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David's diary: September 2005

Ray was very good, although a little on the long side given the seats at the Maltings - comfy enough had the film been half an hour shorter! Ray Charles is a performer I've only really come to appreciate after his death last year, only really previously knowing him from his cameo in The Blues Brothers, I'm ashamed to admit. Anyway, yes, good film. Hard to say how accurate it was, but pretty certain it captured the essence of the years portrayed, and pulled no punches. It initially saddened me that someone whose music I've come to appreciate was so objectionable - even if through sad circumstance rather than choice, to an extent - but it soon became clear that it was intentionally "warts and all", and that Ray's approval of it before he died counts as a lesson to many of us.

Another weekend done with, a bit less active than the last one. Today we've been out for a buffet curry with friends from the church, and last night we went out for a pub meal with other friends from the church, but that was the extent of our socialising this time. But we did some household-type shopping and window shopping too, and I spent a good couple of hours fixing computer problems induced by what appeared to have been a dud display driver update.

Ended with a "bang" though, indeed rather a lot of them! Probably the best thunderstorm I've ever experienced, in terms of intensity, if not proximity - the opening day of Wimbledon a few years back (1987?) and a camping trip a couple of years later win out in that regard... Three definite storm bases, each doing its business about every ten or twenty seconds, made for a pretty much constant barrage of thunder and lightning. None of them got closer than about a mile away, but we have a hunch our friends Nick and Sarah might have had a slightly more entertaining night where they live. Still, no chance of sleeping through that so we just sat back and enjoyed the show for getting on for an hour probably. And to think that from the weather forecast it looked like the storms might just about miss us altogether. Yay for thunderstorms!

We had house group round here last night, which was cool. In fact, we've agreed we'll do so for alternate months, although it'll be all change after Christmas anyway because of the Alpha course our group is facilitating in the new year.

This afternoon I've been fixing the rear wash-wipe on my car. Again. OK, it was actually the first time I've fixed it myself, but it's not the first time it's had to be done. Yes, it could have waited until the car goes in for a service, which will be in the next few weeks, but having seen why I had to fix it, it perhaps wasn't such a bad idea to have sorted it out independently. The pipe to the jet assembly was completely adrift, and given how positively it snapped back into place, I can only assume that they didn't fit it properly last time. Getting to the jet assembly in the first place proved to be a lot more fun than it should have been, with several Torx screws and the heaviest-duty metal clips ever holding the interior panel in place, making what surely should have been a five minute job take well over an hour. I'm amazed I hadn't diagnosed the cause before though, given that the detached pipe was basically flooding a lovely mixture of water and screenwash down the inside of the tailgate, out of the lock assembly and then goodness knows where. There were no obvious puddles under the car from when I tested, I don't think, and it was only observing the water level in the reservoir going down with nothing squirting on to the back window that confirmed that the water had to be escaping somewhere in between!

Hmm, I'm still wondering exactly where it did go all this time...

Yay, I bagged myself a couple of wild geese today.

For ages I've been searching for a decent alarm clock that doesn't tick. I always used to have one that ticked and it was never a problem. But Katy's not had a ticking one for ages, and found mine too noisy. I bought one yesterday that sounded silent in the shop, but got increasingly noisy overnight, and even I was having trouble sleeping, having got rather used to silence too. So, just like the Acctim "silent" one that whirred and whistled instead of ticking, it went back today. And I swapped it for a LCD one for a couple of quid more. Yeah, a cop-out I know; I really would have preferred an analogue one, but it simply wasn't going to be, so I braced myself and sold my soul. So I now have a nice stylish and pocketable LCD clock with atomic clock synchronisation, and the realistic hope of both a good night's sleep and waking up when I need to.

And I also finally tracked down reasonably priced batteries for Katy's travel clock. Boots wanted over two pounds for each of the two batteries required; the key cutting stall wanted three pounds each. It would have been questionable whether it would have been worth doing anything other than simply replacing the clock, at that price. Maplins, however - once I eventually found them, hidden behind a load of other batteries that had been hung on the wrong hook - wanted a mere ninety-nine pence each for their SR43s. Shame I had to go there and back again via half of Farnborough in the process, but I needed the exercise, if only to justify the Burger King lunch Katy had encouraged me to partake of...

Oh, and I found out where the water was going from my car's rear wash-wipe. As I had a hunch it might have been, it was accumulating in the compartment for the spare wheel. There was a lovely fluorescent green pool there, but not now.

Going to be a good six hours until Katy's back home though, probably. She's up at the Manchester office today running one of her famed training courses, and for some reason she was booked on to an obscenely early flight this morning and a rather late one this evening. Still, I have plenty of things left on the list of things to be done, so I am sure I will keep busy enough until her return, especially when I waste time writing twaddle like this, that no-one much reads.

