Dear Diary... November 2013

Saturday 30th November - Birmingham Bargains

The Love In My Heart and I were up reasonably early today as we were heading off to Birmingham to see their Frankfurt Christmas Markets, and also to have a good day's worth of shopping, where I would hopefully be able to pick up some Christmas presents along the way as well. We were up, ready and out in good time to head to the tram stop, taking the tram to Piccadilly station before heading up to the main platforms. Our journey was in two portions: Manchester to Crewe, then Crewe to Birmingham. Booking this way, meaning at least part of the journey was on Virgin Trains, meant I could use my discount and therefore it worked out at £7.30 going, £6.20 going back, £13.50 each in total. Crosscountry wanted £15 for each person each way, so as you can see, a decent saving.

We got to Crewe and on Platform 5 there's a really nice and warm and cosy waiting room, I have to say possibly one of the nicest ever train waiting rooms we've been in. Plush sofas and even people locally selling hand made items as well, which was lovely and homely. I did keep my eye on the departure boards though as it looked like trains in and out of Birmingham were delayed - as it turned out due to a fatality near Smethwick Galton Bridge. The train was delayed into Crewe and changed to be on Platform 1, and all was well till we got near Birmingham where delays were inevitable, and so we got to New Street around twenty minutes delayed.

I had a nice surprise when I headed to New Street. We took the escalators off the platform, and the concourse was all nice and new, and not as dark and dingy and horrid, and even better, a straight run out to Stephenson Street if you so wanted. It looks tons better already and I msut admit it did make me feel rather happier arriving there than the horrid old condensed and ill fititng concourse it used to be. We headed through the covered walkway towards the Bull Ring Centre, and my, was it busy when we got there.

We headed around Debenhams and that was fairly busy indeed, especially more so at the tills where there didn't seem to be enough people around. We did manage to get served eventually and I made a start on the Christmas present buying that I wanted to do. On the whole, it was good to be able to get out of the Bull Ring though and head down to the markets, and lunch was grabbed there and a sit down outside the St Martins Church. The tea room next to the church looked nice but they'd ran out of food or lunch in there was very doable indeed.

It was good to head around some of the outdoor streets with the shops adjacent, and popped into a couple of stores in the Pavilions centre, and managed to get some gifts there before heading along to the rather nice arcade next to House of Fraser. We went into the Jaeger Outlet little store in the faint hope of me spotting the dress that Davina McCall had once worn on Million Pound Drop that The Love and I liked. We didn't find it, but in the men's section I found a really nice striped wool jumper, and it had been reduced from £120 to £35. I thought "why the hell not" and it was mine!

We then headed through House of Fraser and located a couple more presents before heading to the women's accessories section, and we spotted a rather lovely bag, made by Biba. I know they're not a cheap label by any means, but with 50% off suddenly things didn't seem so bad. We spotted a rather nice cross over bag in a lovely shade of burgundy with the Biba logo on, and with half off, a good price. I checked with The Love and it was to be purchased as one of her Christmas presents, and why not? It looked great and I'm sure she'll love it as her going out bag. Yaay!

We then headed very slowly up New Street and along the Frankfurt Christmas Markets, and any section next to any of the stalls selling food or beer were very busy indeed. The Love got a chocolate covered strawberry skewer and treated herself, and some of the stalls were just manically busy, making it hard to have a look around really. In fact the main section close to the gondolas were just way too packed and it took us some twenty odd minutes or so to move around.

The craft market section was less busy and one stall that sold some real ale from Shropshire also sold some rather nice mulled wine, so it was rude not to get some really. I was really pleased that we didn't have to pay a deposit on mugs and get that back later, so we could drink it and have a look around the stalls a bit easier. We then bought another present on one of the craft stalls and managed to get through Paradise Forum towards the central library and admire more stalls there.

We were getting peckish though and managed to locate a table at the Brasshouse, which is always a nice pub to be in as they do decent real ale, and indeed some nice food as well. I had the steak and ale pie and that was excellent, and The Love had the gammon which went down a treat, just the thing for hungry shoppers really. We then headed back through the markets and towards New Street station, to get the trains back to Crewe and then Manchester Picadilly before heading back on the tram. A good day out all told really, yaay. Tune of the day has to be "Shopping" by the Pet Shop Boys, sums up the day all round really as I brought back bags of stuff, even some for myself..

Friday 29th November - Chop Chop!

It was a case of getting myself out of work on time today, no mean feat as I had plenty to do, including a couple of meetings, one of which being our technical group meeting. From my own point of view, this had added responsibility as our site was down as the ones taking the minutes as well. I was pleased to have the laptop there with me as I could then essentially try and type things up whilst I was there, saving quite a bit of time and effort overall. I was actually able to send them out to one of my colleagues around a quarter of an hour after the meeting finished.

I headed home and then got myself in the shower and all ready to head out, as I was meeting up with The Love In My Heart and a couple of friends for a meal together - and The Albert Square Chop House had been booked. It looked a little on the pricey side but we hoped that the cooking would be excellent and the atmosphere the same as well, so that everything would be right in the end. The Love and I met at Piccadilly Gardens tram station, as she had taken the tram in, and we headed off to the Albert Square Chop House, and eventually got a drink because it was rammed full and very busy.

Indeed when our friends arrived we suggested heading straight down to the restaurant part if the table was ready for us (and it was). We did notice that even with it not being December, there were quite a few people out for their Christmas meal already, which has to be something I suppose. We got a table for four, and thankfully the real ale I had I was able to bring with me downstairs, which was the nice Lawless ale, and that went down a treat let me tell you.

I had the salmon fish cake for a starter, and this came with some tartare sauce. The fish cake was pretty hefty and the salmon wasn't skimped on so that was good, and The Love's pate also looked rather delicious as well, and some nice bread to go with it. I did go for the steak and kidney pudding for main, and was rewarded with a tower of suet and some gorgeous meat inside, and a fair lashing of gravy to soak that and the mashed potato with. It was gorgeous, and The Love's corned beef hash seemed nice enough, although I'd have probably wanted more of it to be honest.

We then headed from there along Princess Street and then down Charles Street to the Lass O'Gowrie for a drink, and the Betty's Best ale was on decent form, as were the four arcade machines in there. Of course me being me I had to have a blast of Track and Field, and improved my score each time, so much so that I actually headed within the top 100 on that machine (and believe me there are some very very decent scores on there). I even managed a pretty good attempt on the long jump although 9.50m plus is eluding me at the moment..

It was then off to Kro for a final relaxing drink, and it was good just to chill and relax. Our friend liked his belated birthday present (some Saimaza Cortado T-discs for the Tassimo, which was part of my big order I picked up from DPD in Irlam last Saturday!) along with some cups to have the coffee with, and that was good. The evening had sped by and soon The Love and I were heading back to hers on the tram, ready for a rather busy but exciting day tomorrow. Tune of the day in the meantime is "It's Grim Up North" by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, which I had in my head as we left the tram and headed back through the wind to The Love's place..

Thursday 28th November - Lemon Cake and Beakers

Another busy day of sorts really, and one I was just glad to be able to spend some time checking out some documentation that I needed to write and have a look at. I think now that the days have been pretty busy overall and it's definitely been something that I've got more used to, but it does mean that you have to really be on the toes and on it all the time. It's not ideal of course, because there are times when you need to just be able to concentrate, but that's how it'll be so I've just got to knuckle down and get on with it really.

Anyway, The Love In My Heart came over later, and we were able to have a fairly relaxed evening on the whole. I had all the ingredients for a spaghetti carbonara, albeit I used bacon lardons instead of pancetta as it was a little bit cheaper (and you got more of them so it meant a bit more meat in there) and made that so we could have it and relax for a little bit. I knew that my online food delivery from Sainsburys was coming along later on, and so we were going to head to Mum's first and have a coffee (and some cake!) there whilst we had time.

We had a good chat with Mum and there were a couple of things she wanted me to print off that she had emailed to me, so I had brought them along with me so she had them there and then. We relaxed in the front room with a coffee, and Mum had made these rather light and gorgeous lemon filled fairy cakes, which really did do the job nicely. Sometimes I think she'd be good on The Great British Bake Off to be honest, but equally more so in a nice little small coffee shop where she can be nice and chatty with people - so coffee shop people, if you'd like someone lovely who can make a good cake, get in touch!

We headed back to mine and bang on time the delivery man from Sainsburys arrived. He did notice my little shelf display of Muppets and was quite impressed and even asked where Beaker was, before I pointed it out to him. I was impressed that a) he knew who the Muppets were and b) he asked the question whether you could get Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (who would of course wave his arms and say "where the future is being made today" before unleashing another experiement on poor old Beaker himself.

It was a good evening overall and as I headed to bed I decided to relax with some music, and found out that there were a whole series of CDs of famous artists' tunes by a band called Rockabye Baby! Yes, all your favourite Nine Inch Nails songs for example done in a lullaby style. Bizarre it may sound, but actually some care and attention have been paid to making these, and so what might have sounded horrible was actually anything but. I'm going to nominate their version of "Wish" as tune of the day as it has a dark sound to it with the glockenspiel, but has all the same feeling. "Something I Can Never Have" isn't that bad either...

Wednesday 27th November - Four Two For Me

It was straight over to The Love In My Heart's place after work, as she had planned to make me something to eat before my friend would arrive later and head to the Etihad Stadium to see Manchester City against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League, our last home group game. With qualification already assured, a win tonight would mean we still had an outside chance of topping the group and maybe avoiding some of the teams we may wish to in the next round of the competition.

I arrived at The Love's, and we settled in to watch the likes of Four In A Bed and Come Dine With Me as we chatted and had a well earned coffee together. The two cats Jo and Brian were being all sweet and lovely, especially Jo who seems to have a little trick of coming towards you with this face wanting a kiss. Awww. Brian seems to like hiding and then peeking from a hiding place, so I had plenty of fussing to do before my friend came over, and The Love and I by this time had also had our meal too.

Over we went to the stadium and although it wasn't full, in the end a decent crowd did turn up, around 37K or so. Not too bad considering it was basically a nothing game as such, but of course with the goal scoring form City had been at home as of late, it was worth going just to see us hopefully knock a few in and be able to continue the scoring run. And of course utterly cement second place, which we didn't even really need to after Bayern Munich had thumped CSKA Moscow in the early kick off.

The game got underway and it was a bit end to end, and Plzen had some decent chances which they fluffed, and Samir Nasri also hit the bar with a belting shot from outside the area. However, with ten minutes or so to half time Sergio Agüero got into the box, hit the ball towards the goal but the ball was met by the hands of a Plzen defender, who looked a bit aghast when the referee gave a penalty. Agüero didn't miss and it was 1-0. However Plzen didn't take too long to hit back and their goal was a piledriver which no keeper would have saved, so Joe Hart didn't feel so bad for letting that one in really. Half time and 1-1, not what I predicted at all.

Agüero was substituted at the start of the second half for Jesus Navas, as we went 4-5-1 and indeed later in the half Yaya Toure came on for Fernandinho - and not long after that the two substitutes combined down the right and then a neat little dinked cross from Navas found Samir Nasri in the right place, and his cool finish made it 2-1. The defence then decided to commit harikari with Joleon Lescott and Aleksandar Kolarov getting confused with each other in the area, and before I knew it, it was 2-2. Not good enough really.

