Dear Diary... April 2014

Wednesday 30th April - The Century of Centuries

It was a busy day today at work, not least because we finally had some laptops arriving which have been long overdue. I set one off, knowing that it needed to be task sequenced in SCCM. It just wouldn't connect to the server to start the task sequence though. I was able to press F8 for a command prompt (we enable that option for diagnostics if things go wrong) and see that I couldn't see an IP address. This is normally down to network card drivers not being able to be loaded correctly.

I fired up another of the same batch of laptops that came preinstalled with Windows, and upon checking that it showed that the network card was an Intel I218V network adapter. The drivers for Windows 7 looked fine, and those normally are injected into the boot image so that the network driver will load and mean you can communicate with the server for the task sequence. However, the Windows PE environment for the boot image is Windows PE 4.0, and that is based on Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 architecture. It also means that because of Intel segregating their drivers by NDIS version (NDIS 6.2 = Windows 7, NDIS 6.3 = Windows 8) and not having a generic NDIS 6.x driver, you have to load the NDIS 6.3 driver. I did that manually - it worked.

So the next stage was to make sure we had a suitable NDIS 6.3 driver uploaded to our drivers store in SCCM, categorised that as the x86 boot image driver so we knew what it was for, and then add it to the x86 boot image. We set that off, it all started, and it communicated with the server and started to pull down the task sequence. All good, and as there's a few network multicast issues at the moment I didn't carry on and let it bring down the whole task, but seeing it should have been enough for it to be talked to and that was a positive thing.

I headed home later on and The Love In My Heart came over, and we had tea together, a really nice piece of chicken with lemon and garlic, and some mash and petits pois to go with it. We also just spent some time chatting and being relaxed together, and it was good to catch up a lot really. For us both though we knew that the quality time we'd have is always nice, especially as her job is quite tiring at the moment. It was just nice to snuggle up and watch telly.

And the snooker as well! The Love quite likes Neil Robertson and he was in his quarter final against Judd Trump, coming on to "Heart of Courage" by Two Steps From Hell (make that tune of the day) and then coming back from 11-8 down to 11-10. The break of 70 in that frame was simply superb, but we just wanted him to get a century and get the magic one hundred century breaks in a single season. We didn't have to wait long and saw it next frame, and it was massively deserved in my view.

That gave him the confidence to close out the match, and at one stage Judd Trump had gone a full hour without potting a ball, and although he tried to come back in the 24th frame, Neil was too good in the end and a deserved 13-11 winner, especially the way he played in the last few frames. I can imagine his semi final with Mark Selby is going to be a bit good and I'm sure if he can get more centuries just to hammer home the record even more, that would be cool.

Tuesday 29th April - Gonna Get Myself Connected

I had a nice surprise awaiting me when I got home. I thought to myself "I'll see what I can do and get the snooker on either BBC Two or Red Button". However before that I'd launched the Humax TV Portal on my Humax HDR-Fox T2, and hang on, I said to myself. What's this? Sure enough, as had been possibly suggested happening a few weeks ago, the TV Portal for the online TV applications how has a BBC News app and a BBC Sport app. Ooh, I thought - flick between both online transmissions of the tables at the Crucible!

And sure enough I was able to do that - and in the evening session later on it worked a treat as I could watch one table, press the up arrow key and then be able to switch easily to the other table, and it was very speedy and efficient. It's probably put off my immediate need for now to buy a new Smart TV, primarily because iPlayer is already on there, and Demand 5 is on my Blu-Ray player should I need it. Would have been nice a week or so ago to see more of the snooker in the comfort of the front room, but it works, and works really well. Excellent stuff.

I headed with my friend out later to one of the Manchester City supporters' meetings, where the League Cup would be on display and you could even hold it and have your picture taken with it. Of course we weren't going to say no to some of that, so I can now at least say that I've held aloft all three major trophies in England, and seen City win them all. If I'd have thought about that even five or six years ago I'd have probably laughed and said that we might win just one of them in my lifetime. How things have a funny way of working out.

Not just the trophy though, but the manager of the 1976 winning side, former player and manager Tony Book (the other players around him still call him "Skip" to this day as he was the captain of our 1968 league winning side) along with defenders Tommy Booth and Kenny Clements, and the City legend that is Dennis Tueart. They were really good with all answers to their questions and were knowledgable about the game. It was good to see my friend up for asking some questions too - think he really enjoyed himself.

I got back and saw the remaining frames of Mark Selby heading to a 12-4 lead over Alan McManus (Selby was 3-2 down and was 4-3 up at the end of the first session, so won eight out of the nine frames tonight!) and bits of Barry Hawkins v Dominic Dale, where the last frame had a horrendous kick for Dominic. Still do wish that even with Connected TV that between frames or even mid-session intervals, can we please have the proper snooker theme (ie: Drag Racer by the Doug Wood Band) - tune of the day for obvious reasons..

Monday 28th April - I've Got A Laptop And I'm Going To Use It

Back at work for me then today after a week and a half off, and it's always a little difficult to adjust back to the everyday working week, not least when I've actually been getting up earlier than I normally would have done last week for the snooker visits to Sheffield, and on top of that also been trying not to think about work either, but there you go. In a good way, it was nice to settle back in, catch up on emails and get underway with some work and be able to do what I could.

One nice thing was that although it was busy, it wasn't absolutely mental so this allowed me lots of time to work through the backlog of emails (not as many as I thought because plenty of other staff were off too) and then spend some time with a couple of colleagues and catch up with what had happened (if anything) when I was off. I always have to remember as well to sign myself back into the phone and indeed turn off the voicemail to say I am on leave (which I usually do set on so it at least directs people to the right place..)

So with the working day done, I headed home and quickly had to nip into the local Asda for a birthday card and a couple of other bits, and it was pretty busy for a Monday early evening it has to be said. It's good though to just go in, get what you need and then get gone, and then head home to see more of the World Snooker Championship (as you do of course). Earlier on today they'd started a feature hosted by Richard Osman of Pointless fame called "potless" where teams from the BBC try to get answers to tricky snooker questions in the style of Pointless. Ace.

I spent some time this evening listening to some music, some of which I'd purchased over the weekend too. In fact as I'd got the 7" box set single of "Pink Sunshine" by Fuzzbox (or to give them their full name We've Got A Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It) I decided to dig out the 3" CD single and play that, which was just as poppy and happy as it was twenty five years ago. Quite scary how much they go for with their WEA plastic outers intact (£15-20 by all accounts) but I'm just glad all mine still play.

Anyway, Victoria Perks (as Vickie from Fuzzbox uses her full name these days) mentioned a new song she'd written and uploaded, which I thought I'd give a listen to. And wow, how lovely. A beautiful piece of Americana (as her Victoria Perks Band tend to do now) and tune of the day most definitely - "All The Way From Birmingham" is a really lovely little song. And those who know the Midlands will know her cute little last line "Got to get to you.. in Tipton" is a rather sweet touch. Have a listen yourself, and you'll be glad that you did.

Still though it made me think of how eclectic my music taste was back in 1989. Yes, I loved Pop Will Eat Itself, Pixies and The Wonder Stuff. But at the same time I also enjoyed a good pop song and Fuzzbox had those in abundance, even getting Brian May of Queen to guest with some guitars on their single "Self" as well. I must admit I was divided between their more commercial vocal pop album "Big Bang" or their more raw guitars on "Bostin' Steve Austin" but they were four girls making music - and not being just some vocal group either..

Sunday 27th April - Fight Till The End

I woke up just before 10am and settled in for the morning's snooker, keeping an eye on the second round first session between Neil Robertson and Mark Allen. It was pretty close all the way through, and Neil Robertson did make another century, bringing his total to ninety eight for the season. If he did make a magic one hundred for the whole season, that would be rather superb all round it has to be said. On the other table Shaun Murphy's game with Marco Fu looked just as close and exciting too - spoilt for choice for both tables!

The Love In My Heart headed over later, and with all the PC stuff complete for her father, we headed over to her parent's place, and I got everything set up, including adding the printer and making sure that everything else we needed to in terms of hardware was working as well. It was pretty good as well because the printer drivers were spot on, the web cam driver had to be installed from the web site but worked, and all the other bits of hardware were working without issue.

With that all sorted, we headed back past my place and onwards to Chorlton, and ended up going to the Lloyds pub, which has been refurbished by new owners recently. I have to say it looks a lot nicer, the surroundings are lovely and comfortable, and added to that, nice ale (the Hoptimist was on form). I had the Sunday roast beef, all good there, and the pulled beef brisket flatbread for The Love was gorgeous too. I did also have the apple and cinnamon crumble for dessert and that was fab!

Once that was done, I noted that from the phone that Chelsea had beaten Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield. There was all the talk about Chelsea fielding a weakened side and all, but actually it may have been some mind games and their sucker punches at the end of each half now meant this: if City win their four remaining games, the title is ours. In fact The Love took a call from her father before we left the pub, and City had already taken the lead! Oh yes. We'll fight till the end, we're Man City after all.

I got back and kept an eye on the snooker and the football as The Love and I sorted out a few of the plants in the back yard, cutting them back as needed from the pots etc, and then having a game of Scrabble to boot. In fact I didn't do too badly but The Love was pulling out some excellent moves, including a rather nice use of multiple tiles to create four words in one go, by straddling another word at the top. Rather good, she's getting. I did make EQUIP with the triple letter on the Q for 36, and at the top left BATHS (blank used for A) and SWELL for 47, so that was pretty nice.

City won 2-0 in the end and so that meant three points behind, one game in hand, better goal difference. With Liverpool not playing till May Bank Holiday Monday it meant that if City were to beat Everton away on Saturday, that would mean us top and two home games to come against Aston Villa and West Ham which I'd expect us to win - so might prove to be rather interesting all round. Tune of the day sums up the feeling perfectly: "Don't Give Up" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. We won't. We're Man City. We fight till the end.

Saturday 26th April - Music Success, Signal Failure

It was an early rise for me, and with me making sure I'd done all I can to keep myself as decongested as possible and indeed made sure that I had enough tablets and lozenges with me, it was off to Manchester Piccadilly train station to get the 0715 departure to London Euston. I had planned a trip to London for the day a while ago thanks to a nice Amazon Local Offer which got you a voucher for £16 for the redspottedhanky train booking site, for £8. So when booking a cheap advance return it meant that it realistically cost me £17 in total (£8 for voucher for £16, and then £9 extra to get the £25 needed for the tickets) so all good.

As it transpired, I was going to originally head around the markets and shops in Camden and do some record shopping there, but I also found out that there was a record fair at Kensington Olympia instead, which might be more tempting to decide to get some bargains on vinyl and CD. Plus it was one bus ride from Euston straight there, so shouldn't be too difficult to get to, I thought to myself. One added advantage: plenty of stalls in one place, on-site café and on top of that, not full of everyone else going to Camden. Epic win.

The train journey was all good and I soon got to Euston bang on time at 0924. I headed along to locate the usual little newsagents I get my Oyster top up from within the station only to find it had been moved due to building work - once that was negotiated and card topped up, I waited at the bus stop. And lo and behold, all the route 10 buses are those new buses for London - like the Routemasters but more modern - but you can still get off at the back. I headed upstairs and sat relaxed as the bus headed down Oxford Street, down the side of Hyde Park and via the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington High Street before arriving at Olympia.

I forgot how big the place was, and indeed taking the lift to the second floor, the hall was about half full in all, but this still meant plenty of stalls to head around and have a good look at. A fair number of them had massively collectable items though that made your eyes water with the figures: we were talking mint copies of a number of progressive rock albums for sizeable three figure sums at minimum. On the other end of the spectrum, some traders were clearing out their racks and offering 7" singles for as low as 20p or 50p, and 12" singles for £1 in some cases. This meant you could scour through and locate some bargains too.

