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David's diary: December 2001

A moment to breathe. But just a moment. Off out again imminently!

Aren't weekends restful?


About six hours later, hey ho.

And back to work tomorrow. Seems like this weekend never actually happened.

Or rather, that plenty happened, but with a fair part of it spent crashed out on other people's sofas, it's easy to guess what kind of energetic state I was in for most of the time. Unhelped by a wild goose chase to the Brinklow sorting office to collect my long-awaited "Shrek" DVD, finding they were closed at a perfectly reasonable time on a Saturday afternoon. So when I went to more successfully collect it this morning, I had a polite moan at the bloke there about them not putting the opening hours - or even the address - of the office on the non-delivery cards these days. Still, got the DVD now, and apart from the rather lame - but thankfully largely optional - InterActual player software bundled on the disc refusing to play a Region 2 title in a Region 2 drive, it seems fine.

Though I probably won't have much chance to try it out at home this evening, since I urgently need to do some more work on a backing track Gareth wants done. Especially since we need to put a couple of vocal bits on, and the only chance we've really got to do so will be tomorrow night, and it would be kind of helpful to have the rest of the track ready to go by that point! I don't think there's much more work involved, thankfully, since the track is basically a rather repetitive looping of the sequence I've already programmed up, just with slightly different drum fills and so on each time round.

No, the track in question is not an original one, and no I am not going to admit what it is. The shame would be simply too much to bear.

Well that was a mightily good evening yesterday, including:

  • a splendid Mongolian meal out with Dave, having not seen him for ages, and with plenty to catch up with each other about our respective love-lives
  • finishing the musical bits of the backing track for Gareth, so just a few vocal bits to record tonight - though having to defrag my audio drive half way though wasn't quite such fun
  • having a most pleasant chat with Claire, the true mortal love of my life
  • smashing my high-score for "Collapse", now well over the 1.3 million mark
  • sharing a bottle of wine with Mark, who I'd not seen to talk to properly for several days

...finally turning in at about 12.30 - and I needed to be in work early today!

Well actually, a couple of those "bridges to cross" mentioned a few days ago were tackled last night, but they didn't directly involve me - and probably just as well, because I wouldn't have known where to start! Although Countdown was apparently much more interesting to them at that precise moment in time, Claire's parents are now aware of my existence and that we are meeting up on Sunday. The other was probably more significant and nerve-wracking for Claire, but now tackled should make Sunday's events somewhat less stressful and worrying for everyone. I think I shall stand by what I said before, and only reveal much more once Sunday has passed - this means way too much to me to mention as a "by the way" thing as it might well otherwise sound.

Phew, the backing track is now pretty much done. Logic Audio was playing up towards the end of the session, so we decided to call it a night as far as that was concerned, record a few silly voices through my pitch shifter, and pack up. I still need to do some final production on it and mix it all down, but that should only be a couple of hours at the most I need to find between now and Sunday. When I'll actually get that chance is anyone's guess, though, with Martyn Joseph tomorrow, Astronomy Club on Thursday, and who knows what once the weekend is upon us - and Sunday itself is almost certainly going to be a write off for anything not directly involving Claire. But do it I will - somehow!

Was going to get an early night last night - really! Didn't happen though...

No prizes for guessing why!

The cheeky minds some people have, I ask you!

My eventual sleep was shattered early this morning by no less than three incoming text messages - OK, one long so-called "linked message", strictly speaking - but believe me, some things are worth dragging myself out of bed for! Even on a cold, murky, damp morning like this one. Especially to be told I was someone's "waking thought" and that their beloved teddy has lately been getting a lot of hugs and cuddles as a temporary me-substitute!

An evening of contrasts, that's probably the best way to put it.

Martyn Joseph, a man of true contrast. Able to skip effortlessly between funny shouty protest songs and mellow Ralph McTell style folk, simultaneously both opinionated and outspoken, yet one of the gentlest, most genuine and friendliest people one could hope to meet and talk to. Suffice to say, the concert was utterly splendid - and Sarah Masen was excellent in support too - and I've now got a "best of" double CD - signed by Martyn, of course - to plough through when I get the chance!

But that was in stark contrast to arriving home, and finding Claire had already turned in for the night and - apart from a couple of text messages - not up for a chat. That was quite all right though - no, really. It was pushing midnight, and I needed sleep desperately too, but it still hurt even if it was no-one's fault. Though that really is a good sign, oddly enough; if I was ever in any doubt as to whether we were doing the right thing, several things over the last few days have blown it clean away.

Oh, just for Pete's benefit - though others may have been thinking the same...

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 jgs  `'-.,_____,.-''

Please give me a shout if it gets full, and I'll make sure it gets cleaned out.

