Dear Diary... June 2004

Tuesday 29th June - The dust has settled, and all we are is dust in the wind

Not very profound, and I admit, part of it is a direct quote from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (which I watched over the weekend just for old times' sake, good fun that one). But also after the England game things have calmed down a bit, and now all that's left afterwards is seeing if Tim Henman can win Wimbledon. And already he seems to have put his fans through the emotional rollercoaster with his games on Sunday and yesterday, and he did an excellent job in despatching Philippousis (try spelling that after a few pints) although the fourth set tiebreaker was a tad on the nerve wracking side, with both players double faulting their first serves with the pressure clearly telling. If anything, England getting knocked out of Euro 2004 has probably helped the viewing figures, although that puts more and more pressure on Tim to win it as the public gaze is on him and him only (especially as all the other Britons did their usual thing and were knocked out straight away of course).

I also managed to visit an old favourite eaterie of mine, the Rice Bowl on Cross Street. They do a most excellent Chinese meal at the best of times and last Saturday night's visit was no exception, I had the chicken in black bean sauce with ginger and spring onion, and it was not only tasty, but the whole thing came out on this sizzling skillet with the steam emnating from it rather a lot. Definitely with some egg fried rice it did the job perfectly, and was a perfect accompaniment to the chicken and mushroom soup I'd had as the starter. The ambience hasn't changed one bit either thankfully. still as nice and relaxing as it always is, and (if you're vegetarian) there's a good selection of dishes that don't make you feel like it's just a token option, either. Well worth munching there if you can - but don't look around Chinatown for it as you won't find it there!

Also, been thinking about doing up a room in the house as yesterday I celebrated two years of being in there. Everything's pretty much done except for the bathroom, and this is the room I need to really work on, in reality it needs a whole new suite putting in, the old one ripping out, and then on top of that I'd really like a shower in there as well. Expense, I know, but I have saved up for it so I guess that I can do it bit by bit and buy all the stuff that is needed in the weeks leading up to it being done. I suppose as well that once it's done I won't really have to touch it for a few years and with the addition of a shower I can be in and out of there as quick as possible in the mornings when I need to be on the go, especially if I've done my rowing.

And talking of which, I'm really working hard on that now. I usually do 10 or 20 minutes in the morning and if I feel really energetic, also some times in the evening and build up the endurance. That said, I can now do 1000 metres in under 10 minutes and so that's really me pushing all the way and exploding a lot of energy off so that I don't feel the pangs of hunger or the temptation of chocolate. If I feel snacky, it's cereal bars for me at the moment, the lemon Tracker is quite nice, and very lemony indeed so that gets me up nicely. As does also the country crisp with raspberries cereal too, always good to start the day with a nice breakfast that fills you up and also sets you up for the day ahead.

Thursday 24th June - And so are we - we was robbed!

Pure and simple.

Despite the fact that, admittedly, Portugal were the better side, and that we worked hard with spirit and determination, and even after they equalised to make it 1-1, if there was any justice in this world then we would have snatched a victory. Unfortunately, that victory was robbed from us by a quite appalling decision from Urs Maier. How he managed to see any infringements, when the linesman, who was better placed and actually gave the goal, wasn't just beyond me, but every single football commentator out there. Surely he should have checked with his assistant who saw nothing wrong with it. He chickened out and became a "homer" referee, and anyone who's been away to Old Trafford will know exactly what I mean by that.

A replay or three only made it worse, and I was just hoping that in extra time we'd fix that injustice, and the way we came back after going 2-1 down with another goal from Lampard (three from midfield in four games, can't argue there) showed a lot of pride and determination. But alas, our record in penalties isn't very good, and when we got there it was just like Argentina in World Cup 98, where Campbell also had a goal disallowed, and unfortunately someone had to be the fall guy. Shouldn't be blaming Vassell too much to be honest, the goalie just guessed right. It happens. We were playing catch up for Beckham's missed penalty - and that's three on the trot he's missed for England which is worrying.

We defended too deep and although the back line did their job most of the time, we weren't strong enough and really Sven's tactics of almost holding on have to come in to question. We could all see we were hoofing it to the front two, where was the build up play that was so fluent against Croatia, and why at half time didn't he suggest to change it around so that the team could play more neater passing? Owen and Vassell had to work for everything with no support. At the end of the day, although the ref did his bit, Sven also has to wonder if he got the game tactically right. Coldly and collectedly, I don't think he did, and he should admit that. Our English spirit and determination carried us so far, and it's credit to the team we managed to stay in there for so long, but now it's time to go home, but with heads held high in that En-ger-land will never die.

