Dear Diary... December 2019

Tuesday 31st December – Arcades and Hootenanny

It was a nice relaxing morning with The Love In My Heart, and Brian the cat was of course happy to be fussed over and get himself a few Dreamies along the way. I was getting a few bits ironed for the next few days, and was heading out later with my brothers up to the North of Manchester and onwards to Bury, where we'd had an idea that it would be good to head over to Arcade Club, which had plenty of old arcade machines as well as pinball machines, Japanese imported oddities and two floors full of old and new school goodness. Of course I had to give it a go!

My brothers headed over to the McDonalds close to The Love's place, I'd already had breakfast but was sensible to meet them there. It was then on to Rochdale Road and to the M60, followed by the M66, and onwards to junction 2 for Bury, and followed the directions I'd read last night and straight to the car park for Arcade Club, which is in a former mill which has been re-utilised for different purposes. It also makes sense because you have a big floor space which is easier to put stuff in rather than having to negotiate pillars and walls of a traditional building too.

We spent the whole day there from around 11.30 until it closed at 6 (there was a New Year's Eve party on later.) I'll probably write a review at some point, but suffice to say it was really good fun. My youngest brother's girlfriend came along too, and she was good to chat to and a good gamer herself to be fair. It was though good to see off both brothers on Track and Field (as you do) but also have four player games on the likes of Hot Rod, and two player companion games such as Ikari Warriors, where the unique controller with the twist on the stick for the gun was a novel idea (but of course when rotating that you'd often get hit and lose a life too.)

There were some pinball machines to play too, and on the same floor is where you can order some food too – I had a nice pizza for lunch, and the soft drinks aren't expensive either, so did a bit of lunch and the likes of Metallica, Doctor Who, Addams Family and Twilight Zone pinball machines were all played (Addams Family is in my top five, so definitely well worth it) – and of course even Guitar Hero arcade, where I smashed “The Metal” by Tenacious D with a 100% score and top of the leaderboard (so tune of the day) – and naturally always good to play plenty of old school games back upstairs, so Gorf, Joust, New Zealand Story, Slap Fight, Rastan Saga, Mr. Do, Dig Dug, just shed loads really.

Before we knew it the time had come around and the lights came on in the building, so time to head off homeward. It had been fab and I'd like to go again sometime but maybe when I have some time and not going to the football, that'd be pretty good. I'll have to work something out, but thoroughly enjoyable. My brother dropped me back off later and it was time for a nice snuggled up evening with The Love and Brian the cat. In fact later in the evening Brian sat on the sofa between me and his Mummy and we were both giving him a love and cuddles, and a contented purring cat is always nice to see.

As we normally do, and after the soaps and World's Strongest Man, it was time for the Jools Holland Hootenanny. It was a mixed bag of people on it, La Roux was awful live, sorry to say, but there were plenty of good performances. Stormzy was really good to be fair, and he did storm it, and Stereophonics did their thing well. The Love was pleased Rick Astley was on as well, and he would later of course do the song complete with Jools' band. It was also good to see the folk singer Melanie on, showing the cross section that Jools always manages to get for these shows. And yes, we know it is filmed in Maidstone a few weeks before, but always seems a good time to see the New Year in, and having Pauline and Arthur from The Selecter join the band for an ace rendition of “Too Much Pressure” really was a good move, definitely a way to end the decade with that classic, that's for sure. Here's to a hopefully much better 2020!

Monday 30th December – Chilled Out In Chester

The Love In My Heart and I were both off work this week, and so would have an extended break off which we both needed. I decided that it'd be nice for us to head out to Chester, primarily to have a mooch around the shops, but also we both wanted to visit the Snugburys on the River, which is close to the River Dee and the Queens Park bridge which is the iconic suspension bridge as featured in the likes of Hollyoaks. The other nice thing was that it'd be quieter as it was the period of Betwixmas (that's between Christmas and New Year of course.)

After breakfast, we got ourselves all ready to go and The Love headed the car towards Princess Parkway and on to the M56, coming off at the M53 and then following the A56 into the centre of Chester. We noted that the new bus interchange meant that we had to go round slightly to the way we usually go, but after a couple of turns towards Northgate Street, we found a good car park which wasn't that expensive either, so decided that would be the option of choice. It was a bit confusing at first but we soon located a space, and close to the lift and exit, so all good really. It was definitely well worth the effort, as it wasn't far from Northgate Street.

We followed that and then left to the cathedral, and went inside to have a look. We saw the many Christmas trees on display, including a special one with recycled bottles used in the design of the decorations, and also the rather nice cloister with its sculpture in the middle of the water feature. We also did see the beautiful inside of the cathedral and a fundraising attempt where the money raised would make a Lego model of the cathedral itself. It was really nice and well worth a visit, and for sure it'd also be good to see it during the Summer and have all that light shining in too.

We then went past the ampitheatre and St John The Baptist church and down to the Queens Park bridge, and turned left underneath it and to Snugburys on the River. We managed to get a table inside, and I got us both some coffee, plus as well I treated myself to a little “snugpud” dessert – a cinnamon waffle with any flavour of the Snugburys ice cream available. It was gorgeous, and was definitely well worth the effort, the coffee was beautiful too. In fact it was so nice to see that the staff were so friendly, and really made the effort to be lovely to everyone. I'd imagine this in the height of summer being busy with lots just going for their rather fab ice cream to be honest.

We walked along the edge of the River Dee and onwards to the Boathouse pub. As it was a JW Lees pub it meant I could get the final stamp (and therefore a free drink!) for the plum pudding ale. We got a seat by the river bank as well so was nice to just relax and chatter and see the outside with its floating seating area – again we can imagine that it was busy in Summer as well. It was definitely nice that the Plum Pudding was still on form too and a real shame that the brewery only make it in December, they could of course have a limited edition bottle of the rest of the year!

It was then back along the wall at Newgate and on to Eastgate, and then down to the shops. The Love did really nicely in Paperchase getting some cards for future birthdays, and I must admit it was tempting to get some myself. We also had a good look around a number of shops, and had a wander through one of the shopping centres and along to The Rows as well, with its up and down levels, and plenty of temptation (especially in London Camera Exchange, where a couple of lenses caught the eye!) - so that was all good. We had a good walk back along Northgate Street via the town hall and then towards the far end of the street. It was tempting to get plenty along the way as well.

We had an early evening meal in one of the pubs close to the car park, and it meant I could have one of the Mobberley ales which was a tropical IPA, and that was rather lovely to be fair. It also was just nice to again be more chilled out, and before we knew it the time had whizzed by, and we headed back to the car park, and worked our way outwards and along the A56 back out towards Manchester. It had been a lovely day all round, and tune of the day is the excellent “Find The River” by REM, which was in my head a lot of the time today as we walked along together. I was just so happy: The Love looked gorgeous in her outfit and new boots, and made me feel so lucky to have her too.

Sunday 29th December – Blunting the Blades

It was good to take things relatively easy this morning, and Brian the cat was wanting a feed and wanting to play out, so he got his wishes of course. The Love In My Heart and I were able to have some nice bacon muffins for breakfast, and once we got a few things ironed and sorted we settled down in front of the telly for a bit. In fact, it was really nice just to slow down a bit before then heading out in the afternoon, with the idea of having a good Sunday lunch before I'd be heading off to the football later on.

We headed off to the Sheldon Arms near Ashton-under-Lyne, primarily because they do a good carvery, and also because they have a good selection of ales, including the Plum Pudding ale. I of course went for that and a San Miguel for The Love, and that was all good. We both took turns to head over to the carvery, and this time round you could select a rather nice chunk of lamb, which sat on the bone and melted off beautifully. When I saw The Love with that I thought it was about time I had one of those too, so went and did the same. It was very nice and very filling indeed.

When we got back we had a good game of Scrabble (as you do) and The Love was playing some good words with both the Q and the J and making good points. I got a number of moves in the thirties including a nice combination of using the Z early on and making SIZE for 33 points (triple letter Z). There was also the film on in the background, Saving Mr. Banks, with some excellent performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson accordingly. It was good to see some of the friction around the adaptation of the novel and how that reflected in the way it was produced, but also having the finale of “Let's Go Fly A Kite” (make that tune of the day) and seeing its composition worked well.

It was then off with my friend to the Etihad Stadium and to see the Manchester City game against Sheffield United. The away side hadn't lost away from home since January, and they were doing well in the league as well – their team ethic really came across well. In fact they deserved to go ahead when they broke forward and Lys Mousset scored a well taken goal. That was until VAR intervened, basically said that the armpit was offside, and ruled it out. Again, no one knew what was going on because of no displays on screen, and quite rightly both sets of fans chanted “It's not football anymore” and “f**k VAR” - and in my view, and with the earlier controversies in the Liverpool-Wolves game, it's time for it to go, and be gone quickly.

More controversy during the second half too, as a Sheffield United clearance hit the referee and then into the path of Kevin de Bruyne, who found Sergio Aguero with a pass and of course Aguero smashed it into the top corner beautifully. It was a cracking finish but they would be hard done by with the deflection (although the rules state a ref is a blade of grass technically so a deflection happens to be part of the game.) Later on though a nice move resulted in Riyad Mahrez finding de Bruyne and he smashed it home for 2-0. A well deserved win in the end for us, but they played well and will beat plenty of other teams around them playing as they do, to be fair.

Saturday 28th December – City Centre Cuisine

It was a nice chilled out morning and Brian the cat was insisting on a play out with The Love In My Heart – as he does. We spent some time in the morning sorting out some ironing (I needed to get a fair bit done) and also had some nice breakfast, then I also tuned in to watch the first heat of the finals of World's Strongest Man on My5 as I was obviously out last night and missed it on Channel 5. That was all good especially as it was the same presenting team as last year (James Richardson, Eddie Hall and Michelle Ackerley) and some of the challenges, especially the medley with the massive giant yoke, were utterly mental.

We got ourselves ready and headed on the tram, which was very busy, into the city centre. We both had gift cards which we could spend and we were able to have a good mooch around the shops. I did go into HMV and got myself a CD that I was after, and had some left over which I'll probably use for the F1 2019 season review Blu-ray when it comes out – or any new album in the new year. Ironically there are less HMVs in London than around Greater Manchester now! The Love also went into Oliver Bonas, and was able to see the jacket she was after – in all sizes except the one she wanted. The assistant in the shop was absolutely lovely, checked the Piccadilly Station branch too, and then told us we could order it, and so that was done, with gift card from our friends used nicely.

