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David's diary: December 2003

Urgh, spreadsheets are back in fashion. Yes, when I spoke to Katy at lunchtime today I was almost verging on being potentially marginally enthusiastic about the prospect for once, but this afternoon is proving that my confidence was misplaced. The only saving grace is that at least this time I don't have to cater for the abomination that is StarOffice, since this is for a summer school where the system installation should be both known and controllable. This exercise really would be better as a stand-alone piece of software, but as with everything else on this course - and most things in the technology faculty full stop - it's running way too late to be suggesting anything radical like that.

But it's gone 5.30 now so I suppose I might as well toddle home, even though I need to return later for our astronomy club monthly gathering. Sometime in the middle I need to have my tea and phone Katy again, but I'm sure I'll manage!

Feeling fragile and apathetic, as occasionally happens. I've not gone home yet, and every passing minute seems to make it less likely. In an hour's time I can phone Katy from my mobile anyway. Hmm, not that hungry either. Perhaps I'll sit and play games on the web for an hour instead. Hmm. Not good.

And not a great deal better twenty four hours later, though I've not felt too bad for at least some of the intermediate time. I was supposed to have been going to Sarah's this evening to help decorate as part of an Open House press gang, with tea beforehand as a bonus. However, having emailed her last night to say I wasn't feeling too great, Sarah phoned a short while ago to say she hadn't got anything planned for tea after all and felt the house would be far too crowded later on and one less body mightn't be such a bad thing. So I feel kind of relieved that I can have a quiet evening in after all, but at the same time left at a bit of a loose end and feeling lonely. Yes, I could still help with the decorating, but Sarah was definitely trying to persuade me to give it a miss tonight and for various reasons I feel I ought to do as suggested!

Katy's feeling no better - and still not back at work - although she's finally been prescribed antibiotics that will hopefully start having some effect soon. Like me, Katy is about as reluctant to use drugs as doctors are increasingly becoming to prescribe them, but there does come a time when enough is enough - and that time has long gone. I feel helpless up here, especially when I'm not exactly overflowing with energy myself, and it's doubly frustrating given that Katy so dearly wants my company in this hour of her need and I am unable to deliver thanks only to my own weakness. But I am sure I will phone her once I eventually stumble home, and hopefully we can cheer ourselves up with talk of the marquee that's hopefully been booked this afternoon for that happy day in about six months' time! So I guess I ought to pack up at work and do just that!

Well if that was what was bad about today, about four hours ago, perhaps I should be more positive now. And not just to note that I found a bottle of wine in the fridge that I'd forgotten I had. I got loads of the spreadsheet stuff done, indeed there may even be not a lot more to do, depending on how well I understood the academic the other day! It was a little complicated, needing a few macros and so on, but it seems to work about as well as it can do, if it is to closely resemble the previous paper-based exercise. I had a good chat with Katy this evening, happily to say, and was frankly quite glad not to go out. The marquee has indeed been booked, and - incredibly - the bloke actually suggested we went for a smaller one than we'd earmarked! He seems to thrive quite well enough on his word-of-mouth reputation, so I'm pretty sure we've made a good choice there. The marquee was one of the only things we needed to sort out well in advance, so we can - Katy's improved health permitting, of course - hopefully relax and enjoy Christmas now!

I didn't go out last night in the end, and I think needed the rest - although I spent a good part of last night cleaning, washing-up and so on instead. I was in the mood today for a bit of a tidy-up and rearrangement here at work also, and my workspace is looking decidedly better for it - and believe you me it needed it! Less to sort through whenever it turns out to be they finally say I can go, also! Taking a short breather now though - especially since I kicked up a lot of dust in the process, which gets to my eyes and nose at any time of year, not just the hayfever season. Annoyingly, about the last thing I found today was a duster of all things. Hmm, to have found that an hour earlier...