Álvaro Negredo was warming up on the bench, and the City fans chanted "Beeeeeeeeeeeast!" and wanted him on. He came on for Nasri, who had played really well all game to be fair, and within two minutes was showing Edin Džeko what to do, clearing a Plzen attack off the line and then moments later was in the right place at the right time to meet a cross on the edge of the area and slot it home into an empty net for 3-2. Džeko did eventually score at the end from a lovely cross and the 4-2 scoreline was deserved, although Plzen did give it a go and credit to them.

One of the things that I always love about the Champions League nights is the fact that it's the road to European glory and all, but also that theme, which I have no hestiation in singing all the words to (and yes I know them.) The thirty odd seconds they use before each game is stirring stuff and tune of the day really because it just makes the spine tingle and get you in the mood for getting behind the lads, especially with the three languages in the final words: "Die meister, die besten, les grandés equipes, the champions!" Oh yeah.

Tuesday 26th November - Go To Tuesday

It was a pretty good day at work in terms of the fact I was able to type up quite a bit of documentation and work towards getting one document finished off, and with plenty of screen shots along the way too. I think because a lot of people work more visually, it's quite nice to be able to do something which means you can look at a screen shot and think "ah yes, I am doing this right because this is what the screen looks like". It's also good because when the document is then created, it's a nice scalable PDF so you can view it however you want too. Always good that.

I worked a little bit later than normal to finish off the document to a point I wanted it to be, because for a lot of the screen shots I was going through a wizard screen, and I didn't want to stop half way through and then have to re-create all the steps again along with the screen shots. Excel surveys was my thing and it also meant that I was able to show the different fields in the wizard, the values and how it all looked when you used the drop downs.

That was on the back that I was part of today which we were doing a co-host with a couple of Microsoft reps, one of which is one of our current students, Kirsty, who is absolutely lovely. I think it helps when you've got warm friendly personalites who buzz with enthusiasm, and she certainly did. In fact at one point we were both showing off major selling points of a Microsoft Surface to a bunch of inquisitive students (for example: detachable keyboard that's also a cover, a proper USB port for plugging stuff in, making it a ton more useful for portability if you so wish) and that worked pretty well.

I also was able to be on hand for any questions that any students might ask, and it was good to hear from the students about all sorts and there were some enquiries about software and stuff like that, so it was a nice exercise from that point of view, and to be front facing but in a different way. Sometimes it's good to get an idea of the customer base and what they need and what they expect, and I was able to inform them about some exciting stuff heading their way, so that was pretty pleasing.

Later on I made The Love In My Heart and I some tea, and we watched Great Continental Railway Journeys which I'd recorded from Sunday evening. It went through parts of the Czech Republic, including Prague and Pilsen, who of course were where Manchester City's opponents tomorrow night are from - and as well as being the spiritual home of a certain type of lager, also turned out to be a rather mighty manufacturer of Skoda cars as well, who knew eh?

I did like the fact that once Michael Portillo headed into Germany he was concentrating more on the city of Munich, and how the fact that there's plenty of sausages (and certain ways of eating them at breakfast apparently) as well as the beer, as well as some local customs, really did kind of make the place a lot more interesting than some would believe. Sometimes that's just the way it works, although a bit of Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express" as the train hurtled through Germany wouldn't have gone amiss either - make that tune of the day.

Monday 25th November - Organisation and Debauchery

I felt pretty productive today, and the laptops I'd set off adding their extra software had all pretty much completed apart from one, so once I made sure any Windows updates had been done, it was then time to install Solidworks 2013 on them all. As they're individually serialised, I didn't package an install for them as you then would have to be changing the serial number on every one, and with each new release that becomes harder to do. It wasn't too bad as I'd got a few copies of the installer DVD and so was able to set off multiple machines at the same time with the serial number on each - which you then had to run the software and activate online, so best that I did it now.

That did take up most of the day to get done, and in between that I spent some time getting a few things organised and sorted out to make the rest of the week easier. I did have to think about an event I've got to co-host tomorrow afternoon and in a way be the face of our department, so need to be ready and to be sharp for that as well. I'm sure it'll go well but I need to be sure that I'm around to answer any questions and also to be an approachable and friendly face as well (here's hoping!)

I headed homewards via the local Tesco, mainly to get some top up credit for the phone. Since Boots stopped giving you Advantage Card points for topping up the phone (which used to be really good and you'd rack up the points that way) it just made sense to use Tesco and get some Clubcard points at least for topping up there. I needed to do so as the phone credit was a mere 50p, and that wasn't going to last me too long. At least when I do top up £15 I get free calls and texts to O2 numbers (so mainly The Love In My Heart of course) and so that works out well and lasts normally pretty long.

I spent some time during the evening with a purchase I did make on Saturday - no less than Tiger Woods 12 for the Wii. It's got The Masters course on it and it's worth it for that alone, but there's even mini golf (five courses) on there as well as some other modes like disc golf, so seems to work pretty well. Of course I daren't try the Wii Motion swing mode cos it's probably be too hard for me, but you can play at all levels and feel like you're playing well, so that's not too bad. I even tried Turnberry and got two under par, so felt pretty pleased on the whole really.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather excellent "Civilised Debauchery" from 3 Daft Monkeys, which sums up just how it is when you're at one of their gigs really - you know you shouldn't dance, but what the hell, you do anyway, and you know that you want to have another nice pint of ale to help you along as well (or in the drummer Rich Mulryne's world, some more red wine for the diaries). This also opened up their excellent show I saw in Manchester earlier this month and so brings back some happy happy memories, let me tell you.

Sunday 24th November - Hit For Six

I had an enjoyable night last night with The Love In My Heart, having some rather nice beef bourbignon for tea, watching the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special (which was pretty good, and then Tom Baker turned up, which made it even better - and a classic nod to the past with one character having a very Baker-esque scarf on to boot) and the red button programme directed by Peter Davison with himself, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in it - much funnier than the after show party which was, in a word, car crash television, it really was. Almost as bad as someone on The X Factor who apparently forgot the words to the song they were singing..

Anyway, an early(ish) rise and some nice bacon on toast for breakfast with a coffee (no less than some rather nice Jacobs Krönung from the Tassimo) and then off out, and off to see Manchester City do the business against Tottenham. It's normally quite open games against them, and a couple of seasons ago Mario Balotelli's injury time penalty winner for an epic 3-2 win was one of the key moments to win the title (and a 5-1 panning at their place too with Edin Džeko scoring four nonetheless). So here was hoping.

For those that didn't make it in on time, the game kicked off, the ball went back to Hugo Lloris, the Tottenham keeper, he fluffed his clearance, Sergio Agüero shot and it was saved, and then Jesus Navas lobbed the keeper with a sweet chip for 1-0. And all inside the first fifteen seconds too. Mental. Tottenham then did have the majority of the play for the first half hour, they came close twice and Agüero almost scored a second with a little dinked chip which Lloris was more awake to in the goal.

However, the second goal would come, and a neat passing move involving Samir Nasri saw Agüero draw the Tottenham defence, pass to Alvaro Negredo, and eventually the ball ricoched off two defenders going in off Sandro for 2-0. No lucky deflections though soon after, as Navas was put through by Pablo Zabaleta and his inch perfect pass found Agüero in the six yard box, and well he doesn't miss those to be perfectly honest! 3-0 at half time and it was truly amazing stuff. Tottenham were suicidal at defending and going for it, but leaving holes was not the thing to do.

The second half carried on in much the same vein after the break as Negredo released Yaya Toure, he bombed it down the pitch on a run and as Lloris came close he saw Agüero almost level with play, and a perfect pass to him saw Sergio do what he does best - score another. It was his 10th league goal of the season, making him the top scorer, and he's scored more than the whole Tottenham team have all season (bear in mind this is the 12th league game!) and that was 4-0.

The best finish of the game came next, as Fernandinho found Negredo. With his back to goal and Michael Dawson close by, The Beast (that's his nickname you know) reverse turned with a backheel of the ball, and then once past Dawson rifled a shot from eighteen yards past Lloris for 5-0 and half an hour left. And right at the death, an epic James Milner pass found Navas, who ran on and slotted it home. Hit for six! Get in. An epic performance from City and with Man U getting a 2-2 draw at Cardiff City later, it meant we went back above them as well. All in all, all good.

Later on when I got home I settled in for the evening with the Champion of Champions snooker, and the final session of the final between Stuart Bingham and Ronnie O'Sullivan. It was 5-4 to Bingham at the start of play, and they traded frames and kept the score close as it was firstly 7-7 and then 8-8, so all to play for. O'Sullivan made a decent break, Bingham missed and Ronnie then cleaned up for 9-8, and then was imperious in the next frame to win it. It had been a good final though and some classic matches in the tournament (especially Carter v Robertson earlier in the week) made it worthwhile.

Kudos too to ITV4 for their coverage, ad breaks between frames which wasn't as bad as you'd think, and Clive Everton as lead commentator, ably assisted by Neal Foulds and Alan McManus who were pundits as well, and did an excellent job. It also shows the BBC up for not using Clive anymore, his expert analysis and only need to say something when needed to is perfect for us watchers - we can get enthralled without endless asking "where's the cue ball going" or the same tales about players over and over again that seem to come out. A master class in how to do commentary properly.

And there was the small matter of the Brazilian Grand Prix too, which was pretty good. I did feel gutted it was Mark Webber's final race, and it would have been nice had Sebastian Vettel's car packed up whilst in the lead, thus meaning Webber's second was a win, but you can't win them all. It was good also to see Jenson Button battle his way through to fourth (McLaren's best finish of a poor season) and hold off Nico Rosberg whilst doing so - sterling job there Jenson! And with that, the season has ended. Boo. Roll on next March I think.

Tune of the day in the meantime reflects the mood I'd be in all day after that rather impressive win by Manchester City today - "Beautiful Day" by the Levellers. Somehow it just feels right to be bounding around and singing along after a win. Definitely the case, and just a bit gutted that I can't see them in December due to a clashing gig I've already got planned in London. Ah well, I'm sure there'll always be next time to see them and sing along - so it goes...

Saturday 23rd November - A Cold and Frosty Irlam Morning

It was rather cold and frosty as I awoke this morning, and so once I got myself showered and changed, and ready to go, I made sure I had all the forms of ID I needed plus my card left by the DPD delivery driver yesterday, and I was off into the city centre and more importantly to Oxford Road station, where from there I'd be getting the train to Irlam, where the DPD parcel depot is. One of my friends used to live there, and the trading estate was a road he used to drive through on the way home to make sure that he got home quicker, so I knew roughly where I was going.

At Oxford Road the train was at Platform 5 (not generally used apart from the Oxford Road to Liverpool trains), but it was rather cold, and so I grabbed a coffee from the café in the station, and that kept me nicely warmed up as the train arrived. The train was a nice quick journey only stopping at Deansgate and Urmston before turning up to Irlam, and I remembered the quick way out down the subway and to the roads that took me to the parcel depot in quick(ish) time.

