Dear Diary... February 2009

Saturday 28th February - Come Dine With Mum

Myself and The Strings On My Guitar had a very nice and relaxing evening tonight, as we were invited over by my Mum for dinner, along with my brother and his girlfriend. I think as well that it's nice that occasionally Mum wants us all round there, and if she's cooking a nice meal, well that makes it even more the case to be round. We took a bottle of some very nice Hardy's Crest chardonnay pinot noir, and The Strings had also very kindly got my Mum a bunch of flowers as well, very kind of her that. I was as well being good during the day and not eating too much, because I wanted to enjoy the food my Mum did.

I had some time free in the day though, so after heading to Matalan and hoping to locate something in there (but didn't) and then off to Wythenshawe to look in the Gamestation there, it was time to head home, watch most of the Everton v West Brom game on Sky before whacking on Guitar Hero III on the Wii and having a blast on it. I wanted to re-try some of the songs and get a better score, and as I wanted to punk rock like a mother, it was time for the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" which I did much better at this time around (and it's tune of the day because the song's still a bloody classic - even re-recorded as it was by the band for the game) and even did a five star performance, wahey!

The Strings came over around 5ish, and as we had some time spare, we indulged in a game of Scrabble before leaving the house. It worked out pretty well really as there were some good moves pulled off, and some steady and consistent scoring. I think in a way that because we both have a good level of intelligence, we're able to think of some cunning moves and there were a few times when she blocked where I was planning to go for my next move, which is sometimes the way to do it. Whilst we were playing that, I had the cricket on, which was really disappointing as we weren't able to bowl the West Indies out whatsoever. Bah.

We left and got a taxi from mine to Mum's, and it was good to see Mum plus my brother, his girlfriend and my other brother. We sat and chatted in the front room before heading to the dining table and having the first course of three: everyone had a pate with salad apart from me who had the minestrone soup (salad is a dirty word for me don't you know!). The main course was very nice, chicken wrapped in bacon and cheese, along with some garlic mash, some roasted vegetables and mushrooms, plus this nice sauce as well which was just the right consistency. It really did taste good and I do think Mum excelled herself there, which was lovely to see.

Dessert was this really nice lemon roulade, complete with summer berries and some cream, which was light enough after the first two courses, and added to that some nice coffee, conversation and drinks flowed in equal measure as we all stated which famous people that we'd met and seen in real life, not just on the telly. It of course meant that I could mention my tale of meeting Morrissey, and how the other week myself and The Strings On My Guitar spotted no less than Nigel Pivaro who used to play Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street just idling around Ramsbottom, ah those were the days! We left around 11, and had a really good night. I can see why Mum enjoys it actually, as she can be there with everyone and enjoy herself, and we certainly did as well. I almost flopped into bed straight away as it had been a long day, and I also think the pinot noir was kicking in too, but it was just a lovely end to a lovely month.

Friday 27th February - Six Hundred For Six

Well, the end of another week, and it was mainly a case of sorting out a few things during our technical group meeting this morning, and undertaking some research in the afternoon with regards to a piece of software that I wanted to test out. In fact the tests went pretty well, it did exactly what I wanted it to do, and also because of some of the other Group Policy settings, meant that at least for Office 2007, documents were backup saved before the software test kicked in, so it looked pretty useful from where I was standing. I really got to grips with a a few things as well and really made some inroads, so felt quite productive really.

Got home, did the food shopping and then checked the post when I got home to find something nice waiting for me. You see, I decided a few days ago to sign up to Tesco DVD rental, because you could rent games as well as DVDs, and so it meant I could try out games for the Wii before I bought any. The idea is that I could give them a play, and see if I liked them or not, and indeed see how playable or not that they were too. Tiger Woods 08 therefore arrived and I gave that a blast. I wasn't quite sure I liked it actually - when you started the game you went straight into this training mode which meant that you had to do all the practice shots and land them whether you liked them or not. Add to that, the control method for me always seemed to be that you'd swing the ball in a right to left mode all the time, even if I moved the Wii remote back and forth pretty straight. I'd need to do some more testing I reckon, but it did seem a little odd to be honest.

Undeterred, I settled in to watch some of the England cricket and was pretty impressed at England racking up a decent total, and indeed seeing Ravi Bopara get his first Test century (he was out soon after for 104 though). Crucially, England knocked up the runs pretty quick and were able to declare on a massive 600 for 6. Part of me thought that they'd carry on till Tim Ambrose was either out or got his century, but not to be. Mind you, with James Anderson getting Chris Gayle out lbw early on, it was all in the balance, although the West Indies got to the close at 85 for 1, so it'll be a case of seeing tomorrow if England can try and bowl them out for less than 400 and probably enforce the follow on where possible.

I've got to like the cricket on Sky now, even the West Indies away games are being shown in very glorious HD, which makes all the difference, and there's much less commercial breaks than there used to be, which does at least make it seem all the more watchable. I think Channel 4 were too commercial-happy when they had the England home game rights, and that had to be taken into account somewhat. Of course, I still wish it was being shown on a proper telly channel, but realistically, unless home Test matches would have the same sort of protection like the Grand National does, where it has to be shown on "proper" telly (ie: terrestrial) then it might never come back there, a shame that.

Oh, and I got my tickets for Kristin Hersh in Burnley. Yes, Burnley Library no less, on Sunday 24th May, before the Bank Holiday. It'll be a blast and seeing a gig in another town to add to the list of places I've been to gigs to, which is always something. Hopefully if I can get tickets for Glasgow and York then I'll head there too and see her perform her acoustic set. I guess being a fan, and because she doesn't always tour, any chance I get to see, I tend to take, and understandably so, I think. I'll have to give "Your Dirty Answer" tune of the day because it reminds me of seeing her at Manchester Academy 3 and remembering how great a gig that was.

In fact, I've been trying to work out all the towns and cities that I've been to see a gig at. After some head scratching, I came up with (apart from Manchester) the following list: Birmingham, Bristol, Bury, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Nottingham, Sheffield. There may be even more but I'd have to check back through the archives to see what I could come up with there, but that's most of the places that I've been to see a gig at. Maybe I should try and do one when I am down in Cornwall later this year?

Thursday 26th February - The Last Team In England Left

It was off with my friend to watch Manchester City up against Copenhagen in the UEFA Cup second leg. Of course it was 2-2 from the first leg, but that did mean two away goals, so all to play for of course. With both Tottenham and Aston Villa also playing tonight, there was a chance of someone going through, and I hoped of course that City were the boys to do it, especially as it would mean the last 16 and of course a trip to Denmark or Spain depending on the result of the Aalborg-Deportivo game.

The crowds weren't as busy as a league game, as ever, and so we reckoned there'd be around 20,000 there. It certainly wasn't full at all, so we were a bit surprised when 26,000 came up as the attendance. I know that Copenhagen had brought a few with them, but even so.. it didn't look that good. Whether everyone had buggered off to see Metallica or the Ting Tings, or indeed that they had decided to stay at home and watch it on the telly (it was being shown on ITV4, incidentally) I wasn't sure. Still, we were here and hoping that the boys in Blue would do the business, and we put out a full strength team which showed that we were taking it seriously.

First half was pretty much one way for most of it. We had a fair few chances without being too menacing, with Robinho heading against the bar and the ever impressive Pablo Zabaleta controlling a lot of the battle in midfield, allowing the flair players to do their stuff and get on with it. We had some chances and indeed it was a case of being patient and seeing if any goals would come. We were both confident they were and with plenty of shots on target, I went to the loo at half time thinking that we were going to do the business.

The longer the game went on, it got to be a little frustrating, as I could see that we were knocking the ball about well but just not converting the chances and indeed not being able to take control, well that was till the 73rd minute, when a long ball through went to Craig Bellamy, who muscled past the Copenhagen defender and then slotted it under their goalie's legs to make it 1-0. The pressure was well and truly off us now, as they would have to score two to win it in normal time (a 1-1 draw of course would see us through on away goals). It got better too, with some excellent work from Robinho down the left and a pull back past Stephen Ireland found Bellamy, who slotted it into the top corner with consummate ease to make it 2-0, and 4-2 on aggregate. Now they needed two in seven minutes just to force extra time, and with a consolation goal in stoppage time being all their reward, really we won at a canter and it was good to see us in the next round.

Which is more than Tottenham or Villa managed. Why both managers decided to field weaken teams and virtually say goodbye to the competition now is beyond me - in fact why enter at all if you're not going to take it seriously and all that? At least both teams out there tonight were full strength and giving it their all, and of course really wanting it, which is what it should be about. I only hope that Villa's plan to exit here to concentrate on finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League backfires on them now - just to prove the point that it's better to be in competitions chasing trophies than not. I'm sure plenty of other managers would have jumped at the opportunity to get further and thus increase revenue as well as a quest for glory. Say if City got to the semis or even the final, that would be considered a great effort and a platform to build on. In any case it's another trip to Denmark as City play Aalborg next up.

So in the UEFA Cup, City are the last team in England left in it, and let's hope we can carry the flag for a bit. Certainly if we did, that'd make people stand up. Oh, and AC Milan got knocked out by Werder Bremen on away goals. That'll teach Kaka as well, haha. In the meantime, tune of the day is going to be "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys, because so many football chants are sung to that version of the old Village People song, not least with the Copenhagen fans singing "Stand up if you hate Man U..." which of course had plenty of us City fans standing up. Hehe.

Wednesday 25th February - All Hail Macbeth!

I had a pretty slow but good day at the office today, mainly sorting out a few minor issues and also ensuring that a PC was ready for replacement, just in case one of them that had been reported as not always coming on had decided to go. It's always best if you have a spare to have that done and up and running, especially as it'll minimise the downtime taken when you've actually got to change it over. I did most of the donkey work this morning but just did the last of it today. It's often quite good to be able to get things tweaked as needed and make sure that what you need to do is working.

I stayed in the office for a while before heading into the centre of Manchester. I was going to see the new store Head Entertainment had I had more time, they'd taken over the Zavvi store in Manchester in a buy-out (Zavvi, incidentally, is no more now) and so at least kept on the site as a going concern. Time limitations though meant I just mooched in Gamestation and then HMV, where three XBox diehards were playing Guitar Hero World Tour and absolutely kicking backside on expert mode. Just made me realise how rubbish I am on the Wii version, but at least I'm managing at a level that I feel comfortable with.

Met up with The Sauce In My Pasta for tea and to the theatre later, and decided that as time might be an issue that we head for the Waterhouse and have food in there. At the moment there's a promotion on some of the food too, so I went for the ham, eggs and chips (very nice as it turned out) and The Sauce went for a spicy tomato pasta, which was exactly that. We also had a garlic ciabatta to share as we talked about our day and also let off a bit of steam about other things going on in the world. It was just nice to relax a little and have a leisurely drink (the Dark Star I had was pretty decent actually) before heading off to the Royal Exchange.

I've not been to the Royal Exchange Theatre for many years: not since my friend and I went to see Waiting For Godot with Richard Wilson starring there. What was nice to see was that the beauty of the building still shines through, with so many ornate features, the glass roof and of course the former stock exchange boards at the far end. We located our entrance in the theatre and I felt pretty excited: not seen any Shakespeare at the theatre for many years either, and was intrigued to see if it would be a more contemporary feel to it rather than be traditional. The bell was rung to get everyone in their seats (a nice tradition that, much better than a tannoy saying something like "Good evening. Welcome to the Royal Exchange Theatre. Tonight's performance of Macbeth will start in two minutes".) We got sat down and had an excellent view in Row E, and waited for the drama to unfold.

