Dear Diary... January 2009

Saturday 31st January - The Oldest Guitarist In Town

A day of two halves, as they say. First off, I spent a fair bit of this afternoon watching the Manchester City game at Stoke, and had my uncle and his son round with me to watch the game on Sky. By the end it was shouting and screaming for something to happen, but to be honest, it upset me. Most of the players looked like that they couldn't be bothered whatsoever and were quite happy to put in less then 50% of the performance that they should do. What was even worse was that we had the advantage when Rory Delap was correctly sent off for violent conduct and Stoke went down to ten men, but not only did they score right on half time, but also held on to their lead pretty easily for the rest of the game as well.

Worst offender by a mile for sitting on his backside most of the time was Robinho - he didn't look that bothered and shrugged the shoulders a lot of the time. There were a lot of other players who weren't far behind him in the lack of trying department and it frustrated me a heck of a lot that there were so many spineless performances out there. Something needs to be sorted out and I don't know what it is, but certainly there's a feeling that Mark Hughes tactically got it badly wrong yesterday and I still am not sure if he's the right man for the job.

Mind you, it was much more relaxed later in the day, as The Milk In My Milkshake and I were heading out, first into the city centre for something to eat, and then off to Bury Met to see The Durutti Column - which would be the first time I'd seen the band in quite a few years to say the least. We decided that it would be easier to eat in town because although there is that Automatic bar next to the Met itself, I wasn't quite sure if it was necessary the place we wanted to go - plus we had a couple of options to get money off places in town and therefore keep the cost down as well.

In the end, we headed to Wagamama in Spinningfields - it never seems as busy as the one in the Printworks complex, it's much more relaxed and the staff seem to be more attentive, and less idiots in there as well. We both in the end went for the chicken katsu curry with some duck gyoza on the side, and followed that up with my usual dessert of coconut reika (it's the law now) and The Milk had this really nice pavlova with chilli and tamarind that definitely hit the spot in a good way. The katsu curry was also spot on as well and it was good to see that it was the usually good solid meal at Wagamama, hence why we tend to go quite a bit.

Off on the tram to Bury then and into the Met. We got there around 7.45pm as the gig was due to start at 8pm, but there was a notice upstairs to say that The Durutti Column would be on stage at 9pm. Thankfully there was an upstairs bar close to the main hall, so we stayed there for a bit and had a good chat and a drink. In fact I noticed The Durutti Column's Bruce Mitchell having a chat and a laugh with several people - he may have aged a bit now but I am sure that he can still knock the socks off most percussionists, as I was to find out later on. The doors were opened around 8.45pm into the main hall, so it was a case of get in and hopefully get close to the front. Thankfully, it wasn't that full so it was easy to get somewhere to be able to see.

The place has memories of times gone by: it used to be called The Derby Hall, and it was here in 1980 that one of the most infamous Joy Division gigs took place. Ian Curtis was too ill to perform and his vocals were sung by other singers, which didn't go down too well with some of the crowd and by the end of the gig it turned into a complete ruckus. Well, none of that tonight, it was much more mellow and chilled out and it was almost a small but appreciative audience by the time The Durutti Column (official site) hit the stage.

It's very much a case of love or loathe the band, and to be honest, I don't think The Milk necessarily found it her cup of tea, but I appreciated her making the effort to come and listen anyway. What I did get though was a nice mixed set - first off a couple of nice instrumentals along with Poppy on the keyboards doing her thing, then on came Bruce Mitchell along with Keir Stewart on bass, and it was a case of on some songs playing a slightly extended version of the original tracks, so we got a lengthy workout of the lovely "Jacqueline", a lengthy "Otis" complete with samples a plenty, the really morose "The Missing Boy" and stuff like that, which all blended nicely with the surroundings and indeed the guitar playing of Vini Reilly was just great.

The time went by too quickly for me and soon everyone went off, but Vini came back on for one more and did a really nice almost unplugged version of "Tomorrow". I'm going to make that tune of the day because it's just one of those songs which stick in your mind and you can't help but have it there till you hum or sing it. I certainly felt that and those who asked for it I think appreciated his guitar work once again. It was around 10.20pm when the gig finished so it was a case of heading back on the tram to Manchester and then the bus home, but fully rewarded with a nice night out. Roll on the new month!

Friday 30th January - And Keep Mrs Honeyman Right Out Of Sight..

After a fairly hard week at work, which today included the replacement of a PC base unit that was faulty (thankfully I had one reimaged that was pretty much the same and ready to go, so that's progress at least) it was good to head home and get a few things sorted. I needed to clean up the house first and so had the trusty Dyson out to clean everywhere, then it was off to Tesco to do the usual food shopping - that worked out well as it was pretty much in and out quite quickly without too much hassle. Once that was done it was then a case of getting a few other things done before heading on the bus to Manchester Academy 1, where I was fulfilling an ambition of mine by seeing Half Man Half Biscuit live. I've always respected their work and it would be interesting to see how many would come along.

I got there just as the first act started, who were Bushart (myspace) who weren't too bad at all. They seemed to produce quite lengthy rocky numbers, which is either your thing or it isn't. The lead vocalist was okay and he seemed to have a bit of the Manc attitude about him, which seemed to do the right thing. They got a good reception from the crowd, and deservedly so, they put a lot of effort in and didn't muck about either, proper good old fashioned rock with no bull, the sort of thing I like. If anything, they should have been the main support, because the next act were a complete crock of crap. The less I write about Calvin Party (myspace) the better. They were rubbish. The lead singer had a severe attitude problem and they often sounded out of tune. End of.

That left a sour taste in the mouth, only sweetened that half way through their set, the couple from Runcorn whom had been stood with us Sunday for Duke Special spotted me and said hello. We had a good natter about the gig on Sunday and how great it was, and what was coming up. I think we were all excited about seeing the Duke again end of April, and of course in different cities seeing Morrissey. It was good to see them again and it's always nice when there's like minded people who enjoy what you do when you go to a gig and make the most of it.

Even worse, Calvin Party had bloody overrun (selfish gets!) which meant Half Man Half Biscuit (official site) (myspace) didn't hit the stage till 9.40pm. It was thankfully well worth it though. As you can well imagine, plenty off their recent album "CSI: Ambleside" got an airing, including the catchy as hell "Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess", "Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show" and the witty and very observant "Blue Badge Abuser" which does happen. Thankfully, it wasn't just the new stuff getting an airing with a mix of all sorts, including "For What Is Chatteris..", "Joy Division Oven Gloves" (with even a fan in the crowd wearing a pair of oven gloves up near the front just for that song!, "The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)", "When The Evening Sun Goes Down" and plenty more.

Of course, for me, remembering their seminal first album and EP, the best bit of when the band wanted to be a bit self indulgent (as Nigel Blackwell the frontman put it) and started blasting out some very recognisable opening chords that were to be.. "The Trumpton Riots". Lots of people were singing along, especially with the chorus, and the last shouted line of "there's gonna be a riot down in Trumpton tonight!" which sounded impressive as the full Academy 1 crowd got in full swing. No contest - tune of the day that one, easily. It was almost 11pm when they went off, and knowing how tight the Academy curfew can be, I hoped that there was an encore.

I wasn't to be disappointed - they came back on and amongst other things, they said "Well we're in Manchester, so.." and did a great version of "All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies. Honest, it was a great cover, and sung with real passion as well - and everyone sang along. Awww. They finished with "National Shite Day" which really did sound anthemic to boot, and even though it was 11.20pm, that meant they were on stage for almost an hour and three quarters - no complaints from me there!

Thursday 29th January - Wii Have Component Video

I had a pretty good day at the office today and even managed to get a few things sorted as well. I had a laptop to see to for a bit of the day in that the hard disk was running out of space, and I soon worked out why. It was partitioned into two partitions, C and D, but the C one only had around 200MB left, which would never do. Thankfully for jobs like this I have Symantec Partition Magic 8, which I simply booted off CD, decided how much to reduce D, give the space to C, and let it do the work. It does work and furthermore what it says on the tin, so it makes sure that everything plays ball. With that done, I sorted out some installs and tested the hard drive, and all seemed well - one happy customer.

Later on, on the way home, I had a thought. Locally close to me there's an electrical place that specialises in lighting, and was wondering if they had the bulb I was looking for so I could pick it up for The Banjo In The Band. I went in, saw they had the right wattage, checked to see if they had the 4 pin version (there's a 2 and 4 pin variant available) and it was a mere £4.70! Bargain, that. Cheaper than anywhere else that I'd seen it and also meant I could get it straight away. I let The Banjo know and she was understandably chuffed that I'd managed to get hold of it - so at some point we'll fit it and job is a good'un, as they say.

I got home and there was a package waiting outside the front door. I hoped that it hadn't have been there all day, or else it could have easily been stolen, but when I opened it, it was as I thought: the Nintendo Wii component cable that I'd ordered. I wanted to try and keep my AV sockets on the telly free for if I connect my digital camera etc, plus they're close to HDMI3 as well. This way, all the video from the Wii would go via the component video out, I could set the Wii to take advantage and show things in that higher resolution, and all would be well. In fact, I did that and it was very pleasing on the eye straight away - even Wii Sports looked sharper, even if the Internet channel browser didn't take advantage of its higher resolution (might be nice to have had an option?)

As for tune of the day, a nice easy one really - I was out at lunch with a couple of my colleagues and the jukebox on random threw some Green Day in my direction - and "Minority" at that! Excellent stuff, and I remembered just how much I used to go mental to that band in indie nights. Hurrah!

Wednesday 28th January - Basking In Baskery Glory

It was another gig for me this month, and so straight after work I headed over to see The Sauce On My Burger, as she was very kindly cooking tea for us both as well as coming with me. I got there and she was in the midst of making the tea (a very nice tagliatelle pasta with meatballs and sauce, and garlic bread to go with it too) and she told me that the bathroom bulb had gone. Now, it's one of those really weird 28 watt energy saver bulbs, but it's like a flourescent tube that does some looping pattern - a bit odd, and not that easy to get hold of. I managed to get the bulb out so I could identify it properly and had a look on the Internet to see if I could find it anywhere locally - turned out that both B&Q and Homebase had it, but at vastly inflated prices, whilst an online stockist had it for a more reasonable amount.

With that all checked out, it was nice to sit at the table and have tea and conversation. One of the things I set as part of my routine in my house is that I always where possible have tea on the table, it just makes more sense that way and is also much nicer to do - it feels like you're genuinely having a break and taking time to sit down and enjoy the meal. When you see these top chefs saying that families should have more meal times together, I can appreciate where that comes from - it is a chance for everyone to be together too. It was especially nice as well because The Sauce had put some mushrooms in there as well just to pep up the sauce a bit, and that went down superbly, as did the meatballs too.

With tea consumed and last week's repeat of The Krypton Factor watched on ITV4 (of course it was on whilst we were watching it being filmed, beautiful irony) it was time to head out into the city centre and to The Ruby Lounge, where tonight's gig was taking place. The headliners were Baskery, whom we saw supporting Seth Lakeman in November and whom we both enjoyed (so much so that I bought the CD the same night and got the lovely girls to sign it too, hurrah). Now, The Ruby Lounge is a strange old venue, it faces the Arndale on High Street and you go through the door to go downstairs, where the main bar area has some cosy seating and the bar itself has even those nice fruity beers, with the stage area and watching space to the far left. We got in just as the first act were finishing, whom must have been on really early.

Much better was to come in the form of Kristyna Miles (official site) (myspace) whose laid back vibes with some jazz and blues influences came to the fore. She had a really good voice and certainly also had her band play pretty polished stuff. Why she wasn't the main support I'm not sure, but nonetheless I'm sure there were plenty whom like us enjoyed her style. Whether it was stripped down and a raw sound with just some acoustics, or some full on band stuff, her voice was the centrepiece of the whole thing and it certainly was enjoyable indeed. Might have to check out her four track sampler CD to hear some more as it was definitely good stuff, so that set us both off in a very good mood.

Next up were Yellow Dog (myspace) and there were two people that I recognised and one especially that The Sauce recognised. The keyboard player has temped where I work and I did recognise her from assisting her back in the day, so good to see her doing her normal job, and the lead singer and guitarist was none other than Rupert Hill, who played Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street! They weren't bad, and certainly tried their utmost to rock, but they were let down badly by the soundman, especially as the keyboards sounded non-existent. It was interesting to see also that one of the guitar players had this instrument you played flat, which worked well for lots of slides. Lots of people left after these, which I thought was a bit rubbish.

On came Baskery (official site) (myspace) and like last time, they put on a great show. In fact, despite the soundman doing his best to muck things up by getting the levels completely wrong a fair bit of the time (and something that the band themselves were asking every other song to get right) the band did their best to absolutely rock the place - and rock the place they did. Starting off with "Spoken Word" and then going into a number from their former band The Slaptones, it was a rip roaring hour of full on "banjo punk" (as the band themselves call it) and some stonking alternative country sounds. In fact, they really seemed to be enjoying themselves with some good banter with the audience and themselves. Stella on the double bass really got the bass sounding funky and had a big grin all the way through, Sunniva played her acoustic guitar and added so much twang to the vocals, whilst in the middle Greta did her thing with the banjo and the foot kick drums, and really put a lot into it.

There were lots of lovely moments, such as the really fast "Why Don't Ya?" (even faster than on the album), a glorious full paced finale in "Haunt You", a nice introduction to a song as "the new techno" before going hell for leather into the superb "Out-of-Towner" and a gloriously soft and beautiful "Oscar Jr Restaurant Bar" with them all in lovely fine voice fettle. The best bit for me of the whole lot was a really full on full of slide and banjo version of "One Horse Down" which sounded dirty, electric and altogether full of passion, all at the same time - so tune of the day was an easy decision.