At the depot itself the DPD staff were very friendly, collected the card, asked for the forms of ID, and were generally really warm and friendly people with a smile. They handed me the parcel over and I headed out of the depot with a smile - good customer service is always welcomed by me let me tell you. I managed to walk back quickly with parcel in hand and as I got to Irlam station the train had just arrived, so I ran up the stairs to the platform and just about managed to get on the 0911 train back, saving me a thirty minute wait in the cold at the station. Result. Even more so when I got to Oxford Road as I only had to wait two minutes for a bus home. Hurrah! Isn't it great when public transport works properly (note to Metrolink: a bit of ice and frost doesn't stop the local trains, the trams should follow suit)

Once I arrived home I opened the package and had a well earned cup of Jacobs Krönung XL from the Tassimo, which I managed to get recently. It's rather nice and the XL size means you get a decent cup (the standard size is only 140ml, nowhere near enough!) and the cost isn't that bad, so all good. Once I felt refreshed and up, it was into the city centre to mainly get my hair cut, and the lovely ladies at the Northern Cutter did their bit and had the rather nice "Pacific 202" version of the 808 State classic "Pacific State" so that has to be tune of the day for definite. Proper tune, that.

I did have a little look around the city centre getting some Christmas present ideas together but I got the impression that the city centre on a Saturday afternoon wasn't for me - far too many people to be honest, and also you can't concentrate on what to look for when there's so many people around. I must admit this is partly why I really like online shopping so much - it's easier, no queues, and you pretty much get what you want with limited hassle. Yaay indeed.

Friday 22nd November - Rocketing

I had another pretty productive day, as I spent a fair amount of time with a colleague in a meeting to discuss one of the Office 365 components, Lync, and how the presentation that he would give would be able to interact with the plan to probably use the web interface if possible. A lot of the pros and cons were weighed up and it seemed a good presentation to me, so kudos really to him for that. We also chatted about a few things over a coffee and all was well with the world there.

I'd also set off a batch of the laptop trolleys for imaging, as I was going to do this last week but couldn't. So far so good - all of them have brought down the main image first go and I've left them over the weekend doing the extra applications needed, which as a final step removes it from Active Directory so it can be used as a standalone trolley laptop as intended. I've then got to install Solidworks 2013 on them all, which is a manual job because of the individual serial numbers (I remembered to deactivate the serials before imaging!) so that's one for Monday really.

I headed on the way home and the journey seemed to take more time than usual, especially heading on the main road towards my house. When I did get home there was a card through the post from DPD, saying that they'd missed me for a package delivery. I knew what it was, so I contacted the number on the card which went through an automated system which told me what to do, and they even had keyboard presses sampled (as if someone was typing) whilst the recorded voice said "let me check that for you". It also meant that I was able to arrange a collection from the depot as well, which I'll do tomorrow.

I had the Sainsburys groceries arrive from my online shopping, and I have to say they were spot on. The driver was running late and going to be outside my delivery window, and so called me to let me know. It wasn't a biggie, but good to know that at least I had been contacted nonetheless. Everything arrived safe and sound and I had a Pizza Express La Reine pizza for my tea whilst watching the Champion of Champions snooker with no less than Ronnie O'Sullivan against Ding Junhui.

It proved to be another close match and even though Ding went 3-0 up Ronnie pulled it back to 3-2, and then they traded frames till Ding went 5-3 up with three to play. It was a great break from Ronnie which meant that the match went to 5-5. Even then Ding went 50-0 up in the final frame but ran out of position, and Ronnie fought back, with the battle being eventually settled on the final blue, which both players had chances of hitting in before Ronnie sank it, to massive cheers from the crowd obviously. Another great match and 6-5 really was how close it was in the end.

Tune of the day for me is a song I simply cannot get out of my head at the moment, "World on Its Head" by 3 Daft Monkeys. It has a real catchiness about it, especially the chorus which does make you want to dance around the room and just enjoy the moment. I was tempted to head to Weston-super-Mare on 22nd December to see them live, but the trains are too expensive - the Premier Inn for £29 and the ticket was relatively cheap, but I couldn't justify the £70-plus cost of the train - if I'd have known earlier, I'd have been tempted to book. Oh well, never mind.

Thursday 21st November - Productive

I somewhat felt quite productive today, but that was primarily because we had the SCCM server back up and running which meant I was able to do some distribution tasks as well. I had mentioned the fact that for some reason Windows Essentials 2012 wasn't on the current Win7 build, and some people had requested that the Windows Movie Maker be updated to the new version. Obviously, we have to be careful about any difference in releases - but at the same time those with 2012 can't open their projects in 2011, although 2012 opens both.

I had investigated the use of a command line to install just the Movie Maker portion, which worked a treat. As such I was now able to create a package in SCCM and so be able to test it out to a test machine, which went through without issues. I've also spent some time today cleaning up the SCCM 2007 system, notably packages, prior to a future migration to SCCM 2012. One of the most important things to note is that over the years we've had different versions of some pieces of software, so part of my cleanup is checking which ones are used, and why, and then removing the old versions.

It's also given me an interesting heads up in that some of the packages, because they are tied to licences and also tied to certain licence servers, means that only certain faculties should really in reality be running the software. As such this also means that I'm working out a way to make it more obvious when looking at a package that it can't be distributed willy nilly to everyone, so that's a possible plan to have some recommendations together and procedural stuff which I need to document.

I've also documented a good little overview of how the Excel web application works in Office 365, mainly where the options are, the screens that people will see when they create a new document, open an existing one and indeed if they select "Open in Excel" what happens. Part of the reason is that if they do the latter, you'll see a prompt which says "this document has been opened from the Internet and is read only" and you have to click the "allow editing" button in the yellow bar at the top, so good to reassure people with a handy screen shot to say "yes, this is behaving as it should, please don't worry."

I felt also productive later in the cooking department as I made The Love In My Heart and I a rather nice chorizo pasta bake, just the perfect thing for those cold late Autumn evenings. It went down very well and The Love had got a bottle of pinot grigio from Tesco on the way, and then realised I'd got one last night, so she sensibly took it home later so she had a bottle in if she fancied a glass during the week, fair enough that. The pasta bake went down ever so well and the Sainsburys pasta sauce was actually pretty thick and nice too, and really gave it a nice bit of kick.

Once we'd had tea it was Masterchef The Professionals time and quickly the six became four to cook for the critics. One chef stood out massively and both The Love and I went "yes, he's through to the semi-final no question" and so it proved - both Monica and Michel were both impressed and they thought the same as us. We then turned it over to the Champion of Champions snooker, which was shaping up to be an epic between Neil Robertson and Ali Carter - and so it proved.

The Love headed home and I carried on watching, and before I knew it, it was 5-5 and down to a decider. The final frame ebbed and flowed and Ali Carter had a green which was going to help him win the match, but he missed, and from there Neil Robertson held his nerve, and eventually he sank enough balls to win the final frame on the pink and get through 6-5. There were century breaks a plenty and some excellent tactical play, and lots of commentators and pundits were saying it was one of the best matches of the season. Hard to disagree with that sentiment, so tune of the day is what I'd love to see ITV use for the snooker theme: "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band, aka the proper snooker theme.

Wednesday 20th November - Whether the Weather

The weather was pretty rainy and full of stormy winds overnight, and I must admit I was pretty pleased to get a decent amount of sleep. I did wake up once during the night with the pitter patter of raindrops hitting the bedroom window, but on the whole it wasn't too bad to be able to get some well earned sleep overall. I think though that the rain was set in for most of the day, and so it proved. Thank heavens that my Winter jacket is waterproof and windproof, certainly did the job today for sure.

I had a good meeting this morning with a colleague with regards to documentation and the way we were going, and that proved to be pretty good. In fact I had a well earned latte in there also and that was nice to have it in a proper mug as we were staying in, so felt much more nicer and more of a café atmosphere to be honest. And more importantly, dry. I was able to show some progress with a couple of documents and get some ideas as to how we'd like some of them to look, which worked pretty well overall.

The day sped by all too quickly but I did manage to get together a few documents which were needed to be done and on top of that be able to sort out some issues, especially that our SCCM console and distribution points are back up and running and doing what they need to do now. I must admit though that I'm still wary after the events of the last few weeks or so, so I'm treading pretty carefully and making sure that whatever we do, we get done the right way and make sure all is well there.

I headed after work to my sister's place as it was my brother in law's birthday, and good to see them both and the two children too, who were happy to dance around the living room and smile whilst doing it, which was rather good all round really. My brother in law liked the book I got him, and the card made him giggle too, so made the right choice there. It was also good to chat about all sorts and how if Aldi decided to do online grocery shopping they might even get more customers - maybe posher people who wouldn't necessarily go in there. Not a bad point actually.

I headed home later and it was more of the snooker - the Champion of Champions event on ITV4. One thing to note straight away is the rather better commentary team than the BBC currently have. ITV4 sensibly have Clive Everton doing the lead commentary, who doesn't always have to say lots to get the message across. They've also got Alan McManus and Neal Foulds, who is either the second commentator or the in-studio pundit, which to be honest makes a lot of sense to me.

The snooker was decent too, with Stuart Bingham up against Judd Trump tonight. The match was much closer than Bingham's 6-2 win suggested, with a couple of frames being won by Bingham on the last black, and indeed a couple where Trump missed balls off their spots, and Bingham then took the opportunity to clean up. An intriguing match all round and the only thing missing - the proper snooker theme, "Drag Racer" by Doug Wood which is tune of the day.

Tuesday 19th November - Scandinavian Soiree

It was a pretty busy day today at work, and a lot of focus was getting some of the things ready for the official naming and opening ceremony of the new building that one of our faculties have. Behind the scenes there were some video footage clips which we needed to try and put together with a Powerpoint presentation so that the speaker could just press the clicker and all was well. However, the video was in heavily compressed MPEG4 H.264 format, which Powerpoint disliked. I managed to get a converter that converted it to the much more Powerpoint-friendly Windows Media format, and with hardly any loss in quality too. Worked a treat in Powerpoint that which just meant ease of clicking to play clips and then speak a bit. Ace.

I headed home and managed to get a few things sorted around the house that I needed to do before tuning in to ITV4 for the snooker, it's the start of the Champion of Champions event featuring sixteen top players in four groups, with two semis and a group final for the first four days. I got home from work and managed to see that it was 3-3 in the best of seven between John Higgins and Stephen Maguire. In a tense last frame Maguire held his own and won 4-3, pretty good stuff all round.

The Love In My Heart came over later and I made us some chicken in a madeira and mushroom sauce and some mash and carrots to go with it for tea, which went down pretty well on the whole. I timed it so that The Love could enjoy Emmerdale without any disturbance and then have the tea, and then after that it was time for Masterchef: The Professionals on BBC Two, which hopefully was going to feature some quality cooking from the contestants, however the truth was it was anything but.

