goznet ...

David's diary: September 2001

Up way too early this Sunday morning, especially considering what time I got to bed last night - thanks to being out all hours jigsawing and more... I'll probably go back to bed in a bit, because there really is no big rush today - at least not until late afternoon when I'm dropping off Laura's birthday present. Normally my body very quickly realises when it's in holiday mode and makes up for the months' accumulated lack of sleep in somewhat spectacular style, but it's not happening yet this time for some reason.

Today's actually the fifth anniversary of my starting work at the Open University; well I was actually paid as from five years ago yesterday, but that was a Sunday. Five years - who'd have believed it? It's had its ups and downs, for sure, and there are certainly times when it's been touch and go. But I'm still hanging on in there, at least for the time being...

As I add this diary entry at 2.45am, it's a good thing I'm off work now!

Reserving judgement on whether this has been a good day or not - and either way I'm not particularly in the mood to talk about it right now. Much prayer needed, though, which is somewhat more of a priority. And I need to hang my washing out before I get redy for bed, so ... better be going, I guess.

How to make one budding local press photographer feel very small and insignificant indeed, lesson one. First, take one photographer from the Milton Keynes Citizen. Have her arrive a little late so she can rush to business, almost toppling over with the Nikon digital SLR she's clutching, with more flashing lights than a police roadblock. Then introduce a small, slightly drably dressed chap with longish grey hair - meet Jan; namely Jan Olofsson, perhaps one of the most famous rock photographers of all time, with some of the best known photos of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and the like under his creative belt. If I'd been that poor press photographer, I'd quite possibly have packed up my camera in embarrassment and left there and then, but no, she was very humble and gracious about being so spectacularly upstaged and they had a good chat and no doubt shared some cross-generational tips! I'll bet it made her day, almost as much as the event she was covering...

That event being the local launch of the Drake Music Project's CD, hosted by Chappells in the shopping centre. The Drake Music Project has been running for a few years now, and has enabled a good many young people with disabilities - some very serious - to get into the amazingly therapeutic business of making music. And listening to the CD now, it's really not bad stuff at all, and every note of it's been written by the young wheelchair-bound participants, with George "Big George" Webley looking after the overall production. George was there at the launch too, and a totally top bloke as expected - always with an opinion to share, on everything from copyright, mp3 and the music industry, through to funding of the arts, and sometimes hard to keep quiet actually... Certainly just the kind of guy to get involved in a project of this ilk, and I get the impression he's had a great time of it, judging by the politically-incorrect banter with the lads! Had a good chat with him and Jan when things had just about wrapped up, and scarily he seemed to remember me from somewhere though I've no idea where - and I have to admit I had a touch of deja-vu too...

Anyway, now back at home, for the second week-day of my holiday, and nothing much planned for this afternoon. Astronomy Club starts up again at work this evening, so unless anything mega-urgent comes up, I'll be going down for that, but making sure I go nowhere near my office! Giles also phoned early this morning wanting help to sort out some e-mail problems, so I might be popping across at some point to help him with that, though if the issues are too Mac-specific, I doubt there will be a lot I can do - and contrary to what he's said, I don't remember having had anything to do with setting it up for him in the first place... Or, thinking about it just now, yes, I did! Not the Macintosh side of it, but I do now remember activating a Freeserve account for him for some reason, so I suspect that's what he meant.

Astronomy Club was good, though the clouds did not play fair, so Andy gave us a run-down of the OU astronomy-related courses instead of trying out the new ETX bought with the "spare change" from the new observatory scope. No call back from Giles, so I presume everything's fixed itself with his e-mail now - or at least I hope so, because I'm going to be away for a couple of days now anyway so quite unable to help...

Ooh, my parents seem to have internet access - how could that have happened? But not hanging around to be honest; this is supposed to be a break...

Still works! Despite the best attempts of Windows Muppet Edition to crash left right and centre when doing anything more than sitting idle - and sometimes even when just sitting idle... Anyway, back to MK tomorrow; back to normality.

Whatever that is.

It keeps feeling like I've been away for a weekend, but it was Wednesday to Friday really, and I'm now back in Milton Keynes - for better or for worse - and getting ready for tonight's worship band practice round at Rich and Shona's. It was good to get away for those few days, but it was certainly not without its stresses - though I don't particularly want to say any more than that it was pretty unpleasant family matters that are far from resolved and now involve me somewhat unwittingly. Also matters that make me feel quite negative about my own future, though I must not get too preoccupied in that way, because I have no rational reason to feel so, except in a self-fulfilling kind of way...

More positively, I helped Dad out a lot with the computer - particularly setting up his new scanner, helping him get to grips with Photoshop LE and also sorting out a slight problem with his printer - and also got Mum up to speed with e-mail and so on as well as going out for a nice walk in the countryside with her. Plenty of nice food, too - and one of my mum's famous chocolate coffee cakes to bring back with me - so it certainly wasn't all bad by any means. They had a funeral to go to this afternoon - that of a lady I went sailing with about three years ago, who had just died from leukaemia - so I went on my way as they were preparing to leave for that.

