Dear Diary... April 2010

Friday 30th April - Double Birthday Celebrations

It was birthday celebration central today, and not even for me. My manager at work had his birthday today, and had offered as a bit of a thank you to us all for getting us through the recent network refresh at work that he'd take us to Tai Wu and have Chinese buffet for lunch. That sounded pretty good to me and it was also good that everyone within the team was also coming as well, so that would be nice to have a proper atmosphere there. I did have one of our technical group meetings in the morning though, so it was good to be able to put some input into that and join everyone for lunch not long after.

It's been ages since I've been in there for a buffet lunch, but all was well. In fact they even offered a half pint of a soft drink free with the buffet meal too, so that was a bit of a bonus for us all. I had the chicken and sweetcorn soup to start, then some chicken and mushroom, crispy beef and what have you with some fried rice, and the dessert was some swiss roll with ice cream from a Mr Whippy machine. Oh joy of joys, love the Mr Whippy stuff and so we were all pretty contented with that and it made the afternoon as a result seem to go pretty slow, although I did manage to move a user account over and sort out the emails and stuff too - so that was good.

I got home and soon was joined by The Cream On My Cake later as we were heading out for the evening. It was my auntie's birthday and a special birthday at that, so my uncle had planned a bit of a surprise do at the Toby Carvery in Heaton Chapel, with lots of us there. It was nice to be invited and knowing how nice the carvery was, I made sure that I didn't eat too much at lunch time. We headed from mine to Heaton Chapel and straight there to the Toby Carvery, and plenty of us were there already. When my auntie came in she was pleasantly surprised to see everyone there and was made up that it made her birthday a bit more special.

We soon had the carvery and that was very nice, I had some of the ham and the beef, and also a big Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, potatoes and gravy and that was all lovely. The Belgian waffle with cherries and ice cream finished it all off nicely and tasted great, so that was good. I even had a pint of real ale, as they had Thwaites on cask too so that was all good. It gave me plenty of chance to talk to some of my relations with The Cream, and good to chat to one of my sisters and my brother in law as well about all sorts. Time went by very quickly indeed and before we knew it, it was 11pm and time to head homewards, having had a lovely time.

Tune of the day is the rather brilliant "The One I Love" by REM, as I'd had some time tonight before we headed out to have a bash on drums on Guitar Hero World Tour. It was great fun to be able to try that out and if at least we have a band get together again like last weekend I know my drum skills will be decent. Of course people mistake the REM classic as a love song, when actually if you read the words it so isn't - beautiful irony all in the song there!

Thursday 29th April - It Never Rains But It Pours

Typical Manchester weather today, I tell you. After three days of rather nice sunshine and it really being lovely, a nice big grey cloud over the city which just so happened to chuck it down with rain for most of the day. I was out on two jobs in another building, but at least I had the sense to have my coat with a rain hood on, so if it did chuck it even more I'd be sort of semi-waterproofed, thankfully. It was a day where it was a case of getting all the little jobs done before taking on the rather large ones for the future. It's also been good that I've managed to sort out sone niggly issues that have been bugging me somewhat.

I nipped over to Tesco tonight once I'd got home as I'm off out tomorrow night and so would have no time to get food and stuff in. It wasn't too busy but noticed one of the freezers is completely out of order at the moment, so there's much less stock in them than usual. I did manage to get everything I need including making something lovely for myself and The Cream On My Cake for Saturday evening, so that's all good. I also managed to make sure too that I got some flavoured water, wine, croissants, pasta sauce, coffee and some stuff I wouldn't always get every week, so it was good to get out of the rain and head home.

Tune of the day incidentally is "Even Flow" by Pearl Jam. I'd gone home via the city centre to pick up a couple of things and when I was in HMV in the Arndale Centre, their album was playing and on came the song. It immediately reminded me of rocking to it on Guitar Hero III on the Wii but also reminded me of my younger days being in indie club nights and hearing the likes of them, Nirvana, Dinasour Jr etc and being able to rock to them. Those were the days, let me tell you, when it was a proper good night and you had no pretentious indie gits around. I always remember "Even Flow" going on for a fair while in terms of song length but the more I listen to it nowadays the more it makes sense because of the song structure et al.

Being in work meant I missed the Steve Davis v Dennis Taylor exhibition game to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their legendary World Championship final. Thankfully the BBC had it on red button when I got home after shopping, so I could watch that for a while. The introductions were fab, complete with over the top big glasses for Dennis and ginger hair wig for Steve, and they were happy playing and knocking good shots in, and when referee Eirian Williams called Steve's attempt on the pink a miss, Steve was like "the miss rule didn't exist back then!!" almost amazed.

What did make me smile was the humour between both players and the crowd, it showed just how much they enjoyed the whole thing and how good friends they are off the table. It was also nice of Dennis to acknowledge to the packed crowd just what Steve had done this year in the tournament and how it was so good to see Steve do that. They even recreated the attempts on the black that they'd had back in 1985, and Dennis doubled two in he missed, and Steve's cut miss became a cut in and potted it! Their humour throughout was brilliant and you really have to watch the whole thing if you can - it was great. Wish I'd been there to see it.

Wednesday 28th April - Gaffe Central

Another good Wednesday for me this week as I spent the morning on the second session of the professional mentoring course. It was good to see everyone from last week and to be able to take on the tasks of the day. One of the role plays was particularly challenging that we had to do, but we really all tried very hard and that was good to see. I quite enjoyed doing this multiple choice survey and at the end of it, it gave you an idea of how your personality and intelligence can be broken down into several categories and that explains in some detail your logical thinking, kinaesthetics, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, stuff like that. It seems pretty relaxed all round but I do think we're all getting a lot out of it.

In the afternoon I was sorting out a few issues and also demonstrating to my colleague who AFP (Apple File Protocol) can be pretty useful on a Netware server so that you can access network drives on a Mac using it. It also means that the user has to log in before doing anything, so that's a rather neat function all round. It also shows that the user will only see the drives that they are entitled to as well, so that does work out good. It's good to be able to show users other things and give them some development as well - I'd much rather do that and be able to get on with things well.

Over at the Crucible, Steve Davis' run came to an end as he lost 13-5 to Neil Robertson. He did at least come from 12-2 down to make it 12-5 before Robertson got a century to win it, and Rob Walker made a bit of a boo-boo by announcing him as Dennis Taylor at first (must have been thinking about the 25th anniversary of the '85 final match tomorrow between Steve and Dennis). Steve went and got some glasses from someone in the audience and put them on upside down a la Dennis just to wind Rob up as he was announcing Neil Robertson! Classic stuff and good on Steve as well. Seeing him do so well this year and showing the youngsters how to play at the Crucible has brought a smile on everyone's face.

Mind you, if you thought that gaffe was embarrassing, just think how the Prime Minister feels after his visit to Rochdale and muttering something about a woman he'd met in the back of the car whilst still fully miked up. Of course the media have hyped it to death already and you just think that if they actually concentrated on the real election issues it might make people watch. I have a feeling though it'll make tomorrow's debate in Birmingham a tad more interesting than it already might be - will David Cameron and Nick Clegg go for the jugular I wonder? Or will people actually see the whole thing and realise that it could happen to anyone? We shall see.

Tune of the day though has to be the rather excellent "YYZ" by Rush, which I had to simply have a go at again on Guitar Hero Greatest Hits earlier. It's still pretty tricky no matter what instrument you use, although at least on medium drums I can get most of it now. It's a rather manic and varied percussion though so you really do have to have your wits about you when you play it. And of course no cheating with the Rock Band drums, I'm using the proper Guitar Hero ones so all five pads plus kick pedal for me. It's got such a varied instrumental throughout and on bass it's particularly lethal as well, I should add. One day I'll do it on expert. One day..

Tuesday 27th April - Omens For The Future

It felt strange being back at work today for some reason - not because I just had a few days off, but because I didn't feel like it was right being in work. The weather has been pretty nice apart from the downpours on the Sunday, and that always gives you less incentive to be in - well it does for me anyway. I got down to it though and as the part had arrived for one of our plotters, I set to work to get it sorted. We had a feeling that the power supply unit had gone, and a few Torx screws later and we'd got to where it needed to be replaced. It wasn't too bad to do and one replacement later and the plotter was firing back up again, so that was good.

The afternoon was a mixed bag - sorting out settings for Internet Explorer 8 in the Windows Group Policy and consulting with one of my colleagues, and also then checking some other laptop settings. I did have a laptop in terms of sorting out some updates for it and the staff member had also reported a possible virus. It looked like something had tried to infect from a USB pen drive, so I made sure I completely cleaned the machine to be on the safe side, which went very well indeed. I did feel though like I wasn't able to do enough in the day and the omens for the future are not so good - more work, more hassle, less time!

I nipped home via the local pound shop and for two reasons - one, my mobile phone charger doesn't seem to be charging anymore and knowing that it can sometimes be the little pins in the charger plug, I know that the local pound shop has them for not that much dosh. Also I had a call from The Lemon In My Cheesecake because she wanted me to try and get some keyrings and tags for key sets for her, she needed them for work I think. I managed to get them too so that pleased me no end that it was a mission accomplished sort of, hurrah.

Tune of the day is "Omen" by The Prodigy. It's a stonking dance tune and it was the first thing I thought of when I was on the way home as well. And indeed looking at the Neil Robertson v Steve Davis match, the omens are there for Davis to get hammered to be honest. It'd be a shame I know, but at least he made his own little bit of history at the Crucible this year and fair play to him for that. I do think Robertson coming down from 11-5 against Martin Gould in the last round might give him an incentive to go on and win it now, but we shall see. And let's hope that the rest of the week is less hassle!

Monday 26th April - Back To Sheffield For The Final Time

It was off on the train early morning, as it was back to Sheffield and to the Crucible Theatre for the last time this year for me to watch the World Snooker Championship. This morning I had the second round match between Mark Selby and Stephen Hendry, on paper a close contest and after the first session yesterday had ended 4-4 you had to wonder which way the match would go really. What was good to see was that plenty of people had thought the same as me in terms of taking the day off work and heading over to Sheffield to see the action before their very eyes.

I collected my ticket from the ticket office and then headed over to see if I could spot anyone making their way into the Crucible. I did spot Ding Junhui coming in for the second session of his match with Shaun Murphy but hardly anyone else and so headed in and got to my seat. And what a seat - I was front row for the match and my seat was level at eye level with the bottom cushion so I could see the corner pockets perfectly if the balls were heading on there. It turned out later that because of my position I got to be on the telly a few times as well apparently. Ooh eck!

Anyway, Rob Walker did his bit and got the crowd warmed up, not least because they were all off work and that made the crowd quite pleased. He introduced the players and out they came to their walk on music. Mark Selby's choice of "Underdog" by Kasabian was about the best of them (and as he and Kasabian are from Leicester, it makes for a common sense move) and so that's tune of the day. And once the match got started, it was clear that Selby's pulling back a frame from two snookers down yesterday did him the world of good - the first two frames were a little slow but he won them and then found gear and won the next two too with Hendry struggling with his potting and so at the interval it was 8-4 to Selby.