Not a brilliantly - but merely acceptably - productive day today, but it's over now and bed is going to be my next major port of call very soon indeed. I'm not sure whether I was amused or dismayed to have today received a letter from the Royal Mail, apologising for the disruption caused by the recent industrial action, and announcing that as a goodwill measure they plan to give a million quid to the British Olympic bid fund. All very well, but I would imagine that sending out individually addressed letters to several million households has set them back at least as much again. Still, it's their money to fritter I guess - but it's a little rich when they insist they need to charge a bit more for stamps in order to make an operating profit, which I have to say that under any other circumstances I would generally support. I don't know what the wider impact would be, but I really don't expect my children to have heard of the Royal Mail in anything other than their history books. I won't grieve, anyway.

So, another week at work gone, and another weekend coming up - and looking distinctly like it'll be another Katy-less one, with her still feeling very rough and holding out for a dramatic improvement by the time Christmas things get going in earnest next weekend. Christmas seems to be slowly taking shape, with my brother and sister expressing their respective preferences - with varying degrees of vagueness - about visiting arrangements, although there is still much to be done, like shopping, time for which will pass all too quickly.

Today started OK, with a meeting with one of the academics about a residential school experiment where the students heat up five resistors in a small oven and log their resistances over time using an interfaced PC. It's currently running in DOS on a 33MHz 486SX, and clearly part of the plan is to move to something at least vaguely 21st-century. Recreating the software to run in Windows XP or whatever didn't look to be too tough, but I tried for as long as possible to ignore the tangle of cables at the back of the computer. These, I had been led to believe, were connected to a standard serial or parallel port, but this was not the case. The academic and his colleagues reckoned it was a parallel port in disguise, but looking up the model numbers and whatnot this afternoon has revealed that the card is some kind of programmable digital I/O controller, a PCI and modern Windows compatible version of which we may or may not be able to source. So that's going to slow things down somewhat, not even knowing if we are going to be able to get the computer talking to the oven without a major electronic redesign which I doubt has remotely been budgeted for. And even then, the chances of being able to write the software in Java - without relying on big chunks of native code - will be decidedly questionable. I hate having to judge that projects are doomed, but I don't get encouraging vibes right now!

But anyway, I've reported my findings - not quite saying the project's doomed, merely implying it - and it's time I was wandering home. So cheerio for now.

First carol singers of the year, though I use the term loosely, since I don't think I heard a tuneful note between the three of them, and they couldn't even speak the words of "We wish you a merry Christmas" in time with each other... But it was so bad it was funny, so I could cheerfully tell them to come back and try again when they'd got a bit better. Without getting knifed, that is.

Oh, and it took me until about half way through the verse before I realised what exactly it was they were trying to do. As Sarah said when she phoned a little while ago, it's like the growing trend of collecting "a penny for the guy" when there is an obvious lack of any guy to be collecting pennies for.

But it was still funny, and contributed towards an overall quite good evening.

Oh guess what, was woken early this morning by the postman, delivering another letter from those wastes of space at Boncaster. This one claimed that they had already provided new documentation reflecting Katy's corrected details as a named driver. Needless to say that is an utter fabrication, and if it wasn't for the fact that my formal complaint should now be lodged with not only them but SEAT UK and Allianz Cornhill whose reputations they are tarnishing, I'd be absolutely hopping mad. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - avoid this thoroughly useless company like the plague. If offered insurance that is administered by them, refuse it point-blank, even if it's "free". I've dealt with some pretty poor companies in my time, but Boncaster take the biscuit as the most uniformly appalling of the lot. I hope they read this, frankly.

Thankfully I needed to be up in fair time anyway, since I'd agreed to take Sarah out to Tesco this morning. We'd been planning to go last night, but Sarah had forgotten Rachael had a school disco which she felt she needed to support. But that meant that with Laura round at a friend's house and Rachael out at the cinema with Margaret, we managed a relatively straightforward trip this morning, without having to insist on the replacement of random shiny items on to the shelves every ten seconds - and I treated us to chicken fajitas for lunch, which would never have happened with the children around! But having dropped Sarah off in the town centre to shop for frozen things and hopefully meet Margaret and Rachael, I'm now enjoying some peace and quiet, and might even continue researching honeymoon possibilities for Katy and me...

