Dear Diary... January 2005

Monday 31st January - Upheaval City

Well, the weekend was all about upheaval as the bathroom began its next stage of the transformation. The new wooden ceiling was in, I'd painted everywhere, and I roped in help from various members of the family as they changed the bathroom suite over. Out went the green avocado number that had served me well previously for the last two and a half years or so, and in went (finally) the B&Q Azure suite, it's quite nice for the money with a shell like effect at the end of the bath, the front of the sink and the toilet seat. Plus also it looks quite classy and brightens up the room no end.

Mostly it went according to plan, although the sink proved a little troublesome to fix to the wall, but they got there in the end. And the toilet was giving them a little problem with a tiny leak, however that's now pretty much sorted. I had my first bath in the new bath today and that was quite nice, although the only snag is that it narrows in the middle so having a lie down flat isn't as easy as previously. Not that it matters though - as also my uncle very kindly put in all the electrical wiring for the shower to go in (with a big help from his son who very kindly crawled under the floorboards to help route the cable the right way - from the meter downstairs to the understairs cupboard, up the stairs and under the floorboards and into the bathroom, with a switch on the outside of the room to make sure that it was health and safety compliant. The switch turns on the shower so I can just put it on when I need to. Yaay. My dad's going to pop round in the week and get the tiling done too, so then the shower can be plumbed in, connected to the electricity and then turned on at some point. Must admit I can't wait, it's one thing I've really missed in the house and it'll be good to get it in there. Plus it helps value the house a bit more.

Talking of which, my next door neighbour told me yesterday she's putting up the place for sale. Her reasoning why was very fair, and under the same circumstances I'd probably do the same thing to be honest. What I didn't expect was how much the estate agent had valued the house at - let's put it like this, I think I moved at the right time before the house prices started shooting through the roof. Admittedly though her kitchen is very nicely done, and I know full well it's a really lovely one - extended out all the way along the back which is totally gorgeous and nice indeed. If it wasn't so expensive for a builder to come and do the work, I'd probably have the same done to be honest, but there you go. In any case, it's only given me an incentive to make sure that I make the place as nice as possible for the same reasons. Amazing how much prices have gone up though - and that is a master stroke of understatement.

Thursday 27th January - I Can't Get Behind That

Well, Sunday night turned out to be a blast and a half. Henry Rollins was completely awesome, doing close to three hours and talking about all sorts of stuff. A fair bit of it was hilarious too, when he was describing how he ended up at the premiere of Kill Bill, and when asked by the media why he was here, he said "free food!" which is what a fair number of us would do. There was also a hilarious recollection of how he ended up guesting on the William Shatner album and doing a track with him, I Can't Get Behind That - and believe me, it's one of the most loony bonkers things you'll ever listen to as they both rant about stuff that really bugs them with Adrian Belew's excellent guitar playing in the background. Surreal, but definitely well worth a listen.

Throughout the three hours he referenced what was going on in the world, how he took some time out around Manchester on the Saturday and spotted the slappers (although he probably didn't know they were called that) as well as hung out for a bit around the record stores. Damn, he was probably in Vinyl Exchange while I was on the train to Birmingham - d'oh! He also spoke at length about being in Iraq and Afghanistan as he entertained the troops and stuff, and also demonstrated quite eloquently what a complete ass George Bush is, and how to deal with telemarketing people, which had everyone in stitches at the Lowry. Best of all though was that there was a DVD on sale, called Shock And Awe - The Tour. It isn't actually released until the 28th February, so those who caught the tour got an early exclusive. And very nice it is too - lots of stuff from the tour and also an audio CD with most of the stuff off the DVD - nifty. Suffice to say that'll bring back memories of me being at the gig and really enjoying every minute of the time he was on there. If he tours your town - you must go. It's as simple as that.

