Dear Diary... October 2003

Tuesday 28th October - Time goes so quickly when it's wintry

Well, it's been a long hard week of it, with work being pretty intense (and that's an understatement, I've lost count of the number of jobs I've had to do and the number of dodgy as hell Fujitsu hard disks that I've had to replace) it's really been a case of get home and relax and not do much else, to be honest. However, this also gave me some time to recharge the batteries a bit. Although I'd got over a cold I'd had at the start of the month, there was always the fear of it possibly coming back, and so I guess being careful was the only option. Just to be on the safe side, as there's a lot of students with a fresh flu bug, I've dosed myself up with some catarrh mixture that I had last time that seems to shift any remnants quite well. Fingers crossed, because I don't want a cold again.

Also, the Christmas shopping's been going well - almost too well. I only have a few presents left to get now and I guess organisation was the key to me managing to get quite a few sorted out. Some of them are fairly easy to sort out really as I know what they like and I usually pick okay, and others, a little bit more care required but I get there in the end. All this has made me think about what I'm going to get myself for Christmas. After all, why spend so much money on everyone else without spending it on yourself, right? With that in mind, I felt it'd be a nice idea to search out a nice subwoofer to complete the AV rig for now. It's a good interim step between getting a full on Dolby Digital amp with all the works, not least because my trusty old Kenwood KRV7070 pro-logic amp has a subwoofer out output, which really helps a fair bit. It then means I can happily use the sub on my new rig without any problems as well. It didn't take me long to shortlist one either, not least because it had to be powerful but within a price range, and I pretty much had an idea anyway. So, if I can source one at a decent price, it's a Mission MS8 active sub sometime. I like Mission speakers anyway, as my floor standing M73s are so nice and really do sound very musical on the ear, no matter what I throw at it (and my tastes are varied, so it has to handle anything!) which helped me a lot in the decision making. Fingers crossed and all that.

I pre-ordered the Region 1 Finding Nemo DVD too, not least as I really enjoyed the film and I do want to see it in the comfort of my own armchair. A nice touch that it's a 2-disc collectors edition, but it caters for the all the families by having a widescreen version on disc 1 and the fullscreen one on disc 2. Quite a good idea that, as at least those of you who don't yet have a widescreen TV can buy the DVD knowing full well when you do get a new telly, you don't have to buy the DVD again. I wish more US studios would do that when considering a DVD release instead of releasing separate full screen and widescreen versions (although over here, you usually only get the widescreen one!) but there you go.

Watched a fair bit of the Rugby World Cup over the weekend too. Although I'm much more a league man (better of the two codes, personally) it's the Rugby Union World Cup, England are in it and so it's worth cheering them on. Unfortunately they didn't perform at all well against Samoa, and were lucky to escape with a 35-22 win that looked anything but convincing. Let's not take anything away from the Samoans though, they worked really hard and played their hearts out and made us look bad and them look very good indeed. If they can keep that up against South Africa on Saturday it'll be a very interesting game to say the least! Elsewhere Ireland did a mighty job holding off Argentina 16-15 and qualifying for the quarter finals, and Wales did their bit against Italy to make sure of a last eight place. But Scotland were awful, losing 51-9 to France was a panning and something that they only brought on themselves, I'm afraid. Their game against Fiji is make or break for the quarter finals and it'll be an interesting one to see if they can bounce back. As for England, to win the group they have to beat Uruguay, which shouldn't be too difficult. Then again, who knows?

