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David's diary: May 2005

Ian Rankin I did indeed finish, though rather more quickly than I would have done had I realised at the time of buying the book that it was a "condensed" edition - though it still seemed to read fine, and probably just omitted most of Rebus's time-passing in the Oxford Bar and other Edinburgh hostelries. There is something a little disquieting about reading edited stories, though. One wouldn't go to an art gallery where you knew there to be simplified copies of the old masters, or to accept abridged and inaccurate versions of popular music - though enough people buy ring-tones to make it a worthwhile business, alas - so why mutilate well-written and best-selling fiction? But anyway, without having read the full version to compare it with, I don't know what was missing, and it was still a fair read, and Katy's now half way through it.

Consequently I have moved on to Bill Bryson's Notes from a small island, which is an infinitely less depressing read if nothing else. I don't know what it is about Rankin, but he manages to depict Edinburgh as a city laced with, above all, unfathomable sadness. I enjoy his writing, but it's not cheering. Bryson on the other hand can make light out of pretty much anything, and I have just finished reading his chapter on Milton Keynes... I have to say that although he's missed a lot of what makes the town at least "OK", he's got nothing wrong about it per se; he simply couldn't have been expected to find its real heart in such a fleeting visit. I gather that in more recent years he has taken back some of his harsher words, but that may well have been primarily to encourage the locals not to boycott his signing session at the newly-opened Ottakars.

Bryson seems unusually keen, for an American, to put one foot in front of the other repeatedly in order to get from A to B, and sometimes back to A again, and it has to be said, rather puts most Brits - us included - to shame with a "devil may care" attitude about the sometimes vast distances covered. Perhaps a reflection on the scale of the USA where a spur-of-the-moment drive to the local McDonalds might be more consistent with the average British family summer holiday. So our five-mile walk yesterday with a dozen others from the church rather paled in comparison, but we still felt a certain achievement as we posed for a group photo at the Iron Age fort on top of Winchester Hill. Good thing we didn't trust the compass on Richard's GPS though, as he proudly announced that "north" was towards the Solent and Isle of Wight on the distant horizon!

Back to work, so to speak, today. Long weekend, short week. Mustn't grumble...

While our cleaner was doing her rounds of the house - albeit slightly impeded by our half-packed boxes and whatnot - I took a stroll into town for a bacon baguette and a cup of coffee. In its defence, Bill Bryson did commend Milton Keynes for its sparkling cleanliness - not that he actually saw anyone to make it otherwise - and I have to say that Farnham this morning alas proved to be anything but so. Highlights of the more classy detritus found included a small bonfire's worth of torn-up undelivered leaflets for the local Conservative candidate, and a good year's supply of what looked distinctly like half-chewed profiteroles. If I had been of sharper mind, I might have flagged down the tit-helmeted policeman I spotted riding along on his bicycle - a rare sight anywhere these days it has to be said - but wasn't, so didn't. On the bright side, I didn't get too wet in the drizzle, and was overcharged by only 30p.

Having been here in Farnham about a year now, I think I am at least partially qualified to pass judgment on some aspects of the town in comparison to Milton Keynes. There are strengths, and there are weaknesses, let me be quite clear!

In Farnham's favour, it fares much better with regard to decent places to eat - including absolutely no McDonalds "restaurants" at all, drive-through or otherwise - and many very affordable too. Still better, if enthusiastic, you can easily walk to most of these restaurants, and enjoy a drink or two without the worries of having to brave the high-speed road system to get anywhere much and back in the course of an evening. Though in the place of the grid roads, Farnham has an alternative system I am only just beginning to vaguely master.

First-time visitors to Milton Keynes always complain that there are no clear landmarks, making it difficult to determine where you are, but the beauty is that most of the time it really doesn't matter - not because you might as well be going to Conniburrow as Springfield, but because a "zig" in the wrong place can be swiftly rectified with a well-timed "zag", for no extra distance. But Farnham has the one-way system from hell, surpassed only by parts of central London. I endeavour to practise my lane-changing with TOCA2 before venturing into town, lest I end up in Bordon or worse before realising my mistake. It might be possible to apply logic to it, until encountering the inevitable lorry, van or 4x4 parked on the ubiquitous double-yellow lines, that makes all one's careful and timely manoeuvring into the proper lane utterly pointless.

