Dear Diary... April 2011

Saturday 30th April - Barbecue Evening

It was another nice and sunny day today, and as I'd got a birthday and a Christening card yesterday, it saved me the hassle of having to necessarily find one today, which meant I could take things a lot easier and relax a bit more. I still wanted to head into the city centre to have a little look around some of the shops though, so I made a diversion via my auntie's place as it was her birthday today. She liked the card and she wanted money off everyone to buy stuff for the house, which was fair enough, so that's what I did too. My nephew had a quiet word with me whilst I was there - he was planning a surprise barbecue for his Mum later in the evening and wanted to know if myself and The Burger In My Bun fancied coming along - very nice of him to ask.

I then went on the bus into the city centre and as I went through St Peter's Square, I noticed the start of the town hall redevelopments, especially by the extension side. The old children's playground that was part of the children's centre has completely been demolished, some of the old pavement has been tarmaced over, and generally it's now looking like it's stage one of the work with the scaffolding up the side of the building. I think as well this is why plenty of the buses are being diverted away from the square so that work can commence without too much interruption.

I had a good look around some of the record shops which was good, and spent some time also checking out what discounts and offers there were in some of the camera shops as well, so that was a nice time spent around there in a fairly relaxed mode, before heading home to watch the final session of the Judd Trump v Ding Junhui snooker semi final. When Ding pulled it back to 14-14, particularly equalling the highest break of 138 of the tournament, I thought he might go on and win, especially when going 15-14 in front, but Trump played really well, won the next three, and it was 17-15 in the end, a cracking game.

The Burger came over to see me, we had a coffee and relaxed, and then took a nice walk via Tesco to get some wine and beer to take with us, and then to my auntie's place for the barbecue. It was a good evening all round, my uncle and auntie were there with their two adult children, my nephew and his girlfriend who'd organised it all were in full barbecue flow along with her parents, and generally it was all very relaxed. The burgers and chicken were spot on, and afterwards we headed inside to keep a little warm from the wind and relax with a lot of chat and conversation. It was all very nice.

We got back later and saw the conclusion of the John Higgins v Mark Williams semi-final, and in the end Higgins won 17-14, but really did show grit and determination in the match. As they previewed the final with Judd Trump, they played Pat Benetar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" which seemed pretty appropriate, so that's tune of the day for me. It was good too to see them using some good tunes and keeping the audience happy whilst watching the game. Roll on the final!

Friday 29th April - Nice Day For A White Wedding

I woke up in the Travelodge and switched the television on. And as I predicted to The Love In My Heart weeks ago, countless Royal Wedding coverage on virtually every channel, most notably BBC1 and ITV1, as I would have thought. It was clear that they had lots of different reporters at various vantage points, asking the same questions: "How long have you been camped at this point for?", "Who do you think has designed Kate's dress?", "What title will she have once she gets married?" but not "Why are we all so bothered?" surprisingly enough.

As it happened, I'd booked my train home weeks before the wedding schedule was announced, which meant I'd actually be on the way back to Manchester during the wedding service itself. I didn't mind as I couldn't see Kate turning round at the altar and saying "I won't!", could you? It would also be interesting to see how many other people were also not that bothered, and the answer was quite a lot as it happened. Certainly the trains leaving Sheffield were reasonably busy, and the train back to Manchester was as well. Even heading home on the bus afterwards proved that it was for some people just a normal Bank Holiday.

Still, it showed that not everyone was completely impressed with the wall to wall coverage. I did flick on brief highlights on BBC1 later and yes, the dress was lovely, very demure and feminine, the service was all lovely and they of course kissed on the balcony. I guess if you were a fan of the Royal Family then being there would have been a good experience and a once in a lifetime chance to see that happen, and that's fair enough. The Love In My Heart loves weddings and romance and doesn't mind the Royals, and said that it was worth her sticking with BBC1's coverage as Sky News had Eamonn Holmes fronting it (and he's a Man U fan so is immeidately disqualifed, plus she hates him anywway for ruining GMTV in her words), and ITV1 had Philip Schofield just to please the housewives out there, meh.

It all worked out well as expected and I guess that now the public will be celebrating all weekend. The fact that the words in the service were dealt with very solemnly and seriously will I hope give some people an inkling that marriage is a big undertaking and not an excuse to try and outdo your friend by spending more on the outfits, more on the service and all that sort of thing. So who knows what trends it wil set in the meantime? But I had more important things to watch - like the snooker semi finals for example, and of course getting the food shopping done for what will be quite a busy weekend for me for one reason or another!

Tune of the day in the meantime is "White Wedding" by Billy Idol, as it was a nice day for a white wedding, and also a nice day to start again in terms of getting the monarchy popular again with the public, with something a bit less pomp and circumstance but a bit more in keeping with modern day thinking in parts. And because I can do the song on bass on Rock Band 2 pretty well even on the harder levels, it's one of those you can strum to your hearts content. Rock on!

Thursday 28th April - Shine Your Shoes And Head for The Crucible, Part 5

I woke up in the Travelodge all nicely refreshed and raring to go, and once I had a nice shower and got changed I felt ready to take on anything. First stop though was breakfast, and as it happened I'd noticed a Wetherspoons pretty close to where I was, and that meant a nice breakfast for not much money, and had a bacon roll together with a coffee and some toast, which got me up nicely. I headed back to the Travelodge, got everything I needed for the morning and afternoon and headed firstly for a walk around Sheffield city centre, firstly around Castlegate before heading via Fargate to The Moor, and seeing how the land is being redeveloped for a new market space.

Walking back along the Moor, it was then towards the City Hall, and along Division Street. I actually walked past John Higgins with a friend who were relatively relaxed and just out to do some shopping by the looks of it. It was then along to West Street, walking along there and via Leopold Square's bars and restaurants before heading along to the Central Library and viewing some of the art in the galleries there in the Graves Art Gallery (I can do cultured you know) before then keeping an eye around the Crucible as to what was going on before the afternoon session.

In I went and located the seat for the afternoon session, it was Row H along the sides but had an excellent view of the table nonetheless. It might be too high for me to be spotted on the telly and all that, but still, I didn't mind - the most important thing was being there. The BBC were filming by the central "red door" entrance with Hazel Irvine, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, and then it was over to Rob Walker to start the proceedings off, and with the one table setup, the Crucible takes on a whole new meaning - it feels different, but still small and intimate as well.

The afternoon semi between Ding Junui and Judd Trump got off at a pretty good pace all round, and both players were going for it. There were two centuries in the opening two frames (can't beat that eh?) and Trump was 3-1 up at the interval. It was a bit more tense in the second half of the session though, as Trump missed a few more balls. If anything he was getting too aggressive, a couple of times safety play would have been better to put Ding in trouble, instead of going for it all the time. That's something he'll learn over time but needs to work on during the rest of the tournament too. Still, he did more than enough to have it 2-2 in the second half of the session and be 5-3 up, but could have easily been 4-4 as well. So that's good for their next session tomorrow morning I think.

It was a quick walk in Winter Gardens where Hazel Irvine, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were doing various camera pieces for BBC2's afternoon broadcast. Stephen Hendry had announced that he wasn't going to retire from snooker after all, so it was good to see him chat about that and the sport in general, before I decided to head back to the Travelodge and get changed for the evening session - I figured a top change might at least mean that if I was seen on the telly I'd look different fro before. It was off to Crucible Corner again for tea and this time I had the ham, eggs and chips which was spot on - massive wedge chunk of ham as well.

Into the Crucible then for what would be my final ever session this year, and it didn't disappoint whatsoever. John Higgins and Mark Williams were going for it, and Williams pinched the first frame on the black, Higgins made two centuries including a 135 clearance, but Williams was just more consistent when it mattered and it ended up being 5-3 to him at the end of the session. It was really good enthralling stuff though and both players seemed to have the experience to know when to go for it and when to play an excellent safety.

Two things involving Michaela Tabb (who was scoring, she's referreing the Trump v Ding semi) happened tonight. Before the start of play it looked like she was torturing Rob Walker with a chocolate bar that she had with her, and after the first frame, a little phone rang by the scorer's booth. She picked it up and it was the oldest style phone you could think of. Everyone giggled because you're not supposed to have the phone on during play, and everyone had a smile and to be fair so did Michaela, she's a good'un!

It was then back to the Travelodge to rest easily for the evening, knowing some more excellent snooker had been played. It was a shame then that it was my last visit but an enjoyable one and I went to sleep feeling altogether rather contented and relaxed about the whole thing. Tune of the day in the meantime is "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" by Arctic Monkeys. Partially as they're from Sheffield but also because I saw several ladies out tonight (not going to the snooker) who looked ready to dance despite the massive heels!

Wednesday 27th April - Shine Your Shoes And Head for The Crucible, Part 4

After having an enjoyable day yesterday, it was time to pack my weekend case this morning. I wasn't staying for a weekend, but instead a two night stay in Sheffield so I could see some more of the World Championship snooker. I had booked the tickets ages ago as well as the Travelodge stay, which meant that I'd be seeing the Wednesday night last quarter final session, plus both first sessions of the semi-finals on the Thursday as well. Obviously due to the late finish of the evening sessions I couldn't rely on being sure to get the last train back home, and so decided that staying over would be the best option, made perfect sense.

I had the case packed, had the tickets in hand (train and snooker) and so it was off in the early afternoon to Manchester Piccadilly to get the 2.20pm train over to Sheffield. Transpennine Express were their usual efficient selves and it wasn't long before I arrived in Sheffield station, and remembered where the lifts were so I could wheel my case in and out, and so then leave the station. Rather then go past the Cutting Edge sculpture and go up the hill towards the Crucible, I'd be walking along the ring road towards the Ponds Forge swimming pool, then head across the road under the tram bridge and on to the street where the Travelodge is. It looked nice and clean and modern, and so was the case when I went in.

With me all settled in the Travelodge, it was time to take a walk out and check out the surroundings to get an idea of where I was. I was close to the old markets and Castlegate, and the area seemed a mixture of the old and the new, with the old market stalls and concrete buildings jostling for new developments. Didn't take me long to remember my bearings and how far I was from the Crucible Theatre (answer: not very far). Had a good little walk around the city centre before heading back to the Travelodge to have a shower and get changed for the evening's snooker.

I needed to have something for my tea first and thought that heading to the Crucible Corner bar which is in Tudor Square close to the theatre itself would be a good move. It turned out to be definitely that - I had the fish and chips with buttered peas, which was stunningly gorgeous. Add to that that they had the local Abbeydale brewery's light Deception real ale, and that went down very nicely with the fish. It seemed quite a nice ambience in there as well, plenty of relaxed settings and lots of friendly staff too. I decided I'd probably go there for a meal before the snooker tomorrow night as well.

Of course I had tickets for one of the two tables which happened to be Ronnie O'Sullivan v John Higgins, whjo were locked in battle at 8-8 after Higgins came back from 8-5 down. The whole last session of the game went by pretty quickly, and I'm sure the free ball or not in the first frame will have had people talking. For me, O'Sullivan was being very sporting as he didn't think it was a free ball, and acknowledged by Higgins as a very sporting gesture. Problem was that the two frames O'Sullivan won were good breaks, but in between he'd miss balls he shouldn't and let John in to ruthlessly clinch the frame, hence the 13-10 win for Higgins in the end.

The curtain lifted at the end of the 21st frame between Ding Junhui and Mark Selby (with Ding 11-10 up at that point in time) so I was also able to see the end of that as well, more frames for the money. After Selby had come back from 10-6 down it might have been a different story, but Ding nicked a frame after Selby missed an easy red, and another crucial miss from Selby in the last frame on the pink proved decisive. Even the guys from Kasabian couldn't inspire him to win (they were here tonight apparently). In fact Mark Selby comes out to "Underdog" by them, so I'm going to make that tune of the day, seemed appropriate.

