goznet ...

David's diary: July 2003

Today's going on far too long, but I think I shall manage without having to go to the shop for sustenance. More often than not it's just the stretching of the legs I really need, and that is served just as well by a stroll along to the water cooler - and there's no doubt that a pint of water is much better for me than a chocolate flapjack slice or a packet of crisps, is there? There's no Astronomy Club tonight; I'd forgotten because I missed the last meeting thanks to a communication breakdown on the part of our new secretary, where I am sure they reminded those who did turn up that it is now the summer recess. That's good because it means I can now go for a pizza or something with Darren, though to be honest I'm feeling more like having a quiet evening in and seeing if I can maintain this healthy eating regime a little more convincingly. That said, I may well end up having a pizza anyway - but only because I have a load of salad that really needs to be eaten in the next couple of days, so perhaps it's not all doom and gloom on the healthy-eating front. Talking of matters health related, I had yet another blood pressure test today, which indicated that it is still a little elevated, though not cause for serious concern at this stage. I intend to have one more test at the Occupational Health clinic, and then go and visit my doctor to see what they have to say or suggest on the matter. At least I'm still alive, and should stay that way for the foreseeable future!

Otherwise, work-wise, well I'm finally being able to concentrate on the CD-ROM software for this not-actually-particularly-new technology course, with that troublesome website done and dusted for the moment at least - though I'll need to "play databases" soon. Due to complications of the daft resource model that the Open University nows operates under, there is a certain pressure that I get this software finished by the end of July, though I have made no promises in that regard! It's possible, but I would rather promise little but deliver a lot, rather than the other way round. It's going reasonably well so far, which is why I have that modicum of confidence that I might get it done in time, but that's only because - in common with almost all the other technology courses I'm involved with - they are requesting only rehashed stuff from other science and technology courses, nothing new. Quite a bit of it is in Java already, and I am fairly experienced with the process of converting C++ question/answer type software into Java, so apart from the fact that it is mind-numbingly tedious, there's no real reason why I shouldn't make quite good progress. There are still a few issues with the underlying system, but I'm pretty sure they won't be too big a deal and will just require some consultation with Chris whose Java questions framework this is all based upon. But in the meantime, all I can really do is grit my teeth, think happy thoughts, and generally press on...

Tuesdays are bad days. The previous weekend seems a distant memory, and the next weekend seems even further away. But as they go, this evening's been a decidedly good Tuesday evening, thanks to - in some order of significance - Katy, Mum, Anglian Water, Powergen, Dr Oetker and J.K. Rowling. OK, so not everything may be quite as I would like it to be - a bit of ambition and room for improvement being no bad thing - but I have to say that life is very good right now. However, it's time now for a bit more of my book, and then sleep!

Loads of post this morning, and almost none of it for previous tenants!

Got my insurance paperwork, having renewed that the other day, though for a moment I thought they'd screwed up. There were two envelopes, one containing documents for Churchill, and the other one containing documents for MMA - both policies re-sold by Taylor Price, I hasten to add. The former referred to the premium being several pounds more than I'd understood I had paid when I renewed and with different terms. But then I realised that it was an automatic mailing and nothing to do with my actual renewal policy - even though it was dated two days later than the proper paperwork! So that's all in order after all, and Taylor Price get my custom for what must be about the fourth year now. OK, so their quote wasn't quite the best I could have managed, but it was close enough that I couldn't be bothered to go through the rigmarole of changing. Their original renewal quote, as usual, didn't take the mick, unlike most insurance companies who offer good premiums to tempt you in, then hope you'll agree to pay ludicrously over the odds in subsequent years - and make it as difficult as inhumanly possible to change if you do want to switch to a different company.

The other post was, finally, the payment for the photo-shoot Tim and I went on a few months ago now. You may recall that we went round taking shots of Tim using a parking meter, amongst other subject matter, when we had been offered fifty pounds per picture. However, the cheque that arrived this morning was for fifty pounds altogether and not a hundred and fifty as it should have been, but I queried it straight away and the rights department admit they screwed up. Hopefully I won't have to wait quite so long for the additional payment this time, especially as Tim has already spent his cut of our earnings on DVDs!

Oh, and of course, not to forget an HMV voucher from my brother, as a belated birthday present. I actually have quite a few HMV and Smiths tokens stacking up now, so I really ought to take a trip into town sometime when I know there's a sale on - which is pretty much all the time, in some shape or form - and see what takes my fancy. The Smiths tokens are perhaps little problematic because of their origin - they're about a year and a half old, if you need a clue - so I'm inclined to spend them on something fairly mundane, but I'm sure I can find plenty of watching and listening to keep me going with the HMV ones!

Otherwise, today has been highly unexciting, with the definite lowlight being perhaps one of the most tedious production meetings yet. An hour and half it lasted, and earlier in the morning than I thought was generally allowed. And I probably really needed to be there for about two minutes of it, depressingly. There's one more CD-ROM I'm likely to have to produce sometime in the next few months, bringing together all we have done for the course so far in a slightly more coherent manner. However, we're setting an end-of-August deadline for any corrections requested by the course team, which we're pretty sure they haven't got a hope of getting anything to us by - which will of course be tough luck for them, basically - so the process should be reasonably straightforward. Other than that, I'm still plugging away with the Java stuff for the CD-ROM component of the course whose website I was unexpectedly thrown in at the deep end with maintaining, but that's so tedious I'm glad to take the odd break!

Yesterday daytime was unexciting, but not too unbearable and I got a fair bit more done of my Java programming. There was no Open House on Wednesday night, because we had a whole church meeting last night instead, to review the past year or so and outline some of the plans for the next few months. There was also a good opportunity for small groups of us to pray into the issues being talked about, which was probably the best bit of the evening really. A few of us met at the nearby pub for a little while afterwards, which made a pleasant change, and with no work today a slightly late night really didn't matter.

I have a flat inspection this morning, but Paul phoned a little while ago to ask if we could defer it for half an hour. That was fine by me, though the extra time will have to be invested in a longer bath rather than a better lie in, since by the time I had pulled my thoughts together to give an answer, I was of course far too awake. No idea yet what I'm doing with the rest of the day; there were vague plans to call to see Sarah and maybe go for a walk or something with her, but in the end our prior commitments just didn't work out very favourably. But I'm sure I'll get out somewhere this afternoon though!

I tried very hard to locate the Tesco's Healthy Eating chocolate éclairs, but couldn't find them anywhere. I asked one of the assistants and she kindly went into their store-room and fetched a pack for me. It was a completely empty box. I didn't really consider almost two quid for that to be very good value. So I bought the regular ones instead. There aren't any left now, needless to say.

In other news, all my various gift vouchers are now spent. The dreaded Smiths vouchers went on a draughts set and some posh printer paper. The HMV vouchers were rather harder to spend. "HMV syndrome" normally strikes when they have sales, making it all too easy to spend money I can ill afford. But today, I had plenty of money to spend there and precious little in their "biggest ever" sale particularly inspired. In the end I picked up four CDs - compilations from Enya and the Eurythmics and bargain-bin albums from Air and Talvin Singh. Also, in the last few minutes before my free parking ran out I spotted a local stockist of the multi-tools I'm considering getting Dad - at his request - as a belated birthday present, and with even keener prices than on the web!