Silly, innit? I paid a little bit more for the clock than I probably should have done, but I was in town, it was there, and seemed reasonable. The premium I paid very nearly cancelled out the savings on getting Katy's batteries from Maplins rather than Boots. And then I blew over four quid on my lunch, and filled up with petrol at 94.9p/litre. It's just the principle of the thing!

By the way, 94.9p/litre is, according to Google calculator, $6.61 a US gallon, so all those people on the other side of the pond can quit their whining.

And I've just been sweet-talked into supporting the local hospice. But it wasn't too hard-sell, the guy was very genuine, wasn't forcing me to sign a direct debit and change my energy supplier while I was at it, it's only for a month at a time, and I did use to support my local hospice in Milton Keynes. And hey, you never know, we might win something. That's the idea, after all.

Right now just uploading a load of new stuff to Gareth's website. Broadband may be fast, but multi-megabyte files still take their time on the asymmetrically slow - that's the "A" in "ADSL", as I'm sure you're well aware - uplink...

Hey, we've been away for the last week. But you knew that, right? You didn't? Oh, that means you can't have been one of the Chosen Few. More when I'm awake!

So, where have we been? The short answer: a cruise to the Norwegian fjords. The full story is of course slightly longer and you knew I would duly oblige...

We'd agreed that once the house move was out of the way we would book ourselves a good relaxing holiday somewhere, and a few weeks ago we were browsing the holiday section of the Times and spotted a nice-looking cruise to Norway at a fair price. We checked availability on the web, and gave them a call, whereupon they revealed that the information on the web was nonsense and if we wanted to book a cabin we would have to pay substantially over the odds. So that put the dampers on that particular idea, but we decided to check out any alternatives, and before the day was out we'd booked ourselves on to the Thomson Celebration.

So cut to last Monday, when we drove out to Harwich, entrusted our main luggage to the car-park attendants, and boarded without a hitch. It's always a relief when that happens, being the kind of person who's never happy until sure that everything's in order. Having already been through copious security checks, we were a little taken aback to have our hand luggage snatched off us as soon as we were aboard, but it immediately became clear that this was all part of the service as we were escorted like VIPs to our cabin, and set the standard for the rest of the holiday. Our cabin was a basic but perfectly comfortable twin room deep in the bowels of the ship with a porthole just about above sea-level, and the only problem with it was remembering which side of the boat it was on!

We sailed Monday evening - given a good send-off by a pipe-band - and enjoyed I think the only clear night of the week, so an ideal opportunity to go out on deck with Katy and appreciate much darker skies than we are accustomed. I used to be able to see the Milky Way quite clearly from my parents' house - their village having no street-lighting - so it was a treat to see that properly once again, though the Andromeda Galaxy wasn't quite visible without binoculars. It was too early in the year and we weren't really going to high enough latitudes to make aurora-spotting a particularly fruitful pursuit; another time, maybe...

Tuesday we spent at sea, with not much to be seen, but plenty to do on board by way of exploring and more formal activities. But it was Tuesday morning, as we had just booked ourselves into an excursion for Thursday, that we had our biggest surprise of the week, bumping into some old friends from Milton Keynes. Ivor, Karin and Micaela had made a pretty much last-minute decision to go on the cruise as a late birthday present for Ivor, and I really had to rack my brains to make sure I hadn't tipped them off we were going, given that we had been in correspondence recently thanks to my imminently joining his company... Anyway, that worked out really well in the end because we had different plans for the daytimes but agreed we would dine together in the evenings, starting with the captain's gala night that very evening, followed by a Disney showcase. The gala night was the only formal evening of the cruise, with jackets and ties compulsory for gentlemen. The rest of the time the dress code when dining in the posher restaurants was "smart casual", and otherwise pretty much completely relaxed. The Disney stage show was fun and impressive, with lots of favourite songs set to spectacular dance routines, though we suspect that although to be a male performer may not have required you to be gay, it certainly helped! We also watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on the in-cabin TV service, which passed the time nicely, and of course included good Norway references!

Tuesday night was a little rough, and we discovered that having a porthole right down by the waterline meant that under stormier circumstances, that often meant below the waterline. Sadly the crew grew wise to this, and shut off our natural night on a couple of occasions during the cruise when it was deemed to be too risky should the portholes be damaged, but they were quick enough to open them up again once conditions had improved. So Wednesday morning we pulled into the small port of Ulvik on the Hardangerfjord, with the rain lashing down. We weren't too bothered about going ashore, but decided in the end we would do so, to work up some appetite for breakfast, and it was the only stop we would be making where we would need to use the tender so thought that would be fun too. In the end we spent all of about twenty minutes ashore, but were rather glad we did, since our second port of call, Eidfjord - where we had intended perhaps to spend a little longer ashore - was declared too treacherous to weigh anchor at. In a way it was kind of merciful that the main excursion of the day - which Ivor and family had booked on to - had been cancelled. It was to have been an overland connection between Ulvik and Eidfjord, but was called off after the road was blocked by a landslide. If the excursion had gone ahead as planned, they wouldn't have been able to board again! Thankfully pretty much everyone on board was understanding about the change of itinerary, and the captain made best efforts to make our revised route scenically interesting and out of the worst of the weather. Even in the pouring rain, Norway is beautiful!

