Dear Diary... May 2006

Wednesday 31st May - May Means More - Wireless, Apparently

Well, the month is almost over, and I have to say that it's been a really busy month for me at work, hence the fact that I've not had that much time to write my usual missives, so humblest of humble apologies for that. What was going to be a quiet week ended up being a busy one, and so I've been working late again. And again. And again. Ad infinitum it feels like. And to be truthful, no wonder, especially when you consider that in terms of numbers of printouts it's our busiest month. Not because of hand ins always, but because of a lot of students have their forthcoming shows to be done.

One of our senior management staff came in and said that he wanted to amaze the Vice Chancellor with statistics. Well, here's one. The A1 plotters, the colour and the black and white between them, have printed out a total of around 10,000 pages in this month. That's 10,000 A1 sheets of paper. Now, considering you get around 50 printouts to a 45m roll at around 90cm (give or take a little bit of wastage) that's a massive 200 rolls of paper that we've used. Those 200 rolls would total 9km laid end to end, which would be enough from the Apollo Theatre in Manchester to the centre of Stockport via the A6. Now knowing how long that road feels when you commute down it in the morning, that's quite a fair number isn't it?

I've also been taking time out for myself as well over the last weekend. I went to Leeds on the Saturday mainly to do a bit of shopping as it's usually good there. Well, it was, but at the same time I just felt that it's now trying too hard to be a cosmpolitan image and it's more about that than the actual content of the shops themselves. Even some of the bars appear to be a little like that, and what used to be a very nice Rat and Parrot when my cousin worked up there is now another Yates'.. yawn. Don't you just hate the fact that so many towns and cities these days are becoming so identikit, with the same corporate shops all over the high street? I know I do. Mind you, the train there was one of these nice new ones, and it was really comfortable and you could smell the new-ness of it. So much investment on the transpennine routes has to be a good thing, although to be honest I wish that the fares would be cheaper. I mean, £13 for a day return? That's pretty scandalous actually.

And so tonight on to a little sort out of a wireless configuration. Not that I minded, as it was fairly straightforward and so within an hour or so had got a laptop happily talking to the wireless router both on wired and wireless, and then whacked in a wireless card into a PC, configured it all, and everything worked like it should. A real pleasure when these things go right, not least because it makes you feel good about knowing what to do, but also because it's satisfying experience that you might not always get all the time. And what made it all worthwhile was that I was able to pass on some recommendations and they acted upon them, like using Mozilla Firefox for web browsing and all that sort of thing. I guess you have to be called upon to use your talents -and I know the family appreciate that whenever I've been asked to do stuff for them.

Wednesday 24th May - Costa Not Open-a!

I have been working late the last couple of nights, and by the time I've got home all I've wanted to do is just to veg out in front of the goggle box, watch the latest installment of The House of Tiny Tearaways on BBC3 (okay, I admit it, I do like Tanya Byron, there's something about her I just really like lots) and then just crash out and have a nice cup of coffee to really get me in the mood for relaxation to wind down. I suppose it's part of me that's more mentally tired than anything else, being able to keep going for a long time doing the necessary support and also maintaining a high standard of support as well is tough going, because you're only as good as your last customer you helped (and that's how you have to see it).

I'm thinking ahead in that September students at most universities will be paying £3K a year in fees, mostly because a lot of places will be charging the top-up rates. And it will also mean inevitably that value for money will come into question, as after all if you're paying so much, you want to see that you're getting quality investment in everything, and especially support mechanisms so that you feel valued. It's definitely going to be dog eat dog and if that's the way it is, my thoughts are that we need to be ready now and to be completely failsafe in whatever we do. As a result, I'll be thinking of a few things over the next few months to try and see if there's anything I can come up with that would be useful.

Left work tonight and thought that it'd be really nice to head out for a coffee. Now, being a fussy coffee person these days I've found that the one that tastes nicest to myself is Costa, primarily because unlike other places they don't charge extra for decaf coffee, or if you're like my brother's partner, you have to have soya milk because you can't drink normal milk. It's those little things that mean a lot to me, particularly as the weapon of choice is decaf latte whenever I go there which they always do a good job of.