I have to say that on the whole The Sauce and I really enjoyed it. Right from the start, it was definitely a contemporary feel to proceedings, with the play set in Scotland 2009 and most of the main characters in army uniforms bearing their names, and the three weird sisters at the start being taken hostage and almost shot at. As the play unfolded, the natural talent of the actors began to shine, most notably Hilary Maclean as Lady Macbeth, who had the right mix of Scottishness, feistiness and also a soft dramatic touch, as well as looking very feminine. When she delivered the whole "unsex me here" speech, you genuinely felt the passion within as you were able to see it shine through.

On top of that, we had an excellent Macbeth too, with Nicholas Gleaves also having plenty of fire and passion whilst also showing genuine signs of being haunted and scared at the right moment. I don't think either of us expected him to wash the blood off by having a shower, naked, in the middle of the stage, but that's what happened, and it was handled sensitively in the context of the story. What also stood out was his stage combat, when he was fighting other characters you could tell the raw determination and concentration to make sure the combat looked realistic and superbly acted.

One other excellent role was played by Christopher Colquhoun, who did the part of Banquo and indeed the Scottish Doctor later on with suitable aplomb. You may remember him from Casualty, as he was in that for three years or so, but it was really good to see him act out this role with an eye for detail and also an eye for attention, notably when he was the bleeding ghost to haunt Macbeth. It was really good stuff, and for the first night, nothing seemed to go wrong, and everyone seemed to appreciate it at the end with a lengthy applause. If modern day reworkings of Shakespeare are your thing, head there kind of now-ish, but if you're a traditionalist, you might not like it. It even featured The Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name" during part of the second act (and hence tune of the day) because you just wouldn't expect it to be there!

Tuesday 24th February - Anarch-wii In The UK

Decided to have another blast at Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock on the Wii once I got home. I was determined to beat the Tom Morello boss in the challenge, and once I'd worked out just how to use the powerups that you gain (similar to star power!) I was then able to defeat Tom and then play Rage Against The Machine's excellent "Bulls on Parade". Then it was to stage three, and having to defeat three out of four songs, plus the encore, to proceed to the sections I really wanted to get on. I ended up doing The Killers' "When We Were Young" which I recognised more when I started to play and got that nailed, along with The Who's "The Seeker", and Priestess' "Lay Down" which I did nicely, so had to do The Rolling Stones' classic "Paint It Black" for the encore song so that I could get to stage four.

For those of you who've not played the game, Stage Four is the European Invasion, and amongst the tracks you get to select are Black Sabbath's seminal "Paranoid" (shame it's not the proper original though, meh!), Weezer's "My Name Is Jonas" (complete with some difficult pull-offs), and best of all, although not the original, at least performed by the band (it had to be re-recorded as the masters have been lost!), Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" (the original is tune of the day because it's a classic punk rock standard) I was concentrating hard on getting the timing right, or else I'd have been singing along, punk rock style, as you'd rightly expect of course. I did pretty well there and managed to do that and the encore song, Pearl Jam's grunge classic "Even Flow", which means I'm now at Stage Five. Granted, I am playing it at easy level, but I am not that dextrous and it's at a level that means I can play the guitar and at least look like I am rocking.

Mind you, I did that in between doing all the washing (plenty of the domesticated stuff, sadly) and also then making sure that everything was in place for the next couple of days. I'm off to the Royal Exchange tomorrow to see Macbeth, then watching City against Copenhagen on the Thursday, so that should all be good times, I hope. I've noticed that I've got considerably busier over the last year or so, and it is being increasingly hard to keep up with writing the diary on a daily basis (which I've done since 1st January 2007!) but I'm going to attempt to keep at it - it's a challenge to my brain as well as the writing skills.

After seeing some of the Man U game against Inter Milan (and to be fair, an excellent away 0-0 draw there as well) it was back to the Wii and on to Guinness World Records. I had another go at the paper plane throwing after beating my personal best at my friend's last night, but this time did it a bit quicker at home, so much so that I now am the regional record holder for that event (as verified via the Nintendo Wifi connection, folks, so all the online scores are checked). I only shaved a slight fraction off the previous best, but nonetheless, it's there to be aimed at now, so that's good isn't it?

Monday 23rd February - Wii Have Wireless

Went round straight from work to my friends' place tonight. Him and his wife (also my friend too, hurrah) were explaining to me that they wanted to be able to download games to the Wii (like I'd done) and also that it might be nice to play me at the Cue Sports: Snooker vs Billiards game online as well. Anyway, I had this D-Link Wireless Access point, which enables a wired router to gain some wireless functionality, by connecting to your router via ethernet. You then configure the router as you need to, and then fingers crossed, your wireless clients can connect to it.

The D-Link had the latest firmware on it already, which meant it could do WPA-PSK encrypted passwords, so the first thing I did was set up the wireless network name, set the encryption and then put in a relevant key which only my friend and I will ever know. I also then made sure that the access point was set to DHCP, so it'd get an address from the wired router and also then be able to give out addresses to anything attached to it. I soon had the configuration sorted, the lights were flashing as intended, and all seemed well.

So it was then time to fire up the Wii, go into the Wii Settings, select Internet settings, pick the connection 1 as wireless, and search for networks. It found the network name that I'd given the access point, and then whacked in the password key, and then off it went, and said "connection successful" and off it went downloading the latest firmware. That done, time to get some Wii Points and snaggle Cue Sports: Snooker vs Billiards, and I noted down his friend code so that I could then play online at some point. We of course had to have a couple of games of snooker on there, and that was good fun. The controls are pretty simple, and you even have the option of pressing up and down to select the power, rather than just push the Wii remote back and forth, so something for everyone there!

It was then time to dig out Guiness World Records and we had some fun with the paper plane throwing, the lorry pulling and of course the plane eating, which was absolutely hilarious really. It deepends on what you want to get out of it, but there's lots of fun stuff there and it's just a case of learning the control method. Now my friends have sussed out the paper plane throwing, I am sure that they'll want to give it more of a go and see just how good that they are in terms of being against the best in the world!

Got home later on and relaxed a bit with some Frank Zappa. Now, I don't know about you, but "Hot Rats" is a vastly under-rated piece of work. There's some excellent lengthy instrumentals on there which are built very nicely and have plenty of recording excellence put into them (one of the first ever albums to do a 16 track recording). In fact, "Son Of Mr. Green Genes" is tune of the day as it perfectly sums up the album in one - although in this track it's also a case of layering on a basic theme and verse and just adding different bits each time to make the thing sound like one wonderfully long flowing tune based on a good hookline. It's great fun, and well worth a listen!

Sunday 22nd February - Wii Have A Golf Miracle

Had a nice relaxing lie-in this morning, although I did make The Wind Beneath My Wings breakfast in bed, which I thought was only the right thing to do, so it was bacon, toast and some orange juice as we could both have something small but light till lunchtime. It was nice to do that actually, felt kind of romantic, which does help considerably, let me tell you. We pottered around a bit till it was time to dive into the shower and then get ready, as we were meeting two friends for lunch, and then back to mine for a sesh on the Wii. My friends were bringing their Wii remotes too, so it was four player fun and frolics, hurrah!

We all met up at the Bell House in Parrs Wood for lunch, and considering that it was Sunday afternoon, the place was busy, but not as busy as we thought it might be. We even managed to find a nice booth table so we could all sit together and natter away, which was good, and the place has that rather nice feelgood sparkling cranberry and lime drink which I adore, so that was that. After some pondering and thought, The Wind had a nice Sunday roast turkey, my friends had light fish and chips and the roast pork respectively, and I just had to be different and go for the steak and ale pie, which really did fill the hole. The waiting staff did bring out the food for the females way before me and my friend though, which was a little offputting, but when I saw the heat coming out of the steak pie, I could understand why!

I even had the Belgian white chocolate and clotted cream cheesecake for dessert whilst my friend was going through the profiteroles, and after another soft drink and plenty of chatter, we all headed back to mine. I made us all a brew and sat back to watch last night's recording of Don't Forget The Lyrics on Sky 1 HD. It was funny when the contestant was struggling with some of the songs, especially as we knew some of them. Mind you, it was also intriguing to see when the contestant knew that they couldn't get it right and would stop. One guy was so unlucky, he was one word away from guessing all eight lyrics in Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?". He guessed the words were "Find your star, precious people always tell me" - and the "your" was infact "a" - how unlucky was that?

We then got out the Wii, and I went through the Wii Shop Channel and showed my friend how it works (I have a Wireless Access Point that we might have to set up at his place to make his wired router gain wireless, which would be good) and then we had a four player of TV Show King, which was a good laugh. It was great fun, especially when I'd landed on the section of the wheel which reduced my money to zero and the little Mii face didn't seem that amused, wonder why? Mind you, that's quite intuitive in a way in terms of how it works, and everyone got the hang of it before then getting to the final round and having to answer five to win. It was good fun, that, and a good party type game as well.

I then dug out Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for everyone to have a go, and clearly it was something that you had to practice on. The Wind had a go, and realised that it wasn't so easy, and my friend thought the same when he had a go. At least by trying mine, if he didn't like it, or thought that the controls would be frustrating, then it would have saved a purchase that he might have been throwing on eBay later on! I did go through a couple of songs to see how it was done, and did Kaiser Chiefs' "Ruby (tune of the day too) to blast through that, which worked well on the whole and I even got a fair few of the notes spot on there, which was really good to see. One day I'll try and get 100% of them right, but I can't complain too much with how I did.

It was then back to Cue Sports: Snooker vs Billiards for a game of pool or three as well as some snooker, and then later on after more tea and indeed making my friend some toast too, time for the four player Wii Sports golf. It was amazing for several reasons: on the first hole we all took our shots and landed on the fairway, and were all in decent positions. When I took my second shot, the ball bounced once on the green, and the second bounce was right in the hole! I kid you not, I have witnesses. So that was a 2 on the par 4, meaning an eagle to start the round off nicely. In fact, it was close between my two friends and The Wind Beneath My Wings as to who was going to be top, and I was nailing pars and birdies but keeping my composure.

It got to the last hole, and it was do or die for my friend and The Wind, as they wanted to hit the far left island and attempted a couple of times and failed, whilst myself and my female friend hit the right fairway and were chuffed to bits with that. My second shot was hit hard, landed over on to the island with the green, and stopped about six metres short of the flag, and I putted that in for an eagle three on the uber-difficult hole. It also meant that I'd smashed my personal best for the nine holes and scored -8, an impressive achievement for sure - well it would be, only I've seen people online get -14!! Still, it was a great day and lovely times with friends and The Wind Beneath My Wings, a perfect end to the week.

Saturday 21st February - It's A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock And Roll

That, my friends, it most certainly is. It's been a busy but good day. First things first, time to do some shopping and so headed first into the centre of Manchester. I wanted to look around some of the record shops, and how I laughed when I saw the Morrissey limited edition album a mere four quid dearer than what I'd paid for it online, and felt rather smug. I also went into Fopp, and plenty of good CDs for three pounds each, so I picked up for myself CSS' album "Donkey" and listened to some of the CDs that were on rotation whilst in there. Intriguingly one of their current album picks has a track which looks like it has a Commodore 64 inspired version on - I'll investigate on that one further, that's for sure.

I also, whilst in town, bought one of the birthday presents for The Wind Beneath My Wings - it's her birthday in a few weeks and I really wanted to think of something she'd like, and I saw something, thought "that's very nice" and bought it rather quickly. I also popped into the Royal Exchange Theatre to get two tickets for Wednesday night's performance of Macbeth, which we're both going to go to. I think that it's good to broaden the cultural horizons a little, and something like that is perfect to do, not least as the first couple of nights are when the tickets are a fair bit cheaper (it was £10 each for ours, good eh?) and also it gives you a chance to see things midweek as well.

