Thursday 7 July: Sue is on MSN talking with Philip when he hears that they have found Tom in another hostel. Lots more details - he still has not reported his passport missing yet - but it looks like they are starting to get themselves sorted. Sue decides to come out to Keynsham with me after all.
I have my supervision with Dave Wiles - he is helpful and insightful as always.
After the session, Clive, Gay and Val get in a car, and we all drive over to the Triangle. Next problem is that the car park entrance is closed, so we are part of a group of cars turning round and finding the other entrance.
We find the car park, and both park quite easily. Walk round to Cosmo and find Sue waiting for us - she has just arrived, after catching the train to Clifton Down and checking out the local charity shops.
We are warned that we only have 45 minutes or so before the food ends, but we think this will be fine. And it is: we have a splendid time, both the food and the conversation. Clive slightly surprises us by telling us that the latest update from the hospital is that his cancer is 'more agressive' than previously. It sounds like they don't expect him to last much longer, but he probably has not been given any specific timescale. Despite this, the conversation is encouraging and uplifting.
After the food is over, Sue and I ask if folk would like a coffee. Yes, they would. So we take them round the corner to Papa Deli, the café at the RWA. They still have the wonderful photographs in the main seating area, and we sit talking and drinking for most of the afternoon. It's a long time since we last sat just talking and relaxing with friends. We must do more of this.
Eventually, we wander back to the car park. Gay drives Clive and Val home, and Sue and I head off to do some shopping.
Monday 11 July: over to Parkway Methodist in the afternoon to do a short talk for their lunch for the local elderly people. Very friendly and welcoming, but one or two of those old ladies were quite sharp about analysing the value of our work. Unexpected but stimulating.
The local Neighbourhood forum meets at 6.30. We are telling people about the planned Wet Clinic, and giving them the opportunity to talk to us about our plans. Alan does a good and brief introduction, then we man a table. No challenges. A few people coming up to be supportive, and a couple asking for some details to clarify what we are planning. Nobody upset about it at all, which is very good news.
Thursday 14 July: I am working from home today, but have also promised to give Ian a lift to his new flat. He started renting it from 1 July for one year, and we are taking Naomi's things to the flat in order to make more room at home. Parking is dreadful: it is just off Whiteladies Road, close to the Clifton Down shopping centre. But we manage - I stay with the car while Ian runs in with Naomi's stuff. I don't actually get to see the flat, but no doubt there will be other opportunities.
Do a bit more work, then in to the office to print off a number of documents for the Homeless Forum in the evening, and a bank statement for Martin.
Friday 15 July: Meaningful Occupation Group in the morning. Lyn from Aspire shocks the meeting by announcing that her job is disappearing. We talk with her afterwards, and nobody can quite believe that both she and Don are losing their jobs. As someone comments, they are the only two people who make anything happen at Aspire. It sounds pretty much like the beginning of the end for Aspire, which is very sad.
I'm running later than planned, so straight off to the BCAN steering group. A useful meeting, which unfortunately clashes with the lunchtime CCM prayer meeting for this month.
Back to the office for a couple of hours while Sue has a physiology appointment, then she walks over to Stapleton Road and we head off to the Orpheus to see the latest and last Harry Potter. We love it.
Saturday 16 July: down to Sea Mills station to catch the train in to Lawrence Hill. A couple of our coffee shop volunteers are on the platform; he is there to wave his wife off, so we sit together and have a fascinating but troubling conversation about children's access to x-rated violent films and games. She tells me about showing a film about the Holocaust to some school children (year 9?) and the boys all responding with how great that was, so many people killed - can they watch some more? Of course, in their games, the more people you kill the more successful you are. In such a universe, a concentration camp must be a wonderful achievement.
Off the train and walk over to Carpenter House. Finish preparing and printing some documents for the trustees and staff and our strategy day.
It is hard work, but in the end a very good day. Some useful work updating our strategy documents and thinking about governance, but the key discussion gives us some clarity and direction on the future of 12 City Road. It looks like we won't sell after all.
We finish an hour late, at 4.45 pm. Sue drives over and picks me up, then we head off to Newbury and Philip Peacock's 50th birthday party.
The party seems a tremendous success. They have dreadfully over-catered, of course. Some interesting conversations, but for much of the evening I sit and listen to the music, a welcome relief after the sustained concentration of the discussions through the day.
When we leave, we take Philip's parents to the 'Ramada Newbury' - the hotel where they and we are both staying. We have a very nice room, by the entrance and away from the main house, but the Internet access is not working. On the other hand, they do provide Redbush tea.
We drive to London - we are back at the Old Rectory, but in a different room this time. Stop off to collect the keys and drop the bags, then on to my parents. My father is pleased and surprised to see us, which is par for the course these days - it doesn't matter how often he has been told we are coming.
Thursday 21 July: long day. FareShare board meeting 8.30, which involves a very early train. A couple of other meetings during the day, and then down to the Crypt at Woodlands for an evening of Prayer for Social Action. Very good time: enthusiastic prayer, well led, and useful networking afterwords.
Leave work a little early, and drive up to London. Boys get the train, as we are not going straight back to Bristol.
Saturday 23 July: breakfast and straight out. Instead of going directly to my parents, we go to the railway station to pick up tickets for the afternoon. However, the sat nav takes us on a strange detour away from the main road and the direct route. No idea why: the route is fine when we drive back.
We have booked to see the 'Lion King' stage show to celebrate mother's birthday. All eight of us drive to Eltham Station, Roger and I park the cars and walk back in good time to catch the train.
The journey goes well: we don't lose anyone, and father only repeats his questions about where we are going and why, occasionally getting a bit irritated when we repeat a detail he remembers.
We have decent seats, two sets of four, one in front of the other. We put the boys - the tallest members of the group - into the back row, along with Roger.
The show is just astonishing. Very close to the film, far more than I expected, and it is worth coming just to see the design of the animals and how each one is worked. And the stage is wonderful - it does so much. Never seen a stage act its heart out so well.
Ian's reaction to the usual Disney nonsense is great: this whole 'circle of life' thing in which everything belongs sounds really good - every creature belongs: from the highest to the lowest, everyone has a place, except, of course, for the Hyenas, who just don't belong here.
Back home on the train, then order a Chinese takeaway for a change. Mother reluctantly accepts that it doesn't make sense for her to cook.
Back to the George and Dragon for lunch. Another excellent meal and friendly service. Ian is disappointed by the lack of a starter, but it is a fun time with the three boys and my parents and brother: the three boys together always have an interesting conversation, and Roger adds another dimension.
Too soon, we have to head off. Roger takes Alan back to the station, and Sue and I take Philip and Ian.
Holdups on the motorway, so we change our plans several times. The question is whether we can get the boys to a station in time to catch a train to Bristol which connects with the last Severn Beach service. The first plan is Swindon, the second Reading, and when this fails we revert to Swindon and they miss the connection.
Despite this, we bid them goodbye and drive on to Wooton Basset and the Howes. The rest of the journey is fine, and we find the place easily enough: a group of holiday homes on a golf course. But we don't know which one, and Mark is not answering his phone. There is a set of keys waiting for someone in the reception, but they don't know if we are the the people who are picking them up.
We drive round, seeing if we can spot a car with French plates, but then we get a call and are directed to the right house. Mark had been asleep - they did not expect us so soon.
