goznet ...

David's diary: November 2002

I must get out of the habit of "just quickly checking my email" before I leave for work in the morning. Never, ever, in the history of the internet has there truly been such a thing as "just quickly checking one's email", now has there? Especially when it takes another ten minutes for me to reconfigure my diary scripts to take account of it now being November rather than October...

Now, why didn't I think of that earlier yesterday evening? I could easily have watched another of the three Dune mini-series DVDs Sam lent me, and had a good excuse to have the lights off - and consequently appear to be out - when the trick-or-treating was at its peak. Instead, by the time I thought of it, most had clearly gone to bed. Still, apparently there's a more organised party tonight, which means there could be yet more trick-or-treating, in which case the two remaining DVDs would fill the time rather perfectly!

Had two phone calls this evening I really didn't want, but it was just as well I had, and I appreciated in the end really. Thanks, Mum and Sarah. Stars.

Well, not having too busy a weekend schedule after all, meant I was able to get a much needed lie-in - and with the help of my wonderful mask, managed to sustain it until almost eleven o'clock! But now I've just had a message from David asking if I can give him a lift to Halfords at some point, and I think Darren will be wanting to "do lunch" or similar later too, so perhaps I should be making moves towards at least procrastinating about getting up properly!

Oh, and I did indeed finish watching Dune last night, in between the various phone calls already mentioned. And I have to say it was really quite good, as a relatively low-budget adaptation of Frank Herbert's original epic story - and definitely more faithful than the lavish film version, without dragging much. Though, rather like Lord of the Rings, there's no avoiding the fact that well over four hours is rather a long time no matter how good it is!

OK, that's the Halfords trip done - with one tyre and two inner-tubes safely purchased - and now I'm microwaving myself my lunch. Yes, I did tell David I was going to eat before we went out, but time just caught up with me a little earlier... Chicken in black bean sauce is always worth waiting for though!

Tesco was utter hell on earth this afternoon. One shopper suggested to me that the end of the world had just been announced. Even the cashiers had no idea why it was so incredibly busy, but it reflected the pattern across the town. Might have helped if they'd had all the tills open, but I gather they've got a recruitment crisis at the moment, so I'm prepared to believe they were doing all they could. Still, on the brighter side, the customer service desk had a record of my mislaid handwash from last week, so I got that replaced free of charge, and had at least a little bit of my faith in humanity restored.

At least today is working out to be reasonably busy in a healthy kind of way. In a few minutes I'm off out for a pizza with Darren, now that I've emailed a few people I've rather neglected and made arrangements for visiting tomorrow's free fireworks display in Campbell Park. That should be good fun, meeting up with Darren, Sam and Tim - just hope the weather's better than it is tonight!

Mmm, the pizza was fantastic, as was the service - in more ways than one, dare I say! Returned home to find the estate being transformed into a war-zone, which wasn't so great, but I think the cluster bombs have largely stopped now and peace can descend once again - perhaps even for another year, with luck...

Though of course there's still the 5th itself to come, but hopefully by virtue of falling well away from the weekend it might be a bit quieter than tonight..?

Considering that really wasn't too brilliant a night's sleep, I'm up and about - if not exactly in a fit state to face the day quite yet - way too early for a Sunday morning. Looks an unusually nice day outside though, so methinks I'll aim to make the most of it, one way or another. And the weather forecast looks really quite reasonable for this evening, which should be ideal for the big fireworks display up at Campbell Park later - and we should have a decent car-load of people for that, all being well!

Hmm, tonight's crowd is now potentially too big for a car-load, but I'll be quite happy to share the driving if need be, so everything should work out all right. Communication will be key, though, or it could still go horribly wrong.

Ultimately, the more the merrier!

Mmm, Orangina Rouge... Previously not sold in Tesco, but it is now. I am doomed, I tell you! And I don't normally particularly like juice with "bits" in. It's probably better for me than wine, however, although it might be best not to let myself get too addicted to the stuff, given that it does contain guarana, a natural stimulant. Hmm yes, I knew there was a good reason why Rachael shouldn't really have been allowed any at my flat-warming party, quite apart from the fact that much of it ended up on the floor... I can blame Sam - who brought it along and so first introduced it to me - for that momentary lapse of judgement, though, especially since he's now being a misery-guts and has decided to stay in this evening and do sad on-line role playing rather than come and freeze his extremities off watching the fireworks with the rest of us!

The fireworks were suitably splendid, as was the company, on the whole. Not much too fancy on the pyrotechnics front, but within reason it's one time that quantity beats quality, and it lasted a good half hour non-stop. Considering that publicity had been next to non-existent, there was a good crowd, and obviously they'd made a fair bit of money on the fun-fair that finances it all. Our position wasn't too brilliant, but we saw it all anyway, and we were well placed for a quick getaway afterwards. As for who made in the end? Well my immediate party eventually comprised Tim, Darren and myself, and we met up at Sarah's place with Sarah, Laura and Rachael plus three of Sarah's friends, so there was a fair bunch of us to walk up to Campbell Park. Having safely deposited Sarah and co back at home, Tim, Darren and I wandered down to the Barge for a pint, which wrapped up a rather good evening very well indeed!