Once that was done, it was straight on the bus out of the city centre and then on to Stockport, as I wanted to head in a few shops there. I got off the bus and headed for Matalan - I'd got a nice pair of jeans from another of its branches last week and wanted to see if they had anything decent. Sadly, no bargains here, and also, I was on the lookout for these pair of shoes that The Wind was after, but none in the colour and her size that she wanted, which was a shame really. But unbowed, I headed back via one of the main streets, spotted a card for The Wind's birthday which was everything I wanted to say in one go, so the card was purchased, and also had a quick look in a couple of the games shops before I went into HMV.

I thought about it for a couple of minutes and then made my decision - not least because I'd managed to sort a few things out over the last week and felt that I deserved a little reward for my actions, and so picked up Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the Wii, complete with the guitar controller, for a mere £35, reduced by half price! I know it's not the most recent of the series (that's World Tour) but it's still an excellent introduction to those games nonetheless, and that's what it should be about. I gave things a little practice before attempting some of the earlier songs. I struggled at first because I was holding the guitar with the coloured frets in the left hand, and wasn't getting anywhere, so I did "lefty flip" and instead had the frets in the right with the strum in the left. This worked a lot better and I was then able to play through some of the songs and even earn credits to unlock some more to be done in "quick play" mode.

Later on, it was lovely to see The Wind Beneath My Wings, especially as I was being really adventurous and making, for the first time ever, pasta bolognaise. I did it with Quorn mince, as it retains its flavour a lot more, and it's not that fatty either, which would work well. Put that in, fry it off nicely, add the sauce and let it all simmer whilst cooking the pasta. Admittedly as it was my first go I did get quite stressed over it and felt bad afterwards that I did, because I needed to be in control and wasn't, but thankully did manage to pull it off, and it tasted okay I think. Had some garlic bread to go with it, and job done, hurrah. Even nicer was the little lemon sponge I bought to cook in the oven and serve for the two of us, along with some cream, which was just the thing.

We spent some time playing Scrabble whilst listening to Ben's Brother (I'd just like to say that "Rise" is a bloody ace song and therefore tune of the day) and that got us both in a nice relaxed mood. They're apparently tourint in May so we might have to head along to The Ruby Lounge and get going, methinks! We also played some Morrissey (new album, natch) and followed that up by some very lovely Seth Lakeman too. During this time, I did something I never thought I'd ever do on Scrabble, and that is play a move to get rid of all my tiles on two successive occasions! It was unbelievable. I first did AGONIES and GLAMS (blank for S) for 71, then my next move was HORRIBLE (blank for H, B already in play) for 61, and of course the 50 points bonus for getting rid of all my tiles proved pretty useful. Later on in the game I managed to get rid of all my tiles again, meaning a third time in the same game, by playing STRIDES and FADE (fad was already there) for 71, and add to that JERK on triple word (with the J double letter) for 69, and you can understand why I was pretty chuffed with my final score of 565, the highest I've ever done in Scrabble. Ever. I blame The Wind, she's obviously inspiring me!

Friday 20th February - Life Is Full Of Nice Surprises

Well, as Forrest Gump once said, life is like a box of chocolates, cos you never know which one you'll get next. In fact, it's partially true, because it's also full of nice surprises. I'd had a day at work which was very up and down, mainly because of the fact that there was a fault with the system that registers the network IP addresses, which meant that they were showing in the table but they weren't then giving out the right addresses via DHCP. I've reported it as a fault in the hope that it'll be resolved soon, although the fact it took three phone calls to convince someone that there was a problem makes me realise just what it's going to be like further down the line. Deep breath, pause, relax, ah.....

Got home from work and set the washing off to dry so I could then head off to Tesco and do my food shopping before relaxing for the evening. I did notice the post I had - I had one from a friend who had sent a CD of his favourite tunes of 2008 in response to one I'd sent him and a few friends at the back end of last year. But best of all, I had a card, and as soon as I saw the writing on the envelope, I knew that it was from The Balance In My Account. Hurrah! It was such a lovely card, colourful and bright and with the right words inside too. Awww. In fact it turned out that she'd sneakily bought it when in Euston station, as I had nipped off to the loo and so she must have put her cunning plan into action and gone into Paperchase or something. Sneaky, but lovely nonetheless.

It's little things like that which make you realise just how lovely things can be, especially when if you're lucky enough to have someone who appreciates you as much as you do them and really makes the effort. Sometimes it just makes me wonder just why I couldn't have met her sooner to be honest, but maybe fate lends a hand here in that I had to go through a few relationships (most of them pretty good and amicable, it has to be said) before I really found someone that I wanted with aplomb. I don't regret anything or any previous relationship, not at all, and I'd had plenty of good times in those, but sometimes when you know, you just know, don't you?

I remember one date I had back in October 2007 which was a lovely time, and there was obviously some lovely chemistry there, and I thought to myself "that's the sort of chemistry I want". Even though that didn't work because of work and distance commitments etc, it gave me an idea of how I wanted to really interact with someone, and when I met The Balance In My Account for the first time, it was all of that and then just tons more. I can remember thinking all the way through "Do not, whatever you do, muck this up, or you'll regret it" but also at the same time what a lovely time I was having and that it was just going by far too quickly (which to be brutally honest is the case even now)

Anyway, back to some more Morrissey, as you do. I felt like a bit of a session tonight and so what I decided to do was play some of the old back catalogue stuff and work my way through to the most recent album - so I could get a nice overview of the career. My favourite Morrissey song (and thus tune of the day) is still Everyday Is Like Sunday, it's sung with such gusto, and has a beautiful flow to it as well as feeling, and reminds me of some of the horrid seaside places that I've been to over the years that really do emnate the feelings of the song. And it's just well written and composed too, and still a live favourite even now. Must admit when I see Moz live in May I really hope he does that, as well as the old Smiths classic This Charming Man, which he's been doing on telly recently. Hurrah!

Thursday 19th February - When A Draw Isn't Good Enough

I had my uncle and his son round tonight, as is the usual tradition for me whenever City are on the telly and I am around. Last night my friend kindly told me that the UEFA Cup game between Copenhagen and City was on BBC3, and that meant of course anyone could watch it as long as they had at least Freeview. I must admit I was worried it was going to end up on Sultana Sports, and we all know how rubbish that channel is (understatement, makes ITV looks like the pinnacle of sports broadcasting) and so seeing BBC3 get it with some hopefully half-decent commentary just has to be done.

The kick off was 7.05pm which meant just enough time for BBC Three to have the broadcast ready for the kick off, and with City nut Lee Dixon as one of the pundits in the studio, that wasn't bad at all. The game started off okay although we didn't look that potent going forward, and it was pretty even for the first twenty minutes or so. We started getting on top, and then a goal came - and how we laughed in the end! Stephen Ireland played a gorgeous through ball to Nedum Onouha, who'd chanced his arm with a run from defence. He aimed a pretty tame shot towards the Copenhagen goal, and the keeper somehow fumbled it and the ball went in for 1-0. It reminded me of David James' howler when playing for England in Austria a few years back, and I'm sure that goal is ready for Own Goals and Gaffes volume 23 whenever that comes out.

1-0 at half time was pretty good, and with cuppa and Kit Kat Chunky at the ready, time for the second half. Unfortunately it proved City's defensive weaknesses all over the place, as their goal was scored with a header from a corner, and it was a soft header too - Wayne Bridge the most likely and culpable culprit of completely missing the man he was supposed to be looking after. Then I heard that City were supposedly zonal marking and my head sank, dear me that's never going to work!

We did at least have some fight though, and when Shaun Wright-Phillips went down the right with some intent, he battled on gamely against the Copenhagen left back, who was pulling SWP back. He got just about clear, put a lovely cross in through the defender's legs, and there was who else but Stephen Ireland to whack in a low hard shot from twelve yards, a great shot and with the score 2-1 we all felt pretty happy at that point. As time went on, although Copenhagen did go forward more and even brought on ex-Chelski midfielder Jepser Gronkjaer, we thought that if we broke and scored it'd be settled. Well, we had a few breaks but some rubbish finishing put paid to us having a third, and with minutes left the clock ticked by agonisingly.

Whenever you hear a City fan say "typical City" what happened next is exactly what they mean. The ball was played down the right and no one was supporting Wayne Bridge in defence, the cross came in, and Micah Richards completely lost the Copenhagen sub forward, who evaded the defence well and headed in - and with the clock displaying 20 seconds of stoppage time gone, it was a real hammer blow for the Blues. A 2-1 away win would have made things pretty good, but 2-2 does mean it's a fair bit more to play for, even with two away goals which may yet come in useful. We were all guttted and in hindsight, I should have seen something like that coming!

Ah well. It was time to drown the sorrows of not winning by the only way we knew how - Wii Sports Golf! I set them both up as Mii characters on the trusty Wii, and then we proceeded to play nine holes. Considering one of them hadn't played it before, they soon sussed what they had to do. It was a pretty even contest all round till the last couple of holes, in fact on the eighth, my uncle and I each found the water and dropped shots, which meant I was level par and he +1 going into the final hole. The wind was behind enough to go for the left island and try to hit the far island in two, and in fact after a very nice chipped third, I was able to putt for birdie and win in the end by two strokes, but I have to say they both did really well. I let them loose at the tennis afterwards and that was pretty good fun too.

I had a nice surprise earlier when I got home from work too - the limited edition of the new Morrissey album courtesy of the very lovely people at Why should I pay more in HMV when I can get it cheaper, and indeed in HMV have some po-faced assistant look at me and think "Ooh, aren't you buying someone like Kings of Leon or someone else equally in and trendy?" Sometimes, it helps when you actually employ staff who actually are passionate about music, which is why it's always good when you go in good old Vinyl Exchange. Anyway, rant over. "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" was played a while back by Moz on Jools Holland and it still sounds as fresh on the album, plus it's the opening track which sets things off nicely, making it tune of the day easily. Rumours are abound it could be his last album - let's hope it isn't!

Wednesday 18th February - Golf Balls

Myself and The Star of The Show woke up in the Travelodge and felt like we'd had a good sleep as the whole day was quite a long one really and although it was good, we knew at some point we'd have to head up and then head home back to Manchester, something we didn't really want to envisage at the time but knew we had to do. Thankfully I had a good idea up my sleeve and decided that we would be best heading out for breakfast to keep us nicely filled up for the day. With that in mind it was over the road to Café Express, where I'd had breakfast many years ago after seeing Kristin Hersh at Kings Cross Scala. Thankfully, not only were the same staff there, but the food was up to its very good standard and spot on. We both went for the breakfast set menu which was two scrambled eggs, two rashers of back bacon, toast and marmalade, coffee and orange juice, and we went for extra mushrooms to go with it. It all was really nice and certainly set us up for the day.

We then checked out of the Travelodge (just as a load of students were heading out there to head around London - I was guessing that they were on an exchange or something) and then walked back to Euston in good time for the 1120 train back to Manchester Piccadilly. Again, the train was fine, and we both noticed just how much rain that there was, especially through Milton Keynes and Rugby. Heading into Manchester, it looked like it had rained but that it had stopped, and so we walked back down the hill out of the station and to Piccadilly bus station to get the bus back to The Star's place, where we transferred some pictures from her camera (she had taken some on Saturday evening too) and then had a nice lunch of chicken and rice. She's lovely, you know.

We then ventured out to Matalan, as there was a pair of shoes in one of the woman's magazines that she wanted to take a look at (and especially at £12) and they had two colours, red and black. They had the red in her size so she saw if it fitted nicely, and it did, but did they have the black in her size? Nope. Mind you, I did pick up a pretty nice pair of jeans for half price reduced to £7.50, so that was a pretty good surprise. It was fairly empty in there though although I have to say it looks a lot smarter in there than last time I was in there: and I still had my Matalan card as well, which of course I needed in order to purchase stuff.

