Dear Diary... July 2010

Saturday 31st July - The Sky's The Limit

I headed over to see my friend this afternoon, armed with my old Sky+ box in hand as well. He wanted to see if it coud be used as a Freesat box in the front room of their house, as he and his wife were having relatives round for most of the summer, thus meaning that having some form of television in there would be handy. There was a satellite feed from the dish to that room (as well as to their bedroom which houses their main box) but as they only have the one subscription, we thought still use the other box as a Freesat box and at least get stuff there.

When I got there, we had a good chat about all sorts and were also keeping one of their relations entertained with a game on the trusty PS3, so it was good fun to try and see what I could do in terms of driving around on that. I did pretty okay actually, even pulling off a stunt jump from one ramp up on to the railway - go me! It was also good to see some vocals being tried out on Guitar Hero World Tour with my friend excelling on REM's "The One I Love" - had to be tune of the day that one.

Anyway, we hooked up the Sky box in the front room, connected it all up at the back, powered on, and .. no signal! Not good. Apparently that's what their old old Sky box was doing, leaving them to think that the reception was duff as well. The fact that two boxes said the same thing pointed me in the direction of their dish. They'd had some work done on the block of flats that they live in, and with scaffolding all over the place it could have been very easy to dislodge a cable. As it happened we were picking up one of their relatives who happened to also have a ladder, so we did then and then headed back.

I just about was able to reach the cables close to the dish, and one slight movement brought the front room box to life. It did seem pretty loose though and one other move later proved it when it went off again. I got the relation up with me to check the dish out and we soon found that all the connections were loose! We tightened them all up, and bingo! Everything started to play ball spot on. In fact the signal strength when we checked was also up on the main box too. The box I brought found its channels, and we soon discovered which were the free ones. Sadly you could only favourite 50 channels, but that did mean that more than that were free. And no card required, which Sky were attempting to charge my friend £25 for. Hmm.

Anyway, with that all good to go, we added the Wii friend codes for each other and put in some of the friend codes for the games we had too on his (I did the same when I got home) and all was well there. It was good to be able to sort things out with the dish and everything and I'm sure it's perfect timing to keep everyone entertained for the Summer break - as some of the younger relations would be heading there too. It's also good to know that when my Sky subscription finishes, I can use the HD box as a Freesat HD box, hopefully!

Friday 30th July - The Long Ride Home

I got up and got myself ready and made sure that everything was packed and ready to go, with the iPod fully charged and indeed the mobile phone as well before closing the case, and wheeling it out of the lodge, where I checked out and all was well. It was a good stay at the Wetherspoons lodge, and with its city centre position a good base to go exploring in Inverness. It was a short walk to the train station, where the 0755 East Coast train to Edinburgh (and then on to London Kings Cross) awaited me. It had to be at platform 1 as it was the only one long enough to house a High Speed Train.

Soon after we left Inverness, and with me comfy in first class (£34 this way, so £61 return, no complaints eh?) I heard a juddering of the engine at the back, and a few times too. The train crawled its way out of Inverness and uphill and eventually reached Aviemore at a snail's pace. It was a worry as I knew although I had around 50 minutes leeway before changing at Edinburgh, it wasn't boding well, and indeed the woman who got on at Aviemore and sat opposite me was having the same concerns too - she was heading on the same train as me south of Edinburgh but to a different destination. The conductor told us that if we needed to and if running behind, getting off at Edinburgh Haymarket would buy us a few minutes more time.

Anyway, I pacified myself to some toast which was nice, but East Coast need to take a lesson from Virgin. When you travel First Class, breakfast should be provided, not to be paid for as an extra. The full breakfast would have been an extra £10, so I went for the toast for £2 instead which actually was very nice. There was free tea and coffee, and a little Eat Natural bar and biscuit, so that wasn't too bad. As the train climbed up to the highest point I was concerned for time and we ended up in Pitlochry 35 minutes behind time, but with the hills behind us.

The train did keep some sort of pace though and although it crawled out of Gleneagles and Falkirk, it reached Edinburgh Haymarket at around 1155. I knew that getting off here would be easier as the train was being curtailed at Edinburgh Waverley so everyone would be getting off, making it harder to get across that station. It proved to be a good move and I made it safely on to the 1212 to Manchester. From there it was plain sailing and more freebies on Transpennine Express. I was glad I was on first class though as the elderly couple sat with me noticed how rammed it was elsewhere (and it was!) and even though plenty got off at Preston to go to Blackpool, lots got on there too, but I was soon at Piccadilly and heading home.

Tune of the day pretty much sums up the week I had, I think (and as it played on the iPod as part of that 80s compilation I have): "Feels Like Heaven" by Fiction Factory. It did feel like heavenly being off work and enjoying myself so much. I've vowed to go back and explore more of the Highlands, maybe Dunrobin Castle, the Black Isle Brewery, Ardersier, maybe even the Kyle of Lochalsh too. Plenty for me to do next time and I'll have to try and take The Love In My Heart with me too.

Thursday 29th July - More Castles and the Nessie Myth

It was an early start for me this morning as I was off on the bus again, this time around Loch Ness. Part of my reasoning to come up was to see the loch close up for myself, as I'd heard it was a beautiful and scenic place, and not because of some myth made up by the media about some monster being there or something. However, it wasn't just the loch I wanted to see. I wanted to also head to Urquhart Castle, which stands on the banks of the loch and is itself a wonderful piece of Scottish history.

The bus sped out of Inverness and crossed the bridge spanning the Caledonian Canal before heading alongside Loch Ness up on the hillside (and it looked a fair way down) before heading to the small village of Drumnadrochit and past the Loch Ness visitors' centres before heading up the hill and out of the village and to the castle's car park and bus stop. From there it was down to the entrance, which takes you downstairs through a small exhibition and to the castle shop and, as I did, to see a short film about the history of the castle, including how it got to be the ruins that it is today. Amazingly I was the only one seeing the film so it felt like a private screening.

It was then onwards down the path and down the hill, past the trebuchet and to the castle itself, heading over the moat. Each part of the castle had its own tale to tell including the prison in the guard house, the bakehouse, the gateway with steps to the loch shore, and the two main towers on each side of the castle - the Grant Tower being very popular as everyone clamoured to get up the spiral staircase to get the view from the top of it, unsurprisingly. It was also fascinating to see just where things would have stood before it was blown to pieces in 1692 and to see just how well built it actually was.

As I headed over the moat and along the side of the loch at one end of the castle, I heard someone playing the bagpipes, and not just any tune either - no, he was playing "Piobaireachd of Donald Dhu", a traditional Scottish piece with the pipes, and so happens to be the theme for the caber toss on World Games on the trusty Commodore 64. Of course I recognised it - so tune of the day all round there - had to be. Plenty of Japanese and German tourists queued up to have their picture taken with the player, who seemed completely oblivious to any of them as he made his way around the castle just playing his pipes.

The castle was awe-inspiring and seeing it from the loch's shore and indeed as I headed out along the path by the A82, you could see how imposing it looked. I decided that it would be nice to do the two mile walk downhill from there to Drumnadochit, having had a sandwich in the castle's café meant I could exercise it off on the way down. It was a nice walk and soon I arrived at the village, which had a floral replica of Urquhart Castle in the village green. I had a quick walk around the village's shops, most of which were of course full of Loch Ness stuff including plenty of "Nessie" soft toys, of course catering for the tourists who wanted to believe that it was all real. I had to smile really.

I had spotted a gorgeous old Austin Seven in the village and as it turned out it was doing an end-to-end run (Lands' End to John O'Groats and back) and the slow speed meant that it couldn't use any motorways either. They were collecting for Claire House hospice in the Wirral, and I put some coins into the slot by the car, and ended up meeting the car's owners afterwards in the local pub as I was sampling a fine pint of Cairngorm Brewery's "Nessie Monster Mash" (haha) and they seemed lovely people. They were staying in campsites each night and exploring the scenery along the way and they'd stopped her for lunch. The best of luck to them - they thoroughly deserve it.

I went past the two different Loch Ness visitors' centres and to be honest although both of them had their pluses, they also looked, how can I put it, a little bit on the tacky side. However, both of them were selling boat cruises around the Loch and I found that one of them was pretty much booked already for most of the day but there was a space for the 4pm slot which I booked - £10 too, so not too bad at all. For me (and indeed comparing the other bookings for the other two boat sites in the village) I thought that if this one was more sold out, maybe it had a good reputation?

And so my hunch proved correct as I headed on the loch with Loch Ness Cruises onboard the Nessie Hunter, skippered by George Edwards. The skipper had plenty of experience on the loch and had found the deepest parts of the loch with various visits too, and explained to us all as we went around the loch all the history, just why the colour of the water is what it is, as well as all the myths and sightings, explaining that it may have been large seahorses that were spotted instead (or indeed adding to the myth if you want to look at it that way). He was very informative and as we cruised past Urquhart Castle he correctly got all the history of the castle right too - proving he'd done his research properly.

The hour went by and the £10 well spent - which included a small minibus transfer to the little pier the boat goes from, around half a mile out of Drumnadrochit. It also allowed some gorgeous views over the loch and indeed to the castle as well as seeing how deep the loch was with various bits of equipment on board the boat, and how basically the loch just carries on going down like the hills do to it and eventually forming a sort of bath shape underneath. It really did add to the feeling of being there and made the day even more great in my view. Book with them and you won't be disappointment.

I then headed on the bus back to Inverness, and despite some peak hour traffic got back relatively quickly. I then got showered and changed and headed back out into the city centre, over Ness Bridge and to the Italian restuarant Riva, which I'd been past on the last two evenings and noticed not only that it was busy, but busy with locals, and as one of the relatives of The Love In My Heart told me once "If you see the locals in a restaurant, they must like it too so you're always best heading where they do". That advice proved to be spot on. Inside was pretty full but they had tables outside, so I thought "why not eat alfresco?" and with a view of Inverness Castle in front of me, a perfect way to have a meal.

And so it was. They provided some breads and balsamic oils which went very nicely together, and got me in the mood for their tagliatelle carbonara. That was spot on, really was. They even had small pieces of leek in there which really complimented the pancetta and the cream sauce wonderfully well. The pasta was cooked beautifully, the sauce really nice and it just melted in the mouth. I savoured it all gazing to the castle as the light started to fade on the evening. I felt sad as my break was coming to an end but happy that I'd spent a lovely mealtime enjoying good food and views. So, back to the lodge, watched the Hotel Inspector on Channel 4 (well the last bit anyway) before heading to bed as I had an early train home tomorrow.

Wednesday 28th July - Battles, Castles and Beaches

I had a plan of sorts for today, and that was to head to Culloden Battlefield and then on to Brodie Castle. The idea would be that as both are National Trust for Scotland properties, it meant that I could get in for free with my National Trust membership (handy to know if you're a member of either and going over the border.) This also meant I could do other things during the week with the costs saved today, so it all worked out in my favour really. I worked out a plan of action with the bus timetables and took the short walk from the lodge to Queensgate, where I'd get the number 1 bus on to Culloden Battlefield.

The visitors' centre was well worth a walk around as it gave you plenty of information and history on to why the battle came to be, and how bloody it was. Inside the exhibition there was also a cinema room where projections of the battle were shown with screens all around you, showing the marked flanks of Government against the Jacobites, and why the strategy of the Jacobites meant that they were doomed even before they started battle. The exhibit certainly had you prepared for walking on the historic battlefield itself, and the flags of red and blue marked the Government and Jacobite lines. You also saw plenty of memorial stones to those that died in battle, and even starting positions of groups of those fighting.