The gig didn't finish till 11.25pm, which meant a quick walk for the two of us back to Piccadilly Bus station to get the bus back to her place (and indeed the last one as well!). I do take issue with The Ruby Lounge for the late finishes to their gigs as it really doesn't benefit the main act playing. A lot of last buses home for people who come into town and want a drink during the gig is before then, and as such people had to up and leave simply so as not to be stranded or end up taking an expensive taxi back. They should take note from Manchester Academy, where the curfew is 11pm at the very latest, with most gigs generally finishing between 10.30pm and 10.45pm, allowing people more than ample time to get home safely. Still, a top night all round, although almost ruined by The Ruby Lounge's soundman...

Tuesday 27th January - I Know You, Cuckoo, Cannonball

Well, another day at the office and another day mainly staring at Microsoft Access, as I did some more maintenance work on databases including the hardware one I was looking at yesterday. I also had to do some maintenance on a marks one that's used for some of the courses, and one specific course is a bit tricky in terms of how the data goes in, so I had to get hold of some reports and then do some magical manipulation first before entering anything - but it all seemed to work nicely in the end, which is just how we want it to be. Interestingly as well, we also found out that for some reason on some PCs that the Google search was taking us to a page which told us that it thought that a virus or something had spread through the network and wasn't allowing a search to take place - yet using other web searches worked. How odd.

Got home and set the washing going (I know, I know, domestic chores and all that) before deciding to have a blast on the Wii. I had a go of the Guiness World Records game and decided to have a go at some more of the little games within it - and even smashed some fo the default world records in the process. In fact, one of them was the human cannonball, and my score was so high that even when I checked the scores over the Internet for it, I'm actually the regional record holder for that subgame! Err.. yaay and stuff. I guess it was a sense of having the speed and also the right angle so that the cannon fires the little man dead far, and it was almost some six hundred metres. Not quite the online world record, but I was pretty pleased with myself nonetheless.

In view of that, I simply had to play what became tune of the day, The Breeders' seminal "Cannonball" from their album "Last Splash". It's still a classic and even now gets played in the occasional indie club, if that tells you anything (or not as the case may be) and when I saw them live last year, they were good and played it. I even bought the t-shirt with the single cover on for a mere £1.99 in HMV sale one year, which had some of the tour dates on, and used to wear that occasionally as well, so that was good.

Monday 26th January - Don't Want To Wake Up

I'd had such a good weekend with The Hand In The Puppet that I didn't want to wake up, let alone go to work. I felt too happy and too relaxed in myself, and also full of the joys of spring that I'd had such a lovely time and felt a level of closeness that really means lots. Honestly. When you really do enjoy time that you have together, it makes you realise just what it is that you have and allows you to build and be stronger for it. When I think back to how I just was taking in Duke Special last night and having The hand holding my hand gently, us both singing along, it was a good feeling to be honest.

I really needed to have something to concentrate on in the office, and so I set about updating the hardware database on Access. It meant I could completely refresh the data in there with the Admin build rollout and put together something of use for the masses. What made it work was that I'd pretty much got the field descriptions sorted out and it was just a case of being able to modify them for some quick and easy dropdown boxes plus being also allowed to input freeform, thus saving me time and effort. I was pleased to have got that done and also answering numerous calls as well which made the day go by just that little bit quicker.

I headed along to the Academy box office on the way home and asked the very nice assistant, who told me that the tickets for Duke Special and Howling Bells (who are on in March and I want to see them) would be up for grabs next week, so I'll wait till then. The nice thing is that they're always friendly people there and they don't rip you off for booking fees either (if only all venues did the same, Bury Met is another place that gets my thumbs up for not ripping you off) which is good. I got home, did some ironing, cooked the tea, and then whacked in a load of washing. That's the down side of spending lots of good times together - you don't necessarily get that much time to do other things!

As for tune of the day, an easy decision. I whacked on some Baskery in preparation for my next gig (they're at Ruby Lounge on Wednesday) and their album is still bloody ace, not least as several of them have that singalong factor which would really make things lovely. So "Here To Pay My Dues" seems kind of appropriate, and it has a great bluesy twang to it too. Yaay!

Sunday 25th January - Play Sesame Tree!

It was a leisurely and more relaxing day today and after a well deserved lie in, myself and The Hand In The Puppet headed out for the afternoon. This included a stop at Cheadle Royal and we headed into both the John Lewis and the Sainsbury's in there. It was worth a look in John Lewis to see what stuff they had reduced and if we could spot any bargains for either of us. We didn't, but it was worth taking a look and seeing how some of the Cheshire set were just strolling around looking at the really expensive stuff. They do though do a five year guarantee on their tellies, which is something well worth consideration when you're looking at an LCD - even saw a nice one for The Hand should she decide to upgrade at some point in the future.

We headed into Sainsbury's, partially as I needed to get a card but also on the offchance to see if they had Wii Play for the Wii. You see, with that game you get an additional Wii remote bundled with it, so at least you feel like you're getting something more in the value for money stakes. Now, I'd seen Wii Play online for just under £30, and the Wii controller goes in the shops for that amount, and Wii Play in the shops was around £35, which seemed a little too much. Anyway, we found the cards, got what I needed and close by was the games section. Not only did they have Wii Play, but it was £29.97, cheaper than anywhere else that I'd seen it. After paying for the card and a few other things we bought, it was off to the customer service desk to pick up Wii Play - and as it turned out, the VAT reduction was passed on meaning it was in fact £29.33. Bargain! So, if you want that game, go there, and I let The Hand rack up some more Nectar points on her card at the same time. Not daft us you know!

After that it was back to the Towers and on the Wii, and it was a case of synching up the Wii remote (easy peasy job) and then when we were playing, the two controllers were detected easily and it made life a heck of a lot easier. We blitzed through the games in Wii Play and found the best ones to be the 9 ball pool (they call it billiards but they can't fool me), the horse riding together with hitting targets, and the Find Mii, especially if you have to find your own Mii character, which makes it all more fun. A bit of that and Wii Sports later and it was time for tea, so I rustled up some chicken and rice, which fed us well before heading out into town for the evening.

You see, we were lucky enough to have got some tickets for Duke Special at The Deaf Institute, which is the Trof bar on Grosvenor Street, close to Oxford Road. The place has a music hall bit at the top, so it looked small and cosy and intimate. When we got there, there was a queue to get in and it was a bit cold, so we headed over to Sandbar for a quick drink before going back, finding no queue at all and heading in there. It was good timing and there was a support act from Liverpool who did their set, and they were reasonably okay. It was very very packed in the venue though, behind the main standing area was a seating area for people, and on the left was a balcony with a good view of the stage. In fact, I spotted my friend from work who's a huge fan there too, so that was good.

The main support act then came on and it was Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards (myspace) - now I've heard some people in my time, but I wasn't that sure what to make of him. I don't mind the occasional artist who drawls through songs, but there's a way you do it. Nick Cave can do it, so can Johnny Cash and so can Leonard Cohen. Unfortunately Dan can't. It got to the point where all the songs sounded the same and in effect was a right miserable half an hour. It wasn't my cup of tea although some of the audience seemed to like him, mind you.

Myself and The Hand had stood centre near the rear, and together with my friend from work were chatting away, and also chatting to this nice couple from Runcorn, who had come along for the gig - it turned out they do quite a lot of gigs in Manchester and were even going to Half Man Half Biscuit on Friday. I was über impressed by the fact that the bloke had not only seen The Smiths in their hey day, but also had HMHB's "The Trumpton Riots" on vinyl, just like myself. It was good to see like minded people around who appreciated music and also were friendly to talk to - if you're reading this, pop by and say hello!

Anyway, the excitement gathered and on came Duke Special (official site) (myspace) and together with his mate "Temperance Society" Chip Bailey, it was an excellent show. No. In fact that doesn't do it justice. It was absolutely ace. Duke was in fine form and even had a turntable on top of his piano, where he'd play his vinyl which had the necessary backing for various songs he was playing that night, mainly a cross section of both "Songs From The Deep Forest" and "I Never Thought This Day Would Come". There were several reasons why this gig is already a contender for my favourite gig of 2008:

1 - The audience. Usually what annoys the hell out of me at a gig is that people are always chattering during the main act, which makes you think "for crying out loud, pay attention and enjoy the music will you?". None of that tonight, everyone was attentive, polite, silent and lovely, only singing along when prompted to or responding to Duke, or cheering at the end of songs. During the songs, it was a case of taking it all in and allowing his voice to freely flow around the place, which is how it should be do.

2 - The set. Although I didn't get "No Cover Up", we did get an excellent rendition of the likes of "Salvation Tambourine" (complete with manic piano bit at the end), a singalong "Last Night I Nearly Died", a haunting "Brixton Leaves", along with "Diggin' An Early Grave" where everyone really sang their hearts out, "Flesh And Blood Dance", and the title track from the new album really sounded honest and fresh. Oh, and add to that possibly one of the best Nick Cave covers, as Duke got Dan Michaelson back on stage for the two of them to duet on the cover of "Henry Lee" - which sounded marvellous, and hauntingly good too (me and the guy from Runcorn even sang along Nick Cave style, we knew it well!). Oh, and halfway, Duke went for a wee, and Chip did his lessons in playing the cheese grater and whisk instrument!

3 - The encore. The encore wasn't like a normal encore. Instead, everyone went to the downstairs bar where the open mic night was on - and the Duke had his grand piano in the centre of the stage, and he just got everyone to gather round it whilst playing his songs, which was such a neat touch. He even did "Down By The Old Bull And Bush" for a giggle, before ending the set with a beautiful version of "Freewheel" - definitely tune of the day for me that one. It felt cosy, it felt intimate and it felt right.

We finally left at around 11.15pm, said our goodbyes and headed home, but I have to say it was a great night and when the Duke tours in April, you need to do yourself a big favour and go! I might be heading to the Academy 3 on the 30th April, it was severely good to say the least, let me tell you. I can't wait! Even if when he was taking requests, and yours truly shouted out "Sesame Tree!" to which he replied "Not Sesame Tree!!" with a big giggle on his face.

Saturday 24th January - London Calling

It was a long but lovely day today, as myself and The Hand In The Puppet were off to London. We had booked tickets a while ago to see the wonderful show that is Avenue Q (in fact this would be my third time) and also got all the trains sorted so that it was a mere £8 each way for each of us, so can't complain on the value front there. Indeed, the Avenue Q tickets were £21 for the stalls, and the row was the very front row, so you got a good view of proceedings from there (I'd managed to get front row last time but at one of the aisle ends). Anyway, she got to mine, we headed into Piccadilly and got to the station in good time for the 0855 train we were getting.

The train was efficient as Virgin normally are, and as we were close to the onboard shop, and in lieu of the fact that a little trip into the Sainsbury's in Piccadilly station meant that croissants were ours, I simply headed down, got us both a coffee and it was having a little breakfast on the way down, which made perfect sense. Once the train left Crewe (it had stopped at Stockport and Wilmslow) it was non-stop to London Euston and we actually got there a couple of minutes ahead of schedule, which of course was a lovely thing. Now, as The Hand had never considered the use of an Oyster Card on her previous visits to London, I suggested it was about time she got one and saved some dosh in the process. So, we nipped into the tube station at Euston, got one sorted out (and her holder is black unlike my blue one, boo!) and then we both topped the cards up with some credit, easy peasy.)

First thing then was to get the bus down to the British Museum, as I'd not been for ages and she hadn't been at all, so was good to get that done. The 10 bus came, on we hopped and it was soon off down the street and to the museum, which even at around 11.30am looked pretty busy indeed. We headed in and had a good wander around, and even though we weren't exactly going slow, as it's such a big place, we decided that the best course of action was to try and see everything and focus on the bits we really liked. This worked well, as it meant plenty of time at the whole Greek section, and indeed for me the highlight was the current art exhibit which showed the art behind the sculptures of the likes of Henry Moore and Antony Gormley, with their drawings all for show. That for me worked well to see the ideas and thinking involved and what they actually wanted to achieve. Indeed many of Moore's sculptures are all around London if you look carefully.

We stopped by the museum's shop and there was a nice open space where you could get some food, so we had a little light lunch and some water, and that was us refreshed and ready to go. Certainly for me seeing the Rosetta Stone and all the Egyptian building works and the cat mummies made me realise just how much work goes on into preserving such history and culture, and how lucky we are that there's plenty of people who want to do the same. It's clearly inspiring stuff, to be honest. Time soon had sped by and we'd allowed ourselves a little time to go and have a look in some of the shops just in case there were any sale bargains left.

However, all was not so easy. We were going to head on the 7 bus down Oxford Street from outside the British Museum, but the driver told us she was going via Euston to Paddington because of a diversion, and so that wouldn't do us any good, so we decided the easiest solution was to walk, and in truth it wasn't that bad a walk at all. We soon headed down the main part of Oxford Street, had a quick nip in the big HMV there, and it was soon a case of turning left into Regent Street. The roads seemed eerily quiet for a Saturday afternoon and I was wondering why - till a notice at the bus stop told us. There was a protest march on for support of stopping the war in Gaza, and that the march was assembling and walking down towards Trafalgar Square. As it happened, we headed into Hamley's for a while, checked out some of the great interactive toys and also had a look to see if there was anything either of us could pick up. As it was, we got out of there later on and as we walked down we saw the protest, and it seemed fairly full of people who really were marching as one. A strong police presence was preventing anyone seeing things too close to hand though, so we headed via Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square and onwards to where the Noel Coward theatre is for Avenue Q.