Anyway the week has been a mixed bag for me of being very busy doing all sorts of little jobs and getting them out of the way. It's also been a time to reflect slightly on the manic month already and realise that post-Christmas you just don't stop as there's so much to do in so little time. Strange, but true. Like for example today I was covering for one of my colleagues who was off in our Help Desk, and as I used to do that job it's an interesting insight into how things haven't changed, and how students ask the same questions as they used to. A couple of interesting quandries today though:one of them had an image attachment that wouldn't print, and after manipulating it in Photoshop, I could see why. Although the image was a jpeg image, it was set at a mere 400dpi. Once I knocked that down to a reasonable resolution it worked fine first go and the student was really happy. The other was that the student was asking me why all their images weren't printing correctly, and by mistake they'd sent them as greyscale to a colour printer. Oops! Happens to us all though.

Sunday 23rd January - The Return of the Incredible PWEI

Well, the wait was finally over for me on Saturday night, and believe me, the wait was so worth it! Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI) rocked the Carling Academy Birmingham, big time. And later on tonight I still have the excellent Henry Rollins doing his spoken word thing. Yaay!

Anyway, back to Saturday and after finding out the train I'd reserved a seat on to Birmingham was cancelled due to an accident early in the day, so I had to get the staff in Manchester Piccadilly validate my ticket for the next train, and just pile on that one. And I did, although the buffet carriage was closed due to Manchester City's visit to West Brom later in the day. I thought it'd be a good idea to sit in the quiet coach, as people are not supposed to use personal stereos or mobile phones in there. I get to Stockport, and what does someone do? Use their mobile. Like, hello? I want a bit of piece and quiet, not some annoying woman going "I'm on the train!". Wouldn't mind, but even the train announcer mentions that it's a quiet coach too. So no excuses.

Got into Birmingham and had some time to kill, so I grabbed a nice baguette before heading to the Premier Travel Inn (as they're now called these days since the merger with Premier Lodge) and checking in. After the football scores were flashing up bad news all round, I headed into the centre of Birmingham - and it's changed a lot since I last went there a couple of years back. The Bull Ring Centre is now a heck of a lot nicer than it used to be, and it's all glass everywhere with lots of natural light involved, and plenty of shops and places to eat, along with a rather odd design to go with it, but it seems to work anyway. Only snag is that if you're in one side of the upper level and you want to get to the other side, there's no walkway over the pedestrianised street - you have to go down, walk across, and then up again. How odd.

With the time approaching around 5-30 it was time for me to head to Pizza Hut and munch some tea - usual stuff of Potato Skins and then a ham and mushroom pizza with barbecue sauce. A walk around the corner from New Street, and I was soon walking down Dale End to the Birmingham Carling Academy for the gig. It's a weird place though, you go in and you're at the balcony level, which is good for the non-moshers as they can stand there and watch while the diehards (like me) go downstairs and head for the floor area where merchandise was on sale as well as a bar packed with too many people and far too many bar staff. As I didn't fancy a repeat of the two hours waiting time for a drink that I endured at Cardiff Milennium Stadium a few years back, I just decided to wait till after the gig to get something. The place started to fill, the atmosphere started to build, and my grey long sleeved PWEI skateboarder t-shirt worn with pride Despite the freezing weather outside, these sort of venues tend to get quite hot and sweaty..

And after support act Stateless (from Stourbridge, too) had done their thing, it was left to PWEI to start their stuff off, and sure enough around 8-20pm, the lights dim and the Jimmy Swaggart speech that is The Incredible PWEI vs the Moral Majority kicks in with the band on stage. Bizarrely, Clint has a winter jacket on and looked quite bearded - almost going for a KLF style look. Graham still had the same hair cut we all remembered him for at his prime, and Adam's hat, that was typically Adam. Richard looked a fair bit older but could still cut it on the guitar and they even had Fuzz banging the drums (live, too!) and it made for a darned good set all told.

On they come then with Preaching to the Perverted, just to get everyone in the mood, then Wise Up Sucker. My fave PWEI song? This early on? Wow :) But they weren't done there, constantly urging the crowd to go for it and go mental more (and believe me, they were, even by the mixing desk it was pogo city) partcularly during the intro of Kick to Kill, where Clint said "let's do a slow one.." and then when the drums started.. "ah, f**k it!" and just went for it. Even many old album tracks were played too, so we got the likes of Not Now James, We're Busy, Wake Up! Time To Die, and the real old favourite There Is No Love Between Us Anymore, which had everyone bouncing around like a loony. And why the hell not?