Monday 20th October - Superstars hit Bolton for six

First off, I have to say that it was well worth the wait to see Superstars back on TV. As soon as the all-time classic theme tune came in, that was it, no one was going to disturb me for the next hour. Thankfully a lot of the original show's appeal has been kept intact: the particpants wear different coloured t-shirts with the Superstars logo (thankfully unchanged - yes!), they still opt out of events and get pulled out of the one they'd normally be rather good at, and the gym tests are there and everything. And it was in the gym tests we saw the first real gutsy performance, with the boxer Wayne McCollough doing the sliding squat thrust technique, scoring 91 (pretty impressive) but also the friction burn with only one pair of socks on was enough to rip all the skin on the undersides of his feet. Ouch! Yet with anasthetic and dressing he soldiered on throughout, doing very well to finish a close third in the mountain biking (which was hellishly difficult). The other thing that the new contestants had in abundance was the same grit and determination with some great performances, and some comical ones when things didn't go right, like John Regis steering the wrong way in the kayaking (shades of Alan Minter back in the days) and Henry Olonga actually capsizing in the thing! But the feel of the show remained intact, with only one minor niggle, sometimes Johnny Vaughan didn't cut it as a commentator and presenter - should have left the commentary to the excellent Paul Dickinson alone. Still, it's a minor thing. What's important is that it's back, and it brought back all the old memories of the old series (highlights of which are coming out on DVD - I've already pre-ordered it and suggest you do the same!).

And then on to Finding Nemo on Friday night at the cinema. I couldn't wait for it, and frankly I wasn't disappointed. Pixar have excelled themselves yet again, and it's a film that as an adult you don't need to take the kids with you as an excuse to watch (I don't have any anyway so I can't even use that one!) because it works on a lot of levels. For the kids, it's cute yes, and there's lots of funny moments, and for the adults, there's also some of the jokes that the kids don't get, but you will. I really was impressed with the slickness of the animation, the quality of the effects they put in, and the fact that they got quite a few well-known people (notably Ellen de Generes) do to the voices, and it's a sure-fire success. I even love the little short film Knick Knack that they stuck in at the start, you have to feel for the poor snowman character in that one (I'll say no more because I don't want to spoil it for you). I loved it so much that when it comes out on DVD in the US next month I might just have to get it rather than wait six months for the UK release. Now if that's any indication for you..

Saturday was a day of City-related success. Firstly, although I'm much more a rugby league man than rugby union, England are playing in the rugby union World Cup at the moment and on Saturday faced the hardest game in their group against South Africa. England did a professional job and won 25-6, with the only try coming from Will Greenwood, a big Manchester City fan. He explained about his try as he kicked the ball forward and then pounced to score: "The old Shaun Goater first touch did me proud!" referring of course to the City legend that was The Goat. He's back home with his wife Caroline who's suffering complications with her pregnancy at the moment, and it's a difficult time for him. The fact he put it out of his mind and didn't tell the team till after the game speaks volumes of professionalism. My thoughts are with him and Caroline, any Blue who does the business for their country gets my support. Fingers crossed for him for sure.

And I hope someone set the video for him of the City game on Saturday. Wow, that was amazing! I didn't get a ticket and was totally gutted I missed out on that classic. End to end stuff, eight goals and a 6-2 thrashing. In the second half it was amazing, three goals in ten minutes and the likes of Wright-Phillips and Anelka terrorising the defence big time. Even when we went down to ten men after Wright-Phillips got sent off, we didn't care, we went forward anyway and scored more. And what was annoying? ITV's crap Premiership coverage. I am so glad the BBC are having it back from next season, they might give us a bit of credit (their pundit Mark Lawrenson likes the way a team managed by Kevin Keegan plays) and not just compress a 6-2 win into three minutes with no comments from the panel saying "well, City are playing well lately aren't they?" or "nice to see them bounce back with a win like that". No, nothing. It shows that unfortunately ITV and their panelists are so much up the arse of the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. It's not the clubs' fault I should add, they're successful at what they do. It's just that the presenters and the ITV executives think that those three teams are the only ones that matter. Well hello, there's like, twenty teams in the Premiership. And I'm sure extended highlights of a 6-2 game would have gone down well with most people apart from Bolton fans, I think. Ah well...

Wednesday 15th October - Come on City!

By the time you'll have read this, City will be playing their UEFA Cup first round second leg game against Lokeren of Belgium, and I'll be going a little bit mental supporting my team (as ever, of course). Being there for the first leg was very nice, and great to see the first round proper game of City's first excursion in Europe for twenty five seasons. That's a very long time in anyone's life. Not least of all mine. I'd have been a nipper when City last did the business and got through to round four, seeing off the likes of AC Milan on the way (yes, really) before losing to the eventual winners Borussia Monchengladbach (try saying that when you're drunk - you'll find it pretty hard). Almost on cue, I got through the post today a very nice glossy catalogue of all the stuff you can get at the City store. Most of it, being branded merchandise and all, isn't cheap, but I do make an exception for the retro kits you can get, not least the classic red and black striped away shirt from the 1969 FA Cup final (so I can look in place this season due to the red and black stripes being our away kit again at long last).