As we had time, we took a walk and found there was a nice place for coffee just down the road, so we stopped there and rested our feet for a while - the walking had done us good of course but it was nice just to take things easy and have some coffee and a selection of little biscuits to go with it - felt better after that, I have to admit. It was then back to the theatre, and although there was a queue, we got in fairly quickly and soon made our way downstairs to the stalls area and found our seats. And wow! We were right in the centre of the front row, meaning an excellent view of proceedings all round and definitely able to enjoy it.

And enjoy it, we did! Well, of course, I definitely was going to enjoy it, even if there were different cast members from last time. The current Rod/Nicky (Daniel Boys off that Any Dream Will Do show) wasn't doing the show we saw, but his understudy Simon Gorton was, and he was excellent (in fact The Hand said he was superb) - there was a slight mic problem during "It Sucks To Be Me" but that didn't affect anything. Nicky Goldthorp's Trekkie Monster was good enough, but sometimes the voice wasn't deep enough for me, and the new Christmas Eve (Joanna Ampil) really played on the mock accent superbly (especially during "If You Ruv Someone". Star of the show though, was Julie Atherton as Kate Monster. It was so nice to have Julie back for the final run, and she hasn't lost any of her brilliance whatsoever, even vamping it up even more as Lucy The Slut. I tell you - it's still wonderfully great, and The Hand loved it too, and I didn't think she would. I tell you, read my review and then get yourself down to London before March 28th when it finishes for good..

We then walked to Trafalgar Square and just beyond there is a nice pub that not only does decent food but also a good selection of real ale, so a firm favourite with yours truly of course. Myself and The Hand decided to have something hearty, I had a mixed grill and she had a BBQ chicken melt, and whilst she had the wine, I went for this brew from Truro called Black Pearl. It was very black indeed and tasted spot on, all good. It was then a case of heading back to Trafalgar Square and getting the 91 bus back to Euston, which got us there in good time for the 2100 departure back to Manchester and into Piccadilly at 0013 (on schedule, it takes longer getting back as it's timetabled that way) before getting the night bus back to mine and homeward. It was tiring at the end, but it was such a great day.

As for tune of the day it was a nice easy choice really - the cast of Avenue Q really did sing their hearts out and it was so nice to hear them do their thing. I could have picked any song from the whole thing but I still really enjoy "There's a Fine, Fine Line" at the end of the first act - and Julie sang it with so much emotion and gusto that it was beautifully moving in a good way. It reminded me also of when I've seen it before I was alone, and now I wasn't, which cheers me up no end I can tell you.

Friday 23rd January - Wii're On The Internet!

Last Sunday, after I had had the lovely meal out that I had, and after checking all the finances to ensure I could actually afford it, I went out and bought a Nintendo Wii for myself. This wasn't an easy decision, not to decide if I wanted one or not (because I did) but because of all the deals available and what in my view would be best for me. When my friend got one before Christmas, it was a case of you could get any game free with it - so craftily he picked Wii Play to ensure he got a second Wii remote, which would have been exactly what I'd have done as well to be honest. That deal had expired, and any such deals with extra remote etc proved to be not so cheap, which will never do.

I had mooched around some of the game shops before deciding that the best deal was in Gamestation - it was £179.99 for the Wii package (bundled of course with Wii Sports to get you started) and you could pick two games from selection of four as well - so I went for Guiness World Records and Carnival Funfair Games (which has plenty of the fairground games like testing your strength, the dunk tank, throwing rings on bottles and even the Kentucky Derby too) so that nicely got me off to a good start. I hadn't had that much chance to have a play with it because I'd been busy during the week, so I decided tonight to have a blast and see how I got on.

I did have plenty of fun with the games, of course, and I soon picked up where I left off with the bowling from Wii Sports after playing it at my friend's, and managed to even beat my own top score and get 204, which pleased me no end. I figured it was worthwhile taking the time to configure the Wii and ensure that the sensor bar position was correctly set (something which not everyone does!) and the wireless access to the Internet was also a doddle (particularly as I'd done before). And then.. it was time to be able to surf the Internet via the Wii. What a good idea, eh?

Well, here's the slight catch. You see, to get access to the Internet, you need the Wii Internet Channel. When you first get the Wii, there's a video to watch of how web browsing works and it all looks good. What they don't tell you till the end is that you have to buy the Intenet Channel via the Wii's Shop Channel, costing 500 Wii Points. Hmm. Why didn't they give you the Internet Channel with it, I wonder? Maybe to stop the kids, but there you go. I entered the Wii Shop, bought some Wii Points (nice and easy process to do, or you can buy the points as a redeemable card too) and that was good. In fact, buying the Wii Points online is slightly better value for money as well, just thought I'd throw that into the mix.

That done, I had 1000 Wii Points, so I used 500 of them to get the Internet Channel, and once it was downloaded, time to check it out. In fact the browser wasn't too bad - it's basically a modified version of Opera, adapted so that the Wii can use it - in fact you can hook up any USB keyboard to the Wii as well and use it to type in URLs, so that might be worth investigation. The browsing worked pretty well, albeit at a lower resolution than you'd have on a PC, and it seemed nice and quick. BBC News worked as intended, and although some of the Flash wasn't always playing ball (one website said the plugin wasn't up to date) on the whole it was a pretty good experience.

To really give that a test, I went to Youtube and played a couple of videos there, which worked really well and was able to demonstrate how adaptable it all was. At least it means that if I don't want to necessarily go to the PC for some browsing, I can do it this way. And with the remaining Wii Points, I checked out the retro classic games in the Virtual Console section, and promptly snagged the Commodore 64 version of Summer Games II. I have plenty of the others of The Games series on disk, and therefore loading times are quick anyway, but only ever had the Epyx classic on tape. And it proved not too bad to play either once I'd worked out I needed to turn the Wii remote 90 degrees to use it sort of like the old style controllers. Worked though. There were more C64 games as well including the ace Mayhem in Monsterland, so that might be worth a good check out sometime. That game now shows as a Channel in itself, hurrah!

As for tune of the day well I did also manage to sort out my CDs in alphabetical order tonight, placing some of the recent purchases in the order. Amongst those was the rather nice Suzanne Vega compilation, and so I couldn't resist the classic tune that is "Luka" - it still sounds contemporary and fresh even now, and has a sweet charm all of its own. And besides, it's proof that sometimes you don't need to rely on a dance mix (ie: Tom's Diner which was hers) to make a good record.

Thursday 22nd January - And The Winner, With A Krypton Factor Of 32...

After today at work, I went to the workplace of The Button On My Controller. The two of us had priority audience tickets for tonight's filming of The Krypton Factor. You see a while back we had audience tickets, but on the night it was overly full because of other people attending, and so our names were taken and put down for a future priority show - and as we wanted to see the same show being filmed, we decided that it would be a good move to go for tonight - not least because we'll definitely want to see it (oh, and because The Button adores the hell out of Ben Shephard!)

So first stop before Granada Studios was something to eat for tea, and so we headed to Wagamama on Deansgate. Part of the reason is that at Christmas my brother had given us a voucher for use during January which meant two for one on the main meals which would keep the cost down a bit, and of course we both love it in there anyway, so any excuse I reckoned. It was pretty empty when we got in, so we were just able to chill out and relax, and decide what to order, which is always difficult. I eventually went for the chicken katsu curry whilst The Button nominated the chicken chilli men, which looked fairly spicy and way too much that way for me. We relaxed and munched, and, because it's my law, I had the coconut reika for dessert. It's just delicious and perfect if you've had anything a little spicy to cool the mouth out and with the nice mango sauce and little coconut flakes, it's pretty light too - which is just what's needed I reckon.

So onwards and towards the Water Street entrance to the Granada Studios. One of the other main entrances was choc full of people - it turned out they were all going to a filming of Jeremy Kyle. Rather them than me to be honest, just not good whatsoever! We soon got to the right entrance and we were both issued with the blue wristband. After a while and the queue building up, we were guided into the studios, past one of the taxis that had a Weatherfield plate on, and indeed past the mock Rovers Return, through the security check, handing our mobile phones in, and then through more security into a holding area. From there it was a case of waiting for your colour to be read out (we were first) and then to be led into one of the main studios where the action happens.

We had one of the floor managers explain how it'd all work and we also had the warm up man also getting us in the right frame of mind and ready to cheer on the contestants at the right moment, before it all started. What you don't realise from the television is how intense all the rounds are. The Mental Agility with the "Cube" is one example, the cameras are all there poking inside the cube whilst the contestant attempts to concentrate, and that looked tricky. The observation round works well - but what you don't know is that there's often a small pause between the film being shown and the questions being asked - and once that's done, it can be difficult to recover.

After the recording up to the commerical break, it's bringing in all the equipment for the intelligence test, which took some time to set up so our warm up man kept us entertained throughout and did a decent job. It was then the test. Now on the telly it looks quick, but believe me it's anything but. In fact, the contestants took some time to do the puzzle and I reckoned it was at least fifteen to twenty minutes for most of them - you can really tell there's some intense editing going on there. They get to watch a rough cut of the assault course video, but apparently only then are they told their times so that they can see the points total. That done and with the intelligence test wheeled out, it was then General Knowledge, and it proved to be an exciting finish in the end!

We both enjoyed it, especially The Button, as she was at one point just a few feet away from the host Ben Shephard, so I can only imagine how much she was swooning and thinking "awww, isn't he lovely?". But you know what? It doesn't bother me. Fantasy is a good thing - but reality is so much nicer. In fact she said to me on the way home that she loves Ben, but she loves me even more. Awwwww. That said a lot really and it also showed to me that we can laugh and giggle with each other about the famous people we may fancy and all, but in the reality of life, what we have is much better. Hurrah. Tune of the day is the Art of Noise's version of The Krypton Factor theme because it's ace and I wish they were still using it!

Wednesday 21st January - Wii Have Wireless

I had arranged to spend some time with one of my work colleagues after work to sort out their wireless router and configure it accordingly. It worked out quite well actually, because it meant that I was able to go straight there from work instead of going home first and then heading out. The router that they'd got was perfect for their Virgin cable connection and something I'd recommended, this nice new Belkin one in black. It seemed compact and neat, had four Ethernet sockets and wireless.

It didn't take me too long to set up the router and cable it all up via the cable modem, and then configure the router to ensure that the wireless encryption for the password was set up correctly. Once I'd sorted out the main PC, it was then on to the laptop, and that was a nice new Dell one which was really easy to do, and then finally, the Nintendo Wii. It's not that bad a setup job for the Wii to do, and if you happen to only let certain network addresses access your router, you can even find out the MAC address of the Wii's wireless card inside it easily enough. Anyway, I searched for the wireless network, it found it, I put the key in, and badabing! One system update later and all was done. In fact, the news and weather channels brought the latest for both, which meant effectively you could read the news on the Wii. There's also an option too to have an Internet Channel, although you need 500 points for the Wii shop to do that. Certainly it made people notice in the house when I sorted the Wii out, and in essence, I think that on balance the reason why it's doing so well isn't just because of the interactivity (as good as that is) but because it's a nice small console, pretty easy to use and doesn't necessarily need uber-graphics for it to play well. I'm pretty sure that in years to come it'll be rightly regarded as a classic of classics.

I got home later and had on the Burnley - Tottenham Carling Cup game which was rather excellent. Burnley were 4-1 down on aggregate and needed to win by three goals just to force extra time. When they scored one I thought "well that's good", when the second went in I thought "well that's made the last twenty minutes tasty" and when they scored the third with two minutes of normal time left, I thought "Good for them" and were rooting for them to reach the final. Indeed had the score remained the same at the end of extra time, they would in fact win on the away goals rule (why that can't count after 90 minutes is beyond me to be honest). But extra time went on, and the closer it got, the nervier it got. Sadly for the claret and blue fans, Tottenham scored two in the last two minutes of extra time to get an undeserved 6-4 aggregate win, but nonetheless it was an exciting and excellent game which is what it should be about really.

I had on some Henry Rollins stuff later and some Rollins Band, especially the "Nice" album which in my view is very under-rated. In fact, one track on there, "We Walk Alone" is tune of the day because it's actually the title track of the Henry Rollins Show, shown only on some obscure channel in America. It fits the show well though as Henry walks round some disused part of town, looking mean and about to properly rant on. The show's also awesome too (got the first series on DVD, on import!) as it's interesting interviews and also a chance to really elucidate more in his unique style. And that just has to be good.

Tuesday 20th January - Chuck Out That Chintz!

Well, it was a pleasant evening for me after a pretty hard day at work. I had decided that it would be (spontaneously) a good idea not only for me to visit The Button On My Controller for the evening, but that we'd also possibly head to IKEA a bit later on and have a look at a couple of things. I went straight from work to The Button's place, which was a good idea as it meant I could get out of the slightly nippy weather quicker. As one of the roads nearby is having severe roadworks, I took a different bus to her place - it did mean a slightly longer walk once I got off the bus, but it was definitely doable and I thought to myself "well why not?" - and it probably gave us some more time together as well.

I got to The Button's place and whilst she was sorting the tea out, we both watched the whole ceremony which would have Barack Obama sworn in as President of the United States. It did seem like it was a historic moment, and certainly the speech he gave seemed to show commitment and tough decisions ahead. I sincerely hope that's the case, certainly if he was to put Kyoto near the top of the agenda, that would certainly be very pleasing indeed for me personally. Mind you, judging by the reaction of almost everyone there, it seemed like he's already a natural leader and one who's going to really work on what he does. The hard work starts now.