Then it was a case of heading cross-town before the peak rush and over to visit my friend and his wife (who's also my friend too, yaay!) for a cuppa and a good natter. I mentioned about synching the second Wii remote on their Wii, so got that done nicely before seeing if we could get to use the Mii characters on the We Love Golf! game. You could, but you either had to unlock it in single player mode, or use two player mode. Aha... anyway, the game was pretty poor - too much on screen as a distraction and to be honest, rubbish controls. I think my friend might be chucking that one on eBay pretty soon methinks - if only because it doesn't seem that intuitive and that the Wii Sports golf game is much more fun..

.. which is exactly what went on next, in four player mode, only pausing when my friend and his wife made us all something for tea, which was very nice of them. In fact it was pretty close between the four of us till the closing three holes, where I kept my nerve and played some good shots, and eventually I won with -1, and second was The Star Of The Show with +2, which I think is her best ever nine hole score on there. It was pretty good fun because we were all hitting good consistent shots and also making sure that we took time over each one to get it nailed exactly right as we wanted to do it. I was a model of par consistency, parring the first eight holes and then just birdieing the last. We all got a birdie each in the end and that felt good when it went in, let me tell you. It's always nice to hit the ball well but I like to encourage the others too.

We then did the tennis as well, having a tournament with two semi finals, each of three matches of best of 3, and a final with three matches of best of 5. My friend pipped The Star 2-1 in their semi, with each best of 3 match apart from the last one going to the final game. My semi was a bit more one-sided with a 2-0 win, but there were some good rallies going on as well so that helped things nicely. So it was myself against my friend in the final, and it was a 2-0 win for me with two best of 5 wins, but there were some very good shots which I had to return back well though, so it was definitely a case of seeing what happened.

We ended the evening with Boogie, which we did in karaoke mode and had a good giggle as we each had a go at singing along to a song and seeing how well we did in terms of the points scoring. Shame it's not quite as good as Singstar on the Playstation 2, but it is good fun all the same. I managed to completely ruin both "You Can't Touch This" and "Kung Fu Fighting", my friend did an excellent job of "One Way Or Another" by Blondie (I love the original, so that's tune of the day) and also YMCA by Village People (both the females there did the actions too, bloody hilarious!), his wife did marvellously on Simply Red's "Stars" and also "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club and then of course it was The Star's turn, giggling her way through Cyndi Lauper's "Girls They Want To Have Fun", which made me smile no end! All in all then, another good day. Hurrah for friends!

Tuesday 17th February - Goldenballs

And no, we're not talking about David Beckham, either. I'm talking about the game show that's regularly on ITV between 5 and 6pm, hosted by the comedy genius that is Jasper Carrott. You see, it's in the process of the series being filmed at the BBC Television Centre in London, and I had managed to get myself and The Star Of The Show two tickets to watch one of the screenings for tonight. We had in fact already booked the trains and the accommodation to stay in London, as we had planned to head to a gig that was scheduled. However, the gig then got rescheduled because of the venue being double booked, and because the advance tickets for the train and Travelodge couldn't be easily swapped, we thought "let's go anyway" and thus hit upon Plan B. Nifty eh?

So, myself and The Star met at Piccadilly station to get the 1215 departure to London Euston. We sensibly got ourselves a Boots Meal Deal for the train, and in Boots one woman and her partner were searching for the pasta bowl with chicken tomato and basil. I had picked it up and was contemplating getting it, but when I heard the woman ask the assistant, I popped over and said "you mean this one?" and let her have it instead. It made her day really, and I just went for the ham and emmental cheese sandwich, which was just as nice anyway, so everyone's a winner really. The train to Euston was its usual Virgin efficiency: ie: on time and absolutely spot on, as to be fair it usually is. It could have done without stopping in Lego City central that is Milton Keynes, but there you go.

We headed along past St Pancras and Kings Cross and down to the Travelodge we were staying at, and we noticed a couple of things. It was looking like it was getting a painted makeover, so that was good, and also in the bathroom we noticed a whole new sink unit had been put in as well as new floor tiles in the bathroom, so it was nice to see that we reaped the benefits there too. We dropped our stuff out and headed back towards Kings Cross station, as we thought the best plan of action would be to head somewhere towards the BBC TV Centre, have something to munch and then get to watch the recording. Having been to show recordings before, if they don't finish till gone 9.30pm, it's a bit too late to think about having something to eat, and so eating before we had to get at the gates at around 6pm was a better idea.

We headed first on the 30 bus to Marble Arch and swapped there for the 148 bus to White City Westfield, which is virtually across the way from the BBC TV Centre in Wood Lane. The 148 in fact was a bit posh: it had leather seats (even upstairs where we sat) and the CCTV displayed lots of images from the cameras, I could see myself on one of them. It was rather good though that security was being taken seriously too, and so it felt safe being on there. The 148 made its way along Bayswater Road alongside Hyde Park till it arrived at Notting Hill Gate, went through and on to Holland Park, which looked very nice indeed, and then to the big roundabout before Shepherds' Bush Green. The bus terminated early there and we got off, but as it turned out the south-east entrance to the Westfield shopping complex was there, so it wasn't too bad.

We headed into Westfield and had a look around, some parts of it called The Village had a raft of expensive designer shops: Gucci, Prada et al and even a branch of Tiffany and Co (yes, that Tiffany's!). In fact we had a quick look in there and one of the things rung up on the till was a ring which cost a mere snip at £52,000. Ouch. But it was good to see that the centre had a mix of established shops, one-offs and designer places, and certainly it seemed to be the place to go for most people in West London and beyond. In fact, apart from easy access to the BBC, part of the reason Wood Lane tube station was built was so that it meant more people could take the Tube to Westfield, which makes sense (Shepherd's Bush is only served by the Central Line you see). Anyway, that all looked good and with the time fast pacing onwards, we thought it best to head to go and eat somewhere.

After a quick discussion, we plumped for Wahaca, which there's currently only two of, the other being in Covent Garden. It's basically Mexican market eating style, which might not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly had a good fusion of cuisine and natural ingredients to look appealing. We went for the selection for two, where for around £20 you get five different types of dish along with some green rice and frijoles. You get three pork pibil tacos, three espinacas tacos, two huitlacoche quesilladas, two mackerel tostadas and two chicken taquitos too. In fact, I enjoyed all of them, although the last chicken dish got my vote, they just tasted spot on and were full of lovely chicken. The Star enjoyed those too along with the espinacas tacos, and we both really loved the pork pibil tacos too. I was surprised actually, it was much nicer than I thought. And then there's dessert.

Oh yes, I needed to try the dessert out. And there was a vanilla ice cream with a caramel sauce, and although it normally comes with pumpkin seeds, I asked politely if I could have it without them. This turned out to be a smart move: the vanilla was ever present in the ice cream and the caramel just softened the whole thing nicely and went down the throat spot on: not least as the pork pibil tacos were pretty hot stuff! Most of it though wasn't that spicy, which suited us both down to the ground in a good way. The ambience was lovely, lots of Latin American music playing including Gypsy Kings (best make their hit "Djobi Djoba" tune of the day as that played whilst my mouth was being palated with the huitlacoche quesillada) and it just felt really relaxed and lovely. If you're ever in London and want to try something different, we can both highly recommend a trip there - it was that good.

Once food had been consumed, we exited the Westfield and saw the bus station with Wood Lane tube beyond and there was the BBC. Thankfully the entrance for the audiences was close to the main entrance, so we were able to head along there and wait in the queue. Most of us had the emails printed out with the details of the e-tickets on, so it was good to head there and get it all sorted out. We soon had the stickers with our audience numbers ready to go, and had to undergo a full airport-style security check. This involved removing keys, coins and wallets as well as belts (yes, really) before heading through the metal detector and checking all was fine before reuniting with the stuff and heading into the Foyer, an audience holding area for the public. This had a café and indeed a BBC Shop, with plenty of emphasis on Top Gear and Doctor Who, the latter even having some stories read out (and signed!) by David Tennant on CD.

We were called in a little later than planned at around 6.50pm, and took our seats in the audience. One of the floor managers explained what they needed us to do and also when to cheer and when not to, and the warm-up man also kept us amused during breaks in the recording and when things were being checked. And then out came the four contestants, and it all started nicely. There's a lot that you don't see on telly. For example, in each round, all the golden balls are checked by independent adjudicators and the contestants have to have their back turned whilst the balls are all recorded. Then they can do each round. This of course involved plenty of discussion who to get rid of and who they thought they could trust. In the end, they did well, getting rid of all but two killer balls for the final round (where of course a third killer was added)

The killer balls made their comeback though in the third round, where the two remaining contestants pick a ball to bin, then a ball to win, the idea being you bin the killers and keep the winners. After three goes at this, they had amassed £7,400, but then disaster struck. The ball to bin fourth time round was a killer, so that meant the prize fund went down to £740. It could have been saved at the end, as two balls were left, one was for a massive amount, the other was the killer. The contestants picked the killer and so were basically playing the final round, split or steal, for a mere £74!! I can see this being highly amusing when it appears on the television at some point, so I won't spoil it for you as to what they decided in the end. Nonetheless, it was intriguing to see what happened. One of the things you don't see in terms of continuity is that the prize balls are all checked, and substituted with another set of balls of the same values for the final round - the reason being that a contestant could have marked the balls to indicate a killer and so know which ones not to pick.

The recording finished on time - in fact a little earlier at around 9.25pm! We therefore walked down Wood Lane to Shepherds' Bush Green, got the 94 bus to Piccadilly Circus and eventually found a reasonable pub that did some real ale and some wine - we stayed in there for a bit before walking up Charing Cross Road to Tottenham Court Road, and getting the 73 bus back to just beyond Kings Cross so it was a nice simple walk downhill to the Travelodge to crash out. We both had really enjoyed the day and made the most of it too - and indeed I think we may have to pay Wahaca a visit next time we are in London, that's for sure!

Monday 16th February - Sod Them, And Their Law

Well it was a Monday of sorts today. I had a meeting in the morning about the piece of software I'd been testing, and came across a few major flaws. I'd already submitted some feedback and that was well received, but it gave us a chance to have a chat and put some ideas forward as well as see where we could go from here. An email later in the day might be sounding the death knell though, as it sounded as if the whole thing was just running a bit way too slow and that there was no easy way to make it run at all faster at that point - just a case of seeing what could be done in terms of if it could be narrowed down.

Had to man the office this afternoon as there was a meeting going on for various people, but that allowed me to be able to assist lots of people and generally keep things ticking over nicely somewhat. I did also find out something rather annoying: that our new USB to IDE drive converter doesn't like being run too much in legacy mode all the time. The Data Rescue software that we use normally allowed you to see the drive partitions and therefore recover to them if need be, but it didn't like the converter at all. A SATA drive plugged into our dock worked perfectly fine though and the software was able to see the drive to recover to, so we have that option at least if need be. In fact I was attempting to recover a USB pen drive, but the drive was physically damaged and so the software wasn't able to see anything whatsoever. Meh.

I knew the perfect answer to what was a pretty hard going day when I got home, tune of the day it is too, Pop Will Eat Itself's "Their Law". Yes, I said PWEI, not the Prodigy. In case you're wondering why, originally both bands wrote the song, but the original lyrics that PWEI had contributed to the song had in the whole been removes from the Prodge's album version. When PWEI reformed in 2005 and did their little mini tour as a one off, as you can imagine being a PWEI fan and all, I was there like a shot (understatement) and saw what's still for me one of the best gigs of all time. When the band played "Their Law" the whole place was bouncing up and down and like loons, me included, it felt intense but so right at the same time. Thankfully someone had the video camera out the next night at Birmingham which results in this absolute gem:

You see? Now we are talking. It brought back memories of what was a superb night when I saw them in Birmingham, and reminded me that I could still go to a gig and have a bloody great time, and be able to be 18 again and have the energy to go for it and go mental. I've always loved the mighty PWEI though, they just were different and to be fair, ahead of their time.