I'd been fine today up until now, but I can sense myself slipping again, for reasons completely unknown to me. There's things I need a lot more, but right now I simply need a diversion of some kind - and I think I know what will do.

That seemed to work, happily to say - namely watching the remaining extras on Sam's Dune DVDs, well over an hour's worth of them. I now feel reasonably relaxed and on top of things for the moment, but I'm going to have a bath and call it a day before I have the chance for any relapses, methinks.

I've just been accused of having "gone all radical lately". I must say, I'm rather flattered, but there has been no policy shift on my part whatsoever. I have always been on the side of justice, fairness, openness and honesty, so don't really consider it "radical" in the least to call into question so much of what's currently going so very wrong in the world. Much of it, sad to say, at the hands of the corrupt and unelected US administration, trying to drag the rest of the world - starting with our own Mr Blair - down with it. Is it so very "radical" to question the motivations behind the military onslaughts against Afghanistan and Iraq, the hypocrisy surrounding policy towards North Korea compared with that towards Iraq, or the continuing voting scandal that saw the most despotic western government ever, perhaps, assume power at all?

And I suppose one of the things that upsets me most in personal terms is that all this is done to pursue some kind of claimed Christian agenda. "Dubya" professes to be a born again Christian, yet shows little sign of turning the other cheek, and of course as state governor directly entered Texas into the record books for its sheer quantity of state-sponsored murder. Still more disturbingly, his fellow so-called Christians are justifying the possibility of stepped-up hostilities against Iraq on the basis that they are needed in order to fulfil prophecy and herald the return of Christ - at whatever obscene level of innocent human cost. Nothing to do with unproven alleged involvement in terrorism or anything even faintly concrete, yet also plainly nothing to do with a faith that clearly teaches that we "do not know the hour" of the Lord's return, so presumably can do nothing in our own power to hasten it. That these people claim the same faith as me, I find despicable in the extreme. I don't see why I should feel ashamed to be a Christian, but I am ashamed that the world at large should potentially bunch me with these heartless ignorant zealots and their quite possibly Antichrist president of a moral leader.

It's looking like the US mid-term elections have swung sufficiently in favour of the Republicans that they have overall control - if only by a whisker. A resounding seal of approval for Mr Bush and his policies, or a dark day indeed for democracy and the security of the world at large? Or does it actually barely matter at all, under current circumstances? You choose for yourself.

Pizza and garlic bread are but about ten minutes away - and the closest thing I have in the flat to "comfort food". Hey, I'm having salad too; did you know that salad actually cancels out the effect of pizza, healthwise? No, nor did I - I'm making it up to try and justify this sheer hedonism.

Finally finished my first litre bottle of Orangina Rouge. Lovely though it is, maybe I'm not addicted to it quite yet after all! Anyway, having paid a load of bills - including council tax, a few days overdue, and electricity - and had a nice relaxing bath, I'm going to aim for an early night tonight...

For all the good that did... Despite a good night's sleep I am still utterly exhausted this morning, so with a decided sniffle on top of that, I've taken the executive decision to give work a miss today - and return to bed forthwith.

Then proceeded to sleep more or less solidly through 'til almost one o'clock. I definitely needed that - I can't even sleep like that at a weekend, normally. Had some brunch and watched a DVD from bed, but I think I'm going to try and get some more sleep now, because I'm still shattered. I very much doubt I'll be making it to the Open House social this evening - I probably shouldn't even if I physically could - so had better fire off an email to Jam and Simon before I return to the cosiness of my duvet for a while longer.

Didn't get any more sleep to speak of, and although I'm still physically very weary my mind is much more alert than before, so I might as well get up and do things for a little while at least. I'm pretty sure that if I can get a good night's sleep tonight, I'll be more or less fine for tomorrow, Friday, but I'm not going to push things unnecessarily. I've had some pretty strange - but somehow encouraging - dreams over the last few hours, though dreams sometimes just reflect our desires or are just plain nonsense, even if I have had direct experience of premonitive ones. It's odd though, when credible names get dropped in that I've never heard before yet remember vividly - not that Google or FriendsReunited turned up anything significant during a brief look now.

P2OG.

Now there's something I expect we'll be hearing more about in the future.

Just for the record, like.

Why not Google for it?

Back at work today, but email's been down for the last 24 hours, apparently, so no-one actually received my message yesterday explaining my absence. Not that anyone is likely to be particularly bothered, but hey. I'm feeling reasonable, after a patchy but ultimately not too disturbed night's sleep, and I have only today to get through before it's the weekend once again - and I've not got a great deal planned, which is probably just as well.

Sunday morning, however, will see the first of the Vineyard's new-look Sunday morning - oddly enough! - meetings at Denbigh School, which should be interesting for many reasons. Completely new venue and meeting time, and I dare say there might be some changes to the format too. It'll be a bit of a trek, especially when the meetings are stepped up to two per month as is planned from December, but I'll see how I go in that regard.