In fact, if Michel Roux Jr and Monica Galetti were able to send two of the four contestants home, I think they would have done. Two were terrible in their skills test and in making one of the classic recipes for Michel, one of them decided that their French variation of the pork pie was going to be like a sausage roll that you would get from Greggs. Brazilian or not, if you've lived in the UK for a bit surely you'd know the look you were getting when cutting the pastry the way you were? And the other one that served inedible scallops - sacking offence right there.

I then put on the recording from Sunday night of Great Contiental Railway Journeys as Michael Portillo discovered Scandinavia. Of course, having been to Copenhagen, it was great to see some of the sights of the place, including the grand square where the royalty would be, the statue of the Little Mermaid (I've had my picture taken there), the waterways and boat cruises in the city centre, and the rather old and intense wooden rollercoaster in Tivoli Gardens, which to be honest you simply must do.

It was even better when he headed into Sweden, went to the Volvo headquarters and saw a rather picturesque waterfall come to life when the water dam was opened up, and finally being in Norway, taking on their extreme aerial slide almost ski jump style, which not only looked very steep down but also rather good fun it has to be said. Not sure Michael really fancied doing the sauna near Malmö when he was in Sweden though, but fair dos for giving it a go anyway.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather good "The Birds" by Elbow. The building in question that I mentioned earlier was being opened tonight, and no less than Guy Garvey of Elbow had actually came along to say some words and put the official seal on the opening, which was rather good of him all round to be honest. For me, as well, the band really do keep to their local roots, not just doing tonight, but having a beer produced with the Robinsons brewery of Stockport and generally liking where they are. Yaay them.

Monday 18th November - Just Another Manic Monday

And yes for the record, I do wish it was Sunday, as the Bangles did sing in their classic song. Actually when my friends were here the other weekend I know that one of them was (and still is) into that band and that when he saw them his words were "my, Susannah Hoffs still has it.." and I can believe that. In fact, Monday was pretty manic today but for all the reasons I didn't want it to be really. For a start, we've just overcome a shed load of issues that have affected systems, but there's certain things we can't do, so I've had to re-schedule some work for the time being.

In fact it was a case of re-arranging a lot of things generally, and so I had to abandon my plan for re-imaging one of the banks of laptop trolleys that I had booked out, simply because I wasn't able to do so and won't be till later i the week. As such it definitely means that I'm trying to then sort the workload out later in the week to free myself up for that, so fingers crossed that I'll be able to do it all then. I did on the positive side get a few contractors, an academic and me together to thrash out a plan for one room where we need to put plenty of PCs in, so all good there.

I had a bit of a leisurely evening on the whole, and was buoyed by the annoucement that Nine Inch Nails are coming to the UK next May. I might have to do London or Manchester, although I must admit I really do dislike what's now called the Phones 4 U Arena, the atmosphere isn't the greatest in there and the sound's usually off, and although the O2 is as soulless, at least it'd be a different setting to see the band than last time (plus last time in London they had Gary Numan as guest, which would have been bloody brilliant, so tempting to go there just in case...)

Nonetheless though I guess sometimes it's also thinking about what would be great to see, and I came up with a short wish list of my own: 3 Daft Monkeys in their native Cornwall, Swing Out Sister playing Manchester again and taking The Love In My Heart to see them, and Goblin reforming and playing Manchester. And.. they are! So I could go and hear some of their soundtracks from the iconic horror films Profondo Rosso and Suspiria, right? Indeedy. Sort of tempting, that, in so many different ways - their theme from Suspiria is therefore tune of the day.

Sunday 17th November - Stockport Shopaholic

The Love In My Heart and I had a well deserved lie in this morning after a long day out with all the travelling and walking around yesterday. When we did eventually get up and have some breakfast, my cousin had got back to me with a couple of ideas for a birthday present for her daughter and so I had a plan - head into Stockport, do a little bit of shopping, and then head out for a nice lunch later on. A sort of more leisurely day compared to yesterday really.

We headed into Stockport and pretty much knew what we were after. In fact, we were going to get our cards from Clinton's till I realised that Marks and Spencer have a decent card collection and The Love had her loyalty card so she could rack up the stamps on that to get a free card. In fact I had another birthday to buy for this week and so I managed to get two good cards - and in fact they were nicer and less expensive than Clinton's, so there you go.

I also managed to get the present I was after, so all good there, and The Love managed to have a look in Primark and Next for a couple of nice jackets that she was eyeing up. In fact we also headed into River Island and we noticed that there were some Chelsea Girl branded clothing. She told me that back in the day Chelsea Girl was in Piccadilly and apparently the shop for her to go clothes shopping in, so it looks like a brand relaunch might be retro yet also cool for a new generation, interesting move that I think.

We then decided to head for a late afternoon lunch and after some thought plumped for the Greenfinch in West Didsbury. It used to be called The Four In Hand and was always good for decent real ale back then. Today was no exception. I could have had Hobgoblin (woohoo!) but instead went for the Jennings Arthur's Knight Porter, which was rather dark and rather lovely in equal measure. We both had a nice meal too (and it's two for one in there) - The Love had the beef in red wine sauce and I had the chicken and mushroom pie. It was a proper pie too so that made me a very happy bunny, let me tell you.

We relaxed back at mine with a game of Scrabble and I also had on in the background Don't Tell The Bride Australia on Really. I thought that voice over sounded recognisable and when the next episode came on, it showed you the host, and it was no less than Kate Ritchie, aka Sally from Home and Away. When I was younger and Home and Away was cult viewing back then on ITV, she blossomed throughout the years. Her wit was quite scathing as well, perfect for the programme here I thought.

Later on it was then time for the F1 race from Austin. To be honest, as good as Sebastian Vettel is, can't someone actually challenge him for a race win now and again? Credit where it's due to Romain Grosjean for a great drive to second and to hold off Mark Webber, but everyone else seemed to be nowhere to be honest, and I can only hope that the 2014 regulations shake it up a bit to be honest. In any case tune of the day is the rather rocking "Constant Motion" by Dream Theater - kind of sums up how Vettel is right now...

Saturday 16th November - The Scottish Singing Butler

It was an early rise for me (5.10am to be precise) as The Love In My Heart and I were off to Glasgow for the day, mainly to see the Jack Vettriano retrospective exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, where many of his original works were being shown in one rather large collection and on public display. Sensibly, there was a small ticket price of £5 and we'd reserved the tickets in advance just in case of any possible sellouts, and of course I'd booked the trains cheap too. The Love headed to mine around 5.45, and off we headed to Piccadilly to get the 0633 departure from Platform 14.

The train left and passed through Bolton, Preston and then Lancaster on its way up North, and as we headed to the Lake District, the daylight started to show the landscape and countryside to its finest, notably as we surged through Oxenholme and saw Kendal in the distance looking resplendent. We then headed to Penrith and Carlisle before the train then carried on non-stop, over the border, through the gloriously rugged countryside of the Scottish Border counties before the feel became more urban as we headed to Motherwell and then along through the suburbs and over the River Clyde to Glasgow Central.

It was a short walk out of the station to the bus stop, and the number 3 arrived in good time which would take us to the Kelvingrove, and a rather nice sight as we got off the bus - the whole museum and gallery in front, and really massive and impressive. We went in and went up to the first floor before we spotted that the exhibition was actually on the lower ground floor, so a quick diversion later and that was us sorted, and sure enough there wasn't many people around (it was around 10.15am so the museum hadn't been open that long) and showed our tickets, which the rather nice attendant changed to a souvenir ticket, which had a print of Vettriano's on, and that pleased The Love immensely.

It was a privelege to see so many of the pictures which The Love has adored over the years in one place, and the originals at that. Straight ahead of you, pride of place on one wall, was the original of The Singing Butler, and as The Love has a replica canvas print of that in her front room, she was immediately rather pleased, and many more of his early by the beach work showed there nicely. Intriguingly too, some of the more racy erotic art he's done, such as the controversial Game On, were in one room that had been painted red - quite apt really all things considered.

In total, over a hundred original works were on display and we were fascinated to see that some of the originals belonged to Sir Tim Rice and Jack Nicholson, and that others were in the hands of private collectors as far afield as Singapore and Sweden, as well as many across the UK. Some of my favourites were the ones painted in Nice, such as Blue Blue, with a couple sat on the famous blue chairs that adorn the Promenade des Anglais in Nice (if you've ever been you'll recognise them). There were even some more recent works there and we both really enjoyed having a good look at the pictures close up. The Love was especially happy as some of his art are amongst her favourites, and so to see them properly was very nice.

The shop at the end of the exhibition had all sorts of stuff, especially lovely were the chiffon scarves for the ladies, but £50 was a little steep, no matter how lovely they were. The mugs were also good, some of which had the pictures on, and another one had the retro styled logo used for the exhibition. The Love got herself a pocket mirror and bookmark both based on one of his pictures and some of the limited edition print runs signed by Jack himself were being sold for £400 upwards, which although not cheap is probably not a bad way to get some of his work as a limited version.

We headed around the rest of the museum, paying particular attention to the Rennie Mackintosh display, before we then headed back on the bus to the city centre and to Sauchiehall Street. It was lunch time and I had a plan to see if we could go in the Willow Tea Rooms and have lunch there. It wasn't full and there were some spare tables available, so we were able to sit at one and admire the building and the history of the place, and the fact it was a proper tea room where the staff wore black and white uniforms and served with smiles and happiness on their faces - and rather nice to see that too.

The Love had a baked potato with prawns and a marie rose sauce, which looked good, and I went full on for the fish with an Arbroath Smokie no less. I'd seen it on Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys a while ago, and as it was available, thought it best to try it. And it was gorgeous - a whole fish almost, and I had to therefore make sure I'd removed the bones as I picked the inside of fish off, and that served with a cloutie just worked well to keep everything traditional. The scrambled eggs with toast was also proving to be very popular indeed also.

The food was lovely, the pot of tea The Love had was rather nice, and the desserts were - well, wow. I had the carrot cake, and it came as a very large cupcake with a nice serving of whipped cream on the side. It actually worked very well that way and looked rather cute before I scoffed it, and The Love's meringue was also beautiful, and massive. She loved that lots too and it was just nice to relax and have a good filling lunch and it was well worth the money (I should add it wasn't that expensive either) - I can highly recommend it if you're in Glasgow.

We spent most of the afternoon heading around the city centre and doing a fair bit of shopping together, and it was good to just get a mooch around and enjoy walking around together. We even saw the Christmas Market close to the St Enoch Centre, and so had an enjoyable time looking at the stalls there and being pretty tempted by the mulled wine too. It was also nice that many of the shops were also more local ones, and Ness in particular was one that we both enjoyed browsing in.

After a hard earned drink down the pub it was time to head back on the 1706 departure from Glasgow Central to Manchester, and because it was already dark by the time we left, it always feels a longer journey than it would be in daylight. In fact we were on time when we got to Preston, but ended up being stuck behind a local stopping train all the way to Manchester, so that wasn't too good and meant we were delayed almost half an hour getting back to Piccadilly. Not good really.

It had been a really good day though, and we were chatting on the train on the way back what our favourite song by a Scottish band would be. Tough decision that, and I did think of plenty that I could have had although I'd possibly go with something from Deacon Blue to be honest, maybe "Dignity" from their opening album Raintown, quite gritty but in a good way, and it does at least leave you feel uplifted in the end, so that's tune of the day for a number of reasons.

