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David's diary: January 2001

Time for a diary archive, but I'm not doing one at two o'clock in the morning.

Oh, happy new year, by the way.

Back at work now. But the network authentication is down. Thankfully the web and stuff still work though, so it's not going to be an entirely fruitless day!

Thankfully web-mail is still up, so we didn't have to miss the announcement about the belated Andy-and-Di Christmas cake being in the downstairs kitchen, and have done our part in spreading the good news to those who don't know about the web-mail facility. We also bumped into Di in our travels who was able to explain a little more about what's gone wrong, and we also now gather they've been trying to fix the problem since the 28th, which really doesn't bode well for a quick resolution...

Still 100% packet loss pinging the troublesome authentication server, and just about everything I have to do today involves NT network access in some shape or form, so not a great deal's getting done to be honest.

Anyway, what of the last couple of days of the holiday break?

Well new year's eve at Ken and Sarah's was a most pleasant affair, as expected. It was just the three of us - albeit with occasional interruptions from their children, supposedly long since in bed - and we had a very civilised evening of eating, drinking and being a little merry, eventually calling it a night at about two o'clock. Nothing too excessive, and I even got to bring a load of drinks home afterwards, but obviously not the bottle of Jacob's Creek sparkling wine which was saved for the midnight hour itself!

Yesterday round at other-Sarah's was fun too, dragging myself out of bed and the bath in time to get there for about midday, but then waiting another hour for Di, who'd also been invited, to arrive. Di left later in the afternoon to be "replaced" by Sarah's friend Margaret, but during that time we had plenty to eat, films to watch and games to play, and although everyone was a bit weary one way or another, a good time was had by all I'm pretty sure. I left a bit after nine in the end, pretty much fit to drop...

Ah, network authentication is now working, thanks to a bizarre and inexplicable workaround from Chris, our department's top boffin. Why it should have worked is a complete mystery, even to Chris, but I guess we'll just have to add it to the list and be suitably thankful.

"Meet The Parents" is another fun film. Go watch that too! But suggest taking spare undies with you, just in case, like.

Once again, an early finish at work, with several thousand staff fumbling their way out of a darkened campus. Yes, another power-cut, no doubt thanks to another over-zealous JCB driver working on the new office-block developments - that being the cause of the failure just before Christmas, which has only just been properly rectified. Today's presumed faux-pas obviously tripped different circuits, and I arrived home to find Springfield and other neighbourhoods shrouded in a similar darkness. Thankfully all was restored within about twenty minutes of the initial failure, unlike the last one which apparently affected some districts for up to two hours! I hope Springfield hasn't just been lucky, but I phoned some friends on another nearby affected neighbourhood, and they didn't seem to be in anyway so it's all somewhat academic. Literally, perhaps - if it does turn out that workmen at the university have been responsible for the second major power failure affecting the city in as many weeks, I would imagine there will be some quite unhappy people knocking at our door in the near future. In the meantime, needless to say, we'll be saving our work more often than ever...

Power's back here at work, of course, and no problems evident. Needless to say, all our machines booted up at 5.30pm yesterday, so it was nice and warm in the office by this morning. Raining outside now, but lots of nice e-mails to cheer me up, and not one of them work-related!

Bah, no neighbourhood group meeting this evening; I thought we would have started back tonight, but we're not going to until next week after all. Still, had a nice long phone chat with Gill, not always easy in practice.

Almost the weekend; I should be thankful for small mercies! Oh, McDonalds's "buy one get one free" offer was quite welcome last night - McChicken Sandwich city at the hockey stadium restaurant...

By the way, if anyone spots a large black monolith, dimensions in the ratio 1:4:9, swallowing space-time, please let me know - I mislaid one earlier.

Woo! Going skiing in a month's time. More specifically, going to learn to ski in a month's time, courtesy of Milton Keynes's new real-snow indoor ski-slope and Mark's credit card. An hour's lesson every evening for a week, for a total of a hundred quid! Got to be good!

"The Family Man" - good film, too close to reality.

And yesterday was just the kind of reason why.

Was a very nice day, though, don't get me wrong. That's half the trouble...

