Dear Diary... April 2003

Sunday 20th April - Happy Easter!

Well, as I'm typing this, no doubt a few of you are scoffing lots of chocolate eggs and probably being a bit sick later on, especially if you succumbed to the three eggs for a fiver deal in some supermarkets and got one for yourself into the bargain. I've always found it really odd that most supermarkets stock them in January - who's going to buy them that early when Easter is so late this year?

Anyway, I made the most of the Easter weekend (and the good weather on Thursday and Friday, as high as 24 centigrade/ 75 farenheit!) and went up to Hollingworth Lake on Good Friday. It's one of my favourite places these days as I can just take a leisurely walk around the lake in fresh air, and stop half way round, sit overlooking the lake, and collect the thoughts. It's really something we all should do sometime - just stop and think as to what is going on in your life and the world. Must admit where I was sat would be a perfect place for a couple to hold an outdoor wedding ceremony if the weather was nice, might have to keep that thought in the unlikely event of me ever getting married ;)

Whilst I was there, and after checking out a fun fair that was on (including this rather brilliant arcade game where you bash insects and rodents that come on screen as fast as you can - really good fun) I went to the Millers pub restaurant to munch some food. I have to say this: if you are ever up by Hollingworth Lake - eating here is a very good idea indeed. The prices are reasonable, you get an option of mini, regular or maxi portions depending on how hungry you are, and the service is top notch. I went in, ordered my food and drink, and a mere fifteen minutes after I sat at my table, the food was there, piping hot, well cooked, and totally gorgeous. I can highly recommend the three fishes meal that they do - you get butterfish, cod, and salmon all in this nice batter with chips and peas, and as I tend to eat fish on a Friday, a perfect meal to go for (and eat). It really does make a difference when you have friendly staff serving you, not just being polite, but also with a smile, and not being too inquisitive. I should add the place was choc busy and yet I was still given excellent service. Sat by the window, looking outside at the lake, it really put the seal on a nice day all round - even City won at Tottenham into the bargain!

Thought I'd better explain my stance on The Hits channel, seeing as I received an email about it. Yes, there are other music channels out there (Sky has many, Freeview has TMF as the other channel) which is why in terms of competition and content, The Hits really needs to sort itself out. While its audience is probably teenagers who are going to buy chart singles, if they only get to hear the same 15-20 songs that are in the charts and the occasional new single by a Pop Idol/Fame Academy type "star" before release, then they'll only buy what they know and are fed by this media. As the Jam once sang in "Going Underground", "The public wants what the public gets" and no statement could be more true. TMF at least play a more varied chart selection (almost all of what's in the top 40 and then some older tracks thtown in) so if a new indie band makes it to number 39, at least TMF will play their video now and then. And that sort of exposure is important to anyone, no matter who you are. The people who run The Hits also run the digital radio Kiss channel, and some local radio stations as well, so you'd think they wouldn't have gone down the route and pandered to the 11-14 year old kids. Why not rename it "The Teenagers' Hits" so we aren't deceived? Or make it so it plays hits no matter what era, maybe later at night when the kids are in bed, play some more adult orientated chart stuff, or even classic hits. Even that would be a step in the right direction.

Anyhow, have a good Easter!

Monday 14th April - Dedication, that's what you need

Yesterday was an amazing day as Paula Radcliffe obliterated the women's world marathon record again in a time of 2 hrs 15 mins 25 seconds, taking almost two minutes off her own record set last year. Now, if ever there's an athlete that deserves any accolades, it's Paula. She's a role model for her sport, never taking drugs ever (and indeed speaking out about those that cheat in sport) and completely dedicated to her life as an athlete - with intense training sessions and complete focus on the task in hand. It's that sort of dedication, that if you want to be the best, you have to show that level. Dedication, as the late Roy Castle one said, is what you need, if you want to be a record breaker. It also brought about an interesting debate about the male pacemakers - and whether the record should stand because it wasn't a women only race. The problem therein is no one can keep up with Paula in the marathon, she's almost four minutes faster than anyone, so she needs the fast paced men to help. But also consider this: she won from the front on her own in the 10,000 metres at the 2002 European Championships, so maybe she could do the longer distance. Personally, I'd like to see Paula win it again in a women-only race and in an equally quick time - just to prove the doubters wrong.

Anyway, BBC did us proud again with the interactive coverage. Red button pressed, and I could swap between the men's and women's race which meant of course I could watch the whole of the women's race in its entirety. Nice one! And indeed, it really worked well as even despite the odd loss of pictures due to the location of the camera bike, it was pretty much quality all around.

As is now my TV aerial signal. You see, there's a church near where I live, and the church roof gets in the way of the TV signal. Now as anyone living near high buildings will tell you, this is bad as you lose some of the reception, and in a lot of cases, get effects like ghosting on analogue, not to mention the breakup on the digital Freeview channels. However, this weekend saw the aerial now placed on a 16ft long aluminium pole, secured nice and safe with two industrial-strength lashers, and bingo! The aerial can now "see" over the roof, meaning a) no ghosting at all on analogue, and even Manchester's free Channel M channel has pretty good picture quality, and b) no digital break-up whatsoever. I even did a signal strength check on my Nokia freeview box, and on a lot of channels the signal strength was way into the green zone (which means excellent :). I'd definitely bear this in mind if you are having aerial problems - look for any high buildings close by which block the signal! And I'd also recommend the aerial company I used in Manchester - 1st AA Aerials, based in Didsbury. They're very nice and friendly - look them up in your Yellow Pages.

