First of all, Diana came for a few days. I think it was the shortest visit in either direction we've had so far, but it was all that was possible, and we had a good time. One night was the 'surprise' that was kind of for her birthday, since I missed the day itself. I booked us one night at a hotel in Sandbanks. The initial reason behind it is quite silly really; Diana told me some time ago that someone she'd like to do with me but probably wouldn't get to was to have a walk on the beach at night. Despite living very close to Bournemouth beach, I'd never feel comfortable enough to go down there at night and actually be able to relax, because the town centre is just too... unpleasant. Even if we'd done it, I'd have spent the time looking around nervously which would spoil the whole thing. My reasoning was that Sandbanks is an area full of rich people, and so there probably aren't many people wandering around at night, or at least not anyone that would bother me. I found a hotel right on the very end and booked a night, just so we could go out for a walk that night.
Of course it was nice for more reasons than just that original plan. Since I don't have a house of my own any more, it was nice to get a night alone in between staying at my parents' house. Then there's just the general novelty of staying in a hotel, especially a nice one with a room and a balcony looking out over the sea and the harbour. The second thing we did after we got there (I guess I should omit details of the first, though I have a strange, almost overwhelming desire not to) was order a fresh cream tea from room service and sit on the balcony to eat it. It was fresh - still warm - and delicious, and so relaxing and peacful sat outside with Diana.
We went for a walk to find the beach before dinner, because although I knew where it was, I didn't know how to reach it and I thought it would be better to establish that whilst it was still light so it would be easy to come back later. As it happened though, it was dark by the time we found the way down there anyway, and I decided to tell her that it was the reason behind me taking us there, so we kind of did that earlier than expected. Except for a few seconds where a group of a few people passed us in the opposite direction, it was entirely empty, silent, and wonderful.
For dinner we went to The Antelope. We got a taxi all the way to Poole and then all the way back immediately afterwards, which seemed a little excessive, but it was worth it. I really love that place, and Diana hadn't been before. We got back quite a late and had a bath, because it's impossible to resist when one is available. We planned to go out to see the sun rise, but we were both really tired and lazy, so we saw it from the room instead and went to sleep almost right afterwards. We woke up in time to have breakfast before we had to start packing up to leave. At first it seemed like we only just made it in time before they stopped serving, but when we got back to the room I realised we'd checked the time on Diana's laptop which was still set to the time in Bremen, one hour ahead, so actually we had more time than we thought.
After we left the hotel, we went across the chain ferry to the beach on the other side. Diana went swimming in the sea even though it was freezing. I didn't want to at the time, but I later thought that if it had been more private I probably would've gone with her. We got a taxi home to my parents' house and spent the evening talking and playing The Lost Vikings.
I have my full driving license now. I had about thirty-six hours of lessons in the end, although I was 'ready' after about twenty-eight or so - after that I just had one two-hour lesson a week to keep everything 'fresh' whilst I waited for my practical test slot to arrive, since the waiting list was around a month and a half long. I quite enjoyed it overall. I had some problems switching between cars initially - I was driving my instructor's modern car for the lessons and Mum's old car for practice in between, and the difference between them is huge - but that faded and disappeared eventually. I was mostly nervous about the theory test, but luckily I got quite a good set of questions and passed that quite easily. The practical test wasn't great in my opinion, but I feel like that was just unlucky in the way things happened to play out at that particular time; I stopped in a stupid place when the examiner asked me to stop, but still safely, just an inconvenience to other drivers, and I went a little bit too fast in a couple of places. I'd only slept about two hours that night, so I think I did fine.
I haven't really done much driving since passing though, just to work and back like I had been with Mum on my provisional license, but now by myself. I don't have a car of my own and probably won't buy one whilst I'm still living here, so I'm sharing with Mum. That basically means I can have it after she comes home from work, which kind of forces me into working nights, although I was doing that anyway. It's actually alright now that it's become... 'purposeful' though. Before I slept late and got up late just because I couldn't keep to any routine, but now that I have made it my 'official' routine, I'm actually keeping it up rather well and not feeling tired. I haven't been doing enough work though - I can't remember the last time I actually achieved a 40-hour week. Half of the reason for that have been various events and interruptions to normal proceedings, but the other half is definately me being lazy. I really need to fix it though; after having spent almost £1,000 on things related to learning to drive, visits between Diana and me, lending money to others and several other things, I haven't been making much 'profit' at all. If I continue like this I'll be at my parent's for most of next year, which is not what I was aiming for.
When I do get to work though, it's been going quite well. I haven't made any significant updates to Vantage for a couple of months now, it's been very stable, and so I've taken the time to start work on the things I wanted to do but couldn't previously justify spending time on. I've gathered all the things I've learned from developing the current system and designed a new architecture for 'Vantage 2' and RAWR 2 to power it. This time, the RAWR core and storage engines are being developed alongside test cases which they must fully pass after every change or fix is made. Functionality is being split into more logical components and the concepts of storage and business logic are being much more cleanly separated.
Work was also partially responsible for taking me to Spain a couple of weeks ago. I say partially, because I wasn't quite sure what the purpose or context of the trip was supposed to be. Darius had been inviting me to visit him in Spain for a few months now but for one reason or another it never happened, until now. I assumed in the beginning that it was purely business, but after arrangements were finally made for us (Graham came too) and I talked about it with him and with Abi, it seemed more and more to be simply a holiday. I guess in the end it was a bit of both, and quite a strange but interesting experience. We did talk business, but over tea in cafes or dinner in restaurants, and even that was the minority of the time. The rest of the time we were with Darius we were getting a tour of the local area and the mountains, or standing in a pub drinking and talking about life in Spain, or sat outside with the rest of the Saturday night crowd eating burgers and talking about Iranian politics.