What was good to see was that some of the boggy landscape that made the battlefield was being restored to how it was (with paths to get around thankfully!) and that the houses such as the Old Leanach Cottage were still there and beautifully preserved. It even rained a little bit which kind of added to the history of how the battle might have been fought back in 1746. It was also moving to see that on the main memorial stone flowers had been laid by those who may have been direct descendents of those killed in battle and that their history hasn't been forgotten. It's too easy to forget where you come from, so it was good to see.

It was then back on the number 1 bus and off at the retail park with the big Tesco, as I could change buses there rather than go in and back out of Inverness centre, and soon the number 10 bus arrived to take me to Brodie and the castle. If I wanted to, I could have got on that bus all the way to Aberdeen, some 105 miles away (ouch!) but decided to stick to Plan A, and soon the very small village of Brodie came up and I got off at the bus stop after I should have done (oops, pay attention next time!) and so followed the road that takes cars to the castle. This was no less spectactular (I even saw a little rabbit crossing the road) and it did mean I went past the Pictish momument known as Rodney's Stone on the way in.

The castle itself was very lovely - proper old towers, and a spiral staircase within. You had to go with a guide around the castle, which wasn't ideal if you wanted to go round at your own pace, but the guide was very knowledgeable and even with a large group of people explained things very well, especially in the lovely blue drawing room which can now be hired for weddings. It had some stunning architecture and the ceilings in one of the rooms had been painted in the early 19th century to look like it was made of wood. The weight of the plaster though does mean that the room above is unsafe to access incase the ceiling breaks. I had lunch in the little café and the sandwiches were spot on, perfect to keep me going.

It felt like a lovely dose of history to go around there and walking down the pond walk towards the pond and then looking back towards the castle showed just how beautiful the place looked when seeing it from there. It was then along the small country road, across the level crossing of the railway to Brodie, and as I had some time before the next bus I headed into Brodie Countryfare, a retail outlet in the village that had all sorts, clothing, fresh food (lots of stuff to sample too) and even fresh ice cream - I had mango and it was delicious. It reminded me a little of Lakeland, but on a much more intimate scale and certainly the place had plenty of visitors sampling the shopping.

As time was on my side and my bus ticket was for all buses (good thinking there!) I decided that it might be nice to stop off in Nairn on the way back. It's a little town with a very nice old style high street with plenty of architecture, and away from the town a few hundred yards walk away is the beach. There's actually two beaches with a harbour in between, and that was good to go and check out. In fact on the way to the Central Beach, there was a small park which even had crazy golf. Well, you just know I had to have a go of it, and sure enough for £1.50 I got 9 holes twice around, and they were pretty tricky too.

The beaches themselves were full of sandy dunes, soft sand and then harder sand as you got close to the sea, with plenty of driftwood shaping the beach too. It was a very lovely walk along the sand, then over the harbour bridge and to the East Beach, lined in part by a caravan park. The dunes here really sheltered them from the sea but made it close enough and plenty of families were spending the day there and relaxing - also good to see. It was nice just to stand on the beach, look out to sea and feel relaxed. Tune of the day incidentally is "Summertime" by Barenaked Ladies, as it really did resemble the feeling of me at this time - in the Summer, making the most of the day and enjoying it.

Later on I headed on the 11 bus back to Inverness, where I then had a quick bit of tea in the Wetherspoons and kept an eye on the athletics with a pint of the Hebridean Gold to go with it, and that certainly made me feel good and made me feel like I'd done lots. I knew it was another early start tomorrow and I had walked a fair few miles as well, so it was a case of having a nice walk around the river again before then settling in to bed and catching up on the news before thinking about what tomorrow would bring on Loch Ness.

Tuesday 27th July - Inverness Inspiration

Today saw the start of a small mini-break that I had planned for myself. I always fancied venturing off to the Scottish Highlands and seeing what it had to offer, and when the opportunity came to get a week off work and indeed to get somewhere to stay at a reasonable rate as well as travel up on the train with only one change of train too, I thought that it sounded a good idea. I had done some research and had ideas where to go as well as what to do and how I could manage that in the three days there. It was an early start for me though as the alarm went off at 6am, and got myself showered and ready to leave by 7am to head for Piccadilly station.

There, it was the first bit of my journey, the 0745 Piccadilly to Edinburgh service. I was thankful I'd booked first class though as the train was rather busy heading up to Preston, and then at Lockerbie, it also seemed to get full of people on their way to Edinburgh as well. In the comfort and relaxed atmosphere of first class, I was just able to take things easy with the iPod on and have the free coffee and snacklets on offer as well (might as well eh?). Going all the way up to Inverness was only £27 this way and I thought "yeah, why not?". The train was the usual efficient Transpennine one and I was soon in Edinburgh, where I had enough time to casually grab a sandwich at Boots and then go to the far end of the station for the 1135 departure to Inverness.

This bit was a ScotRail service and first class was pretty small in terms of size but the seats were very comfy, and free coffee so no complaints there. The train hurtled over the Forth Rail Bridge before hugging the Fife coast at the likes of Kirkcaldy before heading up to Perth, and then from there through the Cairngorms with some stunning countryside. As we passed Dalwhinnie and headed up to the highest point in the UK rail network, The Unthanks' "Lucky Gilchrist" was playing and it seemed apt for the scenery, so tune of the day right there. At the top, it was then down to Kingussie and then Aviemore, where plenty of people seemed to be getting on the steam Strathspey railway. It was soon downhill all the way and we soon reached Inverness - bang on time too, so that was good.

I checked into the Wetherspoons lodge, The Kings Highway, which was to be my base for the next three days. The check-in was simple and efficient and I paid there and then (would have been nice to pay in advance, but hey ho) and got the key cards for my room. The room was on the top floor and really clean and comfortable - nice big bed, powerful shower over bath with loo, plenty of bath and hand towels and a towel rail, a wardrobe with even a trouser press, tea, coffee, hairdryer and 26" Samsung LCD Freeview telly! I know, not too bad at all really and pretty much worth the £54 a night I paid for the room anyway.

I ventured out into the city of Inverness and soon found myself on the walk up to the castle. It's one of the few castles I know that is still used as a public building (the Sheriff's Court no less) and as such isn't open to the public. The castle does dominate the cityscape though, the views over the city are good and the castle is in excellent condition. I walked down over Ness Bridge and walked down the river, back over a wobbly footbridge and then back along the Ness Walk, past St Andrew's Cathedral and the Eden Court theatre. Carrying on down river, you then got to cross the bridge to Ness Island, a small island right in the middle of the River Ness.

Walking through the Island was very pleasant and the view from the Island looking downriver towards the city really made it a good view too - and soon on the other side of the river you head down Ladies' Walk and back past the castle and to the city centre. It was a good walk and I was glad I did it (around two and a half miles in all) and certainly gave me some bearings into how the city is partly shaped by the river. It was good to head back to the lodge and relax and keep an eye on the news, and then later on unpack everything, borrow an iron and re-iron the shirts I'd taken, and then head out for something to eat.

I decided to head to the Wetherspoons next to the lodge as it was the steak night, so nice big sirloin steak with all the trimmings and a nice pint of a local ale for a mere £5.99. Couldn't argue with that of course, and once I'd scoffed that it was time to head for another little walk down river and sample more of the town, and certainly the riverside restaurants were doing a roaring trade. It was good to see which ones seemed popular as I'd decided that on the final night I was going to eat in one of them and make the end just that little bit nicer. For now it was good to head back later to a comfortable bed and crash out, with plenty planned for tomorrow.

Monday 26th July - Ready To Go

It is a nice feeling when you get up and don't have to go to work, isn't it? Well, I think so anyway. It was the first day of a week off for me and I'll be heading up to Scotland tomorrow, which will be nice. I'm pretty excited about the whole thing even if the weather might not be 100%, mainly because it's some quality time away for me and it'll also mean that I get to do more exploring, which is what it's all about. I spent a fair bit of time this morning working out what to take and also how I'd pack everything in my weekend roller case. It actually worked out well and even got my walker trainers in there - handy for being out and about during the day particularly as some of the places I'll be visiting might be a bit rugged.

I also tidied the house a fair bit too - although I had done a fair chunk of that on the Saturday to make life easier for me, and even cleared out all the waste paper for recycling as well as any glass, cans or plastic bottles as well. Since we've had the blue and brown recycling bins close to my house it's meant that it's been easier to recycle and also easier for me to feel a bit more greener in terms of doing things the right way. I reckon I use one black bin bag every two weeks now for standard rubbish, down almost a whole bag, simply because of the ease of recycling now, so that's good.

Mum rung to make sure I had everything in hand, which I did, and one thing I did think about making sure I printed off the reservation for where I am staying so I could have that with me, and finding my combi lock for the case for a bit more security too - got both of those sorted, made sure the phone and iPod were fully charged before packing the chargers, and then made sure that I'd put everything in the right place. And be all good to go. I'm so excited and I just can't hide it!

Tune of the day has to be a track from Kristin Hersh's album "Crooked" simply because it's a thing of beauty and something I might have to be listening to a fair few times over the next few days. "Mississippi Kite" really does start the album off with feeling and a slight tinge of anger in there too, and is definitely pretty intense when she plays it live (as I'll know from recent gigs!). So there we are. Right, time to have a coffee and relax I think!

Sunday 25th July - Zouk Alors!

It was a nice relaxing morning this morning as we both pottered about and did what we needed to do. I made us some bacon toasties for breakfast and we sat and relaxed for a bit before getting ready to get changed and to head out later. We were meeting up with some of The Flowers In My Garden's family for a birthday meal, and also that would mean a nice time out in the city centre as well. We had a bit of time spare, so we both headed over to my Mum's first for a chat and a cuppa there, which was nice all round - the two of them get on famously so it was nice to just relax and let them be all girlie. I know.

We then headed into the city centre and stopped off at the Cornerhouse for a drink, and admittedly was admiring the brunch that a couple on a table close to us were having - their Eggs Benedict looked rather lovely and the ltitle cakes to go with it really made for a nice time all round. We were thinking that one Sunday morning we'd have to head there and do the little brunch ourselves and be all cosmpolitan style, well you know how it is. We finished our drink there and it was soon time to head onwards and to meet her family at where we were eating.

We soon arrived at Zouk, a contemporary Indian restaurant close to BBC Manchester and the Universities, and they had had a good reputation for excellent food at good prices. Well, if today's visit was anything to go by, then I'd have to agree with that sentiment. Everyone's food looked very lovely and well cooked, and because for a lot of dishes they are cooked on a Sigri charcoal grill which burns the fat off and leaves the good stuff, it's also reasonably healthy too. In fact, I was tempted to have lots of little starters instead of a main, but then when I saw the main dishes I worked out what I was having - salmon!

Anyway, we ordered the starters and I went and had the chicken imlee - lovely barbecued pieces of chicken with a plum and tamarind sauce which had just the right amount of kick. As they were getting ready to prepare the mains, one of the staff came over and explained that they'd ran out of salmon and would I like anything else instead. I plumped for the sea bass, and that was an inspired move. It was gorgeous. The sea bass was lovely and soft and well cooked, the fish very white and spot on, and the lemon rice I ordered to go with it really did compliment it well. I'd easily have that again no problem and it was the first time I'd had sea bass in absolutely ages!