I grabbed a coffee at the interval and found that where the signage is for the front of the table, there's little recesses on the inside, perfect for placing your coffee without any spillage! Of course I wanted to only drink that after each frame so I wasn't seen on telly having a hot drink. But that was a quite good thing to know I could do, rather than have it under the seat. The second part of the session started and Hendry missed a relatively easy red, and I could hear him mutter "Oh, I give up" to himself, that's how close the action was. Hendry did win a frame but in the last three frames Selby was like Kasabian and on "Fire" (hehe) and after a century break in the fourteenth frame of the match, only one bad positional shot stopped him from a century and he was stuck on 99 on the next. And with a 72 to clean up the final frame of the session, he'd gone 11-5 up and the last three frames lasted around half an hour in total, which puts paid to the myth that he plays too slowly (later, he'd polish off the two frames needed in quick time to get a 13-5 win)

After all that excitement I left the Crucible and felt sad that it'd be my last time there this year unless I manage to get a ticket for the semis somehow. I went over to see if anyone was leaving or entering and spotted Stephen Hendry making a very quick exit, obviously well upset with his performance, Joe Perry leaving to have lunch before his match with Ali Carter in the afternoon, and also Mark Selby, who stopped to speak to quite a few people - very nice of him that. One fan had a hand made t-shirt on and once Selby left, she changed into another t-shirt for Ali Carter! Classic.

I went and had a gorgeous lunch in Ego next to the Winter Gardens, and had their Tuscan meatballs with a mineral water, which all went down very well. I headed back to the Crucible to see if I could spot anyone else, and spotted the commentator Clive Everton, Angus Loughran (aka Statto from BBC2's classic Fantasy Football League back in the day) as well as referees Jan Verhaas and the ever lovely Michaela Tabb. I actually got a nice shot of Michaela this time too - hurrah! I then noticed that there was a path being cleared for crossing the road near to the entrance, and I soon spotted that John Parrott and Ken Doherty were over the other side. They were filming an intro bit for BBC2 and over they walked, calm and collected - excellent stuff.

Ronnie O'Sullivan arrived later and there was a throng of people but his car went in via the goods entrance so he didn't have to stop for anyone and get on with things. It was a case of everyone had gone in now so I headed into the shops to have a look around and also to walk throught the Winter Gardens and one of the art galleries, so had a little bit of culture in the afternoon before heading back to Manchester on the train. It was another great day out and certainly the weather held nicely for me too, so that was good. You can have a peekie at the pics too, it was a great tournament to go to and I feel dead pleased to have gone again!

Sunday 25th April - Elizabethan Evening

Myself and my friends got up this morning, I did us some coffee and croissants, and then on the red button we saw the final frame of the Davis v Higgins match from yesterday. And wow, what a frame it was. Davis needed to double the brown in and try and develop the blue to carry on a small break and give him the frame. He doubled the brown in and nudged the blue from the cushion in a perfect position to pot that and the pink to win. The commentators said that it was a brilliant shot under pressure, and I have to say that if that doesn't get shot of the championship, I want to know why. With that amount of pressure riding on it, it showed what a legend Steve Davis is. They don't call him Steve for nothing!

We switched over to see some of the classic football goals on ESPN Classic and we marvelled at some of the skill, not least of course by Dennis Bergkamp. It used to be an in joke with me and my friend that BBC's Goal of the Month list would be "Goal A... Dennis Bergkamp. Goal B... Dennis Bergkamp" (etc) simply because he scored so many brilliant and sublime goals, he really did. It was good to see what some of the pundits had as their best 10 goals from the first 10 years of the Premier League, although I'd have given Bergkamp's goal against Newcastle number one slot (as we all would have done) instead of Beckham at Wimbledon...

It was soon time for people to head their way home, and it was sad to say goodbye to everyone really, as we'd had such a brilliant time all round. I just felt so happy too because I know that to get us together was a really nice thing and because also it cheered us all up. I soon had all the air beds deflated and the spare rooms back to normal, and vacuumed up ready for The Lemon In My Cheesecake coming over later. I showed her some video clips of us gaming away and also the pics I'd taken and she said that we seemed to have a great time so that was good...

We then had a coffee and catch up before heading out to see if we fancied a walk or maybe a drive through the countryside somewhere. The rain did start to come down though, so that was unfortunate, so we headed to Hazel Grove then cut off round Torkington Park and towards Marple, then down to Marple Bridge and out up towards Mellor, through there with all the nice houses and on with views over the hills looking gorgeous, down into New Mills and then back through Hague Bar and Strines before heading back to Marple and then back to mine via Stockport.

After this and a quick pit stop at home, we went to The Elizabethan, just in Heaton Moor over the Heaton Chapel border. The Lemon had got a voucher for 10% off and we thought it'd be worth a try to head there for tea, as we were both now pretty hungry bunnies. It didn't take us long to find the place, and we soon were getting a nice drink (Scorcher for me, wine for The Lemon) and had decided on the food. She went for one of the specials of the Stuffed Chicken, full of chicken, ham, cheese sauce and some lovely vegetables. I went for the Steak and Ale pie, and wow, what a pie it was. It was a proper pie, no pastry lid rubbish, and full of meat and a lovely gravy. In fact that's in my top five pies of all time, that's how good it was.

The ambience was really nice in there and with it being for over 21s only, no idiots around and generally people who wanted to relax and socialise. The layout was lovely and the refurbiushment paying off in spades, it felt all rather nice in there and I think we may have to head back there sometime for food, drink or both. Isn't it great when nice things happen like that? We headed back to mine and had a game of Scrabble, where The Lemon played QUILT on triple word for 45, only for me to do OVERAGE (also making GRAIL) for a pretty big 74 points (the G was a blank and OVERAGE on double word) but it was good fun nonetheless and a lovely end to the weekend.

Tune of the day though is something I've not been able to get out of my head all weekend, "Nugget Man" by Paul and Storm. Even though the song's about a man and chicken nuggets, the chorus along with the refrain of "Nugget Man" was used by the BBC last year when Steve Davis was teaching young players snooker, "Steve's Little Nuggets" (Steve's former nickname was The Nugget, you see). And when I think of the song now I think of Steve getting all pumped up and ready for playing the snooker. Good on him!

Saturday 24th April - Manc Weekender VI, Day Two

We all woke up around 9am and I got us all some breakfast on, some really nice thick Lincolnshire sausages on barm cakes, and I whacked all the sausages in and crammed them on the barms, thus making a nice thick wedge of food for everyone. It was nice to have that and coffee and then settle in to keep an eye on Soccer AM and also some of the snooker, as Steve Davis was 9-7 up against John Higgins. The first four frames were shared and so Davis went back to 11-9 in front after being pegged back to 9-9. We saw some more of Soccer AM during the mid-session interval and made sure that our other friend was coming to join us, and then saw that the snooker was 11-11. It was then time to head out into the city centre.

We decided that as we were meeting our friend later in the afternoon, we didn't have enough time to watch our possible match of Droylsden v Redditch in the Conference North (Droyslden did win 6-1 and snatch the final playoff spot on the last day, so that was good). So instead we went to The Pub (that's its name!) and we got a good seat and table with view of the telly so we could see the events of Man U against Tottenham unfold. Once a goal went in that opened up the game and Man U won 3-1, which although helping City somewhat did mean that it was also putting the title race right on the wire again and Chelski needing to beat Stoke tomorrow.

We also had lunch in there as I know the food's decent, and my smothered chicken was competely spot on. My friends had the large fish and chips, the steak and ale pie and the stacked chicken and they all were good to, so it filled the hole nicely ready for the afternoon, and so then it was a walk to Piccadilly station to meet our other friend. The weather was nice and sunny, and the station was full of Man U fans making their way back to London (there were scores of them everywhere believe me) and as some of them had left when our friend arrived, it was a comfortable spot to meet.

We headed out of the station and after deciding not to stop in Kro in Piccadilly it was on to the Waterhouse on Princess Street, which as Wetherspoons pubs go is really nice - they keep the scroaty gets out and the little rooms with tables, keeping the original features of the place, makes it a bit more homely and more like a proper pub. There were guest ales a plenty on because of their real ale fest, and I had the Hook Norton Early Mist in there which tasted divine. After that, and seeing the final scores in the 3pm football kickoffs, it was over to Table Table where the Hobgoblin was on totally fine form.

The next place on the mini pub crawl was Ra!n Bar, and being able to be sat outside in the warm weather was a rather good feeling along with consuming some nice beer. There was a Czech lager on offer for some, although a chance of the rather nice Dragon's Fire did not go unnoticed, and I had a couple of pints of that in there - which was very tasty indeed. What I like about that is that it's not too heavy and just a really nice colour in there too, spot on. In fact someone in Ra!n fell off one of the outside chairs as the leg broke with them sat on it. It was a bit bizarre seeing it almost in slow motion but it did make us giggle, it has to be said.

The final port of call for the evening was one of our old favourites, Sandbar. Everything was spot on, the chilled out vibe, the good jukebox, the cracking beer selection and of course Black Cat on top form. Well, it'd be rude not to I thought to myself, so soon had some of that and it really did go down nicely. We relocated to another part of the bar a little later due to some funk being played a little too loudly by the DJ which meant we couldn't hear ourselves properly. Mental note to Sandbar: you're good because you don't do that sort of thing: people meet and chat in there and don't want loudness.

Soon it was time to head back to Piccadilly station, drop our friend off on the train back to Macclesfield, and then head out of the station to get the bus back to mine, via Topkapi for pizza and other assorted food for late night. We were all pretty tired though with the day's drinking and what have you, so it wasn't long before we all called it a night and that brought the day to a relaxed and happy close. It was a great day again and as for tune of the day, it has to be New Order's "True Faith". I put it on in the jukebox in Sandbar and that was fab. Of course the tune was covered many a time by Commodore 64 musicians trying to recreate the 1987 classic on three channels of finest analogue.

And a final word on the snooker: Steve Davis won 13-11 against John Higgins, and The Lemon In My Cheesecake texted me to say that when seeing it at her mum's, the crowd was going mental to say the least and that was a really nice thing. I say well done to him too - to be able to under pressure really keep the head and also play controlled and aggressive snooker but with a real thought for the shots at the same time - tactical mastery. It's a great story and even if he does lose to Neil Robertson in the next round, I'm sure it'll be the most talked about moment of the championship when Davis rolled back the years.

Friday 23rd April - Manc Weekender VI, Day One

It was that time of year again when I have three of my friends down for the weekend, which normally involves retro and current gaming, football, and of course plenty of beer. As I'd done all the housework the day before it meant that I could nip into the city centre in the morning. You see, Barenaked Ladies are playing the Apollo in September and so me and my friend well fancied going to that. Now, because certain ticket agencies charge rip off booking fees, what I was thinking was to head into the box office at the Palace Theatre and pay cash there and avoiding the fee.

When I got to the box office, a note on the front said my worst nightmare in that it didn't sell tickets for the Apollo anymore and so you either had to go to the venue direct (and their box office opens at stupid hours only when there's a gig on!) or to HMV in Manchester Arndale. Fine, I thought, I'll go to the Arndale. I got there, eventually was served by someone on the ticket desk (they had to find someone!) and then I was told that they only had a standing allocation and no seats (which is what I wanted). If I wanted standing, and paid cash, no booking fee, as they don't charge one for the Apollo if you pay cash. But no good. I eventually headed home and booked a couple of good seats online, albeit with booking fee attached. Meh.

It was a good time therefore to do some last minute checks then before my friends arrived, and two of them arrived around 2.30ish. It was good to chat and catch up and I had one eye on the Steve Davis - John Higgins snooker game whilst chatting, and made a couple of us a pizza for lunch as we'd not been able to eat beforehand. Lots of football-related chatter came up, and that was good, and we even had a quick check of email to see if one of our retro gaming and music friends who lives in Macclesfield was going to join us tomorrow for drinks - he recently got back in touch with one of us, so was all good there to go as well. Hurrah!

With my last friend arriving around 5.30, and with us already into Cue Sports: Snooker v Billiards on the Wii, it was time to open the drinks and for the real ale fans, we had plenty of choice which they all appreciated, and Stella and Budvar for the lager fans amongst us, so that was good. We tried out TV Show King 2 as well, and I didn't win - I had someone swap their money with me when spinning the wheel and that was pretty much game over for me, and one friend won 5-0 in the final round to set up an impressive victory, so all was good there.

