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David's diary: December 2002

I was going to aim to do my shopping this morning, but this plan was hindered somewhat by not waking up until just a couple of minutes after midday. Never mind though - I'm sure Tesco wouldn't have had any wholemeal bread or single pints of semi-skimmed milk in anyway, so it's just the extra crowds I'll have to brave once I'm up, dressed and ready to go out.

Do you ever get the feeling people are fobbing you off by not telling the whole truth about things that directly affect you, trying to offer comforting words that - whether intentionally or not - end up being patronising and insulting because you know very well there's more to it than is being said?

It's just me then? Oh well.

Right now I'm supposed to be watching an unspecified film at an unspecified location. Since neither bit of information was included in the invitation - which arrived too late anyway - I decided to give it a miss. I would probably have bitten everyone's head off anyway, being in not too great a mood still.

I'll probably start being a little less cryptic about this later in the week. I still hope this is all just a big misunderstanding on my part that's getting me down at the moment, but it's been going on far too long, and I have all too much bitter experience of fighting with things that I hoped might improve. I guess I have the same eternal optimism in my blood that seems to have hindered the rest of my family from time to time, but there does come a certain point where one has to say enough is enough and pull the plug on hopeless situations that drive one to the limit of one's patience, tolerance and indeed sanity.

And so ends this wonderful weekend, with the promise of a wonderful week at work ahead of me - including a wonderful production meeting tomorrow afternoon relating to the wonderful technology faculty course that's living on borrowed time right now as far as I know. It would be wonderful if it bit the dust.

Oh, before I forget, there's a clock in the Midsummer Place shopping centre extension in Milton Keynes. Not just any old clock, though. It consists of two mechanisms, joined by a horizontal girder contraption. A device with a flywheel and large pendulum runs backwards and forwards along the horizontal girder, collecting and depositing brass balls that drive the clock mechanism itself. Every hour, an enormous frog breaks into song and blows bubbles, in a truly surreal - and undoubtedly drug-inspired - display. The whole thing is huge, and attracts a big crowd especially on the hourly performance. But it's a fraud. No brass balls get carried at all; it's all done with the mechanical equivalent of sleight of hand. Yet people watch it, mesmerised, and waste a good five minutes of their precious lives on nothing. I don't know what suddenly made me want to write about it now, but it seemed strangely relevant.

Ah, the official Milton Keynes website has a photo of the aforementioned horrorlogical monstrosity, in which the supposed - but fake - balls are not made of brass, but are in fact golden balls of sunshine. It must be quite dangerous having all that hydrogen undergoing nuclear fusion in a public place like that. Never before has "a load of balls" been a more appropriately ironic summary. Anyway, to see the hideous contraption, brace yourself and go to:

http://www.mkweb.co.uk/Midsummer_Place/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=14782

Overall, today's not been quite as bad as I thought, getting the CD-R of my current software project off to QA for testing - though the Instant WarezIt CD-writing application wouldn't play ball on my machine so Tim stepped in to save the day. Actually it may well be the CD-R drive that's faulty, but who's to say? The production meeting wasn't too bad either, with them once again kindly bumping the software bits towards the start of the schedule, so Lynda, Sam and I were able to make a reasonably quick exit. Oh, and I'll be going home in a few minutes anyway, in order to help take David's bike in for repair.

And that, friends, is that. For now, at least.

That ended up a rather good evening - successfully jamming David's bike into the back of my car to take to Chaineys bike shop in Shenley for repair, going our separate ways to have some tea, then meeting up again to go and have a beer and blokey chat, and finally to Cineworld to watch Rabbit-Proof Fence, definitely one of the more compelling films of the year. David will be most disappointed if I don't submit a proper review of said film, but I'm really too tired to give it full justice tonight, so tomorrow will just have to do!

I remember, many years ago, playing Trivial Pursuit with my next-door neighbours, and a question came up that was something like "Which country has the longest fence in the world?" I think I guessed at Australia, and I was right. The fence in question was a rabbit-proof fence, designed to protect Australian farmland on one side from the destructive rabbits on the other. Of course, that fence also gave its name to last night's film, in a slightly ironic way given that the story too was one of segregation and "protection".

The film was based on the true story of three girls, forcibly removed from their families, for being half-castes - half aborigine, half white settler. This was policy in Australia up until 1970, operated first by the British and latterly by the Australians themselves, in the misguided and ultimately racist belief that half-caste children represented a threat to ethnic purity and that they were better off being raised as whites - with the promise of their "blackness" being bred out within three generations. That the paler-skinned of the removed children were earmarked as being more educable revealed the truth of the matter, that "protection of the aborigines" was intended more for the benefit of the settlers, to keep the natives as an underclass curiosity and ensure that true integration and cooperation could never happen.

But anyway, the girls are taken hundreds of miles away to a camp where they are trained up to be little more than domestic slaves - a process which includes the banning of their own tongue and Christianity being forced upon them, with severe punishment for those who didn't cooperate. Obviously the girls are homesick and miss their families - and know their families miss them too - and the oldest of the girls, Molly, eventually decides to take Gracie and Daisy on an epic trek home. Needless to say, their absence doesn't go unobserved, and the three meet various people on their travels, both helpful and not - but one of the more helpful happens in passing to mention the rabbit-proof fence, which they know will eventually lead them back to their families' settlement.

This was no feel-good film, and didn't adhere to many of the usual values of film-making. It was however incredibly compelling throughout, and all the characters were most convincingly portrayed, with special credit to the three young lead actresses of course. The filming was breathtakingly done, yet also intensely personal, emotional and grittily real. I'm not at all sure how well it will transfer to the small screen, so try and find a cinema showing it in amongst the higher-profile blockbusters while you have the chance...

One of the "higher-profile blockbusters" mentioned above of course being the new James Bond film, Die Another Day, which hopefully Sam, Tim and I are off to see tonight. What a busy week of film-going this is turning out to be!

Bond film was OK, but nothing overly special. A bit too much of the currently fashionably PC "Axis of Evil", and too little renegade psychopathic megalomaniac, for my liking. Still, plenty of big explosions, pretty girls, crazy gadgets and ridiculous physics, so it didn't entirely disappoint, even if it fell short of expectations. Oh, and most of the "extreme sports" sequences - even if somewhat faked - knocked Vin Diesel into a cocked hat.

