Dear Diary... October 2006

Tuesday 31st October - No Trick and No Treat

It's nice and quiet here, which is how I like it sometimes. As yet I've had no idiot kids come round who know full well all they want is money proclaiming "Trick or Treat" and as such that makes me feel really relaxed so I can get on with other things. It's just a shame my next door neighbour's dog is the most placcid lovely thing (in truth no bad thing because he is really sweet), otherwise I am sure that he would scare a few of the kids off and protect his owner. Mind you, I have noticed that it's not been hyped up at all this year, which is probably a good thing in my eyes. It just falls at the wrong time this year as a lot of kids are now back at school after their half term break and as such it means that they have to do boring things like homework.

Quite interestingly, as it happens, I was also doing some research earlier in the day whilst I was getting our new staff build image at the ready and installing all the applications that are required on their build (which is quite a few as there's some specialist stuff), and noticed that WebCT Vista (the distance learning environment that we're now supposed to be heavily into, apparently) doesn't like Mozilla Firefox 2.0 or IE7. Okay, it still runs fine under both browsers but it comes up with a pop up window saying that the browser is an unsupported version. That's okay if you know what you're doing and are going to try it anyway, but what of the average user who just lets everything auto-update and finds the next day that IE7 has been downloaded without their permission, and hence mucking things up? I can see some very interesting times ahead, not least as that's now pushing our PC specifications up to a really high level to be able to run the whole shebang.

I wound down a bit at lunch time because my head was in bits in terms of concentrating a lot, and just for fun I browsed good old Youtube to see if I could track down the video to Rammstein's "Feuer Frei" anywhere. The record company didn't upload it (boo hiss) but what I did find was that someone made a re-enactment of the video with Lego figures. I have to say, I watched that and it was brilliant. Someone's spent a fair bit of time getting the mood and atmosphere right, and not just that either, but also getting the Lego men's expressions and movement in time with the music. Superb stuff, it really is. Those of you wish fast enough connections might just want to check it out - and believe me, compared to the Rammstein concert where this features as part of the opening to the film xXx, it's pretty close, and impressive. Of course if you like the original tune that probably helps too..

Monday 30th October - Blue Birthday Moon

As it was the birthday of one of my relations today, I'd got them a card with some money in it (what they wanted before you ask) and had invited him and me uncle and cousin along to watch the Man City game live on Sky tonight. And, as if luck would have it, not only did City actually go and win 1-0, but beat Middlesbrough, whom we haven't ever beaten in the Premiership. Like, ever. We deserved our win though and the four of us were going mental in my front room when Dunnie Monster came up with a thundering header to score the only goal. In truth too we should have had much more than a 1-0 win, the amount of possession and chances we had, and could have been left to rue those when Massimo Maccarone hit the post twice for Boro late on. Still, I'll take the three points any day of the week and it was good to see us get a needed win. I think one of the pubs near me is showing the Charlton away game on Saturday afternoon (probably some well dodgy Norwegian channel but hey, what the heck!) and so I might have to venture out to watch that as well, if the old nerves can take it.

It's always nice having family around anyway, particularly if they've come over to watch the footy with you, and I think for a lot of us it's a good common bond that we have and it's something we can chat about for ages. Particularly I think because we're all very passionate and we all love Man City to bits (no other choice you know) and also because it's been brought down to us by our elder relations who were all big fans too, so like a lot of football families it's what you've been brought up with. Not like the glory hunters these days who no doubt will switch back to supporting Man U if they end up beating Chelsea to the Premiership title at the end of the season.

So what else? Well, I got up early this morning and wrapped up the first four Christmas presents I'd bought. My reasoning purely being that if anyone whom I've got a present for comes round I don't want to see them finding out what they've got in advance, kind of spoils the whole surprise for them really. It also gave me a chance to see how good the gift tags I got from Boots were to go with the wrapping paper, and it seems to work pretty well. I always like to make sure I tag all the presents otherwise I'll only end up having a bloody mental block and forgetting what I got everyone!

Late last night I also watched Torchwood and I have to say I was incredibly disappointed with it. The whole plot of some artefact being able to see into the future has been done so many times, and so much better. It's almost as if there's going to be a few "sleeper" episodes to keep the whole thing within budget, and certainly I couldn't get excited by it. I've often criticised Russell T Davies for his sometimes lame scripting in Doctor Who, and this was another case in point here. It's a real shame because in the moments when the actors themselves are allowed to shine a bit, John Barrowman and Eve Myles seem to have some nice chemistry as Captain Jack and Gwen respectively. The others just don't seem to fit too well into the plot after, it looks like they were put in there as an afterthought to make the whole thing a bit more exciting. However, did you spot Blake from Blake's Seven as the old Welsh bloke? Surreal or what eh?

Right, it's coffee and bed for me, before the dreaded Halloween tomorrow. So far I've had no kids around doing Trick or Treat but I'd better get some sweets and chocolate in tomorrow just in case anyone turns up and decides they'd like it. I think if a parent goes with them and supervises them you don't mind so much as they're being looked after and not just wandering the dark streets alone, which of course is a bit of a worry in this day and age. I'm not a big fan of that or the whole "penny for the guy" thing either I have to say, it just seems a bit of an excuse to go out and beg, particularly the latter. And as for the amount of idiots who deem it okay to set off fireworks wherever the hell they like, the idiocy just is so pathetic...

Sunday 29th October - Listomania And The Dreaded Z Factor

As my mum has been dropping hints to me over the last week or so, especially as it's her birthday on Friday and I managed to get her the present she wanted from Argos (go me, sort of!) I sat hunched over the combined contents of various online shopping web sites, the Argos and IKEA catalogues, and browsed through them all to come up with the one thing I do every year - and that's my Christmas List!

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Why do a list? Well, it's very simple. Because of my CD collection, I wouldn't want anyone to be very kind and buy me a present, only to find that I already own it, and also this way I can put down what I'd really like and still get a surprise from them. I make one massive list and then split it into sections to give family and friends. This way they have lots to choose from and can buy me one thing from there (I appreciate lots of people have lots of presents to buy so I try and keep them to a reasonable budget where possible) and because I think it's better to give than to receive, I know that them giving me something nice makes their day too. Of course in return family and friends normally give me some ideas or a list and then I can get them something they really want, instead of making a mistake of getting a female relation lavender if they hate it etc.

It took me some time, but I managed to get the list done and split, so that was mission accomplished. As the new IKEA has opened in Ashton, it means that it's not as much of a traipse for people to get there, and in fact there's some buses near where I live which take me straight there should I so fancy, so it's actually doable for many of the family too. I don't ask for much to be honest, just something that'll go with either the house or be something I'll enjoy, and if that's good then it is.

Whilst watching the rather controversial (understatement) judging in Strictly Come Dancing last night, and for once I actually agree with Brendan Cole about them, I was flicking over to see how bad the contestants were in Z Factor (as I call it). Doing big band is all very well and good, but to be honest it's been done too many times before and people are getting kind of bored of that sort of thing now. As I see it, from what little I've seen of the show - usually the results one as it gives you an idea of how they performed anyway - there's three main contenders for the winner.