It was then a walk over to Rain Bar and our friends were already there. I noted that Plum Pudding was on (ooh yes) and a mere £2 a pint too, so naturally I had to have that, proper Christmas in a glass that. We also swapped presents, and our friends liked the European travel book we got (as they do weekends away a fair bit) and we also had got them some nice Innis and Gun beers too. They had got The Love a nice wine bottle topper from Venice, and also a little experience treat at London Beer Lab in Brixton to sample some beers, so we'll have to book that and get it all arranged nicely.

We were originally booked for Bock, but they had cancelled the booking as they couldn't cater properly for the nut allergy that one of our friends has, so we instead went to Dukes 92, which I have to say was a good choice anyway. The staff were lovely, they had a very nice Christmas ale which was very dark and lovely, and the food was also spot on. I had the crispy squid for starters, which came with some very crispy kale and a spot on dip, and The Love's duck starter was also delicious too. For the main, it was the mushroom risotto, topped with crispy oyster mushrooms, and that really did hit the spot. The Love always loves pork belly but this was ace. Both our friends had the chips smothered in gravy to start, then the fish and chips main – and they cooked the nut allergy ones in a different pan too, and when they checked when ordering, had a table of all the dishes and all the possible allergens, which was really good to see. Fair play to them!

I did have the sticky toffee pudding for dessert which was rather lovely all round, and once done, we headed over to Lock 91 for some more drinks. It's quite cute and cosy in there and they have decent beers and some on offer – the Manchester Brown Ale was 2 for 1 for example, and naturally the plum porter was the ale of choice for me which was gorgeous, I have to say. We had plenty more chat and the sound system was playing lots of 1970s prog classics, including “Hocus Pocus” by Focus (make that tune of the day) which I identified well. We then headed up to Deansgate Castlefield tram stop to say our farewells and the time had gone far too quickly.

We got home later and on went Channel 5 for the latest round of World's Strongest Man – so good to see Adam Bishop battle through and face Robert Oberst in the stone off to see who would get through with Konstantine Janashia. Oberst did tear a bicep so it was game over sadly, but Bishop had won two of the events and showed some promise, so perhaps even without he may have got through. Later after seeing The Hit List and Pointless, we turned over to BBC2 to what would be a fascinating documentary about the life of Michael Hutchence of INXS, with former band colleagues, managers, and former girlfriends including the likes of Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen talk about him openly. Of course the push bike incident which led to brain damage was sadly the beginning of the end, but it was also interesting to see the way that the band had developed and become more famous over time too.

Friday 27th December – Wolverhampton Walloping

The Love In My Heart and I had a relaxing morning with Brian the cat – he wanted some playtime so had a little runaround outside, and also then decided he wanted to play ball so I rolled the ball towards him, and he reaches out with his paw and swipes it away – better than my leg anyway! He seemed quite content and we had breakfast, and then got ourselves ready to head out later, as we thought it would be a good idea to see both our parents (as we were off out tomorrow and so wouldn't have the time to do so).

It was to The Love's father's first of all, and he was sorting a few things out and had also worked out that he had won a few football bets as well that were on the Boxing Day games – and he wanted to bet on the game tonight, so I offered to head over to sort that out for him. The staff recognised that it was his bets and explained to me he got there just in time before they shut for two of the bets so that was pretty good for him really. In fact even after putting the bet on for tonight it returned around £20 for him which was nice, so that had cheered him up, as well as seeing us both.

It was over to Mum's next, and she seemed a little better after having to call off a get together yesterday. She still is having mainly stomach pains, but was able to have a good chat to us both and indeed have a cuppa and catch up. The nice thing was that I was able to check the timetables for buses when she heads away in a few weeks time and wants to go somewhere, so it means that if she wanted to with her friends head off, they could do so and know what times they would be. It was good as well to be able to have a lemon slice with my cuppa and generally we were both relaxed.

With The Love still feeling a bit chesty herself, we headed back to mine later, and then it was for me off to see my friend, for two reasons: firstly to swap presents, as that's always nice to do, and also to watch the Manchester City game away at Wolves with him. It was good to get there and have a catch up, and also sort out why text notifications were failing to show on his phone (I think he had accidentally made them silent with no sound or message, so sorted that out and tested it.) Once done, his wife was more than happy with what she had got from us, three books, two of which were signed copies, and that was pleasing. Always good to locate some good sources for that stuff. My friend received an Amazon gift card from us, as he wanted to buy himself whatever he fancied, so appreciated that too.

The City game was utterly mental. Ten minutes in and the City keeper Ederson was rightly sent off for clashing with Jota near the edge of the area and bundled him over. Then, amazingly, City got a penalty awarded by VAR. The foot of Riyad Mahrez had been stood on, and under the rules, that was enough. For me, a bit soft, and not the way that a five minute delay to make the decision should be. I also think realistically that replays in the screen would ease the atmosphere, particularly after the first penalty was saved but then re-taken due to encroachment in the area. As it was, Rui Patricio saved the second one too but Raheem Sterling scored on the rebound, which was a relief for many. The Wolves fans threw objects towards Sterling – not nice, but if the Premier League actually gave replays for VAR incidents, that would help so we could all see what was going on and not make them feel so cheesed off.

We held on with ten men to half time but Wolves could have equalised, and we broke away with Sterling scoring a second, but that was as good as it got. Wolves pressed, we took off Kevin de Bruyne to be more defensive but that was a bad move (as had been taking off Mahrez at half time). Wolves dominated and once Adama Traore had scored to go back to 2-1, I could only see one winner. Traore robbed Benjamin Mendy on the edge of the box and put the cross in for their equaliser from Raul Jimenez, and in the 89th minute the ball came across for Matt Doherty to finish. Claudio Bravo should have saved it, but Wolves deserved their efforts to be fair and showed just why they were still a very good side. We were hopeless, and I think there'll be a long discussion post game as to what went wrong. “Hi Ho Silver Lining” by Jeff Beck is tune of the day as that pepped up the Wolves fans every time.

It was frustrating for us, but nonetheless a good game to watch if you were a neutral, and later on I said my fond farewells and took the 172 bus back to The Love's place, which meant not going through the city centre later on, so that was all good. I opened the presents when back there, and my friends had been very generous and got her an Oliver Bonas gift card – which I know she will use and get something nice from. I also received a number of CDs I was after, “Ghosteen” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2” by Foals, “WWIII” by KMFDM, “Doolittle 25” - the three disc anniversary edition of my favourite ever album by Pixies, and “Ripples” by Ian Brown. Awesome, and they really spoiled us both, so many thanks to both of them!

Thursday 26th December – Boxing Day Bliss

The Love In My Heart and I were having a bit of a lie in this morning, as we didn't need to do anything and of course it had been a busy Christmas Day on the whole. I think that The Love enjoyed the rest, but of course Brian the cat was more than happy snuggling up to Mummy and decided that the pillow was his to rest on and purr, as he does. As I went past the bed as I got up, he decided that he would take a swipe at my leg and then hiss a little bit – it didn't hurt, but it was just him not recognising me and showing that he was the boss of the place.

I had had a call from Mum and unfortunately tonight's get together there was cancelled – it would have been nice to see my brothers and sisters too, but Mum wasn't too well and reluctantly had to call it off. Thankfully The Love checked and we had enough vegetables and indeed turkey as well to be able to make a roast dinner for the evening, and use up more of the turkey that way, which made sense. With that in mind she made some croissants for breakfast in the morning from a mix she got, and they turned out quite nice actually, maybe a bit more brioche like, but still good.

During the day we watched a documentary which was the background story of how the Ford versus Ferrari rivalry was set during the 1960s and the endurance race events at the time such as Daytona, Sebring and of course Le Mans, which the recent film was based on. It was interesting to have all the back story, including an American pull out of all sports car racing only for that to be removed some years later and the beautiful GT-40 coming out as a result. It was fascinating stuff and well worth a watch too – it was called 24 Hours of War and really used the archive footage and interviews to good effect as well.

We had a relaxing game of Scrabble in the afternoon, and The Love played pretty well, putting ZO in the bottom left corner along with another word for 39 points, craftily using the Z nicely. I managed the classic QI with the Q on double letter both ways for 42 points too, which was good. Later I indulged The Love with the soaps and she watched Emmerdale for an hour and also later on ITV +1 Coronation Street as well, with all sorts of events post-Christmas Day, as the soaps now tend to do.

In between that it was the Christmas tradition and World's Strongest Man on Channel 5, this time the World Tour Finals from the Manchester Arena. Some of the events were brutal, especially the one handed dumb bell press. The car walk saw a new world record, 10 seconds dead, amazing, and Mark Felix yet again broke his own world record in the Hercules Hold, and I think one day 90 seconds is possible. The atlas stones was dramatic as a finale as ever and the Welshman Ben Brunning ended up second overall as a result, which was a great effort. The classic early 2010s theme tune (bring it back, C5!) is tune of the day as it really did get you pumped up.

Wednesday 25th December – It's Chriiiiiistmas!

Of course, it's not Christmas until Noddy Holder says it is, but an early Channel 5 TV show with a countdown of the best selling Christmas songs naturally had that classic, so didn't have to wait long for the immortal line (thankfully!) The Love In My Heart and I woke up with Brian the cat, and after giving him a fuss and a love it was time to get up and have a light breakfast. We did have some presents to open, mainly from relatives, so we did that first. Mum got me an All in One gift card (always useful) as well as a shirt and a small selection box of three beers, and my uncle got me a HMV gift card, so again something I will use. My brother got me two good New Order themed books as well as a mug with the characters from the Commodore 64 game International Karate + on the sides, nice!

It was a fairly relaxed morning to be honest, with The Love and I getting ourselves ready and me keeping an eye on that countdown, and surprisingly what was near the top, including Boney M. That said my all time favourite, The Fairytale of New York, with Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues, was up there (make that one tune of the day) and all was good. I opened some more presents, so my friend got me Fight Club and The Commitments on Blu-ray plus the soundtrack CD to the TV series The Vietnam War (plenty of Trent Reznor in there) which was really good.

Later on we headed over to The Love's father's place, and it was nice to see everyone. In fact it was a pretty busy house all round, so good to get round everyone and have a chat. I also received some lovely presents too – an Amazon gift card, another All in One gift card, a pack of Brewdog Lost Lager, Toy Story 4 on Blu-ray (which of course I did want!) and some gingerbread latte pods for the Tassimo, again always something nice to have. Later on I and a few of The Love's relations went over to the local social club with her father, and we had a pretty long game of snooker but it was good to just catch up and chat with everyone as well.