Today's being far too slow a day, though it's almost over now. I've mostly been spending it justifiably surfing the web, looking for a load of software that needs to be put on a course CD-ROM. It's mainly installers for popular web browsers of today and yesteryear, but also a few other odds and ends - and the main website for downloading legacy browsers from seems to have a few gaps in its selection. Mind you, my efforts could all be a bit wasted anyway because there is extremely questionable value in providing students with half a dozen different versions of Internet Explorer when only one can be installed at a time and the browser is notorious for being next to impossible to uninstall or downgrade, short of wiping Windows and starting all over again.

But anyway, it's almost time to go home, and ponder going to the pub this evening for our Open House monthly social - though I'm not sure I have the energy right now, quite apart from other things troubling me somewhat.

Oh well, to the pub I shall go. I have no axe to grind with anyone likely to be there, so why should I force myself to be a miserable git unnecessarily?

And back from the pub I am already. Well I stayed for a couple of hours in the end - even if it was almost half an hour before Annette and Amelia arrived to offer me some company, though there was a fair crowd in the end. Why oh why oh why oh why though is it that such gatherings inevitably end up with half the attendees comparing mobile phones, and the remainder just hoping and praying the comparisons won't extend to ringtones? Still, it was good to get out and have a fair natter with at least a few of those there, but I really was just too tired to get into it properly - and I wasn't the only one.

Today has more or less passed by, and there's only one day of the week to go, then it's the weekend. Highlight was another lunch and frank blokey chat with David, and lowlight was spending a good chunk of the afternoon completing my timesheet and report for November, it being that time of the month again. I really really hope the new year brings some big changes. It's not that I'm desperately unhappy at the moment, but I simply can see nothing of my future, so all I can do is live for the day as it comes - not that I make the most of opportunities, as observed before - and hang on to the past in often unhealthy ways. History cannot be changed, so - warts and all, and there's quite a few of them - in it I can find perceived security I otherwise direly lack. But it simultaneously damages me, through accentuating what I presently do not have.

Hey ho!

Still, at least I can look forward to Saturday, when I have a dinner date with not one but two lovely ladies. Sadly both a bit old for me but hey, it's an evening out, in good company, and not an entirely spur-of-the-moment decision!

Having duly made the table booking for Saturday night's outing, I suddenly remembered late last night that I had a 10% discount card for the curry-house in question. But alas, it was not to be found in my wallet, which could only mean it was amongst the enormous amount of clobber still unsorted since I moved in August. Incredibly though, I found it in about ten minutes flat - in a bag I'd earlier overlooked wrongly assuming it contained stuff relating to events earlier in the year - and it appears still to be valid. Hooray!

Meanwhile, today's looking to be more than a little tedious with some terribly dull QA seminar this afternoon that I surely hope doesn't drag on too long - especially since I need to leave work in good time in order to take Laura and Rachael up to Peterborough. Finally though it looks like I might just be able to return to programming the microprocessor simulation software that was about the sole reason I managed to maintain my sanity earlier in the year. It's not actually due to go out to students for a couple of years, but nevertheless there is considerable enthusiasm to get it done nice and early, especially since a fair bit of the course material is likely to be based around using it!

Seminar's over, and it was just as dull as anticipated. I'm off home.

The Peterborough run was OK, but I had two somewhat tired little girls and one rather unwell older one suffering tooth-ache in the car, so a bundle of laughs the journey was not. It was also a bit slow especially outbound, and wet and murky on the way back, but I'm home safely now, and took the opportunity for some late evening shopping at Tesco. A hedgehog would have had a field day - albeit an unhealthy one, according to current wisdom - with both the bread and milk I wanted in stock for once! I must do this more often, because it was a comparative joy - though I may well have to return later in the weekend if a vague idea I have for Sunday afternoon comes to any kind of fruition.

Gah, just got back from doing a mercy-run to casualty - and of course am not now too able to get back to sleep, especially since I've promised I'll pick them up rather than make them catch a bus home, hopefully in an hour or so. Not complaining though; it's what life and friendship is all about, but I can't really pretend it's quite how my perfect Saturday would begin. Sadly it does all rather put this evening's outing in jeopardy, but that's just one of those things - though slightly annoying because I might have been able to engage alternative plans had I had a little more notice... C'est la vie!

This may not be the most objective moment to feel so, but right now I really do just wish Christmas would go away. Sure, I'd love to get into the seasonal spirit, but I simply feel it can't possibly happen this year. I'm both emotionally and physically exhausted, and have no motivation to pull my finger out and do anything that western cultural conditioning would dictate that I do. If I could just lock myself away for the next month, I most likely would.

Just phoned to cancel the table booking for this evening, so I am officially at a loose end now, and with precious little chance of remedying that at this stage. If the weather was more enthusiastic I might have pondered going for a walk, but seeing as I've been more or less up since 5.30 this morning and feel like I'm running on vapour, I'm going to head back to bed for a bit.

I slept pretty much solidly for about four hours in the end, so I definitely needed it after this morning's fun and games! Now I'm ravenously hungry, of course, so am going to go and investigate the pizza situation forthwith. It is just about tea-time, after all, and I've only had two slices of toast today!

Pizza, garlic bread and salad duly consumed, and now enjoying a reasonably quiet evening. Well, quiet apart from the Nine Inch Nails presently gracing my CD player, which I guess makes it not terribly quiet at all... Not that I'm playing it too loud, much though it may be crying out for that treatment.

Now all I have to do is decide whether I'm going to drag myself out of bed early enough to go to church tomorrow morning, let alone be part of the music team as intended. Right now, it's quite out of the question, but my body has a habit of doing odd things when I've had my sleep patterns disrupted. There are other unresolved factors which do somewhat reduce my determination to be there and participate fully - one has to have the right heart to be able to lead the people in worship, after all - so perhaps it's as well if I don't?

That I am sitting here typing this at about eleven o'clock this Sunday morning means that as I had rather anticipated, I didn't make it to church. I texted my apologies to Paul a couple of hours ago, then tried to get back to sleep, but with only modest success. This weekend really has been a total disaster so far, all in all, with precious little chance of it being rescued now.

Darren made a valiant attempt to salvage my weekend, and succeeded for a short time at least with the help of a Golden Stuffed Crust Super Supreme, but now I've crashed again. For once, returning to work tomorrow seems attractive.

I passed the evening listening to the commentary track to the Attack of the Clones DVD that Tim lent me last week. Quite interesting and honest actually, especially discovering just how much of the film was computer graphics. Anyway, since going to work tomorrow morning remains an unusually attractive proposition, I'm going to head to bed now before I change my mind...

