Dear Diary... December 2016

Saturday 31st December – End of the Year

It was nice just to be able to take things relatively easy today, so after getting up and having some breakfast, The Love In My Heart and I decided it'd be a good thing to go and see her father for a bit, and then be able to have some quality time doing other things too. In fact her father wanted me to sort out a couple of things on the PC, including that his web camera was failing to work. I soon traced the source of the problem – it wasn't plugged in to the USB port. Once I got that sorted, all working.

We then decided to head onwards to the Elizabethan pub in Heaton Moor not long afterwards, and it was good to be able to have the plum pudding ale, which was just as gorgeous as ever, and the messy chips we shared was lovely. It was a good thing that we ordered when we did as they were getting ready for a New Years' Eve ticketed do later, and so were stopping serving food not long after we ordered, so all good there. It was just a nice way to spend some time together.

We headed back to The Love's place via Asda, where I got some cough medicine and some decongestants, and then was all good to go for the remainder of the day. We spent some time with The Love catching up on some telly, and later on we had some nice little nibbles to share for tea – some pork squares with a sauce, duck spring rolls and also some Christmas flavoured samosas and pasties too, which actually weren't too bad.

We did watch the final heat of World's Strongest Man, and also then the Graham Norton show, complete with the likes of Marion Cotillard and Frank Skinner, which was pretty funny all round. I was still keeping on top of the cold but managing okay, and then we had a choice – and in the end The Love plumped for the Robbie Williams concert from Westminster on BBC1. It seemed packed though and he went through numerous new songs as well as some older classics, and didn't have to do too much with the audience singing along.

We did flick over to Jools Holland's Hootenanny though as this is normally pretty ace all round, and so there were some excellent tracks on that, including one of his usual favourites he plays at his gigs, “Midnight Special” which is tune of the day – added by the lovely Beth Rowley on backing with orchestra stalwart Louise Marshall. It was ace. And as the fireworks exploded all over London on the telly, with a glass of prosecco and some kisses, it was just a nice way to end the year together, and here's to 2017 and hopefully less deaths of people!

Friday 30th December – It's All Rosy(lee)

The Love In My Heart and I decided it'd be nice to head out to John Lewis in Cheadle during the day, as she had a gift card for there and could peruse the sales, seeing what nice things could be on offer and tempting. I thought it'd also be good to get some more fresh air too, so we got changed and ready and were soon heading out – albeit when we got there it took an absolute age to find a parking space, it looked rather busy it has to be said.

It was a nice mooch in there though as we looked at all the lovely home and gift items first, and noted that all the soft toy animals in their Christmas advert was half price, which was okay if someone had a birthday in January but otherwise not so good. We went up to the womenswear, and a lot of that was on a good discount, but tons of glittery sparkly stuff which you would have possibly bought for your Christmas do, but apart from that not worth it – and some of the jumpers were also pulling quite a bit – I'm sure the two cats would have something to say about that too! I did spot a couple of nice things in the menswear section but wanted to be sure the finances could afford them so declined them for now, but they did look very good and I'd have possibly got them otherwise. I suppose being paid slightly earlier for Christmas and then needing to make the finances last till 26th January does that. Oh to be paid on the 15th of every month like I used to, so much easier let me tell you!

We headed back and then got ourselves changed and ready, and we were off out into the city centre to meet two friends for drinks and food. In fact The Love had her new Biba top on I'd got her for Christmas as well as the little Biba bag, so looked rather lovely. We headed off to the tram stop and took the tram to Piccadilly Station, and from there walked down the old hill and then round Dale Street to the Port Street Beer House, which I hadn't been in for ages. I miss this place. The ale is always spot on, and they had some local ales from the Torrside Brewing folks, so one of theirs, the dark ale “Whistling in the Dark” which was gorgeous – almost as good as Black Cat, and that's a high compliment.

Our friends arrived and they had beer too, so we spent some time catching up and chattering in the Port Street Beer House. We did notice some gaming or sci-fi geeks that were rather loud on another table and were thinking that they needed to be a tad quieter, but they left so we could then have a giggle and chatter further, before then heading off the very short distance to Stephenson Square and to Rosylee, where we'd been before but not for almost a year (in fact the week before I moved to Croydon!) so nice to head back there, notably with its two for £12 or three for £15 set menu.

In fact the set menu was what we had, and so most of us had the tomato and basil soup to start (The Love had the bruschetta which looked lovely too) and the soup was spot on, really thick and wholesome. Everyone bar me had the haddock and chips (as I'd done fish yesterday, felt it best not to) and I had the steak frites, with the steak coated in a garlic butter on top. It was luscious, and The Love told me that the fish was really nice too and completely spot on. And me being me, sticky toffee pudding for dessert? It just had to be done!

We exchanged presents, and I got a really nice box with the Greene King Speciality Craft Collection – four 330ml bottles of more specialist ale, and a chalice glass. I've got one of the chalices from a previous present similar, and the ales here looked lovely. The Love got some gorgeous prosecco and chocolates, so she'll enjoy that, and whilst swapping presents, a version of Plastic Bertrand's “Ca Plan Pour Moi” was playing (make the original tune of the day) which our friend and I spotted straight off – well we do like 80s tunes after all don't we? It was a rather fab night all round, and definitely I can highly recommend a visit to Rosylee too – the food is very good, staff excellent, and the atmosphere is also rather spot on. I love Manchester, I do.

Thursday 29th December – Catch Up and Bowling

Despite the horrid cold, and doubts whether I'd be able to even get out of bed, I managed to get myself up, dose myself up enough and head out for the day. In fact I was getting an all day tram and bus ticket if that gives you an idea, but with good reason. I was first of all meeting one of my friends and former work colleagues for lunch and then heading off to join a number of the family for bowling later on. So all dosed up, I was ready to get the tram from close to The Love In My Heart's place, change at Deansgate-Castlefield, and then take the Altrincham tram to Sale, then heading on the 19 bus to my friend's place.

It was lovely to see her – and the afternoon went by very quickly it has to be said. We had a very good catch up, about all sorts, about the work situation where I used to work and how things are changing there, how my new job is doing, how both our respective love lives are going, and also lots of general natter about all sorts. In fact after a coffee we headed out to the Samuel Brooks pub close to her – and it was two main meals for £12! My friend had the chicken and bacon salad, far too healthy really, and I had the fish and chips, which was pretty much spot on as well. All good there.

We headed back to her place and more chatter ensued, along with some lovely home made mince pies and cream. They were actually really lovely, and just set the tone off for lots of smiles, giggles and that sort of thing. Her partner came over later for a while, and he was still feeling the pain due to a back injury, and having to move constantly to try and not have it seize up. And I thought my cold was bad, I think I'd rather have the cold thank you very much!

I said my goodbyes and then headed back on the 19 bus to Sale, got the tram and this time changed at Trafford Bar, so I could get the tram to East Didsbury, as we were going to Tenpin and doing their £10 Thursday deal, which is two games of bowling, a drink from the bar (including pints, woo!) and a sharing platter of things like mini burgers, garlic bread, chips etc. Not bad for the price considering two games of bowling there is normally around £13 or so, so no wonder it was popular and indeed that if you turned up on spec you had a two hour lane wait!

I sorted out the names for each of the two lanes we had, and so it was myself, sister, brother-in-law and niece, and my two brothers, youngest sister and her son on the second lane. That worked out well as it kept the kids on separate lanes and stopped any arguments (both my sisters had suggested that and it was a sensible idea to me) – and once we got the lanes and the drinks sorted, the food arrived later and actually was pretty good – the sharing platter was more than enough for all of us and duly enjoyed hugely as we played.

The two games for each of us all went well, and certainly it was pleasing to see the youngsters get strikes, even if the sides were up for them to help a little. My niece got one and my nephew got three, and as we were both last on each lane often we'd get a strike virtually at the same time. I was pretty pleased to get 153 in the second game, my second highest score ever, so felt in good form – primarily as I use a 10 medium ball which is just right and was able to be straight and consistent, knocking lots of 9s as well as strikes.

We had to laugh and say “oh no!” half way through the second game, as the music in the background was playing and decided to switch track to “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees, one of my Mum's all time favourite songs. Kind of seemed apt really that something Mum likes is playing whilst the children were all bowling, so tune of the day that most certainly is. It was a very good night all round and judging by the massive hug my sister gave me as we left, one that they all appreciated me sorting out and getting all together.

Wednesday 28th December – Out With Friends

I spent a fair bit of the day trying to ward off the cold – I even headed out to Asda and got some more tablets as well as some fresh fruit juice as I thought that the Vitamin C might do me the world of good as well. It was a bit fresh outside and I actually took a bit of a walk along the Ashton Canal from the lock house close to the Etihad Stadium all the way around to Clayton Hall Metrolink station. It was all good, and nice to get some very cold and fresh air, although it was getting a bit nippy.

Later on I got myself showered, changed and ready, as did The Love In My Heart, and we were heading out to the Ashlea in Cheadle to meet up with a couple of friends. I still felt pretty bad overall but thought that it would be sensible to try and go out and spend some time doing the normal things and ignoring the cold where possible. I had coughed a fair bit but had managed to get rid of some phlegm, so did feel positive for that really.

We noticed at the Ashlea there's now a parking scheme in operation – pay and display at that. However, as it was after 6pm we didn't have to pay it, but worth noting if we were heading there for lunch or something like that. It was good also that we'd got a table all sorted and it did look reasonably busy, and we had brought along some presents for our friends too, which was a good time to get them all exchanged.

The meal was as ever rather lovely, and nothing less than what I'd expect. I had the stilton and peppercorn mushrooms to start, followed by the steak and ale pie for the main, which for some reason came with sprouts (not touching them!) and thankfully masses of gravy too. I also had the sticky toffee pudding for dessert which was rather lovely all round, so definitely well worth it – and The Love had two courses from the Festive Menu, so turkey with all the trimmings for the main, and chorizo bubble and squeak to start as well. Nice.

We exchanged presents, and I was pretty pleased with what my friends had got for me – a retro England football shirt, a new pair of black jeans, and also Gavin Osborn's “Share Your Toys” album on vinyl, which is what I had been after for some time. In fact “Closing Montage” from said album is tune of the day as I've had many a good night singing along to the closing part. The package also had the double A side 7” single from Robberie, “Four Seasons / Academical” as well as one of Gavin Osborn's earlier releases “Come on Folks, Settle Down” so a happy bunny at that!

Tuesday 27th December – A Long Long Lie In

The cold wasn't getting any better whatsoever, and did feel quite horrid overnight. Normally when I'm also really bunged up I tend to snore quite a bit too, which isn't good. I just felt like I could nod off for a bit but then once that was done I'd wake up and then just feel a bit woozy. In fact during the day I'd head back to bed quite a few times and try and get some well earned sleep.