I put the pasta bake in the oven for tea along with garlic bread, and put on the trusty Commodore 64 as we tried to do events rubbish rather than good as you'd normally do. So first off, it was the cliff diving. We'd managed to score zero instead of fault before, but as we now all know the technique to do that, to make it more interesting what we did was to have to score above zero but with the most rubbish dive. In the end we all got single figures with a measly attempt of 2 being the best of the lot in terms of rubbishness.

The caber toss event was also perfect for the shortest caber toss. At first 29 feet seemed a decent enough low score but then it was working out how slow you could go before pressing fire and getting the angle right for releasing the caber. I managed 28 feet 2 before one of my friends got a low of 26 feet 2, simply by going a little quickly and then slowing up almost to a stop before releasing the caber, and it went virtually up and down to get that low score. Might be a bit hard to beat, that, but it'd be good fun trying that again, and it certainly adds something to the fun and games.

After loading up a few more C64 games and having a go of them and with tea well consumed and enjoyed, we tried out a four player band in both Band Hero and Guitar Hero 5. Once everyone got to grips with the controls, it was good to try and do songs in that mode. In fact on Band Hero that worked out nicely, with us nailing the likes of "Whip It" by Devo, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison and such like, along with " We Are The Champions" and "The Beautiful People" as downloadable content. Of course my friend who loves Marilyn Manson did the latter track, and that worked out very well indeed. Oh, and "Walking On Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves!

It was then to Guitar Hero 5 after Band Hero, and we nailed nicely Blur's "Song 2", "All Along The Watchtower" by Bob Dylan, "Fame" by David Bowie (I even did vocals and tried to nail all those descending "fame" bits at the end which wasn't easy, let me tell you) and also "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, and "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran (which is tune of the day because one of my friends loves that band, so we simply had to do it and do it well. In fact with some discussion we agreed that Guitar Hero Queen would be a bloody excellent game to have as a full thing, so maybe one day that'll happen (or Queen Rock Band of course).

It was so much fun that before we knew it we'd headed to Topkapi, got some food in for late night, and then rocked some more till around 1am. It was a great night of fun and I think my two friends who hadn't played such a game before really could see how much fun it could be when you all get together. In fact if we head up to the Lakes again this Summer, I might be taking the drum kit with me somehow!! It was a great start to the weekend and certainly one which made us all smile and be in the right frame of mind for the rest of it. Hurrah.

Thursday 22nd April - Back to the Crucible

It was a day off for me today, partly so I could get everything organised for the weekend with my friends, but also as I was heading to the snooker in the afternoon to see Mark Allen against Mark Davis, the opening second round game of the World Championship. I spent this morning giving the house a right good clean, with no stone left unturned. I wanted it all to be really tidy for everyone and I also think if you keep it tidy, there's much less house work to do so it means it's easier to keep on top of it all (and by that also less time spent too, so everyone wins). It also included cleaning the bathroom and really giving it a good shine. All looking good.

It was then on the 1220 departure to Sheffield by train so I could head across for the snooker. The train journey was as efficient as ever on Transpennine Express, no fuss, just get there on time and in relative comfort. I had my Boots Meal Deal for lunch which saw me right and it meant that I didn't have to go mooching around Sheffield having lunch beforehand. The familiar walk up from Sheaf Square past the Sheffield Hallam Uni building with its "What If?" poem along the side, and over past the Museum and towards the Crucible, where I picked up my ticket for the afternoon's play and then milled around to see if I could spot anyone.

I did spot two of the referees, Eirian Williams and Terry Camilleri on their way back from Marks and Spencer with lunch, and Stephen Hendry just milling around shopping. Martin Gould and Neil Robertson were quite happy in their casual clothes as they were watching the day's action with an eye on possible future opponents, and maybe even themselves as they play each other tomorrow. I also saw the Cue Zone in the Winter Gardens with Hazel Irvine getting ready to present for BBC Sport with Ken Doherty as summariser, and the weather was turning out rather lovely for them.

I entered the theatre and it was all good to go. No Rob Walker to get the boys on the baize though sadly. Still, Mark Allen and Mark Davis came out and played some quality snooker. Mark Davis went 2-0 up and was building a nice break in the third when he missed a red, and with all the other reds nicely positioned it would have possibly been a century break and frame winner. Instead Allen cleaned up to make it 2-1 and won the next to make it 2-2 at mid session, which went very quickly - just enough time for me to go to the loo and grab a coffee for the remainder of the session.

Mark Allen won the fifth frame easily enough and then in the six he started knocking red and black in, and the crowd were thinking "possible 147?". He did run out of position slightly on the sixth red and then had to go for a pink, but kept going red black red black all the way. We knew that he could make a 146 break, which unless someone smacks in a maximum would be the highest break of the tournament. The whole crowd were behind him, and as the colours went in the anticipation mounted. When he sank the black for 146, it was cheers all round and rightly do. Allen then won two of the next three to be 5-3 up at the interval.

After all that I spotted some more players exiting and entering including Shaun Murphy and Stephen Lee before entering The Cue Zone and having a little knock around on the big table before heading back to the train station for the 1911 train back to Manchester, where The Lemon In My Cheesecake was picking me up and taking me to our friend's place, so I could take a look at two laptops. One of them wasn't playing ball running anything executable in Vista, and soon managed to fix the problem by patching the Windows registry simply enough, which worked rather well and one happy bunny was sorted. The other one seemed fine but I thought I'd best check stuff out and that was good too.

They did us pizza and nice real ale to go with it for tea as well, which was good, and we saw some of the election debate. It was a bit closer this time although I have to say that it was also a bit more getting into each other rather than really hammer home what they will do instead focussing on the failings of others. Not sure if that's the right way to go about things to be honest, but there you go. As for tune of the day it's simply got to be Chas and Dave's "Snooker Loopy" a perfect song in the 1980s with most of the top players and a bloody catchy as hell chorus too!

Wednesday 21st April - Mentoring My Midweek

I had a morning away from the usual office stuff, as I will be doing the next three Wednesdays as well as this one. I'm doing a professional mentoring course which should hopefully give me some skills in to how to mentor staff and other people. I thought it'd be a good skill for me to learn and hopefully that'll improve me as a person and indeed how I work. It was therefore off to one of the other buildings to go to a small seminar room there. It was good to see that I recognised two of the staff there: one is one of our lecturers and another works in another department that we support, so it made me feel less nervous.

We all got to know each other and the first course was mainly about the defnition of what mentoring is along with a history and background to the concept and why more emphasis is being placed on it. There were also some video clips to watch as well so it was quite interactive, and some of the work was group work. I feel like I was in the zone of concentration, really putting my mind to it, and hopefully I contributed okay to the whole session. I did feel very positive at the end though which is a sign that it was the right move for me to do really. I know that these things aren't always easy, but I'm putting my mind to it.

I needed to nip into the city centre to get a birthday present for my cousin (it's her birthday Saturday) and as fate would have it, The Lemon In My Cheesecake was in the city too so we arranged to meet up for a coffee in Costa. It was nice to be able to have a chat about the day and generally spend a little quality time. She was off to get some birthday presents herself and a card, but didn't want me to see what they were, so after the coffee I left her to it whilst heading homewards. I was missing her today so it was an unexpected bonus to be able to spend time with her, and I'll see here tomorrow once I get back from the snooker, so that's all good.

I got some of the cleaning done to get the house all nice and lovely for when my friends come, and it all looks tons better now. It also means that I need to be sure I've got all my domestic chores done in terms of washing and ironing, and there's no use putting it off. If I could automagically iron everything neat, that would be fab, but it doesn't happen like that does it? Still, it means that there's less to do on the Friday itself before everyone arrives and that's a help to me, let me tell you.

I also upgraded Mozilla Thunderbird to version 3 at long last, it was long needed to be done. It seems fine and once I sussed out how to keep the menus like version 2 and also hide a single tab making more room for the messages themselves, all was good there too. It seems much more efficient and also what's nice is that there's a good little archive function. If you know where the archive is, you can then save that elsewhere as a text file and you're all good to go - a function that was badly missing that needed to go in. It's another winner for me and the fact it's still very customisable and that migration from 2 went smoothly was a joy. Yaay.

Tune of the day is "No Leaf Clover" by Metallica, which is from their orchestral and guitar live album "S&M". It also makes an appearance on Guitar Hero Metallica too, and it's rather good on there to drum to and to try and sing vocals on. It was first released on there, and so nice to have it as a good reason to buy the album in the first place before all the other quality tracks. I'm nowhere near Lars Ulrich on the drums of course, but it's good fun to play nonetheless and I do feel at least like I could rock somewhat. Hurrah!

Tuesday 20th April - Preparation

Had a pretty good day in the office today and managed to work on a few things and get some more problems solved. Ideally as well I'd be able to get some major rollouts started next week with a bit of luck, but it all depends on how things go today and part of tomorrow and then work it from there. I'm always conscious of the fact that there's always something to do, and so I am sure that I would know what to sort out. I'm also trying to gently wind some things down so that when I'm off after Wednesday for a few days, I know that everything is all sorted out as much as possible.

Once I arrived home from work, it was a case of then having a bit of time to have some practice on Band Hero. It was good to be able to go into rock mode a little bit and playing some of the SD card content also meant I got the Band Hero look and feel. I did manage a mere 100% on medium drums on Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" so that was pretty good, as well as doing respectable on Alphabeat's "Fascination" and Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" Perhaps best of all in terms of fun, I did quite nicely on Fall Out Boy's "Sugar, We're Goin Down" so that's tune of the day - it all worked out to be quite a good tune to drum to and not that bad to keep in key (he says)

After that it was lovely to see The Lemon In My Cheesecake and spend some quality time with her. I made us both a nice chicken tikka massala complete with rice and naan bread, and then she'd got us some nice Sicilian lemon cheesecake for dessert. We also went out to Tesco because I wanted to get quite a few bits for the forthcoming weekend at mine with my friends, and so it was easier to do that whilst she had the car. I got the necessary stuff for Friday evening's tea, breakfast for both Saturday and Sunday as well as enough supplies, crisps, chocs, all that sort of thing, and it was quite a good shop. I even treated myself to some new jeans and a shirt as it was two for £15, so I thought "why not?" and with help from my fashionista, I think I picked well (I hope!)

Once we got back we had plenty of chat and relaxed with a coffee and the cheesecake and I kept an eye on the snooker happenings at the Crucible. Steve Davis was up against Mark King and he'd won a few frames on the bounce to forge ahead, and it was to and fro all the way. It meant something to Steve and I kept the occasional flick over to the telly but mainly it was about spending quality time with The Lemon, and that was good. It's always hard to say goodbye but she left me as the final frame was starting so I could watch that before bed. Steve played excellently under pressure and potting that red which meant that King required snookers brought out such a reaction from him - it really meant tons and that was good to see. I told you - they don't call him Steve for nothing!

Monday 19th April - Cool For Monday Cats

Another Monday and another start to a week at work. At least it's a shortened week for me this week as I'm off Thursday and Friday, so it'll be good to get plenty done in a mere three day span. It was mainly a case of all hands on deck this morning as we were able to be prepared for plenty of people coming back from the Easter break and the start of term. Surprisingly many people were in and there weren't many stranded due to the volcanic ash clouds, so that wasn't too bad. We did manage to sort a few things out today as well including a neat little problem with the access control list on HP printers.