I am on way too much of a knife-edge right now. I thought I was OK today, but I've just realised how deceived I am. For the good of humanity, tata for now.

It was an OK day in the end, and I didn't actually get away from work until gone seven o'clock thanks to "evaluating" some bridge-building software with Sam. Well, we think the Open University should be using software of its ilk, anyway, rather than yet more tedious question and answer packages. Back at home though, a quiet evening, and I've just emerged from the bath wrinkled like a prune, having lost track of the time starting to read Run Baby Run.

I guess I should be heading for bed soon though - not that I fared too well last night in the end sleep-wise, at least until I had to get up again, anyway.

Oh, and yes, it is cold tonight. I actually turned the convector heater on for a little while earlier. Temperature inside me? About absolute zero.

I've just had what can only be described as a really edifying and encouraging email. No, seriously! In a way I really can't quite express, it's made my day. I don't know how long it'll take you to get to this bit, but thanks Roo!

Roo, from out of the blue!

Though I may well have met you, actually.

In more or less every other way, I'll reserve judgement on today though.

Words cannot express quite how I feel this evening - or rather, they can, but they are not words I really like to share here. With Open House cancelled, I thought I'd take the opportunity for a bit of early Christmas shopping - not that I had much clue what to get anyone. I would frankly say I've never been more depressed going round shops since I was back at Christmas 1989 when I was trying and failing to find some temporary work in Southampton. To be blunt I found the entire experience tonight nauseating and all I wanted to do was get out of the shopping centre and home. Consequently I came away with nothing at all except for a full stomach courtesy of Burger King - and barely even any ideas from what I did see. I would say I was almost phobic about being in there; it wasn't excessively busy but it was just plain horrible nonetheless. I don't know what to do about Christmas now. The commercialisation of it has probably got to its worst ever, the feeling that I have to buy people loads of stuff, even though I probably don't - but I would feel awful if I didn't. Why should I spend oodles of money on stuff people will probably hate anyway? If it wasn't for the fact that my parents have already intentionally booked a holiday cottage large enough for the three of us, I seriously would just give Christmas a miss this year, I feel so lousy about the whole institution. But I can't go empty-handed, or with only cop-out gift vouchers, now can I? I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but I just want to curl up for the next month and just pretend it's not happening, but I can't. Aaaaarrrggh!

And on that seasonably cheerful note, I'd better be going to bed if I'm going to get up for work tomorrow morning. Goodnight, anyone left who cares.

Hello! I'm still alive.

Don't think I'll go shopping again tonight though, as I'd vaguely planned.

Indeed I am having a quiet evening in, doing nothing of great consequence at all. No, I really couldn't have coped with another Christmas shopping trip this evening, after being on the brink of a breakdown last night I am sure. Last year was just so very different in just about every possible way. Yes, Christmas shopping was still a pain and a bit of a chore, but I was in a good frame of mind, and everything just fell into place when I got round to it. It's not just the difference in my personal circumstances this time round, though I would be lying if I pretended that wasn't an issue, but everything seems to be stacking up to demoralise me right now. That, and generally dull work, lack of holiday thanks to it, the dire and inescapable situation in the world, and festering unhappiness about a few other things all add up to the reality that a "merry Christmas" for both me and many others worldwide cannot be anything more than a mere façade, and a rather tasteless one at that.

After the success of my Friday night food shopping expedition a week ago, I'm going to do the same again tonight, hopefully. In addition, I intend to see if Mr Tesco can provide me with any good Christmas present ideas, given that they stock a fairly respectable range of toys, electrical and electronic goods and so on, as well as the reliable edible fallback options obviously. I was intending to go as soon as I was back from work, hoping the postman might have dropped a non-delivery card through the door in relation to a present for my parents that I am awaiting by mail order, so I could save a journey and go out via the Royal Mail sorting office. No such luck though, so I might as well wait a little longer and Tesco should be even quieter. I've never yet been tempted to go shopping in the small hours of the morning, but 24-hour Tescos are definitely a wonderful invention at busy times of the year like this!

Otherwise though, the week's over, and there's only one more week to go before Christmas - and I doubt I'll be in work for the whole of it. Looking on the bright side of it all, I'll definitely need the rest by then, and the change of scene provided by Herefordshire will do me good I am sure. I had a good natter with David at lunchtime today about Christmas, and I think he managed to encourage me a little, I'm pleased to say. Various people have observed that the commercialisation of it all is worse than ever this year, which in itself I do not object to, but I do hate the way it has become enshrined in the culture of this country. No-one holds a gun to your head, saying you've got to take part in it all, but as we become culturally conditioned to worship the god of materialism, the distinct expectation is there nonetheless. But I definitely feel better about the whole thing than I did a couple of evenings ago - just hope I don't come crashing down with a bump when I go out later!

In this evening's good news, it may have taken me a couple of hours to do so, but thanks to Tesco I have indeed managed to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping, though I think I'll still need to pop into the city centre at some point to get a few last things. I actually feel reasonably positive about the stuff I've got, which is a nice position to be in - given that it's better to feel a bit bad about giving nothing much at all than feeling rotten about giving awful things just because society dictates that we should.

In this evening's not so good news, though, I forgot I had a substantial money off coupon that needs to be redeemed by the end of the weekend, that could have made quite a big dent in what I had to cough up at the checkout a little while ago. Now, how easily can I rack up a bill of £55 if I go back to Tesco tomorrow or Sunday and stock up on reasonably expensive things that will keep..? Hmm, several boxes of wine and plenty of Marmite? I wonder - as I fall headlong into Tesco's deliberate marketing trap.

Want to sleep, but can't sleep. Still, I guess it's high time I was getting up now anyway, at well after ten o'clock on this dreary Saturday morning.

Just read another hundred pages of Run Baby Run as the bath cooled from piping hot to decidedly on the chilly side. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that has "spoken" to me so directly about the state of my own life, though I hasten to add I've never been in a gang myself! Books aren't supposed to have me in tears - indeed, as I have said before, crying doesn't come easily to me at all - but this one had me in floods of them today, which speaks volumes. I only stopped reading it just now because the bathwater was getting too cold to be healthy! Not bad for a book I plucked off my shelf in a hurry a week ago when I feared I was going to be waiting around in casualty for hours, and that had been sitting unread for at least a couple of years since I bought it at one of those cut price book sales at work. But what a find it's turned out to be!