Sunday 15th February - Wii Saw The Reader

Myself and The Signature On My Card pottered about her place, and what was lovely was that she made scrambled eggs, bacon and some very posh toast along with some coffee, just to get us all in the right frame of mind - and even some cheesecake just had to be had by myself, as it was so nice yesterday. I reckon she's got the recipe nailed, and I'd be more than happy for her to do that again, for sure. It made me feel slightly overawed in that she's a good cook and I'm quite honestly not as good, but I know she appreciates that I put effort in when I make stuff, so all is good there.

We decided to head into the centre of Manchester and see The Reader - because we'd both wanted to see it for a while and just not had the time for one reason or another. Also, I should admit that I do admire Kate Winslet in most of the stuff that she's done - she tends to retain her Englishness and also not be mega stick thin, something which I wholeheartedly approve of. And as she and Ralph Fiennes have both had good reviews over their roles, we thought "let's go!". In fact we were clever and when we got into town, went straight to the box office and got the tickets sorted for the 12.40pm performance, allowing us time to head into the café in Urbis and grab a latte there and indeed look around the shop a bit too.

We headed back to the Printworks Odeon, and headed in the cinema seven. There was hardly anyone in there, which was good, and so we were able to see the trailers and then watch the film. It was pretty intense really and without giving too much away, the initial passion with Kate's character having her kit off (yes, all her kit off) gives way to that of watching the partner in the romance grow up, and how he becomes involved with law and by chance meets again later in life. It's an intriguingly well made film, with lots of emotion, thought and depth gone into it, along with the fact that there;'s two stellar acting performances. To see Ralph and Kate play their roles against the backdrop of a prison later in the film and see the spark that happened from the opening scenes is something else, it just works for some reason. I think above all else though, it has plenty of thought provoking to be done afterwards, which is our sort of thing.

After doing Sunday lunch at the Lloyds No 1 round the corner, we headed via Debenhams and a mooch around there back to her place, and so relaxed a while whilst also having some more yummy cheesecake (any excuse to be quite honest!) and then followed that up with a trip over to mine, where it was Wii Sports tennis all round for a while, and even the baseball, before heading to some Scrabble later on. We both did pretty well, and I was pleased at least that I'd managed to pull off some useful words, and even in one move got rid of all seven tiles by playing DEVALUES (the S already being there from the opening movem the second E being a blank) scoring 66 in the process as well. Yaay me and stuff eh?

Had a bit of a listen to Vonda Shepard later on, as we're off to see her in two weeks' time, which will be rather good. I played the "By 7.30" album so it served as perfect background music for the Scrabble playing as well, which worked out quite nicely. Out of all the songs though, I still love "Confetti" on there, and hence it's tune of the day - admittedly it could have fitted yesterday with the wedding and all, but there's just a niceness about it. I just hope she plays it when we see her live. Oh, and Celebrity Come Dine With Me - my that was funny as hell! Who'd have thought that Philip Olivier would have been such a good cook and that Julia Bradbury off of Watchdog such a flirty tease eh?

Saturday 14th February - Reception Of The Hairdresser

I spent most of the afternoon in the company of The Signature On My Card today, and we'd both agreed that to be honest, Valentine's Day is highly over-rated and indeed an excuse for people to try and be romantic. But that shouldn't be the point: if you're going to love someone, then you love them all the time, not just for one day, right? I would much rather give lots of effort and energy and love all the time, because it shows that you care and are making the effort to be absolutely yourself, and not pander just because of what day it happens to be.

As it happened, The Signature had offered to make me tea (a regular occurrence anyway) which was a nice idea: she did this really nice steak with mushrooms and sauce, coupled with some potatoes, carrots et al. It was highly lovely and thought had gone into it all, even the little bottle of Chilean red which we shared together just seemed right to go with the steak. And that was before I got to the lemon cheesecake, which she had made all by herself, and I tell you what, it tasted absolutely gorgeous, honest. I was thinking to myself "I wouldn't mind more of this actually!" and vowed to have some more tomorrow if I had the chance. City by this time had been beaten 2-0 by Portsmouth away (no surprise there then) and it was a case of us then getting changed, ready for later.

We had a bit of a wedding reception to go to - the local hairdresser that The Signature goes to also happens to know her sister as well, and had invited both of them. When The Signature mentioned me to the hairdresser, she was like "bring him with you!" which was very nice of her. So her sister took the five of us (the sister's son and his mate came too) up to Failsworth and to the pub that they had the reception in. It all seemed to be going well, everyone was in the right mood to celebrate and the DJ played a decent selection of tunes (although it has to be said he chose UB40's version of "Red Red Wine" far too many times for my liking) so that kept everyone going nicely - even a bit of a buffet with some nice food laid on, which got consumed pretty quickly.

I stuck to soft drinks because the pub, stupidly, didn't have any real ale - it was far too content in serving press a button bobbins stuff. The sign outside clearly said "fine ales" - I'd have that sign removed if I was them. However, there was a guy later who was singing along to songs and getting the crowd going to try and sing along too. To be fair, his voice was pretty passable and a million times better than some of the reality TV efforts you can't escape on the telly these days. He did quite a few songs before heading for a break but at least had tried his best with them - and you can't argue with that. Mind you, later on, the DJ did at least play some recent stuff, which was good, including Scouting For Girls' "She's So Lovely" (tune of the day - because the bride did look lovely and it kind of summed up the day too) and some more UB40 as well including some megamix.

We headed back to The Signature's place later on, and a good time was had by all. We giggled over the pictures that had been taken on her camera by myself and her and her sister, and felt fairly relaxed and chilled out. I think because I'd been up early to head to do the food shopping, and that she had also been running around a bit, it was nice just to have some time to ourselves and relax. To be honest, it made me also realise that sometimes you need that space and time to yourself.

Friday 13th February - Date By Name, Date By Nature

Well if ever there was a day that really summed up Friday 13th and bad luck, this was pretty much it to be honest. We had a power failure in one of the buildings this afternoon, which just so happened to be the power failure where some of the servers are that are used for login etc. Thankfully, it was just a case of one of the switches being tripped, so that did its job, but the amount of bureaucracy it now takes just to get an electrician out to press a switch (something we could well do ourselves if we were allowed) is crazy talk really. It just makes me wonder whether it's often for the best just to do everything yourself, ho hum. However, it did also allow us some time to be able to check some other bits out whilst the power was down, so there's always a positive somewhere (honest).

No rest for me after work as I was off to see a work colleague of my uncle's and get their iMac back up and into shape. They reckoned that (although highly unlikely) a virus had struck, and they wanted everything removing and starting from scratch, and at the same time they'd signed up with Orange and so had their Livebox router which needed configuration (that's the one with only two ethernet ports placed in the most daft of positions!). Anyway, in terms of sorting things out, it all went well - they had their original Mac OS X 10.4 DVDs, and so the install was a breeze, as it should be, and once he'd worked out which password he gave for Orange, I was able to input that all into the Livebox, and badabing! Up and running. In fact I even snagged the 10.4.11 combo update and whacked that on, along with Skype that he'd wanted to chuck on it. So at least it wasn't bad luck there.

Mind you, the journey there and back is intriguing: it's basically the number 8 bus from Manchester to Farnworth, and then the 501 bus from Farnworth. Of course, Friday evening traffic is rammed, and so that added to the roadworks that were also happening along the main A666 through Pendlebury, it did take its time but eventually got into Farnworth okay and without problems - and indeed the 501 was pretty good as well, gradually going up and up hill till I reached where I was going - in fact I could see the M61 motorway from where I was. The journey back was full of the Friday night crowd either heading into Bolton the other way, or heading towards Manchester and Salford. The traffic had died down so it was a quick journey onwards, and I soon was in the centre of the city waiting for the bus home.

But what amazed me was that just how many people in Farnworth were hanging round the local shops and off licences. I've seen this happen in inner city suburbs quite a lot where people clearly have nothing to do but to try and get cheap cider and go off their faces: but seeing it here was somehow different: it was a little more eerie and a little more on edge. Whether that was because of the freezing cold, the run down shopping centre or the heady alcohol and smell of funny smoke around, I don't know, but certainly it had a feeling of everyone was getting hammered no matter what.

As for tune of the day well, I had a think, and when I got home, I decided that I wanted to play something that was anti-Valentine's Day really, and nothing better came to mind than Pop Will Eat Itself's "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" - it just is a great tune, it has plenty of samples of cheesy love songs thrown in with the single lyric line and a pounding beat to match. In all the days of when commercialism gives way to sloppiness all around, it's nice to know that some people would prefer a bit of reality. And let's face it, right now reality is honest!

Thursday 12th February - Audacious Recovery

I had an interesting problem today which I managed to resolve, and felt pleased with myself afterwards. One of the students had borrowed a voice recorder and had spent some time recording a voice interview with a member of staff, and it all went okay, except for the fact that the battery ran out during recording, and although it had recorded a file, she couldn't play it whatsoever and wondered what could be done. I connected the SD card out of the recorder to the PC and whilst a quick test file played, her main file of some 550MB didn't. Of course, I had a feeling that when the battery went it didn't effectively write and close the file, meaning the information was missing.

I had a look at the recorder settings and then fired up Audacity, which is always useful to have on the PC for general voice recording et al. Whilst attempting to open the file failed, I thought that attempting to try and extract the raw data might work, so in Audacity you do Import Raw Data, pick the file you want, and then tell it what properties the file should have. I set it all to what I thought would be a 16 bit wav file recording, and then waited to see what the import did. Amazingly, I managed to salvage around 54 minutes (around 545MB worth) of the recording and it sounded spot on. I then re-exported that as a new .wav file (and also in mp3 too just in case) and the student was one happy little bunny to say the least, and told me how much it meant to her for that to be salvaged back. Yaay me!

I went into the centre of Manchester afterwards to get hold of the new Morrissey single (hence "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" is tune of the day - it's bloody ace) and thankfully HMV had both CD singles. I was tempted to buy the 7" as well, but that would have been too much right now. Of course the new album is out Monday and as there's a limited edition with DVD out, which is supposed to have Russell Brand, of all people, interviewing Morrissey, that would be intriguing, and it does have two of the videos to singles which also promoted the Greatest Hits album from last year but are on here too. Hmmm. Reissue, repackage, repackage, anyone?

Still, I know full well that Moz is a million times better than so many bands out there who seem to have this assumption that success is handed out on a plate and that being "indie" just means being some guitar band that "the kids" will like. Which, as any true indie fan will know, is complete slapdash. Back in the day, if you were on a proper indie label, if you managed to even make the top 40 that was considered success because you were able to have the fans out there support your stuff. Even The Smiths didn't always do that well chart-wise back then, and look how highly regarded that they are now. I guess also this is why I try to champion the likes of MJ Hibbett and the Validators so much - cos it's like how proper indie rock should be. So there.

Wednesday 11th February - Hard Drive Huddersfield

I went over to Huddersfield after work today to meet up with one of my Flickr contacts and her boyfriend. You see, a while back their PC had started playing up, and had emailed me for some advice, and I was able to suggest a few things. We did come to some conclusion that the hard drive was possibly knackered, and as I had a few spares (not of a big size mind you) I suggested I bring one over, we test it and go from there. It was nice of her to wait for me when I eventually got off the train at Huddersfield - you see, it was the 1656 departure from Manchester and because it was late leaving, it got stuck behind a local stopping train from Stalybridge onwards which meant it was on go slow pretty much all the way through Standedge Tunnel and beyond. Meh.

Anyway, we made our way on the bus from Huddersfield to her place and the three of us looked at the PC. I managed to get the case open and swap the hard drive, then we used their recovery CD to make sure Windows Vista got reinstalled. All was well during the reinstall until we got to about three minutes after setting up the login - it just all reset for some odd reason. Booted up, did it again. And then again. Hmmm. I had a feeling what was causing it, but a touch of the keyboard gave me a theory. I suggested that we remove the keyboard, use the on-screen keyboard function and see what happened. Anyway, we did that, it booted, we logged in, I even downloaded and installed AVG Free, and it was all perfectly stable. Hmmmm.