The Love's sister came to collect her son, me and her father, and we headed back to The Love's place, where she was making a rather lovely Christmas dinner all round. It was gorgeous, with plenty of turkey, potatoes, carrots, vegetables, stuffing and gravy, and not forgetting the all important pigs in blankets. The Love tends to serve it carvery style so we can just go up and get what we need, which works out better in my view anyway. I certainly enjoyed it all and The Love had even gone to the trouble of getting sticky toffee pudding for dessert as well which went down a treat!

After much chatter and a relaxed afternoon, The Love's sister headed off with her son, daughter and father in tow, and it was just the two of us and Brian the cat, and once we'd put the table and chairs all back to as they normally are, it was time for us to swap presents and open each other's. The Love was really pleased with what I had got her, which was always lovely. The Love did excel herself massively though, and I was so pleased she got me such lovely presents – perhaps best of all was a wooden box which inside had a Black Sheep Brewery bottle opener and a bottle of their limited edition Legacy 25 ale, which was brewed for their 25th anniversary. I was saving that one for New Year's Eve, but showed some real thought and I was really happy about that.

The other presents were also lovely too – I got a mug which when turned on its side shows the face and ears of the popular character Miffy, due to the way it was drawn on the mug, aimed squarely at adults who have fond memories of the character. I also got a lovely checked Pretty Green shirt, and a nice merino wool pullover from the Linea range at House of Fraser. I also got a rather lovely new wash bag to bring my toiletries in whenever I come to stay or go away, and so was mightily pleased with those presents. We had a nice warm embrace and I was pretty sure that the Oliver Bonas hot water bottle was going to get used tonight to be all snuggly and warm.

We settled in for the evening and I indulged The Love with the soaps, both of which were hour long specials, and then Who Want To Be A Millionaire – the celebrity one. I had to smile as a question came up on the Manneken Pis, especially as we'd been to Brussels a few months back. That was good, and we also managed to get a fair number of questions right – The Love got the Little Women one correct that Clare Balding had failed on, so that was also good. We snuggled up with Brian the cat and had a nice relaxed night and being all cuddled up – on what was a lovely Christmas Day all round.

Tuesday 24th December – Pausing

It's usually a good thing for me to have a pause moment on Christmas Eve, and take some time out to think of those no longer with us, more so those in the family who have passed away and would have enjoyed Christmas a lot if they were here. For me, it's good to be able to take that time out and pause and reflect, so I was up relatively early to take the bus into the city centre, and then from there another bus out to the first cemetery to visit. They have a rose garden where one of the relatives are, and it was good to see that the rose is still there, and with the names on of those there, making it easier to find (I know pretty much where it is, but always good to know).

It was from there on another two buses as I made my way through the south of the City and onwards towards the other cemetery, which being a little later in the morning did have people there. Thankfully though I was able to have a moment to pause and reflect on my own, and in both cases I had left a card, a blank one on the inside so I could write my own little thoughts and let those know that I am thinking of them, which I always do. Like I say, you always miss those who aren't here every single day (as you should do) but when it is these times of year it can hit pretty hard too. I do try to prefer the good memories of Christmasses past where it's been lovely times (I did my Boxing Day quiz one year at my place, first time I hosted for the family, for example.)

It was onwards to Costa Coffee where as is tradition a Christmas coffee was to be had, the gingerbread and cream latte this time around, and with a raspberry and almond slice to go with it. The staff were lovely and it was just nice to be able to have that moment to get myself right and not think those sad thoughts that I had been doing. It's a moment I always try to have to myself and then from there it means I can have the rest of the time making plenty of people happy, including myself, during the festive time. I took the bus back into the city centre of Manchester and all was well, although it was not as busy as I thought it would be- the shops were passable at all times and I even nipped into a couple to have a good little mooch.

Later on I headed home to The Love In My Heart's place via Asda, and she had asked to see if they had any Tiger cat litter for Brian the cat – unfortunately they didn't, and she had already got some Catsan anyway, but he prefers the Tiger one. I might have to see if any other Asda might have it at some point. In any case I did get some tuna and prawn Sheba for Brian, and also some shower gel and deodorant as I needed some, so was a worthwhile journey anyway. It was then home and fed Brian one of his cat sticks, which of course he really enjoyed and loved the fact someone else was fussing over him too.

The afternoon did have Toy Story 3 on (make “You've Got A Friend In Me” by Randy Newman tune of the day) and as ever it was wonderful to see Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the gang all end up at Sunnyside daycare and attempt to escape out of the place, with the evil Lotso bear not being very nice at all. I loved the fact of course Buzz turned into Spanish mode which amuses Jessie, but of course the aliens saving the day by using their favourite of “the clawwwwwwwwww” is so lovely. And who doesn't cry at the end when Andy hands over all of the toys to Bonnie? It's a beautiful moment so well handled, and as great as Toy Story 4 is, no one would have complained if the series ended here with Bonnie playing with all the toys and them having a new home.

Naturally of course Channel 4 has the children's selection well sorted for Christmas Eve: both of The Snowman films, and Father Christmas, and new for this year, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, based on the wonderful Judith Kerr book (and a book that The Love adores massively) – so I am just hoping it does the book justice. I know too that we'll all snuggle up with Brian the cat on the sofa and have a calm relaxing evening before all of the Christmas Day festivities tomorrow, which should be all good. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas.

Monday 23rd December – Friendly Lunch

The Love In My Heart was working today and tomorrow, whilst I was off, so was a good opportunity for me at least to have a lie in and also to relax at home with Brian the cat. He just wanted to snuggle up on the end of the bed and was all curled up being so cute and lovely. He didn't need to be able to do anything really and so was just chilled out. I sorted myself out with a shower and got myself ready to head out later, as I was meeting a friend for lunch, which is always a good thing to do.

I got to the tram stop and got the tram and bus day ticket – not the cheapest at £7.30 maybe, but it did offer unlimited travel and also meant that I was able to not have to purchase separate tickets which would have cost more. It was first on the tram to St Peter's Square, and swapped there for an Altrincham tram, which was a double, and headed to Sale. I had some time spare to nipped down to Tim Horton's, had a small and gorgeous dark roast coffee, before then heading to the bus stop and to take the 19 bus out of Sale and onwards to my friend's place.

It was lovely to see her and we spent a good time chatting over a coffee and having a catch up about what had been happening with work (and where I used to work) – as well as being able to chat about how her daughter was doing (very well) and all sorts. It was always good to be nice and relaxed anyway, and later on we headed down to the Samuel Brooks pub near her place. It's always nice in there as they have nice staff, good beer and it's two for £12 on the main meals too, so that was good. I went for the chicken katsu curry which was just as good as the one in Wagamama, which was lovely, and my friend went for the chicken with mushroom and stilton sauce.

The food was good, the conversation flowed well as did the beer as well, and it was all lovely. We in fact noted that the pub was also busier too because of people having Christmas afternoon meals (they had a two or three course menu) and I think they underestimated numbers. All was good though and we then headed back to my friend's place for coffee and more chat before I said my fond farewells and headed back on the 19 bus towards Sale, but this time not back through central Manchester, but to Trafford Bar first and change there for the tram to West Didsbury.

It was there I'd meet with The Love In My Heart and we would have a lovely drink together in Wine and Wallop, which was nice to just be relaxed upstairs and overlook the window and watch the world go by. I had the oatmeal stout which was really nice, and it was good to just chill out and have a good catch up before heading back to The Love's place later, where it was some nice chicken and vegetables for tea and a chance to relax with a drink and watch some telly together too. As for tune of the day it's the rather nice In A Perfect World by Kodaline, which is used for Gogglesprogs as well as standard Gogglebox, the former of which was on tonight and was very enjoyable.

Sunday 22nd December – Band of Bowling Brothers

It was a nice relaxing morning with The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat – he was of course wanting lots of fussing and Dreamies, as ever, and although he went to play out, he was soon back in again as it felt a bit cold out there and he didn't like it. We had a lovely breakfast and once all changed and ready, we settled in for some Christmas themed songs on 4Music. One song I've been hearing a lot this year is Kelly Clarkson's “Underneath The Tree” in shops especially, which reminds me a little of more Motown styled songs. The Love quite likes it, so for that reason it's tune of the day – although it is becoming my own Whamageddon!

That was the case later as we had a quick trip out to Matalan, as I wanted to see if they had any nice pyjama bottoms in – my ones here are getting a bit old. They had some but nothing special, but The Love managed to get some more wrapping paper and gift tags that she needed, both on discount, so that was worthwhile. And yes, more Kelly Clarkson playing too. We had to smile because I'd been saying earlier how much I heard it, and right on cue, on came the opening verse. We then later headed to the Sheldon Arms where a leisurely mid-afternoon drink and Plum Pudding ale was on, so naturally that was an epic win for me!

I left later on the tram to head via the city centre and to East Didsbury tram stop, and from there a quick walk down to the Gateway pub, where I'd be meeting both of my brothers for an evening of food, bowling and the like. I'd arranged to book the bowling at Tenpin as they do a deal for Sunday evenings where it's three games for £9, which is pretty good all round. So it was into the Gateway first for some drinks and food, and I had one of the Saltaire Christmas ales, very festive and citrussy and nice, as was the ham and mushroom pizza I had (and I asked them to have no rocket, they did just that, ace).

It was good to catch up and natter, and then it was onwards to Tenpin and we soon had the lane sorted. You can wear your own shoes in there, so deliberately had a flat pair on which I've used before and bowled decently in. It was a little quiet at first but soon got busier during the evening (as I suspect others had the same offer on) and It turned into more cosmic bowling as well. It was nice to be able to just encourage each other to get strikes and spares, and although my brothers won all thee games (two for one, one for the other) we all did well in terms of score (they both had a best of 132, mine was 123) and the lane was playing pretty well overall too, which was good. It was also nice to see that we got a few strikes, and spares a plenty, and I think it was just relaxed and enjoyable all round.

The arcade section was next, and I had a blast of this odd basketball connect 4 game, where you attempted to shoot into targets along that would drop your coloured slot. Playing against a computer opponent was harder but you did get prize tickets, and that was fine (I did lose!) - and of course the 10p falls were popular to say the least. We also then went for some air hockey, and it was a first to seven scenario in case. My middle brother won the first two 7-6 as winner stayed on, and then I managed to get my own back and win 7-4 and 7-3 against both of them, so that was very good indeed. We were all enjoying ourselves immensely and it was very warm in the arcade part as well.