It's looking like my relaxing weekend is falling apart as I speak, but hopefully it still needn't be too energetic. The main reason is because Richer Sounds have some semblance of the hi-fi system I "ordered" for Dad in stock, and claim to have reserved it for me for collection tomorrow morning. I was quite ready to buy more or less what Dad really wanted off their website, but then found the stock levels there weren't quite as I'd anticipated, and their delivery charges were astronomical. Sufficiently so that it'll be appreciably cheaper to go for one model of the amplifier up from that on the website and still pay less at the store. So I'm getting him the slightly better amplifier - which is all the store has in that's appropriate - and a slightly different tuner, in addition to the stuff previously agreed. Being the cynical sort, I really won't be convinced until it's in the back of my car and I'm on the way to Mum and Dad's, but hey, here's hoping. Of course, I had to dash back into work this evening, having had a sudden suspicion that the store and web prices for some of the stuff might disagree, in order to print off the relevant pages from the website since they will match their own web prices. Hmm, I'm beginning to wonder if at least some of my £140 worth of Amazon vouchers from Orange would be well spent on a printer!

However, it would seem that despite purporting to be a computer equipment retailer as well as everything else under the sun, Amazon actually stock hardly any printers, and indeed most are listed as "limited availability", which means they can't even order them in specially.

Oh well, scratch that good idea.

How utterly useless.

This evening was quite fun, in a bizarre kind of way. While I was talking to my mum, I got an answerphone message from Matt, whose housemate Andy was having trouble with his laptop. They live just around the corner, so I walked round there straight away, and ascertained that the laptop's screen really was quite unwell - perhaps not my exact adjective. Basically it seemed like the red pixels were only half working, such that it could only manage a few dozen continuous pixels per line with the red component turned on. It was quite gratifying in a way when I set the screen to red and it came out black. So that will have to go back to Dell - or hope Andy has on-site warranty - but it was good to see Matt and Andy again for the first time in ages, and see their humble, but rather nice, abode for the first time. Oh, and set their Sky box to output proper widescreen rather than stretch everything - seems to be a common mistake, judging by my experiences when house-sitting last year!

Up and about before eight o'clock this Saturday morning, thanks to the noisy council lorry outside a few minutes ago finally collecting the pile of discarded furniture that has been wobbling ominously next to my car-parking space for the last few weeks. Still, I've got a busy day anyway I expect, and don't feel too lousy, so perhaps it was just as well. More dreams that I really don't know what to make of - although quite vivid and "happily real" as they happened, I really have no idea what my reaction would be if they truly came to pass. Anyway, going to go and have a bath, and generally make moves towards getting dressed, breakfasted and ready to face the long day ahead!

Well I'm back in Milton Keynes after a predictably busy day! Richer Sounds were more or less exemplary this morning, though Maplin weren't, so I had to pop into Office World too, but then I was on my way to my parents to deliver and help install their stuff. And all rather splendid it is too, I have to say - just a pity it took so much hassle to get it all. The only hiccup was in moving the old system into the kitchen; the tape deck had previously died - which was the main reason it was being replaced - but despite appearing to be separates of sorts, the system would not work at all unless all the components were plugged in! So that means Mum and Dad have to keep the broken tape deck, but it was a small price to pay, really, and the surround-sound speakers Darren loaned me to try out with the kitchen system work - and fit - just perfectly. Mum didn't miss out on the fun either, getting some rather better headphones for use while she's on her exercise bike - so two happy parents!

Oh, Mum also thought some of her CDs sounded better than before! I'd certainly hope so, but that means she's appreciating the new toys too, really...

Oops, it's now Monday morning, but Sunday's been a truly excellent day pretty much from start to finish. Church this morning was really good, our first meeting at the new time and venue of Denbigh School, followed by a "bring and share" light lunch. Then I agreed to watch a DVD or something with Annette, Laura and Emma, round at Jam and Si's, though I had to go do my weekly shop first. Quite a few more people turned up in the end, and once they'd eventually finished discussing Christmas plans we watched The Princess Bride, which I'd brought along, and went down really well - as expected, given that I know only one person who dislikes it! But that was not all, staying for tea - "just" pasta and frankfurters, a perfect choice by Simon - and then a somewhat reduced crowd watched and exceedingly enjoyed Monsters, Inc. But then it really was time for people to head bedwards and homewards - though plainly I've not exactly rushed to bring my own Sunday to a close!

Supper and bed for me now, though, or I'll never be up in time for work!

Oops, I was the last to arrive at this office this sunny Monday morning, though only by about half a second, having bumped into Sam as I left the flat. I'm normally out of the house by nine, but I had my alarm set for nine this morning, and slept right through until then, so it really wasn't going to happen... But anyway, here I am, and making full use of the web-update functionality of this diary, given that Monochrome is, for some reason or another - I think due to sheer user overload - inaccessible this morning. But anyway, here starts another week; let's just hope it can be a better one.

