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David's diary: August 2003

Now half way through my day off, though it's not being totally restful - right now being half way through tidying up the flat. I've done the main room, and next will be tackling the kitchen and then vacuuming the whole lot. Then I'll be having a bath, going to do my shopping, and finally hopefully meeting up with David for a beer or three out somewhere nice to belatedly celebrate his birthday. But now the kitchen is calling me, so I guess I'd better tend to it.

Kitchen and vacuuming all done. The former smells so lemon fresh it's untrue.

That lemon freshness is about the only thing I can commend the kitchen for, though. It may surprise some, but a nice kitchen is something I'll really look forward to whenever I or we eventually set up home properly. I enjoy cooking, but the incentive here is minimal when the kitchen here is merely functional, and barely that in some regards. Don't get me wrong, it's OK, but it's not too inspiring. Mind you, regularly cooking for and with someone else would have a big impact in that regard too; perhaps the two go hand in hand to an extent!

All being well, David and I are going to do a brave thing this evening - well, brave for me, anyway - and cycle to the pub. My bike's not in brilliant shape, but I've done some basic maintenance on it and taken it out for a spin round the block a couple of times and it seemed happy enough. So just hope the rain stays away - and of course doesn't just wait until tomorrow evening, when Katy and I will hopefully be going on a nice little canal-boat trip to another pub.

Ooh, can I sneak in a quick edit while I'm here at David's, supping Earl Grey and munching chocolate digestives to the dulcet musical tones of the KLF, Mr Adrian Sherwood et al? Evidently so. Been a jolly good evening, and the bike behaved just fine, happily to say. Will be off home soon though, I expect, if only to ensure I am up, about and decent by Katy's arrival at noon tomorrow!

Well it's Saturday morning, and I'm doing the "up" and "about" bits, but I'm not totally sure about the "decent" bit yet. Still a couple of hours before I anticipate Katy's arrival though, so there's plenty of time to do something about that. And before anyone accuses me of divulging Too Much Information, I should perhaps add that I'm not indecent either. Not this time, anyway.

Right, Sunday morning, time to get the girl.

Private-ish joke, sorry!

Great evening yesterday, more about it later I'm sure.

Now Sunday evening, and again I am alone - in body if not in spirit. Been a great weekend, though, incorporating everything we had loosely planned! Katy arrived here a bit late yesterday thanks to all the rubberneckers on the M25 who couldn't help but gawp at accidents in the other direction. Thankfully our afternoon plans were pretty loose, but it still allowed plenty of time for a yummy chicken caesar salad, to pop into the market to find a suitable bum-bag for Katy, and to take a leisurely stroll around Campbell Park before we needed to be round at Margaret's for our canal trip. This was the first time we'd met Margaret's friend James, and I'm not sure if he was quite as we expected, but we all certainly got on very well for the evening. We were a bit late leaving thanks to an earlier mishap with a carrier bag and the engine on James's boat, but we had a lovely ride to the Three Locks, all of us getting a turn at the tiller - with none of us quite hitting anything we shouldn't have - and working the locks. I'd been to the pub a few times before, but it was somehow a bit different using it as originally intended, and their grub was very welcome by the time we sat down in the balmy sun. It was getting quite dark as we chugged back, with a lovely sunset half way, and was pretty late when we eventually arrived back at Margaret's, but not too much so for some strawberries and wine!

With no church this morning - in Milton Keynes at least! - it meant we could enjoy a relaxed start, with me collecting Katy at about ten before we took a stroll in the woods near Bow Brickhill, one of the only places to find respite from the unrelenting sun. Then on to the Jasmine Cottage for lunch, as we did a few weeks ago but this time armed with a money-off voucher from one of the local free rags. As I probably explained when Katy and I went before, they do the increasingly common "eat as much as you like" deal, but unusually it is all cooked to order and served at the table, which makes for a somehow much more civilised experience than say Elements or even the Kam Tong Garden - much as I still like those two. Finally, back here to watch Enigma - which I can follow a bit better every time I watch it - and for me to inflict a rather satisfying Scrabble victory on Katy, though in mitigation I am more familiar with the size of my travel set than Katy is. But by then it was time for Katy to think about braving the traffic home, and hopefully have a better journey than the one up here yesterday, but as I've probably said before, it's nice just to take things gently, and not to cram in too much into too short a time. But we still end up doing plenty, and having plenty of time simply to enjoy each other's company, while not doing ourselves in by burning the midnight petrol too excessively.

Today's been as unproductive a day at work as I can remember, with the potent combination of endless meetings and soaring temperatures - and not much end to either in sight. Still, I have now provisionally booked some substantial time off work, so I will try and remember to bring my penknife in tomorrow so that I can carve notches into the legs of my desk. No idea what I will do with said time off, but I am all the more certain now that I direly need it regardless.

And just in case there was any hope of getting some work done in the last few minutes of the day, a small tortoiseshell butterfly trapped first in the strip light and then in between the panes of our window conspired to make sure it didn't remotely happen. We are such humane folks, y'see! Poor flutterby!

Hope it appreciated the effort, anyway.

This evening is ending up a very typical one for me, it has to be said. I had grand plans to sort out some of my digital photographs from the boat trip at the weekend and start putting together a gallery on my website, but that's now the last thing I feel like doing. Hitting a few minor technical hitches might have had something to do with that, but more than anything else it's simply lack of energy. Various people have suggested that I ought to make use of at least part of my forthcoming extended leave to get back to some of the creative activities that I essentially enjoy but that have been languishing on the back burner for years. I am inclined to agree. Here's hoping, anyway!

I can empathise with Ron Weasley - at least in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - in that I quite like butterflies, but am not terribly keen on spiders. I'm not phobic about them, but given the choice I'd rather not have had a large one just crawl over me and down my bare leg.

