Dear Diary... December 2020

Thursday 31st December - End Of The Year

It was a cold and crisp morning with some snow falling as The Love In My Heart woke up and got herself ready to go to work. I had to get up too though as the fire alarm in the apartment block was going off, so it was getting clothes on and heading outside. The Love headed off to go to work as she was doing anyway, and I waited in the car park for three fire engines to arrive, sort out whatever the issue was, and leave fairly quickly. However, a number of residents waited outside the front door, which clearly they shoudln't be doing for all sorts of fire regulation reasons. Snow or not, it was selfish.

During the day it was a case of checking quickly some work things (although I am on leave I needed to double check an existing query and provide progress on the status of one issue we've raised with an external provided) and also headed off to Asda to get a few essentials. I was in and out of there pretty quickly primarily as it was getting busy and people were not wearing face coverings, and I did not want to put myself at any further risk. I got what was needed, but wasn't pleased that the management at Asda weren't enforcing the rules, especially given the current situation we are all in.

I had a relaxed afternoon with Brian the cat being all cute and soft, in his current position underneath the Christmas tree - he wasn't for moving either to be perfectly honest and I can't say I blame him - he was all looking very cute and happy and staring out of the window watching the world go by, or me clearing the decking outside as some idiot decided to throw bits of Christmas tree out of an upper floor, landing some of it on the decking. Absolutely inconsiderate, and I didn't want it to remain a mess for The Love when she got home from work either, and wanted things to be tidy.

The Love arrived home from work and once showered and changed, it was time for us to have a quiet night in (as we normally do during New Year to be fair) and watch some decent telly, starting with the final heat of World's Strongest Man. Brian Shaw won the heat and an epic stone off saw Terry Hollands eliminated - was gutted for him as he had done really well in the first four events and did lift six stones in the stone off, so was not for the lack of trying either. He did better than Luke Stoltman who seemed off form for some reason, and he'll have to watch his brother Tom in the final.

After that, it was over to Channel 4 for The Last Leg of the Year, and definitely a case of being pre-recorded a few weeks ago as Adam Hills had to fly back and be in quarantine in Australia for Christmas. I enjoyed the Alex Brooker section of him doing lots of Paralmypic events with the likes of Ellie Robinson, Jody Cundy, Kadeena Cox and Lauren Steadman in support, so that was good. I also really liked the different takes on songs Alex Horne and the Horne Section did, including a play on Disco 2000 by Pulp (make that tune of the day as well) - so was really good overall.

More of the same later with Lorraine Kelly also being quite sharp and witty on the show (an added bonus of late night Lorraine being a little more unrestricted) and then over to Jools Holland's Hootenanny on BBC2. It was different - him and his orchestra with singers alone doing songs, and classic clips from the past. I really did like though the way that it worked and that they had the likes of Celeste and Sir Tom Jones on in the studio and a link with Vic Reeves via video link as well. We saw in midnight with a glass of prosecco in a classic Babycham glass, and here's hoping 2021 will be a lot better.

Wednesday 30th December - Shopping Without Snow

As it was the day of announcements for the new tier levels in England for the next two weeks at least, I had a feeling, as did The Love In My Heart, that this could well be the last day for some non-essential shops to be open before Tier 4 would hit where The Love is. In fact, as she headed back to work after a slightly extended Christmas break, it was just me and Brian the cat in the morning. However, I did do some washing and plenty of ironing to make sure that was all sorted, and also spent some time finalising the PC I had been working on earlier this week too.

It was good to have been able to back up what was possibly needed, and then completely nuke it with DBAN in terms of the hard drive, so that it was effectively zero blank filled with multiple passes. With the likes of Ubuntu being free, I installed the 20.04 LTS version (long term servicing in case you wondered) and that meant out of the box the likes of Firefox for web browsing, LibreOffice for all your office needs and so on. It actually meant that if needed, we could donate it to charity and if someone wanted to use it as is, they could be up and running in no time.

In the early afternoon I headed on the tram, first to an out of town shopping centre as these had a few outlet stores. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Next outlet was the busiest of those, but also Marks and Spencer had a queue too. Gap didn't have a queue, and I did quite like a few things in there as well, so was good to be able to have a look. I was tempted but I already have enough jeans for the moment, so decided to pass for now on that score. Little did I realise that in fact I should have possibly been more tempted, but there you go - can't win them all and can always purchase online I guess.

I headed back into the centre, and from there it was off to HMV to see what CDs I could get. I did check and actually had an existing gift card as well but wasn't sure of the balance on there, as well as a new one that one of my relatives had kindly got me for Christmas. I did see two albums to get in the end: the new Nick Cave one where he performs solo with piano at Alexandra Palace as well as the Amy Macdonald album reduced too. It turned out I had around six pounds on the old gift card so used that first, and have some balance left on the new card, so will need to try and use that once the shops are back open again.

As I was heading back to The Love's place on the tram, I caught sight of the news and noted indeed that The Love's area was going into Tier 4 - not a surprise really as a lot of the rest of the country was doing the same - only most of Yorkshire seems to have avoided that being Tier 3, or the Isles of Scilly (the only place in England to be Tier 1, nowhere now Tier 2.) The constant moving around is confusing, and I thought realistically a lockdown now would be more sensible until this new strain is got on top of, but alas, when you look at the bunch of useless muppets we have in Government, well, I'll let you make your own mind up.

It was a pretty quiet and relaxed evening for the two of us, as The Love had made a lasagne for us which was very nice, and we checked what we had for New Year's Eve - all good. We usually stay in together anyway and watch the likes of Jools Holland's Hootenanny, so no change really, but I'd urge everyone else to be inside with their families or support bubbles, and stay safe - and listen to some good music as you do so. For me, The Mercy Seat from that new Nick Cave album is tune of the day - it's dramatic as the original was, but in a different way. And if you get time, check out the Johnny Cash version on American Recordings III - The Man Comes Around. It's also excellent.

Tuesday 29th December - Snow in Styal

After a relatively good night's sleep, what I didn't expect to see today was snow. But there it was - and a fair covering of snow too - all over the cars, the trees and anywhere that had grass had a white covering. It definitely was a lovely Wintry feeling and a shame that it had not fallen a few days ago to give it all a truly White Christmas. Still, it's at least nice to see and Brian the cat decided to explore having a play out on the decking and leave his little paw prints all over the place, and decided that it was too cold before heading inside. He was being rather adorable.

We had a relaxing morning and we were able to have a coffee and some breakfast, then get ourselves all showered and changed ready to head out for the afternoon. We had booked a ticket for us both to go to Quarry Bank in Styal - as with all National Trust properties, you have to book in advance, even as a member, and it was a case of being able to get a time as well. Lyme Park for example was completely fully booked for the week and that was this time last week, which tells me how much people are trying to make the effort to get some fresh air, exercise and be safe with their families.

I had headed over to the local Asda to get a few bits of shopping that we needed, and once that was all done, we were all ready to go. The snow was melting a bit outside and the roads at least had been treated, so was fairly easy to be able to get to Quarry Bank. In fact, the traffic was relatively quiet so was nice to be able to get there, park up, and be ready for a nice walk after we had gone through the admission kiosk and shown the garden admission ticket to the member of staff there. Plenty of families and children were doing the Peter Rabbit trail there as well.

What we did notice that the new cafe was open, but at the moment for takeaway only, close to the walled garden. We did manage to get some sausage baps along with a nice coffee each (latte for me, capuccino for The Love) and we were able to find a spot to rest and have those for a late lunch - and certainly was nice with the view of the mill and the garden down below being all white and snowy still. We did walk around the garden and all the paths down apart from the main road were closed, but we did manage to head down another way to the bridge over the river and do a quick circuit around, so was still a good walk and in the snow too.

Later on we passed John Lewis and Partners on the way back and had a good look in there for a few things, and that was pretty quiet too before we headed back home. I ended up watching the Channel 4 top 20 shows of the 1980s with Sir Lenny Henry, and was slightly surprised to see Brookside only at number 9, but was really pleased to see Whose Line Is It Anyway way up there - and the iconic theme tune is tune of the day - and so nice to see Josie Lawrence chat enthusiastically about the show as well. Indeed, it was really good to be able to see some classic sketches with the likes of Tony Slattery, Ryan Stiles, Mike McShane and so on.

Monday 28th December - Snow and Snugburys

The Love In My Heart and I had decided that a trip out to Snugburys was in order to get some nice ice cream but also to take a little walk to the bee straw sculpture nearby, and to get out and about a little bit. Snugburys normally have a little shop on site where you buy the ice cream from, but the current restrictions wasn't allowing that. However they had during the first lockdown built a drive through takeaway option, so you could order your ice cream and coffee, then take it out and enjoy it in your car, so thereby being compliant and having a safe treat.

As we headed along into Cheshire we both noted that snow had fallen overnight, meaning that the main roads had at least had some salt grit down and were drivable, but the fields and hills in the background had a light dusting of the white stuff, which did look very pretty. The motorway wasn't so nice and I think The Love was relieved to get off there, and heading down the A49 then A51 was at least a nicer experience, passing the turn off for Oulton Park motor racing circuit as well as the Bunbury Locks and Mill before heading towards Hurleston and Snugburys itself.

The Love drove in along the main drive and then turned right to the drive through facility. They had a list of all the ice cream flavours available (sensible) as well as letting you know in advance it was card only, so you had option to turn round if you didn't want to pay that way. We were all good, and I ordered two scoops of their ice cream - honeycomb and cherry blizzard flavours, and we also ordered a coffee each - where you got a free nice little warm mince pie with it too. The staff were absolutely lovely and friendly and there was a queue of cars in front and behind us, so was proving popular.

We then parked up and I enjoyed my ice cream, and we both had the coffee and the mince pie. The little mince pie was so cute and tasted really nice, and a nice touch from Snugburys to do that. We ensured we disposed of our rubbish correctly, and then headed along the field to see the giant bee straw sculpture. It was definitely looking a little weathered and worse for wear near the wings, but at the same time it was really nice to see, especially with a light dusting of snow in the background as well. That for me was definitely a positive and we both had a nice time too.

We headed back homeward later, following the A556 so avoiding more motorway where possible, and had a nice pizza delivery for tea as I thought it'd be good to get a takeout instead for the evening. After The Love watched the soaps, we put Channel 4 on with a look back at the best Channel 4 programmes of the 1990s. This inevitably included The Word (make the 808 State theme tune tune of the day and it was also interesting to see the likes of Vic Reeves Big Night Out (cue classic quote of you wouldn't let it lie), TFI Friday, The Big Breakfast and many more.