Once Ding and Mark went off, the table fitters were already taking apart the left hand table as you see it on telly to get that cleared out, so it looked like the other table left assembled is going to be used for the semis and final. It's amazing how quickly they get started once play finished, with their cordless screwdrivers and drills taking down the table and getting it dismantled in record time. And literally they start once the players have gone off, so I guess the last thing they'd want would be a last frame and late night finish to really put them back in time.

Back to the Travelodge I went, and the night had turned pretty cold so I was glad to be able to get into a nice cosy room and snuggle under the duvet for the evening. It was just a nice feeling that as the session had finished pretty late anyway (around 10.45pm) that I wasn't worrying about any trains but instead just having a nice long sleep before seeing the two sessions tomorrow. I'm looking forward to that - two contrasting semi finals but with excellent players in both, whom I've seen in action over the years. More of the same please!

Tuesday 26th April - Shine Your Shoes And Head for The Crucible, Part 3

In an unexpected but welcome move, I tried to ring the box office the Crucible last night to see if there were any tickets for this morning's session, and there were! I went for Mark Williams v Mark Allen in Row N, near the top, but with a view right along the top cushion of the table (so the box office person said anyway) and with the train tickets booked as well to be sure they were cheaper and I was guaranteed a seat, that was all sorted for this morning. This meant I'd see the first session of a quarter final and indeed the last one tomorrow night as well, and the two semi-final sessions on the Thursday, so no complaints from me really.

It was up and early and off on the 0820 departure to Sheffield, which was the usual reliable Transpennine Express service. A bloke opposite me had got on the train but the conductor told him that really he'd got the wrong train - and he had. His reservation was for Manchester to Stoke (he was going from Blackpool to Derby) but the printout his work colleagues had given him told him to go to Sheffield then down to Derby. Bad organisation on someone's part there, methinks. I got off in Sheffield and walked up the hill and to the Crucible to get my ticket.

As I was walking around, I spotted Barry Hearn, the director of World Snooker and the man revitalising the game. He later on was happily talking to people outside the Crucible Theatre too, very good to see. I think often you can be so involved in something that you are away from the public, so good on him for taking time out. Plenty of Chinese fans were after tickets for Ding Junhui later this afternoon but that of course had sold out as soon as he'd managed to get through last night. Wonder what would have happened had he not qualified? Hmm.

I took my seat and the box office person was spot on - it was right along the top cushion in my eyeline! This meant I'd see some great action, and before the players came out, Rob Walker the MC had a treat for two fans who did the walk on as Mark Williams and Mark Allen, as it was the fans' birthdays. That was good stuff, and then the players came out to cheers from a packed, but not sold out Crucible crowd - the row behind me was empty and I could have spread myself over a few seats. Still, the atmosphere was spot on and the quarter finals were underway.

The first frame went to a respotted black after Mark Williams had got his one snooker required before clearing up to force the respot. He almost missed the black on the first shot, which had he done would have meant losing the frame as it turned out - no wonder he was relieved to just hit it. Williams went on to win the frame and by the interval was 3-1 up, having knocked in a century break in the process, and had the better of Mark Allen in the narrow frames to really set himself on his way.

Williams carried on his good vein of form, really pilling on the pressure at every opportunity and before I knew it, it was 5-1 to him. The fan set to the left of me quite liked Mark Allen but was worried that he wasn't getting the rub of the table. However, Allen did very well in the last two frames, with a century in each of them to pull back the defecit to 5-3. It was an excellent effort and you could tell that getting those in the bag meant he was right back in it as well. On the other table, Judd Trump was on his way to a 7-1 lead against Graeme Dott, which was something else.

All in all a good day spent there, and tune of the day has to be "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band, it is after all the proper theme and really does set the scene perfectly for the action that unfolds. As you'll see from the front page of the site, I got busy with the camera too, so feel free to have a look and get an idea of how nice it is to actually be there. It just is something else, and can't wait to head back for some overnight stays in Sheffield from tomorrow onwards!

Monday 25th April - Traffic Jams on the A565

It was a nice sunny day again today, which must have meant that for once the weather goddesses realised that people would actually like to do something on a day off work and not have to sit at home in the pouring rain instead. We leisurely got up, had some Rice Krispies to keep us nicely fed for breakfast and then hit on a plan - we needed to see one of The Love In My Heart's family currently in Preston (they're studying there) and then head from there to Southport to hopefully have a nice afternoon of it all there. I figured that it wasn't that far from Preston to get there and that it'd be a good day out.

Off we headed via the little Tesco near me to get some essential bits of food to take up with us to hand over, and soon before we knew it The Love was off along the M61 and heading towards Preston, which seemed a little busier than usual on the ring road. Once we got close to Preston North End's ground we found out why, Preston were at home against Cardiff, a game Preston needed to win to stay in the Championship (and Cardiff to keep their hopes of automatic promotion alive). The police were also escorting the supporters' coaches as well away from the ground to their holding parking space ready for collection of fans later.

We popped in to see The Love's family member, and all was well with the world there, and I think they were a tad happy to see the bags of shopping The Love had brought. With that all done and everyone happy, it was then off for the two of us towards the centre of Preston, before heading off on the A59 through the villages of Little Hoole and Much Hoole before leaving the A59 and joining the A565 heading towards Southport. It seemed all well so far, but once we hit a roundabout, we wondered why the Preston to Southport bus was doing a right turn instead of heading down the A565.

We soon found out - standing crawling traffic along the main road as not only two lanes went into one, but we noticed some sort of Southport Country Fair on as well over the Easter weekend which no doubt was adding to the amount of traffic. We got as far as the village of Banks, and tried to go the same way as the bus, but eventually that road would lead back to the A565 which was still crawling, even though about a mile further on was a chance to head to Marine Drive and maybe go along the front a bit. We decided, reluctantly, to not bother as we didn't want to be stuck there all afternoon - and by the sound of it, many people were as well!

We instead headed back through Chorley and down the M61 to Hunger Hill, outside Bolton where we had a late lunch at the Hunger Hill Tavernfayre. The views from outside over the hills in Lancashire were nice enough, and they even had Black Sheep Golden Sheep on cask, which kind of made up for the disappointment a bit. The meal we had was lovely too - The Love's platter complete with pate, cheeses, ham, bread, salad looked very good for her, and my carbonara was spot on - with lots of ham and mushrooms in there and no skimping. I'd never been there before and The Love said it had been done up since she last went there, so that's good.

It was still nice though as The Love had driven through some of the back country lanes through little villages on the way back from the traffic jam which allowed us to see some lovely scenery too, so the day wasn't a complete washout either. We'd had a good time regardless and spending time together is the most important thing of all for us both. Just a shame that she had to head home eventually, but I know that we'll have more time together soon and that's all lovely. Tune of the day seemed appropriate - "Crosstown Traffic" by Jimi Hendrix - we were trying so hard to get through to you, Southport, but we failed!

Sunday 24th April - Easter Egg Trails

Happy Easter! And it certainly was a very nice Easter Sunday for me. The Love In My Heart was quite pleased that she had a Lindt gold bunny for herself (in fact I got her two, aww) so no doubt she'll take her time eating those and enjoying them. I couldn't resist when I saw them yesterday, and why not? It was good to leisurely get up and go, have some croissants and coffee for breakfast, and generally take things nice and relaxed before we'd head out in the afternoon.

And off we went out to Quarry Bank Mill in Styal. Of course being National Trust members meant we got in for free as well as the parking being free, and it was pretty busy all round. Once we got down to the mill itself, we could see why. There was an Easter Egg hunt going on for the children when they walked around the mill, and also lots of activities in the mill meadow for them, such as egg and spoon races, face painting, outdoor games and all sorts. I can imagine my younger relatives loving all of that, especially if doing the egg trail and getting a nice Cadbury's egg at the end of it (no Kinnerton rubbish here let me tell you.)

We walked around the mill itself and that was good, especially as some of the mill machinery was on so you could see them working their stuff. Obviously some of it was noisy due to the clattering of all the wood and metal, but that's understandable. You could look up inside the chimney and also see some of the steam engined machines at work, with masses of steam coming off one of them. The large water wheel that powers a fair bit of the mill was the most impressive thing though - lots of engineering gone into that, especially with all the cogs turning to provide power. Spectactular stuff.

Even nicer were the gardens, which we'd never been in before but wanted to do. They're built on a terrace and a hill, and the way the paths wind along you can get to see all the garden very nicely, especially the purple tulips and also as you clamber upwards, you get an excellent view of the mill and meadow from there. Best of all was when you got to the top, you could see the restoration work taking place on the old Victorian vegetable garden, and they're looking like they're going to restore that to its former glory, so good stuff. A walk past the old large beech tree with its lovely views and it was back down the paths to the mill.

We then took a walk from the mill along the Southern Woods which is a nice woodland path alongside some small ponds and also the River Bollin. It's quite hilly in parts but you get to see some lovely landscape and wildlife, and near the end of the walk when you almost reach the main road, you can double back on yourself and take another path which goes past some fields higher up. This also takes you past some nice fields with sheep and lots of lovely little lambs (plenty of awww factor there) before this takes you back to the car park. All in all a very nice walk out.

We even ended the afternoon heading back via the country lanes of Styal, round the back of Manchester Airport, and then heading to Cheadle where a nice drink at The Ashlea was waiting. And they only had Tribute - on cask!! As you can imagine this made me a very happy Easter bunny and that was my little treat for the day. It was then back home and we settled in for the evening with a mix of the snooker and also a programme featuring some of the previous Royal Weddings. I was indulging The Love a little with this, not least as a fair chunk of it was of course on Charles and Diana. A bit annoying for her that the Edward and Sophie wedding got a passing mention at best, mind you.

Tune of the day was something I was listening to when concocting a little CD for The Love, and it certainly reminds me of being a teenager, "Pure" by The Lighting Seeds, still for me the band's finest moment. It just has a feel of all round lovelines with a bit of indie jangly guitar in the middle, as well as some lovely words especially in the chorus. A kind of alternative love song without the sugary sweetness, and that's the sort of thing I don't mind one bit. Hurrah for good music!

Saturday 23rd April - St George's Shopping, Snooker and Steak

Had a fairly relaxed St George's Day which was just the thing in preparation for the Easter break and for next week when I'm off work and over to Sheffield for snooker related reasons. I got up, started some of the housework including cleaning the bathroom, and that gave me plenty of time to settle in for the morning's snooker, with two second round matches being played at 10am. It was an intriguing two matches as well, and the two I'd seen yesterday. This time it was the second session of Barry Hawkins v Mark Allen, and Allen fought back to lead 9-7 at the end of that one. On the other table it didn't take Judd Trump and Martin Gould long to finish and it was soon 13-6 to Trump and he was through to the quarter final.

At the mid session interval I headed off to Asda. I needed some of the packs of steamfresh vegetables (perfect when cooking for one really) and they're the only place that has them at a good price - three four packs for £3. Bargain. Whilst I was there I also got a couple of the large bio yoghurts, a bottle of red wine to have with the tea tonight, and also a little something for The Love In My Heart for a little Easter surprise. Well, I couldn't resist. One reason I don't go into Asda that often is the annoying announcer person they always have, and was hyping up all their offers with a boom mic over the tannoy system. "Quick! The last of the Easter eggs are on the seasonal aisle. Grab yourself a bargain now!" - yeah, great. I just want to do my shopping in peace, thank you.

I got back in good time for the rest of the morning session and then saw a fair bit of the Cardiff v QPR game on BBC1. It was a good game and it was also good to see Craig Bellamy score and do the business as well, he looked hungry and it was a shame for them that a 2-2 draw didn't do that much for their promotion chances. QPR on the other hand look as good as up now, and it'll be interesting to see how they cope in the Premier League next season. Back to the snooker and it was Ronnie O'Sullivan v Shaun Murphy, a real grudge match considering how much Murphy had been slagging off Ronnie to the press and how he'd want to form his own political party one day called The Truth Party. Hmm... okay. Ronnie went 6-2 up at the end of their session, and on the other table Graeme Dott beat Ali Carter 13-11 in an excellent match that either player could have won.

