Dear Diary... January 2020

Friday 31st January - Planning For The Future

It was a positive day and a lot of preparation for the next few weeks to be honest - so definitely for example setting to work on a plan of action not just for our SCCM upgrade to 1910 but also primarily to see what next steps we're going to need to take in order to take up the option for licencing for Intune should we wish to go down a whole co-management route, and indeed what else needs to be verified in terms of what's out there and what isn't in terms of the asset side. On a positive note, it does mean that what I've been going on about constantly in terms of some things has proven to be massively correct.

I've also been able to demonstrate that in fact there's also a fair number of users who don't shut down or restart kit when asked, borne out by the current state of play in terms of compliance for those needing a restart. I was able to bring forward some justification with a planned change and that has actually shown the numbers as is, so will be intriguing to see if they reduce over time (say for example if people shut their devices down over the weekends) and take it from there.

I did head out with a few people after work to one of the local pubs, which was quite nice. There was a nice cosy room upstairs which also meant that we were able to get a table to all sit and chat at, and on top of that they had some decent Trumans ales in there, so the Firestarter red ale was mine (and naturally of course said Prodigy classic had to be played too in my head - tune of the day for definite). It was good to spend some time before then braving the rain and heading off towards Euston, where The Love In My Heart was coming down to see me for the weekend.

It was nice to see her as always and despite travelling first class tonight, it seemed to be a bit of a let down (understatement). Prosecco was supposedly on offer, none was forthcoming (granted, wine instead, but still..) and the hot food selections weren't what was offered either - so not great all round. We did contemplate getting some bar snack sharers as we had a drink in the Crown and Anchor near Euston later on but thought not, but they did look nice admittedly (and I did have a really nice chocolate stout when in there too which was rather gorgeous!)

We made our way back via the tube and then train to mine, and we settled in for the evening, ultimately deciding to watch The Last Leg, where the big news was that Adam Hills' beard was being shaven off when the clock struck 11. It was much more entertaining to watch than the wall to wall news coverage of the moment the UK legally left the EU and all that, and also the guests on were good too, which really did make the whole evening seem that little bit lighter heartened overall. It was nice just to snuggle up with The Love, and watched some Graham Norton before heading for a well earned sleep.

Thursday 30th January - Polished Chrome

A couple of days ago I raised a planned change for our Windows estate where effectively I would be blocking a Chrome extension through Group Policy. This extension had been spotted by one of our CRM team and alerted to us primarily because it potentially may cause issues, and so wanted to see how viable it was to get it blocked. It worked a treat in Windows and blocked what we didn't want (and the extension blocking in Chrome means it also gets removed if present, so epic win.)

Now, because we effectively use JAMF Pro on the Mac side, we did already have a way that some of the Chrome preferences were populated by a policy. It effectively makes use of a preference plist file to do the job, which is populated in XML type language. Because it's a managed configuration, it's fairly good at keeping that locked down, so realistically what I needed to do was exclude the test Mac from that config being applied, then utilise a copy of the plist file, make changes and test.

In essence, the ExtensionInstallBlacklist preference is the same, and works the same way. However, it needs some XML definition with each of the 32 character extension IDs being a separate string in an array of values. So once done with the XML edited and the revised preference file saved, it just needs a bit of manipulation to ensure it's saved in XML1 format, which can then be uploaded to JAMF Pro as part of a configuration policy, which I then scoped to the test Mac I was using. And, yes, it worked! I must admit I was pretty pleased overall to have been able to get that done, and shows that I can get things done and use some self-initiative too. Win.

What wasn't a win though was the train journey home later. I got to Victoria fine, but it seemed that for some reason there had been trespassers on the track earlier at Selhurst, which meant that trains were delayed and playing catch up. Not particularly nice when you want to get home sooner instead of later, but there you have it. I did head to the Freshfields store in the centre of Croydon though as they always have a good selection of craft beers, and they do a deal where you get 10% off if you get three or more, so I got one each from the Fourpure, Signal and Gipsy Hill breweries which looked all nice. That too felt like a good win.

It was nice too that it felt like I was on top of everything prior to The Love In My Heart arriving tomorrow night, and that all was nice and clean and tidy. I do keep opn top of things anyway and do have some Viakal at hand to keep all the bathroom taps etc sparkling - primarily because of the hard water area being a real pain. It's so much nicer when things get sparkly and all good, so definitely can recommend that if you're in the same position. In the meantime, tune of the day is the ace "Dear Heart" by She Makes War, which really did seem apt considering it's a feeling of how the heart has been the last few days, all positive!

Wednesday 29th January - Scraping Through

It was a pretty reasonable day all round today, primarily because I spent a fair amount of time writing up some documentation for a forthcoming process of upgrades. I thought it sensible to go and add some extra screen shots as needed detailing the process in hand, and then our folks who deal with the communications side can then process what's needed for any forthcoming mailout. It also means that I can give all the full information out to those that need it from their perspective too, so does happen to make a lot of sense actually.

I did spend a fair amount of time later on cleaning up and sorting bits around the flat, as well as have the radio on and listening to the Carabao Cup semi final second leg - City against Manchester United with us 3-1 up from the first leg at Old Trafford and with a place at Wembley against Aston Villa up for grabs. Notably, it has to be said, that our record against United at the Etihad in recent times is pretty awful, including a 2-1 loss at home earlier in the season - we seem to do better there for whatever reason.

Anyway, the game was seemingly a lot of City during the first half but without any killer finish to set the Blues on their way. In fact when the goal did go in it was from United, and Nemanja Matic was the one who pounced, and this meant a 3-2 aggregate lead for City. One more goal from the red side would mean penalties after 90 minutes, although things were made easier as Matic got a second yellow and got himself sent off, so ten men for the remainder of the match made it that little bit harder for them. We did have disallowed goals for offside from both Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero but still not good enough for me to be honest.

I was just relieved that we had made it to Wembley once again and potentially could win this cup for three years on the trot, something only Liverpool have done last (they did it four teams from 1981-84) so that would be good if we were able to do so. However, that does also mean that the Arsenal home game would get pushed to midweek which means potentially taking some time off work if I wanted to go to that, so I'll have to see how that pans out - and it can't be the midweek after the league cup final because we've got the FA Cup fifth round at Sheffield Wednesday then (thanks a bunch, winter break!)

All in all though, a narrow scrape through, which certainly didn't feel convincing. Thankfully later it was back on with Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock on the Wii and indeed with the likes of some of the imported titles from other GH games. This time around, a chance to blast out the likes of some Metallica from that game, but also some excellent other tracks such as "Maiden Mother and Crone" from The Sword (make that tune of the day as it's still ace) and that definitely made me feel positive as the evening drew to a close.

Tuesday 28th January - In Control

I must admit that it's good when you're able to maintain control and to be able to keep an eye on all things going on with enough time to be able to also do some effective monitoring. I had spotted a number of machines which had failed to apply the necessary Windows 10 updates, and mainly due to low disk space being an issue. I'd reported those appropriately to our head of our service team, and he is able to therefore get some movement on seeing what can be done for me. The good thing was as it turned out was that one of them claimed that another machine was being used, but that machine was only just reporting back, so gave me another idea to check that over anyway and see that all the relevant updates were being applied.

I had a good chat with one of our Information Security colleagues about the forthcoming upgrade we'd be doing so that SCCM effectively becomes MECM, and that also means that in effect that co-management with the likes of InTune would be doable. However, we know that the likes of that plus cloud based distribution points do cost, and it's whether the net cost of that ends up being doable or not. On a positive side, what this also means is that what we'd both been pushing for might also happen (in terms of the cloud distribution point) so that might also move the goalposts a little too. We shall see.

In any case, I did also work out a slight issue with one or two devices - they weren't reporting back some of the information correctly. A deeper dive showed that the client check had failed for some reason, so it was a case of pushing out a fresh client installation and making sure that the client was all good to go once it had been installed. This worked really well and meant that I could see reporting back was all good and in fact it even picked up the fact it needed updates, and started to snag them.

One other thing was something I fixed late yesterday when I noticed one of the meeting room PCs weren't downloading the updates as scheduled, with a most unhelpful 80004005 error which is generic. A bit of research later and I found the cause - it was a corrupted Group Policy registry.pol object which meant that although the policy settings for the machine were correct in terms of updates etc, it had actually looked locally to that .pol file and found it damaged, so failed to apply. A rename of that file, and then forcing a gpupdate, and badabing! Updates downloaded, installed, restarted and all good to go. Isn't it all great when things work?

Later on at home I decided a bit of rocking was in order, so on went Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock on the trusty Wii. I still play this on occasion and still wish I had the drum kit, as some drumming might be some sensible evenings' workout now and then. Still it was on with the White Stripes' classic "Seven Nation Army" and belting out some killer basslines with that, so definitely tune of the day. Of course if you are a City fan, the song you'll actually be singing is more like "Ohhhhh, Kevin de Bruyne...." but you get the idea, I hope!

Monday 27th January - I Shall Be Released

Today was the start of a full week at work, no conferences or other events to go to, so was quite surprised to see that of the team I work with, there was only me in the office. One of my colleagues was online and in another office at least, so that was good, but it did feel rather lonesome on occasion. That said though a lot of the others in the other teams were in, so that made it feel more like a full office anyway. I was all set to go and changing our Windows 10 build task sequence to flip over to a new one, but in essence the only difference is that the Windows WIM is Windows 10 1909 (with the updates baked in to January) and there's a new version of the commuications software.

I always after flipping things over make sure on a live machine all is good, and once that was fully tested and checked over, it was then a quick email to the service teams and I could see during the day that new builds were already happening and working nicely. I think the good thing is that I have them onside with me, and that really does help, especially with testing too - I was able to get some positive feedback on the test side and make sure it all did what it was supposed to do beforehand. I liked that, and that means that I know it's not just me checking things over but others too.

I also investigated a possible Group Policy change for two things: first of all, a setting for Chrome to block certain extensions in a blacklist. I've done this before but it was good to revisit it here, and I had the extension ID of the extension in question that one of our CRM team asked if we could block it. It looked all possible, so made sure that a change was raised, and gave it a thorough test using the registry based equivalent of what Chrome sets. And it worked well, with a message stating that the extension is blocked by your administrator. Nice.

The second was to do with Microsoft Office and a forthcoming new feature that is being brought into Office 365 - and one that really has got people's backs up massively. Not only will Microsoft Search be encouraged to use Bing for its search result, but it'll also attempt to add an extension to Google Chrome and to make Bing the default for search results when doing a web search. Naturally plenty of people are like "what? You're effectively adding a browser hijacker in there?" and so of course the Group Policy templates are being updated, with a setting to effectively block it from updates.