Hmm, a so-so day I guess, still underwhelmed by the amount of tedious stuff I have on my plate right now. Dull things like spreadsheets - by the way, the ones I sweat blood over earlier in the year sound like they're all going to need to be re-done - and Word documents, rather than real programming like Java, or even HTML at a pinch. But hey, it pays the rent. Still grateful for my web access to this diary, given that Monochrome today remains emphatically cormoranted for all but a select privileged few. Just an hour to go now, and I can head off home though - and if Monochrome remains in its currently poorly state, I might even get an early night! Well, here's hoping, anyway...

Undoubtedly the worst bit of today, however, was hearing that a colleague of mine and his wife had just lost their newborn child. He'd been off work a little longer than expected, and it's pretty clear why now. When Jon brought the card round I'd assumed it was to offer congratulations, but the much sadder truth quickly became clear. It brought a fair few tears to my eyes as I was - albeit somewhat voluntarily - charged with the task of taking round the card for other colleagues to sign. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to have that happen; I may have had my life torn apart to some extent through the untimely loss of loved ones - whether through death or otherwise - but this was something really quite different. In some ways it's not encouraging in the pursuit of the better side of such things in my own life, but in others it strangely increases my resolve. Painful though it may be when such things happen, perhaps in a strange kind of way they are worth it, but reminding us all the while that the cost can be high. After all, some other friends of mine didn't call their little girl Grace just because it was a nice name...

Oh dear, I thought I'd just have one last try to connect to Monochrome before I went to bed - and whaddyaknow, it's back up again. Well, it's sort of been up all day, but - as I suspected before - only a few knew how to get to it!

Going to bed now anyway - so 'night all.

It's OK, I'm still here - just had a busy day at work, and what I want to write next won't be terribly easy so I'm giving it very careful thought before I do!

No, I've still not written it, and I've been out all evening at a lecture on solar sailing. When I'll get the chance, I don't know, but it's some stuff that's weighing very heavily on my mind, and various items of headline news today do nothing at all to alleviate that - indeed they worsen it. For now, though - especially after a much later night last night than intended - it's time I was heading off for bed. Sleep well, dear friends. While you can.

And still not, this evening's excuse of course being Open House...

[After all that, this long awaited entry has been grudgingly - but probably wisely - removed. Although a few people applauded its content, a few more advised caution, and in restrospect I tend to agree, for the sake of diplomacy if nothing else.]

Timely and comforting words from Donald Rumsfeld this morning, reassuring us that any action in Iraq won't lead to World War III after all. The US forces are "vastly more powerful" than Iraq's and it wouldn't last any longer than five months, if that - shades of Vietnam there, anyone? That clears that one up, then. We can all sleep easy in the promise of a quick easy victory. Phew!

Woo, band practice tonight at Paul's - could this finally herald my proper return to the worship team, for the first time since this fateful spring? I think I'm ready for it now; indeed I probably was ready before the summer, but that wasn't really a good time for one reason or another. Now, what do I play tonight? Paul doesn't seem to mind whether I bring my sax "thingymagiggy" or my electric guitar... Well, I guess I could take both, couldn't I?!

Though the sore throat I woke up with this morning hasn't gone away, so I might well be better off sticking to guitar. But on the other hand, I do actually value my friends, and I know which will be the most melodic... All the more reason to take both along, I suppose!

Worship band practice was a little disjoint but went well enough and was a lot of fun too. Played both sax and guitar in the end - though obviously not at the same time. Stayed a little longer for a social gathering, but felt really quite lousy by then so didn't hang around too late. This morning I feel even worse, having had a most unsettled night's sleep, and I can't find my Lemsip, so I'm going to have to brave the wintry murk outside to toddle round to the shop. I've already advised Simon it's highly unlikely I'll be fit for his film night this evening, so hopefully that short outing can be the extent of my endeavours for today - my main shopping can wait til tomorrow, after all.

I've ended up spending much of this evening on the phone, using up most of my fifty inclusive daily minutes on Orange catching up with Sarah properly for the first time in a couple of weeks, and then doing much the same with Mum, courtesy of British Telecom's inclusive minutes on BT Together. Oh, and I also now know where I'm going to be spending at least part of Christmas week - and it looks rather nice going by the description and photographs on the web!

How do I feel this Sunday morning? Not too bad, considering I often feel a little rough having just got out of bed. But anyway, I've been asked to give some people a lift to the café so that's my motivation to be brave, get dressed, have some breakfast and face the day - gently at least.

I was fine while I was out - and treated some friends to a KFC lunch in the process, after the "meeting" had finished - but I feel pretty drained now I've finally done my weekend shopping at Tesco. So I aim to take it easy for the rest of the day, in the hope I might even be fit for work tomorrow morning.

Managed to keep the rest of today pretty low-key as I'd intended, though I took the opportunity to sort my bike out, which had been taking up half the kitchen since the gales during the last week, and also tackle the mountain of washing up that had been accumulating for rather longer than I care to recollect...

