Dear Diary... December 2007

Monday 31st December - The End But Yet The Beginning

It's been a fairly quiet day today really, in terms of that I was just getting things sorted around the house for the New Year and making sure that everything was shipshape for when I came back from my friend's place, as I was staying over there and seeing the New Year in, as you do. I also needed to get my hair chopped to bits, so nipped into town to The Northern Cutter, and thankfully it was open till 3, so the magic was weaved and I felt lots better with much shorter manageable hair once I'd come out of there. There was nothing I'd needed in town apart from that, the clothes sales are overly biased towards women and in M&S for example, the men's sale is an absolute joke to be perfectly honest. Still, at least it meant I didn't have to spend what I didn't need to, I suppose.

After getting everything sorted here I headed over to my friend's place. I was actually getting over there as his wife (also a friend too) had had a problem with her PC and couldn't get the thing to start. As it turned out, it looked very much like the power supply had died a slow death, and with dust caking it quite a bit, it could well have been understandable. Thankfully we'd had a spare, as my friend had upgraded his PC to a nice new Quad Core Intel beastie (it is very nice let me tell you) and so I did a bit of work with the screwdriver, switched the power supply units over, and.. badabing! It came on first go. I gave it a bit of a health check and ensured there was nothing nasty on there, and it was good to go, thankfully.

By this time our other friend had turned up to join in the festivities, and so the four of us were nicely chilled out, we ordered a takeaway which delivered (excellent all round) and then we did my Christmas Quiz. I have to say that having tried it out on family and some other friends, I was well in the old quizmaster routine now, and as a result, it went by pretty smoothly. In fact one of my friends scored the highest of anyone in total, which was rather good, but it's amazing just when you have a round full of "name that year" for music questions just how difficult it is to even guess (I usually offer 4 multiple choice answers per question so you can guess) so that has to be something too.

I settled back with a bottle of Beewyched, a very nice ale with organic fairtrade honey in it that was rather delicious, and we all just kicked back, did the Barry Norman film trivia DVD which was pretty difficult to say the least, and then kept an eye on the telly and the clock as the chimes would eventually sound for the midnight clangs of Big Ben, and it was 2008 all of a sudden. The time had gone by very quickly, always a sign that you're having a good time, and after seeing some of the coverage on BBC1 and ITV1, switched over to the rest of the Jools Holland Hootenanny, always good for musical talent, as it was this year.

We'd caught Kylie Minogue doing a very nice piano-led version of "I Should Be So Lucky", which was rather good, and the Kaiser Chiefs doing "Angry Mob" from their recent album and doing a cracking job of it, but what really caught my eye was Seasick Steve, a proper old school blues man with proper old school guitar with lots of slide and distortion. "Cut My Wings" was a perfect example of this, and it was just refreshing to hear not just proper blues music but played to an audience who actually appreciated what he was doing. And because it sounded so darned raw, that's my tune of the day as I see the New Year in. Let's hope 2008 brings us all more luck, happiness and who knows?

Sunday 30th December - From Happiness To Sadness

I woke up this morning feeling really optimistic and looking forward to Manchester City's game against Liverpool later today. It's going to be a close call but I really hope that City can do the business and get back to winning ways after a couple of draws, plus a win would make us fourth place in the league going in to the New Year, which can't be a bad thing after all can it?

However, all that excitement turned to sadness as I found out more about the events that happened at Motherwell's Fir Park ground yesterday, as their captain and inspiration for their current excellent season, Phil O'Donnell, collapsed and was substituted late in their 5-3 win, and later died in hospital. It's just a really bad feeling and I'm sure that Motherwell fans are rightly inconsolable as I write this. In the days where money speaks more for some overpriced players, Phil was your model professional. Only injuries kept him from being a Scotland midfield regular, and I'm sure that Celtic wouldn't have paid so much for him back in the day unless they thought he was a decent player. And Sheffield Wednesday fans will remember he spent a few years there too.

Going back to the hometown club and basically being the uncle of many of their young players, it became an inspiration both ways. The kids could see a man of experience and knowledge who would pass on the wisdom and make the youngsters better players, and in turn seeing the kids play so well was also an inspiration to "Uncle Phil" (so called because his nephew David Clarkson plays up front for them at the moment) who got better and better during the season. Although his time at Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday was curtailed somewhat by injury, his attitude and professionalism I'm sure won him many fans.

When Marc-Vivien Foé died whilst playing for his country in the summer of 2003, he was on loan to Manchester City at the time, and as a tribute the club retired the number 23 shirt and have never used it since, which is a lasting tribute to say the least. I don't know if the club are considering it but maybe it's something Motherwell should do as well - it would be such a good mark to retire their number 10 shirt so it'd be synonymous with one of their legends.

I can only think of one song at the moment that sums up my feelings: namely Nick Cave's "Death Is Not The End" and I urge anyone to have a listen to it. The words are just perfect, as is the sign of hope throughout the song and the way it's sung just has so much meaning and atmosphere. In a time of sadness, it seems quite fitting for all us football fans and so that has to be tune of the day.

Saturday 29th December - No One's Lazy in Party Mode

Well, I got a text from my sister's husband late last night (after I eventually worked out that it was his work mobile that was making the text) inviting me over for a bit of a family get together on the Saturday evening. It sounded a nice idea to me and it also meant that I didn't have to cook either, which has to be a definite plus I reckon. I finally worked out who it was when I got a message as I was leaving Sheffield this morning, just before the train crossed the border and entered Totley Tunnel. In fact the journey was nice and quick and so I got back into Manchester on time and headed for home for some rest, relaxation and general clearing up a bit.

I settled in to watch Sky Sports News during the afternoon for Soccer Saturday, and as the goals went in I was getting rather pleased. You see, I have Dimitar Berbatov as one of my Fantasy League strikers, and my faith in him has been repaid well as of late, and not least today. It was almost like every couple of minutes Sky were going to Chris Kamara at White Hart Lane to tell the audience of another goal. In fact, the game ended up with Tottenham beating Reading 6-4, the second time this season Reading have scored four away from home in a game and lost (Portsmouth beat them 7-4 a few months back).

Headed off to my sister's about 6ish, and it was nice to see lots of the family again. I was also keeping an eye on Sky Sports News as well as Arsenal's win over Everton coupled with Man U's loss at West Ham meant that Arsenal would go back top of the Premiership as well. Had lots of nice food though and in general everyone just got together, had a good natter and I even took a bottle of Black Sheep with me to have a leisurely drink of. What amused me the most though was that my sisters' kids (each of my sisters have one child) were in full Lazy Town mode. If you've not seen it on children's telly, it'll be lost on you, but basically each of them had outfits on which were characters from the show. One of them had the Sportacus character and the other Stephanie (complete with pink hair wig, of course) and they looked the part as well.

Made my way homeward later and thought to myself what a nice couple of days it's been - time spent with friends, family and for myself as well which is always a good thing. I got home later on and quietly had a listen of the new Ryan Adams album, which is rather nice to say the least. "Everybody Knows" is a perfect example of what's on there and what's really lovely about it, so tune of the day it needs to be.

Friday 28th December - Time With Friends

Had a really nice time last night with some of my friends as we headed out for a nice meal and indeed to swap Christmas presents. Although the four of us that head out usually go out just before Christmas, for one reason or another the 27th was the earliest day that we could all get together, and so we headed over the Worsley Old Hall Brewers' Fayre for some nice food and chat, and with us having a nice round table by the window with the heating on and being rather nice and snug, a good time was definitely had by us all.

In fact I even went for three courses for the meal: some garlic mushrooms to start, gammon for main and a really nice warm chocolate fudge cake with some ice cream for dessert. It just was the nice thing to do and I really enjoyed every bit of it, as did everyone else with their food choices. Add to that the coffee was from Costa and well, a latte was mine and it was very enjoyable, it has to be said. My friends also got me some lovely presents as well: I got the new Ryan Adams CD, 50 Foot Wave's "Free Music" EP, both David Bowie DVD-Audio discs ("David Live" and "Stage"), Mock The Week Too Hot For TV on DVD, a nice travel bag with travel stuff from Next (handy for my escapades of gigs etc) and a little Christmassy chocolate lolly as well, which was just cute. Thankfully they all liked what I'd got them too (in fact my friend and I ended up getting each other the Mock The Week DVD, great minds think alike!) and so it was a really warm and relaxing evening. Be seeing them all New Years' Eve too, hurrah to that!

Headed on the train over to Sheffield today to see a friend of mine over there. It was a bit of a manic journey though, because of the engineering work and no direct trains to London, everyone was piling on the Sheffield train instead and then going to London St Pancras from there. I did manage to get a seat but it was pretty busy all round, and because of engineering work between Manchester and Stockport, the train went the other way via Marple and new Mills to join the line near Chinley and get to Sheffield that way, only got delayed a few minutes though which wasn't that bad considering.

Did lunch with my friend in a really nice pub called the Button Mill Inn in Worsborough. A proper pub with proper pub lunches, just like it should be. And, if I was tempted, real ale on tap! The steak and ale pie though was to die for, proper gorgeous that was. Had a really good natter as well and then headed back to my friend's place, chilled out with some Levellers on DVD and other tunes on CD, and in the evening one of my friend's friends came over and I tested the two of them out on my Christmas quiz, which my friend won. I even allowed myself a nice bottle of Tribute and a very nice bottle of Tangle Foot (forgot just how yummy that was!) - and so all in all, time spent with friends - lovely!

As I was watching the Levellers DVD, it suddenly occurred to me that one of my all time Levellers favourites was on there, and seeing it performed live was just a really good feeling - not least as the audience were absolutely going for it, as they should. And best of all, I've got it on CD as well so I can play it when I like, namely "Liberty Song" so that's my tune of the day right there and then. "This means nothing to me, to me..." ah, memories.

Thursday 27th December - Back To Work But Not For Me

As I look out of the windows of my house, and see various people off to work, it does kind of make me feel glad that I don't work in some form of retail or leisure industry to be perfectly honest, as the Christmas break doesn't feel really like a break, so to speak. That said, I know I'm lucky and even if I was going to go back to work on the 2nd January, that would still feel like a break - but by taking three days off and not being back until the 7th actually makes it all the more worth while, feels like a proper holiday now to be honest.