And of course, make sure too that if you use any Office customisation tools such as the one built into MECM/SCCM, then make sure that you have turned the slider to off for the Bing extension to be added during the installation. It will be on by default so definitely worth making sure that it's turned off. I already looked at that too for any new installs, but the negative feedback thus far really is showing it's the wrong thing, and common sense would effectively say "yeah, we made an error here" and turn it off. We shall see. In the meantime, tune of the day is the ace "Only Happy When It Rains" by Garbage, quite apt considering the rain earlier and the fact I rocked out on Guitar Hero 5 on the Wii to it!

Sunday 26th January - Magic Of The Cup

After a hearty breakfast this morning thanks to The Love In My Heart, my friend and I were off to the Etihad to see Manchester City against Fulham in the fourth round of the FA Cup. It's always good to be able to see the lads play as defending champions of the cup as well, and as Fulham were doing well in the Championship, I knew it may not be so easy a game. The rain from the morning had relented enough for us both to head over and get our now customary cuppa before the match started.

Very soon in we realised that the game was going to be a lot easier. The ball was played into Gabriel Jesús and he was brought down by the Fulham captain Tim Ream as the last man. The referee did have a VAR check but it was a definite penalty, and sadly, also a definite red card as Fulham went down to ten. I was worried about the penalty only because of City's appalling record as of late, but up stepped Ilkay Gundogan and buried it bottom left for the opening goal with just seven minutes gone.

Later in the first half the ball found its way to Bernardo Silva. He turned a couple of times with the ball and the defenders stood off him, but then he swivelled round and unleashed an excellent drive right into the bottom corner, giving the keeper zero chance and it was 2-0 to City. Cruise control really for the rest of that half to be honest, although we did have chances to score more and on a better day should have taken them. Some City fans raced against Moonchester the mascot at half time and were all left trailing in Moonie's wake!

The second half was a little bit dull in parts, but brightened up as the rain stopped by two goals in as many minutes. First off, a really good cross from Joao Cancelo found Gabriel Jesús and he headed home - and after the customary VAR check, the goal was given and it was 3-0. Then Jesús robbed one of the Fulham defenders, the ball went to Phil Foden and although his shot was saved, Jesús had the sense to follow up for the rebound and headed that into an empty net for 4-0, which was how it stayed till the end.

Later on I headed over to Manchester Piccadilly and said a fond farewell with hugs for The Love, and I was in the first class lounge for a while before the train - with the Shrewsbury v Liverpool game on for a bit. The train was very busy so was glad to have a few comforts such as some food and some coffee too, and then kick back and have some tunes on, including the all time classic "Breaking The Law" by Judas Priest (make that one tune of the day). It was good to at least have a relaxing journey, and the train got in a few minutes early so was able to head across and get an earlier train back to Croydon too, so definitely winning again there.

Saturday 25th January - Out And About

It was very much a day of being out and about today, but not before Brian the cat was wanting plenty of attention off his Mummy, including some play time and indeed doing his fast trot between the bedroom and living room because he had spotted a tabby cat walking by, although by the time he had fast trotted, the other cat had long gone and scuttled off. As it was the bird watching weekend for the RSPB, The Love In My Heart also placed some bird feed all assembled together and hung that from a tree to see if any of the local birds would come and collect it, but none came during the morning.

Later on it was off to see The Love's father at his place, and he seemed reasonably okay. He had at least been out to put some football bets on and in fact having checked the ones from the Friday night games, he had won a couple of those, so that was good. The game between Brentford and Leicester City was on so we watched that and had a chatter whilst The Love and her sister and niece were also having a good natter too. It was quite relaxed actually and the time sped by as the football wore on with Leicester winning 1-0 in the end thanks to a fourth minute goal from Kelechi Iheanacho.

We then headed off over to see my Mum for a while, and had a piece of carrot cake and a brew whilst I was there. I must admit that it was good to see that her and her friends had enjoyed their Monday to Friday stay in Cornwall, and even though the coach took ages to get there and to get back, they'd had a nice and relatively sunny time in St Ives on the Tuesday (although the coach never gives you long enough on an excursion really!) along with then hopping to Padstow on the Wednesday and having a walk into Newquay itself on the Thursday so that was good.

It was a chance then later to go and have some tea, so we headed off to the Ashlea in Cheadle, primarily because there's always a good ale selection on but also because the food is good, and we did have a voucher for 40% off mains as long as we were all sorted before 7pm. I had the steak and red wine pie which was fab, and The Love had the special fish and chips which also had some scampi too. That looked gorgeous admittedly and almost wish I had it myself. All in, just over £20 including drinks. Winning!

We headed back to The Love's place later, sorted Brian the cat out with his own tea, and we settled in for The Greatest Dancer, followed by Pointless Celebrities which had a number of sports stars competing against each other - that was pretty good, and then on with The Voice UK. The Love prefers it much more than I do to be honest, but I think that at least because you can't see them singing you have no preconceptions, proven by the bloke who decided to go all Julie Andrews and do the classic The Sound of Music, for example. Still though it made me want to hear the original version of Runaround Sue (make that tune of the day) and not the way Olly Murs performed it...

Friday 24th January - Amazed in Amazon

It was the final day of the works conference, but our teams had elected to have our full day of meetings and plans for the year over at a room in Amazon's UK HQ, not far from Liverpool Street station but also close to Shoreditch High Street station, which meant I could get the Overground from West Croydon straight to there, which is pretty much what I did. It was good to see the nice piece of street art under the bridge, which had a mural of Garfield the cat there, really well drawn too. I had got there early so it was a quick visit to Black Sheep Coffee next door to have a well earned brew.

It was then into Amazon's UK office, and once I had shown my appropriate ID and had cleared security, it was time for me to then head to where some of the other staff were, and our host at Amazon, Lucy, met us all and took us up to where the meeting room was that we'd be using for the whole day. It was a good morning first of all which had a team meeting over video conference to other teams and to outline some of the plans for the start of the year on that.

We then had some good information from some of the Amazon staff about the improvements being made to Amazon Web Services (AWS) which we use to a degree, and also how those could be streamlined nicely, and with improvements to the likes of security as well which definitely was interesting. We all seemed engaged to be honest, and that was a positive. Lunch came, and everyone was really happy that there was meat on offer, and it was a good spread too, so that definitely was a positive.

There were more conversations in the afternoon about what was to come, and a real sense of bringing everyone together, and that was a positive overall, showing that we really were focussed as one. I really liked that to be honest and it also proved that away from being at an overall group conference, that being more concentrated together made a lot more sense. It all finished a little earlier too, so I ended up taking the Central Line from Liverpool Street back to the office for a while, so I could do a little bit of prepatory work for next week.

It was later off on to Euston and into the first class lounge, as I was heading on first class to Manchester. I should add this was due to the fact that following a valid complaint to Virgin Trains at the time, I had a discount offer for 75% off my next journey, so was able to book cheaply and this meant £27 return in first class, not arguing with that whatsoever. It was nice and chilled overall and of course this meant on a Friday evening some beer as well as food on the train, and a comfy seat of course, so all was nice as I headed up, with the excellent "Joy" by The Sundays keeping me company via the iPod (and tune of the day of course).

The Love In My Heart met me at Manchester Piccadilly, and we headed back to her place where Brian the cat was being particularly cute and wanting a fuss and a love, even from me, bless. We settled in later on to watch a fair bit of The Last Leg, complete with a tribute to Monty Python after the death of Terry Jones earlier in the week and a real sense of humour throughout, especially from David Tennant who was excellent. It was a nice way to wind down after what seemed a long week with a nice weekend for us both to look forward to.

Thursday 23rd January - Conferencing, Part 2

It was the second day of the works annual conference and I have to say better than the first, for a number of reasons. The first of which was due to this morning, effectively LearnFest as they call it. The first session had a whole thing on how the nature of humour and being able to laugh helps you learn, excellently presented by Stephanie Davies, a stand up comedian who has toured with John Bishop, and also was able to really get the audience involved in a lot of activities.

I think what made it for me also was that she really had a self-deprecating sense of humour and was able to laugh at herself and make some jokes that were close to the bone a little bit, but also be able to bring it back and it was a thoroughly enjoyable session because of that. The second session later on was all about the use of language and had a good number of internal speakers, including our corporate communications executive who is excellent, and really did give us some food for thought.

I knew lunch was going to be abysmal based on yesterday so headed to Costa in the O2, and got the meal deal, nice tuna panini, crisps and a latte, all sorted and all cosy. It was then back for the afternoon and mainly having a mooch around various stalls set up by parts of the business in what was called the Big Meet Up, but this also did mean some of the business was in their own "town halls" having their internal meetings all together. I stayed around for a while and had more than enough time to take the tube and Overground home, and get changed into my suit and a nice shirt for tonight's do.

Tonight was the staff awards dinner, which effectively meant that everyone gets dressed up nice to celebrate the achievements over the year and indeed to be able to enjoy the evening too. I got back to the hotel all good to go, having managed to avoid the Jubilee Line crush that happens around this time, and was all set. There was some fizz being served beforehand, but no beer (and in fact you had to buy your own with a 330ml bottle of Heineken being £6 each, definitely meant I was being teetotal for the evening then.)

It was also a three course vegetarian meal, and although some of it was okay, it was a definite case of seeing that not that many people ate all of it. I gave it a good go to be polite, but definitely would have liked some meat, has to be said. After the starter and main were served, it was on with the awards. I was actually nomimated for one of the awards, which was quite nice, but I didn't win unfortunately. However, it was flattering to have been nominated and whoever it was who did, I do appreciate that a lot actually.

The comedian Jo Caulfield hosted the awards and towards the end some of the crowd were getting a little over rowdy and she had to tell them a few times to shut up, even swearing at them in one instance. I have to say this was a bit disrespectful from the crowd, but it all passed off in the end, and as the crowd headed to the bar outside for dessert and drinks, Suede's "The Beautiful Ones" played (make that tune of the day) and it was a case of having a good natter with a few people before then heading back to North Greenwich, getting the tube and then Overground home in good time to get back before midnight, so not too bad overall.

Wednesday 22nd January - Conferencing

It was off to North Greenwich today, via Canada Water and then a change for there to the Jubilee Line, and to head to a place close to the O2 for the works annual conference. It was at least reasonably reachable, although the morning murk and mist did mean that some staff who were flying into London City Airport this morning couldn't land, and in some cases were being diverted via Southend Airport instead, adding on considerable journey time and meaning that they did miss some of the morning sessions, a bit of a shame for them that.

Anyway, the day went by as sort of expected really - a lot of information divulged, as to how the year went, what the year to come will hold, and some success stories where customers appreciated the work we did and what happened in those scenarios. I think for me these sort of things are a good insight, but it doesn't necessarily need a slot in a massive conferencing room for that to be able to happen - maybe it's just me, but there are times when you need to take in information, and times when they are not.

The main positive was at lunch time - no, not the lunch on offer itself, which was a total write off due to the selection not being anything I paerticularly liked, but instead heading over to the O2 complex and getting some lunch in there, and chatting with a couple of colleagues from different offices, including some from a New York office. That was quite nice actually because it meant a comparison of how some of the cultures work and what that would mean in cases such as retirement, childcare, that sort of thing - and a great conversation.

I headed back on the Jubilee Line late afternoon to head home, and of course a) Canary Wharf was rammed, and b) so was Canada Water. I knew where to stand at the latter to be able to get the Overground back to West Croydon, but still, it was a good example of showing that I really wouldn't want to be working at Canary Wharf or commuting there every day to be perfectly honest - no wonder some of the Jubilee Line uses the middle platform at North Greenwich to turn round from and meaning space to be able to get on.

Anyway, decided for a bit of rocking out on the Wii later, so on with Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock, and definitely one which I can get along with massively. Plenty of good tunes on there, the whole of the 2112 track by Rush being a case in point and being epic, but also the likes of Megadeth, Ramones etc too. I do though like the way that the set list is still varied, and so "Slow Hands" by the fab Interpol is tune of the day - must admit it's always better when you like the songs to rock out to!

Tuesday 21st January - Sergio Strikes Again

It was a good productive day in the office today. Several machines appeared to come back online, possibly after an extended Winter break, so was monitoring those to ensure that they had all the correct deployments on the go, which was good. I also had a nice surprise during the day as well - as there's our work conference later in this week, several of the IT staff from the Americas offices were over here having landed this morning, so was good to see them and to actually put face to voice and person on the other end of our messaging systems too. A definite plus that.

Later on at home it was a case of putting on Radio 5 Live and listening to tonight's game as Manchester City were at Sheffield United. It was going to be a tough game for City anyway because Sheffield United have been a good side this season, and it was a hard fought 2-0 win at the Etihad. Indeed that proved to be the case, it was a case of not many chances during the first half and although City did get a penalty, no one wanted to take it, and in the end Gabriel Jesús had the shot saved by Dean Henderson in the Sheffield United goal.

As the second half wore on I knew that realistically it might be a case that we'd have to bring on Sergio Agüero off the bench, and I was pretty sure it would happen. It did. What I didn't expect was it for him to take around six minutes or so for him to make an impact. The ball came in from Kevin de Bruyne and it was right place right time for Agüero to score and make that his sixth goal in three games, and relief all round. It stayed 1-0 despite some good Sheffield United pressure, and to get back on form with a win was a positive, and a tough place to get a result too. It also puts Agüero one behind Jamie Vardy in the race for top scorer too.

It did feel rather odd with the games being a 7.30pm kick off for a midweek game again, a bit like the Amazon set of games on Amazon Prime in December, and of course the 8.15pm kick off for the later game (Arsenal v Chelsea). It sounds daft but if you're leaving work and attempting to head to a local-ish away game, the roads over from Manchester to Sheffield are not the ideal ones to try at peak time, nor the trains for that matter. But for those that did make it over, they would have been more than happy with the result.

I had the classic Agüero song to the theme of the Inspiral Carpets' classic "This Is How It Feels" (make that tune of the day) in my head, where the words go like this: "This is how it feels to be City, this is how it feels to be small, you sign Phil Jones, we sign Kun Agüero, Kun Agüerooooooooo" - and definitely for me having recently scored his 250th goal for City, and keeping scoring, shows just how good he is. I was so glad to put him back in my Fantasy League team after injury too!

Monday 20th January - Half and Half

I had a good journey home last night for once, as even though the train was departing earlier at 1912, it was still scheduled to get into Euston at 2201 due to engineering works, and it also meant diverting around the airport and Styal lines via Wilmslow to Crewe, then across to Stoke-on-Trent before carrying on as normal to London. The good news was that it made up time between Milton Keynes Central and Euston, and got in ten minutes early, thus meaning I was able to get home and see the last few balls of the Masters snooker, and a well deserved and hard fought 10-8 win for Stuart Bingham.

So I had decided this morning, on the way into work, and having checked some emails, that I needed to write up some documentation, and so thought that it'd be better doing that working from home in the afternoon, and thus taking advantage of the flexible working policy allowed. I had a quick chat with my manager to outline my plans and he was fine with that, and I spent the morning writing up the notes I'd made over the two days at Microsoft Ignite into something more readable and reasonable - and got some nice positive feedback from staff on that too. I was also able to get the slide decks later as well, and pass those on.

It was a busy morning and plenty was sorted out and a plan of action made along with some planned changes. As such, I headed homewards during the lunch break, popped in via Sainsburys for some lunch and some milk which I needed, and worked on a document for most of the afternoon at home, which was effectively packaging up one of the core applications, including how to check for the compliance with it due to its WiX toolkit wrapped installer, and also what to do with it when adding it to our Windows 10 build task sequence.

It also meant I could have the music from the separates on and thus decided to play some KMFDM pretty loudly, followed by some early PJ Harvey (therefore, "Dress" is tune of the day) - and the documentation was all sorted. I also was able to look at potential ways, if needed, we could look at Microsoft Edge next generation and potentially adding the stable MSI deployment for those that might want to evaluate accordingly. The other good thing I might want to also look at is for those that also need it, adding as an optional feature the Windows Subsystem for Linux so they get a pretty Ubuntu command line shell!

It also meant that I could avoid the signalling issues affecting both Thameslink and Southern, which meant that I was already home by the time I'd have to face the nightmare of commuting really. I suppose that's one useful thing when you're aware of travel problems too - you can work around those to a degree. I know too it's going to be a busy week with our work conference on later in the week so it will be interesting to see how that all pans out. Part of me is already hoping for the weekend...

Sunday 19th January - Looping in Lyme

After a very nice breakfast and satisfying all the demands of Brian the cat ("Playtime, Mummy!" for example) we had decided it'd be nice to head out for a walk with the weather being dry but slightly crisp and wintry also. We had thought that it'd also be a good test for the new walking shoes, so I had brought them with me in anticipation for the potentially muddy paths ahead. In fact, I think we were both determined to try a different walk today anyway, get some fresh air, and enjoy the scenery.

So off we headed in The Love's car, and we were soon heading down the A6, through Stockport and towards Hazel Grove, and not long after where the park and ride is for the 192 bus, the traffic crawled. It seemed to be a combination of the traffic lights for the new A555 ring road to the airport, and indeed the lights approaching High Lane, that made it crawl. Considering that before that ring road there were two less sets of lights needed then you can see why it was a pain. We eventually got to the park entrance and had to wait on the downhill run to the car park attendant hut primarily due to people all paying for their parking with card and taking ages faffing about - as members, straight though, yes indeedy.

What we did also notice was that Stagecoach are still running the shuttle bus from the Hazel Grove park and ride to the main car park in Lyme Park itself, and it's a free service if you use the park and ride. It's a good idea and we did notice that people were actually on the bus itself, so that might be encouraging more in future when the weather is better. However, the traffic queues getting in would still prove to be an issue unless there was going to be a dedicated bus entrance elsewhere, might be tricky to achieve though.

So with us all sorted we followed the left path up the hill at the side of Drinkwater Meadow, and at the end reached a gate. We could have gone left but instead went right, along the edge of Knightslow Wood. At the end of that path we had to negotiate a ladder over the stone wall, something The Love wasn't too happy with! We got over that and followed the path close to Poynton Brook and skirting the far edge of Drinkwater Meadow, and on to a gate where a hill was in front. At the top of that hill was the impressive Paddock Cottage, which really did appear to be idyllic with some views over the rolling hills and countryside.

It was then back along the main path that led to the cottage (although this was muddy anyway) and at the edge of Pursefield Wood, leading along towards the large hill of The Knott and back on to the main road that takes you back down to the car park - and it was a good walk all told. I think next time I want to discover the location for The Lantern building, and that might be nice. In any case we had both had a good walk, and it was definitely time for some lunch later on. Sunday roast at The Fiveways was ours, as they have a good carvery, so had that along with some sticky toffee pudding and a nice Winter festive spiced ale. Yum!

Back at The Love's place later we had a game of Scrabble, where The Love In My Heart made possibly her best move ever. She made JEER down the bottom vertically (which also straddled OWLS to make JOWLS too) and so it'd be 57 for the JEER, and 23 for JOWLS (double letter on J both ways folks) and a therefore an impressive score of 80. Excellent. It was a real sign of how good she is getting these days and I for one was pleased to see her get that. And we had Ski Sunday in the background too (theme tune of which is tune of the day) and that meant Wengen and everything, ace!

Saturday 18th January - Not Glad All Over

It was an early start for me as I needed to head from East Croydon via London Victoria and the tube to London Euston, in order to be ready and present for the 0820 departure to Manchester Piccadilly. I must admit I have missed The Love In My Heart somewhat and so was excited to be able to see her and Brian the cat of course. That did spur me on to get myself ready and sorted, and be all good for the train. In fact it used one of the platforms where you have to scan your ticket at the barriers, so of course had to be sure this was done, and all good to get the seat and be good to go.

It was for once a relatively painless journey, speeding through the countryside as the sun came up, and with me blasting out the likes of KMFDM for a real wake up call - added to that a Costa coffee I had got at Euston too. The Love was running a little bit on schedule but was all good to come and pick me up from Piccadilly later, so a hug ensued of course, and was back to her place for a sausage sandwich for breakfast, and Brian the cat wanted a fuss over as well as the ball being chased that he likes. He seemed all good, and The Love and I caught up and had a good chatter.

Later on The Love was heading over to see her father, and I was off to the Etihad with my friend for the home game against Crystal Palace, so definitely well worth me getting up earlier. It was going to be a tricky game though as Palace had beaten us here 3-2 last season and their away record is better than home, so not going to be easy. I was just pleased that my new Trespass coat was doing the honours and keeping me nice and warm, and certainly needed that later as the colder weather set in. Not that City were doing much on the pitch to get excited about - Palace took the lead through a header and some poor City defending.

In fact as the game wore on and the more Palace were defending, the least likely I thought we would score. In fact it took the changes to bring on both Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesús to make a difference. The latter put in an excellent cross with ten minutes left and Sergio Agüero chanced it at the far post and slid in for the equaliser. That was good, and his 250th goal for City as well. In fact Sergio went one better and headed in expertly from a Benjamin Mendy cross to put City 2-1 up!

All was looking well, despite us not having a penalty for handball denied by VAR, and then City lost concentration after putting Rodri on. Wilfried Zaha ran down the left, and John Stones failed to put in a worthwhile challenge in. His cross was only met by Fernandinho attempting to defend but instead putting it into his own goal and for 2-2. Despite five more minutes of stoppage time City failed to find a winner, and definitely was not glad all over - although the Palace fans understandably loved that. Frustrating, but there you go.

We relaxed with a brew back at The Love's place for a while before my friend headed off homeward, and we settled in with Brian the cat for the evening. The Love had got the Marks and Spencer dine in for two, so we had the rather nice beef papardelle pasta with some nice bread, and a trifle for dessert. In fact, I still had some quality beers left from over Christmas, so the Wychwood Blackwych porter was mine to be had, and it was rather gorgeous it has to be said. We also spent some time watching The Voice UK as well, and it was interesting to see the different songs that were done, including the 90s classic "Everybody's Free" by Rozalla (make that tune of the day) with different styles.

Friday 17th January - Ignite The Tour Day Two

It was back at West Croydon for another Overground and DLR combo and back to Prince Regent and the ExCeL for day two of Microsoft Ignite - The Tour. Today was about covering various different items of interest and also seeing what else was happening out there at the same time. Thankfully as most people had registered for both days, there were no queues at all anywhere but a fair few people getting here early and taking advantage of the very nice little pastries for breakfast along with coffee, and set the tone nicely for the day to come, with a lot to cover.

The first session was a seminar about how to banish "Imposter Syndrome", excellently hosted by Dona Sarkar (yes, it's spelt Dona like that before you ask, I checked) - she mentioned that everyone who works in IT at some point would have felt that they weren't always qualified to do the job that they do, and that doubts creep in. There were ten useful pieces of advice how to work around that and also prove that actually, you're good at what you do and it's no shame if you're working in a team and calling in your colleagues to help you along too. It really made me think about how I've felt in those situations and was most pleased to see it wasn't just me - a weight lifted off the shoulders it has to be said.

The rest of the morning was spent looking at operations and incidents and how the response is absoutely key in making sure that an incident is dealt with efficiently. The whole stream referred to what's called the Dickson Hierarchy of Reliability, interestingly enough, with a focus on avoiding unplanned where possible, but also look into using some logic based applications in order to see if there is a repeatable pattern, or what has been done before, and the key thing - keep everyone informed who needs to be. Nothing worse than reporting an incident and not having any feedback, right?

The lunch queue was less this time around so managed to get something and it was back to the incidents section,this time dealing with leaning from failure and what needs to be done, with the point of never assuming that a system will never fail, but also that a good post-incident review is absolutely key to learning, and to collect conversations around that. The other thing is to have an independent person to chair the review meeting so that there's no bias around what was found, resolved and importantly of all - do not blame anyone. I would agree with the latter especially, we're all human and the key is not to go after people, unless you're a bad employer.

I also did bump into one of my former colleagues at one of the jobs in London - was nice to see him, and then it was into another session and this time to look at the developer features which are native to newer versions of Windows 10. So for example, the Windows Linux subsystem so you can effectively write and execute code as if you were in an Ubuntu Linux session. This was pretty cool, and the fact you have a command line where you can switch between that, Powershell and the command prompt was also good - I'll have to dabble with the Linux side a bit more it has to be said.

The final talk of the day was all about bringing the human side into IT, and featured two speakers who passed on their experiences of how bringing in a more human interaction worked, and how in fact that actually gets the best out of people. I found this fascinating, as I am always human focussed when dealing with IT, because ultimately we're all people who use systems or data to some degree, and having a like minded conversation was showing me I was on the right path after all. I was so pleased, and it ended the two days rather well with me feeling pretty positive overall.

I headed back on the DLR and tube to West Croydon and nipped into Marks and Spencer on the way home - as the fab Grapefruit IPA craft can had been reduced to £1 each, and I got the last two. I might even have one later when watching the Masters snooker from Alexandra Palace. I did however on the way home have the original of the Ruts' classic "Babylon's Burning" and indeed played it loudly when I got home (I have it on a compilation but really need to get the 7" single sometime) and so that's tune of the day.

Thursday 16th January - Ignite The Tour Day One

It was an earlier than usual start for me, as I wasn't off to work, but instead off to an event - namely Microsoft Ignite The Tour at the ExCeL in East London. I've been there before for other Microsoft events such as the cloud conference a few years back, but definitely thought it worth going to this one especially after there had been other announcements made during the initial main Ignite event in Orlando. For me it's a bit less painful (although it takes a litle more time) to get there - simply Overground from West Croydon to Shadwell and then head on the DLR from there to Prince Regent - the main events are in the Eastern end of ExCeL, so this is nearer.

The train was all fine, albeit busy, and managed to get the golden seat on the DLR - for those in the know, this is the front seat where you can pretend that you're driving the train if you want. In fact I even did a little video capture between Blackwall and East India, just to show the view you would get from the front. It was very nice to see the journey like that, and once at ExCeL I got the registration and the name badge all sorted. I was glad I turned up earlier and managed to get a coffee and some breakfast though, as the queues later were pretty busy and half way down the main thoroughfare in the centre of the venue!

My day today was all about the deployment track - five sessions, back to back with breaks in between, giving you an overview of what is happening in terms of new features, and the way that the Microsoft Endpoint Manager suite is going to be a changer. They've aligned more closely ConfigMgr (SCCM, to renamed MEMCM for short) and InTune, as well as desktop analytics and a host of features around it all. The main goal is not only to get to co-management as a good option but also to embrace the power of having both available to effectively do management and have some cloud based option there (granted, it also needs Azure AD, so bear that in mind folks!)

It was interesting to note also the push towards Windows Autopilot again. For Macs for example, the devices are registered with Apple, you tell them your management solution (for example JAMF Pro) and the enrolment happens when the box is opened. In effect, Microsoft want you to work with suppliers and OEMs to that effectively the devices are pre-registered and then allowed to be brought in with the autopilot so that the settings and all you want are done that way - but of course you need a clean machine from the OEM, and indeed a sensible way you'd get the core applications deployed as part of that.

Another takeaway was the Microsoft AppAssure - effectively if you have an application that won't run on Windows 10 for whatever reason, they'll get someone to fix it for you. For free. Now, I kind of think this should have happened a couple of years back and been promoted more so that it would mean less pain for transition for those going from Windows 7 (which, if you really have to, can run a virtual desktop in Azure to isolate the risk - or for something non-virtual, get those extended support agreements in place, but only as a last resort if you really do have to.) This I should add also includes macros for the likes of Word.

One other interesting take away for me was the use of Insider Preview was encouraged - maybe for some IT staff and / or developers so that they can test new stuff beforehand and make sure things work properly - you'd almost want a dedicated set of users for that. Interestingly, they also mentioned that Windows 10 1909 supports TLS 1.3 as one of the out of the box core features. That was pretty quiet till I spotted it on the slide. It was also interesting that there was a push towards delivery optimisation and using the existing boundary groups within SCCM (soon MECM) so do that.

After a long queue for lunch where delegates were told to only have two sandwiches and some salad (no wonder all the other eateries were so busy down the main part of ExCeL!) it was in to the afternoon, where it focussed more on the security and also a focus on doing the cloud attachment from SCCM to InTune in order for co-management to at least not necessarily start, but start to be able to use some of the management admin console features first and develop as you go. And yes, clients need to be hybrid Azure AD joined for this to happen, so important. The tenant attach looked straightforward to do, but real world practice, as ever, will vary.

What made the afternoon nice was that I bumped into two members of staff from one of my old jobs in Manchester, and indeed another one later on. They had come down for the two days as well and as two of them were now in a central team focussing on the central estate, they mentioned to me that they had planned to stay current with their SCCM/MECM estate as not having some of the features wasn't a good thing, especially for Windows deployments. It was good to see them and I'm sure that they'll be reporting back to the masses there that they saw me!

After the final session on a zero trust security strategy, I headed first off to Wimbledon Park to get my hair cut by the fab staff at James Barbers, and then back towards central London and to the King and Queen in Fitzrovia for tonight's Totally Acoustic gig, hosted as ever by Mark (MJ) Hibbett, and having two rather good bands on. In fact Mark was asking a few of us to record a bit of a vocal for a forthcoming single for the Validators, so ended up flexing the vocal chords for that one, along with Ruth Miller, the lead of the band PO! who were playing tonight, and a few others too, so that was good.

So after Mark played a couple of songs, including a brand new one about the night after being drunk and doing okay considering, it was on with Panic Pocket. They had lots of really nice songs and the combo of Sophie on synth, Natalie on guitars with them both doing vocals was spot on. In fact the little keyboard was on battery (thus keeping in the "not plugged in, not miked or nowt" theme of Totally Acoustic of course) and the songs were lovely. I really liked "Don't Get Me Started" which told of a chance meeting in a Morrisons car park, and "Mr Big", a song all about Sex and the City, and how you may end up being like one of the characters, all good and thoroughly enjoyable!

It was then on with PO! - and the set list was a different idea - twelve pictorial clues to the song titles, and you picked a letter from A to J in random order and the band would play it. Nice idea, and worked pretty well too. It was a very good mix from all of the back catalogue, including the likes of "Appleseed Alley", "Confidence" and also the lovely two parter that is "Bus Shelter.." and "... In The Rain" - which told of the fact that if you lived in the countryside hanging out in the bus shelter (usually a brick or stone one) was the closest you'd come to any form of disco and that was what you did. The band also did an excellent fast paced acoustic version of The Ruts' classic "Babylon's Burning which was ace, and the song about the horse, "Albert Stole My Heart" was also brilliant, so tune of the day there for me.

It went all too quickly, and twelve in all quality songs from Ruth and the rest of the band. It was so nice to see so much gusto in their playing (and bear in mind they've been going since 1987, so longevity is also to be respected hugely) and really enjoying themselves too. I for one was appreciative of the little PO! badge, and got the sky blue one, and braved the rain later to head down to Warren Street tube to go back via Victoria station and off home for the night.

Wednesday 15th January - Ballache and Ballrun

It was another productive day of sorts today, as I wanted to get to the bottom of why a few of the Macs out there, despite being managed properly, didn't seem to have the right antivirus software on there. It transpired after investigation that although they should have invoked a policy and indeed been able to run once as needed, the policy trigger could never kick in, and so set that to check in but to do it only once, and badabing, that seemed to do the job nicely, with the number left to go left down to a much more reasonable level overall, so pleased with that.

In fact I also managed to look at a script that would tell me, for any machine, if a restart was pending in any way. This would include checking the registry for any pending file renaming operations, checking the SCCM WMI classes to see if anything there flagged as a reboot needed, and similarly for Windows updates and the like. I tried a few scenarios, all good. In fact I was able to check some registry remotely and found that there were a fair number which did need a reboot. Interestingly, one or two of those were ones I needed to do to ensure one piece of software could be removed (it needed to boot back up in order to do so!)

I was able to present my findings for that, and indeed get all the January cumulative updates sorted. In fact there was one for Windows 10 which was much needed to go, and thankfully that was one that was there, so will be tested and be good to go. In fact it was interesting seeing how many people out there were complaining (not in a work sense, but online) about the whole set of warnings that Windows 7 support had now expired and it was time to upgrade. I guess people have had long enough but I can see also why they liked the old OS too.

The journey home however was a go slow to say the least. It was okay to London Bridge but between there and New Cross Gate, it was pretty bad, and it was just stuck at various signals despite trains going past on the supposedly slower line. Madness. Anyway, it eventually got to East Croydon some twenty five minutes late, so Delay Repay time later on, which is not what I want to really be doing, but there you go. I think on the whole that for me it shows that some things never change.

I did watch the snooker tonight and saw Stuart Bingham win well 6-2 against Mark Williams - notable too that Mark has gone for the Queen classic "Don't Stop Me Now" as his walk on tune, so make that tune of the day. It was also notable that the game was 2-2 going into the mid-session interval but that changed things and the Ballrun was in a mood to be potting and did ever so well, getting over the line in a good final frame. He hardly ever gets past the first round of the Masters so a welcome win for him here I reckon.

Tuesday 14th January - Meeting Maker

It was a case of a number of meetings during the day which was a break from performing suitable due dilligence on a number of things. In fact it meant that I was able to express some of my concerns with the forthcoming migration to one set of applications we're looking at doing - the initial testing I did with a colleague wasn't convincing to be honest, and definitely a sign of more work needed to be done, and I have some ideas as to how things can be done to get stuff sorted.

We did have a team meeting in the late afternoon which worked out nicely for the five of us to thrash out suitable ideas - it's better later in the day as our colleague over in Salt Lake City can join us as well. It was good to be able to chatter and actually in a closed room and be able to discuss all sorts without interruptions. I think sometimes less is more when you are working on solutions and need the team to be all at one with what's going on. And with the weather not being so good outside, sensible to be in a reasonably cosy office.

Not that the way home was that nice, primarily to the wind and rain that greeted me as I got to East Croydon station. I knew that the surfaces would be slippery but outside the wind was howling a fair bit, and so it proved as I headed down the street to the flat - in fact the wind was coming at me almost horizontally which did mean that I had to stay low and head down, and that wasn't pretty at all. I can still hear plenty of wind howling right now which is not very nice at all.

I watched the evening session of the Masters snooker on the BBC Red button, and I have to say that John Higgins looked in decent form - maybe not at his absolute best, but more than enough to beat Barry Hawkins 6-1, the only frame that Barry won was with a century break which did please the crowd as well. It was the first match out of the six first round matches that the higher ranked player had won, which says about how many shock results there had been - and I saw one of them myself of course.

I did also put the Wii on for a while tonight and having cleaned up the little Wii Remote Plus add-ons, went to play Wii Sports Resort for the first time in a while. It was still good to do the frisbee golf and the frisbee dog games and can still do well on those, as well as the pretty ace basketball three point game as well - again, simple stuff maybe but done well and with a sensible control system reacting well - I quite like the title theme of that game so it's tune of the day for me.

Monday 13th January - Out of Bounds

I spent some time this evening not only having an enjoyable session of gaming on the trusty Wii, but also re-downloading, whilst I still could, all the WiiWare games I'd purchased over the years back on to the SD card, which made sense when I thought about it - I'd have them then no matter what and be able to play them even if the option to download existing purchases then gets removed in the future. Having thought about it, they may well have been on the other SD card I have somewhere - because Rock Band 2 and 3 couldn't use a SD Card greater than 4GB, whereas Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock could use a 16GB card for a shed load of tunes.

Anyway, I remembered well the games I had purchased and it was a case of heading to the shop channel and downloading the recognised purchases. This included the likes of TV Show King (and its sequel) complete with its funky title tune whereby me and friends would always sing "do the pornstar dance.." because of the way that the Mii contestants danced to the funky tune as if it was a 1970s low budget adult film. Still has plenty of appeal playing the game though it has to be said.

Then I went on to Fun Fun Minigolf, a nice little Japanese crazy golf (or mini golf) game and you used the Wii remote to simulate hitting the ball with the putter, and using the dpad to direct where the shot would be directed. In essence, the easy levels of course are relatively okay, but the advanced Europe course is pretty tough in places, although fair. The unfair part is that unlike a normal course where you hit the ball to wherever and you take the next shot from there, you have to keep it "in bounds" or else have someone go "out of bounds" (female voice if playing as a male character, and vice versa) - and that was recognisable.

In fact when I spoke to The Love In My Heart about that later on, she remembered that classic bit of speech and we were able to reminisce when we'd play the game at my old place. It still proved to be good fun, and I'd cleaned the Wii remotes up and charged my rechargable batteries, so proved all was still good and happy even now. I must admit that it's often overlooked how much the simplicity of using the controller meant that people who had never played games before started to pick them up - the classic tales of older people having tournaments on the bowling game on Wii Sports being a case in point, the theme tune of which is tune of the day - still an iconic classic.

In fact, one thing I did do was to clean up the controllers. The rubber guards are all well and good, but the problem over time is that they stick to the controller, leaving a residue on and a right mess. I decided to discard that and used some glass cleaner on a kitchen roll to sort that out - they came out ever so clean and really did look like new once I was done, so well worth the effort of doing so in my view. I need to dig out the guitar now I reckon and start playing the likes of Rock Band 3 and Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock in earnest I reckon.

Sunday 12th January - Masters Of Snooker And Football

It was a nice lie in to have this morning, before getting up and having some breakfast, and being all ready to head out to North London for the afternoon. I had got a ticket to the Dafabet Masters snooker at Alexandra Palace, and for the first time, I'd be going to the opening session on the Sunday afternoon. I hadn't always been able to go because of Manchester City home games, but it was the case that we were at Aston Villa later, so it all worked out well.

I headed on the train from East Croydon to Finsbury Park, meaning a much easier change over as I could swap to the next platform at there for the train to Alexandra Palace. This route has the new Class 717 trains now, so similar to Thameslink one but with 6 carriages, an exit at the very front (for when it's in the underground tunnels) and a bit more space near the doors too. It was all good and soon arrived and took the walk out of Alexandra Palace station up the hill and through the park to the palace itself, heading to the far end where the entrance to the Masters Snooker is.

There's been a few changes since my last Masters visit, and not just in the arena either. There's now three queues to get in, the all day tickets, session only tickets and VIP, each with a different wristband so you show on entry to the arena - makes sense to be honest because it filters the queues nicely. It didn't take that long, and the foyer has the usual mix of snooker based games. Notably, with the new WST branding, it's all different too - they had 6ft tables set up with crazy snooker with crazy golf like shots, and also a shuffleboard game where you lag the cue in the scoring zone andf not hit it too hard. That was definitely popular and can see all day ticket holders having fun with that in betwen sessions.

Inside the arena, there's the two VIP areas. I didn't like the look of the Century Club - granted you get the bar and so on, but you're also behind a glass screen with various dividing partitions, meaning if that was busy you may not necessarily get a good view either. It was also above all the seats so was quite elevated, not necessarily the best viewing angle. I much preferred the comfortable sofas (VIP Booths) where you had waiter service for drinks in between frames, and you were in a prime position at the bottom end of the table (think of the Crucible seats near where the players come out, only more comfortable and a little bit higher up.) I think if I was going down the VIP route, I'd prefer those to be honest.

Also what was interesting was the far end bar and café near the toilets also had two large glass windows which looked out on to the practice area, so you could see the players practicing before the match. I could see both Ding and Joe in preparation, and also Brendan Moore did the coin toss in there at the same time, so good to see that happening in real time and to feel a little bit closer to the action. The larger capacity of the arena did mean long waits at any bar or food stall, and indeed I was glad that I decided to go to the toilet as quickly as I could later on during the mid session interval - the queues were really busy and it may be something that WST need to look at along with the venue to see what more can be done. I can imagine some possibly missing a frame due to that.

Before the start of play, Rob Walker did his usual introductions and also had spotted the Eurosport studio with Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan in. He gave them both a nice intro and the fans cheered - and Jimmy turned round and gave everyone a wave. Ronnie just sat there and didn't turn round, which I thought was a bit off really - but each to their own. The new table graphics with each player having a graphic (such as a Dragon for Ding, a Gentleman for Joe) were a nice touch, although the red and orange lighting around the table might be a little bit too much overkill for some. Overall though, I did like the way it was transformed and did seem an improvement on previous years.

The match started pretty well, and it was a good total clearance by Ding in the second frame to level the match - definitely well worth seeing the first century of the tournament. It was nip and tuck all the way and Joe was making some decent breaks to keep the score level and honest. At 2-2 at the mid way it could have gone either way to be honest, and it was a crucial couple of mistakes from Ding, especially when he was 40-0 up in the eighth frame and made a bit of an error to allow Joe to clean up and win the frame well. Also in the seventh, Joe made some superb shots on the way to the clearance and a couple of flukes late on (black to top left being one) but the crowd took it well and he had a good laugh with them too. Good on him.

The final frame was a pretty nip and tuck affair early, but as Joe Perry edged further ahead, it was clear that he just needed to keep his head to win the match, and a really good controlled frame and some excellent positional shots won the day. I did feel sorry for Ding as the mid-session interval may have been at the wrong time, but credit to Joe for taking his chances from 3-3 and going on to win the match well. Quality entertainment for the afternoon, and that continued later with Manchester City's demolition job against Aston Villa.

Not only was it a proper demolition, with City eventually running out 6-1 winners, but it had two significant records broken for Sergio Agüero in one game - he not only surpassed Thierry Henry as the highest ever scoring Premier League overseas player, but his hat trick meant he now has 12 Premier League had tricks, one more than Alan Shearer. Whenever you beat any of Shearer's records, considering how good he is, it's always a special moment. So I'm singing tonight to the tune of the Inspiral Carpets classic "This Is How It Feels" (make that tune of the day) this: "This is how it feels to be City, this is how it feels to be small. You sign Phil Jones, we sign Kun Agüero, Kun Agüero...."

Saturday 11th January - Looping In The Mud

I had decided today to undertake section three of the London Loop walk, which the guide claimed was nine miles between Petts Wood and West Wickham Common, but actually proved to be ten miles in all. It was set reasonably okay weather wise, but wanted to start earlier so I had more time in the afternoon if needed to do any shopping later. I got on the new walking shoes which fitted well and seemed pretty sturdy overall, and then had myself ready to set off, taking the tram to Beckenham Junction and then the train to Petts Wood, and followed the link walk to Jubilee Country Park to start it all off.

It was soon clear from the opening walk through the park that the theme was to be muddy paths, and this was where the new walking shoes would be tested. They remained grippy throughout, and sturdy, and after a respite of some road walking, hittng Crofton Wood showed more of the same - some really muddy parts and in fact you could tell there was a second path off the main one becuase of it being so bad in places. It was good to get to the other side of there and follow through a footpath via houses and towards Darrick Woods. This was a nice place to walk through.

On the other side of Darrick Woods the path gave way to a gorgeous open space and a view from the top of the hill at Tubbenden Meadow, and heading down and crossing the road followed towards the village of Farnborough in Kent. It was very nice, and looked picture postcard type, and I then followed to St Giles the Abbott Church, and along the woodland at the side and down the hill to High Elms Country Park. I stopped off here at the very nice Green Roof Café and had a well earned coffee and got a bottle of water to take with me as well. It was a good point to rest with drizzle coming down.

After following through the park and also towards the golf course, crossing over at the right time, it was down hill and out of High Elms, then along a road and a right turn at Bogey Lane, an ancient greenway. In truth this should have been called Boggy Lane - perhaps the muddiest path I've ever encountered on any of the walks I've done around London. It was good to get off here, following a road downhill and then a path towards Jack Frost Pet and Country Store, with its large model of a cow on the outside.

It was then uphill and towards a hugely important site - the Wilberforce Oak. It was an old oak tree that William Wilberforce sat at with William Pitt and decided to put forward the motion in Parliament to ensure that the slave trade was abolished - an important piece of history and for me nice to see the oak tree, the original stone bench and everything preserved and maintained. It was then downhill from here and towards the Westerham Road, and then onwards to Keston Common.

In fact, the Keston Common had all three of the Keston Ponds - very muddy around here also by the pond, but it was nice to see some open space well used and white geese around too. It was onwards through the other side of the common and then walking towards the village of Keston itself - it had a nice little village green with water fountain, and some nice pubs too. I could clearly see this being busier in Summer and well worth the trip out there too methinks. It made me also think of a more happy song, namely "Snowbird" by The Icicles (make that tune of the day) - with its line "Oh, bring me Summer, I need Summer" in the chorus and could imagine being here in the Summer.

It was following through Hayes Common and paths by the road and then onwards to West Wickham Common, which soon became a more open space and gradually started to head downhill as the path and the road in the distance appeared to be descending towards the Coney Hall area, and soon I arrived at the sign for the common, which was the end of the walk and some ten miles or so. The next section is apparently ten miles as well, so be interesting to see how that pans out, and is actually in parts closer to me too, so good to get that done soon.

Once I was all sorted I took the 314 bus to the centre of Bromley and had a good mooch in the shops. I did want to try and get an over door hanger for the bedroom to hang the coats on, as the Command hook had come off and it was the main plastic part that had broken, so probably the coats were too heavy. My doors are pretty thick though (4.5cm having measured) and plenty of the over door hangers are only for 4cm doors. Boo. I checked both Wilko and Robert Dyas, no joy. I thought it might be worth a general mooch in Flying Tiger.

Now I didn't expect there to be an over door hanger in there, as I had seen one that you screwed into the wall, but they had one, and it looked wide enough. I came up with the clever idea and got a ruler from the stationery section, and measured it. It was around 4.9 or 5cm, so wide enough, so for £5 I purchased it, and then headed homewards with it. In fact it was perfect, what I did to make it fit more snug was to use part of the felt pads you use to stop furniture scratching floors, and cut them into stripe and fit them to the over door hanger. That way it didn't scratch the door but still fitted. Either way - winning!

Friday 10th January - Wake Up Call

I didn't sleep so well overnight for some reason, so did feel a little sluggish initially when I woke up. However, once I had a shower and got myself ready, all was good to face the day, and I was able to get to work without any issues. I had noted from yesterday that there was a request to see what we could do about a printing issue, and so spent some time investigating and also replicating what had happened on a machine here with a standard user account, which didn't show the same issue. I suspected that authentication of the user account might have been an issue and fed back accordingly.

I also had a nice walk at lunchtime down to Reckless Records in Soho, and had a good mooch at the vinyl and CDs in there. It did look at if a fair amount of stock had been traded in over Christmas, so was good to check what might be there and available for me to get, but I also wanted a number of 12" dance singles still on my to collect list, nothing doing there. That said, though, it was good to be able to see that the stock was still so well looked after so if you did get anything from there you'd feel satisfied.

I had a notification for a click and collect order to be collected, so took the opportunity to head into Flying Tiger close to work as I wanted to pick up something for The Love In My Heart from the £1 racks that they had - and got what she was after for there, so all good. I then walked over to TK Maxx and up to the click and collect point, and was able to collect the order I'd made from the other day - so it was a large packet which contained my new Trespass coat and the Regatta walking boots, so definitely well worth getting online as the latter was also in a proper box too.

I then knew that the traffic and the tube station at Oxford Circus would be bedlam, so decided to take advantage of an offer at Brewdog, where if you buy one low or no alochol beer, subsequent top ups are free afterwards, and as many as you like. I was glad that they had he Wake Up Call, which is a coffee stout. I loved the look of how dark it was, and for me that was good, but also it meant that it was one to be savoured and not rushed. Boo to Bredwdog for being card only though, what's wrong with hard cash? I was able to find a seat and savour the ale - and it was very nice too.

I then went back to the bar, and the refill was sorted, so all good, and the second pint was just as nice as the first, all good and delicious. I also noted that they had a gallery of dogs who had a birthday party there (yes really!) and even bowls of water for the dogs in one section too. The time sped by and soon it was time to head on the tube to Victoria, then the train home. I tried on the new coat - it was fab, and a much darker green than online. My order from Everything5Pounds arrived too, so that was good, and meant I could kick back and relax with a bit of telly and some tunes, so tune of the day is the impressive "WWIII" by KMFDM, a full on powerhouse assault of ultra heavy beat and guitars, once the banjo based country intro has left us..

Thursday 9th January - Wombling (Almost) Free

I spent a fair amount of time today being able to troubleshoot a few of the PCs that hadn't removed one of the pieces of software, and in a few cases this was because the PC had not been restarted since the software had been originally installed a fair while back. I decided to utilise the folks on the ground and have them check in with certain staff members, so they could effectively do what was needed. I also looked into a nice bit of Powershell scripting which would check all the possible occurrences when a restart is pending, and then report back - so I could potentially run that script when needed to check and save some time.

It's been a while since I had a play around in Powershell, but seeing an online commandlet do the job was all well, I just needed to tweak it so I could run it locally on a machine and use the SCCM run script option to also run that script returning back frome each machine, didn't need it to generate as a function but instead just run on demand. I got it right, and did a test on my own machine where I deliberately added some reg keys that were checked and made sure that the return was spot on, which it was. Now I just need to make sure the user has restarted so it's all clean, and I can then remove correctly. That should work well.

After work I wanted to head to Wimbledon, as I knew that the Debenhams store there would be closing down in the next week or two, and I had managed to get a bargain on a pair of jeans last time I was in there. My hunch was that there may be further reductions and that I might be able to get more things for less, so was the idea anyway. I therefore took the tube to Waterloo and changed on to a train to Wimbledon, and at least I got a seat at Waterloo as it was rammed when it hit Clapham Junction. Still, I might be back here over the next few days to try out some Brewdog beers...

So into Debenhams then, and you could tell that the stock was being emptied out by just how much of the store appeared a lot more bare than last time. That said though, still plenty of items on sale in the men's section, and having checked a few things, I spotted that there were some jeans, in my style and in my size, so a quick check of prices, and all appeared well. In fact I got a Red Herring really dark blue pair for £8.80 (60% off) and a Jasper Conran slim fit pair in a dark blue and a lighter weight denim for £13.50 (70% off), so not bad only paying around £22 for both pairs methinks!

There were plenty of bargain hunters around so definitely a case of being able to wait in a queue of sorts to get it all sorted, and that was all done. I must admit it was good to stock up now and not have to pay more later on when I might need more pairs, and it also meant more for less is a winner. I had the theme tune from the Wombles in my head as I went home though, because I had been wombling free in Wimbledon, so that's tune of the day - after all I did make good use of the things that I find...

Wednesday 8th January - TK Maxxing Out

I had a rather good plan of action at lunch time today, as I wanted to be able to order some items from TK Maxx that I had seen online, and indeed had checked in two branches of TK Maxx in store close to work, but weren't able to get. My view was that I had £40 worth of the All 4 One gift cards, so ideally they're better used in store as you can use them for part payment towards what you want, and pay the rest as you like. However, last night, having seen a couple of things I wanted, I attempted to use the gift cards, and you can only use them if the shopping is less than the amount on the card. Hmm..

So a cunning plan was needed, and so checked just before I went out to lunch that both things I wanted were still available, so I added them to the basket (as they are held for two hours) and then headed off down Oxford Street to the local TK Maxx there. The plan was that I would instead purchase a TK Maxx gift card for the amount of the All 4 One cards, and then later on use that gift card as part payment (which TK Maxx allow up to 5 of their gift cards at once to do, and then any remainder by credit or debit card, sensible that.)

That did work out well, so the store sorted me out with the gift card, and I headed back to the office after having some lunch, then checked the basket out, added the gift card, sorted, and then paid the remainder by debit card. Absolutely winning. Both items were duly ordered and that meant that I had got what I wanted, namely a new green padded winter jacket by Trespass, the same one which is reduced on their website for £39 (and was £90) and was in TK Maxx for a mere £26, and also some walking shoes by Regatta in blue with green laces that were reduced from £80 on their website to £25 in TK Maxx. And as the order was just over £50, free click and collect also kicked in. Winning!

It was a sensible use of the gift cards too and meant I actually got something I wanted. I did check over my Adidas trainers after my last walk,albeit in muddyish conditions, but the soles underneath had started to come undone from the rest of the shoe, and although you could glue them on, I'd had them for around ten years or so, so was about time to get rid and get a new sturdy pair for my walks. I also thought realistically that it'd mean that I would then possibly even be able to use them on coastal path walks when in Cornwall over the Summer, so sensible to get them now - and they're waterproof too.

So all good there, and I had an evening of ironing awaiting me later - I had washed a lot of shirts and t-shirts, and it's easier due to the hard water area to iron them all when damp, and then hang them on the airer. Of course because I'd needed to wash a fair number including some I'd worn over Christmas, that also meant lots of time to iron, so spent the time wisely and put on the Fontaines DC excellent album Dogrel, and blasted that out - and "Boys in the Better Land" was tune of the day for that reason.

Tuesday 7th January - Derby Day Delight

It was a pretty good day for me as I had worked out that not only was there some Windows machines that wasn't removing a piece of software, but it was also the same for some Mac machines too. I was looking at the number of machines that had recently checked in and that hadn't removed the software, and cross checked the policy deployment logs. I could actually see that the logs showed that in some cases the uninstall command failed because it was using the current password, which worked correctly for everything else, but not just for the few that I had spotted.

Once I established which ones that they were, I created a static group in JAMF Pro, and ensured that those machines were all members of it. Once done, and I had the existing policy duplicated but with the command modified to use the old password, it was then a case of ensuring that the deployment went to that group and saw the results coming in over time, and working pretty well all round too. I think for me that it was good to be able to troubleshoot but also be able to make sure that we get the remainder all sorted. It's taking shape nicely, it has to be said.

I headed into TK Maxx at lunch time to check out some Winter jackets, although to be fair the weather has been looking mild all week. I did try a couple on which were decent, and would be good to see if they were available online as well, but I did get some good ideas for what I could get. I did also consider some walking boots as well for doing the likes of some of the London Loop and other walks that I plan to do, so things to consider there. Either way it's nice to have those options.

Later on I tuned in to the radio (as I couldn't get a live stream) to be able to at least hear the Manchester derby at Old Trafford as the first leg of two of the Carabao Cup semi final. City haven't lost since October 2016 and won the last two seasons on the bounce, and United did of course win at the Etihad last month in the league. I was surprised to see no dedicated strikers up front, but those fears were quelled nicely when the ball broke to Bernardo Silva on the right hand side and he slotted home an unstoppable strike into the top corner with his left foot for the opener. Nice one!

Better was to come before half time too as the ball was played through to Riyad Mahrez on the counter attack, and he was able to round David de Gea in the United goal and coolly pass it into the empty net for the second, and a Kevin de Bruyne shot was saved by de Gea but rebounded back off Andreas Periera for a third goal for City, and all before half time too. It was good to note that we had started well, but of course being a two legged game, a long way from over.

That proved to be the case later on when United changed things second half and put Matic on, and their midfield seemed to be a lot better. This did allow Marcus Rashford to attack well and place the ball past Claudio Bravo to make the scoreline 3-1, and a tad more interesting for the red half at least. But I'll take 3-1 any day of the week and that's a good win for us, with the second leg to come in a few weeks time. Well played us, and Supra's Blue Moon (make that tune of the day) is playing loud and proud here.

Monday 6th January - Back To Work

Like a lot of people, it was the first day back at work for me today, and certainly felt like everyone else was going back at the same time. The train was pretty busy but I did get a train earlier than normal, so managed to get a seat without any problems. I was also able to comfortably head on the tube towards the office as well, so it's amazing what leaving just a few minutes earlier can do in terms of being busy. It was great to see everyone and catch up with what had happened over the Christmas period.

I was straight into sorting out an issue with some of the users in Hong Kong, who despite me and a colleague setting up all the networked printer stuff with no issues before Christmas, had one or two users who didn't receive the correct printer policy via JAMF Pro. A check of the configuration of the network segments and building allocation had the answer, effectively one IP range was missing from one segment which assigned that building. A configuration fix later, and all was very nicely well and working as we would want to do.

I also spent some time troubleshooting why two or three machines wouldn't carry out the necessary task to remove one of the pieces of software that we're now getting rid of. Everything else was fine, so nothing necessarily with the methodology. However, I do remember that there was an older tamper protection password set, and wondered if the newer one hadn't applied for some reason, so ran the uninstall command to pass the old password. And... it worked! Not many to do this way thankfully but at least it means that's more to be able to get rid of.

I arrived home later on, made myself some tea and thne settled in for the evening to see the fourth round draw for the FA Cup. I was pleased to see that we had got Fulham at home which wasn't a bad one to get, and a bit easier than some teams too. I was then tuned in for the Arsenal v Leeds United game which definitely was a game of two halves - Leeds dominant in the first half but could not convert their chances, and Arsenal much better second half and a scrambled scuffed shot from Reiss Nelson was to prove the decisive winner in what was still a pretty tight game to be honest. It was also perhaps noticeable that attention was paid to how well Leeds played - they're not top of the Championship for nothing, and gave a good account of themselves. Realistically better finishing would have done the job for them, but they at least know what they will expect if they manage to carry on and get promoted.

In the meantime, I also gave some thought about the year ahead, the many challenges to be faced and how that's going to fit in with all of the necessary things we need to do, and when to do them. It's going to be an interesting time ahead for sure and for me a good challenge is one to relish, face head on, and get on with. I've also got the Microsoft Ignite thing soon at Excel, so will be good to see how that pans out (and that's Excel the exhibition centre, not the spreadsheet!) and with that, tune of the day is Firestarter by the Prodigy, because that certainly got me in the work mode today.

Sunday 5th January - Heading Home

It had been a lovely two weeks with The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat of course, but this morning was the dreaded return home. I had been so lucky to spend an extended break with my love, and for me definitely it was a case of not looking forward to getting up early, but needs must. I got myself changed and ready, and Brian had one final feed of Dreamies from me, which he appreciated. The Love very kindly dropped me off at Piccadilly station with everything all sorted, and didn't want to get out of her car to be honest, it was just too sad really. However, at least the journey home would be a bit nicer.

That was because I had the common sense to book first class beforehand, and so the first class lounge opened at Manchester Piccadily with me in there. It was nice to just sit by the window in nice comfy seating, something The Love had told me about was a lot nicer in the last few months. Indeed it was rather good, and was able to have a coffee and a biscuit before heading to the platform. There had been over-running engineering works which the lovely woman in the first class lounge had told me about, and this meant the 0958 train had left late, in fact only just before the delayed departure for my 1018 train.

My train was going via Wilmslow (via the Styal branch too, hence no stop at Stockport) and then Crewe and Watford Junction before Euston. The earlier train was going to Crewe but then across to Stoke on Trent, so that'd take ages. The staff on board Avanti West Coast were all good, and soon had the little breakfast weekend pack of the ham and cheese croissant, yoghurt and a cereal bar, complete with coffee as well. That was appreciated and after Crewe, the train sped up and caught up the near 11 minute delay from Wilmslow and arrived at Euston on time. Compare that to the 0958 departure, which did catch up and arrive on time but would arrive later anyway (1306!)

I knew that there were no trains from London Victoria to East Croydon, so instead walked along Euston Road and past the British Library and the side of St Pancras International, using the rear doors to get to the Thameslink platforms, and had a small wait before the 1326 to Brighton, which would stop at East Croydon. The good news about getting on at St Pancras is that you're on before London Bridge, so you get a seat, and luggage space, and also lifts to the platforms, so step free, very handy with a big case let me tell you. It was soon arriving and I got a seat, and sped back towards East Croydon.

I arrived back home, all was safe and sound when I got back, and unloaded the case, with the washing going in to start of all the cleaning side. As The Love had washed some of my clothes whilst I was there, one side of the case was all the clean stuff, so in fact much less to get sorted which was good. I settled in with a Costa gingerbread latte from the Tassimo, thanks to The Love's sister, and put on the Doolittle 25 three CD edition by Pixies, with the remastered classic Wave of Multilation tune of the day.

Saturday 4th January – We're Disliking VAR Instead

It was a good morning snuggled up with The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat, who wanted some treats ad some playtime. He soon had that later on and wanted to have a stroll around the front outside, and we both had a nice breakfast and took it relatively easy. James Martin was on in the background and was making some nice stuff – and it was interesting that that had one of the vegan chefs from a bakery in Brixton making a rather nice and bright multicoloured cake with all sorts of care taken to ensure that the whole thing is vegan – and actually looked pretty nice to be fair.

Myself and The Love later headed off to see The Love's father at his place. He was able to have a bit of a chat with us and we sorted out taking some of the Christmas cards down along with sorting out a few things around the place. It was good to see that he had the cricket and the racing on and was enjoying the action too – and the time went by pretty quickly before we headed back off homeward and to be in before the FA Cup game later as Manchester City were taking on Port Vale at the Etihad Stadium, certainly interesting to see how that would go.

My friend arrived later on and we headed over to the stadium. It didn't seem as busy as normal and so we were able to get a brew and have a sit down and chatter, keeping one eye on the scores for the other third round games including an incredible comeback by Tranmere Rovers who pulled it back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at Watford – an excellent result. The other good results of the day were Fulham beating Aston Villa, and Sheffield Wednesday getting a deserved win at Brighton and Hove Albion. The Cup was very much still alive and still producing shocks there.

City's game was one where we felt mostly in control and after some good build up play, a shot came in from Oleksandr Zinchenko and it deflected off the Port Vale defender for the opening goal. Port Vale were not done though and after some good play down the right hand side, the ball was crossed in for Tom Pope to score an equaliser. There were a few fans below us who went mental, clearly in the wrong end! City though were having none of that, and the impressive Phil Foden was being involved in everything good that we did, and he timed his run to perfection for the through ball, and crossed over for Sergio Aguero to slot home. There was a VAR check for a possible offside, but Foden had ran perfect, and so after an agonising wait, the decision stood and it was 2-1 to City at half time.

More of the same from City in the second half. The Port Vale keeper saved superbly from Bernardo Silva's header (and did well) but couldn't do much after a goalmouth scramble that resulted in John Stones' strike deflecting off Taylor Harwood-Bellis and in. The linesman had flagged for offside because of said deflection but there was another long wait for a VAR review, and it gave the goal and 3-1 to City. It did mean that Harwood-Bellis couldn't really celebrate though. Later on, Angelino went down the left and put in a perfect low cross for Foden to slot home and cap off a superb man of the match performance and 4-1 it finished. Got through, job done, next round here we come, all good. Tune of the day is the excellent rendition of Blue Moon by Supra, sadly missing these days when the team comes out..

Friday 3rd January – Little Women

It was a nice chilled out morning, as Brian the cat was wanting the attention of me and The Love In My Heart especially. He not only did he want some Dreamies but also was looking out of the window and wanting to play out as well. He was all good after that and we had some breakfast, and got ourselves ready to head out for the afternoon. We knew that we wanted to be in the city centre later and to see the film Little Women at the cinema, with possibly some food later on as well, so walked up to the tram station and was able to get an all day ticket no problem, despite there now being only one ticket machine.

We got the tram and headed off at Piccadilly Gardens, and walked over to Debenhams. The Love wanted to check a couple of things in the womenswear section, and did manage to get something that she was after. The queue for the till was a bit on the long side and that was a wait to get that sorted, but was all good. I did go over to TK Maxx as well and wanted to check a jacket that I had seen online to see what it was like, but not in stock in store. I also did venture into a couple of other shops into the Arndale, but nothing doing, and a bit frustrating that the jackets at Gap have the zip the wrong way round in terms of fastening, which I know would be frustrating.

We decided to have a drink and a coffee in the Printworks, and then headed over to the Vue cinema to see Little Women. The cinema wasn't too busy and the screen itself was pretty empty until a fair number of people were arriving around ten minutes into the film as well. It was nice just to cosy up and we had a good afternoon seeing the film. Overall it was very good, and although more of a different way of storytelling the book in that it went backwards and forwards in the actual timeline, recollecting moments from the book, all the key scenes were actually correct and present, which was good. There were also some very good acting performances, notably from Saiorse Ronan and Laura Dern.

Afterwards we headed to the pub and decided to have some food for tea. I had noted earlier a mixed grill deal was on, but that had all gone, so instead went for the gammon and eggs with chips, which was pretty nice all round, and with a pint of Brewdog Punk IPA to boot for me as well. It was nice for us both to have a drink and some chatter and feel quite relaxed afterwards, which also allowed the commuter traffic to calm down a fair bit so that when we did get the tram back later on it was nice and quiet and not mega busy – we suspected it might not be because it's still school holidays, but all good nonetheless.

Once we got back home, Brian the cat needed lots of fussing and attention with his tuna and prawn cat food plus Dreamies, and we settled in for a quiet evening of telly. It was a nice way to end a relaxed day and I just feel sad to be going home on the Sunday, the two weeks here feel like they have flown by and I do feel stronger that maybe one day I need to think about a journey permanently back up and so that we can be closer more often. In the meantime, tune of the day is the rather nice score to the film by Alexandre Desplat, really did set the scene well.

Thursday 2nd January – Out and About

It was good to be off for the remainder of the week, and The Love In My Heart was off too, so we could spend some more time together and indeed be able to take things relatively relaxed and to get a few things done during the day. In fact, we had some sort of plan anyway as there was a couple of family related things we wanted to do. It was though good to just have some breakfast and a coffee and not have to think about work, and I'm sure when Monday comes that might prove to be a shock to the system in terms of how much I'll need to get back into routine.

First off, The Love needed to head briefly into her workplace to say a fond farewell to a member of staff who was leaving on this day to start a new post. As it worked out, there was a record shop that I wanted to go in not far away, Wilderness, so The Love dropped me off there on the way and I was able to have a mooch round as well as have a really nice capuccino and also look at the vinyl and CDs in there. Nothing necessarily took my fancy, but the vibe was pretty relaxed and some Bjork on in the background, so definitely a more calm and relaxed feel anyway.

Later on after heading back to The Love's place and seeing Brian the cat for a bit, giving him lots of fuss and attention, we headed over to The Love's father's house and several of the family were there, so was nice to see everyone anyway. It was pretty relaxed and her father was still getting to terms with the Amazon fire stick he'd got for Christmas, because of the round main control circle (rather than direction and OK buttons) – so guided him through a bit so he could watch some of the programmes on there. It was also a case of seeing how everyone else was, and in some cases working out a way that The Love's sister and her could both gain extra Costa points (sorted that too.)

After a drop off of one family member later on, we headed over to see my Mum. Her friend was there too whom she had been to Cornwall with last Summer, and so the four of us had a good chat, joined later on by my brother and his girlfriend, so was nice to see her again too. It was also a time to pick up a present or two dropped off with Mum too, which we opened later, and it was also good that Mum was looking at options for places to potentially move to, and as I suggested, having a viewing of some might be a start just to see where the land lies and how you'd feel walking into a place – normally people make a decision pretty quickly once they're happy.

It was back to The Love's place later, and she made a gorgeous lasagne for tea, which was really good and filled us both up nicely, and after some of the soaps, we ended up watching Big Fat Quiz of the Decade on Channel 4. It was intriguing to see the team line ups and for me Claudia Winkleman was on which is always good. I was surprised I got a considerable number of answers and The Love did pretty well as well to be fair, and we both were good on certain rounds especially. It was also notable that the best selling album of the decade was Adele's “21” and that the closing, not the opening, ceremony of the 2012 Olympics was the most watched thing on the telly. Talking of that for a second, “Heroes” by David Bowie was used extensively there, and has to be therefore tune of the day.

Wednesday 1st January – New Year, Same Old City

The second part of the Hootenanny past midnight is always good stuff. Rick Astley of course did his all time classic single, and even managed to get in the bit he does now with it at the start of the final verse “We've known each other... since 1987!” - he stopped short of the way he does it with Foo Fighters (adding “you b******s) but still good fun. Stormzy played another couple of good tracks, and Melanie had a nice version of her original “Brand New Key”, also made famous by a reworking into “Combine Harvester” by The Wurzels (ooh arr ooh arr etc). So pretty good all round. We did of course briefly switch over for the fireworks on BBC1, and indeed there were fireworks around Manchester we could hear too.

The Love In My Heart and I had a well earned lie in, having called it a night around 1.30am after Hootenanny had finished. It was just nice to relax and Brian the cat was purring at the end of the bed wanting Mummy to wake up, as he always does. I must admit it was nice that he's allowing me to fuss over him more and give him a love, he does accept me these days and doesn't run off and hide when I come in either but wants a bit of a stroke, bless. I did get up and see that the weather seemed okay and should be good for the football later, and it was at least dry and not chucking it down, bonus!

After a relaxing afternoon in which The Love indulged herself with The Sound of Music, and was happily knowing all the parts to whch the songs would commence, my friend arrived and so it was off to the Etihad to see Manchester City take on Everton. City needed a win to keep up the pace for second after Leicester City were smacking Newcastle United 3-0, and a nice win at the start of the year would be helpful for starting off a winning run. It was a cold but dry afternoon, and we did have a good mooch in the City shop and there was plenty of sale stuff on, but nothing my friend wanted (or me). The queue for the tills was pretty busy also and that would have been a fairly lengthy wait.

We got into the ground, got our customary brew, and were all settled and ready for the game to commence. It was a pretty good loud rendition of 808 State's “In Yer Face” as the teams were announced (make it tune of the day) and we were surprised Ederson wasn't back but was ill, so Claudio Bravo remained in net – that had us both worried. We had a change of players along the way with squad changes, but were both pleased to see Phil Foden getting a start. In fact, he turned in a neat move involving Riyad Mahrez and Joao Cancelo, but VAR pulled the goal back for offside when the ball went to Mahrez. Although it did look offside, no replays in the stadium isn't helping matters and the “imaginary lines” rubbish either, with City fans of course chanting the now customary “stuff VAR” chant.

It was more frustration later as a ball was played forward, linesman had flagged offside but the resulting challenge on Mahrez was checked for a possible penalty anyway, and took ages. Not good. Both sets of fans were getting fed up now and understandably so, with more chants of “It's not football anymore” too. It got to half time and still 0-0 but I did think that we were able to push on. And thankfully, we didn't have to wait too long early in the second half, as a pass from Ilkay Gundogan found Gabriel Jesús, and he slotted home into the top corner for 1-0. Notably, we didn't celebrate the goal until the game had kicked off just to make sure VAR wasn't ruling it out.

A few minutes later and a through ball from Mahrez found Jesús, and he shot low and under Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal for 2-0. Relief all around, and again, no celebration until kick off. This is what VAR is reducing football too. Not on. Claudio Bravo did decide to dribble in his own area past Richarlison, but then his poor clearance ended up with Everton and a cross from Theo Walcott found Richarlison to score. That resulted in a nervy last few minutes but we did enough to hold on and we had won 2-1, which was at least two wins out of three over the Christmas period – so good all round.

Later on we settled in and watched the final of World's Strongest Man. We were both surprised it was only five events and in fact those were to take place in one day, but that seemed to allow some more coverage of the events. It was an impressive start from Tom Stoltman, taking the loading race, and then Mateusz Kieliszkowski won the overhead press medley, lifting the dual dumb bells as if they weren't there. The third event of the squat lift was where Martins Licis excelled, beating Brian Shaw to 9 reps, and Kieliszkowski could only respond with 7, narrowing the gap at the top.

The deadlift hold was to prove a massive deciding event. The Brits did okay in this, and Hafthor Bjornsson won this with the longest hold. Crucially, Licis was second, and with Kieliszkowski way down the order, as was Shaw, it looked like the final was Licis' to lose. The traditional atlas stones climax was next, and it was interesting that the stones were heavier and looked harder to finish. All the best athletes did do it, and in the final showdown, Licis smashed it and won the event – and with that, the title. He thoroughly deserved it for consistency, good in all the events and winning two of them to win well. That's also meant four different winners in the last four years (Brian Shaw, Eddie Hall, Hafthor Bjornsson and Martins Licis) so bring on next year! A good way to complete the new year festivities, as ever.