Well I made it into work, and I'm more tired than anything. Looked out of the window before leaving, though, saw the fog and very nearly changed my mind. I've no idea how exceptional it is, but when there's fog here in Milton Keynes it's usually horrible. It gets so laden with pollution, it's like breathing bitumen vapours. Having been brought up in the country, I'd never really experienced this smog - as I guess it is - before moving here. Walking up to the local shop in Saturday's fog was as much as I could bear, what with my already rather sensitised respiratory system. However, this morning, by some miracle, despite there being the heaviest fog yet this autumn, the air was completely fresh - and I wasn't the only person to comment on it either!

As the mist falls again this afternoon, the evil bituminous smell has returned, so this morning was sadly just a one-off reprieve. My nose is irritated, my eyes are swelling up, and I generally feel really quite uncomfortable. I wonder if it will clear overnight at all, in time for the Leonid meteor shower hoped for at around four o'clock tomorrow morning?

Fog, fog, fog - as far as the eye can't see. Traditional Leonids weather...

I'll head for bed soon - 'cos I need it anyway - and will set my alarm for about three o'clock, but if there's no change, I really won't be too miffed!

The fog did indeed linger all night - I checked at 3am and 4am - and I'm not at all disappointed! Must get dressed and off to work, though, nonetheless...

Not my best day ever, but at least thanks to last night's fog I was faintly awake for my weekly meeting with Jon this morning, where we discuss whichever project is looking most overdue for going to QA - as well as suitably random nonsense of course. So this morning it was T206's turn, though hopefully now the course team have finally decided what they want on the CD-ROM, rather than expressing nebulous "feelings" the day before the official QA deadline, we might be able to shift that out of the door by the end of the week. The random nonsense for today was regarding a Christmas present I'd like to get for my parents - just got to hope it doesn't catch their own eyes first!

But anyway, today's thankfully almost done with at the office, though I have my work cut out for this evening. The Christian girl band SHINEMK I used to be involved with disbanded - as I suppose only bands really can! - quite a while back now as you well know, but their website's been ticking over ever since. However, I am in broad agreement with relevant parties that it's now time to pull the plug on the website and make a few other changes to the hosting account it and a number of other unrelated sites are run from. So I aim to spend the first part of this evening going through some preliminary stuff in connection with that, before heading round to Sarah's later in the evening to sort out a few things there, including - at long last, now BT have pulled their fingers out - her unmetered internet connection!

Well that was a busy and productive enough evening. Having done what I needed with regard to the Shine web account before going out, I arrived at Sarah's house just about on the dot of eight. The intention was that Rachael would be in bed and fast asleep by then, reducing interruptions, but unlike certain other friends of mine who seem to have a remarkable knack for getting their children off to sleep at sane hours, it was not quite to be, and there were a few tears shed before peace could truly reign. Anyway, we tidied up and printed off Sarah's latest assignment, the printer running on ink vapour it would seem - thanks to a little divine intervention - and then sorted out her internet connection. It turned out that the British Telecom customer support person had given Sarah somewhat misleading information, implying that the 0845 number they'd told her was free, when it was merely the access number to the sign-up process for the proper unmetered service, which didn't work. Alas, Sarah and the girls had been using that number under that misapprehension for quite a few days of increased usage, but it's all sorted now, and we made certain email and everything else was working before I finally called it a day.

Dull, dull day. Yes, there are ways I could make it more interesting, but sometimes it just seems I lack the motivation and determination to do so.

Just had a phone-call from Sarah, to say she had been contacted today by BT to ask why she'd not yet set up her unmetered internet access. Of course, we'd sorted it out last night, but I guess their information isn't always entirely up to date. But anyway, Sarah explained what had happened, and the BT person agreed that misleading information had been issued, the upshot being that they have accordingly promised to refund all calls made to the 0845 number! Phew!

Decided at the last minute this evening to go to Open House. I really didn't feel at all like going earlier in the evening, but I'm glad determination won the day - and it clicked with me a lot better than it did last week to be quite honest. But it's late now, and I have a long day tomorrow I suspect, so I'm going to head for bed very soon indeed. Goodnight everyone!

Urrgh, must go to work. But it's cold, wet and miserable outside. It's warm and cosy here at home. But staying at home doesn't pay the rent - well, not in an honest fashion, anyway! I guess I'd better be getting a move on, then.

I've had a slightly busier evening so far than intended, and that's even before I've got to what I planned... Particularly, I've already done a grand tour of the Eaglestone health centre and Tesco, to pick up a prescription and a couple of inkjet cartridges for Sarah. I very nearly couldn't get the ink, but more divine intervention saved the day. Tesco had no ink cartridges properly in stock at all that I could spot, but I just happened to find two lying around randomly - one black, one colour, and exactly the right ones to fit Sarah's printer. Now if that wasn't a miracle, I've no idea what is!

In other news today, I decided to withdraw a lengthy and somewhat contentious diary entry from a week ago. A few people had applauded me on what I had to say, but a few others advised restraint, so I grudgingly did what was probably the best thing and removed it. In a way I've been a self-inflicted victim of exactly what I had described therein, but I value friendship more than that.