It was colder outside and we went back to The Gateway for a post-game drink and chatter about a retro gaming place near Bury that we might have to check out at some point, and it was less busy so good to take things easy and have a nice ale too. My brother did give me a lift back to The Love's place later which was appreciated, and he handed me a couple of presents as well which was also good. I was glad I'd organised it and we definitely all had a great time too. I definitely think that we need more of that!

Saturday 21st December – Foxing the Foxes

It was an early rise for me this morning as I was heading off, with my large case, up to Manchester to spend some quality time with The Love In My Heart for Christmas. I had booked my train ticket for first class primarily to be more comfortable coming up but also for less hassle getting on and off with lots of people boarding trains. I had also avoided the Friday night for the same reason because of the fact that I knew that it would be mad attempting to get on, so was a bit more leisurely getting to Euston, especially on the tube as well which was quiet.

I had a nice relaxing time in the First Class lounge, with lots of rest and relaxation and a coffee and a biscuit as I watched those piling on to the Glasgow Central train as well, so glad I wasn't on that. The 0820 to Manchester was announced and made my way on. Of course, first class was lovely, a very friendly woman serving the tea, coffee and little breakfast packs (ham and cheese croissant, yoghurt and flapjack with seeds and fruit in) – in fact I had an orange juice and a coffee and that set me up well for the day. I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly on time and collected a click and collect order not long after (it was more sensible to do that!) and then off to see The Love In My Heart.

It was a fairly relaxed early afternoon over at The Love's father's place, and her nephew was over from his studies in Taiwan for over Christmas, so really good to see him. I went over to B and M and got some nice ale for not much dosh and spent some time with The Love's father too, and the time sped by quickly before we then headed back to The Love's place, where Brian the cat was assuming it was tea time and insisting on his tuna and prawn Sheba plus of course lots of Dreamies – nothing unusual there of course. He is totally adorable though and I am sure will be getting cuddles at Christmas!

Later on my friend and I went over to the Etihad Stadium to see Manchester City up against Leicester City, and a big game with us in third playing second. I had hoped after the impressive win against Arsenal we'd continue the form we'd showed, although of course it was a case of a tougher opposition this time. We were both worried about being hit on the break – and that proved correct during the first half as Jamie Vardy ran on to a through ball and had the skill to dink it past the dive of Ederson for the opening goal. They almost got a second later and I suspected that we needed to get chances finished.

Thankfully we did that – first of all a run down the right from Riyad Mahrez, he cut inside and the ball deflected off one of the Leicester defenders for the equaliser. He didn't celebrate at all, which was fair enough as he used to play for Leicester – I hope their fans appreciated that, although he also showed what they miss, with constant threats down the right. Raheem Sterling was fouled in the box and for once VAR upheld the decision and a penalty to City, which Ilkay Gundogan took and the shot was just hard enough to gopast Kasper Schmeichel for 2-1 at half time.

In the second half, City pressed onwards and they were rewarded later on. A nice ball to Kevin de Bruyne fro Mahrez, and Kevin ran on down the right to the byline and then pulled the ball back for Gabriel Jesus to score the third and put the match beyond doubt. It was a well worked move and we managed the game well to the end, and despite the incessant rain, it was a good win for us which we both enjoyed. Later on back at The Love's place we had a good catch up and chatter before he headed back home, and we settled in for the evening and had a relaxing time, with The Holiday being on ITV2 (which The Love adores) and that meant the ace Jack Black and Kate Winslet being the more understated and ace characters in that. Of course, tune of the day has to be that little intro for the film writer Arthur, and you can't ignore Jack Black's “skoodle-dee-doo” way of singing it too.

Friday 20th December - At Peace

It was the last working day of the year for me (and a few others!) today in the office, and it was a relaxed and yet a very much get things done sort of day. I wanted to box off as many removals of one piece of software as possible, and managed to work out a way of seeing what was still out there an sorting some of those out, which was nice to see. Always good when you can re-run some commands remotely and see the uninstallation happening in real time, but also see how overall things are running well.

I think too it was good to get a handover email done and explain where things are and what I'm going to start working on in early 2020, and set the stall out. In fact I was also able to assist with some licencing issues and be able to get to the bottom of the way that it all worked there, which was another one to cross off the list, as was the case of performing a suitable change to get some of the old Intel Display Audio drivers updated where needed as well. I have to say it's all working well and I am very pleased with the way that I've hopefully brought some positive performance out of the year.

I did have a bit of a delay getting in, even though I had left earlier, due to the flooding on the railway that affected parts of the South East today. The main line to Brighton had flooded at Balcombe but thankfully my train to work starts from Three Bridges normally, so that was all good - and got a seat no problem. Also, I saw that other lines were suffering from damage caused by landslip (again because of plenty of incessant rain) so not the day to be travelling a lot. In fact even though I left work a little earlier, as management were allowing us to, I still got back home only a few minutes ahead of schedule due to going slow in places, but back in one piece at least.

I had a nice surprise when I arrived home too - namely the final ever album from She Makes War. And Peace is effectively a nice re-working and updating of eight of the tracks which she and her fans have loved over the years, and in some cases we also get a definitive version - especially the more haunting version of "Delete" in a different key which was nice to have. The others are more stripped back from their original album cousins, such as "Drown Me Out" and "Undone" especially - which has some lovely guitar playing, especially the electric one - so that's going to be tune of the day for me. It's an essential purchase.

I got the last bit of flat tidying done and had everything all nicely sorted ready for tomorrow when I head up to Manchester. I must admit I do miss The Love In My Heart a lot and the fact we've remained even stronger in the four years or so I've worked in the capital is something we should be both proud of. In fact the next week or so is fairly busy with betwixmas (between Christmas and New Year) seemingly a bit quieter, so we'll look forward to that too. I am just so lucky to have a wonderful woman (and her cat!!) to love.

Thursday 19th December - Packing It In

It was a case of heading off after work to Wimbledon for a fair number of reasons: mainly that I needed to get my hair cut and have it all sorted before I head up North for the festive period, but also to check for any bargains around in the shops at the same time, and then head home to pack the case so it's all sorted for the time ahead. I wanted to try and get that done tonight and then tomorrow I can just make sure all the flat is neat and tidy and that everything is all nicely sorted for when I come back afterwards.

It was so on to the Central Line to Notting Hill Gate and changing there for the District Line to Wimbledon Park - one change works well and you're on before the masses change over at Earls Court too which has to be a bit of a win all round. I got a seat no problem and I soon arrived at Wimbledon Park, where the staff at James the Barbers did their usual wizardry whilst I chatted football with them all - and lots to talk about too including the Manchester derby loss, the Carabao Cup semi draw and whether Liverpool would win the World Club Championship this weekend - all good stuff all round, and I left them extra as a thank you for all their excellent work on my hair this year, only right really.

It was then into Wimbledon itself and I popped into Uniqlo, and I wanted to check if anything was on sale that I was after. Amazingly, there were in both departments what I wanted, so managed to get a couple of items for not that much dosh and be able to have a nice little bag to carry that all in. I also went into Debenhams as I knew this branch was closing down, and there were plenty of money off offers everywhere you went - it was looking a tad run down now. I did however get a pair of black Red Herring jeans, in my size, for a mere £11, which I could not complain at whatsoever. Epic win there.

It was back on the tram to Croydon and off homeward, and I settled in first to watch World's Strongest Man - Giants Live from Wembley Arena. Mark Felix once again broke the Hercules Hold world record, and World Deadlift title was intriguing to see if anyone could ever match Eddie Hall's amazing 500kg record (the answer: no) as well as some excellent speed events as well as the classic atlas stones. The Manchester round is on Boxing Day which then leads to (of course) the proper finals over the festive period - be looking forward to that a lot actually.

So I packed the case - and pretty much got all I needed in there and had some room to spare if need be - so two pairs of shoes, jeans, jumpers, t-shirts for layering, socks, underwear, shirts and all sorts. The good thing was that I was sensible how I packed it, so should all be good for heading up to Manchester (and going first class as well, because I can!) - and so will look forward to that. In the meantime I had chilled out with some PJ Harvey playing, so "The Desperate Kingdom of Love" is tune of the day.

Wednesday 18th December - Croydon Chaos

It was a case of having a patient mind all day today, for a number of reasons. The first thing was that I got a call from one of our senior managers in the morning as they needed some figures and statistics for one of the systems that we use to administrate Macs. I had a good look at what was there, provided the information and was on tap if needed during the day. Of course it's important to note that in terms of endpoint management, licencing can often be per number of endpoints or per a set number, so having accurate information is always handy.

I had seen later in the day that there appeared to be a signalling failure in the East Croydon area - which wasn't going to bode well for going home. That said I thought it would make sense to attempt to do the usual route I take home from Tottenham Court Road via Embankment to Blackfriars and at least attempt to get on a train there - the premise being that both London Bridge and Victoria were going to be pretty much chaotic - as it was to prove later to be honest. I was glad I went the way I did.

One very delayed train going to Gatwick arrived soon after and managed to get on fine, and from there it was a case of going through London Bridge with the platform pretty busy, albeit everyone was on the floor below waiting to head up - so all kettled in at the bottom. Similarly the way too narrow approach to Platforms 15-19 at Victoria had the same issues, so definitely did the right thing to be honest. The train did go slow through Sydenham and Penge West, but that was due to queueing as some trains did make it through East Croydon okay, as mine did.

That said though East Croydon was packed out with people who had made it there and attempting to get trains really waiting around near the platform exit ramps to see which platform to take - that alone also potentially made it more packed than it could be. Under the circumstances I did much better than a number of people and consider myself fortunate to be honest. I managed to get home before it started tipping it down with rain and later settled in to watch The Apprentice.

I have to say I was pleased that Carina won, she picked the right team to have creatively and indeed having a version of "Run On" for their advert (the Moby version is ace so that's tune of the day) with Ryan-Mark imprisoned and then getting some good bread - worth doing time for - was clever and different. And Thomas was a real help, showing he'd learned and was full of enthusiasm and support too which was good to see. It was close as both she and Scarlett both did really well, but I think the fact that other recruitment companies have won before may have gone against Scarlett a bit - still though, good to see the best two being in the final for once!