There's Ben, the long haired rocker, who apparently according to one Sunday newspaper has beaten drug addiction, but he does have a rock voice and I'm sure you could see him moshing to some Rammstein, then there's Ray, who apparently did a great big band rendition and seems to have the charm and charisma for all the teenage girls out there (and some women a bit older than that too to be honest!), and possibly Eton Road, not least for the fact that one of them looks like a reject from Placebo and there's a bit of androgyny about them too. Might be one to watch, you never know.

Anyhow, as it was announced that Abba were being covered for next week's show, providing further proof it's just a karaoke contest rather than promoting original songwriting and singers who can actually perform and not just do covers all the time, I had a bit of a brainwave to spice things up bit for them while still managing to keep up the karaoke theme of Z Factor. What about an "indie rock" edition? You could get Eton Road doing Placebo's "Nancy Boy" which would probably work really well, Ben could do Muse's "Starlight", and I'm quite sure that one of the girls could easily do The Gossip's "Standing In The Way of Control" (which is completely fantastic!), and of course get Ray to do "There She Goes" by the La's (well he is a Scouser after all.) And as for those MacDonald Brothers? It'd have to be "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand, as they need taking out of the competition for sure!

To be even more perverse, I propose to Simon Cowell that we have a week of "Nine Inch Nails". Now that would be hilarious trying to see the youngsters feeling the emotional pain and loud Industrial rock of Trent Reznor and co, wouldn't it? Admittedly one of them could do "Hurt" maybe in the cover style of Johnny Cash and the way he did it, but someone could do "Wish" (Ben probably), and maybe get Eton Road to do "Closer" although one of the lines would probably need changing to "I want to have you like an animal" (work it out for yourselves, kids!), and for added effect you could have the others doing "Sin", "Happiness in Slavery" (haha, ironic eh?), "Head Like A Hole", "All The Love in the World", "March of the Pigs" etc etc. It would be totally funny trying to see how they'd contend with it all, especially as they have probably no idea who Trent actually is, and how his music has inspired a generation like me.

Back to Strictly Come Dancing, I think too there's three contenders to win it, Emma Bunton is one of them. You might say "well yeah, obviously" but there wasn't much ballroom dancing in her Spice Girls career, and she's still the only one with a career left (and the only one most of us blokes would even possibly consider dating, she seems so much more geniune than all the others), and seems to really be passionate about what she's doing and how she gets things right. Of course her partner Darren Bennett won with Jill Halfpenny in Series 2, so he knows he's good.

Then there's Mark Ramprakash - could another cricketer win it after Darren Gough last year? He seems to have all the moves worked out, and I think Arlene Phillips has her eyes on him, although she hasn't got a chance - Karen Hardy, Mark's dance partner, has also taken a bit of a shine to him, and I have to say Karen looked rather gorgeous in her outfit last night, just seemed really fiery and sexy. Makes you wonder how bloody useless Bill Turnbull was last year too. But they definitely were the best couple last night and made tha paso doble passionate and full of fire, as (apparently, I ain't no dancer!) should be.

The other contender? Louisa Lytton. If she can hold her nerves, she could be a surprise. Definitely last week getting the first 10 might have got to her head, as she struggled a bit with the foxtrot this week, but she's so full of energy and enthusiasm that I'm sure that her partner Vincent Simone is absolutely loving every moment spent with her, they seem to have the chemistry as well which is important in those sort of partnerships. One last thing to note: Tess Daly's outfits seem to be getting better lately, some of the earlier ones she wore in this series were a right mess and now it seems back on track.

Saturday 28th October - It's Christmas In October

Well I ventured into the city centre today, and everywhere you go there's reminders of Christmas looming around the corner and with plenty of shops already having their festive fayre on display. I'd gone into WH Smith to get a few birthday cards (I have three family birthdays in the space of just over a week!) and so while attempting to try and locate the birthday cards all I could see were cards with red envelopes to wish people a happy festive period. Hang on a second! It's October! You know Halloween and Bonfire Night haven't even been by yet and already it's like having the next lot of stuff up before they've even come around. What next - Valentine's Card displays being up even before Christmas? That'll be next on the list I'm sure.

Anyway, that said, I did manage to get the cards I was after, and indeed then to venture into Argos to locate the birthday present that my Mum wanted. Thank heavens for the Quick Pay till though - otherwise I'd have ended up waiting in a very long queue. Did that and picked up the item, and then headed into the Art shop in the Royal Exchange to see if I could locate the Audrey Hepburn print I've been after. And did I find it? No, of course I didn't. Sod's law dictates that when I didn't really want it, I could pick it up pretty much anywhere in any of those shops, but now I'd really like it for the house and there's just no sign of it. A little bit of an annoyance.

I did however pander a bit to the Christmas spirit in Boots though, as I'd already purchased a few presents I needed some wrapping paper for them. And in case you're wondering: I have to plan ahead a bit because I have so many family and friends to buy for and as such it means that if I'm able to get things now, I will. And they're not always necessarily Christmas-sy type things either. I even got a present for my sister's little angel in Tesco the other night because I saw just the thing I wanted to get for her, so there you go. Another present down, only a shed load more to go. Might have to take a couple of days off next month and just blitz everything!

Wednesday 25th October - Can't I Tell I'm Back Home?

Got absolutely drenched on the way home today, it was a really really wet day and really I just had to go into town to visit the lovely people in the Manchester Cutter to get my hair chopped to bits. I have to have it done these days pretty often, it grows back weird and if it's shorter it's easier to manage and stuff like that. They always do a great job in there and it's not a rip off like lots of city centre hairdressing places. And I felt good afterwards, even with the incessant rain pounding my head as I made my way to the bus stop home.

Anyway, it's been a bit odd being back at work after having such a lovely week off. That said, I had plenty to catch up on Monday and spent a fair bit of Monday morning answering my emails and then seeing what happened the week before, and also then seeing what jobs I had to contend with for the rest of the week. That's the only thing with being off, I guess, you get into a routine at work and dealing with things as you go along, but if you break from it, it just takes you a day or two to get back into the groove.

And the groove was caught up today as we had to get a deployment of an important update to Vectorworks 12 out there. Version 12 was constantly crashing even on the fastest machines and it turned out that the update to 12.5 was quite big. So what to do? Well once the update was downloaded, some 256MB of it, it turned out that when you installed the update it had to go off to the Internet and get some more files, then install all of the updates needed, and in the end after all the uncompression, the files totalled almost 1GB of data!

Part of the problem was also that being stuck behind a proxy server meant that the files weren't behaving for downloads, got round that, and eventually managed to do a Novell Zenworks SnAppShot so that all the installer plus downloaded files were in one handy place and so we could just roll the update out to relevant PCs. However as one department uses the software more than others we gave that priority and got everything done for them, meaning happier students. The rest should be being deployed nicely as I'm typing this with a bit of luck as we set an automated deployment out at 8pm at night, aren't we good? Well, I'd like to think so.

Been also doing a bit more in terms of trying some online stuff. I purchased Scrabble 2005 at the weekend and was trying to host an online game, without much success. I could join other games that people were hosting no problem and that worked well, but even with my router set properly it was just no joy, even with the program appearing as an exception in Windows Firewall. As a test I whacked on Zone Alarm and it worked, albeit slowly, but it did the job, leaving me to believe that it was Windows Firewall that was the cause. Uninstalled Zone Alarm, got rid of all the crap still there after you uninstall Zone Alarm. And this leads me nicely to a rant.

