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David's diary: December 2005

Blimey, is it really a week and a half since I last wrote in here? Anyone would think that meant I'd been incredibly busy and hadn't had a moment to spare. Or I had dropped dead suddenly and no-one noticed. Neither's really been the case, though I have occupied myself a fair bit in recent evenings with producing a website for some friends who're moving to Africa. The main highlight of the last few days though was helping run our Alpha supper last Friday, as a gentle introduction to our forthcoming Alpha Course. It was, as expected, a really good and constructive evening and we should have the core of a viable group to start the course proper come January. Lowlights of the last few days have come a-plenty, and pretty much all work related, so the less said the better there, probably. But at least my boss has acknowledged his concern that I am getting (to paraphrase slightly) bored and hacked off, I am promised that my net access from my desktop will really be sorted out tomorrow, and as from next week I'll actually have my own permanent desk and PC rather than have to beg, borrow and generally wander around aimlessly. Well, that's the genuine hope, anyway!

Anyway, that's enough for now; time for bed.

After a busy last few days we decided we'd take a "Sunday off" today, though perhaps going and breaking the back of our Christmas shopping in Guildford wasn't the most cunning method of relaxation. After a dodgy start, we're pretty much there, and we should be able to get anything else we "need" from Farnham or the supermarket. But after a Kidstuf run-through Friday evening, the OAP Christmas party on Saturday (about as mutually exclusive events as you can get!) and Christmas shopping today we're pretty much utterly zonked. No, the mere notion of going back to work tomorrow doesn't appeal in the least, but on the bright side we have booked ourselves tickets to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, so there's something to look forward to when the week's up.

Oh, I got a reply back from Tesco, even if it wasn't entirely reassuring. They acknowledge that things are not quite perfect at the moment, but insist their systems have been developed "in line with industry guidelines" - even if those guidelines sound like they should be updated to require that people can't pay using any old bit of magnetised plastic they happen to acquire without proving who they are. That might cause a problem with on-line and mail-order sales, but with card fraud as rife as it is, something's got to give - though the rules operated by the more reputable on-line retailers that the first time a card is used on a given account, delivery must be to the card-holder's address, works well in practice. Ultimately Tesco really have no excuse for launching a system that is plainly not ready for public use, but I expect I'm on my own here...

Oh, another week's gone has it? Work's been the same old same old, but as from tomorrow (delayed from last Tuesday or Wednesday) I will have my own desk and computer, though I am increasingly realising it will make no difference to me. We had our first Kidstuf performance yesterday, which was hard work but not too bad in the end, though there will need to be some streamlining on the projected visuals side if they want me to help next time too! We got to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on Friday afternoon as planned, which has made for a nice long weekend altogether, and we also took delivery of our shiny (well, as shiny as matte black can be!) new Freeview video recorder yesterday, so that's been providing plenty of amusement too - of various kinds, including technical!

Anyway, Katy's dropping hints she'd like tea soon, so I'd better get cooking!

And now half way through the next week already. Bah, I make it sound like it's flying past, when it's not remotely. About the last hour of today was bearable, thanks to simultaneously having some proper work to do and being able to do it, but that was a bit of a novelty. Tomorrow should be OK because we're going out for lunch, and I think there is a tacit understanding the afternoon might be at least partially biting the dust - and I cunningly kept over a bit of today's late burst of work to keep me entertained during the morning. But I am still clockwatching from the moment I arrive at my desk - not the happiest existence. Yes, my desk; I do actually have my own desk now, and a shiny dual-core Pentium something-or-other PC and flat screen sitting on it, though their usefulness is limited since they are not connected to the system I am developing for, and I still feel physically far too distant from where things are really happening.

I spoke to my dad last night, and he was still all somewhat excited (not sure if that's quite the word!) after Sunday morning's explosion at Hemel Hempstead, and he emailed me a couple of the pictures he'd taken, one from outside their house and another from a cycle ride he'd gone on - as is his wont, oil fires to photograph or not. Mum and Dad were woken by the explosion, and subsequent tremors as Dad referred to them, even from 14 miles away. However I have an aunt and uncle who live under a mile from the stricken depot, and their garage door was buckled by the blast and their loft hatch was somehow blown open, which really just adds to the amazement that hardly anyone was even injured. Here in Farnham, we think the darkness of the sky on Sunday was contributed to by the smoke, but otherwise were - unsurprisingly - completely unaffected.