Oh, and while I was in town, I thought I would track down the Lego shop, since it was mentioned on the BBC news website the other day as having an innovative new 3D video display. I may not be a geek, but I do have occasional urges... I found the shop, but no display in sight - unless it was so realistic I didn't even realise I was looking at it, I guess. All just a publicity stunt then, I assume, to attract customers to an ailing store - though since that bit of the shopping centre was invested in by my pension fund I should be all for that! I did like the pick'n'mix basis that they sold the basic Lego bricks on though - looked like you could just grab what you wanted and they were sold by weight. If only they sold Mindstorms in that manner, then I might become a real geek...

Pub two nights on the trot - I'd better not make a habit of this! Just had a call from Lucy inviting me to join her and Annette at the Caldecotte Arms in a few minutes' time. Shame she didn't call earlier, 'cos I could have combined it with a walk down there as I was half intending anyway - though not with the pub in mind, admittedly - but not to worry. Should be a most pleasant time anyway, and a jolly good way to kick off the weekend proper. Seeya later then!

It was indeed a most pleasant time at the pub and I'm glad I went. Mainly spent talking about all of our respective relationship prospects, and I didn't feel too outnumbered - and of course could be decidedly enthusiastic about mine!

I wonder if Katy's ears felt it?

It's Saturday morning still - or just about, anyway. Saturday would clearly seem to be leaflets-through-the-door day, with a veritable doormat's worth of junk advertising everything from carpet cleaning services to children's holiday clubs. And of course the obligatory weekly Safeway leaflet, as if I would be tempted to go shopping there, with a somewhat better Tesco practically on my doorstep. I hoped there might be some real post amongst it all - not that I'm particularly expecting anything at the moment for once - but no, so I had to finally tear a new recycling sack off the roll. It's still not clear what happens to the tasteful pink sacks once they are collected. Rumours abound of sacks being chucked in the back of the lorries mixed up with the normal refuse, and it's well known there's practically no money to be made from recycling. We can but live in hope that it isn't just another pointless feel-good exercise, superficially absolving our rampant consumerism and general wastefulness, while those in charge of it all laugh quietly as they live happily in the pockets of companies operating yet more polluting landfill sites and incineration plants.

Anyway, enough of that; it's time to get up or I'll never get anything done!

I'm pretty sure I've had my five portions of fruit and vegetables today, having eaten a ploughmans at lunch, a wholesome tea with salad and vegetables - plus fresh strawberries and a raspberry flan for dessert - and yet more strawberries and my daily carrot this evening. Of course the problem will be maintaining that back here rather than at Mum and Dad's where I was for much of today, with Katy, to celebrate Mum's birthday. Mums have a habit of encouraging healthy eating in general, though I have to say I've been getting better on my fruit and veg intake anyway, and do quite often eat the advised amount and variety.

The day's been a good one, as planned. I drove down yesterday evening, just to be with Mum and Dad for a bit, and Katy arrived this morning. Dad was out for the day today, as we'd anticipated, so it was a good chance for Mum, Katy and me to go and have a light pub lunch - that aforementioned ploughmans, for Katy and me at least - and a most pleasant walk near Bledlow, winding up back at the rather lovely Lyde Gardens there, reminding me of the Eden Project in Cornwall somewhat! Dad was back when we arrived home, and we had a lovely birthday tea of chicken pieces and accompaniments, and a good old natter before it was time Katy was heading home. We sorted out a problem with Mum's car stereo and I popped round to see Ross and Becca next door, then it was time for me to hit the road too, and here I am back in Milton Keynes, another glorious week ahead!

I am reliably advised that no less than three "most pleasant" things have been reported by me over the course of the last week. That's total's not being added to very much today so far though; this really isn't being a very good day by any stretch of the imagination. After a good spell lasting several weeks, I'm struggling big time with regard to what should by now be age-old events and people long since out of my day-to-day life. That helped put me into a really good mood when I met with Stew this afternoon to discuss some possible project work that will seal my fate with guaranteed monotony for the next few months. I had to phrase myself carefully with Stew because I don't blame him in the least, but that it's all symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the way the Open University is increasingly operating. I don't know what to do, I really don't.

Perhaps some more "most pleasant" things can happen this evening, but I fear that I won't be terribly convinced even if they might on the face appear to do so. Right now though I just want to curl up and cry, but that's something I've very rarely actually been able to do, much as I've needed it all too often.

Being able to go home would help a lot, but that can't really happen for another hour or so. Had an invitation for a meal out tonight, but I'm really not at all sure whether I feel like making the effort. I just wish I knew what it is I need right now; I have a horrible feeling I'm not likely to be good company for anyone this evening or for as long as this lasts. I haven't even got anything with me to take away the physical pain that this is causing me.

Damn. Just when I thought my day had improved, it's just gone and got worse again. This evening's long awaited Vineyard barge trip left without me. Not that it was anything but my own stupid fault it did; I've just been completely preoccupied today and therefore clean forgot. When Paul phoned to ask where I was, I hadn't got a clue what he was on about. I hope they're all having a good time without me - and there would have been a strong likelihood I'd have been a miserable git - but as far as I'm concerned it's the last straw for me today. If I didn't know to do with myself earlier, I'm even less sure now.

I still really can't believe how stupid I've been. I've been talking about and looking forward to this trip for weeks. And now it's happening, without me... Oh well, there's nothing I can do about it now. I'm half tempted to to the pub they're winding up at anyway, but I daren't show my face now I don't think. I just feel so flipping useless, that I can't even remember something like that simply because I've had a bit of an emotionally difficult day. I'm trying hard not to be grumpy this evening, but it's a lot more difficult than I'd hoped.

The scariest thing is perhaps simply feeling I'm not in control of myself. I take a certain about of hopefully healthy pride that I don't forget things, that I am punctual, and so on. Yet here I am, gazing at this computer screen caring neither what I was doing five minutes ago, nor what I will be doing in five minutes' time. My past is a fraud and my future feels ungraspable. What do I have to live for but my current breath, my current heartbeat? Damn, I wish there were more people I could talk to openly about all this. Katy knows and I'm pretty sure understands, but she can't be expected alone to bear the weight of all my burdens, all my baggage, all my insecurity, all my cynicism and all my downright uselessness. Please, God, give me a way out of this mess.

Oh well, it was time I was putting this day to bed, and me with it. I've had a glass or two of wine and bathed in a 50:50 mix of water and lavender oil, and I feel altogether somewhat more mellow, even if no more cheerful. Perhaps a good night's sleep will help me see everything in a different light - but there's only way way of finding out, isn't there? Goodnight, friends, and God bless.

I didn't sleep very well last night, but got there in the end and was at least moderately raring to go this morning. Work's as unmotivating as ever, but I feel a lot more emotionally stable I'm pleased to say, and am perhaps beginning to make some sense out of the last few days. I also had the last of my series of blood pressure tests this morning, having had half a dozen over the course of the last month, so I've now got a print-out of the results to take back to my GP. I'll probably pop in on Friday to pass them the results in person, and to book an appointment as appropriate. Anyway, writing diary entries doesn't do a whole lot for writing Java software, so this is going to be a short one!

Right, got four question parts done today, and it's too late to start another one really. These questions were previously written in C++ and were amongst the self assessment questions for our science foundation course. Thankfully - for this process at least - the Java system I use is based upon the C++ system, so it's a reasonably straightforward process to convert between the two, even with my extremely limited knowledge of C++. Still a few little complications along the way, so I'm quite happy with having done only four question parts today, and there's still a chance I'll get this effectively completed by the end of the month as was kind of hoped. But don't go telling everyone, will you?!