Work has been hellish the last few days, what with me building up a nice new Serial ATA RAID array earlier in the week, and it worked really well. It's only two big hard disks RAID 1 mirrored, but it does the job that I need it to do, and is lightning fast, it really is. The drives have a 8MB cache and they're very reliable and quick - and the whole setup was just a doddle to do. What took the time was after connecting it all together, building the RAID array with the onboard Serial ATA RAID card's configuration utility. That took the time, but when done it is flawlessly nice and works really well. It'll work better once I get on there what I need to and use it for what I built it for, but everything seems to be behaving well (even Windows XP seems to like it - gadzooks) so I can't complain too much yet.

Anyway, what was interesting to note yesterday was something on the BBC TV series Life of Grime (where they follow the likes of refuse collectors and environmental health around a city) and the bit where they visited one woman who clearly was a hoarder, trying (she said) to recycle stuff people used. Well, if ever there was a fire hazard waiting to happen, this house is the one. For example, there was stuff on the staircase which meant you could only just about squeeze upstairs, and some of the rooms you couldn't even get into because of the amount of junk and stuff hoarded. Dear me, accident waiting to happen or what? Remind me next time I do a car boot sale to make sure I never have the house that bad before I organise it. And also make sure next time I go to a car boot sale not to buy anything antique either. Seems with the likes of Bargain Hunt and Boot Sale Challenge, everyone's at it! I'll stick to me rare prog rock vinyl..

Come on City!

Monday 13th October - Life is just Lush right now

Well, thank heavens for that. England got the 0-0 draw required against Turkey and qualified for the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal, although of course the game wasn't without its controversy. Not least the idiot Alpay acting like a fool and basically trying to incite trouble between himself and David Beckham. Thankfully the great Pierlugi Collina was refereeing this game, and he got them together at half time and told them both to calm down and sort their teams out. A great and timely intervention by, let's face it, the best referee in the world. Period. He's only enhanced his reputation even more after the way he handled things during the game. And despite a missed penalty and a goal that was only just offside being disallowed, we did more than enough without any fans being there. Reminded me of my beloved City's 3-2 win at Millwall a couple of seasons ago where we had no fans there, some of the Millwall fans were giving the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips racial abuse etc, but then up pops Shaun with the winner. Perfect riposte if ever there was one.

During Saturday daytime I continued the Christmas shopping quest. Yes, I know, I'm really sad doing my Christmas shopping early. But there's many good reasons - a lot of shops have good sales on in October so you can get people more presents for the same amount of money, and not have to pay inflated prices in December. Plus you've also got more of a chance of the things you really want being in stock as well, something I always have to bear in mind. So off into town I went and thought I'd check out the top end of Market Street to see if one of my all time favourite shops had opened yet - and they had! Yippee. No more traipsing to Chester, Leeds or Sheffield for me anymore because Manchester finally has their own branch of Lush! Small it may be, but perfectly formed, and about time we had one. In case you don't know what Lush is, it's basically a store that sells all their own handmade cosmetics. This ranges from soaps to bubble bath, bath ballistics (great fun, watch them melt and fizzle in the bath making bathtimes so cool), hair care and so on. All the materials are natural and a some of them are so fresh you have to use them within a certain time too. I love the soaps they have, some of them really do make you feel invigorated in the morning, like Bohemian Lemon, whereas if you want to feel good in the bath before you go out at night, something like Alkmaar or Red Rooster does the job pretty well. It's not just that - they do a fair degree of quality stuff for us blokes, especially some of the hair shampoo bars that really work a treat, and lots of shaving type products. Think The Body Shop with a much more close knit homely and fresher feel and you're sort of there.