I did however manage to catch up with the final qualifier for World's Strongest Man – the Europe's Strongest Man Giants Live event at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. After Eddie Hall had smashed the world dead lift record and made the first ever 500kg lift, it was up to the other contestants to then go through the events to qualify. And in a major shock, a real error from Hafthor Julius Bjornsson as he screwed up the car walk, and as Laurence Shahlaei did so in a world record time to win the event, this meant that the title was up for grabs.

The tension was palpable in the Atlas Stones as the contestants attempted to get all five stones up, but Shahlaei managed it with around a second to spare to ensure he had enough points to win the European title, the first time ever he had done so, and beating the mighty Thor must have been a real feather in the cap moment, especially as Big Z (Zaydrunas Savickas) was watching on the sidelines and injured, so not taking part in the Worlds, and seeing what was going on.

In fact later I watched the first heat of the World's Strongest Man from Botswana, and amongst the Channel 5 team, Magnus ver Magnusson, who having won the competition four times knows what it takes to win this. His insight into each event was welcomed and certainly authoritative too, so all good. It wouldn't perhaps surprise you to learn that injuries happened in this heat, so only four faced the atlas stones in the end, and from that two made it through.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather good theme tune from World's Strongest Man, which they've tweaked a bit for this year but in effect has the similar title sequence, with the likes of the Fingal's Fingers, the deadlift, and of course, the atlas stones. It gets you right in the mood for watching the coverage and is a staple Christmas festive view for me, always makes me wonder just how much training you'd have to do to effectively be as good as they are!

Monday 26th December – Family Time

It was nice to have a lie in this Boxing Day, but not very nice that a cold has surfaced for me, and a pretty bad one at that. It was a case of being bunged up, taking tablets, getting more bunged up, and feeling pretty not so well. It had to just happen at Christmas didn't it? I suspect that the really horrid cold bug that has been going round has finally caught up with me, and I suspect that it might not be that easy to get rid of. So back to more tablets then!

It was easier to stay in and relax in The Love In My Heart's place as she caught up with the likes of Emmerdale and Coronation Street after us watching other shows last night. Of course both of those were hour long specials and as such meant I could take it easy, fuss over the two cats, and generally try and take it at a much more relaxed pace. We were heading out later on to my Mum's though as she wanted the five children plus partners to be there – and that meant my niece and two nephews too.

We ordered a taxi, but it decided to head to the wrong address, the one around the corner from us, so it took the driver a few minutes to eventually realise where we were. Interestingly, it was also fare and a half for tonight and so wasn't going to be cheap, yet the taxi driver on the way back didn't charge the fare and a half. Odd, I know, and something to consider for certain times of the year in future – shop around!! And I suspect the same would happen for New Year too.

We made it to Mum's, and she had done a buffet of cold meats, sandwiches, nibbles, crisps and that sort of thing as well as some cake and cheesecake for dessert later. I had not eaten much during the day and had a fair bit, but didn't want to over-eat as I felt a bit on the groggy side. It was lovely to see everyone and of course Mum had to insist on us having a picture of her and the five children, which The Love kindly stepped up to do with my camera – it looked good I have to say.

Plenty of chatter followed amongst the family, and it was just nice to see everyone to be honest. It wasn't perhaps the most best timed moment for Mum to be singing songs wrongly perhaps as it was all calm and quiet, but it wouldn't be her if she didn't. However, tune of the day is the rather lovely “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, which sums up the feeling of us all being together tonight. I must admit that if it's the last time we spend Christmas at Mum's if she is selling the house, then at least she's had some time with us.

Sunday 25th December – Christmas Day

Christmas Day, a special time, and more so this year, as being snuggled up with The Love In My Heart and the two cats Jô and Brian was rather nice, even if the cats were nudging us both to be up earlier than we wanted, about right really. The Love insisted that I open some presents whilst all snuggly in bed, which is something I don't usally do, but did insist I open the big one from hers, which was a nice Fred Perry black jacket I'd been after, and she wanted me to wear it during the day, hence not waiting till the present swap later. She opened one of hers from me, a really nice Biba top I knew she was after too.

I opened other presents from my relatives and found that they had been more than generous: Mum had got me two shirts, some socks and a £20 gift card for Debenhams, as well as the Danish butter biscuits. My uncle had got me a new IKEA Ditto green cutlery set which I was after, and my nephew got me one of the IKEA duvet sets I really fancied to freshen up the bedroom. My uncle had got me the Man City season review DVD and my other nephew had got me Pi on Blu-Ray too – ace.

I also opened the presents from my friend that I brought up with me and most excellent, the new Metronomy and KT Tunstall albums on CD and Jack Reacher on Blu-Ray. Most excellent. That meant a lot of lovely presents already and the day had begun in earnest. We had some breakfast, got ourselves all ready, and then headed off to her Dad's, where a number of The Love's family were together already. We swapped presents there and it was especially nice that The Love's family had all got me something nice too – one of her sisters got me Finding Dory on 3D Blu-Ray, the other sister got me some ale and Kraftwerk's ComputerWorld and Queen's On Air CDs - plus her father got me the 40th anniversary edition of Jethro Tull's Aqualung album, two CD and two DVD set at that. Mightily impressive stuff.

A few of us headed out to the local bowling club close by where The Love's father is a member, and it was open on Christmas Day for a bit. In the end, The Love's brother in law and nephew teamed up against The Love's father and I – and it was a close game but in the end of the day, a few nifty pots from both The Love's father and I and we nailed the game. In fact more relations had a second game later on, and as the beer wasn't expensive, it meant we were out of the way and it allowed the women of the family to chatter and get on with their Christmas dinner.

In fact The Love, her sister and niece were back at her place, and her sister came to collect me, The Love's son and her father, and so by 3pm six of us were back at the table and the Christmas dinner was served. In fact it was all lovely, and done carvery style so you could pick what you wanted, which was tons easier actually. It meant turkey, potatoes, carrots, Yorkshires, pigs in blankets and gravy, and all gorgeous, and with some stunning trifles that The Love had made the night before and a coffee, and all was rather lovely.

Everyone had headed off by 6pm and so with everyone picked up or dropped off, The Love and I were all back on our own with the two cats for company, and so it was nice to be able to relax for a while and indeed swap our own presents to each other. I had two other gorgeous presents, some Ted Baker Skinwear aftershave which I used to love for everyday wear but wasn't able to get hold of it for ages, and a cushion in the style of Scrabble with W4 on it (The W scores 4 points) which will look ace in the flat and add a bit of individuality to things too.

We snuggled up and watched the Christmas Strictly Come Dancing together, and so nice to see the likes of Gethin Jones, Pamela Stephenson and Frankie Bridge back on there, with some lovely routines. In fact possibly the nicest was Frankie and Gorka doing a certain song from Frozen (you know the one, the film had been on earlier on BBC1, and so tune of the day really) – and overall the standard was good. And of course the last time on telly we'll see Len Goodman as head judge, so the end of an era was apt somehow.

Finally, Call The Midwife Christmas Special too and that was rather lovely. In fact it was special due to the nature of their mission over to South Africa, witnessing the apartheid regime for the first time, seeing the difficulties of working in a remote hospital and being able to see to a varying degree of expectant mothers in poorer conditions. It was a rather good episode all round and I have to say also that there was some superlative acting from the likes of Jenny Agutter, Linda Bassett, Helen George and perhaps most notably Charlotte Richie as Barbara, really stepping up to the plate over there. No one needs Downton Abbey anymore with great telly like that.

So, rather excellent all round, and the day was just nice to have some quality time spent with the woman I love, and with family too. The two cats were all good as well, and although a little shy with company, once it was just the two of us again, they were all happy and back snuggling on their pouffle, and not a care in the world either, and they at least were all lovely and contented. How happy am I to have such a wonderfully lovely girlfriend who gets me lovely presents and makes me feel special I wonder?

Saturday 24th December – Back To Tradition

Last year, as I was travelling back up to Manchester on Christmas Eve, and had plenty to do with the old house before putting it back up for sale, I didn't get a chance to really do some of the things I prefer to do on Christmas Eve which I've sort of made a tradition. So with me being back up last night it at least allowed me today to be able to have that normality back – just the thing. This does involve a visit to two cemeteries – the Manchester Cremartorium in Chorlton and Mill Lane cemetery in Cheadle, to pay a visit to loved ones no longer with us. I headed into the city centre first, then the 85A to Chorlton, going past where I used to work, with Dutch style cycle lanes a plenty now on Oxford Road, and then heading along Wilbraham Road into Chorlton. I picked up the 23A from there to the Crematorium and did what I needed to do there, before then on the 23 to Didsbury village and catching the X57 to Mill Lane.

It was surprising that even at 10am at Mill Lane, plenty of people around and paying their respects to the loved ones, with floral displays and card tributes a plenty. It was good just to pause and reflect for myself, and it was nice to have that moment alone, so I could say what I needed to say without distractions. I then headed into the centre of Cheadle and into the Costa for a traditional Christmas coffee I have, so the gingerbread latte and the raspberry and almond slice was mine to enjoy and again have that time out to pause.

I was then on the way to Mum's, and so on the way stopped off at Tesco Burnage for some ale for over the festive period. I did spot the four for £6 option and so thought it good to get a couple to keep at Mum's for Boxing Day – along with a bottle of wine for The Love In My Heart too. In the end I spotted plenty of Cornish ale, so got the St Austell Tribute, Proper Job and the dark and gorgeous Proper Black, as well as some local ales such as Trooper, Manchester Pale Ale and naturally some Black Sheep Golden Sheep too. Worked out rather nicely that.

I then arrived at Mum's which worked out well as my auntie had turned up shortly after, and my uncle and his family arrived too, so plenty of us there to have a catch up and chat – plus of course Mum was mentioning about the new house my brother and his girlfriend had moved into. The Love In My Heart came over later and we had a coffee and a natter with everyone – and Mum handed me a bag with some presents in, which to be honest was a little overloaded, one would have done! Still, it made everything feel festive.

We got back to The Love's place, and later on we watched The Snowman, followed by The Snowman and the Snowdog, both essential pieces of Christmas animation. I had mentioned that Muppets Christmas Carol was on the telly afterwards, and so The Love allowed me to watch that. It is possibly one of my all time favourite Christmas films, not least as it involves all my favourite Muppet characters, but Michael Caine being excellent too (in fact he mentioned it's one of the finest films he's been involved in) – and so the song from the film “The Love We Found” at the end is tune of the day.