Been for a nice healthy stroll this evening. I had a pact of sorts with Katy that I would take a walk round the block, but ended up going round the lake instead, a few miles altogether - and thankfully the flies weren't out in force after all. I weighed twelve and a half stones this morning, about half a stone lighter than a month or so ago, and hopefully I can keep that up if I err on the side of over-exercise - if it's possible to over-exercise, within reason... As Mum said when I spoke to her on the phone a few minutes ago, once you start seeing results from improved diet and exercise it becomes psychologically a lot easier, so I'm confident that I will be able to lose another half stone soon, which will bring me nicely within recommendations for my height and frame.

Quarter to midnight, and I'm sure I can smell the distinctive aroma of barbecue firelighters wafting in through my open back door. Still, that's nowhere near as antisocial as letting off fireworks at this time of night, and I've known that to happen a fair few times that haven't been new year's eve or millennium roll-overs, which are kind of excusable I guess... I wonder what's cooking?

Forget Alistair Campbell, Pete Winkelman or even Mohammed Sayeed al-Sahhaf, the award for "positive spin of the year" so far has to go to the Open University's LTS News team, with this gem as their latest headline article:

Teamwork and communications, two essentials of the LTS Plan, have been boosted by the removal of a wall. The four Senior Media Specialists are now housed in one open-plan office, making it possible for clients to see all of them in one visit. The move has also enhanced informal communications amongst the team, so that information can be shared openly and frequently. "It's much friendlier and less structured," said [the] Head of Sound and Vision.

They know fully well that everyone hates the idea of going over to open plan offices, and that a lot of research has been carried out that suggests that it has no benefits in most cases apart from saving money - and even that's a false "benefit" since productivity typically drops substantially. But these managers - at least one of whom isn't actually responsible for anyone - have been oh so gracious by agreeing to work in an "open plan office", such a sacrifice when some of us are already crammed four to an office anyway, and lead by example. And now they've got their smiling mugs into LTS News, a glossy colour copy of which - using the new colour photocopier also boasted about in this issue - will of course be deposited on every communal table in the university. Oh look what a success story LTS is now - open plan sweatshops and full colour copying!

Right, that's another reasonably productive day over and done with. It's been far too hot to work optimally, but under the circumstances I needn't be too disappointed. Tonight's Open House is at Richard and Shona's for a change, if I am not mistaken - not that I trust myself much after Monday - and I've said I'll set up the keyboard, so I guess that means I have no choice but to go this week! Just hope someone plays it after all that, 'cos I certainly won't...

Open House was quite good last night. I was supposed to have given Sarah a lift there, but there was some confusion over babysitting arrangements, so I went on my own in the end. But then Sarah decided she had got herself too psyched up not to go, so phoned for a taxi, got Rachael dressed again - not that she was likely to have got to sleep in a hurry anyway, with it still so hot and humid - and arrived a few minutes later. The evening consisted mainly of worship and ministry, but that worked very well, especially with a few testimonies and so on thrown in for good measure. Maria unexpectedly drove Sarah and Rachael home afterwards, but that worked out well because it gave me a rare chance to catch up with Shona and talk about some of the stuff that's troubling me somewhat at the moment. Made for a bit of a late night, but with the weather so stifling all evening, at least by the time I did crash, I was out pretty much like a light, and managed an unusually good night's sleep!

We are clearly now well established Thursday visitors to the Pavilion Bar here, although how that will change when David moves to Sheffield I'm not entirely sure. My disappointment at their yummy Thai prawns having fallen off the menu was completely swept away when they said they could do some for me anyway - and in record time! Mind you, we don't yet bring along our lovingly laser-printed copy of the Independent crossword, so we have a little way to go before we attain true hardcore status. Too hot to go walking anywhere, but the ideal day just to sit and laze awhile, and try and work out from exactly which department all the various people doing similarly had emerged. We were almost tempted to go up to some of them and ask, but that would have been far too strenuous.

That's eight more questions done today, leaving just a couple of potentially tricky multi-part chemistry questions to be done. There are a few other issues to be resolved with the Java before I can return to the navigation system to plug all this stuff into place, but even if I decide to go for a complete change of plan, the questions I have been working on will still be valuable. But that's my lot for today, methinks - and indeed for the week, since tomorrow is my regular day off. Taking Fridays off is eating nicely into my excessive outstanding holiday entitlement. With the addition of a few extra days off since I started doing so, I'm now down to a "mere" 38 days, which should leave plenty of opportunity for a proper break sometime over the summer or autumn. I'm sure they will still let me carry over a fair number come October if need be, but they did express a desire that I should take measures to reduce that total, and in that regard I'm doing quite well - and although I've not really done anything too amazing with my Fridays off so far, I definitely need them!

My Friday off is being a busman's holiday so far, spending it mainly drafting a letter about web-hosting arrangements and working on Gareth's website. Katy's off to the pub for lunch, and I know where I would much rather be! Still got a fair few items on my checklist of things to do, so I'd better press on I guess.

Now able to relax a little, though Gareth's just emailed me to remind me about something else I'd said I would do for his site. Anyway, I've been and done my shopping and booked a doctor's appointment regarding my blood pressure. All I have left on my list of things to do today is to peruse some of the information I've been loaned on self-catering holidays, and hope I don't get too serious indigestion from the rather wonderful freshly-based bread I bought at Tesco...

Wow, what a virtuous evening so far! After an hour on the phone with Katy I drove out for a walk round Tongwell Lake, one of my less-frequently visited but rather pleasant shorter walk destinations. But I decided in the end to run it, and having done so, to do so again in the opposite direction. Neither lap was particularly quick, but that wasn't the point, and I was at least consistent! Then once back here, had a helping of Healthy Eating - no, really, this time - chicken fajitas, with a good portion of Staffordshire strawberries for dessert. Who ever would have believed that losing a bit of weight could be such fun, and I can proudly announce that I was well below twelve and a half stones when I weighed myself earlier, so all this effort is definitely not going to waste.

Saturday lunchtime, and I'm not particularly hungry - and it seems a hotter day than ever outside. My legs are a bit stiff from yesterday evening's adventure, though I'm inclined to repeat the exercise - literally - once it's cooled down a little later. I'm anticipating this being a peaceful and quiet weekend, with most of my friends - Katy included - away or otherwise busy for one reason or another, but in a way I need it to be that way. But past experience has shown plenty enough times that such things don't always work out quite as expected...

Is there an unwritten rule of fajitas that specifies that despite the tortillas surely being by far the least expensive part of the meal, there shall never be sufficient for the quantity of meat and vegetables to be enveloped, by a factor of anything up to two? Experience certainly seems to bear the theory out.

Well I finally dragged myself out, going - at Katy's wise suggestion, since it would be a little cooler in the shade - up to Bow Brickhill woods. Walked my "usual" shortish circuit there - rather shorter than the one I went on with Katy the other week - and then decided I had the energy to do it all again, but at the double! Consequently my first "lap" took half an hour, and the second one about twenty minutes - and needless to say I was absolutely dripping by the time I got back to the car. Out and home in under an hour though - wow!

Boy, my legs are stiff! And I expect they'll be twice as bad by the morning... Better get to bed though, or it'll be morning at the wrong end of the night!

Not quite the afternoon and evening I'd been anticipating, but quite splendid nonetheless. David texted me at about lunchtime, having just been unexpectedly deserted by his friends who'd been visiting for the weekend and therefore at a bit of a loose end. I'd not long had breakfast, so wasn't too hungry, but was quite happy to pop round anyway, take a few CDs and take things from there. So that was precisely what happened, and it wasn't until fairly late afternoon that we took a decidedly unenergetic stroll out to the Olde Swan, where we were very glad to find plenty of air-conditioned space inside. Our meal ended up more tea than lunch really - chicken, mango and avocado salad for me, and fish and chips for David, with a decidedly naughty chocolate fudge brownie each for afters. The walk home was a little more bearable, but we could still do little more than flop and listen to more music. Consequently it was well after eight by the time I was home and on the phone to the lovely Katy, and contemplating a bath to finish off the day! That done, I'm just about ready to hit the sack.