Nothing though could prepare me for what came later on though: Their Law. I know what you're thinking - isn't that a Prodigy song? Well, it is, but if you ask me, PWEI deserve more than a 50/50 credit for that song, they showed just why last night. Adding lyrics to it and showing how much we need to resist control everywhere, they hammered into it full pelt with rocking guitars, everyone chucking v-signs in the air and bellowing out "f***k them and their law", really a moment where you could feel the atmosphere and the vibe around the place - one of togetherness and happiness at the same time. Not since Morrissey at Manchester Evening News Arena have I seen that. And Bulletproof rounded off things nicely before they went off stage. Is everybody happy? they bellowed out. I think "yes" would have been an understatement.

Weren't finished there though as they belted out two encores, and really saved some classics for then - including, of all things, Beaver Patrol. That went down a storm and everyone really absolutely went mental to that one - and it's the first time I've ever seen them do that one live. Not just that - really early stuff like Oh Grebo I Think I Love You had the band mentioning "this is some new stuff" in jest. And a second encore of Dance of the Mad Bastards, Urban Futuristic and Karmadrome really was just too much to take - I was knackered by the end of that. But I didn't care one bit because PWEI were not only back, but they were bloody brilliant to go with it. The atmosphere was superb, the people everywhere were friendly and nice at the gig, and the band really went for it. I picked up a PWEI Product black mug after the gig, and also the live CD of the gig. You see, a new idea Carling venues are doing is that you can pick up the live album of the concert you've been to for £15 for a double CD, so you have it there as a special memory. So, 15 minutes after the gig, you headed to Bar Academy next door and there was the gig on 2-CDs. I tried it today and it seems not too bad at all in terms of sound quality either. Well worth a bash.

As I headed back on the train today all I could think about was wishing that Rollins tonight didn't clash with the second night at Birmingham so I could go to that and see them again - that's how good it was. Still, the CD will just bring back the memories for me eh?

Sunday 16th January - The Return of the Superstars

Well, a week or so since I last wrote an entry and quite a bit has happened. Sunday January 16th was a day of note though, as it was my sister's birthday. She ended up with money off everyone so she can go and get herself some maternity wear, a good idea and it also means she can get something she actually likes. I guess as well because of the birthday being so near to Christmas you're never sure what to get someone. And once I'd been round to see her for a while, it was back home, set the video, make myself a drink and settle down to watch the return of Superstars. And I was not disappointed, not one bit.

The Masters competition proved too that the old'uns can still cut it big time. For example, witness Jonathan Davies' 91 arm dips - only nine off Brian Jacks' all time record. And indeed some of the other competitors' combined totals would have been pushing the top three in last year's final, which goes to show how much they still want to win. Not only were they all competitive, but also really enjoying themselves at the same time - the cameraderie was top notch and really showed mutual respect for each other. Some of the events, like the shot put, are even new ones, and the tweaks to the existing events make it worth while, although I can see a few re-runs of the kayaking if Sunday's performance was anything to go by! More head to head in the gym tests and other events also meant real competitiveness coming out, and with Paul Dickenson alone doing the commentary without background music or Johnny Vaughan, there's more actual action too. Result! Now we just have to see what happens to Du'aine Ladejo in Heat One of the Men's Event this Sunday. I'm half thinking he might just win.

Work's been fairly busy too with plenty of students coming back and having hand-ins to do, and it's been quite hectic. I've managed to do a fair bit myself, and it always gives you that sense of satisfaction knowing that Friday's around the corner and most of things you've needed to do have been done. A lot of the time it's simple requests and you can do them there and then, some others needed a bit of research and donkey work before getting the result you're after. It happens like that sometimes.

I also ordered myself some blank DVD discs for my PC - I've been transferring a lot of footage from my old video tapes onto DVD, some from the television programmes I used to like, and some from the family from their old VHS camcorder tapes too. Realising I needed a stack of blanks, I took note of an offer on the Big Pockets website (offer doesn't run anymore incidentally) where you got 100 Datawrite 4x DVD-R discs for just £15-99 including free delivery. Not bad, I thought, and promptly did the order online. When the discs arrived by courier (!) it was four tubs of 25, sensible enough. However, three were the 4x ones (and the V3 red versions which are much more reliable!) but one tub was a load of 8x printable ones - where the dye's a top grade also. Most most excellent stuff. I must admit that was a rather nice surprise, actually.