As for the rest of the weekend..? Well I did indeed do a little more research into possible destinations for next June, and have sent off a tentative enquiry to one rather tempting looking possibility. Mmm, a nice hide-away, hopefully miles from the internet, squabbling children or any other - hmm, how can I put this delicately? - unwanted distractions... Most of yesterday afternoon and evening I spent with Sarah and co, enjoying - in between slightly less pleasant episodes - yummy meals and a healthy if chilly walk around Willen Lake. I'm happy to say I found a couple of opportunities to chat with Katy on the phone, but she's still not well and has now been referred back to her consultant and signed off work effectively through until the new year. I just hope and pray that she's essentially better by Christmas - yes, for partly selfish reasons, but because I know all too well from my own experience of a few years back how lousy it is to feel so physically low at this time of year, and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. Today's been a day mainly of meetings and waiting for emails that didn't arrive, but it's almost time to head home now, thankfully...

It may sound a little cruel, but I had to laugh at a lady I saw almost falling off her bike this morning. She was struggling to get up a sharp rise on one of Milton Keynes's many redway cycle and footpaths. She was all over the place, weaving across the entire width of the redway, even going up on to the grass verges, before finally toppling and only just preventing what could have been quite a nasty fall, especially for someone who didn't look terribly youthful.

However, I couldn't help feeling though that she could have done herself a huge favour by not having had only one hand on her handlebars due to her obviously ultra-urgent need to compose a text message with the other as she "rode" along.

Quiet evening, so-so night's sleep, and back to the grind this morning. Well, sort of, anyway - I do wish these academics would understand that in order to make best use of their resource allocation, it's good to cooperate with us...

It actually ended up being one of my least productive days for some time. If the technology faculty really is happy to pay for software designers to sit thumb-twiddling because they can't be bothered to supply us with what we need, when we need it, then they get no worse than they deserve. But I'm home now.

Damn, is it really over a day since I last wrote in here?

Today really could have ended up no better than yesterday, but thankfully I fared somewhat better on the "job creation" front and managed to keep myself busy the whole time. Got quite a few of Mirabelle's requested changes to the fetch-execute sequence simulator - or "animation" as it is now to be known, to ease confusion with the simulated processor - done, and managed to write a couple of hundred words about compilers and interpreters which she had asked if I could help her out with. The latter was quite sweet really, reflecting the much better professional relationship I have with Mirabelle than probably any other academic at the university, truly understanding that we work as a team, with everyone having wisdom to share even outside our official specialisations.

This evening I really didn't feel like going to Open House, but Katy reminded me that the times when I've felt least like going have often turned out to be the best. When expectation management is combined with God's goodness, I guess I shouldn't expect it to be any other way. And indeed it was good tonight, even if only six of us made it. I led worship for the first time in a very long time - perhaps ever, even - and it was a bit shaky but did the job; guitar really is not my first instrument but it's the only one I can practically lead from and practice makes slight improvement... We also had a good and not too hurried bible study on reactions to Jesus, discussing what we'd have done had we been there, and still had plenty of time for prayer and ministry, sharing communion, supper and a good natter! Now why can't it always be like that?!

It may be that almost all the email I receive nowadays is spam - and I don't believe for a moment that any puny legislation is going to change that - but it's still flipping frustrating when email's not working at all! Thankfully it's working again now, but for an eternity-spanning couple of hours it really wasn't looking too good... As it turned out, nothing too exciting was waiting for me - and in fact there wasn't even any spam. Hmm, have 1&1 turned on spam filtering while I wasn't looking? It'd be nice to know, and nice to have it as a configurable option, since there are such things as false positives - and an alarming number of people who write to me seem to get their messages identified as junk mail, only a very few of them totally justifiably. I frequently wonder what's going to happen with the internet in the longer term; email is now all but useless outside the corporate environment, and everyone's favourite search engine Google is returning increasingly less useful results, making the web not an awful lot better than email. Anyway, it's almost phone-Katy-and-go-to-lunch time, so I'm just going to put my soap box safely away and do precisely that!