We then saw the new animation We're Going on a Bear Hunt, which was based on the classic Michael Rosen novel, and well worth a watch to see what would happen during the half hour or so. The Love had commented that it was perhaps a little too long and that they added bits to it, but the basic premise is there to say the least. I suspect that it was a case of giving it a little more depth, but still enjoyable nonetheless, and Channel 4 had hyped it up throughout the day at least.

So it was Christmas tomorrow and although tradition was nice today, there will be a break from it tomorrow as it'll be the first time since we've been together that The Love and I will be together for the whole day, rather than be with each others' families and then have our time in the evening. I think we do deserve that after compromise for years, so it'll be good to spend that quality time together. In the meantime, I hope everyone does have a wonderful Christmas and that their time spent is special and with loved ones, friends and family.

Friday 23rd December – The Last Working Day

So it was the final working day of the year for me (we are actually in work between Christmas and New Year but I've booked that time off – not daft me) and so it was actually good to get my teeth into something that my team lead had asked me to do, as he was working from home waiting for his boiler to be fixed - not the thing you really want to have to break down just before Christmas to be honest. For me anything that made the day go quicker had to be a plus point.

So we'd had a laptop back that needed reimaging, a Toshiba Tecra Z40-A. Not the usual laptops we use at work due to the fact that it's all HP kit, but nonetheless something that had been specially purchased a while ago and needed a refresh. This of course gave me the opportunity to download and test suitable drivers for both Windows 7 and Windows 10 for it, and it's a nice thing that Toshiba themselves give you a full driver pack download from their FTP site, which then means you can easily create a driver package.

That side of it worked well, and I'd imaged it with a Windows 10 task sequence where I'd added the driver package for testing, but realised that the function keys weren't fully operational. This is usually down to the Value Added Package that Toshiba generally have available, but rather than be consistent across the range a la HP, each laptop has a slightly different variant. However, this wasn't too difficult to sort out, and so once I'd created a package for the hotkey installer, I'd tested this and it worked perfectly. Then imaging using a Windows 7 task sequence added all the right drivers and the right hotkeys too, so a good result all round.

The time was going by quickly which was good, and we were allowed out a little early. This meant a bit more time for me to leave work and head towards Euston, and have a well earned stop at The Crown and Anchor close by for a pint. It had to be done. I also meant by this time that I could head into the First Class lounge at Euston and relax in there with a coffee and a biscuit, so seeing the masses on the concourse below all get ready for their getaway.

I made my way down to the concourse and soon had the text announcement for Platform 5, so straight there and on the train beforehand, so place to put the case in, and I could sit down and relax nicely. In fact the train crew were ace – less of them, and no working boiler for coffee, but plenty of cold drinks instead. So as well as the cheese board, crisps and Christmas cake, lots of the lovely Wreckless ale too, so felt rather nice being comfortable, headphones on playing Swing Out Sister's “Something Every Day” (make that tune of the day) and feeling that sense of welcoming as I headed back up North towards Manchester.

It was so lovely to see The Love In My Heart when I got to Piccadilly, and once we'd arrived back and unpacked a bit, and sorted my clothes out, we snuggled up in front of the telly and watched the Christmas Last Leg special on Channel 4+1. Still my favourite show of the moment, and lots of humour around the year in general. No doubt people might have looked a bit confused with Grayson Perry being on there though, but each to their own and all that. It was then a case of being able to just relax together and then take it easy, which was going to be our overall plan for the next week or so.

Thursday 22nd December - Winding Down

It was the final software rollout of the year, and it also meant the remainder of the PCs should be able to get the rest on in good time for the festive period. I did check the HP PCs that I'd applied the fixes to when I got in and all of them appeared to wake up at 7am and do all their maintenance, so pretty pleased with that overall it has to be said. I was also most pleased to see that because of that the Java software update to the latest release also appeared to be pushed out nicely too, so definitely well worth it there.

I spent some time as well finalising a few build processes, and sorting out the task sequences for Windows 10 so that they all had the latest core additions on, so that effectively anyone who needed a rebuild of the PC would have all the software to get them up and running already on, thus meaning less time to get everything all up and running. I must admit it's rather pleasing to be able to do that in a controlled environment, and for me it's well worth the time taken out to get all of that sorted.

Although I'd normally be doing a late shift tomorrow as cover, I was informed to come in at normal time - as it may well be that we'd leave earlier than originally thought. Naturally I wasn't aware of this (not least as businesses tend to work to hours anyway) and so I might have to wait a little before boarding the 1840 train tomorrow back up to Manchester. That said, I've always got the backup of being able to go to either the Euston Tap or the Crown and Anchor should I need to (in fact the latter might have some quality seasonal Christmas Ale on, so might have to be there) so we shall see.

The train back home was pretty busy, but got a seat, and once at East Croydon, the final walk of the year back from there to the flat. I had my Manchester City Cityzens membership pack in the post, which had some vouchers off for match days plus of course the new card. And as I get 20% off Virgin Trains with it, it pretty much pays for itself to be perfectly honest, as it will do for tomorrow (although the train I am getting back on 3rd January was actually a special First Class offer on Virgin for just £28, and I'll get brekkie!) so all good there.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather excellent Christmas song "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" by Wizzard. I've actually not heard it as much this year despite it being a total 1970s classic, and so thought I'd give it an airing online earlier. It was good to be able to listen to it and remember being a child and growing up with said classic record (that, Slade, Mud etc) and how fond memories of Christmas past came flooding back...

Wednesday 21st December - Changes

And a fair number all sorted out too today. So another core application deployment done, this time Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, and version 15.020.20039 at that. One good thing about using Applications instead of packages in SCCM 2012 of course is the fact that you can check for version compliance pretty easily and wrap that in - so effectively before the application is even installed, a check is performed to see if it's already there and compliant (for example just in case you get any early upgraders) and that works rather nicely.

I also had a change approved too to be able to push out a tweak to the BIOS of the HP mini desktop PCs that we have. In essence as I'd found out, one BIOS setting meant that it wouldn't do a Wake on LAN, and added to that the correct Group Policy setting to avoid any form of hybrid shutdown, and all good. In fact as I had noticed quite a few of the PCs hadn't even been powered on for some reason, I went and located them all, powered them up and made sure they got what was needed. This way it also meant that they'd be all good to wake in the morning as everything should be applied, well that's the theory anyway.

I then did some further testing with the desktop PC I was testing yesterday, and pretty much it's not just the graphics card onboard (although that's part of it) - it pretty much looks like the iteration of the Sandy Bridge chipset just won't play ball, as many of the chipset drivers also seem to do some odd stuff, such as USB devices failing to function correctly and not performing like they should. In essence, not great, and the older models that do work may need to be pushed out instead. One thing it will mean though is that we may need to look at some additional replacements, but we shall see.

I did get home in good time and spent a bit of time getting some toiletries to pack into the case for the trip up to Manchester at the end of the week, and also when I got home the qualifiers for World's Strongest Man were on Channel 5. I do like that over the festive period and as it was the UK based championship it was entertaining to see the likes of Laurence Shahlaei, Terry Hollands and the beast that is Eddie Hall battle it out, with some seriously impressive stuff. Always good to see Colin Bryce do his presenting and commentary and they even had the strongman legend Bill Kazmaier there too - fab stuff.

I then spent some time cleaning the flat and ensuring all was good to go and that I wouldn't need to do much over the next day or so. It was good to get a lot of that all sorted out and for me it meant that tomorrow would be about packing the case and being ready for the trip up. I even had a bit of classic 1990s rock on and so put on the Metallica self titled album, and from that the classic "Enter Sandman" was played, and played pretty loudly too it has to be said - tune of the day it is.

Tuesday 20th December - Discovery

I made some useful discoveries today - and was also keeping an eye on the deployment situation with a new version of Chrome heading out to devices today, and all going well there. It proves that extensive testing is the key, especially as it proves that if you're able to get that right, everything will follow correctly and be much less hassle. In fact I suspect that most people probably won't be fully aware that we deployed a mass of new core applications in the last few working days, new Flash Player, new version of 7-Zip, updated Silverlight and an up to date version of Firefox as well. Good when it all works.

I got to the bottom of the issue I was looking into yesterday, and as I rightfully suspected, it was the onboard graphics adapter. It transpires that the early Intel HD onboard graphics adapters (Intel HD 2000 and Intel HD 3000 with Sandy Bridge chipsets) don't work at all with Windows 10, not one bit. Oddly, some of the older onboard graphics such as the Intel G41 (used in an older Dell model we have) does work, because it uses the Windows Driver Device Model (WDDM) 1.1 driver that first shipped in Windows 8, and the later Intel HD ones use WDDM 1.3 for Windows 10 in the same way. Odd, I know, but there you go. So as a pure test I've managed to locate a spare low profile nVidia NVS300 graphics adapter and am going to deploy Windows 10 on to the device, and if it works, we may have a way forward...

I also was assisting most of our second line team with various queries today, and they are, I have to say, a good conscientious bunch of people who are really passionate about what they do. As far as I'm concerned, my desk is always open and always more than willing to chat to them and get stuff sorted and help out, becuase sharing information and being able to progress nicely is the way to get things done, and they all do want to learn, so I feel good about that.

The trains, despite being reduced because of strikes, did at least appear to run okay today. I think after tomorrow when a lot of the schools finish, I'll see a reduction in numbers anyway, and I made sure I took the time off between Christmas and New Year in order to have an extended break. We shall see, but I think that it'll be good to have a week and a half plus off, spend lots of time with family and friends, and maybe have a think about the future too - whatever that may hold.

In the meantime I had a bit of fun and listened to some classic Frank Sidebottom, especially "Christmas Is Really Fantastic" which I've thought about remaking as "Southern Rail Are Really Bobbins". The original gets tune of the day as it's relatively simple but funny, especially when he says that Christmas is the most fantastic in the afternoon. I have happy memories of myself and my sister singing along to it too at one of his concerts. You know we did, we really did (etc). Thank you!

Monday 19th December - Short Sorting

And so, the final week of work for the year, hurrah to that. In fact the year has gone amazingly quick, despite all the other goings on happening. It didn't feel like yesterday that I was moving down to my new flat in Croydon and starting the new job afresh. Little did I know I'd be in an even better job now and doing well in it, and really becoming a part of the whole team too. I think for me if I could take the cameraderie from my colleagues in the last job and align it to the work I do in this, it'd be pretty much perfect.