The gift box products in Lush are ace and so I couldn't resist picking up a few as Christmas presents - they're really boxed and wrapped so nicely you don't really need to even wrap them (although I do just to make it more of a surprise) and come in many sizes and price ranges so no matter what the budget is, you can get something nice. And that's a great thing. I picked up some very nice gift boxes with various nice things in them and although I spent a fair bit, I felt I'd got a lot for me dosh and so will the recipients too. Basically, if you're in Manchester, go and visit it. Now. Your nose can almost guide you as some of the smells of the stuff are just heavenly enough, and that's before you use them. Or just visit their website and tell them I sent you. (I wish I was on commission for that, hehe.)

The weekend was fairly quiet, I did go out for all you can eat Chinese at Buffet City though, well deserved after I'd been up since 6am Sunday morning watching the F1 and then the three Rugby Union World Cup games back to back. I'd had me breakfast about 7-30am and hardly anything since till about 5pm when I ate a fair bit. This time around there were these Thai Chilli Prawns that were very nice, although it did take a fair bit of getting used to once the chilli had hit the back of your throat. Shame there wasn't any crispy won tun or pork with lemongrass, but there was more than enough for me to munch on, especially the beef in black bean sauce that I love so much. It just tastes divine, I tell you.

Reminder for later this week - Superstars, Thursday 8pm, BBC1. You know it makes sense. Just watch it.

Wednesday 8th October - Suing for time

The great Henry Rollins once said at one of his spoken word concerts that it would be a great concept if you could sue for loss of time. You know, if you get delayed at the airport because of a late flight, you could sue the airline for the time that you don't have to yourself instead. And after waiting over half an hour in the pouring rain for my bus home from work that should be every ten minutes, I couldn't agree more. I think Stagecoach Manchester have a lot to answer for with the so-called "improvements" to the services I get to and from work every day. They usually put quite rickety old buses on one of the services, and sometimes even single decker buses at peak time which is about as much use as the proveribal chocolate fireguard. You get the picture. Now being environmentally friendly and all that I refuse to drive, but when you have to put up with those sort of delays you can appreciate just why people take the easy option and take the car. I feel like writing to Stagecoach and complaining to be honest.

Enough griping for now. Work has been hellishly busy lately with lots of finishing off work on the student build and at the same time doing little things and fixes here and there. It's very much sometimes a tweaking process just to get everything as you would like it so that people can run the software they need to but also that they can't run anything they're not supposed to. It's a very fine balance you have to strike most of the time between the two and it does take a bit of effort mentally to think it over. One thing I did manage this week was to sort out the fact that the student scanners couldn't scan text - it came up with an error. After investigation it seemed that the scanning software placed a temporary file within its directory for the OCR process of scanning to text, and as the user couldn't create anything in that directory, it didn't play ball. Quick tweak later and the scanners were sorted out which made life a heck of a lot easier. And tomorrow I just have to roll out a small chipset patch for some of the PCs with VIA chipsets and Zip drives so they all work happily again (something I had to do back in the old days of Windows NT 4.0, oh how I sometimes miss them (not)).

I should add as well that it probably is the busiest time, the first term. Not least as all the new students are getting used to surroundings (and blindly asking "does this bus go to Owens Park?" all the time - always makes me smile, that) but also for many it's the start of the important term where they have to do their dissertation. And that's usually pretty stressful to be honest for them, particularly as there's many things they may have to do in Word for the first time, like footnotes. It's fairly easy, once you know how, but it's knowing how that is the tricky bit. Not just that - it's concentrating on writing such a long piece of text. And as I've found when writing the book, it's really hard to concentrate for so long. Ah well.. back to the grind, much like the England players (less said about that debacle the better.)

Sunday 5th October - Chuck out that curfew

Well, I spent the last few days working and at the same time attempting to recover from the awful cold that I've been through. Thankfully over the weekend I've now decongested a fair bit, so much so that I've shifted a heck of a lot of phlegm out of me so it can't do me any damage. Seems that the expectorant I got when I started coughing seems to be doing the trick - I just hope I can finally get rid of it now and not get another flu variant when I got back into work tomorrow and be back in contact with all the students.