Why the hell can't Zone Labs get off their back sides and actually write a proper uninstaller that actually does what it's supposed to instead of knackering machines because of stuff left on there? Don't believe me, right? Well try reinstalling Zone Alarm. It complains about files in use and it won't work, and you have to delete some files. And then even if you do reinstall it and uninstall it, all the pesky files and registry entries are still there. Most software companies write an uninstaller which works and leaves no traces of the program you installed, which is what you want. The fact that one of the Zone Alarm forums has this page for uninstallation instructions says all I need to know - although it's free, it still should be a bit easier for people to get rid of if it doesn't meet their needs anymore (hardware firewall for one). You might want to bookmark that link, by the way, just in case.

Eventually found that even though my router is configged spot on, it's Windows Firewall itself that was the root of the Scrabble 2005 hosting game problem, turned it off, and everything worked. However it does do a decent job of protecting the PC so I tend to play a game and then whack it back on afterwards. Even emailing Ubisoft about it was hopeless as they didn't tell me what ports I would have needed to open for successful online play - if I remember correctly doing a netstat showed at least six ports in the 40000-42999 range was doing stuff. One single port should be enough, darn it!

Still, did end up playing someone from Melbourne at it last night and it was a good game, and I won too in a fairly close match up. I of course now realised how the ranking points work, if you play the game as a "rated" game if you win you go up, if you lose you go down. So I'll have to keep an eye on that just incase the opponent is really good and then try and see if I can do anything about it, or just get thrashed. Mind you I did play scoriae as a seven letter work (making brewings too) and scoring a whopping 90-odd points. Woohoo or what eh?

Oh, one final thing. You may have noticed that Mozilla Firefox 2.0 has been released. All I can say is that you need to download it. Now. Like, immediately. Click this link and just get it now, you hear me? It's such an improvement on the already brilliant 1.5 that it just shows again who is the real browsing hero on PC, Mac and Linux these days, and it's not some pile of Microsoft crap called IE either. You want web standards compliance? Check. You want improved RSS feeds and the choice of which reader to use? Check. You want an improved look which is easier to feel around? Check. You want anti-phishing features? Check. You want a browser that happily has available plugins for Quick Time, Real Player (if you have to, Real Alternative is tons better), Flash, Shockwave and Java? Check. You want to do something good and leave IE behind? Well, do it. Now. Please. You'll be so glad you did. And yes, it's already installed in The Towers.

Sunday 22nd October - Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day?

The week off ended with a rather nice weekend. First off, I spent some considerable time on the Saturday going round record shops, as you do, and that meant only one thing - just had to hit Vinyl Exchange! It's the first time I'd been in there for absolutely ages, and I really shouldn't leave it as long to go in there. Yours truly picked up Hot Chip's "Coming on Strong", Sleepy Jackson's "Lovers" and best of all, the CD and DVD-Audio 2disc edition of REM's "Around The Sun", all for the princely sum of £15! I was pretty chuffed to say the least because I didn't spend that much per se, but got stuff I was after. I think primarily as well that I concentrated mainly on the UK and US indie sections so I could peruse around there.

I still love the place, it just makes me feel so much more comfortable in there because I know that it's still as good as ever and the fact that I can pick up stuff I'd like to listen to. You know how I ranted a bit ago about downloading, even if it's legal, not being the same? Well, the whole experience just enhanced that feeling I had and to be able to find the stuff I want for not much dosh said all I needed to know really. I just felt ecstatic and it was one of those feelings which really made it all the more worthwhile.

Wasn't finished there though as I walked down to Fopp and picked up Muse's "Aboslution" for fiver, another one on my wish list, and as a bonus, picked up The Soundtrack of Our Lives' "Origin I" for a mere three quid too. Now TSOOL (to give them their acronym) are a bit under-rated in my eyes, I saw them live on the back of their "Behind The Music" album, that tour, and it was great fun. They are just really good with a tight live set and certainly they didn't get the recognition they deserved to over here. So good to pick up their CD as well.

Mind you, got home, and had to play Muse at full blast, especially the tracks Stockholm Syndrome and Hysteria, cos I love those two. I think it's the driving guitar right at the end of Stockholm Syndrome makes me want to shout the words louder than Matt Bellamy (sort of Black Francis stylee if you will). I played the REM DVD-Audio disc too, and even though I know that Around The Sun isn't their best work, to listen to the likes of Leaving New York (which is beautiful) in advanced resolution surround is just gorgeous, believe me. I played the other stuff too and felt pretty chuffed with my purchases, so much so I didn't even grab the John Mayer CD! Ah well, I'll get it next weekend methinks.

Sunday though just made the whole week so complete and so brilliantly fantastic. My sister Sarah and I had noticed that Frank Sidebottom was playing live, and as we're both big fans (understatement, don't know who's more obsessed, her or me!) it was off to munch some nice food down at Pizza Hut and then down Oxford Road to the Dancehouse Theatre. And was he good? Well, what do you think? He was brilliant, and even better than the last time I saw him. He even threw in some new songs too such as the free download single he's put on his website, called "Free Download" (you know it is, it really is! etc) and he was hyping up his new websites, with us all singing "w w w dot, franks world dot co dot uk" along with one of the new stuff. And that was great, believe me.

Not only that but he did a medley of Manchester classics, including Love Will Tear Us Apart, Bigmouth Strikes Again (albeit named Little Frank Strikes Again) and Everyday Is Like Sunday, which included him yanking at the Microphone and using it like a whip just like Morrissey does, it was really neat. He then went on to discuss Paul McCartney and how his career went downhill and how that now he can't even discuss things with Heather, and him asking her to make him a leg of lamb would be just the wrong thing to do (work it out for yourself).

Anyway, when the interval came on, Frank mentioned a raffle and for 20p a go you could win stuff, so I thought "why not" and my sister and I got five tickets each. He then came back on in the second half disguised as Father Christmas and belted out Christmas Is Really Fantastic, before taking off the Santa outfit and getting the draw done. Someone won the Little Frank as Mark E Smith cardboard cutout "Hit the north, and hit the arcades" and someone won the pilot episode DVD of Frank's World. The last prize left was a signed promo CD of the Free Download single, and guess who won it? Yes, me! I even had to go on stage to collect the prize and have a chat with the papier-mached one himself. Did it make my day? Well, course it did! When I looked at the CD on the way back to my seat, he'd signed it in red felt tip and also the CD was a CD-R from Tesco (probably the one in Altrincham to be honest) with his writing on it too, really neat.

He did some more great bits of comedy, even showing us a guide to keeping pets via some slides on a projector, and how deep your tank would need to be to house a Loch Ness Monster, which was hilarious to say the least. Best of all, he snuck in my favourite song of his, Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day? which everyone happily yells out "You have, in your big shorts!" at full volume. He also did Bohemian Rhapsody like only he can and plenty of other stuff. Was it good? You betcha. And I just really got all his songs in my head now. I'll have to play the 42 track best of CD I have somewhere...