I did have a sort of wish list of things I wanted to get hold of in my head, and so made a note as I browsed the racks in some of the stalls to see what the prices were. One such trader was selling some of the stuff half price, and this included the Man From Delmonte EP on the Bop Cassettes label, with the lead track of the four on the 12" single being "Waiting For Ann". The vinyl looked in superb condition, and it was £6, reduced from £12, so it was mine. That adds nicely to me getting the "Will Nobody Save Louise" 12" single for a similar price - the market value of both seems to be around £20 or so at the moment!

I browsed some more stalls and checked the 7" singles in one of the traders, and to my absolute joy I found the 7" promo single of Pop Will Eat Itself's "Wise Up! Sucker" (POP2). Now I know from fellow fans of the band that there's two pressings of this, so checked the matrix number carefully. The one I saw was POP2 A2, which is the same as the radio edit on The Hits 10 compilation and the video to the single, with "My head's in a blast" instead of "My head's up my ass" as the vocal. £6 seemed a fair price to me, so that pretty much was also mine.

I decided to have a coffee and a very nice hot cheese and bacon large panini from the on-site café and admired some of my purchases so far. It also gave me time to dose up and get ready to browse some more, having given each of the stalls an initial skim to get an idea of what was available. Getting some CDs cheap was a must, but I did spot some other racks of 12" singles as well as a mountain of 7"s to sift through, so it was time to get some more purchasing done.

One stallholder attracting some attention had a mountain of boxes of 7" singles for 20p, and two buyers were literally getting armfuls of them to purchase. For me, it had to be something I did want though and so purchased a few in the end: two Swing Out Sister ones (Fooled By A Smile and Surrender), "Only You" by Yazoo (which I had in my head for the rest of the day - make that tune of the day), "IOU" by F.R.E.E.Z (80s classic) and The Firm's cult classic "Arthur Daley 'E's Alright" as well. A lot of them were ones I already had, or else I'd have been making some sizeable purchases otherwise.

Another stall I did nicely had some 7" singles for 50p and 12" singles for £1 each. I bought a few from there in the end: the box set 7" single of Fuzzbox's "Pink Sunshine" (complete with foldout 3D image intact inside), the gatefold limited numbered 7" of The Darling Buds' "It's All Up To You", The Shamen's superb 12" of "Jesus Loves Amerika" and a signed 12" single of The Darling Buds' "Burst" (I have a signed 7" as well, so nice to add to that I think). I did also pick up some PVC sleeves to put my new vinyl in to keep it all lovely at the same time, just had to be done.

Then blitzing two separate CD stalls, I picked up seven albums and a CD single for a combined total of £10, and all by different artists. I was pleased to get the Levellers' "One Way" CD single, not least because of one of the B-sides, their cover of "Devil Went Down To Georgia" which is rather good. As for the other CDs, it included the likes of Prodigy, Dire Straits, Pearl Jam, Kaiser Chiefs, AloneMe, Barenaked Ladies and Paul Weller, so that should give you an idea of my eclectic tastes really.

With everything all purchased, I headed on the 10 bus back and down a very busy Oxford Street and towards Euston, getting off at Euston Square and having a well earned relaxing pint at the Crown and Anchor. I love it in here, the real ale is always spot on and on top of that they really do know how to make the atmosphere right. I had a very enjoyable hour and chatted to some of the staff as they were keeping an eye on the football results as well.

I got to Euston, and masses of people on the concourse. Not good. Signal failures at Watford Junction causing chaos to the West Coast Main Line - not good. Originally my 1800 train was cancelled, then back on again, and because everyone had piled on the delayed 1740, it was still busy for the 1800, but the coach B I was in was nice and relaxed, which was good. Being stuck near Harrow and Wealdstone for ages to be guided through the signals slowly wasn't good but we did pass them eventually, and it was plain sailing to Piccadilly. It did end up being an hour and twenty minutes late though, so I did my Delay Repay claim when I got home, and it should be a refund of the single ticket on the way back..

Friday 25th April - Bunged Up Building

I woke up a little later than the rest of the week which allowed me time to just relax a little, have a coffee and take some decongestants in the first attempt of several to at least get rid of the bunged up feeling in the nose and try and shift some of the bug I seem to have picked up during the week for some reason. I decided with the weather being a bit iffy that the best thing would be to get everything sorted out on The Love's father's new PC so we could then take it over some point soon and get him up and running.

It wasn't too bad all told - the PC spec we'd had from a local supplier was pretty speedy, and they were building it as well, so it all came nicely packaged. I had a wireless keyboard and mouse, so it was a simple case of making sure that it was plugged in, connected the HDMI output to my telly to use as a monitor, and went through all the installation wizards for Windows 7 Home Premium. It was nice and painless and before long I'd got that all sorted, the drivers for the wireless adapter installed so that it'd connect online, and all the drivers for the hardware too.

In fact what took the longest time, and hence me switching back to the morning session of the snooker with Mark Selby against Ali Carter, was the Windows updates. Even with the disc of Windows 7 having Service Pack 1 on, there were a huge amount of 157 updates to be installed, which did take some time to process. It's not just the installation, but also the post-installation tasks it then has to do on the next restart. However once that was done, everything else I needed installed quickly and it was all a breeze, hurrah for that.

I headed into the city centre and decided that I needed to get the hair cut, and so it was the usual efficient job by the folks from the Northern Cutter. It was then to head to the chemist to get some strong decongestant tablets and also some Mentho Lyptus as well so at least I could try and dose myself up a little bit. I was of course attempting where possible to make sure that I could keep myself up and about because I know that trying to sleep when bunged up - not good.

Anyway, tune of the day in the meantime is the walk on music for Ali Carter during the Snooker World Championship - depending on the result against Mark Selby (nicely poised at 9-7 to Selby before the evening session tonight) - he seems pretty up for it and I think he's showing a lot of battling qualities thus far - those same qualities that have taken him to two finals and indeed one of a select few players to make a maximum 147 at the Crucible. The walk on music is "Spectrum" by Florence and the Machine - good choice!

Thursday 24th April - Cue The Crucible, Part Five

So, my final visit to Sheffield for this year, and after seeing some of the action at home last night with Dominic Dale leading 7-2 against Mark Davis, I was therefore a bit worried of course that the Dale / Davis match that my tickets were for would finish early, but also knew that at least the curtain would go up for Ali Carter / Mark Selby starting their second round match on the other table if it did. It's amazing though how often people don't realise that happens and leave when their match has finished - something well worth noting if you go to the Crucible when there's still a two table setup.

Anyway, made my way to the Crucible. I did see Michael Holt nip in and out to collect a few things, and he said briefly that he just didn't get going last night. I also had a good chat with the referee Olivier Marteel, and he told me he's refereeing the semi final, and between us we worked out from the sessions he was refereeing he's also doing the second round match with Ken Doherty / Alan McManus starting tomorrow, which he said would be a really good game and also a close run thing. He was a really nice bloke actually and seemed like he was more than happy to be refereeing. It turns out Olivier has the same birthday as me as well!

Inside the Crucible Rob Walker was speaking to Ken Doherty about his chances in the next round and how he won't be kissing the Crucible carpet again as it might be a bit dirtier than the first day! He seemed relaxed and had a day off so he could prepare for the match with Alan McManus. Rob also mentioned some relatives of a fan of Mark Davis' who had passed away recently, and they were here on the fan's behalf - a nice touch that. I think some of the stuff that you don't see on the telly is always worth noting: how much time Rob takes to get to know people and make everyone feel welcome.

The first two frames were pinched by clearances by Dominic Dale, and at 9-2 I thought an early finish was on the cards. That was until Mark Davis actually started playing, and made two good half centuries to be 9-4. And then drama - a respotted black! Davis took it with a good shot to go 9-5. Incredibly that and the respotted black for the fourth frame in Carter - Selby (which the screens above our table switched to as it was mid session interval at 9-4 to Dale) were actually both won by the same scoreline - 69-62, and in within around 15-20 minutes of each other. Unreal statistic of the day, that, and seemingly not picked up on by anyone..

Dominic eventually won the sixth frame of the session to take the match out 10-5, and that frame finished just before the sixth frame of Carter - Selby, so I saw the last two frames of that as well. Ali's century in the final frame was quality and at 5-3 down he'll still fancy his chances. Had Ali's double on the respotted black gone in instead of rattling the jaws, could have easily been 4-4, how fine the margins are at the top between the top players. Either way, whoever wins that would have to be rather pleased with themselves come Friday night.

The session finished reasonably early and had a bit of a walk around, spotted Mark Allen and he was feeling much better after his bout of food poisoning and seemed pretty chirpy too. I headed back through Winter Gardens on the way to the station, and saw that BBC2 were about to interview Dominic, so I saw what was being said and then walked to the exit, where Dominic was chatting to a couple of fans (and then me). He still had those shoes on so I mentioned about the footwear, and he said that actually Xiao Goudong's choice of shoes were better - more sparkly!

Dominic was actually a top bloke to talk to and he admitted he'd rather be playing Michael Wasley than Ding, although he did say that Michael would have nothing to lose, and he was also happy that he wasn't playing Judd Trump in the first round this time around like he had in previous draws. He also mentioned the respotted black and how he could have won the match earlier, and he did see the other respot too as they'd gone to mid-session and were keeping an eye on it themselves.

It was with sadness that I headed back on the train to Manchester, where The Love In My Heart picked me up, and I made us some nice pork and mash for tea. We also were both a little tired for various reasons (hard week at work or lots of travelling) but it was still good to spend some quality time together. The most important thing was she'd also brought over the new PC that we had helped her father pick out and purchase, and so needed to put the licenced copy of Windows 7 on plus any other bits needed (it was just a base unit build replacement plus Windows 7 licence) so all should be good there.

Tune of the day in the menatime is the rather good walk on music for Mark Selby - being from Leicester and being mates with a certain band from Leicester, it won't surprise you that his choice of music is "Fast Fuse" by Kasabian, which is a good choice. He used to use "Underdog" till a couple of years ago, and I know that Serge from the band has been to the Crucible to watch Mark Selby play before now. Mind you, the other player from Leicester (Tom Ford) uses "Fire" by the same band, so there could be a situation with two walk-ons with the same band. Awesome or what?

Wednesday 23rd April - Cue The Crucible, Part Four

It was another early rise, this time on the 0820 from Manchester Piccadilly to Sheffield, so this meant I arrived in good time and was able to take the walk up to Sheffield city centre and to the Crucible Theatre. I actually had two sessions back to back today: Judd Trump v Tom Ford to a finish this morning, and Neil Robertson against Robbie Williams (no, not the singer, just someone with the same name!) in the afternoon. I was hoping of course to see some quality centuries from Robertson especially - he has already hit 93 this season.

First up then for me, with a seat close to the top of the Crucible, was Judd Trump v Tom Ford. Both players struggled for form but Judd didn't even make a pot till well into the third frame, and he really just didn't perform to a standard that he is capable of. Apparently he'd complained post-match that Tom was playing pretty slowly and thinking a lot over his shots, but at the same time, you just have to go out there and do your own thing and forget the other player to a degree. It was a case of having to adjust the game and see what you could do.

When Judd nicked the final frame of the first half of the session to go 7-5 I think he'd have been relieved, and going 8-6 up must have made him think he was home and dry. Tom did battle well to 8-8 but there were some crucial misses in the 17th frame which let Judd in. The 18th frame was equally as scrappy, yet compelling viewing to see them fight it out to get over the line. As that final frame finished around 2pm, they definitely would have had to come back this evening if it was 9-9 instead.