Trust a certain someone to put a positive spin on things!

"Well that's Thursday over. That means it's nearly Friday. Which means it's nearly Saturday... Which means it's nearly Sunday! Yippee!"

For some of us, these are going to be three very long days, I fear.

And that's not all, but some things are probably a little too personal to share here. But this has to be about the best thing ever to happen to me, too...

Thankfully I have been granted permission to be speechless!

Bah, I want to be down there; she wants to be up here. I have Astronomy Club this evening; she's got a band practice... Patience is indeed a virtue - but impatience is equally indeed human nature. Still, at least we should both arrive home about the same time, so all need not be completely lost!

Mind you, if I went down there and she came up here, that might be somewhat counterproductive. So maybe our stargazing and rehearsing are a better plan.

I am fast becoming the Keith Flett, N17, of Milton Keynes. Beginning to worry!

Or am I more "Disgusted", Tunbridge Wells? I hope not, though there may be substantial evidence to the contrary. I guess I just need to find some nice positive things to write in to the paper about! If at all possible...

Well that was a good evening yesterday, and what should be a good weekend coming up. Just today in the middle, and I need to file my monthly progress report for November by the end of the day. Astronomy Club was good, with the main talk being about missions past and future to study cometary dust, though we're still not quite sure what happened to Tim who was supposed to be presenting his regular "space news" slot but didn't show up. I think Claire's band practice went equally well, but she'd only just finished telling me about her day at work when we decided it really was about time we were heading off to our respective beds. We'll have plenty of time to catch up with stuff on Sunday, anyway, planning on going for a nice walk somewhere - weather permitting! - after our lunch out. We're both looking forward to all that somewhat immensely, and I get the impression we mightn't be the only ones...

Just over two hours to go, then this week's done with. I need to finish off the backing track work for Gareth this evening, and then I can ready myself for what is almost certainly to be amongst the most significant weekends of my life so far. May well turn out to be the most. Either way, I can't wait...

Backing track duly done, and recorded down to Minidisc, along with a few other silly sound-bites. So now the countdown has started, and currently on 38 hours and 35 minutes, I am reliably informed.

Well I think I'm vaguely ready for tomorrow - or at least as ready as I'll ever be. Clothes washed, presents bought, nerves calmed - well, maybe. Going via my parents' in the morning, anyway, to sort out a few bits on their computer, so definitely not getting a late night tonight! Was pondering inviting some friends round to watch a video while I had the house to myself - quite a rarity - but no-one seems to be contactable, for one reason or another. So I guess I'll just have a quiet evening in by myself. Maybe.

So far proving to be the case, anyway. In fact, the only thing I'd much rather be doing at the moment would be watching Steps at Wembley. No, really. Weird!

Some you win, some you lose. What goes around, comes around. For some it seems to be the end; for others, it's only just beginning. But take my word for it, even the end is just a beginning in disguise.

Well I survived today, and it was pretty special really. Fit to drop now, though, having been up since soon after seven this morning - in order to go via my parents' to successfully sort out some computer problems - and getting precious little sleep last night. The main purpose of today was to meet Claire's daughter Jess for the first time, and see how we reacted to each other. I can't pretend it was entirely easy, but initial signs seem to be good, thankfully.

We decided we'd meet and have lunch at the Beefeater in Beaconsfield, being Jess's favourite restaurant, and that seemed to work out quite well after some initial shyness that lasted all of a couple of minutes. Then we went for a little stroll around Beaconsfield before driving to Burnham Beeches to have a proper walk of sorts. We found, however, that they were going to shut the gates at 4.30, so there wasn't really time for anything major and we had a kick-around with a football instead. That was quite enough for one day for Jess really, especially having had a hectic Saturday and Sunday morning - and Claire was still recovering from Steps last night - so we decided to bid our farewells at that point.

Except that in all the excitement, I'd clean forgotten to give them the presents I'd brought along, so promptly made the next best thing to a U-turn to drop them off back at their home. And then got waylaid somewhat, not least by meeting Claire's mum and dad for the first time. I was invited to stay for tea, but we agreed it was probably best for Jess if I really did go home then, and it was just as well I did because I doubt I'd have lasted much longer either, especially with a slightly grotty hour on the road ahead of me...

And now - the morning after, and back at work - I feel emptier than ever, and less than ever like being here.

Though, really and truly, life has never been fuller. It's all relative...

But now it's time to go home, to return to my cosy little selfish abode.

Tears of sorrow, tears of joy. Pain really is so close to pleasure.