We unpack, then do up to the reception and the gym. Sue goes in the pool, and I use the sauna. Not terribly warm. However, the steam room is the second hottest I have ever experienced, and more than makes up for the tepid sauna.
Coffee and ice cream, then the Abbey gardens, and a quick tour of the church. They have a labyrinth in the Trinity Chapel. They have a leaflet about it, which is probably trying to say too much or too little. "At the centre we encounter God. Here and everywhere is the presence of Christ..."
Back to the car, a quick trip round a supermarket, and home. Sue goes for a swim, then we watch 'New Tricks' together.
Wednesday 27 July: the four of us visit Farley Hungerford Castle. An interesting visit, with well presented stories about the different areas of the site and the different people who lived there over the years.
Then we drive on to Bristol. Sue does her Spanish lesson while I show Mark & Susan around Carpenter House and take them into Cabot Circus - built long after they left.
Thursday 28 July: lunch together, then Mark goes back to do some programmming while Sue, Susan and I go back to Cirencester and do the museum. The first few galleries are terribly warm and close, and I persuade the others to take a break and get a drink in the café before continuing. This is very welcome, but we don't have time to finish a large part of the museum before it closes. Maybe we will get to return some time. In the autumn, they have a picture exhibition which would be worth visiting, so it's a possibility.
In the evening, we watch a DVD Mark & Sue have brought: Invasion. A remake of the classic film, or perhaps a new interpretation of the original book. Nicely done.
Friday 29 July: we aim to be out of the house at 10, and are only about 20 minutes late, despite Susan going out first thing to post her book back to her mother. We drive off to Oxford, find the park and ride, and catch the bus into town.
An early lunch - very nice panini. Sue and I go up the Carfax Tower while Mark and Susan wait at the bottom. It is steep and narrow, and the third stage is very long, but the view from the top is wonderful.
Wander round Oxford, visit several tempting bookshops. In one, I browse the postscript to Pullman's ridiculous book about Jesus: he throws out the challenge to all Bible believing Christians to try what he calls a 'thought experiment' - if you could go back in time and prevent the crucifixion, would you? And, if not, does that not not make you no better than Judas? Two obvious responses: firstly, your logic is somewhat mistaken; and secondly, no, I don't think I am better than Judas - that is rather the point of the gospel message. God loves me despite my sin, not because of my goodness. It really is quite astonishing.
Over another coffee, something reminds me of the old question about colour I keep asking: how do we get to a circular three primary colour model from a linear spectrum of frequencies? We spend most of the rest of the afternoon throwing this one around. In the end, Mark satisfies himself that it makes sense on the basis of the colour receptors in our eyes, but I don't really follow how.
It costs lots of money to go in the Cathedral, and there are long queues, so we walk around it instead. Look for a cream tea, then give up and buy the necessary bits in Sainsbury's before catching the bus back to the park and ride.
The satnav does another odd diversion as we leave the car park: it sends us left, when we should have gone right, then almost immediately tells us to turn around and go the other way. The rest of the journey is fine.
When we get back, there is no power in the house. And none we can see in the other buildings around. We walk over to the reception, which is also in darkness. A bit of a clue. The are expecting an update from the power company in about five minutes, and the restaurant may heve some hot water left for coffe, so we walk round in the hope of some coffee and cake. No hot water left. We are about to walk away, when the electricity comes back on. They put some coffee on for us, but only have two pieces of cake: one banana, which I can't eat, and one coconut, which I don't like. But we sit and have a drink, then Mark and Susan head back while Sue and I go for a swim.
Susan wants to stay behind sorting and showering, so Sue and I drive off to Wootton Basset alone. We walk down the High Street, exploring the town museum, the charity shops and book shops.
When we get back, Mark has returned with Joseph. On his return, the traffic going into the West Country was queuing all the way from Bristol. Poor people.
Getting ready for lunch means bringing another chair to the table on the patio. Two chairs are nested and don't want to separate. Joseph and I go to help Mark with this, putting a hand each on the arm rest of the lower chair. Mark yanks the other chair again, and it comes free; the seat comes up and crushes our fingers. We should have seen it coming. Absolute agony for a while, then slowly dulling. Eventually, the painkillers seem to have some effect. I caught it worse than Joseph fortunately, as I have the larger and thicker fingers.
Later in the afternoon, we drive into Swindon to see the latest film: Captain America. Not a character I am familiar with, beyond seeing the figure on covers in newsagents. But it is a decent enough film, and surprisingly, the two people destined to be lovers all through the film don't get together at the end. It is a fascinating piece of alternate reality, somehow mixing futuristic technology - levitation and disintegrator rays - with all the familiar technology and setting of WWII. But somehow it works.
Sunday 31 July: up early, breakfast, and get Mark & Susan out of the house a bit before 10. We finish packing and are out before half past. The fingers are still painful, but opening and closing much as they should, so it doesn't look like anything is broken.
It proves to be more difficult than expected to find Nathalie and the SU camp - the satnav keeeps directing us down closed-off roads. But we find a route, and arrive just before 11. Fifteen minutes after the end of camp performance is due to start, but a few minutes before it actually does.
it is a very odd affair. As Mark says, some of the kids are more talented than others, but on the whole it is a very high standard of performance. But the material is mainly trite and old: much of it was around when we were young and doing this sort of thing. Quite disturbing.
We congratulate Nathalie on her performance as Daniel, then say goodbye to her and to Susan, Mark & Joseph.
Back to Cirencester for lunch one last time - it's on our route. Find a very nice but quirky place to eat above what seems to be a small shop at the front, but it just goes back and gets bigger as you explore. Several times, an apparent dead end turns into an opening into a whole new vista. Absolutely incredible. Then a final look around the other shops, and we head back home.
Friday 5 August: Sue has another Physio appointment in the afternoon, so we get away from work in good time. We attend the appointment, have a coffee and diary check in a café opposite, and then go home afterwards.
Friday 12 August: Sue has a 'New Yorker' calendar, with a cartoon for each day. Today, it shows a father sitting in an armchair, looking down at his son dressed as a doctor with a "Li'l Doctor" playset bag and items around on the floor. The son holds up a clipboard and says to his father, "Because of your age, I'm going to recommend doing nothing."
Sue goes off to Newbury to spend the night with her mother, and I go to the Mill House to have a drink with Don. Long time since we have just sat and chatted.
Saturday 13 August: a pleasant surprise in the sauna today. Most people are friendly, but they only talk to people they know. At the start, I am alone with a chap I don't know. Get him talking, then a lady comes in; manage to turn the conversation a bit and get her involved, too. A little later, another lady turns up, so she joins in. I go out for a shower. When I return, only the two ladies are present, and they have discovered that they are both Spanish - not a great surprise - and also that they come from the same place. Couldn't work out if it was a town or a region, but either way, they discovered they had a lot to talk about. And had a lot of fun doing it.
Sunday 14 August: early to church, as the Global Partnerships offering today is for CCM, and Chris has agreed to talk about us. He arrives soon after us at 10.15, and we get a while to chat about the church before the service starts. Don recognises Chris from the coffee shop, and joins us for a while.
Chris has to dash away at the end, but everyone who talks to me says how well he did.