That was far too late a night in the end, finally arriving home at about 1.30 in the wee small hours of this morning. Still, at least everything got done as intended, and that ink cartridge was definitely needed - thank you Lord. Needless to say, I wasn't too keen to drag myself out of bed this morning, but it's almost the weekend and I haven't got too much lined up. The main thing planned so far for tomorrow is to go and watch the new Harry Potter film with Sam, Tim and Tim's sister Rachel, but that's not until later in the day so I should be able to treat myself to a much needed lie-in!

The week's done with, and I'm utterly shattered. Pizza and garlic bread are in the oven, which should perk me up a little, though I'm not aiming for a late night by any means! "Highlight" of this afternoon was rubber-necking a big fire somewhere to the west of the university - with flames towering into the sky and a huge pall of smoke covering the city. Thankfully it seemed to be under control within about half an hour, and it appeared to be proper fire appliances that dealt with it - rather than the Green Goddesses providing most of the emergency cover during this latest government-engineered firefighters' strike - so just have to hope no-one was hurt. Anyway, tea's ready, so TTFN!

Ah, I stand corrected - it was Green Goddesses that attended this afternoon's fire; evidently they carry blue lights too. The incident is now reported on the BBC news website no less, and was at a tile and furniture warehouse in Netherfield. Eighteen soldiers tackled the blaze, having arrived within ten minutes of the alarm being raised. No one was injured, happily to say!

OK, so I didn't really get the lie-in I'd hoped for, but nor have I exactly rushed to get up properly. Still got three hours before Sam's due to arrive, to go and meet up with Tim and Rachel, so I can't see that changing much...

Indeed I didn't rush to get up and dressed, but thankfully I had by the time Sam arrived. I had negotiated parking space in Springfield, so we walked from there - and just as well because the city centre was thoroughly gridlocked. We'd gone up a little earlier than strictly necessary because I wanted to check out a possible Christmas present for my parents - somewhat successfully, I would add - and Sam needed to pay in a cheque for his accumulated shareware fees. Then it was back to XScape to meet with Tim and Rachel for the film - and we arrived in time to join the queue reasonably near the front so managed some fairly good seats. The film itself was very good as expected, and indeed was somewhat "darker" than the first. Still not exactly scary, but then it takes a lot to make me jump these days - perhaps I might have if Shona had been there?! The only downside really was the rather cheesy sentimental ending, perhaps even more so than the first film, but at least it wasn't as drawn out as I had been led to anticipate, so it gets my thumbs up once again, but probably as a film even less suitable for youngsters than the first was...

The only problem I have yet really identified with the studio flat concept, at least for day-to-day living, is the lack of sound insulation within the flat. That's to say, things like not being able to set the washing going when I go to bed, and not being able even to contemplate getting a bread-maker! But it is having a positive effect, in that I'm making better use of my Sundays. OK, so it was an unignorable phone-call that first woke me from my slumbers this morning, but it was followed only minutes later by the crash of the Sunday newspaper through the letterbox, so it just wasn't going to happen! The front page needless to say consists almost entirely of a colour photograph of Friday afternoon's inferno, the circumstances of which are, unsurprisingly, still being investigated by police, given that it happened just hours after the strike began, at a closed-down warehouse, and - to be blunt - on Netherfield.

Oh well, I am now fully assimilated into Tesco's evil psychological profiling machine that is their clubcard scheme, having saved a whopping four pounds on today's weekly shop using the vouchers I was sent the other day. Mind you, I didn't give in to the pressure to buy anything more than I strictly needed or wanted, just to get the savings, so no doubt Tesco have already written me off as just the kind of customer they hate to have. The kind of customer who always pays off his credit card bill every month, who doesn't randomly pick up batteries and chewing gum from the racks next to the tills, and who doesn't suddenly think Sunday lunchtime would be a great time to buy a 28" widescreen.

Alas though, I was fickle enough to succumb to the lure of the golden arches and go for some lunch at the nearby McDonalds, even though I had specifically made my earlier meal a brunch rather than breakfast. But all was not entirely lost, however, winning three pounds off at Amazon with my drink. Not that I don't already have a huge stack of vouchers to use there - and it looks like they have scuppered my best chance so far to use some of them up, by refusing to competitively price a rather expensive book I would like to buy.

Just got back from spending the evening with my friend Sarah and family - for once a purely social visit rather than helping out on assignments or anything! It was a little fraught from time to time anyway, with homework mysteriously going walkies and the usual post-bedtime interruptions, but yes, it was nice to catch up properly without the pressure of "real" work! I think this would go down as a reasonably productive weekend, one that I can feel at least a little justified in feeling shattered by the end of, but the thought of the week ahead doesn't exactly fill me with glee I'm afraid to say. Oh well...

Any hope that today would be the start of a better week has been somewhat dashed. Not a bad day, as such, but still utterly nondescript - and with no obvious way out. I'm glad other people's lives seem to be working out rosily though - even if a fair few seem to be undergoing some technical hitches at present. I really don't know where to turn - I want more from life, so much more, but experience has put such a huge barrier of cynicism in front of me that I feel no great urge to move forward and dip my toes in unknown waters again. Opportunities come, opportunities go, some stay around for longer than others - but for someone whose only real choice in life at the moment is to live for the present, I don't do the carpe diem thing very much, do I?