We relaxed afterwards in the bar and even noticed that they had Black Sheep at the bar. That was good, although of course they did make the classic mistake of putting real ale bottles in the fridge, something that does bug me a little. It was a nice way to wind down after the meal though and it was lovely to see lots of The Flowers' family and have a nice time with them all round. A very enjoyable time and it was a real feeling of sadness as The Flowers and I headed our own ways home.

I watched the F1 later and I have to say that Ferrari were way out of order by doing what they did with the team orders. It was so obvious to the public watching what went on, and I have to agree with Eddie Jordan on this one - they broke the rules and should have been punished. I'd love to see the World Motorsports Council retroactively disqualify the team and take their points away, that'd be fair. It just makes me wonder about how much the sport is going to be damaged by it though, especially as some of the other F1 teams noted how obvious the team order was. Hmm.. Tune of the day is "Liar" by Rollins Band, as that's what all of Ferrari were today and it's also a kick ass tune.

Saturday 24th July - The Bathroom and The Claw

It was a fairly busy day for me today as I decided to head to Wilkinsons in Droylsden to get some bits for my forthcoming short break, and indeed to see what other stuff that they had in. I was also on a little bit of a mission for The Flowers In My Garden to get some bits and bobs and so managed that at the same time. I did get what I needed, mainly some shampoo, razor blades, shaving gel and shower gel, that sort of thing. I then was looking at the bathroom accessories that they had and thought it might be a nice idea to do up the bathroom a bit. Some of the old bits I have in there are looking their part and not that great and a spruce up would be just what I needed. Soon I had everything that I was after and it was a good journey back to mine with it all.

I soon realised that I couldn't use the existing holes where I'd previously had the previous bits in, and so it was off to one of the local shops and bought a drill and some drill bits for not that much money, so that was good too. I felt like it was the right thing to do anyway as I'd always have it for anything I needed further down the line. Once that was done, I measured everything up and found that for the towel ring and the toilet roll holder, I could use one of the existing holes and then just drill another one further down so that the bracket housing would be on there, and for the glass shelf I was going to fit above the sink, I'd need four holes for the brackets on each side to hold the shelf in, and that worked out rather well too.

Once all the holes were drilled, I managed to put on all the tops of the holders with the grub screw provided, and once done it looked much much better. It actually matches the cream colour in the sink taps and the cream and chrome looks pretty nice and fits in with the overall style of the bathroom too. If you want to see what I got, then it's part of the Wilkinson Oslo range - so it was the glass shelf, the towel ring and the toilet roll holder. They all co-ordinate really well and the only reason I didn't get the towel rail to go with it is because my existing one is actually fine and in chrome too - but if I needed to change it, I know that I could if I wanted to and have that one put up - so no dilemma there really. I also got the accessory set with soap dispenser, tumbler, soap dish and toothbrush holder, which now sit on the shelf.

It was nice to see that when The Flowers came over later, she appreciated what a difference it made to the bathroom and how much nicer it made it. We had a coffee and then later I made us some tea - did some gammon steaks with charlotte potatoes and carrots, which went down well. We then set off in the direction of the city centre because, for the first time in ages, we were going to the cinema. And what were we going to see? Toy Story 3! And yes, before you ask, that was my idea. I love the Pixar films generally and as I've always loved Toy Story (especially those aliens!) then I simply had to head there and see it.

At work we both get little incentives and one of them is that we get in to AMC Cinemas in Manchester at student rate, which works out at £4.50 for a film, not too bad that. We resisted going 3D, which although would have been nice, would have tired the eyes out and I wanted to concentrate on the story and the characters more. In the end it proved to be a good decision - the cinema was pretty busy but not heaving full and we got some comfortable seats near the top to get a good view of it all. The trailers came and went as did the short film Day and Night, and then off we went into Toy Story 3 itself..

.. and wow! What a film that was. I won't spoil it too much for you here, but I simply offer you this advice. Go and see it. Now. You'll be pleased that you did. The characters are as lovable as ever, notably even more so in this instalment Jessie and Slink, bless him. However, the aliens have a great part to play and their phrase "The claaaaaaaw!" comes into play at some point - not telling you when though. Simply put it's so well made with so many little neat touches - like the first time Ken meets Barbie, you get Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" in the background (make that tune of the day) which of course references Wayne's World when Wayne sees Cassandra - I spotted that one straight off!

Needless to say it was wonderful and yes, I did cry at the end, unashamedly. You'll do the same when you see it if you have a heart, believe me. You'll have to watch it to find out. And we had a great time watching it and I'll have to circle the date in red when it comes out on DVD methinks. I'm going to have to have it, definitely. It's not often that you get three great films in a trilogy either but I can safely say that this one is right up there with, if not better than, the first two. Yaay Pixar.

Friday 23rd July - Someday My PRINCE2 Will Come

I was at work today and finalising a few things and cleaning them up before I headed away on leave for a week. I wanted to be able to have a clean desk and also be able to feel like I could go home knowing stuff would be done next week and not worry. I finished off another laptop today and at least had it imaged and ready for the member of staff so that when I get back I could dish it straight out to them without having to do anything else, so that was all good. I also had a team meeting with some of the team today so we could thrash out what we needed to do in the next year or so, and what was the most pressing task that we had to do in the meantime.

It was at this point in the afternoon that I got an email which made my day. Not a thank you from a member of staff (although I had two of those yesterday and that pleased me no end too I should add) but an email I'd been waiting for since last Friday when I took the PRINCE2 practitioner examination. When my colleague emailed me to say that she'd got hers and passed, I was thinking "that's excellent" and hoped I'd done the same. I then got the email and opened it with some trepidation, thinking that I'd flunked the exam.

In fact I had nothing to worry about. The email was from the place I did the course at to say that they'd had the marks back from the exam board and were pleased to announce that I had passed the PRINCE2 practitioner qualification. Like, yaay! I was so pleased with myself, and rightly so. My manager told me earlier today that he thought that the exam was a bit of a bitch to do, and he'd passed, so that kind of reassured me that I might have done well. Plus I know that from experience that you always think you've done not so well in an exam when you come out of it but in hindsight (with it being a wonderful thing and all) so there you go.

Of course, the first person I wanted to know was The Milk In My Cereal so I texted her first and waited for her reaction (she was chuffed) and then I told my colleagues in the office and they were really pleased for me. It was good to feel supported by them and that made me feel happy. I let some of my friends know too and they were all thrilled, as am I. I know that it may only seem a qualification, but it's the first time in years that I've done an examination in anger that was so hard, and I feel like it's a positive I can still do them. Plus of course PRINCE2 is recognised all over the world too, so who knows what will happen?

Tune of the day in the meantime is "In Every Dream Home A Heartache" by Roxy Music. Apparently Jonathan Ross wanted them to play it on his farewell show last Friday but the two songs that were transmitted were "Love Is The Drug" and "Virginia Plain" because his wife said that the more chart-friendly ones would work better. Anyway, what he didn't realise was that after they'd done those two songs, they started up playing again and did the whole song for him, with Ross being such a fanboy of the band you can imagine he was well chuffed. And so was I. The video's here for your enjoyment, and it's bloody great!

Thursday 22nd July - Here's Where The Week Almost Ends

It was all pretty much good to go today in the office. I got the first of the new laptops rolled out to one of the members of staff and they were very pleased that they got it. I took all their old PC kit away and showed them how everything works. They were very pleased with it all and it also meant that they were able to get on with things nicely. I was pretty pleased to see that they were appreciative of the work that we'd done and that we were then able to show that we'd been working hard on the quality side of things.

It was lovely to see The Milk In My Cereal later and we were able to catch up a little before settling in with some chicken for tea and keeping one eye on Corrie as well for her. Now I don't watch it, but is it me or is that Charlotte character right cringeworthy? It seems clear to me that she wants her man at any cost and to be honest it's all going to be heading for a big fall sometime in the future - I can see it coming. And it looks like Sophie and Sîan might have to come out in the open, so to speak. Who'd have thought that eh? Maybe though that's also why I don't watch the soaps per se because you end up having your life taken over by them when there's better things to do.

We dug out the Scrabble whilst The Milk was keeping an eye on Location Location Location on Channel 4 +1. I really don't like Kirstie that much, I find her a little bit patronising, but I guess the two of them know what they're talking about when it comes to house hunting, and I guess the nosey side of me wants to see how the other rich halves live. You never see any couple on the programme with a budget of around £60K or so to buy a house, do you? They're all well high earners who are buying in really neat little villages in the countryside - and usually all pretty posh. Maybe the working class side of me thinks that that's why I don't like it so much?

The time went too fast with The Milk, as it always does, and I know that when I'm not with her I do miss her terribly. It was nice to have a snuggle later on and just have some quality time together, and more than that I know that when I think about where I was a few years ago to where I am now, it makes me realise even more how lucky I am. Tune of the day incidentally is "Here's Where The Story Ends" by The Sundays. In case you're wondering why, as I was walking home from the bus stop tonight I heard someone's phone on too loud and playing the rubbish Tin Tin Out version, so I needed the original to feel that proper sense of karma. Yaay.

Wednesday 21st July - Online Ordering - It's The Future!

After another productive day in the office where I finally nailed down the new laptop image for the new laptops due to the software licence codes arriving (and cleverly using Zenworks Image Explorer to update the image without having to faff about with bringing it down, changing it and re-imaging it again!) it was time to head off to Debenhams in Manchester to pick up an order that I'd done online a few days ago. You see, they had had a blue cross sale with plenty of money off certain items, and last weekend it was also another 10% off the sale price on top.

I had been eyeing some Jeff Banks straight cut black jeans for a while and they'd been reduced from £36 to £18, and then with the 10% discount that meant £16.20. I ordered them on Friday and got an email Tuesday evening to say that they could be picked up from my local store (which is in the city centre of Manchester). They don't charge extra for this service so you save the £4 postage costs by doing so (and if you have a bus ticket for unlimited travel like me, then it doesn't cost you anything, or of course if you work in the city centre anyway you're already there aren't you?) It also meant that I could eye a bargain and still be able to get it at my convenience, so win win all round I think.

I went to the third floor collection point and handed them my collection email which had all the details that they needed. Off went the assistant and around thirty seconds later produced a bag with my name on. They verified the card details against what had been paid and less than a minute later I was there with my item in a sealed bag with a handle (clever idea) and job well done. It just makes me wonder why all online ordering isn't as easy as this. The Milk In My Cereal has done that herself too when ordering her gorgeous dress for the long service award event we went to, and it saves traipsing through the shop to find the size you want, so it's in, get what you've ordered, go home. My sort of shopping that!

I tried them on when I got home and they fit really well and even have a button instead of a zip fly too, so that worked out rather well. I do kind of wish I'd ordered two pairs as they're now out of stock in my size, but best to try one and see how they go before committing too much money. It also proves that if you are prepared to shop around and grab yourself a bargain, you can do so can't you? Tune of the day is "Shopping" by the Pet Shop Boys - seemed kind of true about my day somehow.

Tuesday 20th July - AFP, Easy As One Two Three

Well I'm very pleased to report that I managed to resolve the problem from late yesterday that was bugging me at work. Amazing what a night's sleep and a few fresh thoughts can do for you isn't it? What transpired was that the Macs were accessing the cluster share using CIFS, which normally works well but can be a little flaky on older versions of Mac OS X, and also doesn't always play ball too well if the server has had any upgrades. Now not knowing this, I wasn't 100% sure if I was able to replicate what had been done to the server, so it was a case of thinking "well hang on, won't AFP do the job just as well?"