I have been toying with the idea of going away for a couple of days after New Year, but to be honest I'd rather save up for a nicer holiday later next year instead. I do fancy the highlands of Scotland actually, maybe base myself in and around Inverness or Nairn, and work from there. I think partially that because I was in the far South West corner of the UK in July, it would be nice to go to the far North East instead. I quite like extremes and even up there it's not going to be that cold in the Summer. I did even see that there's day trips from Inverness via John O'Groats and then a ferry to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, which might be really nice to go and do. And it'd be only one change of train from Manchester to get there, either at Glasgow or Edinburgh, so it's pretty doable as well.

In any case, I think what I know in myself is that by having a break every year that I can look forward to, it has some purpose and function to be able to have some me time far away. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to travel further afield and have done before now (and with Eurostar now going from St Pancras, trips to Paris could very well be on as well), but sometimes there's so much of this country to discover that you don't realise it until you go there. I suppose everyone gets enticed by cheap flights, which is all very well, but it's sometimes nicer to go over land. Have to see, won't I?

In the meantime, I urge you to head over to Donna Marie's Myspace page and check out her new song "In Too Deep". It's only in demo form maybe but it shows a heck of a lot of promise, and her voice is sounding absolutely bang on. You know what? The song's in my head now and it shows no signs of escaping, so it's tune of the day for me without any problems.

Wednesday 26th December - Sale Mania

And I wasn't kidding. I myself decided that I'd go over to Richer Sounds in Stockport to have a gander at their sale items and see what would be doable in terms of possibly buying anything but also seeing just how manic it was. Unlike previous years, they didn't have a mound of open box products to flog on the cheap (done that before now when we bought the DVD player for Mum back in the day) but instead the big passion for everyone seemed to be the LCD television - and with five Sony 32" screens per store at a mere £400 along with a nice Toshiba set for the same price, I could see why the queues were there. That said, I wanted to see what else had been knocked down and what was worth purchasing for me in any case.

My brother came along a bit later as well as he was eyeing up a massive screen to put up in his room, partly for the freelance work that he does, but also because he needed an idea of what's out there for less dosh, so to speak. The two of us had a look there and indeed at Empire Direct, which is an electrical retailer near where I live. As it stands there, their television offers were much better and I'm quite sure that a few people in there would have purchased something as it was competitive enough. But the queues outside Richer Sounds and indeed most of the other big chains in Stockport showed to me that people were waiting till the sales to actually buy their Christmas presents to themselves, which to be honest makes a heck of a lot of sense in terms of finances and what have you. I like boh the aforementioned stores because in terms of extended warranties, they don't rip you off (in fact Richer Sounds will refund you the cost if you don't use it within the five year extension) so it's well worth considering.

Had a good time later in the day as well as some of the family came over for a now traditional Boxing Day get together. Although I'd done it last year, no one looked like they were doing one, so I decided that it would be the best thing to make an effort, and although it was short notice, everyone came along that could come, which was rather nice. I made sure plenty of food was on and I'm sure it was appreciated (indeed, the little mini toads in the holes went down at a rate of knots it has to be said) and it was just good to have everyone eating, drinking and be generally a merry bunch of people.

As is now tradition, for the sixth year running, it was time for me to do the quiz. I spend a fair bit of time getting the research done and indeed making it fun for everyone and with this year everyone being on their own, it's only right that if they get it wrong, it's their fault and not anyone else within the team. The eight rounds went by pretty quickly and it looked like it would be a close call as I read out the answers and everyone checked them off. In the end though it was a 1.5 point victory for one of my relations, but all ten who took part were within 10 points of the winner, so I think I balanced it right based on the age ranges and who was there. Of course that made it all the more sweeter that everyone appreciated what I did and that certainly made me feel like it was worth it. In any case, I've got quite a few of them coming over on Sunday to watch the Man City v Liverpool game!

In any case when everyone was here I played the new Katie Melua CD to get everyone in a nice relaxed mode, and I have to say it does the job rather well. It's maybe not as good as her previous release but still solid enough, and indeed for me one of the highlights on there is the rather lovely "All In My Head" which is strong sonically and vocally. So there's tune of the day for today - right, best get cleared up and off to bed I reckon!

Tuesday 25th December - It's Christmas!

Maybe not said with the same voice as Noddy Holder would have done on the Slade Chistmas classic song, but still, it's Christmas after all. I must admit it was nice to be able to wake up this morning and actually have a few presents under the tree to open, some were from work colleagues and some from friends, so that was rather nice to be able to open them and receive something lovely, in terms of chocolates, wine, some more wine, CDs and DVDs and all that, so that was rather excellent all round. It set the tone off perfectly for the festive period and even more so when I headed round to my uncle's with three big bags in tow - full of presents for the family! It worked out well as they opened theirs and I opened mine, and we all went round to my auntie's for breakfast and that set the tone nicely for the whole day.

Spent some time with my sisters and their little ones, not least as one of them had an Upsy Daisy figure from In The Night Garden to open, and the smile said it all to me about how happy she was. Awww. Still, it was good to spend time with everyone and indeed be able to make that time count. Went along to Mum's later on as she was making Christmas dinner for me and my two brothers, which was nice. Mum also asked me to stay for some tea as well and I didn't mind, meant I could spend some quality time with them all. Indeed my two brothers had between them been bought a 4 foot 6 inch snooker table with both snooker and pool balls, and it wasn't long before a Crucible-like atmosphere descended as my brothers and I played.

In fact it was rather good that we decided in the end to do a "best of nine frames" kind of match, as my brother and I were fairly addicted to playing it has to be said. It reminded me of old Christmasses gone by when we used to have a smaller snooker table and be able to play on that for ages, and this table was decent enough to make a few breaks. In fact I made the highest break of anyone on the day (22, all the last four colours, and also a 21, which was four reds and three colours), and in the two best of nines against my brother won 5-3 in the match before dinner, and 5-1 after that. Good to see I hadn't lost my touch just yet, although to be fair my brother panned my other brother and I in a one frame winner stays on tournament much later on after tea. He's good, you know!

It was just lovely to spend time with the family and indeed feel rather closer to them then I have done for some time - maybe it's Christmas and all, but it was just wonderful to see everyone close by and be able to enjoy the moments. As to what I got for Christmas from everyone, it was hard to summarise it but in essence it was like this:

IKEA Bubbi Snurr double duvet cover set
Spirals and stars shower curtain
Books: Richard Hammond's book, one by Michael Palin and a John Peel autobiography, and the Man City annual
Manchester City Shaun Goater legends Catskill t-shirt (it really is the stuff of legend)
CDs: Big Fish OST, Katie Melua "Pictures", John Mayall "Live at the BBC", Nick Harper "Miracles For Beginners"
DVDs: While You Were Sleeping, Life on Mars Series 2, Heat 2 disc special edition
Various clothes bits including stripey jumpers, jeans and socks etc
A really nice burning candle with a gingerbread smell, rather yummy

All rather nice it has to be said and I certainly felt rather nice. I mean for me it's better to give than to receive anyway, so it made my day more seeing other people open their presents and like what I got them, which is much more fun. Indeed seeing my Mum with a big grin on her face when she opened the Highway To Heaven Series 1 DVD box set that I'd purchased was something else, it just made me feel nice and glowing inside. And isn't that what it should be about?

Got home later and watched the Dragons' Den Christmas special, and it was interesting to go a bit behind the scenes, see what the dragons really think of each other (I think some of them secretly fancy Deborah Meaden but I don't think that they'd admit it) and some of the really bad pitches that have gone on over time in the den, not least the woman with her olive snack business who basically slagged off the whole of Spain for her supply chain problems. Unfortunately what she didn't realise was that a lot of then dragon Doug Richard's family are Spanish. Ooops. Bad move there! It made me giggle seeing Pauline Quirke be interviewed (turns out she's a big fan) and go "I just had my hands over my eyes going "what are you doing?" - hehee.

Played some of my CDs when I got home and it was so nice to hear the really raw rough versions of the early John Mayall classics that were on the sessions CD that I got. Namely the fantastic "Key To Love" which is still a classic tune to this day, delivered with so much passion and energy that you kind of forget that it's a blues song really. And for that reason it wins tune of the day hands down. Happy Christmas everyone!

Monday 24th December - Family Film Day

I think after seeing the TV guide for today I think Christmas Eve should be renamed "Family Film Day" and when you look at the TV schedules, it's not difficult to see why. Firstly, ITV1 had The Railway Children (still possibly Jenny Agutter's finest role, mind), followed by National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on a bit later as well. Channel 5 had had Muppets Christmas Carol on last night with The Chistmas Gift and Scrooge today, and BBC Two had My Fair Lady on (ah, a bit of Audrey Hepburn, lovely). Channel 4 didn't disappoint either and had The Snowman on as they usually do at Christmas. BBC One had The Santa Clause, Ella Enchanted, and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even The Tigger Movie on in the morning. As you can imagine, any family would be faced with the difficult decision of having to pick what to watch, which I guess makes a change doesn't it?

In all the shopping over the weekend, I realised that I didn't have any nice real ale to be able to consume myself over the festive period, and so I had a brainwave to get to Asda pretty early and get what I needed, as I knew it was open from 00.01am this morning. Got there around 7.35am and you know what? It was absolutely empty! I soon went round and got all that I needed, and some Tribute, Black Sheep, Riggwelter and this honey one from the Wychwood brewery as well as there wasn't any Waggledance available. Got to the till at 7.55am only to be told that I couldn't buy the beer till 8am due to the licensing laws, so I mooched around and wasted a bit of time and simply went back to the tills around 8.05am and all sorted. I passed there later on on the way back from the city centre around 11am and it was absolutely rammed in the car park, so my decision to go early was exactly right. Go me!

Went into Fopp in central Manchester this morning too as there was supposed to be some clearout sale starting, with many CDs from £1 and £3, so I thought I'd go along and see if I could pick myself up anything. A couple of things semi-tempted me but I decided for now not to get anything and instead wait until the winter sales, as if I had any vouchers from anyone I would be able to then use them to best effect but also visit Fopp and see what their stock was like in other stuff. The coffee wasn't being served in there today either which was a shame, I'd have loved to chill out with a latte in there. Ah well. Took one look in HMV and it was manically busy to be honest with people still picking up some late gifts...