So of course today and tomorrow was another two days of conductors' strikes on Southern Rail, hence the trains that were running being busier than usual. Added to that the drivers' overtime ban and it's pretty busy all round, but looked like my regular train was at least running and getting me to work, so relief all round there. I have to admit that by now I'm getting heartily sick of the "he said, he said" bitter war of words between all parties. To be frank the best Christmas present we can all have is to get a deal sorted sooner rather than later and then start to fix the inherent problems Southern had before any strikes - ie: not hiring enough staff, short forming, delaying or cancelling trains at a moment's notice, and some proper management direction.

So today I was investigating into why certain models of PC at work just won't take the Windows 10 deployment at all well, with graphical oddities more like Yars' Revenge on the Atari 2600 (cool game that it is) instead of being what it should. I've been trying out a few different ideas and imaging one machine to see if I can possibly replicate or sort out the behaviour, and so far I've got some useful leads on it. I actually have to say that it'd be good to at least get an answer and be able to move forwards a little too.

After work I headed on the tube to Edgware Road and then onwards to Wimbledon Park, as I was going to get my hair cut in good time for Christmas, and so to James Barbers it was. The staff there were their usual ace friendly selves, and it didn't take too long for my hair to be chopped off the right way and for me to be looking all good and ready to rock. The least I could do was leave them a tip so they could get a few cans or bottles of beer for the festive period, and I know that was appreciated.

I headed home via Wimbledon, and stopped off at the Sainsburys in Waddon Marsh to get some Christmas cards (only needed two) and then off home, where Only Connect was on the telly and Victoria Coren Mitchell was cursing at some of the contestants not having read certain books, which made me giggle. I massively got a score on the Missing Vowels round, especially the advertising slogans and companies concerned too. Thoroughly all good fun, with the theme tune being tune of the day.

Sunday 18th December - Ringing The Changes

Another day, and with the mist rapidly clearing over London, I thought it'd be a good idea to take on another leg of the Capital Ring - this time continuing from yesterday and taking on section 12, from Highgate to Stoke Newington. It was actually surprisingly looking like a green route, and so it was off from East Croydon (Southern Fail delaying things again) and then off on the tube via Victoria and this time taking the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line to Highgate, where again I'd exit the station and spot the former high level station. That station as it turned out was part of a former train line, the remains of which I'd also be walking.

So once up the hill and then down the hill, it was off along the Parkland Walk for two miles, following that same former railway line. It was in fact intriguing to spot the former Crouch End station buildings, and the old platforms are still there as well. In fact there's plenty of evidence along the former line, and only when you get towards Finsbury Park are you able to see where you might have had fun merging the lines together. I did of course then head over the railway bridge, and then into Finsbury Park itself.

It was nice to walk around that park, and was able to spot the café with its little spots outside for the dog walkers and their dog too, and follow the path downhill towards the Green Lanes. I crossed over to the New River, technically a water course going very slowly downhill which gravity fed water to London since the 17th century. It was a little muddy in parts, but then when heading towards the new housing development at Woodberry Down (which looked nice but expensive) and the statues of Toad and Mole from The Wind in the Willows.

From there, at the end of the New River, it was down and along to Clissold Park. The park even had a Christmas fair on so it was nice to be able to observe that and see the stalls selling food and gifts, and spotted some swans close to the water and also the rather nice Clissold House, sat hilltop side with its café. It was then past the new St Mary's Church and walking through the centre of Stoke Newington, spotting a rather good record shop which I am going to have to go back to and visit at some point, for sure.

The final part took me through Abney Park and its cemetery, hosting the grave of the founder of the Salvation Army, and a chance to pause and reflect at the war memorial, also spotting the many names amongst the masses of graves, and the way it was almost presented with a random placing of the graves themselves made it feel a more natural graveyard. It was then off to Stoke Newington station, head to Seven Sisters on that, then the Victoria line to Victoria and back on the train home.

Later on I did of course watch Sports Personality of the Year, and it was hard to cram all of the sporting excellence in two hours twenty minutes or so, but they did pretty well. I was pleased Leicester City got team of the year, and Ellie Robinson winning the young award, and was surprised that Simone Biles got the overseas award. However, the touching moment was the choirs all coming together and doing David Bowie's "Heroes" to those who had passed away - tune of the day and rather lovely. And well done Andy Murray for being the first to win for a third time too.

Saturday 17th December - Misty Walking and Midge Ure Magnificence

Today was a day of two halves, and both of which really good but for different reasons. I decided when I got up and ready to head out on another leg of the Capital Ring, this time taking in section 11, which went from Hendon Park to Highgate. The weather didn't look so good though as it was still quite misty, and not necessarily perfect for seeing where you were going beyond around 150 metres or so. That said, it also meant some moody black and white shots as the mist would be perfect for that too.

It was a delay as ever due to Southern Fail so I got into Victoria later than expected, but from there, plain sailing on the tube, so off to Euston, change there and head on the Northern Line to Hendon Central. It was a walk through Hendon Park and then onwards from there along a few roads, noting that a couple of the local synagogues had security outside due to the time of year. I then headed off following the River Brent in Brent Park and past the Decoy Lake, and followed the Dollis Greenway for a while too before then shadowing Hampstead Garden Suburb with the parks alongside.

It was nice to then arrive at East Finchley station, spot the archer at the top of the station, then walk along towards Highgate Wood, and walked through there and it really did feel nice to be through some of the ancient woodland there, before then heading downhill, passing along and through Queen's Wood, complete with the eco-friendly café on the way down, and clambering uphill and out to Priory Gardens, ending at Highgate station, seeing the former high level station and then descending to low level and on the tube to London Bridge, then off to home for a while.

Later on it was off to West Croydon station and off on London Overground to Highbury and Islington (so it meant no Southern Fail, hurrah) and so off to Union Chapel later to see Midge Ure. It was nice to just get on one train and arrive, and then head off to a local pub to have some food and a very nice ale too - the Twickenham Brewery's excellent dark ale, Gothick Dark. Stunningly nice, and a good way to relax. I then headed across to the Union Chapel and joined the queue, and plenty of people were getting there early. I managed to get a nice spot in the first floor balcony, and it was a gorgeous view and ready for the night.

Up first were India Electric Company, two multi-instrumentalists Joseph and Cole - Cole playing mainly the mandolin and singing, with Joseph doing violin, acoustic guitar and keyboards. Their set list was very good and included an excellent slow version of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" as well as some songs based on former medieval tales too. Their musicality came to the fore and their songs were excellent. For me, the highlight of their set was undoubtedly "Heimat" which had some ethnic influences too.

Joseph and Cole would also perform with Midge Ure - giving the songs some lovely depth. That meant that for the Something From Everything Tour, Midge could play stuff from all his career across a cross section, and so it proved. Starting with one of my favourite Ultravox album tracks "I Remember (Death in the Afternoon)" and then heading into solo territory with an ace version of "If I Was", the close to two hour set really did pass by ever so quickly - including a song he wrote when in Thin Lizzy, "Homeland" and also reflecting on his own addiction in "One" too.

Having two songs back to back from the Lament album, namely "Man of Two Worlds" plus the title track was rather good, but then it was a special moment and tune of the day. It was "Vienna", which I've heard him do solo before, but this time Joseph from India Electric Company did the violin solo bit in the middle with the acoustics in the background, and it was spellbindingly good. I wasn't the only one either as the whole audience gave all three of them a standing ovation for that song. It was a wonderful moment.

And it didn't end there - we had "The Damned Don't Cry", a Visage number, and of course there was the other classic from them "Fade To Grey" there too. There was also of course more Ultravox songs later on so "Reap The Wild Wind" and a storming version of "Hymn" with the masses singing along to the chorus was also rather lovely. But the encore... that was special. Not only did we get the classic Rich Kids song "Marching Men" which he spoke about being an anthem to stand up against racism, and how we'd all be wishing we didn't have to think about that now.

Of course, to follow that was another song which was a comment of the symptoms of what happened in the world, the 1986 Ultravox song "All Fall Down" which worked well. Finally, he strummed the guitar, sang out "It's Christmas time..." and the audience all recognised it was the Band Aid single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and smiled, and sang along. Needless to say, we all sang the chorus, and of course Midge is only one of two people in the world who is officially allowed to play this song whenever he likes. A special end to a very special evening.

Friday 16th December - Flushed With Success and Failure

I had already made the decision to work from home today as I knew that the strikes were going to be going ahead on Southern, effectively meaning hardly any trains from Croydon. And actually it did work pretty well, primarily because I'd already set up multi factor authentication so that when I sign in to my remote desktop, an app on my phone has to be clicked to approve the sign in. It works really well actually and does mean that it gives an added layer of protection, notably as those who are logging in to their virtual desktops are usually those with pretty sizeable administrator rights too.

Anyway, during the morning I was checking on some software deployments, and all appeared to be going well, and so went to the loo. I pressed the push button to flush, and... it did flush but then I could hear the sound of doom that effectively meant that the button wasn't playing ball again. The issue is that all the mechanism behind the button (the air blower that effectively allows the flush to happen) is mostly horizontal and is never quite 100% right for some reason, so pretty much is prone to coming off. I'd much rather have a button and cistern I can see rather than it being hidden behind a panel of wall tiles.

I did ring the repair company who do the maintenance for the apartments, but haven't had a call back as yet. Since the last time it happened I've been really careful not to overpress it and be really gentle, but as The Love In My Heart said that button hasn't always been right to be honest, and after the last plumber had left the panel a mess and tore off the wall panel concealment for the waste pipe that didn't have to be done, I'd rather be around when someone does come out to sort it out.

I've also been getting a fair bit ready for the next week or so and when I head back up to Manchester for Christmas, so I've been able to make sure that I have enough food to last, but also nothing that's going to go off. I effectively only needed some milk, and also some mushrooms so I could have a stir fry for tea tonight with the chicken, mushrooms, udon noodles and Schezuan sauce, which to be honest was pretty tasty all round. That got me nicely in the mood.

I have been having a think about things though, and with all the strikes happening on Southern Fail and yet morer planned, and with no solution looking likely, I'm having to give some serious consideration to whether or not I try to tough it out, or whether I decide it's not worth the hassle and start to look for something back up North. It's not really on that I can't rely on a service to get me to and from work, and I don't even have to travel as far as a fair number of people do. I'd much rather have that added stress taken away in some way, and I kind of wish I could live round the corner from work, as stupidly expensive as it might be - it'd be much less hassle all round really.

So I've been winding down and with the excellent Reformation: Last Ninja 2 album from Matt Gray. It is effectively the original musician going back and redoing all the soundtrack from the classic Commodore 64 game, and with suitable aplomb too. For me though I always end up going back to the in game theme from The Sewers, as that was my favourite level on the original game too, and here he's made it a ten minute absolute epic, so tune of the day is an easy decision really.