Departmental Christmas lunch out today at Blubeckers at Odiham, which was good - as usual, not worth their premium asking price but certainly better than average, and it was good to relax rather than get stressed for a while. Got some work done today also, which is good too, though things will be tricky from now on, since my "lifeline" is going to Australia for several weeks tomorrow, and needless to say he's not managed to bring me up to speed quite as quickly as hoped. But there's some Perl code I want to have a long hard look at, and in particular to apply a modicum of "use strict" to, and with a bit of luck that should keep me as busy as anyone else still in the office come next week.

Yesterday marked the end of my last full week at work of the year, thank goodness. I started trying to review that Perl code, but quickly realised that it wasn't going to be anywhere near as simple as just declaring all the variables, since its author was making all kinds of nasty assumptions - some of which might have been valid in some parallel universe, but not all, perhaps. But I need something to keep me busy next week since my team leader didn't assign me any more tasks before he went on holiday, so maybe I will put the cat among the pigeons a bit and start analysing and rewriting the offending code.

The evening was very pleasant though, going with Katy to our company's social club's Christmas meal out. The official company do is tonight, but as usual the idea of a big impersonal corporate "morale event" did just about nothing for either of us. However the thought of going to a floating Chinese restaurant with a slightly smaller crowd and stuffing ourselves with prawn toast and crispy duck (amongst other delicacies) at a specially discounted rate was far more appealing and turned out to be a good choice. OK, so we didn't know anyone else there, but it was a small enough group and not at all cliquey, so we were able to fit in just fine, and the food was quite as sumptuous as expected.

Today we've been into town to take Katy's grandma out for lunch and to pick up a few bits from the shops. We'd planned on going to our favourite cheap and cheerful café, but that was packed to the rafters (amazingly, the rest of the town wasn't significantly busier than most Saturdays!) so we did a brave thing and decided to take her to the pub instead. We suspect she was about the oldest customer they'd ever had, and we were treated like royalty, nothing being too much trouble for a party buying only a couple of bowls of soup, a sandwich and a glass of lemonade between them. We made sure we left a nice generous tip!

Keeping up our eating anywhere-but-at-home theme, last night we were round at Cate's for a nice meal and drinks. Staying in today though, apart from going to church earlier; it's cold out, we're both pretty tired, and there's plenty of paper to read and an ever-increasing library of Freeview stuff we've recorded!

One more day to go at work, thank goodness. The last couple of days have been a complete and utter waste of time, and there's not enough people around to even make it vaguely fun as some kind of compensation. Mmm, pork stirfry on the way!

And now I have, mercifully, finished for Christmas. We popped into Farnborough this morning to have a good healthy fry-up at Poppins and to pick up a few bits and pieces - some Christmas related but not all so. Otherwise we're having a nice chilled day, much needed after the last few weeks and a fairly late night round visiting friends yesterday evening. So no work (in the traditional sense) for eleven days now - what a blessed relief that's going to be, believe me!

So, another year's almost passed us by. Whereas last year was so dominated by the joys of newlywed-ness - so much so that I clearly decided that publishing a review of 2004 was going to impractically require a bucket to be passed round the entire web - this year's been a little more varied in its distractions.

About the first significant event of the year was that I quit my job. It was becoming clear that if I didn't get out, I was going to at least severely maim someone, and that would have been harsh even for those involved. So half way through February I handed in my notice, and a couple of days later "negotiated" my immediate departure with a couple of weeks' pay to keep me happy. I had no great delusions of falling straight into another job but frankly needed the time to think about what I wanted to do in the medium term. But then I got a phone call from a former director of the company I had just left, setting up a new company and wanting my expertise on board. I really shouldn't have been so gullible, because I fell for his smooth talking, and put in a fair number of hours for him before it became clear he was all talk and nothing more. So in the end, I was out of work for almost eight months, before landing a job with a major if somewhat notorious software company. In fact I was offered the job in August but it took until October to sort out essential things like the security clearance I needed, and even then they weren't exactly ready for me on the day I'd agreed I would start... It's not got much better since to be frank, but the pay's all right, the daily commute is in the right direction to avoid too much traffic, and I am fairly hopeful things might begin to improve in the new year.