Got home from work and there was a very nice little package waiting for me, and one I'd been waiting for! It was the two album CDs from The Icicles that I'd ordered directly from their little indie record label in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Of course because of the snowy weather it had taken a bit longer to be shipped over, but it got here just in time and that's what matters. I've played "Arrivals and Departures" through and it's a solid album of indie pop brilliance, and I think because of the bad weather and here and there, the track "Snowbird" just rings all the right chords in so many places: "I need Summer!" exclaims Gretchen, and she's so right. And because it's such a homely little tune, it's tune of the day that one. Got to admit I love "Gedge's Song" too because the only Gedge that they could possibly be referring to is David Gedge from The Wedding Present, so nice for them to homage to him on the album too.

In any case, I'm going to finish cleaning up the house, and relax in front of the telly tonight and look forward to tomorrow's festivities. Merry Christmas, everyone, and as Slade would have sung, "It's only just begun...."

Sunday 23rd December - Hamster Meets Legend

A fairly quiet yet busy day today as I spent a fair bit of time doing lots of the housework and getting it all shipshape for the Christmas festivities. I always think it's nice if you're able to have the house nice and tidy so that if you have guests coming you're able to spend time with them and not feel like you have to rush around like a lunatic to get it all done. I also spent a bit of time polishing surfaces and vacuuming everywhere - and that even meant moving the sofas to clean under them as well, although the carpet was pretty spotless it has to be said!

Had to nip out to Tesco again this morning but for a good reason: you see, I'm going to have the family do on Boxing Day this year and am going to be making some bits for everyone, so the least I could do was get some food and snacks in to make on the day along with some soft drinks - and my brother gave me a lift there and back which was very good of him, partly as my Mum also wanted some bits herself and so it killed many birds with one stone, so to speak. It's at this time of year especially when I'm go in, get what I want and go, and yet everyone seemed to be dithering with buying stuff, which is rather frustrating to say the least. Like, just buy it will you?

I did see though that people seemed to have an uncanny knack of walking in the car park right in the middle of the road and being idiots, much to the annoyance of my brother who even at the slow speed he was going at was thinking that if these people didn't get out of the way that they'd get hit for lack of road awareness, not by him, but it'd only take one driver to bump someone. But still, with that negotiated we made a pit stop to B&Q to get some aerial cable and some other bits that Mum needed, and that was all sorted.

Spent the afternoon watching both Premiership games and to be honest Derby shot themselves in the foot against Newcastle, but the main action was in the evening that I wanted to settle down and watch, with James May going on about his sister's toys that he used to inherit, incluiding the rather poor Major Morgan. I had one of those myself as a kid and I have to say it wasn't that musically adept, but at least tried to teach you some form of musical notation by having these cards that you slid in so that you could follow the colours or patterns to ruin a nursery rhyme or classic tunes. Indeed James ended up playing part of a famous symphony with an orchestra using the Major Morgan, and that was hilarious, as was Top Gear that followed as well, not least as a BMW, Mercedes and an Audi went for a showdown and the ubiquitous Stig was driving them round a private track at immense speed, much to the delight of Richard Hammond (the Hamster) as the Audi whupped the other two on the course.

Talking of the Hamster, what was on next was a really insightful programme. He went over to America to meet one of his childhood idols, Evel Knievel. Right from the start with the tubes going to his nose, you could tell that he was in a bad way and Richard wasn't quite sure at first if that was just because he was asking Evel some awkward questions and he didn't want to answer, or if it was genuine illness. As the show went on, and Richard had his meet ups with Evel, it was clear that his health was deteriorating rather badly and that he didn't have too long to go, and not least when you could hear the sound of the oxygen tank that he was squeezing to keep the breathing going, gut wrenching stuff. Yet in all that, the showman made his efforts to appear at the festival named after him and go to watch the current crop of stunt riders.

It was great to see the Hamster have a more human side and be able to relate to the pain he was in, not least as he'd gone through a near death experience himself. Maybe showing Evel the Hamster's crash might have been interesting, to sort of say "I was lucky to come out of that one!", but who knows? It was intriguing stuff though and most likely one of the last intrerviews, if not the last, Evel did before he passed away a few months back. It was also an insight into middle America as well and the shots and atmosphere of Butte, Montana, were very well captured as well, it has to be said.

Mind you, I was quite pleased to hear a tune I really liked being played on Top Gear as well, it has to be said. It was "Chinese Burn" by Curve playing as The Stig took the BMW M3 around at pretty nifty speed, and it just sounded perfect to hear as it was being thrown around a fast track like that, and for that reason it's tune of the day - playing that at full blast even at an indie night now is just electrifying, let me tell you!

Saturday 22nd December - Tiramisu Latte Is Just So Comforting

I had a bit of a busy day today, accentuated by the fact that I'd need to buy some everyday / work shoes. When I was at Mum's last night I suddenly realised that there was a big crack in the front of both of them which meant that they were splitting apart, and to be honest once they're gone like that, there just isn't any point trying to fix them. I really didn't want to head into the city centre either as I could only imagine how busy it would be with everyone doing their Christmas shopping. Thankfully I headed up the road to the nearest local shopping centre and even though Shoe Express was now closed (darn!) there was Shoe Zone there and I found a good pair for a mere fifteen pounds, which I can't argue with. Get in, get what I want, go home? My kind of shopping!

Not least as I'd braved the morning crowds at Tesco this morning to get the food in. Mind you, it was a fairly busy but sedate enough pace as I'd walked around there getting pretty much everything I needed, and as I had bit of time to kill before the bus headed back homeward, I thought the best thing to do would be to treat myself to a traditional breakfast in the café there, which proved to be a wise move. Not only did I have scrambled egg, sausage, bacon and mushrooms but a couple of slices of toast as well, all downed with a latte. Well, I thought, treat myself a little, and whilst being in there it must have been some form of Christmas album playing as it was going through all the classics..

.. including my tune of the day, "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. For several reasons really: One: it's one of the few great pop songs about Christmas that doesn't sound tacky, two: the chemistry in the vocal performances between Shane McGowan and Kirsty is spot on, especially when they argue with each other during the second verse, and three: it's rather a homely feeling when you listen to it. Add to that with all the controversy about Radio 1 editing out the words "faggot" and "slut" without realising what they are in the context of the songs (traded as insults, you know) and I just had to listen to it again, and that I did in the surroundings of the café. And thankfully they played it unedited. Hurrah, that's what I say!

I had to go out in the afternoon for more personal reasons, and on the way back homeward I popped into Costa Coffee. I guess emotionally I'd felt a bit drained and I needed a pick me up to keep me going but also to make me have a think and put things into perspective. And with a tiramisu latte, I did just that. Why the hell can't Costa have them on all year is anyone's guess, they're rather gorgeous and whatever licqeur thing that they put in to represent the tiramisu just tastes rather lovely and it's a good contrast with the coffee. Kind of makes you feel more homely, too. And with that I got home, watched the Strictly Come Dancing final (I was glad Alesha won, in case you wondered), and then saw City on Match of the Day and that was that.

Friday 21st December - The Shortest Day

Well apparently it is in terms of daylight and so it proved: it was already long dark by the time I'd left work, and although I got everything done in the morning and did lunch in the pub near work with a very nice gammon and pineapple as reward (in fact my colleague and I got the last two that they had, result!) and the afternoon did admittedly drag a bit, but in the end it was time to leave and this of course means that I've now got two weeks off. I was meant to be coming back on 2nd January, but I'm taking the three days off as leave so I can have two full weeks, which makes a lot of sense. It'll also let me recharge the batteries too.

Had to nip to the sorting office this morning to pick up a parcel, and it was a present that I'd ordered for somone that was being shipped from America. However, what I knew also was that there were customs charges to pay - around £12 worth. Apparently, Royal Mail charge a standard £8 handling fee, and on top of that there's VAT on top of the item's value for that purpose. Ouch. If only what I'd ordered was under £18 as then it doesn't get classed as customs taxable. But still, the people in the sorting office have been wonderfully great storing all my packages for me to pick up, and I'm ever so grateful. So, to all the guys there, take a bow!

I went around delivering Christmas cards by hand to lots of the family who live locally, thought it would be more efficient that way. It also meant that I was able to go and see my Mum for a couple of hours and have a nice chat and a cup of tea too, and keep out of the cold weather. I guess it was also my mode of thinking that having a card delivered and meaning that the relatives could put it up before Christmas Day would be a good thing. I've got a fair bit to do in the next three days and I wanted to make sure that I didn't forget either to write them out or post them through the letter boxes.

But I'm glad I'm in and snuggled up as it's getting rather cold and what better to see in the winter nights than a nice heart warming tune to make you feel all cosy? So for tonight and today's tune of the day I choose the wonderful "Verdi Cries" by 10000 Maniacs. I loved Natalie Merchant's voice on the original, and when I saw her live solo at Manchester Apollo and she did a piano only version of this, a fair number of grown adults in the audience wanted to cry because it was so bloody beautiful.

Thursday 20th December - Christmas Starts Here

I must admit until late yesterday Ididn't feel that Christmassy, but then I'd had a friend over last night and did the whole present swap thing as well as have a good natter, which was lovely. I guess it's because I still felt that I had plenty to do at work and I wanted to be able to wind down a bit and get ready for the two weeks off I'll have (as I booked some leave!) so it was a case of getting what I could done today and then it meant that tomorrow I could really take it a bit easier. And so it'll hopefully prove.

But I did have a very nice time tonight out with one of my friends - and it just was nice to catch up generally but also to have an enjoyable evening with lots of intelligent conversation and banter. I suggested that eating out might be a good idea to stop us rushing around, and so ended up in Felicini's, which was pretty busy but they managed to get us in at a nice table quickly enough. In fact the bloke who served us was really attentive: he suggested that as the mains are pretty big, that we share a garlic bread between us and have half and half with the toppings, which sounded an excellent compromise. Did that, I had the luscious salmon calzone and all seemed well with the world. We even went a bit out on a limb and shared a very nice bottle of Italian chardonnay which just added to the atmosphere really nicely.