I've decided to make my money-saving trip back to Tesco this evening - but I mustn't go too late because they close at 10pm, in preparation for the Sunday opening hours tomorrow. I spoke with Mum on the phone a little while ago and there's a few more bits and pieces I've agreed to buy in advance of our trip to Herefordshire, so hopefully I won't now need to do quite as much blatant over-stocking as I thought I might in order to earn my tasty £11 discount!

Mission accomplished! We're definitely not going to go hungry - or thirsty, for that matter - over this Christmas break. It's a close run thing, but I do now believe I can safely give Santa permission to oil the runners on his sled and feed his reindeer tartrazine-spiked carrots. I very much doubt it'll be the best Christmas ever, but I'm feeling significantly better about it than I was even this time yesterday. And good timing too, with our unofficial work Christmas lunch out tomorrow, intending to partake of the Jaipur's buffet!

Hmm, over the next week I'd better start writing my Review of 2002, possibly one of the most eagerly awaited documents on the whole internet, judging by past experience. I've no idea what I'll say, but it'll be worth reading.

I did indeed start writing that review last night, but will need to cut it down somewhat if only to spare gory details that you surely don't really want reminding of any more than I do to be honest. I got a bit carried away though and didn't manage an early night, so had no great inclination to drag myself along to the ski-centre café for this morning's informal church meeting - especially since it now costs a couple of quid to park there. So instead I took the morning nice and easily, until it was time to leave for our unofficial departmental Christmas lunch out at the Jaipur Indian restaurant. Shame on most of our colleagues though, with only Tim, Jon and me coming along from CES, plus David as an honorary member for the day, at a loose end this Dawn-less weekend. It's a shame that the reorganisation of our department seems to have had such a detrimental affect on our feeling of being a team. Yes, we received a few apologies from people who'd have liked to have come along but weren't around this weekend, but on the whole, no-one really seemed to care less. But our little table had a splendid time and had plenty to eat from the buffet selection on offer, so no complaints on the day really! Yum yum!

Review of 2002 is now complete, though I'm not going to post it in my diary until nearer the new year, just in case there are any last-minute happenings worthy of note. Well, I can live in hope, can't I?

Hmm, not too bad a day at work today, to start off the last full week before Christmas. A few more things duly ticked off on the list of things I need to do on the microprocessor simulation software, anyway! Getting a little bit cross about the as-yet-undelivered stuff I've ordered for my parents over the internet, with the company involved ignoring my email a week on from when they took the order and debited my Switch card. I hear tell their service in that regard is lousy, so I'm not holding out a great deal of hope of getting the goods before Christmas, even though they optimistically insist "last orders" day is the 20th! But it'll be time to head home very soon, and I'm round for tea at my friend Sarah's for the first time in quite a while, so I won't be hanging around here a moment longer than I need to! Bye bye for now, then...

Today's being a bit more tedious than yesterday - well, at least since my boss Jon popped round to drop off QA's comments on the very dull CD-ROM I'd been working on before I managed to revive the microprocessor simulation project. Lots of itty bitty problems for me to sort out, and of course zero time - and still less inclination - to do so. Ah, Jon just called by again, and it seems the timescale on this is pretty tight, so perhaps I'll be able to wave goodbye to it once again before the day is out. Still no sign of a delivery from - or any reply to my emails to - the company I'm waiting for that stuff from, but I'll give them at least one more day before I start laying into them too much.

Went into the city centre this evening to hopefully finish off my Christmas shopping. Not a terribly imaginative haul this year altogether, but it's all better than nothing, and I'm vaguely looking forward to Christmas now! Just demolished a pizza, garlic bread and plenty of salad, and now about to go and have a bath, probably with Jackie Pullinger-To's Chasing The Dragon to keep me company now that I've finally finished reading the excellent Run Baby Run.

Chasing The Dragon isn't quite as unputdownable as Run Baby Run, but I still got through a couple of chapters of it last night. I'm trying to get into the habit of reading a bit before I go to sleep - it doesn't necessarily mean I go to sleep any later, because if anything I get to sleep more easily having done so. Perhaps there's good reason for children not normally being discouraged from reading in bed, if it helps with subsequently more settled sleep - and there's no reason why that shouldn't apply to grown-ups too.

In other news, with still no sign of the stuff I had ordered for my parents or any replies to my emails, I phoned the company in question this morning. It turns out that they only received stock yesterday, and the outstanding orders were sent out last night. That still means there was a week's delay between my Switch card being debited and the goods being dispatched, which is not strictly supposed to happen as I understand it, but in the meantime I'll just look forward to receiving a nice big parcel within the next couple of days...

Step back in amazement, shock horror, etc - unless someone just happens to be sending me an unsolicited parcel via Omega Express, they tried to deliver my ordered stuff today! Sadly Omega don't seem to provide their drivers with proper non-delivery notes given that the largely-misspelt information was scrawled on an approximate square of card torn from some important-looking document, but that's not bad going really. Of course, by the time I was home and had managed to phone the depot they were about to close, so it wasn't possible to go and collect my package this evening, but I'm sure I'll get a chance to go tomorrow. Then all my Christmas shopping will be complete and in my possession. Tonight though, I'd better get on with wrapping other presents and writing Christmas cards 'cos I'm not going to get many other opportunities!

Oh, and in other good news today, it seems that the Milton Keynes shopping centre management have at last decided to do the decent thing and turn off the promotional searchlight that's been light-polluting the night skies for the last few months. Thanks to a legal loophole they got around needing planning permission, and have already apparently overrun the original time period the searchlight was going to operate for. Anyway, as someone who responded to their recent request for comments, I've just received an email from the management explaining that they have decided to turn the searchlight off on Christmas Eve, pending a decision early in the new year as to whether to continue in the longer term to undo all the sterling work done in cutting down the light pollution in Milton Keynes over the last few years. I just hope they will see sense and realise that the searchlight is not a particularly sensible way to advertise a "city" that can hardly be missed even if you try.

Just realised, having written most of my cards and popped out to the post box and hand-delivered a few, and having spent a fair while this evening chatting to my mum on the phone, that I've not had any tea! I think I will have some toast or something before I call it a day though, 'cos I am a bit peckish now!

Last day at work for me too today, but it's not getting off to a brilliant start, waking up with a decided sniffle and a splitting headache. The latter is almost certainly thanks to a streetful of cars' deep throbbing as they idle while their owners de-ice them. But nevertheless I'd better be getting up, dressed, breakfasted and on my way to the office, little as I may feel like it!