The shops in Farnham are, well, just about the same as everywhere. Unlike Milton Keynes, you potentially get wet walking between them, but the range - at least of useful outlets - is no different, even if they tend to be a little smaller. There's a Smiths, a Woolworths, a Boots and an Argos - and of course enough mobile phone shops for every user in the town to get one-to-one service. There are also twee shops, selling things like wooden Noah's Arks - Mr and Mrs Noah included, animals extra - that are much harder to find in Milton Keynes, though not impossible, thanks to the delightful and over-expensive barrows that jam the malls of its central shopping area like all too many of its ilk. The students at Farnham's art college were somewhat upset though, when the small but popular Safeway was bought not by Morrisons but by Waitrose, and prices accordingly shot through the roof. Most people shop at Sainsburys anyway, of which we are happily provided with two, though anyone at the town centre one wanting a trolley needs super-human intelligence to comprehend the pound-coin operated locks that inseparably gang them like slaves on a galley. In Milton Keynes, people were assumed less likely to steal trolleys, so the supermarkets there were far more trusting - or, more likely, there was a public outcry that a pound was too far much to pay for a good laugh on a grid-road overpass.

Milton Keynes has a population of about a quarter of a million, whilst Farnham has a mere forty-odd thousand - and has steadily grown over its near 800 years of official existence, rather than becoming a modern-day Botany Bay overnight - which inevitably means there is a bit more obvious variety and character in the many residential neighbourhoods. No 1km-by-1km grid squares in Farnham, and it might surprise to find a number of streets which have different styles and even ages of property. But of course Farnham has a sizeable population that we never see. Not an underclass; no, quite the opposite. They avoid all contact with the plebeians, live in houses that can't be seen from the road, and like it that way thank you very much. To be honest, we quite like it that way too.

As I think I hinted before, Milton Keynes isn't obvious. Well, it's an obvious blot on the landscape - though admittedly a part of the north Bucks landscape few really objected to blotting, it would seem - but its charm doesn't come on a plate. Farnham comes as more of a bespoke town, complete in every way. You can come to Farnham and very quickly decide whether it's a place you will love or hate. But ultimately I spent over seven years in Milton Keynes, and didn't regret a moment of it. Its secret is community, and that's something you have to make an effort to discover. Perhaps it was because the town was so soulless that you had to discover and make the most of strength of the community if you were to stick it out for any time. I'm not sure Farnham manages half as well, to be honest. Thankfully, all that means in practice is that I have to try twice as hard to be part of it all, so it's not necessarily insurmountable, and I do feel part of a strong and meaningful community here. And I'm staying.

Believe it or not, I have nothing much to say today! Just another humdrum day at the "office", almost managing to re-establish my 1% success rate at Spider Solitaire on difficult level, and even making modest progress with my work...

Yesterday was Star Wars Day, today is Polling Day. I've not yet been to put my crosses on my two bits of paper - the ballot papers for the local and national elections being virtually indistinguishable, Katy advises me - but surely will at some point today. I may not be able to make the remotest difference at the national government level, but I can at least go and help choose a decent local MP and councillors, and do subscribe to the view that those who choose not to vote compromise their grounds for complaint about whoever does get elected.

Good thing we have fixed-price conveyancing from our solicitors, so they don't charge for every letter they send out. Today's correspondence sombrely informs us that the drainage search "has revealed important information". I braced myself, knocking back a shot of whisky and taking a deep breath, before reading that our new property is connected to the main drains. You know, I could have sworn that I saw street urchins splashing around in the open sewers last time we visited, but clearly I was mistaken. Whatever next? Will they advise us that although the new property is - to the best of their knowledge - connected to the atmosphere, from which oxygen is available for personal use free of charge, it is an arrangement that could be withdrawn at any time by legislation?