Anyway, on to a small rant - and that's mainly to the people who operate The Hits TV channel on Freeview. What about a better selection of tunes rather than trashy pop crap, please? At least TMF do occasionally play the odd good tune in their playlist. The problem quintessentially with The Hits is that the selections they give you (if you press the red button, for example) are woefully inadequate - the total number of videos never exceeds around 50, meaning you see the same song around every three hours. Yawn. I once counted something like nine plays of the same song one day. Why not have a larger selection accessible to the public so that when they select their songs it'll be a wider mix? I for one would appreciate that, so that there is an eclectic mix of pop, indie, rock and dance to suit everyone, not just those who the top 40 is everything (when in fact it's nothing these days in terms of record sales.) Mind you, if I operated the Hits my playlist would be a mix of all sorts and not just current hits, you could have like a "classic indie" hour selection - say something like:

I01 - My Love Is Like A Gift You Can't Return - The Man From Delmonte
I02 - Monkey Gone To Heaven - Pixies
I03 - People Are People - Depeche Mode
I04 - Fools' Gold - The Stone Roses
I05 - Freak Scene - Dinasour Jr.
I06 - Red Right Hand - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Well, you get the idea. Actually, one last thought: if you get really, really drunk, the only song worth doing on karaoke and getting away with actually sounding good has to be "Deanna" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. If you've heard it, you'll understand what I mean. Just practice going "oh ho, De-annnna" while stumbling around, and you're almost there, honest guv.

It's Easter soon, so look out for a busy period of intense thoughts, more on this in the next entry...

Wednesday 9th April: April Showers? What April Showers?

Well, the weather is gloriously lovely right now, which makes a change. Amazingly the only rain we had this month was on the 1st. So much for April showers then. It's been a little cloudy now and then but has been pretty nice. Which is all very well when you're outside, but not at work fixing PCs like I was today. Mind you, nothing compared to the power cut we endured on Monday which left everyone without work to do for around two hours. That was horrendous, as everything just went belly up (thank heavens for UPSes!) and the way the lights flickered before going off was quite a surreal experience to say the least.

Anyway, good news: I also managed to get a ticket for City v West Ham on Sunday 27th April, the second last ever home game at Maine Road. To be honest, can't see myself getting a ticket for the final game as they're going for around £300. Each. Ouch! Can't afford that I am afraid, as much as I really want to go, especially as it's pretty close to my birthday. Still, can't win them all, and I'm going to two out of the last three which has to be something I suppose. I sincerely hope after the way we've been playing pretty bobbins recently that we can up a gear a bit and see how things go.

I also finally had to make the necessary purchase of a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I was going to get one back in February, but by pay day the DC04 had gone back up to £180 or so, and for not much more, I may as well get a more powerful DC07. So, that's what I did. A bit of price comparing and playing the shops off each other (well worth it :) I finally managed to get what I wanted - the Dyson DC07 with brush control and HEPA filter in purple and delia - and for £219, which wasn't bad considering most places charge around £270 for the same one, is it? I did the whole house in around 20 minutes (yes, really) and it really does the job wonderfully, no muckingabout and I even got to all the hard to reach bits around the bedroom! Cool. And so nice to see that the hose really DOES go all the way to the top of the stairs. I'm serious folks: if you want a new vac - don't consider anything else. Ever. You won't be happy. You really do get what you pay for. And even the colours are funky, but of course that wasn't my main reason for buying it...

Back to the book: although I was going to go for a storyline from the one person perspective, I soon realised that this wasn't going to work unless the main character was in every single plot line going, and for some parts he wouldn't be. And besides: there's going to be three equal characters, so that throws things a bit in the other direction. So I've scrapped what I've written and am going to give it a bit of a re-write (understatement). Thankfully as I'd only done a few pages in Word it wasn't a major disaster, and I am still very much in the experimental stages anyway. But I'll keep you posted.

Take care out there, and remember: freedom costs.

Sunday 6th April: Numb

It's a really difficult day for me today, as it's the first anniversary since my grandad passed away. I went down to the crematorium to pay my respects and to drop off a little something to keep him company, and memories came flooding back to this time last year. I was at Maine Road watching Manchester City thrash Barnsley 5-1 to win the Division One title with weeks to spare, and due to the 1pm kick off, I could go home and then see him in the hospital to tell him the good news. As I got home, I subconsciously figured that over the last few weeks he had been waiting for his beloved City to finish the job so he could eventually rest in peace, it was almost like that was what he wanted to see beforehand. As I got home, we had a phone call. He had died. I went to the hospital, numbed but also relieved that he'd managed to hear the news from one of my relations before he went, and within half an hour, that was it. He could go to heaven happy that City had won the title and would have done him proud.

Now you have to understand that my grandad's affection with City started off at a young age: the first game played at Maine Road was just before he was born and when he was younger, he used to drive for the coach firm Finglands (that City still use to this day, I should add) and on occasions even drove the City team coach up and down the country. Later on in life, he was a steward in the North Stand at the top of Block S, and sometimes I'd sit up there with him to watch the game which was happy memories indeed. Thankfully, he ensured that Mum's side of the family all were brought up supporting the heroes in sky blue: none of that Scum support from us. That legacy is continued in Grandad's son and his two boys, me, his daughter and her son and so on. And long may we continue to keep up the blue blood as well. Put it this way, if I ever decide to make a life-changing decision and decide to want children (which I really _don't_ want btw) then I'd be getting them into City babygros as soon as I could, carrying on the tradition.

A year on, and I'm numb. Not because of the shock of death (which happens to us all) but by how quick the year has passed and how there's always a happy memory at the back of my mind of the two of us going to Maine Road to cheer on City when I was young - we even both shared the agony of Raddy Antic's goal for Luton in 1983 which got us relegated... I know when I'll be in the Gene Kelly stand for probably the last time later this month, I'll just wish he was here in body, but I know he'll be with me in spirit. And that's what matters.