Hmm, there's nothing quite like being brought back to my senses with a jolt. It has been observed that I and/or my diary was so much better before I "had the girlie", that I've become "some sort of quivering mushy diary-wreck" and that "action must be taken immediately". In particular, there is mourning for the lack of substantial recent mention of Shine or their web site, dry-slope skiing or the joys of Java development. Well, I write this for others just as much as myself - it would live in a passworded directory on my own computer otherwise, right? - so, to please the baying masses...

Shine news: Well, no particular news really. They're still breaking up. I think their last ever official gig has now happened. I've been asked to help out a little with recording some demos to help kick-start certain individuals' solo careers, but that's about it.

Shine website: Unsurprisingly, as little news as there is for the band themselves. Now their debts with the hosting company have been settled, I'll probably buy the account off them and sell on a portion of the webspace for as long as they want a presence, but that's about it.

Dry-slope skiing: I've never mentioned dry-slope skiing. Milton Keynes's indoor ski slope is proper snow, I'll have you know. If I still live up here in a few months' time, some people might get a chance to see for themselves.

Java development: Well I could talk about the trials and tribulations of subclassing ClickBitmapWords to intelligently handle the enumeration information so as to allow multiple selections of long-term carbon storage reservoirs. But I suspect you'd rather I didn't. So I won't.

So can I talk about "the girlie" again please? She's gorgeous, I love her to bits, and she loves me to bits. So there.

My word, I've not added anything here for almost twenty four hours. Can only be due to the lack of anything much to say.

Though in other ways I have far too much to say, even if I'm not much cop at putting it into words. These are difficult times, but I'm interpreting it all as a test of character and resolve - whatever the outcome, it's for the best.

I still love her, by the way, just in case anyone was sensing seeds of doubt. I think it's just a practical application of that old saying about absence, hearts and increased fondness. Although laced with a modicum of paranoia.

Reasonably justified paranoia, for once. Though a good night's sleep for both involved parties has, I think, made things a little clearer. More later maybe.

Or not. You really don't need to know. Suffice to say that at the time of writing, things are still on course, even though the whole of this week has been a bit shaky to say the least. Prospects may be clearer after the weekend, though we have decided almost certainly to scale down our plans for Saturday and Sunday for various reasons. No-one ever said it was going to be easy...

Things seem better already. Amazing what a bit of feeling-sharing can do, so long as it's done constructively and with clarity of purpose. Anyway, it's just about time to go home - or, rather, to go to the Moon Under Water for a curry, then go on to Cineworld hopefully to watch Harry Potter. Then go home - to spend the next little while starting on a demo for Tash and Lor, before maybe, just maybe getting a chance to relax and read the e-mail I've been sort of promised to be sent at some point during the evening.

It's Friday! It's Friday!! It's Friday!!!

Considering what a difficult week it's been, it's whizzed past quite quickly really, and I'm genuinely now looking forward to tonight's Christmas curry with Claire and friends - something I couldn't have said a couple of nights ago in all honesty. It will be my second curry in as many days, of course, having treated myself last night to JDW's utterly delicious Chicken Jalfrezi with all the trimmings and a pint of beer, all for a fiver. Not bad at all for something heated up in the microwave as far as I know, and certainly one I'll remember next time I'm at the Moon Under Water on a chilly Thursday night!

As for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which Tim and I met Sam to watch after the curry, well let's say I was pretty impressed from start to finish. I'd not read any of the books, so had no preconceptions as to what to expect - and the trailers I had seen unusually weren't just a compressed version of all the best bits - but I enjoyed it immensely. It got a bit cheesy towards the end, with a few less laughs and a little bit more cringing, but for big kids like us - not sure if it's quite so suitable for younger ones - it was sheer unpretentious and breathtaking fun, and never once dragged.

Thankfully there was then a change of plan as far as the demo work I was supposed to be doing afterwards. Especially since it became clear from a message Gareth left while my phone was turned off, that it wasn't just one Minidisc, but a whole stack of them, unlabelled, from which no less than fifteen backing tracks needed to be identified and transferred - and the discs given back today... Tash later suggested it might be better to leave it until next week, when we can borrow the discs for longer, and whoever it is who's lending them may even have done some of the groundwork for us. Oddly enough, I agreed.

Four hours to go til tonight's curry. So going to head home soon, have a bath, get changed, and hit the road down to the Akash once again - and hope I fare a bit better at my navigation than the first time I went there!

Indeed I did, and ended up arriving about half an hour early. So I braved the cold and took a bit of a wander around Burnham before the others all rolled up. Decided to have the Chicken Jalfrezi, after the success at Wetherspoons, and it was equally yummy, though perhaps a few too many chillies in it! As for the company - well, do I really need to say?! The fact I got back to my parents - where I stayed overnight - at about 1.30 this morning should say it all...