So, I've gone and been democratic. Not that many voters, but lots of smiling officials, some of them even chatty. Able to joke about needing to double check which paper went in which ballot box, despite it being near impossible to go wrong, even given the confirmed similarity in colours between the two. I'd kind of hoped that given how tight it is here between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, there might have been an exit poll or some other interest shown in what people were voting, but not remotely so. They say that a record low voter turn-out is expected nationwide; with that kind of enthusiasm from the people who really should be interested, it's hardly surprising, is it?

No major terror outrages so far today, happily to say, though of course there was an explosion outside the British consulate in Manhattan, doing some damage but thankfully injuring no-one - due no doubt to it being timed to coincide with the morning news here rather than cause carnage. I am intrigued though by what exactly a "novelty hand grenade" might be, that can propel substantial lumps of concrete through plate glass windows. But I guess this did happen in a country where even quite dangerous weapons are brought to show-and-tell, and "increased gun controls" means you can't buy assault rifles over the counter but instead have to wait a few days, so perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised.

Hmm, I really am finding this job somewhat frustrating sometimes!

Nothing so very unusual, I guess...

Oh well, Simon "861 votes to go!" Cordon failed in what seemed like his almost certain quest to succeed, with a surprising 5% swing to the Conservatives. We wonder whether such widespread adoption of his slogan might have backfired, and become as much of a reason to stop him as support him, for many. Anyway, as I said before, both Jeremy Hunt and Simon Cordon seemed to us like decent people who would both fight well for our area, so it's not the disaster it might seem at first glance, and it's not as if we haven't had a Conservative MP here for goodness knows how many years in any case. We're not yet sure whether Simon will campaign under the banner of "5711 votes to go!" next time round though - that is, if he stands here again anyway; he could go a long way, standing for the right seat, and it may well be that Surrey South West's not it any more.

Labour are still in power though, now there's a problem. Though not as much as if the Conservatives had won nationwide, now there's an even scarier thought.

Hmm, I'm just trying to work out where Simon Cordon got his "861 votes to go!" slogan from in the first place. In 2001, he recorded 20709 votes, beaten by Virginia Bottomley with 22462. That's a shortfall of 1753. Now, he may well have been working on the basis of it being a two-horse race and ignoring all other candidates. In which case, it could be argued that he only had to gain half of 1753, rounded up, since Virginia's successor would lose that many. Unfortunately, that would be 877 votes, not 861. Get a new calculator, Simon!

Or have I missed something else blindingly obvious? If so, I apologise!

That was a reasonably physically active weekend just finished, though with a sufficient amount of food involved to make it worthwhile from more than just a health angle - and perhaps sufficient to cancel that angle out, in fact...

Saturday afternoon, wanting to go out but not quite sure where, we stuck a pin in a book of walks and drove out to the other side of Guildford, where we were surprised to find a thriving little woodland centre place with lots of walking potential, some stunning views, and an open-air café that did a perfectly good line in toasted bacon baps. So nice indeed it all was that we will try and get back there with friends soon, since it'll make an ideal venue for a picnic and more. In the evening, we went out on foot with one of Katy's former colleagues to an Italian restaurant in town, where we secured a table on the condition that we'd finished by half past eight. That we managed, albeit with only five minutes to spare, but will certainly go back again because the food was pretty exquisite and good value - and not just the usual pizza and pasta, even if I was a little bit unimaginative in my own tastes. Perhaps we'll book though!

Sunday wasn't quite as active a day, going with Chris for the lunchtime buffet at our local balti house. It's probably the least upmarket of the town's curry establishments, but is by no means inadequate, and as such it always manages to impress with its sheer lack of pretentiousness, and its quick, friendly and not remotely overbearing service. We'd not really caught up with Chris for several weeks, so it was a good opportunity to put that to rights. Afterwards we left him to seek out reduced-to-clear bargains in Sainsburys and we had a bit of a mooch around town, definitely feeling the effects of quite a bit of walking over the past couple of days, before returning home and battening the hatches.

