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David's diary: March 2005

Just looking at my old company's website, at http://www.ninedots.biz.

Somewhat slow loading on a modem thanks to its Flash-based intro page, but...

"Loading bottom product menu", it proudly announces in the interim.

I never knew we sold haemorrhoid remedies!

Another somewhat sleepless night - for no obvious reason this time, unlike the police chopper buzzing around over the top of our close the night before - so feeling pretty shattered before the day had even begun. So taking a very long time getting up properly, and seriously debating exactly how much job-hunting related work I shall do today. Especially as we plan to go out to the cinema this evening and I would like to be at least vaguely sociable company for Katy.

Well, not feeling like doing a lot of job chasing today but still wanting to be vaguely useful and productive, I've been putting together a spreadsheet of all my contacts so far. It's great for the recruiters with their whizzy databases and so on, but for us poor and disheartened sods trying to juggle potentially dozens of contacts and opportunities of varying levels of vagueness and general usefulness, it's a downright nightmare. Thinking about it, some half decent software for managing this kind of thing would be a sure-fire winner, but it wouldn't really be something one could ethically make a living out of doing!

Oh, and I just walked out to the post-office to post a couple of cards - during which time my contact list grew again - and was amused to see on the way what must be one of the most pathetic chav car "upgrades" ever: Faux alloy shiny wheel-trims look bad enough at the best of times, but these ones bulged out by at least another inch by virtue of having grooved and drilled brake discs stuck in between them and the standard steel wheels beneath. It looked so bad I could only assume the Corsa's owner was doing it as some kind of joke, but I couldn't be entirely sure, and sometimes I really wish I had a camera phone to hand...

Timed my walk well; it's just started snowing again, not particularly nicely.

Got up quite early, but still a slow start to the day. We did indeed manage to get out to the cinema last night, watching A Very Long Engagement, at Alton. It was a film we meant to go and see when it was first on general release, but never quite got around to, so we were delighted to find it's one of the small handful of films being shown this week at the tiny cinema in Alton. I'd heard a bit about the place, but it really was like a slightly overgrown home cinema set-up, with probably no more than fifty seats in our screen (one of two) and all run on a very informal basis. The film itself was just about as strange as we would have expected, as another subtitled Jeunet/Tatou collaboration, though perhaps not quite as quirky as Amélie. Set during and just after the First World War, it records the attempts of Mathilde to track down her fiancé Manech, sent to his death from the trenches of the Somme, but who she believes in her heart still to be alive. Certainly recommendable, and one that will probably reward at least a second viewing to unravel all the complexities, but don't expect the feel good factor Amélie delivered; it has its funny moments, but is by no means a comedy. Surely wins "grittiest war portrayal" of the year too.

I guess it's about time for a job-hunting update?

Executive summary is "nothing as yet, but a few possibilities in the pipeline". However most of the agencies are proving themselves to be the unhelpful gits to which I became accustomed last time round. Their behaviour while trying to get you on to their books verges on harassment, then once you actually apply for something you hear absolutely not a jot despite repeated chasing - so most of those "in the pipeline" opportunities are probably dead in the water. With a few exceptions, recruiters are the lowest of the low, basically, and I would be delighted never to have to deal with another one, ever again, at all, etc.

There is another possible opportunity I've been directly approached regarding - by someone who knows my skill-set and philosophy better than probably anyone else - and that one's looking perhaps the best offer so far. They also know I'm not going to be hurried into a decision, but I have to say I am taking this one very seriously indeed, and will certainly be discussing it some more...

Especially since it would mean completely avoiding those wretched recruiters!

Some would say that for £26 a night, you can't really complain.

Want a bet?

More about our weekend away when I'm a little more awake...

Tuesday, and an opportunity to sit down and catch up with stuff a little bit, having walked into town this morning and been vaguely useful - even if not quite as useful as I'd hoped. The latter thanks to a planning application I spent about half an hour poring over at the council offices actually no longer being under consideration for whatever reason, though I am sure it will be resubmitted soon enough. Thank goodness I didn't traipse over to Godalming to inspect the previous application it was based on, or I'd be really miffed!