Thursday 15th December - Marching From Victoria

First things first, I managed to get to the bottom of the issue with regards to Wake on LAN. It transpired that the Windows 10 setting for what's called "hybrid shutdown" - aka "fast startup" was enabled. When the PC shuts down, it effectively hibernates the system settings, and when the power button is pressed afterwards, it then uses the hibernation to wake it back up, in an attempt to make it quicker. However, as the PCs have SSD drives in them, and also due to the quick time they boot anyway, it made sense to turn that off.

And what happened? Shutdown worked, and the network card had its lights on. I was then able to send a wake on LAN packet to the PC, and the PC fired back up and woke up. All good. I tested with either setting I've tried off, and it didn't work. So it's a case of using both (S5 Maximum Power Savings disabled in the BIOS, fast startup disabled in Windows 10) - and so from that creating a change request where I can distribute the BIOS setting via SCCM and then the Windows setting via Group Policy preferences.

After work I was supposed to head off on a leaving drink or two, but that seemed to have been not happening, and so instead I headed across on the tube to Victoria, where the Association of British Commuters' passenger protest against Southern Rail was taking place. It was actually busier than I thought it would be, and plenty of people came forward to speak at how Southern and their parent Govia Thameslink Railway, run as a management contract on behalf of the Department of Transport, are letting everyone down on a daily basis. News crews were there and everything and the depth of feeling was plain to see.

There was a rendition of Jingle Bells, but with the words changed with regards to the poor performance of Southern, and so that turned into a great singalong with those words, so tune of the day there really. In fact it was notable that the shadow transport secretary Andy Macdonald was also offering his support there too. I think as well that the number of different people there, from those in their everyday clothes to those in full suits working in the City, there was a common feeling of frustration - notably as the talks between GTR and the drivers' union ASLEF had concluded today without anything moving forward or a solution being found, so there'll be more strikes continuing.

It was then a case of the masses walking along from Victoria, with banners, placards and the like and heading off to Horseferry Road and to the offices of the Department of Transport. They had a Thomas The Tank Engine train set for the Transport Secretary and it was a fairly organised and vocal protest, proclaiming quite clearly that if Chris Grayling isn't prepared to step in then he should resign. It was also notable just how many had stayed till the end and had walked along, and certainly the one thing keeping everyone together is passenger unity.

Ironically when I did get back to Victoria, Southern did have a train running to Brighton via East Croydon, but it was the 1950 departure with just four coaches instead of either eight or twelve. It was crammed full of people despite another eight carriages being on the platform that could have been used. And so it was yet another example of Southern Fail in operation, so proving the point of the protest earlier. I can only hope that someone gets to bash heads together and tries to sort it out - and to be honest, I'm having serious considerations about getting a job back up North, which I shouldn't have to do...

Wednesday 14th December - Calming Influence

I again headed up early this morning to again take the same journey as yesterday in an attempt to a) get to work and b) get past all the strike action. I must admit that although the journey on the X68 is a longer one, this does at least allow me to put on some tunes and generally relax a fair bit, and see the sun slightly rise as I head towards central London. I had on John Carpenter's Lost Themes II album and the excellent track "Distant Dream" was one just to feel more relaxed to as I headed onwards, so tune of the day there most definitely.

I spent some time during the day checking over the deployment of the next updated core application, namely 7-Zip this time around. Because at the moment we're half way through our upgraded deployment to Windows 10, it's meant effectively having a deployment running in SCCM 2012 for the Windows 10 boxes, and one in SCCM 2007 for the Windows 7 ones. It's actually though proved just as reliable in either system, with in fact the SCCM 2012 one showing zero failures so far (and over 200 plus successful PCs, not to be sniffed at) so all good.

I've also been testing out a few things including another theory about the Wake on LAN. Unfortunately the setting I tried yesterday didn't quite function, even though the S5 maximum power settings was turned off. I do have another angle of exploration though and so will try that tomorrow, along with the possibility of having a Windows setting also changed which may help - notably as the new HP desktop minis are new kit, they may support other features that some of the other Dell kit doesn't. We shall see.

I did head off home on the X68 too and thankfully got past Selhurst Park well in advance of the masses heading there for the game against Man U tonight - although the Man U coach apparently turned up pretty late. It's almost as if they didn't realise that there was a strike on or something. I did of course have the Radio 5 live on and was keeping an eye on the Manchester City game versus Watford from afar. I'd have loved to have been there even if that meant taking some time off work, but I'm sure the cheers would be loud from my place.

And in fact, how apt it was that one of my favourite City players Pablo Zabaleta scored the opening goal and celebrated the goal with a passion that only he could show - kissing the badge and fist pumping massively. He is the man, as the City fans rightly say, and there's a real sense that the fans wanted him to win as captain. David Silva scored with three minutes to go to make it a bit less worrying for those who were there, and at least it kept us up there, especially with the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea also winning and winning well.

Tuesday 13th December - Avoiding the Strike

So with the drivers' strike on Southern Rail today, it effectively meant hardly any trains running from East Croydon, bar the Thameslink ones which would be understandably rammed to say the least. As such I was taking no chances, got up early and took the first X68 express from West Croydon to Holborn. It wasn't too bad, but got stuck in traffic a little in places, and managed to grab a coffee at Costa Farringdon before heading to the office, thankfully on time too. A lot of others who left it later were suffering massively long journeys though it has to be said.

I kept an eye on how my first deployment of the seven was going, and by mid morning with some machines all up and running and a fair number also logged off after being left logged in overnight, it looked some 550 machines across the estate had the update to Flash Player pushed out, with minimum of fuss, and no support calls over the fact it was updated. This is where your testing really does pay off massively, and it was good to be able to sort all of that.

I also had spotted that for some reason some of the new PCs that we have weren't all waking up with Wake On LAN being set. I decided therefore to do some further investigation, and it turns out that HP's interpretation of the S5 Maximum Power Saving setting effectively means that it turns off the PCI bus as well, thus also disabling the use of Wake on LAN (even if you have enabled that in the BIOS.) I've turned off that setting on one PC and also tested a way that HP can set their BIOSes with a command line to set another, which worked rather well all round. So there could well be a good way to sort this out actually.

It was a fairly longer journey though, not because I didn't get the X68 (I did) - it was effectively not too bad on traffic until we hit the gyratory at Tulse Hill, and took ages to get through there, and once there it was also a longer delay close to the top of Crown Point and Beulah Hill, but once past that it did at least get a move on and I didn't get home too badly in the end all things considered. I was at least buoyed with the fact that there were going to be the commencement of talks tomorrow (at least with ASLEF and Southern) to try and get the drivers' strikes sorted. Would have been good to get all parties around and bang some heads together mind you, I'd just like to see it all sorted.

With that in mind, I had the iPod playing on the way home and listening to that, and with some Slayer on including "Seasons in the Abyss", which is pretty much every single day on Southern Rail, strike or not to be honest, and so tune of the day. If you want a pretty fair and balanced assessment of the whole thing and don't want any media spin, incidentally, you may want to have a read of this article, which firmly accuses all concerned and doesn't take sides either. And as the whole GTR franchise is effectively a subcontract for the Department for Transport, that department and Chris Grayling are ultimately responsible..

Monday 12th December - Testing Times

Well, definitely the calm before the storm of the strikes on Southern Rail, and thankfully my normal train (the 0658 Thameslink (also part of GTR which own Southern etc) departure to Bedford from East Croydon) was reasonably on time, although the train on the way home tonight was stuck close to Loughborough Junction due to the train ahead having its emergency cord pulled at Herne Hill. I got into East Croydon fourteen minutes late, just one shy of the Delay Repay new limit that's now in operation across the whole of GTR. I am of course keeping an eye on that to see if the claims are worth the hassle of doing as they arise.

Anyhow, enough about that for now. I spent a fair bit of time today testing a revised driver package for one of the PCs, to see if everything would work the right way with it. It's always good to be sure to try these things out and ensure that not only do all the drivers install correctly, but they also work the right way too. I've got a fair few things I tend to look at, and ultimately it helps quite a bit in order to be able to test in a controlled environment. I'm definitely looking at a stability side too.

I also have been doing some additional testing into a spurious issue that centres around the start menu tiles and how they sometimes don't perform the way that they should do. Unsurprisingly, it's a common Windows 10 issue that really does nark off users, and yet Microsoft seem really reluctant a) to admit to a problem and b) to fix it. My manager is currently working on one idea, and I'm also trying to ascertain just how it starts to misbehave in order to see what preventative maintenance we could also do. All in a day's work.

I had all my changes approved (seven of them) and so over the next week and a bit we'll look at ensuring that there's a fair few of the core build applications updated across the estate. All the testing with these has been done, and it's a case of getting them out there and ensuring security and stability. It's often been quite useful to be able to use a virtual machine that I can roll back with, and then be able to ensure all is good there. It does also mean I can schedule the timed deployments from 7am each morning (when the PCs wake on LAN) and take it from there.

I headed home later and had a good catch up with one of my friends, whom I hadn't spoken to do in a while. An hour and a half passed ridiculously quickly, and it was really nice to be able to chatter about all sorts, and how I've been able to develop myself a bit since I've been down here. It was actually a year ago today too that I moved down South, and I can remember having the telly on feeling a little bit on my own with boxes everywhere, and that wasn't so good initially - unlike now where I do feel much more comfortable. Tune of the day is "London" by The Smiths for that reason - and yes, I think I did make the right decision, this time!

Sunday 11th December - Slow Sunday

I must admit it was rather lovely to have a long cosy lie in this morning. In fact I got up and set about making the breakfast whilst The Love In My Heart had more time to relax and chill out, and I had got all the ingredients for a nice breakfast, a full English at that complete with some chopped tomatoes for The Love as well. I must admit I was rather pleased how it all turned out, and especially as the thick unsmoked bacon was gorgeous that I got, it really added something nice to the whole thing.

In fact after breakfast we just lay together and chatted, and it was lovely just to take things relatively easy and not have to think about time, or any trains home, or anything, just being us, chattering to each other, making each other laugh, and being happy. Sometimes it's very easy to forget that all those little things that make you a couple are the ones which all add up, but it's also good to know that there's plenty of those moments. I know my dry sense of humour makes The Love laugh, and I know too she has a similar dry sense too which also makes me smile, so as I said, the little things.

We ended up having a leisurely game of Scrabble in the early afternoon and had the table set so that The Love could watch Escape to the Country and have a glass of wine whilst playing - which made it much more chilled out. In fact I kept getting vowels and The Love kept getting no vowels, and so some moves were quite hard to play because of it, but in the end I did pretty okay, ending up doing OVARY (also making ZO at the same time, which is an allowed two letter word by the way) - and so ended up with 44 points - the first word being on a triple word score at that. Not a bad little move really.