Now one week and fifteen minutes until I'm on holiday! Well, the being off work bit of it, anyway. No Monday Morning Meeting, no hassles from pesky academics, nothing but pure unadulterated bliss of a decidedly Katy-type nature. Yay!

It's Monday morning, post Monday Morning Meeting, and lunchtime in about ten minutes. Didn't sleep at all well last night - got to sleep OK and slept fine for a couple of hours, but then woke and could barely get back to sleep again, and only dozed lightly if at all for most of the rest of the night. Staying awake now on little more than caffeine and a prayer, and really not feeling in the least bit wonderful. But I'm sure lunch will help with that a little!

The jury's out on whether today was a good day - and there wasn't even a visit to Sarah's involved to make me question that, for a change. Definitely been a singularly unproductive day as far as my job "proper" is concerned, and for the second Monday on the trot I clean forgot about a prior engagement - although in today's case I hadn't had any opportunity to prepare for it anyway, so it would have made very little difference, but I am still a little cross with myself for my flaky Monday memory. This afternoon I decided I would broaden my knowledge a little by going along to the inaugural forum of the new computers and music research group at the university. It started decidedly late, was plagued by technical problems and had much more content than Tim or I had anticipated, so what we thought was going to be an hour or so at the most turned out to be well over five hours long, and it was of course in the middle of all that that I was supposed to have met with Stew to discuss far more boring things. Thankfully it was quite interesting, during the small percentage of the time the presenters were actually presenting, rather than struggling with the data projector and pesky Macintoshes, and it was good to see the kind of stuff that goes on behind the scenes at the university - we clearly do more than launch Mars probes and knock down walls between offices - and make some new friends into the bargain.

But at least I managed to have a jolly good natter on the phone with Katy this evening and put the world to rights - and boy did both the world and I need it!

Oh, and there was another decidedly good reason to have gone to that forum this afternoon - it was in one of the only air-conditioned rooms in the university!

Today feels even hotter, and despite being at my desk most of the day, not a huge amount has got done. Not for want of trying, though! I thought I'd better test this software I'm writing from an accessibility point of view, and found that there is a real problem with keyboard navigation in embedded Internet Explorer objects, at least Borland style. I eventually managed to work out what was going on, and fixed half of it. Consequently, it's now possible for users to tab around the application, although not actually to "click" on anything with the keyboard. Guru Chris has kindly promised he'll look into it for me, but no-one really felt like doing a lot today other than slowly melt.

Finally, a good night's sleep, though still shattered after the last couple. Not because the temperature was so much more pleasant last night, but I suspect simply because my body insisted on it "or else"... For the first time ever, I went along to our church's fortnightly prayer meeting yesterday evening, but came out somewhat underwhelmed. The prayer itself was perfectly good, but the group was way too big - a nice problem to have, I guess - so I couldn't really get personally involved, and the worship/prayer blended sandwich approach taken wasn't the most conducive to focusing on the matters in hand. But still, I'm glad I gave it a try, and I'm sure it was worthwhile on the greater scale of things even if it didn't particularly click with me. We're back at Richard and Shona's for Open House this evening; I'm looking forward to that a lot more!

A few rumbles of thunder around, and a few spots of rain, but nothing to get too excited about just yet. But seeing as I need to go out in a little while, perhaps that's just as well; it can flash, crash and splash as much as it likes later, so long as I'm awake enough to enjoy the show. No word from Sarah yet, who was supposed to be phoning me to sort out a lift for tonight, but I don't really need to leave for another half an hour or more, so there's time yet.

Quite a good evening, as anticipated, but very it's late now and high time I was going to bed, though it's so humid now I have no idea whether I'll remotely be able to sleep. Open House was again fairly informal, but worked well under the circumstances, and there was plenty of time for prayer and ministry. There was still a bit of confusion over picking Sarah up, but the meeting started a little late anyway so it didn't really matter. I also had a good opportunity to chat with Sarah after dropping her home afterwards - something that hasn't really happened for several weeks, so there was much to catch up on. Laura and Rachael had both come to Open House and more or less behaved - no blood spilt anyway - but we dropped Laura off at her best friend's house for the night and Rachael amazingly said her goodnights and cheerfully toddled off to bed without any fuss or ceremony, which was a true first. The difference separating those two makes - it could almost make me enthusiastic about having children myself one day. It will be interesting to see how things compare when I see them on Friday, which will be the end of term, I understand, and Laura and Rachael will be together. Or at least until later, when Laura will be deposited once again at Jessica's and Rachael will no doubt be most unhappy at having to go to stay with her dad and step-mum, who I get the impression are pretty strict, although both Sarah and I are somewhat sceptical about some of the claims made! Though interestingly, Rachael's biggest grumble was not about discipline or bedtimes, but about being sat in front of the television too much - especially when she gets most upset when The Simpsons or whatever get turned off at home, but I suspect there's a certain amount of half-sibling rivalry going on! Rachael and Laura now have a half-sister, and their step-mum is pregnant again I gather, so I suspect they sometimes get a bit of a raw deal attention-wise as a result.

Anyway, my soap-box has been over-used already today - as Katy will undoubtedly vouch - and it's been a good while since I said it was time I was heading for bed, even though it's still just as humid and generally unbearable. Hopefully a couple of glasses of strong red wine will help to knock me out once I assume a horizontal position, but the only way of finding out is to try... Goodnight!

Hmm, we're supposed to be going off for an Allotment SIG site visit in a few minutes, but it's absolutely chucking it down with rain now. Of course, the more horticulturally enthusiastic members of the group consider this to be a wonderful thing, and I am sure will have brought their wellies. On the other hand, I'm hoping it might simply mean we get to the pub a bit earlier...

Bah, fair-weather gardeners! Plans have been deferred for a week. Now trying to sort out alternative lunch arrangements - too late to go to the refectory now, and just getting a sandwich at the shop would be way too depressing. Aha, result. All being well, the pavilion is going to provide a fine alternative.

Just finished my second phone call of the evening with Katy, wrapping up an altogether reasonably good day and evening. I'll be having a bath and packing myself off to bed soon, but it's been a few hours since I last wrote, so...

My hastily arranged lunch at the pavilion with David was, dare I say it, most pleasant - thanks to superlative company and similarly good food, namely a lovely mushroom, courgette and Stilton pasta bake with all the healthiest trimmings. I finally had my meeting with Stew this afternoon, postponed from Monday after my lapse of memory, and having had a good chance to go through the paperwork he gave me before, I am now fairly happy and confident about what I need to do. It's a course about digital communications, and they need some software to demonstrate exciting things like error correction. My challenge is to make the manipulation of streams of ones and zeroes - some of which should be zeroes and ones, respectively - exciting. Miracles can happen, you know.

But before I met with Stew, my former line-manager Jon kindly dropped off one of those "back chairs", as Argos call them. You know, the ones you "sit" on in a kneeling position and that are supposed to encourage good posture. I am very aware I am inclined to slouch when sitting, so hopefully this will make some difference, and it's been stored in Jon's loft for a good while. The cushions seem a little on the soft side, but I'll see how I go with it, and I daresay that it might be possible to reupholster it if I find it is generally helpful.

