Dear Diary... December 2006

Sunday 31st December - Yeah Yeah

I have had Bodyrox featruing Luciana's "Yeah Yeah" song in my head all weekend. I don't know why. I think it's because I have just had that inner feeling of rebellion so near the end of the year and that track sums it up for me perfectly - dance track with punk-ish vocal dominating proceedings. It reminds me of Leftfield and Lydon's uber-classic "Open Up" if you've ever heard that. Anyway, as I was in town paying in a couple of cheques this morning, I just decided to say "sod it" and went in Virgin and bought the CD single. Thankfully it was still in the charts after eight weeks so I was able to snag it there.

Which leads me very nicely to the next thing - the changing singles market. Back in the day, you could hunt down older CD singles in stores if you wanted to get any back catalogue by an artist that you may have recently discovered or liked. These days, downloads are king and the shelf space that would have been taken up by CD singles are now taken up by either portable music players or accessories for them. The times they are a changing indeed, but for the better? Well, okay, so you have choice online, and most people are online now. But.. and here's the big but.. it just doesn't sound the same as listening to a good quality CD. Plus think of bands who gave you value for money back in the day and gave you different B-sides to listen to, not just endless remixes of the same thing. Even though I don't like them, it was something I have to give Oasis credit for - not ripping the fans off with their singles. For almost all of their career, The Cure were the same. I respect that. It means you get to hear more music without the pressures of writing another album but just another couple of tracks to try out on the audience.

And with the advent of downloads, not all B-sides necessarily seem to get that same level of exposure. Or maybe it's just me growing old and stuff. Yes, technology is a good thing when used right, and if it's making music more accessible and afforable to the kids, then that's good too. But there's such a gap in quality between listening to a download and hearing a CD with a proper rig. In fact, I did a quality comparison with mp3ing said Bodyrox track at fairly high quality and playing it on the PC then on my rig. No contest folks, the rig won every single time.

In fact in preparation for New Year I should really have compiled a dance mix of choons for the occasion, although my friends who I'm seeing tonight aren't that much into dance music and so it would be kind of lost, really. I'm just glad that New Year, although quiet, is going to be much better than last New Year, and for me that's a definite plus. It's going to kick start 2007 the right way and indeed make me really contented. Mind you, if I was going to compile a list of classic choons for going mental to, then no contest either folks - the original 12" version of New Order's "Blue Monday" would be in there every single time without any problem. Maybe I need to do a top 10 dance choons that I love. Hmm... an idea! (cue lightbulb above the head)

And there's already stuff to look forward to, such as This Life Plus 10 on BBC2 on Tuesday. Needless to say I'm going to be recording that one for posterity. Daniela Nardini is still so gorgeous, and when you think about it, all of the cast have pretty much done lots of stuff since then. Jack Davenport (Miles) has probably been the most successful, with Ultraviolet, four series of Coupling, and both Pirates of the Caribbean under his belt, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Jason Hughes (Warren) has recently been seen as the assistant in Midsomer Murders (yep, that's him), Amita Dhiri (Milly) was in that sci-fi thing The Last Train a few years back, Andrew Lincoln (Egg) was recently in that supernatural thing "Afterlife" on ITV alongside Lesley Sharp and has done numerous TV roles, most notably Teachers. And Daniela Nardini (Anna)? Well, her little article on BBC2's Balderdash and Piffle about her ice cream family was really good, but also she's done theatre quite a bit. One of her roles makes her just look so sultry and sexy that I think women would fancy her. I'm serious. This picture should help you decide!

In any case, Happy New Year folks, and see you all in 2007!!

Friday 29th December - Almost The End Of The Year

Spent a fair bit of time last night watching that retrospective to Swap Shop and Saturday morning BBC kids telly. It was so good to see the original Swap Shop team back, even if Noel Edmonds had occasional hints towards Deal or No Deal. What was clever though was the list of ten swaps that were on the board near the start of the show. I don't know if you saw them or spotted them, but the number 10 swap was quite good - in a great mock up, they'd have Arlene Phillips swap dancing lessons for Mark Ramprakash. I bet she would, the little minx! As it turns out, Arlene was born in Manchester - bit of a surprise to me, that.

Nonetheless though, it was good to see some old faces for sure. Maggie Philbin has aged quite well and certainly her outfit was very nice (cue wolf whistles from some of the audience) and seeing Emma Forbes was quite a nice touch near the end, as Trev and Simon swang their pants (ah, memories) and of course they didn't do duvets - still. It was good to see some of the celebrities who had been on the show come on, and Michael Crawford's touching tribute to two kids who had danced to his singing in The Phantom of the Opera on Going Live! was particularly nice - it was just the way it was all handled with the two disabled children and they were treated like everyone else - just normal everyday kids. Back in those days, it was pretty groundbreaking and it showed that music touched everyone in different ways. Also, Delia Smith cooking with Noel, haha! That was classic. Where's the capers and lime, Delia? And more importantly.. "Where are you? Let's be having you?" etc from her infamous half time rant at Norwich one day...hehe. Ah, memories indeed, methinks.

Well it's two days to the end of the year, and it's been a really funny old year for me, I have to say. It's had its ups and downs for sure but the last couple of months have really been one big up for me, and long may that continue into 2007. I can tell really by the amount of ramblings I've put down in this diary actually - the last couple of months have been the longest to type and the largest file size too, if that tells you anything. I suppose I'm more thoughtful but also more introspective too and I've grown older and wiser. I do still want to grow old disgracefully though so do bear that in mind, folks. And what will next year hold? Hopefully more of the same I've had in the last couple of months - nice times with friends and family, and who knows? Maybe even something else - but we'll have to see about that..

Thursday 28th December - Going Wild In The Aisles (Well, Kind Of..)

As I decided on Wednesday, it was time to hit the sales today, and I decided first things first was to go into HMV and get what I could with my gift card - it was £10 worth so I was reckoning a couple of CDs would do the job and I could always put something towards it if the amount was slightly over. I had a good mooch round HMV and I have to say whoever was in charge of the CD player that day - we salute you. Not only did I get to hear the likes of Muse's "Starlight" and "Knights of Cydonia" (which sounds sooo good with the volume cranked up) but also Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" too. That certainly got me in the mood and really in the zone to pick some stuff. In the end I got two off my Christmas wish list, namely Kasabian's "Empire" and Bloc Party's "Silent Alarm", so it was good to get a couple that I really wanted.

I then thought I'd head into Fopp for a coffee and chill out, but in the end the coffee went out of the window as I saw their blurb outside, big clearout and CDs from a mere £1. Yes, that's right folks, £1! So of course yours truly had to go in there and check it out as you'd expect. And around half an hour later of browsing through racks of stuff, I ended up with five CDs for a mere fiver. Can't argue for value for money either, and the five CDs that I purchased in there shows exactly my very eclectic musical taste. So what did I get? Well, I got Jonathan Richman's "Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love" which is up to his usual high standards, it's just so him and quirky. I kind of wish I could get his 1998 album "I'm So Confused" as it has some really lovely stuff on there, some of which was used on the soundtrack to There's Something About Mary.