Back home, we are planning to take Ian out for lunch - Philip is working at the Orpheus, and I took him out yesterday. But Ian is not interested, so Sue and I change our plans slightly and head for the RWA eating place.
They have changed the pictures in the dining room: paintings have replaced the photographs. Interesting, but not nearly as stunning.
We do a quick tour round the Vetriano exhibition. They have a display of the photographs which were used in many of his paintings, and the combination of the two is brilliant.
On to work. I put together a couple of IKEA book cases while Sue browses. We try to see the Red Arrows over the balloon fiesta, but this doesn't work - we hear jets go by, probably as they finish the display.
On the way home, there are load of people working on the hillside beside Bridge Valley Road. They are clearly making a lot of progress, putting down netting to secure the path and road from falling rocks.
Home for a bit, then we decide to go to the Orpheus and see Super 8 - an entertaining homage to Spielberg.
Monday 22 August: work and prayer meeting at Pip 'n' Jay. Confirm our booking of the hall and grounds for the sleep out next year. Back to work briefly, then out to pick up Sue and drive her to the Physiotherapy appointment.
Chrissie, a lady we have not seen before, has a bit more experience than the others before her. She is wondering how much more improvement Sue can expect. She gives us some instructions to massage the back of the shoulder every day, and tells us to come back in a week.
Sue heads home; I go for a sauna and then back to work for the monthly prayer meeting.
As I am heading home, I find Chris, our Duty Manager on the phone to Alan, our Coffee Shop Manager. Chris is trying to find somewhere for a family of 7 who have nowhere to stay tonight - a mother, father and 5 young children. After some discussion, I agree a plan and a backup plan, and leave Chris to it. I am so pleased that we were there and available to them, and delighted that we have people like Chris who can handle this sort of problem - but furious that the system has failed this family so badly. We fail to care for adults on a regular and systematic basis, but we as a society are supposed to be looking after children. Better stop here.
Sunday 28 August: we have lunch with Philip, then Ian appears! We had assumed he was working, but he wasn't. Then the Orpheus ring, asking where Philip is. Philip had also thought that Ian was working this afternoon, but it seems he was wrong too.
With Ian's help, we get Alan's desk out of the garage and into the car, then drive it over to Müller House, for a lady who needs a desk there for a year.
Fascinating place. We love the way it is still being renovated, and you get to feel a part of that. We bump into Steve and Liz Smith, who are making a return visit.
Saturday 3 September: incredibly busy day. Pick up a large vehicle, take out the rear seats with some help from Philip - turns out they were in the wrong places, which made it much more difficult than it should have been. Then we all drive to Alan. Take Chris' things round to his parents, then load Alan's belongs and bring them home. Unload some, and load Philip's bits. Drive up to Coventry. Unload Alan, then drive round the corner and unload Philip. They are living within shouting distance of each other, quite unplanned.
We leave Ian and drive off to the Village Hotel for the night. Very nice room, but we are not in it for long.
Sunday 4 September: Sue gets an early morning swim, then breakfast, packing and back to Alan. Everyone else is already there - the three boys, plus my parents and brother. A quick drink, then we all drive into Coventry and visit the transport museum.
At the end, Roger drives my parents home and we drive our boys back to Alan's place. Some final bits of sorting, we say goodbye to Alan and drive Philip and Ian home.
We have a good journey back, but we are running a bit behind schedule by the time we get near to Bristol.
Unpack, and with Philip's help we manage to get the seats back into the car - the right way round. We pack Ian's belongings into it, and drive him round to his flat. Sue gets to meet Naomi as we are unpacking. Then we drive home, Ian loads up a rucsack with some washing and kitchen bits, we wave him off and he cycles back again.
Drive Alan into town, down to the bottom of Park Street. Very little traffic either way.
Alan is due to set off with the 10 am batch of runners, so I get down to the Portway around 10.15 am. It's a lovely occasion, with a nice mixture of serious runners, people in silly costumes, and people who are really struggling to keep going.
Just opposite us is a bin for runners to throw plastic water bottle into. One misses, and gets blown around under the feet of the runners for several minutes. Nobody else does anything, so I pick a quiet mopment, go into the road and retrieve it.
Alan passes me at 10.42, a few minutes later. I manage a quick photograph as he goes by, and another of him disappearing into the distance. Then I walk round to the other side.
Alan passes again at 10.51, looking happy and fresh. He finishes in just under 1 hour 45 minutes, which is very respectable.
Sunday 18 September: almost every night when I'm at home, I do some sit-up, some press-ups and some steps on the little step machine we bought a few years ago. I've been limiting myself to 500 steps for some time, but the other two are not as easy. I started with being able to do around half a dozen sit-ups, and worked up to a hundred. Then I started to use a weight, and worked up to a hundred again. Then a few months ago I increased the weight again, and tonight, for the first time with this weight, I manage to do a hundred.
Monday 19 September: driving in to work this morning, I notice that the end of Pennywell Road is blocked off: they are removing the scaffolding from Saint's Court, the housing development on the end of the St Nick's site. Oddly, a large chunk of the building seems to be missing from the mostobvious corner, running almost the entire height of the building. They must know what they are doing.
The talk by Tom Holland is brilliant, if not what I am expecting. He talks about the necessity of interpreting Paul and the other NT writers in the cultural context of first century Jewish thought, not first century Greek culture. Absolutely. I have argued this point on many occasions. Apparently I have Tom to thank for this insight and for initially publicising the idea. Afterwards, I thank him for the talk and describe briefly some of the ways in which his thoughts have shaped the ministry we are engaged in.
The other main talk is almost the opposite of what I was expecting: affirming the centrality of the core gospel message (whatever that may be!) and the relative unimportance of the cultural differences in our expression of that core message. I thought the point of this conference was that culture matters!
Saturday 24 September: back to the conference at Kensington by train. At least, that is the plan. I arrive at the station in good time, and the train is already there. It has stopped on the way out because of a customer who was being abusive and threatening, and then left the train at Sea Mills. Then somehow the brakes became locked and they can't free them. Then the Police arrive and take statements. Then the Police go. Then the brakes start working again, but we have to complete the journey out before we can come back.
So I'm rather late arriving after all.
The rest of the conference is not nearly as interesting as the first evening. And several speakers take almost the opposite line from the one I was expecting from the title. Talking in the breaks, a number of us feel that there is a really helpful conference on this subject somewhere, but this is not it.
In the evening, Sue and I sit down with Steve and we get a little more clarity on his plans and timescale. We need to work on the basis of finding £310,000 to buy him out, or selling the house; and we need to do this as soon as we can manage. Help.
Saturday 1 October: some nice people from Fellowship of the King, working as the Bristol Besom, come round to us and help attack our garden. Two ladies and two gentlemen. They work hard all day, just breaking for lunch.
It is another hot day, but despite this, we make an astonishing amount of progress. By the time the ladies finish - a couple of hours after the gentlemen leave in the afternoon - we can see parts of the garden I have never seen before. Now all we have to do is keep it clear ...
Sunday 2 October: words at Highgrove. Set up the playlist without difficulty, and all is ready for the service in good time. Then I get a request to show a PowerPoint during the service. Copy the file and try to load it. No joy. Can't import it. Can't run it on the PowerPoint installed on the machine. Then I have a thought - my netbook is sitting by my side. Copy the file onto the netbook, open the presentation in OpenOffice, and save it in an older PowerPoint format; copy the new file back and it opens on the church machine. The formatting is a bit wonky, but all the content is present, and it is available for display just a few seconds before it is needed. Another small victory for my netbook and Ubuntu.