My earlier headache and sniffles seem to have subsided, happily to say, so maybe I will go along to my colleague Will's pre-Christmas gathering this evening - especially since Tim has kindly volunteered to drive, going straight from work. Yes, I had been intending to go anyway, but early this morning I felt like doing very little less. Must find something to contribute, though - not sure whether to persuade Tim to drive by my flat so I can pick up a bottle of wine, or get some nibbles of some description from the shop here. That means I won't be able to collect the present for my parents this evening, but I'm taking tomorrow off, so will be able to go to the depot then sometime.

I see the next phase of the real-life enactment of the 1998 film The Siege has happened today, with the arrest in the Los Angeles area of up to 700 nationals of mainly Muslim countries. I'm trying to remember what happened next in the film plot, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the beginning of the happy ending.

I'm pleased to say that I did make it to Will's party in the end, and had a very good time - and was very glad to leave the driving to Bedford to Tim, who had been there before! It was quite a low key party really, which suited me just fine, but there was plenty of food and drink contributed by everyone and the company and conversation were top notch. Even the various kids - Will's and Ruth's, as well as various guests' - were a lot of fun, ranging from about one-and-a-half upwards and generally pure trouble. Tim, Matt and I didn't leave too late, and were home soon after ten, but I really don't care too much now because I've finished at work until the new year! Christmas is a-coming, and I actually am now more or less looking forward to it! Hooray!

Ooh, it's so nice not to have to rush to get up - even if I did get a phone call at eight o'clock this morning, assuming they would catch me just before I went to work... I suppose I'd better vaguely make moves towards getting up and getting on with the whole stack of stuff that needs doing, though!

Well not only am I up, bathed and dressed, but I've been into Bletchley to get my hair cut - yes, David, that barber - and buy a few last-minute necessities as well as collect the present for my parents from the nearby Securicor-Omega depot. I very nearly didn't make it there though, almost being flattened by one of their visually-challenged lorry drivers leaving the TK Maxx warehouse just along the road from it. My parents' present seems to be in good order, and is big, heavy and thankfully provided with a carrying handle! Anyway, I've got lots more to do today, so I'd better be getting on with it I guess!

Presents all wrapped, cards all written - oops, except one, just remembered!

That was an altogether reasonably pleasant evening, an "early Christmas" chez Sarah, with our friend Margaret there too. I was dreading it for reasons I won't go into but that some people may guess, but it was fine in the end, even if all three girls were decidedly hyper about the whole thing. Back home now though, and winding down with another glass or three of wine, though I need to be up in reasonable time tomorrow morning to take the mob to the station.

Did everyone forget I was going away for Christmas? Heh, not all of you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a few might have. But I'm back now, and to make up for the silence of the last week, here's what's been going on, briefly...

Saturday 21st

I left Milton Keynes after having a bite for lunch and arrived at the holiday cottage my parents had rented just outside Ross-on-Wye at about four o'clock. It was a damp and generally mucky journey, and my attempts to navigate without a map weren't entirely successful - especially around Witney, where the art of signposting seems not yet to have reached. All was soon forgotten once I arrived at the cottage in Hom Green, a one-time village school, now converted into a rather lovely dwelling with all mod cons and a spiral staircase leading up to the two quite spacious bedrooms. Mum and Dad had arrived the night before, but the open fire was already lit and the owners had decorated a lovely tree - yes, pagan symbols, Alexis, but I happen to like them anyway! - and we had fish and chips for tea and watched Billy Elliot on video in the evening.

Sunday 22nd

I can't say I got the best night's sleep ever - sometimes unusual surroundings help me, but not especially in this case - though I still got plenty of sleep, even if I was a little slow climbing out of bed come the morning. When we were all finally ready, I drove us out to the Forest of Dean, where we went for a short stroll around a sculpture trail. Mum did her leg in not so long ago so wasn't really up to doing too much, but it was nice to get out while the weather was unusually good, and after a barbecue lunch there - with the main café fully booked for Christmas dinners! - we drove on to Pete and Kim's house in Gloucester. I never tire of meeting Kim, and I feel sure that my brother Pete has landed with both feet on the ground this time, after the disaster of last time round. It was lovely to see them both, but we left in reasonable time after tea and sorting out a little problem with their computer after the cable internet installation bloke had messed it up the other day, and spent the evening watching a documentary about Björk.

Monday 23rd

Christmas itself still seemed a way off, and as I went down with a sore throat, later to turn into quite a cold, it seemed an altogether rather miserable time. Nevertheless, we went to visit my sister Ali and family in the afternoon, Dad doing the driving this time. This was the first time we had been to her new house, down a very bumpy lane outside Madley near Hereford, so I was quite happy for someone else to do the driving, and I'm not sure I'd have coped with the journey home, being quite busy and no-one understanding how to dip their headlights. But it was a lovely time there anyway, with posh soup for lunch - as indeed we'd had at Pete and Kim's for tea the day before. It wasn't our "Christmas" though - that was to take place on Boxing Day - so we didn't stay very late, before returning home for a curry and a Rowan Williams documentary.

Tuesday 24th - Christmas Eve

My cold was worse by Tuesday - thankfully I didn't seem to have given it to anyone else, trying hard not to be contagious, especially with the children! - so this ended up my "day off". Mum and Dad went for a walk somewhere or other but I was happy to stay in the warm and browse the shelves of books so typical of holiday cottages! At one point the owner popped round, keen to talk with Mum since it turned out they shared a good deal of childhood history, but she agreed to return on Christmas day once back from church - with her husband to help get the fire going again, since we'd been struggling somewhat. Mum and Dad weren't back very late - there not really being a lot of daylight - and in the evening we got a few final presents wrapped for Ali and the children, had pizza and salad for tea and passed the rest of the day playing Scrabble.

