Dear Diary... January 2011

Monday 31st January - The End of The Month? Already?

I had to pinch myself when I woke up this morning and saw that it was already the last day of January. It feels like the month has passed us by without even realising it, although in essence for me it's been a month of ups and downs. I've reflected on things tonight and what I have realised more than anything is that sometimes I just try to do too much in too little time and need to actually take a step back and relax a bit. What this effectively means is that if I'm away on holiday for example, I should try and cram in less and just instead take it a bit easier, making the most of the surroundings that I'm in.

I guess my pace of things is often to get things done and see as much as I can in my life, but sometimes that can be at the expense of feeling that I could have done with maybe spending a bit more time here, a bit more there, just in fact taking in what I've got there instead of moving on to another place. I guess the impatient side of me can't always sit too still for too long and that I always need to be doing something to focus the mind a bit. Quite why that is, I'm not sure. But maybe it's time that I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and ahhhhhh.. just took it that little bit easier now and then.

Mind you, I had noticed over the weekend that my doorbell had started to fail to ring correctly when people were pressing it. So on the way home I managed to get the little 12 volt battery that goes inside the push button bell, and also some D batteries for the remote chime inside the house, just in case that decided to not play ball as well. Changed everything over, and bing bong! The door bell now chimes as it should do, and properly too. So that cheered me up no end that I managed to get that sorted out.

I've also been thinking about where I could end up on holiday later this year along with The Smile On My Face. We've thought of a few places to go, but as yet we're not quite sure where. Part of me thinks that a 5 or 6 day break would be good, but we've got to bear in mind how expensive it might be and to see how we can make sure it doesn't end up being a right dear do. On the other, I do know that life can all be too short and that I should make the most of the time and enjoy myself. We've got a few contenders so we just need to work out a winner and see what we can do to get it all sorted out.

Tune of the day in the meantime is something that kinds of sums up how other parts of the world are at right now, and it gave me a perfect excuse to fire up one of the best debut albums of all time: Rage Against The Machine's self-titled eponymous release. "Take The Power Back" seems appropriate, especially when you look at what's going on with the protests about cuts and student fees here in the UK and then what you've seen from the last week or so in Cairo as well. All quite intriguing to see what happens there...

Sunday 30th January - Notts County and World of Wine

I had had a lovely sleep at The Smile On My Face's place, especially as I felt nice and snuggly and cosy. It was also nice to get up, relax a little and have a lovely breakfast. She spoils me tons, and sometimes I feel like I don't deserve it, but I know it's a lovely feeling. I did feel a little sad (understatment) to be heading home later on, even if it was to watch City on the telly. However I know it'd give her a day of rest and relaxation as well and I'm sure that would be good for her. I gave her a hug and a kiss and left for home, and made it back pretty quickly.

My relatives came over later for the City game at Notts County in the FA Cup, live on ITV, and as I made the nibbles in the oven City were underway. It was an okay first half and I didn't feel like we were in too much danger to be honest, battling well (especially Patrick Vieira and Micah Richards) and really trying to play on what looked more like a swamp due to the rugby union that's also played on the same pitch. It was good to see that we weren't just taking in pressure but trying to give it out, and at half time I felt confident that we'd at least get some result out of it.

That changed when a Notts County corner was headed in at the near post with a really forceful header. The marking was slack and we didn't feel that awake either when the goal went in. You could blame Joe Hart for bad positioning but wondered why none of the defenders got the header in first. Mind you, that seemed to galvanise things a bit and David Silva then came on for the very poor Jo. Silva seemed to want to get involved and try and battle straight off, and it was end to end now as both sides went for it for different reasons. With ten minutes left Micah Richards charged down the right, put in a superb cross which Edin Dzeko volleyed in with aplomb to equalise, and that's how the score stayed.

We then watched the fifth round draw and suspected that sod's law would be that Man U would get an easy tie. What we didn't expect was that they'd get Crawley Town - but at home! An away game at Crawley's place would have been a good test for them to see what they were made of, but I suspect going to Old Trafford might be a tie too far for the Blue Square Premier outfit. That said though, wonder what would happen if they went there and won - surely the greatest FA Cup upset if it did happen? Still, all good fun seeing City get Aston Villa if we get past Notts County in the replay.

My friend came over and we headed out to Salford Quays, as we had tickets for Punt and Dennis later on. We thought that eating out would be a good idea first, so headed to Pizza Express in the Lowry Outlet Mall. Our other thought was that we'd get the car park ticket validated, meaning we'd get 6 hours free parking, thus avoiding the scandalous charges that the car park charge you. And as we had 2 for £12 on the pizzas in there, a good reason. My friend had never been in there before but we had a good time, his pizza was good and my mushroom one tasted excellent.

With us suitably fed, it was the short head over to the Lowry to see Punt and Dennis. I'd seen them years and years ago (The Milky Milky Tour no less!) and so wanted to see how they worked now. I was in stitches for pretty much most of the show, as they really did work well together to produce some classic stuff, such as how the local pub was called the Dog and Trumpet (and they referred cleverly back to it through the show) and also how the sickness benefit test involved walking faster and faster, meaning Hugh Dennis could so his raptor-type walk at the same time.

The second half had two excellent sketches later on: one was two royal commentators on the forthcoming Royal Wedding and referring to the Bank Holiday ("what do you mean, we only get one day off work? Scandalous!") along with plenty of neat touches such as mickey taking Eamonn Holmes and also hoping that Huw Edwards manages his first wedding okay, and really done spoof style. And then to end it - World of Wine! I remembered this back from the Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show back in 1994, and it's still as funny now, especially as Hugh is a drunken presenter who's clearly enjoyed far too much wine. "You poured wine - on a fish??" - classic moment. Reminds me so much of their show and how under-rated it actually was.

Tune of the day is in sort of tribute to their comic genius and named after their most famous character, Mr Strange: "Milky Milky (take me to the fridge)" my Mr Strange and the Lactose Brotherhood. In many ways it's just a comedy single, but it's actually pretty funny as well as not too bad musically. In part Hugh does the Mr Strange character spot on "This milk's off. Lovely! It's nature's way!" and really gets into the whole thing. The deadpan delivery of the verses by Steve Punt offsets it too, and it's all good fun, especially on a radiator. Lovely...

Saturday 29th January - The Million Pound Flop

It was a nice leisurely day of sorts today. I got up this morning and headed to Iceland as I wanted some party-type food for tomorrow afternoon. I was having a few relatives round for the City game and wanted to make sure that there was a good selection of nibbles available fort everyone, and of course a variety of them for everyone to enjoy too. I did pretty well and even got myself a couple of things, and headed to one of the local discount shops to pick up a new kitchen bin. The old one's lid had broken and it was looking a bit worse for wear anyway, so I got a nice new black one and some bags that would fit inside it - and job done!

The Smile On My Face headed over later to come and collect me, as we were heading to her father's place to put the PC back in situ and make sure everything worked. When we got there, her mum was watching the snooker shootout tournament in Blackpool, which looked pretty good fun to me. One frame, ten minutes maximum, twenty seconds per shot in the first five minutes and a maximum fifteen seconds per shot in the last five minutes. It made for some exciting stuff and looked like the players were enjoying themselves, definitely. I mentioned that I was off to the Crucible and her mum was rather pleased - she might have to keep an eye out for me on the telly!

We got The Smile's dad's PC all sorted and re-set up, and I made sure that the printer was added and that was working, as well as the webcam and the capture card that he has to record from video, so once that was all done it was good to go from that point of view. I suspect that he might be catching up on things that he needed to do now he's got the PC back up and running again, and it was good to see that my skills were at least being put to good use for someone else to have their day made, so all well and good there.

We headed back to The Smile's place, and she made a lovely spaghetti bolognaise for tea, which went down rather well (especially with added mushrooms and carrots too) and I downed that with some Fursty Ferret as we kept an eye on the football, with Man U winning 2-1 at Southampton, before tuning in to Coast on Yesterday and having a good little game of Scrabble. The Smile has the travel set at hers now which means that we can play it if we fancy. I did reasonably okay, I did have a seven letter word at one point but had nowhere to play it. Mind you, The Smile started with ROTTER and she knew that if she had a S or an A as the other letter, it was all seven letters rid of time. She's getting rather good these days!

After the disappointment of no lottery win, we ended up watching the Million Pound Drop. The first two contestants got to the final question and knew that Madonna had more number 1s than Michael Jackson, so well done them. In fact I was attempting to work out which ones were number 1 in the head and all I could remember were Like A Prayer, Papa Don't Preach, and Into The Groove, but apparently there were tons more. But nonetheless it did remind me of her 80s appearances on Top of the Pops and all that. Ah, the days when music actually mattered much more than it seems to now.

Anyway, the second couple on there were doing pretty well and had a hefty sum riding on the last question which was which combined ages were older, JLS or The Pet Shop Boys. I remembered that West End Girls first got a release around 1983, and even if they were say 21 when that came out, it'd make them at least 49 each, and as JLS were all in their early twenties, then PSBs would win. The couple picked JLS (duh!) which was wrong and bye bye money, and so their game became the million pound flop. For the record, the combined ages of JLS are 93 and the Pet Shop Boys 107 (Neil Tennant is 56, Chris Lowe 51) so there you go.

Tune of the day incidentally just had to be something by the Pet Shop Boys simply because of that last question, and as I was remembering when West End Girls came out, then I think it'll have to be that. I remembered being much younger thinking that how could a song with spoken word verses actually have such an impact, but when you saw the video to go with it, it all made perfect sense somehow. A classic of its time and it never ages that badly now to be honest.

Friday 28th January - Shine Your Shoes and Head For The Crucible

And that's exactly what I will be doing late April as well. I had booked off the three days between the Easter Monday and the Royal Wedding on 29th April (which will be a Bank Holiday) and so that meant if I wanted to, I'd have plenty of chance to head over to Sheffield and to see the snooker, which of course I love to do. After all, it is the World Championship and it is the Crucible, isn't it? My cunning plan was that I'd see if there was anywhere cheap to stay in Sheffield and then head over on the Wednesday the 27th April, see the last session of the quarter finals, and then on the Thursday see both the first sessions of the semi-finals before heading home on the Friday.

Having checked online, the Travelodge in Sheffield centre was a mere £29 per night but rooms were being booked pretty quickly, so I thought "right, now's the time to get it all sorted" and so booked the Travelodge, but not before I made sure tickets were available for all three sessions I wanted, which they were, and they were duly booked up rapid style. In essence this means I get to experience the Crucible with two tables as it is in the earlier rounds, and then the one table for the semis onwards.

For those of you who have never been to the snooker at the Crucible, it's hard to explain just what makes the place special, but over the last few years I've really enjoyed heading over and seeing some of the best players in the world do their stuff. I would love to see a 147 maximum being done there, and I got pretty close last year when I witnessed a 146 by Mark Allen which was awesome. It's the closeness of being next to the table and seeing the world's best perform, the atmosphere, the tension and above all else the feeling of being there. Watching it on telly is all well and good but being there is something else, let me tell you.