This evening, apart from talking with Katy, I've mainly been fiddling around with my computer, reinstalling my old sound card and so on. I'm giving the demo version of some new music software called FL Studio a whirl, with a view to maybe buying the full version, so it was a good excuse to get my old sound card set up again. However, the sound card seems temperamental, working at all only about half the time, so I'm increasingly wondering if now is the time to be thinking about upgrading my system. I've only had this one three years, whereas my previous one lasted about six years before I gave it to Zoë's sister Yvette, but there are quite a few reasons for thinking it's past its best now.

Anyway, that's me done for tonight I think - and I can have a lie-in tomorrow!

Well I got a bit of a lie-in, but as usual, the postman decided to make Friday one of the few days he has anything for me, and to make a right pig's ear of getting a single bit of mail through my letterbox! Yet another reason why I will be very happy to have a proper house at some point, to be able to avoid sleeping just inside the front door - unless I arrived home late and drunk, of course, and barely avoided my marching orders... Not that I'm planning on the latter, of course. Anyway, got a bit of tidying, washing and washing-up to do, might go shopping - not that it's too essential today really - and want a nice long relaxing bath, so I guess I'd better be drawing this entry to a close!

Right, I've done just about everything I had lined up for today, and more. Now got an hour or so before I need to get ready to go out. I'm driving Rachael up to her dad's tonight - I'm sure she will have warmed to the idea by then - and Sarah has decided that our previously arranged tea beforehand will now be out somewhere like Pizza Hut, to celebrate the end of the school year. I gather schools in some authorities don't break up until next week, and although I have a certain amount of sympathy, I won't be overly sorry if the south coast isn't too seething with families when Katy and I plan to head that way on Monday.

We didn't have tea out in the end after all. Laura was going to be home too late after an end-of-year day out, so we had pizza at home instead - and Sarah had been given some Sainsburys vouchers as a thank you for her voluntary work at school. Rachael thankfully went to her dad's without a murmur, but when we got back home Laura and her friend Jess had gone walkabout, and upon being found and brought home, were right little terrors. Still, Sarah gets a break from all of them for a week now, and I get three weeks "off", so not grumbling too much! I'd like to think that my children won't be such brats, but I'm not quite sure how much of it's nature rather than nurture. Anyway, need sleep!

Again woken by the postman today. Particularly galling that not only was it not actually for me - something one gets used to in such rented accommodation - but it wasn't even supposed to have come through this particular letterbox at all. This seems to be a growing trend; I assume we have a new postman who is somewhat unblessed in the numeracy department. I would have thought that would be a bit of a prerequisite for the job! Oh, my flipping soap-box is out again. Need to get a move along anyway, so I'll put it away for now... Seeya all!

Been away for a few days, as my more astute readers will have known or guessed. But now back home, and trying to muster some enthusiasm for going shopping for food. Perhaps the thought of little or nothing to eat for the rest of the week might convince me to go and do so? Though it has to be said, this weekend's been gastronomically pretty good, so I might last a day or two if need be...

Saturday morning's journey down to Farnham was hot and busy, with about half the country on the roads it would seem, so I was a bit later arriving than I had intended, but we had no firm plans for lunch or the afternoon so it didn't really matter. After a minimal bite to eat Katy and I went for a walk around some of the more exclusive parts of Farnham - not really to covet any of the properties there, many of them pretty hideous anyway, but simply because it was a shadier part of town and perfect on a hot summer's day. That worked up a healthy appetite for our evening meal, which was a curry out at the Shomraat with our friends Cate, Simon and Becki. Top-notch stuff, as expected, and we then adjourned to Simon and Becki's for a few rounds of cards, but few really wanted a very late night after a long and hot day, and Katy kindly dropped me off afterwards at her parents' house where I was staying for the weekend.

Sunday we went to church in Farnborough for a change, although it was pretty much the same congregation as usual - if decidedly thin on the ground, thanks to the different venue and the beginning of the holidays I guess. That was OK though, with the main event being the dedication of Phil and Verity's little boy Asher. We drove into nearby Fleet for lunch, trying to find one of a couple of good Italian restaurants I remembered from when I used to live down that way. One had changed hands and is now some generic sports bar, and I had no idea where the other was really anyway, so we happily settled for another one we found in the town centre, which served our needs just splendidly. Took a stroll round Fleet Pond - a full five months since we had last done so! - and later visited the Frensham Ponds. We like being by water, we do... In the evening we had a light tea, a bottle of wine and watched Amélie, which I'd not seen before but was intriguing and will warrant further viewing in due course.

Monday was our most adventurous day, driving down to the sea! It took only an hour or so to do so, and we quickly found the pub at Chidham - near Chichester Harbour - that two people had independently recommended! We were a bit early for lunch, but they weren't going to be taking orders after two o'clock, so we went for a short walk along the coast path there, with splendid views out over Bosham. We didn't get quite as far as we'd hoped, but a couple of ladies we bumped into at the pub strongly recommended we did the part we did, if at all limited for time, and it was lovely out. Lunch was good too, with the pub living up to its recommendation in style. After that we drove down to Hayling Island for a little while, taking a walk along the beach and winding up back at the café for a cold drink and an ice-cream on the beach. A bit tacky there, but not so touristy as to be unbearable, and we may well return sometime, maybe with Daniel in tow since he'll be bound to enjoy the beach and the train! In the evening we played a couple more games of Scrabble, with Katy trying to avenge the defeat I had inflicted in a spare hour we'd had on Saturday, and I think we both ended up feeling suitably satisfied in our own ways, and I think Katy has more or less forgiven me for using all my letters in both games...

And today, Tuesday, has been a day basically to myself, with Katy not having booked the day off work, unlike me! We hadn't been entirely sure whether I would leave today or late last night, but although I do late nights better than early mornings, being able to leave in my own time today worked out very well. So I didn't need to rush around this morning, making sure I'd got everything of mine safely packed, and leaving things suitably spick and span, and I finally got away from Farnham a bit after half past ten. The journey home was much better than the one down; no hold-ups at all, and leaving the afternoon clear for catching up on all those essential things. Like going shopping, maybe.

Right, that's the Tesco bit done. You can see just how quickly life returns to mundanity, can't you? Still, one garlic and mushroom pizza going into the oven very shortly, so perhaps the dream can be maintained a little longer after all!

Three days off, and what a lovely stack of email to plough through and take action on as necessary. I thought the idea of taking leave was to refresh and restore, not make things even worse. Needless to say, I've been able to work on the stuff I'm supposed to be doing for about ten minutes this morning, with lovely things like installers and spreadsheets filling the remaining moments - well, apart from this one, of course - and fighting with the el-cheapo optical mouse which seems to get worse with every passing week. Still, it's lunch time imminently, and this afternoon I'm going to be showing someone the work I'm doing, then going to a meeting where our future office accommodation is going to be "discussed". I use the quotes liberally, because at no point in this process has there been any true discussion, though so far, every time they seem to have decided what's happening, some problem thankfully rears its head. I say "thankfully", but on the other hand it would be nice to know what is going to happen, and our current arrangements seem to be on their way out whatever. We just want to know whether we'll need to look for new jobs or not, really!

There was of course no discussion, but there was a healthy amount of entirely good-natured cynicism amongst the attendees. Nigel was only the messenger and had clearly been given the party line to adhere to; he admitted that he would be most unhappy if the changes being imposed were to affect him. Not a lot is going to happen to me in the immediate future. The three technology faculty teams are moving into three very different kinds of accommodation, supposedly as an experiment, but more out of need given the current crisis, and the long term future will be open-plan, adhering to top-level university policy. My own team is going to be moving into the technology faculty itself, with us no more than two to an office they say, though exactly when it will happen doesn't seem yet to have been decided and will depend on other mutually-exclusive juggling.