Anyway, that was one of them. I also got the Saw soundtrack CD, and even though the film is crap, the soundtrack isn't. It's mainly done by Charlie Clouser, who's done plenty of stuff with Nine Inch Nails, and there's that brooding Industrial feel to it (only enhanced by Fear Factory having a song on there too). Changing tack, I also picked up Alison Moyet's "Hometime" and her voice has never been in finer fettle than on here. It was an album I actually wanted to get a few years ago when it came out and never got round to, so it was well worth me picking up now. I also got the Levellers' album "Green Blade Rising" which was their 2000 album, if I remember right. Okay, so there's no "One Way" or "River Flow" on here but it's still interesting and goes back to their more folk-ish roots - and I quite liked that in the first place. And lastly, I got No Hope In New Jersey's album "Steady Diet of Decline" which rocks quite nicely indeed. Although I missed up the chance to see them live after seeing (hooker) at the same gig cos it was too late etc, they are still a local band and still gigging and doing okay for themselves, as far as I know. Nonetheless it was good to pick up such a varied selection, and cheap too. See, told you I was bloody eclectic!

That done, I thought I'd pop into Next and see what all the actual fuss is about with their sale. Sometimes I've been past the city centre and seen people queue outside before the sales opened, and I always wondered what the point was. Well, seeing as we now have the largest Next of all, in theory more bargains, right? And so it proved, folks. I picked up a really nice long sleeved black shirt with this really nice pattern on it (and the pattern's in black too, so it's quite understated really) along with a black top with grey band that goes from the top left and down the left arm. It's a little striking but at the same time different, which appealed to me. I thought I might as well get a couple of things and look good, and why the hell not? So, that whole lot went to the total of £19, which wasn't bad really. And so as such I didn't spend that much in the sale but got stuff I wanted. Yaay me.

I got back home and then went over to my uncle's place to drop the built PC off and then set up the printer, the scanner and also transfer the data from the old one to the new one. I did that and it all worked flawlessly. My uncle was also very impressed with the new rig and as a result everything works tons faster for him. We also discovered that his phone extension lead was killling the broadband speed too. Once we put in a 10 metre RJ11 broadband cable from his router to the main phone socket, the speed shot up threefold. So I think he's going to get that lead down to the microfilter in the main socket somehow and go from there. That would make a lot of sense to be honest and I think it's a job he's going to do sooner rather than later.

Wednesday 27th December - Spluttering

Well the bunged up feeling I had has now gone a bit chesty, so I'm coughing and spluttering as I type this (hmmm.. attractive. Not.) but nonetheless I can feel that the horrible flu bug thing is working its way out of me - just in time for this weekend and indeed for New Year (even though to be truthful I feel quite ambivalent about the whole New Year's Eve thing anyway, but there you go). Today was mainly spent putting together an upgraded PC for my uncle - we went to get all the parts this morning from Micro Direct, and I spent a fair bit of leisurely time putting everything together and setting all the software up etc that he needed on it.

In essence, I stuck to the budget he had in mind, so for that we've got something that will definitely do the job for a good few years, namely an Athlon 64 3800+ processor, with suitable motherboard that has all the good bits necessary, 1GB of RAM, 250GB hard disk, DVD writer and Geforce 7600GS graphics card complete with case to put it all in. Now bear in mind that was spot on the £350 hardware budget that was set, and the components match each other really nicely. In fact it took me less than an hour to assemble everything in the case and cable tie it all up so it's neat and tidy and clutter-free inside. Might as well do the job properly. Did all the necessary software installations too and I have to say it was impressive stuff. The 7600GS while not being the uberfastest card in the world certainly shifts pretty nicely and without slowdown, and a good match for everything else. I did a test DVD write as well and that came out spot on with my Verbatim blanks. All that's left for me to do now is to get the data off his ageing old Celeron 466 and go from there..

Anyway, it was my turn to hold a bit of a family get together on Boxing Day this year, and so last night the house was full of relatives - 17 of us in all I think. I just about squeezed everyone in, and it was fairly tight, but there was more than enough food for everyone and so lots of it was consumed (mind you, I've got a bit left in the fridge too which should tide me over nicely). As ever with buffets, I may have made a fraction too much but in the end it was better to have that than none at all. Everyone liked the way I'd done it and especially as I'd wanted to do it all on my own, which was good.

After making sure my throat could hold out (and it was touch and go, I have to say) it was that time when I unleashed the annual quiz on to everyone. It went pretty well on the whole, having four teams play against each other (it gets really competitive actually) and by the end of the game I reckoned it was going to be a close call between two teams: one captained by my brother and one by my sister. So it proved, there were five points between them at the end with my brother's team coming out on top. Some of my questions were difficult, but that's a good thing: it's boring if you know all of them anyway. And despite previous years, no one got top marks in the tv themes played backwards round. I think that was because I picked out some more obscure stuff this year which wasn't as easy to recognise probably played forwards!

I had some spare boxes of chocolates I'd bought for Christmas but not opened or eaten (trying so hard to keep the weight off) and in the end one of them became the quiz prize - clever move eh? All in all though it was enjoyable as usual and no doubt that I'm going to get asked some point during next year to do it all again. Mind you, I've always fancied being away at Christmas somewhere else for a change. I might consider doing that next year and just bugger off somewhere on the 21st or something and come back either 29th/30th or after New Year. I guess it depends on finances, but it might be something completely different to do with myself. I'll have to ponder that one.

Must make mental note to go to the sales tomorrow, I have some HMV vouchers on my gift card and I'd sure like to get a couple of CDs with them. What I normally do is print off my Christmas wish list minus anything that I received, so then I can get something else off the list that I also wanted. Good call eh? I've also got to start thinking about my review of 2006, most of it is done thankfully but there's just another one or two things to work on - mind you, it'll probably be out there come the New Year.

And even City won yesterday, heavens above! I saw the highlights on Football First on Sky Sports 1 this morning. Admittedly City didn't play very well whatsoever but when we got a chance, Stephen Ireland took it - and how. It was a classy finish and deserved to win the game for that one moment of quality. On the whole, we didn't seem to knock it around too well as a team though and on a day against better opposition we might not have kept a clean sheet - there's only so many heroics Richard Dunne and Nicky Weaver can perform after all. Mind you, that said also, how the hell did the referee not spot Rob Kozluk's handball from Micah Richards' header in the first half? Makes me wonder how poor the standard of refereeing is these days. I say we bring Pierlugi Collina out of retirement and get him to ref some of the games - you wouldn't mess with him, that's for sure!

Now back to taking more medicine.. oh joy.

Monday 25th December - Merry Christmas Everyone

Well, it's been a long but a lovely day and it's a warm and merry Christmas to all of you. I certainly have felt very much in the Christmas mood today even though I've been pretty much bunged up with the after effects of the feverish thing I suffered last Thursday. I'm hoping therefore that later this week whatever it is will have left me so I can at least enjoy the rest of the time off I'm going to have. Mind you, nothing was going to stop me today having a lovely time with family, and so it proved.

I'd also like to thank all my family and friends for some wonderful and lovely presents - you know who you all are out there and I really appreciate you all taking the time out to get me something nice. I for one know that it's better to give than to receive of course (and hopefully everyone liked the presents I got them!) but it's nice to know too that those close to you care about you enough. And I certainly felt that when I opened my presents I have to say.