And now back in Milton Keynes town, having graced the inside of my wallet with something the likes of which it has never seen previously, courtesy of my dad's nice colour printer while I visited - and no, I don't mean fake banknotes, I mean a lovely photo of Claire and Jess, my two favouritest girls in the world! Anyway, no time for idle chit-chat; I came back when I did to do my shopping before Claire arrives this evening, and I've already been waylaid for an hour by an unexpected visit from Gill... So bye for now - might catch y'all later.

Shopping done, and I decided perhaps I ought to vaguely start thinking about Christmas and buy some cards - I've no idea yet how many I intend to send, so I erred on the side of quantity, which I shall no doubt regret when it comes to time to buy the stamps. I suppose I could start writing out a list now...

Currently standing at around thirty-five cards, about half of which will need to be posted - and some of which I need to find addresses for! Room for me to remember a few more people late in the day, so should be just about perfect...

Well, as truly superb evenings go, that one was decidedly truly superber than average, with some real progress made we both felt - even if in a way we've agreed the best way to proceed for the moment is not to worry too much about "what happens next" or such progress-like things. Auntie Jenny's advice is, as ever, spot on; I have no idea where Claire and I would be without her, but that's yet another thing we needn't worry about. A couple of weeks ago we were truly, madly and deeply in love. Last week wasn't so great, as we would both have to admit. But we can happily say that normal service has now been resumed, in considerable style, and more so than ever...

Christmas is coming!

And just to prove it, hot on the heels of Claire's Christian Drinking Club outing on Friday, it's our departmental Christmas lunch today. Yet another curry, in fact, courtesy of the Moghul Palace in Stony Stratford, one of Milton Keynes's top-rated restaurants. I was joking when I suggested the menu would list things like Turkey Tikka Massala, but that definitely has turned out to be a case of a true word spoken in jest... Anyway, Malcolm's bus leaves in half an hour, so I suppose I'd better be wrapping things up for the morning - and given that we're then not back until three this afternoon I really have no idea quite how much work's going to get done today now!

Oops, it's ten to five, under three quarters of an hour 'til home-time! The fact that we didn't get back from lunch until gone half past three had nothing to do with this, of course... Transport didn't quite work out to plan, with Malcolm's bus getting blocked in at its garage by another bus with a flat battery, so we had to scrape together lifts at the last minute. Malcolm made it along later, though, so quite a few of us went back on the bus, so were justified in giving him a few donations for its upkeep. The curry was good, with more food than we could manage - especially since the three of us at our table were still plied with food for four! - and a reasonable choice of stuff, and in the Moghul Palace's splendid surroundings too. Anyway, if I'm going to do much work at all today, I'd better be getting on now!

Did I ever mention just how much I love Claire and how much she loves me?

Well, I do, and she does.

So there!

Right! That, provisionally, and barring any last minute surprises, is all my cards to be posted written out and addressed, complete with postcodes - even despite the best attempts of the Royal Mail website to be uncooperative. A mere twenty cards to post, though - how does that compare with anyone else? I know Claire said she had over a hundred in all to send - not necessarily all to be posted - but I suspect that represents the upper end of things! Thank heavens for self-adhesive stamps, though - still got to do that bit, but at least I'll have a tongue and some saliva left by the end of it. Hmm, maybe that last phrase didn't come out quite as intended under the circumstances...

Speaking of which, perhaps, I'm off down to Burnham again on Sunday. Church in the morning, then lunch with Claire and family - including her sister Sally! Will probably be the last time I see them before Christmas though, so I suspect there may be a little more to it than just church and a nice meal... But we'll see! Oh and Jess has apparently been running round the house like a mad thing, delighted at having got her very own Christmas card from me - will just have to see how well I can top that when I go and do my Christmas shopping on Thursday!

Grrr, yes, I had been planning on doing my shopping Wednesday, i.e. tomorrow. But it turns out I have a particularly dull meeting in the afternoon. So dull I had been pondering "accidentally" forgetting about it, but it's vaguely relevant and if I don't go, it might have an adverse effect on both myself and my colleagues in the future. So Christmas shopping has to wait until Thursday after all. Christmas is just so flipping close now - it seems only a fortnight ago I was grumbling about the shops already having decorations up and so on, but that was September or October, believe it or not. And now it's less than a week away... But at least it's promising to be one of my best ones ever!