Next step was to put their original hard drive back in, which already had the restore DVD run on it and so it would be a the point of putting in a user name etc for Vista. As soon as the USB keyboard was connected, the power went off. Annoying. However, removal of the keyboard on next boot, and the PC was rock stable. We all came to the conclusion that the USB keyboard in fact was the cause of the issue. Sadly for them, the PC didn't have any PS2 ports, especially as they had a PS2 keyboard from the very old PC that they used to have, so I suggested to get another one when they had chance and give that a whirl and go from there, but that the hard drive itself looked pretty good from where I saw it. Hurrah!

It was also very nice to chat to them about all sorts, especially music, Come Dine With Me (which we all love) and her boyfriend showed me all the concert tickets he'd kept and what gigs he went to - which included shedloads of The Wonder Stuff and Pop Will Eat Itself (going to make "Beaver Patrol" tune of the day cos it reminds me of when I saw PWEI in Birmingham and they did that as the encore), like, yaay. As you can imagine as they were a similar age to my good self, those sort of music tastes are ones we enjoyed anyway so plenty of nice conversation flowed. They even made me a very nice nut roast with all the trimmings too (well they are both vegetarian) which actually was nicer than I thought it would be, in a good way. I really felt comfortable too, which is always nice.

Anyway, we made our way back to the station later, and although I hate saying goodbye at such places, I was pleased too that I'd had a good evening with nice people knowing too that The Raspberries In My Yoghurt was out with her friend and having a whale of a time as well - which is what it's about really. I got home later and had to dissect plenty of information that I'd been given at work earlier in the day. In truth, there's going to be some very interesting times ahead but I can't talk about it too much really, as anything could happen. All I can say is that it's the next phase of the restructure and it could prove to be one that either is useful or the phase from hell and it's just a case of seeing what pans out.

Tuesday 10th February - Come Dine In Chocolate Mugs

More fun on the second day of the Photoshop course today, but it was well worth it. It took us into some more advanced tools such as the healing brush, the clone and the stamp tools, as well as being able to try out a little exercise which involved three images: a mobile phone, a landscape and a hand. The idea was that you'd have the phone held in the hand and the picture on the phone screen would be of the landscape. Of course, it meant you'd have to create a layer for the thumb so it would appear in front of the phone, with the rest of the hand behind, so it looked like the phone was being held in place - nifty eh? I managed to get the hang of it and put most of the work into practice and got it all sorted, so was pretty pleased.

The rest of the course involved plenty of using of different tools and also touched on the layer mask tools - a really nice way of combining different effects without destroying the layer contents as well, which could also blend two different layers nicely if you spent a bit of time on it as well. The fact that the instructor was very clear and concise in his actions and also allowed us to experiment a bit showed that whilst he was knowledgeable, he wasn't patronising and was very supportive - the sort of person you actually want to be doing your course really. We finished a bit early as several people had to dash off to an afternoon meeting, but on the whole it was very enjoyable indeed and certainly helped things tick along nicely.

I went over straight from work to see The Raspberries In My Yoghurt as she was very kindly making me some tea, which was very nice - it was haddock in a cheese sauce together with some potatoes and carrots et al. It was all very nice indeed and enjoyable, and we both had a giggle whilst watching Come Dine With Me at the same time which definitely worked out for the best, some of the contestants on there were completely bonkers and over the top, and it made you wonder just what they were getting up to. The piece de resistance was the bloke who was hosting put his chocolate mousse into mugs with "I love you" on them. Hmm.. classy.

After a bit of a chill out and a chat, we headed back to mine later as I wanted to play some Kristin Hersh to her so that I could convince her to come with me to one of the gigs for the forthcoming tour. I decided that the best course of action was play the ones that sounded much more acoustic, as after all she would be doing acoustic this time around. So on went "Hips and Makers" followed by "Learn To Sing Like A Star" which represented her first and recent pieces of work too. I still love "Nerve Endings" on the latter album, it just has this lovely wistful feeling to it and makes the world seem a happier place, so that one's tune of the day.

Of course, it also meant that it was time for more Scrabble, which worked out rather nicely. The Raspberries did really well actually and pulled off an excellent move, playing zorb and bleak - the zorb was on double word and the b double letter, so it meant that it was a total score of 50 points. For those of you who don't know, a zorb is a sphere that people do extreme sports in. Technically it can also be a copyrighted word as well as the inventor of the sport of zorbing probably owns the name, but it was in the dictionaries we checked, so perfectly legal. I followed it up next move though with an even better move: playing juror and mover (move was already there) - and with the J on double letter and the r being on double word, using the blank as an o, I scored a pretty hefty 67 points, and that was without using all my tiles too. It was an entertaining game and certainly made the time pass nicely being together. Mind you, I love giving her hugs too. I mean, a lot!!

Monday 9th February - Layer Upon Layer

It was a nice gentle route back into work today, as the roads had cleared of all the possible sleet from last night, the bus into work was fine and indeed I was virtually straight on to a course as well. Thankfully as part of my professional development I expressed an interest in learning bits of Photoshop, as lots of the students at work use it and it would be advisable if we were to support it in some way and at least have some knowledge of what was going on. Of course, this also meant that we had to get someone in to do the training in-house, as the training company we normally do, whilst they have qualified people, don't have the staff at their centres. Thankfully this was a good move, as the bloke we had was really good, and also very personable as well, why can't they all be like that?

We covered most of the basics and some advanced stuff in what's essentially a two day introductory course, explaining how the levels worked, how to adjust the contrast and colours, how to do the marquee tools to accurately get a selection, including a subtle use of the mask tool to select an area that you do or don't want to work with, and best of all for me, layers and how they actually and properly work. The explanation was spot on and the exercises we had were the right level of interaction so we could have a go ourselves and see just why we were able to do various things, and how often people touch the background layer and then wonder why they've affected the image.

A lot was covered and I felt at the end of the day like I had learned a considerable amount, and felt really motivated when I got home to be honest, such is life and all that. I of course had a few days' worth of diary entries to write, but that wasn't a problem, and also arranged a few things too as well whilst I was at it. But, I was excited a heck of a lot by the recent Kristin Hersh mailout with the news that my dearly beloved guitar heroine is doing some acoustic shows across the UK in late May. When I checked the dates, York is on Friday 22nd May, which means I could see that then and Morrissey the night after, whoa! Of course, as you can well imagine, I am chuffed to pieces and so I just need to convince someone to come with me to see Kristin :)

With that in mind, "Your Ghost" is tune of the day - I always remember being in a student bar in Birmingham back in 1994 hearing that for the first time and thinking "now this is a tune" and knowing it was Kristin made it all the more sweet for me of course, and then to hear her do it live on her solo tour? That was a double wow, let me tell you. It just makes me feel all giddy thinking about it...

Sunday 8th February - The End Of The Weekend

We all got up this morning, I did us croissants and coffee for breakfast, just in time to see The Championship on ITV1 so we were able to see the goals from yesterday's games, the Swansea win was impressive with some great goals and Doncaster did the business of course so that was good. We also then perused the way that you can buy stuff on the Wii (namely WiiWare and Virtual Console) and I even found out that if you downloaded a game once and then deleted it off the Wii's memory (I had of course backed it up to SD Card just in case of course) you could redownload it to the memory at any time, as the Wii Shop purchase had been remembered (I think it's tied to the unique serial number of the Wii in some way) so that was pretty good.

We even put on Super Smash Bros (the Gamecube version) and had a quick blast of it on the Wii in Gamecube mode, and that worked, followed by an online matchup in the Cue Sports: Snooker vs Billiards WiiWare game as well, and generally had a good giggle about the weekend before everyone set off for home about noon. I really didn't want the weekend to end really - it was such a great time had by me especially and I really appreciate the fact that The Wine In My Fridge is so cool about these things - she wanted me to enjoy myself and make the most of it and still allows me my independence, which is bloody ace, let me tell you. We're both good like that actually - we have our own lives as well as being happy bunnies together.

But seeing The Wine In My Fridge later in the day of course did make me one happy bunny. We had a leisurely afternoon with a couple of games of Scrabble and with the lovely music of Joey Ryan in the background (going to make "As It Must Be" tune of the day because it's utterly fabulous you know) and it was quite neat in that we both played some pretty good moves, and of course that meant it was a bit of thinking time required. After that and indeed a little bit of the TV Show Quiz on the Wii (complete with 70s disco adult movie music and Mii characters getting all funky on the wheel of misfortune!) we thought it would be nice to head out for tea.

We decided to head to the Bell House in Parrs Wood, two for one and all that which was to be ace. We both had the Sunday roast, and mine was with lamb, which although wasn't on the menu was kept on as a lot of the locals love lamb (me included) - that went down well as did the strawberrry shortcake cheesecake for dessert as well. The journey there wasn't without incident as an ambulance went to turn right into a road just as The Wine went past and it was pretty hairy to say the least, just thankful we got there safe and sound and that certainly was the case as the weather looked like it was heading for the worse, boo.

Back to mine and after three games of Wii Sports tennis (best of five) where I won the lot, despite The Wine almost whacking the fireplace with the remote (just trying too hard, hehe!) it was back to the more leisurely pursuit of Scrabble. There was a good game in there, not least as I happened to get rid of all seven tiles by playing ROTATES along the bottom of the board, with ER also being made too. This meant, as the R was on a double letter and the second T on triple word, that it was 3 for ER, 24 for ROTATES, and of course another 50 points for getting rid of all seven tiles in one go, making a move of 77 points. This obviously helped me to win that game, and I took a pic of the final scoreboard for posterity, which you can see in my Flickr gallery if you wish. Aren't board games great??

Saturday 7th February - Manc Weekender IV, Day Two

Woke up this morning at around 8am in true blues stylee and made sure that everything was all good to go for today. I knew that the overnight frost had made the ground look pretty cold and as the plan was to go and see some non-league football action today, we wanted to make sure that any of the games that we were going to go to were going to go ahead. After a quick check of the Internet via the Wii, we learned that Stalybridge's game against Blyth Spartans had been called off, and Droylsden wasn't far behind in their game, which realistically left Altrincham in the frame at that point in time.

We ended up having some sausage barmcakes for breakfast as well, which certainly set us up well for the day and watched Soccer AM to get us all in the mood for some footy later. It was hilarious as they did a send up of ITV's rubbish FA Cup coverage when they missed the goal and so no one got to see John Barnes do his baton twirling (but to be fair he did to the whole rap to "World in Motion" - tune of the day and still the best footy song ever) and the whole way the sketch was handled was completely ace. I agree with the Leeds fans at Histon - ITV, well they are a bit bobbins aren't they?

Before the first half of Manchester City - Middlesbrough came on, we checked Altrincham FC's website, which said that the game had passed the pitch inspection and that the game was most definitely on - so that was good. We therefore worked out that we could watch the first half of the City game, then leave and get the bus into town, tram into Altrincham and then watch the game there. So with that plan sorted, we settled in to watch the first half of City. It was Shay Given's debut in net and he kept the score at 0-0 with some saves and a half, whilst Stephen Ireland's header that hit the bar, plus a one on one not converted by Robinho in the first few minutes was the best that we did - but I had a feeling that we'd get better through the day and snatch the win, hopefully.