Anyway, the weekend... Good but quite tiring, and not as much relaxation as we should have enjoyed. It was Wez and Bex's long-awaited wedding in Chippenham, and we - along with most people we knew who were going - were invited to the ceremony and the evening do. The ceremony was lovely of course, including some absolutely stunning music while the legalities were being done, and after very methodist tea and cakes, and a bite to eat at Chippenham's Pizza Express, we adjourned to our hotel. The word "hotel" applying somewhat loosely I have to say, our room at the Leigh Delamere Travelodge only really just scraping past a reasonable definition of habitable. Clean enough, but as we were to discover after the evening do, the most uncomfortable place we have stayed as a couple, and lacking in even the most basic trimmings. OK, we got our room pretty cheap, but I am not convinced those paying full price fared any better, and we have stayed at enough hotels run by Travelodge's most direct competitors to know that it really wasn't remotely acceptable. So having managed only about three or four hours of decidedly unsettled sleep, I for one probably wasn't in the best state of mind by Sunday morning, when we'd agreed to meet up with my brother Pete and his partner at a pub in Tetbury. About the only good thing about the Travelodge was being advised of a short cut to get over the M4 there, which saved us probably thirty miles extra driving over course of the weekend, and in fact we used it to get from the service area to Tetbury using hardly anything more than a country lane! The pub was closed - in preparation for Mothering Sunday lunch - but Pete had found a nearby bistro where we put the world to rights for a couple of hours over plenty of coffee, before they had to head off for a prior engagement. We took their advice and returned to Farnham cross-country via Hungerford, where we found a perfectly reasonable Indian restaurant that obviously wasn't the kind of place average Hungerford families would want to take their mothers, so were able to enjoy a nice quiet lunch with very quick service. We'd pondered having a bit of a walk, but it was pretty cold and we were unsurprisingly getting rather tired again by then so decided to call it a day and head back home. So apart from the lousy hotel experience, it was a good weekend, but we were glad to have Monday to recover - not that I'm at work anyway of course, but Katy had very wisely booked it off.

Sorry, that was a bit of a long paragraph, wasn't it?

As for work stuff, well the agencies are certainly slowing down in the amount they are harassing me, and I have a meeting scheduled for lunchtime tomorrow after which I hope I will be a little clearer where I'm heading. If that turns out to be a useful avenue - and at the moment I am pretty sure it will - then hopefully that should mean I would only be out of work for a month altogether, which would be pretty sweet. It might not be the kind of opportunity I would have jumped at had I seen it publicly advertised - in fact I would probably never have even found it to consider - but to be hand picked by someone who reckons I can do it and understands I want career development provides a big boost to my self-esteem, something I really quite badly need at the moment!

OK, it's time to get dressed and head off to the Shepherd and Flock...

A little apprehensive, but I get the feeling this is worth the effort.

To answer a fair question just posed to me, no the Shepherd and Flock is not a Christian pub. An interesting concept though, and perhaps an untapped part of the market - or on the other hand, probably not... Well except for "normal" Christians, anyway - the kind who don't actually think that alcohol even in moderation is the devil's wee, or whatever. No, Farnham has a predominantly sheepy theme around the town due to its history. Although sheep and wool no longer contribute to the town's economy, the legacy lives on in the names of streets and shopping arcades, the mural on the police station, and - of course - the first pub you reach approaching on the A31 from the London direction.

As for the meeting? Went well, I'd say. Can't say much more right now!

A quieter day today; I think I shall start in earnest on Monday with stuff in preparation for the new job - things like choosing the best broadband access, ordering some bumf from the BSI, and general brainstorming. Main thing I've done today has been to visit the church office to help my mother-in-law with the computer there. She needed to be able to access AOL email via Outlook, persuade Windows XP to remember her default printer selection, and somehow get the email addresses out of the membership list on our website. All quite reasonable things to need my assistance doing, I would hasten to add. And all now complete. Now it's just a little while until Katy will be home from work and we can cook up our usual Thursday treat - is it still a treat if it's usual? - of pizza, before heading to cell group for the rest of the evening.

Today we have been shopping, I have removed my CV from all the job boards I was subscribed to - not that any apart from Monster and Jobsite proved to be any use anyway - and have sent off my whinge to Travelodge about our appalling room last Saturday night. Sam's coming round tonight hopefully for a mainly veggie stir-fry and to bounce some arty ideas off us, I believe, and we have a fairly busy weekend coming up so Katy's having a bit of a rest while I'm up here...