This evening's Open House was good, and the last one at Richard and Shona's for the moment, now that Jam and Simon are back from their holiday. Without Sarah to worry about for once, I was able to get there in good time and contribute to the worship. I brought both my wind synth stuff and my acoustic, just in case, and just as well because it meant Annette could play guitar alongside Richard on his twelve-string, which worked really well. No testimonies or anything tonight, but that meant there was the opportunity for plenty of prayer and to get away in reasonable time, which are usually incompatible concepts! Anyway, having got up very early - for me, yes Katy - to allow time for a long awaited bath once I had some hot water, it's been a long day and I really ought to be finding my way to bed, and hoping I manage a bit better sleep than last night!

Still, as Katy says, down the pan as things may well seem to be going, at least I still have a job - which is certainly not something to take for granted in this day and age. And that suits me just fine for the time being while I try and sort out the rest of my life. I don't plan to make any rash decisions, and much as I dislike the idea of being separated from my current colleagues - who I rely on for technical input just as much as my sanity - I am prepared to give things a try. I am afraid that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, but even if it does turn out not to be beneficial, it should remain bearable for the time being, until I have a rather better clue about what I'm doing as far as my employment and other aspects of life are concerned. For various reasons I've realised I need to move on anyway - whether inside or outside of the Open University - but the details and timing will depend on other factors entirely.

Tired and unmotivated. Who would have thought a two-day week could be this hard going? Still, we're off on our allotment visit and pub lunch imminently, postponed from a week ago, so that will provide a little relief. And hopefully a chicken, mango and avocado salad! No, my colleagues aren't growing quite such interesting things on their humble allotments, it's just the Swan's best light lunch option right now. I must try and feign some interest in cabbages, runner beans and their various pest problems though, or my justification of attendance might not be terribly convincing. Though even Jon - who's organised it all - is quite openly selling it on the merits of lunch outside in the sun.

That ended up being a bit of a long lunch break, though the allotment special interest group does enjoy at least semi-official status and is apparently going to get a mention in the next LTS sycophancy-letter. We visited Rob's allotment in Bletchley, then Fiona and Jane's in Woughton, before adjourning to the Olde Swan for lunch. No avocados at the latter though, and no-one was growing any in their allotments, so I had to make do with something far less interesting and healthy, but it was still good to while away a few minutes in the sun. But I did come away with a scrumptious-looking cucumber lovingly grown by Fiona and Jane, so I'll have to find some excuse to eat that this evening, along with the remainder of the Herefordshire strawberries I bought at Tesco on Tuesday.

Enjoying a quiet evening, but off to bed shortly. Tomorrow may be my day off, but I need to be up at about the normal time anyway to go to the doctor, to see what he - or she, I only know their surname, let's not be sexist - has to say about my slightly elevated blood pressure. Just in case there's also a chance of having a fasting blood test tomorrow morning too, I've intentionally not had any supper, since I would need to have not eaten for twelve hours previously. I doubt they will be able to do that tomorrow, but you never know. No other firm plans for tomorrow, but hopefully the weather will be nice again and I can get out and be healthy for at least part of the day. Hmm, the weather forecast isn't looking so promising, but I've learnt to take that with a pinch of salt.

Maybe the weather forecast was right after all. Thankfully it's only a short stroll round to the doctors' surgery! Better be getting dressed now though...

Been to and now back from the doctor. My blood pressure was only a little above normal this morning, though still showing distinct signs of erraticness. Alas it seems that the NHS in Milton Keynes is too cash-strapped to afford to loan me a portable pressure monitor - well, that's what the doctor said, anyway - so I've been asked to see if I can borrow one from anyone else and/or get more tests done at work. Today's reading was encouraging - and was equal to the lowest taken at work - but it's still more likely than not that I'll be put on medication at least for the time being, if only to avert any more serious problems later in life, such as those my Mum's experienced in recent years. Hopefully I also have the paperwork required to get an actual blood test done at work too now, though the doctor didn't seem too sure whether it would be sufficient. Anyway, I'll be going back in about a month to review all that, and I guess a decision will be made as to what if anything needs to be done.

Shopping's now done, and since I went by car because it was pouring with rain I took the opportunity to make a slight detour via the local Honda dealer. I've had my current car - a Hyundai Accent Coupé Si - a little over four years now, and it's getting a bit long in the tooth and its running costs are mounting every year as little things start to go wrong with it. So I'm contemplating replacing it in the near future with something newer and hopefully a bit more refined. No decisions made quite yet, and there was nothing at the dealer today that really piqued my interest, but I quite like the idea of a Honda or maybe a Toyota. There's no big hurry, thankfully, so there's no reason why I shouldn't be entirely patient in waiting for the right car at the right price.

Rain's stopped now and the sun's out! Hopefully it will stay this way for the evening now, because I really want and need to go out and get some fresh air as well as some exercise. Hmm, perhaps I ought to get out while the going's good?

OK, so it was a couple of hours after that before I did so, but it was good to get out and walk round the lake as the sun set. Talking on the phone with Katy for half of it may well have contributed to its worthwhileness, admittedly.

Was woken at 7.30 this morning by the postman. Not very nice for a Saturday. But at least he came bearing money I was owed, so I'm not entirely unhappy!

That was a productive afternoon. Went for a good healthy walk around Willen Lake, did a little shopping at Tesco in advance of a church picnic scheduled for tomorrow, had a good healthy chicken and bacon caesar salad - made almost from "first principles" - for tea, and came what was quite probably a hair's breadth from buying a new car. With regard to the caesar salad, I have enough ingredients to do the same all over again within the next couple of days, which will be just as nice I am sure. The car was a 1.2 litre Seat Ibiza, a little smaller on the engine size than I was really contemplating, but I took it for a drive and was pleasantly surprised just how "willing" it was. It's still early days, though, and I don't want or need to rush, but I was dead impressed I have to say. And the Ibiza comes with at least some kind of air conditioning across the range as standard - d'ya hear me, Mr Honda Salesman Who Said 'Who Needs Air Con Anyway'? They took down my details and will keep on the look-out for other possible cars, but I have to say that if I had been at the end of the looking process today - rather than the beginning - I may well have signed on the line.

I had a jolly good natter with my brother on the phone this evening. That's something I hadn't done for a very long time. I should make sure I have such jolly good natters on a more frequent basis. And introduce him to Katy.

Hopefully it's "all systems go" for the open-air service and picnic in Campbell Park later this morning. It doesn't promise to be sunny, but it should at least stay dry for us. Mind you, there are patches of blue sky outside now and I thought I just caught a glimpse of a flash of sunshine, so even that forecast may have been a little pessimistic. I don't need to go out for an hour or so, but still need to get up properly and make up a picnic for myself, so I guess I'd better get a move on. Ooh, I wasn't imagining the sunshine - excellent!

Definitely a good time today, and the weather held out gloriously with loads of sunshine for us despite threatening black clouds all around. All in all it was the kind of thing we would like to do more often, but sadly we really can't rely upon the weather to be as favourable if planning something more extensive. Back home now though, and at a bit of a loose end for the afternoon, and I have to say it's a bit on the hot and humid side at the moment to contemplate going out again and doing anything too strenuous! Maybe a bit later, though?