Later on we headed back on the train from East Croydon to Victoria, then the tube to Warren Street, and off to the Crown and Anchor for a gorgeous Sunday lunch. We both had the roast pork in the end which was just so rather gorgeous all round, especially the crackling to go with it. In fact The Love had a mulled wine which was really nice too, warm and spicy just like it should be, and they had the Ilkley Mary Jane ale (one of my favourite session ales too) so that was all good there.

It was hard to say goodbye to The Love, especially as I won't be seeing her now till the 23rd December and spending Christmas at hers, but I know we've had a lovely weekend, and it was plenty of hugs at Euston before she headed off back up North. Due to the total crapness of Southern Rail, I do wish I was going with her, and ended up getting delayed on the way home - great. Not. However, the weekend was so lovely that tune of the day is going to be a rather nice Christmas song that we both love, "Last Christmas" by Wham. It's just a classic of its time!

Saturday 10th December - Oh, Christmas Tree

So it was a trip to Sainsburys in the morning and get some food shopping done, and managed to get quite a bit really. In fact I'd also stocked up on some cleaning stuff, some shower gel, and in addition to that spotted a box of 27 baubles that I thought would go well near the top of the Christmas tree, and they had been reduced by half price to £2, so epic win there, and as they're mostly silver that goes well with the style I have on the tree (silver decoration, green tree, keeping it simple and classy)

I put the tree up when I got back, remembering all the assembly instructions and which branch colour and letter goes where. Yes, it's an artificial one, primarily because the cost of the real tree was just getting too expensive, and too messy to recycle afterwards also. In fact a couple of years back The Love In My Heart and I got one each from Tesco as they had been reduced, and it's a 6 foot tree and looks the part. In fact I mainly assembled it and put the two sets of lights on, as The Love was coming later and I know she would love to decorate the tree.

The best news of all though was that I found the little polar bear that I have that sits at the top of the tree. I thought I'd lost him when I moved, but then when sorting out the top of the wardrobe where the decorations are, I checked the bag with the small Shuttle PC in I use for file transfers for old 8-bit computers, and he was there in the side pouch. It's a me thing, but I don't do religious stuff on the tree, and the polar bear is my little thing. And so it was rather nice to put him on top and all be ready.

I headed to the station later to collect The Love In My Heart, and once back at mine, I showed her the tree and polar bear, and the new decorations (she approved of those) and we were heading off to Greenwich Market, as she wanted to go to a few of the stalls there. One Overground train and DLR via Shadwell later and there we were, and the market was busy but not stupidly so. One stall we both love is Forever Florence, some really nice scarves starting at only a fiver each. Needless to say The Love got one for a nice little present for someone, and lots of the stalls were all selling lovely stuff as ever.

We then were going to go in The Gate Clock for some food, but no food happening there today for some reason, so instead we headed over to The Spanish Galleon. I've always been intrigued by this place due to them having a fish and chip takeaway in the middle of the pub - and the fish and chips looked nice - so had that for lunch. And yes, I can vouch for them, they were lovely. In fact The Love tried a bit too and was also suitably impressed, so all good there with a pint of Whitstable Bay also.

After some more mooching around the markets and the shops (and the nice little Christmas Market close to St Alfege's Church with some lovely stalls) we headed to the Mitre pub, and the Wild Holly ale was on, so had that with The Love having a mulled wine too, and plenty of people in there had Status Quo T-shirts on, as they're playing the O2 this weekend so having a good weekend in Greenwich (and why not?) - and once we avoided some more rain, we headed back to Cutty Sark DLR station and headed back to West Croydon and then home.

Once home, and with Strictly Come Dancing on in the background with the Manchester City score being appalling, we got the decorations out and between us placed them both on the tree. I must admit it did look good with the extra baubles on, meaning the large ones and the snowflake decorations could go nearer the bottom and do make some sense. And with the polar bear on top, all was good, and it was also good in between to see how well some of the dancers were this week - be a hard job to pick the one to be eliminated!

Later on, we watched the Jonathan Ross show, which looked like a bit of a Christmas special, although David Walliams attempted to take over the show a lot. Must admit it was nice to see Keira Knightley not take herself too seriously, Miranda Hart with her dog Peggy running around, and the rather lovely Kylie Minogue too. In fact Kylie sang one of the songs from a new Christmas album she has out, effectively a reissue with more tracks. From that I must admit I do like her version of "Santa Baby" so that's tune of the day and quite festive, apt with the tree up too!

Friday 9th December - You Against You

So it was off to work and good job I didn't decide to leave early and get the 0639 train into work, because that was cancelled, which didn't surprise me whatsoever. I suspected that that was still the Thameslink part of GTR having a lack of drivers, and that was pretty bad really. I did at least get the 0658 and I suspect a lot of people were having the day off or working from home due to the fact that the strikes had been on during the week. It wasn't looking too good really.

Anyway, I had a pretty productive day all round today, managing to put through seven proposed changes, one for each of the core build applications that we need to update, so the likes of Skype, Flash Player, Firefox, Chrome, Silverlight, Acrobat Reader and 7-Zip at that. Most of those installs are fairly small but as we're attempting to keep on top of things we'll be doing a deployment of each one on a daily basis at an agreed time to be sure that we're actually keeping on top of management of change. I'll see if they get approved early next week.

I also tested out another driver package for both Windows 10 and Windows 7 on one of the laptops we're currently using for our rollouts. Although we're concentrating on desktops at the moment I've got an eye on the laptop side of things and so it's good to be able to focus on that and get it done, and one passed both tests perfectly. It's good that in the case of one manufacturer they provide a tool and a web link to all the driver packs so you can integrate them much easier rather than having to faff around, a definite plus in my view.

I also worked on resolving an issue where signing in to Power BI had an odd issue because of the Office 365 integration. What I found out was that if you logged on to Power BI on the web first, and then made sure that worked, the redirection of log in when using the desktop client then worked, and so I was able to resolve an issue for a member of staff that way, and he was pretty pleased with the way that was sorted out too - I definitely felt pretty pleased with myself.

I got home and decided that after a week of putting up with crap trains and indeed then heading to M&S to get the dine in for two deal prior to The Love In My Heart coming over tomorrow, a bit of Slayer was required, and so "You Against You" is tune of the day. The video is actually a prequel video to the title track Repentless, and it is pretty gory as well. As the videos were released the other way round, you can now work out why the person was in prison doing plenty of carnage, with Slayer rocking it out and Tom Araya kicking backside on vocals too. Excellent stuff. Maybe You Against You should be GTR against the Department for Transport?

Thursday 8th December - Be At One

It was nice to be heading out after work for a few drinks with some of our IT folks at work for our own little Christmas get together. One of our project staff had organised it, and had managed to get us some space at a local bar close to work called Be At One. It was mainly cocktails, and they had a happy hour for a little while too - albeit 2 for 1 on the cocktails, and it had to be two of the same. Of course with a few of you it was fairly easy to get two of each and then split them accordingly between everyone - and some of the management had put a small bar tab on which was very nice of them.

And so at around 4.30pm we headed across, a short distance at that, and it was to the space we had managed to get allocated. It was good because a shelf and blind window was behind the tables and chairs and so we could place coats and bags there etc in the absence of a cloakroom, and plenty of cocktails to choose. Not that I was going to have one - I much prefer the beer any day of the week, and of course, there were at least some bottled beers - Sagres and Moretti, but also the Meantime London Pale Ale - the best of the bunch I thought, and so had that, which was fine.

It was clear that this was the sort of place where loud music and incessant heat pumped through the air conditioning in an attempt for you to buy more drinks was the norm: fine to a degree, but I must admit that I do like to hear myself think and talk to be perfectly honest. I did manage to have some nice conversations with the likes of our test manager and one of our new project staff, and that was all good. I also spotted when I went down the spiral stairs to the lower floor that as well as the loos, another bar - and hardly anyone getting served, so another ale was mine!

It was all good in terms of a varied music selection all round, with songs from classic films, some disco classics as well as some dance tunes as well, and then some old stuff too, so something for everyone really. I must admit that it was nice to be able to hear some of the 60s classics such as "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys (make that tune of the day) and good to have a natter with various colleagues about all sorts other than work too!

I didn't stay out all night as strikes meant that trains would be pretty bad, and good job really - I got the 1945 train back to East Croydon from Farringdon, and the next two after that had been cancelled by Thameslink due to a lack of drivers - showing once again that the whole GTR franchise lacks them massively. The fact that many more services are reduced on Southern than expected due to the driver overtime ban just shows how much Southern are actually relying on overtime - not good really.

I did watch The Apprentice when I went home too, and it was good to be able to see how that panned out with the gin experiments. In fact the clear one of Giin looked lots better and classy, and the other team's orange with the bad name and inaccurate map didn't look professional, not least too the argumentative way that one of the contenders decided to go - and that was something Lord Sugar didn't like and so out on her ear she went. Five left, and so the interviews next which will be total carnage I reckon..

Wednesday 7th December - Repentless

Well, I again boarded the 0645 to London Bridge (which was again delayed) but the departure board at East Croydon still showed that the 0658 departure to Bedford was running. This was of course an untruth - thankfully one of the station staff situated at Platform 1 had spotted the error and at least was doing his bit to keep people informed. It always seems to be that the screens aren't always showing the right information at the station - and imagine if this was an unstaffed station where the departure board is your only source of information? And oh joy, it was an 8 carriage train, so absolutely crammed (more so as those waiting the 0658 were not chancing waiting for the 0723 in case it was overfull too).

One of my work colleagues also commutes from East Croydon - he had got up even earlier than me and got on the 0639 departure to Bedford - and even that was totally rammed too. I goes to show that the Thameslink part of the Govia Thameslink Railway franchise can't run stuff properly (and there's no strikes on Thameslink incidentally) - plus they then decided to cancel a number of trains in the evening due to a lack of drivers. As I'd already found out direct from GTR management, this was purely because they rely on driver overtime to fill the timetable, and if that goes amiss, cancellations galore.

It was perhaps then telling later today that a leaked document, a letter to the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson from Chris Grayling (now Transport Secretary) showed that he didn't favour further devloution of overground train services in London to TfL because it may be a Labour mayor next time. Clearly, despite cross-party agreement from MPs across London that actually TfL running the suburban rail services was seen to be a positive improvement, and earlier in 2016 Patrick McLoughlin and Boris Johnson had agreed this would happen, clearly when Grayling took over as Secretary and Labour's Sadiq Khan as mayor, it was going to be rescinded.