We had a very nice little tea actually - some chicken wrapped in bacon, some dauphinoise potatoes and these carrots which had a honey glaze. It all tasted delicious and filled us both up nicely and ready to face the weather and after a bit of thought, a quick trip to the IKEA in Ashton was on the cards. Because of her increasing CD and DVD collection (and I'm partly to blame!), we both thought it was a good idea to get something where they could all go and be easily accessible, thereby not cluttering up anywhere else. But it needed to be tall and fairly thin to fit in a couple of nice little gaps in the front room. I had an idea, and I wanted it to come to fruition.

I have to say that Ikea during the week at night is a pretty quiet experience on the whole, so much better than weekends let me tell you. I definitely felt like chucking out the chintz when I could stroll round quietly and see what we wanted. In fact the very CD/DVD tower we both thought would do the job was in stock, and it looked pretty good - it was the Benno one in an oak effect, which would at least go with some of the other things in The Button's front room. We got that and also an Ikea Family brolly (even got discount with the Family Card, wooo) and also a couple of other small bits and bobs. It certainly felt like I didn't need anything there myself but just nice to saunter round.

Back at The Button's place, we unpacked the flat pack for the Benno CD tower and had a half hour or so setting that up. In effect it works really well and wasn't that difficult, but it was also pretty sturdy as well - and once the CDs and DVDs were in, it just looked the part very nicely indeed. It was also a case of then watching Masterchef that we'd recorded as well, so that was excellent. I always get amazed on how good some of the cooks are - if that was me, I'd be nowhere fast, but hey ho, there we go. As for tune of the day well I'm going to have to nominate something I heard during the day: Green Day's "Holiday". I thankfully don't need one right now, but the catchiness just got me in the right frame of mind.

Monday 19th January - Kaka Can't Come, Instead We Get A Nonce

Well, the last few hours as a Manchester City fan have proved pretty interesting but also shows where we're really at and also has given most of the fans a bit of a reality check. Kaka has apparently turned us down and their owner has gone on record as saying that it's a great boost for AC Milan that he's staying, although City's story is that talks were at an exploratory stage and the club felt it wasn't worth continuing. Nonetheless though, I'm pretty pleased that we haven't signed him. Whilst I'm sure it's all been exciting to see if we could pull it off, in truth unless we were already in the Champions League on a regular basis, it wasn't going to happen. And the amount of money offered plus the terms and conditions all seemed a bit too much like media hype to me without the real substance of figures and indeed if there was a potential for anyone to move. I mean, it was a surprise when we signed Robinho for the mere sum of £32.4 million, but snatched it from under Chelski's noses, so that has to be something.

But on the other flip side of the coin, City did make a signing and I can't contain my bitter anger and disappointment. Craig Bellamy? I mean, come on. That really also says as a statement where we are doesn't it, especially if we've reportedly paid a mere £14 million for this piece of dross. He's a trouble causing so and so who always seems to make trouble wherever he goes and in truth I think after his no show in training at West Ham on Friday just so he could force any possible transfer, the alarm bells should have started ringing for City and at that point terminated any discussions. Do you necessarily want a disruptive influence in the dressing room that's not going to really do so well? It makes me wonder if there's a bit of favouritism because Bellamy played under Mark Hughes when he was the Welsh manager and would hope for some sort of form the same way. Personally, I'm outraged. There's better players we could have spent less money on, and is yet another striker really the answer, especially after City's recent record on buying crap strikers (let me see, £16m for Jo, £8.8m for Rolando Bianchi, etc etc).

Rant over. For now. In a week of where famous people dying seems to have been a regular occurrence, with first the great commentator David Vine leaving us (ESPN Classic repeated lots of the snooker and Superstars as a really nice tribute which put the BBC to shame, big time) the great artist and television host Tony Hart went as well last night. He was someone who really made art accessible to the kids, and also allowed their pictures to be shown in the Gallery on one of his many art shows, with the likes of Take Hart and Hartbeat being stuff that I used to watch when I was a nipper. Oh, and Morph and Chas too, where they seemed to accompany Tony's programmes everywhere. The world is a much sadder place for both, not least as Vine of course was the voice of Superstars - end of. I mean, his commentary was excellent and he knew exactly who did what in the Superstars before and was able to use that to work out to his advantage who he thought would do well and be ready for the commentary. Thank heavens for the Superstars DVD being issued with all his comments on it whilst he was still with us.

I did also spend a fair bit of time late last night watching the Masters snooker, and in fact it went on until 00:18 this morning, so technically speaking it was very early in the morning when I watched it and was able to see the final frame - with two re-racks - and the tension that surrounded the arena at the same time. Snooker? Boring? Definitely not. It was enthralling stuff. And yet the Beeb still pander and don't play the proper theme tune anymore. You'd think that they would, especially as a nice tribute to David Vine. Of course, the Beeb have committed a major faux pas by effectively demoting and sacking respected commentator Clive Everton (something I'm not happy with either) and by the time the snooker gets to the Crucible Theatre, it's something they need to sort out. So, it's time for tune of the day and Doug Wood's classic "Drag Racer" has to get its vote. It is after all the proper snooker theme!

Sunday 18th January - I Wanna Panna Cotta!

I had a nice leisurely sort of day today, and that was just what I needed to finish the week off nicely. I got up, strolled around the house, did a little bit of housework, dived in the shower and got myself ready and left the house at around 10.30am to head into town and meet The Sweetener In My Coffee. We had a relaxing walk around some of the shops, and I peered into some of the game shops to see just what the deal was with any Wii console. I will probably get one in the near future, I reckon, it's just a case of deciding what games to get with it as a package and also if it is actually worth it - I'd say judging on the number of plays I've had thus far, I reckoned so.

The two of us headed into Costa for a lovely little latte and so we could have a good chatter in peace and quiet surroundings before heading towards Felicini's. We were meeting one of my friends from work who works at another site along with her daughter, who was coming along as well. Even better was that as I'm on the email list for Felicini's, they also had a promotional offer going during January which was 25% off the food as well, so no complaints from us there I reckon. The four of us made our way there and to the table we had, and had a good view by the window. Conversation flowed really easily and it was really nice to chat as well and feel so relaxed.

As for the food, well we had some garlic bread and a selection of breads to go with the main meal, and in the end my friend went for the seafood risotto, her daughter the pizza, The Sweetener went for a spicy pasta and yours truly a chicken and mushroom penne, which came in a lovely creamy sauce along with lots of chicken and very tasty mushrooms, which was very good indeed. It was enough to make sure I had enough left for dessert - which wasn't going for tiramisu!! Whilst my friend and her daughter went for the giant profiteroles to share, myself and The Sweetener went for the vanilla panna cotta. Oh, my, god. It was absolutely delicious, let me tell you. Imagine one of those big Ikea jars with a big lid that closes, and then fill it with the panna cotta, and you get the idea. Not just that, the vanilla was the right side of bitter and the raspberries the right side of tart, and just worked wonderfully well. Admittedly, if I wanted to, I could eat that again, on my own, without any problems whatsoever.

Conversation flowed freely and it was a very lovely time had by everyone to say the least, and the time fled by. It was around half past three when we left and said our goodbyes, but it was one of the nicest Sunday afternoons I've had. The two of us contemplated a couple of things whilst sat in the Waterhouse pub later, where a pint of Greene King IPA happened to be a mere 99p. Yes, 99p. Bargain or what? And it's not that bad for a pint of real ale either, so no complaints there either. We made our way back to The Sweetener's place and had a relaxing evening before I went home later on, and it was just really nice.

As for tune of the day, well it seems quite appropriate that "Sunday Girl" by Blondie gets a mention here, it's a great little song and of course it sums up pretty much what I was doing - out on Sunday with my girlfriend, and right now it can't get any better than that, let me tell you.

Saturday 17th January - There's Only One Zabaleta

Myself and my friend went to the City of Manchester Stadium today to see Manchester City against Wigan Athletic. After the last home game being the FA Cup debacle against Nottingham Forest, it was hard to see whether we had the nouse or the bottle for this one, especially as we'd not played since then due to the Portsmouth postponement that we had. But that didn't stop us, and we decided that the best course of action was to go and see what would happen - and it was relatively cheap to get in as well, which of course always helps doesn't it?

We got to the ground and this time we were in the South Stand Level 1, block 121, near the back. This meant we'd be covered twice over from the rain, and also be situated close to the corner flag, so a good view would be had from there I reckoned to myself. We had a good natter and my friend battled with Are You Smarter Than A 10 Year Old on the Nintendo DS whilst we were waiting (which he reckons is a swizz because Noel Edmonds isn't even in the game despite being on the cover, meh.). Soon enough the teams were announced, they came out and were ready to go, not least Wigan's horrrible yellow dayglo away kit. I wouldn't want to look at that too often, let me tell you.

City went for it in the first half, Robinho missed a one on one and had a shot just wide, and several others went pretty close. Wigan were heavily reliant on Amr Zaki up front with Emile Heskey playing a supporting role. Zaki was particularly winding up the City defence with little niggly tackles and also acting as if he was the victim of it all, I wasn't impressed by that. Whatever happened to the spirit of fair play and all, eh? It was a little frustrating we didn't score but the promise was there that we would. Even so, I said to my friend at half time that this looked like 1-0 either way written all over it.

Second half started brightly enough, City attacked down the right, the ball broke from a Robinho attempted cross to Pablo Zabaleta, and our temporary midfield man half volleyed a beauty into the bottom corner to make it 1-0. It was nothing more than he deserved to be honest, he was a revelation in midfield and for me definitely man of the match by a mile, his worth ethic was second to none, he got stuck in and really marshalled the troops well. Right after we scored, controversy reigned. Zaki went for a tackle with Richard Dunne and seemed to kick Dunne petulantly. Dunne responded and the referee saw the reaction and red carded Dunne. Although the sending off was in hindsight correct, it didn't matter - it angered the City fans what Zaki had got away with and we felt the referee didn't do his job properly.

For the last half hour it was all action stations - City pulled Vincent Kompany back to central defence partnering the impressive as ever Nedum Onouha, and with Micah Richards at his more usual left back thwarting attacks, it looked better. We even had a couple of chances for two nil, but as the game wore on Wigan got closer, and in one case they hit the bar and Zaki missed the easiest of chances. I'm telling you, it was miss of the season right there and he will be gutted watching that one on the match video. But City held out for a well deserved 1-0 win which had us both cheered up and happy.

My friend mentioned that the other banana plugs had come for the speaker cable, and so we headed back to his place after the game to sort it all out. What was good was that the screws were easy to undo with a jewellers' screwdriver that my friend had, and we soon fed the cable in, connected the banana plugs, and all sounded rather lovely to say the least. That done, it was over to the Wii for a blast of bowling and golf, and although I didn't top my 204 from the other night, we were both getting strikes and spares and scoring 150-180 for each game each. In fact we did the nine holes of golf, and the ninth hole is mad! But we did do the three hole mini game too and scored my best of -1 for the three, with a gorgeous birdie at the second to boot. Yaay.

After all that it was time to go home, and tune of the day simply has to be David Bowie's "Heroes", because for City, they were heroes, just for one day. In fact at the ground the tannoy plays Oasis' version with images of City scoring great goals over the years, which really gets the crowd hyped up. But I still love the Bowie one, it means more and you can tell how he sings it how much it means, so there.

Friday 16th January - Put The Kettle On

As I was wandering round my local Tesco doing the food shopping tonight, I noticed that they had a few new items of homeware and at a well reduced price as well. What caught my eye was the matt black toaster and also a very nice matt black jug kettle to go with it. I've had my original kettle and toaster since I moved in the house and they are geting on a bit in terms of age now. My thought process was that I should really invest in one which would go well with the new kitchen (especially the black splashbacks) and go from there, and after having looked in numerous shops around Stockport last night, and not quite seeing what I wanted, it was a real surprise to visit my little local Tesco and find what I needed there.

Thankfully I didn't have much food shopping to do, and so when I did all that I picked up the two boxes and went to the till to pay, and of course as you can imagine racked up a few Clubcard points (as you do). As I was leaving, the detector thing beeped at me and the security came rushing over. I calmly showed them the receipt that I had paid for everything and they reckoned that the detection device was probably in the bottom of the box, but not to worry, they knew I was not a scroaty thief and so let me on my way. I got home and my hunch and theirs was right, the thief detection device was in the bottom of the box. I emptied the other kettle, cleaned the toaster out and bagged them - I do have someone who would like them and so I can recycle them in a good way (mind you if it wasn't the case, I'd have followed the WEEE directive anyway).

With all that done and the kitchen now really finished off lovely, I had the happiest part of the day to come, as The Left Button On My Mouse came over for tea. It was nice to see her as ever, especially as we'd been apart since we got home from our little mini-break. We then later on had a couple of games of Scrabble whilst I put on some Durutti Column - you see, they're playing Bury Met in a couple of weeks time and as you can imagine, being a fan of the godlike genius of Vini Reilly and all that, I fancied going. So to convince The Left Button, I whacked on the "Vini Reilly" and "The Guitar and Other Machines" albums in sequence which also served as perfect background music too.

As for the Scrabble, well The Left Button scored a massive 51 right at the end of one game, pluralising ZIT and also making SAD, and with the S straddling a triple word score, it scored both ways. Neat, I know. Mind you, I had also played EX and XI with the X straddling triple letter, which scored me 50, so I didn't do too bad either. It was her best score ever for one game though and she is getting better each time. I know she'll beat me, it'll be a case of when rather than if I reckon.