Thursday 19th October - Chuck Out That Chintz (That Is If You Have Any)

Another day, another destination. This time though my brother had offered to take me and my Mum to IKEA. The mission for me being two fold: first off, I wanted a small Billy bookcase so I could put all my books in somewhere that would look neat and tidy and also match other things in the house. I also if possible wanted a Lack coffee table with bottom section so I could store the remote controls there whilst using it as a good table. The small black Lack one is fine for now, but I really wanted the beech coloured larger one that you can get which would suit the part more.

Rain hit us as my brother went down the A580 and then along the A49 through Newton le Willows and on to Warrington. I should add here that although the new IKEA in Ashton under Lyne opened today, I don't think that the first day would have been a good day to go - probably manically busy and also full of people who don't understand the concept but are going along for the ride, not that great I guess. Got to IKEA, and they've changed all the upstairs since I was last here. Mind you, located what I was after and so noted down the numbers for when I got down to the self service store room a bit later on too.

At the half way point time for lunch, so Mum very kindly got us all lunch, made those meatballs seem even more tasty to be honest. I had them with some chips and this rather luscious blueberry tart for afterwards which hit the spot really well. Then it was through some of the other bits of the marketplace, and I was tempted by a canvas picture but it looked cheap and nasty, so decided against it. I found the Billy bookcase (result) but didn't manage to get the coffee table, and my cunning plan therefore is that I go to IKEA Ashton at some point and try to track it down there. Mind you as a consolation I did pick up some of the meatballs to take home as well as a can of the pear cider (the non alcoholic version) which was a blast to have later on.

Got home afterwards and then put the bookcase together. The instructions actually worked properly which meant I had it up and running in less than twenty minutes, and put all the books in as well so it all looks neat and tidy now. Can't wait to take delivery of my Rare Record Price Guide 2008 (due tomorrow I think) and not only peruse the value of my vinyl and CDs but also to see that my shelves will be virtually full of books, probably a very nice thing that. And it just looks more lived in now, especially as I put up the new curtains in the spare room too!

Wednesday 18th October - Back To Reality

Well, sort of. I checked out of my hotel this morning, and then spent a bit of time milling around the gardens in Princes Street just relaxing and taking some time out to collect my thoughts on what was a fantastic time had by me. I only wish I'd have booked another night, but at the same time my other thought was that money was also running a bit on the low side and as such the wallet might not have taken it, that said three days away worked really well and I know I'm going to have to do this for myself again sometime, maybe go to Nice and then to Monaco like I've always wanted to?

Anyway, I got on the 1152 train back to Manchester, and managed to get a Boots Meal Deal for onboard saving me the hassle of the onboard shop. Opened my Rollins book, whacked on the MP3 player and just generally took the time out, although one of the two women sat opposite me made me laugh. She'd brought a Discman with her and some CDs to play on the journey, all very well you might think until she started to sing along. And, I should add, sing along rather badly. I made a very dry comment about the fact that the X Factor auditions were over for this year but maybe I should call Simon Cowell's people and re-open them just for her? Yes, her singing was appallingly bad. It did make me laugh a lot though, I have to say, and just made the journey home a bit less hassle.

Got into Piccadilly bang on time, and would have been early had it not been for all the signals from Salford Crescent onwards stopping the train from speeding along nicely. And reality hit me when I arrived back to the Towers. But in a nice way. My brother had decorated the spare room for me whilst I was away and he's done a fantastic job, the new wallpaper looks really good and that made me feel a heck of a lot better being home too. Add to that also that I'd done almost all the washing and cleaning before I left, and so the only washing I had to do was that in my case, put that on, chilled out and kicked back. And felt rather good, I have to say. And two more days off work for me too!

Tuesday 17th October - Sunshine On Leith? You Must Be Kidding!

Well, after the rather busy Monday I decided to take things at a slightly slower pace today but still crammed a lot in. I got to the Royal Museum of Scotland at around 9.15am but then realised it wasn't going to open until 10am, so I then hit a brainwave. I'd head out to Leith and the docks there and check out the Royal Yacht Britannia. I was going to use some buses later on for other things I was going to do, so I might as well hop on one now, and I have to tell you, Stagecoach Manchester could learn a heck of a lot from Lothian Buses. The fare system is dead easy - it's £1 single fare for any distance, or £2.30 for a day ticket, and that's it. Of course the buses don't give change, but nonetheless by keeping it simple it also meant it was easier for people to get their head around.

I headed on the number 35 for Ocean Terminal, and went down Easter Road and past Hibernian's ground along the way. Got to the terminal, through the shopping centre and to where the Britannia was docked. Unfortunately you couldn't just take a look from the outside (although I found a way later on) and the main entrance seemed to be through this attraction on the second floor of the shopping centre and be charged to go inside. I didn't really need to go inside, just wanted to look at it from the outside, and round the back of the shopping centre is a picnic area and public viewing point, got there and managed to see what it looked like from a pretty close distance anyway. Leith is now pretty interesting because of all the dockside developments that have been going on too. Flats are being built everywhere at a rate of knots, which is also making the area a bit on the expensive side. Due to the cloudy day the view did seem a bit murky, which only led me to believe that when the Proclaimers released their album Sunshine on Leith, they were obviously lucky to have sun that day or it wasn't as cloudy as it was when I went.

That done, back on the 35 and to the museum, now opened. And I have to say that the main room with the impressive balconies was really impressive. It wasn't about the exhibits but the sheer grand scale of the building when first built and so nice to see those features kept. I spent a bit of time checking out the various themed pieces in the rooms on various floors. One that caught my eye was about the use of inventions throughout from the 1870s onwards, and they even had an original model of the Sinclair ZX80, which are like absolute gold dust now! And added to that, a Sinclair C5 above the display also, which was nice from a techno buff and historical point of view.

In a room in between the Royal Museum and the new Museum of Scotland next door was a quite interactive room, especially great for the many kids that were there. One such thing was a reaction timer where you had to press buttons that were lit to turn them off and hit as many as you can in a certain period of time. Most people got around 30, so I had a quick go and rattled off 66. Oooh, impressive! There was also a sizeable queue to take part in the Formula 1 simulator based on a Stewart F1 car (which by the way there was also one of in there which was great to see) - and I had to try out the track and see what I did. I did two minutes dead which was the best time of the day, even at 11.30am. I doubt though if I would have been top at the end of the day but still, never mind, it's the fun that's the main thing.

Went into the Museum of Scotland and then checked out the roof garden in there, and that was really good to see all the plants being preserved along with some rather nice views from the top. Not to mention the floor below, which housed the Scotland sports hall of fame, and that was really good to see. In one glass case was none other than Jackie Stewart's original racing helmet, lovingly preserved. As an F1 fan, of course I was rather pleased to see that as you might have expected. But there was also some good bits about Scottish history and how engineering and farming also played their part, and an intriguing mix of the old and new, even an old replica tombstone of Mary Queen of Scots too.

So with that done, a nice walk back down to the far end of Princes Street and then on to Calton Hill to see the Nelson Monument. That wasn't the only thing up there though, apart from the rather good views from the top of the hill there was also a momument to Ducald Stewart too, and several other old buildings around there, so well worth the walk up. I was going to climb to the top of the Nelson Monument and pay for the privelege, but with the weather being cloudy the view to be honest wouldn't have been much better than what I'd have seen at the top of the hill, so I gave that a miss. I've made a mental note to go back there in the summer and check it out, though, if I have the time.