It's embarrassing having as rubbish a memory as I do. I had to ask my mum, for about the third or fourth time, for a list of birthdays for my nieces and nephews, and I still can remember hardly any of them. Yet I read them out to Claire in close succession, and she can still rattle them off "just like that". Same as with my brother's friend Kim. Then when writing out my cards last night, it was a good thing I checked with my mum about my cousin Kate's current relationship status, because she kindly reminded me her daughter is not Eleanor but Lillian. And I even had to check with Matt to be reminded what Andy and Rosie's youngest's name is - for the record, Emily. Some I simply had no way of finding out, so "and family" just had to do. Annoying - but never mind, eh?

Apparently we are to exchange Christmas presents on Sunday, but not necessarily to open them. I guess that's OK, and the best things are worth waiting for. Mind you, I have also been asked to wait until I am home before opening even my card, for fear of embarrassment in front of Claire's mum and dad. I am assured it's not rude or anything, so my mind is beginning to gently boggle.

I'd really rather not be here today - but mainly because I have the first signs of a well-timed Christmas cold, rather than because I'd prefer to be hiking round town doing my Christmas shopping, though I'd still just about prefer the latter. The fact that item four on this afternoon's meeting's agenda is "to decide what to do next" does not exactly fill me with joy, though; I thought the whole point was that we're done and dusted and all we had to discuss was the roll-out of our evil scheme. At least, as an aside, we had the mild entertainment of finally getting "Shrek's ReVoice Studio" to work; this was one of the more imaginative extras on the "Shrek" DVD, but the rubbish InterActual front-end software wouldn't allow us to get to it on any of the machines we tried. We hadn't tried the obvious method, though, which was just to search for .EXE files, and quickly had it up and running and providing modest amusement as I did my very best Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow impressions into my Lyceum headset microphone. Anyway, it's more or less lunchtime now, so I guess I'd better start wrapping things up for this morning - as if I'd done a whole lot anyway, in case it wasn't a little obvious.

Well the meeting wasn't quite as dull as I was expecting, probably helped by having an unusual amount of opportunities for my own input. Still dragged quite a bit, though, and I'm glad to be off home in a moment, and not to be coming into work tomorrow. Not that I yet have much of a clue what I'm going to be shopping for, but I am sure inspiration shall arrive in due course!

Well that was a fairly productive evening, at least once I'd had my delayed evening meal. Delayed because five minutes into nuking my chicken curry in the microwave, it turned out that the microwave wasn't working at all... So into the saucepan it had to go, contrary to the instructions, but hey, I got there in the end and it wasn't a bad recommendation from Claire!

Then I braved the cold to go delivering Christmas cards on Springfield, first calling in to see my friends Chris and Claire for the first time in ages - and finally getting a Corrs CD back I'd lent them, in exchange for a tape and book I'd equally held on to for far too long! Seamus and Gill and Dave and Mo were all out for the evening, but Lesley was around so I had a good natter with her about life in general before dropping in briefly on Gareth and Tash to wrap things up for the evening and wandering back up the hill and home.

Anyway, despite not having to go into work tomorrow, I'm still hoping to get to bed in vaguely good time, though I'd better wait up until Claire gets in from her evening out, which is supposed to be at about ten. Might just grab a quick bath beforehand I guess, then Claire can have my undivided attention for as long as she pleases!

So, I've had my day off work, and boy what a hectic day off! I think being at work would have been less exhausting than this - though it would have left Saturday or Christmas Eve to do my Christmas shopping, the idea of which would not fill me with joy by any stretch of the imagination. Off to bed soon, once Claire's finished having a cuppa with her mum and returned for a - somewhat brief, I suspect - goodnight chat.

Anyway, my shopping's pretty much all done, and I'm beginning to feel vaguely relaxed about Christmas now. Of course, I spent a shed-load of money, but couldn't care less about that. Christmas is about giving, not receiving, as the Veggietales video I've bought for Jess - amongst a few other things of varying frivolity - insists, so there you go... To add to the intrigue, the shops I used were, in no particular order: Birthdays, Thorntons, Maplins, Staples, Woolworths, Early Learning Centre, H Samuels, the Milton Keynes Christian Centre bookshop and a Big Kidz promotional stall in Midsummer Place.

Got about a third of my present-wrapping done before it was time to make my way to Wetherspoons for our house group informal Christmas drink. I sensibly walked up - it took a while and was very cold - which allowed me to cadge a lift home. Slightly annoying how few people turned up, with just Matt from the house group, and Darren who I persuaded to join us after he'd done a spot of Christmas shopping himself. Still, it was a pleasant evening out, and Darren and I partook in curries, as is the done thing at any Wetherspoons pub of a Thursday night!