Ooh, I wonder if I can get a good day's work in for once, rather than have my day completely disrupted by meetings? Given that I have a fraught production meeting to go to in a couple of minutes, I'll take that as a resounding "no".

That production meeting was indeed a bit fraught, with more buck-passing than the British government and BBC put together, and of course nothing much useful actually decided. But as expected, it put paid to any plans I might have had to get any work done this morning, and needless to say the temperature and humidity are far too high to rectify that this afternoon. Still, I guess it will be quite good weather for the barbecue I'm going to this evening round at Richard and Shona's. Last night the three of us from our office went to see Terminator 3, and sat outside for a drink at the Moon Under Water afterwards, and that was really rather nice, so hopefully it can be similar this evening. The film itself was better than expected - indeed almost certainly better than that other big blockbuster sequel of the summer - and not only had a plot but one that wasn't entirely predictable. Still only really recommendable to those who have seen the first two films though, so Katy didn't miss so much really!

Productivity remains inversely proportional to the temperature and humidity, whilst my likelihood of just saying stuff it and going home shows a distinct positive correlation with the latter. There is simply no escaping the heat, anywhere. My brain struggles to operate for more than a couple of minutes at a stretch, and even walking to the water-cooler has to be done at a slow dawdle. Even the water-cooler is struggling to do its job, needless to say, and the ice I made earlier made very little difference - and thanks to the lovely quality tap water here makes drinks go all scummy anyway. And through all this, I'm trying and obviously failing to make some kind of sense of some C++ code one of my colleagues wrote about five years ago. How am I supposed to record a day such as this one in our new timesheet system? I could lie through my teeth and claim four hours of good quality development time this afternoon, but perhaps if productivity is seen to be dropping off so much thanks to this weather, the management might actually think about improving existing working environments rather than spending vast stacks of cash on new buildings that won't even be needed once the university has achieved its goal of sacking most of its staff.

How did I find the energy to write this though? Answers on a postcard...

A black cat wandered in through my open back door a few minutes ago. I'm not superstitious, but how lucky is that?! Mainly because I'd quite like a black cat sometime, having had one when I was very little. Not that I'm allowed pets here, and it ran out again as soon as it saw me anyway... Been a good evening at Richard and Shona's barbecue. I was the first to arrive so quite happily volunteered to help set things up and share the bulk of the cooking, and was also the last to leave so helped tidy everything away afterwards. In between, lots of lovely people came and went, and a very good time was had by all!

My diary's been quiet today which can only mean one thing - that I was actually able to keep both reasonably cool and thoroughly busy. The weather returned to being fairly unbearable by the time it was time to head home, but the hardest part work-wise was the morning, which was by far the most pleasant otherwise.

I still didn't get quite as much done as I'd hoped but at least I had both the inclination and the energy to do a large part of what was necessary. That being the final question in the set of Java questions I'm working on, and it was a pig. But I had a basic framework for it going by this afternoon and managed to develop the first couple of parts of the question itself. The rest should be done by the end of Monday, and I can hopefully throw together a CD-R of a first draft for the course team to have a look at over the next few weeks.

But for now, it's the beginning of my weekend, and boy do I need it. However, my Fridays off will soon be coming to an end, I suspect - but hopefully they will have served their purpose and with a decent break too I'll be raring to go and wanting to make the most of every day I have at work. Well, that's the theory, anyway. In a couple of months' time, the reality may become evident.

Oh, it's so nice being off work today! Everyone else is willing the weekend to hurry up, and it's already started for me! But I've not done very much so far, so this is only going to be the briefest of diary entries as I rectify that!

Well I foolishly went and did the Tesco thing on foot. I planned to drive, but decided at the last minute to walk, and of course the fairly pleasant slightly overcast conditions when I walked down unloaded gave way to full-on irradiation upon my heavily-loaded return home. I well might go out again - perhaps nearer some water - but it won't be until quite a bit later in the day at this rate!

Right, I've phoned Katy, have cooked and eaten a tasty chicken salad, and am now just waiting for the day to cool off a little so that I might venture out once again. Will be phoning Katy again before the day is out, though, and having a nice luke-warm bath at some point as well I am quite certain...

Walk - slightly longer than planned, thanks to "autopilot" - and second phone call to Katy completed. Really nice outside now, not so nice inside, back door open again in the hope a bit of that niceness might venture in. So far, that black cat has done so again, but nothing more apart from a few moths. Oh well, it's bathtime, and then I might even be able to think about getting some sleep!

Saturday's being a relaxed day; I'm disinclined to go out anywhere much for the time being at least, as the temperature soars once again. Amazingly though, my blood pressure is at its lowest while I've been checking it, reaching as little as 118/67 - I feel positively deflated - and hasn't been outside the healthy range today at all. This afternoon I've been watching Amélie again, having picked up the DVD for an irresistible price at Tesco a couple of weeks back, and I followed the story a lot better this time round I'm pleased to say! No great plans for the rest of the afternoon, but I hope to get along to a party that Jam and Simon are throwing this evening - at least for a little while anyway, though I think I shall quietly ignore the "funky or weird-chic" dress code given that I detest that kind of thing. Hey, even Margaret said she had been talked into going along, so I'll hopefully have at least one soul-mate.

That was a reasonably good evening, though not ending on a terribly good note, it has to be said. I didn't spend very long round at Jam and Simon's, but it was good to pop in for a couple of hours, and Margaret did indeed make it. It was far too hot an evening for any but the craziest to contemplate dancing, so instead we mainly nattered on the patio. On the way back I stopped underneath the A5 canal bridge at Simpson, of all places. There was method in my madness, though, because Margaret had said that James was moored up there while he does some work on his boat, so it was nice to pause to say hello, and I think James appreciated the visit. Sarah, back from her holidays, had phoned earlier, and I'd promised I'd call her back when I got home, which I duly did, and it would seem they had an utterly hellish journey home on the train, what with cancelled trains, dud advice, wayward routes and, to cap it all, someone - accidentally, I hope - walking off with their biggest suitcase containing almost all their clothes. I may well be seeing them sometime tomorrow, and if so, I suspect a trip to somewhere like Tesco's clothing department will be in order... But for now, unbearable as the temperature inside may still be, it's about time I was thinking about heading for bed. As lazy Saturdays go, it's been a long one!