The only surprise for me was that So Graham Norton topped the 1990s list. Granted it was a platform to greater things and all that, but in terms of longevity, and maybe because of its recent comeback, The Crystal Maze might have been the top spot (it was number 2) especially during the original Richard O'Brien era of course. Other notable inclusions were Father Ted, Brass Eye, Hollyoaks (obviously) as well as Cutting Edge, following the then England manager Graham Taylor (Do I not like that) and also one of my own personal favourites from that era, Father Ted. Of course it's looked on less favourably now because of Graham Linehan.

Sunday 27th December - A Day Indoors

It was a really relaxed day indoors and with myself, The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat all having a lie in. It definitely wasn't the warmest weather outside so it was nice just to take things relatively easy, be safe and cosy inside and have Brian wanting lots of fuss and attention along the way. He definitely was having lots of cute moments during the day, especially when he lies down and hides under the Christmas tree, looking outside to see what is happening. He is so adorable of course and a real positive to have him close to me during this current time. I consider myself very lucky really.

I spent some time today looking over a PC for one of The Love's relations that needed sorting out, primarily because it looked to be out of date for some reason, but also to ensure that any data needed from it was backed up as well, and I had a few options there. Ultimately the plan will be to look at clearing out the hard drive entirely, maybe adding something like Ubuntu back on as well. However, my suspicions were confirmed that I noted that the machine had Windows 10, version 1607. Way out of date, and it was also the home edition, so no reason not to upgrade it really and check it was all good.

I had also noted that someone had decided to install the Classic Shell utility, which can be a blocker for upgrades sometimes becuase it tries to make the start menu and other parts of the GUI look like older Windows, but it does this by effectively affecting the operating system. The first thing to do was to quit that and then perform the uninstall and restart, then once done get the start menu and settings back to a sensible default which would work properly. Once done, it was then a case of downloading the update assistant, and allowing that to download the 3.5GB worth of feature updates to take it to 20H2.

That was all done, and I was also keeping an eye on some of the football results, whilst The Love was making a very nice Sunday roast for tea - some gorgeous chicken, three types of potato and some vegetables too, so that definitely was really appreciated and had a really nice time enjoying that together. Brian wanted his usual play out of course but he soon realised it wasn't the warmest day outside and so went inside for more cuddles. It was nice to see that he was wanting more fuss and attention as per usual, which was good.

Later on of course World's Strongest Man was on the telly. It was the second heat and was a little bit of a killer, especially the fourth event with the dumbbell press, the pairs of dumbbells to start with and the large one at the end to single arm press. In fact, the bicep had broken on one of them who had finished second, which allowed the British athlete Adam Bishop to come from fourth to compete in the stone-off, which he won to get through to the final. That was intriguing to see that just how much risk there can be when doing certain events, and the theme tune is tune of the day.

Saturday 26th December - Boxing Day Bonus

It was really nice to have had a good night's sleep last night, and most of all that Brian the cat had all been snuggled up on the bottom of the bed, and then early in the morning coming up to get cuddles from his Mummy. In fact he allowed us both to stroke him and give him plenty of fussing and attention, so was all good that we had been able to make him feel all happy and content. In fact he just was adoring the preening and purring quite happily, so made sure that he was all very content before we headed up and had some bacon on toast for a nice light breakfast together.

One of the presents that The Love had received yesterday was actually for Brian the cat - it was a cat hammock with four large suckers, the idea being that you were able to sucker it to the window and have the hammock part sticking out so you could rest on it and then have a good sleep there. The Love spent some time putting it all together, and once we'd worked out which way it all went, it soon was able to be mounted and up against one of the windows. Brian was sniffing around so he was thinking that he might be able to get on it, and sure enough he did, and was resting there for a while.

In fact, it was only later on as one of the upper suckers that held the hammock support came off that Brian got a bit panicky and decided to jump off. We did put it back on later and we'll need to see if Brian will go back on or not, but he did look adorably cute when he was lay on there, so that definitely is a nice thing. I think as well that with all the resting under the Christmas tree that he had been doing, and he definitely was enjoying all the rest and relaxation. I am sure too that he will be by the window later on looking out and keeping an eye out for any other cats around, he is the boss after all!

As The Love In My Heart was watching the likes of Emmerdale and Call The Midwife which she had missed last night and was therefore on catch up, I instead was watching this afternoon's live game on BBC One between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace - a nice bonus to have a proper game on proper telly. Villa took the lead early on and then had Tyrone Mings sent off before half time for two bookable offences, not that that stopped Villa as they added two well taken second half goals and ended up winning pretty easily 3-0 in the end - and a really good game for the neutral to watch to be honest. The classic theme tune is of course tune of the day - it is a true classic.

Later on was the first heat of what is an annual watch for me - World's Strongest Man. Although the event is in Florida, the hurricane and bad weather outside meant a change to go indoors for the heats at least. It was a closely fought heat with Jerry Pritchett doing really well on his first time back after a few years out, and Luke Richardson coming through in the eight stone play off against Robert Oberst. Definitely I'd love to see eight atlas stones in the final too, but definitely some drama in there and some good events, hopefully more to look forward to over the next few days of watching that one.

Friday 25th December - Christmas Day Calm

Like the majority of people are doing this year, Christmas definitely had been scaled back a fair bit from what it might be. Certainly for me there's no mass family gathering on Boxing Day for example, and it's a case of just being thankful of spending Christmas Day with The Love In My Heart, given all the current circumstances. For once The Love wasn't actually cooking the Christmas dinner, so that meant we could have a nice lie in and relax with Brian the cat all snuggled up on the end of the bed, wanting lots of fuss and attention from his Mummy. He really did feel all comfortable there and once we were up, Brian just snuggled under the tree.

As has become our tradition, we don't open the presents to each other until later on, but we did have plenty to open. My friend and his wife had been very kind and generous, so I had four new CDs from the likes of Midge Ure, Paul Weller, Jesse Malin and Billie Joe Armstrong, and also from one of my friends Short Circuit and Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children on Blu-Ray plus the Gary Numan live CD and DVD set from a gig I was actually at, much appreciated. Some of my relatives had got me gift cards too, always appreciated. My Mum had got me a jumper and some new shirts, and The Love's relations had got me several Blu-Ray films too.

In fact, it was Disney and Pixar central with the likes of Cars 3, Onward and Moana, as well as A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, The Keeper and Wallace and Gromit 30th Anniversary set, plus the Queen and Adam Lambert CD too. I must admit I did feel very lucky all told and all the genorosity is much appreciated for definite. In fact The Love allowed me to open one present early - and it was some lovely Issey Miyake Pour Homme aftershave, so I could be all lovely for heading out later to one of The Love's relations for Christmas dinner, which of course would be rather nice all round.

It was nice too that some of the Brewdog Advent Calendar beer had been saved by The Love's relation for me, including the Layer Cake marshmallow stout, a little bit similar to Stay Puft from Tiny Rebel. With The Love's sister and niece there too, it was six of us together and it was nice just to have a good chat together and a relaxing drink before the Christmas dinner was being cooked. In fact, it was really nice and possibly too much made, but the turkey and the ham were both lovely, as well as the roast and mashed potatoes, carrots, vegetables and the gravy. I did feel rather full after all of that but it was delicious it had to be said.

We relaxed at the table and had some more chat before dessert later on, The Love had made the trifle which was rather lovely with layers of sponge, jelly, custard and cream, and with some chocolate spoons made from a lovely mould too, which really did look the part. It was nice to see the house that The Love's relation had moved into and was renting out, and certainly seemed a lovely place full of character too, so that was also really good. The time sped by far too quickly and before we knew it, it was all time to head back homeward and to spend a nice quiet evening in together and to relax with Brian the cat insisting on his tea.

With Brian the cat all fed and all happy, and sat on the pouffle being all cute, it was time for us both to open presents from each other. I really loved all the presents from The Love - a really nice Joules check shirt along with some Joules boxer shorts, a signed copy of the Claudia Winkleman book Quite (wasn't expecting that so was mega happy with that), a nice dark blue jumper from Very, and also the Pop Will Eat Itself pint glass. I used that later on to pour some Black Sheep beer into and have a nice drink together. The Love was really pleased with the Oliver Bonas bee cushion, as well as the sleep trio set, the Joules cat slippers which were so cute, as well as the Kenzo World perfume too.

I did have one final surprise for The Love though - I had literally got it yesterday when in the city centre on the way home, and had nipped into Oliver Bonas and got her a yellow jewellery box, in the same colour as the bee cushion with a nice bee motif on, and just a nice size to store rings and so on. I thought it was a good match and it was appreciated, so we really did make each other very happy indeed with presents, and felt rather cosy and festive together, so glad we were still able to have that moment together. It did mean more than most years this year and I know it's something we're lucky enough to treasure.

As there wasn't that much good telly on, we did end up watching Channel 5 which had a run down of the top 50 songs of the 1980s as voted on by viewers. I was very surprised no Madonna singles were in that list whatsoever, and more so that Wham's Last Christmas was number one, considering so many other good songs. However as The Love really loves the song and video, only fair it is tune of the day and that is something that we both managed to avoid listening to until today, so Whamageddon also achieved. It was just a lovely day all told and so lucky to have that day together as well.

Thursday 24th December - Rememberance

Christmas Eve is normally a day that I spend with some rememberance and reflection, as I take the journey to visit the cemeteries where some of my family relations are situated. This is something that does upset me a little bit, as I miss the relations concerned a lot, but at the same time I know that it is the right thing to do and that I am being respectful by making the effort to see them. I really do loathe death and I know it's always hard whenever I've had to deal with it - and one day when it might be me I'd just be happier if it was all painless and not having to face a long time of lengthy pain - going peacefully in my sleep would be at least less upsetting.

So with all day bus ticket in hand, it was off on two buses, first to the city centre, and then out to the first cemetery. The good thing is that normally they're open quite early, so I was actually there just before 9am, so was nice and quiet. This gave me the chance to have a good think about things there and say hello to said relation, before calmly heading out and onwards to the bus stop close by - where I then would take another two buses, changing along the way, to the second cemetery. Again, it was nice and quiet so was able to have a few moments there and to pause and reflect as well.