I spent a relaxing evening on the whole though: spent some time digging out a DVD I did for myself ages ago of some of the BBC's classic Monaco Grand Prix. It was a case of plugging in a Freeview USB stick to the PC and connecting an aerial cable to it, then setting the channel to the red button one, recording the feed I needed, and then mastering that onto a DVD. It worked well and it meant I've got the extended highlights of the 1982 race there forever, which is good. Not least because it provided some of the most dramatic closing laps ever seen in any F1 race. Ever. I won't spoil it for you, but if you ever get chance on any classic coverage to watch it, do. You will not be disappointed.

Tune of the day in the meantime is something a little heavier than yesterday's offering: "My Apocalypse" by Metallica, the closing track from their Death Magnetic album. It just sounds fast, aggressive and yet at the same time really melodic - don't know why, it just does. One thing's for sure though - you really have to be ready for the full on drums throughout as they really do pound through the whole track. Tried playing it on Guitar Hero Metallica and failed rather miserably...

Thursday 27th January - I Have The Solution

Another busy day at work today, and I even went out to some different buildings to handle a couple of jobs. Almost everything at the moment seems to be Outlook related due to the switchover, but to be honest it could have been a lot worse. In one case I looked at, the laptop wasn't registered correctly in Active Directory, so once it was correctly re-registered it started to kick in and play ball without issues, so that was good all round. Not least then for the member of staff concerned as their email started flying in and they realised how much had come in for them to look at.

I went home via the Academy box office to sort out some tickets for KT Tunstall for myself and my friend, which is in a few weeks time. The lovely woman at the box office was as helpful as ever, sorting things out with minimum fuss. And even though some of the ticket prices are a little odd because of the VAT increase, she had the good grace to tell me what they were beforehand so that was good. And it's still only 50p extra to use the debit card to pay for tickets, no matter how many you get. I really wish more places started charging less booking fees, the world really would be a better place for it to be honest.

I headed homewards then, and had a shed load of ironing to do from the washing earlier in the week and got all that done before The Sunshine In My Sky came over for a while. I gave her a progress report on the PC that I was fixing and was pleased to tell her that it wasn't far off being done, and we could take it to her father's at the weekend, so that was good. I made us some fish and chips for tea and I timed it so that we ate that after Emmerdale had finished so she could watch the soaps (I know, aren't I kind?). And in addition to that both of us wanted to watch something on BBC2, which I put on in BBC HD instead.

That happened to be Service, the programme where Michel Roux takes some youngsters and tries to make them service people in posh restaurants. Apparently at his restaurant Le Gavroche, there's only one maitre d' who is English and he wants to try and get more people to try to work in the service industry. In tonight's instalment the young trainees headed to the Champagne region of France to learn more about wine and champagne and matching it with the good food, before heading to Paris, where they ended up serving quite a number of Michel's family in the Lasserre restaurant. I looked at the menu online and the prices were pretty scary, and I think a few of them were rightly overawed by the place as they served up, but did okay under the circumstances.

We then had a game of Scrabble later on, and I put on the Icicles second album "Arrivals and Departures" which has just a nice mix of uplifting songs to feel rather happy and mellow to. I still absolutely adore "La Ti Da" so that's tune of the day for me for sure. It was a tight game to start with but then as the board spread out it worked out pretty well. I ended up making SOLUTION vertically down the bottom corner of the board (the S already in play) and made triple word and used all my letters up scoring 77, so good to see that the brain was still in gear at night anyway, so that was good.

Wednesday 26th January - Fixing Frenzy

I've had a bit of a fixing frenzy today. First off at work, where I managed to work out exactly why some of the swipe card readers didn't exactly play ball - they were just too hammered with so many swipes that the reader technology inside one just wasn't coping. I managed to locate a Cherry keyboard that actually has a swipe reader inside it, and when that was hooked up it all worked perfectly well first go, which is pretty much what we'd like to see when fixing problems.

I also sorted out an issue for one of our secretaries where in Outlook where they couldn't delete their manager's email, even though they had permissions to do so. It turned out that a recent registry fix rollout did enable the option so that if you deleted from a manager's folder, it'd appear in their deleted items. However, unless the secretary has at least author rights over the manager's deleted items folder, the deletions would fail. Err. thanks Outlook for being so useless. Compared to how GroupWise used to be able to grant proxy access easily, and sort out all the rights and control without issues, it makes me wonder if the move was worth it. Hey ho.

When I got home I had an appointment with a poorly PC, that of The Love In My Heart's father. I suspected last time I looked at it that the hard drive was on its way out, and that proved to be the case as a check disk of that proved it had shed loads of errors. Not only that, but for some reason it wasn't always powering up the PC properly either. A quick test proved to me that it actually was the power supply which was duff. Thankfully I was able to head up to the local computer shop near me and source one that had all the connectivity that I needed.

It was then a case of hooking the new power supply back up, re-installing Windows on a fresh spare hard drive and installing all the drivers that were needed, including the wireless card and also all the motherboard chipset etc. I also made sure that Firefox was on there along with AVG, OpenOffice and all the usual plugins to get everyone up and started off nicely. What worked well was that I had a slipstreamed Windows XP home CD with service pack 3 already built in, so was able to use that along with the original licence key that The Love's father had to speed up the install nicely.

That's taken a bit of time but has proved worth it to get everything back up and running well. Tune of the day in the meantime is "Raining Blood" by Slayer. It's pretty lethal and fast and is one of the thrash anthems of all time, but it's also something that I can really belt out on vocals as well occasionally when playing Guitar Hero. Ah, the days when I used to play that track on guitar on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and wished that I could at least get past it on easy level... and now I can do medium. Hurrah to me!

Tuesday 25th January - Back To The Grindstone

It was back to work today and unsurprisingly, it was a case of getting stuck back into plenty of work that needed to be done. I'm trying where possible to be methodical about it all and getting on with it, but that's not easy when you consider that there's been some major project work going on as well as everything else that we need to fix. Mind you, I did find out something pretty useful today, and another little tip for those of you cursed with Outlook: if you want to share folders and any subfolders from your mailbox, you normally have to share the main folder that says Mailbox-your name, and then pick the subfolders that you then wish to share, and that should play ball as intended. Bit of a pain though.

It was good to head homewards then and think back to the holiday I'd just had, and spent a fair bit of time finishing the upload of the pictures that I've taken when I was in Windsor. Some of them came out pretty well and I was quite pleased with how they came out overall, and some of them weren't helped by the really average weather. Still, I think I managed some nice ones, so it was good fun sorting out the ones I wanted to upload and then getting them up there. I'd just about finished that when The Love In My Heart came over to see me, so that was perfect.

We had a chatter about stuff that had happened during the day, and then my uncle came over for a while - he'd dropped back the spare set of keys that I'd lent him, so he was able to come over to mine on Saturday evening and watch the City v Aston Villa game on ESPN whilst I was way. It was good to have a chat about all sorts and I know that he was pretty busy, so good of him to take time out with us and a brew. He mentioned about going back to York with his wife at some time as they'd not been for years, and we both were encouraging him to book it and get there for a couple of days, I'm sure that he would love it.

I made the tea for myself and The Love, some chicken wrapped in bacon with potatoes and vegetables, and then we settled in to watch some telly and generally take it pretty easy. The Love was a little tired and not 100% well, but it was still very lovely of her to head over and at least spend some time with me. She'd also dropped off her father's PC as it was a bit poorly and I did promise that I would look at it and try and sort out any problems with it. I had a feeling I knew what it might be but I am sure that I would find out and get cracking with it later on.

Tune of the day is "Nights Like These" by The Icicles, as it suited the mood and mode for the evening - nice and relaxed. Even though most of their second album is joyous pop, this track's a little more introspective with some lovely keyboard work. It somehow fits in really well though and has a feeling of being sat outside on a Summer's night with nothing in the world to disturb you. If only all indie pop could be as so much fun with such lovely clear voices.

Monday 24th January - And Home Again..

Getting up this morning was nice enough, especially as I didn't have to go to work, but I also knew that it was the end of our weekend break together for myself and The Fashionista On My TV. I never particularly like leaving for home, but I guess at the same time if you don't then you don't necessarily look forward to the next time you're away, so there's something I suppose. It did mean getting everything together and making sure that I didn't leave anything behind, and we were soon checking out of the Travelodge and making our way along Thames Street and to the King and Castle for a quick breakfast before heading to Windsor and Eton Riverside station to start the journey home.

As we headed London-wards, we noticed that along the train line plenty of planes passed over heading to Heathrow, and heading over quite low over the little villages on the way out of Windsor. Plenty of planes had of course passed over Windsor itself, took some getting used to that did. As we headed towards Twickenham I could see the rugby stadium and then over the Thames we went as we headed towards Putney, then Clapham Junction and towards Vauxhall, where we got off and again headed on the Victoria Line back towards Euston. And yet again the barriers at Vauxhall didn't recognise the tickets correctly. Meh.

We got on the Virgin train back to Manchester and noticed on the onboard shop that they'd started doing deals on soft drinks and also meal deals, where sandwich or hot snack and coffee would be £4.45 and choc or crisps for an extra 50p on top. Maybe not that cheap, but if you got similar in a café these days you'd be charged more than that to be honest. I got myself a panini, The Fashionista a coffee and some crisps, and it all worked out part of the same deal. Not too bad then methinks. and kept us both going until we headed back through the countryside via Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield and Stockport to Manchester.

It's always really tough leaving The Fashionista, especially as we had such a lovely weekend together, but I know too that she enjoyed herself. I made my way home on the bus and even though it was full of school kids making their way home with parents for a mere two stops (I know, why couldn't they have walked it?) it was a painless trip home and it was then time to try and catch up a bit on any emails and such like as well as being able to wash everything and then relax. That's the only thing I really hate about getting home - you feel that normality of cleaning clothes and other domestic chores that you've not had to do for a small while.

Tune of the day seems somehow appropriate for the day - New Order's "Blue Monday". As nice it was having the day off, it did feel a little blue to me as I left this morning heading for home, especially as I'd had a lovely time. And of course because it's still one of my favourite 12" singles of all time, and should only ever be listened to in its entirety (take note Ministry of Sound compilation makers, we don't want to hear a shortened edit, compilation or not!)

Sunday 23rd January - A Relaxing Sunday

After all the royal-related stuff of the Saturday, it was good to have a fairly relaxing Sunday. We had a lie in and everything! Well, I think we were allowed, especially as it was a late last couple of nights and all. We decided that as it was going to be fairly quiet around the river because no boats were going along doing little cruises (or else that'd have been on the agenda methinks) we instead decided to take a walk and head over the River Thames into Eton and have a walk around there.

In fact, it was quite an intriguing contrast. As soon as you walked over the bridge you could tell the poshness of the place by some of the restaurants which offered Sunday lunch but for a mere £20 plus for their efforts. And as you headed closer to Eton College, you even had branches of posh banks like Coutts and Co, and shops which tried to retain the old buildings that they were in. It was an intriguing contrast like I said. The College itself was closed to the public but you could see by the buildings, by the many people walking around and by some of their students in their rugby shirts, that this was indeed private school territory.