Wednesday 25th - Christmas Day

We were all up in fair time on Christmas Day itself, though it was a pretty uninspiring morning for doing anything much. But since Heather and Graham were going to pop round it didn't bother us too much, partaking with us of sherry, ginger wine and biscuits, as well as getting that fire going. We had lunch at about two o'clock, as planned, which ended up just about perfect. Mum had found a turkey joint, which was ideal, with no waste and no legacy of turkey sandwiches for the rest of eternity. We put a few things in to soak and decided the weather was good enough to go and take a stroll round where Dad had briefly nosed earlier. We were back at about four o'clock, which left plenty of time to do the washing up and open our presents before Chicken Run was on the television. To add to the HMV vouchers from Pete and Kim I was very pleased indeed to get an electric toothbrush and a few other useful bits and pieces from Mum and Dad. They in turn were rather fascinated - as I hope they will continue to be - with their "photographic atlas" of England, which I'd had so much trouble getting as regular diary readers will be well aware! The evening was spent watching the tail end of a documentary about the Queen - very interesting indeed - and the surprisingly good Only Fools and Horses special.

Thursday 26th - Boxing Day

The week was coming to a close, but we still had our second trip to Madley to make, and ended up spending most of the day there. The younger children seemed most pleased with their craft kits and gift vouchers, and the older ones weren't too disappointed with their money. Ali's gifts were practical - a doormat and an alarm clock - but both very gratefully received! To add to my really quite inspired haul of presents were a couple of lovely bath sheets, so I can finally pension off some of the rather tatty older and smaller towels I've been struggling on with for the last few years! Lunch was wonderful - a vegetarian roast, based around Quorn which really was impossible to distinguish from chicken or turkey. I watched Ice Age on video with the younger children, but I have to say it wasn't a patch on Shrek or Monsters, Inc. really. We stayed for a light tea, but left early evening - I was driving and didn't fancy being out too late, even if it was quiet on the roads. I gave my toothbrush a try, but wasn't immediately too impressed - but since it was better this morning, I suspect it hadn't quite charged up properly.

Friday 27th

So today was going home day, and we were up, packed and ready to go in pretty good time this morning. However, we'd agreed we'd drop in for a little while on Heather next door, so that she and Mum in particular could continue their reminiscing, given that they both quite coincidentally used to go to the same school, and had many similar circumstances and shared memories. We didn't get away too late though, and as we went our separate ways it seems we didn't have too difficult journeys home. The only downer is that I was looking forward to a long, hot bath upon my return, but of course I'd switched the Economy 7 water heater off so that might just have to wait until tomorrow morning now I guess. Oh, and I forgot it was Friday and not Boxing Day, and upon finding my ISP wasn't working because of a denial-of-service attack over Christmas, promptly clocked up about three pounds on my mobile internet connection, hey ho...

Meanwhile back to reality with a bump, and it's Friday night, which means it's going-to-Tesco night! Especially now that I've finally sorted out my little lunch not-a-date for tomorrow, hopefully.

See you in a bit, perhaps..?

Tesco was nice and quiet as expected, though they were a little low on stock of some staple things like fresh bread and milk - though oddly not the medium sliced wholemeal bread for once. One of the more comparatively exciting things I bought was a shaver adapter plug for my electric toothbrush, though it doesn't seem to make very good contact so it may well have to go back to Tesco next time I'm there, alas. Not going anywhere else this evening now, so enjoying a glass or two of wine and looking forward to a fairly early night. Especially since I will need to be up in good time tomorrow if I am to tidy this flat and make a suitably good impression with my lunchtime visitor!

The jury is still out on just what kind of Christmas this has been. It's very definitely not been a bad one, though obviously it was not all that it might have been had fate smiled differently. That I managed to live under the same roof as my parents and - apart from when I was unwell on Christmas Eve - do the same things from day to day as they did, was a major achievement. Perhaps that was partly down to the space we had, given that the last time we did anything similar was two years ago when we were based in a small and extremely cold caravan! A few things reminded me of happier times earlier in the year, with Fern sometimes doing a remarkably good impression of Jess, and Holly showing decidedly Jo-like mannerisms, despite being almost five years her senior. But although they may have reminded me, it didn't depress me too much, and perhaps just reassured me that although everyone is ultimately unique, no individual trait is, really, and some are more common than we realise!

Hark, I believe I hear the jury have now finally come to decision, and they have declared this to have been a good Christmas. I tend to agree.

Despite getting up at nine o'clock as planned, important subsequent bits such as getting dressed, having breakfast and making at least a token effort to get the flat at least a little bit tidy, are yet to happen. I did manage to enjoy my long awaited lovely hot bath, though, so it hasn't been a complete disaster of a morning so far. Oh, and in the bath this morning I started reading The Street Children of Brazil, an autobiographical account of former BBC producer Sarah de Carvalho's missionary work. It's the last book in the set of three I bought a couple of years back, and so far is proving just as gripping reading as Run Baby Run and Chasing The Dragon. I feel there could be something in all this for me, but quite what I am not yet entirely sure. But I sense it.

After all that rush to get the place tidied and cleaned, Sarah, who's visiting for the first time today, is running rather late thanks to delays on the M1. According to the last traffic bulletin on Radio 5 there's been a big accident between junctions 8 and 9 northbound, so I'm not holding out much hope for her to get here too soon. And then we'll have to decide where to go for lunch - though I have a hunch Ask in the snowdome will meet with Sarah's approval!

Sarah was about an hour late in the end, but once she'd checked her Hotmail email it meant we missed the worst of the lunchtime rush at Ask, which did indeed meet with her approval. Once we'd moved my car to one of the few other remaining short-stay free parking areas we had a bit of a browse around the Central Milton Keynes shops, with Sarah particularly keen to get a certain Saw Doctors CD and the Rough Guide to Britain. The latter we eventually managed at Smiths, but the former Sarah ordered over the web once we were back here - her own internet connection being up the shoot. Toast for tea and a good natter about life, the universe and everything, then it was high time Sarah was on her way home - hopefully much more quickly than her hellish journey up... So it was late getting started, but an altogether pretty excellent day!

Meanwhile, I wonder if the other Sarah's back from her break in Aberdeen yet? I was half expecting a phone call or text message hoping for a lift from the railway station, but none arrived, so I hope they're back safely already...

Sunday morning, life returns to mundane normality.

I have just realised a truth I'd almost forgotten in the last year or more. I have been a victim of one of Satan's biggest lies, and I literally thank God for releasing me from it at this time, overwhelmingly convincing me that the reality is very different from the illusion I've been conned by. I shouldn't say any more, but feel this could well mark the start of better times, as I enter a new year in which my sole resolution is to forget the one just gone.

Anyway, so that I can duly forget 2002 when Big Ben bongs on Tuesday night, I suppose I'd better be posting that review of this pretty miserable year...

My reviews of the year seem to have become a bit of an institution, with people commenting that they find it very hard to keep up with my day-to-day drivel but that these annual summaries are most helpful! So I'll keep with tradition, OK?