Hmm, did we really look that obviously house-hunting when we walked along a cul-de-sac, looking out of the corners of our eyes at properties with "for sale" boards up outside? Katy insists she got a knowing smile from one lady!

I'll take that as a yes, then...

Went to look at another house at lunchtime today, and we were impressed. Still no sign of any action on our house though, so any offer we could make wouldn't be able to be taken very seriously. Three weeks left on the current exclusive tie-in, then we will thoroughly review things. Someone must want it, surely?

Otherwise, today we've mainly been helping set up and run the old people's party our church runs on an approximately quarterly basis. This time there was a Spring and Easter theme, with the high point undoubtedly being Katy's rabbit picture quiz, shamelessly adapted from one I believe my former colleague Tim's mother devised. I feel a bit out of my depth making conversation with elderly people I don't know - thankfully there are others who do rather better! - but they love the company and doing something a bit different, somewhere different, so it's pretty much impossible to leave without a big smile on one's face!

I'm pretty drained and fragile today, and not being the best company I freely admit, but we did go out for a (mainly) Chinese buffet lunch in Aldershot with some of our friends, which I think did me some good. Well, the going out did, anyway, if not the grease and batter! At least Katy understands when I have days like this one; as Olive would undoubtedly have said had she made it to yesterday's OAPs' party, I've got a lovely wife. But a wife who'd like a game of something before we head to bed, so I'd better be drawing this to a close...

Feeling a bit, but not much, better today. I would be more convinced if it weren't already pushing lunchtime and I wasn't still in my pyjamas. I need to go into town and get whatever forms are required to renew my passport, and I'd better have a shave first because I might as well get photos done at the same time. But I feel a million miles away from the world of the working at the moment; I hope it's simply my body's way of making up for the last few months.

Well I've gone and got my passport form, and some photos that are just about legal for the purpose - the latter not without some effort. Now I could easily manage things like a neutral expression, no sunglasses, head or face coverings, toys, dummies, other persons visible, etc etc. But how the heck was I supposed to ensure my face filled the requisite seventy to eighty percent of the image and was between 32 and 36 millimetres in height? Yes, the machine did kindly preview the four pictures taken so I could choose "the best" for printing, but there was nothing to measure against. I'd have thought in this day and age when you can have the current pop stars added to your photograph and all kinds of special effects applied - albeit not for passports - the facility to zoom or even automatically resize the image would be a piece of cake. But obviously a piece of cake too complex for photo booths at a lucrative £3.50 per dud set.

I hate computers. I thought I'd be a good boy and update our machine here to use DirectX 9.0c, in the hope it might work slightly better with our portrait display. Except of course now Thunderbird email has stopped working, and there are other occasional similar problems with other programs. Yes, Microsoft's web page did advise to set a system restore point and I didn't, so silly me, but I wasn't expecting two perfectly mature pieces of software to clash quite so. I am now spending another three quarters of an hour downloading DirectX again to see if reinstalling it fares any better. My hopes really aren't high.

I reinstalled DirectX: no difference. I reinstalled Windows: no difference. OK, admittedly, the Windows reinstall wasn't from scratch, so it didn't wipe over anything newer. Eventually turned out it was one of the innocuous-looking critical updates I installed at the same time as DirectX. Thankfully they were both in the installed programs list so I was able to remove them easily enough. Hopefully nothing too critical to the operation of the computer, though I think - given that we have perfectly good firewall and anti-virus software here - I would be happier with Windows being ever so slightly less secure than crashing every time we try to use email. Anyway, I have decided not to meddle with this computer any more, since we're replacing it with something shiny and new soon, and I am sure we will cope with any minor deficiencies as long as it works!

Hmm, looking into this a little further, it turns out there have been many problems with this particular update, KB891711. Microsoft's advice is that it is non-essential and that it should be uninstalled if it causes problems, but it is still flagged as a critical update, and that won't stop Windows asking about downloading it in future - or in the case of systems set to automatically download critical updates, doing so without any intervention at all! - and causing yet more problems. Well, at least I know where the problem lies and how to fix it, should it rear its ugly head again for anyone I know any time soon.