Thursday 6 October: in the evening, Sue and I go to the Orpheus and see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Brilliant.
We had planned to take Esme to the circus on the Downs, but she was not feeling well enough
Saturday 8 October: training in the morning goes really well, but Clive is not well enough to go out for a meal afterwards as we had planned. And for some reason Val is not with us and not answering her phone.
Drive Karen back to pick up her car. The journey takes a long time - the roads are very busy for some reason. Andy And Gay phone - they are still up for a meal, so pick up Sue and drive down to Cosmo.
But by the time we arrive, it is about 2.30 and the food will stop very soon. So instead we walk round to PapaDeli and have a lovely meal there - good food and good conversation.
Sue also had a productive morning: both a flu jab and a haircut.
After the meal, Sue has a swim at the Otium while I sauna, then she walks up and we have a coffee and quick diary check. Then we drive off to Morrisons and do a proper weekly shop - the first one for several weeks.
Leave work around 11.30 - haven't done all I hoped to finish, but the most essential bits are in place.
Thursday 13 October: there is a consultation about the Junction 3 project being held in Trinity Art Centre. I go and try to find out what they are consulting about. One lady isn't sure: all their plans are esseentially finalised by now. They don't have tenants, but that can't happen yet. Another explains that they are consulting about whether I have any questions for them. I ask about parking (there is not enough) and public transport (there is none - nothing direct to the site, and no additional capacilty in the area) and what they plan to do about it (nothing, but we do know this is important).
Sitting in my office a little later, I become aware that various vehicles are sounding their horns. Look out and see a man sitting in the middle of the road in front of a bus. It's not clear if he wants to be run over, or just doesn't care. Alan and a few others from the shop go out and help him to the side of the road. He is horribly drunk, and distressed but we are not clear why or if there is anything that can be done. After a while, he wanders off. p>In the afternoon, we have a 'Time of Rememberance' for an ex-client, Leroy Macdonald, whose funeral was this morning. It gives his family and friends a chance to share. The tributes to Leroy are moving, as you would expect: a lovely person, even when drunk. But what moves me most are the memories of the home he grew up in - a children's home, run by a couple who really cared, and who built a real family. The kids thought of them as Mum and Dad, and they were all brothers and sisters. One of the grown-up kids said, "It was the best, most loving family, anyone could possibly wish for" and others said similar things. A wonderful tribute to some amazing people.
Friday 14 October: in the morning, we have a joint meeting of the BCAN Homeless Forum and the 'Serving the Poor Alliance'. Long and tortuous conversation, ending with a fairly predictable conclusion: we look for a new name for the BHF and keep going as planned.
Wednesday 26 October: in the evening, sue and I go to the Orpheus and see The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. The film, strangely, is a combination of three books: 'The Crab with the Golden Claws', 'The Secret of the Unicorn' and 'Red Rackham's Treasure'. The motion capture technique gives it an odd feel, not entirely sure if we like it. But the film is faithful to the books, as far as I can remember, and romps through the story at an impressive pace. Good fun.
Anabaptist Network in the evening. Alan is in Bristol, but meeting friends and not ready to leave when I'mm driving home. He turns up eventually, but rather late so we don't see much of him.
Saturday 29 October: Men's Breakfast at Stapleton Road Congregational Church. Their first one, possibly ever. Decent breakfast, interesting conversation. I struggle a bit with the speaker afterwards, but everyone seems happy with the way it goes. Alan was not interested in joining me, and I'm probably quite happy that it was not really his sort of thing.
Back home, Alan is not up yet. Not really a surprise. He is very unclear about his plans: meeting friends again, but not clear exactly where or when.
Off to CostCo with Sue. The plan is we are just looking at a few things, but we end up buying a new TV. We have needed one for some time. This is a lot larger than I had expected, but it is significantly reduced as an ex-display model. Slightly marked, and no box, remote or manual. They say we can buy a remote control and download the manual, so we go for it. If we're not happy for any reason, we can bring it back, so it's not really a risk.
Back home, Alan helps me to carrry it in from the car, and then disappears in to town and back to Coventry. Nice to see him, but a bit frustrating.
Saturday 5 November: Sue doesn't like the TV from CostCo: it's too complicated to operate, and there seems to be no way to record from the built in Freeview receiver. So we put it back in the car and return it to CostCo.
A little later, we are having lunch in Shirehampton Village when I suddenly start to feel rather unwell. I am hungry, but also feel very full and struggle to finish the jacket potato - not a large one. We head home.
I am supposed to be preparing documents for the board meeting next week, but can't get my head around any of it. Not feeling at all well.
Sunday 6 November: Sue goes off to meet her mother and sister in Swindon. I stay at home all day, mostly just sitting and dozing. Church is not an option. I manage to get down a small amount of breakfast around lunchtime, but that's it for the day. Things aren't good at the other end too. This seems more like food poisoning than 'flu, but no idea what might have caused it.
Monday 7 November: stay home all day. My first actual day off work sick for a while. Again, a little light late breakfast, but nothing else to eat. Start to feel a little brighter in the afternoon, but still can't concentrate on all the urgent paperwork.
Tuesday 8 November: have to go in to work today: we are interviwing, and messing this up would cause too many problens to contemplate. Feeling rather fragile in the morning, but much better by the end of the afternoon. And the interviews went well, too. Lots more paperwork to do.
Wednesday 9 November: Voscur AGM. I'm leading the discussion at one of the tables, and presentinng the accounts in the absence of the Treasurer. The discussion is interesting, but doesn't lead to much that will challenge the big name speakers.
Back to work for the rest of the afternoon, then have a quick coffee with Sue at the Boston Tea Party before she goes off to her Spanish class and I go beck to run the training session.
Heading back along Ashley Road, I am hit by a car.
I'm just crossing a side road as a car comes speeding along in the opposite direction. Just as it comes up to the junction, the driver appears to change her mind, indicates and turns simultaneously. I'm surprised by the speed, but not unduly worried as I'm already halfway across and there is plenty of room for the car to go behind me. But it takes the corner at speed and very tightly, and the wheel catches my heel.
The touch is comparatively gentle, but it's still rather a shock. The driver realises she made a mistake and stops to check I'm okay. To be honest, I'm not sure how I am - just coming to terms with the reality that I have narrowly missed a nasty accident. Like Sue and the recycling box, but this time I was just a fraction of an inch in the right direction. No harm is done and I walk on much more carefully.
Saturday 12 November: Sue drops me off at Trinity Tabernacle for the volunteer training. Clive is looking well, and we have a great bunch of people. Keeping on topic is tricky at times, but it is really stimulating and they jell together well.
Finish on time and pack up quickly because Sue is picking me up. We have lunch at Hooper House, then walk into town and look at TV sets in PC world. A couple of very helpful assistants answer our questions, but we are going to keep looking.
Sue drives off to Newbury, to see her mother and spend the night there.
Sunday 13 November: Ed is preaching at Highgrove this morning, and does well. I remember to take the One25 job advert, and give it to Ed to put up at the back. Long and interesting conversation with Jeff, one of the older chaps at church, been around for a few years but never really talked to properly before. He is going to email me the details of his web site.