So with that in mind I got into Piccadilly and headed towards the Costa on the corner of Portland Street and Piccadilly, which is right near the bus home and a Tesco Express if I have to get anything last minute, so to speak. I went in there just after 5pm only to be told by the assistant in there that the place was closing for the day. This wasn't good, and it was a similar story at the one in Piccadilly station near platforms 11 and 12. Undaunted, I went up the travelator to platform 13 and 14, and that one was open, albeit just about. I managed to grab a decaf latte and sit for about 15 minutes to watch the world go by as I drank my rather lovely drink. Oddly enough I enjoyed it more because I had to go search it out.

I couldn't help thinking though that this policy of closing early is going to lose them customers. Other coffee chains, including the ghastly Americanised franchise that is Starbucks, open later in the evening, meaning that they're in the perfect position to catch commuters on the way home from work. After all, lots of people who work in the city centre often have partners who also work in town too, and so often it's a good idea for them to meet up and wind down, especially if they're also going to do some shopping before the city centre shops shut at 8pm. I might have to send them a nice email and ask why their branches close so early, cos I for one would rather drink their coffee any day of the week.

Sunday 21st May - Hey Ho Let's Go Eat Strawberry Shortcake Sundae

I had a nice day on Saturday, spent a bit of time having a trip out to the other side of Manchester, mainly to relax myself a bit and have a nice walk, and then to have lunch. And I had a really nice lunch at a place called the Old Hall in Worsley, it's right in the middle of a golf course and there's a posh hotel next to it, but the pub itself is quite old and has some nice original features. And normally during the day there's a deal that they have, according to the menu, which is two courses for £6-49, and that proved to be a winner. The garlic mushrooms to start were very nice, with plenty of garlic mayonnaise, and then there was the main meal, which was scampi, chips and peas. I have to say hand on heart it was the nicest scampi I've had for quite some time and so can highly recommend that to anyone. Not to mention the dessert which I thought "sod it, I'm gonna have that as well!" which was a rather luscious strawberry shortcake sundae. The strawberries in it were divine and with the vanilla ice cream and shortcake, just really light yet filling at the same time.

Kind of thought to myself after weighing myself today and seeing that I'd lost another pound in weight, that I deserve the occasional treat now and then. I've been sticking to a more healthy eating diet as much as I can, which means generally more fish for me, and less snacking. As a consequence since January when I weighed myself and found myself to be not at a weight I was very happy with, I've now lost one stone and two pounds. Okay, so it's not come off that quick, but I'd rather it be gradual so that it's not a yo-yo on and off diet, but steady and controlled choice of loss, which seems to be the right way to do it. Something like muesli or shredded wheat with fruit for breakfast, some tuna and sweetcorn for lunch and then a proper evening meal tends to have done wonders for me, and a bit more exercise. Did a Linda McCartney country slice, some cous cous and steamfresh veg one night last week, and that just tasted right and meant I was getting a good quota of nutrients along the way. I'm still around a stone from my target but I'm getting there.

After the lunchtime exertion it was back into the centre of Manchester and it was time to check out HMV even though I knew it was going to be a bit busy on a Saturday afternoon. One of their offers meant I could get three CDs or DVDs (any combination) for not that much dosh, and as I knew I had a gift card from there loaded with some money, it meant that I could allow myself to get some new CDs and think of them as a birthday present. So with wish list in hand, off I went, and eventually narrowed it down and purchased three excellent CDs, namely Katie Melua's "Piece by Piece" (so worth it for the lovely cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" alone), the Prodigy singles compilation "Their Law" and the Ramones' 2CD anthology "Hey Ho Lets Go" with many classics on there. In fact I'm sure their stuff was playing in between bands at the Morrissey gig, and as Henry Rollins is always raving about them, I thought I'd check it out, and it was a good decision all round. Plenty of two minute epics on there to really get you in the mood for the late 1970s punk vibe, and you can't help but yell out "Hey Ho! Let's Go" when the seminal "Britzkrieg Bop" comes on. Marvellous.

Friday 19th May - Tired and Unemotional

It's been a long week. A very long week. And one that I'm glad to see the back of to be honest. It's mainly because I've had to stay late most of the time and keep an eye on the massive deadlines that are going on at the moment for students. Suffice to say the plotters we have are completely chocabloc with print jobs, so much so that they've constantly been on the go all day and all night in the week. Once a roll of paper is loaded in each one before me and my colleague have gone home, the plotters have printed constantly overnight and then when I've come in in the morning, they've run out and been reloaded again.