Another slightly slow start to the day, and I have yet to make the acquaintance of the bath, but I have arranged for a few estate agents to come round Friday morning, so that we can weigh up exactly what to do next in our so far somewhat unsuccessful attempts to sell this place, so I've not been a 100% lazy sod.

Hmm, email seems to be playing up. Not as much as it was half an hour ago, though, which suggests it's a problem at our ISP's end, slowly being fixed... Just would be nice to know whether the messages I sent to Katy got through OK!

They did, thankfully, and the test messages I sent myself are still trickling back sporadically. Must have been a pretty major email collapse! Not sure if it bodes well or not given that I have just recommended we go with the same ISP for the public-facing IT provision of the company I'm helping set up...

Guess what, another rather unhurried start to the day. But the clatter of the letterbox meant goodies in the post, so I've had to wake myself up enough to enjoy Ray Charles and his friends on CD, which I am currently doing for the second time. It's great stuff; I must be getting old... Also in the post was a hand-written note from probably the only estate agent who was in the running for Friday's valuations (sorry, market appraisals) but who we didn't invite simply because we only wanted three at this time. And of course offering us a tasty amount of money off were we to sell with them. Well I guess if we decide tomorrow to dump our current agents, we don't have to decide on a successor immediately so could invite these folks round sometime over the next fortnight.

Hmm, I just tried taking a few photographs of our house, inside and out, to see how an estate agent prepared to publish more than one rather drab looking photo might do things. Not very successfully, I have to admit; I hope the cameras they use have much wider-angle lenses than ours, because with a standard zoom lens it's pretty much impossible to fit everything in that's required, without structural alteration, trespassing or including unwanted foreground clobber!

Well we've picked our new agent. Now just to serve notice on our existing one, and arrange for the new one to come and measure the house up and everything. All three new candidate agents impressed in their own ways, but when we went out for a pub lunch afterwards to talk it over, we were in complete agreement over which one we felt happiest with. Perhaps we might actually sell, now!

Sorry for the radio silence yesterday! A combination of being busy with house stuff, visiting friends, and the small matter of the computer not working.

Thankfully the latter seems just to have been a random hissy fit - albeit one that continued after a reboot - because it's OK again now, but it is perhaps another sign we really should press ahead with ordering its replacement. But then again, it might be that it knows, and is trying to make a point...

With another lovely sunny day yesterday we walked into town to cancel with our existing estate agents - taking effect in a fortnight's time - and to deliver two plain brown and one lucky gold envelope to the three potential successors. We had a good chat with the recipient of the gold envelope, reassuring us that we had made the right decision, and they are visiting during the week to take full details, measurements, floor-plans and so on. We have no grumble with the estate agents we're cancelling with, but just feel the change will help for various reasons - some beyond anyone's control - and could be the clincher.

Yesterday afternoon and evening we drove over to Reading to visit our friends Darren, Ceryn and Lois. Darren, readers will remember, partook in many a curry and pizza with me and others while I was living up in Milton Keynes, but Ceryn and Lois are newer friends - having previously met Ceryn only twice, at our respective weddings, and Lois just the once. So it was a really lovely chance to get to know them all properly as a family now, and of course to sample the lasagne for which Ceryn is rightly famous amongst those in the know. We should point out we chose lasagne, it was definitely not forced upon us, and the apple and blackberry crumble was similarly excellent! My cartwheels weren't though.

Quite a busy day yesterday in the end, and certainly a rather later finish than we'd probably have aimed for given a slightly sleepless Saturday night for us both. After our church meeting in the morning, we whizzed round to Simon and June's to get my passport application countersigned, grabbed a bite to eat, did our best with the Saturday crosswords, had a couple of people round to look at our house, finally ordered our new computer - this one is still complaining from time to time - and wrapped up the day being terribly cultured and going to Basingstoke for a meal at Nando's with Katy's mum and dad, and the Waverley Singers' charity performance of The Messiah. The latter was the first choral event I'd been to in four years - and it has to be said that Basingstoke's Anvil is a touch posher than the University of Luton - and we'd been promising Katy's mum for as long as we can remember we would go to one of her concerts, so it worked out well to do it now and all for a good cause, and was at least as excellent as we might have expected. But yes, rather a late finish by the time we'd all met up again and had our promised after-performance drinks!

