, read a bit, and cook some tea. Over and out!

It's Sunday evening, and I think I made the mistake of underestimating just how big Scotland is, because I've just spent twelve hours on the road. OK, not twelve hours non stop, but it was over twelve hours since I left Loch Ness hostel and I've just arrived at Ratagan hostel, near Kyle of Lochalsh.

It's been an interesting day; fantastic scenery and fantastic driving as usual, it's just too much to take in, really. I've got some photographs, but not a huge number; it's absolutely breathtaking, but some of the panoramas are just so massive that it would be impossible to capture them accurately on film anyway.

So I went up to John O'Groats and Duncansby Head, then on to Dunnet Head. However, on the way to Dunnet Head I had a slight mishap trying to avoid an oncoming camper-van, and ended up with my left front wheel in a ditch and was somewhat at my wit's end in the middle of nowhere. But then some passing motorists told me there were a few houses over the crest of the hill, so I went over there and found a very friendly couple there who gave me a tow out, and also washed my car down afterwards, because it was a bit mud-spattered from my attempts to get out.

But what was especially good about that was that the lady there was asking where I was going and so on all very interestedly, and I mentioned the fact that I was trying to find my great aunt up at Reay. She immediately guessed where she must live, because I said she was in a nursing home now, and she drew me a little map to get there, and I'm quite sure if she hadn't done that I'd never have got there.

And so I went to see my great aunt, who I'd never ever met in my whole life. She was delighted to see me when she worked out who I was. She's getting a little bit forgetful and so on - she's getting on quite a bit - but she was overjoyed to see me, very well chuffed, and we spent maybe a couple of hours - I'm not sure! - just talking, looking at photographs and so on - just a really nice time making up for lost time. I met her dog Laura - that was the reason she went to that home, because she'd be allowed to have her dog there; not many allow that, even though they are known to be therapeutic...

And then, I took a very very very long drive across the north coast, cutting across Cape Wrath, which was rather spectacular, and down the west coast. Filld up with petrol at Ullapool; probably the most expensive petrol I've bought in a long time at 89.9 pence a litre, but needs must... And eventually, driving through the dark, arrived down here very shortly after nine. I was hoping I might make it before nine, but I didn't in the end, but never mind.

Some of those A-roads, you wouldn't believe they were A-roads - seems if they have more than two digits, then they're pretty rough going and pretty narrow, but good fun driving nevertheless. But anyway, I'm tired and extremely hungry, so I'm going to go and investigate the members' kitchen...

"Speed bonny boat, like a bird on the wing". Well maybe it wasn't quite as fast, or quite as idyllic as the old Skye-boat song might have portrayed, but I did come over the sea to Skye - on the ferry, rather than the bridge, though I think I'm probably going to go back on the bridge. And I've just been to the Kylerhea otter haven, which is just inshore from the ferry landing point - and I saw two otters, as well as loads of seals, curlews, herons and oystercatchers, and various other birds and things. Went for a nice walk as well, and now I'm going to find what else there is to look at on Skye, though I can't be more than a couple of hours because I want to get back to Eilean Donan castle by about three o'clock, so signing off for now.

Well, if the ferry across to Skye had seemed a rather efficient way of relieving me of six quid, then the Skye Bridge on the way back, although it was slightly less money, seemed even more like money for old rope - but I guess that's just the price you pay for coming to Skye. But never mind!

I think I saw enough on Skye that I think I'd like to come back and spend more time there in future, so, yes, I went for a good long drive round the island, aiming to get back onto the mainland by about three - not that I was in the end, but I wasn't far out - but it was beautifully scenic driving, more massive panoramas to enjoy...

Then at about half past three, went to Eilean Donan castle, which is almost opposite the hostel on the sea-loch Loch Duich that we're on here. That was quite interesting - it's a very old castle, but it's one that's been renovated this century - supposedly to original designs - and it was quite strange, because being relatively modern there's fairly recent - 1930's - fitments and so on. It was strange walking through some of the bedrooms and kitchens and things - you felt like you were eavesdropping on the family. Knowing some people who live in some quite stately houses, it didn't seem that different in some ways!

So anyway, I'm back here at the hostel now, and I'm going to have a shower and cook myself up some tea before I work out exactly where I'm going to go tomorrow.