Later on The Love In My Heart arrived and we sat in the back, admiring the plants that were growing and having a coffee and chat and catch up. It was nice to take things relatively easy and be relaxed like that, and later on I started to make the tea - three courses no less, as I often like to do for us on a Saturday night. It was wild mushroom soup to start, and the Tesco Finest fresh one at that. It was gorgeous especially as it had nice pieces of mushroom in there, and was spot on, especially with the triangle granary bread we had too. The main was the Scottish sirloin steak and that was gorgeous with the diane sauce, chips and peas, spot on. And creme brulee for dessert, which for once I did correctly so that the sugar was crispy on top. Hurrah!

We settled in for the evening and had some more of the snooker on, and proved to be a good match all round. Barry Hawkins pulled it back to 12-12 from 12-9 down against Mark Allen, only for Allen to be 12 reds and blacks into a 147 in the final frame only for a kick on the black to stop the break stone dead really, but it was more than enough to win the match. Excellent stuff and showed just how the top players can do their stuff. Was a little gutted for Hawkins as he played well but if he applies himself like that I'm sure he'll knock on the door of the top 16 soon enough.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Unbelievable" by EMF. It happened to be being played whilst in Asda, and as you can imagine, I was happilly singing along to that, cos it's a top tune, and then the announcer goes and stops the track dead whilst putting over yet another promotion for Easter eggs. Sheesh, like allow me to de-stress and enjoy the classic tune whilst shopping, will you? I don't know, what are they like?

Friday 22nd April - Shine Your Shoes And Head For The Crucible, Part 2

It was Good Friday and rather warm out there, and decided to get some cleaning done early doors as well as change the bedding etc. Of course I knew I was going to be hot and sweaty so I decided I'd shower after all that, leaving me feeling nice and clean and fresh for the journey over to Sheffield. My friend was coming with me today and he was happy to drive over, and so he picked us up around 11am in good time for getting there for the afternoon session. Thankfully the traffic was pretty quiet as we headed down the M67 and even after the roundabout on the way to Mottram wasn't that bad. It was soon on the Woodhead pass and over the tops, and then down past Stocksbridge, onto the M1, and round the back of Meadowhall to Sheffield city centre.

Once parked up, we headed up past the art gallery and towards the Winter Gardens. We had time to kill so wanted to check out the Cue Zone, but also noticed that BBC2 were getting ready for their afternoon transmission with no less than Ken Doherty and Steve Davis ready to give their analysis and Hazel Irvine ready to present. Some woman close to myself and my friend said "But she's dead!" when clearly Hazel was there. Unless she thought I meant the legend that was David Vine, in which case fair enough, but still. They were all getting ready for their coverage and the Winter Gardens was pretty busy all round.

We then headed to the stage door to see if we could spot any of the players milling around, and we spotted Eirian Williams and Michaela Tabb making their way in to referee or score the afternoon's games. In fact Michaela was the ref for ours, so that was good news all round. We spotted Judd Trump in shades making his entrance and trying not to be spotted, before I also spotted one of my Flickr contacts and indeed a fellow poster on the Digital Spy sport forums, so was good for the two of us to talk to her and chat, and she even had her nails done snooker style, with various colours for each of the ball colours on the nails. Rather nicely done, it has to be said. And very knowledgable about the game too.

We spotted Graeme Dott making his way out after the morning session with Ali Carter, and then Mark Allen making his entrance for his match with Barry Hawkins, whom we also spotted. Martin Gould was then also having a few crafty cigarettes with a few people before it was time for us to head to the Crucible and take our places for the afternoon session. And who did we spot in the lift? Dennis Taylor no less. He was making his way down to the bottom floor so he could get over to the commentary position to do his thing, and didn't want the floor we were at, but still a nice surprise all the same!

We got up in the lift and behind us in the queue for the bottled water, sweets etc was Angus Loughran, better known to fans of BBC2's Fantasy Football League as "Statto". I had a quick chat to him about the afternoon's games and we both reckoned that Gould v Trump could be pretty close, maybe 13-11 either way. We'd see later of course, but was a nice surprise to bump into him. Must stop meeting all these celebrities you know, it's becoming a habit or something!

A good view was had by my friend and I from row J, and Rob Walker did his spiel to get the players on as per usual. Some idiot in the crowd wolf whistled to Michaela Tabb to say "I would!" which to be honest was a bit much. Let her referee the game and save that bloke's sexual fantasies for another time. It was on with the action and on first with Martin Gould v Judd Trump on our table, and the game pretty much flew by. After exchanging frames the key frame was frame 13, first after mid session. Gould had played an excellent pink to get close to the black to pot it, but missed, and Trump cleaned that up. On the respotted black Gould played a poor shot and left the ball over the pocket. It destroyed his confidence and he missed the long pots he was potting earlier, and so Trump cruised in with an 11-5 lead before tomorrow's final session of the match.

As Mark Allen - Barry Hawkins were having close frames, they still had two and a half frames left when the screen went up, so we stayed for that and watched the rest of it. Hawkins to be fair played some decent stuff and looked like he was pinching most of the tight frames. It could easily have been 4-4 but I think Hawkins deserved to edge it from what we saw anyway - he looked like he wanted to snatch those tight frames more and had won two on the black, so close stuff. Not sure what all the love-in stuff was with him and Allen though, they were giggling, being very chatty and all sorts.

We left the Crucible and said a fond farewell to my fellow Digital Spy forum poster and Flickr contact, and I'm sure the pic of her and Mark Allen is one she'll like when I place that on Flickr sometime soon. It was good to chat to her and put face to name and all that. My friend and I then headed off to Ego to have something to eat, but it was fully booked, so instead we headed into the city centre and into one of the Wetherspoons places, and had the hand battered fish for tea. Even better was that one of their guest ales was a Skinners Brewery one (ie: a Cornish ale) which was Mousehole Moonshine, and very nice too.

The weather was still lovely as we headed back across the Woodhead pass back towards Manchester and we both reflected on an excellent day all round. I have a feeling my friend might want to head back for the final maybe next year, so that would be rather good if we were able to go and see that - I'll have to keep my eye open for tickets and see how that pans out. Tune of the day in the meantime is the walk on music that Graeme Dott comes out to - Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes". It kind of seems appropriate when you listen to the lyrics especially and could be about any game of snooker. A good day all round then!

Thursday 21st April - Shopping And Snooker

It was off to the larger Tesco this morning for me to get most of the food shopping sorted out for Easter. I also wanted to go to the larger one as I had some Clubcard vouchers that I wanted to double up on and use to get myself (hopefully) a new pair of jeans and that would be a good use for what I had. I got myself up and about, it was soon to be on the bus towards the Tesco in Burnage, as in the past I've tended to be more lucky with clothes there. I had a nice leisurely walk around, getting all the food that I needed for the weekend and then some.

I headed to the clothing bit, but could I find any pair of jeans in my size, let alone a pair I liked? No. None in my size whatsoever. Knowing that my size is possibly the most popular for blokes, you'd think that they'd stock more in that size, you know? But I had a plan B - which I executed. I got the bus back home, dropped off all the shopping so it was neatly stored away, and then off on another bus to the Tesco Extra in Gorton this time, and there they actually had a nice pair of jeans, and in my size, and it meant I could use my Clubcard vouchers to double up on what they were worth and effectively get the jeans for free. Excellent!

After that I felt pretty pleased, so it was back in good time with some carbonara for lunch and settling in to watch the afternoon session of the snooker from the Crucible. On one table it was the first second round match with Mark Williams and Jamie Cope, and on the other, the conclusion of Mark Selby against Jimmy Robertson, which didn't take that long for Selby to wrap up a mere 10-1. On the other table it was pretty one sided as Mark Williams leapt into a 4-0 lead at the interval with less than forty minutes on the clock - impressive. And the form continued as Mark leapt into a rather handy 7-1 lead at the end of that - and didn't take very long at all to do so. Thankfully BBC2 had the sense to play back the last frames of the Mark Allen - Matthew Stevens game from last night, epic stuff.

Later on The Love In My Heart came over, and she was glad I think to have finished work and be all relaxed for a few days. We settled in for the evening and I made us some free range corn-fed chicken along with some potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire puds (for me) and gravy. It went down rather nicely and really did feel like a good meal. I indulged her with the soaps for a bit and then later on it was out with the Scrabble for a relaxing game whilst having on some John Mayer. I really do like "Gravity" from the Continuum album, so that one is going to be tune of the day.

And to finish the evening, we watched the episode of Masterchef from last night via iPlayer on the Wii. It worked out pretty well especially with all that weird scientific style of cooking going on, and doing their course for the scientists was crazy stuff. But when making a plate of food at the end, they were all decent but I somehow knew that Jackie wasn't good enough, particularly when Gregg and John raved about Tom's food. At least now down to the final few the format's sort of recovered a bit, although I really don't like that new Masterchef kitchen - it reminds me too much of a pale copy of the Australian version. Hey ho.

Wednesday 20th April - Shine Your Shoes And Head For The Crucible, Part 1

I woke up early this morning as I knew I needed to be out reasonably early. I had an appointment with a train to Sheffield at 0820 which would take me there for around ten past nine, and give me ample time to get up to the Crucible Theatre to see some first round games in this year's snooker World Championship. I've managed to get tickets for the last few years and it's a little something I treat myself to, gives me something to look forward to as well as the football. I'd got Marco Fu v Martin Gould in the morning followed my Graeme Dott v Mark King in the afternoon, which both should be absorbing encounters.

The train got there on time and I was soon heading up the hill from the station, past the art galleries and to the square where the Crucible Theatre is. I popped around the side to the stage door and managed to have a quick chat with Martin Gould, who was 6-3 down against Marco Fu after their first session. I reckoned he needed to win the mini-session before the interval 3-1 so that he'd be only 7-6 behind and go from there, and he looked pretty focussed to me as to what he needed to do. I also did notice that the square where the Crucible is looks pretty nice now, with the Crucible Corner bar facing the square even having some plants and foliage, looked good.

In I went and took my seat, and noticed a few different things this year. The bar has two cask pumps of real ale, very tempting of course but felt I needed to be good and not have any until after the snooker was all done and dusted. The breakfast barms were served till 11.30am giving you ample time to nip out and get one, then miss a frame whilst munching it if you wished to. Some of the food and drink prices had gone up slightly, but nothing untoward to be honest. What the major difference seemed to be was inside. You always had a screen above the table with the scoreboard on, so you could work out for yourself what was needed, and it'd been improved with an indicator telling you how many reds and colours were left, plus a much cleaner display. All good. However, another screen basically shows the BBC footage of each table as if watching it on red button, which kind of defeats the object a little of being there, especially if you've got the earpiece in. I of course watched the action properly, but having it there would be temptation for some to look up a bit...

First up then was Marco Fu v Martin Gould. Martin seemed to punish every shot that Marco was missing with some steady and consistent scoring, and some excellent long pots as well. In fact Martin took the first five frames to go 8-6 up before Marco decided to score well himself including a century break to pull it back to 8-8. At that point the game was anyone's but it seemed that Martin wanted to up the game a bit, and he really did continue to put in some excellent long potting and before we knew it, the game was done and he'd won 10-8, an improvement on his 10-9 win over Marco the previous year.

On the other table, Rory McLeod was still playing Ricky Walden. They'd been taken off their session early at 4-4 yesterday and so had a possible eleven frames maximum to play. To be honest, it was turgid from what I could see of the other table (I saw the scoreboard showing often frames lasting way too long!) and after my match finished I went outside to grab some lunch and see if I could spot any of the players milling around. I did spot Michaela Tabb though, so that did make my day massively. I headed back to go in for the afternoon session but no one was being allowed in, and a glance at the big screen in the square showed why. It was 9-6 to McLeod and they'd been playing their scheduled final frame of the session for almost an hour before McLeod finally took it and won. His play was so slow, a fact I remembered from his previous Crucible visit where his first session of his match only had six frames instead of nine. Bah. Glad I didn't get to see him again.