Notable that it was one Conservative MP, Bob Neill, who chose to speak out, basically recommending that Grayling should resign immediately due to a lack of transparency and playing politics with public transport instead of what's best for passengers. Having travelled with London Overground from West Croydon (and indeed from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction a few times too) the service generally works well and also means the same fares are charged in each zone as per the tube fares are, meaning simpler to understand all round for passengers. Win. Or so you would think anyway.

Away from all the fun and games of commuting, managed to get a lot done at work today actually. I continued to sort out the driver packages for the HP laptops and when obtaining the Windows 10 one for the HP ProBook 640 G2 series, noted that there was an updated one for Windows 7 as well. We thankfully had one available for testing and so was able to run a good test and ensure that it all worked, and it did, first go too. There's still a driver package with no source files that was there before I started which I'd love to eliminate, so I'll work on that and get that all out of the way, meaning a more happy system.

I did also find that it was good that I was able to deal with a fair few people today and be able to crack on as much as possible with various tasks also - I think for me that my head down and get on with it approach is quite a simple one, but it works well, and I'll liaise often with people to ensure it all works the right way too. I'm still enjoying the job despite the bobbins trains, and it's the fact that I'm doing something I enjoy and am good at gives me a sense of achievement and belonging too. Tune of the day in the meantime is Slayer's "Repentless" - just the thing to wind down with after a hard day at work and then facing bobbins trains...

Tuesday 6th December - The First Day Of Strikes

So, the first day of three of conductors' strikes and that meant a part decimation of Southern Rail services - not that you'd know that much difference from their normal level of services (which isn't the best - understatement) and so as a consequence those commuting from much further than me were getting on earlier trains. I myself thought the same and so got on the 0645 Thameslink train to London Bridge, which was very busy. Normally I can get a seat on that or my usual 0658 to Bedford (straight to Farringdon) but not today, standing all the way which was to be expected.

My 1615 departure on the way home was similarly busy and it's only because I get on at Farringdon that I get a seat - by the time it left Blackfriars it was rammed to say the least. Obviously no one wanted to chance waiting at London Bridge and playing platform shuffle with Southern's less trains, and so of course they're all getting on Thameslink instead (incidentally, also part of the monolithic Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise which includes Gatwick Express and Great Northern also.) It's also perhaps worth noting something with regards to this.

I am not a union person. In fact many years ago I left one that I was in because I felt pressured into action I didn't want to take. I therefore have noted some on Twitter who seem to think I've, in their words, "Swallowed the union line" on their safety stance. It's not the case and have done my own research to work out where the issues lie. There is a safety issue, and that's the fact (and this is why I asked a manager at GTR to ensure a balanced argument) that their new on board supervisor (OBS) role won't be trained to the same safety level as a guard is currently - so if GTR are retaining a second person on board Southern trains as the OBS, it's not at the same level of competence. That may be okay for operational purposes most of the time when hopefully critical safety measures aren't needed to be carried out and the train operates as it should. You only though have to look at the recent accident near Watford to emphasise that safety shouldn't be compromised any further than it already is on the railway.

You do hear lots of publicity about Driver Only Operation (DOO) being safe, and that independent safety experts have claimed it to be so. One of these independent bodies is the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) which just happens to be funded by the train companies. Add to that the CEO of GTR also being on the non-executive committee, and in most other businesses, the words "conflict of interest" would be sounding alarm bells. In places where DOO is operational (and in fact the Thameslink part of GTR is) it's worth noting that a driver cannot carry out repairs to train if it breaks down (often the case of Thameslink - hence a bottleneck through the St Pancras to Blackfriars corridor soon mounts up), but a guard could at least assist and get things moving because that guard would be safety trained to head to the tracks and examine the train.

The reason that a fair number of the public are still behind the unions isn't because they've been fed union spin, but they've seen the Department for Transport's management contract with GTR unravel before their eyes, they've seen Louise Ellman ask questions of the DfT and GTR at the Transport Select Committee, and have information deliberately withheld, and also seen a force maejure claim go in due to "unprecedented levels of staff sickness" - which front line staff have told me (and I asked, again for balance) that it's also a lie, but they were in fear of telling me why - so bullying management equals stressed staff equals time off sick. And so the spiral begins.

All everyone really wants is for everyone to get round the table, have their heads bashed together by the very passengers everyone involved that they should all serve, and thrash out an agreement where a good compromise could be sought. Sadly, with both the Government ministers, GTR and the unions all entrenched due to previous poor relations, I fear this won't happen. And not for any time soon either. Personally I know what I'd do - start all over again with a revised franchise, a fresh management approach and a completely independent no train company or union involved review of safety on trains.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Stupid" by Wrangler from their excellent "White Glue" album which sees former Cabaret Voltaire frontman Steven Mallinder in mighty fine form, with plenty of funk and distorted vocals throughout, giving it all a sense of being rather sinister. Kind of sums up how it all is with the current Southern Railway impasse as well, and I can't be the only one who would just love to be able to do the same job they enjoy without the daily fun and games of getting to and from home.

Monday 5th December - Not So Manic Monday

So the final day of doing the late shift for a bit, and it was quite nice to have a little bit of a lie in before heading out and getting all sorted for work. Admittedly, it's been nice to be able to sleep better at night, but at the same time though that's also due to no rail strikes (till tomorrow) and because of the fact that the stress of that doesn't help. I think too having watched the snooker to a conclusion last night and thoroughly enjoying it, it was a nice way to end the weekend and head off to bed.

I managed to get in without issue today, although at lunchtime I'd spotted that a broken rail near Purley was going to cause chaos on the Brighton Main Line, and it did. In fact despite Network Rail fixing it pretty quickly, the catch up happened for the remainder of the day, and to be honest I was quite lucky that my 1813 departure home was only a few minutes late and indeed got home reasonably okay. I must admit though that the weather being colder is noticable somewhat, it felt rather nippy on the walk home from East Croydon, even more so when holding a bottle of Tesco Pure milk too..

I spent some time today working on a few things, one of which was to ascertain some potential issues behind some of the things we'd spotted on the Windows 10 rollout. One of them appears to be that one older model of PC appears to not like the USB suspend setting, so found a way that we could potentially turn that off, and then have less issues occurring with the likes of USB headsets - well that's the plan at least. It's good to do some research and work out what's happening.

The perhaps biggest success of the day was managing to reclaim some 200GB of disk space back on our test SCCM server. It transpired that the drive that the SCCM side was installed on, which for the test server also included the site database etc, was very low on space, and after some investigation it appeared that the reporting services log database had grown massively because of the way it had been set up a while ago (not by one of our SQL DBA Admins, it seemed.) Anyway, with assistance from our lead SQL DBA, we managed to change the setting and shrink the database, and claimed lots of space back. In a word: result!

I must admit when I'm able to work with teams and people and get things done, that makes me happy and feel like a sense of achievement - and being able to provide useful sane suggestions to make things run better and more stable is always a definite positive. I'd like to think I'm making the right impact - time will tell of course, but I do feel happy in the job that I do and enjoy the challenge of it. Now only if the likes of Caroline Lucas didn't get such a patronising response from the rail minister Paul Maynard MP yesterday, we'd all be in a better place right now...

In the meantime, tune of the day is the excellent "Atlas, Rise!" from the Metallica album "Hardwired to Self-Destruct" - it really sets the tone overall and shows a real sense of power and control too. I must admit that the album has grown on me massively over the last couple of weeks to be honest, and really does give me a sense of wanting to rock out. Am I the only one who wants to get out Guitar Hero Metallica and then rock to some of their classics? I think not..

Sunday 4th December - To Market..

We had both had a nice lie in this morning as I think for different reasons we'd both had a hard week at work and wanted a nice rest, plus Jô the cat decided to snuggle up and have a sleep himself at the end of the bed, looking all cute and lovely. I must admit though that he does his little miaow more at The Love when I'm here, sort of voicing his disapproval - he's very protective of his Mummy, that's for sure. Mind you, he cheered up when I fed him some Dreamies later on.

After a nice breakfast and indeed getting changed and ready, we headed out in The Love's car and decided to go to Knutsford to have a look around the little shops that are in the centre. We like lots of them and it's a good place to have a walk around, and so headed down Princess Parkway and the M56, then seeing all the new roadworks for the new A556 route before turning off round the back of Mere and then towards Knutsford. We saw signs for the Christmas Market which was on today, and thought "uh oh, this could be busy" - and it was. In fact the usual car park The Love parks in (which tends to be free on a Sunday) was absolutely chocker, and not a space to be had - in fact parking tickets had been issued for cars not in a proper space, so definitely not risking that!

We did end up seeing where the market was which all looked lovely, but the parking situation was pretty awful so we decided to abandon. In fact we headed towards Wilmslow and then cut across to Hazel Grove, and on the way saw the current roadworks for the A555 Manchester Airport to A6 relief road too, and that might be useful once built. It was good though to head back to one of our favourite places, The Fiveways in Hazel Grove, and for Sunday lunch there.

And it did not disappoint either. The carvery was on its usual lovely form, with plenty of nice beef and gammon, a gorgeous gravy, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, carrots and broccoli in my case, and The Love also added some cauliflower cheese to hers too. It was also a nice relaxed atmosphere and really showed just how a Sunday afternoon should be done. In fact the only thing was that I was tempted to have one of their gorgeous cakes for dessert, but ended up being good.

Later on we headed back to Piccadilly and I said my farewells with a kiss to The Love as I got myself a gingerbread latte from Costa and then on the 1735 departure back. Once the masses who'd been to the Manchester Christmas Market left at Stoke, it was a nice quiet journey and I just had on the iPod playing the likes of "What Do I Get?" by the Buzzcocks (make that tune of the day) and then heading across on the tube and train surprisingly on time, especially for once!

I then watched the remainder of the UK Championship snooker final from the Barbican in York. This did not disappoint either. In fact in the last six frames of the match there were five centuries, high quality stuff indeed. Ronnie O'Sullivan had pulled it back from 6-2 down to 8-7 down against Mark Selby with some quality play, only for Selby to show his mettle and put in some classy breaks of his own, especially in the final frame, and win 10-7 and the title. In fact Mark now joins Ronnie in a unique club of only six players who have won all three Triple Crown events at least twice, putting him up there with the all-time greats (for the record, the other four are Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Mark Williams.)