Quick lunch, then catch the 1.59 train down to work. Spend the afternoon preparing for the board meeting tomorrow, while trying to work out if we have enough people coming to make it worth while meeting. In the end, we decide to cancel. Sue comes and picks me up, and we go home.
In the evening is the Multi-Faith Forum AGM. A number of us struggle to find the venue, but we get there just in time to eat something before the meeting begins.
Simon is standing down - work requires other priorities of him - but fortunately Tracey is willing to take over. Nobody else is interested, so I remain as Treasurer for another year.
Interesting facilitated exercise, helping us listen to the views of the people present - what should we be doing to make a difference to them? Lots of good content.
Wednesday 16 November: conversation with Simon, our computer chap, at work. I want to do a proper review of our IT; Simon is understandably concerned that this means we are not happy with his work. He is a wonderful volunteer, but we really need more reliable support.
We need to open the Ladies' Night Shelter, so I volunteer to stay overnight with Val - after phoning Sue to check she is okay with this.
Homegroup is Wednesday this week, a joint one with Andy Street's group because we have a pastor from Togo visiting. A fascinating insight into life over there.
Dash off at the end, back home, pick up my toothbrush and slippers, then drive back to work.
No problems overnight, although I am woken at 4.30 am by a car alarm going off somewhere near. I listen to it, then think: a car alarm! Get up and check, but it's not our car.
Catch up with a few urgent emails, then off to the hospital: Sue and I are booked to see Mr Sarangi. It is the anniversary of Sue's broken arm, so it is time for a check-up.
Sue rings as I'm driving. She slept through both alarms, and is just catching the bus. I knew I should have rung her. In the end, she is only about ten minutes late. Mr Sarangi is not in the clinic today, but we see a very nice gentleman who says that they are very pleased: Sue's recovery is nearly perfect. Her range of movement might improve slightly with time, but not significantly from what it is today, but it is as good as they could have hoped for.
From the hospital, we go to the Bristol Guild to see a sculpture Sue wants to show me. We meet the artist and have a wonderful time looking at and admiring the works. He knows Andy Luxford, who used to work for me. And then, as we are about to leave, Andy and Gill turn up to view the exhibition. It's lovely to see them again, and Andy is looking very well - keeping as busy as we would expect.
A quick lunch in the Guild café, then I have to go back in to work.
Global Partnerships in the evening, Esme hosting us as usual. A couple of new faces are expected; one turnns up early, and the other doesn't make it. But a good evening.
Friday 18 November: at lunchtime, I drive up to a BCAN Steering Group. Lots going on, which is good, but different folk have different priorities about the direction of the Foodbank, and it is hard seeing a common way forward when everyone is so enthusiastic and passionate and wanting good things to happen.
We finish a bit late, and I phone Sue. We had planned that I go from the Steering Group to have a quick sauna before we drive up to Coventry, but Sue is running ahead of schedule and suggests a revised plan.
I drive home, we throw the bags into the car, and drive up to Birmingham. We spend a blissful few hours in the Clover Spa before continuing our journey to the Ramada in Coventry.
Saturday 19 November: we had decided not to pay for breakfast at the Ramada, so we try a couple of pots of porrige. Unlike the one I had on Thursday morning, they don't have any taste - not a success.
Check out, drive to the University of Warwick, and Sue drops me off at the Science Block before parking and coming back. I register just before Philip arrives, then Sue returns and we chat until it is about to start.
In the first game, I'm white against someone my own grade - 8 kyu. It's a nice even game. I let him keep a large territory because I can't work out when to invade, and I fail to cut a long line of his stones which I should really have managed to do. Not played for ages, seems I'm quite rusty.
Philip wins by resignation soon afterwards, and we go and find Alan. Philip and Alan are both taking part in the game design competition a few rooms away from the tournament.
Sue walks back from the shops, we meet her and go for lunch in the Dirty Duck. Alan's game is about to be released on the iPad, the iPhone and Android. Philip is thinking of going to work in Silicon Valley next year.
We wander back just in time for the draw: Philip and I are playing each other. I make a successful invasion and then cut off a group of his stones, so it is all looking pretty good. Then we get into a complicated fight. Several times we both think I've won, but each time he finds a way to rescue his stones, and by the end of the battle he is significantly ahead. I try a couple of other approaches, but neither work and I resign.
The final game, I am up against another 8 kyu who has lost the first two games. He is simply better than me, and establishes a large lead. I manage to take a significant part of his space on the left through a neat sequence. I'm quite pleased about this, but it is not enough and he finishes the game with a win by a small margin. I'm just not playing enough games to enter as an 8 kyu these days.
Sue comes and picks me up, we say goodbye to the boys, and drive back to Bristol.
Sunday 20 November: taking the service at City Road Baptist this morning. A number of familiar faces. They are finding it very hard work, and I try to encourage them. Some good news: they have a baptism service planned for January.
Monday 21 November: the Voscur board meet this afternoon to review and discuss governance issues. A very useful session, very ably led. I'm usually left feeling rather frustrated by this type of session, but not today.
We finish on time, and I walk back to work for our first project review meeting for the Ladies' Night Shelter. Very encouraging: it has been hard work, but worthwhile, and everyone is working together well.
Back at work, I have been sent a link to an interesting web site http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/dna-atheists/ I don't think he proves the existence of God, but the reactions to his argument are fascinating.
Sue goes on to her haircut and I take the car home. Then we pick up Esme and drive down to St Werburghs where their Goapel Choir are performing at the City Farm. Driving down the hill in Redland, a car coming up the hill suddenly turns without warning straight in front of me. I brake sharply and avoid an accident, but it is a bit of a shock.
Continue driving much more carefully, drop Sue and Esme off, and turn round to park under the railway bridge. Don't see them when I return. There is a fair amount going on, and it takes a while to wander round and see it all. Then a text message arrives from Sue: she is in the pub.
The choir practice in the pub next door, then do their performance very nicely. We wander around afterwards; Sue and Esme get vouchers for the mulled wine, and Esme gives me her voucher. Much appreciated.
Back to the car. Sue drops me off at City Road, then drives Esme home. I pack more books and files into boxes, then wander over to Hooper House for a coffee. Sue joins me, and we do our diary check.
Back to work, load the boxes into the car, drive over to Carpenter House and pack them into my office.
Home again. I do a pre-holiday haircut, then off to the sauna to wash the bits of stray hair away.
Sunday 27 November: to Highgrove for the 9 am service - only five minutes late. Very nice quiet and meditative time, no singing. Maria leading, with Esme assisting. Quick coffee and chat with people as they arrive for the next service - a baptism service - and then depart.
Back home to pick up the leaflet, then out to do a few stops on the North Bristol Art Trail. We manage five locations: one is particularly good and we take a card - Julian Cox. Drawings and sculpture. Very distinctive, simple, clean lines in both media, absolutely beautiful. Then home for lunch; we have pies which Sue picked up yesterday in Westbury, and a jacket potato.
Out again, and we do the venues on and around Bishop Road. It's the usual wonderful mixture of brilliant, creative pieces and the 'why on Earth did they bother?'. But most places have at least one or two which make the visit worthwhile.