We walked back down Eton High Street and you could see the little shops doing the trade (well, those that were open anyway). What was intriguing that a lot of the shops closed on a Monday as well, which made you think that enough money would be made during the remainder of the week. It was also good to see that even some of the more modern shop residents (such as Richer Sounds) kept a lot of the old signage. In fact that store used to be an undertaker's and there's still the old stained glass window above which shows this to be the case. A short walk later and we were back over the bridge and into Windsor again.

It was back to The Carpenters' Arms for Sunday lunch, and the roast beef lunch we had there was gorgeous, it really was. I even had a 5am Saint beer to go with it and that did the job very nicely indeed. We then spent the afternoon having a nice walk around some of the independent shops in the centre of Windsor, and it even had a branch of Cath Kidston as well which was pretty expensive. Mind you, we went also in TK Maxx and I managed to get this really nice purple merino wool jumper for a mere fiver, along with a nice pair of Calvin Klein dark blue jeans in my size for not that much money either. I didn't intend to get anything, but good additions to the wardrobe is always good, and The Fashionista was on hand to offer her advice to me as to what to get. She's quite a one for fashion herself and knew instantly what'd look good on me. I knew too, admittedly!

It was getting dark so we headed back to the Travelodge and decided on where we'd eat out for the evening. Both of us fancied one of the local independent Italian places, as the menu looked good and the prices weren't too expensive, and on top of that we'd picked up a voucher for two for one on the main meals there, so that had to be worth a try if nothing else. We relaxed a bit watching some telly and The Fashionista read The Mail on Sunday and all its extras whilst she relaxed with a coffee, and it felt good to take things relatively easy before we then got dressed up and headed out for the evening.

We went to Francesco's, and I have to say, it's the best Italian meal I've had in a while - and The Fashionista agreed with me. We had the basket of bread with olive oil to start, and having the bread lightly toasted gave it a nice crispness against the softness of the olive oil, and it set us up nicely for our mains. The Fashionista had the fetuccine carbonara, which was wholesome and plentiful, with tons of bacon, and the sauce was spot on. I tried a bit and knew it was good and very filling. I tried their Penne Francesco's, which had ham, mushroom, cheese with some white wine sauce and all ovenbaked a bit like a pasta bake. I was amazed. it was gorgeous, the penne was the right side of soft, the sauce complimented the ham spot on, and there were lots of mushrooms. What was there not to like? Oh, and the tiramisu for dessert was done proper Italian style - it felt good to finish off with that. Needless to say, if you're around there, go there. Seriously!

After such culinary delights we made it back to the Carpenters' Arms where I tried out another beer from the beer festival, the New Dawn, which was golden and light. The pub closed at 9pm on Sunday but we had time for a drink at least so that was good. We then headed to the King and Castle where I tried out a rather nice guest ale there too, the Nelson's or something, which was good. It was then a short walk back to the Travelodge and a good night's sleep before (sadly!) heading home tomorrow. We were safe in the knowldege though that we'd had a lovely day, and all was well with the world.

Tune of the day was one of many random tunes we heard in Francesco's, and I quite liked the way that they didn't pander to anyone with the music - just enough to be good background. Blondie's "Heart of Glass" played and that seemed apt, especially as I was falling in love with the food there but also the hearty ale served in glasses up at the Carpenters' Arms, so that seemed well. I still need to try singing this on Rock Band 3 but suspect it might be pretty difficult!

Saturday 22nd January - A Right Royal Day

It was a day almost by Royal Appointment today, as we had a brainwave last night. We'd not been to the cinema in ages and thought about seeing The King's Speech as it had had good reviews and it was something we both wanted to go and see. I checked out what cinemas were local and there were none in Windsor itself, although the nearest one appeared to be the Empire cinema in Slough. I knew roughly where it was and also knew that it was a short train ride away too, so we thought about going in the evening, which meant a day of castles and other such royal things. Hurrah to us!

We headed out via the Royal Windsor shopping, which is basically the old part of Windsor and Eton Central station all done up but keeping all the old original features, such as the arches that would have housed the platforms. To me it was good to see, and the old ticket office is used today as a tourist information centre, a nice touch. Next to that is the Cinnamon Café where we had a good breakfast, and they even did me a lovely warm bowl of porridge, so much kudos to them for that. With The Fashionista On My TV having a nice bacon roll, all was well with the world and it was time for the short walk to Windsor Castle.

There wasn't much of a queue to get there when we got in, but not long after we joined the queue, there were wave upon wave of Chinese and Japanese tourists, all complete with über Nikons or über Canons ready for shooting. Granted, I had my trusty Nikon D3000 with me, but even so, I refused to have it around the neck in full on tourist mode, instead opting for the comfortable Lowepro bag that I have. We went through the security checks, picked up the audio guides and made the walk along the path towards the main areas of the castle.

We soon decided that it'd be advantageous, whilst they were open, to have a look at the state apartments and Queen Mary's Doll's House. We saw the large doll's house first and along the side walls there were some very large old dolls given to what was then Princess Elizabeth along with the large car to house the dolls in (which was pretty big) and then just before the State Apartments, there was an exhibition of photographs by Marcus Adams, who was the royal photographer. It was interesting to see how the then princesses Elizabeth and Margaret grew up, and even when Elizabeth had Charles and Anne how they looked when they were little. It fascinated The Fashionista, who really enjoyed that a lot.

It was then on to the State Apartments and the Semi-State Rooms, and although I respected the wishes of the signage and put the camera away, I do wish I could have been allowed to take some shots. Some of the rooms are breathtaking in terms of opulence but also of their styling, and especially the long St George's Hall, where the oak beamed roof had been completely renovated after the 1992 fire, and the restoration job was wonderfully done. There were also all the shields of the Knights of the Garter, where you could easily try and find many of historical interest if you knew where to look of course.

After all the State Apartments we made our way back down to the Middle Ward and saw the Round Tower in all its glory from the outside before heading into St George's Chapel, which truly is as a church an impressive building, but also from a historical point of view well worth seeing. Many royal graves including Henry VIII can be found here if you know where to look, and the whole place had an aura of that history as well as a symbol of the faith that it represents. I might not be religious myself but I can appreciate those that have their beliefs and places like this can only inspire many. It was good to see just how well built the place was as well as the stained glass windows.

We then had a final walk around the courtyards before heading out of the castle, having had a thoroughly enjoyable time of it. We stopped off for some lunch at a small café (gorgeous ham and cheese panini and a cup of tea to warm us up - lovely) before heading towards the Great Park and the Long Walk, where when you look back the path to the castle really does show itself well. We walked along the Long Walk for a while before heading back and seeing that view for ourselves, before we then headed back to the Carpenters' Arms for a well earned pint of Doom Bar. The pub had some old passages that used to lead to the castle (all bricked up now) but you can see one of them in one of the lower seating areas, which was good to see.

We headed towards the river, and alas, no river cruises till Easter, or we'd have done that tomorrow methinks. However, there were plenty of swans about all being fed and they really did look majestic even if the river Thames itself didn't look all that clean to be honest. We then headed back along the main street in the town, back alongside the castle, and back to the Travelodge, where one quick change by the Fashionista later and we were off to have something for tea and then to the cinema, well that was the plan!

We had tea in Gourmet Burger Kitchen, where we had a two for one on the burgers that they do for main. We had some cajun chicken pieces with a chilli and sour cream dip to start, and that was good, as was my burger, really meaty and full of flavour. The Fashionista was asked by the server if medium was okay for her burger, but on reflection she wished she had it done well done, but we know at least know that they do their steak in the burgers and cook it the same sort of consistency, so as I normally have my steak medium, it was spot on for me. The chunky chips we had with it were plentiful too. It was a little surprising that we had to order from the bar area and pay for it there and then, but fair dos I guess, at least it stops people sneaking off without paying.

It was then a very short walk to Windsor and Eton central station where we got the local train to Slough. We located the Empire cinema and thankfully, despite the shopping centre it was next to being all shut, the cinema itself was open and so we got the tickets for the 8.20pm showing of The King's Speech, and made our way to a local pub where the Haggis Hunter ale was on top form, so that quenched the thirst nicely before the show. When we got into the cinema screen 7, it reminded me of the old Odeon on Oxford Street in Manchester (particularly screen 4!) with it seating around eighty people at most with a small room housing everyone. I quite liked the intimate setting for it, even if the cinema insisted on playing the theme from ET by John Williams around ten times. Nonetheless though that one's tune of the day as it kindled The Fashionista's memories of that same film when she was younger. Awwww.

So what did we think of The King's Speech? Two words - see it. I mean it. It's by far the best performance Colin Firth has made in any film he's done, way surpassing even his portrayal of an Arsenal fan in Fever Pitch, and somehow his stiff upper lip Englishness suits the role of George VI perfectly. Geoffrey Rush is also excellent as the speech therapist, whilst Helena Bonham-Carter is superb as the wife (who of course would become Elizbaeth The Queen Mother) and Timothy Spall puts in a good appearance as Winston Churchill, and you could see how they even briefly touched upon the friendship that Churchill and George VI had. On the whole it was historically reasonably accurate, although there were parts that seemed a little skirted around.

Nonetheless though it's well worth a watch and we were discussing how good it was as we headed back to Slough station and onwards on the train back to Windsor and Eton Central, where a short walk meant that we could settle back in the Travelodge and head to sleep for the night. It had been an excellent royal-themed day and we'd not been to the cinema in ages, and had a lovely walk around Windsor Castle as well. Why can't all days be like this and can't they all be spent with such lovely company too? I am so lucky, I really am to be honest.

Friday 21st January - We're Off To Windsor

It was nice to wake up at a leisurely pace this morning and not have to think about work, that's for sure. And with case packed and camera at the ready, and ticket confirmation in hand to collect at the station along with discount vouchers incase we needed them, I headed off to Piccadilly station to meet up with The Fashionista On My TV to head on the train outwards of Manchester. I got the tickets printed off, and we would be heading to Windsor via London. This at least meant a speedy Virgin Trains service to London Euston, a tube trip from there to Vauxhall, then a local train from there to Windsor and Eton Riverside and onwards to the Travelodge that we were staying at.

First up, the journey to London was as seamless as it usually is, bang on time and normally really comfortable. We'd got a Boots Meal Deal for lunch and so was able to have that in relaxed surroundings before we arrived at Euston, where it was down a number of escalators to the Victoria Line service, where we'd be heading via Green Park and Victoria to Vauxhall. We came out of there, all was seamless as the train tickets were fine on the tube as we knew, but we got to Vauxhall station and the machine wasn't opening the barriers. We spoke to a guard who at first couldn't understand us, and then the senior guard came over, and she was really helpful, explaining to her colleague that our route was perfectly fine and that there must be issues with the machine. Good for her! Then it was a relaxing South West Trains journey through Richmond and Staines before heading by the River Thames to Windsor and Eton Riverside, and a short walk from there towards the old station building and there was the Travelodge.

Even better was when we checked in. For some reason the reservation system had the room down as a double disabled room which we didn't need, and would rather let someone disabled have it should they need it. It wasn't a problem and they soon sorted us out with a nice double room on the eighth floor, and even better, it had views of Windsor Castle from the room. And sure enough, when we got up there and checked in, it was true. The castle could be seen in clear daylight, and that was a very nice surprise indeed - especially as we'd booked it for a mere £15 a night!!