The afternoon session was delayed a little, but well played the Crucible staff for getting everyone out of there pronto and getting us all in so that the session started at 2.45pm. Out came the players and on went the game next for me, Graeme Dott v Mark King. Mark seemed to have a bit of fire within him after being 6-3 down from the first session and rattled off a superb 138 break to start pulling the score back. At the mid session interval the scoreline was 7-6 to Graeme and that meant that the next frame, the one after, was going to be crucial. Unfortunately for Mark he missed a red with four reds left, and that left Graeme a chance to clean up. That then was 8-6 and it was soon 9-6 a few minutes later. Mark pulled it back to 9-7 but Graeme held his nerve in a tense frame seventeen to win it 10-7. Graeme admitted afterwards that at 7-6 it was anyone's but was glad it was him to have got through.

I had a great time watching the action, and to celebrate I headed off into the city centre and to a pub, where a very nice plaice, chips and peas with a gorgeous pint of Caledonian's Lipsmacker, which tasted a little of lemons and had a really fresh Summery taste, perfect for the warm weather that we've been having lately. Once done, it was back down to the train station to get the 8.10pm train back to Manchester, and I joined The Ice In My Glass and her friend for a drink in Kro before heading home, so that was a lovely end to an even lovelier day. I love stuff like this!

Tune of the day is one choice and one choice only. As I headed into the Crucible, one of the audience close to me had their earpieces on and through that I could hear the proper snooker theme, "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band. Even after all these years it's the snooker song, it just oozes the feeling of being there with the late great David Vine saying "Welcome to the Crucible, Sheffield." You can't beat it and even the comedian Bill Bailey has great affection for it, and rightly so.

Tuesday 19th April - It's Curtains For Easter

I woke up this morning, in true blues song style, opened the curtains in my bedroom, and noted alarmingly that the curtain track had broken along the middle sections and was only being held up by the end tracks, meaning that the curtain and track was sagging in the middle. Not good. And as the track had been there even before I moved in, it was most likely to be end of its shelf life and realistically I thought to myself, I needed something new up there like a curtain pole to sort it all out. As it happened, I was heading into the city centre anyway to do some other bits and bobs, so it made perfect sense to get it all sorted whilst I had the time.

First things first was a visit to PFD in Ardwick, they're a photography shop which is a real Aladdin's Cave of stuff - nothing really has that much order, and it's a case of finding what you're after most of the time. They do have fridges full of film for film cameras though, so very handy for that kind of thing. I did get something in there too - a Giottos Rocket Air, which is an air blower that you operate by hand, and it's very handy for getting dust and particles out of cameras, and as any camera owner knows, dust is a perennial nightmare to say the least. I tried it out later and it did the job pretty well methinks.

It was then into the city centre, and I headed in TK Maxx, as apparently it had been done up and I wanted to see if they had any nice clothes I could treat myself to (well I am allowed to shop for myself occasionally you know!). I did see a nice shirt and after getting a second opinion from The Ice In My Glass, I went for it and got thise blue, red and white short sleeved Pierre Cardin check number for a mere £14.99, so no arguments there really. It looks good and feels the part, so was pretty pleased with myself. I also went and picked up a birthday present and card for my cousin, as it's her birthday this Sunday and wanted to be sure I had time to post it off.

And then off to Wilkinsons - the homeware place. I'm so pleased that they opened one in the city centre as it means I don't have to traipse to Droylsden anymore to go to a branch there. And when I went upstairs and checked out their curtain poles, they had the same one as I already have downstairs in one of the windows there - a nice wooden one with rings, finials etc for a mere £10, absolute bargain really. I got that as well as these two little stubby magnetic screwdrivers, along with some curtain hooks, and that was me pretty much good to go later.

I got home, and first of all unscrewed all the old curtain track holdings and removed them, so that was all sorted, and unhooked the old track hooks from the curtain itself. It was then a case of putting up the brackets, then getting the pole to be symmetrical on the brackets, screwing it to to the base, the finials to the ends (remembering of course to put the rings on first!) and then putting the new hooks in the curtain and getting them on the rings. It actually works really well and I feel pleased with myself that I've managed to do it myself and make a little improvement. Hurrah!

Later on I then headed off to meet The Ice after she had finished work, and we ended up in Kro for a drink first before heading back to her place, where she made me a rather lovely chicken rogan josh curry with rice, naan bread and everything! It tasted great and it was so lovely of her to do that for me. It was good too to chat and catch up, and she explained her day as I listened and we were able to have a bit of a smile and giggle in the early evening, always good that.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Hand In Glove" by The Smiths, which could have easily have been written for a day like today with the sun shining, especially with the opening few lines. I love the "It's not like any other love, this one's different, because it's us" and I can completely relate to that one in the love I feel at the moment. And of course there's a rather nice version of the same song by Sandie Shaw as well, which is definitely a different take on it.

Monday 18th April - Last Day At Work

Well, before you panic, not the last day ever at work, but the last day for two weeks as I'm using up the rest of my leave to have an extended Easter break, and why not? It meant that for six days leave with all the Bank Holidays on, I'd get the two weeks off. My only regret is that I didn't have today off as well, but didn't have enough for that. Ah well. So it was off to work and with a spring in my step as I knew that once today was all done with, I'd have my time off and feel plenty better for it as well.

It was a good day too in that I got plenty done. I managed to replace a faulty power supply inside a PC with one from an older PC and that seemed to do the job nicely, and I also managed to do a software install for one of our staff members. One part of the day was spent looking at Group Policy administration in Active Directory and how you could break it down into lots of smaller policies that had the settings set for you, and how easy it was to see just what had been changed and how you could do it. For many of us it's still a bit of a learning curve but I think I've got the idea of how it all works and what you need to do.

I then sorted out all the stuff I needed to in the afternoon and got the desk looking very tidy, locked up all the test stuff away that I needed to and felt rather good as I left for home in the rather nice dry weather. In fact so much so that when I got home I tasked myself with some jobs around the house and the front that I needed to do - so I spent time getting rid of any weeds in the very small little section of garden to the front, made sure the back's plants were all watered nicely, and generally tidied the front up more too so that it felt much more like what it should look like - clean and tidy.

After that it was then a case of settling back and watching the World Snooker on both BBC 2 and then the red button. It's always good to soak up the atmosphere there and of course I'll be heading there later this week and next week, so I'm really looking forward to that and making a rather good time of it. With the champion Neil Robertson already out, you can't take anything for granted and Stephen Hendry edged past Joe Perry 10-9 and only when Hendry potted the brown in the last frame (with just four balls left on the table) could he clinch it. Tune of the day is "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band, in my view, the proper snooker theme!

Sunday 17th April - Sunday Night At The Passion Wagon

After the very late night heading back from Wembley last night, it was good to have plenty of sleep and a well earned lie-in, and why not? I had even worked out that I could watch the full re-run of the Chinese Grand Prix later in the afternoon so didn't have to get up early to watch the race live, so that was good. It was a really nice sleep and when I did wake up later, I felt like I'd had a good night's rest and was ready to face the day. And so the first thing I did was check all the pictures I'd taken yesterday with the Panasonic camera and then upload the best of them to Flickr, which was a good move all round as plenty of people wanted to have a peekie!

It was then a case of making myself some lunch and relaxing a bit with the F1, and it was a very good race indeed. The lead changed hand a few times, as did the positions as well, mainly because of the new DRS system in place along with KERS kicking in when it was needed. First I thought Jenson Button might win until he went to the wrong pit lane by mistake, and then Sebastian Vettel was ahead for a while, but near the end Lewis Hamilton caught and passed him with a brilliant overtaking move. Hamilton won, Vettel was second and Mark Webber fought back from 18th on the grid to pip Jenson Button to third. It was some race that.

It was then off with The Love In My Heart to The Lowry Outlet Mall in Salford, where we'd meet up with my friend and his wife, as it had been her birthday a few days back and we planned a little meal in Pizza Express to celebrate. It was a nice ambience in there, although they could do with more pasta dishes and less reliance on pizza all the time. I had the calamari squid to start followed by the funghi di bosco pizza for main, and all was good really. It tasted very nice, as did the pistachio ice cream that I had for dessert. We chatted mainly about the cup game yesterday as my friend went too and he enjoyed himself almost as much as I did, and it was nice to take it easy in the relatively nice weather.

We didn't have far to go after we'd eaten either, it was literally across the way to The Lowry, as ages ago we'd booked tickets to see Lenny Henry on his "Cradle To Rave" tour, which is basically Lenny talking about his passion for music since he was younger. We were surprised to see that it didn't completely sell out the main Lyric Theatre in there, in fact only the bottom two tiers were actually in use and even then there was the odd empty seat around. Shame that, but I guess people are paying silly money to see the rather unfunny Michael McIntyre instead. Oh, it does make you wonder.

Anyway, their loss as far as I'm concerned, because Lenny was brilliant. He really was passionate about his music, even attempting to learn the piano so he could play some of his favourite songs, including "Blueberry Hill" that he used to listen to as a small child. He also mentioned some songs he grew up with at home, and one was Desmond Dekker's "The Isrealites". He got to the chorus bit, with the "Ohhh Ohhh" and some of the crowd of course sang "Vitalite" as per the telly commercial, which led Lenny into a hilarious rant about how Desmond would have turned in his grave if he heard it!

I also enjoyed the reminisce about being a kid at secondary school and how he and his friends would go to the local club to hear nice loud music and also be the epitomy of cool, and also how his friend had a Ford Transit van that was the "Passion Wagon" which had curtains you could draw, and even played Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" to get you in the mood. Of course what he didn't rely on were his friends rocking the van with Lenny and a girl in there chanting football style "Lenny's got a girlfriend, Lenny's got a girlfriend, na na na na - ooh! na na na na - oooh". Hehe. Classic stuff and that really did make me giggle.

The second part was more about after teenage years to now, and how getting married means that your music tastes become a Venn diagram. On the left is all your tastes, like David Bowie and good stuff, and on the right is your partner and the not so good stuff, and in the middle, where the tastes meet - Sade - the artist who epitomises the word "compromise" according to Lenny. I can see where he was coming from with that and also enjoyed how he tried to have a singing career himself and even worked with Kate Bush (darn, I love Kate Bush, so was obviously rather jealous!)

And at the end, he even had three people on stage, Amanda Brown on drums, an über-cool bassist in Lawrence Insula and a funky guitarist, and they played the aforementioned "Blueberry Hill", plus James Brown's "Sex Machine" (tune of the day as it was so well done) along with the likes of "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" and on all three of them he did the bits on the piano that he'd learnt over the years, which was good to see. The band were ace with him and you could tell it was a really tight outfit. Amanda and Lawrence are part of the CK Band collective - check them out in the Members section. A great end to a great night all round really.

Saturday 16th April - Derby Victory At Wembley

Yesterday was one of the happiest days I've ever spent as a Manchester City fan. For years I've never seen City win anything of note, and it's a fact that's been reminded to me by far too many United fans over the years, who are keen to remind us at every single opportunity. For years I've seen the ups and downs of the club and ridden the crests and waves with them, from going down to what's now League One to fighting for a Champions League place with Tottenham, and all the while thinking "just once, just this once, let us do something".

And so it was with expectation and a lot of nerves that myself and my uncle headed into Manchester yesterday morning and for Shudehill Interchange, where the Megabus that we'd booked was going to take us to London Victoria, and from there we'd take the tube to Wembley to see Manchester City against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final. There were quite a few other City fans waiting to head on to the bus, and we knew that the traffic was bad in London because of the M1 being closed near its end. Some fans were debating whether to take the train or not to be sure to get there, but I knew that the scheduled arrival of 2pm gave us plenty of time to get to the game.