Not for the first time - and I doubt the last - yesterday afternoon I took Katy's suggestion as to where to go for a walk, parking at Simpson and seeing how far I could go south along the Grand Union Canal in half an hour. My old church was having one of their traditional summer barbecues at their centre next to the car-park, and I half pondered going to say hello, but in the end decided against it. I didn't leave them, they left me, and very few of their number have made any effort to keep in touch. They may have been an important part of my life for several years but ultimately life goes on, and although I have no regrets of the time I spent in their number, I have new friends who mean a lot more to me now. As for the walk, well I wondered if I could get as far as Margaret's canal-side house in Bletchley in the half hour I intended to walk for, and as it turned out, that was exactly how far I got. Margaret's car was there so I thought I would say a quick hello, but I got no response at the door, and a narrow-boat was suspiciously moored up outside, so I suspect she may have been otherwise occupied. So I walked back the way I had come - canals not generally offering a lot of choice in that regard - and drove home. That hour's brisk walking worked up a good appetite for tea, which ended up pretty much the same as Saturday's, having chicken and bacon that wasn't otherwise going to keep. Besides, within reason, caesar salads are always welcome!

But then, half way through writing my draft of this, "disaster" struck, with a sudden power cut. Yes, I had saved not long before! No storms around - and Milton Keynes mainly has largely storm-proof underground cabling anyway - and I doubt there were many workmen around at 8.20 on a Sunday night to do the usual trick with a JCB digger. I don't think it affected a large part of the town though, so I suspect it was our local substation here that failed. But perhaps that contributed to a lack of urgency in rectifying it, with the power being out until about 10.30, after a one-second glimmer of hope half an hour earlier. Not too bad in the end, and I think all my frozen food was fine, but when you simply have no idea when it's going to come back, and there's a general chorus of house alarms shattering the peace, it's both worrying and annoying! But anyway, no harm done, and of course telephones still work, so it meant I had a good opportunity to catch up with Mum and Dad. Just my sister Ali to go now, after my good long chat with Pete on Saturday night. Got an early night too!

Monday morning now though, and after that somewhat imposed early night I was up a bit more enthusiastically than normal for a Monday, so thought I would catch up with these writings while I had the chance. But now it's time I was having a bite of breakfast and getting ready to go to work... Seeya later, I'm sure!

As I pointed out to Katy in an email earlier, talking about buzzword abuse:

Remember, the idea of a lever is to enable you to do something that you otherwise would not have had the strength to do. Leveraging is therefore something that only feeble people need to concern themselves with.

Or am I being a trifle unfair on typical managers in this day and age?

Overall a bit of a waste of a day, but it was a Monday so will not be mourned too much. No flowers, and an unmarked grave. Today's Monday Morning Meeting was quite a good one, feeding back - mainly constructively, if not particularly enthusiastically - from last week's big team meeting where the accommodation plans in particular were formally publicised. I'm not sure quite whose idea it was to do what we did, but it's all in writing now and we can't be accused of accepting the changes without comment, even if it was all semi-anonymous. But anyway, it's time to go home now, and amongst other things I hope this evening to finally present my long awaited "Defence of Milton Keynes". But there are other things that may take priority, so you might have to wait a little longer.

I hear tell that some people have some bad things to say about Milton Keynes. Needless to say, most of what is said against this place is based on prejudice, with most people never having done anything more than passed through on the M1 or the train. So let me redress the balance a little and offer some defence!

Transport

Milton Keynes has a highly efficient road system. OK, so that road system involves somewhat over 300 roundabouts, causing uneven tyre wear on vehicles - and if you don't have a car, you're pretty much stuffed. But so long as you drive a car and don't mind spending more than average on car maintenance and petrol, Milton Keynes has to be applauded for its highly efficient road system.

Milton Keynes has one of the most extensive cycle networks around. Admittedly, maintenance on the "redways" is notoriously lax, with broken glass, abandoned cars and poor signposting, with poor lighting making them no-go routes during darkness for many. And they're not even red any more, in the main. But cyclists rejoice nonetheless, because despite what everyone says, Milton Keynes was not made solely for the car, otherwise it wouldn't have that cycle network.

Sports & leisure

Milton Keynes shopping centre is the biggest in Europe. Or so they say. Once they built an extension that isn't actually joined on to it. And so long as you don't mind walking miles in search of elusive goods at excessive prices, since it was designed before common sense was invented, and has such high rents that good value traders simply can't afford to be based there. But if you don't mind that, and don't mind lining the pockets of the local council with car parking rates that even the businesses despise, please do come shopping in Milton Keynes, where you will find one of the biggest centres in Europe.

Milton Keynes is a home to top-class football. Well, we seem to have adopted Wimbledon FC, by the looks of the local newspaper sports pages, but they are nowhere actually to be seen round here. There are rumours that they're moving here soon though, but we'll believe it when we see it, and luck seems to be running out for the plans at the time of writing - and what nicer a team could one really hope for than the mighty Dons? In the meantime, I'm sure as far as the North Bucks pub league is concerned, we have top-class football.

Milton Keynes has the largest real-snow ski-slope in Europe. Indoor, that is, housed inside the famous Silver Slug - otherwise known as XScape - managed by Mr Millennium Dome himself, Pierre Yves Gerbeau. Let's just hope it's a bit more of a success than his last project, eh? But I must admit I do like skiing there, and never forget it's the largest slope in Europe. Indoor, that is.

Milton Keynes has more proportion of parkland and greenery than almost any other urban centre. It's just a pity that as you walk along a leafy river-side path, in the midst of nature, the birdsong is accompanied by the constant drone of traffic on the motorway, A5 and grid roads. But that's a price to pay for our highly efficient road system, and the parkland's really nice, honest!

Entertainment

Milton Keynes hosts the National Bowl. One of the most popular arenas, it has hosted some of the greatest names in popular music, and we will of course politely forget that when Harvey Goldsmith took it over and promised more events than ever before, it languished practically unused for a year. But the potential is there - and it wouldn't be, if Milton Keynes didn't have the Bowl.

Milton Keynes pioneered the multiplex cinema. OK, so it's a run-down pit now that even UCI don't want to operate any more, with projection, sound quality and audience comfort somewhere at the bottom of the list of priorities, and where the usherettes double up as projectionists. Actually, it has now been bought out by Stelios's easyGroup, but still struggles. But nevertheless, you can't get away from the fact that Milton Keynes pioneered the multiplex cinema.

Housing

Milton Keynes has a high diversity of housing to suit everyone. Everything from ultra-expensive mansions, to only fairly expensive detached houses in safe areas, and even neighbourhoods like Tinkers Bridge and the Lakes Estate if your budget runs to a little more than a shared cardboard box. The housing is so good in Milton Keynes that in the early days they reputedly paid people to move here. But thanks to the efforts of planners and builders, an environment has been created in which everyone can find a home no matter how many or few times over they're a millionaire. There really is something to suit everyone here!

Education

Milton Keynes is a flagship comprehensive island in the otherwise anachronistic Buckinghamshire. Such a success story is Milton Keynes's comprehensive policy, that the leading secondary schools now operate back-door selection, and one recently opened school very nearly became the town's first grammar school! So committed are they to the inclusive new comprehensive vision, that some of the former secondary modern schools in Bletchley even have some of their old signs. So there may be hypocrisy, but Milton Keynes is indeed different to the rest.

Employment

Milton Keynes hosts many of the country's top employers. So let's just quietly ignore the fact that the Abbey National, vying for the top spot in terms of staff numbers, are closing their offices here, and that the Open University - their rival for that honour - are in the process of a back-door redundancy programme. So long as you don't mind working in a call centre or warehouse, Milton Keynes is definitely the place to come and work. Please, pretty please.