So we sailed to Flåm on the Sognefjord, Thursday's port of call, via an inshore route near Bergen rather than going out to sea as planned. The overnight storms had completely gone by morning, and the weather was glorious, so we were glad we'd booked ourselves into the main excursion of the day. We'd been told that the Flåm Railway was a must-see attraction, but were rather taken aback by the excursion price compared with that of turn-up-and-go tickets from the station. But we decided in the end that the extras included with the excursion might be worth the extra, and they were - including excellent local commentary, various scenic stops, coffee at a very posh hotel in the mountains, an excellent (if slightly poorly organised) buffet at a hotel in the ski resort of Voss, and a leg on the spectacular Bergen-Oslo railway. The Flåm Railway itself was of course spectacular, though we would say the Bergen-Oslo line gave it a good run for its money and was more consistently scenic. If there was one recurring theme of the day it was waterfalls - gushing and cascading everywhere we went. Perhaps the lousy weather of the previous day had its benefits after all!

Friday was our last day in port, and that brought us properly back to Bergen, which we had passed by on Wednesday evening. It rains in Bergen something like 320 days of the year, and ours was one of them. However, that was for about twenty minutes at the most, very unusually, and the rest of the day was as fine as Thursday had been. We decided against any of the organised excursions, and essentially followed our noses for the day - easily finding our way to the fish market at the very least... The main things we did were to visit the aquariums, with their impressive population of penguins, seals and crocodiles (not all in the same enclosure) to augment the usual fish and whatnot, and to go up the funicular railway to the top of Mount Fløien. The view from there was simply amazing, looking out over the city to the islands and open sea beyond. Ivor and family went up the cable car ascending the next mountain along, and got even better views by the looks of the photos they sent us, so that will be on our to-do list for when we undoubtedly return to Bergen at some time in the future!

Saturday was "at sea", as they say, and the main highlight was probably going kite-flying with Ivor and Micaela from the top deck of the ship - at least until the crew spotted our UFO on their radar and politely requested we desist. Bit silly really issuing kites at the on-board children's club without any advice... We decided we'd all dress up for dinner once again, it being our last night on the ship, which made for a really special end to the week. We docked in Harwich first thing Sunday morning, and awaited our call to disembark. Before we knew it, we were on the A12 and on the way home, even if it was still to be a couple more days before the world stopped swaying from side to side...

So, would we do it again? Of the people we spoke to, for probably about three quarters of them it was their first time, and the impression was universally a good one. We're not sure it's something we would want to get into too much of a routine with - like some people do - but we would certainly consider doing one again, and have already had a leaf through a couple of brochures. The easygoing level of formality with Thomson is excellent and right up our street, and clearly attracts "our kind of people". It's posh enough that there are high standards and expectations all round, but not so posh that you're continually having to worry about whether you're doing the right thing, brought the right DJ or whatever... All meals on board were included, as were tea and coffee in most venues, and the variety of eateries was spot on, ranging from a perfectly decent buffet to a proper restaurant. You could pay a surcharge and eat in an exclusive restaurant, but frankly the included options were perfectly adequate and the food was generally exquisite. So, all in all, a definite big thumbs up!

Building work's going on next door, to hopefully stop the guy's house falling down. They didn't seem to be doing anything Monday, but Tuesday and Wednesday were rather noisy. So on Tuesday we decided we would hit the coast - as if we hadn't had quite enough of the sea over the last week! - and drove down to Hayling Island, and yesterday we went to the cinema at Basingstoke to watch the new dramatisation of Pride & Prejudice, and have a game of pool while waiting. So far the workmen seem quieter today, but I have an escape plan if need be!

Oh, and I finally have word regarding a start date for my new job, having had to go through the lengthy process of security clearance. Ivor, who we bumped into on our holiday, happens to work for the same company (different offices though!) and has just had to apply for clearance himself. I think he's got his now but he emailed to say it's taking an average of four months at the moment. So I guess I should be quietly content that my start date is now set for the end of October, about ten weeks after I applied for clearance... I guess that's just the way things work, and it's just as frustrating for the companies affected as the prospective employees! I just need to keep myself occupied in a constructive manner for the next month or so. At least I know now, anyway.

Ah, the jack-hammering has started outside now. Activate escape plan, methinks!