Awake - but hot, bothered and a bit high blood pressured once again. I wonder what joys Sunday will bring later - not quite sure if my original suggestions will come to be, but I am sure something will, other than sitting here melting.

Sort of happened as planned, with adjustments for what turned out to be quite possibly the hottest day ever in the UK. No inclination to do anything much early in the day, but I saved Sarah the torment of Milton Keynes' Sunday bus service - bad at the best of times, let alone on a day like today - by driving her and Rachael over to Tesco to do a bit of food shopping, replace some of the girls' clothes that went missing yesterday and to stock up for a picnic tea! No, not a picnic lunch as one might expect, but a picnic tea, by which time the temperature out was decidedly bearable down at Willen Lake - though it was still very crowded so the grass had to do. There were a few rumbles of thunder and the sun decided to take a rare breather, but that made it altogether very pleasant. There were a few flashes of lightning later in the evening, but with little or no associated thunder, but hopefully things may get more entertaining later in the night, with both thunder and lightning, hopefully as simultaneous as possible. The rest of the evening wasn't too bad; the heat had made the girls a bit ratty but at least they didn't have the energy to fight for once, so peace largely reigned and the direst of threats could be kept to a minimum.

But I'm back home now, and vaguely contemplating heading for bed, but I really could do with my time off work starting now rather than in a fortnight's time.

No more thunderstorms overnight, alas, though Tim reported that the one later yesterday evening that I suspected might have been centred near where he lives was indeed. Today's been a bit more pleasant than the last few, and I managed to get a lot done. Specifically, I was generating an Access database of the results from a household waste generation and disposal survey. I have ranted enough times in the past about the insane structure of the survey's own version of the database and the web pages controlling it, but that also meant that the structure specified for the Access database had some gotchas I had to keep a watchful eye out for. Radio button options changing order, transposed database fields, and so on. But I got there in the end, and, unusually, worked late to do so - not because it was wildly interesting, but because it simply means I shouldn't have to worry myself about it any more. I hope it's OK, because I have no way of retrospectively validating the submitted data, but although I was cursing ColdFusion a lot this afternoon, to its credit it is quite quick to pick up on the most common errors I might have allowed to creep in. Anyway, I'm back home now, am fully loaded with chicken caesar salad, and can now relax for an hour before I'm expecting a phone call which might be a little fraught.

Ooh, just had a nice and unexpected phone call first though! And I might get another one, I am advised, in the next few days. I wonder how I can persuade the caller that it will almost certainly be cheaper for me to phone them back?

Secretive, aren't I? Fret not, nothing untoward is going on. Honest!

The expected phone call arrived eventually, after a bit of confusion over my exact telephone number, and I survived it, thankfully. It wasn't easy, but I was commended for keeping an objective point of view - perhaps a diplomatic way of asking "why don't you agree with me?" - and it was all very good natured and civilised. I don't like having to be a go-between for pointlessly warring factions, and I'm not yet sure what if anything I can do on a practical level to help in this particular situation, but if I've only helped communicate the points of view of those concerned it will have been worth it. I love all those affected far too much to see the current situation prolonged a moment longer, but quite where I go next I don't know. As I was reminded - as Katy frequently does too - I have my own life to worry about too, so mustn't let this preoccupy me too much, but nor is it in my nature to completely detach from such things.

Tuesday now, and I've been carrying out the final touches to that database from yesterday, having spotted a few things that needed to be adjusted. That's all sent off now, and hopefully it will be exactly as hoped for by the guy from the DEFRA who's going to be processing it. Didn't sleep too wonderfully last night, but my blood pressure wasn't too bad this morning - indeed I recorded my lowest systolic pressure yet, at 110 mm Hg, equal to the highest my diastolic has been in recent weeks. To the uninitiated, the systolic and diastolic pressures are, respectively, the maximum and minimum pressures exerted by the heart during a single cycle of pumping. If the most that my heart is now having to work is no greater than it previously did when "at rest", that's an indication of just how much things have improved for me, though I doubt I'm in the clear quite yet.

Yes, a shorter term for "single cycle of pumping" - as mentioned above - might well have been "heartbeat". Perhaps I could get a job writing over-complicated gobbledegook. I'm sure that between them, the various banks and insurance companies, electronics manufacturers and Borland should have something for me!

Oops, it seems that what I thought would be just a couple of hours' work will turn out to take a little more than that, perhaps more like a couple of days. Thankfully this is the Java questions stuff, not the database, which is now with the Man from the Ministry who says it looks OK to him. So long as I can get it done this week, so as to leave enough time to make a good stab at the latest changes to the microprocessor simulator before I disappear off on leave, I'll be happy - as will Lara and the relevant academics too, hopefully.

Anyway, it's time I was heading home now, and I'm not expecting any phone calls this evening so hopefully I can have a pleasantly chilled time, and maybe even make the most of the more pleasant temperatures today by going out for a little while. I need to pop into Tesco or similar sometime before Open House tomorrow evening, but I might well just do so tomorrow at the Bletchley store, more or less on the way to Jam and Simon's house. But for now, time to shut everything down here, turn off the fan, close the windows and toddle back to my abode.

I've lost my will to do anything much.

Including that "going home" thing I mentioned three quarters of an hour ago.

I did go home in the end, happily to say, but I detached myself from reality by absorbing myself in Moulin Rouge on DVD, as borrowed from my colleague Tim. I borrowed it in order to prove right my prejudices, but of course in that regard I failed. Not that I'm going to rush out and buy it myself, but although the worst was just as dire as I expected, it was overall vastly better than I ever had imagined. Though I can see now why Baz Luhrmann largely avoided music on his dreadful Sunscreen single from a few years back; it's not at all his forté.