About this time last year I confidently predicted to some that I would burn in hell for daring to go and watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but obviously the flames will lick all the higher now I've seen the sequel too. Actually, this year the furore seems to have been somewhat more muted, but I remain quite certain that my old church will have repeated last year's decree that Thou Shalt Not Watch Harry Potter - it would take far too much grace for them to concede that they were, in common with many other churches of their ilk, wrong.

Sorry, but such policy goes in the face of sheer common sense and basic tenets of Christian faith. God made us individuals, all different, and not to be dictated to by ecclesiastical power structures. When the temple veil was torn from top to bottom upon Jesus's death on the cross, we all became priests in his church, all able to approach God directly and seek his will in our lives without intercession by fallen human agents with their inherently misguided agendas. Should we welcome advice from our church leaders? Yes, of course we should, but decrees? The motivation may have been to protect our innocent children from the temptation of perceived evil, but that is for Christian parents to prayerfully decide - and besides, that credits today's children with a lot less intelligence and initiative than the majority of them are blessed with in terms of discernment. Personally, I wouldn't particularly want my children to get involved with Harry Potter at too young an age, but that's for the sake of their emotional security - wishing to avoid nightmares - more than anything else.

Anyway, it is my believe that absolute good and evil in this fallen Creation are represented only by God and Satan, and everything else in between is just a varying and often indeterminate shade of grey, and for all our good intent there is nothing we as mere mortals can do about that. It is a fact of the world - a world that we cannot shield our children from in this age of tumbling skyscrapers and everything else - that evil is sometimes fought with only marginally lesser evil, and presenting these real issues in a fantasy setting is surely far safer than anything that children could easily imitate. Furthermore, when it comes to fantasy settings, how different are the Harry Potter stories than, say, The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings? The latter are widely praised by Christian fundamentalists for their underlying godly themes and their outwardly Christian authors - not that J. K. Rowling is entirely un-Christian in belief - but are we to condemn every piece of fiction that isn't coded Christianity?

It is things like this that do sometimes make me despair of being a Christian in today's world. It seems to be a world where Christianity is plotted on a straight line, with bigoted fundamentalists at one end, and liberal non-believers at the other. One's principles are assumed to be hard coded into one's position on that line, and to be blunt, there doesn't seem to be a lot of room in the middle. It all too often seems it is not possible to strongly believe in basic bible truths - whatever the theologians believe to be the case this week, that is - without the additional baggage of Harry Potter condemnation, raving homophobia and everything else taken as read. One only has to look at the Anglican church - for example - to see that the spectrum of Christian belief exists in many more dimensions than one! For all the claims of the evangelical charismatic movement that they have shaken off the shackles of religion, they've invented a whole new set to replace it - and they're even more damaging.

At the end of the day, though, true bible-believing Christians would recognise that it is our individual and personal relationship with God that matters, and that that relationship will outpour in different ways for each and every one of us. Yes, there are some principles defining one as a Christian that should be taken as read - as outlined in the Creed that all churches would respect in some slight variation or another - but beyond that, further compulsion by churches in decisions of believers is no more nor less than downright meddling.

Sorry if this has been a bit of a long rant, but some things need saying!

It's been rather a good week for internet service providers "doing the right thing" and compensating for errors. The latest example being my one, Fast24, promising to give me a week's free service to make up for delays in activating my account. OK, so it would have been even better if they hadn't taken two months to do so, but they've had a few problems of their own recently so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm still not sure if they are an ISP I would recommend to Joe "Average User" Public, but on balance I have been very pleased with their technical performance, despite considerable difficulty with third parties, and today's result has boosted my own confidence still further.

Wanting a quiet evening in, this was a perfect opportunity to watch the "Brassed Off" DVD that Tim lent me yesterday. I'm not sure I'd even heard of it before, but what a cracking good film, and one I may well buy for myself as the perfect companion to "Billy Elliot". It's set in the early 1990s, again to the backdrop of struggling miners, fighting to save their perfectly good pit from complete closure. The title of course refers to the colliery brass band, which provides the centre of attention throughout the film, but a perfect balance was struck between music, romance and the miners' dispute throughout, and it is of course riddled with black humour as one might expect. Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend it - oh, and Ewan McGregor's in it too.

Hmm, no diary entry yesterday? How very remiss of me! Bet I had you all ever so worried. Just not a great deal to write about - and by the time I was home from Open House - which was pretty good - it was too late to remedy anyway...

When I unusually edited this diary a week ago to remove a rather controversial summary and analysis of what I believed to be the events leading up to the current-day stand-off between the "civilised world" and Iraq over their alleged weapons of mass destruction, I was quite surprised at some of the messages of support I received for what I had previously written. It turned out that apparently many of my feelings were somewhat in tune with those of George Galloway MP, possibly one of the most outspoken and misrepresented people in the world right now. George has widely been condemned as an apologist for the despotic Iraqi regime, and I would admit that even I have in the past accused him of the same, when he is in fact one of its most vehement opponents - just an unusual one in that he is prepared to base his analysis and conclusions on personally experienced fact rather than regurgitating US government and media warmongering spin. That he is prepared to travel to Iraq, to see for himself what's going on, and actually dare to talk to the Moustached Icon of Evil - as distinct from the Turbaned one - rather than just threaten to bomb him out of existence, appears to be enough to side him with Saddam as a collaborator.