Very tired now and I doubt I'll last a lot longer. Still need to clear a fair few unwrapped presents from my bed before I can hope to occupy it myself, then hopefully catch Claire again at least briefly before turning in for the night. Back to work tomorrow, of course, but then a week and a bit off! And hopefully a week and a bit to remember, for all the right reasons!

So, it's Friday, and the last day at work for the year, thank goodness. Got a fair bit to do today, actually, wrapping-up-loose-ends-wise, though I hope I might be able to slope off a little early for tea out at Sarah's. Politely declined an invitation to go Christmas shopping this afternoon though; not only would it not be possible anyway, but there's no way anyone - well, almost anyone - could persuade me to go up to the shopping centre again for at least the next week or so!

Can I go home now, please?

Or not, even if Dawn has given me unofficial permission to do so. Now agreed to go round to Sarah's later this evening, by which time maybe end-of-term fever will have subsided a little - and more to the point Rachael might just possibly be in bed. That'll give me time to finish present wrapping - not just for Sarah and family but also for Claire, Jess and others - have a peaceful tea on my own and dive into the bath for a bit. Having said that, I am pretty much done for the day, the week, the month and indeed the year - and that's a pretty relaxing situation to be in, giving me a real chance to enjoy Christmas!

Still not entirely sure what my movements are going to be during this festive period, though I'm down in Burnham on Sunday, spending Christmas Day itself with my parents, and hopefully crossing paths with my sister and family when they are down for a few days later in the week. But more than that, I really couldn't say... I know it's going to be good, though, and can barely wait!

Oh, and not to forget News Year's Eve in Burnham, partying the night away - or as much of it as possible before I expire - chez Steve and Jenny.

Good news for you all!

Christmas can now officially happen!

Everything's wrapped and ready to go, and I've vaguely reclaimed my room!

Off to Sarah's for a pre-Christmas tea in a little while, then down to my parents' house for the night, and then on to Burnham bright and early in the morning for church and more. After that, who knows, though I'm reckoning on returning here tomorrow at some point - not least because I can't fit two loads of presents in the boot as well as all the clothes and things I would need for a more extended sojourn.

And what a weekend, in a "more than words can say" kind of way...

I'm enjoying a fairly relaxed Christmas Eve, and much needed after such a long and busy day yesterday. My only concession to activity so far - and probably the only one there will be! - was to pop down to see Seamus and Gill for a little while this afternoon to check out their finished extension, have a beer, pass on my good news, and of course wish them all the best for Christmas. Yes, my good news... Not that there have been any major developments - you will be sure to hear soon enough when there are - but things are definitely very serious indeed now, and hopes are high for a very rosy future indeed, so I'm increasingly happy to talk openly about it all.

Yesterday went very well, joining Claire and Jess at church in Burnham for the last Sunday in Advent, having lunch with Claire's parents, sister Sally and family, and going for a stroll around the grounds of Cliveden House. I stayed for tea, then Claire and I went on to the candlelit carol service, and once Jess had said her goodnights we popped round to Steve and Jenny's for a bit before going to the pub for "a quick drink" that took us up to closing time! Just Diet Coke for me, I hasten to add, with a longish drive ahead of me, and I finally arrived back in Milton Keynes at about midnight, having encountered a few snow flurries on the way round the M25 in particular.

Those were the mechanics of the day, anyway. Needless to say, the emotions were something somewhat more, and to say a fair few tears were shed by us grown-ups would be the very least of it all. Yesterday was a truly significant day in many ways, and this voyage of discovery for both of us moves into a new phase I think. We've no idea how long the voyage is going to take, but we are beginning to see a destination and a route to get there - though I'm sure there will be plenty to happen in between to keep us on our toes. It's going to be exciting for sure, though - and not something to fill me with fear any more.

Indeed, I feel completely differently to how I did a fortnight ago - one of the last times I was down there - when I felt all anxious and concerned I'd blown it all, once it was all over. This time, yes, I miss them both dearly, but I know it's going to be all right. I believe there is or was a tribe somewhere who at every sunset would pray to their gods for the return of the sun the next morning, to restore security and safety to their world after the perils of the night - and of course, the gods always kindly obliged. Claire is like that sun, in more ways than one.

Anyway, I have a pizza just about ready to eat, so signing off for now!

Grrr, my PC seems to be a little bit ill this evening. Actually, that's a serious under-exaggeration. It's gone decidedly icky, and I wish I could be sure why - though I sincerely hope the reason isn't literally staring me in the face right now. But anyway, I think that means it's due a Christmas or New Year present of a Windows reinstall - once in two years really isn't bad, after all... It can wait a few days, though; I think everything I need works, just sometimes takes a little persuasion and perseverance!

Just in case I don't get a chance tomorrow, which is eminently likely...