Walked over to The Waterhouse afterwards, found a table by one of their fires, so it was nice and warm inside, and put the world to rights over good conversation and a bit more wine too. It was just really great to be able to catch up and actually hear yourself talk as well: so many pubs these days insist on blaring loud music so you can't hear yourself think and that's wrong on so many levels. When you're able to speak in a more relaxed normal tone and be able to be yourself, so to speak, it's a lot better. And as my friend and I made our way homewards, I just felt warm inside knowing that I'd had a good night - and isn't that what friendship is supposed to be about?

Because of the frosty weather and as it's almost Christmas, I wanted a song to listen to when I got home that summed up my feeling about how nice it is when it snows, and what better than Pete Green's lovely "Everything's Dead Pretty When It Snows" which you can download for free from his website (check the songs section). It just has that nice wintry acoustic feel and just made me think a bit more Christmassy too, so tune of the day it is then!

Wednesday 19th December - Old Orleans, New Discoveries

A busy day today: first up our technical meeting, and as some people had finished for Christmas already, there wasn't as many there as there could have been. Nonetheless, we got on with things and actually made some progress as well. Interesting to me was the feedback for the proposed build for next year - lots of people expressed an interest in certain pieces of software, which was nice to see. I think as well that during these sort of consultative processes it's important to make your views heard. If not, you can't say "I wasn't asked about this" when decisions get made later on. So always something to bear in mind.

With that done, it was a walk into the city centre with my colleague to meet up with the rest of our team in the Printworks as we were having a Christmas lunch together in Old Orleans. We were really nicely looked after (big hello to Frederica, who looked after us, was really attentive and was very friendly) and the food was good all round as well. As there were a few of us, we selected our dishes in advance so they could be done and ready without too much fuss whatsoever, which worked out really well. I had the potato skins with cheese to start, the Dixie Fish and chips for main (two massive big chunks of fish as well with lemon and tartare sauce, was very impressed there!) and some chocolate brownie thing for dessert as well. I was glad I didn't go for what my colleague had, the Fire and Ice, as that looked massive and even if I was Mr Greedy, I doubt very much if I could finish that on my own to be honest.

Still, a nice lunch all round and as you can imagine that's now set the tone for Christmas very nicely - and as my colleague was finishing today I made sure I took my presents in so that everyone could swap theirs. I've been good and not opened any of mine, I'll do that on Christmas Day so it gives me something to look forward to when I wake up on Christmas morning, only seems right somehow that I do that to be perfectly honest! It's nice though that we're able to get ourselves a little something: I did try really hard to get presents that I know they'd appreciate that was very much them and that's always a good thing if I can do that. It's better to give than to receive isn't it?

Got home and made myself a cup of tea, switched the lights on and got warmed up nicely. I've got a friend coming over later which will be lovely, and as I'm typing this I'm playing my favourite album of 2006 - and from that is the rather excellent track three, which I loved when I saw them live in March this year. So, "Low Happening" by Howling Bells is tune of the day - it's bringing back happy memories and of course it was the first of my four gigs in four days in March, and set the tone perfectly for that weekend to come. I might have to do something similar next year if I can!

Tuesday 18th December - We Couldn't Beat Ten Men

Tonight was rather nice all round, as a friend of mine came over to see us - we were going to the City of Manchester Stadium to see City against Tottenham in the Carling Cup, and we thought it'd be a good idea to go together, have a good natter and generally catch up all at the same time. He turned up at mine and we had a good chat - his new PC base unit had arrived and wanted to check with me that installing Windows XP on it was going to work without any hitches, but I did say that I'd be on hand if anything didn't go according to plan, so see what happens I guess. I got a couple of interesting emails and phone calls during this time which actually put me in a nice chirpy mood, so we both headed off to the ground.

Once inside, the view we had from Level 2 of the East Stand was pretty good all round - looks like I'd picked good seats from where I could see! Not quite on the centre circle, a little more towards the North Stand end, but definitely well worth it. I grabbed a coffee to keep myself a little warm and before we knew it, it was kick off to see if City could make it to the semis and win against one of our real bogey sides, Tottenham, and considering our home league record, the odds were a bit more even.

But of course, this is Man City, and nothing ever happens according to plan all the time. And so it proved after five minutes when Aaron Lennon skinned Javier Garrido (just why was he playing instead of Michael Ball?) and the cross came in, Jermain Defoe scored and it was 1-0. Darn! We were handed a lifeline in the 20th minute when a really bad lunge from Dider Zokora resulted in a red card - although it was a lunge, I don't think it deserved a red but it meant that we'd be playing against ten men and see what we could do. Tottenham made a change meaning that Dimitar Berbatov was the lone striker, and although we pressed forward it was still 1-0 to them at half time.

Second half wasn't much better, we got frustrated by the refereeing (as they did, the ref was rubbish) and we should have had a penalty when Richard Dunne was fouled in the box. However, on the counter they looked dangerous, and Berbatov was holding the ball up and keeping possession really well, showing his lone striker role ever so well and demonstrating to me just why he's one of my Fantasy League strikers. And as we went forward and their keeper Paul Robinson pulled off two excellent saves (which led my friend and I to ask why the hell he couldn't do that for England!) it was only a matter of time before they broke and scored, and they did, with Steed Malbranque scoring with around ten minutes left.

We pressed, but realistically that second goal was game over and most of us City fans in our hearts knew it. It felt really flat and most of the team hadn't performed well. As for Garrido, he's proving to be a not very good signing to be honest and I think at the moment he shouldn't be anywhere near the first team - to be fair to them, their manager Juande Ramos saw that as a weak link and got his team to exploit that, which worked a treat. Micah Richards was also very poor (as he has been the last few games) and I'm hoping that being picked for England hasn't made him pigheaded enough to think otherwise. It wasn't good enough. The only player who looked like he tried was Michael Johnson, who really did what he could with a poor midfield (Elano was shocking!) around him. Even the pre-game display of loan signing Nery Castillo didn't help..

Anyway, we headed home eventually after getting out of the car park (reason proved why if I was on my own, I'd take the bus to the game - much easier to get out of there let me tell you) and it was a good night anyway despite the result, which is what matters. With that in mind, only one song came to mind to play and that was Metallica's seminal classic "Nothing Else Matters" - purely because especially with the strings it's rather epic and rather nice all round. Of course I prefer the rockier stuff on that album but this track proved they could do the slower more ballad-y stuff if they nededed, so tune of the day it is then!

Monday 17th December - Little Bits of Metal

A rather busy day ahead, it has to be said. As it's now out of term time I can get all the little things done at work that I couldn't do before with it being so busy with students, so I was able to apply the first patch of updates to one set of the PCs that I needed to. It's basically a BIOS GUID fix which should hopefully stop the PC broadcasting the incorrect network address and causing the network security hardware to kick in. An initial test that I did was successful and so it was a case of rolling out the necessary. Now, some of the PCs have camera card reader and floppy combi drives, and as the update needed to boot off a floppy, I could use the internal drive. Well, I could, apart from the fact that with half of them I had to get the little silver metal bit of the disks that were previously inserted, not much fun but I managed in the end.

I also was looking forward to watching the bits of the Race of Champions that I missed yesterday as I was watching the football (thank heavens for Sky Plus that's all I can say really). It was great fun seeing it all that I'd missed and indeed Murray Walker getting very excitable and isn't that's what it's all about? I mean, if you're passionate enough about sport you should feel a level of excitement as well, you know? Well he certainly did and it was fascinating stuff to see. If only he could be coaxed back into doing the F1 commentary and getting rid of James Allen, that'd do everyone a big favour I reckon.

Spent a fair bit of time as well at the sorting office this morning as I'd had some packages that were too big for my letter box and so the card had been left for delivery, as you do. So I nipped over there and the staff there were really helpful. Despite the sheer volume of packages and boxes that they had, they located mine without any problems and they were exactly what I was waiting for, so that was excellent all round to be honest. Not least as they were both presents for a friend and so I've wrapped them up ready to go for when we meet up, don't waste any time whatsoever me!

In the evening I spent a fair bit of time also doing some listening to albums to see what would make my Review of 2007 (that's in progress folks, expect something up soonish) and as part of that I played the rather nice Black Francis album "Bluefinger". Whilst not maybe up there with the best of the Pixies or Frank Black, it's listenable enough and I can see that he's trying to return back to his former roots somewhat. Nothing could sum it up better than the closing track and the title tune itself, and for that reason it's got to be tune of the day.

Sunday 16th December - Germany Wins At Wembley Again

After a quick visit into the city centre this morning to get a couple of bits plus some food as well, I was soon home and in time for what Sky Sports were calling Grand Slam Sunday. They were going to dare to call it "big four" Sunday but then realised they couldn't as my beloved Man City were sat fourth in the table this morning and would stay there if Liverpool failed to beat Man United at Anfield. Ha! Don't you love proving these critics wrong and showing that for all their hype of certain teams, it's those who are creeping up on the rails, such as City, Portsmouth and Everton who actually still pretty much have a say in the way the league's going to finish. I doubt very much if Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U or Liverpool fancy playing any of those three teams and thinking it's going to be that easy a game to be honest. In a way it's good that there's teams out there who are really doing the business and keeping things interesting for a while yet.

And I have to say I got bored to tears with both games - if they were adverts for the best that the Premiership had to offer, then they were both well below par. It was negative, wholly tactical and to be honest not that exciting unless you happened to be one of the two winning teams today: Man U winning once again at Liverpool with a goal before half time from a corner, and rather spookily Arsenal's winner against Chelsea was also from a corner before half time too. It was niggly, it wasn't that pretty, but I guess with so much at stake also it was a day for not making mistakes. When a defender from Man U and one from Arsenal win Man of the Match it should tell you everything to be honest. I'd have much rather been watching the exciting 4-2 game I saw yesterday, or indeed the Wigan 5 Blackburn 3 game with two hat tricks and Blackburn coming back from 3-0 down to make it 3-3, only to lose it. Aaaargh.