I was very tempted to sit on the bench close by to gather my thoughts, but the ground frost overnight had certainly made any bench pretty cold, so didn't want a numb bottom. However, one of the things I do then do afterwards is go into a nearby Costa coffee and have a festive coffee, primarily so I can feel less upset (as I do get very upset normally.) This year I couldn't sit in and have the coffee because of the current situation, so instead had The Purple One latte as a takeout, and you even got a little purple one from Quality Street to have with it too - which was lovely, as were the staff in Costa too, it has to be said.

As from here I could take one bus back to the city centre, it was a good time to have some time to pause and think about just how much I miss said relatives. I do miss their presence but most of all I miss them as people that I cared for a lot and whom I felt some of my happiest moments with. It's not easy, and for me at least I know that I've done what I needed to do. The Love In My Heart is very respectful of this and allows me that space to myself, even if she was off work and able to drive me there. It says a lot of how considerate she is that she knows it's something I need to do for me, and to be alone with my thoughts.

I headed back in the city centre and did have a quick look in Uniqlo. What I didn't expect was to see a nice red check shirt in my size reduced to a mere eight pounds, so naturally that was mine and purchased. I also bought a little something extra as well which I know will make someone happy - and the staff in the second shop were particularly lovely - just the sort of kindness that we all should have. More of that in this world please. In fact tune of the day is the excellent Kind and Generous by the wonderful Natalie Merchant - it's just such a lovely song and sums up the warmth people have.

Wednesday 23rd December - Reunited

For the last few days I've been checking all the revised regulations with regards to the current situation, and making sure that under them I would still be able to travel to and stay with The Love In My Heart. When lockdown first happened in March, I had sort of predicted it and had pre-empted the announcement by packing a big case and so on, so ended up staying with The Love for seven weeks. In fact it was also useful because effectively we had formed our support bubble before the phrase existed, so once it actually was a thing, I knew we had formed one and so was all good on that side of things.

So I read things carefully - and even gave The Love the option of me not coming if she felt that it was safer for us both, and worthy of careful consideration. The good news was that support bubbles were still allowed regardless of the tiers anyway, including any travel and overnight stays to and from them, so we were all good. In fact, it meant that not having to try and rush to head up on the Saturday was probably a more sensible thing and to pause and wait - and so it's proven. So with everything packed, it was off to head up on the train this morning to see The Love and to bring some cheer to us both.

Of course I had booked first class in order to ensure a safer trip but also because earlier trains give you the option of a full breakfast, and that was just really nice. In fact I was the only person in the carriage, so the staff walked down to me, took the order, and then delivered a nice bag to the table with it all in. It was all very nice and very hot, added to coffee and orange juice as well. It really did keep me going and was just perfect to accompany the misty scenery passing as the train headed through the countryside, and I had Swing Out Sister on the iPod (make Twilight World tune of the day.)

I took the tram over to The Love's place and Brian the cat was of course waiting for me - he was all relaxed on the pouffle. He of course was interested in the Christmas tree and wanted to be having a play with it - and was adorable. I had a coffee and was all relaxed with Brian by the window, and unpacked everything so all was good. In fact, it really did make sense to be able to relax and take it easy for a while, and for me it was just good to be safe and to be waiting for The Love, who was in work and would be so until Christmas Eve - and to be fair had I not taken leave, I would be too.

I also headed over later on to see my friend and his wife - and we made safe arrangements for a present drop. I dropped theirs at the front door and knocked, and retreated back to the road they live on, so at least four metres apart, and with face covering on, and they then came out and sat just outside their front door and we chatted for a few minutes, which was nice, before they left our presents at the front door and went in, then I headed to collect them. It worked well, was nice to see them both, and wanted to do but in as safe a place as possible and indeed take them into consideration - it was the only and right thing to do.

It was so lovely later to see The Love, and she had prepared some sausage casserole which she asked me to put into the oven earlier. It was all rather lovely actually and it went down well for us both to enjoy a nice meal and to settle in to watch some telly. Brian the cat was being super cute and wanting tummy tickles from his Mummy, and it was just a relief to be together. I've brought the work laptop as I suspect I will be here a few weeks to be honest, so best be prepared and indeed be all ready to spend some extended time together. We've kept each other going a lot and I think we both know we're very lucky to be together at the moment.

Tuesday 22nd December - World's Strongest Christmas

You know it's usually around the festive period when the qualifiers for World's Strongest Man, the Giants Live Series, are being shown on Channel 5 here in the UK. Of course because of clashes with other things I wanted to watch over the last few days, I thought today whilst being off work was a perfect opportunity to get two episodes watched that I had missed and get myself in the right mood for when the five heats and final get shown between Christmas and New Year. Of course I deliberately avoided any news coverage so that when I do get to watch on Channel 5, I have no idea who's won - just better that way.

So first up, and filmed way back at the start of the year prior to any restrictions was Britain's Strongest Man at the FlyDSA Arena in Sheffield. The arena size and the fact you could get the crowds close to the main stage for the events really did make for a good venue, and the five events on show really did showcase a multitude of talents. The log ladder event with five logs to lift, each getting heavier, was a real test of endurance as well as technique and I wasn't surprised at all not many cleared all five - also good to see the likes of Eddie Hall do some presenting and give an overview of the events from the strongman's point of view, after all he did win the British title five times!

The second event was the axle deadlift, pretty hard going and a real battle of pacing sensibly. Mark Felix got ten reps which was superb, but Adam Bishop managed to win the event with an eleventh rep just in time, which was also very good. I think too that you could tell it meant a lot because of the way that he really was pumped up. The classic carrying event was next with the likes of sacks, barrel and tyre carried and loaded into a skip - there were some very fast times here especially from the Stoltman brothers, who were pushing Adam Bishop all the way.

We then had the classic event of the Conan's Wheel next, as you headed around a circular route with a massive load in the arms. Adam Bishop was consistent here and finished second the second event in a row, with Pa O'Dwyer winning and almost matching Darren Sadler's record (Darren these days is also a ref in strongman) - and that meant a dramatic Atlas Stones final event. Adam Bishop could finish no lower than third, and Tom Stoltman actually broke the world record for 5 stones in the final heat, but Bishop did more than enough to claim third place, and win the title by just half a point over Tom Stoltman with the brother Luke in third. Epic stuff.

In fact I also watched the next episode which was the first few events of Europe's Strongest Man, held at Allerton Castle in Yorkshire, primarily so a number of events could be held outside which of course should be safer. The Hercules Hold saw Mark Felix break his own world record and be the first man ever to keep the hold going for longer than 90 seconds, and kudos too for Terry Hollands who himself beat his own best and managed just under 80 seconds. Impressive. And the second half to see next time around too, so all good there. I do like watching it, and it's always just mighty to see how well they do. Tune of the day is the older theme tune they used in the mid 2010s, wish Channel 5 would bring it back as it adds to the drama!

Monday 21st December - The Last Working Day of the Year

Because our workplace had gifted everyone Christmas Eve off, and because I had previously booked that day off, I arranged with my line manager last week to re-arrange it so I could instead have the 22nd off (having already got the 23rd off) which meant that today was my last working day of the year, and tomorrow will be a day of sorting out and getting things tidy and neat where possible, so less to do over the festive period to come. But I had a pretty good day at work ahead, and managed to get plenty of things achieved to end the year on a positive note.

First of all, with our inventory system. I had noted that one of the Software as a Service (SaaS) connectors appeared to be bringing in a fair amount of data on aggregation, but the way that came in along with the views and tables it looked up in the SQL back end meant that a query which should take around a second to execute was taking around 50 instead. So, I simply disabled the aggregation schedule of the one instance I thought was causing an issue, and let the daily schedules run as normal. And, boom! When I looked today, I could see the SaaS overview page without any problems and indeed was able to delve into them too - a massive result in my view. So naturally I've left that schedule off for the festive period.

I also was able to see that after releasing the December Windows 10 updates a little earlier, in the hope to get as many machines patched before Christmas, I was able to see that the overall take up based on a couple of days' worth of installations at the back end of last week amounted to over 65% compliance, which isn't that bad either. Further, as I suspected a fair number of users were already off, for those that are still around they've pretty much got their updates done and all good to go, so another good thing to tick off the list, as well as give my manager a handover document accordingly.

I finally was able to get one last thing done to help out one of our Chinese sites who are taking on a few new things at the moment - turned out that some of the machines were Windows 10 with Chinese language, and so in order to do the necessary Windows 10 version upgrades, they needed the feature update for Windows 10 for that language to be added to the current list, and so once done I could see two machines that were getting the feature update download via MECM and be ready to install, so definitely that has to be a positive thing in my view at least.

And that was that - the day and working year complete. I have to say that it did feel good to come to the end of the day knowing that I'd managed a lot, and that indeed the year has been a good one overall. I've managed to still be in the same job, definitely positive, and indeed brought around some improvements which have really helped, especially in this current climate. I just now will know that although Christmas won't be normal at all, it is what it is and it's just a case of getting on with it, so tune of the day is what Chris Rea won't be doing this time round, and that's Driving Home for Christmas. Not unless he happens to live in Barnard Castle anyway.

Sunday 20th December - Strictly Salvation

I have to say that I do quite like Strictly Come Dancing. There, I've said it. There's some real joy to be had seeing people who may not have been able to dance before learn from a seasoned professional and actually be quite good at it. Now, I had to resist all forms of media last night in order not to know the result, and was watching it on iPlayer today so I could see what happened. The below entry may include spoilers, so if you don't want to know the result - browse to another website, now!

First up, it was nice to see both Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly actually pause and mention all of those behind the scenes who had worked tirelessly and made their own sacrifices to make the show actually happen, all the production crew, the band, everyone. It really has been a shining light on a dark year for Strictly to even have made it to air, never mind have a high quality set of conestants with four of them and their pro partners battling for the glitterball. They touched on this again later, as did the finalists, and it was quite emotional as I think it was sinking in what it meant for so many to have a bit of Strictly back in their lives, different, but still the same dancing that we all want to see.

The judges' choices were first, so HRVY and Janette Manrara had to open the show, and with their jive from week one bursting with energy and full of life. Jamie Laing and Karen Hauer were next, and they had the rather fun charleston with Jamie as Hercules, which really did endear quite a few people to him. Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse re-did the quickstep with talking to the animals, which was smart and classy, but best of the first dances were Maisie Smith and Gorka Marquez, their salsa was awesome and Maisie really seemed to bring the attitude to it too - a perfect way to set it all off.