Friday 15th November - Early Nights and Christmas Lists

It's been the end of a very long week at work, and one I was pretty glad to see the back of to be honest. Today though meant that I spent a fair chunk of the day with one of our engineers for our wide format printers, who was spending a bit of time getting them up and running. They needed me there to do some tests and make sure that everything was properly up to scratch, and the tests I did seemed to be pretty comprehensive. In fact I spotted that the quality on one of them wasn't quite up there, and so the engineer did some more work to make it better, which was good.

In fact as the hard disk had died inside the controller, the replacement went in, but we then had to add all the settings back and indeed on top of that then remember to make sure that the paper type was correctly selected as well. It's a good job in many a way that we've backed those settings up, and it transpired that the licence for one of the printers was stored on the defective drive, and so the engineer got us a fresh one and that made everything all good to go again. It was also good to appreciate more what was going on, and that in turn gave me much more of an inkling what we could do in future.

I headed homewards later, and had a pretty relaxed evening in on the whole. I waited for the delivery driver from Sainsburys to drop all the shopping off, and that was all good, and then once that was done and with everything put away, I started to make the evening meal and do a fair bit of ironing, as well as wash the duvet cover and sheets for the bed so I could put them clean on before I headed off out tomorrow morning. It also meant that with all of that done I could at least settle in for the evening and if I wanted to watch the England v Chile friendly.

Once England went a goal down and once it got to half time, it was a friendly match, so I wasn't really that meithered about watching the rest of it to be honest (as it turned out we lost 2-0.) Instead I turned my attention to finishing off the Christmas list that I usually do each year. Because of my large CD collection especially, many years back I started doing a list which I'd distribute to mainly family but sometimes friends as well, so that they could pick me something I didn't have, and therefore it'd mean not only would I be easier to buy for, but also that I'd get something I knew that I wanted. Win win really.

I had a chat to my sister, whom I thought had already got all her Christmas presents sorted, but she hadn't, so I was able to send her a list over and get that sorted too. In fact it was productive in any case as The Love In My Heart really wanted me to finish it off so she could get the remainder of her Chrismas shopping done, so with some 3 Daft Monkeys on in the background ("Agnes the Giant Killer" is tune of the day for that reason) it was good to relax, get things done and then get an early night before the trip to Scotland tomorrow..

Thursday 14th November - Nuuuuuuman! Nuuuuuuuman!

After a tough and long day at work, due to some ongoing issues, it was good to get myself home, spend a bit of time sorting the house work out, chatting to The Love In My Heart on the phone and then making myself some fish for tea, and have myself ready for the evening. I had tried to see if anyone wanted to buy my spare ticket at face value, but it looked highly unlikely, and I'd resigned myself to not being able to sell that really. The gig hadn't sold out as tickets were available on the night, and as a result the ticket buyers outside the venue weren't even charging full rate, so not a chance really.

Anyway, as I'd heard the times for the support and main acts, I had time to head over to Costa close to the Academy and warm up with a nice Americano for myself. Granted, I know there's the Tassimo I have, but there is something nice about being sat down on one of their comfy sofas (and with free wi-fi!) and just taking it relatively easy with a big mug - it just works wonderfully well for me somehow. It meant I could head to the Academy just beforte the support came on too, so all good there.

On came Losers, and if a band had a more inappropriate title, I'd like to see one. They so weren't. Their songs were very good on the whole and you could tell that they really were wanting to crank it up and rock some, as well as have a dark edge to their songs - you can see why Gary Numan picked them for the tour somehow. The closing track "Azan" had a wonderful edge to it all and really did feel somewhat sinister, and very Numan-inspired. Well worth a watch if you get the chance.

A short break followed and I headed off to the Academy bar, whilst Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" was being played. Oh good, I thought, "Build A Rocket Boys" ale at the bar. What I didn't expect was to be charged a massively expensive £4.50 for it, and that it would be in the fridge and not at room temperature. What the hell, Manchester Academy? Gone were the days when it used to be a cheap priced venue and that really meant I took the time to savour the beer so as not to get ripped off scandalously for another one.

On came Gary Numan, and as per usual, a rather storming show all round. Playing a selection of tracks from the new album "Splinter" plus a collection of the old and new classics was a good move all round, keeping everyone interested. Early in the set was "Metal", always a song I've liked, but especially more when Nine Inch Nails did a great cover version of it, and then even more early stuff in "Films" which with the screens in the background really did sound storming.

Out of the new album stuff, the title track "Splinter" came across really well live, showing plenty of depth, and "Here In The Black" was also very good. We did get "The Fall" from the "Dead Son Rising" album, and that's a track I really like, so that was good. What I didn't expect was to then get back to back "Down In The Park" (superb enough) followed by an epic version of "Pure" as well. And yes, I sang along loudly to the chorus too: "Hey! Bitch! This is what you are..." - just really great to be honest.

One of the highlights from Splinter came late in the set, the superb "Love Hurt Bleed" followed by another great track from the Pure album "A Prayer For The Unborn" which really sounds more epic and emotional live than on record. He went off, but not for long, as he and the band came back on and nailed it with "Cars" and "Are Friends Electric?" back to back. The crowd did the right "woooooah, woooooah" bits during that song, and everyone just felt in a rather happy and good mood as "My Last Day" closed the evening, allowing the band to head off with the instrumental end. Another great Numan gig, bit gutted my friend was too ill to see it...

Wednesday 13th November - Hospital and Firefighting

Another busy day, but one that was rather punctuated in two halves, with a course commitee meeting taking most of the morning, but thankfully coffee and biscuits were provided for it. A few sticking points were what I needed to try and address, and on the whole although it overran somewhat, it was good to be there and at least give some input to the whole thing. I do get on well with a lot of the staff on the course as well so it makes life easier to work with.

In the afternoon it was a fair amount of firefighting, as some of the systems we had weren't functioning fully, and close to the end of the day I had to head over to see someone in one of our administrative offices, who for some reason was getting a weird EndNote related error to the way that they were supposed to be printing, which was something odd. Managed to sort that of course, but always good to spot these little foibles now and then. As I was heading home, things looked like they were down again, oh joy of joys really.

After heading home and having something for tea, it was off to the hospital to see my friend. He's still waiting for a scan which will determine what's actually up with him and whether it's something that means he can go home or not. Apparently the scanner that is needed is down to only one of them and there's a backlog of stuff to head through that, so it might be a case of waiting for longer. Despite that he seemed in good enough spirits but admitted that he'd probably be giving tomorrow night's Gary Numan gig a miss. I wasn't surprised and I know he'll be gutted to miss it, but you can't always help being poorly, sadly.

I headed home and after a bit of Masterchef: The Professionals it was on with the online food shopping. I had a interesting bit of post from Sainsbury's, where for the next four weeks I get £6, £10, £10 and £6 off my online food shopping, which has to be worth serious consideration. I also spotted that spending £15 on cleaning type products meant free delivery for the next order (normally around £5 in itself) and I did actually need a large box of washing powder and fabric conditioner, washing up liquid, fluffy dusters etc, so I got a bit crafty there, as you do.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather good title theme to the film "Weird Science" by Oingo Boingo, featuring a certain Danny Elfman on vocals as well. I still want to completely nail this on vocals on Rock Band 3, and I'm pretty close. It's amazingly difficult, and I did try the keyboard out, which actually worked very well indeed to be honest - much fun there. I think though that part of me wants to yell out "She's alive! She's alive!" like in the film though, hehehe.

Tuesday 12th November - Michel (and Monica) Mastery

It was a rather productive sort of day, punctuated by the fact that there seemed to be a few issues going on towards the end of the day that might mean a not great start to tomorrow. I did at least manage to get on with one of the development meetings I had planned though with one of my managers, and that did at least give me the impression that I felt appreciated for what I do. It was also good to see what the plans were for me and what I needed to progress and achieve too.

I completed watching the Bathurst 1000 highlights DVD when I got home, pretty good all round really. The race ended up being a massively close fight between Mark Winterbottom and Jamie Whincup, with Winterbottom getting his first ever Bathurst win in a close finish. Craig Lowndes was third and that's now his twelfth podium at the mountain, equalling some of the greats in that achievement (five of those incidentally have been wins) and he had a titanic scrap with Garth Tander for that position. Some seriously bloody good driving, it has to be said.

The Love In My Heart then came over and I made us some spaghetti with meatballs and indulged her a little with some Emmerdale before we settled back and watched Masterchef: The Professionals. The skills test really always seems to be a battle of nerves as the Medusa-like stare and facial expressions of Monica Galetti really do make you think how hard she must be as a judge. However, if you do well, and one of them did, you can tell massively.

The four in this episode were then cooking a French classic for Michel Roux Jr, followed by an interpretation of a classic themselves, and with varying results. We both had it pretty much sussed who was going to leave and that didn't surprise us, but what did was that some of them really struggled with mastering the ingredients and getting the taste right. As Michel would testify, it's having that palette and passion and in some of them you could really tell it's what they cared about.

On went my Freeview HD recorder box and played back was Sunday's latest instalment of Great Continental Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo doing his thing around parts of Germany. The Love wasn't so sure at first but gradually warmed to it, especially seeing what was a health type spa resort high in the hills above Dresden, and how despairing it looked all in ruins. The musical heritage of Leipzig enticed me, as did the rather utilitarian feel of parts of the place too.

The Wolters Brewery in Brunswick was an intriguing place too, and so good to see a woman head brewer showing that she could do the beer just as well as the men, and the palette was spot on. It was another great watch, and for me it shows that if you do a programme well and have people who care about their journeys, it makes for compulsive viewing. Somehow I wanted Michael to be listening to Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express" as he headed across Germany on the train - I shall make that tune of the day!

Monday 11th November - Bathurst Bonanza

It was good to be back at work and in the swing of things today, and a few things were cancelled due to some issues that we'd been having last week that seemed to be still going on today. At around twelve noon our infrastructure folks decided that the best plan of action was to go disaster recovery mode and effectively use the other main data centre as where the network drives would see, and that didn't take that long once it was invoked, so it was relatively painless. The main thing was keeping people informed of what was going on at the moment.

I did manage too to spend some time during the afternoon to be able to work on some project stuff and be also available to see what could be done in terms of some deployment stuff. I also went with a colleague to check out a rather odd issue with a television set hooked up to one of our projector switches, and how certain laptops wouldn't be able to see the screen display. It tuned out that the projector controller was the issue, as connecting the laptop straight to the back of the telly via HDMI worked perfectly fine, so it did make me wonder if some weird lack of HDMI hand shaking was going on.

When I got home I had a nice surprise in the post that I'd ordered from Australia a couple of weeks back - no less than the Bathurst 1000 highlights DVD from this year. As I don't have access to Motors TV which occasionally shows the race live, and I'm a fan of the legendary V8 Supercars event (possibly one of the best races and circuits ever to be honest too) I did what I've done before and ordered it from a reputable Australian dealer and had it sent via air mail. It was good to see it arrive safe and sound and vowed to start watching it later.