So in between the halves of the games and when they were over, I flicked over to see the Race of Champions motorsport event, held this year at Wembley. Lots of conversion work had gone on to make a fully working track - the pitch needs to be relaid anyway after the American footballers ruined it, so a perfect excuse to do so once this event is over. The track looked impressive and with its crossover bridge meant that a full lap would take around a minute with some tight and twisty turns as well.

First up was the Nations Cup, with two drivers from each nation teaming up in all sorts of cars to see which nation would win overall. As you can imagine, it was rather nice seeing the F1 drivers such as Coulthard, Button, Vettel and Kovalainen do their stuff, but seeing Michael Schumacher back in a competitive car and really doing his bit was great to see also. Oh, and I should mention at this point that the commentary for the whole day was done by the legend himself: Murray Walker! As you can imagine, that made me rather chuffed, and when at the start of one race he yelled "And it's GO GO GO GO!" - well it was just like the old days again.

Eventually it was the semi finals, and England, with Jenson Button and world champ touring car man Andy Priaulx against Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. It was a 2-0 loss for the English but the races were close, and in the other semi Finland beat Norway with Heikki Kovalainen and rally legend Marcus Grönholm doing the business. The final though was a right classic - first, Schumi stalled in his car which meant that Kovalainen won, even passing Schumacher to semi lap him on the main straight, and the Vettel beat Grönholm - in no less a car than the Ford Focus car that Marcus drives in world rallying! So in the tie break it was Vettel against Kovalainen in the ROC buggies, and Vettel did the business, much to the delight of Schumacher. Of course it meant that England lost to Germany at Wembley, but from the team point of view a great effort, and Vettel looked bloody quick.

In the individual Race of Champions though the cream really did rise to the top, as Schumacher qualified past the likes of Jenson Button and then Sebastian Bourdais to get through to the final, and last year's winner Mattias Ekstrom beat the likes of motocross legend Travis Pastrana and then Andy Priaulx. So it was Ekstrom versus Schumacher and best of three, and after a win each, it was left to one deciding round. It was pretty close all the way and Murray was getting very excitable as you can imagine, but it was Ekstrom who retained the title and took the spoils - and really deserved to win. That said, it was great to see Schumacher back racing and racing well, and his interview with Murray during the transmission was really good: the mutual respect they both have (cos let's face it, Murray is a motorsport legend in his own right) really shone through and it was great to see them chatting away.

Anyway, felt a bit old school today so I've been whacking on stuff from 1994. Why, you may ask? Because, like this year, 1994 was a defining year for me in many ways to be honest, and it was possibly when I also realised that actually I really liked going to live gigs and did loads during the year. One of them was the Pop Will Eat Itself Amalgamation tour, which had four bands at the Academy 1 for the low price that you'd normally pay for one. I remember the tickets were pretty cheap and for the dosh you got the excellent Dub War, Blaggers ITA, Compulsion and then the incredible PWEI kicking ass. Lots of raffiles took place for items and it all raised awareness for anti-racism charities, which I was more than happy to support. In fact, I may even have the Blaggers ITA signed dressing room sign which I won!

But nonetheless, PWEI's album at the time "Dos Dedos Mis Amigos" (which translates to "Two Fingers My Friends") was an awesome effort, much darker and Industrial than their previous stuff, but still having that edge that the band had. The opening track from that album became a bit of an anthem for me at many an indie night simply because it rocked, and because of the message contained within - and still has that power now listening to it. So, for that reason, and because the title's German which nicely ties in with the Race of Champions success, "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" is my tune of the day. If you have it, listen to it. If you don't, I strongly suggest you do so you can discover just why PWEI were so bloody ahead of their time. Honestly, they were.

Saturday 15th December - We're Not Really Here!

So, thanks to my work colleague and his friend, I had two tickets for today's game between Manchester City and Bolton. But who would I take with me? Well, I thought that being the diehard blue, my uncle was the obvious candidate and gave him a call. He said that although he might not be able to go, one of his sons (my nephews) might fancy it, and the younger of the two was definitely up for it, so problem well and truly solved there. So with that done I did a few bits around the house so that everything was tidy for tomorrow, including chucking the bedding in the wash (well I do want it to be nice for Christmas after all).

So off to me uncle's, and went over to near the ground in my auntie's car, and my nephew and I were soon at the City of Manchester Stadium to see my beloved heroes. Now as the tickets were in Level 3 of the East Stand (pretty near the top) it was a great view from up there, even if the stairs were fairly steep (put it this way, if you suffer from vertigo, it's not the place to be let me tell you. So after walking up the spiral ramps for what seemed eternity, we were soon in the top tier and able to have a cracking view of proceedings, and before long out came the two teams. Bolton's record against us in recent years at home has been good, so I knew it was going to be tricky.

And so it proved. After a neat run from Darius Vassell where he kept his head after Jussi Jaskelainen saved for Bolton, the ball came to Rolando Bianchi to score for the second week running. Couldn't make out what his neck scarf was all about though, a bit odd to say the least, but he did score and that was good to see. Unfortunately City sat on the lead for a bit and it was only a matter of time before Bolton came back into it, and just after Vassell failed to find Michael Johnson to make it 2-0, they went forward, Kevin Davies's low pass was missed and El Hadj-Diouf went and scored the equaliser, and worse was to come as Kevin Nolan rifled in a low shot to make it 2-1 to Bolton. All was not well at half time and while queueing for a coffee and a couple of Kit Kats, a fair few fans were quite critical of the way we were playing.

However, we were all made to eat our words second half. Kelvin Etuhu came on for Gelson Fernandes, we switched to 4-4-2 and all of a sudden everything worked to our advantage. A few minutes in and Etuhu found Dietmar Hamann on the edge of the box. He went past a couple and went for a curling shot that was deflected in off the Bolton defender for 2-2. Didi didn't care, he just celebrated as if it was his goal anyway, and the rest of the half was end to end stuff, with Andreas Isaksson pulling off a good stop from ex-Blue Nicolas Anelka. I just wanted to see us win, you know, and when Martin Petrov broke down the left I hoped for a rifled low shot in, but it wasn't that, the ball went into the box, Vassell did a neat little flick and the ball rolled in to the bottom corner, and had it been going wide, I think Bianchi would have made sure. But you could see it was happiness all round and it was 3-2, we'd come back!

And the comeback wasn't ended there yet, oh no. As Bolton surged for an equaliser we caught them on the break, and two subs, Javier Garrido and Emile Mpenza combined well. Unfortunately Mpenza hit his shot at Jaskelainen, but we weren't to be denied and a couple of minutes later Garrido ran down the left, his ball found Etuhu and he camly found the back of the net to make it 4-2. He ran into the crowd behind the North Stand goal and was rightfully mobbed by the fans. His first goal for Citry's first team and his first booking too as the ref applied the letter of the law for over celebrating. But I mean, come on, you score to ensure win? Nine out of nine for us too and myself and my nephew were two very happy people on the bus back home, let me tell you.

Ended up watching Strictly Come Dancing later and I think that this week Gethin Jones and his partner Camilla Dallerup are going to go. The judges were amazingly biased towards Matt Di Angelo and Flavia Cacace, now don't get me wrong, they did well but no way was their waltz deserving of four tens, four nines maybe. And if the public put Matt through it's a dance off between Gethin and Alesha, which to be honest will be a tough one cos I think the judges would go with Alesha. That said, what did interest me was that for Gethin and Camilla's Paso Doble, they did a really mean and moody dance to a version of The Gossip's "Standing In The Way Of Control"| - so much so that I had to put the original on afterwards - tune of the day right there - so that I could rock out with the original classic. I wonder if Gethin's a fan of Beth Ditto and the band? The mind boggles...

Friday 14th December - Lucky For Me!

A real contrast from yesterday this was, and one I was pretty happy with. I'd managed to get the presents wrapped for one of my friends and knew that I was going to post it Recorded Delivery so that it'd at least be trackable from this end. I managed to get out of work and to the Post Office in enough time to get that done and indeed catch the postman as he visited the Post Office so it went the same evening. That was a case of maybe slightly flukey timing, of course, but I felt I deserved that little bit of luck for actually thinking ahead somewhat and getting it posted well in advance of the last UK posting date for Christmas (which in case you wondered is Thursday 20th December, so you may need to get the proverbial skates on.)

That done, I was heading into Asda doing the weekly food shop (slight change in plan becuase I needed a couple of things that only they stock) and whilst I was in there, I heard my phone go off. Now because I assign certain ringtones to certain sets of people, I knew without looking it was one of my work colleagues. I took the call and it turned out that it was my Help Desk colleague, and he had a couple of tickets going for Man City's home game against Bolton tomorrow and was I interested. Like, was I ever! In fact it was very nice of him to ask me, to be honest. Turned out that his friend had got them for free and the two of them were going to go, but needed to do something else that day and so the least they could do was see if anyone else wanted to go. Anyway, he came over later to drop them off, we had a good natter and a cuppa, and all felt rather right with the world and after the week I'd had, just the tonic too.

Isn't it great when nice things happen? I was thinking that as I went to bed to be honest, sometimes you don't realise that there are good things out there in life, it doesn't matter if it's only a small thing, like discovering that you actually do like carrot cake after all and it's good for you, or a minute thing, like finding a five pence piece in the street and seeing if your lucky will hold for the day. But it's just that in reality we all have our up and down moments and if we didn't have the down moments then how would we actually know when the up moments really are? Suffice to say that I think it's important sometimes to make that distinction.

In any case, I was in a slightly reflective mood tonight, thinking about the Kristin Hersh gig in March and already feeling a sense of excitement but remembering also that I've got plenty to look forward to before then. In the meantime I decided to play a bit of her classic "Hips and Makers" album, because even now it still sounds wonderfully insightful and with some gorgeous acoustics. And if you can point me out to a tune that sums up the feeling of being slightly uplifted that is any better than "Velvet Days" (tune of the day for that reason) then I'm all ears, believe me!

Thursday 13th December - Unlucky For Some!