On the Megabus went, down the M6 and just after Stoke seemed to get stuck in some traffic, but once past that it was on to the M6 Toll which was very empty indeed, and along then back on the M6 to the M1. I thought that was strange considering, but there was a driver change at Watford Gap services, which sort of explained it a bit. It was then down the M1 to the M25, along the M25 southbound to the junction with the M4, and then along the M4 and A4 towards central London before navigating its way to London Victoria coach station's arrivals hall (different from departures, just to confuse everyone). We were only around fifteen minutes late, which wasn't too bad all things considered.

After topping up the Oyster cards, it was then off to Victoria tube station and took the Victoria line to Green Park, and then the Jubilee Line up to Wembley Park. It was pretty quiet once the tube left Baker Street, and so were able to relax. Of course, coming out of the tube station, and seeing the Olympic Way down to the stadium was a sight to behold. The police were asking people not to take pictures on the steps which I thought was a little extreme, but there you go. We walked down and headed towards the ground, and stopped off at the Lidl on the side of the walkway to get some food and drink for lunch - cheaper than any of the burger stalls and all that.

We then headed up and soaked the atmosphere - City fans really buzzing and excited, and lots of people with blue curly wigs, blue aliens and bananas, adding nicely to it all. Time whizzed by and it went very quickly all the way to kick off as the clock counted down, the teams had their flags paraded round by the army soldiers inside the ground, and both sets of fans had a song played to rouse the fans too. And then a moment of genius. As the announcer read out the Man U team, all the City fans en masse did "The Poznan" and it looked bloody brilliant, I have to say!

The game kicked off and it was mainly Man U during the first half, and rightly I was bloody nervous. Dimitar Berbatov was one on one through on goal but Joe Hart saved really well, and Berbatov had another chance from a low cross where he should have scored. But as the half went on, so did City's confidence, with Mario Balotelli forcing a save out of Edwin van der Sar, a shot just wide from Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott could have done better from a corner. But 0-0 at half time wasn't too bad whatsoever and I felt rather pleased with the performance thus far.

Second half came on and City went looking for the win, and it felt much more positive. Even more so when Michael Carrick's error allowed Yaya Toure to get on the ball, run past the United defence and slot it, cool as you like, past Edwin van der Sar. Everyone including me went absolutely mental and did the Poznan post goal too as the players celebrated along with the fans. It was a real you had to be there moment, and we were there for it as well which pleased me immensely, it has to be said. Come on you Blues!

There were more chances with Yaya Toure going close again, Joleon Lescott heading wide, and Shaun Wright-Phillips coming off the bench to mickey take Patrice Evra as he bombed it down the right hand side, but the game definitely was more ours when Paul Scholes had dirtily fouled Pablo Zabaleta and deservedly got a straight red from the referee. It had to be really, no other card would have done. And that meant that City could dominate a bit and even though Man Utd did go at us, we were relatively comfortable and knew that a second goal would kill it off.

The second goal never came and as five minutes of stoppage time were announced, we all got nervous and just wanted the referee to end it all, and then he did. And it was sheer unbridled joy for all the City fans, me included. It was a brilliant end to the game and we just felt so happy, as did the players who went to the fans to celebrate. I just stood there and soaked it all in - we'd done it, beaten our fiercest rivals and made the first final in the FA Cup for a mere thirty years, and I was there to witness it. And that alone felt rather special, it has to be said.

We then took our time walking back down Olympic Way and headed past the tube station and to a rather nice Indian restuarant, where we had a post-match meal of chicken korma curry, naan bread, pilau rice and some poppadums, which went down a treat. By this time the tube station was empty and so we headed back on the tube to Victoria, where a well earned pint was had, followed by a coffee before we'd head to Victoria coach station to head on the 11.30pm Megabus back to Manchester, arriving back at 3.30am, and getting the night bus back home. We were so tired but so elated at the same time.

Tune of the day has got to be Supra's version of "Blue Moon" which in my view should have been played for City's song instead of the slower version that was. I'm sure had it have been, the fans would have been singing like mad and going for it, and really getting behind the boys even more, but no problem. I just hope that I can get a ticket for the final at Wembley (you get many less seats for the final sadly) and that we can end the drought of trophy wins. But I love you City, I do!

Friday 15th April - On The Move

I finished off something I started last night: imaging a spare PC which I was going to take with me over to another building, along with a laptop which I was using for Windows 7 testing. A couple of my colleagues have set up a base in a room in a building close to mine, and as the project work we need to do has got larger, I've decided (and with support from management too) that I need to make the move over there so I can concentrate on what needs to be done there. It was good therefore to get everything over this afternoon and start setting up how I'd want the rig to look.

I had done some pre-requisites, and installed the SCCM admin console on the PC as well, so I was able to check that my SCCM collection just had the test laptop in there, and that made life considerably easier in terms of what I needed to do and how I'd do it, so that was a relief to be honest. It was good though to leave there late this afternoon and feel like I was ready to take things on, for at least Monday till I head off on leave, and then when I'm back in early May I can really get cracking and make sure everything is done as it needs to be done.

I headed home, and off to Tesco to get all the food shopping done that needed to be done. I didn't need that much so it was a relatively quick in and out job, and then it was off homewards to sort out some washing and ironing (meh) and make myself the tea - I had some jumbo king prawns and rice, which was simple but went down rather nicely. All I needed really was a curry to go with it and that'd have been rather delectable. Still, it did the job and it allowed me to spend the rest of the evening in a relatively relaxed mode.

And with good reason - as I'm off to Wembley tomorrow! Yes, the FA Cup semi final between Manchester City and Manchester United, and I've got tickets. My friend is going with one of his family in the City section, and myself and my uncle are heading there too. I've got it pretty much worked out where we'll be when, and it'll be great to walk down Olympic Way towards the stadium and instead of seeing the rugby league as I did last time, it'll be to see my own team. Of course, I'd rather it have been the final that Wembley was saved for, but apparently it's partially down to getting money back from the cost of building the place. Being the traditionalist that I am, I'd much rather it be at a neutral venue and save Wembley for the final, but there you go...

Tune of the day is quite apt considering all the weekend's hype about the game in the local press - no less than the late great Frank Sidebottom's "Football Medley" which has lots of little football songs done by him in one easy to consume package - part of his Altrincham FC song "The Robins Aren't Bobbins" and then songs inspired by chants, such as "One Referee", "You're Going Home On An Organised Football Coach" (hehe) and at the time, one about Wembley: "Wem-ber-lee, Wem-ber-lee, oh it's not quite finshed yet, but they call it Wembley" - you get the idea. I wonder if Frank would have been there tomorrow supporting City? I will - and come on you Blues!

Thursday 14th April - Firing The Firefox

It was another busy day in the office today, but felt like I'd got plenty done. Indeed, I managed to sort out the configuration for Mozilla Firefox 4 and had that sent off to one of our central teams so that they could have a play with it. Firefox 4 of course has that new Firefox button, which means that even if you hid some of the older menu bar buttons by tweaking userChrome.css, you've now normally got to hide the menu items as well to be sure that users can't for example go in the options the back way just by going to the new menu bar and selecting the options there.

In effect of course it does mean that if you're going to hide anything, you need to make sure it's not accessible with the normal Windows-like menu bar and then new Firefox button type bar as well, so spent a bit of time flitting between both to see what could and couldn't be locked down and hidden. I also worked out too how to stop anyone typing about:config to mess with the configuration files too. Basically, all the previous folders with the .js Java files are now in one big archive, omni.jar, and the structure there is pretty simple to follow and you can find browser.js, and I know how to change that one!

So that was pretty good. I headed home via the city centre and had a quick look at the stuff in London Camera Exchange, and they had a couple of pretty nice Nikon film SLRs in there, all good. I might treat myself to one after my birthday and have a bit of a go with film as well. I know there's some good places that process it and put it onto CD for you as well, so that's pretty good, and it's always intriguing to see what results you get with stuff like that. I also was tempted by a very nice 12-24mm DX wide angle lens, but the price tag (even used it's around £500) put me off somewhat.

I had a rather lovely evening with The Love In My Heart later though. It was good to relax and chatter about everything, and I made us some tagliatelle with meatballs for tea, which went down very well indeed. We ended up watching Three In A Bed, where three different B&B owners stay at each others' houses and rate each other. We both thought straight away that the woman who ran the B&B in her own house in Holland Park seemed way too up her own backside, giving lessons in etiquette and all, and indeed not taking criticism too well when the other people staying found dust all over the place, and bin bags of bedding underneath one bed. Hmmm. Lovely. Not.

It was so lovely to see The Love though and it was horrible that the time went so quickly and that she was heading home, but gave me a massive hug and kiss as she left for good luck for the weekend, so that was rather good. Tune of the day sums up that feeling of not wanting to say goodbye: "Our Love Goes Deeper" by Duke Special, particularly the single version. It has a real feeling of cinema or old music hall to it, and Duke's unique voice really does come across well, especially in the chorus and the singalong parts to it. If only all music was as a lovely methinks...

Wednesday 13th April - Four Point Zero

I spent a fair bit of time today finishing off the laptop image that I was working on yesterday, and then getting that deployed to another laptop as well so that the two of them were done in quick time. It was good to finally nail them and they're pretty good pieces of kit too, so they ran reliably and were also able to then box them up ready for the customer taking them off our hands at some point soon. I also spent some time working on why our network large format scanner wasn't transferring its files to the correct place, and worked out that it was a password issue which threw it somewhat. Got that sorted and that felt good to go.

It was then a fairly late finish for me as I was attempting to nails various parts of Mozilla Firefox 4.0 and how to configure it like the way we've got it now for corporate use. Unfortunately there's no Group Policy or anything like that which you can use to edit it, so you've got to know how to set things so that when a user logs on, they get all the right settings that they want. Most of those I've tweaked pretty well for the 3.6 release, so it was a case of finding out what needed to be done for 4.0. For example, one of our extensions that we have to have working for EndNote Web doesn't work so the extension needed to be updated for that.

However, the stumbling block was that I needed to hide some additional menu items and it was working out the code for that. I'd got most of the items to hide themselves fine but there was one pesky menu separator which wasn't going away. Then I realised what I did. The menu option had a label with a ^ symbol, to indicate that the label has ... at the end of it (as a few of them do in Firefox). Once I'd worked this out, it was then a case of making sure that the label plus the menuseparator had the same label - and I'd put one too extra space in. It did look the part though, so now I've just got to work out how the new compressed Java archive works for the look and feel so I can stop anyone trying about:config...

But more of that tomorrow. As I'd finished quite late and knew that The Love In My Heart was on a late shift too, I suggested that we head for a drink after work, and so walked to her work to meet her. She was really surprised but pleased to see me, and so on we headed to Rain Bar for plenty of chat and a nice Coronation Street ale for me. I think it was just good to wind down a bit and it looked like she'd had a pretty good day of it, so we both walked from Rain back to Piccadilly feeling quite up with the day's efforts but also happy that we'd seen each other too - a nice little bonus for us both really.

I spent the evening watching the classic BBC F1 stuff on the red button. Not only did we get full highlights of the 2009 and 2010 Chinese Grand Prix (the former selected by Sebastien Buemi as one of his favourite classic races) but also Sebastien chose the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, where we were treated to the full one hour plus higlights programme that was shown on BBC 2 at the time. Fantastic! And what made it special too of course was that the 1989 race was full of controversy, including Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost having a coming together at the chicane. Senna was push started, but that wasn't the reason for his eventual disqualification - it was because he'd cut the corner on restart. Amazingly, despite both drivers driving for McLaren, the then team principal of the McLaren team appealed - even though the result meant that Prost was world champion. Of course, that meant that Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" was played at full blast, so tune of the day right there.