I grabbed a very quick lunch and flukily managed to see Tom Ford leaving (he was gutted but said that both of them didn't play at all well) before heading back into the Crucible for the afternoon where I heard Rob Walker announce that the WCs were staying at the Crucible. Having now read the rest of the Barry Hearn press conference transcript, looked like he made a lot of fuss over the format when in fact the format at the Crucible end isn't changing (which I was very relieved to see - I like the fact that the Worlds are the ultimate test)

Neil Robertson looked in impressive form, and his two centuries were compiled with class and style. In fact in two other frames he made two breaks over 50 in each of them, adding to his overall quality. One scrappy frame (the third) was a massive 46 minutes long though, which ate into the time considerably. In fact due to that and the final frame being over half an hour, they only just about got all nine frames in, and even then it was 6.40pm when I left the Crucible, so quickly walked around to see if I could see anyone (did see Robbie Williams) and then headed home.

They did show the BBC2 broadcast inside the Crucible before going to Rob Walker in the afternoon and Richard Osman from Pointless was in Winter Gardens. In fact he had been at the Judd Trump game in the morning, sat in the booth where the press photographers are (for those of you who've been to the Crucible, these are underneath and to the left/right of the TV commentary booths) and looked on watching a few frames from there. That also tied in nicely with the questions I had to be answering during the week (as the 100 people asked for future Pointless questions!!)

One thing which annoyed me a lot today: there were four blokes who were sat in the back row for Judd Trump and on the row behind me for Neil Robertson. They were mumbling and chatting to themselves almost the whole time, and despite various gestures from me and others with fingers held to lips (ie: shut up!) they were still mumbling on. I'm surprised Michaela Tabb in the morning session didn't put her stern face on in the morning and have them kicked out. The woman sat next to me this afternoon was just as peeved as I was and in between frames very quietly whispered to me "they're a bunch of idiots.." - she was right too.

It was a long day but with me sneezing and feeling bunged up on the way home, time to dose myself up before the final planned trip to Sheffield tomorrow. I just hope I'm not coming down with too much of a cold as that would be a bit of a disaster. Still tune of the day is the walk on music for Neil Robertson - "Heart of Courage" by Two Steps From Hell, which has been used for the likes of Euro 2012, the London 2012 Olympic Games etc and is a pretty dramatic piece of music - suits the walk on perfectly though!

Tuesday 22nd April - Cue The Crucible, Part Three

An early rise for me and this time on the 0742 train to Sheffield, primarily because it was the cheaper option but also because this would get me into Sheffiield earlier as well. It also meant a nicer East Midands Trains job, as the seats are pretty comfortable on there. On the journey to Sheffield I was sat at a table with two people off to Nottingham for a course, and they were both Man U fans discussing whether David Moyes was going to be sacked or not. We literally were just pulling into Sheffield station when the BBC News app on one of their phones confirmed that yes indeed he was sacked. Damn, I thought. He could have stayed longer and made Man U even worse, much to the happiness of us City fans..

It was raining very heavily outside when I arrived in Sheffield, so decided to stay as dry as possible. Not many people were around and about, and most of the players got off a taxi and straight into the Crucible by all accounts (from a couple of people I spoke to later on in the day). I headed in, and soaked up the pre-session atmosphere. Rob Walker mentioned the fact that Alan McManus had to find a belt at the end of the first frame yesterday and soon enough it was time to get the players on. It really does ramp up the atmosphere somewhat and makes the atmosphere that bit more special.

I had Marco Fu v Martin Gould and definitely was the best of the three sessions I'd seen thus far. For a start, Fu's century in the first was rather good (the first one I've seen live this year which was a bit of a concern to be honest!), and I must admit when he got to the eleventh black in a later frame after eleven reds and ten blacks, I thought "please let him split the reds nicely" as he was on for a 147 of course. It didn't happen and the collective groan from us all in the audience said it - it would have been really special to see one. I've seen a 146 at the Crucible before by Mark Allen, but a maximum would be ace.

The sixth frame was crucial for Gould to win, and he made a great clearance of 46 to nick the frame on the black - and it was a quality break, with reds pretty much near the cushions and out of usual position. He got back to 4-3 before Fu took the last two, and I thought that the second session tomorrow afternoon was going to be a pretty exciting one if the first one was anything to go by - it's actually on the other table compared to the one I have a ticket for but will try and keep an eye on that I think!

On the other table, the first frame was 45 minutes or so, meaning Table One was on the third frame by the time Alan McManus nicked it. For me that was a match changer, and soon going 9-4 up proved that. John Higgins proved what a tough match player he was though, and at 9-7 and with a chance for 9-8 I thought he might have nicked it, only for the blue to not go down and McManus to get over the line (I had McManus to win 10-8 in the predictions incidentally so didn't do too badly!)

Outside it had dried somewhat and all of a sudden a surge of people headed towards the stage door. It turned out Ronnie O'Sullivan was in the building. Needless to say he was pretty popular and was making a fairly quick exit, presumably he'd been in for practice during the morning as his second round game started later in the week. I also headed to Winter Gardens before getting the train home and John Parrott and Ken Doherty were interviewing Michael Wasley and using the touch screen to demonstrate some of the shots. As I walked out post interview I saw Michael with his friend, and so congratulated him on his win the night before, and he kindly posed for a pic as well. He seemed a well rounded bloke actually and I hope he puts up a good performance in the next round.

I got back to Manchester in good time and armed with a new camera card reader for the PC (as the old one dies last night) I was swiftly able to get all the pics on the PC and process them for the day. It also meant I could keep an eye on the other matches during the day as well before The Love In My Heart came later, and I made us some tea of a steak pie, some mash and petits pois which went down well. The pastry was maybe a little bit on the too thick side, but it was good enough. I should really have done some gravy as well but hey ho, you live and learn.

After we headed to my Mum's for a while to sort out a couple of things for her, we headed back to mine and watched the recording of Restaurant Wars on BBC Two from the night before, with New Order's "Love Vigilantes" featuring a lot (hence my tune of the day). One thing that did knock us both out of kilter was the way that Manchester House were trialling out a service with no customers, so all the food was made, served and then binned at an apparent cost of £5,000. What the? Some of that food could have been given to real people and actually been used the right way instead of just being stupidly thrown away. When people are going without food and relying on food banks, it left a very sour taste in the mouth.

Monday 21st April - Cue The Crucible, Part Two

It was up nice and early and off to Manchester Piccadilly train station to get the 0820 train to Sheffield. It looked like though it was a two carriage train but thankfully it said coaches A and C, so my reserved seat was still there - albeit right close to the toilet it has to be said. Thankfully it was relatively quiet with not many people actually needing the loo and so it was swift and speedy to Sheffield, and up the hill from the station, past Sheffield Hallam University and then to the Crucible itself.

It was a bit on the cold side this morning as I mentioned, but plenty of people were out and about. Dominic Dale for one, he was heading in for practice but was chatting to everyone along the way. He has toned down the new haircut a little bit (well in terms of colour he has anyway - it was a very bright colour and some people might not have liked it) and seemed really relaxed, and probably happier he hasn't been drawn against Judd Trump this time around. He plays Mark Davis later in the week which I have a ticket for!

Inside things were warming up nicely and a ten year old in the audience whose tenth birthday it was got a nice mention by Rob Walker, so that was quite good to see. On the screens inside the theatre (above the tables) they have this little film about crowd etiquette with Paul Collier, Michaela Tabb and Brendan Moore. Brendan's cast as the bad spectator and it's actually really well done, although they do apologise beforehand for his lack of acting skills! The Love In My Heart then later texted me post-session and said I'd been on telly when Rob Walker was introducing the players. Get me eh?

On to the action, and I had Mark Selby v Michael White on table two. Selby headed to a 3-0 lead and I was getting a bit worried that the misses Michael were making were proving too costly, so he was pleased to get one on the board to the mid session interval to make it 3-1. It was a pretty good pace of game with both players trying to get in amongst the balls, although on occasion it was a case of getting slightly out of position and the break falling down.

I headed for a coffee at mid session and on the screens in the foyer I saw the last few balls of the 13th frame between Joe Perry and Jamie Burnett. That as well as the 12th were massive frames and for Joe to take them both was psychologically a massive blow, and so it proved. Lengthy frames meant that even though Perry won 10-7, it might have struggled for time if it'd gone to 9-9. It was definitely one where you could see the comeback on once it had got to 6-5 but those two frames were huge.

Back on table two Mark Selby had capitalised mistakes to go 5-1 ahead, but then the middle jaws kept being rattled, and although there weren't many massive breaks, Michael White hung on in there and battled his way back to 5-4, and that was pretty good. Mark was quite jovial with the audience if trying to get out of a difficult snooker as well. The weather was nicer outside and John Higgins headed in, proved to be very popular with the fans it has to be said. Ricky Walden also was around for practice, and post match, Joe Perry was sat outside soaking in the sun and relatively chilled out and happy after his win before he headed back to the hotel as well. It was all good and I was pleased to see him do the business.

I headed back on the train to Manchester where it was actually really nice and warm - just the same as it had been when I had left Sheffield earlier. The sunshine had people out and it bode well for Manchester City's game against West Bromwich Albion later on. In the meantime tune of the day is the rather good "Cole's Corner" by Richard Hawley, as I walked through Sheffield after the snooker and past the place that would have been that very corner. Obviously that then made me think of the song (as you do.)

Sunday 20th April - Easter In Hospital

Before you start to wonder: no, not me in hospital or anything like that! You see, the house at Dunham Massey near Altrincham has been partly transformed back into how it was when it was the Stamford Military Hospital, treating the sick and injured of World War One. It definitely has proved to be popular: indeed there's been a timed ticketing system in operation since the house re-opened in March, and last time we headed there tickets for the whole day had already gone. We were hoping with it being Easter Sunday that families who go there might decide to do the Easter Egg hunt instead.

We headed along the M56 and then the A56 and the B road to Dunham Massey itself, and the car park already looked a tad busy, which was a concern. We also saw that there was a queue for tickets to the reception area, and although quite useful to have a left side entrance for members for the garden only (which we would have done had we not wanted to go to the house) the fact everyone was in one queue for the house meant it took its time, not least because there weren't enough people issuing tickets out on the desks.

We got our house admission tickets and as it was a timed admission, we were informed it was between 1.50pm and 2pm. As it was just before 1pm we decided to have a walk around the deer park, where we spotted some very young deer trotting around quite happily, and we also went to the new café close to the new entrance where we had a coffee and some gorgeous Victoria Sponge cake. This passed the time nicely and we then made our way to the house entrance, and there was another sizeable queue!

As it turned out, an elderly lady had fallen down the stairs and so they had to get an ambulance out to take her away on a stretcher, and so the earlier timed admissions than us still hadn't gone in as yet. They were in first and our 1.50pm admission went in at 2.10pm so it wasn't too bad on the whole. A nice family were in front with their two children, and it was good to see that the Mum and Dad were reading out the displays and getting the children engaged with the exhibits - really good to see.

One of the main rooms downstairs was set like the main bedroom of the hospital, with lots of beds, information about the patients and indeed some speakers discreetly placed so you could hear the sounds of people coughing and sounding generally unwell. The smell of the fluid on the bandages were also present and it made for a rather authentic experience, and you can only imagine having to lie in pain on the beds with the beautiful views outside of the gardens to share.

One of the other rooms downstairs also had a woman in a nurse's outfit playing a wind up gramaphone and also pretending to attend to patients in the music room, with the piano set up with sheet music for the songs of the era as well. I also saw someone on crutches hobbling around - maybe another volunteer in costume pretending to be one of the soldiers that were injured. The whole exhibit was inspring and one of the rooms upstairs resembled a storage area - mimicking how it would have been when the furniture was moved there to accomodate the beds and so on.

The rest of the house was still as it was, so if you wanted to see the collection of Hugenot silver or indeed the library with its impressive array of rare books, that was all there along with the dairy and the laundry outside in the stable block. The whole walk around was rather nice and we both commented on how good the exhibition was. As we left later we noticed that the tickets for the remainder of the afternoon for the house had sold out - and there were clear notices for people to spot, which was a sensible thing.