We had a short walk around Windsor and some of the shops and to familiarise ourselves with where we were. One clothes shop had some vouchers for a local Italian restaurant, so we picked them up in case we fancied it over the weekend. We also noticed how plenty of the local shops were doing pretty well, they even had a department store called Daniel with a massive toy section - nice to see that the children around there would have somewhere to shop. We fancied a drink and stumbled upon a pub along one of the cobbled streets close to the castle, and it would be a popular place to visit for us over the weekend. The Carpenter's Arms is the sort of pub that you'd love to have as your local, with warm fires, comfortable decor, and nice real ale with six different types of cask on hand. Oh yes. That's what I'm talking about.

After we'd headed back to the Travelodge for a while, we decided to head out for tea, and so back to the Carpenter's Arms we went to. They had a deal on or two and so we thought we'd give that a go, I had the fish and chips which was absolutely spot on, with lovely white fish, and The Fashionista had some really nice chicken as well which seemed gorgeous. And on top of that, there was a bit of a winter ales festival going on, so in the afternoon I'd had Doom Bar, which was spot on, and in the evening I had the very nice Alpha Dog to go with the tea. The real ale wasn't finished there though as we headed to the King and Castle pub up the road for a nice drink in there before heading to B, where they had a rather nice ale as well (the name of which escapes me for the moment, but it was nice!). It was soon quite late at night but it was nice to have a night out and have a lovely meal too - more of the same over the weekend methinks.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather good "One Deep Breath" by The Floe. I put it on in the morning before I set off for the station and it seemed the perfect sort of tune to listen to when travelling. It's a really nice song and Sarah's vocal up front really does sound sharp and on cue, and I hope that her and Liz can pull it off as a twosome and go in a new direction this year. I'll be intrigued what they get up to, and when listening to gems like this it makes you realise that good music still exists, even if you might have to look a little bit harder.

Thursday 20th January - We're No Virgins, Rock Band 2!

After a hard and difficult day at work it was nice to have a bit of a wind down as I was heading over to see my friends for a bit. A while ago I'd tried to see if we could get Rock Band 2 on the Wii to talk to the Rock Central server, and indeed so that my friend could play online with me and also be able to submit scores to the high score table. Previously before he went to Virgin Media, his old provider Plusnet were perfectly fine, and indeed that was through a Netgear router which usually needs a bit of configuration to allow online play to work as intended. We could rock online and all sorts and things were good.

And then once my friend went over to Virgin Media, everything failed to work as intended on that game. No connection with the Rock Central server, and so no online gaming. However, we were hoping that a recent firmware update for their "hub", the VMDG280 (basically a rebranded Netgear router with Cable DSL modem built in) might have sorted the issues out. I got there and had a nice warming cup of tea, and it really made me feel nice and warm inside. It was then a case of checking out the options on the router, and indeed that was the most up to date firmware along with all the configuration options that could be set.

I tried all sorts to see what would work. The Wii already had a static IP and was in a DMZ zone on the router, so there was no hopeful firewall issues to get in the way, and even if need be I put in the same proxy server settings that Virgin sometimes need you to put in for web browsing. Same result. I even told the router to assign the Wii the same IP address that was in the DMZ and let the Wii DHCP and have it set that way. No luck. Now here's the thing. With the Wii in DMZ, all other online games on the Wii talk flawlessly that my friend has - such as Tiger Woods 09 and Band Hero. It makes me wonder whether Virgin Media have some form of website blocking on at their end which prevents communication with the server that way.

Anyway, my friend had a good go on vocals on Rock Band 2, and with my guidance, managed a score which would be number 3 on the all time list on Electric Six's "Gay Bar" - has to be tune of the day for that reason. It's knowing when to activate the overdrive to get maximum points from the way that the game wants you to play it. Indeed his score was a mere 44 points less than mine, which was impressive stuff. We also tried out a couple of other songs to see how they would be like, and on the whole they seemed to work well - I even tried Tenacious D's "Master Exploder" and did pretty well, although it is pretty difficult to say the least!

My friend very kindly gave me a lift back home later and so I could pack ready for the weekend. I was looking forward to some time off work and indeed a short break away with The Love In My Heart, and so got myself packed and pretty much ready before I headed to bed. It did feel like that the end of a difficult week, both in work and outside it for personal reasons, would be just the thing that I needed and also something to take my mind off what's been going on lately.

Wednesday 19th January - Who's That Girl?

It was back to work today, and hell did I know about it. All the changes that had happened over the weekend were still being felt by people en masse, and I'd been heading around lots of people and places trying my best to try and get everything sorted out for customers. On the whole it's been a good learning experience in that inevitably you're always mopping up any issues and errors that you have, but also how to get round possible problems. One example was that for a couple of people Outlook refused to launch. When I looked at the mail profiles, it showed that the user had some odd names like 00000a0003638aaaaaa0000 or something like that. Deleting those and leaving the standard Outlook one seemed to fix it every time, but it made me wonder just why it was that way in the first place.

It was also a chance to see what could be done with a few of the older queries and seeing if I could close them off. One of them I could, as one of the staff Macbook Pros had gone to Apple's certified repairer for an in-warranty fix, and it was clear that the display screen had gone. One replaced screen later and everything was back up and working as intended, so that was good to see. It also showed just how well they must train the maintenance people who fix these things, it looked completely as if the whole Macbook Pro had been shipped from the factory so that was good.

I headed home later and had The Love In My Heart come over, which is always lovely. I settled in and we snuggled up and chatted, and then I made us some tea whilst she was watching Emmerdale. I did us some chicken in this red wine sauce along with some new potatoes and vegetables, and that went down pretty well. It was nice to chat and relax whilst all that was going on, and also to see how things had gone for us both in the last few days. It was also nice to have a cuddle, I admit, and that was special - I really did need it.

We then saw Michel Roux's Service on BBC 2, and we quite liked that on the whole. Michel really does tell it like it is, but also he really does have that empathetic ear of support and encouragement to them. It's also interesting to see how he perceives the youngsters and also how he perceives service in restaurants as a whole, and it makes for an intriguing show. Notable as well was that it was a posh place in Alderley Edge where they went - it looked classy and expensive, especially if certain Man Utd footballers happen to go there. It was nice to see too the passion Michel has - he's a really passionate person.

It was Scrabble thereafter, and a good game had by us both too, with some good scoring and moves whilst listening to Beth Rowley in the background. I love "So Sublime" on that album, it has such a happy uplifting feel and really makes us both smile, so tune of the day there. And any song that asks "who's that girl?" with just the sweetest of voices in the chorus has to be something to behold doesn't it? I just wish that she'd have some new stuff out and even tour as we'd both like to see her again.

Tuesday 18th January - Farewell

I headed up this morning out of my Travelodge slumber and headed next door to the Little Chef, where myself and three of my relations decided to get something down us for breakfast, to set us on our way for what was to be a difficult day ahead of us all. The plan was that if we had brekkie now and then changed into our attire, we wouldn't get it mucky and so at least be ready for the day. It worked well, and I was soon showered and changed and ready to go with Mum, my brother and his girlfriend, and outwards to the local crematorium where the service would be held.

Everyone got there on time, and I was able to chat to my cousin and her husband for a while outside whilst we waited for the scheduled time. Several of us were in truth passing the time by thinking about other things because the reality of what was to come was here. The service took place and the priest from the local church in the village came along to do his bit, which was a nice touch. It was pleasant as these things go, and it just felt right somehow to have a small intimate service where it was a private moment for all concerned. Sometimes it's not easy, and moments like these were one of them.

Later on it was a drive of some three quarters of an hour back to the village where there'd be a memorial service held, and I had my niece with me. I was keeping her occupied and then she was asking me about the stones in the church. What do you say to someone who doesn't fully comprehend why they are there? I dressed it up as nicely as I could but was serious enough for her to know that it wasn't really fluffy and pretty, but instead a time to think and remember instead. It touched me though that she wanted to speak to me and spend some time, knowing that I'd have my strong head on to be strong for others around me.

The church service took place, and it was a beautiful thing as it goes. It felt like almost the whole village had come out to the church, and that was lovely to see and how much of an effect it is for a community like that. A few hymns were sung in good voice, some readings took place, and a feeling of togetherness was certainly how I felt too. Once the service was over and we were all leaving, the speakers had on the F1 theme - Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" which seemed appropriate given the colourful and motor-mad history of the relative in question. Tune of the day, purely because it left everyone slightly uplifted thinking "that's exactly how they'd have been" during the rising bass line.

We headed to the local pub later where there was a nice buffet and also a relaxed atmosphere as people chatted and generally felt a little more able to wind down after the events of the day. The real ale was on good form and one of them was £1.99 a pint, served in a proper old school beer glass with handle. It felt right somehow in so many ways, and to be honest I'm sure I could have seen myself in there on a normal day. Except this wasn't a normal day. This was a day to remember and think of others, but I realised something important, and more so as we all headed home and back up northwards later on.

I realised that as much as it's horrible to have to face up to people whom you care about and whom you have feelings for, at the same time you shouldn't think of the end moments because they're always sad, but instead think of the times that you've spent with them and how much they meant to you. I can think back to those around me who are in another place, and how I can instantly recall little moments where there's been a smile put on my face or where we've excitedly got a bargain at a car boot sale. You know, all the little things. And they all add up inside and demonstrate the reason just why people are as they are and how they help shape you as a person. I found it hard not to cry today, I didn't admittedly, but simply because I wanted to be strong and have those thoughts of happy moments.

Monday 17th January - The Long Haul Down

It would have normally been the start of a working week for me and indeed a week where there'd be many changes afoot in how things work where we are. However, this wasn't any ordinary start to week but instead a journey down to the Southern part of the country as we had some family things to do. Under the circumstances, a lot of us were heading down during the day and we felt that at least if we were able to all go then it would mean hopefully that we could keep each other company for what would be a difficult day ahead tomorrow. It would have been murder travelling down in the morning and back the same day, so we decided that the best plan of action would be to all head down and crash out at a Travelodge.

So it was four of us heading down from Manchester on to the M6, then the M5, and then off the M5 and headed towards Cirencester, round the back of Swindon and then down to Marlborough and further down into Wiltshire along the way before finally arriving at the Travelodge of choice. Thankfully we'd all been put not that far from each other and so it was nice to be able to know that we'd all be around later in the evening. As four of us had arrived a little earlier, we decided that heading out for something to eat for the evening meal would be good. I had the prawn risotto, but somehow as nice as I'm sure it tasted it just didn't feel the same for me as it would have done normally.

Inside I kept thinking to myself just why I was there and I know that's what The Love In My Heart said to me later on the phone - just to keep myself up and know that at least I was trying to do the right thing by making the effort. I had a real feeling of emptiness inside though. I can't describe it, but it's almost like your stomach thinks your hungry but your body doesn't want to know. I was virtually on autopilot watching Coronation Street in the hotel room and after a couple of phone calls it was time for me to hit bed and crash out to sleep. It's not easy sometimes when you know that you'd rather get things done and out of the way but it's all the waiting around that takes the time.