Anyway, yes, tonight there's a worship band practice in advance of Sunday evening's meeting - and that was why I came back today at all, and why I was daft to initially say yes to Darren's suggestion of going out for a drink this evening. Mind you, we may well do later, since the practice is only supposed to be an hour long - but I'll believe that when I see it! The list of songs we'll be practising looks a good one, deliberately chosen to contain only material we should all know pretty well anyway - so we can at least start as we mean to continue, Sunday being the first time the band will have played! - but I'm sure we will make good use of our time together tonight anyway.

Oh, and I thought I'd better have one last try with my troublesome printer to print out the song list for the practice and Sunday, and lo and behold, it actually worked. The last few times I had tried, it had only managed gibberish, but this time it worked without a hitch. Well, the output quality is still poor, but it works, and it was a donation, so I'm hardly complaining. Just got to track down my spare ink cartridge for it now, since the one fitted seems to be almost empty, and it's certainly not where I last remember seeing it. I need to take advantage of all this time on my hands to give my room a really good tidy for once, and I'm sure it will reappear in the process.

There was no drink later, and after all that's happened - and that I could have done with getting off my chest - that does make me somewhat fed up.

Two bottles of Becks, and a good chat with Mark, Matt, Phil and Angela - even if about nothing of great consequence - later, and I'm off to bed. Goodnight.

Well that ended up an altogether curious evening to wrap up a fairly strange Saturday, really - nothing of great excitement involved, but certainly not your run-of-the-mill day.

The evening was the best bit, though, going to watch the Race for Bosnia at the Daytona kart track. The turn-out was pitifully low compared with previous years, and the whole format and length of the race was overhauled to suit the fact that they managed to muster only nine teams of two.

I almost got a drive myself, quite unexpectedly, but couldn't sort myself out with a team-mate given only about ten minutes to do so, and was somewhat unwilling to drive the whole hour on my own - assuming the circuit management would have allowed it anyway. Hopefully next year they can pull off a bigger event once again, and hopefully I can sort out a team more successfully.

Motivation really seems thin on the ground at the moment, doesn't it? It's certainly not just the Monochrome Ball that's been a victim of this apparent unwillingness of anyone to commit to doing something a little out of the ordinary and that might cost a little more than the average night out.

The race was still good as far as it went, though, and the Volkswagen team won as usual, though I didn't stay for the presentations because Sarah had phoned a little earlier inviting me round to pour out my current problems. I really did quite desperately need someone to talk to about everything going on family-wise, and there's not really anyone much else I trust to that extent now - at least not who I could easily go and pay an impromptu visit to.

Anyway, it's late now, and tomorrow will probably end up being a bit busy, so night-night all...

The last twenty-four or so hours have been somewhat bizarre.

Sunday morning, MKCF's Centre Church were having their last ever meeting as one of the four separate congregations. I'd heard they were hoping as many past members as possible would go, "for old time's sake", so after some consideration and prayer I decided I would pop along. It turned out that Mark and myself were the only such "visitors" there that I was aware of - it did strike me as rather odd that for all their hopes, they hadn't actually contacted many people and were clearly relying upon telepathy. Anyway, it was good to see old friends, but confirmed that it was right that I should have left when I did; something just didn't quite click, though that didn't turn out to be the last time that happened yesterday. Popped round with Lesley to see Seamus and Gill afterwards, which was very pleasant - and a good chance to see how their home improvements were progressing!

Later on was the first evening meeting after the summer for the Vineyard, and I arrived at the David Lloyd Centre bright and early to help set up and play in the band. Overall, the worship went very well for our first such outing - and we got many favourable comments - but I was plagued with technical problems, which contributed towards me feeling really quite down and depressive by the end of it. Frankly I wish I'd not been there; it would have prevented a lot of problems I'm sure. Some have suggested since that it was spiritual attack, which would not surprise me in the least, and actually makes me glad I did stick it out and fight on in the face of considerable adversity. I did feel utterly rotten by the time I got home, though, and hit the bottle in rather a shameful way and no doubt upset a few more people in the process.

Taking today nice and easy, though, since my stomach is understandably feeling a little iffy and I'm really very tired still - I don't exactly remember going to bed, though that was where I woke up... I think there's talk of going out for pizza tonight with Darren, Dave and Dave's new girlfriend Sarah, but that's not likely to be for a couple more hours, so I think I'm going to go and have a bit more rest in the meantime.

Pizza was yummy, as was the Haagen Dazs tiramisu ice-cream afterwards! Going to bed now, since I've got to be up in good time tomorrow to run Gareth and Tash to Gatwick for a lunchtime flight.