Let's be blunt, 2002 really has not been a great year, although it started off decidedly reasonably. In my review of 2001 I suspected that my relationship with Claire was going to be a pretty major part of this year's summary, and in a way it will be, but sadly not in quite the way that people may have hoped. Other things have happened this year, but the rise and subsequent catastrophic fall of that relationship overshadowed everything else, I'm afraid to say.

So yes, 2002 started off absolutely great, as indeed 2001 had ended, with ever more frequent trips being made up and down the motorway between Burnham and Milton Keynes, and our relationship strengthening by the day. Claire's little girl Jessica warmed to me as time went on, though that aspect was never quite as good as it should have been, and when Jessica did from time to time show resentment at my presence, it often hurt more than I was able to bear. Claire insisted that Jessica was just going to have to learn to like and to respect me, and that I shouldn't take her outbursts too seriously. However, I knew from the start that Jessica could well make or break things between us, and that was an awful lot of pressure for a six-year-old to be subjected to. In the meantime though, Claire and I enjoyed a couple of days away in the New Forest, where we got to know each other a lot better and fairly swiftly decided we were right for each other and that we should get engaged and married.

There was a bit of faffing to get the right engagement ring, but we got there in the end, and we announced the decision to our respective parents, who all took the news with very little surprise. Jessica wasn't terribly impressed to start with - she insisted that Claire should instead marry her natural father - but she got used to the idea fairly quickly, a week later deciding she would be a bridesmaid after all. We met with Olivia the vicar to discuss the wedding arrangements, but by then something deep down had seriously changed between the two of us that wasn't at all positive, and the rot really started to set in.

I won't go into the exact details of what happened, because this is supposed to be a summary, not a blow-by-blow account, but unhappiness welled up in both of us over the coming weeks. Sometimes it was blindingly obvious, other times we did our best to hide it from each other, but the tell-tale signs were there nonetheless. So it was that a few days before Claire's birthday, she drove up to Milton Keynes to deliver the news that the engagement was off and that she couldn't possibly marry me. All in all, she was probably right, and given how I'd been feeling over the previous few weeks I can't say I objected. For both of us it was the most we felt we'd ever been loved romantically, and we both got rather carried away with it I guess. Claire needed it more than I did, perhaps, but we were both as weak and mutually gullible at the end of the day.

That's why I bear no resentment towards Claire, only towards the situation that arose against our better judgement. I hate what happened, but in so doing I would have to criticise myself just as much as Claire. Indeed I would probably have to criticise myself more, since I had no excuse for maintaining my side of the lie. I have only pity for Claire and for poor Jessica, and the fear that without great care, this sorry pattern of events could well repeat itself for them. Yes, there's more to it all than I am prepared to share here, but that's what some would call the executive summary of what happened earlier in the year - though the knock-on effects still last to this day, strong as ever.

I've not had much luck since, relationship-wise. Although it wasn't Claire's fault, what happened left me untrusting of people's motives and very cynical about my own chances of finding happiness of that kind. So perhaps it's right that for the moment I just chill and take stock of the situation, and hope that maybe in a few months, years or whatever is necessary to heal the wounds, I might - whether with an existing friend or someone else - get back on track.

The next bad news of the year came just after my birthday in May, when my Mum phoned to tell me my uncle Tim had suffered a heart attack and died. Tim was a little younger than my Mum, but had in the last few years remarried with a much younger lady by the name of Jo, and successfully started a new family. It was most odd to go to the funeral just outside Nottingham and for the first time meet my new aunt - not that she likes to think of herself that way, as indeed was the case with Tim's previous wife funnily enough - and my little cousin Hannah. The overwhelming realisation though was that with all my grandparents now gone, the sands of time have started to erode at my parents' generation. I kept my composure most of the time, but when invited by the priest to sprinkle holy water on Tim's coffin, that blew it for me, and rare tears flooded down my cheeks. In better family news, my brother's divorce has finally gone through, and he recently announced his engagement to his delightful new partner Kim!

Work declined dramatically over the course of the year. After my engagement to Claire I informally announced to my boss that I wasn't likely to be staying at the Open University any longer than I needed to. Fairly understandably he was therefore not too keen to assign any particularly substantial programming projects to me, so I accepted getting some rather bitty and tedious dog-ends to do as a price worth paying for better things to come. But when all that fell through, I was still stuck with the lousy work and no escape route any longer. Thankfully I did get one interesting project assigned to me, which I managed to concentrate on over the summer in particular - and have recently returned to - but that was about all I could really say was positive about this year at work. I've not even managed a proper holiday as such; for the last few years I have used up a big chunk of my annual leave in September, but the anticipated workload was such that I couldn't this year. In the end, however, the promised work never really materialised, which was even more of a kick in the teeth.

To say I had no holiday at all this year would be a lie, though, but what I managed wasn't really to be much of a break, alas. Last year I spent a fairly successful week in Newquay, Cornwall, with my friend Sarah and family, and after my disappointment in the spring this year, Sarah's dad and step-mum there insisted I should go down again during the summer. At the time it seemed a good opportunity to get away from it all for a few days, with the change of scene and sea air likely to do me the world of good. In the end though, the week was an utter disaster, and I very nearly lost some of the best friends I have. I've certainly decided never to make that particular trip again, so please remind me forcefully should I ever appear to be going back on my word. Oh, and I also managed to get to the Greenbelt Christian festival in August, for the first time. It was OK, but I'm not sure I'll rush to go again, and it was an emotionally difficult time thanks to agreeing to meet up with Claire's friend Jenny and family and friends there, which perhaps in retrospect wasn't such an entirely brilliant idea, reminding all of us too much of happier times. Christmas was good though, spent with my parents at a holiday cottage in rural Herefordshire, at a manageable driving distance from my brother and sister.

In August, my housemate Mark finally did what he'd been "threatening" to do for a long time, and moved abroad to take up a senior teaching post in the United Arab Emirates. Mark was keen to rent out the house properly, so Matt and I both had to seek alternative accommodation. As it happened, we both ended up in Walnut Tree, a relatively recent development towards the south-east of Milton Keynes. Matt's sharing a flat with a friend, and I'm renting a studio flat - and although it's small, I like it a lot and the location is quiet and great for walking into work, as I have done every day since I moved! It took me a couple of months to get sufficiently organised, but in October I finally threw a flat-warming party, though with generally lousy weather we couldn't make the use of the patio that I'd hoped, so it was a bit of a sardine job!