Well, not quite such an epic drive today, but still a good seven or eight hours on the road to get me from Ratagan down to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales, where I'm now booked in for a couple of nights. Pretty lousy weather from about Loch Lomond onwards, actually - it was a reasonable drive though, mostly motorway once I was on to the M74, which was basically from Glasgow. And now I'm here... I don't know what I'm going to do here exactly tomorrow; it depends what the weather's going, but there's some caves, and some waterfalls and nice scenery round here that I'm well aware of, so we'll just see how it goes.

Oh yes, last night at Ratagan hostel, a Christian guy called Andy rolled up, and recognised me as a Christian fairly quickly from the fish on the car and the Narnia books on my bed, and so we had a good chat and went for a walk, and then got back to the hostel and before it clouded over, we did a little bit of astronomy, having brought my telescope. But the conditions weren't very good, because it was very windy, so the image was wobbling all over the place, and then it clouded over anyway, but we got a look at a few things. Got the best view of the Andromeda galaxy I'd seen so far - could definitely see its elongated shape. The pain was, I lost one of my finderscope lens caps in the long grass at the hostel - or at least I'm pretty sure that's where it is anyway, rather than tucked in the bottom of a bag or pocket somewhere; it doesn't matter, but just a little bit annoying when things like that happen.

Anyway, I'm booked in, I'm going to decide what I want from the evening meal menu, get that paid for, and see what happens then. It's a bit of a nicer evening after a grotty afternoon - there was quite thick fog on the hills between Settle and Malham, but it seems quite nice here.

It's Wednesday, the day before I go home, and I've been spending the day around Malham and Ingleton. The weather this morning didn't look very good, but thankfully it didn't come to a great deal, and I was more adventurous this morning which was just as well in the end.

Walked up to Malham Cove, and on to Malham Tarn and Gordale Scar, and Janet's Foss, and back into Malham village. The amount of water around was the story of the day really, because several times I had to take quite major detours, first coming up to Malham Cove, but then even more so later at Gordale Scar, when I walked most of the way down to the waterfall before having to turn back. A couple of guys had warned me it was going to be difficult to get through, but then remembering some proverb about discretion and valour, decided I'd try and strike over the top instead. I think I was going across private land, but there weren't any signs at the top, only at the bottom - and even then it was a bit tricky and I had to get across the river on a sort of wooden thing - probably for catching dead sheep or something.

Eventually I got back to Malham, and drove up to White Scar Cave, which has the biggest cavern in England apparently and is rather impressive with all the stalactites, stalagmites and stalagmitic columns; there was a good guided tour round there, which lasted almost an hour and a half. Quite a few squeezy bits and drippy bits and so on, and with all the wet weather there was a bit more water around than normal - but it was still drier down there than it was above ground.

And now I'm back in Malham hostel; I came back via the National Park information centre, but that looked dull and boring and they even wanted money for the car-park, so I thought blow that... So now I'm back at the hostel, I've ordered my evening meal, and got a couple of hours until that so I'm going to have a shower, read a bit, and check my journey for going home tomorrow, so signing off for now.

Ladies and gentlemen, normal service now resumed...

Back at home now, and adding this diary entry in a more conventional manner. The journey home yesterday was very straightforward, and only took a little over three hours. It was a bit slow getting from Malham to Bradford to join the motorways, but once there I made excellent progress - definitely much better than going via the M6 as I had planned until advised otherwise!

Today's been a quiet day, getting up late and nipping into town to do a bit of shopping and so on to see me through to next weekend. Back to work on Monday - I hope I can remember how to get there!

That was a nice early evening - and I don't think I'll be on for a late one at this rate, feeling pretty shattered really. Went for a walk round Lodge Lake, then on the way back thought I'd drop in on Andy and Rosie, who arrived back from a walk themselves just after I got there... Hadn't seen them to talk to properly for ages, and they say no-one drops in on them these days, so it was nice to have a good chat and catch up with all kinds of stuff. Oh, and I finally used up film number three in my camera, so I should have all my holiday snaps back from processing - and ready to scan, as appropriate - by Tuesday, so long as I remember to take the films in to work with me on Monday.

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