Because of this constant ongoing printing, it's hardly been given time to rest, as a result one of them broke down on Monday, and another one on Friday as the trailing cable has been damaged in each one. Good job we had some spares in to replace them methinks, as that's then kept them going as much as possible, and that's meant that at the end of the day, we've got over 1200 print jobs out on high quality colour A1, so that's not too bad. And mostly despite the waits and the queues, the students have been fairly patient and know that at this time of year it's pretty hellish all round. Just have to see what happens on Monday when I go in and I can imagine that it'll be bedlam, although most of the major deadlines should have passed off by now, with a few courses left to go.

Been a case of getting home and just wanting to relax a fair bit, so I've been crashing out and just taking the mind off things by putting some music on or just throwing something on the television. I also managed to watch that Bring Back the A-Team thing tonight (thank heavens for Sky+ or else I'd have missed it) and that was pretty entertaining stuff. I didn't realise there was so much rivalry going on between George Peppard and Mr. T, and indeed what was good to see was that most of them came together for the reunion, including the likes of Colonel Decker as well. Amazingly best of all was that Dwight Schultz, aka Murdoch, was just as bonkers now as he was then, but completely brilliant. Wish they'd get someone else to present it other than Justin Lee Collins though, he gets a bit annoying after a while.

Monday 15th May - The Man With the DVDs (and the Stick)

Another birthday, but not mine - one of my relations. And fairly easy to buy a present for as well, as I know she quite likes the "classic" Winnie the Pooh stuff, not the Disney modernised version, you can get these figures depicting classic Pooh, and I managed to get this nice one with Pooh, Piglet and Tigger reading. It looked really nice and was so just good to be able to give the gift of something nice, I always do think it's better to give than to receive.

Went out on the Friday night with a few friends for a meal, which is always a good thing to do. Not least when I can really push the boat out and enjoy three courses, quite rare for me these days because of my attempts to cut down on the amount that I eat and try and lose weight. But I had to surrender to the rather nice cinnamon waffle crunch that was there as a dessert, as I do like it, and it does have plenty of naughty but nice ingredients. I made up for that Saturday by spending a fair bit of time walking, which helped somewhat.

Also got some nice presents off my friends too, namely the first three Wallace and Gromit adventures on DVD, Evolution on DVD (silly sort of film really, but any film that uses hair shampoo to beat off the enemies has to be hilarious), Vic Reeves Big Night Out and Rock Profile on DVD, and the Editors' excellent Back Room CD. So can't complain one bit as they were all ace and what I wanted. Now I'll just have to make time to sit down and watch them all - I just wouldn't let it lie, would I? Of course not. And added to the vouchers that I've still got to spend at some point, it turned out to be a rather nice birthday week all told. Now I just have to see what next week brings me as it's completely manic at work at the moment..

Thursday 11th May - Another Day and Another Year Older

Well it was my birthday yesterday, and I reached the ripe old age of 34. Okay, so it isn't that old I grant you, but it is still old enough for me to start thinking beyond 35, and then beyond 40, where life supposedly begins (apparently so anyway). It was a nice day all round though, as I'd received some presents in the post from friends and family, and had plenty to open on the morning of the day. And by the end of the day, with most of the family paying me a visit, it was great just to relax in the evening and look back on a thoroughly nice experience. Thanks to everyone who wished me well - there's too many of you to name, but you know who you are.

Got some excellent presents too, such as REM's Monster CD/DVD-Audio set to add to the others I'd been collecting, always good to hear those albums is super high fidelity DVD-A quality (I know, I know, I'm a musical snob most likely), the soundtrack to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the proper classic film, not the Tim Burton letdown, naturellement), plenty of other CDs such as the Arctic Monkeys album, Moby's recent one, the Prodigy's Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned, and then a few DVDs too: Madagascar (region 1 as well so that meant I got the Penguin Christmas caper, yaay), Muppets Wizard of Oz (well I am a big kid really), Corpse Bride, a couple of excellent Henry Rollins books, some money and vouchers, and two PC games: Lego Star Wars (big kid again) and the new CSI game 3 Dimensions of Murder.