It's cold again today! Friday and Saturday were simply gorgeous - give us that 365 days a year, by all means - and yesterday wasn't quite so. But today I'm even cold in this south-facing room with the sun streaming in! Methinks I will go and soak in a nice hot bath for a little while and see what it's like then!

Today it's raining, of all things! And unfortunately I need to get out of the house for a little while, as our cleaner does her fortnightly rounds - but need to be back pretty much as soon as she's gone because our new agent is visiting to take photographs and so on. So anyway, I guess I'd better be getting up and properly dressed, hadn't I? Oh, and today is Katy's last day at work before Easter, which is good, because we have lots of things planned for her days off!

The rain eased off a little so I stretched my legs with a walk to the little Tesco up the hill from here, for a sandwich. By the time I was back it was getting quite warm and humid! Our cleaner's gone now, so I just need to do a little preparation for the estate agent, who should be here in half an hour.

And now he's been and gone too, having made his copious notes, drafted my help with measuring up all the rooms with his trusty tape measure - none of this new-fangled electronic stuff for him - and taken half a dozen digital photos of which he should be able to use at least three or four. So all's quiet now, and nothing else has to be done, so I think I will go and have a read for a bit and put in a couple of hours' work towards this new job hopefully starting soon.

It's been a busy - if reasonably recreationally so - last couple of days, with a trip to Portsmouth yesterday, and London today. Portsmouth was primarily in order to pick up our new PC from Novatech, but we also got a nice coastal walk in from The Ship down near Hayling Island, and met up with Tristan for lunch at said pub, which was nice. London was a pure and simple day out for us, to take a break from all things related to selling houses and buying and setting up new computers - both rather fraught activities at times, it has to be said... We took the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich, and had a good look round the Royal Observatory there, as recommended by one of our friends, grabbed a coffee and a cake for a late lunch, then had an amble through Kensington Gardens by the Serpentine, winding up at a great Chinese buffet restaurant on Wardour Street for a well deserved dinner before we headed home.

And what of the last few days, the Easter bank holiday weekend just finished? To be honest it's all been a bit mad, really, and we come out of it with house things perhaps a little clearer but with still some way to go, we suspect.

When we returned home from London on Thursday, there was an offer for our house waiting for us, and after some deliberation we decided it was reasonable, and Friday morning we put in an offer on the house we most recently looked at and liked very much. Within minutes, it was accepted, and when we just happened to bump into the people later while we were out for a walk, it turned out they were probably putting an offer in on their hoped-for house very shortly. So we shall see, but nothing more could really happen until today at the earliest.

Saturday's highlight was treating Katy's sister Rachel to a birthday lunch with her husband Mark - yes, we managed to "lose" Daniel with his grandparents for the afternoon! There's an Italian restaurant that had changed hands a couple of times in the last year or so, and that we had heard good things of in its latest guise. It seemed a bit on the pricy side, but the food was served in true continental style - i.e. monstrous portions - so it was certainly not bad value, though we were glad we didn't go for a starter each in retrospect!

Sunday we were a bit exhausted from the last couple of days, and were quietly a little relieved that no-one took us up on our offer of Easter lunch. But we had plenty of things - some serious, some not so - to get on with, so were glad of the time. And it did of course mean we didn't have to share our chocolate.

We drove down to Portsmouth again on Monday; not because there's anything wrong with the computer - well not enough to warrant another journey anyway! - but to have lunch and a walk with Katy's mum and dad, as we'd agreed a while back that we would. Roughly as Katy and I had done in July 2003, we combined a walk round part of Chichester Harbour with lunch at a favourite pub there, and with the weather glorious if somewhat hazy out to sea, it was an altogether lovely day.

But now the long weekend - all six days of it for Katy - is over, and our world has to return to reality. I am still out of work, and discussion regarding my supposed new job starting on Friday seems to have ground to a halt, so goodness knows. But I don't mind holding the fort until something worthwhile comes up...