Today's not been particularly good. I had an unsettled night, not helped by things like finding I had a large green cricket crawling all over my leg - as you can imagine, before I woke up that prompted some interesting dreams. Both Tim and Sam were on leave today, so I had the office all to myself, but I got far too frustrated with my work this morning and it was perhaps just as well I had no immediate company. The bloke from DEFRA got back to me with a couple of problems he had observed with the database I sent him yesterday, and I spent the bulk of the morning trying to solve them. As it turned out, the first was because he had omitted something crucial from his specification, which I had followed to the letter. The second problem was that to the bloke's surprise, no-one was listed as being employed by the armed forces. It turned out that the reason was simple - no-one had said they were. OK, so the original web form wasn't ideal - and as you know I most definitely was not responsible for that - so it may have been that some people said "yes" but were ignored, but whatever the reason, any such data in question is not in my database so unless I can suss out ColdFusion's telepathy option it's not going in his either. So not only was it a frustrating morning, but a complete waste of time - and we're not yet entirely even sure who's going to be paying for this work given that it's not directly academically related. Which reminds me, I got a phone call the other day in connection with another course, asking whether all the work I had put in over the last few weeks was going to be charged to the technology faculty. Errm, no, our time doesn't really cost over forty quid an hour you know; we design software for the sheer love of it, and the more of our time you waste in the process, the better! Ever get the feeling no-one's got a clue?

Anyway, it's more or less time to head home. I've still not decided what to do this evening. We have a sort of Open House social, even though it's supposed to be a month off, but I'm both exhausted and not in a very good frame of mind. Besides, there's another meeting that's been called for tomorrow to announce some important changes that apparently couldn't wait until September, and I really feel I ought to make that one my priority if I have to pick and choose.

I felt over-hassled and generally disinclined to go out this evening, so I duly didn't. It's very rarely that I turn the ringer on my phone off, but sometimes I really am best not being talked to unless you are going to say very soothing, calming things indeed. Instead I had a nice long bath, and intend to get an early night. When I shall turn my phone on again properly remains to be seen; being online at the moment I may have little choice but to answer it if anyone has put me on ringback in the last little while. I hope I'll feel better soon!

Definitely feeling better today, for a fair night's sleep, and I'll hopefully be able to cut a CD-R with the first prototype of the questions software this afternoon. I use the term prototype cautiously, but it's not a draft either, because I have no delusions that it is remotely ready for release to any wider an audience than is absolutely necessary. But anyway, as I almost certainly said before, it will be enough for the academics in question to peruse while I am on leave, and will hopefully be accepted in principle. I have about six question parts I need to sort out slight serious problems with, but then I will be quite happy to cut the CD-R, write some release notes, and finish my week!

Right, that's my working week done with! I got the CD-R cut as planned, though my attempts to make a second copy failed, with Nero complaining about fixation problems, whatever those might be. If I really need a second disc, I'll worry about that first thing on Monday. But anyway, that will be the end of that for a few weeks. Back home now, but got that mysterious church meeting to go out to in a short while, so any serious hope of a relaxing evening has gone out of the window. I'm pretty much completely out of food now, a day earlier than planned, but thankfully I had some pasta I could cook up and complement, so I don't have to go out hungry after all. I gather the local convenience store's transformation into a Tesco Express is now complete, which will be handy for such "emergencies" in the future - and perhaps even more substantial shopping depending on how keen their pricing is compared with their proper stores.

Well I'm finally back from our "brief one-hour meeting", three hours after it started... Actually, it's been a really good evening. We met at the church in Woolstone, being a venue Gareth secured at fairly short notice, where it was announced that our pastor Matt had recently been made redundant from the job he was doing four days a week. We have decided that we can afford to employ him for an additional three days over and above the day he already works for us, leaving one last day when he's going to develop his own business. I wasn't too sure about the plans when they were outlined a few weeks back, but the way that God has turned what could have been an extremely difficult time into something really quite exciting would seem to confirm that this is the right thing to do, even though there are plenty of practical issues to keep us all very busy!

Afterwards a good many of us congregated at the Barge for a quick drink, but then we just happened to bump into the Rev Kev, the local vicar - whose church it was we were using earlier - and eventually it was just Matt, Gareth, Kev and myself left chatting. Kevin's apparently got the unofficial title as the most arrogant church leader in Milton Keynes, but I have to say he came across as a totally top bloke. He may be opinionated - and I don't necessarily agree with everything he says - but he has principles he is prepared to stand up for, and generally has his head screwed on. I am quite sure that on the basis of this evening's conversations we will have a lot more contact in the future. Not least, his church building is a great venue, but he is just the kind of bloke we can surely benefit from cooperating with, given his heart and experience.

Up way earlier than I needed to be this Friday morning, but I may still go back to bed for a bit. Not been wasting my time though; having heard that Microsoft have decided to cease development on Outlook Express, for a long time now my email program of choice, I've decided to give one of its up-and-coming rivals a try. Thunderbird is an offshoot from the Mozilla browser project, and although a bit of a lumbering beast compared with Outlook Express, is likely ultimately to be a better bet, and so far I am generally very impressed. When I will be brave enough to dump Outlook Express altogether I'm not sure; for the moment I am running the two in parallel, but intend to properly migrate to Thunderbird as soon as possible. Anyway, that's more than enough geeking for one morning.

Well, almost enough. "As soon as possible" turned out to be about half an hour later, when I worked out what was making a couple of bad things happen. I'm still using Outlook Express to access my old mail, but it is no longer set to download new messages and is no longer on my quick-launch bar. Now, just to migrate over to Mozilla for my web browsing needs and OpenOffice for my word processing and so on, and I will be as free from Microsoft as I can be without ditching Windows altogether. However, from past experience, OpenOffice really would be just a step too far in the open-source-zealotry-above-common-sense direction, and I'm still not entirely comfortable with Mozilla for day-to-day use. Perhaps when I get round to replacing this PC I'll have a proper rethink!