Katy's asking difficult questions like what are we having for tea today. Y'see it's no longer as easy as looking down the menu and selecting yummy terrines, luxury salads and mouth-watering and exotic mains, while the waiter patiently, umm, waits. I'll come up with something, I'm sure, and madame will be happy. On the other hand, Thursday has tended towards being a pizza night, even though house group has moved to Mondays for the time being. But that'd be a cop-out...

Although I have decided we're having a honey and mustard warm chicken salad tonight, talking of pizza, I have some sad news to relate. Namely that Pizza Piazza, our favourite pizzeria here in Farnham, is no more. It's all boarded up, only months after a refit, and we have a friend who's been made redundant. But sadly it's not much of a surprise; we can't remember the last time there were more than a dozen people in there, there was always utter confusion over which special offers applied when, and to cap it all, the ovens have been out of action on several recent attempted visits. I'm just glad we never succumbed to their "frequent diner" scheme... Under any other circumstances, the nearby Caffé Uno and Pizza Express would be rubbing their hands with glee, but given how well Pizza Piazza were doing at driving their loyal customers away over the last few months, I doubt there will have been many left to poach in any case!

I avoided the worst of the building noise by escaping to Frensham ponds for the afternoon, doing a healthy circuit taking me around both of the lakes - despite being called ponds, they are fairly decent-sized lakes, and the size difference between the Great and Little "ponds" is fairly minimal in practice. Having done a bit of stuff for Gareth, I've just set this evening's chicken marinating, and am just awaiting Katy's imminent return from work. So, signing off for now, OK?

Oh, I forgot, our other highlight of our final day "at sea" was playing deck sports. Specifically tennis and quoits, both of which I lost - the tennis only narrowly, admittedly - which must have been why I forgot. But then it has been a very long time... And I'm sure the boat was rocking more for me than Katy.

Today we escaped the building noise next door by dropping my car off to be serviced, looking round the garden centre at shrubs and things to put in our planters, munching lunch in the café there, going shopping at Sainsburys and then picking up my car again - trying not to gulp too much at the bill. All quiet now, thankfully, and now readying ourselves for being sociable tonight.

Katy wasn't too well this weekend, so we reined in our plans a little bit but still did pretty well with being sociable. Cate came round on Friday evening, sampling our own-recipe honey and ginger prawns, sharing holiday photographs and generally catching up on happenings in our respective worlds. We had the OAPs' party on Saturday afternoon, with an "old-time music hall" theme, which was quite fun but I really did feel out of it so didn't contribute as much as I would have liked, once we'd got everything set up anyway. In the evening it was Tim's birthday party, which we made it along to the first half of, playing lots of video games, but we were both running on vapours by then so called it a day. We bowed out of Sunday lunchtime plans and had pizza at home, but we wrapped up the weekend by being sociable round at Simon, Becki and Mali's, with added Phil and lashings of goulash. Now Katy's gone to work, and I can carry on counting off the weeks until my new job starts - or alternatively, in the shorter term, count the impacts of the pile-driver as the work continues next door...

Got a nice evening in planned, in the absence of house group. Yes, tonight is the FCCT annual review, but we're both lacking energy, and the invitation was half-hearted, so even the temptation of free food and wine is proving to be insufficient. Instead we shall gorge ourselves on chilli and finish watching A Beautiful Mind that we recorded the other day and only watched about half of.

We had lashings of chilli con carne, and indeed finished watching a A Beautiful Mind. Who ever said we weren't amongst humanity's more dependable specimens? I notice that one of the goofs listed by IMDB for the film was with regard to the radioactive implant in Nash's arm, pointing out that it couldn't have worked. But then Nash was formulating theories to describe things like the flocking of pigeons and other such unquantifiables. It's by no means inconceivable that he might have believed radioactive decay to be reducible to a reliable equation.

Just got a text message from Orange, feigning sadness that we missed their "two for one" offer last Wednesday, despite having obtained a ticket code. Actually, we didn't; their machine at the cinema was broken. Just for the record, like. It's actually looking pretty likely I will be dumping Orange very soon. I want a new and more flexible contract, and they really do not have anything to offer at a sensible price and with a decent handset. To make things still worse they have just announced they are imminently going to charge for itemised billing. Seeing as on at least one occasion they have completely stuffed up my billing, I am needless to say very wary about anything further removing accountability. Once upon a time they were the best mobile service, but they're also-rans now. I just need to decide who to switch to. Katy's on O2, and there are some very good web deals around for basic O2 phones - e.g. free phone and line rental for the duration of the contract - but I also have modest gadget lust to consider.

I wish today would just collapse in to a black hole. Though it might hit me on the head when it does so, I guess, since I already feel like I'm in one. Really not a good day to cross me, as a number of people have already discovered.

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