In case you're wondering, AFP is Apple File Protocol, and it's used to communicate with other servers. Netware servers and clusters do support AFP, it's just a case of configuring it correctly. I had noticed that this was a server that had attempted to be configured by AFP before but for some reason failed. Most of it looked correct - the contexts were present in the right configuration file, AFPTCP was up and running on the server, and the cluster also had AFP enabled (including the relevant nodes). However, one bit of information was missing which made all the difference - the alias name in AFPVOL.CFG!

This file allows "alias" names to be given to Netware volumes so that when you connect with AFP on a Mac, the alias name translates itself to the path of the server volume. Now, the alias name has to be surrounded with quote marks, even if it is only one word! And looking at the existing configurartion file it was easy to spot what went wrong. So, we had a file like this example (I'm not giving you the real one here incidentally, confidentiality and all that) which should explain it:


The first part with the dot is right as it refers to the server's name and volume, but the alias name needs to be addressed correctly, so changing this to:


works perfectly well. Once the change was made to this file and saved out, you then simply have to unload and reload AFPTCP on the relevant server (not a difficult job to do, you can do this via Remote Manager if you don't want to access the server console) and then when I attempted to access the server's shared area via its IP address and shared alias (for example it then asks me for the relevant ID and password, and in you go. Needless to say the staff it affected were pleased, and I showed them how to add an alias shortcut on the Mac so that they could click it, and they'd just need to enter the ID and password to get to the server automatically. Isn't stuff great when it works?

I felt pretty chuffed to bits, and so had an enjoyable evening later when The Milk In My Cereal came over for the evening. I made us some lovely piri piri chicken with some charlotte potatoes and baby carrots, which went down rather nicely. I even allowed her to watch the wedding programme on BBC Three where the groom has to do all the planning in three weeks for the bride's wedding. The couple looked like they were from Altrincham somewhere and he went the whole hog and hired a castle in Tarporley to do the wedding, which actually looked quite romantic. And he even managed to get her a nice dress!

We then took things nice and easy later on and relaxed and chilled out, which was good. I think that sometimes you just need that bit of wind down time in order to be able to fully unwind from the day. And talking of unwinding, tune of the day is "Stone Cold Crazy" by Queen, as I had a bit of a bash on Guitar Hero Metallica before The Milk came over - and even got 99% on medium and five stars, my best ever effort on that track, so that was good stuff. See, I can really do things when I put my mind to it!

Monday 19th July - Let It Rain

After all the talk of hosepipe bans and so on, what has it done continually in Manchester these last few days? Rain. And rain. And rain a bit more. And then rain again. And today was no exception whatsoever, with the rain positively bucketing it down. However, I was hoping that constant rain might be able to knock down the humidity a bit - it always gets close when it chucks it down and you do worry a little about getting all hot and sweaty (not very attractive I have to say).

It felt odd being back at work today after the week long intensive course that I had, and having to remember to get my normal bus to work instead of the one I had been getting to the city centre. It was a busy day too with me sorting out a rather nasty infection on a laptop, which our normal antivirus product couldn't remove. I turned to the Kaspersky standalone TDSSKiller tool which got rid of the horrible rootkit type virus and did it first go - no mucking around or anything. Why can't all stuff work as well as this, I wondered to myself.

I left the office after attempting to tackle a Mac related problem with some Macs connecting to a Netware cluster server that's had its network address changed. I think I've sussed out what the problem is and will be doing some testing on the Mac in our office tomorrow. If it works then I might document the solution and present it here for you lovely readers, in case you have the same issue. I do think as well that somehow it might be related in the way in which it was all set up, but we shall see.

Tune of the day is "Getting Away With It" by Electronic, still one of my favourite late 80s/early 90s singles and showed just how well you could work as a supergroup if you so desired. Johnny Marr on guitar, Bernard Sumner on vocals and guest vocals on this one by Neil Tennant, say no more really. And it has one of the best opening lines ever: "I've been walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose" and sometimes that's how you feel when you've had a tough day, believe me.

Sunday 18th July - A Grand Torrs

The weather started off chucking it down this morning but thankfully had cleared up enough by the early afternoon where I was joined by The Flowers In My Garden for the remainder of the day. She had enjoyed a relaxing early night's sleep and lie in whilst I was over seeing Kristin Hersh, and she looked particularly lovely and radiant today. We had a coffee and a chat to catch up and told her all about how good Kristin was (as if you couldn't guess) and we thought about where we could go for a walk. She said that getting some fresh air would be nice, and I had to agree.

So off we headed later in the direction of New Mills, taking a scenic route through Marple and down through Strines into New Mills itself. We thankfully found a car park in the town centre and it was free on a Sunday too, so that pleased The Flowers no end. From there it was a walk down a cobbled hill and then another walk down some more hills and to the Torrs themselves. In case you're wondering, the Torrs are the deep gorges that carry the River Goyt deep underneath the town itself but you can also walk by the river too, which makes for a very nice scenic walk.

We headed past the hydro electricity generator, which creates electricity for the local Co-Op no less, and then walked under one of the large viaducts and onward towards the Torrs Millennium Walkway, a bridge opened in 2000 which means you can walk along the river bank uninterrupted. The bridge is at one end supported by steel girders sunk into the river bed, and the other by the large wall which supports the train line up above. It's a really nice little bridge to cross and the views over the river and to the derelict Torr Vale Mill are rather lovely.

In fact, we crossed the old river bridge near the Torr Vale Mill and walked around the path that takes you past the derelict mill. It's a UK grade two listed building which means you can't just knock it down, and hopefully the locals are planning to have it made into a heritage centre for the mills of the area, which would be a nice touch. We followed the path uphill and then around the mill, along past a street and pub and then back down the hill and across a bridge to the hydro generator, thus showing the old way you'd have had to go before the walkway bridge was built - and not for the faint hearted either as it was all up and down hills!

It was nice to have a look around the Heritage Centre back in the town and there's a view point where you can look down and see the Millennium Walkway, the mill and the river in one gorgeous shot, and you could even spot the train line if you wished to do so. It truly was a feat of engineering and you have to admire just how well made it is. We then headed back over the country road towards Mellor, and stopped off on the way at the pub, The Pack Horse Inn, for a well earned drink. The pub was lovely and it even did cask ale too, so I treated myself to one - my only pint of the week, no less. That was nice to enjoy and savour and watch the world go by.

Later on I made us some tea and we had the Scrabble out again whilst we listened to the rather lovely Julie Atherton album "A Girl of Few Words". I'm going to make the title track tune of the day because she sings it rather nicely with passion and verve, and it also proves what a good move it was casting her as Kate Monster in Avenue Q all those many years ago - and occasionally she does still do that role too. Yaay. I think when you sing with passion and gusto, it really does come out to the listener. Her second album is out soon, and she covers "Weak" by Skunk Anansie. Wow!

Saturday 17th July - Crooked in Liverpool

I spent some time this morning heading around Prestwich and notably one of the record shops there, Endless. It did feel like going back in time a little bit mainly because you had to press a buzzer on the door to be let in, and then you could happily mooch around and see what vinyl that they had. It was a good stock selection although confusingly there weren't many prices on the vinyl themselves so you wouldn't have a chance of knowing how much each item would cost unless you took it to the counter and asked. They did also have a room with plenty of 7" singles, and for some reason a shed load of Star Wars stuff, go figure.

This afternoon was then catching up with the Open golf, and it seemed that after last night's wind and weather it had taken its toll on some of the golfers, so the cut of +2 was a little generous but still meant that only around 75 players would qualify. It was a day of contrast as it seemed with some of the early starters getting a good round in before the wind decided to head up again and cause a few worries. What I did notice though was that plenty of long range putts were going in, incredible stuff really. One of them was from what looked like a mile away yet it was tucked in beautifully as well. Makes me almost want to play to be honest.

It was then time to head into the city centre and get the train over to Liverpool to see Kristin Hersh. The venue had been moved to the O2 Academy 2, which has stairs all the way up to it and even stairs from the bar to the stage itself. It's not exactly the largest venue which makes it feel all the more intimate, but at the same time it can be unfeasibly hot in there (I remembered from seeing Ben's Brother in 2008 to be honest) so it was a case of seeing if any aircon was on and standing there for a bit. But that was to come later. First I needed something for my tea and off I headed in the direction of the city centre.

Most of the pubs and bars were pretty rammed and full of stag and hen dos, not what I wanted to see really. I thought for a moment and spotted a Pizza Hut close by, which had a table free for me but was also much more civilised, so in I went and had a two course deal thingy, a nice garlic mushroom starter followed by a meat feast Italian style pizza. Just the job really, and that set me up nicely for the evening's entertainment. I headed in the O2 Academy 2, got myself a cold drink and then took it easy to watch the support bands.

First up were Kill Joys (myspace) who were okay of sorts, but you could tell that they were still learning their craft and getting rocking. No bad thing, and the songs sounded fine, but I wouldn't resort to having everyone clapping along with some of their songs just yet - they've not reached the stadium yet you know. Out of theirs, "A Piece of Paper For Your Thoughts" was about the best one, although some of the songs went on a bit too long and droned a bit. Making them shorter would also make them better to my ears.

Next were Frankincense (myspace) and they were better. They were a five piece fronted by a female singer who certainly did have a good voice and a sense of stage presence as well. Their songs were a bit shorter and more punchy for it, and they seemed to have a little local fanbase with them as well. Because of their clarity of voice and instruments, it was nicer on the ear with tracks like "Sugar Mountain" really making a good listen. They reminded me a little of some 80s/90s indie rock band combo, with plenty of attitude in a good way. They were enjoyable fun and certainly made the time go quickly.

But of course most of the fans had come to see Kristin Hersh (official site) and were rewarded with an intimate and warm set of a good cross-section of her repertoire, including stuff from the new album "Crooked" which of course had to get an airing. It was great to hear "Sand" sung with real passion, and she even threw in a couple of Throwing Muses songs as well. It was good to see that most of the crowd had the respect to stay quiet during the songs and allow her to express herself musically, with her little head sways from side to side being somewhat hypnotic for the likes of me as a fan.

It was hard to pick out a particular favourite, although I was really pleased to hear "Your Dirty Answer" as even with just one guitar it sounds beautifully angry, and indeed the slow melodic "Sno Cat" got an airing too which pleased me. I even got a nice rendition of "Teeth" way back from "Hips and Makers" which I adore, so that's going to be tune of the day for me, very closely followed by "Flooding" which even without the piano sounds really raw and emotional, which is what I love about it. And she even did a couple of requests during the encore including "Deep Wilson" and "Snake Oil" too, both from "The Grotto" so that worked out nicely.

Afterwards the merchandise booth opened and Kristin and her husband and manager Billy managed to sell quite a few books of "Crooked" (over here it's only in book form with a web link to download the album etc) and it was good to see the queue of people wanting to buy it. The fact she was signing them might have helped too, but even so it was good to see that so many people who didn't have it wanted it, and that had to be a positive thing I thought to myself. It was also good to spot a few diehard fans and chat to them too, so overall the night was a good one for me.

I headed on the train to Manchester Victoria from Liverpool and it was a pretty eventful journey, mainly because a lot of people take the train home from a night out and they were full of high spirits, no bad thing of course but it was interesting to see how people were when they're merry. Some resulted in singing and some resulted in falling asleep, highly amusing to see when you're not drunk actually. Still, after a walk from Victoria to the night bus home I was ready for a sleep virtually as I walked through the door!