Tuesday 17th December - MDM Detective

I spent a fair amount of time this afternoon working in conjunction with a couple of colleagues in one of our American offices, as they had reported an issue with both software deployment and program and task sequence deployments. I had investigated originally and found that it was due to a third party Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution taking effect, and not allowing SCCM to manage parts of the device. I could tell by the client log files and it was a case of spending time seeing what was happening and going from there.

I directed the user to the settings, accounts and then Access Work or School, and spotted there that there was still a MDM profile from the user's previous MDM solution. Naturally the key here was to disconnect that solution, and that took a few minutes to run. Once it was disconnected, and any updates then were installed, it was then a case of restarting the machine and seeing what would happen when the machine was attempting to get any deployments ran. I checked - still an issue.

I delved further and worked out what the issue was - and it's all to do with legacy and what's left behind. Normally if the device is MDM managed, the MDM provider has an entry in the Enrollments (I know, American spelling) registry key, with a unique GUID then populated with settings telling you that it's managed by that MDM instance. However, since SCCM 1902, it's been checking this key to see if there's any co-management available. Anything other than inTune isn't fully supported for co-existence, and thus the log files flag that you can't do certain tasks via SCCM because of the MDM being present.

The key here of course is to locate the correct key (located under HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Enrollments) and once you've determined that, the key needs to go. Once that's done, simply restart the ccmexec service and the log files will then say it's now managed entirely via SCCM and allow for packages, programs, task sequences and applications to be deployed. In fact I could see all of that happening in the log files, and that was working very nicely indeed. It's always good when that happens.

Later on at home I noted that World's Strongest Man was on Channel 5, the qualifiers of course. It was good to be back at First Direct Arena in Leeds seeing them all battle it out, and all in preparation for the main event which is always shown over Christmas and with the finals on New Years Day, a bit of a tradition in the Towers is has to be said - and the theme tune is setting the tone well, so tune of the day for me all day. Needless to say that's going to be watched a fair bit!

Monday 16th December - Catching The Patching

So it was a pretty busy day all round today, as I was monitoring what was happening with the deployment of the removal of some software, but also the December Windows updates went out there too. In some cases that worked out nicely, because it meant if we were going to prompt for a restart with the software removal, and then ignored it, the updates would want them to restart anyway, so would be a good catch all from that point of view. It would also mean machines patched before Christmas.

One of our information security team had also flagged an issue with some of the little PCs we use in the meeting rooms and a potential vulnerability, and recommended to do a BIOS update to therefore update the firmware and close the loop. The good job was most of those were in the building I'm normally based in, so that was easy enough to get the rooms organised and a meeting booked so I could go in and get it all sorted, and therefore get things done nicely. One I had to head back around 5pm but that was sorted too, and one only used by one manager is booked for tomorrow with their PA's approval, but shows I'm good to respond to any concern quickly and efficiently.

In any case, I was also able to check over a plan of action for next year - and this will include blocking Microsoft Teams being added to existing Office 365 installations. Microsoft's plan is any new updates will add Teams on if not already there, the view being to increase the takeup and migrate people away from Skype for Business. However, some users or companies will have concerns that actually they don't want it, especially if using another unified comms solution or if they have an on-prem Skype for Business server they've not migrated yet, which does happen.

Anyway, there is a Group Policy setting in place for Office Updates (and corresponding registry key if needed) which prevents Teams being added on to an existing Office 365 installation. The main thing is to ensure that this is included in your policy beforehand so that when you do roll updates out, you're able to at least see that they won't get Teams if you don't want them to (not to mention that the installer for that as a standalone product is awful, so I can see why the move to include it in 365 would be there..)

I blasted out some KMFDM tonight and with good reason, as a sort of blast against what's going on in the world right now (which is not good) and the album opener "K-M-F" really sets the scene for some raw power and ultra heavy beat to blast out - complete with sampled speech of various world leaders (especially one) and a neat bit of rap in there as well, a stormer it really is, so tune of the day. Definitely for me it shows the band at their collective best and definitely shows why they're so good.

Sunday 15th December - Resurfacing In The Quarry

It had been a dull and rainy morning, and Brian the cat was looking longingly on the chair towards the window, wanting the rain to stop so he could have playtime. It did allow me to get the camera out though and take a few pictures of him relaxed on the chair, and one looked really good in black and white, so not only will that be good for people to see, but also a potential early runner for when we do the cat calendar. In fact I handed The Love te 2020 edition for the Brian the cat calendar, and she loved it - we even had one of him kissing the robin doorstop in the front room. Awwww.

The weather eased off a little so we headed out of the city, onwards past Heald Green and towards Styal, on to Quarry Bank Mill. Being a National Trust place we get in for free (these days it's also around £20 each so membership really does pay well to be honest) - and we both decided a nice wander around the lovely gardens was in order, starting with the upper garden. In fact part of the garden's shop serves to be a little temporary café now with a new one coming next Spring, so it was warm and cosy and with a good sized coffee too, that was pretty nice.

We did then walk past all the orangery and the upper garden and followed the path down the hill to the lower garden as well, this worked out pretty well to be honest as we could then cross over the bridge towards the mill and have a good mooch in the mill shop before then heading back up the hill to the visitors' centre, and just in time back to the car before it started to rain pretty heavily again. I was glad we were in the dry and headed off to Heald Green for a spot of Sunday lunch at The Griffin.

This worked out well, as all Joseph Holt owned pubs, this being one, either have been doing two Sunday roasts for £15 (we did that the other week at The Angel in Knutsford) and as this had a carvery, it was two of those for £15 too! Naturally we went for that and it was lovely all round - I had the gammon and the beef and it was spot on, as were all the veg and the potatoes and gravy. The Love was enjoying it too and the Bootleg IPA was also pretty good.

I have to also give praise where it's due for the lovely female member of staff as well - when I asked to place a food order, the first thing she said to me was "Are there any food allergies we need to know about?" - and thankfully not for us, but I did thank her for asking that as anyone who genuinely does have one would appreciate the thought gone into that. More people in hospitality need to do that definitely, so kudos for doing so and massive respect from me for that.

Later on before I got the train we headed back to The Love's place and we watched the Amazon Prime documentary on Andy Murray - Resurfacing, where it went behind the scenes of first his hip operation and how he was coming back from that, to then having a second one with a metal joint and ball in there, and he had noted how one of the doubles legends had had that done and came back to win, and he battled throughout. It was fascinating stuff to watch actually, and Man City were also winning at Arsenal (cue Supra's Blue Moon as tune of the day) and all was good there too.

Saturday 14th December - The Ale Sale

It was nice to have got to The Love In My Heart's place relatively okay albeit delayed last night, and she had surprised me with the Robinsons Kettlebell Stout which was spot on - good choice by her to be fair! I thought later today it'd be a good idea to stock up on some ales for over Christmas and later on we'd head to two stores to see what they had and stock up. I did also note in Asda earlier that the selection there was pretty decent - half tempted to get a nice 8 pack Brewdog box of cans for a tenner, but that might also make a decent present too!

The Love and I had breakfast and as usual Brian the cat was pottering around as per usual. He did want to play out it seemed but also was a bit reluctant to with the weather, so instead he just sat by the window with The Love seemingly all wrapped up with him. Awww. He was being all cute as ever, so once we settled in mid-morning we got ourselves ready to head out, and first stop was to see The Love's father. I sorted out his bets (I can write much neater) and sorted them all out for him, and The Love made sure that all the tree and decorations all looked good and organised.

It was later over to my Mum's as well, where it was quiet initially and we had a coffee and chat,and our sister, brother-in-law, and the two children then came over too. Admittedly it was nice to see them anyway and have a quick catch up, and I had dropped off all the family presents at Mum's because it was easier for everyone to pick them up from there really. I had been thinking too it was then less space being taken up at The Love's place, although a large bag was handed to us by Mum later - she clearly had gone overboard despite us telling her not to!

We headed to the Elizabethan pub later so I could have some gorgeous Plum Pudding ale (of course!) and we shared some messy chips as well, with the barbecue pulled brisket and a gorgeous sauce. Messy yes, but rather gorgeous. It was then on to Lime Grove in Openshaw, where a trip into B&M Bargains and Morrisons was to be had. I must admit it was a fritful effort all round, as I got four ales in B&M (including two festive ones) for around a fiver, then went into Morrisons and did their four for £6 deal, which included cans, so got the Black Sheep Pineapple Milkshake IPA to try later, and also they did two for £4 on the posher bottles, so got some Peroni Doppio Malto and the Moretti Siciliana which is rock hard to get hold of normally. Epic win.

Later on we had a gorgeous tea with some pork, vegetables and a home made cheese sauce (The Love is a brilliant cook!) and we settled in for the final of Strictly Come Dancing. To be honest any of the three finalists could have won, and all of them were ace in what they did. I think the dance that edged it for me was the show dance from Kelvin and Oti, they packed it all in and had a version of the Lulu classic "Shout" playing too - so make that tune of the day. We'd have been happy with anyone, but when Kelvin and Oti were announced as winners that did make me smile too - they were very good throughout and I think because he was local (born in Oldham) that may have also helped us swing it that way!

Friday 13th December - The Vanishing Train

Well as I'd predicted last night when I saw the exit poll, the General Election proved what I thought it would be - a heavy win for the Conservatives, Labour losing everywhere, and the lack of progress from the Lib Dems (and their leader Jo Swinson losing her seat) was a symptom of how the country had felt. No doubt Brexit had dominated and to be perfectly honest, remain, if it wasn't already dead, is now dead. I think people went with a protest vote in some places, partly against that, but also partly against a lack of pereceived trust in Jeremy Corbyn, which was the impression I got from the door to door knockers who came near my place a few weeks back.

The other difficulty I can see is that clearly there's a sense of whether you voted leave or remain, the best case scenario now to attempt to appease everyone is to leave but to remain in good friendship with Europe, re-negotiate trade deals there and ensure that all the good bits of European law (Working Time directive for example) is kept and upheld here. I for one think that there may be some interesting times ahead, and the more climate change is on the agenda (rightfully) that will swing people over to those who have sound policies.

Does it also need a shake up of the voting system? Potentially. In the European elections, proportional based representation takes place, so the Green Party for example have a considerable number of MEPs. However, unless you happen to live in Brighton Pavilion (where Caroline Lucas has massive local support and has stormed it yet again) the first past the post doesn't allow those who may have voted Green to do so and make a difference, perhaps notable that. Anyway, we'll just have to see what happens, but the moment someone complains about the sell off of the NHS, don't say they weren't warned.