First off though after some food and a chat to The Love In My Heart was a trip to the hospital to see my friend who is still in there after two weeks. In truth of course it'd be nice if the scan he was waiting for would be taking place so that the doctors can have a better idea of what is up, but he did at least mention to me tonight that he knows there'll be a few things he needs to do from now on to make sure all is well, and so we had a chat about what that might mean. In these circumstances there's no point of mollycoddling and telling it like it is works out better in the long run.

I headed on the bus home and once I arrived back home it was time to put the DVD in the player, sit back and spend a fair chunk of time watching The Great Race (as they call it in Australia). The introduction featured a number of drivers who explained what it meant to them, how their families are inspirational, and that set the tone perfectly, with then highlights of qualifying and the top ten shootout before the race itself. It looked decent weather albeit with a bit of wind blowing around the top of the Mount Panorama circuit, and it still amazes me just how much of an elevation change and the steepness of the whole thing - rather unique really.

One day, I say to myself, I'm going to try and spend a couple of weeks in Australia and try to either visit the circuit and have a walk around it, or even go when the race itself is on, which would be rather excellent all told. I think that for me I've ticked off the Monaco Grand Prix off the list already, so another great motor race needs to be done. Either that or I've fancied Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix too. Either way, all good, and suitably "Let There Be Rock" by ACDC is tune of the day as that playing when driving I can imagine would be great!

Sunday 10th November - Rush and Burn

It was a nice relaxing morning as the four of us got up, I made us some croissants and coffee for breakfast, and after a bit of mindless fun watching first of all Takeshi's Castle and then a classic moment from the game show Interceptor, with the infamous tractor ambush that's the stuff of legend (and if you've never seen it, you absolutely must, it shows just how over the top it all was, especially Sean O'Kane as the Interceptor himself: "I like it!" in massive Scottish drawl) it was time for a showing of something.

I had mentioned about the film Rush during the weekend and to my surprise only I'd seen it. I recommended the film to them highly and still had on my Freeview HD recorder the documentary that BBC Two HD had on about the 1976 World Championship, so I put that on. They all found it pretty fascinating stuff and a perfect back story to the film, so you could understand just what was behind the motivation to make the film really. It was a good way to bring the weekend to a close, all just relaxed.

It was hard to say goodbye to my friends after such a good weekend, but I know we'll have to get together sometime soon for another cracking weekend, definitely. I think for us all it's been a welcome break and one that we've spent lots of time doing fun things and generally being big kids as well as just having a few beers and some valuable chill out time. Needless to say, roll on the next one and we'll definitely have to have better weather next time I reckon!

The Love In My Heart came over in the afternoon and we headed out for a drive towards East Lancashire, taking in some of the rather nice views and also locating a few things for possible future ideas for days out. It also served as a bit of a reconissance for something else too. We were going to try and get to the Eagle and Child pub in Shuttleworth, just east of Ramsbottom, but that was full, and so we eventually ended up in The Didsbury pub having some rather nice Sunday lunch it has to be said - the topside of beef was on rather nice form there, so that was good.

We spent a bit of time back at mine with a game of Scrabble, and I also played the 3 Daft Monkeys album Of Stones and Bones as well, which I am still enjoying. I quite like the final track "The Stranger" as well, as Tim had adapted it to his own journey of moving down to Cornwall from Yorkshire, almost in an autobiographical sense - he loved it on holidays (as we all would do). A great moving tune to end the album so tune of the day was an easy choice really.

Saturday 9th November - The Rain Won't Spoil Our Parade

I got up and made the four of us some coffee and breakfast: namely some sausges and some barmcakes, with them arranged so that two sausages sliced in half, spread across the barmcake, and two of those for each of us, so all sixteen sausages I got were all made, and it managed it all pretty well really. I was pleased with how they turned out and it was good to get all that sorted for breakfast, and we were just relaxing keeping an eye on some telly and music before we'd head out for the day.

It was first off on the bus to the local bowling alley, where I'd booked three games of bowling as it worked out the best value that way. One of my friends won all three games with some good skills, and I finished second in one game and third in the other two, and did reasonably okay on the whole. We had to change lane half way through the first game though as the pins kept not being reset properly and there was a clear lip in the wooden lane which meant the ball was jumping, not really that good to be honest. Note to Tenpin: sort it out!

Once that was done we noticed it was weeing it down outside and so we stayed in and did a small bit of arcade gaming such as the 10p falls (I actually won £1.50 with a mere 10p inserted, which worked out well later on!) and then over to the Gateway pub for lunch and some nice ale on the whole, so all was good there really. The rain had subsided enough after that and so we headed to the bus stop to get the bus towards another pub, and preferably one with a pool table so we could hog that for a bit. I thought stopping in Fallowfield might work out good for that.

After nipping into the Orange Grove and seeing that all the real ale was off, it was instead over to the Whitworth / 256 Wilmslow Road, and there, plenty of real ale for all of us, the TV screen showing Final Score for the football followed by the Norwich v West Ham game and best of all, a decent pool table! In fact we had to pay £5 deposit to get the cues and white ball, but this worked out well, because the two cues were different sizes and one was deliberately smaller so in one corner where the wall was close to the table, you could still play your shot. We had a good few games of pool before heading outside again.

The rain was still rather incessant and so we headed quickly to the bus stop by Owens Park and headed on a bus to the city centre, and there we headed to the Lass O'Gowrie for a pint and to admire their retro gaming display, of which many classic consoles, computers and games were being shown. In fact they have four arcade machines in there and one of them just so happened to be.. Track and Field! Needless to say that was being played, and I clocked it. Twice, in fact, one on each go. I actually beat my best ever long jump score on the game with 8.94m too, so well pleased with that.

The rain had briefly stopped so a quick walk via the Tesco Express and cash point later and it was off to Sandbar, one of our favourite haunts. The ale was on form, my friend said the chocolate Marble was ace, and the Augustiner Helles lager was there too which my friends also like too. I had a beer called Black Magic, it was dark and yet not as dark tasting, but it was still good. There was a DJ there later and we hoped he wasn't going to annoy us with beats and stuff: he didn't, it was remarkably chilled out actually.

My friend is decent on the piano too and as they have a slightly out of tune one, he started to play the Commodore 64 main theme to Ghosts and Goblins, which when it gets going is actually a cover version in itself, no less than "Dangerous Dreams" by Klaus Wunderlich (make that tune of the day). The Commodore theme in question also has some infamous drums, so with my friend on the piano, I did the drums vox style but in exactly the same way as the original, and it did sound pretty decent overall.

Once all the beer was had, we headed back via Piccadilly on the bus home, stopping at a take out place for pizza on the way back. All was good, we had a bit of a chat and watched the first round FA Cup football highlights (including seeing Macclesfield give Swindon Town a good tonking all round, well done them!) before settling in for the evening at just after half past midnight. The time had gone by far too quickly today but it was so good to make the most of it!

Friday 8th November - Something Retro For The Weekend

It was good to be up and about and getting the house all sorted out ready for when my friends come to visit later today. It's always good to get the four of us together, we're all into football as well as retro gaming, and have similar passions for music and other stuff. It's always a blast and definitely the most important thing is the company, regardless of what we get up to and what fun we have. I needed to head out and do a few final things in the morning, including getting a replacement bath mat, before the delivery of the food shopping arrived from Sainsburys.

With that all done and packed away, I could get a few things sorted in the house, some emails sent and generally just relax, and also see if I could get the Raspberry Pi playing ball with PiMAME, which seemed to work for the most part, but with the caveat that not all the MAME games seemed to work that well with the emulators provided - possibly because of the Pi's core clock speed. I also eventually worked out it was easier to put the HDMI cable from the Pi into my AV amp first, and then let that handle the HDMI handshaking with the TV, and that was a lot more stable that way too, so I had a blast of the likes of Bubble Bobble and Puzznic. Out Run didn't play at all well, it ran like a dog!

Soon after my friends started to arrive, and we had coffee and chat and tuned into Pointless on BBC1 before my final friend arrived, and it was good to just chat and catch up at first before the opening of the beer just had to be done. I had a fair few real ales in and it was good to relax and give people plenty of choice and just take it easy, first with some mindless telly in the background as I put the evening meal in the oven - a nice big lasagne which I had some garlic ciabattas ready to go with, and then some tiramisu for dessert afterwards - that set us up nicely for the evening ahead.

Out came the Commodore 64 and it was time to get on with some old school retro gaming, and none more so than the classic that is World Games on disk. It just works really well in multi player, and with two good working joysticks, four player mode just had to be done. We played through all eight events at first, and I managed a pretty good time on the slalom skiing in particular, and we all had good fun with the likes of barrel jumping and cliff diving which worked best on this game.

After the serious gaming, came the fun part - to score zero (not fault!) in the cliff diving event on World Games. We've managed to do it before, and have video evidence to prove it. Effectively there's a few belly flop type moves before you land it cleanly, and so technically it's a legal dive, but done with such a rubbish technique that you end up scoring nothing. Once we got the hang of it we all managed to do it and play that pretty well. We also fired up Arkanoid and had a blast with the Neos mouse on it, which is a cracking way to play it (however nothing beats an Atari paddle for this!)

We then settled in and spent some time watching some videos on Youtube which consisted of compilations of Commodore 64 game soundtracks, and deciding which one that one particular person put at the top of their top fifty. Of course these things are always subjective, but we had some ideas what we'd like to see up there. The number one out of a selection of fifty we saw and listened to was not the one we'd expect either - namely the title theme to Ricochet by Rob Hubbard. It's not his best work by a long way and in our view relies too much on the samples to be really up there.

We did also see a recording someone put up of the Censor Designs Commodore 64 demo "Wonderland XII" which really did blow people away when it was released - and with good reason too: the latter part has an amazingly clear sampled lengthy version of Kraftwerk's "Music Non Stop" and it really did push the hardware even more massively. The original of course is a classic and after listening to game soundtracks etc it seemed rather apt somehow - tune of the day easily.

Thursday 7th November - Four Become Three Daft Monkeys

It was a good positive day at work and I managed to get a lot done with the day off tomorrow in mind as well. I finally managed to get our older style credit kiosk working with the print system and had our external supplier remoting in to make sure it was all correctly configured, and I then did some tests to be sure that it was all playing ball. I've been wanting to get it finalised and boxed off for a little while now, but was pretty pleased that I got that sorted, and indeed added all the workstations to the correct power management policy we're now adopting for staff desktops.

I headed home and had something to eat, and then it was off to the hospital first to see my friend, who is still in there and awaiting some tests to be done on him before he can go home. He seemed remarkably upbeat though and it was good to chat to him and see how things were, as well as talk football after City's win the other night. I just hope that this next scan doesn't find anything too horrible but we need to see what is happening and the best place for him is in there right now.

So off on the bus to the city centre after that and a walk up Oldham Street to Swan Street and Band on the Wall, where 3 Daft Monkeys would be playing. It's the third time I'll have seen them live and in the third different venue (the others being Bury Met and Manchester Academy 3). Of course with their new album "Of Stones & Bones" getting regular play on my system at the moment, I just had to be there, and had booked my tickets ages ago to get a discounted rate from the venue itself (nice touch, that.)