Been and done the Tesco thing, again on foot, and again perhaps wishing I had taken the lazy option as I trudged with two over-loaded carrier bags along the edge of the football pitch in Kents Hill. It's preferable to walking along the V11, but not by a great deal when the sun is beating down so much! Still, back home now and I've had a snack lunch, which should see me through to when I go round to Sarah's for tea later. Ironically, I will be going via Tesco again, to pick her up after she's been shopping, but obviously by car this time! Oh, and I bought The Shawshank Redemption on DVD - well for a penny under six quid, it would almost have been silly not to! No time to watch it now though - it's well over two hours long, and I need to go out in not much more than an hour...

We have to pity our east-coast American friends right now, only just getting power back after the best part of a day. Terrorism was ruled out very early on, presumably because the authorities knew darn well it was their own fault for running such fault-intolerant systems. It must be really scary to have something like that happen, and be so big that you really have no idea of the extent of it, nor what's actually happening on the ground even a few blocks away. It might seem quiet enough where you are, but without the benefit of the electronic media upon which we all rely so much now, there could be riots or goodness knows what going on. The country might even be at war, and you would never know it. It was bad enough losing power for a couple of hours here the other day, but at least it was fairly clear that it was localised, even if we had no idea when it was going to be restored; apparently an area three times the size of the United Kingdom was knocked out during last night's failure!

I would normally say I would reserve judgement on an evening such as this one, but I am going to be quite open in saying it ended very badly indeed. Laura's behaviour was utterly appalling towards both Sarah and me, and Rachael seemed to have rubbed some of her best friends up the wrong way to the point where their reaction probably meant they ought not to be considered best friends any more. Frankly, right now I wouldn't be sorry never to see certain members of that household again, though I must try not to let my emotions get too much of a grip on me. Both Laura and Rachael can be quite charming company, but both are inclined to lose it if they don't get their own way all of the time - and Laura seems to be making particularly unreasonable demands right now. Rachael is certainly hard work, but at least her needs seem simpler and she understands the meaning of the word "no" a heck of a lot better than her older sister.

It's Saturday morning, and I can sense another potentially quite difficult day coming up. I'd better get dressed and have a bite of breakfast first though.

Going much better than anticipated, so far... Thank goodness.

More later maybe - this isn't my computer I'm using, and its owner is asleep!

Today was OK, though I can't deny I trod a little carefully at times. The main thing today was taking Sarah to a dentist's appointment in Luton, one for which she was going to need an general anaesthetic so needed escorting apart from anything else. Karen from our Open House group had kindly volunteered to look after Laura and Rachael for the day, which worked out fine, and they were a bit late returning which was no problem at all because it gave Sarah a good chance to sleep off a little bit of her anaesthetic. Upon my arrival in the morning Laura was extremely apologetic for her behaviour last night, an apology which I gather was prompted to some extent by Sarah but that I am reasonably certain was well meant. Not that the two girls were total angels for the rest of the day, but Laura has been put "in charge" for the time being, so to speak - with strict instructions to phone me at any time if there's anything she and Sarah can't deal with - and seems to appreciate the responsibility, and Rachael I think understands that Mummy's not too well but is going to get better, so I'm reasonably confident they'll give Sarah a slightly easier time than usual at the very least. Oh, and just as I was about to put Rachael to bed, Katy phoned me on my mobile, which was a pleasant surprise - but roll on next weekend when we should see each other again for the first time in three weeks, even if Katy's grandmother's birthday will inevitably be the main focus of attention!

There have not been any overnight phone-calls, so I assume all is calm chez Sarah and co. Of course, when I was talking to Laura yesterday evening about dealing with any problems arising, I checked that she would know what to do in the event of a serious emergency. "Dial 911". Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Though I hear rumours that American television culture has infiltrated so much that "911" has now been made to work on the UK telephone network too - but it's not one of those things you really want to put to the test, now is it?

Enjoying a quiet day so far, with hardly even any emails to tend to! Watched The Shawshank Redemption this afternoon, finally. Yes, I've seen it a couple of times before, but not for a good while, and certainly not on widescreen DVD. It is an excellent film indeed, even if there are a few niggling faults - not least where exactly on the cell wall Andy hung his infamous posters and how he could really have got away with what he did - but not enough to diminish the strength of its message. Definitely a film everyone should watch at least once!

Ah, I am reliably informed that Andy's cell was an end cell. Still leaves a few possibly unanswered questions, but at least it's not 100% daft now.

Back on my own at the office today - with both Tim and Sam away - but it's not too bad. Was a little depressing there being no-one else at all from our lot at lunch though, but it meant I was in and out of the refectory in a quarter of an hour flat, leaving plenty of time for a gentle stroll round the lake here. Carried out what I hope are the final touches to that web database thing for the DEFRA guy, and once I've tried again to cut a second CD-R of those Java questions and sent the discs off to the relevant academics, I shall hopefully be able to focus on the microprocessor simulation for the rest of the week.

CD-R writing failed again, and I tried with several discs. I can only assume that my CD writer is broken; it had been playing up in various subtle ways for quite a while, but if it could lie on its back with its legs in the air, I am sure it would now be doing just that. I eventually managed to find another machine with a CD writer to which I had access - it seems to be assumed we all have our own facilities - and got a second copy done, but I'm making quite sure this goes down on my timesheet as involuntarily wasted time. Between Thursday and today's experiences, that's got to be good for about eighty quid's worth of my time. Not that I see anywhere near that much, but it again shows the folly of being forced to buy the cheapest tat possible, with no regard to quality.