Saturday 3rd December - You're Not Fit To Referee

I headed up on the train from East Croydon to St Pancras (as the trains to Victoria appeared to be delayed) and then from there walked from St Pancras to Euston, and soon I was there on the concourse waiting the platform for the 0820 departure to Manchester Piccadilly. Unfortunately, the 0800 had been cancelled due to a broken down train causing delays, and so two train loads, plus a shed load of Chelsea fans, were all attempting to get on. I did get my seat and thankfully was able to get on fairly early, but a lot of people were standing all the way to Manchester from London, which quite frankly is rather unacceptable.

I did arrive on time and The Love In My Heart was there to come and collect me too, which is always nice. We made our way back to her place and the two cats Jô and Brian were being as cute as ever (aww) and we had a coffee with a bacon toastie, just the thing for me arriving, and then had a nice little chat before I headed across to the Etihad to meet my friend there, and we'd be seeing Manchester City take on Chelsea in a really heavyweight top of the table clash.

Shame then that the Premier League gave us the referee Anthony Taylor, who's been shocking before and equally as shocking today too. It was clear from the outset that no matter what challenges were going in, we were going to get nothing from him. Controversially a misplaced backpass was going to allow Sergio Agüero a clear shot on goal, but was cynically barged down by David Luiz. Clear red card for bringing down the last man on goal, surely? Apparently not. That met with howls of derision from the City fans and quite rightfully the ref was booed off at half time (and even more so at full time to be honest.)

City did take the lead as Gary Cahill put through his own net after a teasing cross, but once Chelsea changed formation and brought on Willian for Pedro, they looked a lot better going forward, with Diego Costa giving the defence trouble. In fact the game also turned on a cross from Jesús Navas which Kevin de Bruyne should have scored, but hit the bar. A few minutes later Chelsea went on the break, and after a chest down from a long pass, Costa slotted home for the equaliser.

In fact the plan of hitting City on the break did work wonders for Chelsea really, and they then went ahead again after a breakdown of our attack and the defensive lapses were plain to see, as this time a low angled shot from Willian hit the bottom corner - with a distinct lack of effort from Claudio Bravo in the City goal to save it - he didn't come out enough to narrow the angle, or should have stayed on his line, but did neither. Would that have gone in if we'd have kept Joe Hart? No. Simple as that.

Chelsea then went forward later and scored another dead on the 90th minute for 3-1, and deep in injury time Agüero made a shockingly bad tackle on Luiz, all hell broke loose with the players scrapping, including Fernandinho losing it with Cesc Fabregas, meaning the Brazilian got sent off too. So an instant four game suspension for Agüero (he'd had a red card equivalent suspension a couple of months back) and three for Fernandinho - and in my view, despite the rubbish ref, both players let City down very badly today it has to be said.

Once the traffic had died down The Love In My Heart and I headed over to see Mum, and my brother was also there too, with my uncle and auntie also there later on, so nice to see a few of the family. In fact I'd brought with me plenty of Christmas presents so I don't have to cart them all up on Christmas Eve, so dropped a load off at Mum's, which made a lot of sense. It was also good to catch up and have a chat, and noted Mum's Christmas present to herself - a new Sharp telly, which even has wireless built in and the likes of BBC iPlayer too - nice!!

Later on The Love and I headed to the Elizabethan pub in Heaton Moor, and noted how empty the car park was compared to how it usually is. This is because there's now a parking charge in place (£3 for 2 hours, or £5 for 3 hours) and the first tarriff of £3 is refunded at the bar provided you spend enough. I think though what it did prove was that how much the pub car park was used for people who didn't go to the pub alone, so possibly a good move that. It was certainly much easier, and a pint of plum pudding just had to be done!!

We got to back to The Love's later and had some very nice chicken en croutes for tea, and settled in for the Musicals from Strictly Come Dancing. It was good to see the classic original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory featured, with the classic song "Pure Imagination" (make that tune of the day) and that went down nicely. In fact all five remaining couples were all good, which shows the standard has got a lot better. I'm predicting Judge Rinder to go though, and when The Love watched the X Factor (boo!!) later she thought it might be Emily's time that is up..

Friday 2nd December - Revisions

So.. when I got home late last night (just before midnight, thank heavens I am on a late shift this week!) it was a plethora of deliveries that had arrived for me. Several of those were present related, and thankfully one had arrived which was being delivered by Yodel, and I'd had massively bad experiences with them in the past. This is the one good thing about having a concierge on site in the block of flats I live in - a lot of those things are just taken care of properly and professional, and our concierge is ace - always keeps residents informed and is a really nice guy also. Spot on.

I spent a fair amount of time today packaging and testing more of the updated standard build apps - but this time for our old SCCM 2007 setup for Windows 7. As part of the building can't as yet go to Windows 10 due to incompatibilities with some software, it's a case of being sure that they're kept all nicely up to date and secure where possible. It was good therefore to be able to at least use the same source information I'd already compiled for SCCM 2012, copy them to the shared folder for 2007, and then recreate the packages.

Naturally of course if I made some of them an application in SCCM 2012 (the much better way of doing it all if possible) then it was back to packages or package from definition in 2007, complete with creating suitable adverts for my test collection (which had a newly imaged virtual machine on our VDI network, and then had the SCCM 2012 client removed and the 2007 one added, so it'd talk correctly.) In fact it was good to be able to test quite a bit and managed to find quite a few things which worked well, so all was good there.

I had been delayed by the train in to work today and was delayed a little bit on the way home, but it was notable to see that Southern Railway had at least looked at compensation for customers and a fair number of season ticket holders would be getting a months' worth of refund in the near future. However, with the fare increases for next year set to be around 2%, it's a case of giving you money on the one hand and taking away with the other. In fact, due to poor performance, in my view they shouldn't be allowed to increase any fares whatsoever.

Any rail fare increase, incidentally, does affect us even in the London Travelcard zones. Even though single fares for TfL based services aren't going up (Tube, Bus, Tram, Overground and DLR) if the train single fares increase that does mean weekly and monthly travelcards would have to go up similarly. Another expense I might have to bear in mind. I just hope that if there's any salary increases in line with inflation that it at least matches the extra costs I've got now..

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather apt song about Southern Fail, which was acousticly performed by one Southern customer as part of Southern Fail X Factor (ho ho) - and called "They're W**kers" with a direct description about said company. And performed with gusto too, it has to be said, in the style of Billy Bragg crossed with MJ Hibbett, and a suggestion that any blame would happen to anyone other than the management of Southern (and indeed the DfT of course), so pretty apt really.

Thursday 1st December - Meeting The Manager and Totally Acoustic

I headed off for work earlier than normal today, as I wanted to get to Victoria Station and be able to question one of the managers of Southern Railway in their "Meet The Manager" session. It was notable when I did arrive at Victoria just how many managerial staff that there were ready to face customers, but at the same time none of the top brass, or indeed anyone from the Department for Transport either. Rumour has it that Govia Thameslink Railway and the DfT prevented any media from attending, which would have been interesting to see what coverage it would have had of passengers giving it with both barrels.

Anyway, I asked various questions of one such manager and had a polite conversation with him. Admittedly, I knew some of the answers already but wanted it confirming, but there's a few interesting points to note from the conversation, and especially where it's concerning some of the conjecture about the way that their franchise is run, so effectively the following is a summary of my findings. I overheard other managers say the same to fellow customers so pretty much the company line was being toed, but here's what I was able to get out of it:

What's pretty clear too from speaking to the manager, who had worked for Southern for eight years, was the changes that had been seen since the merger into part of GTR - certainly judging by the facial expression and almost resigned tone of voice, not for the better either. Clearly the Rail Delivery Group don't seem to think it's a problem, nor does Chris Grayling or Paul Maynard. Try telling that to passngers who were attempting to get home last night (and indeed as I was to find out later.)

In any case, after work I headed over to Great Portland Street on the tube and from there headed down to the King and Queen pub for tonight's Totally Acoustic gig. I was in for a treat tonight as it was the full MJ Hibbett and the Validators band doing an acoustic set, along with the classical act A Little Orchestra. One of the acts wasn't able to make it though as he was coming from Brighton and yet again the rail services were screwed (yet again GTR and the DfT making lives hell for commuters. hence the hashtag #southernfail being so popular.)

As a little bonus, and after I'd had a drink and had a natter with all of the Validators in the bar downstairs, Mark decided to play a few songs solo acoustic to get the evening off to a start. I didn't expect him to belt out the classic "Hey Hey 16K" (as he might have been saving that for the band) but that was pretty ace, and at the request of Tom from the band, a nice little singalong version of "Red and White Sockets" as well, which went down rather nicely.

So up then were A Little Orchestra, and they were really nice actually. They had some rather nice more relaxed pieces, complete with clarinet, acoustic guitar, flute and some violins - in fact Tom from the Validators was guesting with them playing, so it all sounded nice - there was a really sultry version of "Dance Me To The End Of Love" with Nicola in gorgeous vocal mode, and later on some Christmas songs including "Jingle Bells" which of course I had to add the line "oh what fun it is to see City win away!" - cheeky I know, but you know...

So with Tim having his bass pedal fixed with little wooden box for drums, Tom on violin, Rob (aka Frankie Machine) on the acoustic bass, and Mark and Emma on vocals, on came MJ Hibbett and the Validators - and for the first song complete with A Little Orchestra to record a version of "One Last Party" to be their joint Christmas single. And rather joyous it was too, with added strings making it all rather nice actually. I was intrigued what would come after that.

In fact it was a very enjoyable set throughout, so it had a gorgeous version of "In The North Stand" (complete with Rob doing a bass solo instead of the trumpet one on the record, and really ace cos of it) and older stuff such as "Mental Judo" (Emma on fine vocal form, note!) and also "Easily Impessed" with the "OI! Hibbett!" part getting lots of the regulars at Totally Acoustic joining in, and that was rather good fun too. In fact, it seemed the whole band were happy, especially at the little stollen break half way through!

As it was Christmas and all (well, December anyway), "The Advent Calendar of FACT" got played, with lyric sheets distributed and everyone doing the numbers and then joining in on the chorus too, which went down rather smartly. Oh, and "(You Make Me Feel) Soft Rock" with everyone doing the punching the air bit during the chorus too - rather joyous that, especially if you are leaving Leytonstone far behind and walking into Hollywood (well, Stratford at least!!)

For the encore, it was an enjoyable romp through "The Lesson of the Smiths" which was mighty, and so tune of the day for me. It just has a real sense of happiness and the opening line of "Morrissey, Marr and Barlow changed my life" sums up the feeling spot on. I had a good natter with Steve Hewitt and his wife Meg (we'll need to do Arsenal Ladies v Man City women next time around) as well as Mark's partner Charlotte, and all was very well with the world - not even a rubbish delay on Southern Fail could spoil me humming along to The Advent Calendar of Fact all the way home..