Back I headed to the main bus lanes and hopped on the 26 over to Portobello, four miles eastwards. Portobello is basically a suburb of Edinburgh by the sea, and very nice it looked too, even in October. I'd managed to locate a Pizza Hut takeout place, so I got a small pizza and drink, and due to the fun and games I had with the seagulls in Cornwall last year decided rightly to eat food before heading beachwards. I got on to the promenade, and the sand looked very nice and clean, as did the sea. And despite the cloud, quite busy with people walking along the beach, walking their dogs and such like.

Stopped off along the way as there were two amusement arcades, on the offchance one of them just might have a pinball machine. And did they? Yes they did, not just any pinball machine either, but Addams Family, my number 2 favourite of all time. Well, of course I had a go, what do you think? And I even got a replay as well, so I haven't lost it, thankfully. After that bit of exercise with the digits, I spent a bit of time just sat on a bench by the beach, staring at the sea and generally relaxing a bit. I figured that it was also a good way to get all the stuff in my head processed and throw them out to sea as and when necessary.

Another hour later, another beach, this time up the road to Musselburgh. Fisherrow Harbour reminds me of a lot of older fishing villages and was quite serene and picturesque. On the beach here even the odd swan made an appearance in the sea, which was a bit puzzling until I realised why, this was because the town is split by a river in between, and the swans were coming from downriver to the sea. That explained it, and after crossing one of the bridges I then found that I was right outside the race course! As a horse racing fan in general, it was good to see the course close up, not least because most of the main straight runs parallel with the coast road, so much so that you can touch the three furlong pole from the pavement!

Got back into Edinburgh itself after another bus journey and then hit the Modern Art Gallery just near Haymarket station. Good job I knew where to go otherwise you would get lost very easily, it's not so easy to find. It was okay but didn't inspire me as much as the other art galleries that I'd been to earlier. With that done, hopped on the number 2 bus back to Grassmarket (good timing too as the rain had started to fall) and then back to base, relaxing with a coffee before the evening's entertainment.

Now, one thing I had wanted to do was to eat out, but particularly to eat at the Human Be-In, which is near the main University campus and also was where I'd spent a couple of nice nights having food when I was up there on my course last December (see corresponding diary bits). Anyway, I had the special off the board which was haddock, chips and mushy peas, done to perfection, and I had the vanilla ice cream with fruit coulis to finish off, which was lovely too. I was just sat staring out of the window really really relaxed actually, which is a good thing, and just thought of how it was last December and how things hadn't changed here since then, still the nice vibe and atmosphere, the friendly staff etc. As such as I can still recommend it if you're planing a visit to Edinburgh, so go there. Now.

And to finish the day off, a free gig. Yes, I had perused the idea earlier in the day after spotting the venue just next to Richer Sounds. It's well worth a trip here to to The Jazz Bar, and they do what they say on the tin, have live bands playing good jazz music. A lot of the acts are free, which lightens the load somewhat, and tonight it was the SHJQ (I'll leave you to work out their full name if you will) and they basically played some great stuff, plenty of improv along the way, and it just left everyone feeling the nice relaxing mellow jazz vibe. I chilled out with some good tunes for about an hour and a half or so before returning back to the hotel, but knowing I'd made the full day a really good one for different reasons. I really have to say that I don't want to leave tomorrow but know at the same time that the break has done me the whole world of good, it really has.

Monday 16th October - From Castles To Pub Quizzes

Monday was to prove a very busy day for me in terms of taking everything in, but I did quite a lot, and in a lot of cases, things which didn't necessarily have to cost you any money either, always well worth noting that is. But first, I just absolutely had to go up into the castle. I've always been a one for history and I really like the fact so many of the UK's castles are preserved as much as possible and given the right level of due care and attention they so deserve. And although for me there were far too many American and Japanese tourists around the city that week, it was a nice small queue at 9.30am when the castle opened and so it was quick for me to get in and have a look around.

After passing through the portcullis gates, one thing that struck me on sight was the one o'clock gun. It was covered slightly at the end of the gun, and with good reason - it is still fired at 1pm every day, and so has to be handled very carefully. It was really pleasing to see that it was still in use, and it looked in excellent condition. Many of the tourists were having a guide in a kilt show them round, all very well if you just want to be told it as you want it to be, but for the independent traveller inside me, I felt much easier doing my own thing as I headed through Fogg's Gate and inside the very small chapel that's inside the castle grounds. And I mean small. I had to duck my head to enter through the front door, and I certainly am not one of the tallest people in the world either. After that, the Half Moon Battery looked impressive, and also a good line of defence. If you looked through where the barrels of the gun poked through, it was a mighty sight to say the least.

After walking underground in David's Tower I then concentrated on the main courtyard area inside the top of the castle. One of the exhibits showed how the Honours of Scotland were saved from Oliver Cromwell, and indeed later on I was to see the Scottish Crown Jewels. Now these were in a big room which was locked with two massive safes, and a security guard on all times, and a big notice to say no photography, which considering the historic importance was of course the right thing to do. So I get there and admire everything, and what happens? An annoying American tourist, with camera. I say with but it was hastily put away when the security guard gave a look of death towards him. I honestly thought that the incident I had at the Sacre Coeur a couple of years ago was a one off, but obviously not. Kind of annoyed me slightly.

Still, the castle was wonderful and so well preseved, and to see exhibits where you could see some of the real history of Scotland was really good to do. Granted, it's just over £10 now to get in, but I actually found that it was pretty much worth it, if only for the fact that you lived and breathed history with every step. In fact from the west you could see Murrayfield and Tynecastle, good for the sports fan like me to note where they are, and the view there was also one of quite a distance and an opportunity to see how the city was still evolving today.

A walk down the Royal Mile ensued, and first stop was right near the castle - a tartan weaving mill. It was actually still working as well and you could see the people who worked there actually making the tartan knitwear that you could buy at the shop including scarves, ties and so on. Mind you, a lot of it were also in the colours of Scottish clans too, so you could even get the matching set in your surname if you so desired, although it wasn't cheap. Also, you could if you really wanted to, get dressed up in a kilt and have your picture taken - and I did see a few people do this even at a mere £20 a time to do so. Not cheap but I guess it's a good souvenir if nothing else.

After that, more walking down the Royal Mile, and as I'd started from the castle, it was all downhill, a rather clever move on my part. St Giles' cathedral was under redevelopment, although the statue of Hume and the City Chambers still looked impressive from when I saw them last. As today was also a plan to check out the shops, I headed slightly downhill down Cockburn Street and went into Avalanche, a most excellent record shop to say the least. They were proud of being an indie shop, even doing their own line in record bags and t-shirts, and had plenty of second hand CDs cheap too, kind of Piccadilly Records meets Vinyl Exchange. Certainly judging by the crowd who frequent there, one place that the locals use, always a good sign. I went into Fopp as well just to see if the new John Mayer album is out (which it is, must make a mental note to get it this weekend) as well as check out the bargains they had. I didn't buy anything, but it was just good to peruse around and see what was in them both, and certainly Avalanche is well worth a visit if you go (or if you're really lazy, just visit their web site instead).