Nothing yet heard back from IT Support about my dead CD writer, so I guess I'll have to tolerate - and bill for - trudging up to and down from the graphics lab for a little while longer. Got a few bits of the microprocessor thing done this afternoon as hoped, but still plenty more to do, which should keep me busy for the rest of the week - and then I need to indicate from whatever remains, what is possible, what isn't and what I intend to do differently. But now it's time I was heading home, though I frankly feel pretty lethargic - and not very hungry given that I gave in and paid a visit to the shop not so very long ago.

I made it home in the end, and had a good natter on the phone with Margaret while I did so. Enjoyed a quiet evening, with the high point being one of my classic chicken and bacon caesar salads - for the second day in a row, if only because I don't really trust fresh chicken to keep any longer in this weather!

But I still have some bacon left - mmm, bacon sandwiches tomorrow, don't you think? Tesco's "Healthy Eating" bacon, no less - no I don't know how either... It's actually cheaper than their regular bacon, incredibly.

And I have HP Sauce, yay!

Humble apologies to any vegeterians reading; I am acutely aware that the lure of bacon sandwiches is the number one cause of quitting the habit...

Mmm, bacon. Sizzling bacon.

With lashings of HP Sauce.

Bacon.

In sandwiches.

Poor little piggies laid down their life for a good cause indeed.

You know you want to!

Busy day, but generally not too frustrating, happily to say. Ticked off quite a few more items on the list of stuff needing doing with the microprocessor simulation, though there's a lot more to go. I had my machine taken away for an hour this afternoon to replace the dead CD writer, but the bloke declared that there was "nothing wrong with it", which struck me as an unlikely story. Anyway, that's another forty quid billed to LTS for the downtime, so hopefully someone will notice. Off to see Pirates of the Caribbean with Sam and Tim in a short while, so must remember to leave work promptly since I'd like to have a bite to eat first! And no prizes for guessing what I intend to have. Mmm, bacon sandwiches... With lashings of HP Sauce. Just in case you'd forgotten.

Pirates of the Caribbean was decidedly OK. Not worth the hype - but then what is? - but it was mainly pretty fast moving and without an entirely predictable plot, so certainly worth the three pounds and fifty pence asking price and a slightly sore backside from two and a quarter hours of what were without doubt Cineworld's least comfortable seats. Back home now though, oddly enough, and struggled to find a parking space outside; methinks I might have to do what I have been avoiding and ask the letting agency to ascertain once and for all which space is mine, even if it needs the landlord to consult his solicitor...

Katy's back tomorrow! Hooray! Of course, she may be in no fit state to make contact until Thursday, but here's hoping. It's been a week and a half way too long. I guess that means all the more lost time to make up for! Yay! Katy!

Today's dragging more than a little, even though I have plenty to do, and even a fair amount of motivation to do so. Ticked off a good number more items on the to-do list for the microprocessor simulation, including a few things that I thought were going to be very complicated. At some point tomorrow I will need to declare a code freeze, account for what I haven't managed to do, and try and cut a couple of CD-Rs for the course team to peruse during my absence. I hope I'll have managed to do most of what they want, but it's not going to be 100%.

I don't normally mention my weekly lunches in the pavilion with David any more because they have become somewhat of an institution over the last few months, but today's is worthy of mention if only because it will almost certainly be the last, with David on the move at the end of the month. Well, unless I drag myself back into work specially next week, but that would be being a little over-eager I suspect. So let it go on the record that for our last pavilion lunch, David had his usual packed lunch of sandwiches, crisps and an apple, whilst I devoured chicken goujons with chilli sauce, salad and granary bread, accompanied by a big mug of tea for each of us. Eaten outside, no crossword.

Oh, and I got an invitation for a "celebration and thanks" lunch for the course that's given me the greatest amount of grief over the last year or more. If I was to go, it would be more with the attitude of "go away and good riddance" so perhaps it's just as well it falls during my leave. Thanks to that course I got no decent break last summer, and the whole thing has lurched from disaster to disaster and has seen me within a hair's breadth of quitting on the spot on several occasions. Yes, I really think it would be a good idea not to attend!

Yay, phone call from Katy! OK, so I was about to eat my tea, so I had to call her back afterwards, but it was great to talk without worrying about how long five euros would last in an Austrian phone-booth! Sounds like with a very few reservations Katy had an excellent time, and we're already working out how the next few weekends are going to take shape for ourselves. What with that, and just one more day at work for the time being, life's looking really quite good!

Oh I'm fed up now. Just wasted the last half hour because what looked like a simple request from the academics turned out to be a "bolt-on extra" too far. Thankfully JBuilder's undo feature has quite a good memory, and I managed to get back to where I started reasonably easily. But the trouble is, this bit relates to some requests that the academics were particularly anxious should be dealt with before I went on leave, and I fear a major rearchitecturing will be necessary in order to implement them successfully now - and that's not going to happen this afternoon, funnily enough. It's generally been great to develop this software while the course team develop the course texts, but it has to be said that the code is consequently ending up a nightmare I hope no-one ever has to maintain or substantially add to further. But anyway, whinging about it isn't going to help get the job done, so I guess I'd better be pressing on...

Finally - at about half past eight, and beyond the point of feeling especially hungry any more - I can hold my head reasonably high as I prepare to walk home. As I had expected, my CD writer still didn't work - thank you again, Servo, for taking my computer away for an hour to not bother even trying to diagnose the problem - so I had to waste a load more time than expected up in the graphics lab with about the only suitably equipped machine available at this time of day. Thankfully I had Katy to keep me company, albeit on the other end of the phone, but that's better than nothing! But four CDs have been cut, documented and stuck into the internal mail. My time-sheet is up to date, my email is sorted out, and my auto-responder is set to tell people to bug Lara, not me.

I'm out of here!

Hey, it's "National Slacker Day" tomorrow. What an apt start to my holiday!