Nothing though was going to stop me seeing Frank Black and the Catholics live on Wednesday night though. It was a good gig, not as good as his 2001 live performance which has to be up there for me as one of the best gigs I ever went to, but still good. The support band Serafin were okay as support bands go, although I felt they were trying a little too hard to make their sound heard rather than concentrate on the graft of good playing. They weren't too bad though. Anyhow, it's getting to about 9-30pm and we're all impatient and then on comes the band and lashes out straight into the Pixies' classic Velouria! Seeing as I'd not hear him do this song live since the classic Pixies gig at Manchester G-Mex 1991 (!), I simply had to treasure the moment, and the band were so on form with that one. Most of the new album Show Me Your Tears got an airing (you can read my review here) including my favourite tracks "Nadine" and "When Will Happiness Find Me Again?" The nice thing was there was a good cross-section of almost all Frank Black's work, so we got the likes of "(I Want To Live On An) Absract Plain", "Headache", "Robert Onion", "I Want Rock and Roll" and many others. There wasn't much interaction between the band and the audience, simply because every time they finished a song it was virtually straight into the next one, making for a very tight 1 hour 25 minute set. It did tail off a little towards the end, although the rather nice country-rock cover of the Pogues' "Dirty Old Town" was a really nice susprise, and one that was welcomed. After they played a new song off they went, and on came the lights - with no encore! Now, I know that in the past Frank Black has done his own thing, but being stood near the mixing desk I heard the guys say "what the f*** is going on?" Clearly I reckon the University pulled the curfew plug early meaning that the band couldn't go back on. Bit of a nightmare that one. And it wasn't nice to (understandably, as they didn't know) hear people booing because of the lack of encore. Real shame, cos that's going to kick in the minds of some people rather than the enjoyable set with lots of great songs that it was, and believe me, Frank Black and the Catholics can still rock it live, big time.

Really, some of the staff at Manchester University need to get a grip - this isn't the first time that I've been to a gig at one of their venues and it's been spoiled by their utterly stupid curfew rulings. You don't see any of that behaviour on a similar scale at other venues, if a band wants to rock on a little, they do. I mean, a couple of years back I was lucky enough to see Rollins Band rock Sheffield Leadmill, and they rocked for what seemed like ages (two hours plus). They went past 11pm a little but no one cared because it was such a great gig. Also, another thing I'd like to draw the University's attention to - the Academy 2 (which was the Main Debating Hall before some wise guy decided to name all the venues Academy 1, 2 or 3) has one small exit, and there were queues as people tried to leave the building, despite the possibility of at least one other exit door (which leads straight to a main staircase going out, by the way) being open. Surely for safety's sake, opening both exits at the end of a gig would be a sensible decision? At least it'd prevent the mini-crush that almost happened because fans were coming out of the Academy 3 upstairs at the same time. Basically, I just wish that they'd either sort out the curfew rulings or open the doors at 7pm instead of 7-30pm and give the bands a bit more time to play their sets if they require it. Bah!

Anyway, on Thursday 16th October, set your videos to record BBC1 at 8pm. Why, you may ask? Because Superstars is back on the TV! No reality show bull here folks, oh no. It's proper sports men and women pushing themselves to the utter limit in many disciplines (including the gym tests) to see who really is the best athlete out there. For those of you not old enough to remember, Superstars was essential viewing in the late 1970s/early 1980s, with many classic moments such as now Manchester City manager Kevin Keegan falling off his bike, footballer Stan Bowles shooting the table (and not the clay pigeons) and of course, judo man Brian Jacks being the Superstar for ages, breaking many world records for the arm dips and squat thrusts along the way in the gym tests. He was the man. He made Superstars essential viewing more than anyone, because he gave 110% and encouraged all his competitors to do the same. And after a one-off special being shown as part of BBC's Sport Relief charity fundraiser last year, with rugby player Austin Healey giving the show the respect it deserved and really kicking ass in a lot of the events, it's back. Not just that, but common sense has prevailed, the great theme tune ("Heavy Action" by Johnny Pearson) has been kept in tact, the presenters include the delightful and knowledgable Suzi Perry (who according to her own website was a big fan of the show and was so chuffed to get the presenting nod) and the events are still the same. In other words, just watch it and see real sports men and women give their all. Now if only they could get together all the contestants of BBC's Born To Win and get them doing Junior Superstars, rather than crap events they're doing on that show..