We decided to go for a nice Sunday lunch (well a late one as it was 3pm!) and so headed to the nearby Axe and Cleaver close to Dunham village. I'd not been in there for ages. It turned out to be a good move, as we had a lovely Sunday roast, and the pint of Dizzy Blonde I had was also on very top form. It was a really nice way to settle in and relax together, and the two of us were very happy. The surroundings were nice, as we could look outside to the countryside as well.

We headed back home later and we saw the remainder of Ali Carter's match against Xiao Goudong, and Ali raised his game in the last couple of frames and made impressive breaks to finish the match off and win 10-8. I was pleased for Ali because he always seems to be under-rated, but getting to two finals (losing them both to Ronnie O'Sullivan, no disgrace there), being one of a select few players to make a 147 at the Crucible and so on shows he's got the talent for it. Mark Selby or Michael White for him next, should be a good encounter either way.

Tune of the day though is the proper snooker theme (ie: Drag Racer by the Doug Wood Band). You'd think that the BBC would have it on its red button coverage instead of rehashing their newer theme wouldn't you, but no. It makes me just want to hear it more and when you do listen to the original, the dulcet tones of the late great David Vine saying "Welcome to the Crucible" just ring so true. It just takes me back to watching snooker when I was younger..

Saturday 19th April - Cue The Crucible, Part One

It was an early rise for me this morning as I was taking the 0742 train from Manchester Piccadilly to Sheffield, which would arrive in good time for me to soak up all the atmosphere prior to the World Championship Snooker at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. It's now the seventh year on the bounce I've been to the snooker and indeed it's always nice to be able to go on the first day as well. I must admit that it just has a special feeling when you go there and watch the best go head to head against each other.

I spotted someone at the train station who I've usually seen around Sheffield - he tends to sit in the front row on the left hand side watching Table Two from close to the middle pocket, and he's also a Manchester City fan as well. He did have a big case with him so I suspected he'd booked a week or so at least of every session, or possibly the whole tournament. The train journey was on time and sped through the Peak District on its way to Sheffield with its rather lovely scenery all round.

I had a bit of a walk around the city and spotted people excitedly heading to the theatre, and indeed the Maltese snooker legend Tony Drago was also there and chatting to people. The Winter Gardens was all set up for the BBC studio for the tournament (it's closed in the evenings which must make recording in there a pretty lonely experience for the likes of Hazel Irvine and Jason Mohammad) and indeed some people had stayed in the Mercure hotel close by, taking advantage of all its nice surroundings and indeed the closeness to the Crucible itself.

I got to my seat in Row F and had a pretty good view of the table I was watching (Stuart Bingham v Ken Doherty) and even some of the other table where Ronnie O'Sullivan would be up against Robin Hull. I saw the cameras and lights in there and Hazel Irvine of BBC Sport, quickly followed by Steve Davis, so they must have been filming inside prior to then going live. Rob Walker of course did his thing and egged on Ken Doherty to repeat his walk on antics from 2006 when he kissed the Crucible floor. It was surreal but yet a good moment too.

The divider came down and I concentrated on the match I was watching. Stuart Bingham went 3-0 up and initially it looked ominous for Ken, but then he came back into it. A couple of times he did enough to clinch the frame but allowed a chance for Stuart to get back if he got a snooker, but Ken got over the line. It went to 3-3 and then Stuart held his nerve a little to go 5-3 ahead, and clearly was playing well below his best. It ended up being 5-4 at the end of the session, and almost 2pm - quite tense and nervy but I suspected that Ken Doherty would be the happiest of the two players and would be more refreshed in the morning.

I had a walk around the Winter Gardens and saw Hazel Irvine there with Steve Davis and John Parrott doing their thing for BBC2, and it was a pretty warming afternoon. It felt nice as I walked back down the hill towards Sheffield station and indeed heading back to Manchester on the train it was also pretty good. I think sometimes it's good to be able to see how the Peak District looks like that - and you can see why also people fall in love with it so much.

The Love In My Heart came over later and then we headed out for the evening to meet up with a couple of friends for a nice meal together. We'd actually got there early and so had a drink in the downstairs bar, and then we met up and the meal was all good. I had the whitebait for starters and that was great, and really crispy too on the outside. The steak and ale pie was top notch, as was the treacle tart with custard for afterwards too. My friend liked her presents - not least the little Body Shop set which we thought she could use for when she was going away overnight.

Later on The Love and I then watched the Pop Goes BBC Two thing, which was a celebration of fifty years of quality music on BBC Two and the programmes that the artists featured on. Totally quality all the way - Patti Smith doing "Horses"? Check. The Smiths' live version of "This Charming Man"? Check. The Something Else programme with Joy Division doing "Transmission" at full pelt (tune of the day by the way)"? Also check. Just lots of quality moments and well worth a watch on iPlayer if you missed it that's for sure.

Friday 18th April - The Good Good Friday

It was a nice refreshing shower and wake up this morning as I woke up in my hotel room. I slept reasonably fine, but was a bit concerned that the blue standby light from the television was directly in the eye line if you woke up and it seemed to light the room in some way. Still, the shower was good and powerful and it was good to get back dressed and up and down to breakfast - which I have to say was good, but didn't seem enough of it. One sausage, one bacon rasher, but some gorgeous mushrooms and scrambled egg, and a selection of cereals and meusli plus fruit juices and croissants, so all in all good - not least when sat at a nice table with Paul Weller's version of "Wishing on a Star" playing (make that tune of the day)

I saw a bit of telly and then checked out of the hotel, having filled in their questionnaire about the place as they requested in the room. I could potentially win dinner for two at a future stay there (if I took The Love In My Heart for example) and so thought I'd give that a go somehow. I also made sure the room was tidy before I left, nothing worse than just leaving it a mess, and the staff were all really lovely, one of the porters asking if they wanted me to store the luggage there to collect later.

I decided not to head straight back to the train station but instead divert via Betty's Tea Rooms, not to go in there to have a breakfast or light lunch (there were queues even at 10.15am!) but for the shop next to it, where I thought surprising The Love In My Heart was a nice idea, so got her a pack of these hand made chocolate bunnies with caramel in. They looked cute as well as gorgeous, and plenty of people were buying cakes, chocolates and their rather nice looking macaroons too.

It was then back to the train station and plenty of people about, and lots waiting for the train to Scarborough as well. The train I got on was quiet till we hit Leeds, was busy between Dewsbury and Huddersfield with football fans going to the match there, and then onwards in the Spring sunshine towards Manchester Piccadilly, where the train arrived some five minutes or so early. This allowed me time to comfortably head down to the car park, where The Love In My Heart was collecting me and we were heading out for lunch together (which I'd arranged when on the train.)

It was lovely to see The Love and we decided to go to The Elizabethan in Heaton Moor for lunch which was a good move all round, not least because the weather was nice, and because it had been done up! The floor had been varnished and the decor looked smart, and a new menu too. We had little starters for a lunch instead, with The Love having the soup and me the blanch bait, which were nice and crispy, and with some chips on the side too. It was nice to chat and catch up and the two of us were really happy - she was even more so when she saw the chocolates (and texted back later to say that they were gorgeous!)

I've spent most of the afternoon and will do this evening having a 1990s retro music fest of sorts, listening to albums from 1994. That year was a rather good one all round as two of my favourite albums ever were released that year, but also on top of that we had Senser's super debut "Stacked Up", Pop Will Eat Itself's Industrial sounding "Dos Dedos Mis Amigos", the epic "Music For The Jilted Generation" by The Prodigy, the Manic Street Preachers' finest album in "The Holy Bible" and so on. I think I might not cram everything in the one night, but I'm going to give it a good go!

Thursday 17th April - Validating The York Basement

So it was off to York, and for what I counted up to be my 19th in all MJ Hibbett gig (ie: solo or with The Validators). Tonight's gig was going to be a full with Validators line up, which would be good as I hadn't seen the full band in a while and it'd be nice to see them do their stuff. The Basement, the venue they're playing, seemed to be quite a small place, and I think, below one of the independent cinemas in the city centre, so it'd prove to be interesting.

I only made a decision because I could get today off work as one of the remaining days of leave that I had left to take during the holiday year (the other four are next week when trips to Sheffield might just be involved somehow) and so because of that it was a case of seeing what I could get in terms of accommodation and travel and such like. In fact, booking First Class on the way there on the train was almost as cheap as standard, so I thought "yeah, I'll get free coffee and the like, so why not?" so that's what I did on the way there.

In a way, I was glad I did as normally Transpennine Express services between Manchester and Leeds are pretty busy all told, and because the train had come from Liverpool on its eventual way to Scarborough, it was already busyish. It was great to kick back in First, and I had a coffee and a flapjack between Manchester and Leeds in a nice comfortable seat with I have to say really friendly staff, and another coffee between Leeds and York. It was just a nice way to get there. There were shed loads of people waiting for the train though as they were making their way to Scarborough for the Easter weekend.

I headed out of the station and walked towards York city centre and without too long located my hotel. In fact I'd actually worked out a deal where I'd got discount using my credit card, and on top of that the single room was much cheaper than even a room at Ibis because of the time of booking. So it was with some anticipation that I was staying at the Dean Court hotel, pretty close to York Minster. The room was a little small, but had a nice comfortable single bed, lots of tea and coffee (filter or freeze dried), a nice bathroom, a wardrobe with shed loads of hangers, and - always a sign you're staying somewhere nice - a towel robe. I can remember having one of those at the Mercure Kensington when I stayed there for the Sleigh The UK gig.

I got everything unpacked and headed out for the afternoon around the centre of York. It was good to walk in the Dean's Park gardens around the back of the Minster, and then past the Treasurer's House and into a lot of the old streets. Of course a visit to the Cat Gallery shop was a must - lots of Rosina Wachtmeister stuff to tempt me including bookmarks, and some new figurines. I was good and didn't buy anything but the temptation was there.

I spent some more time walking around Fossgate, back through to more of the city centre's shops and indeed later on down to the Cityscreen cinema, and this had a lovely view over the River Ouse, and the bar even sold local York Brewery ale. So a half of Dragon Slayer was much needed, and the sun was even making an attempt to come out at the same time which was nice, so good to sit by the window and watch the world go by. It was then back to St Helen's Square, seeing the crowds queueing outside Betty's Tea Rooms and then walk through the historic parts of the city centre back to the hotel.

After watching Pointless (as you do when on a break!) it was then a case of me getting changed and ready. I had my Hey Hey 16K t-shirt at the ready, and headed out and didn't have to walk too far to Harkers, a place I've been in a few times as they have nice food and drink. And so it was this time - the calamari was as good as ever and the gammon for main spot on, all washed down nicely with a pint of Dead Good from the Acorn Brewery as well. All nice things really, and that set me in the right frame of mind for the short walk to the Basement.

The venue was a really small little space but nice for it, quite long and narrow actually. The main thing was that the stage was nice and wide, so plenty of chance to see stuff going on. I spotted another MJ Hibbett fan Ellen, whom I've seen at a fair few gigs. It transpired that tonight was to be her 50th MJ Hibbett gig (solo or with Validators) and that's some impressive dedication it has to be said. We had a good chatter before the first act came on, and like all respectful music fans, kept quiet when the support acts were on and did their thing.

First up where Holly Taymar and Chris Bilton, and they were rather lovely actually. Some beautiful little acoustic songs with heart and feeling, and certainly for me the track that stood out was The French One, which really told a little tale of love and how it was fading away (well in my eyes anyway). Sometimes that gentle wistful look is too easily played, but when played well like she did, it sounded gorgeous. There was an acoustic cover of Teenage Dirtbag in there, and also Song One got my attention as well. I might have to check out their two most recent EPs and take it from there - very nice all round though.