Anyhoo, went on further down and to the Museum of Childhood, which was fascinating stuff, not least because I was able to reminisce a bit, but also to see so many toys and games from yesteryear preserved to show the kids of today how much being a child meant was really good. Some of the exhibits were really old, so obviously no photography allowed, but I did see something in one of the galleries that I just had to marvel at. It was an original Bendy toy Rupert the Bear, and I had one of those as a very small child, so as you can imagine it made my day seeing one so well preseved and reminding me of my own childhood too. I just felt really contented because someone else is just a big a kid as I am inside. Indeed the many children who were there were seen marvelling at all the old stuff - you can see a few of them wanting it on their Christmas wish list now.

Did the People's Museum as well which told a few interesting tales from the perspective of the Scottish people. One notable one centred on Edinburgh's rehousing from the 1930s to the 1960s and how building tower blocks in Wester Hailes, west of the city, was proven to be a disaster and how it didn't mingle the communities who lived there (much better now apparently by all counts). Also to see some of the protests the people were prepared to fight for was for me a sign of how the people shape the city, and notably one of the banners was from their own anti-Poll Tax marches in 1990, really genre-defining in many ways to be honest.

That said, I did stumble upon one place right at the end of the Royal Mile which proved to be an inspired visit. The Scottish Poetry Library doesn't just archive famous Scottish poems, but has anthologies of all sorts in there. As I wanted to truly immerse myself in the culture, I decided that the best plan would be to read one of their reference books and read the likes of Burns as it was intended to be read. Having that pause to be able to do that was a wonderful thing, and I certainly know that it was inspiring for me to see how much writing meant to them and how it was a source of all their fortune (especially in one writers' case). Having had that pause, went back to the hotel via Cowgate (so thereby going underneath the bridges instead of along to them) and that worked out really well.

The afternoon was mainly for me to explore the more shopping areas of Princes Street, Rose Street and George Street. As it was, as I walked down Princes Street I also saw many statues of famous Scots, including the Scott Monument, the painter Allan Ramsay and Thomas Guthrie. I also stopped off at the Art Gallery, and in the very basement stands a very impressive array of Scottish art through history. Ramsay's portraits were pretty good but the one artist that stood out for me was Phoebe Traquair. Her work mainly with embroidery stood out because it was daring to be different and also because she led an arts and crafts movement in Edinburgh itself and was a bit of a pioneer. I really had to stand back in awe and admire - you just don't get art like this anymore and knowing that made me appreciate it a lot more.

Got to the end of Princes Street and so I walked down Rose Street, just had to go into the Cat Gallery of course, lots of Rosina Wachtmeister stuff but way too expensive for me (for now at least) and also spent a bit of time in another branch of Fopp (as you do of course). I was also going to venture in Charlotte Square and St Andrew's Square, but they'd both been closed to the public, which was a real shame to be honest. As it was I spotted a few other statues as I walked down George Street and this included one of George IV to commemorate his visit to Scotland back in 1822 (well that's the date on the statue so who am I to argue?). Walked back over the North Bridge and headed down past Chambers Street towards base, and stopped off to admire the little statue of the dog Greyfriars Bobby on the way.

Went out in the evening to the White Hart Inn in the Grassmarket, and I felt inspired as I saw the poetry of Burns in the rafters (apparently he stayed here many many years ago too). In any case the beer was spot on here, as was the food that I had. Three courses for a mere £9.99, and definitely well worth it. Nice big thick country vegetable soup to start with, and two huge doorstops of bread and butter to go with it too. That set me up very nicely for the salmon in lemon and dill sauce, complimented with some very nice seasonal vegetables. And that would have been enough but then the apple pie and cream was just to completely die for - it was so nice!

Then on to the McEwans Ale House in the Southside. I did the pub quiz there, and had a whale of a time. Even though there was only a team of one (ie: me) the other teams looked decent and so it was time to pit my wits against the other five teams there. I called myself The Mancunian Candidate (work it out people) and so you basically had six rounds of 11 questions, and you could nominate a round number to play your joker where your round score counted double. However, the round subjects were random so there was no way of nominating the music round in advance cos you wouldn't know the number. Round one and two (pot luck and Geography) I scored six each, and so was jointly in the lead at that point. Three and four were a disaster though, scoring 3 on the Human Body and then a mere three in the second Pot Luck round. As that was the joker round, it meant I then got 6 points so totalling 21 after four rounds, placing me fourth.

However, with movies and music left I thought I had a chance and so it was time for me to really get the brain into gear. Round five was movies, and I amazed myself by scoring eight out of 11 in total, so that helped a fair bit. It also put me joint second, two points behind the leading team, The Locals (obvious name eh?) and as such it was going to be a music face off. Further more as some of the questions were to be 2 points and not one (title and artist type things) then it was a chance for me to maybe even win. And as the questions came out, I knew the answers to every single one apart from the last one. I had a feeling about it, I was on a roll, and as it turned out, I'd got all the first ten right, totalling 12 points. I didn't have a clue with the last one, but that meant I'd scored 41 points. The Locals handed their sheet in and they didn't do enough, scoring 38 in all, which meant victory for yours truly.

Rock and roll, eh? Actually the prize was a case of 20 bottles of Stella, which, becuase I can't stand the stuff, I generously gave to the two teams of students who were sat nearby me and who were having a good laugh along with me throughout (thumbs up to Dial Z for Zeppelin's team in particular) - I then had to pick an envelope and answer a question for £10, which I didn't get a chance of getting right really, but still, it set the tone perfectly for the times ahead. I felt so brilliant inside, I couldn't tell you. It was almost as if the folks from Quizteam Aguilera were there with me in spirit helping me along too, which was top stuff. Got back to sleep around 11.30am a tired but very contented little bunny, let me tell you.

Sunday 15th October - Edinburgh Here I Come (Again)

So today was the start of a three day break for me. I'd been planning one for a while, and in the end I decided to go somewhere that I'd been before but never got chance to take full advantage of looking round, and that was only one real option - and that was Edinburgh! Part of my reasoning was that the place looked so nice when I did my course there last year, and on top of that, I also wanted to see more of it and in my own time. Of course a bit of careful planning meant that I'd booked my hotel online for £45 per night (which believe me isn't bad for the Scottish capital) and the return train direct via Virgin for £12 one way and £15.50 coming back, so that didn't prove to be too much of a hiccup either.

So it was at a cold platform 14 that I was waiting along with several other people to get the 1241 train. I was so thankful I'd reserved my seat though, because the train was fairly busy and certainly by the time people got on at Preston, it was standing room in some cases. However, yours truly kicked back in my seat, started to read Henry Rollins' excellent Smile You're Travelling, and with the 512MB Acer MP3 stick delivering me killer tunes from the likes of Muse, Morrissey, Weird Al Yankovic, Rollins Band, Kristin Hersh, Roy Harper et al, I could just chill out and relax on the way there, and also munch some lunch I'd got from Boots beforehand so as not to be ripped off by on-train prices, as you might have guessed.