Then the next significant event was that we sold our house! As I am sure those who have done similarly could have told us, it was by no means as simple a process as it should have been, even with enthusiastic people all the way up and down the (pretty short) chain. So it was about Easter that things started to fall into place, but not until the middle of July that all the solicitors involved were able to pull their fingers out and actually get everyone moved. But it all worked out smoothly enough in the end, and although we didn't hate our old house we were mightily glad to wave it goodbye from our hired Luton van. When we first looked at this new house of ours (not really knowing that we could afford it) we couldn't quite understand the level of desperation on the part of the sellers, wondering what was so wrong with the house that it was so essential that they got out, but having now been through the process ourselves, we can see exactly where they were coming from. When you've got to move, you've got to move... A lot of effort for literally moving round the corner, though - even if we do gain an extra bedroom, a nice garden, a garage and some privacy! But anyway, we've now been here pushing six months, and have now almost got it the way we want it. Thankfully the people before us had good taste and kept it all in good condition so we've not had to get rid of anything much, and things like our living room furniture fitted straight in with the existing decor.

Needless to say, after all this job hunting and house moving, we really were pretty much completely exhausted. So we made what for me was an unusually proactive decision (though perfectly normal for Katy) and booked ourselves a fairly short-notice holiday. Specifically a September cruise up the Norwegian coast, exploring the fjords around Flam and Bergen - with extreme autumnal weather into the bargain! Although we're not sure when or where we would do anything like that again, it was just what the doctor would have ordered, just the right balance between putting our feet up, forced pampering and a liberal dash of sightseeing. It was also just the right level of formality, not too posh but with reasonable expectations especially on the night of the captain's reception. To make it extra fun it so happened that we bumped into some old friends, and we ended up enjoying our five-course meals with them each evening - and narrowly avoided sharing the brig with them for illicit kite-flying!

Somewhere in the midst of all that we found time to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and a couple of birthdays, enjoy quite a few trips to the seaside and to London, and to make a reasonable successful effort at keeping in touch with families and friends. Food and drink played an important part of all that, and this was also the year in which we pushed the boat out a little with regard to our own culinary expertise, and not just when hosting. We've realised - as I am sure our mothers kept trying to explain - that "proper cooking" doesn't have to be complicated and time-consuming, and in fact it's often just as quick as preparing a ready meal or supermarket pizza. We do still sometimes go for those slightly lazier options, but are actually now enjoying being more creative!

There you go: 2005 in five modest paragraphs. Happy Christmas if I don't get a chance to wish you it again, and may 2006 be a year of fulfillment and success.

Well that's Christmas well and truly done, with just New Year's Eve to go...

Katy's mum had dropped subtle hints that for various reasons she really didn't want to prepare Christmas dinner this year, so we invited her and Katy's dad round to ours instead and cooked what we would modestly have to admit was a pretty fine roast. OK, so we did cheat with a few of the vegetables and the turkey itself, but hey, why make what should be a pleasurable time a nightmare? But that wasn't until the evening, having agreed to help Katy's mum with the carols at the community Christmas lunch earlier in the day. They were running a little later than expected in the end, but it was great to see all the old and otherwise lonely people so happy, and our new MP and the town mayor spending plenty of time chatting with them - with not a journalist or camera in sight.

On Boxing Day we had Katy's sister and family call in for a little while on the way to lunch with Katy's parents, then we hit the road up to Hereford where my parents had again rented a cottage for the week. Previous years we had stayed at a cottage just outside Ross-on-Wye, but with it seeming pretty unlikely we would get to see my brother this year, we instead found a nice one right next door to my sister's house! The landlady was immensely confused since we had made the initial enquiries but Mum and Dad made the actual booking, and she was worried at one point that she might have to "let us down", but it all worked out fine and apart from slightly tricky heating was an ideal base for a few days. We got to see everyone for at least a little while, found excellent grub at the pub in the village, and enjoyed fairly short days out in Hay, Hereford and the surrounding areas. But it was bitterly cold out and about and we had a fair bit of snow, so it was far from being our most adventurous few days away!

Four nights were enough though, and today was utterly bleak, so we weren't too sad to be hitting the road home, and have battened the hatches for the night.

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