So what else then? Well, it's a busy weekend for me as I'm off to Birmingham on Saturday to see Pop Will Eat Itself play live (first time in nine years, I'm unbelievably excited I can tell you!) and then the day after back in Manchester it's off to the Lowry Centre to see Henry Rollins do his spoken word stuff. If it's half as good as his stint at Manchester Academy last time out then I'm definitely in for a treat big time. One thing's for sure - with plenty of PWEI disciples hitting the midlands on Saturday, I'm sure fellow fans will spot me as most likely I'll be in the classic grey long sleeved PWEI skateboarder t-shirt, ready to go completely mental. The back catalogue has been fairly hammered this week, as you might have guessed. So many classics, and so many memories of their previous live concerts I've been to. Come on!

Thursday 13th January - Back To The Grind

Well it's back to the daily grind of work after a nice and relaxing Christmas break, even with the flu bug, the remnants of which I'm just about shaking off at the moment. Certainly I've felt a lot better in the last couple of days and that can only make me feel really on the up and up. And hell do I need it after Man City's disastrous performance at the weekend against Oldham in the FA Cup. Somehow I just knew after our performance at Arsenal to get a well-earned 1-1 draw somehow it'd come apart for us. Ah well. Time for the old "concentrate on the league" spiel and hoping for winning ways against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Well, we shall see.

On Saturday my age old Canon BJC-250 bubble jet printer decided to throw a wobbler and run out of ink, and also reject the colour cartridge I'd put in to try and print from it. Considering I'd owned this printer for some seven years or so, I did get pretty good life out of it. But it was time for me to think of something else. In truth I hardly ever print in colour, and if I do, there's places I can get that done. Also, if I need to print any photos off, I can easily take them down to Boots and use that kiosk thingy to do it - it works pretty well. Most of the time they're on the PC stored there for whenever I've needed to use them. And I guess with me being able to link the camera up to the television now, I can just do a slideshow whenever I like - easy peasy lemon squeezy and all that.

So with all that in mind, I thought a nice compact laser printer would do the job. Not least because if I do decide to start writing again, I can have it printed out nice and neatly and with minimum effort. Part of me thought to part with around £50 for a Samsung one on offer in Currys, but I then realised that if they were as unweildy to install as the previous model at work, then it was a bit of a no-go. I thought to myself to stick with HP as they work effortlessly at work, and they're pretty reliable too - and a quick visit to Micro Direct later and there I was on my way home with a nice new Laserjet 1010 - a steal at around £85. One word of note: often these days you don't get a printer cable, so make sure you get the appropriate one. In my case it was a USB2 cable, as the printer and my PC both talk USB2 quite happily. Took it home, installed it with the drivers no problem, and within around two minutes of setting up, I was printing all sorts of stuff. Now that's how it should be, eh?

I also have been fairly busy at work with one thing or another - not least due to lots of people handing in their dissertations this week, and panicking as you do about how it should look. It's fair to say that when people assume they can use Word with around 300 insterted images and have the whole file stored on a floppy disk. Hmm.. Somehow I just don't think that'll work, especially if you're copying and pasting images from Photoshop, eh? Still, I think in a lot of ways it helps you understand just how a lot of pieces of software could be more user-friendly and how they should interact more so that the beginner as well as the expert can do stuff.

Friday 7th January - Cleaning Out My Wardrobe

Well, with me being so bunged up and everything, I decided what I really needed was more wardrobe space and to actually get rid of some of my wardrobe that I didn't actually need anymore. I've got so much stuff and in truth I don't get to wear some of it, mainly because it's clothes that either don't fit me anymore, or I've grown out of them in terms of style and so on. After filling almost three black plastic liners full of clothes, I started to think what I could do with them to benefit others rather than just throw them away - and the BBC TV show Blue Peter's appeal had just the answer - the Red Cross were collecting bags of clothes to sell on and raise money to help families in Angola reunite after the long war there left many families parted. A very just cause, and something other than the tsunami which is filling the media day in day out (and of course I've already donated to). So it was a case of find the nearest Red Cross branch (Chorlton, as it turned out), give them a ring and check if they were still collecting, and go down there with the bags of stuff. I bet on the bus and in Chorlton itself people probably thought I was quite weird carrying full black plastic liners around, but I'm sure that someone will find the contents useful, plus it also helped me a lot too to recycle stuff.