Tuesday 12th April - Snap Happy

I had managed to finish off all I needed to yesterday, and so today I worked on a couple of laptops that my colleague needed me to have a look at and give him a hand with due to workloads. I knew what needed to be done and started work on them, with an aim to get everything sorted out. I had a good idea of what we would do, and had some nice documented those and followed it. I'd got pretty far before a team meeting in the afternoon, which basically sorted out how we were going to proceed for the next few months or so. It was good to get a direction and to know where and what I'd be doing.

I headed home and got the plants watered outside and stood to admire the garden. It was starting to grow rather nicely with the plants taking shape and I'm sure in a few weeks time it'll be all good. I think too that I had a little helper in next door's cat, who was quite happy to sit outside with me and peruse the goings on, sat in the back yard garden. I guess that it's nice to have a little company, and that was soon even more lovely as The Toppings On My Pizza arrived over, and I started to cook the tea for us - some lovely pork, with chips and peas, and all felt well with the world.

We then headed over to see Mum, as she wanted some help on the laptop with a few things. She also wanted a new portrait of herself for the likes of her Facebook page, so I had the Nikon D3000 with me, and managed to take a couple of shots that I was quite happy with, and more importantly, she was too. I did a little bit of editing and cropping just to get the size to be suitable, and that soon worked rather well and it was uploaded as needed. It was good to have a chat as well and I could tell that Mum was rather pleased to see The Toppings especially.

It had been a long day, not least for my dearly beloved as she had been working late anyway, and so it wasn't too long before we would head back to my place, take a relatively relaxed look at the world in general and then head off to sleep, and keep the brains fresh for the rest of the week's work. It was good to see Mum too of course, and no doubt she'll have been playing the David Gates Songbook CD I managed to get for her the other day. Each to their own with music taste of course, and I'm sure that if I'd have been Mum's age a lot of the bands I'd have grown up with would have been people I liked too - stands to reason really.

Tune of the day in the meantime though is a song that makes me smile every time I listen to it, namely "Crazy" by The Icicles. It's the opening track from their second full album "Arrivals and Departures" and has a really happy feel about it (as does most of the album I admit). It just feels full of Summer feelings and also has some lovely lyrics along the way - which makes it all soft soft soft. And if you've never heard of the band, you definitely should check them out if you have the time.

Monday 11th April - Kop That!

It was another pretty busy day in the office today, as I set about working on delivering the two PCs for our specialist software and Embroidery people. It was quite good all round as it meant myself and one of my colleagues spent a bit of time dismantling all the old PC setup, including an older scanner and inkjet printer, loading that on to our trolley to take back, and then installing the new kit. And very very nice it looks too - two HP über-PCs with a 22" wide screen monitor, a nice new scanner each and a little colour laser printer each to print the designs on. All I then had to do later in the day is to copy back over the designs that were saved on the old PCs and it was like as if everything had been transformed over night by the magic pixies!

I headed straight from work down to my friend's house tonight as he'd invited me to watch the Manchester City game against Liverpool at Anfield (he has Sky, I don't, you see). I knew it might be difficult, and whilst we were waiting for the game to kick off, we had a rather nice tea of fish with some potatoes, and I fixed one of the PCs in the house and also got the PS3 to talk to the Virgin Media router properly, so it updated the firmware of the PS3 and indeed Tiger Woods 10 on the PS3 as well, so he could give that a go and have a great time.

As for City, well that was rather bobbins to say the least. Not only did Andy Carroll score a piledriver to put Liverpool 1-0 up but in the build up to the goal, Carlos Tévez pulled his hamstring and most likely is going to be out of the FA Cup semi final on Saturday. He went off and from that point on City crumbled, with two goals in three minutes, one from Dirk Kuyt and another a good header from Carroll sealing City's fate before half time. Not good at all, and to be honest the second half was pretty painful viewing to be honest. It felt like they couldn't be bothered, and it made me wonder why changing the team around from that which had brushed Sunderland aside 5-0 was a good idea really.

Still, my friend and I did also get sorted the application for the football events at Old Trafford for the Olympic Games. We thought that it was local to get to, and of course you'd get a good chance of seeing some decent football as well. Plus of course that we thought that if we applied for every single day at Old Trafford, we might get one of them and be able to go. That was the plan anyway as we filled it in, so we will have to wait and see what happens there. Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather ace "Losing My Religion" by REM. It's still one of mine and my friend's favourite REM songs, and it seems to have summed up the mood of feeling after the defeat tonight.

Sunday 10th April - Removing Trees And Carvery Capers

I had an early start to the day as I got up to watch the Malaysia Grand Prix on BBC One HD. I remembered that F1 was being shown in HD this year, so made sure I had the telly set accordingly. It was a decent race but you always felt that once Sebastian Vettel got clear, it'd be an easy win. It was a storming drive from Jenson Button in the end who got better as the race went on, thinking to tweak the front wing to his driving style more and in the final stint on hard tyres even closing the gap a bit to Vettel, and leapfrogged Lewis Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld for second. Hamilton and Alonso clashed later on and that meant both drivers finished much lower down - and got a 20 second penalty each. Ouch.

I made myself and The Flowers In My Garden breakfast (she'd had a deserved lie-in whilst watching the F1) and we had a look at the 2012 Olympics ticketing website and decided what we'd try and get tickets for during the two weeks. Obviously there's no guarantee whatsoever of getting all or any of the tickets that we're after, particularly as some will be in high demand (the athletics for example) but I've also gone for some of the other events like the archery, volleyball, hockey, and so on. I think my friend and I might be applying for the football as some of the group stages are at Old Trafford, which will be good to head to.

After that we headed into the back yard garden, and took the cover off the outside table. It looked pretty good still but I might need to re-varnish the table top, although the rest of it seemed to be fine overall. We cleaned that up, I watered the plants and then had a game of Scrabble al fresco outside, which was actually pretty nice as The Flowers could take in the sun which she loves, and we could both relax and play. She did an excellent move making SKI on triple word, and the S also made SPITS too, so she scored triple both ways and therefore 42 points, which was very good going. In fact we both played well and consistent so that was good fun.

We then decided to battle with the tree that was planted a few years back close to the front of the house and that had started to dry out too much and go all brown and drop itself off, instead of being nice and green. The tricky bit was trying to get to all the roots of the tree underneath, but we soon got them all off after I battled with it for some time, and as it was in two pieces (having broken it in half) we transported it in The Flowers' car to the local recycling tip, where it was added to the volume of green garden waste. That felt much better having cleaned that up and getting rid of it, was becoming a bit of an eyesore outside to be honest.

It was then a case of getting changed and out to The Sheldon Arms, close to Ashton Moss, where we were having a meal with a lot of The Flowers' family to help celebrate her Mum's 70th birthday from a few days before. It was lovely to see everyone and I even tried a pint of the Vindehop guest ale, which was very light and palatable indeed, gorgeous stuff. We both had the carvery and that was up to its usual standards, especially the thick cuts of ham that we both had. Gorgeous stuff, as was the dessert of cherry cheesecake that I had later. It was a lovely time all round and it was good to chat to some of The Flowers' family, who've made me feel very welcomed in the time that she and I have been together.

It's always hard to say goodbye to The Flowers when she made her way home later, but it had been another great weekend, and she even got a place in the National and so won a few pounds too, so that was good. Tune of the day in the meantime is "Feed The Tree" by Belly, quite apt considering my little tree in the back needed plenty of water over the weekend but also because of our efforts to get rid of the tree out front. I also remember seeing the video to this song on The Chart Show (ah, memories) and thinking that Tanya Donnelly was holding her own in her own project quite nicely.

Saturday 9th April - A Long Walk And A Happier Garden

It was a very nice and sunny day today, and after watching the F1 qualifying and also putting my bet on the Grand National (£1 each on Character Building and Niche Market to win, don't do each way, me) I decided that as the weather was lovely, there was no point whatsoever in wasting it, and so headed along to the Fallowfield Loop Line cycle path, and decided to walk the four miles or so to Chorlton, as it's a good walk to take but also it means I can get the bus back home later and so not have to do the walk both ways (although of course I could if I really wanted to be über-fit). It was good to see plenty of cyclists out riding along and also lots of people walking at least part of the path, and it shows that if you get something in a bit of a green space people will use it.

As I headed towards Chorlton, the old loop line comes up to a junction where it would have joined another train line (this will now form part of the South Manchester Metrolink tram extension). At this point there's the current planned end of the line, St Werburgh's Road station. A few years ago it was almost impossible even to walk the rest of the path to Chorlton, but now it works rather nicely and there's even a crossing point for the cycle path to head over the tram line, so at least you can carry on safely. I did that and soon ended up in the centre of Chorlton, and had a good walk through and along to the shops before carrying on down Wilbraham Road, turning left at Manchester Road and via St Clement's Road to Chorlton Green.

After this, it was then along through past a former cemetery close to the green, and onwards to Chorltonville. It's a garden village that was built one hundred years ago this year, and certainly feels more like a little country village instead of a suburb, and it has that feel, with curved streets, grass-lined everywhere and even a village green at the centre of The Meade. It was nice to just walk along Claude Road and feel that you'd been transported almost back in time to a lovely place, no wonder it's very desirable to live there. I then walked along towards Reynard Road and back towards Beech Road.

Then it was on to one of my favourite little places in Chorlton, On The Corner on Beech Road. I like the concept of the place, they do lovely tea, coffee, smoothies and fresh fruit juices along with home made cakes, and even some food too, but most of all I like how there's records all round and you can even shop for some vinyl and CDs whilst you are there too. I had a very nice fresh fruit juice, they call it the Immune Boost with carrot, apple, orange and ginger, and it tasted spot on, as did the carrot cake that I had with it. It was nice to relax with some lovely music and the staff in there are lovely, always helpful and with a smile on their face too. My sort of place, definitely.

I headed home on the bus later, and then settled in to watch the Grand National. Both the horses I backed finished, Character Building was a distant 15th after being hampered at Bechers Brook, and Niche Market was in contention with two jumps left but faded at the run-in to be fifth, but not too bad. Unfortunately the event was saddened by two fatalaties, one on the fourth fence and one at Bechers, which meant second time round both fences were bypassed using the outside lane, put in a couple of years ago to improve safety and to prevent loose horses causing carnage. It's the first time since 1955 that not all thirty fences have been jumped: that year the waterlogged conditions meant that the water jump was bypassed, in argubaly much worse conditions than the infamous 2001 race!

Later on The Flowers In My Garden came over, and we headed to the local B&Q. I wanted to get some nice new plants for the back yard garden, and we managed to find a nice assortment which had plenty of blue, purple and pink, to give it a nice Spring and Summer feel. Obviously they'd take a bit of time to grow but planting them now meant that they would have time to flourish. We planted them in the terracotta pots, removing any remnants of the old plants that were there, putting some new compost soil in, planting them all in and then tidying up the back a bit. It looked rather nice once we were done and that gave us time to get hungry and have tea.

I did us three courses in the end, butternut squash soup with sage and honey for starter with some granary rustic bread, and then some piri piri chicken, potatoes and vegetables for main, followed by New York cheesecake with cream for dessert. That went down very nicely and we had the cheesecake whilst watching a film I'd rented from Tesco DVD Rental - "The Switch" which actually was better than I thought it'd be. It was funny in parts and they needed more of the parts played by Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis (who was basically being herself and having lots of fun). As for tune of the day, during the film there were some good songs being played, notably "All The Beautiful Things" by Eels, which just suited the mood perfectly. Hurrah for that!

Friday 8th April - It's Gonna Be A Bright Sun Shining Day

From the moment I left home this morning, I could tell that the sun was out and that the weather was looking very nice indeed. That meant that it'd be less of an incentive to work, but I had got my head down as I knew that I wanted to get on with several things. One of them happened to be to do a test re-image of my laptop and see if the Windows 7 image plus all my layered application installers would work perfectly well if I kept an eye and made sure that the power management didn't invoke itself. And thankfully, that did, but it also proved my theory from yesterday to be correct. We also got some good news during the day so that was rather wonderful.