As I headed to sleep, I kept thinking about how things were right now and knowing that I'm lucky to have someone to love, but also how sometimes you have to live for what you've got and make the most of your life while you can. Tune of the day sums up some of that feeling: it's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by the late great Johnny Cash. If you get chance, get the American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around album, and you'll see why I admire it so much. It's Cash laid in a much more raw vein, and on this track he duets with Nick Cave, and it works beautifully. Cash covered Cave and the Bad Seeds' "The Mercy Seat" on American Recordings III: Solitary Man in case you wondered, and so Cave returned the compliment. Even though there's people around me, I just felt so alone with my thoughts and wanted to let things go all by myself.

Sunday 16th January - Clearance Conundrums

Myself and The Love In My Heart had a relaxing morning, not doing much but just having a bit of a relaxing rest after a manic last few days. It was nice just to get up at our own pace, and I sorted out all the things I needed for the next couple of days as well. We had a nice couple of bacon toasties for lunch to keep us going, and we first headed over to see my sister, as it was her birthday today. It was a full house at her place and her four month old son was getting all the attention, he's such a cutie though so I can understand why to be honest. He has this habit of going for anything to chew on including fingers, but he loves being tickled as well.

My sister liked what we'd got her for her birthday, some nice cranberry body stuff from Boots as well as this Elle Macpherson The Body bathtime set, where you get some plain bath stuff and then three different types of oil and a little mixing bowl and spoon. You mix the oil with the plain stuff and then run it under the running bath water to get a nice infusion of relaxation. My sister joked that unless one of the family had the two kids overnight, she might have to wait a bit to get some rest and relaxation but nonetheless would be a little treat to herself. A lot of the family were there too, so was good to chatter to them all.

It was then over to Mum's for a quick coffee and chat before we headed a few miles out to Cheadle, and to the John Lewis there. The Love had some vouchers for there that she'd got for Christmas and we thought that with it being the last day of their clearance sale that we would check out what was there. We went to the clothes bit and there were some lovely Ted Baker jeans that she liked, and the style and price was good too. However, the size wasn't in her size whatsoever, so that was a bit of a nightmare. However, there were other things she liked too but just didn't hang right.

We went down to the lighting section as she did mention that she wanted a new table lamp for the front room, and something to go with what she had already. One of the first ones we spotted looked really nice, and eventually after looking at the other ones, she went for it in the green shade, and it looks well smart. It's the "Jolie" table lamp, and really does look neat with the glass base and matching coloured cord inside. It also was in a nice box and so easy to carry out with us, and with the vouchers she had, she only had to put another £5 towards getting it, so it felt like a good use of them too.

We then headed to the café and had a lovely lemon cake and coffee which just wound us down nicely before heading next door to Sainsbury's, getting a lovely pizza in for tea later and then we spotted this gorgeous dinner set in blue reduced to £10. As she needed a new one because some of her plates were broken a while back, we thought it'd do the job nicely and it looks lovely, so bargains were to be had again there. It was good later to settle back at mine, check out some possibilities for our trip next weekend and also watch some Come Dine With Me before she headed homewards. I'm missing her already.

I then had a blast of Rock Band 2 on the Wii with some of the downloads that I had, and got 100% on both Electric Six's "Gay Bar" as well as The Smiths' "This Charming Man" which simply has to be tune of the day because of the fact that you can get to sing like Morrissey in the game - a definite plus for me it has to be said. I think that I can improve my score a little but at least I know how to get it right vocally - you always start from that point and work onwards methinks.

Saturday 15th January - Wolves At The Door

It was nice taking things rather leisurely at The Love In My Heart's place, and she really made a lovely bacon sandwich for breakfast which did the job in bucket loads. I was checking out some stuff on the web and also made sure that I entered the lottery draws as well. Well, we can both live in hope of winning shedloads, can't we? I'd like to think that one day we would win enough to actually be able to not work again, but that's really fantasising I guess. We also worked out that for a break we were planning, staying for one day less wasn't that much cheaper, so it looks like the original plan might work (hopefully).

The Love headed off to Mum's and I stayed at hers to keep my eye on the snooker, and soon my friend came over. We were off to see Man City take on Wolves and if we won, we would (for a day at least) be top of the league. I wanted to see us hopefully carry on the good home form we'd showed lately (two wins out of the last two) and make it five unbeaten in the league as well. It may have seemed easy, but knowing that Wolves recently have beaten Liverpool and Chelski, it would be a tough game. We were all good to go after a well earned brew, and stopped by the ticket office so he could get tickets for the cup replay.

The game kicked off and Wolves were dominant for the first twenty minutes and deservedly, it has to be said, went in front. City seemed to wake up after Aleksandr Kolarov did a last ditch piece of defending to stop a certain second going in, and we raised the game. A corner came over all the way to Kolo Toure, whose low and hard shot was just enough to see it wriggle home for 1-1. And I have to say, Wolves were full value - they looked sharp and hungry for it and certainly weren't going to lie down either, which was good to see. I'd rather see sides try and play a bit.

We got a half time pie and it seemed like it was a good omen, as by the time my friend and I had finished, City had scored two goals. The first was a complete peach by Carlos Tévez, it really was. He got the ball on the right, took on four of the Wolves defenders single handedly before slotting it underneath their keeper for 2-1. Then a few minutes later, neat passing between himself and Edin Dzeko released Yaya Toure, who slotted it under their keepr for 3-1. It all seemed good and even the whole crowd, not just the South Stand, did "the Poznan" in celebration.

More was to come as well, as a low cross was hit in from Pablo Zabaleta which Tévez headed home for 4-1. It should have been plaing sailing, but almost straight away Wolves got a penalty and scored to make it 4-2, and then from a corner they headed home despite Nigel de Jong's attempted clearance off the line to make it a nervous last few minutes as we held on for a 4-3 win. We spoke to some Wolves fans afterwards and complimented them on the fact that their team played well, and if they played like that every week they'd be in no danger. One of them told us that they always raised their games against the likes of us, but struggled with the teams around them. Fingers crossed for them - as certainly the fans we spoke to were a fair bunch and even said how good Tévez was.

Later on The Love In My Heart and I headed back to mine and I did a two course meal for us both, with some winter vegetable soup to start and then some Scottish rump steak and chips with peppercorn sauce for the main. The rump was spot on and I even did The Love's well done as opposed to my medium. It also gave me a chance to try out the new frying pan I got from IKEA for Christmas from Mum, and that did the job rather well to say the least, with a really nice taste. It was a good meal and I even won £10 on the lottery draw as well so that was a nice surprise.

We ended the evening with a game of Scrabble and Seth Lakeman on the CD player, and so I need to make "See Them Dance" from his most recent album tune of the day. I even managed to play a seven letter word on the very first move, playing SPINDLE (the L was a blank) which scored me 74 (don't forget that you get 50 points bonus for using all your letters) and later on I played HOVE on triple word (the H was on double letter too) for 42, and JOULE for 36 on triple word, so that worked out quite nicely in terms of scoring overall. I don't think that The Love was that impressed with my first move though!

Friday 14th January - Sandbar and Slaithwaite

I had had a hard week at work, so when one of my colleagues suggest that we head to Sandbar for a spot of lunch, I thought to myself "why the hell not?" especially as I'd been paid today (we normally get paid on the 15th but as that's a Saturday it'll have gone in today) it was time to head out and enjoy ourselves a little bit. I do love it in Sandbar, it's one of my favourite places in Manchester for drinks, and even better, they still had the Black Cat! It was in and on top form, so win win situation really. And the sausage barm I had for lunch was not only massive, but the sausages were really nicely made and it tasted good - well worth the dosh for what I paid. A good start to the weekend I reckoned.

After the day was done and I'd finally got some things nailed before the end of the day, it was then off into the centre of Manchester and then to see The Love In My Heart, who was getting herself ready when I arrived. One of my good friends from Flickr had invited myself and The Love along to her 40th birthday, which was at the Commercial pub in Slaithwaite, a few miles from Huddersfield. As it looked on the map, it wasn't that far from the train station, and so meant a simple trip up there. However, even though we left The Love's place in good time, the bus took ages to arrive to get into the city centre, and by the time we headed through the Northern Quarter to Victoria Station, it was pretty touch and go. We ended up making it with two minutes to spare. Phew!

We soon realised that a lot of people used this train to commute to Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge, and once we left Stalybridge station, the train was pretty much empty, and once we got out of Greenfield, it was virtually ghost-like. A few people got on at Marsden, assumedly on their way to some drinks in Huddersfield and then it was on to Slaithwaite, where it was out of the train station, under the bridge, down the hill and to the roundabout where The Commercial pub was. The pub looked pretty busy and I glanced at the cask possibilities before we headed upstairs where my friend was with her partner and a few people. She loved the birthday present we got her (Frank Sidebottom's "Timperley EP" on 12" single, she's a fan of Frank like me!) and so that was good.

We got some drinks and I was spoilt for choice by the cask ale, oh yes I was. I started off with the Saltaire Cherry Kriek, which was a really nice ale infused with cherries, and believe me you could smell them from afar. Later on I tried two of the local Empire Brewery's ones, which were made a very short distance from the pub itself - first off the Commerciale (I'm sure you can work the link out) followed by the rather nice Moonlight Mild which was quite black and dark and really had a good taste to it - reminded me a little of the Thwaites Nutty Black. So for me, good beer and at good prices too - we're talking a mere £2 for a pint which in this day and age is pretty cheap!

We had a great time, talking with quite a few different people (one of whom is now a contact of mine on Flickr as well) and with good beer, wine and company, it was nice just to have a relaxing evening. What was nice was that the room wasn't too big, so that it was a nice enough atmosphere and with good tunes being played over the CD player that she'd brought with her, including "Little Fluffy Clouds" by The Orb - hadn't heard that in a while and it is a top tune, so tune of the day for me right there. Time did whizz by far too quickly and plenty of conversation ensued, and The Love was really being her usually wonderful chatty self too.

Time went by and so we had to leave and get the 2312 departure back to Manchester Victoria along with my friend's sister and her partner who were also heading back to Manchester. We even made it across Manchester to Piccadilly in time for the night bus back to The Love's place, where we ended up seeing Emmerdale that had been recorded before finally crashing out to bed around 1am, but a good night was had by all and I'm sure that we might have to head back up that way sometime for a bit of a pubs in the countryside crawl..

Thursday 13th January - Chorizo and Coffee

After another hard day's slog in the office, it was nice to head homewards, but first it was off to the local Tesco. As I was heading out tomorrow night, I wouldn't have time to do any food shopping, and so as such I wanted to get everything done tonight. I knew that I was making tea for myself and The Love In My Heart on Saturday night and so got some nice ingredients in for that, and also that I'd need some lunches for work during the week as well as some other bits and bobs. I was pretty quick in and out of there and I soon made it homewards to get the house tidied up a bit.

The Love In My Heart came over and we were able to relax with a coffee and catch up on our respective days. I felt good to be able to talk to her about all sorts and it was also nice that we just spent some time not doing much - although I did indulge her with a double Emmerdale and then Coronation Street so that she could see what happened in the fire in Emmerdale - the things you do for love, eh? In any case I was too busy in the kitchen to be watching the soaps as I was knocking up a rather nice chorizo sausage pasta bake for us both. I like doing that and seem to have it nailed to a tee now, so we enjoyed that before relaxing a bit later.