Basically, the HP printer can normally only allow certain IP addresses to print via the access control list, meaning you can lock down the printer if needed. However, I found out that you can restrict it to an IP subnet pretty easily by adding an IP address with a zero at the end (ie: 192.168.1.0) which means anything from 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.1.253 for example would be able to print. It also means that you'd be able to still lock it down to the outside world, but give enough freedom for those with a proper DHCP address and subnet allocation to be able to print to a printer directly. Neat, I thought to myself.

After that success I headed by the Academy box office on the way home to get tickets for Supergrass in June for me and my friend. He mentioned it yesterday that it'd be good to go and as it's their last ever tour I wouldn't mind going either to be honest, so all well and good. Of course the lovely staff at the Academy box office were brilliant as per usual and they sorted me out with the minimum of fuss and with no annoying booking fees either. Why can't all ticket buying for gigs be like this, I wonder? And another gig to look forward to as well so it's all building up nicely.

Tune of the day is "Cool For Cats" by Squeeze, an old classic I know but one that I really still enjoy listening to. When you consider that a certain Jools Holland does his thing on it, and that it's a rare vocal performance by Chris Difford instead of Glenn Tilbrook on the song, it has a catchy feel throughout. Oh, and a really neat middle section with all sorts of quirky things going on. It's also darned good fun to play in Rock Band 2 on the Wii as well, so that's another good reason. Yaay!

Sunday 18th April - Everybody's Doing The Len Ganley Stance

I got up at around 8am, just in time for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. With The Sun In My Sky having a well-deserved lie in, I got up and had the telly to myself and so that meant I had all the commentary from Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle and the visuals to match the excitement. And what a race it was too - the rain came down, most people came in for intermediate rain tyres except for Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and the two Renault drivers Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov. That decision was wise as three laps later all the other drivers pitted again for slicks, showing once again Jenson Button's maturity.

As the race unfolded with another safety car looming, Button passed Rosberg after the German had spun off, and then after the pit stops and safery car, Button still led and held it well. Lewis Hamilton did get past Rosberg in the second round of pit stops for another intermediate change, and at one stage was catching Button, although Jenson looked comfortable apart from one little minor off at the hairpin at the end of the back straight. It was a great win for him and those who doubted his move to McLaren had better think again - not only is he matching Hamilton but beating him too, two race wins to none at the moment. I think it also shows a wise and mature head in races like this scores well, and thumbs up to Nico Rosberg who fully deserved third too.

It was then a bit of rocking with Band Hero as I tried a few songs on drums and nailed them quite well including "Warwick Avenue" by Duffy and best of all "Whip It" by Devo (make that tune of the day) and then my friend was ready to come and collect us as we were off to Sheffield to see the World Snooker Championships at the home of snooker. Of course as you can imagine, I was excited - it was my fourth successive year of heading there for the Worlds, and although this time around not going on the first round because it clashed with the Manchester derby, it was good to go on the first weekend I thought to myself.

We headed down the M67 and over Woodhead, round the outside of Stocksbridge, down the M1 to Meadowhall and then through to the city centre, and thankfully found the same parking spot as last time too, which meant that it was a pretty easy route from there to the Crucible, which was good. The Sheffield derby had already kicked off at Hillsborough, so thankfully the traffic wasn't too bad getting in. We soon spotted the Crucible and in the Winter Gardens opposite was the Cue Zone (no marquee this year) and I had a go at potting reds in a line to the middle pocket. I managed one, as did most people to be honest. It was intriguing to see really, and that set us up nicely. We went round to the stage door and spotted Liang Wenbo on a day off heading in to watch the action, which was good to see.

We took our seats and the afternoon session started, with our table being Ken Doherty against Mark Selby, with Doherty 6-3 down from the first session last night. Selby rattled in a couple of good breaks to go 8-3 up before Doherty finally responded with a couple of decent breaks to make it 8-4. Selby won the next one with a cracking 80 plus break so at the interval it was 9-4. That soon became 10-4 and the win, but not without some drama. Selby was knocking in red black red black, and he'd potted the 11th red and with the other four reds nicely placed, a tricky black with the white on the cushion proved to be his undoing. A real shame, as seeing a 147 would have been ace.

This did mean we could watch the other table though and so with the partition lifted, we saw all of the second part of the first session between Ali Carter and Jamie Cope, all five frames of it. Carter was 3-1 up and before long had made that 7-1, with one frame being painful for Cope. He'd missed a red which was effectively frame ball, and Carter cleaned up with a break of 49, including a really good green with tricky cueing over the blue, to snatch it on the black ball. Cope did win the final frame at a slight stutter to make it 7-2 overnight but I suspect he knew that he'd need to play lots better. Ali did look comfortable though and was knocking in some good breaks as well, so he might be one to watch later on in the tournament.

After all the snooker, we headed across next to Winter Gardens and to Ego restaurant, as the menu looked good and also as my friend thought, to avoid any possible trouble happening in the pubs after the Sheffield derby. This turned out to be a good move as one of the waitresses told us later that she'd spotted police moving scores of fans out of a pub and away from the city centre, not far from where we were. In contrast, we were having a relaxing time of it. I went for their two courses deal for £11.95 and had the steak followed by the tarte au citron, and they were both yummy. The pizza my friend had with a portion of fries too went down very well, and the ambience was relaxed and just really good to be at. Turns out there's one in Manchester, might be worth heading there sometime!

We headed back out of Sheffield and homewards later and it was nice to see all around the Woodhead pass and the reservoirs as the sun came down - very picturesque. We'd had a great day out and I'm sure that seeing the snooker certainly whetted my appetite. In fact I watched the last few frames of Stephen Hendry against Anda Zhang on the red button, and Hendry scraped past 10-9 after being 9-7 down, the sign that he's still got something in terms of quality and sets up a clash with Mark Selby, which I'm seeing on Thursday...

Saturday 17th April - Derby Day Pain

It was the Manchester derby today, and as season ticket holders, myself and my friend would of course be there to cheer the City boys on and hopefully get a vital win at this stage of the season. As I was staying over at The Sun In My Sky's place, and she lives not that far from the ground, my friend and his wife (also my friend too) would come over to hers, and then the lads would head to the football, the ladies do shopping. Win win all round methinks, well as long as City would win, I thought to myself.

We headed over to the ground later in the morning and with a 12.45 kickoff it certainly meant that we had to be ready and out of the blocks for the game itself. It was very busy around the stadium with lots of the fans making noise and an electric version of "Blue Moon" emnating around the stadium before kick off arrived. That added to the atmosphere and should have lifted the players somewhat. I felt a little tense but excited - it was a big chance for us today and we needed to try and take it to be sure of getting somewhere.

The first half was tense with both teams coming close to a goal, the closest City got was a Carlos Tevez free kick well saved by Edwin van der Sar. At the other end both Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs got close, and predictably every time Gary Neville got the ball he was roundly booed by the City faithful and with good reason it has to be said. Nonetheless, it didn't feel like the attacking force we were against Birmingham and Burnley, and 0-0 at half time was a pretty fair reflection of the play. I was worried though that one goal may well settle it and I just hoped it would be us to get it.

Second half went on, and although we made the odd chance, notably a goal mouth scramble from a corner that both Tevez and Nedum Onouha just couldn't convert with so many bodies on the line, Man U were breaking forward occasionally and causing problems. We had a good chance which was flashed wide with a couple of minutes left but as stoppage time approached I'd have taken a 0-0 draw. Then, in stoppage time, disaster struck for us Blues. The ball broke to Man U, they went down the left and Patrice Evra put in a good cross which Paul Scholes expertly headed past Shay Given to snatch it thirty seconds from the end. A real sickener but you have to say that it's the sort of thing that the teams near the top will do, keep going, and it's something we do have to learn from.

We went back over after the game and we could hear the police and opposing fans almost trying to have a go, and I was glad we were heading out of there for relatively safe keeping for a while. The ladies had enjoyed their shopping but as you can imagine I was pretty incolsolable for most of the afternoon. Losing like that was painful stuff to watch and it'll take a few days for it to fully leave the memory and for me to move on to something else - like seeing how we do at Arsenal next Saturday for example.

The evening was far more relaxed. After doing a little excursion to Asda to get a battery for the little remote control alarm switch for The Sun's car, it was then off to mine via Blockbuster, where I got two pre-owned Wii remotes pretty cheap. The idea was that I'd have four for when I need them, such as next weekend, but also I could keep one pretty much plugged into the Guitar Hero guitar and drums most of the time so that they'd be ready for action at any time. Add to that I got some rechargable batteries at a good price from Tesco and that felt like a good shopping excursion all round.

I made us a nice pasta bake for tea, and then after that we watched the lottery quiz show and the attempts for some of the naming made me smile, before we saw that neither of us had won anything on the lottery. Bah. Still, we did have a good game of Scrabble too and after hearing the word "quango" lots on the election debate the other night one of us wanted to play it. That didn't happen, but I did pull off EARTHY and SLY (with the Y on the triple word) for a nice 54 point move, couldn't argue with that to be honest. I felt a bit better and at least it meant that it was less painless.

Tune of the day on the other hand has to be "Disappointed" by Morrissey, which pretty much sums up how I felt most of the day after the final whistle. "To say the least", he would croon, "Truly disappointed" and never a truer word was spoken to be honest. Of course add to that that Tottenham beat Chelski and it made it a bloody miserable day football wise all-round. Thank heavens for heading somewhere else tomorrow...

Friday 16th April - Pie And Mash

It was a nice end to the week at work this week, with us all pulling together to do various tasks. In a strange way I think it's also shown that several of us aren't taking for any nonsense and have really managed to get things done but making the point clear. Sometimes having that bit of solidarity really helps if you follow each other and back each other up and feels more like a team that way. I did manage to rescue some files that needed a salvage job on them for a member of staff too which I think made her weekend a bit easier!

It was then straight over to see The Sun In The Sky later after work, as the two of us were heading out to meet up with some friends for a friend's birthday. As we'd got changed and got ready a little early, we decided to make the most of the time and head out into the city centre, and so had a nice drink in Kro in Piccadilly first. What this did mean was that I was able to have a Bank Top Dark Mild (the local guest ale on at the moment) and get a nice table so we could sit by and chat away from the manic numbers of people at the bar. It also meant that we could hear ourselves talk and have plenty to chatter about.

It was then off to Table Table and once we'd got a drink in (and they still had Hobgoblin on cask, oh yes!) it was time to meet up with our friends and we got to our usual table that we always seem to get when we reserve a place in there. It meant we could spread out and have plenty of time to talk and eat, and this time around The Sun and I had the sharing platter for starters, which had garlic mushrooms, prawns and scampi in batter, potato wedges, onion rings and dough balls and nachos with various dips to go with it. That worked out really well to be honest, and filled the hole well.

I stuck with a pie for the main, this time though the steak and ale pie with mash and peas. It was very nice indeed, and the pie was spot on, a proper pie too with chunks of steak in it, and tasted excellent. It was also good to see that the chicken and mushroom pie my friend had was as good as the one I'd had last time and certainly the chunks of chicken were just as big. We had plenty of chatter too which was good, I had a very nice caramel apple crumble for dessert and my friend liked her presents, so all was well with the world.

We headed home later and having had such a good evening, it just felt nice to be able to kick off the shoes and relax when we got back to The Sun's place. As for tune of the day well it was good to hear some quality tunes in Kro earlier in the evening, and that was nice. But during the day I'd also heard a few tunes over lunch including the excellent "Freya" by The Sword, which I rock to on Guitar Hero Greatest Hits and 5, so it's that one I'll choose. It just has some great instumental parts and guitars and reminds me of 1970s rock, so that's a good choice as much as any.