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  ____ _          _ |_| _ |_|    |___/
 / ___| |__  _ __(_)___| |_ _ __ ___   __ _ ___
| |   | '_ \| '__| / __| __| '_ ` _ \ / _` / __|
| |___| | | | |  | \__ \ |_| | | | | | (_| \__ \
 \____|_| |_|_|  |_|___/\__|_| |_| |_|\__,_|___/
 | ____|_   _____ _ __ _   _  ___  _ __   ___
 |  _| \ \ / / _ \ '__| | | |/ _ \| '_ \ / _ \
 | |___ \ V /  __/ |  | |_| | (_) | | | |  __/
 |_____| \_/ \___|_|   \__, |\___/|_| |_|\___|

Stranger things have evidently happened, though...

It's been a good day. Not perfect, but very good nonetheless. More soon, maybe, when I have a vague clue what might be happening later this week.

Slowly taking shape, it would seem... Though my sister and family are almost certainly not now visiting tomorrow as had been planned, since almost all the little ones have gone down with some nasty bug. Well that's the bad news, anyway. The good news is that Claire and Jess should be coming over tomorrow, and aren't too disappointed at most likely not meeting Ali and co this time. Should be good fun anyway, and we're hopefully going to go to St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital and out for lunch somewhere with my mum.

And now back in Milton Keynes town, after a few days more eventful and special than I could ever have imagined. More when I'm vaguely awake, though!

My review of 2001 will be coming up shortly, but I should say a little more about the last few days, which have been a real treat indeed. Barely a couple of days after I returned here to Milton Keynes on Sunday, I drove down to my parents again on Christmas morning - roads pretty much entirely empty - just in time for our traditional sherry and nibbles round with the McVeans next door, before a late lunch. I'm not sure about anywhere else - let alone the Met Office, where it really "matters" - but Prestwood had a vaguely white Christmas, not that the snow made any real attempt to settle.

Anyway, apart from that drink, Christmas Day itself was a low-key affair, just my parents and me, but it was most pleasant indeed - and plenty of truly useful and special presents, not least a lovely folding silver photo frame containing two gorgeous photographs to grace my desk. I had high hopes for the rest of the week, with Claire and Jess coming up on Thursday to meet my mum and dad, and my sister and family who were going to be visiting. But then everything started falling apart at the seams, with the revelation that Ali's family were actually quite ill with flu-type bugs and we almost certainly wouldn't see them after all. I can't claim I was overly impressed, though these things happen so I just had a quiet sulk on my own.

Thankfully my mum was quick to come up with a contingency plan, and Claire decided they would - contrary to earlier indications - still like to visit anyway, sister or no sister! So we decided that if Ali wasn't going to be there, we would instead go to St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital near Aylesbury, then for lunch at the nearby garden centre where there were yet more animals to look at, both activities likely to be as popular with Jess as with us grown-ups! But in the end, Ali surprised us all by deciding they would risk the trip after all - but running a couple of hours later than originally envisaged. So Claire, Jess, Mum and I not only went to see all the hedgehogs, deer and other injured wild animals, but also got to meet Ali and most of her family in the afternoon! Double the fun for all, and after the expected initial shyness, everyone got on really well I'm pleased to say!

Ali and co went home yesterday afternoon, with peace very quickly descending upon the household when they did. One somehow expects noise like theirs to echo round the house for hours, but instead it was almost anticlimactic the way it obviously went from all to nothing in the space of minutes. I stayed for a light tea, and would have left in fairly good time had I not been very happily waylaid by Claire on MSN chat, so it was really quite late by the time I got back here - and I had to make sure I slipped a few pounds into the family kitty to cover all my internet use!

So overall it was a bit of a disjoint, bitty kind of Christmas, but it ended up truly special, and we did far more than I'd imagined possible. Definitely one of the best ones ever, overall!

And now it's time for that review of 2001, with previous years' attempts finding critical acclaim from some quite unlikely quarters. That's right - if you don't read anything else I write in any great detail, then this should provide a quick way of genning up on all that's been going on in my life over the last year. Some people slip a "newsletter" into their Christmas cards; I guess this isn't really so very different, just a few days later...

The year started in seasonal style, with me somehow being talked into taking skiing lessons at Milton Keynes' recently-opened indoor ski centre with real snow - along with my housemate Mark and pizza-pal Darren. The first lesson of the five booked in February was miserable for me and I could easily have given up there and then had I not stood to lose a lot of money. But I was glad I stuck with it, and passed with flying colours at the end of the week, and have been back a fair few times since and really love it. No real sign yet of a proper skiing holiday, but at least it's an option now!

March was overshadowed by some long-brewing but suddenly-breaking developments in MKCF, with Paul and Carol deciding they couldn't continue in their leadership of the Centre Church congregation of which I was part. Many people walked out on the spot, but I weathered the initial storm, considering there to be far more important issues at stake than who was at the helm. However, having been tipped off that a major and somewhat undesirable reorganisation was on the cards, in April I dipped my toes into Milton Keynes Vineyard, and when that was confirmed in early May, I fairly swiftly made my move - though I believe that MKCF left me just as much as I left them.

The move to MKV has proved to be a good one, I feel, and I found myself immediately in the company of friends both old and new - and have by no means broken off friendships with anyone from MKCF, further confirming this was the right move for me. As a new church, MKV are still finding their feet in many ways, and it's exciting to be part of a church where I can actually play a part in its evolution rather than just conform and fit in to existing structures. Since the summer I've been a key member of the worship music team there, and as many people will know, Vineyard churches take their worship very seriously, so it's quite an honour to be involved so quickly.

Holiday-wise, 2001 has been a little odd, but I have nevertheless got away for a couple of substantial breaks during the year. I spent the last week of May in Newquay, Cornwall, with my friend Sarah and her family, staying with Sarah's dad and step-mum who live there. It was a slightly fraught week at times, but worth it in the end, and Sarah certainly appreciated the extra helping hands! As usual, I took September off work, but only got away for a few days, choosing the Pembrokeshire coast of south-west Wales. The weather was decidedly mixed, but it was good fun anyway, and I got to meet some lovely people from all round the world at the youth hostels I used, and drove down via my sister's house in Hereford.

Work at the Open University has been much of a muchness really, with even the somewhat feared reorganisation of our department proving to be not much more than a storm in a teacup, at least for the moment. I did move office in July, but that wasn't much - if anything - to do with that, and I'm still with Sam and Tim, thankfully for my sanity. Project-wise, it's been a reasonably productive year, and I've found my feet with Java programming, which stands me in good stead for a future anywhere. I need to be thinking where that "anywhere" might be, for various reasons, not least because I've now hit the top of the automatic Grade 2 pay-scale.

Family-wise things have been looking up quite a bit after recent years, with my brother Pete taking definite steps to get out of his lousy marriage and in to something much better. It's hardly the way any of us would have liked it to end up, but we all now recognise that something had to change, and are very glad he seems to be finding true happiness for the first time in years. There's still much to be settled, and we have no idea how long it's all going to take, but there's almost certainly no turning back now.

Speaking of my brother, September 11th should have been remembered for being his fortieth birthday, but within minutes of my sending him a celebratory text message - I succumbed to the mobile-phone revolution in April, and have barely looked back since - I was reading reports here on Monochrome of multiple plane crashes, of collapsing skyscrapers, and the slow realisation these were no freak accidents. Of course, these were not "my news", but there can't be many people who have completely avoided being touched by the events or the folly of what's happened since, who have not had their outlook on the "world as we know it" changed at least a little. One thing that hasn't changed, alas, is that Afghanistan is still being dumped on by anyone and everyone who can, and that oil is of course the primary concern as in just about every issue the "concerned and compassionate West" has got itself involved with in recent years.

So that was my year. Well, almost, but not quite...

Let's wind the clock back to February for a moment, when I sent off a somewhat speculative e-mail to a nice sounding young lady - and single mother - from near Slough, who had posted a personal advert on a Christian website. Due to technical problems, it was almost a month until a reply arrived, and I'd almost given up hope - but not quite, I don't think. Anyway, that was the first contact I made with my gorgeous girlfriend Claire, who has come to play an extremely important part in my life over the last ten months. We've been "on" and we've been "off", but our friendship has been steady all the while and has underpinned a more focused relationship which got off to a slightly wobbly start in August but has deepened ever since and which we really believe to be going somewhere truly special now. Claire and Jess have certainly been my number-one preoccupations for the last few months, and I'm not sorry for a moment... I have a hunch my review of 2002 in a year's time might dwell a little more on all this!

Oooh, something a bit interesting and gossip-provoking might well be happening in late January. Needs a bit more planning, but hopes are decidedly high!

And no, we're not getting married just yet, as one astute but somewhat gun-jumping loyal diary reader speculated. Though I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed our minds at least wishfully!

I'm in love; did you know that? Oh, OK, fair enough.

Bet you don't know what I know, though. And no, I'm not going to tell you.

Not yet, anyway.

Tidying my room is boring. Other things seem to matter infinitely more. But I need to do it for my own self-esteem. And to have the faintest hope of working out who gave me what for Christmas, of course...

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