I woke up at around 7am, now some of you may find this a bit early, but I was due at my uncle's at 8am so I could spend time there and go with them to me auntie's for breakfast (she does a wonderful Christmas morning fry up which is just unmissable to be honest). Getting up early also meant that I could open presents that family and friends had sent to me and were all placed by me under the tree. As I knew one of them was going to be one of the Billy bookcases from IKEA (a second one to compliment the one I have which is full!) then I had some time to put it up. Only a few of the parts have changed slightly, but not much, and it didn't take me long to get it together and have it all up and working with no problems.

So, that done, and presents opened and with a big warm smile on my face (which will be lovely and warm tonight with my new furry blue hot water bottle I got) it was the short walk to my uncle's and exchange presents and things. To say he was thrilled with his signed Shaun Goater autobiography was an understatement: he was going mental! As it turned out the whole family knew I'd got him the book - except him - so they all knew how much he wanted it. It was just nice that yours truly came up with the goods. I had a nice warm cup of tea there and then over to my auntie's for breakfast, which was, as usual, fantastic. And there were even some lovely warm croissants as well, which just set the tone off wonderfully before the bacon, eggs, sausages etc were all had and enjoyed.

My sister was also there with her husband and daughter, and my little niece is getting so much more cute by the day - especially as she was dressed in this rather lovely Snow White Disney outfit which just looked really sweet. Spent a fair bit of time there getting things done and having lots of general natter with the relatives before making the short trip from there to my mum's, to give out more presents and stuff. As most of the immediate family had dropped my presents off, I didn't have that much to open, but it was so much more fun giving out the presents anyway and everyone was really pleased with what they got, which was of course great for me.

Christmas dinner was spot on (my mum is really good with that to be honest, everything is so yummy) so it was turkey, potatoes, stuffing, those little pig in blanket things that I can never remember the name of, carrots, and some gravy and bread sauce. I did feel rather full after all that but it was nicely full - thoroughly enjoyable food all round and it meant that most of us had to rest up for an hour or so before we tucked into our usual dessert of profiteroles and cream. No one in our family actually really likes Christmas pudding, so the profiteroles are the weapon of choice instead, and what great weapons they are. My brother mentioned the giant ones you get in Felicini's so of course I did have to tell him my friend had them whilst in there the other night!

After spending most of the afternoon chilled out I came home partly because my bunged up ness was getting a bit worse and I was worried about passing it on to the kids. Got back just in time for the Doctor Who Christmas special, which I have to say was a bit disappointing. The plot wasn't strong enough and relied a bit too much on special effects which was a shame because David Tennant certainly gave his usual accomplished acting performance as the Doctor. The trailer bits for the new series looked good, and did anyone else spot that Dalek at the end and think "Hello. How are they going to get back into it I wonder?"

Then of course it was the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special. It was such a high standard that none of the six couples scored less than 36 out 40, which is high praise indeed. I have to say hand on heart though that the best couple, Colin Jackson and Erin Boag, won on the night, their performance was spot on and not only did it get the full 40 points from the judges, but I can imagine the studio audience being rather impressed. I did of course feel a bit gutted for Mark Ramprakash and Karen Hardy, but their salsa was a bit too similar to their maximum scoring performance the other night, even though it was a different song. I also have a slight suspicion that the Christmas special was filmed before the 2006 final, because it didn't mention what position Matt or Mark finished in during the 2006 series. Hmm. Nonetheless, it was good entertainment and perfect for the family during Christmas Day - well maybe apart from Zoe Ball flashing a bit too much!!

So what did I get as lovely presents? Well let's see.. apart from the pressies already mentioned I got some socks and underwear and some Lynx stuff (always seem to get those every year), I got some funky Kermit The Frog socks at that though - someone I know would be impressed! I also got a few CDs, namely The Killers' "Hot Fuss", the limited CD of Badly Drawn Boy's "Born in the UK", and Weird Al Yankovic's "Poodle Hat" which nicely fills a collection gap. As for DVDs, a few of those too: the 10th anniversary edition of Mallrats (region 1 only, it's tons better than the region 2 release), the 2 disc limited edition of Dogma (again region 1 for the same reasons), Black Books series 1, Mr. Men, Willo The Wisp and the new Pixar one Cars (I know, big kid etc), Manchester City Celebration of Maine Road 2 disc edition (which has Maine Road: End of an Era and The Maine Road to Glory - the second disc being the reason I wanted this DVD) and some HMV vouchers too to buy CDs or DVDs with. I also got quite a few mugs this year, one with Monkey! on, which is fab, but also four with various Muppet Show characters. One's got the whole bunch on, one has Animal, one has Miss Piggy and of course my favourite has to be the one with Kermit The Frog on. As you might have guessed, of course. I also got this bathroom corner shelf unit for the bath that I was after (I've put that up and it looks pretty good now) as well as two small Audrey Hepburn canvas pictures which are both lovely and are now pride of place in the house - as they should be. I'm so glad I bought the big one for me as my own present, as these two small ones compliment it nicely. I also got this really different looking cat figure thing as well which I'll have to try and find a nice place for, it's really different and not a Rosina one either. So I think I did rather well, and again thank you to everyone for being so generous and lovely!

Sunday 24th December - Let It Snow, Well, If Only

Had a wonderful time last night with three of my bestest buddies. I'd decided this year that we'd go somewhere different to have a nice meal together, and having really enjoyed myself last time I was there, I vouched for Felicini's on Oxford Street. Part of the reasoning is that Italian stuff generally tends to have something for everyone, and also they were doing a normal menu, not some bog standard Christmas one, which definitely was a big plus for me as I usually only eat turkey on one day - and that's Christmas Day!

Anyway, the four of us got in and settled down, and they'd not all been in there before so straight away they commented on the very relaxed vibe of the place, which is was. And not full either, which was a surprise. Mind you it's still fairly new in the centre of Manchester (the one in Didsbury is fab, been there a few times) and so people haven't yet discovered it. Which was good for us, cos we could all relax and chill out and then order some rather yummy food. And I'd had a lightish lunch in order to save myself for tonight cos I knew I wanted something really delicious and special.

Three of us started off with the baked dough balls, two of them had it with the garlic butter but yours truly went for the olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead, which was different and lovely. It set the tone off really well and then came the main courses. I'd have happily eaten any of the four that me and my friends had - I went for the salmon calzone which was absolutely gorgeous - no skimping on the salmon and the mascarpone cheese sauce was spot on inside. One of us had the margherita pizza which was classic Italian style, really thin and crispy and it looked top stuff. Another one had the mushroom risotto. Now I've had this before myself and it was lovely to see the high standards kept up, as ever. It looked to die for too, and the spaghetti with meatballs being munched by my friend next to me was also delicious too. I was just really pleased because it meant that we'd gone somewhere different for them and it was a nice experience.

An experience only enhanced by the rather gorgeous dessert. Two of us had the tiramisu, and when the menu said you could share it, I could believe it. I finished it off but it was massive and gorgeous, and done in the proper Italian style, so lots of brandy in there which complimented everything else spot on. The scoops of ice cream one of my friends had also looked very nice, the capuccino one by all accounts was delicious (I've made a mental note of that). My friend though being a big fan of profiteroles went for the giant profiteroles, and boy did he enjoy them, that was an understatement! I think the napkin or his mouth got plenty of chocolate sauce all over, but in a good enjoyable way. And considering we'd had three courses, two of us were on wine etc, the whole meal for the four of us came to just under £80. And that isn't bad value for money at all. Like I say, I can highly recommend this place to everyone. If you're in Manchester, particularly if you're off to the Palace Theatre, Felicini's is directly opposite, so you could always have your pre-Theatre meal there and then off to see the show. It's very very well worth doing. Check out the menu online!