Sue needs a swim, so I drop her off and then grab another sauna - a bit of a luxury as I had one yesterday, but I won't be able to get one tomorrow. Then home, and we both work until bedtime. Sue has some urgent accounting, and I need to finish an article for Voscur's next newsletter.
The case conference is both fascinating and depressing. Lots of people have been working hard, and often going well beyond the requirements of their jobs to help this lady. It is quite heartwarming to hear how much care has been poured into her by so many people. But depressing to see how little all this activity has achieved, and how the system is simply not geared up to handle people like her, who don't fit what is provided.
Work late, trying to finish off the urgent tasks before I go away; this includes clearing a couple of shelving units so they can be replaced while I'm away.
Arrive home about 3.30 am. The small suitcase is packed, and the large one nearly packed. I sort my bits out in the rucksac, and Sue finishes packing the second suitcase around 4.30. The taxi is coming at 5, and it is all looking very good.
Then Sue thinks to check the weight. We are several kilos over the limit. Some clothing is left behind, and a few other bits moved to other bags, but there is nothing much that weighs anything. Try again: half a kilo over the limit. Some more drastic measures, and another kilo is lost.
I carry the second suitcase downstairs at 4.50 am, and open the front door. It is a nice, warm night, and I can hear a car outside. Take the suitcase down the path, and yes, the taxi has arrived. Bring the second suitcase down, turn off the lights, and we are off to the airport just before 5.
The taxi driver is unbelievably taciturn. He says nothing the whole trip, not even answering direct questions. But he gets us there efficiently enough, bringing us in to the airport by a back route we knew nothing about.
There is no queue at the check-in. We have a quick coffee and then go through security: again, no queue. Maybe people were avoiding travelling today because of the strike? And neither of us were stopped going through the detector, although they did take Sue's netbook away for testing as a suspicious object.
Neither of us have slept, but feeling remarkably bright. Philip wants a watch for Christmas, so we check the Duty Free, and find a good deal on something we think he will like. It is now 6.15, and we have an hour and a half before the departure gate is announced. We both doze a little, which is a bit dangerous in the circumstances. But we hear the flight announcement, and are sent to Gate 16, which seems to be the furthest possible distance from the departure lounge.
We have a lengthy wait at the gate. By now, it is something of a struggle to stay upright. But eventually the queue moves, and we get a row of three seats on the plane to ourselves. So, yes, the flight is far from being full.
We don't have long to wait for our luggage, but then the queue at the car hire more than makes up for it. At first only one person is on duty, but by the time we reach the front there are three people working. Back from lunch, presumably.
From here, it gets better. We know the route, we know how to find Infiniti, and the place is ready for us when we arrive. Minimal unpacking, and fall into bed for a couple of hours.
Thursday 1 December: a late start, then we drive into town. The Tourist Information closes at 2, and we have missed it. Walk along the coastal road, then back towards the car. Some ice-cream, then we find a Pharmacy and but some cream for my cracked heels.
We go for a coffee, find somewhere with wi-fi, and... my netbook has died. What will I do? A whole holiday before me, and no computer! Hard to comprehend the prospect.
Drive back to the Campanario, a quick coffee, then round the supermarket. The one-way system means that we need to drive then into Coralejo before we can start to head in the right direction again.
Back to Infiniti, and cold chicken with couscous for tea.
Saturday 3 December: an earlier start than yesterday. We drive into Corralejo to find the computer place. Walk along the street where the sign points. No joy. There is a radio and TV place, but the man only speaks Spanish.
Next door is an English language radio station. A nice lady comes out and speaks to us while the records are playing. The shop we are looking for used to be next door, but closed several years ago; there is now no computer shop in the town. But one of the presenters on the radio station also does computer repairs from home. She gives us his number, then says he will be working this afternoon.
We wander a bit, then back to the car and drive to the Campanario and go round the market there. In the middle, a man and woman are providing live music from the podium. Back home for lunch, the last of the cooked chicken.
Back into town. The man is very helpful: we can bring the netbook round to his place tonight. He is part of the Fig Tree Fellowship - we recognise his face and the location of his home behind the Cherry Tree. He also describes for us the location of the service tomorrow morning.
The Fig Tree Christian Fellowship no longer meets just round the corner from us: it's now about a ten minute drive. Inevitably, we are a bit late setting out, and arrive a few minutes after ten thirty. They were, perhaps, just starting; but they welcome us anyway and do a round of introductions before we start in earnest.
It is a fairly standard small free church service with communion and the music supplied by a CD player. They are fellow believers, which is the main thing, and we are welcomed as part of their family. Several of them recognise us from previous visits, which is nice. And afterwards, I end up chatting to a reformed alcoholic, married to a lady who used to run a significant rehab in the UK. Small world.
I leave my dead netbook with the chap, and he promises to look at it soon.
Afterwards, we drive to the Campanario and browse the market. Pizza for lunch, returning to a place we have eaten at and enjoyed before. More browsing, up to the top of the bell tower, and a quick coffee before heading off.
We call in to the Atlantis Spa, booking massages for Tuesday using a discount voucher in one of the publications, and we use the sauna there. It is still very nice. Good size sauna, good temperature, good showers, good recliners to lie in afterwards, and cold water on tap.
Pick up a few bits in the local supermarket, then home and cheese on toast for tea.
Monday 5 December: up early: we are being picked up for a guided walk. Andreas is a few minutes late, and then Sue is a few minutes later. In the meantime, he gets chatting to a German chap, who asks if he can join us. Why not? We wait a couple more minutes while he collects his things, and then set off.
It is a fascinating trip. Andreas is an official guide, and knows lots about the history, geology and biology of the island. He drives us to Toto, then we walk up a track and across the mountain range, then down the other side and across the main road from Betancuria. Down the other side, where we find a watered grove, and then on to a dam.
The dam is an amazing sight: all silted up, with a party of kids playing on it. Today is some kind of holiday. They are mainly playing on the crusted surface, but also sinking in and losing shoes and socks.
We walk across the dam, then down a track to a shrine - the holiest place on the island, we are told. A famous image of the Virgin was lost in a pirate raid years ago, then the location was revealed in a vision to a monk a few generations later. We stop for a while and picnic, then back up to the dam and walk up the North side.
At this point, Andreas and the German leave us: they walk back to the van, while Sue and I walk up the dried river bed to Vega de Rio Palma. We should find a coffee, some shops and a toilet there, while we wait for them to return to the van and drive round to pick us up.
It takes us a bit longer than expected to reach Vega, and then there is nothing open but the church. Very nice painted panels above the altar, and odd primitive statues on the sides. And a lady, sitting behind the altar rail, writing in a little book.
We look round the church then wait outside. After ten minutes or so, Andreas arrives, and we drive off. Because there was nothing at Vega, we stop at Betancuria and visit a lovely tapas bar for a coffee and the toilets.
After tea, Sue decides the hot tub would be a perfect end to the day. It is - until it is time to get out. We can't work out how to turn the thing off. The folk who are normally on duty have taken the day off; there is a number to ring in an emergency, but this doesn't really qualify as an emergency. I ask one of the other residents, who has used it before, but he is stymied. In the end, we leave it purring away and just put the cover back in place.
Tuesday 6 December: wake up with a bit of a sore throat, not too bad. Drive in to town to visit the Tourist Information, and arrive in good time according to the published opening hours, but it is closed all day. There is a notice about an event at the Campanario, a massed bike ride in aid of a cancer charity; presumably the people who man the office need to be there.