Somewhat entertainingly, while I was on the phone with Katy last night, the doorbell rang. I thought it was going to be Gareth, wanting me to back-up his mobile phone before it goes for repair, but instead it was a bloke from NTL, our local cable franchise. He noted that I wasn't currently paying for my cable connection, which is no surprise given that I do not have a television. However, that fact seemed hard for him to comprehend, as he chuckled in a "yeah, right, heard it all before" kind of way. No, I don't use the connection for my radio either - the aerial works just fine, thank you. "So I'll put you down for a cut-off then," he says, obviously expecting me to suddenly repent and remember I really did have a 32" wide-screen in the corner. But he still tried, even then! Was I planning to get a television, because it would be only two pounds a month to keep the connection active? Eventually he realised that I really wasn't remotely interested, that he wasn't going to get a penny out of me and that my only concern was for any future tenants who might have to pay a reconnection fee, and he went away. At least he was nice enough about it!

And, so far, very slack indeed!

Well, not a totally slack day. I have at least done a bit of tidying and the washing up, and been out to do my weekly shop. Not much else planned though!

Been for a nice walk this evening though, and made a few more arrangements for the long weekend. Feeling quite weary now, and going to head for bed soon...

Two hours later, I actually did so, but isn't that so often the way? At least I finally managed a decent lie-in this morning; despite having had Fridays off for quite a while now, my body-clock still thought I had to be up bright and early yesterday. If anyone can invent the anti alarm-clock, i.e. something - other than a lump-hammer or an anaesthetic - that can ensure that the sleeper stays asleep until a given time, I might personally make them very rich.

Just got in from a pretty good weekend away - and no, not at Greenbelt this year; last year was quite enough for a lifetime, I think. Went to my parents' Saturday afternoon and stayed there overnight before going on to Farnham Sunday morning, and staying down there until this bank-holiday Monday evening.

No particular agenda for the first half of the weekend, though of course helped Mum and Dad with the computer - making sure it wasn't riddled with viruses and worms, and so on - and made myself vaguely useful and sociable Saturday evening and Sunday morning, eventually leaving for Katy's just after midday on Sunday.

Had a better drive on Sunday morning - Saturday's journey was plagued by lots of little hold-ups, not the least being a major smash on the A5 - and arrived in time to hit the local Miller's Kitchen for a lightish lunch. Well, a bit more than we'd intended perhaps, but it certainly saw us through to tea chez Katy's parents, to celebrate Katy's grandmother's birthday. Rachel, Mark and Daniel were there for a while too, which was lovely, though Daniel seems to have realised he's now two and is behaving accordingly to some extent! Katy's grandmother stayed a while longer and we fitted in a few games of Scrabble; one would probably have been enough but Katy's dad needed some serious humbling, so it ended up being three games, though the line-ups changed slightly for each.

Today we went for a reasonably enterprising walk from near Elstead, taking in a yummy Chinese set menu lunch at one of the several restaurants in Elstead village itself, and generally filling our shoes with sand in between. It was overcast but not excessively humid for once, and it was a pretty nice distance to walk overall. Having cleaned our feet back at base - my trainers obviously being somewhat more porous than Katy's! - we sat and watched Superman and then the athletics for a while, before it was about time I was heading home.

But now I have two not-too-brilliant nights' sleep to catch up with, and I need to be up in good time tomorrow for further adventures, so night night for now!

First, and most strenuous - well, I hope! - part of today's adventures are now over, with David - no, other David, not me, silly! - now, bar himself, a bit of bedding, a few clothes and food things, and a portable CD player, moved to his humble new abode in Sheffield. Brendan was a few minutes late arriving with his van, after a bit of confusion, and it was his wife who accompanied us in the end, but that worked out fine because she was a good laugh and taught us more about vans than we could ever want or need to know but without being boring! We loaded everything up in about half an hour, then took two hours to get to Sheffield, another hour to unload - a bit less muscle available, and we couldn't park very conveniently - and finally about two and a half hours to drive back including a short lunch stop at the Leicester Forest service area on the M1. So all done in about six hours flat in the end, and now we're resting for a couple of hours before we regroup to hit Stony for a curry! Mmm, curry!

And now, six or seven hours after that, peace descends once again upon this household of one. We didn't rush off for the curry in the end, neither of us feeling particularly hungry at six, so listened to music, watched pop videos and perused the Ikea catalogue for a while instead. A couple of hours later we drove up to Stony as planned, and went to the Bekash as planned - a restaurant I hadn't been to in a long time but still had a discount card for. Good food all round, and the bill came to half what David had anticipated, though after that Chinese lunch yesterday I suspect I might be fasting for a week now! Back here afterwards, and I satisfied David's curiosity about my "new" guitar and let him add to his blog, before it was time to part ways and think about bed!

Done practically nothing today, and have no regrets whatsoever! Though I have spent a little while creating a spreadsheet to work out relative total costs of ownership of various cars given anticipated mileage, sad muppet that I am. Oh, and I've had a good chat on the phone with Katy. And had a bath. And cooked up some scrummy pasta. And written this diary entry. Perhaps it wasn't such a completely degenerate day after all. Oh, OK, point taken - perhaps it was...