So up first was the support, Chris Ostler, and with just him and an acoustic guitar, it was a very nice, relaxed stripped back set. I quite liked the song "Lemon Squeezy" as he admitted he didn't want the title to be called easy as there's too many with that name, and he also did a rather nice version of the Levellers' "Another Man's Cause" (he admitted he loves the Levelling the Land album, no bad taste there then!) and on the whole his voice was on good form, and the acoustics of the venue suited him perfectly. I'll have to keep an eye out on what else he does.

A few minutes later, with everything all sorted, out came 3 Daft Monkeys. Albeit, there's now four of them. As well as Lukas Drinkwater on bass, Richie Mulryne (who was in the original line up back in the day) has seemingly rejoined them and his percussion (and his wine tasting diaries!) are with the band and that helps enormously, especially in the live set. I do think too that Lukas has added something massively on the bass department as well, and he genuinely seems full of happiness and smiles, which fits in well with the band ethic (let's face it, Athene Roberts is always full of happy grins when she plays, so yaay all round.) Opening with "Perfect Stranger" was also a good move to get everyone in that right mood to enjoy themselves.

It was a good mix of songs from the new album such as a rather lovely lilting "The Lovers of Porthgwarra Cove" and some lovely harmonic vocals on "Civilised Debauchery" that got everyone in the mood. That led to the fast paced "World On Its Head" and of course by that point the front was a nice cosy dancefloor for everyone to get down and bound around like a loon. I was ever so pleased to get "Paranoid Big Brother" early on, as I do love that song a fair bit, and the waltzing section was done by lots of couples during the slow - fast - slow - fast "Days of the Dance". It was so nice to see that actually!

The highlight for me was a really storming version of "Agnes the Giant Killer", the opening track from the "Of Stones & Bones" album - it really does come alive live, and that's tune of the day without question. They were on top form and Lukas was bounding around the stage a fair bit. In fact later on he was bouncing around as if he was attempting to beat Jeremy Cunningham of the Levellers for the most bounces whilst playing the bass in one song - it was immensely fun, and that got everyone bouncing too.

During the set we also had "One Fine Day", which had the usual dancing around to it, a rather gentle version of "Love Life" which got everyone's breath back, before a really lovely version of "Sarah, the Devil and Jack". Here, having a four piece worked with some gentle percussion and lovely bass. Oh, and did I mention the interlude? Tim Ashton was having to repair a string, and so whilst he was doing that, Richie and Lukas did some bossa nova sounds and Athene did a little advert for the merchandise. It was really cool, and I hope that they actually add that to the set list!

The encore too was pretty special, they ended up doing three songs of two simply because they were feeling the love of the Manchester crowd (hard not to really) and so they did "Social Vertigo" complete with people swaying along at the right point, followed by the classic "Hubbadillia" which had even the upper floor attempt to join in and dance around a bit, and that was pretty cool all round. I was rather hot and sweaty afterwards, but it was a brilliant gig. If you get chance, go and see them - and the below is an example of why you must! This is "Agnes the Giant Killer"..

Wednesday 6th November - I Want To Go To Italy

I had a busy day at work and so it was good after work to carry on the first round of my Christmas shopping. I saw something that would be perfect for my sister, and it just so happened to be in a store that I could rack up some extra points at the same time if I was purchasing something else. As it turned out I needed wrapping paper to start wrapping presents, and so made a perfect excuse for me to head there and kill two proverbial birds with one stone, which proved to be pretty good all round really.

I headed home and The Love In My Heart came over later, and I made us some chicken in cheese and leek sauce with some mash and peas - The Love suggested maybe carrots might work best with that next time, and she might just have a point too. I'll have to bear that in mind. I did have some wine for her so she was able to relax herself after a tough day at work and I indulged her with the soaps before it was time for Celebrity Masterchef on BBC Two, which to me seems the perfect home for it somehow.

I quite like the fact that Monica Galetti is pretty scary and pulls off lots of facial expressions when she thinks thta the contestants aren't quite doing what they should do in the skills test, but once through that it was time for them to start cooking for Michel Roux Jr, first of all one of the French classics that he set them - and he showed how it was done first in La Gavroche, and my did it look pretty fab. The contestants weren't bad, but you could tell that nerves were taking over somewhat. Their own interpreation of a French classic followed, and I knew pretty much who was going home - if you're French and you do rubbish, then it's good bye really.

I had recorded Great Contintental Railway Journeys from Sunday night, as The Love and I like to watch it together. Is it me, or is Michael Portillo much better at things like this than being a politician as he was? Anyway, it was around Northern Italy this time around, taking in the likes of Milan (and its impressive central station) before heading off to Lake Como, which looked stunning and we were both like "get me there now!" and then back to Milan and on to Verona, where of course the square where the letters for Juliet are left - and people have done this before the film I should add!

It was good to see Michael visit the society that effectively act as Juliet's secretaries and reply back to you, and he even had a go himself which was pretty funny. It was then off on another train and across the two mile causeway to the watery city that is Venice, which really did look even more romantic and inviting than it normally does. I have to say that he really does get into the heart of places and not just the touristy bits, meeting people and finding out what they do, and it's that personability that makes it so likeable.

I am pretty much ready for when my friends come this weekend, and to wind down the evening later I put on some 3 Daft Monkeys for tomorrow night, as I'm off to see them at the Band on the Wall. It's hard to pick a particular favourite from their new album "Of Stones & Bones", especially as they're all based on folk tales in their native Cornwall, but I do really like "World on Its Head" which now has a video to watch (and a possible single release) so that one's tune of the day. I am so looking forward to bounding around like a loon tomorrow.

Tuesday 5th November - Back In Black

I was in all black today as I headed to work - whether or not that was because I'd read the emails from yesterday and saw the stuff going on, I don't know. However if I'd have been wearing a polo neck top I would have literally looked like the Milk Tray Man once I took my winter coat off. Of course, I never understood that: "Okay, I've left you some nice chocolates, but I'm not going to stay around and wait for you, I'll battle some sharks instead as I make my escape". Yeah, that'll work!

Anyway, it was good to get to the bottom of a few things and indeed fire up a scheduled piece of software distribution via SCCM which meant I was able to then be sure I had everything updated. The advertisement status page looked good, and it also meant I could do a fair degree of troubleshooting as well, so all well there really. In fact I was doing that today with a piece of software distribution and seeing just why something wasn't installing on one machine. In fact I think it was that PC in question as I did the same deployment to my test machine and all was good on that.

After work I had a bit of shopping to collect: mainly Christmas present shopping that I'd reserved on line. I knew I needed to get things started as soon as possible as I felt a bit behind schedule, and on top of that my sister had given me some ideas what to get my niece and nephew, which was a lot easier to sort out. Even more so when reserving for collection online was easy, and so meant I wasn't going to traipse to the shops and not be able to get the item I wanted.

So Central Retail Park got my custom twice over, as I headed to two different stores to pick up the presents I'd reserved, and I did feel good that I was able to locate those and get it all sorted out. Both stores were fairly empty and I figured that if I had to do more shopping in those stores, it wouldn't be too hard to be able to sort out actually other things. I did also notice that the Scrabble sets look like they had a funky redesign with the lettering and logo different - I wasn't too sure about that to be honest.

Of course later on Manchester City were taking on CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and if we won, and Bayern Munich drew or won against Viktoria Plzen, we'd be guaranteed qualification for the last 16 knockout stages. We had got past Moscow 2-1 at their place, and that helped to put us in prime position provided that we were able to win tonight. And we didn't have to wait long for the first goal as David Silva was fouled in the area and Sergio Agüero slotted home the spot kick.

Better was to come as City pressed forward again, and a neat pass from Samir Nasri found Agüero who turned his man rather well and slotted it home for 2-0, and inside twenty minutes too. This was getting to be good, and even more so later in the half when Agüero timed a run down the right to perfection and slotted home a defence splitting ball that found Álvaro Negredo in the middle with the simplest of tap ins for 3-0. CSKA Moscow did pull a goal back right on half time with some sloppy City defending letting in Doumbia for a simple take around Costel Pantillimon and a tap in for himself.

The next goal was going to be crucial and it was City who got it, with a neat pass from Yaya Toure finding Nasri, who simply passed across the box for Negredo to get a second for 4-1, and even I thought we were safe from that, despite Doumbia scoring a penalty later after a massively not needed foul and pull back from Gael Clichy, which really was pointless. Right at the last James Milner surged down the left after a poor CSKA clearance and he crossed the ball in for Negredo to claim a hat-trick and a 5-2 win, and with Bayern beating Plzen 1-0, it meant City were through to the knockout stages. Cue Champions League theme tune (tune of the day) and a nice chance for us to relax somewhat...

Monday 4th November - Fitting It All In

I made full advantage of the day off today, as I had a couple of things scheduled in to be done in the house, and on top of that, it also meant I could get more washing done ready for when my friends come over for the weekend, which I'm looking forward to a heck of a lot. First things first though, I knew I had to be up at a usual time today because the first appointment at the house was scheduled between 8am and 1pm. This was of course to have the electric meter changed over from a key-based meter to a normal one.

The parking close to the house was a bit busy, with people heading to the shops on the main road not far from me. The meter person had to park at the end of my street (it's a cul-de sac) and in the middle, but thankfully it wasn't too bad, and he was able to get in, and soon have the meter changed over. It just means now I don't have to be scrambling around to credit the account every so often, and on top of that also puts me in a better position should I wish to change provider as well.

With that finished earlier, I noticed that one of the single duvets looked a bit worse for wear, so I decided that getting rid of it would be a better option, and thus headed to one of my local discount shops, where I was able to get a replacement one for around a fiver. I did also stock up with a storage box and some cleaning products as well, so all was good there. That also meant I could then do some more tidying around the house and be all ready for when the carpet fitters arrived.

They were behind their schedule but did turn up at around 3pm, a little later than planned. Thankfully it wasn't a huge job and so one person only was needed - effectively to take up the old carpet and place it outside (so I could then bag it ready for The Love In My Heart taking it all to the recycling tip later) and then start to do the stairs and landing first, followed by the hallway. In all, the whole job took a couple of hours to do but I have to say I was pretty pleased with the results at the end of it all - it's a nice anthracite dark grey colour, and really does look a lot better than the old tired dark green that had torn in a couple of places.

With that done, and The Love safely removing all the old carpet via the tip (and indeed one of the rugs has now gone too - it was getting past it anyway) all was good, and we got ourselves showered and changed, ready to head out with Mum for a meal later. We went to one of our favourite haunts, the Ashlea in Cheadle, which was rather quiet, but then Monday nights usually are anywhere to be honest. I had the stilton and peppercorn mushrooms to start with a gorgeous slab of gammon for the main, and a lemon cheesecake for dessert - win all round really.

It was nice to cosy up by the fire later on and have a coffee, and plenty of chatter ensued between the three of us, so that was all good. It was also nice to have some relaxing music in the background too, and so I even heard the likes of "Shout to the Top" by the Style Council, which of course The Love likes a fair bit and so for that reason it's tune of the day. The weather might have been rubbish outside but with a nice coffee and a real fire, what wasn't there to like to finish the day off I wonder?