Friday 16th July - A Thorough Examination

I sat the PRINCE2 practitioner examination today. And I can now understand simply why it was good to do the first three days of foundation as a refresher. Simply because it was bloody hard. There's nine questions and parts to each questions, and in all there's 12 marks per question and from that you then get totted up out of 108 (a strange number I know). You then have to get 59 (55%) to pass the examination which might not sound a massive number, but when some of the questions require you to give two possible answers from the six that's there you soon realise just how difficult it might actually be!

One of the questions I think I did okay with was one where you had five actions and you had to match them with what order you'd undertake them in risk management. What I did was refer to the PRINCE2 manual (which you are allowed to in the exam!) and the steps were there with notes on each one. Of course from that it was then a case of narrowing down which bit corresponded to which section and go from there. The red herring was that you'd create a Highlight Report, which you don't do - it's time driven, and going into an exception for exceeding risk or whatever is event-driven, and so I think I got all 5 out of 5 possible marks for that. Whether I passed remains to be seen - I didn't feel that confident to be honest.

I headed over to see The Flowers In My Garden and we relaxed at hers and she even made me some lovely tea as well - some steak with potatoes and vegetables, which was very nice indeed. I felt rather full and left one of the potatoes which was good for me, as it meant that I didn't overdo the food side of things either. We later relaxed with a game of Scrabble (she has the Travel edition borrowed off me ready for when she heads away on holiday) and so it was good to have a blast of that and see how we did. I ended up doing a couple of nice moves, and three of them scored 30, a bit unusual that!

Later on we saw the last ever Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. It was good to have David Beckham interviewed and he actually came across pretty well, putting the blame firmly at the players for letting the country down during the World Cup, which was honest enough to see. He also explained how he'd been to Afghanistan and was there with the troops and explained just why it was important for them to be able to be recognised as doing such a good job in terms of what they have to face, which was honourable. On came Roxy Music and it was good to see them do Virginia Plain (tune of the day) and then Love is the Drug. Of course I would have been tempted to see them in January 2011 live but a) it's the MEN Arena and I don't do arena gigs, and b) it's £65 per ticket, not including ripoff booking fee. What the hell?

Thursday 15th July - Pay Day Is The Best Day

Another day of the PRINCE2 course, but this time giving you some useful practice to see how the practitioner paper is actually laid out and what you have to do to get a correct answer. Of course, it's not easy at all and to be honest I did think that I would do pretty badly. But at least I did get through some of the questioning and be able to understand the rationale just why the answer was what it was, so that was good. I must admit that I am not looking forward to the exam tomorrow, but I'll do what I can to pass it!

I spent the evening having a rather nice time with The Flowers In My Garden and two of my friends, as we headed out for a meal. Our sort of plan is that we try different places and see what they're like, and we can always go back to the ones that we really do like the look of in future. This in turn gives us more choice in future if we fancy eating out. Tonight we headed to The Ashlea in Cheadle, which wasn't too far for all of us to head to. It was a nice relaxed ambience in there and indeed it was also good to be able to see that even though it was nice, they were planning some refurbishment work to the place too.

We ordered the food etc and then sat back and relaxed and chatted away. The nice thing is that we're all comfortable chatting together anyway, so we were able to talk about all sorts and generally catch up. What was good was that the waitress told us that there were only two mushroom soups left (three of us had ordered it) so I let my friends have the two, and I asked her to swap for another starter - which they did without charge. Actually that proved to be a good move because the mushrooms with stilton on a base of some nice crunchy bread did work really well and I loved that. The gammon for main was excellent too no problem there.

It was good to sit with a coffee afterwards (I know, very cosmopolitan!) and have more chat and we couldn't help but noticing the 1980s music going on in the background. It turned out that there was a quiz on and it was name that tune. Of course with most of us remembering the 80s tunes well we got them all from where we were sat, including Soft Cell's version of "Tainted Love" and as The Flowers loves that song to bits, it simply has to be tune of the day. Of course being paid today also made it nice as we were both able to afford to eat out and have a nice time, so all well and good with the world there I reckon.

Wednesday 14th July - Withington Wonderland

After all the topics of the course were covered this afternoon, it was time to head homeward. But not straight home, oh no. In a flash of inspiration I decided that as the traffic is normally a little lighter on a Wednesday afternoon, I would head to do some record shopping instead. I'm on the elusive hunt for The Cygnet Ring's "Hopeful Monsters" album which to be honest is going to be a very tough search for me. However, all the little record shops might be a good place to start and I could look at all the other vinyl at the same time whilst I was there.

So it was off to Deco in Withington, a suburb of Manchester for those of you who don't know, and I knew where it was - just tucked away behind some of the shops in the centre. Upon entering the shop owner had Patti Smith's "Easter" album on, which was a good choice in my view. The vinyl there was pretty plentiful and I do think that they were struggling to stock it all to make it easy to access for people. I did notice no less than three copies of Pop Will Eat Itself's "Can U Dig It?" on 12" single along with various Inspiral Carpets releases and other 80s-90s indie stuff scattered in the racks and boxes of vinyl, which was good.

I also spotted that they even had plenty of CDs, although the vinyl got more of my interest as I was able to see what was out there and what also I could find. Most of it wasn't categorised or in alphabetical order so it was a case of having to trawl through the racks and see what could be found. I did also spot some nice Primitives 12"s as well so the C86 indie stock in general was well represented throughout. It was a very nice almost an hour or so spent in there enjoying the ambience and browsing around for vinyl. There's a place in Prestwich north of the City that I might have to check out at the weekend and see what I can find there. See what a cleaned up and spruced up turntable can do?

Tune of the day is "My Apocalypse" by Metallica from their Death Magnetic album. It's a pretty good album closer and it's one of the few songs on Guitar Hero Metallica that I really do struggle a lot with on medium drums, mainly because the main beat is a little off what you'd expect to be, and trying to keep up isn't that easy. It is a pretty full on fast paced number though, and shows how that album really does remind me a bit of the older style Metallica, which has to be a good thing doesn't it?

Tuesday 13th July - Scrabble Lemonade

Another day of the course done and dusted, and another good refresher day to get my head around the proceses, themes and principles of PRINCE2. It's always intriguing to see how other people see it and the group that I am in are a nice bunch of people. Because of the different backgrounds that people have it's also useful to be able to get some input from them into how they've also experienced the project management side and if it's actually been relevant to them. I did another go at the mock exam tonight (just for refreshing fun) and did pretty well, so I did feel pleased with myself.

Later on The Ice In My Glass came over for the evening so that was as lovely as ever. In fact we had a coffee and caught up with things, and then also got on with the tea. I did us pasta with some fresh meatballs that I'd bought from Tesco over the weekend, and they cooked a treat. It was good to have a nice bit of a carbohydrate meal for a change to keep the energy levels nice and high, although of course I made sure I didn't make as much as I'd normally do to be sure of keeping up the diet where possible. I do want to try and lose weight and if I can do so and just cut out the crap then all well and good.

After tea, we then settled in for a bit to watch this thing on BBC Three about where the bloke has to plan the wedding for his wife to be. They both lived around the Leeds area and ideally the bloke wanted Turin Brakes to play at their wedding - as if that was going to happen! He did though pick a good brides' dress and also even though the venue was a country pub, it did look rather nice and intimate along with a good car. The make up person clearly wasn't popular though with the bride, and the groom did forget that the bridesmaids might have also needed make up and hair doing. But it went okay in the end, so I guess that's something. Mind you, even if I was getting married, I wouldn't put myself through the humiliation of all that. The Ice loves trashy stuff like that, the bitch fest that is Four Weddings on Living TV and Wedding TV channel, but hey, that's just being a girly girl isn't it?

Later on I played The Floe's album "No Looking Back" which got the thumbs up from The Ice, and whilst that was on out came the Scrabble de Luxe for a game. I was quite pleased with the scoring from us both later on, with me doing JOY, OW and YE for 41, and then The Ice almost matched that with WAVES on triple word score for 36. The E in that word became rather handy though as I ended up playing LEMONADE (blank used as D and the end E being in WAVES) which scored a massive 72 including a 50 point bonus for getting rid of all my letters. Not done that for a bit so I did feel pretty pleased with myself.

Tune of the day is going to have to be a song by The Floe, who are fast becoming one of my favourite bands I've heard this year. "Glove" is a simple and beautiful composition, with mainly just acoustic guitar and Sarah's vocals doing the job wonderfully well. Sometimes it's just the more sparse stuff that works on an emotional level and just makes me want to cuddle up to The Ice late at night together, it's that sort of song. Isn't it lovely sometimes how bands you see end up being dead good? Well, I think so.

Monday 12th July - Of Course It Is!

It was off to one of our training providers today as I had managed to take the place of one of my work colleagues and go on the combined PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner course. The plan was that I could use the foundation days for a refresher before taking the Practitioner examination later in the week and it also meant that I was able to take that now instead of waiting for next year. I was also able to explain to the course tutor the situation and he was happy for me not to do the exam, as I still had the candidate number and everything, so that was good.

I headed out at lunch time and to Timpson's on Piccadilly. Ages ago my watch battery had run out and they swapped it for me and also fitted it, and they offered a lifetime guarantee for any future batteries if it ran out. As mine had conked out, I simply went in there with the watch and guarantee and asked them if it was okay for them to swap the battery out. They asked me to head back in fifteen minutes and sure enough when I got back there, all was well and it was all sorted out. Sounds weird, but I do feel naked without a watch on for some reason, I've been so used to having one on the left hand and being able to know what time it is instantly.

I guess as well that I had a bit of time to do some revision tonight and it was clear to me how much of it all came flooding back to me. It's one of those difficult subjects to get your head round, but the terminology is the key thing - if you can work out that, the roles and responsiblities as well as then formulating what documents are needed and when, and how the stages work in terms of being controlled, then that has to be a good thing. Of course if you did the pre-course reading it does help as well to give you an idea of what's out there - and certainly the advice still holds well there. Ah well, will do the mock exam again anyway for good practice!

Tune of the day is "War Inside My Head" by Suicidal Tendencies. It is kind of what's going on when I need to think about stuff that's really difficult, but also because I really do like ST, and this for me is one of their defining tracks what they do. Oh and I can do well on this track on Guitar Hero Metallica as well - so just thought I'd throw that one in at the same time!

Sunday 11th July - Spanish Delight

It was a nice sporting day for me, so first off was the F1 from Silverstone. I liked the look of the new track layout from qualifying and noticed how much work that they're doing on the new paddock and pits (between Club and Abbey is where they'll start in future incidentally) and also that the fans came out in their droves to cheer on mainly Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Lewis in 4th could do something whilst for Button in 14th was damage limitation. The build up was good but having Lewis and Jenson in the pub with the annoying gits that are Al Murray and Chris Moyles was perhaps not the best move ever.

The race itself was pretty good - Sebastian Vettel suffered an early puncture due to a first corner clash, and Mark Webber surged ahead with Hamilton in close pursuit. Button meanwhile had overtaken plenty of cars on the first lap and moved from 14th to 8th. He then managed his soft tyres well and pitted for hard tyres later than the drivers around him, which with his consistent speed effectively allowed him to jump some of the other drivers. With Fernando Alonso getting a drive through for an overtake on Robert Kubica against the regulations, and Kubica retiring that helped too, but Button drove well and was only just behind Nico Rosberg for 3rd place on the podium, so from 14th to 4th wasn't too bad at all.