I packed my overnight bag to hand to her for tomorow night as I was staying at her place, and realised along the way that I needed to hand her something that arrived in the post: a couple of items that I'd ordered on her behalf from eBay. She was really pleased and said to me that she appreciated that I don't mind making that kind of effort and helping her too, so I felt good. It's nice to know your efforts do get that level of appreciation too, and that's simply because she deserves it for being so nice to me. Cue cries of "aaaawwww". I also showed her what I'd got people for birthday presents and she gave me the thumbs up on them both, so that was good.

Time went far too quickly and she was soon off home as she was on an early shift at work, but it felt good to be able to snuggle up on the sofa with a coffee and relax with her too - it feels just a great place to be at times to be perfectly honest. Tune of the day justifies itself by giving me that sort of cosy feeling inside - it's "Happy" by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. It's a perfect piece of Americana that has a distinct and clear voice and at the same time feels beautifully relaxed and mellow. And it's great to listen to when on a long journey as well, believe me, I've done that a few times.

Wednesday 12th January - Catch Up Time

I spent a fair bit of time on Wednesday evening doing what I'd wanted to do for a while, and that's catching up with emails. As daft as it sounds, I don't always get the chance to do this at home because I'm trying to do other things in my spare time, and of course doing things like web site maintenance also takes time as well. It was good therefore to email a couple of friends and keep them posted with things that had been going on, and also spending a bit of time researching how feasible a holiday for msyelf and The Love In My Heart is. We had a good chat about some ideas and some research on the web did prove realistically fruitful into what could be done.

I went round to see my uncle as well and drop something off for him but it was also good to spend time with him and his wife over a coffee and have a chatter about all sorts. What was interesting was that they'd also been in touch with some of my relations and was able to let me know how things were with them too, but also that my uncle is planning a website devoted on some of the animals that he and my brother in law keep on their allotment, and a preview of the site that I had did look pretty good, it has to be said. I think it keeps them both interested and out of mischief!

I also tried out some songs on Rock Band 3 on guitar, to see how well that played. In terms of hitting notes I think I had the calibration pretty much nailed, so it was then a case of remembering that even on medium difficulty you do go occasionally into the odd orange note, and it was remembering how that's done. I've tried the first couple of road challenges, and it reminds me a little of how you can pick and choose the songs they pick, or a random setlist. There's not enough flexibility to make the own setlist, but still, it's pretty good fun.

My biggest concern though for me is that as much good fun as it undoubtedly is, I maybe need the keyboard peripheral to get a little bit more out of it, and as that's a pretty massive £70 to get, that needs to go on hold for now methinks, as nice as it'd be. I'm sure though that the likes of Rammstein's "Du Hast" (make that tune of the day) would benefit massively, you really do need to have the time and effort to learn something else apart from the guitar, so who knows?

Tuesday 11th January - I Want To Have You Like An Animal

After a long hard day at the office it was nice to get home and unwind. I managed to get to the dry cleaners' in time and so managed to pick up the suit that I'd put in, so that was all well and good. I got home and put on Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, and with good reason. I'd been informed that today there were some new downloads for the game, and not just any downloads either, oh no: three tracks by Nine Inch Nails! Ooh yes. Although "The Hand That Feeds" had been in Rock Band for the Wii, both "Head Like A Hole" and "Closer" weren't available in anything else. Needless to say though I snagged all three as I wanted to give them all a good play.

That would be done later, but first it was time to spend an enjoyable evening with The Love In My Heart as she came over for tea. I did us some pork loins with charlotte potatoes and vegetables, which went down pretty well. I've been more confident in doing pork now, it cooks well under the grill and you just need to give it the right amount of time to get it spot on, and it tasted pretty good to me. What was nice was that we swapped our usual seating positions so that The Love could see a little bit of Emmerdale whilst we were munching.

Anyway, we had a good look at places to possibly go to in the Autumn and browsed the Internet on a good old fashioned search. We had plenty of ideas and The Love had the idea of checking the reviews of some places on TripAdvisor, and what was highly rated there in terms of reputation. I then decided to also check other websites that offer reviews of hotels to see if the reviews there correlated, and for some of the better ones they actually did, which was nice to see. I always wonder sometimes though who actually writes some of the reviews as they're full of bad spelling!

We later watched the first episode of series 11 of CSI (the original Vegas one of course). It was good for me to get back into it as I'd not seen it since last Summer and the deranged Nate Haskell stabbing Leslie Langston with an improvised weapon from glasses. Thankfully Langston survived but still managed to help solve a case for the CSIs. Interesting point to note was that Jorja Fox (as Sara Sidle) is now back in the main credits of the show, so that's good. Also good to see Vartann getting a bit more airtime these days - he tends to be quite a kick ass detective and really does prove a useful foil for Catherine these days. Yaay.

Later on after The Love had departed for home, it was on with Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock, and straight into some NIN. I played "Closer" a few times, and nailed it 100% on about the third attempt - it was just one awkward bit that I had to nail, and once done, all was well. It still reminded me of how good the original was though, so that's tune of the day no question. I really did enjoy rocking out to NIN as you'd expect, and it made me realise how well I know that particular track too, so that's good!

Monday 10th January - Creepy Crawley

Had a rather busy day at the office, and I was pretty glad to make it home and have some well earned rest and relaxation. It didn't help that we had the token drunk on the bus on the way home, who seemed to want to harass everyone for money so he could buy alcohol, despite admitting a drink problem and that he couldn't wait to head back home (wherever that might have been). It just makes me wonder either the system's failing really badly so that people are going to take any sorts of measures to try and get by, or whether that for some people the drink problem's of their own making and that in fact they won't help themselves either. I do wonder.

Anyway, I didn't manage to make it to the dry cleaners' in time to collect the suit I put in, so I guess I'll have to try again tomorrow. I got home and really wanted to take it easy, so decided to try out Rock Band 3 on the Wii on vocals and guitar. I was excited to hear that KMFDM's "A Drug Against War" had finally made it to the Rock Band Network downloads on the Wii, only to access the Rock Band store and see the "currently unavailable" signage on that and all the other Rock Band Network tracks out that day. Something's amiss there I think. I'll have to see what happens when the next lot of downloads come out, as I really want to play it. I played the tune from the CD anyway, so tune of the day right there.

I also tried out some tracks that I'd downloaded on vocals and compared it to Rock Band 2. It seems fine, but I have to admit that I think Rock Band 2 handles the vocals better than 3 does on the Wii. Don't get me wrong, I can still nail plenty of songs well, but sometimes for some reason the mic just completely disconnects and doesn't track at all. Odd, that. Mind you, I did some songs on guitar and that seemed fine - although the medium does occasionally have the odd orange note which does take some getting used to sliding the hand over, when normally on medium you only have the four frets.

After that and some tea I put on ESPN and tuned in to Crawley Town's game against Derby County in the FA Cup. It looked rather blustery and full of rain there, and after Derby got a penalty which was no way one, the Crawley keeper deservedly saved it, which was good. Then a long goal kick aided by the wind got the Derby defence mixed up, and Crawley scored to make it 1-0. That said, they should have gone down to ten men after an appalling two footed tackle on Derby's Robbie Savage only resulted in a yellow card. The replay showed how bad it was, much worse than Steven Gerrard's straight red yesterday.

Second half came and the wind was now behind Derby, and they eventually did get an equaliser from their only good move of the match. However, Crawley wanted it more, and they really did go for it towards the end. At the start of stoppage time they got a corner, and kept noticing that Derby had all their men inside the 18 yard area. The corner was hit low and hard to the edge of the box, and there was Sergio Torres to hit the ball home into the bottom corner to give scenes of delirium at the ground. Excellent stuff and a well deserved win, methinks.

Sunday 9th January - Up For The Cup

Had an enjoyable evening last night to say the least. I had The Love In My Heart over, and we had a relaxing time of it as first of all we caught up with plenty of chatter and even had a bit of a blast of Wii Sports (mainly the tennis) for old time sake, before I started to make the tea whilst The Love indulged herself with Come Dine With Me. I made us some mushroom soup to start followed by chicken wrapped in bacon with charlotte potatoes and vegetables for main, and The Love had brought round a jam sponge which I had with custard for dessert. All lovely, especially with a Brewers Dark beer to wash it all down with. And later a nice game of Scrabble with Swing Out Sister on, plus Wii Sports Resort (mainly Frisbee Dog and the table tennis as well as the wakeboarding!)

It was nice therefore this morning to snuggle up next to The Love and generally have a relaxing time of it. I even fired up Rock Band 3 and finally made my own custom rocker, and she was impressed with what you could do to make your own band and rock star - probably more than the game. That said, I did do a few tunes on vocals and did rather well, notably Electric Six's "Gay Bar" and so well that I am world number 1 on Rock Band 3 on the Wii on it! I didn't do too badly on "Last" by Nine Inch Nails either, so I'll make that one tune of the day as I really love the NIN track massively. And I even sounded sort of like Trent Reznor doing it.

Later on I saw the Man U v Liverpool FA Cup game, and what controversy it was too, as the penalty that Man U won inside the first thirty five seconds was shown not to be one after all, with Dimitar Berbatov clearly diving, and Ryan Giggs scoring to make it 1-0. However, the referee in my view did get the sending off right, with Steven Gerrard going in two footed and in the air against Michael Carrick, and it was no option but a straight red there. Liverpool did hang on with ten men and it stayed 1-0 till the end, so could have easily been a break or freak goal. But people will say that already Kenny Dalglish has them geed up and looking tons better than before. I think time will very much tell.

I had a few of the family round later though for ESPN's coverage of Leicester against Manchester City in the third round tie we had to face. Fittingly, I had the red and black retro away shirt, which has the 1969 FA Cup final on it, and that was the shirt worn by City great Neil Young. Neil currently is very poorly and the club as a gesture gave fans lots of red and black scarves to wave and wear on the day, and even Roberto Mancini had one on as well, which was good to see. I just hoped that we'd do the business.

It didn't look convincing after forty five seconds though as Leicester went ahead - a cross came in, low and hard across the area, and their debutant poked it home for 1-0. City were shellshocked and it took about ten minutes to settle after that, but once we did, it was time to up the game. A neat pass and move for James Milner resulted in a good dummy and a slot home low and hard into the bottom corner for 1-1, and then right on half time a neat corner with Adam Johnson resulted in Milner hitting low and hard into the area and Carlos Tévez to flick home for 2-1 at half time, much better.

However, second half we seemed to sit back way too much, and Joe Hart dropped an absolute clanger, as he couldn't hold on to an innocent looking cross, and the Leicester players got to it first and then scored to equalise at 2-2. Chances came and went at both ends, particularly when Nigel de Jong was played in and shot tamely at the keeper, but 2-2 was a pretty fair result and to be honest, with ten minutes left, I said to everyone that I would take the replay here and now as I was worried that it might go against us.