As planned, we set off, got the bus into town (making sure everyone had the all day bus and tram ticket, like you do) and then went on the tram to Altrincham. The tram got into Alty about 2.45pm meaning we had a nice brisk walk to get to the ground at five to three. And, as Frank Sidebottom sang, on Saturday at five to three, there is only one place to be - down at the Moss Lane football ground. Well, that is any Saturday except today. As we got close to the ground, one of the locals popped out of his front door and asked us if we were off to watch the game. It turned out that although the pitch inspection had been passed by the local referee in the morning, the match referee turned up and said that it wasn't safe to play on and so called the game off - just an hour or so before kick off! The signs around the ground confirmed it, and when we peeped through into the ground itself, we were absolutely gutted - the pitch looked in good playing condition and the local houses' gardens also looked green and lush and perfectly okay.

We headed to the local pub near the ground and I had a pint of Brewers Dark to set the tone. It looked like some fans had travelled all the way up from Eastbourne to find out the game was cancelled late on - if you were one of their fans, I felt sorry for them really. That was such a wasted day for them. I also felt gutted too cos I am sure they would have wanted to watch some exciting football, not to be. I was partially compensated by the fact my uncle had texted me the final score which was 1-0 to City, so that was good. We headed back to Altrincham and to the local Wetherspoons there for a late-ish lunch and also to keep our eye on the football, forgetting that the Six Nations rugger was on, so all the televisions had that on instead of Jeff Stelling. I did the WAP business though and so as two of us had the ham eggs and chips and the other two the sausage beans and chips, I was able to read out the football scores in the style of the BBC announcer. So... "Sunderland 2... Stoke City 0." made someone happy. Then it was to the Championship where Doncaster Rovers were at Blackpool. "Blackpool 2..." (my friend swore at this point).. "...Doncaster Rovers... 3!" (and he knew from the pitch of the voice something had happened, hehe!)

We headed on the tram back into Manchester and headed to Ra!n Bar for a nice pint in there (not least an excellent warm fire and some more Brewers Dark, hehe) and then on to The Waterhouse, where it was the Nutty Black for me followed by some rather nice Greene King (the Saltaire Blonde according to my friends was ace too) before heading out of town on the bus and on to the final stop, Sandbar, but not before doing acapella versions of Commodore 64 game tunes whilst waiting for the bus, including Ghosts and Goblins (including of course the classic drum beat when it kicks in, it's seminal stuff) and having a busking type giggle along with it as well.

Sandbar was pretty busy but the atmosphere was spot on, so we had some Cornish Coaster, Black Cat et al and eventually snagged a table in double quick time (in fact, the same one that we were at last time we were there, so that was pretty ace really.) I definitely thought that was an omen, and it was a case of chatting away and putting the world to rights whilst some good tunes played, more beer was consumed and we headed out of there in time to catch the bus back to mine and on to Topkapi for kebabs or pizza, and the staff were ace, even giving one of my friends a freebie - a can of Pepsi no less. Oh yes. We relaxed a bit and even had a blast at TV Show King again on the Wii before crashing out at around 1am. A great time had by all, let me tell you!

Friday 6th February - It's Manc Weekender IV, Day One!

Had the day off work today - and with good reason. I had arranged one of the weekends that I have with three of my good retro gaming friends, and as they all don't live so near, it's usually a time we can all sort out to get together, play some games, head out to see some football, and then have a few leisurely drinks et al. There's also usually a lot of good cameraderie and hilarious moments along the way that make it all work so really well, and I've known one of them as friends for some seventeen years now, so that has to say a lot. It's just a good mix of people, and as I have room here, I don't mind having them stay whatsoever.

So with that in mind, The Wine In My Fridge dropped me off at Tesco on her way to the second day of her course (I shall let her judge how useful she found it) and so I was able to get the necessary food in. I had a couple of brainwaves: namely to get some pizzas in to cook tonight, and enough barmcakes, sausages et al for Saturday's breakfast, along with croissants for Sunday morning. I also needed a few other items as well (mainly milk, bread, et al) and also picked up a good deal on some batteries - namely there was a pack of 8 Duracell Plus batteries with 8 free (so you got 16) for a mere £4.99 - just had to be done. That way I could put some in the Wii Remotes that The Wine lent me, and of course then have some left for the various clocks etc in the house too.

Got home, put shopping away, did the last of the cleaning in the house just to make sure everything was spick and span, washed all the towels and put a big bath towel on each of the spare beds I'd sorted out, plus a toothbrush if required, and on top of that made sure that the kitchen was all neat, rinsed the bathroom out and gave all in there a good going over. I even got a new toilet brush as the old one looked a bit minging and needed throwing away - which is exactly what I did. By noon I was pretty much all sorted out so it was just a case of sorting myself out with some lunch, whacking Sky Sports 1 on for the cricket for a bit and waiting for my friends to arrive here.

They all arrived between 5 and 6pm, and did well despite the traffic chaos that's normally Manchester on a Friday evening. We had coffee, and had a good natter about all sorts, with Sky Sports News in the background keeping us posted of developments too. It was good to be able to see everyone even at that point, and earlier in the day I had remembered that I needed also to make sure that I had enough loo roll (nothing worse than running out) especially as if anyone's like me, drinking too much coffee results in a visit to the loo - a wise move considering most of us were drinking that for most of the weekend (although of course not all, hehehe!).

So with us all settled in and nicely warmed up, it was time for me to whack on the pizzas - and they went down very well indeed. The posh one I got (ham, mushroom and mascarpone) went quick, but the spinach and ricotta, plus the four cheese, also did the business, and having three of them was just right. We had of course started on the beer by this point as well, as is the Friday night wont, and the Tribute I was having was going down very nicely and slowly to savour it, whilst my other two fellow real ale fans were supping the Hobgoblin and Fursty Ferret and loving that too, and the other one happy with the Stella as ever, so all was fine.

It was time then to have a blast on the Wii, first seeing a few hilarious Youtube clips, including one of a Japanese game show where the contestants watch a video to learn English, but the person reading/counting etc is really rubbish, and therefore making the contestants laugh. Of course if they laugh, they're out, so it's typically so Japanese humour, but hilarious all the same. Sort of like this:

Ho ho ho. Then it was on to the serious stuff of gaming. Oh yes. We're talking four player contests here folks, no messing. First up was all 9 holes of the golf event on Wii Sports. As anyone will tell you, the first three holes aren't too bad, especially if you use the island on the left on hole three, but the last three can be absolute pains in the backside if the wind goes the wrong way against you. Once we got one of us sussed out with the technique (three of us do have a Wii so know what's required) it was a case of then playing the nine holes and seeing where it got us.

Well, what a game it was. After three holes, two of us were in the joint lead on -2, and my friend then birdied the fourth to take the overall lead at -3, only then to bogey the par five fifth hole to go back to -2. At the sixth hole three of us birdied it including myself, so I was in the joint lead on -3 and then my friend was on -2. Considering my other friend had never played the golf before, he was doing pretty well on +11 - better than several people including myself have done on the first time they played the nine holes. So, all pretty much to play for with three holes left. I then parred the seventh, the two friends close to me bogeyed it, and +11 went down to +10 with a superb birdie.

The eighth par three hole is pretty tricky, and the wind was up, so any par was a decent score here to be honest. Three of us all close to the lead managed it with the other getting a double bogey five, which meant the tricky as hell last hole with its islands to come. It was a case of deciding which was the best way to go, and I went for the right island first and kept it left so it gave me a chance of at least getting over to the island with the green on, the others went left with varying degrees of success but they all got over. I whacked it just over (it hit the top of the front rocks and bounced over!!) and it landed not far from the green in two. Two others also got over and weren't in bad positions, so with the three leaders being -3, -2 and -1, it was still all to play for. As shots went on, +11 at the sixth eventually became +14 at the ninth with another double bogey, but we all had chances to nail it with a chip in. None of us did so, but my chip landed pretty close to the hole which meant a birdie was pretty certain - I sunk it and went to -4 which proved to be the winning shot. My two rivals parred the last, so it ended being me on -4, then -2, -1 and +14, so an enjoyable game all round really.

We also did a couple of games of the bowling too - I won both and hit a good score of 219 on the first game which to be fair was my second best of all time, so that would have been tough to beat even for me. My friends all got between 120-170 which were all decent scores though, and it was pretty close all round. Indeed on the second game it was only when I got two strikes in the sixth and seventh end that made the difference really. We then went on to TV Show King, which I downloaded as WiiWare from the Wii Shop (because the retail CD is £20, and 1000 Wii Points = £7, you do the maths!). It was great fun, especially answering the multiple choice questions, spinning the wheel of (mis)fortune and all being able to play at once. Of course, even better fun was of course that the music sounded like some 70s disco adult movie, and the freaky dancing of the Miis as contestants when the wheel was being spun. We ended up having a couple of 9 round games of that, pausing only for a trip to Topkapi for some kebabs for everyone except my good self.

Last but by no means least of course was World Games on the Commodore 64 - we save the best to last you know! As per usual, it was four player all eight event actions, and the barrel jumping was very close - only two barrels between first and third. I was last with a mere three barrels, which I made up for in the cliff diving and slalom skiing, and got a pretty good time in the latter to get close to my all time record. Log rolling was next and it was two player fun and frolics there, which I snatched on the last roll, then to the bull riding where three of us lasted the eight seconds, then the great fun of the caber toss and so on. I did win the tournament, but my friend came second and he was dead pleased, snatching it by a silver medal in the sumo right at the end, so well done him. Incidentally, I'll make the traditional tune "Highland Laddie" tune of the day, as there's a great version when you land the caber with the C64 doing bagpipes and everything!

We did one more final thing before heading to bed at 2.20am - to see who could get the lowest score on the cliff diving event at World Games. This of course meant being rubbish during the dive but actually landing it - of course FAULT doesn't count. After a few efforts, one of us had managed 11 and I thought that would be pretty good to beat until I then managed 3. Yes, 3. That's paltry. However the South Shields C64 player there wasn't to be denied and he was the first of the four of us to get zero. Yes, 0. Not fault, zero. The dive was done, it was landed legally, and zero came up on the scoreboard. Marvellous. We soon sussed the technique and all four of us ended up to manage getting the zero as well, so we proved that it could be done. What a marvellous end to a rather marvellous day!

Thursday 5th February - Life Is Full Of Nice Surprises

Had a bit of a mixed bag of a day today really. I spent most of the working day over in another department, and mainly helping to oversee the installation of something that I'm helping to test pilot out. Unfortunately, it looked like there wasn't much I could do in terms of how things were - the software wouldn't behave in terms of how it was written and there was also the fact that establishing a relevant link to a database meant the whole thing ran slow. I did pick up a few useful bits of information during the day though and it also gave me the chance to speak to a few of the central team to see how things were at their end. Sometimes you only see the picture from one angle and it was therefore rather advantageous for me to be able to see things differently as well in order to get at all sides.

The day passed by pretty quickly because of that and I had a nice surprise waiting for me when I got home, namely The Wine In My Fridge. She had been on a course at a hotel a few miles down the road from me, and rather than have her traipse across town to her place during the peak rush hour, I thought it'd be easier for her just to come to mine, we'd have something for tea and then relax and for her to stay at mine so that it was easier in the morning for the second day of the course - I guess there's a bit of consideration. So it was lovely to get off the bus, head round the corner to the Towers and see her there waiting. Awwww. Isn't life lovely?

We got in, I made us something to eat and we generally had a pretty relaxing evening. She also had managed to borrow some Gamecube controllers and games for me to use on the Wii over the weekend, along with a couple more Wii remotes so that I had four as well, which obviously makes life easier when playing the thing (normally of course two is enough, but there you go.) Of course, we just had to have a blast of Wii Sports later on, and she got considerably better at the tennis, even beating the computer opponent before taking me on and giving me a good run for the money as well. I guess having a bit of a practice particularly on the returning balls effort made sense, just to sense the timing and control I suppose. I definitely think that when it comes to Summer, we'll have to try real tennis and see what happens.