I really enjoyed listening to The Durutti Column again though, it was like a breath of fresh air for the New Year. Most of my favourite pieces are on those two albums, not least "When The World" which goes from being fairly serene and calm to being fairly manic and back again (not least on the CD Video single version) so that one's tune of the day - it'll be intriguing to see what Vini does I reckon when I go to see him (I'm definitely going to go and I'll let The Left Button decide for herself, cos that's what we do.)

Thursday 15th January - Back To Normal Then

It was back to the office today and back to some form of normality, whatever that is. Mind you, I had plenty of my toes to keep me going: three days' worth of missed emails to catch up with, and on top of that, three days' worth of mail and other such things to do as well, like paperwork. Ugh. I did though get one little problem solved to do with a power adapter for a laptop: the brick and cable to the laptop came, but the connector to the power brick was one of those three pin round ones, not the two pin figure of eight. I had one spare so was able to send that over and test it to be working, which was good and also saved some time.

I did also have a laptop where one of my colleagues looked at it and the hard drive seemingly was dead. I did manage to test the laptop with another IDE hard drive just to be on the safe side, and the laptop was okay, so that immediately ruled out any other form of hardware issue. Sometimes, it's good to just get an idea exactly of what's wrong so you can report back with qualified confidence. It'll probably be a case of getting a replacement drive, chucking it in, adding the new image on there, and job very well done, that's how it usually pans out anyway.

Been keeping an eye on the Windows 7 beta as well. I have the DVD image made and ready to go, and it's just a case of seeing if I can test it on any hardware either here or at the office and then see if it's any improvement over Vista. Of course if I put a temporary hard drive in my rig here I could check it out, the only caveat being of course that it might not detect all the hardware I have installed and running, but then again it may well do. It'll just be a case of I think seeing what happens and going from there. If I do plan to do it, I might even do a small mini review of the beta, not done a review for a bit..

Right, there's a pile of ironing to be done and it's not going away, so I shall nominate tune of the day and it was a fairly easy choice really - "Back To The Old House" by The Smiths. Sometimes going back to work feels like almost going to somewhere you call home for the day, and I guess with the weather still not being so great, it kind of fits.

Wednesday 14th January - Wii Have A Winner!

I was going to have a nice leisurely day off today, and for the most part, that's how it proved. It did get a bit frustrating earlier on in the day as I was uploading the pics from Warwick from the recent break I had. For some reason some of the ones which I had rotated seemed to lose the EXIF tag information when they were being uploaded to Flickr. How odd, I thought. I double checked that the information was there on the image, and it seemed to be, and it wasn't till the afternoon, by which time I'd done the necessary image taken changes to those that had lost their tags, that I sussed it out. For some reason the image editing program I use to rotate the images seemed to have been using the wrong Windows DLL for the Visual C runtime, and hence didn't work as intended when doing a save. Replaced it with the one in the Windows folder, and badabing! All seems to working properly. I'll double check the next upload just to be sure, mind..

I then emailed my friends to let them know the pics were up and made my way over to my friend's house. I thought it'd be good to see him and his wife, and as it happened, despite the rubbish traffic after school meaning the trip took longer than planned, it was well timed. He'd ordered himself this very nice Denon DM37 micro system with DAB radio and CD, and he was going to hook up the Mission speakers to it for a nice rounded sound. Now, he ordered the speaker cable, had it terminated with banana plugs, but... only one length of cable and four plugs. Whoops! We made the executive decision to order more plugs, cut the three metre cable in half and then connect away, and it all worked fine, set up the DAB to the stations and it was all systems go.

Then it was a case of a lucky break for the two of them too - they had been into one of the computer game shops earlier today and just so happened to do so once the Wii Fit had arrived, so they got one complete with bundle deal of a silicone cover, some socks to wear when on the board and a rechargable battery pack, which makes a heck of a lot of sense when using something like that. So, it was a case of synching the Wii Fit board with the Wii, then running Wii Fit and seeing how the board would respond. I gave it a test run and was soon doing the hula hoop thing along with the steps and also the balance with the ski jumping. I must say when I saw my BMI index together with what it perceived my fitness age to be, I was less than happy, so it was good to have a little workout and see how it happened. I think they're going to have considerable fun with it!

We kept an ear on the footy and also tried out Samba de Amigo - with the nunchuck and the remote being used for the maracas to shake like crazy. Of course, you have to do the poses as well at the relative time which took a little getting used to but soon I was setting score markers for many of the tunes for them to aim at. And, they even had a version of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" - sadly not the original, as if I remember rightly that got licenced to Dancing Stage Euromix in the arcade (and yes, I love that and always pick that tune cos it's a good stomper) and so that has to be tune of the day (well the original anyway) as I soon got the hang of it all.

We ended the day later on with a mass session on Wii Sports, firstly on the bowling. I struggled with it last time, but soon worked out the aim and technique required, and we were both hitting strikes for fun. In fact my friend got three on the trot, and I repeated the feat later on too. In one game he scored almost his best score and I surpassed his with 177. Then in the next game, I pulled off a certain fluke or two, but it was five strikes on the bounce, one after the other. This as you can imagine helped the score no end and I managed a very creditable 204. Well, I was pretty chuffed anyway. Mind you, my friend did paste me a few times at the golf, although we both now have a best score of level par for three holes, so we're not doing that badly I suppose. It was a good day, only sad thing was that it's back to work tomorrow and that can't be good to be quite honest.

Tuesday 13th January - Jeff Stelling, Countdown Legend

Myself and The Water From The Spa woke up this morning with that feeling of emptiness that the little break was almost over and that we'd soon be heading homewards. We packed everything and then headed off for breakfast and decided to go into the local Wetherspoons, namely The Benjamin Satchwell (named after one of the founding fathers of the town, in fact). The breakfast was typically good as it usually is in those sort of places, and we had the tea and toast go with it, so very heartily we ate indeed, which should mean less panging for hunger on the train (well that was the plan).

We walked back from the Travelodge, having checked out, and got to the train station in good time. The 1112 departure for Manchester came on time, and we found our reserved seats, and had to ask a couple of people to move - they looked like soldiers in their camouflage gear and were having a drink or three on their way homeward. They were very polite though and realised that they were out seats and moved. The journey back was on time, and in fact I am sure as it arrived early at Coventry, Birmingham New Street and Stoke-on-Trent, a fair few minutes could have been shaved off the journey time. As it was, it got back to Manchester Piccadilly a good five minutes early. Hurrah! We hugged, kissed and said goodbye for now as we headed our ways homeward, and thankfully I wasn't waiting long for a bus to take me home.

I got home, transferred the pictures from the camera to the PC and then made myself a coffee and sat back for Channel 4, as it was the second in the new series of Countdown, and I wanted to see particularly Jeff Stelling (you know, the bloke from Sky off Gilette Soccer Saturday) do his thing. I have to say he was ace, and the rapport he had with the contestants, the very very lovely Susie Dent in Dictionary Corner, and the new letters and numbers wiz Rachel Riley was excellent. In fact, Jeff wound up Rachel beautifully today, remarking on Rachel's red dress:

JS: I'm glad to see you have your Manchester United red on.
RR: Any opportunity to put my Man U red on, yeah.
JS: Manchester United fan, where do you live Rachel?
RR: Essex.
JS: Well, there's a surprise isn't it?

Hehe. Rachel did remark her Dad lives in Salford, but even so, he was using his sport knowledge to good effect there. And considering it was Champion of Champions or so, in one round Jeff beat both contestants and got the seven letter word bedtime, and as you can imagine, he was pretty chuffed! But he seems also to have an air of authority and tone that seems right for Countdown, and I'm sure he'll settle in nicely indeed. Definitely well worth a watch and I might even record the odd one just to see how good it becomes over time. (oh, and admittedly, there is the Susie Dent factor!)

Tune of the day though has to be something I thought of when passing Jephson Gardens on the way home - of course because of the fact that Ocean Colour Scene had the cover of their album in there, I remembered how good "The Day We Caught The Train" was, and even if I'm not a big fan of the band, that tune seems quite apt considering I was catching a train, and also said track is from "Moseley Shoals"!

Monday 12th January - Castles In The Rain

As part of our little break, I knew that Royal Leamington Spa was a short throw away from Warwick, which meant that if we wanted to, we could go to the castle and explore the history and mystery behind it. It was a place that we both wanted to go to as neither of us had been there before, and also it meant we could make the most of the day as well. I knew the trains ran there regularly from the station, but also we could get the bus as well which meant we didn't have as far to walk either way, which was a good thing.

First stop, breakfast, and we decided to head to Costa and for me, have their lovely ham and cheese toastie downed with an Americano coffee, and we got some orange juice too. We wanted something fairly light to start the day, as there was a fair bit of walking and possible climbing to be done. We also noted how many "yummy mummies" were around with their small children, meeting for coffee and having a general chat about things. I don't know of all Costas are like that obviously, but it seemed at least that in Royal Leamington Spa, it was a case of this is where they tended to meet.

We headed back to the Parade and there was a bus waiting for us - the Stagecoach Goldline G1 bus to Warwick. The driver told us a Group Dayrider for us would be better than two individual day ones, so with £7.20 handed over, it was off to Warwick. The bus took us round a couple of housing estates and then into the centre of Warwick coming from the North slightly (instead of the East, as Royal Leamington Spa is a few miles East of Warwick). That said though, it was quick enough and also über-comfortable, in no small part due to the luxury leather seats throughout. Apparently, it's being tried out and if successful, the Goldline might be on other routes too. Well, it certainly left us impressed anyway.

Warwick itself is quite a small town really, much smaller than Royal Leamington Spa. The main shopping streets tended to be full of smaller local shops, and quite a few which dealt in antiques as well for some reason. We followed the signposts, past the council offices and past some really old Tudor houses which are now a café and some local housing, and soon spotted the pedestrian entrance that took us to the entrance of Warwick Castle itself. Now, The Water From The Spa had pulled a cunning plan out of the hat - she had enough points on her Nectar card, so that would pay for one admission to the castle, and we'd just split the cost of the other admission between us. That was very very nice of her, and sure enough the points plan worked (considering the castle admission is £15 each, not a bad move at all).

We entered the castle grounds and even from the outside you could tell how gorgeous the castle is - and so well preserved, its towers and walls dominating the local skyline and certainly one you could see with a good view of the county visible from the top of its towers, I suspected. We had a look at all the insides of the castle still up - so we got to see the Kingmaker exhibit, which tells you about the history of some of the soldiers who'd fight for the king and also how their weapons would be made, how the maidens would amuse themselves, and plenty of battle armour, realistic sound and lifelike models. So lifelike in fact that The Water was worried that one of them would jump up and scare her - well she said it first, I wasn't that far behind that thought in truth!

We then went into another room that had The Great Hall, and my, that was grand! It had plenty of old armoury and weapons draped along the walls and one of the old dining tables and services, carved out entirely of one tree, called The Kenilworth Service, I think. We followed through the hall and to some of the Victorian exhibits which showed what the castle was used for during those times, as a place to impress the rich and the gentry. You got to see how the other half lived, and again many lifelike models together with lots of well preserved rooms - in fact we spotted silk wall coverings on some of them which were just stunningly beautiful even if they were showing their age somewhat.

We went back into The Great Hall and this time went right instead of left, and saw many of the older rooms and indeed one room had replicas of all six wives of Henry VIII, with a model of himself further on down the end of the corridor. Throughout you could see the splendour of the building and certainly if there was any tea party to be held there, or any fancy occasion, you could tell from the many exhibits how you'd dress and indeed just how beautiful everyone would look - it was definitely a sight to behold for sure. We then exited this, and saw The Mound on the far side of the castle.

We walked up the walkway towards the top of the Mound, and we saw a rather intriguing sight - a massive rat had crawled from the bushes and was making its way across the path and into the undergrowth. I don't know if it was a one off incident, but I captured it on camera anyway so that was handy to have with me. We carried on regardless and soon reached the top of the mound, with some lovely views of the countryside beyond the river, and indeed of the whole of Warwickshire, very lovely. We went back down the mound, walked past the birds of prey, noted the Boat house and the trebuchet on the other side of the bridge, and walked past the birds and onto a little path to the Peacock Gardens.

We both thought that it got its name due to some of the hedges that adorn the gardens and surround a fountain in the centre being shaped like a peacock (a nice work of art too) but what we didn't expect to see were the real live thing. And not just one either. I reckon there were around ten peacocks, some hiding in the trees, some sat on benches admiring themselves, and some on the grass strolling around. They must have been used to human contact though as we didn't seem to disturb them one little bit, and when we saw it start to rain heavily, we headed for the little conservatory that housed the Warwick Vase, and as we did so the peacocks followed us, wanting to come in as well (we didn't let them in through, they just sauntered off to the next tree and hid under there)

As the rain was coming down and with the time being around half past twelve, we decided that the best course of action was to do lunch and let the rain ease off a little. The Courtyard located in the castle's undercroft seemed ideal - it was warm and cosy and you could sit by the window overlooking the river downwards. In fact they did a carvery lunch for a mere £7.25, and that proved well worth it. We got big slices of roast beef and ham, a Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, and a selection of whatever vegetables we liked plus gravy. There was no skimping on anything, and it was a very hearty meal enjoyed by us both.

The rain had eased but was still pouring and we decided to brave it and take the castle wall walk. We headed along some stairs to one of the main walls, and then entered one of the main towers. It was a long spiral staircase similar to the one we'd been in in York Minster, and seemed to go on for a lot longer before we managed to get to the top of that tower. Mind you, despite the wind and still some rain, the view was worth it - it looked impressive even with the grey cloud, and you could see that in Summer it would be rather awesome to view. We went back down the other staircase out, along another part of the battlements, through the Gatehouse Tower, and then on to another spiral staircase and another Tower, where again the view was rather magnificen, followed by some spiral stairs down which took you to the entrance to the Kingmaker exhibit, so it ended up being a nice circular loop as you ascended the castle's tops.