Glimpses. That's what it's all about, glimpses. Once upon a time it was nice that at the end of the day, it could all be put away in a little cupboard and saved for later. I want more than glimpses now, but no-one seems to get it. I don't think a piece of fiction has hit me so profoundly before.

A disappointing evening, but one that proved that at least some clouds do have silver linings, so it wasn't a complete waste of time by any means. Suffice to say I ended up having a walk with my real best friend, and he had some mighty good advice to share with me. Going to try not to let him down this time.

Today's being fairly quiet, which is just as well because I really don't feel that terrific, and I have a late night tonight what with the combination of Astronomy Club, a total lunar eclipse, and an outing to McDonalds while their BOGOF - that's "buy one get one free", not an insult - offer concentrates on Big Macs for the day. Certainly the first and last bits will happen, but some have already noted that even mentioning the word "eclipse" is akin to referring to "Macbeth" in the wrong circle of friends, so it will almost certainly be overcast this evening now.

Oh, and so far I've managed not to let my best friend down, with regard to our unscheduled but most welcome discussions last night. Sure, it's been less than a day, but this is weak-minded me I'm talking about, and I can be my own worst enemy at times. He kept his promises to me, which I should of course have expected, so it's the least I can do to at least try and reciprocate. The rewards could be immense, I believe.

Oh, this is not good. Not good at all.

Delegates should have a good grounding in the Java language and its fundamental constructs, such as threads and exceptions, together with experience of some graphical user interface. This could be a result of at least 6 months hands-on Java development or possibly less if preceded by appropriate training, such as one of our Java programming courses. Delegates should also have experience of programming in a modern, multitasking or multithreading environment such as UNIX, Windows NT or Windows 95.

Those are the recommended prerequisites for a Java course they're hoping to send me on in a month's time. Needless to say, for me to claim even a fraction of the above would be a complete and utter joke.

I think I'll be updating my CV again when I get in tonight.

Not that I did, of course, because it was far too late to be doing complicated stuff like that by time I was home. Besides, this morning I received an e-mail from my boss explaining that a number of people had expressed similar concerns, and they're now looking at a different course, more of a conversion course for C/C++ programmers. The prerequisites look much better given my current programming knowledge and practical experience; I just hope they can arrange to host it locally because I don't fancy commuting into central London for it one iota.

Last night was very good, anyway. The visit to McDonalds didn't happen, going to the Burger King next door instead while they do an offer on bacon double cheeseburgers, and that was swiftly followed by Astronomy Club and a mercifully clear evening for the lunar eclipse. It clouded over a little later, but during the most impressive phases it was perfect, with the reddened Moon looking just like Mars during the final approach to totality. Barrie Jones's talk on extra-solar planets was interesting too, but even he was preoccupied by the real event of the evening, and he'd brought along a very nice pair of astronomical binoculars too!

Yes, I did re-edit that last entry, removing a large middle paragraph that my conscience told me to have second thoughts about. I don't think anyone read it before I did so, so this isn't really very interesting, is it?

And no, it wasn't anything about puppy-drowning, as one user suggested. You know I don't talk about that in here.

I don't get too worried about who gets to read this diary; after all, it's public so I can't really complain, especially once it gets on to the web archive. However, it was still a little disconcerting to look at my web-logs and see someone from Her Majesty's Government Communications Centre has been paying it a lot of attention recently. Fearing an imminent visit from men in suits in a Range Rover with darkened glass, I thought I'd try and find out exactly what this shady organisation was. Turns out they are based in Hanslope, just up the road from here, so odds-on it's just a friend of mine I didn't know worked there - Official Secrets Act, "I could tell you but I'd have to shoot you", and all that. Hey, I've even requested an application form with regard to some rather tasty-looking jobs they have on offer at the moment... I wonder if I'd get a company Range Rover with darkened glass?

A quiet evening last night, taking a rather cold stroll along the canal, sending a few e-mails off, and trying to get some semblance of an early night. Today our office is finally back up to strength, with Sam back from his travels and cursing at the number of e-mail messages in his inbox. Neighbourhood group really does start up tonight, of course, though I've no idea how many people will be along - my suspicions are that it won't be many at all, but that's being a little pessimistic perhaps.