Sunday 3rd November - To Market, To Market

And I should add, not to buy a fat pig either, although in this day and age I'm sure there'll be one appearing in a future episode of Countryfile. Anyway, it wasn't about that, but a Christmas Market and Fair that The Love and I were going to. It's mainly for a charity that The Love's family are close to for a number of reasons, and I think as The Love's partner, it's important to me to make the effort and support her family in things that mean something to them. I know The Love's sister especially appreciates it, and also generally means I get the same amount of fondness reciprocated as The Love gets from my Mum. It's all good.

The Love and I were therefore up before 9am, and once we'd got changed and had some croissants with coffee for breakfast, it was off to pick her Dad up from his place before heading on to the M60 and then the M61 before arriving towards the location for the market and fair. Lots of police bollards were there to prevent the road being blocked, and parking was at a premium but The Love managed to locate a space, as did her sister a few minutes later who had driven up separately.

The park and hall that the event was housed in looked good in the Autumn sunshine (and rain, then sunshine, then rain again) as various market and stall traders were selling their wares. One trader caught my eye as they were doing gift boxes of real ale, and it transpired that they did deals with lots of local breweries including the St Ives Brewery, so the likes of Boilers were visible (and naturally I spotted that too, and The Love approved.) In fact the layout was good, so you could head around easily, and they had a separate marquee for the charity's Christmas stalls where you could buy cards and small gifts from - a sensible move that.

Outside were reindeer (real reindeer too I should add!) and even three donkeys, which were being used to give the little ones a ride on to get them into the Christmas spirit. As the rain swooped down, myself, The Love, her father, sister and niece were all heading to the café that they have there - which is actually pretty nice. We got a table and I got us coffee and soft drinks to keep us going and warm, and even bought The Love's father a mince pie too, which looked like they were home baked. He approved of the mince pie, so all good there.

We wandered around the stalls and went to admire the ducks in the small moat-like lake, and then headed to a local pub for some well earned Sunday lunch. There was even a proper pie on the menu, and so The Love's father and I had the steak and ale pie with mash, peas and gravy. Very nice indeed, and a decent sized portion to say the least. The Love had the Sunday roast chicken and the amount of chicken you got was massive, it really did swamp the plate in a big way. It was very nice though by the look of it.

We all headed homewards later on, and The Love and I dropped her father back home before we headed back to mine, where it was a relaxed afternoon so that she could catch up on X Factor (meh!) and then we had a game of Scrabble, with me playing Queen's "News of the World" album on vinyl in the background. Of course the opening two tracks on that are killer, but I really like the side one closer, "Fight From the Inside" which has a guitar riff later covered on Nine Inch Nails' "Last" (listen to them both back to back and you'll spot it) - tune of the day that one.

Saturday 2nd November - Swinging Seven Saturday

I didn't do that much during the day really, apart from spend a lot of time sorting stuff in the house, and indeed testing all my Commodore 64 setup before I've got some friends over next weekend. Certainly having a good few games of some classics on the '64 has to be done, and it's always good to check out and test things. My C64 works, disk drive and tape deck work, three joysticks all work, and loading a few games seemed pretty spot on too (in fact I had a good blast of Gaplus on tape and World Games on disk no less) so all good to go there.

I'm also sorely tempted to reformat the SD card for the Raspberry Pi and chuck on a version of PiMAME on, which will allow arcade machine type gaming from the Pi, connected to the telly. I do have a Competition Pro USB joystick, so I should be able to hook that up to the Pi and do some pretty cool retro gaming stuff, and it'd be a rather good use of the Pi to do so. I'll have to investigate how that would work in practice and see if I'm able to get some games loaded on to it (for example Track and Field, Hypersports etc) - that would be pretty cool I reckon - mind you rocking on the Wii is also an option too.

Mind you of course, there was the small matter also of Manchester City's game against Norwich City. I was hoping we'd bounce back against them after our defeat of Chelski last week, but to be honest I thought our home form was very good and so I realistically thought a win was on the cards as long as we applied ourselves properly. So with Joe Hart dropped and Costel Pantillimon starting in net, it'd be interesting to see what would happen.

Did I expect the game to unfold as it did? Absolutely not. The focus ended up being in the Norwich keeper John Ruddy after a series of errors during the game. First off, David Silva gave the ball to Sergio Agüero inside the Norwich area, and his shot deflected off two Norwich defenders before looping and spinning over Ruddy for 1-0. Agüero returned the compliment shortly afterwards, cutting the ball back for Silva to shoot home, a shot Ruddy should have stopped. 2-0. If that wasn't enough, a corner came over and Matija Nastasic headed home, with a Norwich defender attempting to air head the ball in front of Ruddy and putting him off, and so we were 3-0 up inside a mere 25 minutes or so. Excellent!

Better was to come as a lovely Yaya Toure ball found Agüero, and he cooly slotted it across the box for Alvaro Negredo to shoot home for 4-0. Only thirty six minutes gone, and it was a case now I think of how many we would score. The second half started, Edin Džeko was fouled on the edge of the box, and Yaya Toure's free kick dfid the rest. So 5-0. Later on Silva crossed the ball, the Norwich defence were all over the place as they cleared it, straight to Agüero, who does not miss volleys from there at all. 6-0, and with four defenders not even picking Agüero up, I'd have been right narked off if I was a Norwich fan right now.

A few minutes were left on the clock and with some of the Norwich contigent making an early escape for the long drive home, the ball came across from Jesús Navas, and Džeko did the rest. 7-0. Seven - nil! That was City's highest ever win in the Premier League (eclipsing a 6-0 hammering of Portsmouth a few years back), Norwich's heaviest ever defeat since 1938, and also City's best win in the league since the infamous 10-1 thrashing of Huddersfield Town (a game I was at, and had three hat tricks in it, as every City fan reminded Andy Murray of since his tweet about the Real Madrid game midweek.) Shame Strictly Come Dancing's Len Goodman wasn't reading the football results: "Manchester City - SEVEN!". Hehe.

The Love In My Heart came over later and we were both going to get changed and ready, as we were out for the evening tonight - off to my Mum's for her birthday party. It indeed was a rather special one, and part of her plan was to have a party tonight for the adults, and then a tea party tomorrow on her actual birthday with my nephews and nieces so that she got the best of both worlds, which I thought was a great idea - it also meant that the adults could party on a Saturday night and not necessarily think about the hangover in the morning - also not a bad move.

Mum had insisted on a fancy dress 60s theme (the era of music she most likes as well) and so The Love had got herself a shift dress which was black with white sides, a little scarf which she arranged headband style, and her lovely black suede thigh length boots and tights. Very Mary Quant styled and very lovely, I have to say. I went for the mod look in a jacket and trousers with a suitable flowered shirt and posh shoes, so looked slick and cool (and not Mary Quant, but hey I'm sure modern mods like Paul Weller would have approved, so no worries there).

It was a good night all round, Mum had borrowed a CD player with a karaoke machine, and so was spending time with family and one of her close friends belting out some 1960s classics, most of which I do remember even though I wasn't born in the era. There was a nice buffet of food and plenty to drink as well, and it was just a fun and relaxed atmosphere. It was good to chat to some of the family as well and at some point of course Mum just had to have a 60s CD with some of the Monkees on, and so "I'm A Believer" was played and she sang along to that.

In fact later she had "Daydream Believer" on and both her and The Love ended up singing it together, which was actually was quite nice to watch - tune of the day in fact. I think it was good seeing The Love be a very happy bunny, and it's also nice because I know Mum also adores her too (so no awkwardness whatsoever, simply has to be a good thing). In fact The Love had persuaded me to take the camera so I could get some shots of the night (which I'll do in black and white and colour as a memento) so that was also good fun too, allowing me to get creative and also help my sister with her Android equipped camera.

We took a taxi back late in the evening back to mine and we reflected on a good night all round - but we were both a little tired and with an early start tomorrow, it was time to head to bed. The Love did say to me that she thought I looked good, and that was a positive. In these sorts of situations, it's very easy for the lovely ladies to look good in outfits, but for blokes it's generally a bit more limiting, so I was pretty pleased. I hit the pillow and that was it - off to sleep and another lovely day beckoned ahead.

Friday 1st November - Dark Nights Ahead

I couldn't help but fail to notice, especially last night, that those nights are getting darker rather earlier, especially with the clocks going back. A tell tale sign is normally when you are on your way home from work, and it's actually dark before you get home. It was yesterday and it was today, so that is something to be aware of in terms of time. Thankfully I am not one of these seasonally adjusted people who really suffers massively during the Winter months - I really wouldn't wish that on anyone to be perfectly honest. It must be a really long drag, this Winter lark for them.

However, what I did manage to do today was get a few things sorted out. I'm off on Monday, having an extended weekend so to speak, and so arranged for my electricity meter to be changed from a pre-pay one to a normal one. Currently it means heading to the local shop to top up a key which you put into the meter, and although that's fine most of the time, it does mean I have to make the odd trip out to top up. Granted it means in a way that I do think more about the electricity I do use, but I've been fairly good with that anyway. The existing pre-pay method was there when I moved in and so just took that on, but realistically you also pay slightly more for using the energy, so lower costs has to be a good thing.

It'll also put me in a better provision if I wish in the future to switch providers. A few of the smaller providers won't be able to change you over if you have a pre-pay meter, as they don't necessarily need to have the resources to send out replacement keys, respond to issues etc, and would rather focus on keeping tarriffs and bills simpler and cheaper (no bad thing). And indeed after the way the "big six" energy companies effectively are managing a cartel in terms of pricing structure, looking outside those may often prove to be beneficial - a couple of the smaller providers really shone in the recent Government meeting as well, and showed what can be done if managed properly.

On the other flip side of the coin today, I now have the Morrissey autobiography, which should be good reading for the next set of nights ahead. The plan might be to listen to the Smiths back catalogue first followed by Morrissey's solo stuff whilst reading, to get things into a nice perspective. I must admit though that I was given it by a relation of The Love In My Heart, who said effectively that the book was "depressing" - but then isn't that what some people think of Morrissey anyway? Just an observation, of course.

I also managed to sort out a few things around the house tonight meaning more time tomorrow for me, so that felt positive. And on top of that I've also been re-organising a few things as well so that I'm managing the storage space in the house better. It may well mean that in the future I might be clearing out more stuff to be sold that I don't use anymore, which to be honest might not be a bad thing - keeping on top of these sort of things means I keep things organised, tidy and clean, and I must confess that I really do hate mess!

Tune of the day though has to be from Frank Black's "Teenager of the Year" album which I've been listening to a fair bit since rocking out to it whilst ironing the other night. It's good to rediscover sometimes why albums are so good when you first listened to them and they stuck with you. In fact 1994 was a good vintage for albums for me: two of my top ten of all time were released that year (Kristin Hersh and Rollins Band). From Frank Black though, I still really enjoy "Freedom Rock" that just sounds rather epic in four minutes, especially the slowed down middle part before it gives way to rocking. Oh yes siree.