We'll be back. Roll on the World Cup qualifiers.

Anyway, away from football, it's always interesting to see how it affects other things in life. I had to do some food shopping tonight and the local Farmfoods around 6pm was deserted so I could go round in record time and get all the things I needed, and that didn't take me long really. As I buy all my freezer stuff from there it was just a case of picking what I wanted, piling them into the basket (deliberate move so that I don't buy too much in case you wondered) and then taking around three large carrier bags full of shopping for not that much money, so I can't argue there. I was even quite pleased that they've started to stock more vegetarian products too, with a lot from the Linda McCartney range and even some Quorn too, so that's good. Don't mind either of them as there's some nice food there, the Quorn sausages are really scrummy as hot dogs! Try them if you can - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

And even TMF music channel had the right idea tonight to get me in the mood - with videos to football songs being played an hour before kick off, culminating with World in Motion around 7-40pm, what a superb song that is. Well of course, it's New Order, but also the genius of Keith Allen and even the rap of John Barnes all adds to it, of course. Not to mention in direct contrast the appalling World Cup remix of DJ Otzi's "Hey Baby". Now that is bobbins. Unlike the new John Smith's ad....

Wednesday 23rd June - They're going home..

They're going home, they're going home, they're going, Germany's going home.. and if there's one thing that makes us English fans happy, apart from England doing the business, it's Germany not doing the business. They huffed and they puffed tonight and even took the lead against the Czech Republic, probably a bad thing. In both their group games they came back and won, and surprise surprise, they equalised before the half hour and made it 1-1, which meant at that stage with Holland winning that Germany were going homewards. Even lots of domination of second half possession was no good for the Germans, they couldn't quite do it and despite having all the play they didn't take their chances, and were made to pay by a goal from Milan Baros with fifteen minutes to go. Still Germany tried, but the finishing touch just wasn't there. It seems their team wasn't as good as they thought, and realistically it's also a changing side with lots of the old guard leaving or retiring and new blood coming in, and the key to their downfall was a 0-0 draw against Latvia. Oh,and to add insult to injury, the Czechs played their reserve side, almost. Ha!

Meanwhile, back in normality, I've been hard at it in work fixing PCs almost for fun at the moment. Mind you, I don't think any PC can come close to our current virus record holder - which was a laptop owned by a member of staff. They had opened an email (in Outlook Express, of course, because that's what everyone who has a virus uses ;) and it just so happened to have the Netsky virus on it. Thankfully I have a standalone disinfector for that one, and it happened to find over 25,500 occurrences of it. Yes, I did not make a typo, that's over twenty five thousand. Thankfully it was a case of just getting rid, checking the laptop was adequately patched and sending it on its way. But nonetheless, a reminder to everyone out there: make sure your anti-virus software is kept up to date, and make sure your operating system is patched properly!

Monday 21st June - We're going through

Yaay England! And a massive yaay! to Roonaldo too, as he scored another two good goals (the link up play with Michael Owen for England's third was just class) and really put himself about a bit. Actually, there were positives from the performance tonight, not least as we didn't panic when we went 1-0 down, and that the team pulled themselves together a bit. Must admit I bet Paul Scholes was relieved to have finally scored again in an international after almost three years of not doing so, but he took it well, and went in brave, and that sort of determination is just what we needed. Of course, with Roonaldo scoring just on half time, it was the perfect time to score and get going. I was watching the game at a friend's, and we both couldn't understand the co-commentator Joe Royle's negativity about England - that we weren't good enough and that we lacked the final pass and so on. Well if England can please even Alan Hansen, we must be doing something right, and Reidy and Wrighty saw it as we did first half - a fine performance. We did tail off a little bit second half but we got the job done and made sure of victory to put the result beyond doubt.

Only one thing worries me - our lack of defending at set pieces - I just hope that Portugal can't exploit it too much or we are in trouble. It's all very well being able to score, but you have to defend as well to be a top notch team, and against the host nation that is not going to be easy, I'm sure of that. It does make a change though to see us get to the quarter finals and prove our worth in Europe again - and if we can beat Portugal then that might just be a big step. I have to say though that without really getting started, the French are still looking like winners, and don't discount the Czech Republic. Their comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Holland was superb, best game of the tournament apart from England's on Monday, and it could have been 11-10, there were so many chances flying in. The way the draw's panned out though, we won't have to play them in the semis - if we get there of course.