Well today may as well have been Friday the 13th, it just seemed to be that during the day that anything that could go wrong did - well that was until we had a HP engineer on site to fix one of our poorly plotters. When he'd removed the carraige, it was fairly easy to see what was wrong - the carraiage sensor was full of gunk and the optical sensor couldn't tell where the paper or the ink was, and so that was to prove a nightmare. When I saw the old one I'd realised just how much had accumulated, and with a nice new one up and running and all aligned, it was back to business and back to a full quota run of the plotters, which I'm sure generally was quite a pleasing thing to see on the whole for many people.

However, at the same time I got home from work and I'm thinking long and hard about what my long term future is going to be. I'm not going into specifics as such but to be honest, I'm going to approach it in a sensible and mature way and be able to deal with things as they come. I've just felt a sense that something isn't quite what it should be these days, and that's no reflection whatsoever on the people I work with (cos they're all fab) but other factors which just don't seem to be helping my enjoyment of a job which, to be honest, I normally love to bits. I'm just having a feeling that next year might be where I make some important and difficult decisions, so we shall see. First things first though is that I'm going to see the rest of the year through, get done what I need to get done and go from there - that seems the best way.

It was very nice therefore to be able to switch off and have some friends round - a nice cup of tea, gigglng at the appalling Family Fortunes answers (as well as some of the outfits, which were absolutely horrific!) and then catching Never Mind The Buzzcocks on BBC2. I really wish it'd go back to when they had more rounds in the 30 minutes and didn't spend so much time faffing around to be perfectly honest, it needs that quick sharp witted impetus. And far too much old pals act chat between Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver. Yes, we know they used to present together on Channel 4, but do you need reminding every sixty seconds or so? In truth, no.

Still, with that done I whacked on something rather nice - the Ben's Brother album "Beta Male Fairytales". I wasn't sure if they'd heard it but they both liked what they heard and one of them instantly recognised the single "Rise" straight away. And because that's such a good start to the album, I've got no hesitation in making that one tune of the day right there and then. It also reminded me of seeing them in Leeds supporting Seth Lakeman and being rather good, it has to be said...

Wednesday 12th December - With Every Christmas Card I Write..

I'm surprised I can type at all to be honest after probably having a suitable bout of writer's cramp. I nipped in to the Post Office on the way home and made sure that I had enough stamps to send some cards out to friends of mine who live in Europe. When I checked, the last posting date is tomorrow, and so I wanted to be sure that I was able to write everything tonight and get it posted before it was too late. Luckily as well I have all the addresses for cards and stuff in a database, which I mail merge into a Word labels document and so can print the address labels off. It's much easier that way because it also saves me writing out the addresses, which in turn saves my hand and some time!

Mind you, I worked out that after writing all the cards for work and so on, I actually needed more of them because half a set I had from last year plus the box of 50 that I'd got wasn't enough, so I had to nip out to Tesco later on and get another box of 50, which should in theory fill the gap. I reckon that I won't use them all, but realistically I'm looking at two boxes of 50 to do the business next year and that should sort me out - must make a mental note to do that actually. It's also I think because I've also made some more friends this year and in some way that's a big positive - I'm kind to those who are kind to me, simple as really.

Whilst writing out the cards it was time to play some lovely gorgeous surround stuff in DVD-Audio, and I have to say that I've been really rekindled by Beck's "Sea Change" album - that in DVD-A sounds absolutely stunning, the lush acoustics and melodies work really well in the surround format, and "Lost Cause" sounds gorgeously sad, so much so, it's a tune of the day winner. It has something beautifully melancholy about it, as does most of the album and sometimes it's nice just to be able to really take it all in. Continuing the surround theme, I whacked on disc 2 of the Barenaked Ladies' "Are Me Deluxe Edition" so I could hear the fab "Angry people" in full surround, and then to add some more melody, some of REM's "Around The Sun" and Bonnie Prince Billy's "The Letting Go" and all good and different for that. Isn't surround great?

Tuesday 11th December - One, Two, Tree!

With it being two weeks to Christmas, this day is normally when I put the Christmas tree up and make the house look a bit more decorated than it normally is. I'd had a fairly intense day at work and as soon as I headed for home I decided to switch off and take things a bit easy, so once I'd dealt with all the post that had arrived, and wrapped up any parcels that were Christmas presents, I made a dash to the post office to post the presents to my cousin and made it before the Post Office shut, which was rather good of me. Mind you, the bloke who works in the local Post Office isn't the happiest person in the world and he just looked really fed up, of course I guess he'd been helping everyone send packages and cards everywhere during the day, but still..

So, got home and found a couple of boxes in the understairs cupboard: one had the tree (a white artificial one that does the job) and one with the baubles, the tree lights and the tinsel as well. I thought that I needed to set to work and get it done, and within a couple of hours it all looked well - tree assembled with some tinsel and lots of funky baubles, and the lights shone brightly around the tree, and some tinsel adorning the walls and the fireplace. Looks a bit more in the festive spirit now, and with the little polar bear at the top of the tree (I'm very different like that, no angels for me you know) and it just has that individual touch.

And so well timed because after making myself some food, I settled in and watched Liverpool's game against Marseilles in the Champions League. And my, was that one hell of a thrashing! 2-0 inside eleven minutes was rather top stuff of course, and the goal from Fernando Torres was really good stuff, but the way they went about the game was like the Liverpool of old - clinical, accurate and lethal. And so it proved throughout the second half and once Dirk Kuyt had made it 3-0 with still 40 minutes left, it was game over, and Ryan Babel's fourth just rubbed salt in the wounds but was nothing less than they deserved, to be honest.

Now I've got all the cards to write out but I'm going to blitz that tomorrow night - bit too tired now to be honest and I really need something to help me sleep. I don't know why but I feel like an isomniac tonight - in fact make Faithless' "Isomnia" tune of the day because that sums up my mode of feeling pretty well - and no matter what I do I just can't settle in. I think I need to mentally tire myself out a bit and I know just the thing to do that - a bit of Tetris to test the brain I reckon. Give us a few minutes on that when it's late at night and the brain switches off eventually so I can head to bed.. thankfully!

Monday 10th December - It's Like The Grotto!

Well last night I settled down to watch Sports Personality of the Year, and I have to say that I was rather pleased at the outcome that Joe Calzaghe won. He is a world champion, and undisputed at that, and he was a very worthy winner indeed. A lot of people might have backed Lewis Hamilton beforehand, and if he had won the world title it would have been a certainty, but as Hamilton was second and Hatton being third proved, the public voted with their feet and voted for the winners, which made a lot of sense to be honest. Nice to see that Calzaghe had gone over to Las Vegas to support Hatton, and I'm sure the public saw that as a support for all good British boxers to be out there and cheering your fellow countrymen on, and indeed Lewis Hamilton was very graceful in defeat too. I think sometimes you can show your true personality if you can take your hat off and say that the best man won. Not everyone can, but it's good when it happens. Top Gear was a bit mad afterwards mind you, I wouldn't want to be doing a 24 hour race round Silverstone!

Anyway, I thought about booking somewhere to stay in London for the Kristin Hersh gig in March, and ideally somewhere that I wouldn't have to pay a fortune for. Of course for yours truly this meant first stop Travelodge, but I guess with it being one of the Easter weeks, with school holidays and so on, it was that the cheap prices were taken for or would be available much closer to the event. In the end, I had a brainwave and went over to Easyhotel, the Stelios-owned cheap and cheerful brand - and managed to get their hotel in London Victoria for a mere £32. That did the job nicely for me. I'm not that fussed about breakfast to be honest, just want somewhere to drop my stuff off and to crash in - nothing more, nothing less. Makes sense as well because from Victoria it's a short bus ride to where the Queen Elizabeth Hall is, and the hotel's a bus ride from Euston. All I'll need to do is top up the Oyster card when I get there and job done, easy peasy.

I've just then got to make sure I book the train in advance, and I can do that in the New Year, and as Virgin have started doing those print at home tickets, it may prove quite cheap overall to be able to get down to London and back - it mainly looks like off peak times during the week, but of course for that gig it'd be perfect. If they don't, I'll just pay the usual £12.50 each way, which is still cheap anyway. I just am really excited that I'm going and I know that it'll be a rather special perfomance, plus as well that quite a few fans that I saw at the Manchester gig should be going as well. It'll be great!

I had so many packages arrive when I got home, it was almost like Santa's grotto! Well okay not quite but there were a fair few presents which had arrived, so it's a case of wrapping them up, and in some cases, sending them off to where they need to go as well. I guess it's all come together nicely now and all I've got to think about is putting the tree up (probably do that tomorrow night) as well as a few decorations (probably not overdoing it though) and then that might get me in the mood a bit more for the festivities. I suppose too I've been thinking about the Christmas quiz that I normally do each year and working out what questions I can think of. I'm quite good when I get going, you know!

In the meantime as it was manic at work today, the start of the week of handins and absolutely a mad rush to say the least, it was therefore perfect to have something fairly upbeat in the background to keep me going, and what better than the rather nice "I Cried For You" by Katie Melua? It's possibly her finest vocal performance on the "Piece By Piece" album and it just has a nice haunting feeling that I feel comfortable with for some strange reason - so tune of the day right there. Now, where did I put that tree for tomorrow?

Sunday 9th December - Not So Hitman, Sadly

I woke up this morning, having decided not to either stay up late and pay the £15 Sky Box Office fee to watch the Ricky Hatton fight, or see if there was a pub with a very late licence with it on. And so it proved to be a wise decision, as I saw some of the highlights later on and it was clear that unfortunately the best man won and Floyd Mayweather proved just why he is (admittedly) such a good fighter. Hatton didn't disgrace himself one bit and kept battling on until the tenth round stoppage, and the fact that even Mayweather gave him some respect in the post-match conference said a lot - that it was a fight that had to happen to see how it would turn out.

In many ways though it's just a shame as winning that might have swung the vote his way for Sports Personality of the Year. I was out with a friend this afternoon doing lunch and generally catching up, and we both agreed that had he won, SPotY wold have been his, but it could well be that any world champion in the running would have a decent chance. Maybe not Christine Ohurougu though, as despite her winning the 400 metres world title people may look at her missed drugs tests and think negatively (even though they shouldn't). And maybe because of the impact during the rugby World Cup, maybe Jonny Wilkinson or the retiring Jason Robinson may be in there with a shout.