Lewis Hamilton chased and chased Mark Webber, but he always had something in hand and would just churn off a fastest lap whenever he needed to. In the end it was a good win for the Aussie, and his telling remark to Red Bull team boss Christian Horner over the radio: "not bad for a number 2 driver" clearly shows how Mark feels (and the F1 paddock too it seems) about the team's bias towards Sebastian Vettel. It's a shame for Mark because the standings show he now has more points, which proves what a good driver he is. I think other teams would clamour to have him if he were to leave, let's just say that.

Later on myself and my uncle watched the World Cup final on BBC HD (I wasn't even thinking of watching it on ITV, their coverage has been bobbins) and that proved to be a major disappointment. To be fair though it wasn't Spain's fault as they tried to play but the Netherlands were content to try and kick the Spanish players at every opportunity. In fact the Dutch were lucky not to be down to nine men at half time, with Nigel de Jong's karate kick and Marc van Bommel's tackles from behind being particularly nasty ones. The second half proved a bit more of the same albeit with the odd break from Arjan Robben, and forced a cracking save from Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal to deny him.

As extra time loomed we both didn't want penalties and were cheering the Spanish on as they looked like the team who wanted to play in the right manner. Johnny Heitinga was sent off for the Netherlands for a second bookable offence, and with a few minutes left the Spanish surged forward and the ball was passed to Andres Iniesta on the right hand side, and he slammed it past the Netherlands goalkeeper for the only goal of the game with four minutes of extra time left. The Spanish hung on easily, the Netherlands players surrounded the English referee Howard Webb at the end of the game (whom I thought did a a decent job actually) and they were a bit pathetic really. So well done Spain!

Tune of the day happens to be something sort of Spanish-related actually, which makes perfect sense due to tonight's win. It's no less than "Spain" by Kristin Hersh from her album "Sunny Border Blue". It has a really soft and melodic feel to it but it's also a little bit of a sad feel too. It warms me up nicely for her gig on Saturday which I can't wait for!

Saturday 10th July - Goodbye Sky, Hello Record Shops

Last night I made a rather big decision in that I am getting rid of Sky TV. Well, the plan was to ring them up and give them the now standard 31 days' notice that I want to leave, and see if they could discount any of the package I have to try and keep me with them. As it stands, I pay £51 per month to Sky mainly because of the fact that I have the Sports and also HD, which in itself is a mere £10 per month (ouch). Even though there's more HD channels than other providers, Virgin Media and Freeview HD don't charge for their offerings and I think that the cost is preventing more people taking up the HD stuff.

Anyway, I was very articulate and reasoned with Sky about why I wanted to leave, and I did ask them if there was any possibility that they'd be able to reduce the charges. The person on the phone was very nice and went off the phone a couple of times to go and have a word with someone, but alas not. It was a tough decision, but in the end I thought "well if you can't do anything for me it's goodbye then" and promptly gave them the 31 days notice required. I did also explain that I'd previously got rid of Sky Broadband and Sky Talk because of their sudden terms and conditions changes (not to mention capping the broadband speed without prior notification) thinking they might try and sweeten me a bit to stick with them. Alas, not.

I don't strangely feel too sad about it. I can still after all use the Sky box as a Freesat type box if I want (although curiously you won't be able to watch BBC HD and ITV HD - for some reason Sky want to tie you into a HD subscription to watch those even though the channels are free to air) and to be honest, these days I'm out doing plenty of stuff including of course watch Man City at home all season with my friend (we renewed the season tickets the other day) and so watching TV isn't as needed as it might have been some time ago. Granted, I can't watch City away from home like I used to on Sky Sports, but there's always the pub if I'm really desperate, or even Match of the Day for highlights later. Plus there's the financial incentive. £51 per month saved (plus there's a potential £3 rise for the sports channels per month coming soon) over a few months would allow me to get a Freeview HD recorder hard drive box or even the über Panasonic one that does Blu-ray and DVD recording as well - thus ticking lots of boxes. Granted, maybe not as many HD channels but more than enough to contend with.

Today however it was a case of heading to Chorlton and to browse the record and charity shops on the trail of some elusive vinyl offerings. First stop was Kingbee Records on Wilbraham Road, and that's always a treasure trove of stuff to find. There was plenty for me to look at, collectors indie vinyl (lots of Man From Delmonte to tempt me for example) as well as plenty of stuff for a mere £1. I didn't buy anything but it was good to see lots of potential purchases if I wanted to, and of course CDs at a good price too. What's nice is that the vinyl is really well looked after and you can tell that it is.

It was then a nice walk along to some of the charity shops in the centre. Some of them were knocking out vinyl and CDs pretty cheap, and in fact one of them was selling CD singles for a mere 10p. I didn't find anything that I wanted, but it was good to be able to have a look anyway and I'm sure that someone will be happy if they find something that they like. It was also good to see that there was plenty of old school indie 12" singles in some of them that if I didn't already own them I'd have to give it some serious consideration. It was a nice trip out to venture around some of the shops and I definitely felt that community feel walking around there.

Tune of the day is something I listened to when I got home and after I'd watched the F1 qualifying, namely "(Love Is Like A) Heatwave" as covered by The Floe. It's a lovely version, turning the happy uptempo original into a more sad melancholy number with a gorgeous use of sparse piano and Sarah Springett's vocals originally before it blossoms into life with some strings. It sounds a perfect late night listen and I'm sure that as cover versions go, it's rather unusual but good. A definite contender for a future article on cover versions should I wish to write one.

Friday 9th July - Afternoon Tea And Catching Up With Old Friends

I was very happy to accompany The Love In My Heart today, as we both had the day off work - and with good reason. She had a celebration afternoon tea thing to go to, as it was her long service award where she works. In this day and age with recession and economics it's hard to think that you could work for the same employer for any length of time, but she's done so. I'm really proud of her actually because in that time she's worked hard and worked her way up to where she is now, and doing a job that she loves and enjoys to bits. I wish everyone was able to say that, I certainly can't say that at the moment.

We met up at lunch time in the city centre and headed to the Art Gallery to have a nice refreshing cool drink in the café there. It was good to have some lime and elderflower presse and to be able to take it easy and chat to each other. It was a posh do and I had my nice trousers and a shirt on, but The Love looked stunning in her black dress and black heels. Honestly, I felt so lucky and proud all at the same time because I was thinking to myself "I have a beautiful woman to love" and isn't that the nices thing? It was good though to be able to take things relatively easy before heading onwards through the city centre. Her award ceremony was being held in the Town Hall, which I knew was going to be a nice and posh do.

And so it turned out to be just that. You went up the stairs close to the Great Hall, and the two large state rooms that overlook Albert Square had all the tables set out for you to sit at whilst being served with tea or coffee, and there were biscuits on the table if you wanted them too. Soon The Love spotted one of her colleagues from another site and was chatting away to them which was lovely to see - it's always good to catch up and I do think that the social side of things like that is important. I felt fine too - it was nice to say hello to people and they could hopefully see how happy she is.

Not before long everyone was called in to The Great Hall where the ceremony took place. After an opening speech, those who were getting their awards went up in turn by the department they work in. It meant of course that with quite a few people getting awards it might have taken ages, but it was very efficiently done, with ushers guiding groups of people to the side of the hall where they would then go on stage, shake hands with people and get their little award - two crystal cut glasses in a really nice presentation box. I suspected that The Love would have been happier with an amount of shopping vouchers, but there you go.

It was pretty efficiently done and it was nice to see that so many people felt valued. After that it was a bit of afternoon tea in the rooms we'd been in earlier, with little sandwiches, even spring rolls and the like, and little cakes to go with your tea or coffee (or wine or orange juice if you so wanted). We had a good chat away and The Love bumped into someone she used to go to college with a while back and the two of them happily chattered away for ages along with me and her husband, so that was nice. They went back to the Great Hall for photographs, and all was well with the world there too, before heading back for a little bit more food and chatter.

I could see how happy The Love was and her socialising was just a lovely thing too - in fact the woman she bumped into asked me about how we met, and I told her the truth - that I love The Love to bits. It was a really lovely afternoon we thought, and later we headed to Kro for a nice post-luncheon drink together, and with me trying to keep the weight off, thought it best to have a lime and soda and be good (although the Wainwright or the Landlord did tempt me I have to admit) and then it was off homeward for the evening. I had a lovely time and it made the day well worth taking off.

I got home and a nice surprise had been posted through the letterbox - The Floe's CD "No Looking Back" which I'd ordered after their excellent support slot to Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds on Sunday. The CD is just as good as they were live, and the ten tracks show great songwriting, craft, and also how to really use your lead singer's voice along with the harmonies of the keyboard player's voice to best effect. This might end up becoming one of my albums of the year actually! Tune of the day is going to be "One Deep Breath", it's simple yet beautiful and it feels just right. Yaay them.

Thursday 8th July - Frank's Fantastic Farewell

After work it was a dash home on the bus, and then time to get showered and changed so I felt refreshed and ready for the evening, so I could head out in the direction of Castlefield for Frank's Fantastic Farewell, so fans could have a tribute night devoted to Chris Sievey, the man who created Frank Sidebottom. For me and many others it was a nice gesture, and the fact that over £20,000 was given to the funeral fund by the fans to give him the send off he deserves was a truly lovely thing, I thought.

I headed in the city centre direction and arranged to meet up with The Flowers In My Garden and one of her friends in Ra!n for a quick drink first, as they were on a night out. Of course it was good to chat to them both and The Flowers looked lovely in her outfit, and her text to me later in the evening said it all about how she felt about me. Awww. It was good to see her friend and chat to him as well, he's always a bundle of laughs and I think we both have a similarish sense of humour. He's off to London at the end of the month so we were both recommending Avenue Q to him as it's fab and he'd pretty much love it.

I then took a walk over to Castlefield Arena and to my surprise it was pretty busy, which I didn't expect. I'd arranged to meet up with one of my friends from Flickr who was coming over from Huddersfield for the evening and staying at her sister's. I managed to spot her with a couple of her friends and it was good to see her too - we chatted in between bits and laughed at all the Frank related stuff. Of course I had warned her that I did know a fair chunk of the Frank songs and as you can well imagine, I was happily singing along which made me feel a bit less sad about him going.

Anyway, there were plenty of highlights during the evening. They showed the whole Frank's World animation about Mr Gallagher's Boat, which was hilarious, and even more so was the day Frank went to stay with Mike Joyce, former drummer of The Smiths. The in jokes were Frank taking a shower every so often (because it was massive) and him wanting to play Mike's drums at every opportunity during that. Just the way that he'd get on Mike's nerves had everyone in fits of laughter. They even showed bits of the Channel M test card as well, which was perfect late night viewing if you couldn't sleep and wanted to laugh yourself off to bed.

The Oh Blimey Big Band played their stuff too in between and did some of Frank's songs, which was a nice touch, but it didn't quite feel right without the great man there somehow. Mind you it was good to see the likes of Mark Radcliffe and Jon Ronson give their own personal tributes, and Damon Gough aka Badly Drawn Boy played a few songs, and at the end of one of them he even did "You know it is it really is" which was lovely. Even more so he changed the end of one of them so you could sing along to the words of "Timperley Sunset" which was great too, had everyone smiling that.