Thursday 15th April - I Agree With Nick

It was lovely as ever to see The Ham In My Sandwich tonight, and she had been over to Asda and actually got herself two really nice tops, one for the more summery weather and one that looked really nice for going out in. She tried them both on and looked stunningly gorgeous in both, I thought, and it made me also think "how lucky am I eh?". We had some nice fish and chips for tea and that just put us in a nice relaxed mode as we sat down and awaited the first election debate between the three main party leaders that may possibly shape how some people vote in the forthcoming general election.

After all the hype and hyperbole, to get down to some serious questions was good to see. The rules were clear: each leader had a minute at the start and end to get their summary across, and the presenter would then be able to get the member of the public to ask their question and get it answered. The leaders took turns initially and then would be asked to debate the question further if needed. Alistair Stewart was the chair and he didn't do that badly although I think the nerves got the better of him as well as some of the politicians initially before it all settled down.

I thought it might be bland and boring but in fact it showed that in certain aspects of the political spectrum the main parties aren't that different in wanting similar outcomes but how they'd go about them is where they would differ. Of course if you're an incumbent like Gordon Brown is, it's always harder to defend the stuff you've done and not done over your time in office. What was clear early on was that at first everyone didn't appear to want to do any points-scoring, but then it was the usual "oh but you won't do this and we will" sort of stuff, which does turn some people off.

On the whole, the format worked well, although I think sometimes it was too easy for someone to cut into someone else's speech and try and derail it. I think it should have been more down to Alistair to say who and when should have talked at times, but it wasn't too bad. I do think all three leaders definitely needed to not stray away from the original question as such and when all the analysis and fallout comes in to play in the next few days, they'll learn from this debate, and certainly having it in Manchester increased our interests somewhat too, so good to see that we played a historical part.

The main phrase uttered by both David Cameron and Gordon Brown though was "I agree with Nick" (Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats) where they'd definitely agree in principle on some policy thoughts and ideas. I think out of all three, Nick came definitely out on top and I think at the same time really increased the profile of himself and his party (tip though Nick, don't mention Sheffield and Trident too much next time). I think too that Nick held himself well and didn't need to resort too much to anything underhand but eloquently got his point across. Did anyone else notice David Cameron was obsessed with the use of the word quango during his debating time?

Tune of the day is "Mr Brightside" by The Killers, as I decided to play their "Hot Fuss" album in full after seeing mention of it the other night, and rediscovered just how good the album is even now. I quite like Amy Macdonald's version of this, because she puts passion and gusto into the song, but the original has a certain something that you can't put your finger on, but it's there.

Wednesday 14th April - Gooners Are Goners

I spent a bit of time longer on the bus than I normally would on the way home from work tonight. It turned out that due to gas works in the area, the bus stop I'd get off has been closed, so you would either get off the stop before or the stop after. Of course, I didn't realise till I got to my stop and then had to wait to get off the stop after and walk back. I know now so I'll be sure not to make the same mistake again later in the week if I need to. After making myself something to eat for tea, it was then off out to Asda to get some beer in for next weekend's visit by my friends.

Once that was all done, and I'd chatted to The Ham In My Sandwich about her day, it was then time for me to keep an eye on the Tottenham v Arsenal game on Sky. Of course a big London derby is well worth watching for rivalry, and indeed Man City's manager Roberto Mancini was in the audience - as we have to play Arsenal away and Tottenham at home in the closing weeks of the season. Of course, being a City fan meant that Arsenal winning would be the better result all round in terms of the title race and indeed of the race for fourth place, keeping them away from us with not many games left.

Ten minutes in, a wonder goal from a Tottenham player making his full debut. The cross was punched out by the Arsenal keeper and it went straight to Danny Rose, who smashed it home from over thirty yards with his left foot absolutely perfectly. You couldn't begrudge a wonder strike like that and at half time a deserved 1-0 lead to Tottenham. And early in the second half an Arsenal mistake meant that Gareth Bale stole in at the far post to make it 2-0. Not good for me, that. Although it does mean that when we go to Arsenal it might mean we can capitalise on their defensive frailties, especially at the rate we're scoring.

Robin van Persie came on for Arsenal and straight away showed what the team were missing all game - drive, energy, passion and presence. He was involved in the Arsenal goal as his ball to Theo Walcott meant he had time to cross and find Niklas Bendtner to make it 2-1. It wasn't enough though and Tottenham won, effectively also killing off Arsenal's faint title hopes with it. Realistically now it's between Chelski and Man U, which also shows just why Saturday's derby means so much to both teams for their own reasons.

After all that it was time to play Guitar Hero Metallica on drums for a while and see how I do there. I ended up doing career mode on medium and got through both "The Unforgiven" and "For Whom The Bell Tolls" which both get you gently into proceedings. I also tried some on quick play and did okay, notably on Judas Priest's "Hell Bent For Leather" and best of all on Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band's "Turn The Page" too. But tune of the day has to go to The Sword's "The Black River" which really does rock the low chords and notes and isn't necessarily as easy as you'd think to drum, but had good fun doing it all the same.

Tuesday 13th April - I Bleed On Your Panini

It was good to get back into the groove of sorts a work today and I guessed that it would be that as we're all now back in the office that we'd be taking time out to get things done. I did manage to solve a couple of problems and along the way notice something else that could be fixed, so put some wheels in motion at the same time. What I did notice though was that for some reason the backup was taking longer than normal, and then I realised why. For some reason one of the servers restarted whilst it was being backed up, so as a failsafe measure was backing up a a slower speed to play catch up. Soon got that one sorted thankfully.

Once I'd got home I made myself and The Ham In My Sandwich something for tea, I decided it'd be a nice idea to relax with a bit of light relief and comedy, just what we need for the hard month or so ahead at our respective workplaces. As Bill Bailey's Tinselworm show had arrived from Tesco DVD Rental, that went straight on, and some of the show I do remember from the live set we saw him at The Lowry last year, such as his infamous emo song with the line "I bleed on your panini" before going into full metal chorus before the piano laden second verse of emo rock. Ah, the likes of My Chemical Romance has a lot to answer for, eh?

What also struck me about the show is just how talented Bill actually is musically. I mean, doing the National Anthem in a jazz style and making it work? Pure genius. As was his Kraftwerk spoof with Kevin Eldon over the humble trouser press, complete with animation and flashing images that the German synth meisters themselves would have been proud of. And having a Hindi band join him doing an indie classic and giving a differnt twist on it was absolutely genius (not least as well having a little choir chorus part almost Bollywood style - really added to it nicely I thought.)

There was also the sketch about a song by The Killers which has the line "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" which is actually from their song "All These Things I've Done" (best make it tune of the day then) and how Bill said that you could change the line to "I've got ham but I'm not a hamster" and how everyone should sing that at the next Killers gig that they go to. Now that would almost be as funny as singing "Mr. Whiteside" (in tribute to the Northern Irish ex-Man U player) or something like that. All good fun and it certainly cheered me up!

Monday 12th April - For Those About To Rock

After a pretty busy day at work one of my friends who works at another of our sites and I headed back to ours for an evening of rock. We'd arranged to have a good bash on all things Guitar Hero and Rock Band on the Wii, and I had some Cauldron veggie sausages, barmcakes and chips at the ready for tea, so all was well there. We didn't have to wait long to head on the bus back to mine, so I started the tea off and put on Queen's "A Night At The Opera" DVD-Audio so he could have a listen, he's a bit of a Queen fan to say the least. He was impressed with the quality of the mastering in DVD-A surround and certainly the timbres and sound really did make everything sound rather spot on. The original producer of the album had a hand in mastering it along with Brian May, so that said a lot. I'll make "The Prophet's Song" tune of the day as the surround for the vocal parts and harmonies in the middle really come across perfectly.

After that and scoffing plenty of food, it was then time to get rocking. With my friend on guitar and me on drums, we had a bash at a few on Guitar Hero 5, including Motley Crue's "Looks That Kill" and Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" which is actually pretty tricky stuff. We also tried out "Shout At The Devil" by Motley Crue as well and we did fine on that and overall it was good fun trying to do some of the band challenges - even on "Song 2" by Blur it was difficult to get anything close to the band score. Maybe you need four members to really make the score worthwhile?

Band Hero went on next and straight away we went for Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn". My friend did drums and I did the guitar and later we did a swap around so he did vocals and me drums and that worked out pretty well too to be honest. There was also an attempt at Duffy's "Warwick Avenue" which was more difficult than you'd think and he nailed some excellent vocals on Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" with me on drums. "American Pie" looked rock hard on vocals and it proved to be the case, and drums weren't that easy either but I nailed medium so felt pretty pleased with myself on that.

Next up was Guitar Hero Metallica and we did "No Leaf Clover" as that's good fun and it's very tuneful. I managed the drums pretty well on that I thought as we did on "The Unforgiven" and then after doing "The Memory Remains" it was on to some of the songs by other artists in the game, so obviously Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" which is bloody hard on drums let me tell you, and then Bob Seger's "Turn The Page" with my friend on vocals doing a sterling job overall. It was nice to nail some of those pretty well and really give it some and my drumming's getting better now.

Then Rock Band 2, and after trying out REM's "Losing My Religion" again we did "My Own Worst Enemy" by Lit, with him on hard vocals and me on hard drums and we made it pretty well. It was quite intense to start with but I got the hang of it and thought "actually I could maybe do this on expert one day". We did "Ace of Spades 08" by Motorhead and that proved very hard, as we'd expect to be honest, and followed that up with "Shooting Star" by Bad Company, which was difficult. In fact it was then on with "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac and I was really pleased with myself nailing the drums on that one. All in all, a top night and I know my friend and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Damn I need a four player band now!!

Sunday 11th April - Five Alive

I felt good having a little bit of a lie in this morning, and after getting up to make The Cymbals On My Drums some breakfast, it was hard to say goodbye to her for now till later. I suppose it's because I see all the time I spend with her as precious, and it means I make more of it and it means more. It was good for me to note down all those chick flicks that she likes last night, as not least it'll give me some ideas around Christmas time. And of course if any other chick films come out before then, I am sure she'd either want to head to the cinema or tell me about it and drop a few hints. Well, you know...

The bit of time I had later gave me time to make some lunch and also think of some ideas around my birthday as well, so it was good to have the time to do that. My friend came round later and we headed off first to see The Cymbals and have a coffee with her and generally chat and catch up, it all went rather nicely methinks. It was good to see that the Man U score at Blackburn ended up 0-0 which really has helped Chelski a fair bit, and without Wayne Rooney they just don't look the same team to be honest. There was no firepower and comparing the cost of Dimitar Berbatov to the cost of Carlos Tevez just proves that we got a much better deal out of the whole thing.

The first half of City's game against Birmingham was looking like it was going to be a bit dull - plenty of attack and endeavour but no goals, and then all hell broke loose. First off, Emmanuel Adebayor went down under a challenge in the box and the ref gave a penalty. For me, it actually wasn't a penalty but I'd take it to go 1-0 up. Tevez didn't miss and it was 1-0. A minute later we get a corner, Adam Johnson crosses the corner in and Nedum Onouha heads it home via a bounce and a stray boot off Carlos Tevez (the goal later was credited to Tevez but to be honest I think Onouha should claim it).

Then it was down the other end for Birmingham and although he looked slightly offside, Cameron Jerome headed home from a cross to make it 2-1 and they were back in it.. all for around sixty seconds. A gorgeous through ball released Craig Bellamy who drew their keeper and slotted the ball into the six yard area for Adebayor to get on the score sheet to make it 3-1 at half time. Six minutes, four goals. Absolutely mad to be honest. But at half time all was well and with Liverpool only drawing 0-0 at home to Fulham, we knew a win today would really set the gap nicely for a possible improvement in our fourth place position as it stood.