But then I stepped out on to the patio - yes, my humble flat has a patio! - and looked up to see a huge receding cloud bank across the sky. It had been an overcast day, so plans for the astronomy club to look at Mars on its current "close approach" seemed all rather dashed, but suddenly it all looked rather practical again. So I walked out to the observatory, and there was a fair crowd already gathered; about twenty people came through in the course of the evening, at our rough estimate. Mars hadn't yet risen, so we enjoyed looking at a few other interesting astronomical objects such as the Ring Nebula, but then the "star of the show" made its appearance and looked stunning even to the naked eye but obviously spectacular through the observatory 'scope. Now I've not been taken in by the media hype sufficiently to believe that this closest approach in 60,000 years is going to be a "blink and you miss it" event, nor that it is markedly better than any other of our annual approaches, but given that I'd not looked at Mars properly before it was as good an opportunity as I'll be likely to get, at least from this latitude and these light-polluted skies. We're meeting again this evening, weather permitting, but I'm not quite sure what I'm doing for the rest of the day and having had good viewing last night before the cloud returned, I'm not going to plan ahead too much based on such a meteorological uncertainty. I didn't get home until pushing midnight last night - thankfully John gave me a lift home - and didn't get to bed immediately, so was pretty shattered by the time I finally turned in. But what should have been a good night's sleep was wrecked by some rather weird dreams and so on, so I'm by no means refreshed this morning - and unhelped further by being woken by an early-ish phone-call to arrange things for later today...

Been quite a long but not too stressful day. Sarah had phoned early in the morning to invite me to lunch with her and Margaret at Woolworths, which I duly accepted. I parked at her house and walked up with her and Rachael, before we tried and initially failed to get Rachael into the crèche - something Rachael really enjoys despite really being a little bit old for that kind of thing now. However there was space eventually, though it meant our lunch ended up a little disjoint, but three adults finally got the chance to natter without continual distractions! Margaret had to head off, but I came back home with them for the afternoon and evening, and thankfully while Sarah had a rest for a couple of hours the girls behaved more or less impeccably and indeed continued largely to do so for the rest of the evening. I wanted to have a little chat with Rachael anyway about such things, so it was nice to be able to do so in the context of her having mainly been so good for the evening rather than a telling off. We were all very tired, so I was home well before ten - and not only found a free parking space, which is becoming a bit of a rarity, but also a packet of roast chicken and thyme Walkers Sensations posh crisps on the window ledge next to my front door, which is proving to be a bit of a mystery. I had a few theories as to where the packet may have come from, but they are rapidly being discounted. Perhaps I should just be grateful for the gift and munch them anyway?

Oh, and no Mars tonight. I would probably have gone along had it been clear, but it wasn't remotely so! Tomorrow evening I have a classical concert - and a Chinese buffet - to go to, all being well, which promises to be a lot of fun!

"Time for bed!" said Zebedee.

Did I ever say I was very nearly called Zebedee?

If I'd been a bit more of a bouncing baby, it might well have been!

Taking Friday perhaps even more gently than Wednesday, but I do have a long evening coming up so I'm saving my energy - and a bit of appetite. Though I did eat those crisps in the end, and they weren't poisoned or anything.

Just got in from a splendid evening out with my colleague Tim and his family and several friends, celebrating his imminent birthday. After convening at the Hogshead, the early evening was spent enjoying an orchestral concert at the Milton Keynes Theatre, entitled From the New World, and featuring a selection of music from and inspired by America. As such, the programme consisted of the overture from Bernstein's Candide, Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F major in the first half and Dvořák's New World Symphony in the second. The Barber piece did very little for me - technically exquisite as the performance was, he's certainly written better, and I think I would have preferred Bryan Adams' Summer of '69 in all honesty - but otherwise the concert was excellent, speaking as someone who's hardly a connoisseur but can appreciate a good live performance of any type of music or drama. After that, it was on to Elements Oriental Eatery - just across the way from the theatre - to predictably enough stuff ourselves with good oriental food, and all but a couple of those who had been at the concert joined us there too which was good. As usual, the atmosphere was a bit naff but the food and company was top notch, though it was getting late so they were a tad short on some of the buffet items. But everyone had plenty anyway, and a great time was had by all!

And now I'm back home; again I found a parking space, and I have now solved the mystery of the crisps. I had my suspicions, and Sam was high up on the list; he has now confessed all, and was a little disappointed I'd worked it out so easily. As I had suspected, he'd picked them up in error, assuming them to be vegetarian-friendly like almost all meat-flavoured crisps, and he thought I would be a likely person to appreciate them instead. Quite right he was too!

Now late Saturday afternoon, having done my shopping - which turned out to be a much more convoluted affair than intended - and done a few other necessary bits and bobs of housework, interspersed with a couple of phone-calls to Katy. Now though I think I'm going to go and collapse into the bath for a while, and perhaps consider going for a walk later once it's cooled down a bit outside.

Neither the bath nor the walk happened at that time, getting too engrossed in some programming I'd promised someone as a favour. Going to have the bath now, though! Need a fairly early night 'cos I have a pretty strenuous day coming up!

Bath done, but bed seems an indeterminate distance away yet. But I must, though, if I am to get up willingly when my alarm sounds at nine tomorrow.

That was certainly a productive day, primarily spent helping Sarah get their garden tidied up in advance of Laura's birthday barbecue planned for tomorrow afternoon. Having finally acquired some new strimmer line, the lawn got shaved down to something sensible again, and I also cleared the most unruly of the flower beds almost completely. So all is set for the party, with a reasonably presentable garden, although judging by Laura's behaviour at times today I wouldn't be remotely surprised to get a last minute call to say it has been cancelled. I truly hope that the notional transition from childhood to being a teenager will make a marked difference to her attitude, but I'm not optimistic about an overnight improvement! And we're an optimistic family, us Gosnells...

Otherwise today, well we met Clifford the Big Red Dog at Woolworths. Rachael "reminded" us in her inimitably persistent style that she was supposed to be going to meet him, and of course very nearly had any such promise withdrawn in the process. But we did go in the end, and took Laura's friend's little sister with us too, who was almost as thrilled as Rachael to meet some random person in a costume. And I did my usual UN peace-keeping duties; I think I shall have to acquire a light blue beret from somewhere and make it official. Rachael is liable to quite intentionally wind Laura up, and Laura has a distinct tendency to "preemptively retaliate" - in the misguided belief that Rachael always gets away with it otherwise - which altogether makes for quite an explosive mixture.

But I'm home now. They're not my problem, as Katy keeps having to remind me!

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