Exchanged pressies with my friends back at my place, and also had some time so I tested out the Boxing Day Quiz on the three of them. They all did really well, and one of them scored a massive 74 points out of the 100 on offer, so if any of the family are reading, that's the standard that you have to beat! It was really good fun actually and although I was a bit worried about the throat holding out as it was a little sore, it just was really nice to do and I think it just set the evening off nicely as well as the meal. And they've got me some excellent pressies too. In fact there's so much under the tree for Christmas Day that I am really looking forward to seeing what I've got from everyone, it really does feel like Christmas now.

Even more so when I woke up this morning and watched the recording of the final bit of Strictly Come Dancing. I'd watched the first part before I went out and then used the Sky+ box to record the other. And I have to say that it was a brilliant final and in reality entertainment, Children In Need (12 million votes cast last night with 12p per call going to there, that's around £1.4 million!) and both Matt and Mark were winners and both in my view worthy finalists. I have to say that although I preferred Mark and Karen (simply because Karen Hardy is gorgeous and so really into it and beautifully emotional too, she's lovely), Matt and Lilia were also brilliant too (Lilia in fact would be my number two SCD babe if I had to pick them in order of who I'd like to go on a date with - you've probably guessed the first!) and the fact that both couples pushed themselves, especially in the show dance, and you had a more than worthy final. Mark and Karen's show dance was slightly better, and indeed they'd got the full 40 out of 40 for their salsa which was sooooo sexy and brilliantly perfect. I mean, how often do you see Craig give a 10??

The results came on and to be honest I wouldn't have minded who won, but I did punch the air in delight when it was announced that Mark and Karen had won. On balance, they just about edged it and Matt and Mark were gracious as sportsmen usually are in their praise, and to see that despite the media hype just showed that they knew it was all about enjoying themselves, raising money for charity and getting the public interested and talking about it by them pushing themselves. And indeed I'd just to like to say that Tess Daly's dresses got better through the series (good on her) and Brucie remains the legend that he is - I mean the energy to do his dance at the end? Gotta give him full credit. Cue obvious "you were so much better than last week" quote here..

All we need now is some snow for Christmas Day, but it just looks dry and cold and I can't see it happening. Boo hiss etc.. it'd be nice to have some, but realistically I know it's not going to happen. Still, can't grumble too much, the whole weekend's been lovely so far and it'll be the big day tomorrow. I'm like a three year old kid - I am so excited, I really am!

I'd just like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and hope that everything is lovely for you all over this period, and that 2007 brings you all contentment and warmth.

Saturday 23rd December - The Festivities Start Here!

I tell you what, this week at work absolutely dragged on and on. Thursday wasn't that bad as I did have a couple of jobs to sort out, namely a replacement printer for a member of staff and also making sure we had enough stock of consumables for the New Year, bearing in mind that I am off the first week of January. But it probably also didn't help that when I went to bed Thursday night I woke up in the middle of the night and was shivering with fever. I was warm enough in bed, had the duvets and blankets on and was covered up without problems, and I just ended up shaking with fever for about 15 minutes just putting more layers on before I went back to sleep. Just in case it might have been a cold I've been dosing myself up since to be on the safe side, you never know.

Anyway, Friday was just a long slog and due to the Scrooge management at our place, the big bosses weren't going to let us go until the usual time of 4.30pm, which was mean and miserly to say the least considering that many people were still upset over their re-grades not going through etc, would have been a nice sweetener to have had a half day. Still, in the end we spent many an hour checking out clips on Youtube including a bit of comedy education to our modern apprentice Chantelle on the classic History Today and Fork Handles sketches (which I can't believe people still don't get - it's a work of genius that is!) - and after we had lunch and free mulled wine down at Sandbar, eventually it was time for us to pack and go home, and we exchanged pressies with each other. Judging by the packaging I think I've got a couple of DVDs and a bottle of wine at least, which is no problem whatsoever, just curious now as to what I've got!

Today's been all about getting things sorted in the morning and them some rest and relaxation in the afternoon. First off, I went to Tesco early (was in there by 8am, dedication eh?) to get the rest of the food shopping including all the other stuff I need to make the Boxing Day bash go down really well. By the time I hit the checkouts just after 9am and swiped the debit card for a whacking £47 or so (ouch!!) of stuff, the place was getting busy and I heard two of the staff say that the Budweiser was going to run out by lunch time. I'd just like to ask who's buying that American rubbish beer anyway? Get yourselves some bottles of Waggle Dance any day, tons nicer in terms of taste and quality. The two members of staff on the checkout (one scanning, one packing for me) were lovely, so whoever you are - thank you. You certainly brightened up my day. Even had my breakfast in the cafe there, which wasn't expensive at all and had lovely scrambled egg, mushrooms, sausages and bacon with a nice coffee. That just set me up for the day really well.

After a visit to the cemetery to see my relatives who are no longer with us (important to do that sort of thing at Christmas I feel to pay your respects and to think of them - after all they're still with you in spirit and will always watch over you) I then headed back home, made myself a light lunch and settled down with next door's cat Pinky in tow (he's not daft, he knows when I have the fire on and just snuggles by it, the little cutie) and watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. It's still absolutely brilliant after all these years, and Michael Caine as Scrooge is an inspired piece of casting. In fact, Caine himself says that it's one of his four favourite film roles he ever played. High praise indeed! And when you watch it's not difficult to see why - in essence the Muppet version is a pretty good version of the original book, with added songs and Muppet bits for the kids, but the story and the scary parts do remain intact really well and tell it like it is. And of course as usual my hero Kermit The Frog is completely brilliant as Bob Cratchit, he really is, but he's pushed very close by Gonzo doing his Charles Dickens storyteller bit. If you missed it yesterday, buy it on DVD so the whole family can watch. It's a proper classic, I tell you, and probably the best Muppets film of the lot.

Right, I'm off out with my friends shortly for a very nice Christmas meal which is going to be rather lovely. Sayonara for now.

Wednesday 20th December - Will It Blend?

That, my readers, is the question. Like many of you out there who've been frustrated with naff kitchen appliances (had this smoothie maker once and it just didn't do as it said on the tin so I got rid of it) you really want something that does the job, and apparently in the US the blender of choice for things like this is made by Blendtec. But the scientist in their company aren't just content with blending food, oh no. The man that is Tom Dickson, and he simply asks the question when putting all sorts of things into the Blendtec blender - will it blend?

So far, it seems nothing can stop Tom. If you want to see for yourself, ask yourself Will It Blend? And I'd straight away go to the "don't try this at home" section. It means exactly what it says too - definitely don't try these at home. Amongst the items blended so far include an iPod (which is being auctioned off on eBay at the moment together with a Blendtec blender, the mind boggles), the handle of a garden rake, 53 (count them) toy cars, oysters with shells, golf balls etc. I've already submitted what I'd like to see blended - Rubik's Cubes. I really hated doing them as a kid so it'd be like the ultimate revenge to see it blended to bits, hehe.