Next then were Maggie8, who proclaim themselves as an indie folk band from Leeds no less. They have also have an Eastern influence, not least from vocalist and bassist Nivedita Pisharoty, who really did carry her voice well in most of the songs. Some of the songs had a little effects machine with samples to help them along, which sort of worked in some cases but not in others. They weren't that bad, but I wasn't as taken with them for some reason - possibly a sound engineering issue as it didn't sound quite right (bass was over humming with distortion). The drummer was pretty spot on though, and he definitely pinned the songs with the beats rather well.

So then were MJ Hibbett and the Validators, and starting off with the theme from Dinasour Planet (cue added "they're BACK!" from members of the audience at the right time) and some newer stuff such as "I Want To Find Out How It Ends" and "20 Things To Do Before You're 30" being particularly catchy and funny, detailing how many people seem to have a huge wish list of stuff to do before they hit thirty. Of course some of the old classics came out and it was nice to hear "Billy Jones Is Dead" to be honest, and even better than that, "The Peterborough All-Saints Wide Game Team (Group B)" as well, which has a great simple chorus everyone can sing along to (and some of us did.)

Before Mark introduced Hey Hey 16K, he mentioned it was Ellen's 50th gig (and later presented her some rather lovely chocolates, which I thought was a very sweet thing to do.) He also pointed to my t-shirt and then off they went into the retro gaming classic, sounding as good as ever - tune of the day was a simple decision really. We also had "Do The Indie Kid" with some non-diehards even following Emma and doing the moves (hurrah) and then of course "The Lesson of the Smiths" which is always good when that's played.

The band originally weren't going to explain the crowd interaction bit of "Easily Impressed" but some people wanted to know, and they had a practice, and sure enough, actually took part during the right moment of the song too. That proved to be rather joyously good fun, as ever, and after a considerable amount of applause from the small crowd, the band came back on and did "The Gay Train" as well as the encore. It was another great fun gig and chatting to the band afterwards (Tim had his Salford Lads Club t-shirt from a visit there earlier in the day with Emma, kudos!) before heading back to my room for a well earned sleep. Yaay!

Wednesday 16th April - Gone

It was the final day at work before Easter for me and it was good to get on with numerous things to be able to make sure that the desk was tidy, any consumables for the printers that needed to be ordered were ordered (had to do the long way round as our Web JetAdmin instance was still down) and everything else was working correctly as intended. It was actually pretty productive and because it's a lot less stressful due to a lot of people being off themselves, it meant that we could really crack on with things, and that's really good to see.

I headed home on time and knew that I had a game to look forward to tonight, namely Manchester City's re-arranged game against Sunderland, which was called off originally back in February due to the high winds around the North West (and believe me they were horrible back then). My friend and I headed from mine and first off to The Love In My Heart's place, and we had a well earned brew and a chat there together. The Love is really busy at work though so I suggested we head straight back home after the game so she could have a well earned sleep.

Off to the ground then and with us needing to win this as one of our two games in hand, we'd have to see how we did. The important thing for me was that we got off to a good start, but no one expected it to be that quick. Second minute and City surged forward and some lovely passing let in Fernandinho on the right who dinked it over the Sunderland keeper for 1-0. All good, and the City fans were really making themselves heard for the next few minutes, but then went quiet as nerves set it. Sunderland were going for it and former City player Adam Johnson was running down the right trying all sorts to get past Aleksandar Kolarov.

The second half came, still 1-0. City were changing it up front and took off Sergio Agüero for Stevan Jovetic, and then later on Álvaro Negredo also came off with Edin Džeko in his place. Sunderland though were more than happy to go forward and search for more and a cross from the left found Connor Wickham in acres of space and he shot home easily for 1-1. This wasn't in the script, and neither was a clearance from a City attack which went down the left hand side, the Sunderland players were more hungry for the ball, and Wickham was again in space, the defence didn't do anything and it was 2-1 to them. Aaargh indeed.

City pressed forward knowing that even a draw wouldn't be enough, and every single attack that went wide was a source of frustration. With two minutes left a goal mouth scramble came back to Samir Nasri and he hit it low and hard, and the ball squirmed out of Vito Mannone's grasp in the Sunderland goal and in the net for 2-2. A roar erupted, and right on 90 minutes Nasri chipped Mannone but also shot over the bar, and the head in his hands was matched by my friend and I, really was a gutted moment. And so there it was, 2-2 at the final score.

Having a coffee afterwards, my friend and I thought realistically that any chances we have of landing the title are now over. Not only now were we relying on other results, but the way we played tonight really wasn't good enough. Whether it was a hangover from Sunday's performance or not, there's certainly a feeling that the title had gone, and we just needed to finish as high as we could and get a Champions League spot for next season. However, we have at least won the League Cup this season, so can we really complain that much to be honest? I think not.

Tune of the day is a tune that somehow describes how the approach should be to all games, with the opening line "No one ever said it was going to be easy" and maybe that line along from the Inspiral Carpets and Mark E Smith classic "I Want You" should be played. Mark E is also a City fan so I am sure like the rest of us he was probably shouting at the telly or doing something else in frustration tonight. And it was mentioned by City Women's goalkeeper Andie Worrall earlier, who plays her first WSL game tomorrow night. Come on the girls!

Tuesday 15th April - Winding Down

The day has been for me mainly about nailing a lot of things together and sorting out a fair few things to really make sure that we're more efficient going forward. One of the major tasks I've spent some time with is an Excel spreadsheet which has most of our inventory on, but this was missing serial numbers for example. Enter the power of the SCCM query that I wrote, which retrieves from the inventory in there the information that you need, such as the hardware, manufacturer, model and serial number, which does come in pretty useful to say the least.

Armed with that information it meant I could really put a lot of things together and make sure as much information as possible was all in there and good to go for everyone to use, and making it pretty much easier. I think if you're spending too much time actually doing other things, notably administration, then it's less time that you can spend on the things that matter, so that was good to know. In fact I was going to do a remote check of all the printers but the central WebJetAdmin instance is down for some reason, so I've reported an issue with that.

I think with me spending a fair bit of time off it's just good to be able to really make sure where possible that everything will be able to run smoothly over the Easter period and then when I come back we're all refreshed and good to go. At least I know I've got a four day week when I do go back after Easter as well as I'm due a weekend with my friends, so it's good in a way that the time that I am going to spend will be some serious quality time, and that's important to me I think.

I had a nice surprise when I got home - a voucher for Amazon for £10, which I'd redeemed as part of my O2 Rewards. I'd saved up the rewards for a bit, and had enough to claim one, so why not I thought to myself. It was good that it came quick and the only decision I've got to make now is what to spend it on - part of me thinks that the new Kaiser Chiefs album is right up near the top of the list, but there's also the likes of the new Baskery album as well. Or maybe even a Blu-ray or two? The choice might prove to be a tad difficult I think.

Had a good listen to some of my existing CDs to get some ideas, and one of them was Jesse Malin's excellent 2007 release "Glitter in the Gutter". I have to say though that the favourite track of mine on there is "Broken Radio" which turns into a wonderful little duet with him and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. The two of them are just great together and the track really does give plenty of space for them both. Absolute gem and worth getting the album just for that - tune of the day an easy decision!

Monday 14th April - Restaurant Wars

After a good and productive day at the office it was good to get home and kick back, as well as get plenty done that needed to get done. I did though know that there were two things I wanted to watch on the telly - and sod's law, both of them on at the same time. I made the decision therefore to watch Restaurant Wars on BBC Two first off and record Only Connect on BBC Four with a view to watching that later. Of course it's a good test of my brain power whilst wondering how they manage to find a different dress for Victoria Coren Mitchell for every single episode (seriously!)

Anyway, so on with Restuarant Wars. Effectively two leading chefs are both planning to either revamp an existing restuarant in a hotel and give it a new lease of life, or open a completely new venture and make it a different experience. Both of them want to try and bring Michelin starred dining to the Mancunian masses, especially now that more and more people live in the city centre and in theory have more money to spend with their affluence.

One of the restaurants was The French based inside the landmark that is the Midland Hotel in the centre of Manchester. I loved the woman Mrs Best who ate there at least three times a week with a menu which she could pick some of her favourite meals from, and the news that it was going to have a ten course taster menu instead of her traditional omlette brought her out in a rash of uncertainty and unhappiness, and even when she did try the menu she wasn't overly impressed to say the least.

The behind the scenes of both places were underpinned by some class New Order tracks, namely Bizarre Love Triangle, The Perfect Kiss, Love Vigilantes and best of all the B-side Lonesome Tonight (make that tune of the day) and that really with the scenes of Manchester as well made it a rather good view overall. Must admit though that I would probably not want to pay so much for the food unless I knew it was going to be top notch. And there's the thing: fine dining is all and well, but will people necessarily want to pay for it? Well, see if the bookings go up post programme and go from there.

I did then watch Only Connect, and it was a family of three who seemed to be pretty good and know all their stuff, although I did find the homophones for the German numbers on the connecting wall which they didn't do (haha!) and also nailed a lot of the missing vowels round before the contestants got it, so that too made me feel pretty contented. I think it's one of those shows that has its own quirks and own cult audience, but once you discover it you do enjoy it a lot. I certainly do!

Sunday 13th April - Anfield Anxiety

I headed up early this morning so I could see the coverage of the London Marathon on BBC One whilst The Love In My Heart had a well earned lie in (minus the cats too which was good for her). It was interesting to see how Mo Farah did, although I suspected that he wouldn't win and for him to post a decent ish time was his aim. The wind was coming at the athletes in the last few miles though so that made it a tad more difficult, but the course record was still broken anyway by the winner. Farah finished eighth and that wasn't too bad.

We then headed later to The Love's mum and dad's, as I said to The Love that I'd take a look at the PC for him. His old one had died a death and The Love had lent him a little Shuttle PC that she used to use for a while, but when she connected it all up yesterday it wasn't seeing the wireless correctly. In fact I got in there and the Liverpool v Manchester City game was coming on, and as he has a telly in the room where the PC is with the game on, I could watch it and fix at the same time, not a bad move really. The Liverpool anthem as sung by Gerry and the Pacemakers "You'll Never Walk Alone" was played (tune of the day), and stirring stuff before an impeccable minutes' silence from all in the ground to remember Hillsborough twenty five years on.

I can remember back in 1989 being at Ewood Park seeing Man City stuffed 4-0 by Blackburn, but when news came through of what was happening the scoreline became irrelevant as people were more worried about what was going on there. To this day, even though there has at least been movement in terms of the fact that the police's blatant cover up with the assistance of certain sections of the media to attempt to blame the fans for the disaster has now been proven to be the case, the fight for justice carries on. Most football fans like me appreciate that such a tragedy could have happened at any ground, and that we'll always back the Liverpool fans in their battle for justice and fairness, the right thing to do. Justice for the 96.

The stirring events before the game had fired Liverpool up and it didn't surprise me that they went for it and attacked the Kop end, and scored two well taken goals, especially the first one with trickery from Raheem Stirling, and the headed corner from Martin Skrtel. City were lucky not to be 3-0 down at half time and losing Yaya Toure also didn't help matters too much. I was only hoping that we could make an attempt to pull it back to 2-2 and salvage a draw from the game.

I had at least got the PC sorted: I took out the wireless card, and added the wireless card from the dead PC (that card was still working) and that got all the connectivity sorted - we also added the printer drivers and made sure that it was nice and easy access to email and so on. I kept an eye on the game as I did so and it just meant that at least he had something he could use until he decided what to do about a replacement - I've offered to build him one, or he could order one pre-built and then we just add Windows to it.