I kept searching for a meaning behind it, because I'm convinced there must be one. I can't help thinking that it ties in with the feeling I've had recently about the way things are changing during this transition in management, and seeing it as some kind of 'invitation' to a different kind of relationship, a less formal and more equal one. I got used to it fairly quickly and I generally had a good time, but the slightly weird feeling of 'why am I out drinking with Darius?' never completely went away.
As for the place, it had it's good and bad points. The area around the mountains is beautiful, and something I'd never seen before. The food, from what we sampled, was excellent though expensive, but we were mostly treated by Darius anyway. In particular we went to one restaurant and had steak, but cooked it ourselves on large hot stones they brought out to us. I suppose to some people that doesn't seem too much of a novelty, but I've never seen anything like it and it was absolutely delicious. Most of all though, the people were different. We arrived on a Saturday, and after a meal and a little sleep, we went out for the night. We went to a couple of bars and walked along the coast road where all the bars and clubs are, among all the people, and it was okay. I just wouldn't dare do that here, but there... it was the same scene visually - crowds of noisy drunk people - but it really did feel safe, somehow. Everyone was just having a good time and I didn't feel uncomfortable at all, and that for me is practically unheard of. I'm sure it's not perfect and I only saw a small sample, but the difference between that place and Bournemouth was somehow so plainly obvious.
Despite all that though, I don't know if I'd rather live there; I don't think that kind of lifestyle is really for me. Plus apparently the cost of living is quite significantly higher, and I observed that nobody appears to be able to drive properly, in that area at least. The point in the end, it seems, is that he wants to establish a presence out there, for Vecsoft as well as Californias. He intends to get an office over there, and presumably have us working there sometimes. In principal I'm up for that, but I want to make very sure it doesn't go to far. I'm not really willing to commit to spending large amounts of time there without establishing some kind of 'home', but then I don't really want to move there either, so I don't know how exactly this is going to work. I need to keep an eye on where this is heading.
Christmas was mostly uneventful as expected and desired. The day itself I spent mostly playing Micro Machines with Vicky and Connor, other than eating dinner and the morning present-giving. I managed to remove myself from that even more this year; I only bought presents for Diana and for Adele in the end, the latter because I happened to see something I thought would be amusing, and the former gift turned out to be an imitation when it arrived and not the genuine item I'd ordered, so that wasn't very successful. Vicky gave me a little novelty vacuum cleaner, but the main (and only other, apart from foodstuffs) thing I got was a large panini maker from Mum. I had a go at making some in the little sandwich toaster they have a few weeks ago and was actually pleased with how it turned out. Now I've got one to put in my own house, when I finally have one of those again.
Graham and I agreed to a mutual exchange of gifts of precisely equal value, purely to make the point that there is no point in the obligation to give gifts when no gift idea naturally presents itself. We're going to choose things we were going to buy for ourselves anyway, and pointlessly buy them for each other making sure that neither of us gain or lose anything. The biggest 'present' though, I'm going to give myself. I've been planning for a while to build a new PC, and intend to do so right after new year. It's not strictly necessary to replace everything, the main point was to have a computer that runs quieter and has better storage, but then my motherboard died. Since I was planning a new build anyway, it seemed pointless to spend money buying a good replacement for only a month or two, but I found an alternative. Graham said he was looking to build a file server, so we agreed that he would temporarily choose and I would buy a decent new motherboard for me to use for now, and then when I'm ready to build my new system, he'd buy it back off me, along with various other components of my old system.
I'm not sure what performance level I'll be aiming at exactly, but the most important change is that I want RAID this time. I've simply got too much important personal data (over 1TB) and no decent backup solution. I think I'm going to buy three 1TB drives and configure them in a RAID 5 array, resulting in a 2TB logical disk with error recovery - any one of the three drives can fail at any time and I can replace it without losing any of my data. I know I'll suffer slight decrease in write performance, but I should see a vast increase in read performance, which is what matters for me; I'm not a database server, I just want to see fast loading times.
The day after I passed my driving test and the day before I went to Spain (a busy week), we went to see what was potentially the last Perfect Alibi gig ever. Rick, the lead singer, has apparently decided to retire, and promised only to play the remaining gigs that were already booked. However, from the way they were talking at the gig itself, there may actually be more next year, but it's not certain. Yesterday we went to see Fearne, which was also good, but the crowd was very... young, and I ended up wondering whether they came to the gig to see the band or to piss around.
At the moment I'm in my Grandparents' house in Oxford. I drove up here this afternoon, which was my first time on a motorway. It was... uneventful. Driving fast in an almost straight line for an hour or so gets pretty boring. It actually felt really weird when we reached the final part of the journey and I found myself actually having to turn the steering wheel to go round a corner - almost forgot how to do it for a moment. We're going home tomorrow afternoon, only staying for tonight. It was kind of pointless to come in the end, but the plans were originally different. I thought that the family was going up sooner without me, and that I might join them today and then drive to Luton to pick up Diana, but in the end nobody wanted to go except Mum, she wanted to be back home for new year, and I decided I wasn't ready to go all the way to Luton, so Diana is going to get a coach to Oxford, I'll meet her here, and we'll all drive back to Bournemouth tomorrow, in time to go out for new year ourselves. She's staying for two weeks this time, which is great, but I'm not sure how it's going to be living in my parents' house for that long. It is kind of... small.
Well, I need to get into bed before my feet freeze completely. It's so much colder up here than by the coast. There was more, as usual, but it can wait. See in a couple of weeks, probably.