Anyway, had a very nice lunch today as all the team I work with went out to Buffet City for a really nice Chinese - the king praws in garlic butter were absolutely to die for, and everything else was its usual top notch self. Just a shame their Mr Whippy-esque ice cream machine wasn't on, but there was the compensation of lots of yummy vanilla with some swiss roll instead, so that did me rather nicely. Even nicer was that our manager paid for us all - which was really good of him actually. He didn't have to, and we'd all brought money with us to pay for ourselves as well as we usually all do that anyway. It did make the day just that bit more complete though and there's now only two days till we all finish for Christmas. Now I'm getting excited.

And because yours truly is having the family round Boxing Day, I made a dash to Tesco tonight to get some of the stuff in preparation for the do. Basically I needed things like paper and plastic plates, plastic cutlery and glasses, that sort of thing, as well as get some of the food in advance which isn't sell by date critical, if you know what I mean. So for example it was buy one get one free on the Pringles, so they went straight into the trolley, as did the cold meats, sausage rolls, dips, all that sort of thing. It just means there's a bit less to get on Saturday when I decide to blitz the rest - mainly things like bread, barm cakes, salad, stuff that you can't really get till nearer the time. Of course then I can make sure there's enough for everyone and with the family bringing their own drinks (which is a fair compromise I think) it should be a great time.

So, remember what to do with your Christmas party leftovers, just ask yourself - will it blend?

Tuesday 19th December - Now I'm Seeing Kristin Next Year, It's A Proper Crim-Bo!

Flicking channels before when I got home from work and was making my food for the evening, one of the many music channels showing Christmas hits showed the Bo Selecta Proper Crimbo video from a few years back. It's still hilarious, you know. It's also a case of seeing which celebrities you can spot in the video along the way - mind you, the best bit is David Gray asking the Craig David character if he wants to go to the pub, and CD replies "David Gray, not I'm not, not with you, wearing those antlers!" Classic stuff, that. Kind of more got me into the mood for Christmas too.

As did the joy of hearing Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues on the radio at work. It's still one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time, it just hits all the right notes and of course Kirsty sounds brilliant on it. Hard to think exactly six years ago yesterday she lost her life tragically in Mexico isn't it. I'm so pleased the re-release has gone top ten because people realise there is still good music out there and not that pile of crap that's going to be Leona's XFactor certain number one. I for one won't be buying it, and to be honest everyone knows it was all a fix so she should win. In fact don't forget that as she already had a record contract a couple of years back that should have immediately disqualified her from the whole thing. Bah, humbug indeed.

Anyway, I'm dead excited and not because of Christmas. I went to the University box office yesterday (well actually the reception of the students' union building as it's the Christmas break) and promptly got myself a ticket for Kristin Hersh in March. Well, you just knew I was going to get one didn't you? I wasn't the first either, as my ticket was numbered 4. Still doesn't beat the fact I had the number 1 ticket when seeing Marion, but nonetheless that was pretty good going considering the tickets had gone on sale from Friday morning. And I've ordered myself a ticket for Sheffield Leadmill the night before, so I get to see her twice in two days. Just how much is that weekend going to be wonderful? Lots and lots and lots, methinks. Those who know me well know how much she means to me, not just musically but on a completely different level, and seeing her in London Kings Cross Scala last year was brilliant. I'm already looking forward to it and just going to take it all in and really enjoy myself. And even better - at Manchester it's the Academy 3. And who were the last band I saw in that venue? 50 Foot Wave!! Those of you interested might want to read my old archive entry here.

I actually by the power of web and an online blog managed to listen to her new single "In Shock" too. And do you know what? It's really.. different. I think because the McCarricks on strings give it a whole different dimension which compliments her guitars, and with old Throwing Muse David Narcizo coming in on drumming duties, it just seems even more lovely. If the single's like this, I think that the album's going to be a real grower on me. Last night in tribute I played Strange Angels and suddenly realised that I'd not played it for a while. Somehow, Gazebo Tree sounds even nicer for me. Still it reminds me of the infamous "this song is cursed!" incident at the Scala last year..

Sunday 17th December - Moulin Scrooge

Well I had a quiet night in Friday, relaxing and listening about four times on the trot to the MJ Hibbett and the Validators album "We Validate!" (see my glowing review here). I then decided to change tack a bit, and whack on some Kristin Hersh in anticipation of her new album next month and tour (you do realise I am really really excited about going to see her, don't you readers?) Sunny Border Blue went on first, and I have to say that I really love the album opener Your Dirty Answer, because of the increasing anger in Kristin's voice, just so wonderfully done to be honest. It also gave me thought as to how things are in my life at the moment - and that I do feel that although most of the year wasn't that great, I can look ahead to 2007 with some renewed hope and zest, which has to be a damn good thing.

I even got into the Christmas spirit yesterday - got my hair cut so that I'd look good for all the forthcoming stuff I'll be doing (including hosting the family on Boxing Day, aren't I the lucky one eh?) and as usual the lovely Joanne at The Northern Cutter did her usual superb job with it. It's really good when you find a place that does the job properly and doesn't charge the earth for it either - £6 for my head shaved to various degrees is not bad at all to be honest. It also made me think about something she said to me in that online shopping is to a degree killing off smaller retailers who can't possibly price match.

I thought about it more as I headed past Daisy and Tom in Manchester whilst walking down Deansgate. Looking through the door, everywhere inside was a closing down sale and it looked really sad as parents tried to snag some bargains for their children for Christmas, the whole atmosphere was just one of sadness. Now I know this place isn't the cheapest in the world for kids' toys but nonetheless you'd think that there'd be enough interest from the public (I mean, it's next to Kendals in terms of position!) to keep it going, but obviously not. Meanwhile in Stockport the corporate conglomerate that is Toys R Us is doing a roaring trade, apparently. Go figure.

Got home and had a relaxing evening, did a rather nice chorizo sausage pasta bake (recipe available upon request for free) which really did warm me up nicely. I think as well what makes it work is that I tend to use mozzarella cheese on top, as often other cheeses don't melt quite the same. Had that, which was very enjoyable, and then thought I'd get into the Christmas spirit a bit and watch It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. It's still good fun even now, and you just have to admire the fact that Whoopi Goldberg is so excellent as the Goddess who watches from above, and David Arquette as Daniel is also great fun. But as usual of course Kermit and Piggy steal the show, with Fozzie bear putting in some admirable work too. Oh, and Joan Cusack is absolutely brilliant as the evil Miss Bitterman, who wants to close down the Muppet Theatre and turn it into some dodgy seedy nightclub. For some reason unknown she tends to do these evil roles pretty well, maybe it's the dark hair, maybe it's the facial expression, but when she says "I hate you Muffins" near the end it's said with real anger and passion. Even more so when Pepe the King Prawn puts right his own wrong, but if you haven't watched it I won't spoil it for you, okay?

And I woke up this morning (blues stylee) with England making some sort of comeback against Australia, until two wickets fell in the last four overs. Darn! Going in at 261 for 3 instead of 265 for 5 would have made a huge psychological difference, and the wicket of Alistair Cook was the absolute key - he played well for his century and it's just a shame that he didn't manage to keep going..