The show dances were next, and these were spectacular. Nice touch of HRVY and Janette to go all music festival with their showdance and pack it all in to the classic disco number Boogie Wonderland complete with lifts, charlestons and all sorts. Spot on. Jamie and Karen reflected on surviving the dance off with a nice contemporary number to I'm Still Standing, made perfect sense that. Maisie and Gorka also really nailed a nice Christmas themed dance to try and give people happier times, but for me Bill and Oti nailed all the power and passion, complete with Tango and serious face, for their show dance, with The Show Must Go On (and apt too, so the Queen classic is tune of the day). What I wasn't expecting was actual Brian May and actual Roger Taylor to be on backing him though in a video message. Yes!

Finally the couples did their favourite dance of the series. I knew Maisie's would be the Quickstep to When You're Smiling, as it allowed her to showcase lots of happy steps and plenty of fun as well as grace and charm, and somehow the street commercial couple's choice for Jamie and Karen made perfect sense - it'll be the dance he gets remembered by and definitely his best one. No surprise HRVY and Janette went back to the musicals for their top hat gold American Smooth - and that meant a lot to both of them and was so pleased of course Janette was finally in a final - HRVY to be fair had really focussed a lot on wanting to win it for her too which was really lovely of him.

No surprise Bill and Oti went for Rappers' Delight of course, complete with suits and hat and looking sharp. It was an iconic dance first time around and worked so well now too, and that was all good. Three couples tied on 88 points out of 90, with only Jamie and Karen slightly behind but on 84, which was still very good indeed to be fair. Standards were high, and anyone could have won it as well, and was so moving to see how emotional everyone were just to be able to dance too - and to see the other couples back and have a nice group number, and a powerful effort too from Nicola Adams and Katya Jones too - good to see.

The announcement came and Bill and Oti won! I was pleased for them - I would have liked to see HRVY and Janette win (mainly for Janette too) but Bill and Oti were consistently good all the way through and a revelation - who would have thought it at the start. Oti also made a new Strictly record - the first professional dancer to retain the trophy and only the second pro dancer (after Aliona Vilani) to win it twice, and Bill also became the oldest celebrity to win as well. Age? Just a number, and seeing him win hopefully might inspire more to take to the dancefloor to keep fit as well. And it was emotional, it has to be said.

Saturday 19th December - The Only London Loop Way Is Essex

It was an early start for me this morning as I was heading off to do another two sections of the London Loop walk. Yes, two, because each of them are just over four miles each and thought it would make much more sense being able to do them together as one long eight mile hike. I also knew that realistically it would be out in the suburbs and less people, so also a safer thing to be at than lots of shops packed full of people not socially distancing. In fact, exercise outside is also good for the mental health as well as everything else, so there is something in that to be honest.

I set off and headed first of all via Canada Water to Stratford, and from there had timed it well to get the Greater Anglia train up to Enfield Lock station. Once back along the road to the Turkey Brook, it was following that for a while and then crossing over towards Enfield Lock itself, along with the Swan and Pike Pool there. This was all pretty, and after crossing the River Lee Navigation a few times, it was off to Sewardstone Marsh and to follow the path through there - which did look very nice actually, has to be said. It was then a lengthy climb up Daws Hill to the top where the views were very worth it.

Descending down Daws Hill, I had the first and only rain of the walk, but it had been raining for the last few days so it wasn't the best underfoot, but if you wanted mud, then when I got to the Scouts headquarters at Gilwell Park and followed the path for the Loop towards Epping Forest, that was very muddy indeed and was difficult heading down Yardley Hill to say the least, with the climb on the other side towards Hawk Wood also pretty slippy too. At least then as I headed back towards the road and indeed on a nice wide track close to Bury Road, it all opened out as did the sun, and was nice to head down towards Chingford.

I stopped in Chingford for a well earned soft drink, and also admired the mosaic roundel at Chingford overground station, the end of one of the lines from Liverpool Street station. It was then back towards Chingford Golf Club and to follow the path along then up hill towards Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge. A pretty amazing view from here and the lodge itself was rather spectacular (albeit not open for safety reasons.) I then followed Rangers Road towards the Essex border and over that, and along a hill known as The Warren (I know!) before then getting up another muddy stretch towards Buckhurst Hill cricket and hockey pitch.

From there it was following a little green and down towards a path which took me to the Central Line and over it close to Buckhurst Hill itself, and followed a nice tarmac green path up to the open space at Roding Valley Fields, complete with a nice lake to walk around and the tiniest concrete arch bridge over the River Roding itself, following a nature trail around the river before then following to head over the M11 towards Chigwell Rise, up through some countryside and eventually getting to Chigwell itself and the roundabout where the section ends before turning left to become section 20, which I shall leave for another time up to Havering-atte-Bower.

Chigwell station is in the Northern part of the Hainault loop - and the only station in the London Loop start and end of section to be in Zone 4 - and also as such has a shuttle between Woodford and Hainault only. It was okay with time as had to wait six minutes (bear in mind it's a 20 minute service normally here) and had the whole tube carriage to myself too, before then heading to Woodford and getting on the main Central Line to Stratford, before then heading off homeward via Canada Water. It had been a very muddy couple of sections but had proved really worth it overall to do, so pretty pleased with myself that I had done so - and five left to complete the whole loop which is pretty good considering my goal was to get to half way by the end of 2020!

After seeing Manchester City win against Southampton later on, I settled in for the evening with a nice Christmas chat with some of my friends online. I had also prepared a Commodore 64 related quiz for the evening which went down well. Many congratulations to my friend Dan who won by a mere half a point, but he had excelled in the fifth round, My Name Is David Bowie, where I played a number of Bowie songs and you had to work out if it had been covered on the Commodore 64 or not. Naturally of course, Underground from the film Labyrinth (which also had a tie in game on the C64 too) was one of them, and still a classic film that was too, so tune of the day for me without a doubt.

Friday 18th December - Five Years

Due to a personal thing happening today, which I am keeping private, I did have some thoughts last night on the last five years or so since I moved to Croydon (it was actually last Saturday just gone being the five year anniversary) and how much has actually changed in my life since then (cue Five Years by David Bowie being tune of the day) - I can vividly remember heading down in my brother in law's van with him and my brother and some possessions, and had the key for the new flat ready to move in. It was just nice that I was able to at least get into the new place, and have a nice seal of approval from both of them too, and feel reassured that this was another large step in my life.

Of course, leaving Manchester behind was a massive wrench: naturally I'd be back up most weekends anyway, primarily to see The Love In My Heart, and to head to watch Manchester City with my friend too. Both of those made the weekends even more special and the time we'd spend was always massively appreciated. But in terms of work and prospects, I'd literally gone as far as I possibly could in Manchester and nothing on the horizon was really what I wanted in terms of career progression - and I had spent sixteen years in the same workplace as well, so maybe a change of scenery was just what I needed.

At first, of course, it was all new and different, getting used to much busier public transport generally, dominated by Southern Fail and their struggles at the time, which didn't help, but also being able to settle into the new job I'd moved down for initially and manage to get the feet under the table. What I'd learned though was that they weren't going to move to the systems I'd been used to, and thought they may have been moving to, so that did put me off a bit. As such, it was different to put myself out there and to sell myself to agencies and another employer, and getting that new job and going back to systems I was used to really did help enormously.

Anyway, that worked out really well and I think I had a good footing there, with some lovely people and really warm and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, other circumstances including an external report made me think about what the culture really was, and if it was worth me staying. Again I was head hunted for the next job, which was good. However, had I known what I was letting myself in for, I wouldn't have accepted that job. The culture was possibly the worst workplace culture I had experienced. I had made a mistake and felt unhappy. This was where the lifeline of being able to spend quality time with my friends and The Love In My Heart really did make a difference to be honest - it gave me a welcome distraction.

So, with that in mind, and knowing I'd been headhunted before, it was time to get back out into the job market in early 2019, and had two interviews the same day - and was so pleased to be offered one of them, which wasn't only the right package but also seemed the right atmosphere too. I took the job and felt immense pleasure at being able to leave the other place - not because of the staff I worked with, as they and my line manager were a good bunch, but the rest of the culture was absolutely abysmal. The fact that the company's HR department even know that culture existed but was too weak to do anything about it said it all for me, so you live and you very well learn too.

In the end though, it all worked out, and I'm in a job now where I not only feel respected and valued, but also working with a great team of people who are all really warm, kind, friendly and above all knowledgable and understanding. My line manager is also really good, and I feel immensely proud of where I work now and also the fact I've made progress. It means a lot. It also means a lot that despite the current situation we have all supported each other immensely, and it's been a real case of being together and working well, but also it meant a lot that I've been nominated twice for a quarterly staff award and was part of a team which collectively won this first quarter of the year. Must be doing something right, and certainly at the moment too I know how lucky I am to still actually be in a job.

Thursday 17th December - Reviewing The Situation

It was a positive day at work for me today, as I managed to get the December updates released out to the business for Windows 10. This was a good thing, as what this effectively meant was that we would be able to get as many machines patched and updated before people finished for the Christmas break, ensuring as much security as we could. It did mean a slightly shorter period of initial testing of course, but what this did mean was that those who were testing reported back and said that all was well - and with less updates this time around (in fact only the cumulative was included this time) it'd be a much easier process overall.

I also knew that with all the presents now despatched for Christmas (the ones for The Love In My Heart are at her place ready to go already for example) then it was a case of sitting back and relaxing over lunch with the new Throwing Muses album Sun Racket playing, with the excellent Milk at McDonald's being one of the many highlights of this release (and therefore tune of the day) - and thinking of some forthcoming planning that I will be doing in early 2021, which will help the current consideration pretty considerably.

So I'll be raising a change to get the new MECM update performed early in the New Year, and of course with that it'll bring some improvements, and this will include a possible new way that we could rebuild a machine completely remotely with almost all the steps we need, and via our Cloud Management Gateway. It does look promising but we'll have to see how it goes during testing which is what I'll be doing (and will in this case want to be doing from home, obviously) and then take it from there. It's good though that newer improvements are coming around to adapt to the current situation too.

We also had our larger team meeting this afternoon was a set of highlights from the year, and I have to admit it was nice to see some of the stats I had supplied in that, and really showing how many improvements we had made over the course of the year, and not just the team I am in, but collectively as a whole. I have to say that it really did make me feel proud knowing that we had all achieved so much and really managed to turn a negative into a positive, adapt and work well together too, so that has really been a massive plus for everyone involved. That makes me feel humble too.