In any case it was good to catch up, and we caught some of the Middlesbrough-Arsenal game as well as West Ham-Blackburn in the background, but it was good to be able to relax with a nice big latte (they do some rather nice coffee in Varsity it has to be said) and the atmos was generally very mellow too, always spot on really. Just what you need especially if like my friend you'd been Christmas shopping earlier on. We discussed holidays next year and I reiterated my thoughts that I might end up going back to Cornwall next year, but see what happens. I'd really like to go further afield one year too, but see what happens.

However just before I went out I managed to sort something out for March next year, which I'm already dead excited about. You see, Kristin Hersh is working on a book called Paradoxical Undressing (great title eh?) and I was alerted to the fact that at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's South Bank, there's a spoken word and musical performance which would be based on that, which sounds really interesting, and arty. And of course it's Kristin, so as you can imagine that made me feel very excited indeed. I've got myself the ticket booked and I'll worry about the accommodation and stuff later on - the main thing is that I feel rather flushed with myself that I'm going to go, and it's just after Easter so will be a little treat to myself for during the break then (I'll probably take the week with Easter Monday off as the KH gig's on the Wednesday) so I can't wait, dead excited!

With that in mind and with Christmas two weeks away, I couldn't really play anything else other than the Kristin Hersh "Holy Single" which was released just before Christmas 1995, with four cover versions with a loosely related Christmas theme done by Kristin, and it's fab. So, with that in mind, tune of the day is going to be her version of Alex Chilton's "Jesus Christ" from that EP, not least because of the bells throughout are just so stirring and make me feel in the mood for the festive season. So there!

Saturday 8th December - Now I Know Why I Do My Shopping Early!

Had a good day today on the whole. First off, after posting a couple of packages and some Christmas cards and presents off to far away places (you know I always make sure they get there well in advance) it was time to head off to see my Mum for a cup of tea and a chat. It was good to see her, as ever, and it was nice to see that things were taking shape for Christmas. She asked me if I was staying for Christmas tea as well as the big traditional Christmas dinner, and I think primarily because of one present that one of my brothers were getting and that they'd probably want me to hang around for most of the day. No problem there of course, but nice to be asked.

Also I was thinking about next year and where to go on holiday, and it turned out Mum had been thinking the same thing. As it was, we're both planning separate trips to Cornwall again (we both love the place) and I had a look online to see what cottages were available and stumbled upon a couple of nice ones which really did the business, so information sent off for and one very happy parent as well. For me, I may go back to the same place I went to this year, it's really handy for everything, the place is lovely and also now that Cross Country Trains will be doing direct trains between Manchester and the far South West, it'd all become a considerable amount easier as well. So I'll have to see.

I had to venture into the City Centre afterwards to get a couple of birthday cards for friends, and as well as them bring notoriously hard to find in December (which I've previously mentioned) it seemed that everyone and their pets were out today Christmas shopping. To be perfectly honest it was a case of go in, get what I needed, and get out again before I stumbled in front of too many people with nine shopping bags on one arm. I can sit back, relax and let them all struggle really. I even stopped off near Lush at the EA Stand to have a bit of a bash at FIFA 2008 on the Xbox 360 which wasn't that bad, apart from the fact that City weren't as good as they should be!!

Got home and there were a few packages waiting for me, and one of them happened to be the "No Frills" EP from Donna Marie which you can order for yourself at her Myspace page - all you have to do is pay the postage and that's it. And on there is the rather lovely acoustic version of "Just Words" which is just so heartwarming for the freezing cold weather out there, so it's tune of the day right there folks. And I would suggest strongly that you order the EP and hear for yourself just why she's so talented.

Friday 7th December - I'm Feeling The Hunger

I had a rather manic day at work getting things fixed, and the trick that my colleague and I tried with the faulty hard drive worked! You see, back in the day, you were able to rescue data off a hard drive (particularly if it was a Fujitsu one) by placing it inside a hard drive bag (those antistatic ones) and then placing it in the freezer for a couple of hours. You'd then connect it to a PC while still relatively cyrogenically frozen and badabing! - the data is retrievable for a small period of time before it warms up too much. And so it proved: the important data was salvaged off it and it was a definite plus point.

I went round to do my food shopping after work and noticed something rather frustrating, and indeed rather annoying too - it seems that the price of certain items has gone up quite a bit during December. I usually buy certain items each week (milk for one) and in the light of recent price fixing allegations involving several of the big name chains, you'd think they'd be a bit more careful, right? I saw one item jump in price by 12% from the previous week, and instead of complaining to the manager about just why the store felt it necessary to jump the price up so much, I just instead left the item on the shelf and didn't buy it. As it did turn out though I was able to get a couple of new work shirts, which I did need, and it still came to a reasonable-ish amount for what I'd purchased. I just hope after the New Year the silly season ends and the prices go back down again..

Spent the evening round at a friend's place, and the two of us were enthralled by some hilarious music videos on one of the music channels, but also catching Bodyrox featuring Luciana's excellent "Yeah Yeah", a song we both adore (so tune of the day right there folks) and then later on settling in to watch the rather disturbing film "The Hunger" on TCM. It's extremely 1980s and very visual, but also the plot is pretty disturbing and yet at the same time there's a level of uncomfortable feeling that draws you in. Catherine Deneuve is most excellent throughout and as well as David Bowie being in there and rather bohemian, there's also a quite early role for Susan Sarandon. Intriguing and disturbing stuff in equal measures, do watch it if you can!

Thursday 6th December - Here Comes The Rain Again

I went out tonight to see a friend to have some good conversation and a catch up, and needless to say that I was quite glad that in terms of relative distance in the weather, I didn't have to spend that long in the incessant rain. Craftily I was able to work out that I could get the train and then the tram and pretty much remain dry until I got off the tram and on to my friend's place - and boy by that time was it absolutely hammering it down to say the least! After cups of tea and plenty of chat and catch up, it was good to have dried off and to fix a slight laptop problem which worked out really well. I guess that it's nice to extend the skills at work at home too.

In fact during the day I'd spent numerous time emailing and getting things fixed for tomorrow's work, and I spent a fair bit of time having a look at a PC to see what was up with it. A ticking noise as it came on indicated that something was bombing out - no, it wasn't a bomb thankfully but the hard disk had started to die spectacularly. I did a bit of removal and changed it for a working drive, and went about reinstalling what needed to be installed on the repleacement disk. I had a theory though about the faulty hard disk and after a conversation with my colleague, we were going to try an old trick tomorrow and see if it works.

My friend very kindly gave me a lift back through the howling wind and rain, which was very nice, I'm usually really independent and don't mind travelling round by public transport whatsoever, but it was nice to have the offer and I was really appreciative of that. And as I got home, there was a flash of lightning which said to me that I made the right decision. Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening, as a famous Queen song once went you know.. Talking of music for a second, my colleagues were clearing out some of the cabinets in one of the offices and actually found the Beatles' "Free As Bird" CD single in there. Don't know how that found it's way there, but it even had a Christmas song on its B-side. I resisted playing it though because not least I wanted to try and avoid all that until nearer the Christmas festivities, as you should really.

Over lunch in the pub, although one of the music channels were showing some really awful cheesy music videos (Cheeky Girls, anyone?) thankfully whoever had put some money in the jukebox had much more sense, playing some darned good indie stuff, including "Heat Dies Down" by Kaiser Chiefs, which is just absolutely brilliant - so that's tune of the day there. It just has a great hookline and is one of those songs that I can imagine people driving along to - cos you can.

Wednesday 5th December - Patience Reaps Rewards

It was the turn of some of the groups of the UEFA Cup to play their games tonight in the group stage, and I was keeping an eye out on ITV4 to see if Everton could do the business against Zenit St. Petersburg. If they won, they were in the next round, and even a draw wasn't that bad a result as the top three from the group of five qualifies. Throughout the game though you could tell it was going to be a frustrating experience as Everton pressed hard but didn't get anywhere, and even when they got a controversial penalty (together with a sending off for Zenit that was not deserved whatsoever) there was some form of justice done as Mikel Arteta skied the spot kick into the Gwladys Street End.

It was a case of being patient and keeping trying, and it proved so as with just five minutes to go, the ball came into the box from a free kick, Joleon Lescott headed it on, and with the keeper saving it with a really good effort, the ball broke free to Tim Cahill one yard out and so it was 1-0. It was a tense last few minutes but they held on to get the victory, and with the news that in the other group game Nuremberg had beaten AZ Alkmaar, it meant that not only had Everton qualified, but as group winners with a game to go, so next Thursday in Alkmaar they could if they wanted to play a lesser strength side and still be able to do the business regardless, a nice position to be in it has to be said.

I don't know about anyone else, but how bloody windy and rainy has it been tonight? I have a feeling those winter storms are coming in with a vengeance, and when I looked outside later on you could tell it looked rather cold with the rain coming down in buckets and with the television aerials I could see nearby blowing quite strongly. I'm just thankful mine's really really secure to be honest! In the meantime, because of all the rain, the great opening line of Electronic's "Getting Away With It" gives it the tune of the day status, no problem. It's a marvellous tune, and it kicks in with "I've been walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose" to get the whole thing started nicely. It reminds me too of coming home from late night indie nights in Manchester with the rain positively bucketing it down..

Tuesday 4th December - I'm Out!

I spent most of the afternoon over at one of the buildings that we look after, and spent a fair amount of time there having a bit of a play with reconfiguring the laptops in order to get everything working as intended for a future session on Friday which was pretty important. I did find out though that it was down to a central configuration that was preventing certain things from working, so there might be a few difficult questions ahead to be asked, but I guess it's something that I have to do.

It was quite intriguing watching Dragon's Den last night (and indeed the repeat tonight) as there was one woman who came up with the idea "Handygirl" so that you would have a woman doing the handy person tasks around the house, and the ethos (as she kept going on about numerous times) was to have a woman-only outlet, but you could tell she hadn't thought it through. As Theo Paphitis said, not employing skilled workers with qualifications opens up a whole legal minefield and of course it could be accused of being sexist as well, so as you can imagine, the phrase "I'm Out" was heard on numerous occasions really. In fact the only one that looked worthwhile out of all of them was the idea of using environmentally friendly 90% recyclable trucks for haulage, and green bio diesel fuel as well to go on top of that, and it was something that you could see had been thought about with some sensible ideas.