Friday 15th December - We Terminate!

It's the end of the student term at work today, and it certainly felt that was the case in the afternoon as things wound down very nice and to a close for a lot of the students, although plenty of them want to come in next week and use the facilities. I suppose if you're not going home it makes a lot of sense to be on campus and working, particularly if you've got a hand in in January and you want to get all your work done before then, which I can completely appreciate. Mind you, came across an interesting quandry today - and that's the pain in the backside that is Norton Internet Security on the Mac. Needless to say the member of staff concerned installed it (came free with their broadband provider) and then realised it was as we know it, rubbish. Eventually I tracked down an uninstaller command script at Symantec's web site, which did the job and completely got rid of said product. I think I've just made that staff member's Christmas!

Elsewhere, it's done absolutely nothing but chuck it down in Manchester, which really isn't that good. I've felt the pattering of rain on the window overnight, and it's often woken me up as it's been that intense. It did the same on the way home and as I looked out of the window all I could see was people getting splashed by inconsiderate car drivers, and others with brollies that clearly weren't up to the task and blowing them away in a true Mary Poppins type style. Well, okay not quite, but you get the idea.

I watched some of the cricket yesterday and this morning as I woke up. Yesterday was a classic case of the fact that England might have actually done better if we'd have put in Monty Panesar in the first place. His five wickets in the Australians' first innings have really made people stand up and take notice, and his stand with Steve Harmison of 40 for the final wicket this morning showed he can actually bat a bit as well, and made the score respectable for us, even if we were 29 behind at the end of the first innings. Unfortunately after us getting an early wicket it was all Australia and to be honest, the Ashes are now theirs for the taking. Best to accept it and get on with it rather than just complain all the time.

Mind you if I was at the snooker yesterday and watching Ronnie O'Sullivan concede the whole match at just 4-1 down and missing a red, I'd be wanting to know what the hell was going on. Certainly the crowd and Stephen Hendry seemed a bit dumbfounded by what was going on. Something's not right with Ronnie'e head methinks, and truthfully to be honest he may need to retire in order to sort himself out fully. Mind you, on the other table it was good to see Steve Davis give it a good fight before losing 9-6 against Graeme Dott - and the fact that Steve's still challenging even now shows just how much of a proper professional he is. That's why he's a legend. That's why he is a popular player with the crowds. That's why they don't call him Steve for nothing!

Tuesday 12th December - Mah Na Mah Na

I can't help it. I have the song Mah Na Mah Na in my head, and have done since late Saturday evening. You see, being a fan of The Muppet Show, I whacked on one of my Very Best of DVDs (all now deleted since the Series 1 box set is out - got that too of course) and of course one of the early sketches is that classic song. Funny thing is though, not everyone realises the song was actually first written and featured in an Italian pornographic film. How it ever came to be on the Muppet Show is a complete mystery, but it just works really well on there and within minutes everyone just joins in and sings along if they're watching it - it's that kind of addictive.

I always was horrified back then (and still am now) whenever you hear Vanilla's shockingly bad 1996 single No Way No Way, which basically ripped off said tune in its chorus. It's just not right somehow to have talentless slappers for whom Primark is the equivalent of high fashion ruining said classic, it really isn't. And The Office's little version of it is all very nice, but it just isn't the original, you know. Kermit The Frog was back then and still is now one of my favourite characters of all time - in The Muppet Show he so had to avoid all the chaos going on around him (and Miss Piggy, although of course she adored Kermie to bits) and he's just iconic.

Anyway, been doing a bit of clearing out in the office this afternoon. We've got an electrical skip coming next week so that anything we need to dispose of can be done safely and without us having to wait for some scrap company to come along and charge us lots of money to take it away. So it was off to one of the rooms where we've currently got some old kit, and it's a case of us checking to see if it still works. They're mainly old Pentium III PCs, which are over five years old. Quite a few of them still work and one of my colleagues may be donating them to a local charity as they always need working kit to use, and so we made sure everything was okay with those and formatted the hard disk using one of the utilities we have which zaps all the partitions really quickly and then just sets up a FAT32 partition so you can install most OSes on it. In fact I was tempted to have an image with Ubuntu Linux on and throw that on as a freebie.

However, some of the kit didn't work, so we stripped the parts that we could use as spares (hard disk, CD drive etc, and not forgetting the PSU!) and left the remainder of the shell behind - usually the motherboard was the faulty part and so that was left inside the case so it could be binned in the skip next week. It was actually good to get some quality time to sort all that out to be honest as I've been rushed a bit off the feet with one thing or another. It's all settling down nicely before the Christmas period and it's all ready to go.

Oh, and something else happened, which was a really nice surprise for me. My sister Sarah came over last night to drop me my Christmas present off - which meant I also got to see her lovely daughter Billie - she's just sooo amazingly cute! Anyway, turns out she was out in town with some friends and who did they bump into but Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays fame! Knowing I like them, she very cleverly got him to autograph something and sign it to me "Call the cops!" (a line from Step On in case you wondered). So that was brilliant - she's so good isn't she? Needless to say that's gone next to my signed Ian Brown postcard up on the wall. All I need now is to bump into Tim Booth one day and get his signature, and I'll have a pretty good Manchester set. I have autographed records by The Inspiral Carpets and the Pixies, and indeed I queued up for ages years ago to get Morrissey to sign my Vauxhall and I CD - with "Morrissey Wishes Warren" on it. How cool eh?

Sunday 10th December - Time To Get The Tree Out!

Well the weekend has been really lovely and relaxing, and I feel so much better and recharged for it, to be honest. I went to see a friend yesterday and sorted out their wireless network for them (you see, I have hidden talents you know) and got everything configured and sorted so even their work laptop would work with it too, despite the company policy of locking things down it was still able to work wirelessly, thankfully. The only thing you had to then do was take out the proxy server tick box so you didn't use the proxy server at home. Easy peasy really.

I chilled out last night when I got back, watched Strictly Come Dancing, and did feel a little sorry for Louisa when she got knocked out, as she tried really hard, and then my jaw dropped in shock as she said that her and her dance partner Vincent were going to go away for a few days. Hmm... is there romance in the air there I wonder? I think the public are backlashing a bit against Emma Bunton as well - don't think she should have been bottom two. And as for Mark Ramprakash - all those tabloid revelations about him being a love cheat are probably going to lose the vote with a lot of the ladies methinks.

A bit later on I whacked on some CDs I'd not played for a while, including MC Solaar's excellent "Paradisiaque". It's a really good album to be honest, proving that not all hip hop is about shooting people and killing, but also because the grooves are so laid back, and he raps completely in French, it sounds completely chilled and great to listen to in the background. There's also some really good stand out tracks, not least "Wonderbra" and "Les Temps Changent" which set the mood ever so nicely for the whole album. Anyway, I thought I'd see if I could fill the gaps in my collection of his CDs online, and - ouch! All the old albums seem to have been deleted from stock. Thank heavens I managed to get the likes of "Prose Combat" and "Le Tour De La Question" in Vinyl Exchange, or I'd be paying not so cheap prices for them now to be honest.