We drive to the Campanario. Loads of cyclists there, and also a percussion band: very good, but very loud. We listen to them for a bit, and then they start marching. We go for a coffee and shop in the supermarket.
We unpack the shopping, then straight out again to pick up my netbook. Not good news: probably the BIOS has gone, and he can't read anything on any of the disk partitions. He and his wife have spent a couple of hours working it, and got nowhere. He could try flashing a new BIOS, but that is not something to do without our agreement. We decide to take it home.
Back to the spa. First a quick sauna, and then the (special offer) massages. It's not quite the traditional gentle beautician type massage, but it is nowhere as good as Lesley's massages. But pleasant, especially after the exertions of yesterday.
Straight in to town and another visit to La Taberna for our paella. The owner recognises us, and greets us like long lost friends. Or course, it is his job; but it is very nice nevertheless. The paella is as delicious as before, and we finish it off with a dessert. No coffee, but he gives us a couple of banana liqueurs on the house.
Wednesday 7 December: the throat is not so good. First thing, we drive in to town to pick up this week's activities from the Tourist Information, then off to La Olivia. The Centro de Arte Canaria is open, so we go round again. Some pieces we don't recognise from last time, including a number of pieces by the artist running the new gallery in Corralejo.
Very nice bocadillo from a bar on the side street, then back to the Casa Dos Colonels. The have a couple of new exhibitions: one just inside the main entrance, and one hidden away at the back.
The one at the front has lots of big paintings by one artist: mostly big brush strokes, mostly blue, mostly sea and fishes. Oddly, one is illuminated by a projector, but the projector is just projecting a blank white light. No idea what that was about - no sign to suggest what was going on.
The exhibition hidden away at the back is stunning: photographs of all the Canarian islands. Mostly just the scenery, but a few of the local buildings too. Every picture is a gem. It makes us want to visit the other islands.
Upstairs is mostly the same as before. There is a long, rambling video of interviews with people who lived and worked in the house, but (predictably) it gives no clue about how long it lasts. We watch a couple of interviews and move on.
We try to visit the cheese museum in Villaverde, but it is closed. Then we fill up the car with petrol, and go back to Infiniti for an hour or so. The wind seems to be in a good direction for a sunset, so we drive out to El Cotillo and the lighthouse, but again there is a bank of cloud on the horizon and no sunset. Still, we walk for a few minutes along the breezy sea shore before heading back to the car. Stop to take a picture of some brilliant pink clouds on the way back.
In the evening, we sit in the hot tub again. This time, it turns off when we want to leave. Very reassuring.
The heat does my throat good, and the couple renting the apartment beside the sauna join me for a little while. It is their first visit here, and they are enjoying it very much.
Sue returns from her trip: she has to walk further than expected, as the closest Pharmacy is closed. But they have actually sold her Strepsils.
Off to the Café on the Square just in time for a quick lunch - they close at 1 pm. Had intended to try the coffee, but opt for soup instead. It's a nice place, but they are not doing the full planned menu yet. Have to come back next week to try the Jacket Potatoes.
From the Café, we walk round to get rid of all the plastic we have accumulated. Then back to the car and off to shop at Sainsbury's - Sue doesn't want to risk Cribbs Causeway this close to Christmas. It's quite a large shop as we've been away, and we need to start gearing up for the boys being back home.
Quick pasty for lunch, then to Boots. One of my two defective inhalers starts working, but the other continues to do nothing. They have not seen this problem before, and will send it back to the manufacturer. Given a replacement, which works. Hopefully, my breathing will start to improve now.
After work, I walk to the BRI and visit Olivia, our neighbour. It is a bit tricky, as her first name is not Olivia after all, and I don't know her surname, but the nurse on the desk helps me locate her after all, and I spend half an hour or so with her.
Quick trot down to the Lanes, a bowling alley in Bristol I have never visisted before. The CCM staff have a social evening here, organised by Sophy. It's an excellent evening, even though my bowling skills have deteriorated seriously since I last played. Put it down to the asthma.
The Clients' Christmas Party at Elim goes well, and I spend most of the time chatting with one of our long term Duty Managers, an enjoyable experience.
I don't leave work in time to get to the Carols on Sea Mills Square, but I can't breathe, let alone sing at the moment.
Wednesday 21 December: in to the surgery at 8.50 to see Dr Silvey. He agrees that my breathing problem is down to the defective inhaler, but is not happy to let the replacement gradually do its work. He prescribes a 5 day course of steroids to get me breathing again faster.
So at lunchtime it is back into town to Boots and pick up the pills. Have to take 6 at once, once a day, with food.
Thursday 22 December: Carol Service at the City Mission church for locals and homeless people. I'm a bit late, but still in time for coffee and a mince pie. Get chatting to Kevin, a homeless chap who is starting to get back in touch with God, struggling, but doing well. One of those conversations that make your week.
The service is interesting, too. Lovely video presentation with pictures being drawn and modified and rubbed out. Simple but very gripping. Overall, a great experience.
Saturday 24 December: I still have three sets of bookcases to put up at work, so I go in to do that. The Coffee Shop is open for breakfast, and we get numerous phone calls, but I manage to do two of the three before it is time to leave.
We are slightly early for the midnight service at St Edyths. Lots of friends there, and Paul Stuart comes and sits beside us. I forget to take any lozenges, and struggle not to cough through the whole service. After the communion, we are given a Bible verse for the new year - I am given Exodus 33:14, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest."
Sunday 25 December: a late start - traditional in this family on Christmas Day. We barely manage to get everyone together to open their presents, when it is time to go out to Flavourz and our Christmas lunch.
The lunch works well again this year: as Sue says, she might have cooked her last turkey. The boys enjoy eating as much as they can, the variety of food, and just talking to each other; we enjoy their company and not having to cook or wash up. And they do seem to talk more when we go out to eat.
Drop off an envelope to Voscur on the way home, then Alan and I spend the best part of an hour out in the garden attacking the bits of leftover tree on the lawn. Then it starts to rain, and we come in.
Sue decides we need to play a game or watch some TV together, and Alan chooses Balderdash: an inspired choice. When we finish, just in time for the Dr Who special, Sue, Alan and Philip have completed just over a quarter of the board; I have completed just over half; and Ian is way ahead and three quarters of the way round the board. It is very impressive.
The bottle of Glenfiddich Ian gave me - very generous! - has a leaflet attached, talking about explorers (glenfiddich.com/explorers): very odd. I'll have to look it up some time.
Back home for bacon pasta, then Sue and I head out again. I grab a quick sauna, and Sue hits the shops. Radio 4 reports that shops in Bristol are reporting large numbers for the post-Christmas sale.
The sauna is fine; not as busy as Christmas Eve. When I ring at the end, Sue is still in Debenhams, her first shop. We agree to meet there, and grab a coffee. Bump into Trudie briefly: she is preparing for the coming year, as we are trying to get last minute additions to the presents for family.
Alan has posted another review of his game on Twitter: "If any game has better captured the sweet ache of melancholy, then I have not seen it." (http://jayisgames.com/archives/2011/12/these_robotic_hearts_of_mine.php)
Everything packed, we drive off in the hire car just before midday. Stop off at the gym: yes, they have my swimming trunks. Pip sent us an email with a suggested pub where we are to meet them for lunch. Our sat nav says we should arrive at 12.45. Phone Pip to give her our timing, and she asks me to book a table. Phone the pub, but they can't offer a table for ten until 2 pm. Phone Pip again ...