We ventured down the Mill House to see the water wheel and an old bridge over the river where only parts of it stand now, and walked through the Rose Gardens, which offered some lovely views and indeed looked very nice as a garden itself and thoroughly preserved. Overall, even if the weather wasn't perfect, we didn't care - the castle was nothing short of spectacular and indeed the fact that it felt like a historic place together with the exhibits (The Water From The Spa loved the Victorian ones in all their garb especially) just made the experience one that was very well worth it. I might even have to go back in the Summer and check out the jousting tournaments and stuff like that - it was steeped in beautiful history and so well preserved - just wish that more people appreciated places like this.

We stopped off in Warwick for a latte in this very nice little coffee place - indeed they had a buckets for brollies at the door so The Water placed hers in there and so we could relax and reflect on the sights that we'd just seen. Warwick itself did seem pretty sleepy and we would have gone round the museum there but it was shut - no good there then. So we thought we'd head back to base, and maybe come here later for a drink in the evening. We got back to Royal Leamington Spa, had a quick wander in the shops and then headed back to base, mainly to dry off, as the rain had really bucketed it down on the way back and we were glad to be covered on the bus!

I had noticed a huge board outside Zizzi on the main Parade, which offered the option of their "Healthy Menu", and even better, three courses for a mere £9.95. We liked the idea of that, and as the place was very close to the Travelodge, we could go there and see if the weather held okay for a jaunt back to Warwick for a drink - or stay in Royal Leamington Spa if not. Anyway, we entered Zizzi and were just given the normal menus, not the Healthy Menu. I soon rectified that by getting one of the menus myself and we asked the waitress if we were allowed to order from there - we both wanted to as it looked good. We both had the mushroom soup to start, which was very tasty and had a nice peppery afterkick, and while she went for the spaghetti in tomato and basil sauce, I went for the mushroom risotto, which was packed full of mushrooms to say the least. Dessert was a sorbet, either mango or blackcurrant or one of each, which worked out nice too.

The bill came over and straight away I knew it was going to be wrong - and it was. They'd charged us for the individual courses and not the correct price from the Healthy Menu - I worked out that with that, wine, water and garlic bread, it should have come to around £13 less than what we were being charged. I had a polite word with the waitress who realised the error and soon came to us with a corrected bill. I have to say though that I might not be visiting Zizzi again for a while though - whilst the food was lovely (and I'm not doubting that), the service left a little to be desired. If you're going to have a big sign outside saying that you have a Healthy Menu available, then offer it to the customers (in fact we spotted that no one else had been offered the menu either by the waiting staff as they entered) or else. I might have to point that out to the powers that be at Zizzi and see if I can get them to change their policy, or else it's really false advertising isn't it?

That done, we didn't have to wait hardly at all for the G1 bus, as the rain had died off, and so headed to Warwick - and to two pubs. The first was the Rose and Crown, they looked like a gastropub and certainly the dining section looked busy - even for a Monday night. Mind you, they had the cheek to charge £8.80 for a large glass of pinot grigio and a pint of Black Sheep. I'd have to wonder how much the wine was as I'm sure anything more than around £2.75 for the Black Sheep would be daylight robbery to be honest. Mind you, we then headed over the road to The Tilted Wig pub - it seemed a lot quieter but soon got a little busier as the locals who'd been to the local Indian restaurant opposite headed in. I had the very nice local brew made by the Slaughterhouse Brewery - namely Tilted Pig. It's the best pint I had of the two days, very flavoursome and absoltuely moreish!

We headed on the G1 bus back, thus getting full use of the Dayrider, and definitely reflecting on another really nice day. I'd even heard some nice music in both pubs as well, which certainly made the ambience a heck of a lot nicer for sure, and one of them happened to be the original Canned Heat version of "On The Road Again", which also seemed apt as we'd done four bus journeys that day to and from Warwick, so that one's got to be tune of the day. Just a real shame that we're going home tomorrow, but as they say all good things have to come to an end don't they?

Sunday 11th January - By Royal Appointment, Off To Leamington Spa

It was the start of a short break for The Water From The Spa and myself today, as we had booked ourselves a little couple of days away together. The beauty of this break was that it was relatively cheap (understatement) and indeed that it meant we were also taking time off work to be together, so we'd be away whilst everyone else was hard at work in their respective offices. In fact we had booked the Travelodge in Royal Leamington Spa for a mere £9 a night for two nights, and the trains to there from Manchester were a mere £9 each way for each of us, so as you can see, not too bad at all eh?

We met at Piccadilly station in good time for our 1127 departure to Royal Leamington Spa. In case you wondered, the Royal bit is part of the town's correct title, it was granted that by Queen Victoria on her visits to the town, and the Queen once stayed at what was the Regent Hotel, situated on the town's main Parade, a long street full of history and indeed Georgian architecture. Anyway, the train was there waiting for us once we'd stocked up on a Boots Meal Deal for the journey and a nice latte from Costa, and we soon found our seats - which had a table and everything. It also meant that the luggage rack was close by so we were able to keep an eye on everything.

The train sped along on time until we got to Wolverhampton. There was some engineering work which meant that the train couldn't take its usual route between there and Birmingham, but go the back way, join the line and go via Walsall's Bescot Stadium station, Tame Bridge Parkway and besides Aston Villa's ground before coming into New Street station from the other direction. This added around twenty minutes to the journey, and even though it tried to make up time, we then got stuck just outside Royal Leamington Spa as we were waiting for a platform to become free. You see, there was engineering works between there and Oxford which meant all trains were terminating there with onward buses. Thankfully, none of that for us.

We got off and soon headed down the main road into the town centre, and along the main street, which took us past one of the main churches, over the River Leam, and onwards to the Parade itself. You could see how grand all the Georgian terraces were and all resplendent in white as well. In fact some of the Christmas lights were still there along the Parade. We soon found the Travelodge, and in fact it was in the building that indeed was the former Regent Hotel! So we may even have stayed in a room which Queen Victoria stayed in. In the reception there was a list of famous people who had stayed there before the hotel's original owners closed the place down (it was bought by Travelodge and refurbished inside, but preserving the outside of the building as it's Grade II listed), and that included Patricia Routledge from the TV series "Keeping Up Appearances". It later transpired that a fair amount of the series was filmed in the town, so that all made sense.

The Travelodge was standard Travelodge fare, clean, comfortable and a great power shower that certainly impressed The Water From The Spa. And for £9 per night, absolute bargain it has to be said. We unpacked and soon headed off through the town, firstly to fully admire all the beautiful Georgian architecture along the Parade, before heading back towards the River Leam, taking note of the gorgeous frontage of the Royal Pump Rooms (now a museum, library and art gallery complex) and into Jephson Gardens. The gardens were named after Henry Jephson, who promoted the town's spa for health reasons but also helped the poor where possible.

I have to say the gardens were absolutely lovely. Everything was so well preserved and immaculately presented. As we walked by the duck pond, the ducks were having problems. You see, with the recent cold snap it had iced over, and only parts of it had thawed out enough, so they were heading across towards the sections that had thawed, and of course if anyone threw bread in there, it was like a massive free for all for them and the swans that were also there. We walked along there and into the Glasshouse, a really nice botannical indoor garden that featured some nice plants, rock features and also an educational area on plants for the children as well. Adjacent to that is The Restaurant In The Park, where you could have a really posh lunch if you wanted to.

We walked by the memorial for Henry Jephson, which was cylindrical building with a dome on top. The statue itself was inside and although gated off you could see it through the gate. In fact the memorial dome is known in the history of indie rock, as Ocean Colour Scene had their picture taken outside it for the cover of their "Moseley Shoals" album. Yes indeed. There was also the rather nice fountain dedicated to one of the doctors who had helped the poor, and the clock was in tribute to the three time mayor of the town. The clock worked perfectly too, and faced the aviary that was used as a café.

We walked along the far end of the gardens, headed on the bridge over the River Leam, and then to the Mill Gardens. These were smaller but offered a nice view of the river from the other side, and we got to the boating lake, which was frozen over with the boats stranded in the ice in the middle and no one around, obviously deserted for the winter. We followed the path to the Mill Bridge, an old suspension bridge which takes you over the river and back into Jephson Gardens itself. What we noted too is that the bridge felt like it wobbled slightly as you walked over it, or if several people walked over at once. There was also a river weir to the left as we crossed the bridge, with many ducks swimming perilously close to it but not seeming to fall in at any point.

We then decided that a warming cuppa was needed and so headed into The Restaurant In The Park as night started to fall. It was quiet for a late Sunday afternoon, but we decided on a nice pot of tea and a cake each - I had this lemon syrup cake and it was absolutely lovely, it was soaked in lemon was the sponge, and it tasted light and moist all at the same time, complete with small pieces of lemon rind as well. That and the tea certainly was good, as was the view from our table overlooking the river and the bridge, watching the ducks and wildlife go by, definitely a relaxing afternoon, which is what we both wanted.

After a nice relaxing drink in the pub later (I got to try this ale called Thin Ice which seemed pretty nice) the only difficult decision we had to make was where to eat. We had walked past a few nice places in the centre but decided that where possible we'd support one of the local eateries, and so headed to La Coppola, not too far from where we were staying. We'd both brought a change of clothes for the meal, and I have to say that The Water From The Spa looked stunning in her satiny trousers and her new top from Jane Norman, with a black top underneath that (the top from Jane Norman's a bit see through, you see). She looked gorgeous and I had trousers and a nice shirt on, so it felt romantic we entered La Coppola.

And I tell you what - if you're ever around that area and you want an authentic Italian, go there. You absolutely must. We both had the minestrone soup to start and it was very hearty indeed, big chunks of vegetables in a warm thick stock, lovely slices of parmesan and attention to detail. We felt like we were being treated royally by the staff too, they looked after us without fussing and were very attentive indeed. I had mulled over the choice of main course, and in the end, The Water decided on this chicken dish in a sauce with some chilli, and I went for one of the specials, a linguini with baby prawns, crab and a white wine and cream sauce. I know The Water enjoyed hers, but my dish was absolutely stunning - I'd even go as far to say it's the best Italian dish I've had in ages, with only the cuisine in Felicini's Manchester coming close. There were loads of prawns, plenty of crab meat and hidden in the dish was even the end of the crab as well with some more meat to fish out of it - so well presented and tasty.

The decor in there was stunning too - all painted in the homely Italian style, and when I went to the loo upstairs, I noted the seating area up there with a ceiling painting of da Vinci's "The Last Supper", beautifully and tastefully done. The music was unobtrusive but good background, and the prices weren't that bad either - certainly they didn't overcharge for my sparkling mineral water, for example. I could constantly rave on about the food but suffice to say that we were both impressed. So much so, that we left a much larger tip than we normally would because we were that chuffed and impressed with the way that they did things - proper home cooked Italian food, presented with pride and passion, and with a lot of love. That for us both was one of the highlights of the day without a doubt.

We headed for a drink down the pub later which meant I could try out the intriguing Jack O'Legs from the Tring Brewery, which wasn't that bad at all. It also meant we could just have a good chat about all sorts of things in another relaxed setting, and with rain forecast we weren't that far from the Travelodge base so we could easily head back without getting drenched. We did that later and it was a case of reflecting on what had been a lovely day. I can't believe sometimes how lucky I am. I know full well that this sort of break I'd have done on my own (and would have definitely done so) but to share that with someone lovely makes things a heck of a lot better. In terms of tune of the day, I'm going to give that to Nizlopi's "JCB Song" as I'd mentioned to The Water that the band came from there and were part of a small music scene the town has, and of course it got to number one not so long ago coupled with its excellent video.

Saturday 10th January - Sale Bargains And One Step Beyond

After a nice bacon barm for breakfast this morning (cos we can), myself and The Missing Piece of My Jigsaw headed into Stockport - we thought we'd see if there were any sale bargains going and I also wanted to have a peek at a couple of things whilst I was there. It was pretty quiet as we got there around 10.30amish, so that meant we could get around without much hassle at all. In fact, in Debenhams and on the ground floor in the men's section, their sale stuff looked pretty decent. Something caught my eye there as did something else as well, and I was soon having to make a decision on one item or another. I didn't want to spend on them both but thought that one would be good. In case you wondered they were both very nice pairs of jeans, but I wanted the black pair because that's my preferred colour, and also because they looked very smart indeed.

I smiled even more when I saw the price tag - they had been reduced from a whacking £70 to a much more reasonable £28, meaning a huge 60% off thing going. And they were Levi 506s in black as well, so I knew they'd be decent and that I'd have a smart pair of jeans for going out and stuff - and I felt so pleased having found them, and in my size too which was definitely a massive plus. I paid for those at the counter and felt rather good - the sort of shopping I like really. Go in, see what you want, pay for it, leave. Easy. It also proved my point rather nicely that sometimes the smaller branches of Debenhams are actually better for finding stuff.

Flushed with success, we had a walk around the town centre and I was taking a look at comparative deals over the Nintendo Wii. I must admit I really enjoyed myself last weekend with my friend's one, and I'm kind of tempted to get one myself as I'm sure both myself, The Missing Piece and indeed any friends that come round could have considerable fun with it as well, I thought to myself. Some of the deals seemed okay but there didn't seem to be that much discount for buying one second hand, so it may as well be a case of buying one new but hopefully with a nice little pack of games as well so that at least there's something to keep everyone occupied - just worth a look really.