Back to the football, James Milner had come on for Jesús Navas and that turned the game for us. His run and cross meant that David Silva was to score to pull it back to 2-1, and a few minutes later some good work down the left saw the Silva's cross deflected by Glen Johnson and past the Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet for 2-2. All of a sudden it felt like game on and indeed that City's fight back was something that we would take from the game. Alas though, near the end skipper Vincent Kompany scuffed a clearance and it went to Coutinho who scored a cracking drive for 3-2.

And that was that. In many ways now the title is Liverpool's to lose, and their game against Chelsea on the 27th is possibly a decider too. If Chelsea drew or even won there, it might mean that City could be back in with a shout of winning. That said though we need to get a win on Wednesday against Sunderland and take it from there I thought. Liverpool also looked impressive going forward and I suspect Chelsea's attempts to shut up shop might not work. At least we did go for it and I'm sure that should be a positive to take today.

Saturday 12th April - Market Macaroons

It was nice to have a leisurely morning in this morning, mainly sorting out the house, getting all the washing and ironing done, which meant I could spent most of the weekend in a fairly relaxed mood. It was good too as I'd wanted to try and wind down a bit and get in the right frame of mind for the next week or so when I'm off, and spending a fair amount of time in Sheffield at the World Snooker Championship. Somehow it just feels a special time of year for me.

I did decide though that I'd head over to the local market, that is now on every single Saturday between March and the end of October. It's quite nice with a fair few stalls selling fresh produce, most of it local and a lot of it really hand made with some nice love and care. Some of the local businesses such as the bakery not far from me also take a stall out so that they can use it to sell stuff there and entice people to come along to their shop. It's a nice atmosphere there and certainly one which brings the community together a lot more. It used to be once a month, but now it's independently not council run so it happens more often, and is very popular too.

I had a good look around, and there was even one stall whch sold vinyl and CDs as well, so obviously I spent a bit of time looking at that. The vinyl was on the whole fairly priced and I even saw a copy of a Man From Delmonte 12" single which I already have (not that expensively either). It was good that the CDs were £3 or two for £5, and even though I had a considerable number of them, I'm sure for some people it would very handily fill a nice gap in their collections.

One stall that did entice me though was one run by Alison Seagrave, who was selling lovely macaroons. If you've ever had them in France like The Love In My Heart and I have had in nice, you'll know how nice they are. They looked very nice indeed and as they were a reasonably priced six for £5, I ended up getting two vanilla, two raspberry, a lemon and a pistachio one with the plan of surprising The Love later with them. She also had some rather nice cakes too including a gorgeous looking Victoria sponge which was tempting me too. You can also get a nice box of the macaroons mail order too.

I got home just as the rain came and started to hammer it down, and it was still raining when The Love In My Heart arrived for tea later. I helped her get the stuff in and it was nice just to catch up and relax together. I also have to say she looked gorgeous in her top as well - how lucky am I, I kept thinking to myself. I started to make the tea whilst the 1970s edition of Celebrity Pointless was on. It was good to see Rick Wakeman and Roy Wood on together and of course as one of the questions was on number one singles, and one of the artists being David Bowie (who Rick worked with on the likes of "Life On Mars" - so tune of the day) it was good for him to successfully name a number one by David. Yaay indeed.

We flicked back after tea for the penalty shootout in the FA Cup semi final which Arsenal eventually won against Wigan Athletic, and then on to the Lottery In It To Win It. There was one woman who was getting all the questions correct and racking in the money, so much so that by the end there were three people in with a chance of sharing £95,000, and this woman had put £85,000 of that in herself with her correct answers. One of the three was from Manchester and he got his question right to have a share - £31,666 to be exact - so I suspect he was pretty happy with that.

The Love enjoyed the macaroons immensely and she really appreciated them - and so that felt good. In fact I had the pistachio one and she had had a vanilla one - which did seem to be rather lovely. Maybe I should have bought more but I know she was quite surprised and pleased. We ended up watching some of the Masters golf and it was intriguing to see how difficult the course seemed to be playing - and how plenty of people were hitting the balls into the creek on the 13th hole when attempting to drive the green in two. Going to be interesting tomorrow night for sure..

Friday 11th April - Friday Fun

It was good to really concentrate a lot on getting the inventory we have of machines as accurate as possible today. I was even more happy with the fact that one of the queries that you could do in SCCM 2012 provides you with a means to getting the make, model and serial number of the machine in question. Even though this might not necessarily provide you with all the information that you do need with regards to the PCs, getting some of that at least gives you an idea of the age of machine and mean that you're able to sort out what is where.

It was also good because I could really tidy things up nicely in Excel and still be able to sort out a few things at the same time whilst multitasking and the atmosphere in the office on the Friday afternoon was rather nice and relaxed, but whilst still getting things done. I think on the whole as the Easter break gets ever closer and although there's a lot to do, there's a feeling that with less people around you can concentrate a lot more and really put the energy and effort into what needs to be done, so that's good as far as I'm concerned.

I headed into the city centre later on to pick up a birthday card and a present for one of my friends. It was good all round as I was able to locate the gifts I wanted and they were generally really friendly in the shops I visited as well - always good when that happens. I also then went into WH Smith and managed to locate a nice card before heading to Piccadilly Station on the way home to make sure I got some tickets printed off from the ticket collection machine for next week.

Ah yes, next week. I decided late last night that it'd be worth my while heading off to York to see MJ Hibbett and the Validators at The Basement, which is inside a small independent cinema close to the River Ouse and right in the city centre. The gig ticket wasn't expensive so that was good of course, and I got the trains sorted, knowing realistically a stay overnight just had to be done. I managed to work out that a discount code for using a Mastercard at one place meant it was a considerable amount off, I got breakfast (yaay) and also meant that I could still get some cash back via TopCashback. Happy bunny then.

In view of that I decided to play the band's classic album "We Vaildate!" which has many songs that even now appear in the band's set list, including the seminal "The Lesson of the Smiths" with the opening salvo line of "Morrissey, Marr and Barlow changed my life" which sets the tone perfectly, along with the riff that sounds like it could have come straight from a Smiths song (fact). I also like "Better Things To Do" for its attitude, sort of "so what? We've got lots of other things we could be doing instead" and that makes me smile, so tune of the day that simply has to be.

Thursday 10th April - Masterchef Mess

It was another quite busy day at the office, but one where I mainly was able to get several things done at the same time and get on top of any calls that I had open. One positive that's come out of this week for me in many ways is that I've been able to devote some time to really get things done which needed to be done. In fact I spent a fair bit of time this morning doing a sweep of all the printers in one building and making sure that they were all playing ball and had all their supplies fitted. It all seemed pretty good on the whole so I could crack on.

On the way home from work I headed to the local Tesco as it was 3 packs of Tassimo pods for £10, so was able to get some Costa Latte and Americano for the office, as you do. I also made sure I got The Love In My Heart some wine for later when she headed over, and it was pretty good to be able to get that done, and also nip into one of the other shops on the way home from work and get a light bulb for The Love's bathroom - it's one of those specialist 4 pin 28watt bulbs and luckily there's a few places near me I can get her one from. I know she appreciated that when she saw me later.

As The Love was watching Emmerdale I made our evening meal of spaghetti carbonara, and I usually fry some more pancetta and put that in,which works a treat - tastes much more meaty doing that to be honest. We had that in between episodes of the soap and it was good just to chat whilst having the tea. I also washed up and spoke to one of my friends briefly whilst The Love was engrossed in the latest capers from the Yorkshire Dales, before we then switched over to Masterchef later on.

It was down to the cooks having to make food for the judges, which included previous winners and contestants who did pretty well on Masterchef, so they know their stuff when it comes to how it should be done and how the nerves would stand up. Mind you, one of them stood ahead of everyone and we both went "He's through" straight off because of the smiles on the judges' faces and the way that for another one of the contestants' desserts Dean,said "Gregg is going to do cartwheels he sees that dessert!"

Mind you, no contestant in the history of Masterchef can ever be as bad in doing a two course meal as Carl. Honestly. His main of chilli sausages and onions with a different type of beans on some thinly sliced garlic bread looked foul and greasy, and as one of the judges said "It smelt of a burger van the moment that he walked in" - not exactly the moment of top cuisine. And as for his dessert - the worst thing I have ever seen on Masterchef - ever. It was a plum dumpling with a whole plum inside an under-done pastry dumpling, which also had mashed potato dough on the outside of it (no that wasn't a typing error!) and it looked horrible (and tasted so). Thankfully for everyone involved he went no further.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the superb "Wise Up! Sucker" by Pop Will Eat Itself, and with a very good reason. I was twenty five years ago today that the single was released in the UK, and for me at seventeen it was the one song at the time above all else that got me into the band. It's still a classic listening to it now and a staple of the band's live set whenever I've seen them play - and even the new Mk2 line up with Graham at the helm still always plays that (naturally Graham has his megaphone with him as well to make it sound just as good as it always did). Can't wait to see them live in Sheffield next month.

Wednesday 9th April - Walking On

It was good to spend some time in work but away from the office today as I worked on learning some aspects of Casper, the software and system we use on Macs to do some deployment of software and applications. On the whole it was good that my colleague spent time with me, and he knew that I would pick up most of it without difficulty as some of the procedures are the sort of thing I'd be doing with SCCM and without issues. It was good to get things like a login background screen up and working pretty well, and that was smart to do.

I think too that when you have the logical mind ticking over, it just seems to be good to be able to really think on and get things done, and give a different approach and ideas to how you'd solve a problem. I know too that when my friend and colleague said "we can distribute Adobe CS6 Design and Web Premium to this Mac" I said "Yes, but if we're monitoring the status, that's going to take at least 30 minutes or so to install" and he knew I was spot on with what I said. Sometimes it's good to remember that large installers, no matter if Windows or Mac, just will take time to do.

After work I had a nice walk into the city centre. Yes, I could have taken the bus but the weather was dry and fine so I thought "why not?" and it was good to see how the city centre was developing. Plenty of camera crews and people in Albert Square, most of them amateurs filming away which was intriguing, and as I walked down through towards Brown Street the hubbub of the city seemed to be as vibrant as ever. Soon enough I was in Fopp and perusing the CDs and DVDs in there, and sorely tempted by a couple of albums.

I walked through the Arndale Centre and it was pretty clear that despite the recession of the last few years, the shops were doing pretty okay on the whole. I went into HMV (which is now in there of course) and that seemed busy enough: I think people have got used to the smaller store but thankful that they can still get their fix of music and such like. Also, a lot of the stock seems way more sensibly priced now, which has to be a good thing in my eyes. I did head on to That's Entertainment as well for a quick mooch.

It was then I noticed that the old HMV store, which had stood there for years and was the scene for many people like me to have my Morrissey CD signed by the man himself back in 1994, now had signs up recruiting for staff for a new shop to be in the same building. When I looked, it smacked of pound shop to me or at least discount shop, with a subtle line of blue around the tops of the shelves. A bit of research later says it's a short term lease for Home Store, which is a pound shop based in the Midlands. Hmm.. be interesting to see what happens there.

I got home and listened to plenty more of The Durutti Column's first four albums tonight, culminating with "Without Mercy" and the "Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say" EP tacked on to the end of that to fit nicely on the CD. However, it was then into more cool and chilled out territory with Swing Out Sister's rather lovely "Beautiful Mess" album. For those who think the band are just the likes of "Breakout", think again. Seriously. This album is just as cool and in "My State Of Mind" (tune of the day no less) it really does have a wonderful chlled out late night feel that suits the mood spot on. Corinne's singing along with Gina Foster is cool and soulful, what more do you need?

Tuesday 8th April - The Best Bee On Tuesday

The Love In My Heart and I settled in after a hard day at work each, and it was really nice to be able to take things relatively easy. I made us some little chicken mini roasts complete with little sausage and stuffing balls, complete with some nice Cornish buttery mash and some petits pois with leek and pancetta that hits the spot - admittedly it's mainly thanks to Tesco that all the gorgeous food tasted just as good as it looked - I just had to do the cooking of it which wasn't that hard really.