Well stone the crows, there were four other people there besides myself, Seamus and Gill. OK, so Colin, Ellen and Nigel were just visiting really, meaning Lesley was the only other real member of our group, but it was still a worthwhile number. We had a short look back over the last year and shared some of our more spiritual aspirations for the one just started, read a bit, prayed a bit, chatted a bit and eventually left Seamus and Gill in peace somewhat after eleven. What happened then I'm really not quite sure, but I didn't get to bed until after one in the end, and I only just managed to drag myself out of bed in time to have breakfast and get into work with some vague semblance of punctuality. Still, the weekend's only six hours away, and I can have a lie-in tomorrow morning!

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, two names that no doubt strike fear into the heart of any loving parent, and it's understandable why, when in 1993 they abducted and brutally murdered toddler Jamie Bulger in Liverpool. Now they are all over the news again, with the release on parole of the killers quite possibly imminent, and hot debate over whether they should have their real identities protected on their return to society.

What Thompson and Venables did was undoubtedly a terrible thing, and nothing can bring Jamie back, but it is surely time to move on, if we have any respect for what is one of the best legal systems in the world. Contrary to popular belief, the boys are not getting released early; their sentence - prior to subversion attempts by home secretaries and others - included the possibility of parole after eight years, by all accounts they have responded well whilst in custody, and it's time to review their status as prisoners. Justice means fairness, and that's what's got to happen - for both Jamie's family and his murderers.

To those who complain about the quality of the education they have received, remember, it is the law that children are educated between the ages of 5 and 16, regardless of whether they happen to be in custody or not. Besides, education can only have helped their rehabilitation and preparation for return to society; they would likely be a far more dangerous prospect if they had not received the constructive treatment they did. Of course, many believe they were born monsters and nothing could ever prepare them for life in the free world again, but if they were influenced by their upbringing into their terrible actions, they can be influenced back out of them again.

As for the identities business, well it's understandable that there is outrage that these boys should get special treatment, especially if it leaves the potential for trusting people to be unaware of their dark backgrounds. However in this mob-rule age of "name and shame" and paediatrician-lynching, it would be a highly irresponsible legal system that released these boys to the baying packs of would-be vigilantes without at least some protection, and identity change is the only really viable solution. Although the tabloid press protest, they are the main reason this least-worst-option had to happen at all, for the sheer sake of pursuit of profit. Without their constant meddling and demonisation of the boys - because they were young somehow made it so much more dreadful and they should rot in hell, we are told - the naming business would never have been an issue at all.

Why should Thompson and Venables get their lives back though? They didn't offer that opportunity to Jamie, people protest - but they are falling into the same trap as the rabid tabloid press, prepared to encourage the absolutely literal destruction of two young and reformed lives for the sake of one. They consider this somehow to be a special case when it's not - it just got a lot of publicity because of its unusual circumstances - and stick two fingers up at our justice system into the bargain.

If - and only if - at the end of the day, justice has not been done for Jamie's family, it's the fault of the legal system, the fault of the press, and the fault of a society that finds it easier to demonise two boys who caught the headlines than face up to its endemic ills with the realisation that we are all to blame to an extent.

I really do despair sometimes.

A so-so weekend, eventful enough but not really what I was looking for... I think it's time to make a fresh start, even if it brings pain I can't bear.

Though thankfully there's not much a nice Chinese take-away and a good film can't help to at least temporarily sweep under the carpet. Needless to say that was exactly what happened last night, joining Dave and Darren for Set Meal "F" once again - having had such good experience a few weeks back - from Darren's local take-away, and watching "Executive Decision" on video. The former was everything we expected, a veritable mountain of food for only a shade over twenty quid, and the latter was entertaining enough even if the grand finale was somewhat implausible and utterly over-done. Back too late to make my lunch for today, and had my work cut out this morning defrosting the car on what must have been the coldest morning of the winter so far and then running Lesley into work while her car's being fixed. Still, curry tonight at the Jaipur, so probably as well if I don't have too much to eat at lunch, especially after last night's feast!

Hmm, I'm obviously getting very confused with the year, worrying a little about hearing this morning it's ten years since the Gulf War. It was at about that time that my friend Clare was killed - I specifically remember the timing connection for various reasons - and I could have sworn that was in 1991. Then I remembered this year was 2001, not 2000, and everything added up anyway... I know it was early in the day, but what on earth could I have been thinking of?