In fact, I wasn't the only one to get a bargain - The Missing Piece managed to get this really nice little wrap top shawl thing from Oasis, which had not only been reduced by half in the sale, but today there was also 20% off all sale items as well, which meant that what she got had been reduced by a total of 60% too. It did look very nice and I know that what's quite nice is that we both often agree on things that will look lovely for her, and she doesn't mind my input. For me, it's also about paying attention and making sure that if I do buy her anything, that I know it'll be something that she will adore.

After she headed homewards later, I settled in to watch a sporting afternoon. With City's game at Portsmouth called off to the icy conditions, I knew that I didn't have to worry about Sky Sports News updates and how badly we'd play, so instead I simply thought "I'll watch the racing". Except the main event from Warwick was also called off and the only racing on was from Ayr, which was okay but nothing to write home about. However, after seeing most of the cross country running from Edinburgh, it was then staying on BBC1 so I could watch the World Darts semi-finals.

First up was Darryl Fitton against Tony O'Shea. They're both from Stockport, best mates and all, and they even play in the Pineapple Inn in Marple. I bet the atmosphere in there was something with the regulars watching the semi. Of course Darryl comes out to Madness' "One Step Beyond" and he even does the Madness type dancing, but it was clear from the outset that they both respected their friendship and found it difficult to be ultra competitive with each other, instead congratulating each other on good finishes and doubles. O'Shea broke the throw in the fifth set to make it 3-2 going into the break and he took the next two after, before Fitton raised his game and it was 5-4. In fact in the tenth set, in the fourth leg Fitton had darts for a double to win the set and missed, and the same in the fifth, which set up O'Shea for a three dart finish, culminating in the bull, which he hit bang in the middle. For such a pressure shot, it was so well executed and to be fair to Darryl he commented to the BBC afterwards that it was a quality shot and fair play and all that.

The second was definitely the legends of the night, with Martin "Wolfie" Adams against Ted "The Count" Hankey. That too proved a pretty close run thing as it went to 3-3 and then Ted won two on the trot to make it 5-3, but Martin wasn't done yet and pulled off some stunning finshing to make it 5-4. It was all on who was going to hold the nerve on the doubles and in the end Ted won 6-4 and set up an intriguing final. The standard was better than the other semi, particularly on the finishing - both Ted and Martin did 161 finishes which currently are the highest of the tournament. In fact, there's only three finishes which are better than that (164, 167 and the magical 170 which Ted did on the very last leg of his world title win back in the day!) so that showed the level of competition. I think Ted might win tomorrow although my heart would love the local Tony O'Shea to do it.

Tune of the day, carrying on the theme of some of the entrance music from the darts players, is DJ Zany's "Be On Your Way" which is the music Ted Hankey uses to enter the arena. Craftily, he uses the good bit from the mdidle of the tune onwards, where the voice goes "This is my territory, be on your way" which of course works well with the entrace of "The Count" in his cape and complete with bats.

Friday 9th January - Rafa Says What We All Think

It was a pretty busy day today at work - managed to get all I wanted to do done before I have a few days off. I finished off a laptop for a member of staff so that they could pick it up early next week whilst I was off, I also replaced the faulty base unit of another member of staff's PC with a working one so that they could at least have something good to work with in terms of using the software etc, and on top of all that, I blitzed a room and reinstalled one piece of software whilst removing another and also doing a hard disk check, so it was a pretty productive day - and by the end of it I got everything straightened out so I don't have anything to worry about.

I caught wind of a news story on BBC News in the afternoon about Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool manager, having a go at Sir Alex Ferguson the Manchester United manager, and how he was stating facts where it seems that Man U have got away with disciplinary things with the FA. Having then watched the press conference later and seen how calm and collected he was with stating the facts (even had them all written down and ready prepared) it was pretty clear that he's had enough of what he and most of football seem to know - that it's one rule for Man U and one for everyone else. Read Rafa's words on BBC News and judge for yourself - but all the time he's stating fact.

As you can imagine, plenty of football forums, including a considerable number of Manchester City ones, were all over the story. Most of them as you can imagine came out in support of Rafa and indeed some of the City fan sites were saying that he's been brave to say what we all think and do so publically. I agree. No doubt that Rafa will probably face FA censure now for what he has said, but I don't know what they can do - after all he stuck to the facts meticulously and explained everything succinctly. It also showed in the hours afterwards that most of the British media are clearly up Man U's backside, suggesting that Rafa had "lost it" and that it would rank up there with Kevin Keegan's infamous rant from 1996. Who employs these idiots, and it makes me wonder if they actually watched the press conference or not?

In any case, it was just something that brightened up the day, as did of course seeing The Missing Piece Of My Jigsaw later. I did us both some pasta and sauce and meatballs, all together with a nice garlic ciabatta, that was perfect for dunking in the pasta sauce as well and that made it all very tasty. She had brought some sparkling rosé pinot grigio over too, and in all fairness it wasn't that bad, although not necessarily always my thing, that colour of wine. We settled in and relaxed, I indulged her with Coronation Street and had a relaxing evening in, ready for the short trip away that we've got planned in the next few days.

What amazes me about a lot of the music channels is that most of them tend to have the same sort of tunes on rotation. In fact three of them all played The Bangles' "Eternal Flame" within minutes of each other which proved a bit bobbins. Mind you, BBC Four did have a great programme on last night which featured many guitar legends playing classic tunes, so I thought I needed to educate The Missing Piece a bit on some of the history of rock and the music my Dad and I used to like as I was growing up. There were lots of classics played, including Deep Purple's seminal "Black Night" (make that tune of the day cos it was dark as hell out there last night, and cold too), Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing", an early U2 appearance "I Will Follow", and lots of stuff from the 1970s Old Grey Whistle Test including the likes of Pentangle, Little Feat, Dr. Feelgood, and best of all at the start the proper Fleetwood Mac (ie: the one with Peter Green in it of course) doing "Oh Well", which was rockingly good.

Thursday 8th January - Software Shenanigans

Today and yesterday were busy days in the office, as we had to roll out the updated piece of software on some of the PCs. Because of the nature of the licencing beast, it runs out every twelve months. Now normally we can roll out the licence file to the relevant PCs, and all will still work, but the software also was a brand new release as well, which meant that we couldn't do it. As we wanted to check some of the rooms were being looked after anyway, it was a case of heading there, uninstalling the old version of the software and then putting on the new one. Mostly this worked pretty well and it was a case of then checking the new one works as intended.

I was also battling with a laptop as well, as I had managed to image it fine but for some reason after post-imaging, it just decided to take its time to do its bit. I discovered why soon enough - the network cable had come loose out of the back. Duhhh. Still, that done it was time to remove Adobe Creative Suite 2 from the laptop. The image I had works for that model and has all the custom stuff on it, but only certain groups of staff get CS2, you see, cos of licencing. The uninstall takes a while but it means that at least everything is then done and ready to go. I've just got to do some wireless testing and it's ready to go, so I felt like it was a productive day today.

I would have got home pretty quickly tonight had it not been for the insistence on the bus driver stopping twice and just stopping at the stop for two minutes without anyone getting off or on. I can understand and appreciate it if there are people getting on paying their fare and all that, because that's what needs to be done. But when the driver just feels like staying there, it's incredibly frustrating, not least when you want to get home and do other things. Ah well, c'est la vie and all that.

I'm getting a few things sorted tonight for a little short break coming up. I've already got a rough idea of the train times that I need for when I'm there, and there's also the possibility of taking a bus as well to somewhere I want to go, but it depends on how frequent and also what the fares are. I know too that it might be a good idea to have everything packed and ready tonight so I can take things easy for the rest of the weekend and not have to worry about anything. I like this going away lark, you know. In fact, I'm also considering a few nice days out with The Blank In My Scrabble Rack over the next few months, we shall see what happens there.

In the meantime, it's back to the darts and it's the quarter finals in the World Championships. It's been a pretty high standard and tense affair for most of the matches, and as I'm typing this it's Gary Anderson versus Tony O'Shea. As the latter's from Stockport, I'm backing him cos he's a local (and why the hell not? I'll be backing Darryl Fitton in the next match for the same reason). I'll have to remember to record the final on Sunday, though... And tune of the day to round it off nicely is Royksopp's "Eple", because it's ace.

Wednesday 7th January - Today Is A Good Day

It's late at night, I should be in bed, but I can't help but be humming along to MC Solaar's "Today Is A Good Day" (better make that tune of the day whilst I'm at it). But why the sudden cheeriness and happiness coupled with the choice of France's premier hip-hop artist singing the chorus in English? Well, let me tell you, things happen for a reason and everything settles nicely into place sometimes on some days. This was one of them.

You may remember that a few weeks back I had tried and failed to get tickets for Duke Special at The Deaf Instititute in Manchester (it's the Trof bar near work basically) and I was a bit gutted because I really wanted to go and take The Blank In My Scrabble Rack with me, because I thought that she would enjoy it and in such a small intimate atmosphere it would be great to see him do his stuff. Well, as luck would have it, I randomly was checking some of the online ticketing websites for forthcoming gigs today and I thought "just see if there's been any more tickets released, like" and, to my utter amazement, they had! Hurrah! So as you can imagine I very quickly got that all sorted and booked two tickets pronto for the Sunday 25th January gig. I can't wait. In fact I worked out that I've got several things on that week so it should make myself nice and busy.

To say I was surprised and pleased was an understatement - I really didn't want to miss out and I know that it's the sort of thing that I like to do - go to gigs in smaller venues and see someone I like. Why he isn't any bigger I have no idea, his second album's only had a limited release in Ireland at the moment (one of my friends at work bought it on import!) and from what I've heard of it, it continues nicely from the first one indeed. Maybe the public aren't so sure what to make of someone with a big deadlocked haircut and a softly sung Belfast accent, who knows. But anyone who sings the theme tune to Sesame Tree has to be ace, officially.

I also was sending an email to one of my friends and mentioned that I was taking The Blank to see Avenue Q on the 24th (so what a weekend's that going to be!) - and I thought I'd send the Youtube link of the London cast from the Children In Need show back in 2007 with them performing one of the songs. Anyway, it turns out after a quick look on the official site that Julie Atherton, who originally did the role of Kate Monster in the London show, is back doing the role now till the show ends in March this year! I was pretty chuffed to bits to say the least - for me she is Kate Monster and not only does she have a great voice (I have her solo album to prove it) but she also gets all the expressions right, too. That'll be rather good won't it?

I even had The Blank head over to mine for tea, and afterwards it was a case of indulging her slightly with some of the soaps, then seeing Masterchef (dear me, some of the contestants this year don't seem to be right somehow - I mean, cooking sea bass and coconut milk in the same recipe? That just doesn't work on so many levels) it was down to a couple of games of Scrabble. I managed to do QUILT in the first game, and the Q was on triple letter and it straddled the double word, scoring me a very useful indeed 68 points, woohoo. In the second game it was a case of it being much more close, and The Blank scored a few very useful 30 plus point moves, including ZEN and FEED (the F on double letter, the D on triple word, scoring 36) but I pulled together some useful moves near the end to ensure a close fought win. But I tell you this much - she's improving loads and becoming a very worthy opponent indeed!

Tuesday 6th January - Angle That

Well, I've been looking at things from different angles today, to say the least. First off, I decided that one of the PCs could be reconfigured for use by a member of staff and that all it needed was a re-image as well as some tweaks involved. I managed to re-image it with one of the current working images fine, but every time I right clicked the display, it restarted by itself. How odd, I thought, and after trying a couple of things, when I clicked on the display driver's taskbar icon and it did the same thing, it was fairly obvious that the driver was causing the pain - so uninstalled, put an older one on and everything is now working and stable - first go, too. That's a lot more like it.

Also, in my recent photography efforts, I've been attempting different angles for shots to make them look different. My Panasonic TZ3 happens to have a 28mm lens in there, which means it can be easily used for wide angle shots as well built in - makes life a lot easier, let me tell you. As such I did quite a few of those when I went to York, but also I've been doing angles where you look upwards or downwards, and one I was pretty pleased with was one looking up from the foot of York Minster up into the heavens, and after a few attempts the other night had got the shot I liked. It's already had some nice feedback on my Flickr stream at the time of writing this diary missive, so I did feel rather pleased with myself it has to be said. All the images from York are up there now, start from half way through the set for the January lot..

And from another angle, the darts today was also pretty good - the stand out game was Simon Whitlock against Daryl Fitton, the "Dazzler". He comes out to Madness' "One Step Beyond" (another classic for tune of the day I reckon) and even does all the motions and moves to the song as well, highly entertaining that is let me tell you. But he really was in top form, knocking in 180s and 140s for fun and in the end managing to break the throw and win the last two sets for a 4-2 win pretty easily. If he could keep it up through the whole tournament he might win, but at least he's in the last eight now. The others went pretty much to plan, and Scott Waites also looked pretty decent it has to be said.

Monday 5th January - Back To The Ranch

So it was back to work for me today, after a week and a half's leave for Christmas. It felt odd going back in but I suppose it would have felt even more so coming in on just the Friday and then having the weekend, thankfully the employers had the sense to give everyone that day off and not open the buildings whatsoever, which was a good move. Mind you, looking outside at the weather made me want to stay at home and not go back into the office anyway - it was rather cold and slippy underneath and with the snow falling and turning into a black icy mess, it was a case of hoping that the roads had been gritted enough. Thankfully they had and so it was a case of venturing out on the bus into work.