Church has been a mixed bag to be honest. I don't regret leaving MKCF last year, but I'm still not sure if the Vineyard is the right place for me. It's just little things that have irked me through this year, but they all combine to make me feel unsettled and not particularly a part of what's happening. I think it was about at the beginning of the year that I was invited to jointly lead one of the Open House groups, which I said I would think about, so it was rather a shock when my "decision" was publicly announced at a Sunday meeting. Needless to say, when my engagement with Claire got called off, I was in no fit state to lead, so my tenure was very short in the end. I also took a much needed break from the worship music team, which came at a bad time with other key people having to do similarly for other reasons. I guess in a way I did leave them in the lurch, but it was by no means the way I'd liked it to have been, and if assumptions hadn't been made about my willingness to get involved so much in the first place, it might have been avoided. As it is, I've now largely been sidelined, and feel out of the loop with regards to much of what's going on within the church. Most ironic, given that one of the key things I had genuinely agreed to help with was communication, with no suggestions I have subsequently made in that regard being taken particularly seriously, alas. The Vineyard people are a lovely bunch, but I really doubt I'll stay much longer, especially now their main meetings are far away on the other side of town.

I think that's just about everything that's happened. To a large extent I feel I've merely "existed" this year; let's just hope that December 2003 can witness me reporting back rather more enthusiastically about the year gone by!

Anyway, today's been a disgustingly lazy day, and I'm about to call it to a close. There's only two days left to this largely forgettable year, thank goodness - and I might well mainly be just as lazy for both of them too.

It's Monday, and so far so good for another lazy day. The rain lashing down outside is quite enough to convince me that I'm doing just the right thing!

It's late Monday afternoon, and I've just finished reading The Street Children of Brazil. Perhaps it was having a friend who is doing much the same kind of work that particularly kept my attention and let me plough through the book in a mere two days. Or maybe it was something else - or a combination of things.

A little while ago I found myself again looking down the listings on one of the better of the Christian singles websites I belong to. And once again I stopped short of going through its entire "match list" for me. The site in question had just sent me an email wishing me a happy new year and reminding me to log on at least monthly in order to ensure my profile is kept on line. But I'm beginning to wonder if I should ask to be taken off anyway, because the more I use the service and others like it, the more I realise just how obscene they are. Now I first contacted Claire via a rather more low-tech singles website - sadly now as defunct as our relationship - but at least that was one where people could post a reasonably unrestricted advertisement, and prospective partners could enquire or otherwise on the basis of that. But today's site, despite being one of the more friendly ones from my experience, is little more than a meat market. When searching, you tell it the age range of your "ideal partner" from its preselected options, and optionally what kind of looks and education you're most interested in. Then it rattles off a list of several hundred candidates, with their age range, town and percentage match with those contrived search criteria. Some perfectly lovely people will be overlooked simply because they live in the wrong town, or their name is in capitals. Some have photographs attached, an icon appearing on the main listing if so. Most without a photo won't even get looked at - the website implies as much and it's certainly the case in practice. Many of those with photos have either had make-overs so you know they're a lie, or they're passport photos that make them look as scary as Myra Hindley's infamous mugshot - as indeed do some of the professional ones, ironically. But ultimately the casual browser can do little more than skim read that list of hundreds of people's names, locations and percentage "scores", in the hope of finding their perfect life partner. Am I the only person who finds that whole concept thoroughly degrading? If God had someone lined up for us like that, wouldn't he have shown them to us by guiding a pin in the telephone directory? At least that way we'd have their number...

On the other hand, as Christians we're a bit pickier about who we choose. Now I'm sure all the non-Christians will jump on me and complain at that blatant sweeping generalisation, but I'm afraid it is basically true - and pretty much out of necessity, since we are advised by the Bible itself not to be unequally yoked. And since we are pickier, we need every bit of help we can get, and in openly acknowledging that fact, we often do have to look beyond our immediate church congregations and local establishments - and the web can play a very useful role. But when picking a partner for life becomes no more thoughtful a process than browsing the latest book and CD releases on Amazon, something surely isn't quite right? What can be done about it, though? Any ideas..?

CNN are running one of those "quick polls" so typical of news websites.

It asks visitors: What is most important for you in 2003?

The current response percentages are:-

  • Health: 46%
  • Wealth: 16%
  • World peace: 38%

I'm somewhat gratified that the "world peace" option is doing that well, but I am still disappointed it's not top. Is this really the selfish world we live in, where people are more concerned about their own perfect well-being while our leaders plot to murder many thousands who have no say in the matter? Still, at least wealth features low down - perhaps there is a little hope left.

Percentages are now 49, 15 and 36 for those options, even worse than before.

Of course, as the small-print disclaimer says:

This QuickVote is not scientific and reflects the opinions of only those Internet users who have chosen to participate. The results cannot be assumed to represent the opinions of Internet users in general, nor the public as a whole.

But it's still deeply worrying, and when was the last time our leaders acted on the basis of proven fact in deciding who to bomb the stuffing out of? Not that any government is going to use a mere CNN poll to decide whether to nuke Iraq or not, but the evidence they do use is ultimately no more reliable.

Hey ho, tonight's party plans have - as I rather suspected they might, and not just because of my general level of cynicism - fallen through. Now, do I try and seek out seasonal revelling elsewhere, or just have a quiet night in? I know which of those two I'm leaning towards, and I may have no choice about it!

That's my whole year summed up in a day, really, isn't it? I think I'm going to go back to bed for a bit and just pretend it's not happening.

Mind you, Christmas was definitely one of the better bits of the year, so if I'm really right about that analogy, something or someone I've been overly cynical or depressive about should save today at the very last minute, right?

Yes, you're quite right - my going-back-to-bed bit really didn't work out, now did it? I did try, but my mind's buzzing this evening, perhaps reminiscing of a year previously when everything was just so flippin' improbably perfect. No, I emphatically am not bitter, and I don't ponder the "what ifs" even for a split second - I know it wasn't right and I remain glad to have been released from it when I was - but it doesn't make tonight any easier to fight through. It's the first new year's eve I've spent on my own for five years, and with not even the predictably lousy television schedule to keep me company like in 1997. The only good thing about today has been having one of those microwave curries in a sachet for tea, which was decidedly yummy. Analogies always break down in the detail, so I think I'll just tank myself up and be done with it.

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