Katy was on the phone when I tried to call her, and she phoned back while I was eating my lunch. Consequently we didn't really get a chance to talk properly until this evening, and I unexpectedly got whisked out for an Ask pizza with Darren - possibly for the last time before his forthcoming departure from these shores in January probably. But I've phoned Katy now and had a good natter, and, having checked my emails, feel like doing not a great deal more other than reading a couple more chapters of my book - Michael Connelly's A Darkness More Than Night - in a nice hot bath then heading for bed at a vaguely sane hour.

So, it's Friday, and my day - indeed, week - at work is very nearly done with. Been kept reasonably busy today with stuff to do for the simulated processor and the fetch-execute sequence animation software, but I'll still be quite glad to head home in a half an hour or so. Still nothing heard for sure about the redundancy, after a brief glimmer of hope yesterday when my media account manager Nigel insisted that the wheels were very definitely in motion and that he would raise the issue when he met his boss yesterday afternoon. But since then, silence. It's just incredibly frustrating - not only for me but for Katy - not knowing what my future is here. Well, OK, I know I'm going one way or the other, but the manner will have a good deal of bearing on the exact timing and so on. Marking time isn't too constructive an activity, but when I don't even know how much time I have to mark, it leaves me completely in the dark. Much as I may be attached to Milton Keynes, and much as it's going to mean big changes moving house, getting married, making new friends, finding a new job and so on, at the same time I am itching to go - to do what I know is right.

Especially with Katy being so poorly at the moment I feel helpless and more than a little vulnerable up here. Much as I have generally put it all behind me I cannot help but recall my experiences of a little under two years ago - even though Katy and I have now been engaged getting on for twice as long as that particular disaster. I feel totally committed to Katy, and I know she is equally to me, but being apart is psychologically challenging in the extreme, and I am finding myself having the odd flashback to those times. Not with any underlying sentimentality - just cynicism, even though I know Katy would never hurt me as I was then. But we shall see each other this weekend, even if we don't get to do a great deal thanks to Katy's health - though a planned Chinese meal with her house group will hopefully prove to be medicinal - and I am sure these skeletons will be put to rest for a while longer. But it's only really going to be cured by finalising what's happening with my job here, making any necessary decisions as an upshot of that, packing my things, and moving down; until then, I fear my emotions will be staying on Ronan's rollercoaster...

Woo, today I got a letter from Boncaster - a.k.a. SEAT Insurance amongst other noms de plume - admitting that the service I have received has been atrocious and promising me there's a compensation cheque in the post. Well, "goodwill gesture" they call it, but fifty quid will just about cover my costs of chasing them over the last two and a half months. Sadly it repeats the lie that they have sent me Katy's revised documentation, but they assure me in writing that her details are now recorded correctly, so I shall simply keep the letter with my insurance certificate as evidence of "good faith" should anything untoward happen while Katy's at the wheel. Anyway, it's a relief to find someone there who has a remote clue about good customer service - just would be nice if the gentleman in question would rub a bit of it off on his lacklustre colleagues.

Now back from Farnham, after a surprisingly busy couple of days considering how poorly Katy regrettably remains. Still, it means she's gratefully accepting of even more cuddles and kisses, so every cloud has a silver lining. Yesterday we did a bit of Christmas shopping - amazingly, I was more successful than Katy, after a shaky start - and went for a nice curry in the evening for the first time in quite a while. Oh, and we had a game of Scrabble, which Katy marginally won - but only once I'd deducted the value of my unused letters and added them to Katy's score, and we did manage a combined score of 711 which was pretty impressive! Today we went to church, which was a definite strain for Katy, but lunch afterwards with Katy's house group - eventually at the Harvester at Fleet for various reasons, rather than the anticipated Chinese - raised spirits for a little while. That was enough for poorly Katies, however, so having watched Have I Got News For You and a bit of swimming on the telly I hit the road home.

But even so, it was still a lovely weekend, and the end is happily in sight for this travelling up and down the M1/M25/M3/A331/A31 lark. Roll on, whenever!