Second half had a lot to live up to those last few minutes but we attacked well, Tevez's free kick being well saved, Craig Bellamy going close and and another effort from Tevez going just wide. Then Onouha went forward, did an unwitting 1-2 with the Birmingham midfield and surged through chasing the ball and the defenders just stood off him, and he slotted it home for a superb finish that any of the strikers would have been proud of to make it 4-1. After that every time he got the ball the City fans were yelling "shooooot!" to see if he could get another. Tevez made way for Roque Santa Cruz (want to keep him fit for the derby obviously) and Adebayor latched on to a long through ball and slotted it home for 5-1.

The City fans sang "Are you Burnley in disguise?" to the Birmingham fans who seemed to be causing a lot of trouble - in fact after the game we noticed a young lad needing medical attention as he seemed to have blood pouring from his head. It turned out some of the Birmingham fans had thrown a bottle at him - way out of order in my view. The game ended and the steward near us was happy - she always puts on a bet for City to win 5-1 and near the end we almost scored a sixth, she was one relieved bunny and cleaned up on her bet. Made her day and to see her worry about us scoring made us both giggle.

We then headed back to mine later for a bit of rocking, I did us pizza for tea and then it was on with some vocals and stuff, first in Band Hero, then I got on the drums and my friend did vocals as we nailed various songs on that and then Guitar Hero 5 before going on to Rock Band 2, where I'd downloaded some content that he was going to have fun with. We did "Losing My Religion" by REM (make that tune of the day) and that was great fun, as as Squeeze's "Cool For Cats" and "Gay Bar" by Electric Six, downloaded at my friend's request because he loves the song. I think he found quite a chunk of downloadable content he liked so he might even get Rock Band 2 himself. Oh, and there was also "Tribute" by Tenacious D, which is a lot harder on vocals than you might think..

Saturday 10th April - Come On, Black Apalachi

It was of course the Grand National at Aintree today, and as we did last year, myself and The Cymbals On My Drums would be later heading to her Mum and Dad's to watch the race there. Her dad is a bit of a racing buff and I'm sure that he would be glued to the telly to watch the famous race. Before all that, it was a very quick trip down to the bookies' to put the bet on, as I normally do. I had a feeling that King John's Castle would be a good outside bet, so it was a choice there, Tricky Trickster has form on left handed courses, and then Black Apalachi. He'd won the Becher Chase over the fences here and was doing very well before falling at Becher's second time last year, so I thought "I like black anyway, I'll go for him" and so with a win for each, that was done.

I headed to Marple later in the morning in glorious sunshine. I knew that a few of my Flickr contacts had an exhibition on in the library and wanted to check it out. It was very nice too - plenty of great shots including two of my personal favourites - one with a fox with its jaws open fully wide and captured gorgeously, and one of light trails of the M60 at night with a long exposure. It was good to chat to one of the other exhibitors there at the same time and have a good natter about it all, and definitely it was great to see a lot of the images in a really nice large scale frame, really made it all well worthwhile.

I walked through Memorial Park and to the canal path which carries the Marple Locks on the Peak Forest Canal, and spent some time taking some shots along the canal and the locks as well as walking downhill to the train station (pics uploaded here - they're at the end of the set) so it was good to try something different as well. I'd timed my walk perfectly to get the bus back to Stockport and then onwards to home and it all worked out rather nicely and a good time to spend the morning overall.

After a spot of coffee it was then time to head out to see The Cymbals, and we headed from the centre of the city to her parents' place, as we had all the build up to the big race. Her father and I were discussing the chances of some of the horses when we noticed that in the hurdle race going on, one of the horses fell and the jockey Ruby Walsh went tumbling, and he then was kicked by another horse behind. The screens went up where he'd fell and it turned out he'd broken his arm and so couldn't ride Big Fella Thanks in the big race. The punters soon noticed this and although the jockey switches meant someone decent was still on him, it was a case of them all latching on to Tony McCoy's ride, Don't Push It. The Cymbals and her sister had that one each way, and the punters all bet on it and the odds dropped down to 10-1 from what was 20-1 earlier in the day.

Myself and The Cymbals' father thought "He's never won the National in 14 attempts, could be be like other champion jump jockeys who never won it?" and soon it was time for the race to start. Well, 39 of the 40 got away, with King John's Castle refusing to start at all. That was already one of my bets down, meh. As they went round the first circuit, Eric's Charm, backed by The Cymbals' sister, fell at the first, but I was noticing that Black Apalachi was keeping up front and out of trouble, and at the first Canal Turn made up plenty of ground because of the way he took the fence. It was looking decent at the end of the first circuit.

Second time around it was clear that Don't Push It and McCoy were biding their time to make the right move, and as Black Apalachi cleared everything easily (apart from a slight mistake at the third last) it was down to four as they crossed the Melling Road for the final time - Don't Push It, Black Apalachi, Big Fella Thanks and Hello Bud. As they got to the last, it was down to two, my choice versus The Cymbals' choice. I had a feeling though that Tony McCoy had timed it just right and as they headed to the Elbow, Don't Push it had legged it away and won by five lengths, so The Cymbals and her sister had won each way, go them! I guess had I put Black Apalachi on each way I'd have won something, and it's possibly the best result I've had in the National (matching my brother's 2nd on Smarty in 2001) so I can't complain - plus having The Cymbals win was good too.

After all that excitement it was back to mine later, made us a very nice little meal for our tea, and we relaxed in the evening and saw that we didn't win the lottery (meh) before then watching some of the music channels. They had a best movie love songs on one which was right up her street and it made her think of all the chick flicks that she'd like (and there was plenty of them) which I've noted for future reference. I then had a bit of a blast on Band Hero, and did pretty well on the drums on Duran Duran's "Rio" so I'll make that one tune of the day - it's an 80s classic!

Friday 9th April - Drum Mania

It was a good day at the office really, I managed to get plenty done and also took on some administrative tasks that I needed to get on with and so I could feel all ready for next week's influx of people coming back to the ranch. I did manage to take a look at quite a few jobs and get those all sorted so felt pleased by the end of the day, and thus heading home and feeling quite contented. I nipped into Tesco to get most of the food shopping, but there was a couple of items that were missing, so I nipped to Asda and got those later on, along with some weedkiller for doing the front (just as a precautionary measure) as well as a 2GB SD card for the Wii, so I could use that for saving the Rock Band 2 downloads on to.

I had something to eat for tea and decided to give it a bit of a go on the drums. The Guitar Hero drums do work, but you'll not need to use the orange cymbal on the top right if you don't want. Either that or you don't use the blue middle pad, but then you've got to think that blue is orange every time, which get confusing. I did get the hang of it though and I was soon rattling through some of the tracks I'd downloaded for use with the game, notably "Last" by Nine Inch Nails (make that tune of the day) as well as REM's "Losing My Religion" and Tenacious D's "Tribute" as they're all songs that I like. And why not? Thank heavens I had enough Wii Points left over to do something with it.

It was then on with Ashes to Ashes and it was a really clever episode, showing how the link with a dating agency was just so that the murderer could get his revenge on womankind by luring girls to look at the moon with him and then get branded with a crescent before being killed. It was good to see how once Gene got his claws into the case he was the one to say "We need evidence" which showed that he wanted to make sure he was completely covered. It was also good because Shazza got a bit more screentime and her character ended up proving crucial in the whole structure of the episode too. It'll definitely be interesting for the next few weeks before it's all over. What will happen I wonder?

Then back to the drums and to Guitar Hero 5. I was quite pleased to be able to do Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" on medium and even tried a couple of other songs at that level, before then having a good go at The Sword's "Maiden Mother and Crone" on easy and getting a good score there. It's quite well thought out on the whole and it does work rather nicely in terms of controlled hitting of the drums. And of course there's plenty of fun to be had to be able to bash along and possibly sing - I'll have to see if I can do that sometime. In the meantime I'll have to practice hitting those notes right...

Thursday 8th April - Sleepwalking At The Apollo

It was off with a friend tonight to the Manchester Apollo to see, once again, Ultravox. Around this time last year we saw them at the Apollo as part of their first tour together for absolutely aeons, and it was a great gig with plenty of their 80s Midge Ure-era material being played wonderfully well as if they'd never been away. We were both excited, even if this time our respective partners weren't coming to see it, as I grew up with them a lot as a kid and my friend was into them in quite a way too. It was also good to see that we were very close to the front and so would be able to see all the action close to hand. And I spotted all their Macs next to their synths as well, nice to see that!

First on stage though was the support, Arno Carstens (official site) (myspace) who did an acoustic set of his songs with one of his band mates, a more stripped down sound than he would normally do. It sounded pretty good all round actually and the new single "Heartbreak Monday", written with Paolo Nutini, certainly did fill the room with a lovely acoustic goodness. The playing was spot on and he really came across well with an intelligent singer songwriter album style. His debut UK album is out in a few weeks and so I might have to check that out for myself, I liked what I heard.

That got everyone warmed up nicely and by 8.30pm it was time for Ultravox (official site) (myspace) and let's just put it like this - they were even better than they were last year - which is saying something. The sound engineers got the sound totally spot on and every single cymbal crash and synth note was perfectly clear, Midge's guitar rocked the place and all four of them looked like they were having a ball themselves. Interestingly, the Vienna album got the most number of tracks played on the night (in fact, only "Private Lives" and "Western Promise" weren't aired) and for me that's certainly my favourite Midge Ure-era album of theirs, so that was a good move. They started with "New Europeans" and that set the tone perfectly for the evening.

It was good to see that the fans were catered for, like last time, with plenty of album tracks. "We Stand Alone" from their "Rage In Eden" album was a case in point and one that I really enjoyed with Midge rocking out. Also spectacular was "Mr X" with Warren Cann's vocal really punctuating the tune perfectly, and Billy Currie doing the violin bit in the middle. It was enough to make the hairs on your neck stand - tune of the day easily for me. You also got the title track from "Rage In Eden" as well as the instrumental "Astradyne" from "Vienna" as well, midway through this time instead of being the opening track.

And as for the singles, plenty of those, oh yes. "Passing Strangers" sounded excellent, as did "Sleepwalk" during the encore. "Vienna" was absolutely stunning and if it does make number 1 this week, then all well and good for the world I reckon. "Hymn" had everyone singing along with the chorus, "All Stood Still" had a really excellent synth middle part to really give the whole thing lots of oomph, and we even got "Love's Great Adventure" this time as well so that was good stuff. And on top of that, "Visions In Blue", "Reap The Wild Wind", "One Small Day" and "The Thin Wall". To end it all was "The Voice" which sounded great in a slightly more extended guise with the crowd singing the "oh, oh, ooooh, ooooooh" bit perfectly, and all four members doing their drumming bit at the end - a great end to a bloody great gig.

Oh, why can't all gigs be like this, I wonder? No faffing around with chatter for ten minutes in between tracks, just four blokes in a band getting on with it and producing some great songs and really getting everyone enjoying it with them. When you consider Billy Currie turned 60 last week, you wouldn't think he acted or looked it - even sporting a military styled black shirt and looking pretty trendy it has to be said. In fact he was enjoying it completely and getting everyone bouncing along to the songs too. It also shows that to be at the top of your game after all this time, you've got to know what you're doing - and these guys do. Well done to them!

Wednesday 7th April - Cooking Doesn't Get Tougher Than This, For The Last Time

I had had a pretty good day at work and managed to get plenty done, and after heading home via Tesco to get some things in for tonight's evening meal, I had the lovely company of The Cymbals On My Drums later on as well. I had bought some fresh pasta along with some garlic bread and a cheesecake for dessert, so it was nice to do the pasta with some carbonara sauce and make something simple and fresh, and even did the garlic bread extra crispy, just how she likes it. She was keeping an eye on Relocation, Relocation, Relocation as we were having the meal - and we were both like "just how bloody fussy is this couple?" I tell you, they were looking for the perfect house and to be honest if we all did that no one would ever move would they?