I played the CSI game tonight, and it's thoroughly engrossing stuff. The graphics for example are much improved and there's really attention to detail when you check out some of the items for additional things on there, such as blood on a shirt, fingerprints on a tin of paint, all that sort of thing. Although most of the cast gave their voices to the game (you can so tell the real Gary Dourdan, aka "Warrick Brown" a mile off) the only two that didn't were Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows) and Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle). Bit of a letdown from those two to be honest, as if everyone else had made the effort of spending hours in a voice recording studio, why couldn't they? I guess there's reason. Still, it's not detracting just yet from the enjoyment I'm having, and much more sense to have the whole game on one DVD-ROM disc rather than three CDs that you have to chop and change during play. As a CSI fan, it's good fun, as there's plenty of neat touches, and better than the first two. There, mini review in a nutshell, can't argue with that.

And tomorrow I'm meeting up with a few friends and heading out for a meal, always good to to that at weekend but also to have a nice celebration (and who knows, maybe even a present :) so it should be nice. I think sometimes it's important just to be sociable as much as possible because it means more when you have a good time with people you care about. Certainly when a friend and I went to Morrissey on Monday, that was definitely the case, nice meal, great gig and general nice time all round, what more could you ask for?

Been hellish at work today. Several systems that are crucial to the way our print accounting system went down this morning, including a machine that student put notes in to credit their accounts. Thankfully we got one of our central IT bods on to it, and good job we did as he was due on a course, and got him just in time - and he did a superb job in getting things fixed as quickly as possible (Cheers Chris, much appreciated!). By lunchtime most of the panic was over, but that didn't stop me and my colleague taking a ltitle of the flak in the meantime from some of the students. Most of them were understanding and knew we were on their side, so that boosted us a little bit to be honest. Partially because I know that it's difficult enough to try and make everything work for people when they need it all right now, but also because at the end of the day they pay their fees and they expect good value for their money. Can't say I blame them either, really.

As a result I thought, right, get home, put some tea on (a nice salmon fillet with some steam fresh vegetables, very nice too it was) and whacked on the Prodigy and Arctic Monkeys CDs in the background while I had the cricket on. And England have started off pretty well for a change, just hope that they can continue in that fashion tomorrow as it's due to chuck it down over the weekend, so any lead we can gain early on is going to be completely advantageous in case of running out of time. Can't wait to see Flintoff really have a go at the Sri Lankans..

Tuesday 9th May - There Is No Such Thing In Life As Normal

Monday Monday, and after the usual hassle of stress at work (well not that much) it was time for me to be a bit more relaxed and go with a good friend of mine out for something to eat (the steak and ale pie I had was rather nice to be honest) and then off into town. Why? Because it was the fourth time on the current tour that no less than Morrissey was playing Manchester, and each time at a different venue. It was the turn of the Bridgewater Hall to play host on the Monday night.

The first support band (Kirsteen Young) were awful, just a bloke on drums and an insane woman who was trying hard to be a cross between PJ Harvey, Kate Bush and Tori Amos, but failing rather miserably on all counts.  The "tunes" were really bad and not even the excellent acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall could save them.  That said, the second support, Tiger Army, were tons better, especially the bloke playing the double bass who seemed to have a whale of a time there.

On to Moz, and after the strains of some odd cover version of You'll Never Walk Alone (not the best of ideas to play that in Manchester what with its Liverpool associations, to be honest) came an hour and a half of the man at his finest.  Being near the front had its advantages in that the excellent acoustics from the Bridgewater really held their own nicely, with some nice grinding guitars from Boz Boorer setting the mood and tone.  An opening salvo of First of the Gang to Die, Still Ill and You Have Killed Me went down very well, even if most of the people near the front just wanted to try and get past the security people to shake the man's hand.

Plenty of nice surprise song choices throughout too, with a rather more maudlin Girlfriend in a Coma, an excellent Trouble Loves Me from "Maladjusted" (that album is always underrated for some reason) and a rather epic, crashing, Life is a Pigsty. I loved the fact that Jesse Tobias had two huge cymbals which he crashed in time with the tune, really made it for me.   But no one expected How Soon Is Now, and no one expected it to be that good, with plenty of loudness and reverb as the band went off at the end, absolutely fantastic that was.

And a small encore of Irish Blood, English Heart, where everyone it seemed who had tried to invade the stage made a concerted effort to do so, but failed.  Still, some of them shook his hand and a few screaming fits from some of the female fans ensued in tears of joy, par for the course really. Not as much a "you had to be there" experience as MEN Arena, but still pretty good.  And I just can't get The Youngest Was The First Loved out of my head this morning with everyone joining in the lyric "there is no such thing in life as normal."