Another day, and another full tummy from the night before, thanks to yesterday's curry at the Jaipur. Matt and newcomer Jeremy found there were no useful buses timetabled for the busiest time of the evening, so I agreed to pick them up before we met at Tim's as planned. Cracked open a bottle of wine and several hundred pistachios, before taking the short but decidedly chilly walk to the restaurant. A bit busier than the last time, but still no problem getting a table, and a good evening was had by all - no complaints at all even if the bill did sting a little at the end of it all... Back to Tim's for a pot of green tea and a natter, before running Matt and Jeremy back to their respective homes and hitting the sack. No time, once again, to make sandwiches for today, but oddly enough I really don't feel that hungry!

Sorry to harp on about this, but the Jamie Bulger thing continues to annoy and concern considerably. Away from those directly involved, it's now the polarised views of the self-styled "informed masses" that are really beginning to grate. Seems that anyone with a good word to say for the victim's family suddenly becomes a "hang 'em high" advocate, and anyone with a good word to say for the murderers suddenly becomes a raving libertarian who believes it's OK to go out and kill children and have a cushy rehabilitation. There appears to be no middle ground, when plainly this whole thing exists in the middle ground. Meanwhile, a good number of people I know - and would generally respect - could get jobs writing tabloid headlines and leader columns, and I still thank God the people who make the real decisions treat their polarised views on this matter with equal derision.

Hmm, Centre Church band practice tonight. Let's see if for once I have been given correct venue and timing information...

I was. For all the good it did.

And I can't honestly claim neighbourhood group this evening was vastly better.

Snow! And just in time for the weekend - if it doesn't thaw...

Which it has.

In case my recent unusual brevity hadn't given the game away, it's not been a brilliant last few days, and I can't say I'm overly optimistic about the next few either. I won't dwell on the bad, though - anyone who knows my usual kind of weekly routine can work it out by a process of elimination anyway - but instead will say that Emily's birthday party on Saturday night was good fun, and yesterday's evening meeting was decidedly reasonable too.

The former was up in Cambridge, and the only real downer was having to leave in good time because of wanting at least a bit of sleep in advance of Sunday morning commitments. Good to see some familiar faces and some new ones, and I'll forgive Emily for referring to me as "Dave who hasn't got much hair" during the introductions bit. Sunday evening was OK too, as I said, with Robbie being a fine stand-in for Tim who was otherwise unavailable for worship-leading duties.

That meant I've still not been able to let Tim borrow my old keyboard in advance of hopefully buying it off me - assuming I don't end up letting him have it for nothing anyway since he wants it as a church resource rather than for personal use. I'd tried advertising the keyboard a while back in the church newsletter, but my request went by the wayside somewhere along the line, so when Tim was desperate for things to include in his own worship-specific newsletter, it seemed a good opportunity to try again. Tim however refused to carry the advertisement - because he wanted it for a church "studio" he's setting up!

Sore throat this morning though, in no way related to having to wait outside in the cold murk last night, oh no... Very nearly "gave today a miss", but I often feel better once I've been up and about for a bit. Not at all sure it's working, however.

Not feeling a great deal better this afternoon either. If I still feel like this tomorrow morning, I think I'll take the day off - it's just not worth it.

And indeed it came to pass that the postman did call at eight o'clock this morning, and after retrieving the fallen mail and contacting work to inform them of my awful malady, I did return to bed, where I stayed for some time.

So yes, a quiet day at home, doing mercifully little - other than getting plenty of rest and hopefully preparing myself for a return to work tomorrow. I feel a lot better than I did this morning, but it was still sensible not to go spreading my germs round the office for another day. Yesterday I finally received the long-awaited application form from the Government Communications Centre - eleven days for second-class post from only a few miles away must be verging on a record - and will be pondering how best to fill that out. On Friday I also applied for a job with Power Internet - more often known as Powernet - so hopefully I'll be hearing back from them shortly, not least to see how much pay they're offering. That's right, it seems like my job-hunting efforts have just stepped up a gear; much as I enjoy the working environment at the Open University and the perks of the job, and much as I will miss a good many of my colleagues, it's time to get out of this particular rut.