Later on we watched keenly the Masterchef final and what a final it proved to be. They first had to go back to the invention test, the test they first did, to see how much they've learned. They came up with some stunning dishes and each of them would easily have won a normal heat no problem. In fact if Tim's soup was a bit thicker, the way he balanced the fish in there with the stock would have been my personal winner. Then it was off for the three of them to some really high end Michelin-starred restaurants to do their stuff, and they really had some lovely places to work in. But they had to cook one of the chef's signature dishes once they'd learned their craft and all three really did cope well and did a cracking job.

So, how to separate them? A three course meal was the final task and they had to wow the judges with everything that they learned. As soon as I saw Alex's main I knew it wasn't to task - the lamb wasn't perfect and he'd made a mistake at the crucial moment. Also, the dessert having blue cheese ice cream was a bit too way extreme for some people and as John correctly said, if he'd done vanilla ice cream with the dessert, absolute winner all the way. Tim's was decent too and the style was all there and very tasty too, and no obvious faults sprang to mind. However the eventual winner Dhruv did a sublime job and all three courses were completely spot on with no errors and indeed a really well balance palette all round. The trio of desserts at the end was melt in the mouth stuff - had me wanting more myself!

It was a nice relaxing evening and as we snuggled I realised how lucky I am to have such a lovely woman really. She really didn't want to leave later either but I knew she wanted a good sleep for work in the morning and I didn't want her to be tired because of me. After she'd left for home it was a quick blast of Guitar Hero 5 with the drums, and I did one of the Greatest Hits importable tracks, the classic "YYZ" by Rush (make that tune of the day). In case you didn't know, the starting beats are done in Morse code for YYZ, clever isn't it? I had good fun with the drums as it's not that easy to master but great fun to play nonetheless. I've done okay on the guitar although there are some darned tricky parts but again it's lots of fun. Why can't all rock be like this I wonder? Oh, and one final thing: the live version of "The Spirit of Radio" of theirs that appears in Guitar Hero 5 is actually a recording from no less than the Manchester Apollo. I feel quite proud of that!!

Tuesday 6th April - Drum Roll, Please

It was hard to get back into the swing of things at work, not least because there is so much to do and so little time, or so it seems. I did however manage to fix quite a few problems in terms of people's PCs and Macs today, whether it be accessing the network from a Mac correctly and ensuring that DHCP kicked in properly to also overhauling one PC, putting more RAM in it and generally giving it some tender loving care to make it a little less poorly than before. It was all good stuff and definitely well worth the time taken out, not least because it also meant that I could concentrate on some more important stuff tomorrow, notably the network cab we have to work on in order to get some of the server ILO cards working as we want them to be.

I got home and I decided that it was a good idea to get on the drums and practice a bit of rocking with Guitar Hero 5. I must admit it's taken me a little time to get used to the drums but also to try and position the kit in such a way that I feel assured with it. I decided to use the stand for the kit rather than a table top, as I didn't want to damage the newer coffee table. I also realistically thought that this way I could adjust to my playing style, and doing a few songs as a good test meant I was able to work out how hard to hit the cymbals to register and also just how much I needed to work on the technique of getting all the beats right.

Amongst the songs I did was Motorhead's "Overkill" which has to be tune of the day - it's got such a good drum in there that really drives the whole thing along, and all those cymbal crashes near the end really do make a good idea to bash out any stress caused during the day and any hassle that you've had, so it makes it all rather worth it in the end. I'll get to medium one day but I'm honing the skills on easy at the moment so I can get an idea of how it all works. Of course when it's proper metal you can't help but really go for it and I think it'll do me good to have a good go of it.

I then settled in later to watch the Masterchef final on BBC One, and the three finalists had two really daunting tasks ahead of them to be honest - cooking their own courses in a posh restaurant with them in full control of the food going out and with John sorting out the service calls for them - a nice touch. And then when it couldn't get any tougher, or so you'd think, they only had to go and cook for one of the finest chefs in the world, Alain Ducasse, whose restaurant in London has a mere three Michelin stars (yes, three!) and recreate his dishes. They did ever so well and I think even Gregg and John were surprised at how much they raised their game. I don't think even the professionals would have done so well. All to play for tomorrow then...

Monday 5th April - Getting Away From It All

It was a nice trip out today, as myself and The Smile On My Face were taking her parents to their destination where they'd be spending a few days away together. Her father had planned it all for a wedding anniversary little treat for them both, and it was a really lovely place that they were going to, having checked it out on the web and indeed in the hotel brochure the other day - none other than Nidd Hall, close to Knaresborough and Harrogate. It looked stunning enough and having remembered to punch in a map via Google Maps not following the postcode via sat nav, it was a pretty straight run so it seemed.

We had got up and had some breakfast at The Smile's place, and once we were all ready to go she drove up to her parents' place, where they were all ready to go. It was a nice thing to be able to take them over there (as it's nowhere near anywhere for public transport and it's more comfortable for her folks) and with them both safely in the car and me in the front assisting with direction and map duty, off we set in the direction of the M62, past the infamous farm in the middle of the motorway close to Summit, and then over the top and down past the turnoffs for Huddersfield, Bradford and then the M621 to Leeds and on to the M1, on via that to the A1(M) and then off for the A59 turn off to Knaresborough.

Knaresborough seemed a pretty little market town with plenty of activity going on and even on a Bank Holiday Monday it seemed quite nice with plenty of civic pride going on in the flower displays in all the main squares along with the main street. We soon headed out of there and did the left right onto the B6165 towards Ripley and the hotel entrance, which is just the other side of the village of Nidd. The turn off for the B-road looked pretty manic the other way coming into Knaresborough itself, so we made a mental note to possibly not go that way on the way back. We soon saw the turn off and it was a good half mile or so to the hotel entrance, passing over the road that the sat-nav would have taken you by!

Arriving there it felt really really posh - way too posh for me I thought - with a massive historic old house in full view and luxury everywhere, from the courtyard terrace with seating for the Summer months, to the old library and bar rooms inside near the reception. The whole place just reeked of history and indulgence, and opulence to boot. It felt like you were special being there and once all the check in was done, we had a bit of time before The Smile's parents could enter the rooms, so we had lunch in the Terrace Tea Rooms, which was very nice indeed. They even did me a plain ham sandwich instead of ham salad, and the ham was proper big fresh meaty cuts, none of this Bernard Matthews turkey ham bobbins stuff let me tell you. It was nice to overlook the terrace and chatter for a while.

The time came and they could get the keys for the room, so we went with them, wheeling their cases and checking the right way to their room. The room was in the newer East Wing of the hotel and was very nice and modern, but still having plenty of lovely touches - with a big bath room and shower over the bath, big telly, nice comfortable beds, iron and ironing board and all you could wish for in the room itself, and the view from the patio over the hills with the sheep and lambs definitely made that little extra well worth it to be honest. We took a walk with them around the terrace and to see the views over to the lake, and even spotted the owl in the aviary gorging himself on a baby chicken (not a sight for the faint hearted let me tell you). We then left them to enjoy their four day break and headed off homeward.

As we knew the traffic was going to be bad getting off that B-road, we headed the other way and got towards Ripley, joining the A61 to Harrogate and then skirting around its town centre before heading down the A61 towards Leeds, using the Inner Ring Road there to avoid the traffic somewhat in the city centre and joining the M621 heading towards the M62 and then via the M62 back to Manchester. It took a little longer in terms of time but was still nice to head through parts of the country between Harrogate and Leeds, and also then it meant that we had some time to relax on the way home. I felt really sad when I had to say goodbye to The Smile, we've spent so much time together lately that it's always a bind to do that.

Tune of the day for me is something I thought about on the way home from Knaresborough earlier, and I just smiled when looking at The Smile and thinking of the happy times we spend together. I was thinking also of perfect music for the car and both came up with "Happy" by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. It has a beautiful slight country-tinged feel but with Jenny's almost crystal clear vocals it really does describe how it feels to be together and how that makes it all happy inside. I just want a cuddle right now to be honest.

Sunday 4th April - Formula Fun In Malaysia

I headed home around lunch time and had a hot date with the Sky Plus box to catch up on some recordings that I'd done for the weekend. The first was the F1 in Malaysia, and after the topsy turvy qualifying that meant that the likes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were nowhere on the grid, the race would hopefully see some overtaking, and in relatively dry conditions, that's what we got. Hamilton blasted down the straight at the start to get lots of places and was overtaking drivers at a penny on a charge. Button was stuck behind Alonso but got past him heading into the pits, and then once he came out set lap records to pull the gap back, so much so that he was going to make up places when other drivers pitted, as it proved.

The undoubted winners of all weekend were the two Red Bull drivers though and their cars held up to take a 1-2 with Sebastian Vettel taking the win easily. Behind all the drama happened, Nico Rosberg drove coolly to take third with Robert Kubica fourth and Adrian Sutil holding off Hamilton for fifth. Behind all that, Felipe Massa had got past Button with Massa's enginner Rob Smedley really bigging that move up (although resisting to call him "Felipe baby" as he did last year in the rain) and Alonso was doing what he could to get past Button but as the engine had been turned up too high for him to try and pass, the engine gave up meaning Button got seventh and had some valuable points.

It was a bit weird having to record the first bit on BBC1 and then the next bit on BBC2 but due to it being Easter Sunday BBC1 was of course showing the traditional church services, hence the switch. I'd have shown the whole race on BBC2 instead to be honest, would have made less hassle for all concerned. Mind you, it did allow for enough time for switch over and the Sky Plus box coped well too, as I'd had to set two different recordings, so all worked nicely there. It really does bring things closer together in the drivers' title race though, with Massa now top of the standings, Alonso and Vettel joint second, and Button joint fourth with Rosberg (although on countback Button would actually be fourth due to his race win in Melbourne) so all to play for.

It was then on with Ashes to Ashes on BBC HD, and that was the start of the final series. It proved to be a good episode which proved once again that Gene Hunt's hunches are normally spot on, and that really does bode well for the rest of it. That new compliance officer really does get to look like some form of nemesis, and I have a feeling that his wormy ways are there to try and dismantle Gene's team around him somehow. It'll prove to be interesting viewing and if any loose ends are tied up at the end of the series, that's going to be a rather good thing all round really. Who is that police officer with the scarred face that Alex keeps seeing? And.. when is that scary test card girl going to make a comeback? That would tie it all up nicely I reckon.

Tune of the day is from the soundtrack of the above episode, namely "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant, just summed up the era pretty well and of course was used in adverts for electrical and electronics retailers of the time. And as the first episode featured someone working in an electronics company, then it all made perfect sense to me. I can't wait for the rest of the series now and I have of course set the Sky Plus recorder in operation. Let's fire up the Quattro...

Saturday 3rd April - Birthday Girl

It's a very special day for me today - no, not my birthday (that coems later in the year) but it's the birthday of The Smile On My Face today. As my Mum said to her, twenty one again. The birthday celebrations actually started last night with a really lovely meal in Table Table with a few friends, which was very nice indeed. I had the breaded mushrooms to start off with, followed by a chicken and mushroom pie - and it was a proper pie and everything! Oh, and a cheesecake for dessert. I've really got into cheesecake in a big way lately for some reason, maybe it's down to The Smile's infamous lemon one that I've had over time that's so delicious.

It was good that friends got The Smile some lovely presents, including the Benefit cosmetics "Realness of Concealness" kit, some nice bath stuff, Confessions of a Shopaholic on DVD, the Masterchef Cookbook and Jill Mansell's new novel "Take a Chance On Me". It really meant a lot to me too because they can all see how happy I am and they all really do think that she's lovely too, and it makes things a lot easier when everyone gets on methinks. Good for them, and I thank them all lots for helping make the evening so wonderful.