The three hours of tributes went by very quickly and one of Chris' sons played electric guitar with some of the band and did "Wrap Up The Rockets" by The Freshies, Chris Sievey's band in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That was a nice touch too and it sounded still fresh and punky too. They had the former commercial director of Altrincham FC (cue fans: "The Alty! The Alty! The Alty!") explain the whole appearance on Match of the Day, which of course then inspired the classic song of course. It was great to hear that tale too although maybe he should have refrained from singing!

The last little lovely touch was that one of Frank's sons came on and thanked everyone for coming, and it was a really warm feeling despite the rain outside. For one last time he asked "Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day?" to which pretty much the whole arena responded with "You have! In your big shorts!". I got my friend a little emotional, bless. Tune of the day for definite though, it completely sums up Frank's sense of humour and Northern-ness that we all loved to bits. And summed up really how we all felt - we could sing along with him and Little Frank. And to end the night, off to The Salutation for a pint, where I've seen Frank a fair number of times playing stuff. Only seemed right somehow.

Wednesday 7th July - No Way, Hose!

Isn't it just sod's law? The day after I bought a hose for the garden, it turns out that the local utility company are having to impose a hosepipe ban from this Friday as it's apparently the driest last six months in ages and that the reservoir stocks are running pretty low to say the least. So it's pretty much going to be back to the watering can for the unforeseeable future. Some of you readers may find it ironic that the North West of England would be having such a ban, particularly when you saw places up in Cumbria pretty badly flooded at the back end of last year. However, most of Cumbria is unaffected, it's mainly the reservoirs further south that are looking a little low on the volume count, hence the ban.

With that in mind I was thankful that it rained a bit tonight and so meant that I didn't have to water the plants anyway - I could get on with making the tea for myself and The Flowers In My Garden. I had bought this nice peri peri chicken and did that with some fresh boiled potatoes and vegetables, and tried to keep up the eating healthier regime. The Flowers loved it and really liked the chicken as did I, so it was good to try something different and for it to work really well.

We spent a bit of time watching the Spain v Germany match. I wanted Spain to win because they have been playing with some purpose, and one of their team has just signed for City, and I just didn't want Germany to win. As The Flowers had both teams in her various World Cup sweepstakes she'd entered, she stood to win more if Germany got to the final and won it, so she was rooting for them. Of course it made me smile and her smile a little less when Puyol headed home in the second half for the only goal of the game, but it was a well-taken header.

During half time I'd also been on the web and shown her some clips of The Bad Shepherds' performances on Youtube and she admitted it wasn't too bad, and of course she instantly recognised Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (well she is a bit of a Paul Weller fan after all) and then I played a bit of The Floe as well. She really liked it and I think we both might have to go and see them when they next play up here. "I Hope You Know" is therefore tune of the day - it's really lovely and Sarah's voice is rather spot on to say the least. I really hope that they make it because I really enjoyed what I heard on Sunday, and I can't wait for their album to arrive so I can listen a bit more.

We had another little game of Scrabble after the footy had finished with Swing Out Sister being the soundtrack during play, and it was pretty tricky at first as all low scoring letters came out with not much else. Mind you later on we used the X and Z to good effect, with The Flowers doing ZED in the top left hand corner to score 39 on triple letter word, which was the highest scoring move of the game. There were lots of 20 and 30 something moves so consistency wise it was pretty good fun. And it made the evening more lovelier because it was nice to spend time together as I'd missed her since Sunday. I know. Awwww.

Tuesday 6th July - Hose Is Where The Heart Is

I had a brainwave tonight in that as much as my little watering can comes in handy for watering the plants in the back, sometimes it isn't enough and that a garden hose would be useful to give them a good drink of water in one quick and easy fell swoop. As it was, I was heading to get a birthday present for one of my relations and so I stopped off after I'd sorted that out on the way home and to my local Asda, where they do a nice 15 metre hose and all the attachments for a mere fiver. Bargain, I thought, even if it was the hose alone that'd be worth it. So I purchased it and took it homeward.

Once I got home and worked out how to fit the end parts together properly, I had one small problem. The tap adaptor wouldn't fit my mixer tap in the kitchen, it was too small. The Flowers In My Garden suggested that maybe a mixer tap adaptor would do the job and that she was sure one of her relations had to get one to use the hose at their place. I had some time before the World Cup semi final and so headed off to B&Q to get one. As it turned out, the tap adaptor for the mixer tap, because I had to get a branded one and not an own make one, meant it was actually more expensive than the hose and the other bits. Go figure!

I got it home and it thoughtfully came with a twist clamp type mechanism so once you fitted it to the tap, you could twist the clamp and tighten the rubber so it gripped the tap nice and tight. This did the job and I was soon able to spend a minute or two watering all the plants, and it was very quickly and easily done - my sort of work. And as the new little shed is all cleaned up, it was easy to store it in there and out of the way too - so that was all good. I could then settle back and watch the World Cup semifinal between Uruguay and the Netherlands (yes ITV1, it's "The Netherlands", not Holland, you slackers!)

The game turned out to be much better a semi-final than I'd expect with three great goals of the five scored. Giovanni van Bronckhorst's long range strike was excellent, as was Diego Forlan's equaliser to make it 1-1. In the second half it was pretty much negating each other out till a speculative shot from Wesley Sneijder missed the boot of his team mate (who looked close to offside but wasn't) and it crept in past the keeper for 2-1. Uruguay were incensed but there was nothing they could do about the headed goal from Arjan Robben, pure class that one was.

Uruguay did make a fight of it and scored in stoppage time to set up a grandstand finish and it was really last minute defending from the Dutch to keep the Uruguayans at bay. In the end the scoreline was about right and it was a well deserved Netherlands win to get them to the final where they'll meet Spain or Germany, who play tomorrow night in the other semi. I must admit I'd like to see a Netherlands-Spain final, because Germany have won it before and also the Netherlands and Germany's football rivalry borders on almost hating each other (not least because of a certain game in the 1990 World Cup for example) so who knows?

Tune of the day is from a CD which arrived today at the Towers - The Sword's first album "Age of Winters". I'd wanted this and their second album for some time, and I've now managed to get both pretty cheap in the space of a few weeks. I really adore "Freya" on it, having played it on Guitar Hero Greatest Hits upwards a fair few times, but the other tracks on the album are great, not least "March of the Lor" a great instrumental piece in eight movements, which really does have that mythical air about it. It's ace, so that gets my pick.

Monday 5th July - It's An Updated Love Crime

I spent a bit of time tonight working on my other site, one devoted to former 1990s indie band The Cygnet Ring. I had an idea that scanning in the white label 12" "Pale Guru" single as well as the 7" and CD singles of the re-release of "Love Crime" might be well worth adding. It wasn't a problem locating them all but it was a case of then scanning in the sleeves and the centres of the vinyl, and from there then making sure they were pretty straight. In fact the use of the ruler tool in Photoshop followed by an arbitary rotate worked a treat to get them as I wanted them.

It was nice too to play both CD singles and reminisce back to 1992 when I bought them. I still adore "Love Crime" of course and it's still one of my favourite singles ever. I do however like the song on the CD single, "The Birds" (here presented in acoustic form). It was a live favourite when I saw the band live and it was also a rather nice way to fool the indie kids with a false ending as well, so that was good fun all round really. Best make that one tune of the day whilst we're at it too. It just reminded me of a happier time when I was younger, in that you had to actually go into a record shop and buy stuff and not just rely on what the Internet and media tell you to do. If only it was that simple now.

It was good though to see how well looked after all the stuff I have is. I handle the demo tape "Higher" with love and care, not least because I know that it's a thing of beauty and really hard to get hold of (as most demo tapes tend to be actually) and also because inevitably tapes do wear out with time. With that in mind what I maybe need to do is to see if can get all of the Bedflowers demo tape I have onto MP3 at some point. I still adore "I'm So Cool" now, it reminds me of looking at all the indie kids entering Affleck's Palace at the height of the whole Madchester thing and thinking "baaa!" or words to that effect.

I read somewhere today that Lady Gaga has apparently ten million fans on Facebook. Woo bloody hoo. If it's a sign of how popular you are by how many people decide to become your friend and fan on there, then it makes me all the more glad not to be on Facebook to be honest. I can live without it. I have something called a life. I don't need to feel the need to approve all the friend requests and spend even more time in front of a computer than I do at work for a chunk of the day. I don't need to be part of a popularity contest fed by the media, Simon Cowell and all reality television. Maybe it's because there's this stigma attached of working with IT in that everyone thinks you're some sort of geek, and maybe it's my antithesis of being not that.

I mean, if someone said to me that they had the likes of Slayer, Swing Out Sister and Smiths in their collection and be a fan of all three, then that for me would have respect straight away for being so open and eclectic in their music choices (and for the record, I do like all three) but I bet there are plenty out there who wouldn't think that I'd have any of that. Or indeed that I'd care for any style of music other than those that a geek is supposed to like. Whatever that may be. In the meantime, I'm going to have to play that Love Crime CD single again, it's just a tad too nice..

Sunday 4th July - Punk Folk Independence Day

It was a relaxing morning of sorts as myself and The Sunshine In My Day decided that the side back left of the house (which many many years ago probably had an outside loo in it, as was the norm for terraced houses back then) needed to be cleared out. When cleared, this would make a perfect little shed to store things in, and yet still be out of the way of the main garden and not take up space. I knew that there were some things flung in there but generally it was dry and watertight and that had to be a good thing. We soon assembled bits of old pipe and an old table as well as the odd brick and placed them carefully in The Sunshine's Car before taking them over to the recycling tip.

It felt good when it was all swept clean and with little bits placed in there, it meant that everything looked very tidy, clean and efficient, which is what you have to do in these situations. It also meant that after giving the plants a good watering it looked the part and that the garden was able to look rather flowering in bloom and also tidy as well, so that can't be too bad whatsoever, I reckoned. We relaxed a bit with a game of Scrabble after lunch (which was some lovely pork and vegetables) and in that game I did pretty well with the Q, using it both ways on triple word to score QI both ways as well as IT and get a mammoth 68 points for that small move, which was pretty smart. The Sunshine got her second highest game score ever too (252 points) so that was good.

After seeing the first set of the men's tennis final, The Sunshine left for home and I felt a bit sad, but at the same time she knew that I was going to have a good time later and she could get some chores done. I also then watched the rest of the Wimbledon final and in the end Rafael Nadal was just too good and ended up winning in straight sets. Maybe not expected to be in three sets, most people went for him winning in four, but he just seemed to up a gear when he needed to, so it just showed what you could do with some application.

My friend came over later and we headed out to Pizza Hut in Old Trafford as we were on our way to the Lowry later for a gig and thought it'd be a nice idea to have something for tea beforehand. It'd been ages since I went in a Pizza Hut and some of the new menu choices did seem a lot lighter and healthier. I went for the two course deal and got the stuffed mushrooms for starter followed by an Italian farmhouse pizza for main. My friend did the margherita pizza for main and treated himself to profiteroles for dessert, so it all worked out quite nice. I even bumped into my colleague at work so we had a good chat before heading off to the Lowry.

We got parked up and headed to the Lowry, and as we were in the smaller Quays theatre, it would mean that tonight's gig would have a more intimate atmosphere. I quite like that theatre for gigs, having seen Swing Out Sister and more recently The Unthanks in there and the sound's pretty spot on too. I hoped that what we'd see tonight would benefit well if the sound man was up to the job, and as the speakers by the bar played various eighties songs, it was soon time to head down the lift and to the Stalls Tier seats, which actually gave us a pretty excellent view of proceedings.