As for the computer... Well it's more or less OK, but there are a couple of things we need to resolve before we can be entirely happy. First off, the modem supplied came with no driver CD-ROM and Windows XP did not recognise it. Thankfully we still have our USB modem from the old computer, so managed to download drivers from the Intel website. However, the new modem still will not connect at anything above about half its optimal speed. So we need to resolve that with the dealer, and in the meantime are continuing to use that old USB modem. Also - and I suspect this will be more of an advice issue than a fault resolution - we want the computer to run more quietly. It seems that the cooling fans are working overtime for no obvious need, so it will probably be a case of fitting quieter and/or more "intelligent" replacements. Ultimately this was a cheap computer, so it should be no surprise if a few corners are cut.

Right, it's time to stop being an utterly lazy sod, to get off my backside and do something at least vaguely useful before the day has completely passed by. Specifically, to go and post our confirmed house details back to our new estate agents, even though hopefully we will not be needing to use them after all... And perhaps see if I can find something vaguely nice to eat this evening.

Well I dragged myself out eventually, braving really quite foul conditions to walk up to the post box that has a late collection. Found the shop there was completely devoid of anything nice to eat, so walked home and drove out to Sainsburys to get a few bits in for either tonight or tomorrow - given that we have some cooked chicken we perhaps ought to eat sooner rather than later.

Another slight hiccup has materialised this afternoon with the house move, but hopefully nothing too major, and it should all be resolved by tomorrow. We were commenting only the other day that we'd really had it pretty easy so far, so by the theoretically spurious but in practice all too real law of averages it was about time we started getting some obstacles thrown down in our path...

Hopefully yesterday's house-move hiccup is resolved, though there are still a few more hurdles to be jumped, we're quite sure... Good news today though is that it looks like things are finally progressing with my new job. Still no indication of an actual office address, but I now have a contract in my hand - or at least in my email inbox! - and the start date is given as 4 April. So as Katy said, if all else fails, I drive to Kingston on Monday morning and phone my boss to ask for directions... But I hope we can be a bit clearer by then!

I must say I'm quite enjoying being a bit of a "house-husband" for a little while, and Katy certainly says she's enjoying being cooked for in particular. Not that my culinary exploits have been very adventurous thus far, but then neither of us are big fans of complicated food so that doesn't really matter. We're trying in general to eat healthily, so that tends to mean we have salad with a high proportion of meals, avoid too much bread - though we still enjoy the odd pizza, you will be relieved to hear - and are trying to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into our diet. For example last night's concoction - if we quietly ignore the profiteroles, a weekly-ish treat - was stir-fried beef with black bean sauce, carrots, mangetout, baby corn and mushroom rice. Really yummy, pretty healthy, reasonably "proper" cooking, and took all of ten minutes to prepare. Who says good food has to be complicated and time consuming?

And now, barring unforeseens, we really are moving!

We have accepted an offer without a chain, our offer has been accepted, and the people we've made an offer to have in turn had their offer accepted, with no onward chain. It would be lovely to think that we could realistically be moved and properly settled in by June, in good time to throw a nice big housewarming and anniversary party! Still going to take a little effort to get to that point though, with today's hurdle being that there's been a slight breakdown in communication with our solicitors, but hopefully nothing much to worry about - and face it, the odd day here and there's unlikely to make much difference...

Katy's decidedly under the weather today, and has taken the day off. But we agreed a trip up to the garden centre for a bite to eat and a coffee would be therapeutic, and it was a good opportunity to look at garden furniture since we'd quite like a nice table and chairs of some kind for our new patio. We decided against the plastic rocking sofa with floral print cushions, though.

Still not quite resolved that communication breakdown with our solicitors, and they are supposedly sorting it out this afternoon. We're sure estate agents are well used to this kind of thing with solicitors, and it won't be a disaster if we have to re-instruct or whatever, but we'd like to be more confident, and really don't want our buyers or sellers to be put off at this critical stage!

It looks like we've resolved the solicitor issue, finally. It turns out they very likely had our details all along, but we were chasing the wrong regional office, who unfortunately knew nothing. Sounds a silly mistake to make, doesn't it, but how were we to know that the enquiries number given on their website was not actually a central number, but for just one regional office who clearly do not share information with any others? Anyway, we have finally been able to tell our vendors' estate agent the details, so things might actually move now.

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