I did get quite a bit done today, succcesfully rolled out another three PC replacements and was able to get everything sorted out on them with minimal delay and maximum efficiency. This meant that I could then image another two ready for going out whenever and having them ready with the new build in case they may be needed, and then paying attention to what else I need to do in the next few days. Of course, the best laid plans don't always go smoothly and we had to sort out a couple of minor issues to do with the network and printers, but nothing too taxing at this stage for us all. We were all getting back into the swing of things which made things sensible for us all.

On the way home later I decided to get some food shopping done as I had no lunches for work in and wanted to make sure I saved money where possible. I did pretty well as there's a whole new lighter choices range which included pasta in a mushroom sauce that looked very nice and filling, and along the way I also picked up some essentials at the same time, saving time later in the week. It surprised me just how quiet it was though: I reckon most people still have many things left over from the new year's festivities (where let's face it, everyone gets way too much anyway).

Relaxed later on with the darts and another epic classic game unfolded as Martin "Wolfie" Adams took on the unseeded Dave Chisnall at the Lakeside. Martin comes on to Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf" a song I've always liked, so make that one tune of the day. It was an epic in the end because it went to the final set and a win by two situation, and I'm sure Dave will be kicking himself for numerous missed double chances that he had - and in the end Wolfie held the nerve to win the final set 5-3 and go through to the next round. Mind you, he did also do a 10 dart leg earlier on during the match which showed that he still has plenty of talent out there and is still widely regarded by many players. But good to see that it's still the home of darts and it still can produce classic sport like this.

Sunday 4th January - Let's Play Darts

I spent most of the day at home and either asleep or curled up on the sofa watching the proper World Darts Championship. And no, I don't mean that bar stewardised PDC paid for by Sky to poach all the players rubbish, oh no, I mean the proper darts, the one that actually takes place in the year in question. While in the PDC Phuil Taylor was thrashing Raymond van Barneveld 7-1, the proper BDO World Darts was continuing the first round, and there were some good encounters today. What's good is that everyone seems to be able to raise their game if they can, and the true class of the sport actually comes to the cream of the top.

The most heartrendering story of all is that of Shaun Greatbatch, who's making a comeback while still suffering with bone marrow cancer. Even though he lost the opening round 3-0 against John Walton, everyone applauded his efforts for getting here and for giving his best, and he did - most of the legs were tight finishes and it was mainly the doubles that were Shaun's Achilles heel, but apart from that you could see that he was battling. The way the players at the end stood for him in a guard of honour, all wanting to shake his hand or hug him, was a really lovely moment and showed just how close and how much of a family it feels to be - much less hyped maybe, but much more about sport than glitz.

Oh, and I'll make "Poison Arrow" by ABC tune of the day today, as the BBC seem content on using it with highlights of the darts game just gone in the background and that tune loud and proud, not that I mind, it's nice to see them using classic eighties stuff to be honest. Now to nurse the cold and throat and head to bed.. if I can!

Saturday 3rd January - Wii Give Up On Mark Hughes

Went over from The Sweetener In My Tea's place to see City with my friend this afternoon, and to say that I wish I hadn't have bothered is the master of the understatement. I still felt pretty horrid with this cold and even worse throat that I've been feeling for the last few days, but at the same time I thought (naively I know) that a win for the mighty Blues might have just been the pick me up tonic I needed. Certainly with the opponents Nottingham Forest struggling in the Championship, they clearly had nothing to lose, and let's be honest, that was probably for them a very good thing - they could just go out, battle and enjoy themselves.

What happened on the pitch wasn't just an embarassement to me personally, but a complete and utter shambles of a performance by City. It rankled with me so much that I was even considering leaving once the third goal had gone in, something I generally never ever do. That's how bad it was. You can make all the excuses that you want for the players but it's pretty clear to me that they don't seem motivated, they don't seem bothered and most of all they don't seem to have pride in the shirt, which to be absolutely hurts lots. Over the years I've seen players play for City who would quite readily die for the cause in blue blood and would grow to be my favourites, because they worked hard, never gave in, and always wore the shirt with pride, people like Mike Doyle, Paul Power, Paul Lake, David White and of course Shaun Goater. Where was this pride today, I wondered to myself.

Let's put it honestly: Forest deserved their 3-0 win, they played as if their lives depended on the result and went for it hammer and tongs. Every challenge they wanted more, every time there was a 50/50 ball they won it, and most of all the team were together, something City weren't. It was an embarassment to say the least and when the Forest fans started singing "You're getting sacked in the morning" I was wishing it was true. Obviously Mark Hughes has been too tainted with the blood of playing for the other lot in Manchester over the years to truly understand what it means to be City manager, what it means to have the blue blood flowing and of course what it means to us, the fans. We don't traipse up from London for a home game, we don't eat prawn sandwiches. We live and breathe the club we follow, and if any of the angst poured on the fans' forums tonight are anything to go by, let's hope it's sooner rather than later that the City board see sense and act now.

Thankfully my friend had the ideal solution, him, his wife and one of my other friends relaxed at The Sweetener's place and he had brought their Nintendo Wii along with them. We set it up for the girls before we left for the football and by all accounts they were having a whale of a time with it - especially the bowling and the tennis on Wii Sports as well. We joined in later and four of us were taking turns to do the bowling. I did pretty rubbish, primarily because I was probably aiming too far left with the remote controller and the balls I bowled kept veering left, but I was eventually getting used to it. The Sweetener was thrashing everyone in sight though, so that was nice for her to really do well.

Later on we had some tea between the five of us, with two of my friends heading to the local Asda for some stuff (very nice of them, they didn't have to do that!) and we relaxed a bit and saw how the entrants for the contest to find the next UK Eurovision entrant were going to be chosen - seemed a bit odd with Andrew Lloyd Webber traipsing around Europe trying to gain favour, but there you go, that's the way it is really. We also noted as well that out of the six chosen finalists, one of them were twins - which would be great fun I'm sure particularly for the element of those that love the whole madness of Eurovision.

It was back on the Wii later and more bowling, but also tried out the Guiness World of Records game - that was odd. You had to try and break odd world records in a fast time, one of them was throwing a plunger at a target with a woman on revolving, and you had to avoid the women. I managed 46 in one minute, which was one off the local record (apparently) so I can't argue with that to be honest. Wii Play was also good fun as my friend and I did some of the test stuff with the controller, so did the duck shooting, the spotting the identical Miis, all that kind of thing, before Wii Sports went back on and it was the tennis, where my friend and I as two players on the same team beat the computer opponents after a little practice, which worked wonders.

The time was 11pm, my friends departed home and myself and The Sweetener In My Tea reflected on a good day all round despite the rubbish football result. Tune of the day simply had to be David Bowie's "Heroes". They tend to play Oasis' version at City's ground before the game, which is okay, but to be honest nothing touches the Bowie classic, and of course we could have done with a few heroes as well to be honest - and add to that my friend's a massive Bowie fan and the choice was obvious.

Friday 2nd January - Squirrel Heaven In York

Myself and The Sweetener In My Tea headed off on the train to York this morning. It was something that we wanted to do for a while: go back there and explore a bit more, but also check out some of the other shops, and also have less rain than last time, where it absolutely bucketed it down and was a very wet day indeed. The Winter sunshine would hopefully make it less wet and my thought was that it'd be nice to also take the camera with me and possibly get some different shots of the place, having explored the Minster et al last time around that I was there.

On the 0911 we were from Piccadilly, and as a little treat to ourselves, we were in First Class on the way there. It was only around £1 dearer than the cheapest standard class I could find at the time of booking and thus should mean a comfier early morning journey, and so it proved too - we had a nice cup of coffee and a little pack of biscuits, and it was comfortable and efficient. Also, the seat reservations had us both sat by the window with a table, so I did the decent thing and allowed The Sweetener to face forward on the train going there. It was all rather nice and got us to York in the right frame of mind.

We were going to walk around some of the city walls, but the weather and frost had closed most of them off and were gated to stop people going along, which was understandable really. Instead we walked along where the wall would go, and stopped off in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens. The gardens are really nice, and they're also full of squirrels everywhere. I kid you not. One of them we noticed was climing a tree, snipping off little ends of branches and making a pile below on the grass, assumedly for building a little shelter in the gardens later on. Most of the other squirrels walked along the path and even occasionally stopped to say hello to people too, and they didn't have a care in the world. I did get a good shot of one of them nibbling on some nuts and managed to get him dead centre of the shot as well, which was ace.

We then walked round some of the ruins along the gardens before heading onwards along the roads where the wall would have taken us, and stopped at the gate at the far end of the walls (Monk Bar, in case you wondered) and admired the fact that the old stone walls were still there, before heading into the centre of the city and around some of the shops. One of the recommended stops for us was of course The Cat Gallery, as they have all things related to Rosina Wachtmeister in there. What I wanted was the 2009 Rosina calendar, as I didn't get a calendar for Christmas or even one from the local community wardens, and thought it'd be nice to have one with her drawings on, very me I know. So in we went, and most of the other calendars were half price apart from that one, but I thought "ah well, I'll get it anyway." So you can imagine my surprise when I was only charged a mere £5.50, half price, for it. Absolute bargain and I'm sure that'll be on the wall once I'm home.

It was then time for some lunch and I decided that The Sweetener deserved a treat, and so did I, and so joined the queue to get into the famous Betty's Tea Rooms. Quite a few of my relations told me it was worth it for the experience, and if nothing else, I wanted to share the moment with The Sweetener and so we waited. In the end it was around a half hour wait in the queue, which wasn't too bad considering. In the end, after some deliberation, we decided to have the afternoon tea, which was a nice pot of tea, a selection of sandwiches (I went for the chicken and salmon types), a scone with clotted cream and jam, and a selection of mini cakes. Now, I know what you're going to say. £15.75 per head for that seems a bit extravagant and expensive. But the sandwiches were divine, the scone almost matched those out of Cornwall, and the mini cakes (especially the little tartlet with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries) were just utterly gorgeous. It was well worth it, and we weren't rushed whatsoever (which considering the queue you think you would be) - and just far far too nice..

So it was time to walk that off in the afternoon, as we headed around many of the shops. The Sweetener did much better than me and got a really nice top in Jane Norman, but I was pretty chuffed that I already had my calendar so I wasn't too meithered, truth be told. We eventually took time out for some coffee and then later on headed to The Punch Bowl for tea - she had the rump steak and I went for the Steak and Landlord Ale Pie - which was absolutely spot on. It's the second best steak and ale pie in the country (with of course the one in The White Hart, St. Austell being first) as this one is big and square and is proper pastry, proper chunks of steak and soaked lovingly in Landlord ale, and of course more than anything, a proper meaty pie. Oh yes.

We had a drink in one of the pubs later and headed back to the train station to get the train home, but it had been a lovely day out and one that I'll remember. I just know that as a start to the year goes, to share that with someone lovely is just ace. In fact, I'll give Sam Sparro's "Black and Gold" tune of the day not necessarily because I like it lots, but because she does, and it was playing in one of the shops as well during the day. Sometimes you just have to let these things go...

Thursday 1st January - Happy New Year!

The New Year was seen in pretty quietly by myself and The Queen of the New Year, with us both feeling a bit flu-ridden and to be honest not so well. I had at least made what she calls my "signature dish", the chorizo sausage pasta bake, and had made it all lovelier by having some garlic dough balls on the side to go with it, and together with some nice little raspberry cheesecakes with lots of Jersey cream that she brought along, it was just a nice intimate meal to share between the two of us, and indeed the final meal of the year.

Most of the rest of the evening was spent in cosying up with wine and DVDs (namely Kung Fu Panda followed by Breakfast At Tiffany's, because we both fancied something romantic). We then watched a fair chunk of the Jools Holland Hootenanny, which was pretty good, even though it's occasionally suffering from too much celebrity overload and focussing on them instead of the music. When the music was played, it shone, from Ruby Turner doing her thing with Jools' orchestra, Annie Lennox doing a superb version of "Why?" and The Ting Tings' electric version of "That's Not My Name" really lighting up proceedings wonderfully. It was just nice to have a hug and a kiss as the clock struck midnight and to relax and enjoy the moment.

So, 2009 is here, and I made us both breakfast this morning which got us up in the right frame of mind, before settling in in the warm, listening to some of the CDs I got the other day and also playing Scrabble de Luxe a fair bit. In fact during the first name I had a nice seven letter word which scored me 64 points, whilst she craftily used the Chinese life force QI for 33 on triple word, very useful. I did score over 400 points in two of the games, so it was good to see that I was still able to manage a decent score. It's also nice to have someone who's willing to have a go and play, and I think that she's mastering it better too - the two page spread of the allowed two letter words in the instructional manual may prove very useful for her I reckon, not least as it gives you those useful combinations!

During the Scrabble playing, I had on The Feeling's album and then the Suzanne Vega best of, and playing one of the tracks made me realise that I had liked it all along but didn't always recognise the artist: something which I wanted to rectify pretty quickly to be honest, so "Marlene on the Wall" is going to be tune of the day - it's actually pretty catchy and the chorus really draws the listener in. It comes on the CD just after the DNA remix of "Tom's Diner" which I guess splits fans down the middle, so perfect to get back on track there really. All is good.

I flicked through the Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide 2010 that I picked up just before New Year, as it's always interesting to value the old collection, but also see some of the other rarities featured. So what gems do you wish you had in your collection, then? I bet there is plenty you'd like to have. I know that a fair few items in my own collection have gone up in value, and some of them I didn't expect (such as World Of Twist's "Quality Street" CD album, snag that one if you can). Perhaps the biggest surprise of the lot though was seeing how much in value some of the Smiths Rough Trade original release CDs (singles and albums) have gone up to. If you find one cheap, snag them, that's my advice!