I also played Kristin Hersh's "Hips and Makers" not least because the tour dates have been announced for next year, and Saturday 10th March is Manchester Academy 3. I'm actually tempted to see her live more than once, as Saturday 3rd March is Nottingham and the night before Manchester she plays at the Leadmill in Sheffield - they are all doable methinks. I've never seen anyone on tour more than once on the same tour, but knowing how much I absolutely adore Kristin, that could all change!

Anyway, today was time to get all the Christmas decorations out including the tree. Now for those of you who don't know, I don't do bog standard green Christmas trees. Oh no. I have a white one, which looks more wintry and much more lovely. I've placed some great purple and blue tinsel on it, and lots of lovely baubles, and the lights too which shine nice and radiantly, and I placed some more tinsel along the walls to brighten them up. Oh, and a couple of these other decorative things which are green with lots of silver bits on. They worked a treat where I put them up. It does feel a lot more like Christmas now when I'm sat downstaits chilling out to some tunes. And now that all my shopping has been done and completed, it just means I can relax and wait to see what I'm going to get and what I'm going to give to others.

I can't wait. I am really excited this year for the first time in ages. Maybe that's because I feel much more contented in myself and that to be honest it's more a case of I know that I can just enjoy myself without any worries, and that the last couple months have really helped me rediscover myself in a big way. And I started work in real earnest on the traditional Christmas quiz I do for the family today. There's going to be some killer questions in there!

Friday 8th December - Audrey Hepburn Has Entered The Bedroom

Well I decided to take a half day off work today, there were some things I needed to get finished (such as one last present for a work colleague and stuff) as well as buying some nice Christmas cards for my special friends, whom I treasure. So it was with that in mind and the fact that I wanted to take some time out to go and collect my canvas print that I got all my work done this morning, including a way to roll out an update for Adobe Photoshop CS2 from 9.0 to 9.02 - and to do it silently. There's a few tricks, probably best to ask me if you need to know to be honest.

Anyway, with work done, I stopped at home to grab the receipt I had for payment of the canvas print, and off into Stockport. I did all the other niggly bits of shopping first, and then it was to the Art Factory. The lady who ran the place had kept trying for me to get the canvas print, and not only did one come in for me but the shop now had a couple. So blokes, if your partner likes the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany's image, in black and white, and on canvas so it looks classy, and you want to surprise your loved one, get down there pronto - they will sell out I promise you that.

I went straight home and placed the canvas print on the bedroom wall where I'd reserved space for it. The good thing is that the wall it's on doesn't get any direct sunlight and so should preserve it nicely. It'll be really lovely to wake up, look to the right in my bed, and on the wall, there she is. Lovely. I think sometimes it's just nice to get something you actually want for yourself, and I've decided this is going to be my little Christmas present to myself. The high end DVD player is just going to have to wait till after Christmas and see how much money (or lack of it) I have and go from there.

Thursday 7th December - Let's All Go Together

Tonight I had a wonderful time, I had to admit. And on my own too. You see, after years in the wilderness, Manchester indie band Marion reformed, and I was gutted earlier in the year that their gig at Night and Day was sold out. So when I heard that they were going to be playing Club Academy, I straight away went to the ticket office the day that they went on sale to make sure that I was there this time. So off I headed in freezing conditions on the 197 last night and off to the University Students Union, where the Academy 2, 3 and Club Academy are housed.

It's the first time I've actually been to a gig in Club Academy, it's a small but nicely formed little place, with it being underground, lots of tables and chairs at the back for chilling out, a main dance floor/pit area and a small stage. It certainly felt like it was going to be a small and intimate gig, and I hoped that Jaime Harding would at least not be on the drugs that he used to be on a heck of a lot, and that the band would play a good show leaving me wanting more (which should always be the case for me.)

So, first up was some bloke on his own doing an acoustic set of four songs. His guitar tuning let him down, and at the start of the second song all you could hear was feedback from a mobile phone into the speakers. He tells everyone to turn off their mobiles (mine was off anyway) and then at the start of the third song there's feedback again. He reaches into his pocket and finds out that it's his own phone that's going off. Erm, oops. Anyway, he played reasonable, nothing more, but it passed the time nicely. I'm sure if the guitar was more in tune it would have sounded a lot better.

The support act who were down on the bill were next up: The Shores. They played a nice tight set with some good songs. Turns out that the lead singer used to be in a band in Glasgow (hence the accent) but moved down to Manchester and formed The Shores with some people down here. A quick bit of research shows that back in 2004 one reviewer called them a poor man's Ocean Colour Scene, but I have to say that they were anything but that tonight. Certainly they got the crowd going and were very enjoyable. "The Path" and "Something To Die For" were the highlights of their set. If you get chance, check them out!

By this time excitement was building and it was time for Marion to come on and do their thing. And didn't they just? It was a compact and tight set with no encores but thirteen quality songs, including lots of brand new material, which was an absolute joy. I was actually close enough to the front of the stage to see the set list, so that I knew pretty much what was coming up. Out of the new stuff, The Biggest Painkiller of All, Take My Time and Kill The Blues made quite and impression, and and that set list just happened to include some of my favourite songs as well, such as Let's All Go Together, a very rousing opener in the shape of Fallen Through, and they left the best till last, which was of course Sleep. Even Jaime's harmonica playing sounded the same as it did back then and it was just a really good enjoyable gig, it has to be said.

Even better, on the way home whilst waiting for and getting on the 197, I had a really nice conversation with someone who told me that the band were doing a gig in Heaton Moor on the 21st December. I might just have to consider that to be honest as it's not that far to go, and I can imagine it'd be a good atmosphere there. Whoever you are, thank you for that information, and if you're reading this, get in touch!!

Anyway, the rest of the week has been a bit of everything to be honest. City were bobbins against Watford in their 0-0 draw (better buck the ideas up for Saturday's big game or else), and I've been really doing a bit of research and development stuff at work. I tried out Adobe Reader 8, and that looked very nice. If you don't want to use Adobe's rubbish Download Manager install to get it, I suggest you might want to try here instead. It looks a lot nicer than 7 does, and has even patched all the security holes too (well, for now at least). I can see a few configuration tweaks I need to make ahead of it being rolled out to student PCs et al, but it's very nice nonetheless. I'm just waiting for a Linux release so I can whack it on to the SLED10 box.

And as for this weekend? Well, at some point I need to make a visit to the Art Factory place in Stockport because I got a very nice phone call which told me that at last my Audrey Hepburn canvas print that I ordered has arrived. Woohoo! Perfect timing too, because I can place it on the bedroom wall before Christmas and make the house just that little bit more homely. And of course that dress that she wore for the film Breakfast at Tiffany's recently went for an absolutely staggering amount of money at auction. You might want to have a read of the BBC News article about it, and watch the bidding war. Unbelievable stuff to be honest. And who was the lucky woman who actually modelled the dress?

Monday 4th December - Let It Snow, Not Rain

I pretty much nailed almost all but one of the remaining Christmas presents I had left to get on Saturday morning. My mode of thought was that if I got to the centre of Manchester early (and I mean 9am) I could whizz round with minimal fuss and get the presents I'd wanted to get. And it was really easy once I put the mind to it. I went around the places I wanted to, managed to get something nice for those remaining on my list of people to buy for, and that was me sorted. I even spent a bit of time mooching around Fopp thinking on whether I should treat myself to a CD or whether I should just wait until Christmas. In the end I resisted, and after taking some time out with a lovely cup of decaf latte in Costa, it was time to head home - and all done before 11am!