I did one final check at the end of the day and the numbers for updates were pretty promising to be honest, which is definitely a plus point, so I think that we can safely say all is well and that we'll all be able to celebrate however little we will be doing and put the feet up for a bit on a well earned year that has seen so much change but yet remain the same - the team ethic doesn't change, the personalities don't change, and it's a good balance of people who really do know their stuff. It's definitely going to be a different year again next year but these are the sort of challenges anyone would relish to be perfectly honest.

Wednesday 16th December - Bug Splatting

I actually did the Windows 10 upgrade to 20H2 on the home machine today. I was waiting for a few bugs to be fixed before the move over, but as I was on 2004, it made sense, and because it's a flick switch type upgrade, it was remarkably painless, in fact the whole thing was done in less than five minutes. Admittedly, I do have a solid state SSD hard drive in the machine which keeps disk activity neat and tidy, but even so, it shows just how well it all works. Had to be for me at least the most sensible upgrade I did to the PC this year when I put the SSD in there.

I was also quite busy today helping to work out an issue in one of our Chinese regional sites with something around the Windows 10 build process. As it turned out we knew which piece of software was causing the issue on install, and I tested yesterday setting the installer to go via a proxy server, which worked pretty well. It did seem more reliable over there but as we suspected, their network cabling and infrastructure on site was causing a switch port which normally runs at gigabit to be a mere 10Mbps, which will never do (I mean, even back in the day of education, that was still slow!) - so not good.

I also had to nip out into the centre of Croydon at lunch time to collect a delivery from a store's click and collect counter too. One of the staff was lovely in there and not only took me to where it was, but went and got the parcel herself for me and was soon having it all sorted. Why can't everyone be this good, I wondered to myself. In any case the shops were still busy so whatever the Tier 3 appears to be, having the shops open makes no sense whatsoever as everyone will just go there instead of the closed down pubs as an attempt to socialise anyway, meh.

I had a conference call afterwards with one of our software vendors and their support team, and was able to demonstrate what had happened with the current situation we have, and what troubleshooting steps we had done. In fact I was complimented on being able to show the problem correctly, clearly but also with a view that we would be able to possibly find a way forward to look at seeing if removing one instance might be the cause of the problems, and work around that way. I suspect strongly that it might be, but need some guidance as to how to do that first and go from there. I'm not sure if it's fixable before Christmas, but at least everything else has been suitably bug splatted accordingly.

I also posted off the final parcel to go off today, and that was my Christmas posting done - the reason it was only today was because I was waiting for a package to arrive myself before then packing it with another present, and then I could send it off. I'm so glad I can do click and drop though and avoid the post office queues, of which there were many. Tune of the day in the meantime is from the David Bowie singles compilation Nothing Has Changed, as it was the first appearance of the very jazz inspired Sue (In A Season of Crime) which is pretty epic (and seven and a half minutes of epic, too.) Ah, we miss him so much.

Tuesday 15th December - Friendly Faces In The Office

It was good to be in the office today, and for a number of reasons. I always feel more productive when in there as I'm able to do more physical testing (there is only so much you can do remotely) but also with a much faster network you can get more done in less time. In fact I was making a change to our Windows 10 build task sequence today and adding new versions of Chrome, Firefox and Adobe Reader, so having already tested it out in development, I always like to road test it fully in production as well to be sure that all the steps and testing I did were the right ones, and that everything works the right way round. And it did, so a tick off the box.

I also had the company of my line manager in the office today, and had booked a desk nearby so that we could be able to actually chat a bit at a safe distance. We also needed to move some monitors around in an adjacent office building we have, so went over there in the morning and got all of that done without any issues. In fact, it was really good to catch up and to see him face to face, and he said the same, which goes to show that whilst working from home is all well and good, you do miss human interaction. In fact we discussed some plans for next year when MECM 2010 will be updated and we will be able to look at some functionality within that which will help considerably over time - so good to think some things through.

I had also got a working Windows 10 20H2 WIM and a surefire way of creating it, but updated that to include the December updates, primarily as an interim update between November and December had fixed the issue with nVME controllers, and so thought it best for that to be included and to therefore ensure that when we do start a build with this version that it will all work as we want to, and testing that on two separate machines, one of which had said controller, also proved to be successful. I suspect as well that it's a case of a slight tweak here and there, and we'll need to decide if Notepad and Paint are to be kept (they are optional from 20H2 onwards) and if so, make sure the commands are run to add that feature back, most likely in the build task sequence itself with a bit of DISM.

We also then in the afternoon resolved another issue, this time around our JAMF Pro migration to an offsite provider to help us look after it. We were able to see that one of my colleagues in New York wasn't able to replicate the distribution point, but connect my working Mac on site to Ethernet, hit the replicate button, and boom! In fact it was done in under an hour so suspect that having the fast connectivity here worked a treat, and that was another thing we managed to solve together after some discussion and thoughts. See, this working in the office lark might just catch on.

Although it was the last day before London was going into Tier 3, we were sensible, I know had it been say Tier 1 we would have done lunch, but even in Tier 2 mixed households aren't allowed, so we just headed out separately and got what we needed. It was a real boost though to just natter about all sorts and it did my confidence the world of good knowing that I'd had a pretty good year despite all that was going on and had smashed some targets out of the park as well, so definitely feel positive on that side without question. I do think also that for me it shows the value of being in and being able to do more in less time.

I got home later and made some nice chicken and mushroom stir fry before chatting with The Love In My Heart for a while, and working out some pro-rata data for her, then it was on with Amazon and to watch Manchester City v West Brom. However, I shouldn't have bothered. City did take the lead through Ilkay Gundogan, but West Brom equalised and try as they might, City didn't manage to get a winner. I was bemused at how poor we have become in front of goal to be honest - and it's something that has been our curse most of the season, even labouring to a 2-0 win over Fulham recently. Tune of the day ultimately is Disappointed by Morrissey for that very reason.

Monday 14th December - No Surprises

It was a productive day for me today. One of the main tasks I had today was to effectively remove and to start to decommission one of the MECM distribution point servers based in the USA. The site it was based at was effectively closing, and as such it was a case of getting all the necessary done. Our platforms folks deal with the actual server removal itself, but in terms of any applications on there, that's down to me from a MECM perspective. It's not too bad really - just take it out of any groups you have, remove any boundary associations from it (so no one is attempting to get content from it), then remove the content, and once all removed, take off any PXE settings, let it settle, then remove the role and remove the site server from the system. That way it's all nice and clean and means we keep things tidy.

Another thing I had to look at was due to changes in our HR system and how that feeds into a couple of things we look after. It effectively meant doing a custom import into one of our other systems with just the changed information, which wasn't too bad because I could compare and contrast against what was already there compared to said HR system, look at the differences and ensure only those were actually applied on the next import. It does mean that it keeps everything neat and tidy although one day it would have been much nicer if that was more automated in some way.

I also noted that London was going to go into Tier 3, and I remembered from the other day that the Green Dragon pub was doing takeout beer, not just cans either but two pint containers as well. So I went along there after work and waited at the door until a member of staff came along - and explained what I wanted, so managed to get four cans for £1.50 each (two of the Magic Rock Saucery and two of the Wild Beer Millionaire, but also got one of the craft beers in a two pint container, this was the excellent Hammerton Crunch, a peanut butter milk stout. At least if it was in a craft keg and poured into the airtight container, it should last well. Two pints of that for a fiver, a bargain really.

I wasn't surprised one bit though by the Tier 3 announcement. It was clear to me that from seeing what was happening in central London especially on Friday that the whole idea of social distancing when shopping had gone out of the window - and it beggars belief that said shops are still going to be open even afterwards. A lot of the shops are not as well ventilated as even trains because of the confined space and heating blasting out in cases (by all accounts, Debenhams was awful more so because of the closing down sale) so that definitely didn't help matters either.

It's going to be more of the case that The Love In My Heart and I were just grateful to have lunch together in a quiet and safe pub environment yesterday which was much less busy and all properly managed by some lovely folks, which was much better than being anywhere near shops to be honest. In fact, a lot of this year's shopping for presents has been online for that reason so easy to manage and less hassle, and definitely I can see that being an increasing factor in the months to come. In the meantime, tune of the day is Where The Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, with Kylie Minogue, because it's an ace tune but also as it was mentioned in tonight's Only Connect!

Sunday 13th December - The Last Meal Out of the Year

It was nice for The Love In My Heart and I to have a lie in, and a well earned sleep for The Love particularly is just what she needed as well. I got up and was sorting out a few bits in the flat, and was also starting a full breakfast. I set about the sausages, bacon, eggs and mushrooms (in fact I put a whole pack of mushrooms on the wok to fry nicer) and that was all rather good to enjoy together. I do of course like the fact we can have that quality time chilled out together too.

We had watched some of the series last night, but we also continued later with a fascinating series on BBC Four via iPlayer called The Sound of TV with Neil Brand, where he explores the likes of television themes, advertising jingles and so on. In the first episode, the rest of which we watched this morning, it even had a feature on Bagpuss and spoke to Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, behind the music to the series. As a huge fan of Bagpuss, to see them both talk about the show and its music so enthusiastically was heaven for me, and tune of the day without a doubt. And they even had Sandra play her instrument which she used for the music for Bagpuss waking up and going to sleep. Just so lovely.

Neil himself is an accomplished musician, so playing the Prisoner theme by Ron Grainer in the middle of actual Portmeirion was just brilliant too, along with interviews with the likes of Simon May (Eastenders for one), the BBC Radiophonic workshop and a lovely homage to Delia Derbyshire especially, and Jonny Trunk who founded Trunk Records and paid suitable homage to the likes of library music used for theme tunes back in the day - and even with a club night with them all being played and live gigs with Keith Mansfield belting out some of the classics that he wrote back then. Giants of the TV theme indeed.

All of that was brilliant, and after a very good fun game of Scrabble, where The Love scored impressively with the likes of QUAY and HAZE scoring 32 each (in fact the Q was used three times in all with separate moves) it was time to head out and face the incessant rain to head back towards Euston, stopping off at the Crown and Anchor along the way for a well earned lunch together. With more parts of the country heading for Tier 3 and with the pubs potentially shutting as part of that, to have some form of normality with the lovely staff in there, and everything safe with distancing and so on, was just a nice thing to do.

They had some Christmas items on the menu and so The Love went for the full Christmas turkey with all the trimmings and a massive Yorkshire pudding, and I went for the fish and chips as that's normally very nice too. I also noted the Tiny Rebel Clwb Tropicana was on offer in cans, so had two of those and nice smaller glass to pour the beer in and have together. I even had a Christmas sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which combined both puddings in one with some creme anglaise, and was rather gorgeous because of it. It felt like it might be our last meal out but felt lovely and safe in there, in fact much safer than shops to be perfectly honest.