After a while, the pub rings back to say they should have a table at 1 pm, so I book it. We are back to Plan A. The pub, "Sally Pussey's Inn" near Wootton Bassett, proves to be excellent. Friendly, prompt, tasty food and good portion sizes. We may well return.
It's good to see Pip, Philip and their boys again. The one drawback of the location is that it was quite noisy, and I struggle to engage in much conversation.
We exchange Christmas presents, and drive off. Next stop, we drop Ian off at a friend's house in Sunbury on Thames. The motorway signs warn of long delays on the M25, but in reality it is a bit slow for a few miles but no serious delays in our direction. Brief stop at the services, then arrive at my parents soon after 6.
After tea, we do the presents. Roger gave all of us some security paint, which is probably an excellent idea. Philip gets a book on 'Scientific Myths' which is not really what it claims at all, but gets us talking. I have some new slippers - it seems Sue told them my old ones are wearing out. And Sue has some new pajamas: not really the style she is looking for, but the shop had very little choice when they were bought. She will probably change them when we get back to Bristol. Ian, of course, misses all this; but he does get back on the train, and Roger goes out to pick him up from the station.
Once Ian is safely at my parents, Sue and I drive off to the Ramada by London City Airport. Parking is a bit tricky, but we find a space nearby and check in. It's another cheap offer from the Telegraph. Good price on the room, but no breakfast. But this time of year, who needs a cooked breakfast?
Wednesday 28 December: the plan is that we get back to my parents for coffee at 10, all the boys will be up by then, and we aim to be out by 11. What happens is that we are there by 10.15, but boys are nowhere to be seen.
We have a coffee, and are out just before 12. Aiming for a train at 12.10, I drive parents and Sue, and Roger takes the boys. I park in the station car park, so Father doesn't have to walk. Sue goes in to get the tickets, but there is a queue at the machine. Otherwise, we might have caught the train.
Still, there is another train in a few minutes. This one takes us to Cannon Street. Roger works in an office above the station. Cannon Street Underground is closed due to buildinng works, so we walk to Mansion House and get the District Line to South Kensington and the Science Museum.
Exhibition Road has changed! It is now a 'shared space' where cars and people mix. Brilliant. I've been explaining the concept to sceptical people for years, and it's good to see it being used in a place like this.
The Science Museum entrance has also been remodelled since we last visited, cleaner and more modern. We get something to eat, then visit the new 'Home Heroes' exhibition: 36 everyday items which have changed our lives. A Science Museum equivant of the 100 objects from the British Museum. It doesn't work as well. There is some interesting stuff, but a lot of it doesn't convince. We can accept the pencil and the ball point pen, and maybe the paperclip, but has the invention of ear plugs really revolutionised our lives?
A break for coffee. Dad has had enough, so Sue and Ian go back with Mum and Dad, while Roger stays with Alan, Philip and me.
We head off to the computing and mathematics sections, and spend about an hour wandering round. The Difference Engine and the part of the Analytic Engine are completely amazing. Didn't know that various people worked on both Colossus and Ernie. Great fun.
Back to Foucault's Pendulum, where we discuss how the lifting mechanism keeps it swinging, then to the shop, and home via Charing Cross.
Tea is sausage casserole, then the lads all play cards - a version of poker, which is not a great choice as Father keeps asking what is going on. But still, he manages to keep in the game for quite a while. Alan goes out, then Roger, Philip and Dad. In the end, it is just Ian and myself. Ian is way ahead of me, so after a few more inconclusive hands I concede. Ian wins again.
Thursday 29 December: we pack and leave the Ramada, getting to my pasrents around 11. Sue picks up a couple of leaflets from the hotel - one with numerous guided walks, which look attractive, and one advertising a former secret nuclear bunker (www.secretnuclearbunker.com). We have a coffee and get the car packed.
Lunch has been booked for 1 pm at 'We Anchor in Hope', just at at the foot of Shooters Hill on the other side. It's a staging inn and gets its name from the 'anchor horses' which were used to help pull the coaches up the hill: you attach the anchor horse in hope that you will not have to get out and walk.
Lunch is good, but Father struggles. He enjoys most of his meal but when most of us have finished or nearly finished, he starts to complain that his steak is cold.
It is raining, so we say our goodbyes in the pub, then again in the carpark. Roger notices that our front tyres look a bit flat, so we drive to the garage next door and check the pressure. Can't find any documentation in the car, but look up the pressure on the Internet on my phone. It turns out that the pressure is slightly over the target, rather than under.
Drive to the Newbury Central Hilton, check in, then straight out again to the leisure club at the race track. We manage to park in a massive puddle, and it is raining solidly; various items fall out as we get our bags, and we are drenched by the time we get inside. But it is good inside: a small but functioning sauna, a decent swimming pool, an excellent steam room and jacuzzi. Sadly, we are on a fairly tight timescale, as Sue wants to catch Barbara back at the hotel before 9 pm.
We don't need to vacate the rooms until 12, so we arrange to check out and meet in the entrance at 11.45, while Sue is driven to her Mum's house to sort out the computer and email on it.
I drive the boys to the Woodpecker pub for 12.30. They have a bar billiards table just inside the door - several of our boys claim to have never seen one before. Sue, Barbara and their Mum arrive soon after us.
Another excellent meal. Some final Christmas presents are distributed, and we head back home.
The weather is foul: wet and poor visibility. Sue drives the first part, then we stop at Sally Pussey's Inn again for coffee and I take over. It is still dreadful, and by the time we reach Bristol I'm struggling, so we come off the M32 and change again at the shops by Abbeywood, and Sue drives the final leg.
Back home, unload the hire car, then we head out immediately to return it to the garage. Quick cup of tea for Sue, and she goes out to visit Olivia: Hugh is away for a few days, and she has promised we will pop in each day.
Saturday 31 December: bacon pasta for lunch with all three boys, then Sue takes Alan down to Temple Meads to catch his train back to Coventry. They are very late setting out, but astonishingly Alan catches the train by the skin of his teeth - Sue takes the exit from the roundabout to Temple Quay, and he walks (runs?) over the footbridge.
When Sue gets back, I go to visit Olivia, taking some trays of food from 'Cook', which Sue has just picked up. She is not familiar with the place. Offer to drive her to church tomorrow morning, but she is not sure if she can cope. She will ring us if she feels up to it in the morning. Her TV is not working, but it is only a loose plug and easily fixed.
Back home, the slippers my parents gave me for Christmas are falling apart. Not completely, but the fabric on the sole of the left on is coming off. Not good. At least they gave us the receipt.
Philip and Ian are both out tonight: Philip visiting friends in Cardiff, and Ian in Bristol. Sue and I have a quiet night in, and watch 'Atonement' which she recorded ages ago. Perhaps it's just me, but I expect a story called 'atonement' to contain some element of atonement in the story, but this seems to have a total lack. The whole point of the story seems to be that there is no atonement for the central figure, no forgiveness is possible. Maybe the book is different?
The film ends just in time to watch the new year celebrations - impressive fireworks in London, then a fairly early night.