After work it was off to Euston and hopefully a good Friday night experience on Avanti West Coast on the 1857 train to Manchester. Except it was cancelled, apparently due to more trains than usual needing repairs at the same time. The odd thing is that it always appears to be this train on a Friday night which is the most affected. A quick check in revealed I could get the 1840 instead, so managed to get on that and get a seat. But.. unfortunately this train was delayed leaving, delayed at Milton Keynes and delayed further at Lichfield. It was not at all good.

I was thankful that I had the iPod with me and was listening to some really good powerful music such as the excellent "Take The Power Back" by Rage Against The Machine, the title of which is quite apt considering, and is tune of the day for that reason. Eventually the train crawled into Crewe, and I knew that it was going to be at least 45 minutes late into Manchester. In fact with further delays just after Wilmslow, the train crawled in at 2143, which was 51 minutes delayed, and if I had boarded the 1857 as normal and got in at 2109, that'd still have been a net 34 minutes delay, so you can imagine what I was doing later...

Thursday 12th December - Fun In Fitzrovia

It was a busy day today, primarily as I had been road testing a way to successfully remove one the pieces of software we had been using which had multiple versions installed - and was so far so good with all the UAT testing in the morning. We were asked to then go ahead and start to get the software removed from all the machines later in the day, so was a careful case of co-ordinating a start time and having the communications go out accordingly so everyone was aware of what was going on.

The good news was that it all seemed to work properly, as all the testing had proven. The removal worked a treat and once the removal was done, the user received a message to restart when convenient, so we weren't forcing it on them but instead giving them a hint that it'd be worth doing so sooner rather than later to complete the task in hand, as you can imagine. I think the positive I can take is that clearly the successful number of removals earlier on really did help to provide a good service to those that needed it too.

After work the team I work with were heading for a little Christmas evening out together - it wasn't really planned massively per se, which I didn't mind, but instead heading round the pubs in the Fitzrovia area not far from the office. That I saw was a good thing because it meant plenty of pubs with real ale, and a good chance to have a chat and natter as well. We started off at the Marquis of Granby, which meant decent St Austell ale being a Nicholsons pub and all, so definitely the Jolly Holly was one to consider massively.

A short walk later and we were at the Sam Smith's pub that is the Fitzroy Tavern, where the use of phones and laptops are discouraged and conversation encouraged. I did have their old brewery bitter in there, a solid choice, and it was nice to be able to relax and chat considerably about all sorts too. The steam by the windows meant of course a chance to do so window drawing for some, but the atmosphere was really relaxed - now if only they allowed guest ales, it'd be even better in there!

We were going to attempt to get in the Draft House, but that was really busy and we didn't fancy a twenty minute queue so instead it was over the road to The Fitzrovia, albeit a Greene King. However... they did have the Hardy and Hansons Rocking Rudolph ale so that was me sorted (no rubbish Greene King IPA for me folks) - and also the Europa League football so we saw Arsenal come back from 2-0 down in Liege, and also later on Wolves and Man U on their way to comprehensive wins all round, which was pretty positive from an English teams point of view.

It was then onwards to The Hope, another cracking pub and some good ales in here too - the Oliver's Island met with my approval here. It was small but cosy and the atmos was spot on. In fact I am pretty sure that the time had gone by so well primarily because everyone was getting on and chatting which was good - and I made my farewells later and headed to Warren Street to get the tube to Victoria and the train home, with the strains of Alice Cooper's "I Wanna Be Elected" (make that tune of the day) for obvious reasons. That said, when I got home and saw what the exit poll had said earlier, it was time for bed - I knew what the result was going to be and it wasn't worth wasting time on it.

Wednesday 11th December - Christmas Wrapping

It was nice to be able to collect a few parcels on the way home from work tonight, especially things that I had ordered in the last week or two for presents for people. I must admit actually that I've been a little later than normal in ordering presents and the like this year, and also for various reasons I've not needed to buy as many either. But the good thing was I knew I had a parcel delivered earlier in the day, as the concierge kindly informed me of one package, and another was coming to me in the evening.

So on the way home it was a good time to stop at the local Sainsburys which I pass on the way homeward. It's not the nearest one to the flat, but it's a larger one I pass by on the way from the station. They do Click and Collect from there though, so was able to order something and use that as the collection point - much easier as it is open till late and I can then collect as I need to. Sure enough I went in, showed them the order number and the store manager was soon heading from the stock room with the bag with the order in. Sorted.

It was then when I got home seeing that actually the other delivery had arrived, so in total there were three parcels and with four presents in, so along with the others I'd got in the last few days, meant plenty of time to get things wrapped and sorted, so it was on with an alternative list of Christmas songs and the She Makes War version of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" (make that one tune of the day) - and for me it just felt all nice and homely as I wrapped everything up nicely and started to gift tag what I had too.

Because I've tended to head up to The Love In My Heart's place with a few packages at a time, it's meant that I've been able to spread the load a little, and this weekend should see the last of them being up there, and the plan is to head to Mum's with a fair few of them and send things off that way - just makes more sense to be honest. One thing I've always been cautious of is when I moved down that there'll be a case of needing to ensure that there's not too many large gifts when I send stuff off!

It's got me a bit more in the mood for the festive season, but with an election looming tomorrow, it could well be turning into the nightmare before Christmas, depending on how things go. I can only go out and do my bit and vote, but there's a sense of despair amongst some that it's all for nothing. I hope not. We need some form of change, no matter what that might be, and crucially for us all, we need some humanity - take a look at Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, if you want leadership done properly.

Tuesday 10th December - Reviewing The Situation

It was good this afternoon to have a good chat with my line manager and discuss the end of year review, as to what went well for me, what I can improve on (everyone always has room to improve, note) and also how it would be that we would look ahead to challenges for the forthcoming year. I think it was a big positive that we were able to see that I'd made significant changes and improvements to both the way we build Windows 10 machines but also how we generally are in a much better place than in previous times too.

I'd also like to think that it was good having a wide range of feedback from different members of staff, who were all positive about what I'd achieved and basically said that there was always a sense of me being able to help out, even if it wasn't in my own comfort zone, and going the extra mile to resolve things when needed. I definitely can see those as positives, and critically I also knew that due to some staffing issues I couldn't head out to other teams and give them a bit of a tutorial on some of the things I do, which would have worked well.

It was also good that I'd looked at the next year and already formulated some sensible plans in the offing, and had discussed ways of further improving things and also working on larger scale projects as we need to in future. Certainly for me a positive is that there's a real sense of team work in the team I am in, as well as a good sense of friendliness too. And I don't care what anyone says - when you have that ethic, you get things done, and you become a better team because of it. I consider myself very lucky really to have that.

I had a good listen to the new CDs I got the other day, and knew that because I'd already listened to some of it online beforehand, that there'll be some potential track of the year contenders in there. I know for example that Mary-Anne Hobbs has been quite rightly raving about the second Holly Herndon album Proto, and that certainly for me was enjoyable when I listened to it. On a full CD separates rig, it sounds even nicer, with the instruments and electronica sounding really effortless complete with vocals and the AI live training along the way. Certainly for me at least, "Eternal" is tune of the day - which even has plenty of doish! type effects too.

I think too it's good that I was able to sort out all the washing I needed to do and get some clothes all ready for the next weekend, and then work out what I'm going to take with me over Christmas as well when I have an extended stay at The Love In My Heart's place too. I know it'll be lovely and Brian the cat will of course be getting lots of attention, cuddles and maybe some Dreamies along the way too - we shall see how that goes. I definitely can't wait till that happens though!

Monday 9th December - Avanti Anarchy

It was the first journey on Avanti West Coast last night, and not without seeing some initial teething troubles either. So, all day I'd noted that there had been issues with customers not being able to access the wi-fi correctly, and the web site was a complete write off. In fact they claimed it was due to "load and demand" but anyone of course knows to load test a website properly before live launch and give it the necessary and thorough testing beforehand - well you think they would, right?

So, on the journey last night I noted that there were no annoucements of any kind from the on-board staff, just the automated announcements, which did say Avanti West Coast at least. However, because of the lack of those annoucements you didn't know if the onboard shop was open (other services today didn't have them) - and indeed any friendliness from the Train Manager. In fact, was there even one on board and was this service travelling without one - effectively a qualified safety critical member of staff missing? I suspect although the staff were being TUPE'd over to the new company, some might not have taken up the option and left.

And did the wi-fi work? No. It looks like all Avanti did was rename the SSID, but the redirect still goes to a Virgin wi-fi portal page, which of course does not exist anymore. I mean, this is basic IT stuff - you make a change, you test beforehand, and roll back if it fails. This is not difficult to master, so you'd think. Naturally what you don't have you don't miss, and had the iPod on blasting out KMFDM's ace "WWIII" (make that tune of the day) but still, for those that are used to using it, it's a bit of a no-show this early on.

Also, what seemingly hasn't been sorted is any arrangements to carry over any discount schemes. As Manchester City fans we had one for 20% off with the Cityzens scheme, Aston Villa had similar, and also the Unidays loyalty programme for students also had one. Some workplace employment schemes also were running (at least two I know of) and they all seemed to have vanished by the wayside with no continuation plans for any of them which is a bit daft if you ask me. At least if it wasn't going to continue, then tell us so I can look into alternative ways of paying less (I know of several in fact) and think of alternative plans.

I suspect too that based on the feedback I've seen today that not being able to select the seat during the booking is going down like the proverbial lead balloon, and rightly so. I remember Crosscountry introducing this several years back and me thinking "excellent, I can pick the seat I'd like the most now!" - and Virgin weren't far behind. For me, it's meant consistency - I know where I will be on the train, which door to use and I can board quicker and smoother, and thus help the train set off properly. And for those that do genuinely need to face forward for travel sickness type reasons, that was also a boon too because you pretty much would know which coach to be in.

So we shall see what happens: but I do miss some parts of Virgin Trains already that may not be the same - and once I've got to then book on the Avanti site without discount, I will be shopping around for definite to see what options there may be. I've done London Northwestern to Crewe or Stafford and done the change that way to another train, which worked well in the past, and also there may even be a way to go via Doncaster or Leeds if I need to. One thing's for sure, Avanti haven't got off to the best of starts.