I did feel very sad later when I had to say goodbye to The Love at Euston, but she got home safe enough later on and Brian the cat was very happy to see her of course. I headed home, watched the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which was a good win for Max Verstappen and where McLaren clinched third in the constructors' championship with a 5th and 6th from their drivers, and that set me up nicely for the rest of the evening to sort out something rather good for next weekend to happen.

Saturday 12th December - Gifting in Greenwich

After having a well earned rest and some breakfast, The Love In My Heart and I thought that it would be good to head over to Greenwich later today, primarily as it's a bit quieter than the centre of London but also that the market, the little shops and indeed being by the river where it might be a bit colder could put some people off. I also knew that I had a couple of presents left to get and it might give me some ideas along the way, and would mean some fresh air as we walked too, so definitely a lot of plus points.

We headed off to East Croydon station and managed to get the train to London Bridge, and then crossed over to the platform next to ours to get the train to Greenwich, which worked out really well - a two minute wait between trains, cutting it fine I know, but still pretty good. Once at Greenwich station we walked along the main road, and I stopped off at a local bookshop after spotting something in the window, which The Love and I agreed would make a really good gift for someone, I went in and made a purchase. It was nice to see a good little indpendent bookshop have so much lovely stuff too.

We were then in the centre of Greenwich and queued to get into Oliver Bonas, where the staff were all being responsible and careful, so were all well looked after. In fact The Love got herself a new top too which looks lovely and was reduced to half price, so £15, which was pretty good. A few people outside were attempting to walk in but the staff were assertive and informed them that there was a queue. Good. We did have a wander around the market too and it was good to see the stalls more spaced out and everyone being sensible with spacing too, so that reassured us both well.

After some lunch it was time to head off and have a walk along the river for a while, and we noted that one of the small little vans were close by, and as well as selling ice cream also had mulled wine too. He had reduced the price to £4 and the cup size was pretty big, and we'd seen someone before us in the queue get one, so had to be done, and it was rather lovely (and very hot too) - we ended up having a sit down in one of the squares of the Royal Naval College, complete with an opera singer in the background inside one of the buildings belting out a beautiful aria, and that really did feel quite lovely, it has to be said.

We headed back to the train station later and took the trains back homeward (and again, nice and quick) and had a good little look in a few shops near me, which also had some nice ideas for presents, so bought a few things in both Flying Tiger and WHSmith as well, before we were back home again, having seen the lengthy queues outside the Post Office in particular and why the print at home click and drop thing is something I use extensively for posting things these days, you avoid the queues and can just post them in a standard postbox.

We watched The Hit List, with some very good teams on this week nailing the tunes that were being played, and then after some tea settled into watch Strictly Come Dancing with the semi finals. In fact each pair had to do two routines and the one I really wanted to see was Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse doing the tango to Metallica's classic Enter Sandman. Cue Dave Arch being the axeman on guitar and rocking it out big time, and definitely impressive - the original has to be tune of the day for me primarily because it really helped to define the whole of the eponymous Black Album superbly.

Friday 11th December - Magical Marylebone

It was good to be off work today, and to have a shortened week. Even more so as The Love In My Heart was arriving later so we could have a much needed weekend together, and indeed as safe as possible. I spent a fair bit of time this morning getting some final bits in the flat sorted, changing the bedding, and also making sure that all the rubbish was emptied as well as wrapping up any presents I had left to wrap. All was well and thankfully The Love had a quiet journey down, with minimal fuss and indeed a very calm and quiet train - so that definitely was a positive.

I went to the station to meet The Love, and all was well, and we headed back to my place for a while. I think she was surprised by the progress of the new development near me, but also that it felt quite calm outside. In fact we decided that lunch in The Green Dragon was a good option, and so went there. Everything was responsible and safe in there - the folks really were properly prepared, all clean and efficient, and certain pints at a mere £2.50 including this rather nice chocolate and orange porter I had, a good one to have with the smothered chicken I had too. It was all good, and in fact they were doing take out containers of beer as well, might have to look at that or the cans as good value!

It was then on the train and tube to Baker Street and for us to take a walk down Marylebone High Street, which is much less busy than other parts of central London and indeed has nice little shops which The Love enjoys. In fact it was sad to see the Emma Bridgewater shop here had closed down, but the likes of Caroline Gardner were still here as well as Daunt Books and Anthropologie, so that was a bonus. In fact I got two cards in Daunt Books that I needed too so that was all good, and the Caroline Gardner shop was also the source for The Love getting a new face covering as well which seems much better for her fit wise, especially with the adjustable ear loops on there.

We headed to St Christopher's Place which seemed nice but the restaurants were very busy, and to be honest, Oxford Street just seemed too busy. We mainly wanted to see the lights there but it was full of shoppers and the shops themselves weren't imposing any maximum numbers inside for safety reasons which wasn't good really - the few that did were having some queues outside. Surprisingly Uniqlo wasn't busy and I managed to get a nice new shirt for a mere £9.90 reduced from £30, mainly blue and orange check that seemed quite comfortable as well, so definitely the only plus point.

After seeing more lovely lights on Regent Street where the angels above the street looked good, and even with the pavements widened considerably, we both decided that it was just too busy to be bothered going in shops, so we headed towards Victoria, stopped off at the Bag O'Nails for some tea, where I had the chicken and mushroom pie and The Love fish and chips, before then heading back on the train home. It definitely felt as if everyone was doing shopping but at the same time it did make me concerned that people were just not following guidance (I was doing all I could to be way apart from everyone) so definitely going to be avoiding anywhere like that over the festive period.

Back at mine, it was time for a drink and some chill out moments as we settled in to watch Gogglebox, with some of the families quite rightfully having a good laugh about the Mariah Carey Christmas special, although this did at least mean that the Christmas hit (and now finally number 1 single) All I Want For Christmas Is You was being played. However, what we did do later was turn over to the Now That's What I Call Music channel and they had some Christmas tunes on including the Shakin' Stevens classic Merry Christmas Everyone, so much better and tune of the day because of it - and apparently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge love that song too!

Thursday 10th December - Taskmaster

It was another day of working from home and indeed I had finished off a task I started on Tuesday, which was to evaluate all of one manufacturer of Windows laptop, and see when the warranty date would expire or had expired. Unlike some other manufacturers, I had to enter each serial number individually, and that was time consuming. However, what we do now have is a good overall picture of those devices, and a considerable number of those are due to expire or have expired, so definitely there'll be some conversations about replacement machines at some point in the future - good to contribute at least.

I also had a bit of sorting out to do with an issue that one of our staff had in the USA with a user and machine - they had installed a piece of software and it looked like it had knocked out some other form of connectivity. As it transpired, it was a piece of software being used by a few people without issue, but on further investigation it looked like that it was a combination of certain ways that the machine connected together with the home ISP being IPv6 native and not liking other protocols when doing so - thankfully a colleague had already worked out the solution to hand, so was good to know, but made me wonder what testing and feedback had been done previously.

I did venture out at lunchtime primarily to see if I could get some fresh air safely but also to make sure that I was able to get a few little bits of shopping as needed, notably my lunch itself. At least I have managed to get a food delivery booked for tonight which was pleasing, so that at least is going to be nice - and in perfect timing for the weekend too. I do have tomorrow off, as I am using up my annual leave before it completes at the end of December, and in fact I am not working any Friday at all until 8th January, primarily due to Christmas etc but also just due to the way that the leave was being taken.

I did a bit of re-arranging of things at home after work, so managed to utilise one of the storage boxes that was big enough to fit the Amiga 600 and all the other bits in, and to do that I had to take out all the CD singles in one box and temporaily place them in front of the shelves with the DVDs in (the shelves are quite deep though so they fit fine.) In the longer term it may well be feasible either for me to get another unit to house the CDs which would work well, or potentially even look at selling some of them off. When I saw the price of one of them on eBay I did have a think that it could be something to do during the New Year or even see if there's any collectors who might want to take a chunk en masse.

One thing is for sure though: my love of music hasn't lessened any, and I really do miss a good live gig and that's been difficult during this current situation. With that in mind I reminisced later about some live gigs I had been to, including Blancmange at Under The Bridge doing a nice version of Living on the Ceiling, complete with Neil Arthur asking everyone to put their phones away half way through before getting his own phone out to take a picture of the audience! Classic, and definitely tune of the day as an 80s classic.

Wednesday 9th December - It's In The Post

I spent a fair amount of time last night sorting out a number of packages to go to people in the post, in good time for Christmas. I knew that realistically because more items will be going in the post this year, the key is to post off early and make sure it has enough time to get there. As such, this is where having a decent printer and indeed the option to use the Click and Drop service from Royal Mail is really good. I do have a set of scales for weighing packages and then I can make sure the correct postage is applied, printed and stuck on the envelopes ready to go off.

In fact, whenever I get a delivery of a package and often these are in padded envelopes, I always try to open carefully because I can then re-use and recycle the padded envelope, making sure the new address label goes over the old and one and is stuck pretty firmly. Less waste of course is a win and that does mean that I'm able to do my little bit that way. It was a nice little trip to the post box during lunchtime with eight packages to put into the letterbox, and definitely that was good to get that all sorted out.

I also did have a productive day today, mainly having a plan of action with our networks team around a potential issue we had spotted in one of our Asia sites, but this seems to be partly out of our control but we can also potentially route some options elsewhere. I've also got another plan potentially to work so will need to be able to formulate something - and that's definitely a case of documenting each step by step action. I do think as well that it's been pretty good that when I spoke to our head of networks, he stated that in terms of most of the build tasks, he knows that he can rely on the work I do - and that's reassuring.

I did listen via Radio 5 Live to the football tonight and Manchester City spent some time to get going against Marseille in the final group stage game before turning it on in the second half. Ferran Torres made the breakthrough and no looking back from then either - as Sergio Agüero came off the bench and scored a simple tap in with ten minutes to go, and right at the end Raheem Sterling had a simple chance to make it 3-0. A good win and sixteen points from six games is an impressive return, with a goalless draw in Porto last time out the only non-win, which is very nice.

A package had arrived today as well which was Pinball Dreams on the Commodore Amiga, so needless to say out came the trusty A600 and that was a good opportunity to be playing some excellent tables on there. It's still difficult to know which is the best of the four even after all these years, but for me I'd probably say at present it's the Beat Box music themed one, which allows you to make your way up the charts pinball style. The title theme for the game by Olof Gustafsson is scene setting, and really does make you ready to play - so definitely for me tune of the day without a doubt.