And today? Well back to reality really. I had a laptop in that had just refused to boot off Windows XP on its hard disk, and even trying to log on using the recovery console also resulted in failure. So in the end I had to clone the hard disk using Ghost to one of our backup PCs, and then from that using Ghost Explorer I could extract from the ghosted image all the documents that the member of staff had saved on there - a mere 5GB worth! And because I had an image of the laptop as it was when it was built, I can then re-image that back, update it, and then copy all the backed up documents back. A bit lengthy maybe, but it'll work! And add to that I'll finish that tomorrow, on what's going to be my 34th birthday (I know, I'm getting old now) and at least that'll set me up for the rest of the week.

I did find some time tonight to tend to the small front garden that's at the front of the house. Well, okay it's not a garden as such, just a bit of frontage and yard, but nonetheless with a small rockery and little tree. And unfortunately some weeds growing in there and also trying to make it look a mess. So it was out with the path weedkiller, and after I'd manage to persuade next door's cat Pinky to move a safe distance away (difficult sometimes as he absolutely loves the attention anyone gives him, me included) it was get out what I could and then spray the bits of root left with the spray gun. Hopefully that'll fix it for the summer now, and I felt a bit hot but definitely like it was worth the hassle.

My reward? No less than to watch the recording of the 1982 Superteams final I'd set to record last night while watching the Mozster. And it was entertaining stuff as athletics took on watersports in the final. Many on each team were already competitors in Superstars, such as Daley Thompson, Lynn Davies, Brian Hooper, Tim Crooks, Declan Burns etc, so they knew what to do. Great fun though, and I didn't realise the team event ran for so long. It'll be interesting when a project of mine becomes afoot.. more on that soon.

Monday 1st May - Bad Curry and Bad Snooker

The weekend was going to be a nice one, as I was heading out for a curry on the Saturday night. Now usually I know full well that with the amount of choice that Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, Manchester (aka The Curry Mile) offers, that it's hard to find one that is really good. And so it was off to my usual haunt, Lal Haweli, for a nice chicken korma.

Well, that was the theory. In reality it was a different experience. After getting a table, the waiter took the drink order, no problem there, and soon the starters and main were ordered also. The starter came out pretty quick and it was a rather nice and spicy mushroom pakora. Again, no hassles with that. But then it all started to go downhill and badly wrong. All the waiters seemed to be running around with not that much sense or purpose, and indeed I could hear a few people asking continually where their food was. And so it was a case of waiting, and waiting, and waiting. In the end I waited around 45 minutes for my main course to come out. In reality, despite it being really busy, that's too long. I wasn't that impressed either. The curry looked like it had overcooked as well with the sauce being a bit overdone. The chicken itself, and the fried rice, they were fine. It just looked like it was left without anyone taking responsibility.

Two female friends sat on the table near me had an even worse experience. They had to call the waiters over three time for one of those metal food warmers they put the curry on, and even then they didn't even give them plates or cutlery initially. I could tell they were not impressed - and I certainly wasn't either to be honest. Now it's okay being busy if you can cope with the number of customers and it's okay if you're honest about delays, but saying "one minute" to everyone wears a bit thin after a while. Suffice to say it's one of the rare times in my life that I haven't left a tip of any kind: in fact I was a bit tempted to ask for money off the bill considering the lack of service I'd received. In the end I was happy to leave. As such I can't recommend this place anymore for a curry, so it's time for me to start looking elsewhere down the Curry Mile next time.

One reason I think for the downturn is purely because of the lack of one person. There used to be a bloke there with a moustache who really ran the floor, kept the place running, and had excellent customer service skills. He'd take the order and make sure it was there on time, and any problems he took responsibility for and dealt with professionally. He wasn't there last night, and as I left, I noticed that another restaurant across the road looked to have had him working for them. If that's the case, watch the reputation of wherever he may be go up in the next few months. I'll have to find out where and report on.

And the snooker final? Well, I don't mind it being a tactical battle as long as it's exciting, but the fact that the opening session of Peter Ebdon against Graeme Dott had to be cut short by two frames because of the slowness, and the second session went on long into the night (I gave up at around 11-30pm, and they finished the second session at around 1am last night) said it all really. It was turgid, dour and dull. I'll watch today in the hope that it's a bit more exciting, because it simply can't get any worse. Part of me really wants to see it go all the way to an 18-17 last frame epic, but the way Dott was playing, steady and patient, I think he'll wrap it up later tonight without too much hassle.