It was also a busy weekend as well really as I decided to take a walk down a national cycle path that has been built near me. This time I took the path the other way and so I'd end up in Chorlton, which would be a nice three and a half miles or so, has to be good exercise. Well, I would have got to Chorlton but for the fact the path stops before it gets to Chorlton. A quick diversion around Withington Road and along Mauldeth Road West meant I got there, but it was a pain. Turns out there's a landlord who bought up loads of disused land in South Manchester so he could effectively hold planners to ransom and charge what he wants for the land to be purchased. However, the Council are thankfully looking at a way of completing the path in to Chorlton by some other route, which is most needed and a perfect escape from urban hell for most of us in an attempt to keep fit - and judging by the cyclists using the route, I'm sure they'd be happy too.

Thursday 17th June - Only one thing matters..

... and that was the result. I'm writing this a few minutes after the final whistle, so I can reflect more on how the team performed. And we didn't play as well against France, yet, as often happens, we got the job done, scored three goals past Switzerland, didn't concede any (although we admittedly were a bit lucky not to) and at least that's hopefully got us on the road to the next round. Star man most likely again was Wayne Rooney, scored one (or maybe two, depends if they give the second goal as an own goal by the Swiss goalie, which looked like it to me) and really was a threat to the Swiss all day. What changed the game undoubtedly was the sending off of Bernt Haas for two bookable offences, neither of which to be honest were bookable offences. Once they went down to ten men and with us 1-0 up with the best move of the first half, we needed a bit more impetus and in Darius Vassell we got it. He got the ball which led to the second goal, and was a thorn in the Swiss side for the rest of the game, and a nice neat move resulted in Steven Gerrard scoring a very well worked third goal.

Some of the players are still underperforming: sure, Beckham did a fair few good passes, but he doesn't seem to have that commanding presence on the pitch like he's had before, and not enough taking control and giving the players a bit of oomph either. Shame, cos that's the Beckham that's a winner and we could really do with the real one finding himself next game around. I also thought Paul Scholes didn't seem 100% fit, he got stuck in as best he could but there's something missing about him at the moment too, can't quite put my finger on it somehow. However, the key thing today was getting the job done, and we did that.

I just about managed to get home roughly on time as well - real race against the clock as I waited patiently for the bus to take me home, which came a little later than normal. Despite the driver's best efforts to make up the time and sprinting along as much as possible, I got in at 5-01pm, so I missed the first forty five seconds or so, not too bad. I should thank my lucky stars I finish at 4-30pm to be honest, imagine if it was a 5pm finish? Well, if that was the case, it'd have been across the road to the nearest pub showing the game and manage to try and find a decent view of a big screen. Not the same when you have the surround rig set up ready for yourself though.

Monday 14th June - Zut Alors!

Well, that was that. England did everything right - except for the last bit of injury time, where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. And I am completely gutted to say the least. Gutted would be an understatement, but to be honest I'm also proud at the way some of the team performed, not least Ledley King and Wayne Rooney, who both excelled themselves. There was a lot of doubt about Ledley beforehand, but he put in a commanding performance alongside Sol Campbell, and the two worked well together. I lost count of the number of times they cleared the danger in the second half.

Unfortunately though, Eriksson made a two main tactical blunders as I saw it. The first was taking off Wayne Rooney and replacing him with Emile Heskey. What a bobbins move. Not only did he get rid of our best chance of scoring (understatement) but also the drive and fire that he carried for us. And as Heskey gave away the free kick that Zidane scored. Why the hell does Heskey still play for England, I wonder? Second was Beckham's missed penalty. Knowing that Beckham hasn't been in the right frame of mind for some time (his form at Real Madrid has gone downhill the last few months) maybe it should have been for Eriksson to say "let someone else take the penalty". I'm sure there'd have been a few who'd have shown no fear and taken it. The pundits said "well, it was a well taken penalty". No it wasn't. A well taken penalty is one that is scored, you ITV dimwits, and low and hard. It was just the right height for Barthez to save it. Give credit to Beckham though, he has at least admitted it's his fault we lost the game by not scoring the pen and knows he has to carry that responsibility. Having said all that, we should beat Switzerland and Croatia if we play with the same amount of determination - my only worry might be a lack of goals if for example Wayne Rooney doesn't get the service he needs. I kept thinking "imagine if Shaun Wright-Phillips would have been on the wing, scaring the French defence, feeding Rooney and Michael Owen..." (I know I'm biased, but you can see what I mean....) One last thing: would someone remind Eriksson what "Row Z" actually means? The England players seemed incapable of that near the end...