Well the trip to and from Gatwick went smoothly enough, with generally pretty light traffic and the variable speed limits on the M25 not having a great deal to do. We were a bit later leaving than planned, but we'd allowed plenty of time anyway, and my estimate of 200 miles for the round trip turned out to be fairly accurate. It was a good opportunity to catch up with stuff with Gareth, since I'd really not had a chance to speak to him at all for weeks, certainly about Shine matters, and there was plenty to be said...

Anyway, it's my brother's birthday today, and I've just tried phoning him at the shop, but he'd just popped out for a bit, apparently, and will ring me back shortly hopefully. I'd deliberately not sent him anything - as I'm sure he'll understand - but it would be nice to talk to him in any case!

Blimey - what an afternoon, unfolding via the wonders of the rolling television news stations... It even impacts me slightly, with tonight's planned trip to the cinema cancelled - I was going to go with a number of people from Morgan Stanley's MK offices. Their main US offices represented a big chunk of the south tower of the now utterly demolished World Trade Center, and needless to say there's a considerable amount of uncertainty in the company worldwide as well as the utter shock and horror we all surely share. Still going for a drink, probably - but Darren's not at all sure when he's going to get away from work this evening, though the London offices in Canary Wharf closed soon after the plane crashes in New York, so I doubt he'll have a lot to do...

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"

Not always the case, is it?

As I go safely to bed, downtown Kabul sounds like it might well be in for a sleepless night - and I'm not going to be drawn on whether it's justified or not. What kind of freedom is that to fight for? May your innocent countrymen be forever in your debt...

Enjoying a nice relaxed day today, having a better lie-in than I'd managed previously during this holiday, though a somewhat sleepless night might have contributed towards that a bit. Darren was in a decidedly muted mood when we walked to the pub last night, understandably enough, and was not inclined to watch the television coverage any more than he could help. The company he's contracted to, Morgan Stanley, apparently represented approximately fifty storeys of the south tower, and had some 3500 employees there; their wellbeing or otherwise is still unknown.

Of course what is also still unknown is what the future might hold. It certainly seems clear that yesterday's events heralded a new era, and may well see some traditional international and political lines redrawn. But what will happen in practical terms is definitely less clear. It seems now that last night's reported activity in Afghanistan was unconnected, despite initial appearances, and Colin Powell has said fairly bluntly that a military response at this point is not appropriate, but people do still seem very worried about the prospects in that kind of regard - and in a wider sphere.

Nevertheless, Americans in particular do seem somewhat united in their feeling that a swift and violent response is necessary and deserved, and it's perfectly understandable - though I would join with many in hoping restraint is shown. No matter what the USA might have done to provoke this attack - other than support a legitimate state's right to security - it was utterly disproportionate and inappropriate, and it is true that it was an attack on far more than just the USA, but the whole civilised world. That even the Palestinian and Afghan authorities have moved to condemn it speaks volumes.

On a practical level, it seems like the events have finally forced internal American operators to toughen their security - and in some cases, it seems, implement any at all. Several times in the last few years there have been cases of dangerous weapons getting on board internal flights, and until today, knives - as reportedly used by the hijackers in seizing control of the planes - were frequently not actually prohibited items! Also, the bizarre policy of "kerb-side baggage check-in" is going to be a thing of the past; these are aircraft we're talking about, not buses, for goodness sake!

One of the other issues that's been raised in all this is that of the extent of the news coverage given. Some have suggested that had the same thing happened almost anywhere else in the world, there wouldn't have been even a fraction of the television footage or newspaper column inches devoted to the subject. And they would be completely right, in actual fact. Although we are beginning to see shades of the "Diana effect" in all this - which I'll come back to in a moment - the facts are that aside from the terrible number of casualties, which would have been regrettable and reportable wherever in the world it had happened, the WTC was also one of the most prestigious and well-known buildings in the world, represented world commerce and finance like probably no other, and was located in a country where any action like that inevitably has further reaching consequences than probably anywhere else in the world, even Britain. There probably has still been too much coverage, some of it somewhat ghoulish, to be honest, and we have the rolling news stations - like BBC News 24, CNN and so on - to thank for that, but given that's the way things go these days, I don't believe for a moment that yesterday's terrible and momentous events got any special favours solely because of their geographic location.

As for that "Diana effect" of grief taken to arguably somewhat illogical and irrational levels, well we really shouldn't be surprised, and although we may find it rather pathetic sometimes, I suspect we've all suffered from it in some shape or form at some time, so let's not be hypocritical about it. People have to come to terms with the enormity of the events in the world around them - from things like yesterday's attacks, to deaths of notable and much-loved personalities - and we all get affected in different ways. There have been times when I've felt I've weathered the storm of arbitrary events, then get "hit" quite unexpectedly, or when I get moved inexplicably by something of no particular direct consequence to me. Perhaps that latter bit is the key; those who complain most about the "Diana effect" are so self-centred they can't understand the idea of grief for others. The idea that someone else's tragedy might affect someone so greatly that they want to somehow become empathetically involved is anathema to their selfishness, but is merely an expression of a level of humanity that's sadly become largely lost in this throw-away world where nothing really matters beyond the here and now.