The train was actually on time when I hit Edinburgh Waverley at around 1615, which was good to see. I took the ramp out of the train station, crossed Waverley Bridge, up few streets towards George IV bridge, and then down Victoria Street to the Grassmarket, where I was staying at the Grassmarket Hotel. I got to reception and the woman who served me was very nice and friendly, and told me that the room I'd been allocated was being renovated, but they were going to put me in room 502 at the top, which was a double room, at no extra charge! Considering I'd only paid for a single room this was a definite plus, and when I got up to the room, that too was very nice. Nice big bed, TV, tea and coffee with working kettle, en-suite bathroom with nice big shower, basically everything that I needed. I then borrowed the ironing board and iron from reception, pressed all my stuff to save time and hassle, and hit the town.

It was still light by the time I'd checked in and got everything done I needed to do, so I decided to walk down the Royal Mile right to the far end to check out Holyrood House, which is the Queen's residence there, apparently. It was ridiculously expensive to get in but I just viewed from the outside and it did look an impressive stately home to say the least. Right opposite is the Scottish Parliament, which is a real architectural mishmash of all sorts. It did win some award a couple of years back, and it looks a complete contrast to Holyrood House opposite, it has to be said. From there, I walked into Holyrood Park and started the climb up the path which would take me along Salisbury Crags. As the sun set, it was a rather nice view of the city and being able to point out some of the landmarks and places I'd visit over the next few days. I was going to clamber up Arthur's Seat too but time and darkness defeated me so I walked back at the other end of Holyrood Park through the road that led me to the student area in Southside, and of course then I knew where I was and ventured back to the hotel.

The evening turned out to be a rather nice one as I ended up doing the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. Two people who acted as their stage names, Clart and McBrain, were to entertain us for the next two hours, and they did that, with many snippets of Scottish poetry and prose from many a famous writer, and also explaining the background for some of the writers as well and how they got their inspiration from many a place in Edinburgh. A few pubs and a couple of hours soon went by, and to be honest, it was really really good fun. Not once did anyone feel bored as even walking between pubs they gave us interesting titbits of conversation about the writers themsevles, even pointing out the Sir Walter Scott Monument on Princes Street in case anyone wanted to visit that - nice touch I thought. It was an absolute blast too because many a time they'd try and outdo each other in the way they'd recite the poems in a true Scottish nature, and no wonder they've won some award for it as an attraction is all I'd say. Eight quid thoroughly well spent in my view. And with that I ventured back to the Grassmarket and tucked myself into bed. This holiday's only just begun and already I'd rather like time to stop. I already know this is so what I needed for myself and I've been able to get my head around a few things too.

Saturday 14th October - Finally Off At Last!

Well, yesterday at 4.30pm felt like it was such a long way away, but I was so relieved it when it came so I could finally take some time off work. Apart from two half days, I've been in all the time since April, and I think the added stress of things going on at work and around me were just really not making me feel myself. And I know deep down that by taking this next week off and doing things for me, for a change, in that I'll feel a lot better and be able to face the world with renewed vigour and joie de vivre, so to speak.

Had a lovely time last night though out with a few friends - it's one of their birthdays next Friday but as that day will be spent flying to America for a holiday (lucky so and so!) we brought a meal forward to last night and so went and had something good to eat. Of course, any place that has a decent steak and ale pie just has to be a reward for me, and as I'd weighed myself and found I'd hit the magic two stones lost since January, I thought that rewarding myself a little was the very least I could do. I feel happier inside, I feel more me, and I even (shock!) feel sexier as well, particularly as I've been getting nice compliments from female staff at work about me losing the weight, which gives me no end of confidence I can tell you.

Anyway, had a lovely meal and of course the steak and ale pie set me up nicely for the crunchy toffee caramel crunch sundae - it's as nice as described and it's really filling - but not in a too sickly way. I even felt like having a pint for the first time in what seems ages since I went out with Dan and friends, so a pint of Guiness was mine. And you know, it actually felt really good to just be able to treat myself with little things occasionally, primarily because little things can often mean more than big grandiose gestures, I should take note and remember that whenever I face the big bad world and see how people interact with each other.

Is it me, or are concert tickets getting to be a bloody rip off? Tickets for Morrissey at GMex went on sale yesterday and normally a Morrissey gig in Manchester would have pretty much sold out in the first hour or so. But then you see how much the tickets are and you'll see just why there's plenty left. £35 - and that's not even including the booking fee. Use somewhere like Ticketmaster or even Piccadilly Box Office and after all their handling charges etc you're looking about an extra £5-6 on top of that, so it makes it around £40. Now as much as I like Morrissey I don't believe in being too frivolous with money, not at least as there's Christmas just a couple of months away and so at the moment I've decided not to go ahead and purchase them. In any case Chris and I went to see him at the Bridgewater Hall earlier in the year, and that was very special cos it was a smaller, more intimate venue where you felt more like a fan than just another sucker to corporate money.

But more importantly for me, I've got a mini break coming up for my week off, and I've got it all sorted. I'll probably reveal all when I get back, but for the moment it's really good being able to keep the information to myself and to be able to do my thing and my thing alone. Also, I think with me it's more about having that time and space to get my head sorted and move on with myself, and decide what the next steps are in my change plans. I haven't ruled out a lot of things - I'm even considering emigrating if that's possible to try and weigh up all options and see where the mood takes me. I'm not getting any younger any more (and that's an understatement) and in reality time waits for no one. As such if I feel that my life would be enhanced by being elsewhere rather than the rather sunny (shock) Manchester right now, then so be it. It's those sort of things I need to be at peace and alone with my thoughts and then make the right decisions.

On the other hand, family and friends are here, and both of those are important to me. You can come and go with relationships, for example, but the family and friends, most of the time, stay pretty in tact and are an essential part of your life. I don't want to make any rash decisions about anything because that's not my way, and also because I have to be absolutely sure that whatever I do is for me. That might sound selfish I know but I think whenever I do things for me then it's for all the right reasons because usually those decisions affect me, first and foremost. I suppose there's a lot for me to take in and think about over the next few days, and I want to be able to do that and then go from there. Of course if I have a lovely time anyway while I'm away, even better!

Wednesday 11th October - Bad Performance Is Not Just By A Cold

First off, I finally caught the cold bug that all the new students seem to spread around. I really thought after surviving nearly three weeks (especially where inductions are concerned) that I managed to avoid all the possible cold bugs out there, but it started to hit me on late Saturday and by Monday I was completely snuffly and bunged up. A combination of the bronchial balsam I normally have plus decongestants, extra strong Mentho Lyptus and numerous cups of tea and coffee have tried their hardest to keep most of it at bay (and admittedly I am sweating it out a bit too by deliberately wearing warm clothing to try and get it to escape out that way) but there's no shifting it as yet. Which is bad news because I've got a nice little meal to go out to on Friday and next week is my long awaited week off work and I really want to feel good for either of them to be honest with you.

And at work I've been ploughing through a few project related bits just trying to keep going, but if anything went wrong on the Tuesday, it went wrong. First off, a new multifunction printer arrived for one of the admin offices. So I switched it on, and nothing happened whatsoever, it just stood there acting dumb. And that was all that I got out of it - the power then went off and there was no response from the thing, and we've had to return it completely DOA. Not a good start to the day I guess and by lunch time I just wanted to go home, curl up in bed and treat the whole thing as a very very bad day indeed.