Tonight of course was the final of The Great British Sewing Bee which The Love and I have massively enjoyed watching. I think when it's something as traditional a hobby and also more homely, but fast becoming an increasing trend because it's not seen as so nerdy or dull anymore, or just for women (note: like the last series, one bloke got quite far in the competition) then you've got people watching together and seeing the amateur sewers make the same sort of mistakes that people at home have also made, it feels more human somehow, which is somewhat reassuring to be honest.

Anyway, first challenge up was a tie. Clearly hand sewing skills needed and straight away we both knew Chinelo was struggling and didn't seem to get it and got into a tizzy. Heather and Tamara got on with it and produced some decent ties, with Tamara just edging it. Next then was altering a bridesmaid's dress into a little girls' bridesmaid's dress, and that worked out pretty well with three good efforts. Tamara just didn't quite have the neatness of Heather, who again was second but this time to a lovely outfit from Chinelo. If scoring points 3 for a win down to 1 for third, you'd have them all level with the final challenge to go.

And that was to make a spectacular coutoure dress for their best friends, which was a nice surprise for all the contestants. The pressure was something else though, atmosphere cut with a potential knife edge out there. It was a case of holding nerve and producing something stunning, and when Heather's friend came out in her outfit complete with hat and whip, it looked both a little risque and classy at the same time. Her outfit was superb, Chinelo's with all the decor was excellent too but what the hell was Tamara's all about, we thought. Not getting that really.

So the announcement from the ever lovely and gorgeous Claudia Winkleman then: and with all the contestants there with friends and family of the finalists, it was nice to see that Heather had won - she was consistently good in everything, neat, accurate and when needed to step it up, she did in spectacular fashion. Also for the final her black top she had on was really elegant and classy, and that really did make it fit in with the theme of the week too. The Love and I agreed she was the deserved winner and that was nice to see. Yaay the programme and I know it's already commissioned for another series: good clean wholesome fun, and more of Claudia - so even more yaay.

We also watched the recording of First Dates from the back end of last week, and my oh my some of the dates were absolute disasters. The worst one had to be the bloke who straight away was put off by the very fact that the woman he was dating happened to be, even without heels, taller than him. He was patronising to the woman and if I was her I'd have probably walked out and it was a credit to her she was so polite and stayed there. Definite no though methinks for seeing each other again.

In the meantime tune of the day is something I had on to ease the soul after a hard day at the office, and just the right amount of chill out in there, "Jazz" by The Durutti Column from their first album "The Return of the Durutti Column". The first four albums were re-released by Factory as a 4CD box set in 1988, marking the first time all four were on CD. No sandpaper sleeve like the vinyl version had, but this rather nice short and sweet track really sets the tone for what the album is about: instrumental, relaxing and above all a virtuoso bit of guitar playing from Vini Reilly. What more could you ask for?

Monday 7th April - Snooker Loopy

Back to work then after a couple of days off, and also straight into the working day with a sort out of one of the wide format printers, which seemed to have not only jammed but caused an issue with the way that the paper comes out. We had a good long look at it, and managed to get it playing ball again an without issue, so that was a relief. It's always good to get back into things and make sure everything works as you wish it to, but also so that you know you're ready for anything else during the day.

I did feel productive as the day went on, especially as I had managed to work out something with regards to the kiosks that are used to credit accounts. It transpires that an extra email address needed to be added to the configuration, and being able to see the current one meant I knew where it may need to be done, and also who to approach to do that piece of work. The analytical mind sometimes works best in these situations, and so does occasionally pausing to think and then progress.

I headed home and the tickets I'd ordered the other night for the snooker had arrived. I also noted from the Crucible themselves that more tickets had gone on sale, almost all of them in Row F, as it looked like any corporate or hospitality seats etc had been sold back to go on general sale. This meant that it was good to see if I could get any more, and did I ever? Oh yes. So now I've got on Easter Monday morning Mark Selby, on the Wednesday 23rd in the afternoon Neil Robertson, and on the Thursday 24th 1pm session Mark Davis, so all good there, and all in Row F as well.

I've also got all the train tickets sorted out too, so it meant that where possible I could get them cheap. For the Thursday, it was £4 there and £5 back, which is about half the price of the walk on ticket fare. Not bad considering it's just two weeks before the scheduled departure date, and shows too that it still does pay to check to see how much you can actually save before setting off. I have even before now bought advance tickets the night before and saved a bit of money - and every penny helps.

So it now means then five trips to Sheffield in six days. However it also means that I wouldn't have to stay in a hotel in Sheffield for any of them, so the cost of the trains is obviously much less than staying over. If it was the week of the semis or even the final where the sessions would finish late, I'd definitely be tempted to at least do an overnighter, but the morning sessions are also usually cheaper, which means money saved by seeing some quality snooker with quality players at the home of snooker. Excited? Yes. So tune of the day is the Chas and Dave classic "Snooker Loopy"..

Sunday 6th April - Carvery and Catch Up

It was nice to just relax around the house during the morning with The Love In My Heart, and I spent a bit of time looking over the pictures I'd taken from Chatsworth. On the whole it looked pretty good not least because I managed to get most of the sculptures by Michael Craig-Martin that were dotted around the gardens, and that the views inside the house looked decent too. Of course I make sure at all times flash is off, because that can really ruin some of the photo-sensitive displays in there, it is perfect sense to me.

We set off later on in the direction of Hazel Grove and no less than the Fiveways pub, as they do a really nice carvery and thought it was good that we could go there with our friends and have Sunday lunch together. They had been delayed due to the Manchester Marathon - the traffic were all attempting to divert near their place and once they'd left that it wasn't too bad for them. Indeed for us the A6 was a bit less rammed than usual which had to be a good thing - many a time in the Summer the way to Lyme Park has been hot and pretty slowish.

We all went for the carvery that they have, as it looked rather lovely all round, and I even had a pint of the trusty Two Hoots beer as well which went down nicely. I'm pleased to report that the carvery was just as good as last time we went, with some gorgeously succulent turkey and ham, along with mashed and roast potatoes, carrots, sweetcorn, peas, Yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy. Was it nice? Absolutely. In fact anything else off the menu people were having also looked nice.

I did have the lemon and lime cheesecake for dessert, and that was gorgeous - lots of nice whipped mascarpone on top but done really well with the lemon and lime coming through, a proper sized biscuit base but not too much, and even those little candied fruits you normally get at Christmas on the top as well. I had some pouring cream to go with it (ice cream would have been ace too) and that went down spot on. The Love had the roulade which looked good, my friend had the ice cream sundae, again decent, and my other friend had the carrot cake - which I must admit I wouldn't have minded having myself.

My friends were very kind and as The Love had asked, she received some gift cards for the clothes shop Oasis, which I know she will spend on something lovely, so that was really good of them. We had a drink and a chat before heading off homewards, and the rain then started to bucket it down as we approached Stockport on the A6. We were glad to get home and relax during the afternoon with a game of Scrabble and the build up to the Boat Race, which Oxford won at a canter.

Later on in the evening one of my friends came over from Huddersfield. Her partner was going to see Status Quo at the Apollo and so it made sense for her to pop by and have a chat with myself and The Love as well. Not seen her for a while either, so it was really nice to chat face to face and the conversation flowed, as did the rather nice coffee too. The Love headed home a little later on so that she could prepare for work the next day, and that gave my friend and I the opportunity to put on the new Seth Lakeman album and chat even more - and she liked it too - I'll therefore make "Portrait of My Wife" as tune of the day.

I suggested to my friend that she gets her partner to text her when the encore comes on, so that by the time she got to the Apollo it was kick out time and they could be picked up easily. That gave us lots of time to chat more about work, music (lots of that) and a general gossip, and with some 3 Daft Monkeys playing in the background as well. The time went far too quickly and it was sad when my friend headed homewards, but The Love and I agreed the four of us need to do lunch sometime very soon....

Saturday 5th April - Saints and Refereeing Sinners

It was a reasonably early start to the morning, as I spent time sorting out the house as well as a shed load of washing and ironing before my friend arrived to take us both to the Etihad Stadium to see Manchester City up against Southampton. Of course, the Saints these days are a decent team and one to be taken seriously, and we also knew that a win today would at least mean that the pressure would be on both Chelsea and Liverpool to win over the weekend as well. With us going to Anfield next Sunday, a win would also be good for the momentum going into that game.

We got to the ground and avoided most of the rain that was falling, and we had a well earned cuppa before kick off. It was good to note that the line up looked strong and that Aleksandar Kolarov was back in replacing Gael Clichy. Still no Sergio Agüero and therefore Edin Džeko started up front. It didn't take him too long to get involved though, as his run down the left resulted in him being clattered in the knee and going down for a penalty, albeit I have to admit quite a soft one. Yaya Toure stepped up to the plate to score it, and it was 1-0 to City within three minutes, a good start.

Southampton though were playing really well from that point onwards, and their fluid passing, diagonal balls and springing the offside trap and putting us into defensive troubles were to be noticed. Indeed, they had to recover from the unfortunate loss of Jay Rodriguez, who leaped to collect a ball and fell awkwardly, twisting the knee by the look of it. Play was stopped, everyone was concerned and he got a standing ovation as he left the pitch. Sadly it looks like he'll be out of the World Cup and he could well have been going - and he's had a great season. The warrior that is Pablo Zabaleta went to commiserate him as he went off on a stretcher - a nice touch that.

Southampton were not deterred though and soon afterwards got a penalty of their own via the trailing leg of Zabaleta - which looked similar to the one we'd earned earlier. Both of them were soft so maybe the referee was levelling it up. Up stepped Rickie Lambert who placed it superbly past Joe Hart's accurate dive for 1-1 and to be honest it was nothing more than they deserved, they were playing some great stuff and were a credit to their fans and manager.

The announcer saw the board and announced four minutes of injury time at the end of the half, and just as he said that Yaya Toure had passed into Džeko, who released David Silva, and he passed to Samir Nasri in the centre to slot home for 2-1. I must admit on first look it looked way offside and seeing the replays later confirmed this. What the hell was the referee and linesman doing? The only explanation I can think of is if the linesman thought the ball had come off a Southampton defender, but it was a shocking decision in our favour. We'd take it though and that was 2-1.

Just before half time, and in the final of the four added minutes, the ball was released from Nasri to Kolarov, and he put in a perfect cross for Džeko to finish with a header for 3-1. The cross was quality and it's the sort of cross that as a striker you love to be on the end of. Whilst the second goal for City was controversial, nothing about this - goes to show that you have to concentrate to the end of each half and not fall asleep. My half time chips tasted much nicer for lunch after those two goals went in.

The second half fizzled a bit somewhat, Džeko almost scored and spooned the rebound from the goalkeeper, and after Álvaro Negredo came on for Džeko, the Beast had a one on one which we were all willing him to score but the goalkeeper saved it. Stefan Jovetic had come on too, and a beautiful Jesús Navas cross ten minutes from time was met by him to make it 4-1 and with that the game safe. We still had chances late on to boost the goal difference, but the three points were ours and that was what we needed really.

Later on we reflected on the game with a well earned coffee and I got home in time for the Grand National. Unlike last year I didn't win, Mr Moonshine (same jockey and trainer combo as Aurora's Encore) did finish who I backed, but faded badly at the end, whilst Long Run fell at Valentine's first time around. My friend did get second place with Balthazar King having put an each way on it, so that was at least something for him. Still can't get used to Channel 4 showing it though.

The Love In My Heart came over for tea later on, and we had some very nice chorizo meatballs in a Spanish sauce along with some garlic herb potatoes, which went down nicely I think. We watched the final of The Voice and I must admit that it was ace seeing the full Kaiser Chiefs performance of "Coming Home" (make that tune of the day) and getting Christina Marie to sing that with them really showed respect for each other in a good way. I'm sure that many people will have wanted to get that single and/or the album after that performance, so a good move from Ricky Wilson and the gang I think.