Well that's my diatribe over with, but realistically you have to wonder at just what happened and even in work this morning I was just feeling so down and just really needed to get on with some work to make sure I didn't think about the game too much. Why does it hurt so much? Why is it like watching Manchester City for most of this season? (don't even attempt to try and answer that one, you'll fail!) And finally, why oh why did the English fans who were there over-celebrate before the final whistle? Talk about the Murray Walker curse or what? I just hope that we can come back from this. I really do. But we'll see, I'm sure.

On to other things: the rowing's going well, thank you. I've now upped the tempo to a mean lean and hard twenty minutes of punishment (and believe me, I can feel it when I've finished). I progressed over the last few days doing twenty minute stints, first hitting 1220 metres, then 1286, then 1363 and 1374, and then this morning managing to hit the 1400 mark, managing a pretty good 1438 metres overall. Somehow, even my aim of 1200 seems pretty low. I was completely tired out though doing the 1438, but I was really pushing hard in the last three minutes probably doing around 80-90 metres a minute to really pump up the clock. If I could do the 1500 barrier, fine. However, the main thing is that I'm actually doing 20 minutes' worth of workout in one go, which has to be something. I can definitely sense that buying the thing was a good move, I now just have to keep going. I want this belly off, and so it doesn't threaten to get me like in the classic Reebok advert (if you've never seen it, contact me, and I might be able to mail it to you) and so determination, lots of water, and also a change of breakfast too. I've moved to Shredded Wheat Bitesize for three reasons: they fill you up, they taste nice, and it's whole grain wheat with nothing added. Has to be a good thing.

As for the local council elections that happened Thursday, nothing really changed here - except the Lib Dems gained a fair few seats and, like the rest of the country, Labour lost big time. Some of it may well be an anti-war backlash (and he deserves that does Blair, his arrogance really annoys me) but also I feel that sometimes councillors would do well to remember that people judge you on what you've done for the local community over the year, not just when you feel like turning up for the sake of it. Incidentally, local boundary changes for wards have meant I'm now in a supposed ward that's a different district from the one I'm in, despite living close to the district I should be in. Go figure that one. Go figure how some bureaucrats in London can say "this is where I live" and all that rubbish. Bah!

Wednesday 9th June - Football's Coming Home (well, hopefully eh?)

English flags are flying absolutely everywhere from car windows (except of course if you drive a taxi and your overzealous council has decided to deem them dangerous and ban them) and 4-4-2's rather neat pastiche of a Dexy's Midnight Runners classic, retitled "Come On England" should be storming the charts this weekend, just in time for the start of the tournament. Certainly miles better than The Farm's lame reworking of Altogether Now (I hate that song!) it really is infectiously catchy, and has the right amount of passion, pride and musical ability. When I'll look back at classic footy records, it'll be up there in the annals of true classics along with Three Lions and World in Motion. So what are you waiting for? Buy it. Now.

But looking ahead to the start of the tournament, means lots of hours of fun and football. I already have it worked out for Sunday: stay in and watch the F1 from Canada, with the football straight after as England play France. Now that is worth staying in and viewing in telly pleasure (I just hope it's in widescreen) and I'll have the surround rig on so that I can soak up the atmosphere - it really works a treat for the F1, too. Must admit it's always good when some more footy is on, it makes me miss the normal season a bit less, although this season, for me, to be fair, was probably worth forgetting. And I know someone who had the misfortune of their team being relegated on the last day of the season despite leading their final game for some time. Now that, my friends, is pain. Pain I've seen myself first hand a few years ago when my beloved City went down despite winning the final game 5-2 away at Stoke City. It's not very pretty.

What is making me feel pretty is the fact that about an hour ago I did my second ten minute stint of the day on the rowing machine, and managed 755 metres, thus hitting my 750 target. After this week I'm going to go to fifteen minutes workout, and then in week four and onwards a really hard but fair twenty minutes. If I get around 1,200 metres for the twenty minutes (bearing in mind you pace yourself slower for the longer times) then I'll be pretty impressed - so that's to come for me. I just have to make sure I wake enough early to get that done in the morning and then I can dive in the bath afterwards - usually a good plan as well so that I can be refreshed when I gradually wake up.

One thing that did fascinate me on television last night was a documentary Channel 4 showed about those 70s heart throb boy band The Bay City Rollers (one of my relations was into them in a big way) and how, despite some 100 million or so record sales worldwide, they ended up penniless. It was an intriguing yet sorry tale of mismanagement, partly by their manager Tam Payton, who seemed to have complete disdain and disregard for what he did, and partly by the record company Arista, who haven't paid royalties to the band for some twenty five years. Certainly the documentary makers, without intending it, seemed to put the blame firmly on those two parties as they followed Les McKeown trying to find out what happened. When he confronted Tam and was presented with the evidence, he was fobbed off, and in an ironic twist BMG (who now own Arista) had asked him to help publicise a new Best Of along with the album re-releases, the idea being ironically that BMG would pay him so he could get lawyers to sue Arista. Soon though he quit dealing with BMG, not surprisingly really. What it does tell you is how bad the record industry and management can be and that it could have happened to any naive young band. Another excuse though for C4 to dig out the John Craven's Newsround footage on Rollermania - like we haven't seen that before??