After that I made myself something for tea and watched the world darts final at the Lakeside, and what a final it was. Martin Adams started well, faded during the middle stint and was 5-4 down against Dean Winstanley and rocking. However, he bravely fought back to make it 5-5 and in the eleventh set a Winstanley needed a 164 finish. He got the first two darts and then elected not to go for the bull but leave double top. Adams hit a marvellous next three darts so he could have a go at double, Winstanley missed double 20 then double 10, and Adams cleaned up - which proved enough then to go 6-5 ahead. In the next set he had a few maximums and almost won it on a 161 finish before cleaning up next go and with it winning the title 7-5. Excellent stuff!

Saturday 8th January - Chorlton - Charity Shop Central!

After getting up this morning and sorting out some housework and also a little bit of shopping, as well as taking in my suit to the dry cleaners (need to pick that up on Monday as well) it was back home, drop everything off, and then on the bus to Chorlton, as I wanted to have a good look in Kingbee Records but also nip into the Morrisons there and see if they still had the Brewers Dark real ale for a mere £1 like they had before Christmas. It's lovely stuff and I usually have a drink of it in Ra!n Bar in Manchester, so always worth having at home if at all possible.

I got to Chorlton and first stop was Kingbee. It's good to see that some things don't change from year to year and Kingbee is one of them, with plenty of CD rarities behind the counter (including some Stone Roses CD singles and original Rough Trade Smiths album CDs) and also in the regular CD section, lots of stuff reduced to £3 each or 4 for £10. I did have a look through them and although a CD or two may have took my fancy, nothing jumped out at me and said "buy this" - even though there was a little bit of temptation to have a Jam or Paul Weller fest with a few of the CDs there.

After that it was then into Chorlton centre, and I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but there seems to be plenty of charity shops on Wilmslow Road, close to the traffic lights that they call Chorlton Cross these days (because the two main roads cross here, presumably). Anyway, I counted the likes of RSPCA, Age Concern, PDSA, Barnardo's and Oxfam in the space of not much distance. A lot of them seemed pretty popular with the locals, especially the separate book section of Oxfam. Still, if it fills a gap in the market and all that, good luck to them. And I'm sure that nestled in between the other shops there may be some more in the future.

I got to Morrisons, noticing that the tram station is now almost complete and indeed all the track and electrical cabling is pretty much done, and it looks like it could well be on schedule to open on time and it'll be quite intriguing to see what it does for house prices once it's opened. I might even try a trip out on the tram to Chorlton myself and see how it works out when it opens, to see what the opportunity might be for the commuters out there. I got myself the Brewers Dark but also noticed that they had King Goblin, which is like Hobgoblin but a bit stronger, and I had that up at my friend's in South Shields a while back. Well, I simply had to get myself a bottle of that as well!

I spent the afternoon in sport mode again, seeing Arsenal fluff it against Leeds in the FA Cup only for them to get a lucky penalty and scrape a 1-1 draw at the end, then the Welsh National at Chepstow, followed by some racing on Channel 4 from Sandown and then to the darts, to see Martin Adams slug it out against Martin Phillips. Adams won 6-4 and even started off the first leg of the whole match with a 161 checkout, and in one leg he got seven darts into a nine-dart finish before narrowly missing treble 19. Nonetheless it was a great effort, and deserving of a standing ovation from the Lakeside crowd.

And the Micro USB to USB cable I ordered arrived today, and it meant I could plug the new phone into the PC and be able to transfer stuff to and from it easier. In fact I used the Sony MediaGo software which allowed me nice and easy transfer between the phone and PC, and was able to set it up so it didn't faff about synchronising the music library with the phone every time (take note, iTunes!) and also meant you could easily see what was on the phone too. Lovely stuff really. Tune of the day is something I transferred to the phone, Metallica's "Mercyful Fate" medley, which was a good headphone test with the phone to see if the quality was any good to use it as an MP3 player, and it actually wasn't too bad at all..

Friday 7th January - Triple Dekker

Had another entertaining evening of sport in front of the telly, and a perfect time to wind down after the week back at work. I did manage to get plenty done today as well, and even assisted one of our really senior line managers to get some images off their Blackberry. Normally this isn't a difficult task, but when you don't have a Micro USB cable that comes with it, nor do you have the Blackberry software installed on the user's PC, it's not that easy. However, I found the easy solution - I took my office Macbook Pro with us and used that to communicate with the Blackberry via Bluetooth, then we transferred the images that they wanted to the Mac, and from there I was able to connect to our wireless network and place it on the user's home directory (of couse I could have also transferred the images to a USB stick as well, but there you go). Needless to say we left one very happy user indeed!

Anyway, back to the sport I was mentioning. First off it was on with the red button and on with the World Darts at the Lakeside. It just seems to me to be the spiritual home of darts, and certainly the players seem to rise to the occasion there. Of course no game would be complete without Martin Fitzmaurice's "Are you ready? Ladies and gentlemen, let's play darts!" opening mantra that the crowd join in with on the last three words. And two more quarter finals tonight as well, with some good stuf happening. First off Dean Winstanley easily put paid to Stephen Bunting with a 5-1 win, although to be fair most of the sets were pretty close. It was pretty good stuff with some good checkouts as well.

But the last of the quarter finals gave a real surprise element, as Jan Dekker of the Netherlands was up against Garry Thompson of England. They call Jan "Mr Cool" becuase of the sharp suit he wears as he walks on, and they call Garry "The Cougar" which these days just seems the wrong nickname as he's male (I'm sure you can work it out folks). Interestingly, Garry comes on to a piece of music specially wrote for him by a band called Geoffrey Oi! Cott, called "Glory Glory Garry Thompson" which is proper punk style, and really suits the atmosphere down to a tee at the Lakeside. Tune of the day without question, and you can listen to it below - oh yes. Spot one of the band with the Bullseye t-shirt on!

Unfortunately even that rousing piece of music did him no good in the end. He started well enough and raced to a 3-0 lead against Dekker, before he managed to scrape the fourth set and make it 3-1 at the interval. After the interval both players raised their game and Dekker pulled it back to 3-2 before Thompson moved two ahead again at 4-2. In the next set, Thompson had several darts at a double to win 5-2 but missed, and how he would regret that big time as Dekker won the next two sets to go 4-4. And at two legs all in the final set, it went to the tiebreaker where crucially Dekker broke the throw and then went on to hold his own to win the final set 5-3. It also showed he had coolness under pressure as well.

After the quarters, it was the women's final with Trina Gulliver up against Rhian Edwards. After Rhian won the first leg, it was pretty much all Trina from there on in as she took the first set 3-1 and then the second by the same scoreline. Trina wasn't in the best of form but she did more than enough to win the ladies' world title for the ninth time, which is pretty good going methinks. What I didn't realise was that she's actually in a civil partnership now with one of her fellow female darts players - small world and all that.

And then - the cricket! It was almost as if every ball was being shown on the ITV4 highlights, but not that I cared that much let me tell you. It was great to see England doing the business, knocking down the three final Australian wickets for a 3-1 series win where lots of records were broken, such as only the fourth side in history to score 500 or more in four innings during a series (and two of those were over 600), their first innings of 644 was the highest England ever scored in Australia, and the first England side since the 1950s to win by an innings in three test matches in a series. Oh yes, it was great fun and I was so pleased for them all - proper heroes in my book.

Thursday 6th January - Ashes to Ashes

Well well, I woke up this morning, checked the BBC News website and how I smiled. England eventually made a massive 644 all out, their highest ever total in Australia, and this meant that the Aussies needed a mere 364 runs just to make England bat again. And that seemed highly unlikely, with England getting them bowled down to 217 for 7 at the close of play. I saw the briefest of three minute highlights on the Sky Sports website this morning, and it showed that all the England bowlers were consistently good, especially James Anderson, and kept to the task well. And as for the first wicket run out - how many times has Shane Watson been involved in such incidents? Makes you wonder...

Still, I'll have to see the highlights further on ITV4 later to see how it all panned out. It's been good that they've been showing highlights but I kind of wish that they were on ITV1 somewhere so that more of an audience would watch it. Okay, I know ITV4 is on Freeview but not everyone necessarily even knows it exists, or knows it's there to be watched for free and all that. Still, what it does show is that at least I'd be able to watch some of the day's highlights without paying through the nose for Sky, hurrah to that. It's been good to see England doing the business too, it has to be said.

I had a pretty busy day at work today and overall things went rather well to say the least. I resolved quite a few problems overall and on top of that I was also able to do some user installs of software, and to finish off even managing to work out exactly why Outlook 2007 means that you have to set up your email signature on every single machine that you use - it's not a bug, it's a feature, apparently, which is not what you might want to hear. Makes me wonder why that we're kissing goodbye to a good email system and replacing it with something else..

Anyway, been watching the World Darts again on BBC and on red button. It's been pretty good today and the quarter final with Martin Adams and Ross Smith producing some quality stuff. I like the fact that Martin plays on his "Wolfie" nickname (due to moustache and beard etc) and comes on to Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf", so tune of the day right there. It's always good to see the young guns doing well and I'm sure that Ross will be back!

Wednesday 5th January - Praise Be!

It's not always often that everyone praises people for the good work that they do, and sometimes that does sadden me. It's all very well that we can be constructively critical of someone for not doing their job properly, or in that the service that a company provides is pretty poor, but often all the good little deeds go unnoticed, almost like we actually expect them more and more. It's quite sad really, as when working in a customer service type environment, you need to be focussed in providing good service and making people feel a little less unsecure about what they may be doing.

Which is why I'm going to sing the praises of Manchester City Council's Environment on Call team. Often in the past I've had to call them to collect large items of refuse or to report any fly tipping and stuff like that, and they've always been spot on. Today's efficiency was no exception either. I rang them last night because they're recycling the real Christmas trees, and according to the website, you could leave it with your green food bin for recycling so it'd be collected along with the food waste. I did this, but no collection. It was no problem, I called them and they apologised for not collecting it, and actually said that they would remind collection staff of this, and arranged a next day collection without fuss.

When I got home from work, there was no tree - all collected, all gone, simple. And they were also very helpful too when I asked about not being delivered a brown and blue recycling bin (we've now got individual ones instead of communal ones). Again, no problem for them and they would have one each with me by the end of the week. It's so refreshing to see that not only was my call taken promptly, but also with friendliness and efficiency. It makes paying the council tax seem a lot less painful than it is, and there's plenty of companies who could be shown how to operate a good customer service environment too by the way that this team does things. I hope that redresses the balance a little bit.

The Love In My Heart came over later and we had a relaxing evening, mainly thinking about a possible holiday later in the year for us. I even went and got some brochures from one of the travel agents as well (scary stuff, I know!) and looking online gave us some useful ideas as about where we'd want to go. A couple of ideas came to mind but they weren't cheap either, so it was a case of us thinking about if we could save up to go, or if we're able to maybe think about it next year or wherever. We shall see, but I'm sure it's all got us both thinking about what we'd like to do.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the excellent "Chelsea Dagger" by The Fratellis, used by darts player Scott Waites when he walks on. Not that it did him much good in his game against Stephen Bunting as "The Bullet" positively beat him all ends up. Mind you, it's a good rousing tune and I can understand why it'd be a perfect walk-on tune, and just the thing to wake up to in the morning as well.