Today's been OK, and unusually the Monday Morning Meeting was the highlight of the day at work - with coffee and tipsy mince pies for a pre-Christmas treat. Pretty grim otherwise, but it got better by this evening, having a good natter on the phone with Katy before I went and did my shopping - including getting some sausage rolls for Sarah which I dropped off afterwards and whiled away a couple of hours as I suspected I might. Spoilt a bit by Rachael being none too happy and needing a lot of reassurance, and one of Laura's best friends having witnessed a fatal accident this evening, leaving Laura barely more content. But still good to catch up with Sarah and co - and thankfully I didn't have to do a rush-job of wrapping their presents since I do expect to see them properly again before Christmas! Now high time I was thinking about going to bed though!

Not the best of days today. Who would ever have thought I would object to being valued too much? Well I do, when it's blocking my redundancy - at one point described as being done and dusted bar signing on the line, then pretty much in the bag, then to be discussed at the senior management level, and now - it turns out - never actually proposed in the first place, because they want to keep me. I have to say I am cross, because I had been lulled into a false sense of security and it's very lucky for them that I'd not made any specific commitments that couldn't be revised, or I might be "seeking advice" at this point. Anyway, that somewhat ruined what I was hoping would be a positive and productive day, and casts a bit of a shadow over my last couple of days at work this year. Thankfully it was salvaged this evening with nice phone calls with Katy - who I love, and who loves me, regardless - and the icing on the cake will be getting to bed about three hours earlier than of late. So goodnight.

Oh, and a couple of other things of note yesterday - one bad, one not so bad...

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned some problems with a project I'm expected to update some software for, most notably the fact that the I/O card currently in use is some kind of pre-ISA dinosaur, without a hope in hell of working on any faintly modern computer. Well I eventually tracked down a German firm selling a PCI equivalent, possibly even with Java support, and contacted them for more details, which were not forthcoming, although I was inclined to order the card anyway even if we had to write some native code. I had a phone call yesterday though from Fraser, one of the guys over in the technology faculty, and there had clearly been a misunderstanding because he had been led to believe that we could use the old card still. So back I went to the German company's website, and lo and behold the card I'd earmarked had just been discontinued! I guess it was for the best really, if the product wasn't likely to be well supported - especially given the lack of response to my pre-sales enquiries - but still mightily annoying, and I am not quite as convinced by any of the alternatives on offer from them or anyone else. I guess the project is doomed, after all.

In better news though, I got my "goodwill" - or, rather, compensation - cheque through from Boncaster yesterday, which will help immensely at this financially tight time of year even before I wasted so much time and money chasing them to little or no avail. Still no sign of the proof they claimed to have sent that Katy's named driver details are recorded correctly, but I'm keeping the letter promising that to be the case with my insurance certificate and will chase them about it when I can be bothered to have anything to do with the idiots again.

Anyway, I'd better get on... It's our Open House group's Christmas party this evening, which should be fun - must remember to take my cheese and biscuits!

And with a typically unproductive day, my working year comes to an end. It also included my second formal seasonal activity of the year, having had our Open House Christmas party last night and our technology media team's lunch today. Both were really good, and today's made still better by going to the university carol concert for the hour beforehand. All contributing towards a day when I really didn't get a lot done, but it wasn't completely fruitless either so I can hold my head moderately high as I complete my time sheet for the rest of the year in a moment. Sadly my third formal Christmas activity - our church meal tomorrow evening - isn't looking so good, with Katy too unwell to travel, but I'm still determined to have a good time even in her absence. I'd booked the day off work specially too, but I can make good use of the time to do a few odds and ends of Christmas shopping I'm sure, and we should have plenty of opportunities to make up for it over the next couple of weeks!

Oh, it's nice knowing I don't have to get up remotely early tomorrow morning, although I really do need to go and do some more Christmas shopping - not least to find something suitable for my dearly betrothed - and write some Christmas cards to be posted to a very select few lucky recipients. But there need be no rush, that's the main thing... Definitely a big relief work's over for now!

This evening I've been tidying the flat a bit - even though Katy's not coming up tomorrow now after all, I decided it needed a good once-over anyway, which I partially succeeded in doing - and wrapping up most of those presents I have bought so far. Just one or two, and whatever I can find tomorrow, to go now!