On first came support act The Floe (official site) (myspace) and they were very good indeed, I really did like them. The site says they brim with tales of love and heartache and it's not far off. It's a little downbeat in cases, but with the three of them doing a nice mix of acoustic guitar, keyboards and vocals it sounded more stripped. That was a good thing, and the likes of "I Hope You Know" and "One Deep Breath" (possibly my favourite of theirs) were given room to breathe and flow. Lead vocalist Sarah had a really lovely voice and it was crystal clear. I ordered the CD when I got home tonight so that should give you an idea of how impressed I was.

However, even better to come as The Bad Shepherds (official site) did their thing, and it was ace. Imagine all your favourite punk and 80s classics given a folk-like treatment with the likes of mandolin, bouzouki, mandolin and Uileann pipes complete with punk-type vocals on some of them, and you're pretty much there. It sounded intriguing at first but the more the gig went on, the more we got it and really did get into it. If you want to hear the old classics re-done like this, then you're in for a treat, you really are. I really liked the opening salvo of "Anarchy In The UK" followed by "I Fought The Law" to give you an idea. Not just that, but even slipping in the likes of "Panic" and "The Model" showed it worked just as well with 80s hits too.

It was good to see them occasionally get Celtic and bung a little more folky melody at the end of some pieces, which really did make the set list flow nicely. They announced they'd do the Ramones' career in a minute and a half, and although not that short, they did put together "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" together really well. Other highlights for me were "London Calling" (yes, more Clash!), "Ever Fallen In Love" (the Buzzcocks classic of course) and best of all during the encore a blistering version of Sham 69's "Hurry Up Harry" which my friend and I both adore the original of. This version was ace too, so tune of the day it most definitely is.

At the end Adrian Edmondson announced himself and the other band members (Troy Donockley doing the Uilean pipes, bouzouki and mandolin, and Andy Dinan on fiddles) and referred to himself as "someone who looks like Vyvyan's Dad" on vocals. Of course us being massive fans of The Young Ones got that straight away and it was good to se he could laugh at himself. The three of them had played an excellent set and over an hour and a half's worth too, excellent value for money there it has to be said. I just wish it'd gone on for longer as I was really enjoying it. Surprisingly tons better than I thought and I'd happily go and see them again if I get the chance too. I think my friend is of the same impression!

Saturday 3rd July - Indie Shops And Party Hops

I headed into the city centre this morning to get my hair chopped to bits, and as usual the lovely people at the Northern Cutter did the business as ever. It was nice to see that the weather was getting a little sunnier as I left there too, and it did feel nice but not humid or overly warm, so I was able to walk without feeling all hot and sweaty (not very nice). It was then a short walk down to the Art Gallery to get the bus that would take me to Fog Lane and from there a short walk to Sifters, one of the record shops I visit for a good bargain and a delve through their vinyl.

It was amazing to see how much the downloads of tracks online as well as CD reissues have affected the sales of second hand CDs too - a few years ago you'd be looking at £6-7 for a CD, now it's more like £4-5 tops. Indeed a lot of the stuff in Sifters was a mere three quid, which you couldn't complain at one bit. If I hadn't already purchased a number of albums previously and owned them I'd have been tempted to get some more. I spent almost an hour in there as I had a good flick through of the vinyl as well, it's that sort of shop. None of the vinyl took my fancy this time but I have bought stuff from there before and it's always well looked after.

In the end I decided on two albums and a single which cost mere a mere £8.48, no complaints there. The single was The Beloved's "Your Love Takes Me Higher" from 1990 which is a great little tune, full of synth drum punches and punchy little choruses at the same time. I do have the album it comes from which I loved back in the day, so nice to get the single. I also picked up Slayer's "Christ Illusion" album and mainly for the track "Cult" (make it tune of the day - best play that loud) which I've seen them do live on the Henry Rollins show, which is fairly intense and loud to say the least. All good things, that. I also got Morrissey's B-sides album "Swords" but it was the limited 2CD edition with a full gig of Morrissey live in Warsaw on the second CD. Result.

I got home later and had chance to play the new CDs for a bit, and soon I was joined by The Sunshine In My Day as we were heading off to my niece's birthday do. It was nice being sat in my sister's back yard, all the little ones were happily in the marquee and having a little sit down with lots of food for them and the adults were chattering away. I was soon trying to get round plenty of people for a chat myself, and The Sunshine was happy in the sun and that was good to see. The kids played the party games including the one where they had to freeze still, although that went on for a little longer than planned!

In a masterstroke, my sister had bought a piñata along and soon everyone was taking turns to try and bash open the thing with all its contents. It was more difficult than we thought it would be, but you could see after several attempts that the children were soon breaking it up nicely. One well hit stroke later and all the sweets within went to ground, and plenty of them were soon bagging all they could in their little party bags, which was great fun, as everyone won and got a little themselves.

Everyone left a while later, including ourselves, and the scoreline from the football was not good. Argentina were panned 4-0 by Germany which at least made our defeat to them look semi-decent, but it also showed how good Germany were on the day too. We took the bus into the city centre and stopped off at Sandbar first for a drink and a chat, I'd not been there for ages so it was nice to have a leisurely drink in there without it being completely busy full of people. Always good, that.

It was then a nice walk through the city centre and to Pizza Express on Peter Street, where the place was nice and light and airy, and we had a voucher with us which got 2 for 1 on the main courses, which was a sensible idea for us. The Sunshine elected for a Rustichella one which she loved, it had lots of pancetta as well as rocket and tomatoes. Not my thing, but she loved it. I went for the Funghi del Bosco, which is a traditional one they do and with plenty of mushrooms on, which was also very nice indeed. I had a glass of sparkling water to wash it down with and that was good to have.

It was then a walk past Manchester Central and the Bridgewater Hall and then on to Ra!n Bar, where I decided to have a pint - the first one for a few weeks and the first since my start of an attempt to lose weight. I went for the Strawbeery one (see what they did there?) and it did actually taste of the fruit in question, I kid you not. It was also very lovely indeed to be able to relax and take things easy, and certainly The Sunshine's wine looked good too. All was well with the world.

We headed back and saw most of the Spain v Paraguay game whilst also playing Scrabble too, so it was a good end to the evening there. In fact it was good too because The Sunshine scored well and consistently, and we were able to form some good words on the board too. We did also see a bit of the Punt and Dennis DVD that I'd rented from Tesco DVD Rental. It was good to watch that as well and remind myself of Mr Strange (lovely, milky milky!) as well as the embarassing Dad ("never mind, no one's looking at us!") and of course the whole of A Man Called Martin, a spoof spy sketch where Hugh Dennis' character Martin would go "Damn you!" and "Damn you and all your kind!" every so often. Classic stuff and I remembered just how funny it was.

Friday 2nd July - Paying The Penalty

After a long day at the office it was good to head home, and then after seeing Andy Murray get considerably crushed by Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semifinals (it really was a pasting, sadly) it was then off to Tesco to get the weekly shopping done. It wasn't so busy in there so I was able to get around and get what I needed, and decided to treat myself a little bit for tea by getting these fresh pork loins in. I thought that one of those with some potatoes and vegetables would be good for Sunday lunch, but also that they would be good tonight to go with some rice for my tea - and that's pretty much exactly what I did.

I then settled in to watch the Uruguay v Ghana World Cup quarter final, and what a game that proved to be. It was pretty much end to end stuff for most of the first half before Sulley Muntari let fly with a long range strike that powered its way to the bottom corner of the goal to have them go into the half time break a goal up. Uruguay rallied though and a free kick was smashed in by Diego Forlan at a really wicked pace, looping over the wall whilst it was at it - a super strike.

It ended 1-1 after the 90 minutes and then extra time loomed, and boy did it loom! Both sides had chances to win it but right at the death the ball was floated from a free kick into the Uruguay area, a header was cleared off the line and then another header was clearly handballed off the line by Luis Suarez. It was obviously a straight red and he had to go off, and then it was left to Asamoah Gyan to put the spot kick away. He smashed it too hard and it cannoned off the crossbar, leaving it to a penalty shootout to decide the winner. He was considerably gutted and it made me wonder if that'd come back to haunt them.

After Forlan scored the first penalty for Uruguay, Gyan bravely decided to take one and slotted it in the top corner. I bet he was wondering why he didn't do that in normal time. It soon became 2-2 with two well taken penalties before both sides missed one each, and then Uruguay scored to make it 3-2, and again Ghana missed with the goalkeeper making a good save. Enter Uruguay's experienced striker Sebastian Abreu, who wasn't going to miss his chance and coolly chipped it over the keeper and in for them to win. I did feel like Ghana were very hard done by and that cheating by handballing the shot on goal (which would have clearly won it for Ghana) meant that they prospered. Sometimes though, it works like that.

Tune of the day is pretty apt really - it's "Supermassive Black Hole" by Muse. I bet after the penalty miss Gyan wanted the ground to go and swallow him up, and the tears afterwards showed what it meant to him. And because it's a darned good track that always reminds me of playing it full blast on my controlled rig and rocking out to it big style. Sometimes it's just what you have to do!

Thursday 1st July - Stone Cold Drumming Crazy

I had planned to do a video for the 365create blog thing that I've been contributing to (it's only around 40 days to go now before the year is done, so that's good going) and last night I thought about doing The Sword's "The Black River" primarily because it's a song I can do well and indeed it's one that I can also really get into. However I only realised after I'd recorded myself playing it late last night that there's a mere five minute limit for any video that you upload to Tumblr. Granted I could Youtube it but to be honest that would defeat the object. So I thought to myself "hmm... what track could I do instead?"

I had a look through Guitar Hero Metallica and realised that the one to do would be Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" because a) I like the song anyway, b) I managed last night to get five stars for the first time on medium drums, and c) it's around two and a quarter minutes, meaning filming it would be easy to get within the limit of the Tumblr video upload. Make that song of the day too whilst I am at it. There's method in the madness you know. Anyway, I fired up the Wii with the game on and had a quick practice drum run at another song just to get myself geared up, and then positioned the camera so I could see all five drum pads through it.

Then off I went, and recorded it - in one take. I got five stars and only around 1,000 below my best ever score which I did last night so I felt pretty pleased with how it went. When I played back the video it was pretty good - got all the drum pads in and it was pretty clear to see what was being played. As my digital camera saves in uncompressed Quicktime format, I thought it best to get it into Flash Video format before uploading. And this is a job for Riva FLV Encoder. It's quick, it's free and does a pretty good job of putting it into an FLV file. My 180MB plus Quicktime file was now 13MB.

I uploaded it and before too long it was available on the 365create pages (excellent) so that worked a treat for me. It was good to do something different and creative for the page instead and I'm sure that picking a Queen classic was the right move - as it'll be a song that people should know (and if they don't, well shame on them to be perfectly honest) and that also took out a bit of the frustration today as well - not least when I heard the news coming from the City of Manchester Stadium.

Dear me, what are City doing, appointing David Platt as first team coach? This is the man who released Shaun Wright-Phillips from Nottingham Forest and basically said he wasn't good enough (of course in years to come he had to eat his words as SWP came good for City first time round) and also the man who clearly loves Man U and doesn't exactly hold back saying so on Sky. The only thing I can think of is that he's worked with Roberto Mancini before, but even so. Not a good move, City. You want people in who actually want to give something to the club, not a full on Man U lover and one that Nottingham Forest fans in particular don't rate at all well as a coach. Aaaargh.