I stayed up reasonably late-ish to listen to the Radio 5 Live Sports Xtra commentary of the Ashes final test, and went to bed with England just having passed 600. It looks more like they could possibly get another innings win and be one of only a few sides in history to win three Test matches in a series by that margin. It was good to see that we were really putting the Aussies to the sword and I can just hope that the form we're showing her can long continue. Makes a change for us to be kicking it!

Tuesday 4th January - Back In The Groove

It was back into work today, but not without a little moment when I woke up. I looked outside and there was more of the white stuff which had fell for a few hours overnight. Thankfully it wasn't that much and the main roads were clear, enabling me to get into work without any issues. And by lunch time, it had all cleared up rather nicely and so felt like it was more back to normal than ever. And I felt like I was able to get quite a bit done today as well, and managed to solve plenty of issues, including one with the PC I use in the office, so that was good.

It was also good to resolve some issues that I'd managed to at least start to fix before Christmas, and what was especially good was that I had a bit of initiative to get out the Mac in the office and try some settings for Mac Mail to work with the forthcoming Outlook move, and see how easy it was for me to set up. In fact it was dead easy, and I'm sure that anyone with a little bit of nous will be able to do so. That said, I know that come the changeover it's going to be pretty hectic to say the least and it'll definitely be all hands on deck etc.

After work I headed homewards and settled in to watch the BDO World Darts on BBC's Red Button and saw a pretty decent match between Martin Phillips and Joey Ten Berge. Phillips was 3-1 up and twice was two legs up in the set but to be clawed back each time, but did enough in the final set to take it 4-3 overall. It was much better than the game that ended up being on BBC Two, where Jan Dekker beat Stuart Kellett, the number two seed, 4-1. Kellett wasn't with it and the way he was chucking some of the darts in frustration reminded me of a spoilt child, and certainly not very sporting.

The sport theme continued (sort of) as I watched the latest instalment of Famous and Fearless on Channel 4. The men were doing the inline rollerblades and that looked pretty mad, and the women had to do some hovercraft course, where Kelly Holmes crashed rather dramatically and was out of the running. Jenny Frost won and she faced Sam Branson in the demolition derby, where Jenny kicked backside with a really good time. She really does not want to be messed with in any vehicle, especially after her in the monster trucks yesterday. And I think the format actually does work well, although I wish both events were live.

Meanwhile I've also been thinking about holidays this year, especially after booking the trains to head down to Cornwall at the end of March, which I'm looking forward to immensely as I always do. I was maybe thinking about heading overseas in the Autumn instead of the Summer, which might mean more exploring to do in more bearable temperatures all round. And tune of the day for that reason is "Holiday" by Pullover, which is the sort of holiday I don't want to head to this year. It's such a jolly tune about package seaside holidays by the beach and has every single type of cliche in there - it's just good fun!

Monday 3rd January - Bargain Hunting

I stayed over with The Love In My Heart last night, and it was really nice to do so and cuddle up, especially as we're back at work tomorrow and so it's been good to spend lots and lots of time together with each other. I was really pleased that we'd spent the time well and managed to see lots of each other's families and keep people happy over the festive period. She needed to have herself all ready for work as did I, so I left this morning with a heavy heart but with a smile too knowing that we'd had lots of fun together and we'd soon be with each other again.

I headed via the city centre and towards the Crown Point North shopping park in Denton, as they have a Marks and Spencer Outlet. My friend's got some good bargains from there and I know that I've managed to at the one at The Lowry occasionally, although at least more shops in Denton meant I could have a good look around. It didn't take too long to get there and so I headed straight to the Marks and Spencer Outlet. When I got in, I managed to find one pair of Stormwear jeans straight away in a medium grey that were a mere £9 (they're normally around £25!) in the clearance aisle.

I also wanted a pair of their mid-range black stretch cotton jeans as they wash really well and don't fade, and their sizing suits me well too. After a good mooch around I spotted a pair in my size. Normally in regular M&S stores they're £19.50, but the outlet price here was £13. Even better was the fact that all jeans except clearance ones had an extra 20% off so that meant that they'd be £10.40, meaning two new pairs for under £20. And that is what I call a result to be quite honest, so off I went to the till and felt rather pleased with my little self as well.

Then I had a look around some of the other shops including the Tesco Home Plus, and Boots, where I managed to pick up a couple of birthday presents as well, so that was rather neat. I soon headed home and flushed with success that I'd picked up some bargains along the way. It was a longer than planned journey because of the Bank Holiday, I had to head back into Manchester before heading back home as normally I could go another way but didn't want to chance it with the possibility of missing the connection.

I made myself some lunch and spent the afternoon watching some DVDs, first of all Blue Moon Rising. It's rather brilliant and really does bring home what it means to be a Manchester City fan, and focussing on some key games during last season, including the 4-2 win against Arsenal, 2-1 against Chelski, and both legs of the Carling Cup semi-final against Man U, and the game against Tottenham which meant they, not us, would qualify for the Champions League. It was a real roller coaster and summed up perfectly by the City fans and their Renault Espace "Helios" which would take them to the games.

Even if you're not a City fan, the DVD is well worth a watch as I'm sure there's plenty of fans who'd identify with the loyalty and pure mad devotion that they have: particularly one where he's taught his daughter that red is a rubbish colour and not to have anything red in the bedroom, might strike a chord with the masses. But what really also shone through were fans' memories of key points in the club's history, such as the 1981 FA Cup final, the 1999 play-off final etc. It really did add a sense of being and why you were here in the first place, and re-told ever so well. Tune of the day has to be Supra's version of "Blue Moon" as it really kindles the spirit when seeing City anyway.

I then watched (again!) Bill Bailey's Dandelion Mind which was just as good another time around, especially the mention of the Oud (you have to be there to understand it) before switching to the BDO World Darts on BBC2 and seeing Ted Hankey get panned by Scott Waites (and I mean panned too) followed by Robbie Green (aka Kong) easily beating Andy Boulton as well. Be interesting to see some of the games later tonight and see how they pan out - and of course it's proper darts for the proper masses as well on proper telly, so it's almost tradition that I watch it these days!

Sunday 2nd January - I'm The King of the Swingers

Yesterday's afternoon and evening proved to be rather lovely - myself and my friend saw City win 1-0 against Blackpool and saw a rare penalty miss from Carlos Tévez in the process as well, and the amount of chances we had, we could have won 5-0 but never mind. Later on we went to see The Love In My Heart who made me and two of my friends some lovely food, and we relaxed in the evening with some drinks and I did my annual quiz that I usually do. My friend won but was pushed to the wire by The Love, who made a storming comeback in the World News round. It was good fun and especially tricky as I had rounds where you needed to name the Christmas number 1s of the 1960s and 1980s by the year they were number 1. Ouch.

It was of course great to see my friends and I know that we always have a good time together which was always good to do. I think too that since one of my friends has become a City diehard like me we've seen more of each other, which has only strengthened an already good friendship. And they love The Love to bits like I dod as well, and appreciate how nice she is, so it makes for a rather good place to be as well. It was a tired but happy little me who went to sleep last night, that's for sure.

The Love In My Heart and I said our goodbyes this morning as I headed home for a while, and got some of the essential housework done - lots of washing and ironing. I had to wash my new coat as well as I was in one of the local shops when someone dropped a bottle of shower cream, and it splattered onto the back of the coat. Thank heavens the coat can be washed at 40 degrees, although I played safe and went 30 degrees on über delicates, which did the job rather nicely. Thankfully I have a few different coats and put on my recent green number for later, where The Love picked us up as one of her sisters was having a get together.

It was nice to see plenty of her family as well, and we had a good spread of food with some lovely chicken, cous-cous and some duck and prawn nibbles as well so I was more than happy to enjoy all of that. I also was able to see some of the Wigan v Newcastle game on Sky with the brother-in-law and The Love's father, so that was a good bit of male bonding, before out came the Wii, as The Love's niece was particularly pleased that I was coming over as it'd give her someone to play against on Wii Party. Well, it's nice that they think that..

It ended up being a rather fun-filled evening all round to be honest, with some of the mini-games proving rather addictive. Plenty of us ended up having a go on the jumbo jump ski jumping where you swing the remote up at the right time. Three of us including me managed a rather hefty 464 metres, but it looked like that was the limit or very close to it anyway. It was good attempting to get that and everyone seemed to want to be able to push themselves that little bit further, and that was good fun. The chin-up challenge reminded me of good old Track and Field, with A&B needed to be pressed together as fast as possible. I eventually managed 72 which was the record of the day.

But the most fun was also to be had on the Lofty Leap. You swing the remote to swing the Mii higher and then let go at the right time to get the perfect angle for take off, and off goes the Mii with a long jump into the distance. Once I got the hang of the right angle, I improved the record to 158 metres on their Wii. I then had to watch as one of the relations got 161 metres and beat that, but I then struck back with 168 metres, which made me the king of the swingers. And all very good fun too, it has to be said. Thankfully The Love's sister has three Wii remotes (the third came with Wii Party) and so it meant we could all have lots of fun.

Tune of the day pretty much summarises the fun that you could have playing the game as well - and it happens to be "Never Enough" by Dream Theater. "Everything is never enough" belts out James daBrie in the chorus, and it seems to be pretty apt considering how addictive the game is. It's also quite a piece of epic rock music as well and certainly seems to fill in the progressive metal tag that the band have been given over the years, that's for sure.

Saturday 1st January - New Year, No Resolution

It's New Year's Day, and I've decided this year not to make any resolutions. I was toying with the idea prior to Christmas that I might go either vegetarian or give up red meat, but I knew realistically that it might be too hard to do but also that I actually quite like the taste of meat as well, and I want to try and at least have some form of balanced diet. I gave up the chocolate back in Easter 2009 so that's no more anyway (or else that could have been something to consider) so I suppose really it's just a case of getting on with things as best I can and hoping that City can kick proverbial backside in the football a little later.

I did have some bad news yesterday, and that's still knocked me for six to be honest. I've tried to remain relatively calm and cheerful, but it's not easy when you know that there's people out there who are going to be less happy than you at a time like this, and that isn't nice. I don't want to go into too much detail as I'd rather certain things remain private, but suffice to say that I don't think it's going to be easy for a little while for me. I will try and get on with things as best I can, as my head says that of course, but my heart is in a different place at the moment. I'm just glad that I can watch City as a welcome distraction and do my annual quiz for The Love In My Heart and my two friends later - at least that's something.

I did manage at least to get a good night's sleep after seeing the rest of Jools Holland's Hootennany, and Cee Lo Green was pretty good as well as some more Kylie Minogue, and what was also good to see was that plenty of the bands appreciated the chance to be on there. Vampire Weekend were excellent and I'd have to certainly try and see them live now, I reckon. I just think that we need more programmes like this on the telly to give bands a chance to show that there is life beyond the X Factor to be honest with you.

I was thinking about having no tune of the day today, but after some careful consideration I've gone for John Cale's "4'33" as somehow the sound of silence sounds just the most beautiful thing on New Year's morning. It also is in insight into how music is an art form and more than just what's on the surface too, so tune of the day there. Let's hope that you all have a great 2011, and that things in life work out well for you, everyone deserves lots of happiness I think - so think positive.