I took a nice walk after work and once I got home, and took in some of the local area as well as the cycle path that runs close to my place as well. The sun was out and I had the camera with me, so it was a good opportunity to take some pictures and I think I got a few that I was pretty pleased with. I must admit as well that I've been toying with getting a film SLR as well, to really give that sense of anticipation when you've taken the number of images you want to take and see how they develop on film. Some of them do film developments as well as burn the images on a CD for you as well, so that might be worth experimenting with. You can get a decent film SLR body for under £50, and I've got lenses that'll work with film or digital, so might be worth a go!

Anyway, after that nice walk, I headed back home via Tesco to do some food shopping, and came across a pretty good idea. I got some lovely food for tomorrow evening, and then also hit upon another idea for tonight's evening meal. There was an offer on their Finest jumbo king prawns, and you could grill those nicely. So I thought "why not do those with some lime and coriander rice for a quick and easy meal?" so that's what I did, and it worked out nicely when I got home and made it. There were more than enough prawns so that I could have the same meal twice, and the lime and coriander in the rice complimented the tasty large prawns spot on - it was good!

The nice weather even meant that I could sit outside and enjoy the last of the evening sun before it got dark and then I watched a fasincating programme on BBC1 which showed the history of how the Grand National was televised. It went from Angus Loughran's stunning find of three cans of film with footage of the 1911 race no less, and then to Pathe News and how you had to go to cinema to see any coverage of the great race, before then in 1960 the first BBC live commentary, and they've done so ever since. And great stories too, of Red Rum, Aldaniti, the void race in 1993, all sorts. Good to see that they even had local Liverpool people in it as well, made it a little better for that. I need to go and watch some of the races now before tomorrow.

Tune of the day for me is "Omen" by The Prodigy. After a busy week at work it's nice to be able to wind down with some dance choons and be able to let myself go a bit. And you can always rely on a bit of the Prodge for some kicking bass lines, thumping drums and a real good feel to the whole thing. And they're not afraid of using different samples in songs too - in fact twice Liam Howlett has sampled songs by The Breeders, Kim Deal's other band as well as the Pixies. Question is though can you name both songs that have their samples in? Answers on a postcard...

Thursday 7th April - Box Two

It was a day of productivity again, I must be on a roll, and I found out something which we might need to sort out for when we eventually have to mass re-image a lot of the student workstations over the Summer. Bringing down a task sequence to deploy a Windows 7 image and any supplemental applications via SCCM seems to work fine, but with one major caveat. After the drivers are installed, the machine will reboot and then install the applications that you've layered on to be installed. In theory, this works pretty nicely, but if power management has been enabled by the Active Directory policy at that point, and if you don't keep an eye on it and move the mouse occasionally, the machine can go to standby, and if it does, it kills off the current app that it's installing. Aaargh. No wonder I had to reinstall Corel Draw X5 afterwards.

The sun was coming out fairly nicely and with the weather set fair it was off straight from work for me over to The Lowry, as I was going out with The Love In My Heart and two of our friends to see Andy Parsons there. We'd arranged that we'd go and have something to eat first beforehand, and The Love would come straight from her place and I'd head there, whilst my two friends would be shopping there anyway and so we'd see them. Luckily for me there's a bus that stops close to work that heads close to Trafford Wharf, and from there I could then walk to the Imperial War Museum and head over the bridge to the Lowry and the Outlet Mall shopping centre, and so in the early evening that proved to be a rather nice little walk from the bus.

I headed to Marks and Spencer Outlet, and on the way I bumped into one of my friends, and the other one was just in a shop close by, so that was nicely timed. We said hello and then the three of us headed to M&S, and amazingly all ended up buying something. I got myself these nice pinstripe smart casual trousers, which I thought I'd need for an occasion coming up soon, and especially as the price had been reduced somewhat, it was a good idea to go and buy it now. One friend got a new pair of jeans, the other two tops, so that felt pretty productive. I'd advised them not to get the parking ticket validated till we ate, as that gave us six hours' worth of free parking instead of four, and we'd sort that out when having tea at Bella Italia later.

The Love rang me to say that she'd arrived in the car park and bumped into one of my friends who was putting their shopping back in the car, and so then the four of us went into Bella Italia for tea. It was quite nice and relaxed in there, and we had enough time for a starter and main course each, and we could chatter too. I tried the two course set menu for a mere £8.95, which was good as I had the mushroom bruschetta to start with some salmon penne for main. I kind of wish the sauce for the main was a creamy white sauce instead of a tomato and mascarpone one, but it was still good. It was cosy and we left with just enough time to get into the Lowry, and then up the lift.

Normally we try and get a good seat in the stalls, which is always good, but this time around we couldn't get anything for four of us together. However, what we did get when I rang the box office was a box in the circle - they are normally used for corporate people but none of them were coming, so they sold the seats at normal price. Result, really. And so it proved. We had an excellent view with no one's heads in front of us, and two rows of seats so that the two ladies sat the front with me and my friend behind, and we all had a great view. You also had a nice little cloakroom before the box if you wanted, so that was a bit of privacy, along with a big mirror so you can look your best. And we've got the same one for a forthcoming show there too, so we might start getting used to it...

Andy Parsons came on for the first part of his show, and although it did take a little bit of time for him to get truly get going, set the scene well for what was to be an excellent evening's entertainment. The main Lyric theatre didn't have the top level open, and it wasn't full on the bottom two levels by any means, but it was still busy enough to be there. One of my favourite jokes from the first half was that those who went on The Apprentice should stop Alan Sugar before he fires them to say "You know what? I've seen your methods and they're not that good a selection method. I don't want to work for you anyway, so - you're fired!" - that and a joke about strangling and doing something else that was rather a bit close to the bone.

At the interval we got some drinks and some good tunes came on, including Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" which sounded rather impressive over their PA system, so tune of the day for me right there. The second half started in earnest and Andy really got on with things well, including plenty to say about David Cameron having his bike stolen outside Tesco's, and how on Mock The Week if things are going wrong during the three hours of recording then someone will swear constantly to make sure it gets edited out, usually yelling the C word quite a few times on the bounce, and how six (or seven if you count Dara O'Briain) hungry comics will gobble at the subject, but also the happiness index made up by Cameron as well. All good fun!

We headed back to the car park, having had the tickets validated previously in Bella Italia, put the tickets in the machine and - bing! No Charge. All good then. It was hard to say goodbye to my friends, especially as we'd had a great time and that later on they'd have a flat tyre on their way back home, but also when The Love dropped me off at home, it was really hard to say goodbye. No amount of nice little cuddles or a few lovely soft lingering kisses could change that. This is I guess what it means to be in love, that you treasure those moments and look forward to them lots.

Wednesday 6th April - I Think I'm Paranoid

It was another productive day in the office for me today, as I successfully packaged up Minitab 16 for SCCM and for Windows 7 deployment, and to be honest it was pretty easy. The installer did pretty much what you'd want it to, but you could customise this with a handy setup /admin command, which allowed you to specify what you wanted the installer to do - in terms of no desktop shortcut, accept the licence agreement for all users, and no stupid update program running either. It made a config.xml file which the setup.exe called, and so you just needed to place the files on the server, and make it so that you ran setup.exe to perform the install, and job done. It was really easy to do and I was surprised how simple it was.

Flushed with success of that, I also finished off working on a new workstation PC that was to be used for one of our departments with some specialist software. I was able to test out the USB dongle for the software with the install, and that worked rather nicely indeed. I also had had the scanner and printer to go with it working fine too, and so it meant that I could finalise the whole thing and get it boxed off rather nicely. All I need to do now is head over to where the PC is being installed next week and then I can get everything up and running for them - but felt rather pleased to have made progress.

I headed to Mum's on the way home so that I could drop the CD off for her that arrived at mine yesterday - and it went down very nicely indeed. I was happy for Mum as I knew how much it meant for her to have that CD to play again, and how upset she was when she lost it. I was just pleased that I was able to track a copy down and be sure that it was the one that she had originally. Often quite a few albums on CD get deleted from stock, and it's not always that easy to find it again. Sometimes I wish that I'd purchased a few albums over the years that you now can't get for love or money (or both!)

I had a walk back home via the local Blockbuster to see what deals that they had on games for the trusty Wii - they had quite a few in stock but nothing really stood out as yet - even though they had a Wii Fit for a mere £50 which was semi-tempting, I have to admit. As was the Band Hero game with full band kit too, because the Band Hero drums are supposed to be rather excellent, and they have a MIDI brain in the middle so you can use your own MIDI drums with the brain if you so wanted to. If I didn't already have the full kit then that'd be well worth consideration!

I had some tea at home and then relaxed by playing Black Sabbath's seminal "Paranoid" album. I was thinking about classic albums and this one really did help define hard rock and metal rather nicely. The opener "War Pigs" sets the somewhat dark tone rather well, before of course the title track and the brilliant "Iron Man" (which of course had Beavis and Butthead singing the guitar riff on that show), but perhaps for me the most insightful and dark track of all is "Hand of Doom", and that's tune of the day. It deals with people who'd been to the Vietnam War and whom had come back fighting drug addiction, and quite a sobering subject, delivered quietly at first but then with more anger from Ozzy Osbourne in particular. Epic stuff.

Tuesday 5th April - That's Filthy!

It was a good day at the office, as I finally nailed the issue I was having yesterday with SPSS 19 for Mac. It turned out that if you selected the standalone or site licence install, that was for a single machine and you should put the single machine licence number in it. Except, of course, it fails miserably. I eventually find out that the code that we'd been sent was incorrect, so once we tried that it registered itself happily and even came up with all the sub-products it was licenced for, and when till. Success. Hurrah to that!

In fact I felt pretty positive about the whole day. I'd also managed to solve a problem with one of the Windows 7 test machines I was using where no matter how I advertised an installer in SCCM, it simply wouldn't have it. In the end, it was an easy solution - the program itself had been disabled from running, and so no matter if it was advertised, if the program wasn't allowed to run, the advert would see no work to do whatsoever and duly fail accordingly. Not so hot. But still, that at least meant that I knew what to look for next time and indeed what to sort out, so sometimes seeing the not so good stuff happen puts you in good stead.

I headed home on a little diversion via POD - or to give it its full name, Post Office Deli. It's, as the name suggests, a former Post Office which was closed down a few years back, and the site is now a deli with café and generally seems a nice place to mingle around and have coffee in. I wanted to get a nice bottle of red wine to have with the steak I was cooking for myself and The Sweets In My Jar and sure enough they had some - all organic as well. I plumped for the Wild Thing merlot, as some of the money from it goes to the Born Free foundation, and couldn't really argue with that. I loved the little post office remnants on the windows such as the little signs for each street and things like that.

Soon The Sweets In My Jar came over, and we had a good chat about our respective days at work. I'd also noticed that a nice package had arrived for me today and that was the CD that I'd ordered for Mum to replace one that she'd lost. Had I known she'd lost if beforehand, I'd have got it her for Mother's Day but I thought I could always hand it her as a little something anyway and I'd pop that round tomorrow. We decided to get in a really happy mood for plenty of Summer days ahead by playing some dance tunes a bit and then even had lots of retro fun with plenty of 1980s stuff as I made the tea. The steak went down well, as did the red wine which got The Sweets' approval.

We had a game of Scrabble with plenty more 1980s stuff playing, including one of her all time favourites, "Tainted Love", the Soft Cell version. Has to be tune of the day I think - the extended 12" version I have really does bring back memories of the 1980s for us both, and for her it brings back different memories too, and she explained some of that to me. Incidentally, I also got quite a good move on the Scrabble game, playing AX and XI with the X on triple letter both ways - instant score of 50 points of course. Kerching!