I'm ill. Spent most of the day in bed, and that's precisely where I'm going back just as soon as I'm finished here. Don't feel quite so close to death's door as I did a few hours back, but taking things nice and easy...

Oooh, I'm lighter than I've been for years. Being ill rocks!

Yes thanks, today is indeed being a much better day for me, feeling nowhere near as tired or groggy, my muscles aching nowhere near as much and my skin nowhere near as painful to the slightest touch. Still feeling a little queasy from time to time so taking things gently for the moment, and almost certainly giving Paul's party I was supposed to be going to this evening a miss. Amazingly, though, I've found the energy to give my bedroom floor a fairly merciless blitz this afternoon, generating about a bin-bag's worth of rubbish in the process. I'm by no means finished yet - I'll be carrying on shortly - but I think the main remaining part of this particular exercise is stowing away what I've decided to keep. There are still many cupboards and so on to be sorted out, which can wait for another day - so long as my stowing is successful - but this is quite a major achievement for me nevertheless!

I was heartened to see the positive response to the three-minute silence on Mono this morning, with so many people dropping whatever they were doing to mark their respect for the dead and injured from earlier this week. I wasn't around at the time, but I made sure I'd dragged myself out of the bath by then, and in fact paused my breakfast. I'm getting a little sick of certain people banging on about it being all very well how sad everyone is about this, when Israeli forces continue their arguably US-supported operations against Palestinians and so on. Yes, it does seem tactless and I certainly don't agree with every action that gets taken, but life - whether good or bad - does go on, and those wishing to draw special attention to minimal losses in what is pretty much a mutually declared - and long ongoing - war must make the choice now as to whether they are terrorist apologists or anti-Semites.

Wonders never cease, because I really do feel much better, and I can actually see most of the floor of my room now! So much better - and mission sufficiently accomplished, tidying-wise - in fact, that I am going to go out tonight after all. Not to Paul's party - I think that might still be pushing things a little too far - but just for a meal and a drink at the Barge with Darren. Not much more to say, really...

Well that was a pleasant enough evening, and a text message or two from my nearest and dearest as I left the apparent Faraday cage of the Barge... Taken it out of me a bit, though - apart from the messages, of course! - so heading off to bed shortly methinks.

Still feel fine pretty much today, and none the worse for having had a couple of pints last night. Been and quickly done my shopping - not such a major expedition as usual, since I'd done a midweek trip too - and nothing much else planned for the day really.

Suppose I ought to be thinking about having the first course of my lunch sometime, especially since I've already had dessert - courtesy of the Haagen Dazs stall in the snowdome...

Skipped lunch proper in the end, and lasted out until I had pizza, garlic bread and salad for tea instead. Then brokered the second-hand sale of a microwave oven and a few other kitchen goodies, went to collect them on behalf of the buyer, and now I'm back at home and pretty much ready for bed...

Suffering from the revenge of the CD-jumping sneezes...

That was a fairly exhilarating afternoon, going out for a decent walk for the first time in quite a few days, and proving with some confidence that I am just about well again. I was just going to walk up to the city centre to get a bite to eat, but ended up going via the far side of Willen Lake and Campbell Park, stopping off to see the Andy Warhol exhibition at the gallery before grabbing my KFC and a McFlurry for dessert. About five miles in all, and I'm feeling a bit stiff for it, but it's undoubtedly done me good both physically, psychologically and spiritually. For now, though, I think I'm going to go and dive into the bath for a bit - especially now there's more likely to be some hot water than this morning...

Looking like this could be quite a busy week, once way or another - and no doubt conspiring against letting me get away on holiday anywhere, though there's still another week to go after this one, so there remains a chance! Eating out somewhere with Darren tonight, probably, supposed to be going round to Sarah's at some point in the week, got a prayer meeting on Wednesday and just now I've been invited down to Slough again. Is the latter in fact an answer to recent prayer? Maybe, though I've been specifically instructed not to read too much into it... So generally quite fun stuff to be busy with - though I suspect Wednesday night will be somewhat loaded after recent prayer-worthy events only a short distance away really on Planet Earth.

Also, more generally, I'll soon have my work cut out with the Shine web-site, since there are quite a few things we need to somewhat rush to get in place as soon as we can. It's now public knowledge that Shine are in fact soon to break up - due both to financial pressures and a desire of most of the members to move into different areas of ministry - but they are keen to push as hard as they can for the last few months, and that will include via the web-site which I manage. Particularly they want to sell off as much of the merchandise as possible, which means getting the long awaited on-line ordering working... We've got a PayPal account set up, and worked out the on-line pricing and everything - their system does not seem to allow variable shipping costs - but there's still a lot of HTML tweaking and so on to do before it can all go live.

Changing the subject entirely, it's sad to see heightened bickering - particularly but not exclusively - amongst the staff ranks on Mono. From time to time we are reminded that the sections are to be run for their users and not as an ego-extension of their "owners". Indeed we are also less often reminded that we section owners only "own" our sections in as much as the physical files are in our areas of the file-system, and that we are officially known merely as moderators for a good reason. Also that moderation doesn't just mean stamping on and deleting comments we don't happen to agree with. I suspect a few people here need further reminding of this, and when it's mainly staff members involved in the inevitable ensuing arguments, paradoxes about irresistible forces and immutable objects spring readily to mind...

And now my week's even busier, having just a little while ago agreed to give blast-from-the-past Chris a lift to - and probably from - college in Bletchley on Wednesday. Just a one-off, he claims, and if he mentions anything about next week, I think I shall politely make my excuses, since I really do hope to be away on holiday properly then... The trip to Slough's looking like Thursday night, and what's more the plan is that I am expertly cooked for, rather than us going out and spending lots of money like last time. Sounds fun - though I'll have to make sure I return the favour at some point, if she dares! Yes, I feel this is an answer to prayer, having asked God quite specifically for a clear sign as to what should happen next - whether positive or negative - and within a day, after a couple of weeks of really not knowing, the next step was made plain and clear. And nice and positive! Thank you Lord.

Goodness knows what I'm doing up and about so early - as the nine o'clock news approaches on the radio - but I might as well run with it now... Can't sleep, anyway. Miserable day outside so far, wet and windy - and the weather forecast has just described today simply as "grim". I think I probably need to give Waitrose a visit later, but nothing much else planned, which sounds just as well really.

Oh well, I got as far as the shop over the road in the end - only needing a loaf of bread and something for lunch - and I'm not really inspired to do a whole lot more. Been a useful day, though, investigating further the technical problems I was having a couple of Sundays ago, although an extensive soak-test of my system revealed nothing untoward this time, so it probably was just spiritual interference and I needn't have been surprised. Just wish this weather would cheer up a little - quite fancy a walk, but I'm going to get miserably soaked at this rate... Might just brave it though.

Brave it I did, and I was glad I did, with the weather being remarkably kind to me considering how lousy it was both just before I left and just after I got back - and still is now. I took a stroll along the canal to Peartree Bridge, and back along the towpath on the other side. Parts reminded me just how lousy some areas of Milton Keynes are, but on the whole it was pleasant enough and I got a few friendly waves from narrow-boaters and so on. Just had my tea, which was pasta with the usual accompaniments, and jolly nice too I should say. Now agreed to go round for tea at Sarah's tomorrow before the Vineyard prayer meeting, which fits in well with everything else planned for this week. Amongst other things I will be dropping off the kitchen stuff I recently acquired for her from Darren, having a look at Claire's clarinet which she says is behaving oddly, and hopefully confirming their recent computer problems have been due to nothing more than a mucky keyboard.

Happy birthday, Daisy - seeing as you've been dropping hints for weeks!

Hope it's a nicer day for you than it is here, even worse than yesterday. Definitely no walks down the canal at this rate. My duvet is looking welcoming and positively beckoning me to re-make its acquaintance.

That's phase one of the "school run" complete, with Chris dropped off safely at college in Bletchley. Just need to go back in about an hour's time to collect him and run him home again. Not sure quite what he's doing in life, but at least he seems to be getting to grips with things a bit, studying English and computing. Still nothing finalised - or indeed much more heard - about tomorrow's trip to Slough. I hope it's all going ahead as planned; I have no reason to suspect otherwise, but I'm a born worrier, I guess.

Phase two - and the mission - complete, but yet more added to my schedule for today, with Darren phoning me on my mobile while I was waiting for Chris. Darren now has the long-awaited photos of the new Shine merchandise on digital camera, and I think also wants to show off his snazzy new headphones over a bottle of beer. This also means what I was saying about very soon having my work cut out with Shine-related stuff has now come to pass, so I'll probably blitz that tomorrow daytime before my hopeful trip to Slough in the evening.

One busy day done with, and another just starting! Tea round at Sarah's yesterday evening didn't quite work out as planned, ending up going to McDonalds instead - via PC World to buy a replacement keyboard, having ascertained earlier that that was indeed the problem with their computer, after a recent "beverage incident". Then I took a quick dash up to Bradwell Abbey for the prayer meeting, which unsurprisingly concentrated entirely upon the events of last week and their outcomes, and was a powerful time indeed. Finally, I collected the Shine camera from Darren, though having had a brief look at the photos of the merchandise I'm not sure how much use they are really going to be, for various reasons.

Anyway, as for today... Well I need to put in a bit of work on the Shine site, to at least see how usable those photographs really are, and I probably need to pop out to the shops sometime. Then I need to decide exactly what I'm doing later. Tonight's trip to Slough is definitely on, but I'd promised I'd visit my parents while I was in the area, and I'm not sure whether to do that this afternoon on the way down, or whether to arrange to stay overnight on the way back. As for tonight, well yes, I have my instructions for getting to my destination, and I believe I'm not the only one somewhat looking forward to it! No idea what's going to be cooking - except that it's not quiche - but I like surprises!