Forget make-money-fast schemes, inkjet refills and authentic replica watches, the latest area of spam email obviously still to realise its full potential is that of armchair horticulture. Yes, today I received an email advertising a brand new privet website - even including free access to a privet webcam!

Last night was the first of our Monday evening house group meetings. Although I was quite keen on Thursdays, they did prove difficult for quite a few of our number so we unanimously agreed to move the night. At last night's meeting we were particularly discussing the forthcoming Alpha Course we plan to run, which will be a new venture for most of us, but one that fits in entirely with the more outward-looking philosophy we're trying to embrace - and a new challenge from time to time does us all good! It did seem quite weird meeting on a Monday though, like it was too soon after Sunday - for all its faults, Thursday really was pretty much mid-week - but I'm sure we will get used to it in time!

This afternoon - needing to get out and clear my mind for a while - I've been for a good healthy walk around the Frensham Ponds, parking at the Great Pond and covering about four miles at a guess. All pretty quiet up there compared with weekends when Katy and I more often go, and the weather was threatening but never came to more than a few spots of rain. Sadly the signs advertising the availability of the snack bar were - as I suspected - somewhat misleading, because I really could have done with a nice bacon roll or something, though we're having bacon for tea tonight anyway, so it's only a matter of time...

How's work going amidst all this? Don't ask.

House move? Typically slowly.

Today I have mainly been sorting through miscellaneous junk, and packing boxes. Still no move date confirmed as yet, and there's been a slight hiccup at the top of the chain, but not one that's now expected to slow things much if at all. Just wish we knew when it was all happening though; although my writings here are visible to all, we're not going around announcing details of our move until we know it's happening and exactly when. And it'll be nice to be able to not have to qualify any future plans with "when we know when we're moving"...

Katy has suggested an incentive-based morning. That I have a nice bath, find myself a job - or at least try, OK? - and do a few bits of shopping at Tesco, then reward myself with a bacon roll from the café at said Tesco. Sounds a great idea to me, but so far I only seem to have had the bath, and Tesco stop serving their breakfast menu at half past eleven... What a lazy sod I am.

Bath enjoyed. Job searched for, but not found. Shopping done. Breakfast had - admittedly just before the shopping, to get to the café in time. Not quite as well loaded a bap as last time I had one there; it all seems to depend exactly who you get serving you, also affecting how many meat items you will get if you order the eight-item breakfast as we do sometimes... But still good, and I have some yummy ingredients for cooking tea tonight - if I can't earn money I might as well make myself useful, right? Must remember not to go to house group!

I remembered not to go to house group, but I must equally remember that it is instead tonight, and I need to do a little preparation for it at some point! Which must mean it's Monday again, though I have to say at the moment the main difference for me between weekdays and weekends is that Katy's around more at weekends. We had quite a nice weekend just finished, going into Farnborough on Saturday, having Cate round for lunch yesterday - being our first guest to try one of our latest recipes, and requesting a copy of it afterwards - and getting out and being healthy in the countryside a fair bit too. No news on anything else - house or job-wise - so I won't bore you any longer with my inane waffle.

This is my first whole day of officially being middle-aged, I think - at least if they're right about three-score years and ten, and all that... Yes, it was my 35th birthday yesterday, not that I've really been counting too seriously since I passed thirty - or even particularly wanted to think about it, though others have this strange habit of disagreeing, and I have an equally strange habit of finding it all right on the day. So Katy took the day off work and we drove down to the south coast, stopping for breakfast at Bordon Tesco - surely the town's best asset - and going for a walk out from Bosham via a pub a few people had mentioned was pretty good. Not that we had a great deal of appetite after our mountainous breakfasts, but managed a bar snack and enjoyed the view out over Chichester Harbour. We'd devised a few plans for the day, depending on the weather - not that the BBC's abominable new forecast style enlightened us much - and this was the most ambitious of them, and was the best choice. Pretty tired - in an entirely healthy way - upon our return, and still not too hungry, so supper was cheese, biscuits and a bottle of wine we'd chilled when we got home, and somehow I managed to beat Katy at both Scrabble and Tantrix. So altogether just a really nice day, with thoughtful presents and a good load of cards. Not so sure about being middle-aged, but things could be much worse!