Sunday 8th December - Plum Pudding

It was a nice more relaxed day today with The Love In My Heart. We got up and had a bacon sandwich for breakfast, and we had coffee and chilled out in the morning, with Brian the cat wanting to go out and then realising that actually it was pretty cold all round and so he wanted to come straight back in again and go back on the pouffle, watching the world go by. As The Love had put her Christmas tree up with Brian being her little "helper" whilst the football was on, I could admire how nice it looked with all the decorations and lights on, which looked very good indeed it has to be said.

We decided it'd be nice to head into the city centre for a while, as The Love had a few Christmas gifts that she could get and we'd be able to have a mooch around anyway. I did fancy heading to a pub and seeing if the legendary Plum Pudding ale was in, as that is one of my all time favourites and they only generally brew it in December (so I may be having a few as the opportunity takes, let me tell you!) - so it was off to the local tram stop to have fun, fun fun on the Metrolink tram, tram, tram and head to Piccadilly Gardens where the world and his wife seemed to also want to get off at.

We did walk down Market Street and after a quick stop in Fopp, we went into the Arndale Centre and into HMV, and we found not just the one present we were mainly after in there, but also a secondary present which The Love thought would be great for her father (I agreed, it was a cracking choice). As there were also clearout offers we saw the film Jawbone for £2.99 on Blu-ray and went for that - I have the Paul Weller soundtrack and it can be something we can watch over the festive period too.

It was then on through the Arndale, over the link bridge and through Marks and Spencer (which looked like it was being done up!) and onwards to Oliver Bonas, where another gift was purchased and they also had some Lindor chocolates at the tll, so The Love picked one up with her purchase, only fair really. We did also get some gift tags in Paperchase as well as a nice card too, so that definitely was one well worth doing. It was then a walk along through to the Virgin Money lounge for a well earned cuppa and a chatter out of the cold. Always good to do that of course.

I saw that Rain Bar was back doing food on a Sunday, and it's a JW Lees pub, which means Plum Pudding. So we walked there, and it was on! Oooh yes. In fact it was just even better than I remembered, and The Love told me she could smell the plum in there too. They also had a cracking deal on the Sunday roasts, which were two for £19.95. Excellent value, especially as you got plenty of meat, a crispy Yorkshire puddng, roasties and mash, carrots, broccoli and some lovely gravy as well. We enjoyed that and I even tried the brandy snap stout afterwards which was delightfully nice (and did taste like brandy snaps too it has to be said!) The background music even had Morrissey's ace "Interesting Drug" so definitely tune of the day.

It was a nice walk back to St Peter's Square to get the tram back to The Love's place, where we fussed over Brian the cat for a bit and The Love and I watched Love Actually on Amazon Prime, and still remember all the good bits such as Bill Nighy being a over the top sweary has been pop star, with Gregor Fisher as his suffering manager (quite a contrast to Rabb C Nesbitt of course) before then heading on the tram back to Manchester Piccadilly and on the first journey of Avanti West Coast to head back homeward. Eventful it was, and I'll divulge more tomorrow.

Saturday 7th December - Derby Day Defeat

It was a relaxing morning with The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat, who was more than happy to have a fuss and a love as well as sniffing around for when myself and The Love were having a cooked breakfast - he must have got a smell of the bacon and thought he was going to have some himself! We were going to head off to see The Love's father later on, and that was mainly to help put up his Christmas tree - it was an artificial one from B and Q, but it did have instructions to follow, so The Love and her niece put the tree up, and then the lights and baubles. It looked good!

We headed back to The Love's place later on, and my friend came over to head with me to the football at the Etihad Stadium. He's recently had a hip replacement, so wasn't as mobile as usual,so had managed to book an accessible taxi so he could arrive safely, and we took our time to be careful and to head over to the ground and make sure all was good. We settled in, got a brew, and it was nice to see that it's now Azera coffee instead of rubbish Nescafé, so win there and that meant it was good to be able to chatter for a fair while and discuss the team selection and other things.

I was a bit apprehensive for today's game - we hadn't played so well lately apart from the win at Burnley, and I also was concerned that Manchester United would raise their games against the top teams. This was definitely the case today, United were on the front foot, and although VAR did intervene when Bernardo Silva clashed with Marcus Rashford, resulting in a penalty (and later replays showed it was a fair decision, but not seeing that in the stadium isn't helping, Premier League!) which Rashford himself scored. To be fair he could have had a hat trick, he just missed a shot wide and then hit the bar also.

However, City's defence was not looking so good and the lack of getting a tackle in all told was proven when Anthony Martial was allowed to turn and shoot on the blind side of Ederson's goal and trickle in off the post, a well taken goal but again shocking defending from City. As per usual in the big games, Rodri went missing and didn't look comfortable, although he did play a little better second half, and it ironically went better when Nicolas Otamendi came on for the injured John Stones - he seemed to have the bit between his teeth, and scored a deserved header when he wanted the ball more late on. But even with a flurry of late chances, 2-1 was not enough and United, hard as it may be for me to say it, deservedly won.

However, we had noted an incident during the second half where objects were being thrown by some idiots in the City end at the United players, and an incident of racism also occurred, directed mainly at Fred and Jesse Lingard. I for one won't tolerate that: there's no place for racism anywhere, and no matter the frustrations in the football, any form of abuse is not acceptable. Ever. I only hope that City act quickly, and any season card belonging to the so called "fan" is instantly revoked, he is banned for life and so on. It also looks like his employer has spotted him too so there may also be repercussions at work (and rightly so) for those actions.

Like I said, no form of racism, sexism etc is acceptable, whatsoever, and considering it was a year since Raheem Sterling suffered the same sort of abuse at Chelsea away, you would think that our fans would be the ones to lead the fight against it - a high number of all fans do, but unfortunately there are many who still need to be educated and understand the world is a place where we should all get on, regardless of race, sex etc. It was interesting to note that Gary Neville in the Sky Sports studio afterwards linked the increase due to the current Goverment and their right wing policies. Controversial possibly, but fair play to him,he does have a point actually.

Later on my friend and I had a brew at The Love's place, and we made sure he managed to have the taxi arrive and get in safe and sound, and he was all good there. We later went to have some Chinese at the local takeaway, and the crispy shredded chilli beef was of course on the menu for me with The Love having the chicken in OK sauce. It was very nice, and once that was done, I had the Brewdolph ale and we settled in to see Mission Impossible Rogue Nation on Channel 4 - of course plenty of Tom Cruise for The Love, and the theme tune is a classic tv and film theme of all time, so tune of the day without any doubt.

Friday 6th December - The Final Virgin

So tonight was to be my final ever journey via Virgin Trains before the West Coast franchise is handed over to Avanti West Coast, which is a joint thing with First and Trenitalia running it. Those who know First from other rail services will know this may not fill everyone with excitement, also those who know Trenitalia know that over in Italy, their services are decent, but C2C over here anyone? Yes, exactly. Virgin have had the franchise for twenty two years, and in that time we've seen the Pendolino tilting trains, advances in advance ticketing, and auto delay repay kicking in too, all good initiatives which the rest of the industry are slowly catching up on.

It unfortunately however didn't go to plan as I wanted it all to. The Love In My Heart had her final journey last Sunday and that was all good by all accounts. Checking the running information showed me that the 1857 departure to Manchester Piccadilly was cancelled. A quick check showed that I could board the 1840 without issues, and that was what I was going to do. That did at least mean potentially I could get to Manchester a little bit quicker to see The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat, but we shall see.

That did also mean no seat reservation, but the e-ticket worked fine and I scanned it at the gate, and was able to get on the train early as I'd spotted the platform on the small screen near the platform entrance (not daft me you know!) - and so from there it was then a case of getting into Coach C, the unreserved one, and in a nice move, managed to get my old favourite seat, seat 26, window seat by the luggage racks. The train was rammed though so was glad I had done that and had someone sat next to me all the way up to Wilmslow.

I did have a reasonable journey, although it was around 20 minutes late getting into Manchester due to the slowness between Lichfield and Crewe (partly due to earlier issues with track) and then just on a go slow all the way to Stockport. I did have ironically Kratwerk's "Trans-Europa Express" (the German version) on, so make that tune of the day as it summed up the whole train travel experience. Metall auf Metall certainly felt the case as it slowed down on its way through Cheadle Hulme. In a way, a sad way to end the whole Virgin experience which largely, it has to be said, has been good.

It was then on to the tram and to see The Love In My Heart, who was all snuggled up with Brian the cat. Brian even came to the door to greet me and let me give him cuddles which was nice. We later on were on the sofa watching Gogglebox on catch up followed then by Graham Norton, and I have to say I think Jodie Whittaker was somewhat on the wine and on her way to being a tad merry. It was good to see Kevin Hart also being pretty hilarious, he and Dwayne Johnson were a complete hoot!

Thursday 5th December - Drop VAR

It was a relatively busy day for me today, and first of all was working out what was happening with one particular install of some specialised software, where it looked like that we needed to get some removals done, where it wasn't needed anymore. The more I dug into it, the more I realised what a not so great piece of software it is in the first place. The installation executable is just wrapping around a Windows installer MSI that performs its actions (indeed the uninstall command calls the MSI product code), but the install by default is set to install per-user, which is a bit daft.

Of course that in itself presents some problems of its own making - so for example if the user context where the software was installed isn't present for the installation source, and/or you're attempting to do a removal as that user, it doesn't really cut it either. It's a classic case of a poorly written installer, and so there had to be a sensible way to improvise, and there was. Effectively as the admin or SYSTEM user, you perform a reinstallation using the same MSI, and then you can do the uninstall with the product code, because the installation source will have been changed to a locatable source, so that did work nicely.

I think as well that having to work out a detection for the registry key for each Windows installer MSI, then from that being able to perform the command was also pretty good to work out, and that did do the job nicely. It took some time to script it as I wanted, but at least now there is a way of doing it. In the long term though we probably need to review the manual install situation, especially as I know there's a good and effective way of installing the version correctly as well.

In any case, it was good to be able to get a few things sorted and then head off homeward - the tube and trains did see quieter than usual which was a good thing, although I found out that a points failure coupled with a bike being thrown on top of a train and damaging the overhead wiring meant that there were less running overall, and so whether people decided to go home earlier I'm not sure. It wasn't too bad in the end and managed to get home on time and that was nice, settling in for more football tonight.