I've resigned as staff here on Monochrome. I suspect there may be some negotiation to come over the exact nature of this move - bearing in mind I look after a number of sections - but for the moment I've quit the lot and am not shedding a tear for a shred of it. Indeed for the moment I am more concerned about this evening, so I'd better be getting ready for that!

No, I've not changed my mind, and yes, I've had a splendid last couple of days, thank you!

Arrived back here fairly late last night, after spending the whole day with my parents; I decided in the end to stop off there on both legs of my journey to Slough. I'd been planning on driving home Friday morning, really, but there was plenty to do back there - especially helping my dad further get to grips with Photoshop - so I ended up staying for tea too... Also scanned a bit of information on Pembrokeshire youth hostels prior to my hopefully going away there for a few days next week.

As for Thursday night, well what can I say - at least without going into too much gory detail? Claire cooks up a marvellous spaghetti bolognaise - with all the trimmings - and let's just say that everything else about her so far is just as good! Who knows what the future holds for the both of us, but the present is looking very promising indeed, and it's mighty good to be back "in gear" again in this regard. It's been a long and sometimes difficult year and a half, but certainly worth the wait if Claire's the one I've been waiting for... OK, OK, you can put the bucket away now, cynics.

Meanwhile, the world stops for nothing and no-one. Lots to do today, since I wasn't really supposed to have spent all day yesterday at Prestwood, and I had promised I would have Shine's new on-line shop up and running by now! I got a fair bit of that going on Thursday, but I still need to work on an alternative UK order form, which will take a little bit of fiddling yet. Should then be ready to upload and test, and probably go live in about a week's time. I suspect this will be one of the last major things I'll do for the Shine site as it stands; we had all kinds of grand plans for ringtones, e-cards and so on, but it really is approaching end of the road now.

Oh well, the new pages for the Shine website still aren't up on line yet, though I think I've managed to squeeze in enough time in the few spare minutes I've had over the last couple of days to get them more or less complete. Should just take about ten more minutes of HTML trickery plus however long it takes to upload the stuff in question and write a short explanatory e-mail to Darren and Gareth.

Yes, it's ended up a busy weekend of eating out, visiting friends, going for walks, doing jigsaws, going to church, and just about anything and everything else morally and humanly possible... All good fun, really, but come almost lunchtime this Monday morning I'm still shattered, and my back's playing up again a little after some more awkward furniture moving yesterday.

Anyway, I've just put a big washing load on so I will have some clean - and hopefully dry! - clothes to take away with me, and I'm going to plan exactly what, where and when I'm going to be doing holiday-wise later today. Probably going to aim to be away for three or four nights, including one near Hereford to visit my sister en-route to Pembrokeshire, but more than that I've really not contemplated yet.

Hmm, just this moment received an e-mail from my childhood neighbour Ross:

Are you on e-mail at the moment or away on your hols? I wanted to contact you to ask you a few questions about the OU as I've got an interview there on Wednesday for an Educational Software Designer post - I think the sort of thing that you do.

Actually, exactly what I do, and almost certainly the same department... Looks like I might have some familiar company soon, doesn't it?

Right, washing's done - but not hung outside to dry, alas, due to ongoing precipitation, so thank goodness most youth hostels have drying rooms, just in case it carries on doing this for the next twenty four hours... Just to please Tristan, I've e-mailed the relevant people to say that the Shine site's been updated - or at least the private section thereof, so I fully expect a quick response of "that's great", which will not be satisfactory as I know full well it's still got lots of factual errors in it. So all that's really left is to plan this last-minute holiday thing of mine; at least I feel a little more inspired since it's stopped hailing and thundering outside, but I suspect I won't really be happy until I'm actually on the road and well past the point of no return.

Got myself successfully booked in at Marloes Sands and Pwll Deri youth hostels for Wednesday and Thursday nights respectively, though I'd temporarily forgotten that Leominster hostel's being closed on Sundays and Mondays meant I wouldn't even be able to contact them to make a booking for Tuesday. Mind you, I've not yet heard back from my sister about the possibility of calling in to see her and her family on the way, and if there was a difficulty there, I might prefer to stay at Malvern anyway. The other hostels sounded like they were pretty much empty, so I doubt I'd have any problem if I just turned up on the night, though I could always phone Leominster or wherever tomorrow evening once I'm in the area.

Marloes Sands and Pwll Deri both sound somewhat idyllic, and quite coincidentally are perfectly positioned for the two Pembrokeshire outings in a book of walks I was given for my birthday! Malvern would be ideal for another of the listed walks, but Leominster would probably be better placed with respect to my sister. Unlike my holiday this time last year, there are no vast distances involved, so I should have plenty of time to go for walks and be able to look around places both before and after my drive each day. In Scotland, distances were just so vast that I had to stay two nights at each place to give myself any recreation time at all, but I really don't expect that to be a problem in Pembrokeshire.