Regardless of how I got there, I'm afraid my ultimate analysis and conclusion remain the same, that - for whatever motive, and many have been cited - the United States government is seeking a new war at any cost. Further to his comforting assurances that World War III isn't going to happen quite yet, Donald Rumsfeld also told Infinity Broadcasting that if the new United Nations inspection team failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it would not be accepted as evidence that Iraq didn't have any, but rather that they're getting ever more skilled at hiding them. What chance do we really have of avoiding war, and what good is really hoped to be achieved from the latest inspection mission? Scott Ritter - former head of the inspection team, and now possibly the biggest critic of the current inexorable movement towards war - echoed these feelings at a recent interview hosted by the Deerfield Academy. Ritter disturbingly also noted that Bush has established himself as the first United States president not to rule out a nuclear "first strike".

As I said in my deleted comments, any war now will not win the broad support of United Nations representatives, and risks dividing the region and the world, with escalation into something much bigger a real possibility - regardless of Rumsfeld's reassuring platitudes. The United Nations resolution that Saddam went against the judgement of his parliament to accept had unanimous support, even from unlikely quarters; he had little or no choice but to accept, or face uncontested annihilation. Now, when Blix's team finds no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, but Rumsfeld sets his war into motion anyway, there will be no such support from the rest of the world, and God only knows what would happen then, especially if Bush approved the unthinkable as Ritter so fears.

It is still incredible how much the media, under the strict control of and collusion with western governments, is responsible for softening the population at large for what is - barring an utter miracle - almost certainly to come. In a recent Retro Poll survey of Americans, two thirds of those who thought that the Iraqi and former Afghan regimes were linked supported war, whilst only one in five who realised that in fact they were bitterly opposed - one Islamic extremist, the other a secular dictatorship - agreed. Remember, this is the same media that immediately told us that the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were the work of Osama bin Laden, without any credible proof presented then or since, yet used as the excuse to bomb an already stone-aged country further back into prehistory. Even today, as an Israeli hotel is destroyed in Kenya and an airliner fired upon with missiles, the American finger is pointed at the same culprits without evidence, who indeed have been challenged to disprove their involvement - and the media lap up and relay every bit of it!

I may have decided to retract some of my earlier words, but I still despair.

Well that lot certainly made up for yesterday's silence, now didn't it?!

Been a bit quiet today too, haven't I? I've been reasonably busy with one thing and another all day. Not terribly happy now though, after a mixed evening. People just make me cross. Still, I was able to beam briefly at being praised for my understandable and detailed explanation of a particular aspect of HTML writing, so all is not entirely lost. But it's a close run thing.

I'm enjoying an exceedingly lazy Saturday, including a two-hour bath - though that caused me to miss an important phone-call that I might well come to regret a little. But Darren also phoned, and we're off out in a little while to get something to eat, catch a film and have a drink - and it'll also be an opportunity to pay him for the loudspeakers my dad gratefully relieved him of. I was going to do my weekly shopping this evening, but that can wait until tomorrow probably, methinks. No, I don't really feel any better than I did last night, but hopefully this evening can provide a little escape.

Just got back a little while ago, after a reasonable evening out - perhaps not all it could have been, but it was still good to get out of the flat for a bit.

We thought we'd try the Deep Pan Pizza restaurant next door to The Point cinema for a change, but it was a bit of a mistake. Although the service was friendly and the food was fine, the choice was very limited, with most items on the menu not actually available - including the special offers, so it all ended up a little expensive. No wonder the place was pretty much empty, like The Point in general - it had its time, but that time has long gone. The Point was the first multiplex cinema in the country, quite possibly Milton Keynes's most recognisable landmark with its red neon pyramid architecture, and has lots of bars and so on adjoining it. It was great once, but it's all a bit of a dive now really, and I understand its days are numbered.

The film was interesting, to say the least - "28 Days Later", set in the aftermath of a devastating infection wiping out most, but not all, of the country. It was a low-budget affair, clearly filmed on DV or at least going through some pretty rudimentary digital editing, but it was a powerful and fairly thought-provoking production, especially in the light of worries about possible terrorist biological attacks or whatever. It certainly wasn't really a film to be enjoyed, and I am reluctant to "score" it as such - it's just a film to be experienced, and perhaps to learn a little from. It's been a while since I've watched a film at The Point - I think the last may have been "Shrek" but I may be wrong, as back issues of this diary may well prove - and I'd forgotten how dated and poorly-designed it is as a cinema compared with the much more modern Cineworld in the nearby XScape centre. Still, it was cheap, and it had the film on at a sensible time, so that's where we went.

Then finally to the pub, and I am sure that doesn't need any explanation.

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