We then settled in to watch Filthy Cities, a really good historical documentary about what it was like to live in the cities we know so well back in the day. London was first up tonight and a lot of it focussed on the medieval City of London, how everyone's waste was just piled up in the streets for you to walk over, and how through wood rotting in your lavatory would mean someone would fall in and die in their own poo. Ugh! It also explained about how former butcheries worked and how their waste would be carted to the Thames (seemed to be a popular dumping ground for everything these days) and just what you needed to do to earn money shifting rubbish away from the streets too. It was really good although at some times you just had to go "ewwwwwww!" a lot.

Monday 4th April - Battling On

Back to work then for me after a lovely weekend, and I've been headlong into Windows 7 development stuff as well as testing out some applications on a Mac as well - really is no rest for the wicked it has to be said. I brought down the new Windows 7 image to my test rig - and my task sequence layers on that plus Adobe Design Standard CS5, Corel Draw X5, Solidworks 2010 and Acrobat Pro 9 - all rather meaty sized applications. Amazingly everything worked rather nicely as one image and that at least meant that it felt good to get them all up and running in one go. I was also testing out various parts of the build to see what could be improved and generally that was good.

Unfortunately I hit a stumbling block on the Mac later on as I wanted to try out our site licence of SPSS19 on it. I had the installer and the correct code, and the installer worked, but when you activated it, it claimed it had did it and then said that there was no licence file present. It did this constantly and it made me wonder just how ineffecient the installer was on Mac if it failed every time. Even trying to patch it to the latest patch version and then try to activate it also failed. I'll have to send an error report in and see what can happen with that - but definitely doesn't bode too well there.

I ended up working late because of that and then to top it all, the traffic home was much more busy than usual - it took almost twenty minutes to head down one road that usually takes around five. I can't even work out why it was so busy either but just seemed to crawl. Mind you, I found out why later on - there's a burst water main on the main A6 road heading towards central Manchester, so from the Apollo to Mancunian Way everything's closed. As such this means that all the traffic normally heading that way will be trying to go any other way it can to avoid it, and so clog up the other road that I normally travel on. All makes sense to me now.

Tune of the day is "Run" by New Order, as it reminded me of being much younger and listening to the whole of their "Technique" album for the first time and thinking how good it was. It also was quite apt as I was racking my brains to think what song they had to settle with out of court that it was claimed that they ripped off, and it was John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane". As such all future compilations with the song on mentioned John Denver in the credits. It also made me think that running home instead of taking the bus would have been quicker, but hey ho, these things happen sometimes.

Sunday 3rd April - Birthday Girl

It was to be a rather lovely day all round - and it started in earnest the night before. Myself and The Love In My Heart headed out for an evening out in Manchester together - which to be honest we don't always do. However, it was her birthday today (Sunday) and so thought that with it also being Mother's Day as well, be best to have a nice meal the night before. It proved to be a very good decision as we'd booked Giorgio's on Portland Street and had a wonderful time in there. The garlic mushroom starter was very nice, as was the salmon and peas penne I had for main too. The Love had some Greek mixed dips for starters followed by a very nice carbonara for main as well, and it looked delicious. The fact that the place was full to the brim said to me that it was good, and that we'd done right by booking early. And added to that a nice drink in Kro beforehand and all was very well with the world indeed.

So this morning The Love had plenty of cards and presents to open - and not all of them from me either! Quite a few of my family had got her a little present which was very nice of them to do, and she got some lovely Next Just Pink stuff, wine and chocolates, and all that sort of thing. She also had plenty of cards to open as well from most of her family and friends - so that was good (and she had more presents from family to open when we headed back to her place a little later on). She then opened my presents, and I think she was pretty pleased with what I'd got her. It just made me feel lovely to know I was treating the woman I love to something special and that she appreciated it. Awww. Cue hugs.

After a leisurely breakfast, we got ourselves ready and headed back out to her place. Man City were on against Sunderland later and I was heading there - the game had been put back to Sunday for the telly. I did insist I'd miss the game if she wanted to, but she said to go and to then she could chat with my friend's wife and have a leisurely glass of wine. Fair dos I thought to myself, but I'd have been out for the day if she wanted to. We settled in and just relaxed with a cup of coffee whilst she had more pressies to open - some pyjamas, a lovely candle holder, more chocs and wine and money too, and generally everyone had been really nice. When my friends arrived at her place she got a rather nice make up set and some bracelets too, which really did look good on her. Isn't everything nice?

In fact whilst The Love was relaxing in the afternoon I was also enjoying Manchester City put Sunderland to the proverbial sword, and that is putting it mildly to say the least. All was well when Adam Johnson combined with Yaya Toure to put City in front, and a few minutes later Carlos Tévez was hacked down by the Sunderland defence and put away the penalty for 2-0. It was a tad easy and the second half proved even more so, as after good work from Tévez, David Silva latched on to a loose ball in the box and skipped it past the keeper. Patrick Vieira came off the bench and from the resulting corner got his legs to a Kolarov pile-driver cross back in and it just crept over the line for 4-0, with Yaya Toure completing the rout getting the best of a dodgy cross-field ball and punishing Sunderland massively.

In fact around The Love's birthday, City have done well over the last few years. Last year on her birthday City were away at Burnley and won 6-1, with the Blues being 3-0 up inside seven minutes. Her birthday next year would be a Tuesday night, wonder if we can make it so we've got a fixture then and City can produce another goalscoring victory? Makes me wonder if it might happen. But that was good, and with a lovely cuppa awaiting after trudging through some awful weather on the way back from the ground, it cheered us all up.

We all had a good chat and The Love felt nice and relaxed, as she should do on her birthday after all. It had been a good day all round and what was most important to me was that she was a happy bunny. I felt like the luckiest person alive too, because I know saying goodbye later was really hard and I think I snuck in a few more extra hugs and kisses than normal for that reason. Tune of the day incidentally is the rather marvellous "So Sublime" by Beth Rowley as not only did it describe City today, but also it's a song that The Love and I both love in equal measure, and it makes us think of warm Summer days on walks together. Awww again.

Saturday 2nd April - Mothering Spring

It started off rather rainy this morning, but the sun decided to come out and clear the rather murky clouds during the morning. That was lovely to see, and I spent some time this morning cleaning up the house but also getting lots of washing done, which meant that plenty of domestic chores were all taken care of. I was going to see Mum later as although it's Mother's Day tomorrow, it's also a very special birthday and so to keep everyone happy I decided I'd head over and see Mum today, and Mum was more than understanding, so that's good.

First off, it was time to head into the city centre and to the lovely people at The Northern Cutter for getting my hair cut. I needed it doing as the hair was thick and getting clumpy, and when I was all done it looked rather nice and short and manageable again. They do a great job, and it meant as I left and headed towards Piccadilly and the sun came out, I was all ready to face the world. I popped into London Camera Exchange in Piccadilly Gardens and had a look at some Nikon lenses, and temptation did stare me in the face I have to admit.

It was then on the bus to Mum's, where I had a cup of coffee and a good chat with Mum about all sorts. I was telling her about our recent holiday, and how that went, and places that she could go to the next time she decided to head down to Cornwall. She mentioned that she might be heading there this Summer with my sister and where to recommend to stay that wasn't expensive plus had entertainment for all too. I'd have to look later on and see what was there, but it was nice to see that she wanted to head down there. She also appreciated my little card and present, and she was going to treat herself and get some new clothes (and why not?)

I then headed over to Burnage on the bus to Sifters Records on Fog Lane. I didn't buy anything in there, but there were plenty of CDs that I could have bought for around £3 each if I didn't already have them. It has a good cross-section of all sorts, and even a singles section that has some good little gems in there, and then of course there's the vinyl. Lots of it too and that really does make for an interesting place to go. I've bought plenty of vinyl and CDs there over the years and it was tempting today.

I headed back home and relaxed in the afternoon and put on some Gary Numan after the excellent concert last night, and "Rip" from the Pure album seemed the perfect track to finish off the remainder of the housework, so that was tune of the day for me. It just has that right amount of dark Industrial brooding mood together with an excellent vocal from Numan as well. It would have been nice to hear that live last night but no matter, I'm sure it would be good next time I go to see him live.

Friday 1st April - Pure Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuman!

It was straight off after work and down the road towards Manchester Academy 1, as tonight my friend and I were heading to a re-arranged gig postponed from December - a night called Back To The Phuture, with Motor, Recoil and Gary Numan headlining (which of course was the reason why we were going in the first place). For some reason the doors were at 6pm, and so it was easier for me to go to the Academy straight from work and meet my friend at the car park, and so we could grab something to eat first. It just made more sense. And so my friend arrived, and we were both buzzing ready for Numan as we usually are. I think this is about the 6th time I've seen him live, and as for my friend, I've lost count!

We headed across Oxford Road to The Oxford pub to grab something to eat for tea first, and that worked out pretty well overall. We managed to get a table okay and the meals were 2 for a mere £6.95 so no complaints there. I had the smothered chicken and my friend had the scampi, and that went down nicely with a drink (they even had Hobgoblin on cask, woohoo!) and chatted and caught up about all sorts. It was good to have that quality time and we soon made our way back over to the Academy. The bloke on the door asked if we'd checked the running times and we had, but wanted to get a good slot so that my friend could see fine (it would get pretty rammed later so wanted to be sure we were good).

The DJ was playing plenty of Ladytron, and I was quite enjoying all that to be honest, especially the likes of Commodore Rock and Seventeen (classic single right there) and that got me warmed up nicely. Shame then that after seeing Motor they left us both feeling rather cold. Live, it just doesn't work, having one guy with a syndrum bashing away and occasional vocals, and the other with a vocoder microphone and a keyboard with a light in front which he kept trying to bash around. My, this isn't Jesus Jones or EMF you know. It just seemed too gimmicky and not enough focus on the sound for me. Some of it sounded quite 1990s rave style with a bit more electronica, but it wasn't impressing the Numanoids (ie: the diehard fans) at the front whatsoever.

After Mark Jones did the first of his two DJ sets, even creeping in the likes of Joy Division's "These Days" as part of the set, on came Recoil (official site). It was a strange set to say the least as it basically consisted of messrs Alan Wilder and Paul Kendall playing with their Macs and projecting a one hour film "A Srange Hour" with the music they'd composed, with them pressing various buttons for effects to the music. Fine if this was in an art gallery or somewhere like that where it'd be a piece of performance art, and the music within it would be perfectly fine as a soundtrack album, but as a live show at somewhere like the Academy 1, it just didn't cut it for me. Seemed a little dull.

We got some nice records from Mark then, with The Normal's "Warm Leatherette" (the first ever single on Mute, fact!) and some other goodness, and that was revving the crowd up nicely. And a bit earlier than scheduled, on came Gary Numan (official site) and it rocked, as per usual. He started off with "Down In The Park" and really nailed it nicely, and not only did he do early stuff, but Tubeway Army-era stuff as well, which my friend was a tad happy with to say the least. It was a good mix of the old and the new as well, so even some new stuff from the forthcoming album got an airing, good for him.

The lighting and stage set really added to the feel, and with the real musicians belting out tune after tune (two guitarists and often Numan himself on guitar, note!) it was a really nice feel. "Are Friends Electric?" was really nice with the piano intro as he often does these days, and of course everyone joined in to that one as you'd expect. We also got "I Die You Die" which was a massive bonus indeed (tune of the day in fact) and that really got the crowd up and down going for it. To close off the main set, possibly my favourite Numan track of his modern era, "Pure", the title track from his 2000 release. I had to sing to the chorus on that, it has so much passion and anger.

On he came for the encore and did "Cars" with the projector having those red and white triangles like the original video - a very neat touch indeed and that made me rather pleased to hear it again. The whole show really did have a great mix of old and new, and we reflected on it afterwards as we headed back home. I overheard some fans say it didn't feel like a Numan gig, and I know where they were coming from, but do you need to nit pick when Gary and the band put on a really good live show and rock the Academy like it should be done? I think not. Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuman!