Dear Diary... July 2006

Monday 31st July - Rain Rain Don't Go Away

After a few weeks of intense heat, a bit of relief from the overly hot weather - at long last. Today it felt a fair bit cooler and fresher, even if the temperature was only down by 10 degrees centigrade it just felt a whole lot more comfortable and bearable, and as I'm typing this there's a fair bit of rain coming down. In my eyes that's no bad thing because it'll hopefully cool everywhere down enough. I think a couple of good days of wet weather should be enough and then for it to be bright and dry but not to the extremes of the heat we've been suffering as of late. I even managed to sleep reasonably well considering.

Good job then that England wrapped up the cricket win at Old Trafford on Saturday. I was watching most of that for the afternoon and I have to say it was a professional job very well done, particularly by both Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison. Harmison managed at least five wickets in both innings and between the two of them they got nineteen out of the twenty wickets, and the other one was a run out off the bowling of Panesar. Harmison's eleven wickets was the best ever haul at Old Trafford since the legendary Jim Laker's nineteen wickets for ninety runs some fifty years ago this week. I was well chuffed for the England team though: they've been knocked back a bit by the press and this sort of resounding victory was the perfect response, with good performances all round, not least as well to mention excellent centuries from Alistair Cook and Ian Bell with the bat which set up an imposing lead for England.

It's still rather busy at work and unfortunately most of us feel less incentive than ever to work - it's proving difficult to be able to get things done with all the HERA stuff in the background. It turns out now that after management consulted with the unions, the change date for harmonisation of 1st August is being put back and so the new roles won't come into play. A nightmare for me as this means that I won't be getting what I thought I would. I suppose what you don't have you don't miss, but I'm quite sure there's a few people much less happy than me about it. On the other hand though I'm also thinking about those who have clearly not been graded correctly and this should mean that they are able to put an appeal in or at least have their roles re-graded to the correct scale. There's too many roles where clearly Personnel have not evaluated them properly or made the feel an important part of where they work, and that is just not on. So it's a bit of a catch 22 whichever way you look at it. If you ask me, the whole thing's been a complete muck up from start to finish and needs re-doing from scratch - maybe even with implementation at August 2007 to give everyone a fair crack at the whip. Well, that's what I'd do anyway.

Thursday 27th July - I Wish I Was At Old Trafford

And no, don't worry fellow Manchester City fans, I'm not talking football here. Just being sat at lunch and being able to see Harmison and Panesar take the fifth and sixth Pakistan wickets before eventually skittling them out for 119 was just a joy to watch to be honest. I kind of wish that I'd managed to get a ticket for the big game and instead just enjoyed the atmosphere there live. It's certainly got to be a lot better than being in work and having lots of things to think about which clearly aren't working, despite the fact that the same things I set up worked a couple of days earlier. That isn't so good to be honest, and as I'm in another meeting tomorrow morning it's all going to get a little bit pear shaped methinks.

Kind of does get frustrating when the circumstances are a bit out of your control really because you do all you can to get things playing ball and nothing seems to be happening for the right reasons. Mind you, I did manage to see something a bit different today, a Serial ATA laptop hard disk! In fact the connectors are also the same as a regular Serial ATA drive and so as such could be hooked up to a normal PC in the event of data recovery being needed. There's not that many of those drives out there yet, but nonetheless it's certainly a good development. Anyone who's ever used one of those laptop hard drive adapters will know how fiddly they are..

Been in a bit of a prog rock mood for a fair bit of this week as well to be honest, primarily because I just want to whack a CD on in the background and not bother to have to skip bits that I might not like. I think it's also because of the fact that it's just perfect while either reading a book or getting on with other household chores that we all have to from time to time. With the heat being so oppressive the last thing you want to do is anything that's going to get you really hot and sticky, as it seems any strenuous effort is causing that with me at the moment. It's just not good, and of course August is supposed to be hotter still. I'd better start thinking about moving to colder climes now methinks.

Roll on the weekend...

Tuesday 25th July - The Heat Is On

And it's not on the streets, as the song goes, although to be honest it's still heatwave conditions here and I'm seriously considering the purchase of an air conditioning unit, not least for either the office room where the PC is, or the bedroom so I can actually sleep at night. That would help enormously at present because my brain just feels shattered and I need to be able to think ahead and do as I need to do for the forthcoming build on the student PCs.

An update first: I managed to solve the Vectorworks issue that was getting me down. It turned out that in order to grant the users group registry rights, you need to use an external program to do it. Luckily for me I found a good one that was free (and so didn't break any licencing conditions) that did the job, once I'd managed to work out the syntax of it. That done, I then chained the application for Vectorworks 12 so it ran the registry change first and then the application itself. Tested it out as a test student, and - badabing, badaboom. No asking for the serial number anymore, the licence server read what it was supposed to read and one happy bunny come Monday afternoon as I was able to sort it all out.

So today I've managed to not only do an install MSI for Adobe Photoshop which includes the 7.0.1 update, but also do a Zenworks app object which runs the application and pipes down a necessary settings file which needs to be in the logged on users' profile. At first the variables like %USERPROFILE% weren't playing ball, then I realised the one I had to use was %APPDATA% which would go to the Application Data folder of the user's profile. I set the object to copy the necessary setting file from the server to the application data bit in the right folder, and it all worked beautifully, even setting the user's setting so that it loads and saves to their H:/drive. I feel on a bit of a roll at present but know there's lots more to do, and that's an understatement. And there's also the time limitations to think about.

Anyway, not one to be outdone at the moment, I went to Asda last night to pick up some bits of shopping. I just fancied making a tagliatelle type dish, I had the pasta but wanted some sauce to make myself something different. I saw this nice sauce in Asda which had black pepper and mushrooms in, and that appealed to me greatly. That done, I went around the freezer section, and guess what was there? Not just strawberry splits, oh no, but the strawberry split of choice, the Mivvi. And in six packs. And in stock. Well, you know what happened next. Two packs were immediately mine and after a couple of other purchases and that was me done, out of there in less than ten minutes. I tend to be very single minded when it comes to things like shopping you know - I can't put up with hours of mooching and deciding on stuff, I just have to do what I need to and that's me sorted.

Got home, and food was cooked in less than twenty minutes, did the tagliatelle, and then a few minutes after set the sauce to cook. And it worked out really lovely - the sauce had lots of mushrooms in, and that tasted nice, and the tagliatelle worked with it. I guess I could have also sprinkled some parmesan on, as long as of course I didn't do what I did the last time with a tub of the stuff (right, Dan?) but it was fine as is. Next time, I'll have to remember to get some garlic bread as well and put it on the side, but I was pretty happy with the results for a first effort at doing that, so that made me feel happy.

Even better was the while I was channel flicking I came across Family Fortunes on Challenge - and not just any episode! It was the one that my brother's mates were on a while back. And boy did they come up with some crap answers. I've repeated a few of them here that I remember from the show without even having to watch it - and believe me you'll just smile at how pathetic they really are:

Name a song with yellow in the title: Yellow banana (and Yellow garden was another one)
Name something your partner wouldn't let you have in the house: Dirty mags
Name something people use for an ashtray: Coke tin (this actually scored 6 but was still poor)

They did at least win and go through to Big Money, which was something I suppose.

Sunday 23rd July - Trust Me To Find Thunder!

Been a busy last few days really as I've now been grappling with Vectorworks 12 at work. First off, because the software uses a USB hardware dongle to control all its licences, you have to run it on a separate PC that the other PCs who will be using the software can see so it can get a licence from the dongle. Thankfully as I'd done it before with Vectorworks 11 it wasn't that bad - but with one small caveat. If you try and run the two dongles off the same PC, Vectorworks 11 works fine, but 12 doesn't, as it sees the dongle for 11 and then prompts you for the serial number of that product, rather than read the right one. The easiest solution was to have the dongle for 12 running off another PC that we use in our office, and the job is done.

Installation wasn't that bad either, except it's on a DVD, which means it's a massive install (some 2.2GB to be precise). As such, it meant that I had to find some way of making it a network-capable install, as not all the PCs have DVD drives yet. An attempt with Zenworks Admin Studio failed miserably no matter how I tried it, but on the other hand, Novell SnAppShot managed to do it without problems and I managed to do it that way. Now the only slight problem I've got is that if a limited user runs the software, it needs to know the serial number. In previous versions and this one, you can get round it by giving users certain rights to a registry key - but this means changing it on every single PC (or at least on your PC image). Ideally what I'd like to do is to give users rights to the registry key when the application launches. Using Microsoft's built in regini.exe, I can give Everyone, Administrators, SYSTEM and INTERACTIVE user rights no problem, but it seems that Vectorworks will only play ball if Users are given rights. And regini.exe doesn't seem to be able to do that. If anyone has any ideas, do let me know.

Anyway, decided to go to Birmingham yesterday for a bit of shopping and also a bit of an escape from the manic idiots that seem to be frequenting Manchester city centre at the moment - they all seem to congregate around the fountains in Piccadilly Gardens and stay there for the day catching skin cancer and then rinsing themselves off of any sun protection in the fountain. Not exactly my ideal day out, I have to say, and it makes me wonder just how hellish round there will be over the next six weeks as it's the school summer holidays. Oh, joy and rapture. Not.

So decision made, off to Piccadilly train station and a clever bit of purchasing from me of tickets. You see, you can't get a cheap day return ticket to Birmingham from Manchester - you would have to buy a Saver Return instead which would cost around £27 (cue cries of rip-off from the masses). Even if you book in advance with Virgin and get one of their advance returns, you have to specify which trains you're taking both ways, and it's £16 return. However, if you get a cheap day return from Manchester to Stoke, and another cheap day return from Stoke to Birmingham, it costs £17-45 for the two, making it only slightly more expensive than the advance return, and you have freedom of choice about which train to get. When you weigh it up like that, especially against the cost of the saver return you'd have to get otherwise, that's a fair saving of money. It also makes me wonder just how ridiculous the fare structure is for trains. I mean, why can't they just offer a cheap day return to Birmingham from Manchester? It certainly would be more beneficial for quite a few people who just fancy a day out shopping without the hassles of parking, the nightmare that is their Inner Ring Road (just don't do it, it's horrible) and indeed the opportunity to explore, be comfortable in an air conditioned carraige (that certainly was lovely) and just watch the world go by.

So, got to Birmingham around 12-30pm and headed to the top floor of one of the shopping centres where there's several eateries. One of which had a rather nice looking fish so I had that wish some chips, sweetcorn carrots and peas - all for under a fiver. And the fish was massive, so no complaints from me there. After that it was a general walk around the shops, and the Bull Ring and its markets, and that's when the clouds decided to go really dark, and before you know it - blam! A lot of thunder, some lightning strikes (although it missed me thankfully) and a fair bit of rain. As by this time I wasn't in any of the shopping centres as such, in between looking in shops I was getting rather wet and like a drowned rat. And by the look of things everyone else was in the same boat as well, everyone had expected lovely warm weather and so really were just in their summer gear, no coats or anything. A couple did have a brolly but that was the exception rather than the norm.

It eventually did stop raining - just before I decided to head into HMV and get myself the House of Love's self titled album for £5-99 -been after it for some time and decided that I was going to have it because it's a classic. Shine On was reworked by us City fans so that the chorus would be sung as give one instead. After that it was time to grab a bite to eat and head homeward. Thankfully I just made it in time for a delayed train so I didn't have to wait at all - and got back around 8-20pm. The journey there and back was made all the more pleasurable by my second reading of Henry Rollins' excellent Do I Come Here Often?, the second of the three Black Coffee Blues books. There's some great stuff in there not least some of the interviews he has done with the likes of David Lee Roth, Jerry Lee Lewis and so on, and some great monologues about previous tours, the stuff he's done on his birthday in years gone by. It is just fascinating reading and well worth a look if you get the time.

Oh, and walking past one of the advertising hoardings in the centre of Birmingham and seeing an advert for Now 64 just made me realise how old I actually am. When I was in my formative teenage years of discovering good music, I can remember Now 13 having Morrissey's "Last of the Famous International Playboys" on there, and one CD which got regular play in the pub I used to hang out was Now 17. As TV Cream succinctly put it, possibly the best side of any Now album, and it's hard to disagree. Eight killer tracks, all of which were deserved hits, and it was the indie side to say the least. When you consider those eight tracks are Step On, Loaded, Enjoy the Silence, Real Real Real, This Is How It Feels, Shine On, From Out of Nowhere and Hey You, then it just had to be on repeat play for obvious reasons. Indeed my first flirtation with my very first serious relationship was making eyes during Real Real Real, so it's happy memories. And apart from one or two of those eight tracks, I own them all on CD, which I suppose says a lot more about either my music taste or the fact that music was better then. I don't know which to believe.

Wednesday 19th July - Dedication, That's What You Need

Well I felt a bit like the Roy Castle end of Record-Breakers song at the end of today at work, I can tell you. The building I work in is a veritable heat trap and despite me managing to do most of the things from my desk, with a small fan giving me a little respite from the incessant sun, going out at lunch time was just hellishly over-warm. Even sat in the coolest part of the usual lunch time hangout was just incredibly hot and even the nice cool taste of a Diet Pepsi with gallons of ice thrown in just wasn't cutting it for me. That said, I feel sorry for a couple of my colleagues who had been moving PCs around from one building to another this afternoon, in these sort of temperatures that's close on suicidal.

Even going home has to be carefully thought about. Sitting on one side of the bus is a fair bit cooler than the other and you get a bit of a breeze coming in from the window, which at least compensates you for the endless buckets of sweat that you're pouring out. The weather people have already said that it's the hottest July day on record and indeed the hottest day possibly ever here in Manchester. That to me is a pure sign to people that global warming is happening, it is here and the sooner we try and do something about it, the better. We so need air conditioning in the building we work in, even in our main computer suite would be a good start.

As it is everyone's melting (even the roads in some parts are crumbling) not least this weekend when in their infinite wisdom the train workers' union are calling a two day strike - when lots of people decide to start setting off for their summer in the UK! That was really well planned I think to deliberately get as much attention to their cause as possible. However on the down side of this, it also means that unfortunately people will decide that if strikes are the way ahead, they won't take the train for holidays and so will resort to less environmentally friendly measures, not to mention possibly put the workers for the train union out of a job if services have to be reduced. I do wish sometimes people would try and resort to democratic means wherever possible before deciding to inconvenience the general public. It's not their fault, so why should they suffer, and why should those who decide to work on a strike day be so embittered by others? Kind of upsets me, that. Especially as I had a trip planned to Birmingham this weekend which I'm probably going to have to either cancel or possibly take the coach down. Even if I could drive, the city centre of Birmingham and the roads surrounding it are a nightmare at best and I just wouldn't feel safe.

Tuesday 18th July - All I Want For Summer Is A Strawberry Split

Well the heatwave has even hit Manchester now with temperatures in the thirties for the last three days, and it's supposedly even hotter tomorrow. I must have drunk about eight litres of water alone today to stay hydrated and that's only up to now at around 6-30pm, heaven knows how much more I'll have later on in the evening when I might just sit outside in the back where there's a little bit of shade. The sun's just too much for me these days and I really feel quite faint at times when being out in there too long. Not to mention of course that there's not really any air conditioning on the bus home and so that just gets a little annoying. Mind you, not that many cars as yet have air con either, so you can really feel for those who have to drive around in a sweltering heated greenhouse of warm air. Lovely, not.

And you know, all I've been after for the last few days is a strawberry split. For those of you who don't live in the UK and have no idea what I'm wittering on about, it's basically a lolly with a strawvberry fruit flavoured outside, and vanilla ice cream on the inside. The mix of the two works really well and usually is rather nice to enjoy on a hot warm day to try and regulate the temperature a bit inside you. Imagine the strawberries and ice cream without the expensive prices you pay at Wimbledon, or for that matter the dodgy genetically modified berries most supermarkets want to sell you, and you pretty much have it there.

So this weekend I made a bit of a mission to try and find them. First stop, Asda. Not a chance. And then Lidl. Not much luck there either. Farmfoods and Heron Foods were the same story. Last night I tried both Cooltrader and Somerfield (formerly my local Kwik Save) - not joy there either. So tonight I decided to chance my arm and pop into Netto on the way home. I was going in there anyway as they do some rather nice choc ices, ten for 49p. And I managed to find them - well, sort of. There's a mixed pack of 10 fruit splits with three flavours that you get - blackcurrant, pineapple, and... strawberry! Woohoo. So at the worst I'll get at least three of them in that pack and as the whole pack of ten was a mere 89p, I couldn't argue so much. I still could have of course tried Tesco and Sainsbury's as well (both have branches within distance of me) but I doubt very much as if they'd be that cheap to be honest. Tesco in fact do them as either a mixed pack like Netto, or as a Walls double 10 pack of orange juice fruit lollies and strawberry splits. Gone it seems are the days you can get them on their own, unless you know otherwise. If you do, please get in touch and put me out of my misery!

The weekend was quite good really despite the heat, I finally got round to watching The Lake House on Saturday night, and I'll shallowly admit that a fair reason for that was because of the rather gorgeous Sandra Bullock. Nonetheless the chemistry between her and Keanu Reeves worked perfectly and was a nice little love story with a little twist here and there. The concept, although probably not original, was executed quite well as well, and there were plenty of neat touches such as the dog (who despite me not being a dog lover was actually quite sweet and cute I have to admit). It's one you'll enjoy if like me you're a bit of an old romantic at heart.

Friday 14th July - Well it's Not The 13th, But..

The rest of the week has meandered on, with some success and some failure along the way. In terms of success, I'd say without a doubt that managing to application package AutoCAD 2000 complete with hardware dongle lock installation and also managing to get it to run on a Windows XP machine without hassle is somewhat of a success. Part of my reasoning for it not working was that when the application install program I use was monitoring the application it was for some reason placing everything in the Windows folder as its base install folder, obviously not right there. Don't know why the monitoring went a bit wobbly, but I corrected that and did a bit of a repackage and it seemed okay, apart from the hardware lock thing. Then I discovered why - it was because you had to restart the PC after install and before running the program for the first time so that the device driver for the dongle lock has installed right - yes, it's a bloody legacy driver and therefore the PC would need to be restarted first. Once I got that sussed out it was nice and easy to do in the end - but it still might need some eventual tweaks at some point. We shall see.

In terms of failure, I can't explain why, but I just feel really down and not with it in terms of some cases of what I've been doing this week. I think it's partially down to me because I just have this frustration that I want to be able to get on with things and there's office politics and other stuff, affecting everyone, which is understandably leaving people unmotivated. I noticed this in a meeting I was in this morning with one group I'm part of - there just seems to be no happiness around and people are definitely becoming more cynical. Not towards each other I should add, but as a feeling in general towards the way that they feel that the whole new evaluation thing is a complete muck up (tell me something I don't already know!) Despite me wanting to be a do-er, there's just nothing that makes me want to do so much at the moment. I wholeheartedly place the blame in the shoes of a few people, but I'd rather not say whom. Suffice to say that we're not the only place going through such changes and no one I've spoken to at other Universities affected are that happy either. Even less so if you have to appeal, which to me is plain stupid. I mean, you're doing the job already so why should you have to justify everything? It just smacks of an excuse to do everything on the cheap.

Maybe this feeling is also because I generally feel a little down with some personal things at the moment - they're a bit too personal to go into detail here (and I'd rather not) but that's also left me feeling a little empty and just wanting to escape the world and say "sod it all" for a little while. Maybe I should do that in the next couple of weeks and just get out of the rat race a bit. Wonder what I can do about that...

Monday 10th July - Human Resources Bull

Went to my mum's yesterday for a bit of a family get together, which is always nice, and indeed for my uncle's birthday (which is today, so happy birthday to you!). As usual my mum did far too much food and was offering doggie bags for everyone to take home, which of course, I refused, in an effort to try and keep the weight off. There were lots of hot and cold food around and plenty of drinks, although being good and trying to keep a bit more teetotal these days, it was just soft drinks for me. My uncle liked the present I got him which was a retro Manchester City 1972 short sleeved home shirt, and with the number 8 on the back (Colin Bell's old number, for you football fans out there). I was just pleased to be able to find something good, and the fact that he said that that was his first shirt to wear on holiday was nice to hear.

And my sister's little one Billie was also wearing the Winnie The Pooh outfit I got her for her birthday last week too, the trousers are a bit long for her though so they had to be turned up, but I freely admit that she did look rather cute and rather lovely. She was even being bashful and kept giving me a little grin now and then, while my other sister's son Tyler was bounding around the back garden singing Bob The Builder (like, what else?) which was pretty good, although he probably drives my sister round the bend with it!

That was so nice compared to today. A lot of admin and support staff went to a meeting held by the two main people in Human Resources (why they can't be called Personnel is beyond me). Basically it was an exercise in how to avoid a question being asked by giving more bull to try and make everything seem good. Plenty of people actually walked out, whether this was because they felt duty bound to go back to work or whether they wanted to listen to bull is unknown, but it wasn't that great to be honest. And indeed there are plenty of things that need answering - sounds to me as if the whole thing was a shambolic mess and that it was rushed in order to make the 1st August deadline. Even then it might be scuppered as the unions would have to agree a deal, and already it's known that the academic union UCU already didn't agree to the framework agreement (Unison and GMB have and apparently have recommended to members that it's the best under negotiation they're going to get but they sound a bit sceptical as well) so you never know: it might be very quiet come August 1st. One thing I do know: lots of people are thinking of leaving.

Saturday 8th July - HERA = How to get Everyone Really Annoyed

Well all the talk in all the offices at work this week has been about the dreaded HERA role evaluation. Everyone received their role evaluations at home, and unsurprisingly, there's been quite a few mistakes in the whole process which has meant a high number of staff being graded wrongly. It all smacks of complete and utter incompetence to be quite honest. Several people I know who do a good job, and in some cases have even got the right qualifications to actually be on their job at the grade they should be at, have been put in the wrong grade, and some others have been downgraded so much that their salaries will be taking quite a sizeable chunky drop.

I know that during the role evaluation there were plenty of mistakes made. For example, they wanted to interview yours truly for an evaluation and as example, only they wanted to interview me in my previous, pre-promotion post as Information Systems Assistant. This actually meant that Personnel didn't even have my right job title and so were going to evaluate me in a role with less responsibilities and in a role I don't do anymore, cue one very polite email to them saying that they should keep better records and not to insult me with a lower role. I'd have dreaded to think if I had gone through the process what would have happened, but it was just so much hassle for those that did do it.

Ultimately of course no one is that happy, even those who are actually going to get a decent amount of upgrades in salary - because there's a nasty clause that says if your increase is over 15% of what you are earning nopw, then you get half now and the remainder next year. This is unfair to say the least too, because what if someone joins on that grade? They'll be paid more than you and could well be argubaly less experienced. Hopefully there's some behind the scenes negotiation to try and sort that out for those concerned - it's not very fair on them because surely if they do feel valued enough then why shouldn't they earn what they deserve to right now?

The actual framework for progression and things like that is actually about the only good thing in it - as it strives to reward those who do professional development and or a recogised qualification in whatever field that they do - which should mean those that work hard and deserve to go higher doing so. Nonetheless, because it's well hidden under so many other terms and conditions it might not necessarily be noticed by everyone. Understandably the classification of their job roles, the matching grade and salary scales are the worry - even though their pay is frozen for four years at whatever they earn now, that could well go down at the end of that period and that might just mean a mass exodus, if that isn't already going happen now.

If you're working in HE, and you are having a bad experience with the whole HERA thing, please do let me know. I'd be interested to hear from like minded folk and what pain they're suffering at the moment. Even though mine turned out reasonably okay, I'm not happy because of so many unhappy people around me that didn't get what I felt they deserved. I can see a very unpleasant and unhappy next few weeks ahead, not to mention the fact that plenty of people might have just had their last straw and start to leave.

In other news, I have trying to be getting on with work and so have been packaging up any applications that only our faculty use, for the way we're doing student PC builds this year. You see, we'll take a base sysprepped build, have install applications that are just one double click to install what we need, and then re-seal the image for certain rooms with all the right applications and software drivers etc for that particular room. In theory it should work a treat and so to help out, I published a list of stuff I was working on so that no one else need duplicate it. So far, using Zenworks Admin Studio (a cutdown version of Installshield's product) I've managed to convert quite a few products into a single packaged MSI installer that does the job, and then just made it into a Zenworks application object that runs the MSI silently with any MST transforms and MSP patches you might have. So using that I was able to package stuff up and now I feel a bit more confident about doing that sort of thing - and it's a bit more R&D for me too.

I paused for two minutes on Friday lunchtime to have my own quiet period of reflection for the appalling events of the July 7th bombings. I think because it was so close after something else that happened in my life, it's something that sticks out and something that I won't forget very easily. To see the driver of the bus that had been bombed laying out the rememberance flowers in the square was very moving, and for him to come back there and do that was especially brave. I don't think I could have done it, and the way that the whole of London is bouncing back from such an atrocity is a sign that no one will give up and give in. I remember myself being in London last November and you could already see that the recovery was well underway, it was as busy as ever and I just felt a bit of hope and inspiration all around, which was a nice feeling. Sure, it might never feel the same again but like Manchester recovered from the IRA bomb and 1996, made a roaring success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games and its comeback, and flourished into the beautiful city we have now, so may London use the 2012 Olympic Games as its own symbol of its passion and pride.

Monday 3rd July - Lightning Striking Locally

Well in all this unbearable heat, there was about an hour on Sunday afternoon that was really scary. It was all going so lovely at one of my relations' place as we celebrated my sister's daughter's first birthday. First off lots of little kids enjoying themselves at a kids party, thankfully underneath two gazebos so that they had a bit of shade and not the oppressive heat on them. And the birthday girl got a little shy when everyone sang Happy Birthday and brought out the cake, she tried to hide in the high chair and have the most cute "I'm not looking!" face possible.

That done, it was time to have a bit of a barbecue later on, everyone brought lots of nice food and it was going well, the food was being cooked excellently, everyone was chilled out and relaxed, and despite having Bob The Builder constantly in my ears due to my other sister's little boy realising that he could work the portable CD player and play that song all the time, it was fine. I then noticed that Vincent the cat was having a lie down under the tree with his tail wagging a fair bit. I didn't think anything of it at first until I saw a few spots of rain. Ah well, I thought, only spitting, nothing to worry about. And then it got worse, and worse, almost blowing the gazebos away and it was then a case of getting everything in while not being drenched.

Wise move it was too. A few minutes later and the heavens opened, the rain came down really hard and the lightning and thunder claps were to be heard. This went on for a while and started to slow down a little, so I rung for a taxi to go home. Normally I'd walk it back but not in that rain, thank you. As the taxi driver was driving me back the rain got harder to the point that visibility was pretty tough, and that the time between the lightining and the thunder was minimal, meaning the lightning was close by. Got home safely enough, but then the lightning got worse, it kept resetting the broadband router, and it also did odd things with the power. Thank heavens for that surge protected plug I put in all round the house, might have just saved a few heartaches.

As the night progressed it was being very hot and sticky, and a shower before bed helped enormously to say the least. With the weather being like this for the next few days, today wasn't really the day to move big A1 colour plotters around to another room, but we had to shift everything out of one room and move it to another, in the baking heat. And with the building we work in, it just acts like a greenhouse on one side of the building in the morning, then the other in the afternoon. And it's horrible. Realistically air conditioning for our office would certainly not go amiss, maybe I should try and see if we can get some. And our computer drop-in needs one even more, but with the way money is being so tight at the moment I can't see either of them coming to fruition so I'll have to struggle onwards and outwards.

Mind you, I did chill out late Saturday night after the football disaster and watch an excellent adaptation of the Hound of the Baskervilles - Richard E Grant was nothing short of superb as the main evil character, whose name escapes me at this moment, but it was wonderfully played. I think as well it shows one thing the BBC can do superbly - and that's drama adaptations like no other. I can only hope that there's more in the pipeline like that to be honest. And the last episode of Doctor Who's this Saturday - that is going to be very interesting to say the least, especially as a certain enemy made an appearance at the end of the episode last week. I won't spoil it for you just in case you haven't seen it yet.

Saturday 1st July - England's Going Home

As I'm writing this missive, it's a couple of hours since the World Cup quarter final, and yet again at this stage England have gone out - and yet again it's on penalties, this time to Portugal. In all honesty and essence, it proved what I thought all along, in that we were not good enough and that under Sven's management we won't win anything (thankfully it was the Swedish idiot's final game). There were many reasons for this, but during today's game some of them became apparent.

First off, Rooney's sending off. No matter what you may feel about it being harsh, and no matter what an arrogant idiot he is for losing his temper and stamping on a player, then pushing that idiot, and ironically, team mate at club level, Christiano Ronaldo (I have a feeling a trip to Carrington will be rather tasty viewing over the next few weeks) for getting in the referee's face, Rooney isn't the one to blame as much. It's actually Sven for playing such a negative 4-5-1 system where Rooney's on his own, isolated, and getting frustrated by the minute at having to do such negative tactics all the while. If the likes of Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright on BBC1 could see it coming at half time, why didn't Sven change it then? That would have been too easy, and not least because it also exposed his shortcomings at only taking four strikers, two of whom were half fit and one he had no intention of playing whatsoever, hence the system.

Second, is it me or has David Beckham now finally realised in all his frustration that he's actually not that good anymore? His injury meant a forced substitution but in all honesty, even before the sending off, Aaron Lennon was giving the Portugese defence a scare as a more than worthy replacement, looked hungry and lively throughout, and wanted to make a difference. He didn't just fade in and out of the play either and really showed that maybe in the next few years we'll still have a set of players who, if put together properly, can perform.

Third, it's only taken Sven a few years to realise Owen Hargreaves' best position, and one that to be fair, he did very well today and was man of the match by a fair mile. The holding midfielder role is one Hargreaves plays in for Bayern Munich, and to play for a club like that, you have to be decent. With that in mind, why the hell was he being played in other positions by Sven where he clearly wasn't that good and the mention of his name coming on brought despair? Not just that I should add, but when going forward Hargreaves also had some purpose, and look at the passion on his face when he scored in the penalty shoot out. It's that passion we've been missing, and I for one was pleased for him to prove a lot of people (me included) wrong about him.

I could go on, but suffice to say I'm glad to see the back of Sven, but the danger is of course whether it's actually going to be any better under Steve McLaren. That does worry me slightly although at least he kind of looks like he cares enough and shows a bit more passion. The fact we only played better when Beckham and Rooney were off the pitch showed the real backs to the wall mentality that you need, and in terms of grit and determination you can't fault them whatsoever. But it also proves that the media hype and over-reliance on those two players should stop, now, because it's more damaging than it's worth. And indeed, do we need to start thinking about bringing in players who playing for England is actually an honour, not a right? There's a lot wrong and the fixing needs to start. Right now.