I spent some time around the house and then decided to go on a bit of a trip out to Chorlton, and off to one of my old haunts - Kingbee Records! I used to often go there after work when I used to work in the area and see if there was any second hand CDs that I could afford (realistically my pittance wages back then just wasn't enough to justify new purchases), and it was great browsing the racks, particularly also when in the mid 90s I'd be searching for obscure indie 7" and 12" singles. Anyway, it hasn't changed one iota, and more power to them I say. Yes there's still the new releases bit, but there's so much good turnover of stock that it was tempting to buy quite a few things. As it was I did find something that was very much to my liking - Marion's "Violent Men" CD single (the original Rough Trade release no less) for a mere two quid, so that definitely had to be purchased. Went home, made some lunch and then spent most of the afternoon wrapping up presents!

Sunday was also a really nice day too. I'd arranged to meet up with a good friend of mine and watch their team Everton against West Ham on the big screen inside Varsity near the Odeon. Realising that the FA Cup game between Salisbury and Nottingham Forest was on earlier, I headed there and got a great seat with perfect view of their massive projection screen and chilled out with a latte to watch that, while my friend was doing the Christmas shopping and would see me in the pub later. As it turned out, it all worked well - I watched the whole cup game, then my friend game, we watched the FA Cup draw.

I have to say with regard to the cup draw that I was pretty pleased with getting Sheffield Wednesday away. I have fond memories of the last time City played there. I was actually there - we won 6-2 and a certain Ali Bernarbia ran the show, big time. Also it means I can spend the day in Sheffield and have a good day too, so that'll be grand if I can get a ticket for that one. Mind you, Liverpool versus Arsenal sounds quite a tasty tie and with one of them going out in the third round it gives plenty of hope to other clubs that they could yet reach the final and who knows?

Back to Sunday. Everton v West Ham was quite a decent game in the end and as Everton won 2-0 that made my friend a very happy bunny. It was quite leisurely too as we munched food in there and shared a lovely bottle of chardonnay and just relaxed. And that for me was a good thing. Indeed, we headed out after the game to another pub and chilled out, putting the world to rights and asking the perennial question of why don't more people appreciate the quality music of the Barenaked Ladies? Particularly the new album, which really has shown them go back to their roots and for many fans that has to be a complete bonus. I'm already excited about them touring in April (ticket purchased of course).

And today? Well, you know how the Bangles sang Manic Monday? That was just as it was. I spent most of the time in the various drop-in rooms amending a couple of printer settings. Unfortunately you can't do it remotely via any registry hacks or anything like that - it's just too time consuming to find out the setting required and what would work if you changed it. So in the end it's easier to go and visit the PCs in question. Not that I minded, it was fairly quiet this morning so I managed to get lots done with minimal fuss, that's always a good thing.

Now I'm looking forward to watching my lot in action tonight as City take on Watford. Just lately it's been really nice to have family around to watch it with me, and my uncle and brother are coming over a bit later on. It's certainly been good for me as it's meant that I've kept up the family bonding that I've been wanting to do a lot more of since I wrote about it back in September. I only hope my next door neighbour doesn't mind too much when the three of us go mental if (hopefully) City score and win!

Friday 1st December - Time to get the SLED out!

So it's a mere three weeks to Christmas (as if you needed reminding) and it's also a couple of weeks left to the end of term at work too. And although it's been fairly busy at work, I've had a bit of time to play with Novell Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 and see what could be done with it. I'll freely admit that I don't mind a dabble with Linux at all, and I'm sure that where I work might be looking at Linux one day as an alternative to Windows for some of the applications that we run, so might as well get myself a head start.

As it happens, I had a PC that I was using for testing with Windows Vista Beta RC1 (which to be honest is not that good) and so I decided to do everything properly and use Maxtor's boot CD to completely zero fill the hard drive and wipe it. Then I popped in the SLED10 CD, selected our network source at work which has all the other installation stuff, and away it went. Pretty much up and running in next to no time to be honest, and it was so nice to see that, although it comes with the Gnome graphical interface, you can also install KDE if you liked. Well, I do like KDE, so that was me putting that on at the same time.

Once I'd got SLED installed it was time to check things out. Mozilla Firefox was just as brilliant as it always is on Windows and Mac - no complaints there. Unfortunately configuring Real Player (actually included as part of SLED) to work with it wasn't too easy: but I got there in the end. It's the sort of thing that puts people off Linux as a desktop platform because the stuff you need to do to fix it can be quite technical. Anyway.. that done, I whacked on the Novell Client for Linux, which meant I could authenticate to eDirectory servers (and indeed quite nicely when you logged in it mapped your logon H:/drive as a symbolic link within your Linux home folder, which was very neat), and tried out ConsoleOne as well - which seemed to do a decent job. Just a darned shame the GroupWise snapins didn't want to play.

Mind you, lots of the things I remember from my Linux courses came to the fore, like making sure that for some installations you run them as the root user, and the classic terminal command to log on as root at the shell. So I didn't forget all that thankfully! And I have to say that both Gnome and KDE as implemented in SLED both ran very nicely indeed and did what they were supposed to. All I have to try and do now is to maybe configure Linux User Management to authenticate to eDirectory via LDAP (something hopefully Novell might put in the next SLED release I hope) and see if I can get users to log on initially with authentication - although the Novell Client doesn't prompt you to log in - you have to click a taskbar type icon and then select log in.

Obviously I was still on a buzz from Wednesday night - as Man City finally recorded an away win this season. And at the place we recorded our last one - at Aston Villa! It must be a happy hunting ground for us and we must really be their jinx team as our record there does happen to be rather good, actually. I had Talksport on over the web whilst watching the Bolton-Chelski game on Sky with the sound down, and whenever they said "now there's a goal at Villa Park" I was hoping it was the blue shirted heroes, and most of the time it was! Really nice finish from Darius Vassell for the first, and out of respect for the club he once played for he didn't celebrate the goal, yet every touch he made the Villa fans booed him. Makes you wonder... and Joey Barton also took his second well.

Nothing however could prepare me for the third City goal to make it 3-1, and indeed if it doesn't get voted Goal of the Month then there's something seriously wrong - thankfully I was able to watch it on Football First a bit later on to see how it looked properly. Sylvain Distin got the ball just out of our own 18 yard box, ran towards the middle of the field, did a very nice 1-2 with Georgios Samaras and then ran the rest of the way himself and slotted the ball past the Villa keeper to make it 3-1. Unbelievable stuff to be honest, and I was really amazed that not only did Distin manage to score, but slot home a finish any striker would have been proud of. And that certainly made the whole day rather complete it has to be said!

And I've almost finished my Christmas present shopping now - I can count on one hand the presents I've got left to get. I managed to blitz another three during the week, two of them online, and got a couple of my best friends sorted out too, so it's going to be good to sit back and relax over the next few Saturdays and just see everyone else run around in a bit of a blind panic and struggle. It's just so much easier when you've managed to get everything done to be honest. And next weekend I'll just have to put the tree up, thankfully my white tree is still good enough to do the business, plus I've also got some lovely tinsel to go with it. I'm not going overboard, but I do want things to look nice.