Just popped over the road to get some more Lemsip, so now I am completely self-sufficient. Thankfully missed the worst of tonight's weather so far, or I'd probably have been laid up in bed for the rest of the week... And that wouldn't do, since - after a phone-call earlier this evening - I'm meeting up on Saturday with yet another of the miscellaneous Sarahs I know, before she disappears off to Australia for a year.

Feeling decidedly better this morning, and have ventured into work, with no regrets so far at least...

Coo - wrote my first Java application today. OK, so it only changes the caption of a label when I click on a button, but these things are not to be scoffed at!

Just received a departmental e-mail talking about the possibility of a staff exchange scheme with the University of Melbourne. Great timing, to throw myself into an even bigger confusion over exactly where I'm heading right now.

Almost the weekend, and what a relief that is, even after having had my week split in two by my day off on Tuesday. Last night's neighbourhood group meeting was a bit different, being a gathering of all three Springfield groups to discuss future joint activities in our community. I went in feeling quite negative about it all, but emerged decidedly positive, though I believe there are still a few undesirable shadows hanging over the group structuring that may yet cause me some pondering over the coming weeks.

This morning's pleasant surprise was to receive a wedding invitation - not that I'm sure it includes the ceremony itself, which may well be family only I guess - from my life-long neighbour Gil and his fiancee Julie, who I'd clean forgotten were getting married. It'll be a bit of a trek, up in Wensleydale, but sounds like it will be quite a different kind of event from the norm, kicking off with a walk on the moors followed by tea and cake, before adopting a slightly more conventional pattern for the evening.

Hmm, pouring with rain, and - like my colleague Tim's is too - my umbrella's safely and conveniently stowed away in the back of the car...

The rain unexpectedly became snow, and this time I can't say I'm so chuffed since I have a busy weekend coming up with a fair bit of travelling.

Had an utterly fab and groovy day today, but I'm shattered now and bed is beckoning me. Busy day coming up tomorrow, so I shall heed its call.

Sunday afternoon, and a brief chance to relax in the middle of a hectic weekend indeed. Today's been fun - in both senses of the word - so far, it being my turn on the rota to help out the West congregation with their rather minimal worship team. I arrived at Two Mile Ash to find the rest of the team unable to get into the school thanks to someone having jammed a key in the lock from the inside, so we decided we'd decamp to Wilben's house rather than freeze to death. Thankfully someone managed to track down an alternative keyholder, and we then decamped back to the school; all was well thereafter, and we had a great time of worship and ministry. I like the West, even if I'm not sure I'd want to go every week; it's a small congregation compared with Centre, but they are able to keep things simple, personal and intimate, which are aspects that often get lost in larger gatherings.

Last night, as I drove away from parents' house - more on that in a moment, fear not - my dad called back to me to point out that my rear number plate illumination lights weren't working. There wasn't a great deal I could do about it there and then - even though I thought I probably did have a spare bulb - so I just avoided the boys in blue for the journey home and had a better look at it when I got back from West this morning. It was a bit of a fiddle getting to the bulbs, needing to unscrew a large interior panel, though it then turned out that the bulbs themselves were mounted in simple twist-off bayonet holders - just as well since the bulkhead screws were too rusted to get in that way. One bulb had clearly blown and the other seemed to be suffering from a dodgy contact, so with my spare bulb in one holder and a bit of a wiggle for the other, everything seems to be fine now...

As for yesterday, yes, that was a rather interesting and rewarding day. I left mid-morning to drive down to Fleet, going via the motorways for simplicity, and would have arrived with just about perfect timing but for my sheer stupidity in not spotting the restaurant where I'd agreed to meet up with my friend Sarah. So I wasted about a quarter of an hour driving around aimlessly before eventually conceding defeat and asking at a garage and successfully rendezvousing with Sarah at Dakota's American bistro on the outskirts of the town. I'd not seen Sarah since Steve's barbecue and garden olympiad last summer, and with her off to Australia long-term very shortly, I wasn't likely to get the opportunity to see her again for a good while either, so it seemed a splendid idea to meet up as we did and I think we both enjoyed it greatly.

Lunch, then, was at Dakota's as planned, served up by a very scatty and over-honest blue-haired young waiter - obviously not on commission, since he advised against having too much garlic bread or even trying the hot chocolate... Sarah and I both had chicken concoctions in some shape or form, and both were absolutely wonderful and good value for money really. Declining desserts, once our waiter had found our bill - he panicked when he thought he'd given it to someone else! - we decided we'd take the healthier option and go for a stroll around the lake the restaurant fronted on to, but that was not to be, due to a decided lack of a path. Our scatty waiter came in handy again though, telling us where was nice to go and have a walk, which took us round the larger part of the lake, on the other side of the nearby railway. That was quite a decent length walk, actually, and a bit muddy underfoot, but well worthwhile and a good chance to chat about everything under the sun.

We then drove into Fleet to have a coffee, finding a spectacular lack of coffee-shops that were actually open at the modest hour of four o'clock in the afternoon on what was a market Saturday. Thankfully the cafe in the Hart shopping centre was somewhat more alive, so we stopped there a while and let the world pass us by for a bit, before saying our farewells and hitting our respective roads home - in my case via my parents' house. I made the slight mistake of trying to take a "direct" route, which took me via Bracknell and rather a lot of little villages, so it was six o'clock by the time I got to Prestwood - but that was just in time for tea, so never mind!

I stayed at my parents' house a fair while, agreeing a few more details of the computer I'll be buying them shortly and generally catching up on family matters of all kinds. I've also agreed a provisional plan with regard to their neighbour Gil's wedding, which is good. Mum and Dad had reckoned North Yorkshire to be too far to go for the day and were unwilling to stop over, so had been considering sadly having to decline the invitation. The plan now however is that Mum - and maybe Dad, but probably not - will drive up here on the Saturday morning, then I will do the long drive to Yorkshire and back, leaving to get back here around midnight. Mum would sleep over either here or at a friend's before driving back to Prestwood Sunday morning. There's plenty of time to think about it, but I'm pretty certain we will manage some variation on that, so can reply to our invitations in the positive very soon!

Anyway, this has been a long entry, and I'd better get on now, because we've got a "faith tea" round at Martin's in a short while for which I still need to do my cooking - a quick-and-easy but yummy pasta dish will be my contribution. The principle of a faith tea is that everyone brings a plate of something they would eat, and resources are pooled, with - theoretically at least - no wastage. I say "theoretically" but it's apparently never failed. The people attending are strenuously avoiding trying to be labelled as singles, but that is basically the deal. The trouble with adopting that label is that it's seen as a stigma and an opportunity for do-gooders to try and match people up, when that's not the idea of this latest venture we're hopefully setting the ball rolling with this afternoon.

Hmm. Reserving judgement.

Yes, well it was nice to be invited along to yesterday afternoon's event, but I don't really think what's proposed is "for me". I know I feel old sometimes, but I was still the youngest there yesterday by quite a few years, and with all due respect to them, I really don't feel part of that emancipated middle-aged crowd. I'll probably ask if Martin can keep me posted on any developments anyway, just in case they surprise, but I've got a few years yet before I'll fit the mould - though hopefully I won't get that far anyway! - and I don't need to have friends chosen for me thank you very much. It was a bit of a relief to have to make an early getaway, in fact - in order to prepare for the evening meeting, which went very well - because I believe they were about to go around and get people to commit to running activities for the rest of the year, not exactly in tune with the original insistence that no-one should feel compelled to join in with anything...

Last night was better, even if a little more expensive than Sunday's fare, going up to the Moghul Palace in Stony Stratford for their Indian buffet. There's no sign of Pizza Hut restarting their popular evening buffet, and Monday isn't generally a good night for eating out cheaply in Milton Keynes, but the Moghul Palace reliably delivers and we left suitably stuffed.

Last night's entertainment was going to watch "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", well on course to become the most successful foreign language film in history. Due to a combination of e-mail faults and lack of discernment on the part of others, I couldn't persuade anyone else to go with me, but in the case of the latter it was their loss. The film was a two-hour excursion into an alien culture, an alternate reality, a mystical world quite apart from anything we know, and it was utterly breathtaking and captivating throughout.

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