So with the extra space I had a cunning idea - put two rails in instead of one - and after a chat with my uncle, he suggested just the job - pull the old rail out and then put two new ones in. And now they're in one of the wardrobes (he's doing the other one tonight for me) it looks tons better in terms of having space to put stuff in, which is after all what counts, isn't it? So overall I feel pretty pleased with myself as I managed to gain space twofold. Plus as well once I get everything together in the bedroom in terms of another bedside cabinet, it'll immeidately look much more snug and comfortable, which is going to be quite nice isn't it? All I need to do now at some point is start to think about a way to put a Freeview tuner into the PC so I can directly record off it (perfect for DVD production eh?), and now there's an aerial in the bedroom I might just have a cunning plan.

Wednesday 5th January - New Year, Same Old Feelings

Well 2005 arrived with a whimper really, every celebration seemed somewhat muted after the tragic events in Asia over the last week or so. What moved me today was the three minute silence at 12 noon in the UK - and how everyone stopped, no matter who they were, what religion they belonged to and so on. It says a lot about the good nature of people in the whole of Europe as countries stood still to hope for something like this never to happen again - and for such disasters to be avoided as much as possible in the future.

On a personal note, I've started the new year a little bit like the end of the last - with a slight flu bug. I was okay until around the 3rd but started to have some tell tale signals that all was not so well at the Towers, such as a slightly sore throat and difficulty breathing through the nose. As the week has progressed it's turned into more of a flu that I just wish would shift, I feel bunged up and horrible inside really. Even munching some food and taking some orange juice on board hasn't quite yet helped, although I hope the medicine I usually take for these symptoms can try to shift the crap out of my body. Not exactly how I wanted to spend a well earned week off work, but there you go.

One thing I did try to do today was avoid daytime television wherever possible as it saps the soul so much - especially Trisha. It's just awful. Don't watch it, and if you have to, just think how sad these people are having to go on television to get some talk show host try and solve their problems when the world has much bigger problems to face right now. And I do think we have to bear that one in mind. Even the promise of lots of coverage of World Darts in the afternoon wasn't quite enough to wake me up from the slumber - it was all games that I'd watched the night before on the interactive service (excellent, as usual) with the slight pause to turn over to Sky Sports News every five minutes to see City pull of a superb result at Arsenal. And no dodgy goalkeeping errors here leading to disallowed goals that should never have been, either.

One other enemy of mine at the moment is the ubiquitous flat pack furniture. I thought it'd be a nice idea to get myself a nice little bedside cabinet to fit in the corner of the bedroom, and after scouting for one the right size, I came across it at Index for a good price, reserved it online and went in there the next day to get it. Here's where Index fell down a bit - the reservation number given to me was only five digits - the store expected six. And no confirmation email of the reservation either. Clearly they need to keep up with Argos a bit here. Anyway, got the package home, and the instructions were terrible to say the least. Each piece of wood was supposed to have a number on it - nope, nothing there. And although most of the holes had been drilled in the right place, the ones for the bottom piece of wood as support weren't at all - which meant you had to screw them in manually - which meant lots of hassle. Bah! Still, it's done now and at least it looks the part - but I really now need a second one to go on the other side of the bed. Don't fancy my chances of having to do it twice so I might need some help with it.

And I've even found time to build up a PC rig. Well, all the old parts from my old PC were now there as separate parts, and with a case that my friend kindly gave me that was surplus to their requirements, I set about the task and on and off over a couple of days built up the rig. No monitor of course, as I'm still using that, but as quite a few people these days have LCD television sets which accept a PC monitor input, it's not that much of a problem as I'd first thought it might be. It all works well now, and I'm sure it'll give someone years of happiness like I did before my upgrade to the new rig that I've done.