Tuesday 8th December - Productive Day In The Office

It was up relatively early and getting myself ready for heading out for the day at work in the office. I must admit that it's been good to be able to go back in and have a good working space, but also have some form of normality in a difficult time is actually really helpful. I headed to East Croydon station and it was into Pret along the way to get a coffee, which I was able to have when on the train to Victoria - and before I knew it, I noted that the McDonalds near the office was open, so thought a little treat of a sausage and egg McMuffin meal was in order to keep me nicely motivated during the day.

I finally got to the bottom of an issue I'd seen with MDT 8456 (even with patch) and the Windows 10 ADK 2004. All other versions of Windows 10 do the build and capture fine with no issue, but for some reason it seemed that both Windows 10 2004 and 20H2 would come up with a sysprep error. At first I thought that deleting the application would resolve it, but no. In fact, just adding the step for a task sequence pause, so it heads to the desktop, then clicking the icon to resume the task sequence meant things worked properly, sysprep did its thing and the capture was right too.

Why it was just that I'm not as yet sure, be interested to find out if it's an odd timing issue or whether the HideShell=YES option (which you normally do to prevent Windows Store updates as well as some scripting) might have something to do with it. Nonetheless, a working capture, same as 1909 but just the one pause step added, so similar config and working which is what we want for consistency. In addition, I road tested the previous WIM capture in a MECM build task sequence to deploy Windows 10 20H2 on a machine, and it appeared to be pretty good. That's a positive to take at least.

I also sorted out new versions of applications that we use as core within the build too, so new versions of Adobe Reader DC (customised options via the customisation wizard DC) and also Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox too - so definitely ones to be added for next week's revisions. In fact it was pretty good that all the packaging and distributing out worked very well, and that definitely was a positive to take too. I definitely feel much more productive when being in the office, so will have to bear that in mind as things start to gradually head back towards some sort of normal in the future.

The final positive was the end of year review meeting I had with my manager today. Effectively despite the difficulties the year has brought, I said collectively as a team we have turned negatives around into positives, and have been able to show that we've just cracked on with lots of projects, making things happen and become a good reliable source of assistance and quality throughout. I feel proud to be where I am and even more so because I feel valued, supported and respected - it means a lot and I know that it's kept me going too. For some reason too today I had the excellent Hey Hey 16K by MJ Hibbett and the Validators in my head - so definitely tune of the day.

Monday 7th December - Compilation Time

It was a good time today whilst working from home to get compiling the things I like to do - such as the end of year look back and what I did like over the year. Obviously, it's going to be a changed year but I can still of course easily put together a favourite singles and albums selection for that end of year article - and indeed I did manage to go to a few gigs before lockdown happened in March, so there will at least be a gig of the year, and to be fair a pretty special one I had been to as well. That'll be good to have some happy memories to look back upon as well.

What I did realise was that I needed some blank recordable CDs as I wanted to put together something to blast on the CD player at home too, and indeed do some backups of a few small things. So what I did realise was that Argos believe it or not is actually decent for this: a pack of 25 Verbatim ones for around £6. You know what you get with Verbas, rock solid reliability that works perfectly, and the discs last too, which is key. Unbelievably during lunch there was no queue in Argos, so that was all pretty good to be honest - simply had to be done to get in, get it paid for and be out of there in little or next to no time.

What I had noticed though today (also confirmed by The Love In My Heart later on when I spoke to her) that the post office was very busy, with long queues throughout, going half way along one of the streets in the town centre. Good job then that I know where the other post office happens to be and that had only two people in the queue. Naturally of course that's something I'll keep in mind, but admittedly the print at home thing works really well and saves a massive amount of faff - and if it was just sending normal cards etc then the first class stamps can be bought anywhere, again saving time and effort really.

So I started later on tonight to work a few things out, and get an idea of what's going to be in the end of year list, which did mean listening to music, one of my favourite things to do anyway. I have to say that Hard Crew, the first single in many years by Altern-8, is an absolute masterstroke of a single and definitely tune of the day - it pounds pretty hard in all the right places and shows that when you still have it, you know you can produce something that makes you either want to bound around the room raving around, or just nodding in approval with those rather funky beats.

I also knew it was getting a tad colder this week, so have been able to set the temperature gauges in the flat to come on when it falls below a certain temperature which does mean that the flat is pretty nice and cosy. It's always good to be able to do that and make sure it's all lovely and warm, and will be especially good when I get home from being out, whether it be shopping, or work, or anything like that, and it's actually five years ago today that my contract for renting my place had commenced - hard to believe that the time has gone by so quickly really but shows that it was for all the right reasons.

Sunday 6th December – New Phone, New Outfit

As The Love In My Heart and got up this morning, we checked the phone – and it was absolutely dead with no response from it. However, there was at least some good news for The Love – all the contacts were definitely backed up on Google, because her Google Home Hub showed all the contacts there, and when she did log in to the Google account used, we could see the apps that had been installed (so we knew which ones for the new phone) and also the photos as well – apart from the ones yesterday which hadn’t synched. So wasn’t the end of the world to be honest, and knew that we could get up and running quickly.

In fact it was to the local Tesco Extra first of all today, as we had checked and there were various models in stock which were close to what The Love had. In fact, at first we thought that they were all an order online job but the helpful bloke there told us most of them they did have – and after checking, one of the choices we’d narrowed down was in stock – a Motorola one so similar Android layering as The Love had before (as the broken one was same make) and all the things she’d got used to such as fingerprint recognition and so on. So one purchase there, and then another purchase for some food for late lunch / early tea later on, job was a good one there.

It was then over to Matalan primarily as I needed a suit for something forthcoming – and although I did have a suit at home, I needed something not of the colour of the suit I had at home. In fact it was win all round – I had seen a particular one online, and not only did they have it, but also in the sizes I needed for both the jacket and the trousers, along with a plain white shirt as well. Naturally of course that was good – and for me at least it wasn’t that expensive either. The Love also spotted a couple of nice newborn baby outfits for a forthcoming birth in her family, so picked those up. The queue was massive though, so was glad to have got in the queue with my stuff whilst The Love then had time to check what she needed – again made sense.

Back at The Love’s place we sorted out and set up the new phone, taking the SIM from the old one into the new – it all worked straight out of the box, I connected it to wireless, did all the updates, downloaded the apps needed, signed in to the accounts she needed to be signed into, set up the email and so on, and it was all working fine. We were both pleased and at least she was able to be communicated with again – and with the same number too of course, so was pretty pleased. She likes the new phone and of course has the same functionality, look and feel of the old one, so definitely a big plus there.

We had the late lunch later on – some chicken in sauvignon red wine sauce complete with dauphinoise potatoes, some vegetables and that tasted nice, having had some garlic mushrooms in breadcrumbs with some cheese and chive dip to start. I did have my vanilla cheesecake for dessert along with the cream we had, and of course Brian wanted some cream too. We only give him a tiny bit which he licks off my finger and loves it (we’re wary of the lactose being problematic) and appreciates the little treat. It felt nice just to be chilled out and relaxed to be honest.

The day had gone far too quickly as had the weekend, but we both had had a lovely time and was much needed for the two of us. Of course we could have done without having to source a new phone, but at least that was relatively stress-free, and a hug at the station was nice just to reinforce the lovely time we both had. It made me realise as well just how much we miss each other and how much that being together means so much for us both – and as a result, tune of the day is Friday I’m In Love by The Cure, as certainly the Friday evening made me feel much happier knowing I was seeing The Love.

Saturday 5th December – Christmas at Chatsworth

The Love In My Heart and I had both had a long week at work and it was nice to be able to snuggle up to Brian the cat, who decided to sit in the middle of the bed and allow us both to give him lots of strokes and a gentle love too. I think he was purring with a nod of contentment that he had two people giving him all the attention, and we then had a very nice breakfast together with some egg, sausages bacon and mushrooms, with some toast as well. It certainly felt very hearty and would set us off in the right mood for later on.

We left early afternoon as we wanted to stop off on the A6 along the way, and in fact at the local discount store near my old stomping ground, I nipped in to get a new light bulb for the bathroom – it’s one of those 4 pin 28 watt jobs that isn’t the easiest to get on the whole. After making sure we had enough petrol, it was along the A6 through Hazel Grove, Disley and then Buxton, admiring the snow on the high ground all round the Peak District, before then heading alongside the Monsal Trail and former railway and climbing up and out of Taddington before then down into Bakewell, so we thought as we had some time we would head around the shops there.

In fact the shops in Bakewell were all very welcoming, they appreciated people coming in and browsing, and everyone without exception was with face covering and being all safe and sensible – the right decision in my view. In fact The Love bought a couple of nice cards from one card shop, so that was good, and plenty of other shops had some good selections of deli food, wine and beer – I must admit it was pretty tempting to get the packs of beer but thought if I did that I would be leaving them with The Love anyway, so no point carrying more than what was needed to be honest.

As it turned out the parking in Bakewell was free after 2pm in a bid to lure shoppers in, so no fumbling for change, bonus. We then made our way out of Bakewell and over along the roads to Chatsworth House, where we had booked for their garden event which meant some lights and some festive fayre around the many beautiful gardens there. As the house itself could not reopen, the garden only ticket was the best option anyway, and we parked up and got a nice slot near some lights so we could see the car on the way back later, and even used one of the food and drink stalls in the stables courtyard and had some mulled wine. Now we were feeling festive!

The shop within the garden itself (the one that you normally reach at the end of the house) was open, so The Love had a good look around there and got some more nice presents, which was good. In fact, it was better to do that first as we’d booked the 4.30pm slot for the garden to see it at night, but the shop closed at 5.30pm, so sensible really. It was then a walk along the main path of the garden to the start of the light trails, with plenty of families following the paths around too.

In fact, the path took you to one of the circular hedged gardens with the fountain in the middle, which was very nice, you then went uphill towards the main path there – with trees all lit. It was onwards to the rockery with the rock path all lit up as you walked through, and after seeing the trees lit up beyond there, it was over to the cascade, which looked rather majestic in the night lights that it had, before then following the path up and along with more trees with lit displays. It was say shorter than Christmas at Kew (which to be fair is really good) but still nice, and did make us both feel festive to say the least.