Monday 7th June - Feeling fine

Well, the weather's gone rather scorchio (25 centigrade already today, possibly more), and not only have I had to shift PCs around in this weather (heavy 17" monitors too I should add, not light!) but also I've now managed to progress to a ten minute shift on the rowing machine. And I've really managed to hit form - even with the longer duration. I now managed 667 metres in ten minutes, which is pretty good stuff. I'd really like to hit 750 to 800 by the end of the week, maybe, but nonetheless the extended stint really takes it out of you. I had sweat pouring off me (and this was despite a fan being on full blast to keep me cool during rowing as well) and so if nothing else, it's already proving to be really worthwhile. I'm definitely going to keep it up come the summer. Already I think I'm feeling the benefits - I don't feel as tired at night as I used to, although that might mean I sleep less as well, and also I just for some reason don't feel like I need to wolf food down either so much. However, it's early days. Motivation is the key.

I looked at the number of entries for the Poem for Manchester competition, and there were over 3,500 of them. Ouch! Not much chance of winning there, then. Lots of schools have also entered as well so I have a feeling that one of them might win - which would, to be honest, be a nice touch of having someone from a Manchester school giving the inspiration for those who enter the city. Inspiration means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I'm sure, given time, that when people come to Manchester they actually do get inspired to be a part of the place and its success in the last few years.

And talking of which, I was proud to see the City of Manchester Stadium being packed as England thrashed Iceland 6-1 in their last warm up game before Euro 2004. And thrashed was an understatement. Okay, so Iceland looked like they'd assembled their team from the local freezer store counters, such were their inability to perform in a full stadium of forty odd thousand or so, looked like they all had stage fright or something. I'm just hoping in a way that we've saved our best performances for the tournament though. France on Sunday is going to be anything but easy, really. They are a darned fine side, and have possibly the best player in the Premiership (that's Thierry Henry) up front, which puts the fear in most sides, as you'd expect.

Wednesday 2nd June - Am I Pinsent in disguise?

Well, I excelled myself this morning on the rowing machine. I did 260 metres in five minutes, nothing that earth shattering maybe, but considering a rowing machine is for one person only, that isn't too bad, I suppose. A much bigger improvement from my 231 metres that I managed yesterday. Not content with that, I also did two 100 metre sprints, and did the second one in a pretty half decent 1 minute 43 seconds. So that's progress. Now all I have to do is to keep it up and actually try and beat either of those achievements. I think during the second week I'll push myself to 7 minutes, and see how I do. Realistically I'd probably hope for 300 metres plus, but we'll see. The eventual plan is to get to 10 minutes and really see what I can do, and try and keep up ten minutes at least once a day, depending on how busy things are with me. Now I've started in earnest, I have to be sure I motivate myself to keep going, and make sure it's not just a fad that I do.

It also will probably help inspire me to carry on where I've left off with the novel as well: I'd left it be for a fair while due to one thing or another, one major reason being that after working on a PC all day, I don't always feel inspired to go on one at night. Sure, I reply to emails, talk to a couple of friends and that, but to be honest I get home and just feel like I don't need my brain to function, and to do something a little bit less strenuous. But I think I know that if I start to lose weight with the training, and really focus, my mind will be able to concentrate and plough in sessions of mad typing into Microsoft Word. (and it will be mad typing, believe me: I used to be able to do 60 words a minute at my peak, using only two fingered typing) I also had some ideas that I might use instead for a short story or two.

I also just about managed to hit the 28th May deadline for the Poem for Manchester competition that BBC Manchester were running. Basically, there's a new development on the way called Piccadilly Place, that goes either side of the tram line running to Piccadilly station, with a pedestrian footbridge built in too. The idea was to write a poem in forty words or less that sums up Manchester in your own words. The winning entry gets to have their poem put in a brick as pride of place in the development itself, which is a nice touch. My entry hopefully got to them in time, but the Beeb have got to sort out the good ones and then go from there to see which person will be shortlisted for the finalists. Must admit though it was quite hard to fit in what I felt in forty words though, but I concentrated on what I felt and wrote it, rather selfishly, for me and me only. I guessed it was the best way. Only hope the judges agree.