It was nice too to be able to relatively relax tonight after a long day at the office and just be able to put the proverbial feet up with some music as well, and what better than to keep warm, be sat nice and cosy with a nice ambient scenic piece? Well, if I had it, "Little Fluffy Clouds" by The Orb would work well, but in the absence of that and because of its epic twenty eight minutes of four parts, "The Box" by Orbital will do instead very nicely thank you, so that's tune of the day right there and then.

Monday 3rd December - Christmas Shopping Almost Complete

Got home yesterday and settled in to watch some late night telly, namely Top Gear (complete with Lewis Hamilton pegging it round their test track in the wet and posting a super-impressive time) and Long Way Down, the last one, as they finally made it to Cape Town. It was quite sweet that Ewan McGregor's wife Eve joined them in Malawi and even biked it down a fair few hundred miles with them just to see what the experience was all about. You could tell the connection there between Ewan and Eve, hard to believe they'd been married for over twelve years now, but at the same time it shows that she liked him before he got massively famous too, so that's rather sweet, you know.

Anyway, I was in final Christmas present shopping mode yesterday and today and as a result I've hardly got any presents left to get whatsoever, so I can feel complete, sit back and watch everyone else panic over what they're going to buy people. I guess being disciplined and sticking to a budget for each person that I buy for actually makes a lot of sense: it means I can afford to get things bit by bit without eating too much into my normal salary and it also means that everyone then gets treated the same when it comes to having things purchased, which is only right. And as the discounts online are rather good, then why not take advantage, that's what I reckon.

What I did notice in one of the toy shops in Birmingham over the weekend was that the In The Night Garden character Igglepiggle is proving very hard to get hold of indeed. In fact, they'd sold out of the press the tummy and it talks one in one place, with Upsy Daisy looking rather forlorn in comparison. I was so glad I'd got my nephew it for his birthday now, because otherwise I might have been struggling had I left it late. Every year though there's always a must have toy when it comes to Christmas, and my brain thought "this just might be it" and promptly had the idea in my head to sort it all out - I'm good when I want to be you know.

But still, back at the ranch today after the long weekend and plenty to be getting on with: sorting out a laptop and putting on a standard Windows XP build plus all the trimmmings, and then installing Adobe Design Standard CS3 on one of the new laptops - it was a lengthy installation process, only made longer by the fact it was updating itself straight away. It does make you wonder just what you have to do - in terms of program size the fact the suite was on a DVD disc for installation should tell you all you need to know really! Still, got that done and I'll have to see what happens next.

I've been keeping Christmas songs out of my head, especially as it's still a bit too far away to actually listen to those siongs as yet, so instead I'll listen to the very happy little song "La Ti Da" by The Icicles, which is actually available to download off their website. It's just so devil may care indie pop good, that it makes me smile every time I hear it. Kudos to them and that's tune of the day for me.

Sunday 2nd December - One Goal, One Million, But One Empty Ground

Today was the PFA Centenary game at the City of Manchester Stadium, and it was an England XI versus a Rest of the World XI. Of course as I'd found out about the game and convinced several of the family to come along, there were nine of us in total going to the game. As it turned out I'd managed to get us seats in Level 2 of the East Stand where normally the exec box holders go, and as a result that meant the nicer seats instead of the plastic ones would be ours.

I left with my uncle and his two kids around 11.30 and got to the ground, where my brother, sister and her partner, and my other sister's husband were all waiting for us, and once we got the last couple of people turning up, it was a case of going in through the turnstiles. Originally our tickets said Entrance F, which was the posh entrance, but that was closed and we had to use G instead and then go through a door on the right of the top of the ramp to get to our seats. No complaints when we got there though: it was the proper leather seats with arm rests and everything. And a good job too because it looked pretty nippy from where we were sat.

And then the rain came down. And more rain. And more rain. It was absolutely hammering it, so much so that even though we were under cover the wind was swirling the rain in and we were getting the rain on us. After a short while the stewards were giving out the plastic rain macs, and we were happily taking those and putting them on. Warmed up by either tea, coffee or Bovril, we sat and watched the celebrity game beforehand, which was a host of soap stars in two teams. The team in the black shirts won very comfortably, 4-0 in the end, and there were some good skills from some of them, but others were just playing like it was a school playground - you know, eleven men around the ball and all that.

With a few minutes to kick off I went and got myself a chicken balti pie and a coffee, and I was really disappointed at such a low turnout. The tickets were cheap (£10 for adults, £5 for kids, and two adults could take a kid for free) and you'd think with a host of legends playing it'd be enough incentive for everyone to come along, wouldn't you? Well, no. I'd say at the most we're talking around 5,000 to 6,000 there, and most of them were along the touchlines, indeed a lot of them were in the exec seats near us and in Level 2 in general, seemed to be the best view of proceedings. I was so gutted that the ground was so empty: mind you the PFA are to blame for that as hardly any marketing exists (even on their own website) and it wasn't really given enough attention by the media, instead concentrating on Tottenham-Birmingham later. Bah.

Thankfully for those who were there the two teams of legends put on an excellent ninety minutes of football that defied their years, and I for one was rather pleased I went. Firstly, Gianfranco Zola was outstanding and showed not only could he still play, but was all over the place really showing the captaincy as it should be done and the skills were sublime. Of course for me it was great to see so many ex-Man City players back in the fold. Naturally Ali Benarbia and Shaun Goater got a great reception, not least The Goat, and someone in the stand near us had a banner that simply said "Goater - 10 - Legend." Couldn't have put it better myself to be honest.

So it went like this: a few minutes in and the ball is passed to Dennis Wise who hits a beauty of a shot past Neville Southall to make it 1-0. Shaun Goater had a great chance 20 minutes in and headed wide, and was gutted he didn't score. Sadly he and Benarbia were amongst the first substitutes, but Ian Rush and Mark Hughes came on and played up front together, which still looked a good pairing. It was good end to end entertainment till half time, and certainly it was a case of plenty of tackles going in, and Zola running the show for the Rest of the World. Alan Shearer, the England captain, had a shot well saved by Erik Thorstvedt in the ROW goal and it was on the whole good stuff.

If you were still queueing for a pie, like my sister's partner was at the start of the second half, you might have missed some of the goals. A corner came over and the ball broke in the box to Lorenzo Amoruso, and he made no mistake from six yards. Then, a really neat sweeping move a few minutes later meant the ball fell to Ian Rush twelve yards out and just like the Rushie of old, headed home really well to make it 2-1 to the Rest of the World. Well, Sven-Göran Eriksson (who was the manager of their squad) did say he didn't want to lose his 100% record at Eastlands didn't he?

More ex-City men came on such as Paul Walsh for England and Niall Quinn for the Rest of the World, and a few minutes later it was 3-1 to the Rest of the World, a neat move and a cross that was laid back for Ally McCoist to smash it home and that was that. England did pull one back with an excellent 25-yard strike through Jamie Redknapp, and for a while the Sherarer-Sheringham partnership tried their trickery up front, but alas it was not to be for England and the game finished 3-2, and thoroughly entertaining as well to be honest. I feel so gutted though that not many people were there to come along and cheer on some heroes and legends from the past, and despite that the players still did their bit wonderfully well.

Got home and warmed up nicely out of the cold with a coffee, and I have to say that it was well worth me going - getting a lot of the family together on a day out was great, and in terms of music for today, well it was apt that Manchester anthems were being played before the game, and none more so than The Stone Roses' classic "I Am The Resurrection" - so that's tune of the day - it also reminded me of times gone by when I'd go to a City game, head to the pub with friends later and then off to the Cyprus Tavern in Manchester for some late night Madchester grooves. Ah, memories...

Saturday 1st December - Hell On Earth

Woke up at a leisurely enough hour at the Quality Hotel this morning and after taking a shower and getting changed, it was time to head down and get some breakfast. Not only was the restaurant part lovely and warm and cosy, but the breakfast choice was absolutely spot on. There was the continental style breakfast, cereal, toast and everything you needed for a proper English fry up breakfast. So, feeling rather plussed all round, I had the bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, mushrooms and hash browns, and then some croissants and cereal too, all with some orange juice, and that set me up rather nicely for the day, it has to be said.

Left the hotel around 10.15am and headed on the bus back into Birmingham. Craftily I remembered what the single fare was and had wangled cleverly to make sure I had the right change, and before I knew it the 126 was heading round the back of the Alexandra Theatre, round the rag markets and up Corporation Street, so I could get off there and go round some of the shops to think of some gift ideas - for myself this time. Admittedly if I could afford it, a HD telly would be very tempting indeed - especially as the price of the 32 inch models have come down a fair bit now. Part of me would like a 37 inch 1080p one, but the cost shoots up, and I don't think my front room would necessarily need that size. I'll have to weigh it up and see.

Before long it was time to head to Hell on Earth, oops, I meant Birmingham New Street. Everything MJ Hibbett says about the station in his song "Hell on Earth" is so true - it's tune of the day for that reason. For example, it's a monolith of depression, it really is, and it really does make Hades look like Leicester in comparison. Oh, and the signage is appalling. There's no consistency to them, the TV screens don't actually update properly so if there's a platform alteration and you can't hear the station announcements, you're buggered. And what makes it worse was that the train I was getting was delayed.

I ended up having to wait on Platform 5 for some time and soon the train was half an hour late. At that point for no reason the Platform alteration notification kicked in, which was followed by a mad rush over to Platform 8 to get the train, which eventually became a double one to get everyone on, and it set off some 40 minutes late. Ouch. Still, it did at least make up some time on the way back, so its planned arrival of 1333 was actually around 1400, which was only 27 minutes, so that was at least something. But the wait meant that I was stuck in New Street for ages and all the truths in MJ Hibbett's song rang very true. Thank heavens to be home in the warm and off to the great game tomorrow!