We went back to Bakewell and stopped off at the Riverside Fish and Chips for a proper chippy tea which we had in the car – but it was the best fish and chips we’d both had in a long time – in fact we both felt pretty full after that. The drive back was through the dark roads and not enough reflectors, so The Love was driving a bit slower and safer, nothing wrong with that. As we headed into Buxton street lights were on there and pretty much most of the way back, so just good to get the light to guide us homeward. Of course Brian the cat had his tea, but then disaster struck.

The Love had her mobile phone in the back pocket, and without realising it, she dropped it in plenty of water and was submerged for a good few seconds. As it turned out even with sensible air drying attempts to dry it off, we suspected that the internal circuitry was fried, as even with the odd power on, it’d go into some odd Android mode and not be able to power back on – so not good. That was a shame as she’d had the phone a good two and a half years and genuinely now loves it (another converter to Android, ooh yes) and so we needed to try and sort that out tomorrow in some way.

We did however enjoy some catch up telly at home with Brian all snuggly, so it was on with The Hit List first, where two of the couples were so bad that none of them could get to ten points in the second round, Marvin and Rochelle ran out of questions, and so they had to go a tiebreaker. Obviously the couple that had won through earlier of course were easy winners – as the others faffed around against a 45 second clock with no joy despite some relatively easy to get tunes. Needless to say that was shout at the telly mode to be honest, but good fun and indeed any excuse to have The Stone Roses classic She Bangs The Drums on is fine by us – tune of the day without question.

Friday 4th December – Round Are Way

It was a productive day to be in the office today – and actually the last day that our Facilities Manager was in before she had an extended break over the rest of this month and Christmas. It was very nice to see her and have a good chat at a safe distance, and that cheered me up no end. One thing I do miss about not being in an office full time is the conversation and chat I can have face to face with people – and it really does make me treasure all the time that I spend with The Love In My Heart for that reason – primarily because I know that any time is much treasured and cherished.

For support reasons as well as support bubble reasons, it’d be up on the train tonight to see The Love, and it’s been a tough situation for the last few weeks for a number of reasons. I know emotionally I would have much rather been closer, but the situation is what it is, and to be perfectly honest, the support bubble we do have is keeping us both going so we can at least give each other some much needed encouragement and kindness too. It’s definitely telling for us both that we’re really making the most of the time we have.

It was nice therefore to get through the working day, test out the Windows 10 20H2 upgrade on an older machine and see if that worked (surprisingly it did, which was a positive thing) and then from there be able to road test the way I could create the Windows 20H2 image within MDT, which is almost there apart from one minor potential issue, which I can resolve with a task sequence pause and manual command, but obviously would be easier if there was some automation which I’ll look into early next week.

As a positive though, it did mean I left on time and was able to head up to Euston to get the train, and despite the fact there had been an incident between there and Watford Junction earlier in the day, the trains were at least functioning as normal and so my journey tonight was done with minimal hassle. I have to admit that for me it’s been a real sense of quietness on the train, missing some mad rush earlier, and having the excellent Tears by Little Sparrow playing as I journeyed up (so make that tune of the day) – and I just wanted the train to get there as fast as it could.

The Love In My Heart came to meet me, and it was quite emotional, and a few hugs all round for us both. We headed back to her place and even Brian the cat was quite accommodating, allowing me to give him some cuddles and fussing over with a notable purr of approval, which was nice. We did later on watch Gogglebox on Channel 4 Plus 1 and The Love also finally saw the Co-Op advert, currently the best advert on telly at the moment, with the two brothers doing their own take on an Oasis classic B-side and really getting the community together too – it’s what they do.

Thursday 3rd December - A Check of the Gaming Shops

I decided that both during lunch break and then after work I'd head out and venture to a couple of local gaming shops, one that isn't very far away from me and one I'd not been to before but is spoken of pretty well. So first of all after a busy morning working from home, it was off to the centre of Croydon and to Playnation Games, which was now reopened. It was good to mooch around the stock of hardware and noticed they had the 1531 datasette drive that normally works with the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 machines, as well as a 1530 boxed C2N datasette for the Commodore 64, as well as a VIC-20 by the look of it.

The games themselves for the older 8 and 16-bit series are laid out in three large horizontal racks, and fairly easy to spot anything in there. They do get the odd bit of stock in now and then and I did notice this time around they had the original in double cassette case box of one of the worst Commodore 64 games ever - Lee Enfield in the Tournament of the Death. It scored a mere 8% in Zzap! 64 and there's been so many videos on Youtube playing the game and showing why it's so poor. The front of the case even had the original price sticker from Selfridges of all places - £8.95 for it. That's £8.94 too much of course, but still.

I did also spot some decent titles for the Amiga and some interesting curios for the BBC B micro as well as the Commodore 16 and Plus/4, so a reasonable selection. It's a shame they're not in shelves like the rest of the games are but at least what is in stock is visible and browsable, and although I did leave empty handed it was good to have a mooch around. Naturally of course it would be nice if it wasn't raining, but it was cold and freezing rain for the majority of the working day, which is not so good.

However the rain did stop so it was off on the 264 bus over to Tooting, and through some sizeable traffic along the way, and to stop off at Crazy Thumbs. It's not the largest shop ever but the three rows of aisles are stacked very neatly and with well organised shelves of all sorts, including even the likes of Mattel Intellivision cartridges (no B-17 Bomber, but still decent.) The Atari 2600 selection was also very good with a nice copy of Klax to hand, and for the 8-bit machines a very decent Amstrad, Commodore and Sinclair section - in fact the Amstrad one was surprisingly plentiful including a CPC 464 in the display cabinets.

One right hand side aisle has a number of cabinets with all sorts in, including an Atari 7800, several Dreamcasts, Mega Drive, Master System and so on so was a very good selection, well organised and looked pretty well looked after too. I was sorely tempted to spend more time in there but knew that they had to shut at some point, so headed back and through more rain on the bus - but thankfully stopped when I got off. Made me think of the opening line of the Electronic classic Getting Away With It (make it tune of the day) where you sing "I've been walking in the rain, just to get wet on purpose.."

Wednesday 2nd December - Wombling Free

After a busy day working from home it was off on the tram tram tram (having fun fun fun as the folks from Eccentronic would have sung - tune of the day as I now have that in my head) and to Wimbledon, and then from there a quick change on to the tube to Wimbledon Park to head to James Barbers, where of course the hair would be cut and the usual superb job performed. I must admit it does make me feel better having the hair all trimmed and neat, and was getting a little out of hand as of late. Immediately of course that made me feel more uplifted but also did feel the cold outside a bit more.

It was then back over to Wimbledon on the tube and I had a quick look in a few of the shops in the Centre Court Shopping Centre, before heading back to Marks and Spencer. Their food hall here is pretty decent, but not least because they often have discounts on beer, and as it happened, a few of them too. So I got six beers for six pounds, namely one of the Clementine Saison and the Anspach and Hobday Cream Ale, but also two of the Anspach and Hobday Porter and indeed two of the East London Brewery's Cowcatcher. Nice little collection on the whole.

It didn't seem too busy but it was after 6pm in Wimbledon, but I had ventured out locally to the town centre in Croydon earlier at lunch time. As expected, the main queues were outside Primark and Sports Direct, but also because there's a Next Clearance outlet store that's opened on the site of the former Debenhams, it also seemed that there was a queue for that. I might have to venture in at some point and see what I could possibly get myself of course, but it did feel like so many were out shopping.

I did the charitable thing today and decided that I was going to get my Christmas cards from the local British Heart Foundation shop, not far from the flat. In fact the selection was not only decent, but at a fair price too. I noted the total amount and decided that I would up that by a few pounds as an extra donation, as that was the right thing to do. I know the volunteers in the shop were pleased and they were having to keep numbers to a safe limit, but the fact people wanted to go in and shop there also did make me think more might go that way this year and help out as much as they can, which is good.

Oh, and in terms of adverts for the festive season, the Co-Op one is going to be hard to beat, focussing on helping the community by a little sing song and have two brothers do a pretty good version of Round Are Way by Oasis, so definitely the advert version is tune of the day - it really must have been uplifting if you were near the said store when the advert was being filmed. It's quite a different advert and typical of Co-Op really, standing for what's right but also really emphasising their feeling that communites matter a lot. It's just a really nice thing, and well worth a watch if you get the time.

Tuesday 1st December - A is for Amiga

So it was back on with the trusty Commodore Amiga A600 tonight, not just to have a blast of Pinball Fantasies, which of course is an all time classic game of all time (and I had it on the PC too for my Windows 95 box back in the day, just lovely to still play after all these years) but to also see if I could potentially look at writing some Amiga ADF disk images to actual disks, and then see if those games or demos would boot up on Amiga and actually give me a further option if I wanted to play it as they were on disk sort of experience.

So, with the compact flash card reader arriving for the PC, a neat little multi-card reader that will also read my SD cards (good to know it can handle both, pretty useful) - and once the Compact Flash card was in there, it was then a case of transferring some ADF Amiga disk images to the card, plus the likes of WHDLoad for experimental purposes and the small utility ADF2DISK, which I could actually add to my backup of Workbench as well and use that to not only mount the Compact Flash card, but run the utility from either Workbench or the CF card. Interesting times ahead, and I did have a couple of floppies handy which were in the correct density and in Amiga format.

So I booted with the CF card in and once it mounted (you do have to select to view all files and not just the icons in order to see everything, incidentally) I copied ADF2DISK to the Workbench disk. With that done and with an ADF to hand (actually of disk 1 of Pinbal Fantasies, purely for testing to see if I could get to see the title sequence and it asking for the remaining disks) I opened the command line, wrote the ADF to the Amiga disk, and all was good. In fact I re-ran with the verify option later just to check, and indeed the disk was good, which is a bonus obviously.

I then booted the disk, and.. it worked! Sure enough the intro tune blasted out and sounded proper (more so because the Amiga RGB SCART cable from Retro Computer Shack had also arrived, so now RGB picture as well) and was all good there. In fact it all worked really well. So in the short term I could copy as many ADFs as I wanted to the compact flash card, use ADF2DISK to write the floppies, and then reboot and launch the floppy of choice. Naturally I may need some more DSDD disks I can reformat to Amiga format of course, but still, good to see things working the right way. I like that.

I also spent some time tonight listening to the excellent new Altern 8 single Hard Crew, which is undoubtedly tune of the day - it really does serve up an absolute banger of a tune and those who remember their 1990s anthems will see it as a massive comeback for them. Still tempted to order the vinyl on limited release but the tune is superb, and I for one can see it as a potential one to rave on out to over the festive period instead of indulging in the usual suspects at this time of year, so there you go.