In fact I feel sorry for Sheffield United fans tonight, with VAR playing its part as it was shown that Newcastle's Jonjo Shelvey had been onside as had Andy Carroll as Shelvey had ran on and scored with all the other players stopping, having seen the linesman flag Carroll offside. The referee had also I'm pretty sure looked to blow the whistle (not sure if he had or not) but even so, the sight of the flag was probably enough for most to stop play - which they did. Ludicrous, and chants of "**** VAR" from their fans were rightly justified in my view. If the system isn't working, then drop it, simple. In the meantime, tune of the day is the excellent "K-M-F" by KMFDM, whch rocks!

Wednesday 4th December - Primed For Football

I'd spent a good amount of time last night watching the Burnley v Manchester City game on Amazon Prime, which worked out pretty well. Naturally of course it helps when City played well, had Gabriel Jesús score two and a piledriver of a goal from Rodri as well. A good 4-1 scoreline in the end and certainly the win we needed before the big one, the Manchester derby, on Saturday, which naturally will be full of tension but also full of excitement in equal measure.

So tonight was a case of six games in total being streamed via Amazon Prime, and so had timed the free month trial to take in both of the games over the month (not that daft!) - and you could choose to watch one of the five games at 7.30pm and switch between them as you wished, and have the 8.15pm Merseyside derby to join later, or have a similar thing to Gilette Soccer Saturday or Final Score, except with added goals as they went in and coverage of those goals. The latter of which was of course a good idea, but unfortunately they didn't manage to assemble a decent team of pundits whatsoever.

It was also the case on some of the games, with the Man Utd v Tottenham game having the duo of Clive Tyldesley and (oh dear me) Glenn Hoddle. This is where having the option for crowd atmosphere only really does make a difference - and certainly most England games on ITV the last few years could have done with a similar audio select option. Much better once I set that and had just the crowd on as it was a tight game that one - Man Utd winning 2-1 and both goals from Marcus Rashford as well.

It was then on to the Merseyside derby and a lightning first half, and Liverpool being 4-2 up at half time, scoring two, Everton scoring one, and then Liverpool turning the screw and showing the strength in depth of the side, and getting another two before Richarlison managed to score off his shoulder right on half time. The only spoiler really for Liverpool was that they didn't score more than the one at the end of the game - Sadio Mané could have scored a hat trick in the second half himself had his finishing been a little better. What it did show was how poor Everton have become - and going into the bottom three. Marco Silva's days must be numbered now - if they'd have narrowly lost tonight and put up a good fight, might have been enough, but conceding five in a derby is possibly the last straw for many of their fans.

It was enjoyable just to be able to relax with a coffee in the comfort of the front room, choose the game to watch, and the streaming did work. I suspect though that it still needs work on the commentary front, but that can be sorted over time. It's also an experiement to see how viable it might be for similar in future seasons, but that of course would also depend if they can keep the costs to the customer down - a lot of people I suspect would have done what I did and gone for the free trial and used it that way. We shall see. In the meantime tune of the day is the ace Supra Manchester City anthem that is their version of "Blue Moon", which I was singing proudly last night too.

Tuesday 3rd December - Wombling Free

Underground, overground, wombling free, as the song went. Except back in the days of the TV series, the trams were not a thing in London. So, if you wanted to go from Croydon to Wimbledon back then, you could, albeit by train from West Croydon on an old line which closed in 1997, and was eventually replaced by the trams, with more stops, in 1999. They were little two car Connex South Central trains, and indeed some of the former stations that had been closed (Beddington Lane for one) were re-opened for trains, Waddon Marsh was re-sited and indeed had more retail space open near it so didn't feel so desolate either.

It therefore always feels like when I'm on the tram to Wimbledon from Croydon that I'm heading on an old train line (because I am) but also a piece of railway history too. The trams though are admittedly much nicer, and are popular because of the cheapness of travel (same fare as buses, so £1.50). It's also very handy to get to Wimbledon for the many shops, and I wanted to get a few things and have a mooch, so I headed to Wimbledon and soon being in the Centre Court Shopping Centre and having a good look around.

I did manage to get some cards for both forthcoming birthdays and indeed a Christmas one that I was after, which was pleasing to see. In fact they do have Oliver Bonas, Paperchase, Clintons and the home place Chickidee that The Love In My Heart used to love when it was open in Croydon. I even took a nice walk up the hill to Wimbledon Village, and imagined how nice it would be to live up there and have a coffee whenever I fancied, or a pint in the Dog and Fox too. So that was all good.

Flushed with the success of getting what I was after, it was nice to head back home and tune in to BBC Two for the afternoon's UK Snooker Championship at the Barbican in York. Naturally the Beeb were focussing on Ronnie O'Sullivan's match against Noppon Saengkham, and it just seemed that Noppon was missing the odd ball but that was enough for Ronnie to clean up somewhat. I have to say that it was interesting to see the other match on the red button - a proper match up with Ding Junhui up against Ali Carter, two players whom I've admired over the years too.

I also spent some time listening to KMFDM's excellent Paradise album today, one of my potential contenders for album of the year for this year. This is primarily due to the fact that there's a real sense of controlled passion in the playing, the lyrics and so on. Not least the title track which in its single edit absolutely is spot on - Lucia absolutely belting out the vocals and the guitars rocking. Definitely tune of the day for me - and one of the singles of the year too.

Monday 2nd December - Looping In The Mud

I had a couple of days off work this week, primarily as I needed to use them and wasn't being allowed to carry any over (usually this can be at manager's discretion, which also means the 2nd and 3rd January next year are the first two days from the next year's quota as well). As such I thought that after a lovely weekend with The Love In My Heart, I thought that it'd be a case of taking some time out to do some walks, keep fit, and also post off some Christmas presents that I had purchased and were going to send off - which I did first before I set off, and that was pretty useful to do - I had all the stuff I needed to pack the parcels and meant I could print the postage and send it all off.

It was then off to East Croydon station for the first of two trains, first of all off up to London Bridge, and once coming in at Platform 5, down the escalator and up the other to Platform 6 and to catch the fast train to Bexley, only stopping at New Eltham and Sidcup along the way. It was soon then arriving through the barriers (noted the £2.10 Oyster deduction because the station is in Zone 6 and outside of my Zone 1-5 travelcard limit) and onwards down the hill, and then a right turn to start the walk - effectively Section 2 of the London Loop, picking up from when I did Section 1 a few weeks back.

The initial walk took me under and along the railway line, and past a cricket club, before then heading up hill and over a path towards a water treatment works. This path was the start of things to come - it was pretty muddy. Once past here you followed an alleyway which skirted the water works and you would cross the little bridge to end up at the River Cray. It was following this for a while, with admittedly some muddy paths here and almost heading to the edge of the river instead of following the horse bridleway (maybe some bad signposting here) and seeing the five arch bridge and on to Cray Meadows. More muddy paths ensued and I could feel the amount of it meant it was also slippy too - maybe a section to better do in Summer, methinks.

It was then onwards to Foots Cray and All Saints Church, and heading along the road for a while before turning right, and then following a path at the end which took you past some horses and also the ground of Cray Wanderers FC, founded in 1860 and effectively one of the oldest football clubs in the world. The Oxford Road ground was used by the club between 1973 and 1998, and had to move and ground share with Bromley because the Oxford Road ground couldn't get floodlights installed.

From here it was along more tarmac paths before arriving at Sidcup Place, walking up the hill past some nice trees an also a very inviting pub (believe me I was tempted!) before then passing the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and navigating the A20 roundabout with the subways. It was then on to the Scadbury Park nature reserve, which had a mixture of muddy and stone laden paths, heading around the curves and onwards uphill, eventually locating the Moated Manor, which today is an archeological site of interest, with the manor's ruins closed off to the public, but you could see what was going on.

From there it was walking through the paths with plenty of woodland through the rest of Scadbury Park, and then exiting to a road, crossing over and entering Chislehurst Common before then arriving at Petts Wood, which happens to be National Trust owned. It was a nice walk through the woods, although again very muddy, and more so when doing a right and following the path by the railway till you crossed over two lines in quick succession, and then a path which took you to a third railway crossing - and eventually to the end of the stage at the entrance to Jubilee Country Park.

Thankfully it was a short walk to Petts Wood where I could head on a train to Beckenham Junction and then take the tram home - that worked out well, and meant I could spend the rest of the afternoon with the snooker, and seeing Nigel Bond roll back the years and knock out Judd Trump was a pretty excellent effort. Of course I do wish still that the BBC would bring back the original Drag Racer theme tune by the Doug Wood Band (tune of the day) as it's the proper theme. I did watch some more snooker later and saw the likes of John Higgins get through pretty well.

Sunday 1st December - We're Wellcome

The Love In My Heart and I had a well deserved lie in after a great day yesterday and it was good just to take things nice an easy. In fact I got up first and started to make a nice cooked breakfast for us both, which was a case of having sausages, egg, bacon and mushrooms along with some toast and fruit juice. I don't often go the full hog so it was nice to be able to do the honours for The Love, and she caught up with the final of X Factor Celebrity whilst I made and we had breakfast together.

We were heading back towards Euston a bit earlier than we normally do on a Sunday, but for a good reason. The Wellcome Foundation close to Euston had an exhibition on the ground floor, entitled Play Well. It was of course in interest to The Love because of the job she does, but for me it was also a case of seeing the history of how nurseries and kindergartens were first formed, and how pioneering techniques and exploring play as a way of stimulating development and growth. There was also a classic bit of British Pathé footage too which showed the role of the nursery in its early years, pretty good actually.

It was also a focus on how development went through the ages, including the original foundation of LEGO, and how iconic sets, even in the early 1980s, were making an attempt to break down gender barriers with some iconic posters. Lots of interactivity too which was good to see, and the children were encouraged to get involved with dance displays and also some simple computer games which were written by other children to see how they would help and aid others - a really inspirational exhibition actually.

It was also noticeable that the café was busy on the ground floor and we did like the shop too - it had a very good range of books and toys and all sorts of educational items, and the fact it was busy said to me it wasn't that expensive for the coffee, cakes etc either. I'll have to try and go back there sometime and just have the cake and coffee to chill out I think. We did of course then head over to the Crown and Anchor for some well earned Sunday lunch - and as ever the pie was completely spot on!

It felt really sad at Euston later as The Love In My Heart headed homewards, but I did reflect on the fact that we had had a lovely weekend together and I can now admire the Christmas tree at home with the bauble of Brian the cat looking at me too. I think it certainly helped lighten my mood and made me feel more festive, and being cuddled to the woman I love made the weekend just that more special - and of course it's now December, so bring on the Christmas songs including the classic Wizzard one (you know what it is) which is tune of the day and one I heard at Kew last night..