My sister's just phoned back, and has extremely kindly offered me dinner and a sofa for the night, so all problems are neatly solved in one fell stroke! That's quite a relief, really, as I'm not sure how easily I would have been able to find Leominster or Malvern hostels late at night, nor of course have been absolutely guaranteed a bed at either before the evening. And of course it means I get to sample my sister's wonderful vegetarian cooking, which is always a treat!

It's also nice not to have to be in a hurry, especially when I've not seen them since Christmas if my memory serves me correctly, and the kind of time I would want to get down there is pretty much the same as for a youth hostel, so it doesn't really affect my schedule for tomorrow. Hmm, talking of schedules, I could even do that Malvern walk en-route if I left here in good enough time, so it might pay to be a little flexible!

A slightly different evening to what I had vaguely planned, but all very pleasant nonetheless. I wasn't sure quite what - if anything - was going on food-wise, but it turned out that Darren wanted to go out and try the very affordable buffet deal at the pizza restaurant in the beleaguered Point complex. We got there soon after seven and were a little surprised to see most of the chairs on the tables and not much light in the place. The doors were open, though, so we went on in anyway, finding two extremely apologetic members of staff who seemed even more miffed than we were that they had to close at such a stupidly early hour. Small wonder the Point is so short of customers and so likely to be closing down for good in the not-too-distant future. Pizza Hut in the main shopping centre nearby just had to do instead - even if they had no garlic bread, nor any bacon bits to go on the salads we went for instead... Still need to pack for going away, but that should be straightforward and quick enough to do tomorrow morning if I get up in good time, a definite advantage of youth hostelling over and above anything more complicated like camping!

Tris was just asking about that job I was applying for at HMGCC some time ago, and I had to explain that I never did get round to sending off the form. HMGCC still show a distinct fascination for my diary, though. I wonder quite what is about endless talk of Shine and pizza that presents such a vital national security issue? Tris suggested they could be a potent combination in the wrong hands... Should we therefore contemplate dropping them on Afghanistan?

Right, it's going-away day, I'm up brighter and earlier than usual, but still lots to do before I leave at about midday, so toodle-pip y'all...

Well I'm back. Sort of.

Back properly now, that is to say in Milton Keynes, rather than at Prestwood where I spent last night and from where I posted that last entry. Had a great holiday, anyway, despite pretty lousy weather for much of the time, and all objectives completed. More when I've had a chance to dry off a bit after carrying my stuff in from the car in torrential rain...

I've dried off now, and dodged the showers to take a walk into the gridlocked city centre to do my shopping - not that I needed a great deal, but I need to get used to the idea of only being able to do so at weekends again now! So here goes with an account of my "annual" holiday... Apologies in advance for the length, but I did a lot in those few days, right?

Tuesday

I left Milton Keynes a little later than planned, then found I'd left some potentially vital maps at home so promptly had to start all over again, wasting about another half hour. I still had time to do that hoped-for walk out of Malvern, though, even if it ended up quite a bit tougher than I'd been led to believe. It turned out that Ross, whose advice I had been acting upon, hadn't started anywhere near as low as I had, lazy so-and-so! All good exercise, and stunning views to be had over the town and beyond from the two hilltops, though it was far from clear so distant mountains and so on had to remain figments of my imagination and the assurance of others that they were there really!

No doubt due to my chronic lack of fitness, the walk took somewhat longer than I'd expected, and I arrived at my sister's house in Hereford about an hour and a half later than I'd hoped. Thankfully I had no problem finding it, and Martin was still in the shower anyway, so it was no big deal. Tea was lovely as expected - cheese and tomato pizza, with jacket potatoes and salad - and by then it was time to start getting the littler ones into the bath and upwards to bed, a slightly fraught time, but reassuringly normal! Didn't get too late a night myself, but before I did so, I had a look at the decrepit PC they had been given, reinstalled Windows 3.11 and some other software on it to get it back into working order, but promised I would use my various contacts to try and find something more modern for them.

Wednesday

To be honest I didn't sleep too well on the sofa, though thankfully the heavy early-morning traffic on the road out at the front didn't bother me too much. With Rafael still asleep, the other children off at school and Martin out at work, it was then a good chance to catch up with Ali about this, that and the other at our leisure, before it was about time I was on my way for the next leg of my holiday...

It was a damp start to the day, as I drove direct to Dale, from where my planned walk was to start. Dale was a little further south than Marloes Sands youth hostel where I was going to stay for the night. An ambulance rushed past in the opposite direction, which should have hinted at what was ahead given that Dale was one of those one-road-in kind of places. In the end, I was stuck in a small queue of traffic for about half an hour as the fire brigade cut casualties out of tangled wreckage; it looked pretty grim, and a timely reminder about the speed all too many people go at on those tiny single-track roads.

The afternoon walk round the Dale peninsula was good, though. Very damp to start with, but it did little to detract from the spectacular views, even if Skokholm and Skomer islands were just grey shadows in the distance. Thankfully the oil terminals at Milford Haven were similarly fuzzy, occasionally pricked with orange flames. The weather brightened up a little for a while, but the best sun was saved for the evening by which time I was at the Marloes Sands youth hostel.