And still the birthday greetings come... One this morning included an elephant, farm and log-raft, which the accompanying note explained I should arrange to my satisfaction. I might need Katy's help with that though!

Blow it, I've had enough with computers, jobs and everything else right now. Can't write a decent CV, can't do the web stuff I've been asked to, really can't do anything much at all.

Ciao.

Another week, blah blah blah...

This morning we've had another completion date suggested for our house move, but it seems an age away still - but at least this one might be attainable, given how hard it's proving to be to dot and cross those wretched i's and t's.

Just looking on job websites again, and having my utter lack of confidence in recruiters reasserted. There was a position on Monster, described as "UK south east" and "Southern Hampshire", so I enquired as to the actual location, and promptly got a reply back saying it was Guildford. OK, so that's possibly a bit more commutable than it might have been, but can I have even the smallest shred of confidence in a recruitment company who can't manage basic geography? Didn't mention the salary anyway, so odds are it's not worth braving the Hogsback for.

A highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly watching the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday night. No, seriously. Yes, it's musically utterly grim, Terry is cringeworthy, and indeed it has almost no redeeming merits at all. But all that strangely is completely cancelled out by good company and sufficient alcohol to hide such shortcomings. Which we had, so it was, and we had a great time!

Though we are still wondering why Israel are allowed to enter. OK, so they are hated by the rest of the Middle East, so could never win a similar contest there, but why should we help them out of the hole they've dug themselves, and - more to the point - why the heck does anyone with morals in Europe vote for them either..? Ah, I do believe I may just have answered my own silly question.

Ah, I have finally found a Eurovision FAQ. Took some finding; obviously they are not that keen on people asking questions about how they operate. Turns out that Israel are allowed to enter because they are active members of the EBU. "It is as simple as that", the website says. Which only begs further unanswered questions, really. One of which is why are Australia members, even if inactive?

No real news. Cooked a nice curry last night, but will be concocting something a little less adventurous with scampi and salad tonight. A few infinitesimal positive developments on the house-moving front, but more to bring us back to the position we thought we were in all along... The completion date we most recently had suggested is still looking practical, but still seems an age away - as indeed it is. We just want to be moved. We want to be in our lovely new house. I've probably not really appreciated until recently just how much of a weight this all is on my shoulders, especially coming at the same time as all this uncertainty over work. Katy's been more self-perceptive, needless to say.

Right, my CV's on line again. I gave up with trying to improve it too much; not to say it's perfect, but as sows' ears go it's not overly bad. I wonder what the first nonsense job "offer" I get as a result will be. Not that I've stopped getting them from last time round yet, with the best one yesterday being one wanting me to move to Derry because they searched for the word ColdFusion in my CV, even though it could easily have been in the phrase "I hate ColdFusion bitterly, and would like nothing better than to nuke Macromedia's offices from orbit". Recruiters really are getting lazier and lazier. But sadly the industry seems to love them more and more so there really is no getting away from them.

First email... Ah no, I don't think I listed "money laundering" as one of my key skills. That'll just be a Nigerian scam variant then. It got me so excited.

I was proven wrong. First phone conversation was actually quite constructive, and the guy in question is going to hammer on the door of a Farnham company to try and get me an interview there. The proof of the pudding will of course as always be in the eating, but it certainly doesn't smell too bad from here.

Second one wasn't too bad either. Sounded like he might already have contacts with the company that the first one was trying to "get into" - and in any case he's going to put my CV forward to a company in town he thinks could be good. And indeed I have just got some details in my email from him, which look at least half-promising - with a nice easy walk in to work, if nothing else...

This bank holiday weekend is being quite a busy one, but not so much so that I haven't got a chance to say what we've been up to! So here goes...