Milton Keynes was conceived, from the start, as a place for people to live and work. So why, then, do so many of the people who live here work in London, and so many of those who work here live in the surrounding villages? But it's the thought that counts, as usual, and whose right is it to deny someone's vision?

Communications

Milton Keynes had one of the first cable television systems in the country. OK, so it was installed many years ago and operates on prehistoric technology, preventing new-fangled things like digital television and cable internet. NTL who operate it, until recently would practically deny the existence of their franchise here - especially if you dared mention the word "digital" - but nonetheless, Milton Keynes had one of the first cable television systems.

Milton Keynes has a state-of-the-art telephone system. Well, it has to be in order to provide services to a population of a quarter of a million from just a couple of exchanges. That does mean that most properties - especially newly built ones - are outside the range for ADSL broadband, but there's always cable internet to fall back on, right? Oh, I remember... But British Telecom insist we can be thankful nevertheless for our state-of-the-art telephone system.

And finally...

Milton Keynes is a city! The Queen accidentally called it one, on one of her recent visits, and it was always conceived as being one, so the lack of a royal charter is just a minor detail I am sure will be resolved one day - and in the meantime, the local press will remind us at every opportunity of our city status, so don't forget it: Milton Keynes is a city, Milton Keynes is a city.

Postscript

After all that, I admit that I do still like this place, and totally believe the opinions of most detractors to be based on uninformed prejudice. It's not perfect, but then what place really is? I'm sure anyone experienced with any other town could write an equally cynical rant about it. Do come and visit, do come and live here. The streets may not be paved with gold, but it's not bad either. There's no way I'd have lived here for almost seven years - and with no immediate plans to move - otherwise, and I'm very much a country lad at heart!

It's my colleague Chris's birthday today. In the customary email inviting us to share in edible goodies, he described it as his "official transition to the old fogey domain". I asked him at what point that happens, and he said forty. He then asked me how long I had to go before I was forty. Seven years. That's about the same length of time as I've been living and working here. Scary!

I surely hope my life is looking a bit more sorted out by then, though.

Currently peeing it down with rain outside, so I'm in no big hurry to venture home yet even though I am a trifle hungry. Today's been OK, but my plans to do loads of work rather came to nothing thanks to most of the morning being taken up with a meeting with Lara to discuss how things are going in general, and then various other stuff needing my attention this afternoon. I really did hope to get these Java questions finished by the end of the month, but it's looking less and less likely. Still, Lara said glowing things this morning, which is kind of encouraging, but I still feel somewhat demoralised overall.

Feeling altogether quite fragile right now actually. Hopefully some food will help rectify that, but there's a quarter of an hour of torrential rain to walk through before that's a possibility. Please just stop for a few minutes, OK?!

Right, my prayers have been answered within seconds of that - thank you Lord.

Going to make a dash for it!

Aaargh, why are things never simple? A couple of weeks ago I drafted a letter with Gareth to reorganise ownership of some domains and so on that I administer for him. The letter contained everything the hosting company needed to know, but they still queried it. Thankfully, we could clarify by merely pointing to the relevant paragraphs of the letter, rather than needing to provide further information in writing. But can they actually make the required changes? No sir! I am confident that they will get there in the end, but every time they adjust the details, something else is fundamentally wrong. At least they're not charging for this, over and above the annual fees, but it's still flipping annoying! I'm still generally dead impressed by 1&1 WebHosting's service, but when the human touch is required, although willing, things can get awkward...

In better news though, I have been loaned a portable blood pressure monitor, thanks to putting a request on our intranet electronic notice-board. It's not exactly what I was hoping for, being a desktop one rather than one that straps on in a self-contained manner, but it should certainly do the trick and seems quite a fancy one. It belongs to a lady in our languages department who was having high blood pressure problems during pregnancy, and her husband bought it for her. He was apparently a little concerned when she said she was lending it out because it was rather expensive! Best of all, though, the readings so far are very encouraging, with the lowest so far being 132/86. However, it seems quite likely I have rather excessively fluctuating blood pressure, so it may well be that something still needs to be done by way of long term medication.

Today's not getting off to a good start, but thank goodness my week at least is very nearly done. I didn't get to bed very early, thanks to Open House - and the last one of the summer, no less - but slept reasonably. Until about half past four, that was, when I was woken by my answerphone bleeping and whirring. Huh?! No phone call, no message, there must have been another power cut. But the fridge wasn't in overdrive, so if there had been it must have been very short. Left me a bit rattled, and of course just about as I was getting back to sleep it happened again. So I turned the answerphone volume down just in case of future interruptions. But I'd quite forgotten - after Sunday evening's experience - about all the house alarms that would be briefly triggered when the inevitable did indeed happen. Then of course I spent the rest of the night lying awake worrying about when I was going to be woken up again... And the final hour or so worrying about whether I would have had enough sleep. Aargh!

A bit of breakfast tipped the balance between my going to work and my phoning in sick, but I still feel decidedly grim. Not helped by this morning being the morning that the new interim timesheet system was introduced, the third system we have had in the last year. The proper new system was supposed to go live tomorrow, but that's not going to happen until September and we have a lovely spreadsheet to use in the meantime, oh joy of joys. And some news that under any other circumstances should have been really good, that our Media Account Manager has requested that I try and take twenty days extra leave by the end of September. That's in addition to my Fridays off which I have already booked until that time. So yes, great, what a nice problem to have, but when on earth should I do so, and how do I fit it in around everything else work-wise? The latter may well be a question for others more senior than me to answer, but the former is most definitely mine, and I frankly haven't a clue. Suggestions?!

Katy suggested a few ideas - some serious, some not, I suspect - but I'm not entirely sure about most of them:-

> take the money and buy your new car

I may have a fair few days left over, but I don't think they're worth quite that much, alas. No-one's actually mentioned the possibility of money in lieu anyway.

> book onto Katy's holiday in Austria last minute and surprise her

Would "surprise" really be the word? No, Katy, your holiday is for you and Chrissie. Much as I would like to join you, it's not my time, it's yours.

> book a holiday for David - maybe a retreat or an Oak Hall one

Hmm, maybe... Could be on to something here!

> postpone two weeks to October and we can go away for one of them

I get another thirty days leave entitlement then anyway! It would only defer the "problem" for another year...

> look after your sister's kids for a month

Errm, nice idea but no! Visit them, sure - and I hope we can soon. But for the time being, fond as I may be of the darlings, like most children they're at their most endearing when you can give them back at the end of the day*!

* Yes, I said the dreaded phrase, but I think that one was allowed.

I've hit my hungry hour again, I think. I'm sure it's something to do with Sam being away, so I'm not being quite so disciplined about leaving promptly. And that's despite having had two lunches of sorts today. I had my main lunch at the pavilion with David, but then it was Adam's leaving presentation, and there was plenty more food and drink there, although not quite so substantial. Yes, so Adam's retiring now, yet another stalwart of our former department being pushed out of the new structure. He hasn't been my boss for a while now, but he took over when Joel accepted one of the senior management roles, and until the technology media team was formed to pioneer the new structures slowly being introduced across all the faculty media teams, he was a couple of rungs up the reporting ladder. But now he's gone, and he will be a loss to the university. If he'd had aspirations to be what our former colleague Andy referred to as a "career administrator", he might have still had a place here, but like so many of us, he is and always has been a programmer at heart and I get the impression that his interim role over the last couple of years took him far enough away from his roots to realise he didn't want to go any further down that road. But I am sure early retirement will open up plenty of new opportunities for someone who never seemed short of enthusiasm, energy and ideas. If by some twist of fate you ever happen to read this, Adam, do make the most of it, won't you?

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