The youth hostel was - as I had been led to expect - quite unusual, being a conversion from a number of farm buildings. The volunteer warden was very friendly and helpful, as were the Australian couple who were the only other residents that night. We had a surprise visit from the YHA's Welsh regional office, just making sure everything was all right, and they were particularly helpful towards the Aussies, who weren't quite sure what to do next for their grand tour of Britain.

Thursday

I didn't sleep too well at Marloes Sands either, simply due to the plastic roof of the Cowshed dormitory acting as an amplifier for the torrential rain we had overnight. It was almost like camping when it was just a gentle pitter-patter, but not so relaxing when the deluge arrived. The rain was still with us in the morning, and the forecast really wasn't too promising.

While I had been waiting for the accident to clear on Wednesday, my mum had phoned suggesting I might like to investigate the boat trips running from near St Davids, and a couple I met on my walk had echoed the same sentiments so I thought that would be worthy of investigation. So I drove into St Davids - giving the Aussies a lift, too, due to the stupid local bus disservice - and quickly located the booking office for the recommended company. It seemed they were the only ones operating in the very rough conditions, due to having by far the most powerful and robust boat. The trip wasn't going to leave for a couple of hours, so I had a look round the city aquariums - yes, it is a city, albeit the smallest in the UK - before driving down to the lifeboat station where the boat trips ran from.

The boat trip was utterly amazing, and well worth the initially somewhat extortionate-sounding ticket price of over twenty pounds. We were all togged up in heavy waterproofs and life-jackets, and still got utterly drenched as we ploughed through massive waves at high speed on our two-hour trip around Ramsey Island off St Davids. Stars of the show were undoubtedly the many seals, especially the seal pups, some as little as a couple of days old, but we also saw various birds and a couple of porpoise. No-one fell in, but given the conditions, I think all the passengers were paying exceptional attention to the capsize drill!

After the trip I returned to St Davids and had a coffee before looking round the cathedral and then a couple of the art galleries there - yet more places for me to return to when I have my own house and some money to spend! - before heading through the lanes to find Pwll Deri youth hostel near Strumble Head.

Pwll Deri was in a truly spectacular coastal location, and well enough off the beaten track not to get too busy. There were a few more people than at Marloes Sands, but it was still quite a small crowd and everyone was talking to everyone as we sat in the conservatory overlooking the sea. More rough weather was to come, though, and we had to strategically position a few buckets around the hostel, but the dormitories were warm and snug, and I got my best night of the lot there I think.

Friday

This was going-home day, but before doing so, I took a morning walk around Strumble Head. Strumble Head wasn't quite as much of a peninsular as Dale, so there was rather more inland walking to be done to make the route circular, but it was again most spectacular and the weather was unusually glorious. My camera saw plenty of action, so expect to see some edited pictorial highlights soon! Saw a few more seals and pups, too, though the cliff-top coast path rarely got close enough to the beaches to get a really good look. I had my lunch back at the car, then walked to the tip of the head to say farewell to the Pembrokeshire coast - hopefully not for another twenty-odd years, though! - and hit the road through Fishguard and back home.

Or not quite home, having agreed to return to Milton Keynes via my parents at Prestwood, to see my brother who was visiting with his new lady-friend. I was much later getting home than I'd expected, having completely underestimated how far the drive was going to be, but I still got to see them for about half an hour before it was their turn to make a move. Tiredness hit me quite suddenly, though, so I took my parents up on their offer of a bed for the night, and it also gave Dad the opportunity to clear up a few remaining confusions with the computer. I left in good time Saturday morning, though, and have been back here in Milton Keynes for most of the day now...

My Exchange password at work has expired. That means I can no longer easily remotely check my e-mail over the web. Pity I'm returning to work tomorrow anyway - assuming I can remember how to get there, and that I've got a desk to return to..! What shall I do with the very last day of my holiday, then?

So far: having a bite of breakfast, bathing in the best lukewarm water I could muster, playing on the 'net, and ... no, that's just about it. Nor are hopes honestly that high for a radical upturn in my activity today, but I might try and force myself out for a walk or something if it brightens up a little.

It didn't brighten up, but I did force myself out on a walk anyway. Just round Furzton Lake, with a lovely greasy Zinger Tower as a reward for being so good!

And then proceeded to spend most of the rest of the afternoon round at Seamus and Gill's, surveying the continuing home improvements and generally catching up on their post-MKCF life... Took a trip out to Wickes in Bletchley with Seamus in his van, but it was just closing up shop for the day as we got there. Still horrible and murky outside, though; I somehow suspect that will be my last gasp of activity for today.

Indeed it was. Was that really worth an entry to this diary though? And with that, so endeth the month of September - so not only is it time to prepare for my return to work, but also to archive off this diary for posterity's sake.

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