On Friday, after breakfasting al-fresco at Frensham Garden Centre with Katy's mum and dad, Katy and I finally went to see Revenge of the Sith at Basingstoke. I say "finally" but of course it really hasn't been out that long, though some might have expected someone like me - whatever that might mean! - to have gone rather sooner, especially since by some happy miscalculation I saw the previous episode twice at the cinema! Anyway, good film, even if it did have to rush to tie up too many loose ends too hurriedly, and did so a little excessively. Mind you, we could very easily have gone back to watch that one again immediately, just to keep in the cool - mighty glad of the air-con in both cinema and car!

Saturday afternoon and evening we drove up to Newbury for the Acoustic in the Park event as part of the festival fringe. Having generally avoided Newbury, tending to refer to it in the same breath as Swindon, we were surprised as to how perfectly pleasant a town it was. Not that we explored much, but the park was lovely and the canal-side regeneration tasteful, and others told us that the town centre shopping area wasn't bad either. As for the music, well Mike and Chris were on top form as expected, and at least some of the others playing during the couple of hours we were there approached their quality. A slightly disappointing crowd though, after an apparent almost complete lack of publicity compared with that for Sunday's events, but those there had a whale of a time.

Sunday we had a quieter day, with the Riding Lights theatre company taking the lead at church in the morning as a warm-up for the Farnham Christian Festival this half-term week. Today though we've been into Aldershot for lunch and a bit of window shopping, and tonight we should be round at Tim's for an unspecified DVD, in lieu of our normal house group meeting. That's because we decided to rearrange this week's meeting to tomorrow so that we can go along as a group to the private viewing night of the art exhibition as part of the festival week.

No particular news on jobs or house-moving, but hopefully will have some soon!

Job "offer" of the day so far is for a Java security role in Guildford. Not so interesting - and the description certainly does very little for me, anyway - except that it came from a recruitment agent in India, who also left a voice message on my phone early this morning. What is the world coming to, when a job ten miles down the road has to be filled via someone half way round the globe?

Of course, I should add, the role wasn't actually in Guilford, but in Dorking, but what's a few miles compared with a few timezones? Talking of timezones, I've done my first good deed for the day and been and dropped some people off at Heathrow airport and they should be jetting off to Canada shortly. Pleased to see that the M25 roadworks for Terminal 5 seem to have made considerable progress since I went through there last, with much of the southbound stretch appearing now to be more or less complete and with increased speed limits. The northbound stretch still seems pretty chaotic and the road-signing downright useless, but the end would finally seem to be nigh. Though of course I do feel at least a little for those who will be affected by the increased air and road traffic the new terminal will surely bring; lovely as cheap air fares may be, it really is about time airlines were taxed properly and some realism returned.

I was doing so well with this time round of trying to get a job. Answering the phone quickly and politely, not getting stressed with the recruiters who are of course only trying to earn an honest crust, and seemingly making some progress. But now I'm getting all stressed just because of one or two of them let the side down badly. By all accounts, there is a job going in Farnham, and it's one that I could quite possibly do and would be worth my while doing. But it seems like all the recruiters know about it, and are fighting over me like vultures scrabbling for that tasty morsel of carrion. I dare say some of them have a working relationship with the company in question, but I'm pretty sure not all of them do. If I were a betting man I would put quite short odds on the ones being most aggressive being amongst the more, shall we say, opportunistic. Now my head hurts again and I need a lie down if I'm going to last out the day.

But then there is the dilemma, given that they are all chasing the same job, of who I let talk to the company on my behalf. I don't know for sure which of them have a genuine relationship and which ones are the opportunistic ones, which ones the company will take notice of and which ones they won't even waste their time laughing at. So, I let any and all who want to talk to them go and do so, but then I risk possibly coming over as desperate or perhaps not quick-witted enough to realise what's going on. Though on the other hand, getting multiple applications might well at least show I am serious, given the increasingly scattergun approach of both recruiters and candidates in this lazy electronic age, where it's all too easy for recruiters to search for keywords - remember my recent "ColdFusion" incident? - and for candidates to click on any "apply" button they can find. Hey, being deeply cynical about on-line dating services found me my wife on just such a service; perhaps the same principle might apply here? Probably not. But what is definitely the case is that it will be a race against time to find myself a decent job before my head is permanently done in.

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