Even with Katy still so under the weather I'm finally feeling fairly positive about Christmas now, and know that we should have a good time of it even if we aren't as adventurous as perhaps we'd hoped. Oh, Sheree very sweetly suggested at Open House last night that we should all have another "Christmas party" in the new year, when Katy's properly recovered - and Katy and I agreed when we chatted this evening that that was a splendid idea! Roll on, improved health!

I got a Christmas card in the post today, every line ending in an exclamation mark! Even one added to the printed greeting on the inside! Even one added to every line of the address! Bet the postman must have loved that! I wonder who could possibly have sent it?! In fact it was Katy who solved the mystery! I'm so slow sometimes, I really am! Perhaps if there has been an exclamation mark after the faint Sheffield postmark I might have had a better guess, but that would have been rather more difficult for the sender to engineer..!

!

What of the last couple of days otherwise?

Well I did indeed finish off my Christmas shopping yesterday, and it wasn't too heaving in town thankfully - though I wisely parked at Sarah's and walked in to the centre rather than queue for non-existent parking spaces up there. Will need to do some wrapping tomorrow, but it's a relief to have got the hardest bit done! In the evening it was the Vineyard Christmas meal at the Kingston Tavern. As you know, Katy was supposed to have been up for that but was still far too unwell to travel, and the others there missed her almost as much as I did! But it was still a good evening, even in Rachael's hyperactive company, even with rather too al-dente broccoli, and even with the chocolate cake that really was a dessert too far for almost everyone who had it - although I only realised it later... Nice to get out even if I didn't have exactly the company I'd have liked - but yet more momentum was gained for Sheree's new-year idea!

Last night was Rachael's pre-Christmas treat with Sarah, and Laura was supposed to have had hers this evening at another party. However plans for that rather fell through, but I took Rachael off Sarah's hands for the afternoon which let them go and watch a film and spend some time together anyway. The foul weather abated sufficiently that Rachael and I were able to get out for a short while, with the rest of the time seeing Rachael absorbed in the usual selection of DVDs. Back to Sarah's for a buffet tea - that having worked so well a couple of week back - and a bottle of wine, but now I'm back home and relaxing awhile before I curl up with Life of Pi and get myself in the mood for sleeping...

Church at the café was a bit low on numbers but quite fun in the end, with my time mainly taken making balloon dogs for the children there - it's always nice to discover new skills, even if I still cannot include tying knots in balloons amongst them! Surely someone has designed a device to do it automatically..?

Had lunch at Sarah's but emphatically was not staying for the afternoon - and Sarah needed a rest anyway! I'll be there tomorrow evening anyway for a bit of a pre-Christmas party, and I need plenty of time to myself to sort out a few more things and try and build up some energy of my own, so that was perfectly fine by me! Popped into town afterwards to buy a few last bits and pieces that Tesco wouldn't be able to help with, and now I'm back home, have battened the hatches and I think might take a nice relaxed bath in a short while!

Oh, and thank you to the - I assume - little oik who decided to remove all the lids from the Sainsbury's own-brand 1000mg vitamin C. Tesco had none at all the other day, and Sainsbury's entire stock was rendered unsellable, so I had to pay extra at Superdrug instead. Still, at least the Superdrug ones taste better than the others, so I guess it could be worse. It's one thing when kids pick things up off the shelves and play with them, but quite another thing when they are wantonly destructive into the bargain. The supervisor wasn't allowed to tell me what she thought, but smiled in tacit agreement at my suggestion.

Hmm, haven't had that bath yet, six hours on. Going to have it shortly though! Instead I spent much of the evening finishing off wrapping presents and so on - and amazingly had exactly the right amount of both paper and sticky tape!

Anyway, bathtime now!

I am obviously getting old and into the "family man" mode, because last night I did something terribly, terribly sad. I wrote a Christmas newsletter. OK, so it was mainly about Katy rather than me, but a newsletter it undeniably was. I shall be expecting a pipe and new slippers in my Christmas stocking, indeed. Edited highlights may well make it into here, I guess, since I do try and write a short summary of each year - if only for people like Chris - and not a great deal of note has happened this year other than the rather excellent development of my relationship with Katy over the last ten or so months in particular...

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