It was out with the Scrabble Deluxe later though, as you might expect, and it was a good couple of games all round really. I know full well she's getting better at the game and is using the two letter words more to make some nice and nifty moves too. I think it's definitely the key to winning: knowing when to play them and when to make use of the tiles to get you out of a tight spot. The Chinese life force that is qi comes in very very handy when you don't have a U tile, let me tell you. It's nice to see that she's really able to develop a bit more in terms of her play and give me some serious thought for moves of my own. I just need to convince her now that the blank tile is perhaps the most useful tile of all and not for her to draw a blank (see what I did there?) when playing some moves.

I decided that putting on some relaxing music during play always helps concentrate the mind too, so it was definitely a case of Seth Lakeman at first, but I also put on the "Going Underground" compilation later on, as it's got various late 70s and 80s tunes that we both like on CD1. Now as she's a Paul Weller fan, and because I also love the song too, it'd be rude of me not to have The Jam's classic "Going Underground" as tune of the day really, it's still mighty fine and has plenty of bite and spark along the way and definitely shows how much the Modfather has mellowed in his tunes over recent years. Darn, if The Jam reformed and did gigs, I know we'd both be there like a shot!!

Wednesday 4th February - All Set

Well, this weekend I'm having a few of my friends over, and I am really excited about that. We get together every so often and the menu usually involves retro gaming, real ale, football, and more of the above. I spent some time last night blowing up the two air beds so that they're ready, and also made sure that all the duvet and pillow covers were washed and cleaned up so that everything is pretty much there to go. In essence, once I've given upstairs a clean, all I need to do then is to put the air beds down with the covers etc on it, put the futon up, and ensure everything is ready. This usually does involve some thought and planning to make sure everyone can fit, but I have it nailed now.

It was a good day in the office today. I had spent some time last week getting a couple of PCs ready for use in one of our Embroidery rooms. They use a specialist piece of software that sets up designs for various sewing machines, so that when they do their work, they can simply get everything ready and let the machine do the work based on the design that they've created on this program. Now the program requires Windows XP and USB dongles, so it was a logical step to have an image ready with vanilla XP and just the software needed. I also located a HP Scanjet 7400c scanner which had been given back to us by a member of staff as they didn't use it any longer, and we felt it was best to replace a very very old SCSI scanner with the 7400c, especially as the other PC in the room had one of them attached. In essence, this meant the same software and the same hardware in both, making it much easier for me to image.

This afternoon was the allocated time for me to head to the room with the kit and get it all sorted. It went very smoothly, the USB dongle happily detected itself, the software ran, the printers were detected no problem and it was really smooth as silk all getting it to run. Sometimes these things just happen in a good way and I was glad that I was able to get it all sorted out, as was the member of staff too.

I also spent some time very early this morning (read late last night) getting some data off a laptop that I'd been dropped off with. The laptop didn't fire up whatsoever and a check of the insides to me suggested strongly that the internal motherboard had died. Thakfully, it was a case of being able to take the hard drive out of the laptop, attach it to my PC (it was a Serial ATA one so thankfully an easy task really) and then get the data off there to my PC so I could then transfer it to DVD. In fact, there were a total of 4 DVDs and a CD required for the task, which was a pretty good result all round - looked like lots of music, pictures and documents, the usual sort of thing that most users have. It also goes to show though how much people take their data for granted I think too - sometimes you need to make sure you backup regularly. Backup, backup, backup!

As for tune of the day, Philip Glass' version of "Heroes" wins this one, because of the fact when I fix something IT and get on top of a situation, I feel a bit like a hero and that someone will regard me highly for doing what for them would seem quite a complex task in hand. I was just pleased to be able to do a few things today to prove that there was life in the old dog yet. And talking of that, just got the tickets for Duke Special at Academy 3 in April. Can't wait!!

Tuesday 3rd February - Already Gone To Handover To Sunshine

Well, whilst some parts of the country are seeing another day of the white stuff with the usual traffic chaos, schools closed and flights cancelled, here in Manchester there's nothing like that. Almost all of the snow has gone, there's the odd icy patch on the road where a puddle has frozen over, and there's also the occasional bulk of a snowman left, but that's about it. Nothing else whatsoever. Nada. Which does make me wonder exactly what all the fuss was about in the first place, but, hey ho, these things happen don't they?

I had a nice relaxing evening with The Cover Of My Duvet tonight - after all the gigging etc that we've recently been to, I felt it was a good idea to have a relatively relaxing time of it. I made us some peri peri chicken with some lemon and coriander cous cous, thinking that the latter ingredient would at least make the first one more palatable - and I was right. Yaay me. That went down ever so well, and coupled with a nice warming cup of coffee, the job was a good one.

Ended up having a couple of games of Scrabble de Luxe whilst listening first to some Seth Lakeman and then to Julie Atherton - the one who plays Kate Monster in Avenue Q. I was surprised again to hear just how good Julie's album was and certainly The Cover agreed with me - her voice was in fine fettle and it makes a nice relaxed change from some of the really hard Industrial stuff that yours truly occasionally listens to. Anyway, "Somebody's Falling" is really really nice, so there. It's tune of the day as it has plenty of nice words about how it can be easy to fall, especially in love, and how hard it can be to walk away. It's all wrapped up sweetly enough, so there you go.

As for the Scrabble, I was on pretty good form. In fact, I got rid of all my letters in one go, which was rather ace, by playing HANDOVER with the word straddling a double word, and scored a massive 82 for the privelege (the R was on a double letter). This was after playing SHOWN (h on double letter, n on triple word) together with another word ending in S to make a pretty good 54 points. In fact I scored my highest for some time - 490! In the second game, I did play JINX (blank used as n) on triple word near the end of the game to score 51, which was quite good as well. Sometimes it's a case of making use of what's on the board and actually giving it a go there. Indeed, The Cover is improving and playing some good moves as well, which is a definite plus!

Monday 2nd February - Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Woke up this morning, blues song fashion, to see a pretty thick dusting of the white stuff pretty much everywhere. I had a feeling that it was going to be pretty busy no matter where I went in terms of the snow and ice, so prepared myself as best I could for the weather conditions and set off to work a little earlier than I'd usually do. It wasn't that slippy underfoot as the snow had settled slightly and it was more that nice crunching sound as I walked to the bus stop. The bus itself was delayed but at least the main roads had been gritted, and even if the bus was being a bit slower than usual to be safe, I arrived in work pretty much on time, and was the first in. My other colleagues spoke of it taking a bit slower, and one of them got stuck behind a series of road accidents coming in, and he had the shortest journey in out of all of us!

I got quite a bit done today. I was meaning to compile a couple of DVDs full of laptop drivers and necessary utilities and ended up doing one for the Toshiba ones and one for the Samsung ones - the idea being that it covered all the usual ones we'd get, and if we needed any drivers installing then we would be able to get them off the DVD and crack on with it. Certainly for some of the Toshiba laptops you normally have to install the Common Files, then the Controls, the Utilities, the Hotkeys and the Config Free stuff as well as the drivers to make all the function keys work etc - particularly if the laptop concerned has Bluetooth and Wireless.

I also in the afternoon had the meeting for the project, and on the way back to the office popped by to see one of our lecturers and also sorted out their new printer as well, which wasn't that difficult to set up. Thankfully a lot of the ones we get tend to be the HP Deskjet 6940 so driver install etc is a doddle, it really is. The hard drive for the laptop I was fixing also arrived, so I was able to install that, image the laptop and get it to a point of adding all the new stuff we needed to add. The good thing was that I had an image from last year as a start point which of course had all the custom stuff on, so I just then needed to add bits on top, and the job is a good one.

Went via my Mum's to my sister's, as it was her birthday today, so I dropped her off a card with some money in it (no one knew what to get her, so it was the easiest thing to do to be honest). It was good to see her and her son and ended up playing a bit of hide and seek with him to keep him occupied, and also chatted to several of the family as well, which was nice. I got a lift back home later, and after I'd had my tea, it was time to put a little plan into action: namely cash in all my cash at the Coinstar machine in Asda, and see what I had and what I could put it towards!

I left and got the bus to Asda, which came pretty much straight away. I got into Asda and thankfully the Coinstar machine was working. Even though it does take around 7p in the pound out of what you put in, at least that way you don't have to faff around going to the bank during work hours with a shedload of change, and indeed you can use as it money off in Asda the same day. Before I put the money in the machine, I checked that the item I was after was in stock (as you have to use the voucher same day you see) and then simply emptied all the change into the tray and gradually slid it in. I didn't realise quite how much change I had and even after the commission take, I had a nice sum of £5.36. Yaay! That worked out well. So it was to the CDs and games section and to pick up a second nunchuck for the Wii. Asds had it for £14.69, pretty cheap that, and so in essence it cost me £9.33 with the voucher off, so at least all those pennies came to good use in the end. Tested that when I got home, smashed my own regional record for the washing machine throw on Guiness World Records, and all was well with the world.

As for tune of the day, it was an easy decision really. Considering all the dusting of the white stuff everywhere, only one song came to mind. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" was ironically written in the middle of Summer in one of the hottest days in California (I kid you not), but nonetheless it captures the essence of Winter nicely (even if you tend to hear it more around Christmas). I'm going to give the Frank Sinatra version the nod, because it seems like the definitive one to me, although I also do have a nice rendition by Vonda Shepard that also lovely too. Well, as they say, the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful and that's where I'm heading...

Sunday 1st February - Here Comes The Snow..

Looks like the snow is coming, and then some today. I woke up pretty late after having a well deserved lie-in, which by rights should be what Sunday mornings is all about (unless of course you're heading to the local car boot sale, by which case you'll have been up since around 4am anyway). I can't do with getting up too early, Sundays should be for reading the paper or taking this easy, or there's certainly better things to do (or you'd hope that there would be anyway). Myself and The Flake In My Snow was going to meet up with a couple of friends for lunch, but one of them was a bit poorly and so had to cancel - hope he ends up being okay. At least we knew earlier in the day so there was a different plan for the day.

Instead, I thought it'd be sensible (seeing as The Flake was in her car) to get down to Asda and get all the beer in that'll be consumed over next weekend when three of my friends come down. It's usually a Friday night in with retro gaming and beer, enhanced of course this year by the Wii and the ability to play Summer Games II (the C64 version no less of course) on there as well. Two of my friends are real ale diehards, and with the local Asda having a good beer offer on for real ale lovers, it was a case of stocking up, so it was a selection of Black Sheep, Deuchars IPA, Fursty Ferret, Hobgoblin and, of course, Tribute. Yaay. My other friend who's coming is a bit of a Stella fan, and there was a good deal on that too, so it didn't work out that expensive either. I also noted that there's one of those Coinstar machines, which means that all that loose change I have in a jar could be converted at some point - and I had an idea regarding that.

We headed back to mine afterwards and spent the afternoon with the lovely music of Duke Special on, notably his second album, whilst playing Scrabble de Luxe. It worked out nicely as it meant we could both stretch the brain power a bit over coffee and the vanilla panna cotta which was our little treat dessert after lunch (cos we can). The panna cotta, whilst not up to Felicini standards, was very very nice and certainly Asda did themselves proud with that one. Listening to the Duke Special album was excellent though, and "Sweet Sweet Kisses" reminded us both of last Sunday's gig - so certainly tune of the day there.

As we played Scrabble, we couldn't help notice that the snow was coming down and in a reasonable amount too. It was definitely a case of the weather coming in and looking like it was doing its hardest to settle. I had a feeling that it would be a case of seeing how it went overnight and whether it would actually stick to the ground or not, but nonetheless a definite case of thinking it might be fun and games tomorrow on the roads and all that. Mind you, I had other things to worry about - a meeting tomorrow with regards to the project I'm helping with at work, and also seeing who City would get in the transfer window, if anyone. At least we'd had a nice relaxing Sunday together which would bode well. Hurrah!