I made The Smile some breakfast in bed, nothing fancy per se but it was something we both fancied - bacon toasties with plenty of crispy bacon, cooked just how she liked it. I then gave her her presents, and I was a little nervous if she'd like them or not, but thankfully she absolutely loved them all. She had figured out where I'd been to on my secret mission to get her presents, but she didn't mind as it proved that I'd put thought into it. So what did I do? I headed to Knutsford and went to a couple of shops there and first of all in The Hidden Jem got her this wire heart frame with little hearts of wire to put the pictures in, all in a cream colour. It looks really classy and I know that she'll enjoy putting pictures into the frame there. So that's good.

What she loved most of all though was the canvas picture I got of one of her favourite art pieces of all time - "The Singing Butler" by Jack Vettriano. It looks really classy on the canvas and was pretty big too - 80 x 60cm - so I thought it'd be perfect for her living room wall and just to make the space a little bit less bare. I know that she loves the picture as the other week she got a couple of cards purely because they had the print on, and she wanted to put them in a little frame for herself. And why not? I also got her a couple of books - "Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella and Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveller's Wife" (she loves it, as do I) and the Beth Rowley "Little Dreamer" CD which I know she adores and that she dropped very very unsubtle hints for me to get!

Once we were all ready to go, we first headed to see Mum and she'd very kindly offered to make us a small lunch as well - a nice little ham and cheese ciabatta with a cuppa, and the lightest Victoria sponge ever to go with it for dessert. That was really nice of Mum and the fact that she and my brothers and sisters had got The Smile something made me feel really humble inside - so nice when everyone approves isn't it? In fact Mum had got her these really lovely little chocolates from Hotel Chocolat as well, which I am sure she'll be guarding in her fridge until she wants to munch them herself (not from me obviously as I've given up chocs) and it was good to chat to Mum and have a nice time.

We then headed to see The Smile's Mum and Dad at their place, and it was a pretty packed house as both her sisters were there with nieces as well, and all the blokes there were of course watching Man U against Chelski. Needless to say to see Chelski win 2-1 made the afternoon rather nice for me anyway, and it was a well deserved victory on the whole, even if the second Chelski goal was miles offside. Her family had all got her lovely stuff including some jewellery and a nice watch as well as some gift cards for Debenhams so she could treat herself as and when she fancied. I also helped out her Dad with a small PC problem whilst I was there, which was good to do. He's pretty savvy on technology really but it's nice to offer a little bit of a helping hand as and when needed.

We then headed back homewards to The Smile's place, and we relaxed a bit and also I nipped over to Asda to get some picture hooks so that we could put the picture up. I did also venture in there to get some beer for the forthcoming weekend I'm having with some friends (I'd already got some earlier as well) and that worked out well to be able to sort both out in one go. We then put the picture up, getting it dead level in terms of balance and the hooks balanced it all nicely so we were able to put it up looking spot on overall. It really does look the part and finishes off the living room rather nicely, I'm so pleased I got it for her now.

It was then a case of discussing what to do for the evening, as I fancied taking her out for a meal, and we had a good idea on the go, and it was off into the city centre and then to head on the train to Marple and go to The Midland at Marple Bridge and have something there. I rung up to book and before we left I checked the football scores, as I knew City were in the 5.30pm kick off at Burnley. I couldn't believe my eyes, twenty minutes in and we were 4-0 up. How did that happen, I wondered to myself? We left for Piccadilly station from her place and as we got to the station, the cheers from the sports bar upstairs confirmed what I needed to know - it was now 5-0 as half time approached. And with Tottenham losing 3-1 at Sunderland, fourth place could well be ours.. As we got to the Midland, I'd noticed the final score was 6-1 and so I was a happy bunny too - winning 6-1 away? Stuff of dreams, that. I remember going to see City win 6-2 away at Sheffield Wednesday during the 2001-02 season and thinking that was good, but.. well, words fail me.

We had a very lovely meal in The Midland and they also had some good real ales on, so I had a pint of Jennings Cumberland Ale first and then some Young's afterwards, all quality stuff. In fact the pub was doing an Easter deal with a bottle of champagne for £15, can't be bad that. The meal was gorgeous, I had the goujons of sole and they were spot on, and the home made burger that The Smile had was tip top. I had a gorgeous baked cheesecake with fresh blackcurrants on top for dessert, and the cheese and biscuits that The Smile had also looked really good - a proper posh cheeseboard that I know she'd love, and she did. It felt lively but a good atmosphere all round, and we had a nice drink in the pub part before heading on the train back to Manchester. It was a lovely evening to be honest and it showed just why I love her so much, she looked gorgeous in her outfit (as she did last night too) and I just felt really lucky to have her by my side. I couldn't stop gazing into her eyes to be honest, I'm just so so lucky and happy.

We headed back to hers, and it was just lovely to relax and even see City's six goal salvo before heading to sleep, but knowing that we'd had a lovely day and that her birthday was special for her, which meant the most of all to me to be honest. As for tune of the day I'll have to go for something that she'd like as well as me, so "So Sublime" by Beth Rowley fits the bill perfectly. We both love it, and it also just has a wonderful uplifting feel to it that makes you think "awwww" and that was me for most of the day.

Friday 2nd April - The Very Good Friday

It's always one thing with Easter in that it always falls at various weird points between late March and late April and is never consistent from one day to the next, which does throw you a bit. As it happens this year, it's early April and so it's Good Friday today, which means one thing: a day off work. It also allowed me to get lots of little tasks done such as cleaning the house (meh), ironing (double meh) but also having some time to myself before heading out later with The Smile On My Face for a meal with some friends. I think too it's been a good idea for me to go through the CD collection and play some albums I hadn't played for a bit - and out came the total gem that is Senser's "Stacked Up", a classic from 1994. If you've never heard it, check it out urgently, I promise you you will love it.

In fact tune of the day comes from that very album, as it reminds me of being in various indie nights around that time when slightly shouty rock was part of the night and that you'd have a really good go at trying to sing along to all of Senser's lyrics (almost impossible though) and if there's one thing that reminds me of those nights most of all it's the absolutely brilliant "Eject" which really does get you by the throat with an excellent guitar riff, full on vocals which just seem to go non stop at around two hundred miles an hour and most of all a good groove throughout that just makes you want to either rap or mosh or both. Sometimes we need songs like this just to let everything to - so an easy decision there really.

I finally got to watch something I'd recorded off Sky Sports 1 a while ago, which was part of their "Time Of Our Lives" series and focussed on the Manchester City team of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which of course was City's greatest era. They had Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee and Tommy Booth in the studio with Jeff Stelling and it was great to hear them rattle off anecdotes. It was good to see Tommy there as a local lad explaining just what it meant to play for City and rub shoulders with the likes of Colin Bell, and how Summerbee had George Best as his best man because they were such good friends together off the field. It was also intriguing to see just how the swinging sixties made Manchester the place to be and with both sides on top form around that era, it was a really vibrant rivalry.

Looking at that though only made me realise just what it actually means to be properly crowned a legend in football and how it's too easily dispensed with in this day and age. I mean, for me to be a legend you have to have won something, but also shown great determination, passion and pride for the team you've played for and also to be someone the fans can get behind. People for example calling Carlos Tevez legend are off the mark right now - cult hero for sure and someone the fans can get behind because of his pure appetite and passion for the game as well as the goal scoring and expression, which is all good, but not legend yet. Even one of my favourite players Shaun Goater I don't necessarily class as a legend, although scoring against Man U in the 2002-03 season certainly cemented his iconic status with the City fans - maybe in years to come I'll think differently?

Thursday 1st April - Little Miss Rock And Roll

As you can well imagine, it did feel a little strange heading back to work today and just for one day before the Easter break. However I knew that the largest network cabinet we have was being patched in yesterday with the new switches, and what that effectively meant was that there'd be lots of checking of things the day after, mainly direct IPs for printers and the PCs that print to them, as well as checking that any software that runs off our licence server also works with the new address of that. That in fact wasn't too bad as I was able to see what files and registry was brought down by each application when it runs and change it (ah, the beauty of Novell Zenworks, all good fun that) and sort it all out from there.

It took most of the day to finalise all the issues, one of which had me perplexed as one of the AV store machines' printers wasn't playing ball for some reason. I eventually narrowed it down that the socket that we made for a static IP range was right next to the one the printer was in, so one quick swap later and everything was working fine and as intended. Hurrah, I said. It also meant as I'd done the work needed I was able to chat over lunch to a couple of the staff about the course and see what the next stage would be. Ideally if the money is there I'd love to do the practitioner examination for PRINCE2, but if it isn't, then I might have to investigate what else can be done.

After having something for tea and having a slight drum fest on Guitar Hero Greatest Hits (I managed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' "I Love Rock And Roll" on medium drums, which I felt pretty pleased about) it was then off with my friend to the Academy 1 to see Amy Macdonald. We'd seen her a few times before, notably for me when I saw her at the Roadhouse just after her first album was released and it was a nice intimage gig, but also we'd seen her in Liverpool as well, which was very good. Hopes were high for us both, especially as the new album "A Curious Thing" was a real grower and one that we both liked a fair bit.

First up was the support act Jersey Budd (official site) (myspace) who was a very good and accomplished singer songwriter. He remarked that one of his guitarists looked like Liverpool striker Fernando Torres but he and the band were very tight, and my friend remarked that he definitely was inspired by Bruce Springsteen. No bad thing in my view, and amongst the songs performed I quite liked "She Came Back" as it really had that same sort of feel as The Boss, but some of the new stuff he was playing was good too. Intriguingly, the first album was wholly fan-funded, and judging by the crowd reaction, he might have a few purchasers of it.

That set things up nicely, and soon it was the turn of Amy Macdonald (official site) (myspace) to do her thing. And it didn't disappoint one bit. Both albums got a pretty fair airing, and no doubt that getting the crowd rocking during "Poison Prince" was an altogether good move, and that was quickly followed by "LA" as well, really bringing the stage alive. Her sparkly blue dress had a square centre that reminded me of Hamburg's symbol on their home kit for some reason, but with her heels and guitar she definitely made a rocking figure. Out of the new album, I really enjoyed "Love Love" as that really seemed to have passion, and "Your Time Will Come" which definitely uplifts anyone, and that was sung with grace and gusto together - tune of the day for me that one methinks.

It was of course good to see that the fans didn't mind the old and the new, and so massive cheers went up when "Mr Rock And Roll" came on. It was nice that she slowed the pace down mid-set with some more gentle acoustic numbers including a rather gorgeous version of Springsteen's "Born To Run" which my friend (a big Boss fan) and I worked out straight away and had massive smiles on our faces throughout, as she really gave it a bloody good go. I also quite liked "This Pretty Face" and the glorious main set opener "What Happiness Means To Me" with the keyboard player and Amy all alone at first and then building into a crescendo afterwards with the whole band.

Everyone loved it, and loved it even more when she came back on for the encore, and although slightly gutted that she didn't do "Barrowland Ballroom" we did get the duo of "This Is The Life" and "Let's Start A Band". Her humour was good to see as she explained that during the tour you'd get a yellow or red card for various things - and as she'd had to stop during one song due to a lyrical error she said "I'd have to give myself a yellow for that!" which made us all smile. She also explained in many ways why Manchester is like her beloved Glasgow and that she feels the same sort of affinity, which was very nice of her (although we could have done without the "ooh look I bumped into Howard Donald from Take That" angle though). Still, excellent all round and so good to see that people came to see - although surprisingly not sold out, which did throw me a bit...