But worse was to come tonight. You thought England played shockingly bad against Macedonia on Saturday? Well, that was nothing. Tonight to say that they were an utter disgrace is a mastery of the understatement if ever there was one. Granted, Croatia are a good team and their 12 year unbeaten record in Zagreb speaks for itself, but the England team didn't look like a team at all. They seemed disjointed, disorganised because of a dreadfully bad decision to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, and they seemed most of all disinterested. The last part is the one that hurts the most. There was no passion, no pride and ultimately no feeling that they actually wanted to win at all - but were just going through the motions to be perfectly honest.

Part of the blame has to go with the manager Steve McLaren. His desparation to throw all three substitutes on at once showed the act of someone who knew he'd got it wrong, and indeed tactically he fell well short. In situations where the place is tricky to go to, sticking with what you and the players know would have been a better option, and indeed at least gone to try and score so if Croatia did pile forward, they'd find it hard to break it down. With three at the back, it was only a matter of time before they scored and so it proved, unfortunately. And as for that bizarre second goal, watch it be on a future episode of A Question of Sport's "What Happened Next" round. Guaranteed. And ironically had someone else who played in goal for England had have done that, he'd have been lambasted. But to be honest, we got all we deserved - nothing. McLaren out, anyone?

Saturday 7th October - Kicking Things Into Touch By Not Booting

It's been a pretty tough week at work for me, and I think the throat is feeling it big time with me having to (still) do induction sessions. That said, the sessions are virtually over now and so I can actually get on with doing the day to day support tasks and helping others out. And for the last day or two I'd tried in vain to get one of the new PCs we've got to PXE boot to Novell Zenworks imaging. And no matter what I tried, it doesn't work. I tried the onboard Realtek network card, and that failed - miserably. I then tried a separate 3Com network card - same result. And lastly a rock solid Intel 100+ that works fine with everything - and that failed too.

Turns out that the PC is one of the new ones we got from one of our suppliers, RM, and it turns out that the motherboard they've used in that PC is some custom Asus job that isn't even mentioned on their website. Similar models exist, but they're slightly different. It's based on the ATI Crossfire motherboard chipset, and it's a combination of that and whatever the motherboard manufacturer have put in which just doesn't release the IRQs correctly for the network card (whichever one it is) to boot successfully. The boot agents are detected, it boots to the Zenworks imaging page, and no matter which option you select it doesn't DHCP later on to the imaging server to get what it needs. It just goes to show that sometimes manufacturers need to realise that people in education need things to work first go, particularly if you're thinking of getting lots of the same thing and imaging them out to users. Needless to say we're going to try and send them back because they are a crock of bobbins, honestly. And I have to say, unusual for RM because normally they only use genuine Intel motherboards too.

Been also working on looking at the new Release Candidate 1 of Windows Vista too, when I get time to sit down and have a play with it. Beta 2 was painfully slow on a 2.4Ghz Pentium 4 with 1GB of RAM, probably the onboard graphics letting it down somewhat. But even so, you don't necessarily want a whizzo system just to run the latest operating system (although controversially that's the way MacOS has been for years and Apple users just accept buying a new rig every so often) so it'll be interesting to see what user feedback has made it's way into the RC1 release. That said though, at work we just simply can't move to it - there's too much old kit out there that is struggling badly to run Windows XP SP2, never mind anything else!

Decided today to go on a bit of a mission and it proved a little bit impossible, but I've not given up hope just yet. You see, for ages I've wanted the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany's on my wall. Apart from the obvious fact she was gorgeous in that film, it's also the fact that the prints you get are in black and white, and I do think black and white photography just looks so amazingly, well, classy, really. As I had to nip to Argos Stockport for some new bathroom scales (the old one conked out on me even after a battery change but I did at least tell me I'm now down to 12 stone 6 so I'm keeping the weight loss going) it was a good opportunity to go into the art place they had there. And did they have it? No. I tried a couple of places in Stockport Market too that have lots of pictures for not much money but there was no joy there either. I know the art place Art in town usually has it though, so I might just have to pick a print and frame and get it that way, but I just hope that they do now. I've decided it's going in the bedroom because it needs brightening up a bit with some more art (although the Rosina Wachtmeister cat pictures in there are very nice actually) and go from there.

Went a bit retro this week and decided to see if I could get hold of the first Marion album "This World and Body". They've reformed recently and are playing Manchester Academy in December, which should be rather good. When playing some of my vinyl the other day I found that I had the original of their Sleep single on 12" - which I know I bought new for something like 99p. And it's still in immaculate condition. Must check on that in the Rare Record Price Guide 2008, which I have of course ordered from Amazon. I like to keep up with how much my vinyl is worth, you know!

Anyway, back to topic. After listening to Sleep and realising how bloody good a band Marion are, I then thought it was time to locate it on CD. So last Monday I did a bit of searching and found a seller on Amazon who was selling it used for a mere £2 plus postage. Even cheaper than going into Vinyl Exchange, I thought, so that was me well and truly sorted and it arrived the other day. And what does it sound like? Rather good, actually. It just goes to show how under-rated they were and how right Morrissey was to be a fan of them. Seems like full circle with so many bands reforming recently, maybe I should feel ten years younger (no, don't answer that!)

Sunday 1st October - Black October Sheep

Had a really nice time today with some of my friends (and thus fulfilling one of the things I said I'd do and spend more time with them) - we ended up going to the Didsbury pub and generally just munched out. When we got there the bloke at the door said there was a considerable wait for a table and food, but we managed to get a table quite quickly, and also although the food did take some time, it was so worth it when it did arrive. I went for a steak and ale pie, using Old Speckled Hen as the ale of choice, and all I can say is wow! The vegetables that came with it (green beans and carrots) were lovely, nice big whole carrots too with lots of flavour, the creamed mashed potato was heavenly, and as for the pie itself? Utterly scrumptious, with lots of steak in there that just oozed with the gravy in a lovely pie with delicate yet gorgeous pastry. The scampi and chips a friend of mine had looked good, as did the gammon and pineapple also. I have to say too that they were all very filling - don't think I'll be eating anything more tonight to be quite honest! And that downed with some Black Sheep ale? Just absolutely gorgeous, I tell you.

When I did my food shopping on Friday night I also decided that I wanted to treat myself a little and get some proper coffee for the cafitiere I have here in the Towers. And so browsing around Tesco I spotted that you could get Costa Coffee for cafitieres! Well, that was me sold, so I decided to get that and some croissants and have a really nice light breakfast for the weekend. And I have to say - the coffee is absolutely lovely. I was sat there watching the mighty Saints beat Hull in the eliminator play off (superb game of rugby league it was too - both sides gave 110% I have to say) and just drinking some luscious coffee made me feel oh so relaxed and wonderful. I think also it's meant that I've had a bit of me time and it was just really good to do that.

Also the week off is pretty much planned and sorted out. I'm going to take three days away somewhere I think - not sure where or when within that week just yet, but I have a few ideas in my head where I'd like to go to. And in addition to that I also thought that if I get all this time to myself, I'll be able to do my own thing, when I want, and just do more for me. And that's pretty much important, as I've had so much work to do in so little time. I need this break. And I need it for me and for a hundred different reasons too.