Friday 4th April - Chatsworth Calling

It was nice to wake up with The Love In My Heart and feel all snuggly in the bed that we slept in last night in our Birchills room in The Devonshire Arms. It was also nice to have a good shower and feel awake and had breakfast telly on whilst The Love got herself up and ready. We were looking forward to a good breakfast and headed downstairs, and then to the left where the tables were set up for the morning. We actually ended up at the table we'd sat at yesterday afternoon by the window, and that was nice.

As was the breakfast: lots of nice cereal and fruit juices, some very thick brown bread toast, which really did crunch nicely when eaten, and tasted spot on, and the cooked breakfast of bacon, egg, sausages, black pudding and so on. The Love and I did a swap: she had my tomato, I had her black pudding - so win win. In fact the sausages were the highlight, nice and herby, and they tasted great, and the black pudding really added to it. It was sad really that we were checking out later that morning - the place was lovely and we really did feel away from it all in a really nice way.

It wasn't very far out of Pilsley, along to Edensor and then up the road to Chatsworth itself, and we waited for a little while before the main gates opened and you could go into the house. Last time we came there were parts of the house in scaffolding, but this time they were all good, which meant you could head into the chapel at one end and see the iconic setting for posh christenings, and then head up the stairs and along from the second floor, with a really intruiging new art installation: basically based on DNA and using the patterns for it with ceramic tiles as art.

We headed further around the house, admired the Chinese wallpaper on two of the main guest bedrooms complete with bedspread, and then as we went downstairs, you soon are led to the main library and dining rooms before ending up in the Sculpture Gallery. It looks like a lot of them are now on pink painted plinths, and it did take some getting used to for a while. We did have a look around the shop at the end and then headed to the end of the gardens, heading out and up to the shops at the top in the Carriage House.

Both The Love and I had both gift aided our admission fee to Chatsworth. This made it 10% more on top, but the folks at Chatsworth had a good idea: do that and you get a voucher for 15% of the admission fee (ie: £2.70) as a discount if you buy anything in the shop or eat in the restaurants and cafés. We saw this as a good move and indeed The Love saw a really nice little jug with "love" on it, and looked classy. She therefore got the £2.70 off that and so was pretty pleased. I used mine for lunch later and that meant it was cheaper for my soup, followed by a vanilla panna cotta, which did the job wonderfully well.

We went back to the gardens, and did the usual walk along the top levels, close to the bottom of the Cascade. However we were also on the hunt for various large pieces of sculpture, put up by the artist Michael Craig-Martin. They're line drawings of objects in steel and painted in vibrant colours, so for example an orange pitchfork, a bright white garden gate, three different coloured umbrellas, a pink stiletto heel facing the rear of the house, that sort of thing. It made the walk around the garden much more interesting this time around as we were searching for them a fair bit.

We also decided that for once we'd try and get to the centre of the maze at the top end of the garden. We tried two of the main entrances and all paths went nowhere, before eventually locating an entrance, following the paths in and around, and eventually hitting the centre, which if you stood on the podium at the top not only could you see the 100 steps leading up to one of the upper walks, but also all of the maze if you looked around. Nice. First time we'd actually got to the centre, so well worth it.

We eventually walked back along the garden and noticed someone walking a dog in a part of the house and gardens you don't normally get to walk along. When we looked down from the main garden path, it was actually the Duchess of Devonshire herself walking with her faithful dog. That was a nice little surprise, and she was also entering a part of the house the public don't get to see, and security coded of course. How the other half live, The Love and I thought to ourselves as we headed back out to The Love's car later on.

We headed homewards and I felt rather sad: the time was lovely but gone too quickly, and we'd both enjoyed ourselves. I even suggsted stopping at a pub on the way back and prolonging the time a little, but no joy. I did feel sad when she dropped me back at home, and I was just thankful we'd had a lovely time together. I waited for my online shopping to arrive and looked at the pictures: was so glad we'd had a good time. Tune of the day is "Crazy" by US indie popsters The Icicles, as that's how I feel about The Love: crazy about her, and as the band sing "There's nothing that I can do, I'm still crazy about you" - and long may that feeling last.

Thursday 3rd April - A Derbyshire Birthday

Today is the birthday of The Love In My Heart, and that of course is a very special time. I thought that this year it'd be nice if we headed away somewhere for her birthday, and after a chat with her, she mentioned it'd be nice to stay somewhere close to the historic country house of Chatsworth, so we could go there. When we then realised that we could stay in one of the hotels on the vast Chatsworth estate, meaning a nice easy trip to the house whenever we liked, we thought it made sense and so I booked a room at the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley, close to the Chatsworth Farm Shop amongst other things.

The Love came for us at around 10.30am and she wanted to see if she could see any nice shoes in Next, as had been given gift vouchers as a present for Mother's Day a few days earlier. We went to the large one in Stockport along the way but there was nothing that jumped out at her, but it was good to see that she already felt relaxed and in the mood of not being in work and also being away from it all, just the right thing to do really. It was then back on to the A6 and through Hazel Grove and Disley before heading towards Buxton.

As we approached the village of Dove Holes, the mist over the hills was really coming down. We weren't sure if it was related to the recent air pollution issues, but it definitely felt misty. The mist subsided a little as we headed downhill into Buxton, but once we left and headed back up the hills, it was a pretty eerie and misty sight. It only seemed to go away as we approached Ashford-in-the-Water and before long we had arrived in Bakewell, where we were going to have a nice little look around for the early afternoon (we couldn't check in the hotel till 3pm so it made perfect sense for us.)

Bakewell seemed nice enough even in the misty clouds overhead: lots of nice little independent shops to browse around, as well as of course plenty of shops which laid claim to be the original maker of the Bakewell Pudding (yes, pudding, the tart came later and definitely doesn't look anything like the Mr. Kipling poor effort either, just wanted to set that straight) - and also some very nice little cafés too. We stopped at one for lunch, namely Byways on Water Lane. We went in and upstairs, and the rooms were kept to their original look and feel, and felt pretty good to enjoy lunch in. The Love had a ham and cheese toastie, I had a sausage sandwich, both were excellent.

In fact during this time The Love nipped to the toilet and I thought I'd see if any more tickets were available for the snooker. Imagine my surprise to see table two on the first morning have a ticket in row F! I quickly snapped that up knowing I'd be able to get the train tickets sorted when I got home, and that means I'll be going to see Stuart Bingham against a qualifier. Granted, Ronnie O'Sullivan is on the other table, but being there on the first morning of the Crucible is always a special feeling let me tell you, so that as a bit of a bonus.

After lunch The Love and I headed towards the historic bridge over the River Wye, and we saw a second hand bookshop and so ventured in. The shop really looked after their books and all the fiction was in alphabetical order, impressive stuff. In the end The Love ended up getting two novels by Mike Gayle which she hadn't read as yet for a mere £3.50 - absolute bargain. She even picked up a little poster with books on that she plans to use at work as well, so well worth dropping in. We walked by the river and then back to The Love's car, and set off heading for Pilsley.

It wasn't that far to Pilsley to be honest, and before long we'd located The Devonshire Arms and were parked up. It was around 2.30pm so we went in to see if we could check in, and the staff were lovely, said our room was all ready for us and they showed us to the room. It was a really beautiful room: a large double called Birchills, and everything you could need: gorgeous soft comfortable bed, a beautiful bathroom with all nice toiletries if you needed them, a Freeview TV, big wardrobe with lots of hangers, lovely decor, gorgeous tea and coffee (in fact a cafitiere with some suitable coffee!) and all in all, simply lovely. That made us both feel relaxed.

Once we'd got the cases and everything else up to the room The Love opened the birthday presents from me and was really pleased with what I got her. I did see something literally a few days before, namely the 25th anniversary issue of Empire film magazine, but as it had a certain Tom Cruise as cover star and with a massive interview, I thought she'd like that - and she did! I also took inspiration from one of my friends on Flickr the other day who had a lovely scarf and managed to get The Love the same one - it looked fab and The Love was surprised too. Her other more planned presents all went down nicely, so felt rather pleased that she was happy.

We had a gentle stroll through Pilsley village and across the road to the Chatsworth Farm Shop. Everything was tempting to say the least and the food there all looked good, if a little on the expensive side primarily because most of it was ethically sourced, as you'd expect. They even had some local ales from the local breweries including Peak Ales, which are brewed in a barn on the Chatsworth Estate less than a mile away from Pilsley. In fact I was tempted by lots but went for a bottle of ale from the Buxton Brewery, and The Love got a little bottle of prosecco.

We headed back and had a well earned drink in the bar area of the Devonshire Arms, and I went for the Peak Ales' Swift Nick, which was a very nice pint indeed. The Love had a glass of wine and we sat by the window watching the village go by (it was a very relaxing and slow pace in fact) and it was just good for me to chat about how much it was the sort of place that my mother would like (and she would!) and we both felt really chilled out.

It was then back to the room where it was a bit of telly and a coffee whilst we relaxed in the room. We had booked a table for a meal in the Devonshire Arms later on, as we figured that unless you were taking a taxi somewhere to another village or town, you wouldn't necessarily be finding anywhere else local to eat. Also we'd heard good things about the food in there, so hoped that it would be true and that we'd be able to have a good evening of it. The Love had a nice hot bath and had her prosecco whilst doing so (lap of luxury eh?) and I got showered and changed into some nice trousers and shirt. The Love had her gorgeous gold dress on and looked beautiful, I was a happy man.

We headed downstairs and had a really nice table with some gorgeous decor: I went for the Chatsworth Gold ale from the Peak Ales this time around and that was just as nice a beer too, more golden with some honey from the Chatsworth Estate no less. It was then just deciding what to have, and we'd noticed the specials board earlier. The Love went for the pulled beef hash from the main menu and that was really nice: lots of pulled beef, potatoes and even a poached egg on top, and it looked good.

Nothing though could prepare me for just how nice my main meal was - a steak and ale pie, and literally rammed full of pulled steak at that. It also was part of a bigger pie, but it was pastry top and bottom and was clearly a square from a massive cooked pie. The soaking in ale was just right, the gravy to go with it was ace, just absolutely lovely, and very filling too. This is way up there in my favourite pies of all time, and I'm putting it straight in at number two behind the gorgeous pie at the Lifeboat Inn in St Ives, so there you go. The woman who served us when I asked said "I hate it when you get dishes with pastry lids that pass themselves off as pies" so I knew I was in safe territory, proper ale, proper pie, happy bunny.

I even had some nice ice cream for dessert, and we both then had a drink at the table and relaxed and chatted. I went for the Bakewell Best to complete all three Peak Ales that were on tap there, and we just were really nice and relaxed together. We paid the bill for the meal and drinks and headed back to the room where we snuggled up in bed with the telly on, and it was just nice for us both to be so relaxed and happy, and The Love had had a really nice day which was the most important thing of all to me. Tune of the day is Paul Weller's cover version of the Beatles' "Birthday", primarly cos The Love likes Paul, and also cos it's a rather good version and he rocks it out - like you should.

Wednesday 2nd April - Shine Your Shoes and Head for the Crucible

I finally did what I should have done a while ago and sorted out the first of hopefully a few sessions of snooker that I will be seeing at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, for the World Snooker Championship. This will therefore be the seventh year on the bounce that I've headed to the home of snooker (trust me, it really is!) and I also booked the trains for that day as well. Of course, one thing worth noting - I booked the trains via East Midlands Trains as you get £1 off each of their journeys each way online. All well and good, but why then charge £1 postage? Defeats the object. But not if you use a fast ticket machine - no fee then, so did that and picked up the tickets from Piccadilly station on the way home. Haha!

I do know that generally nearer the time and once it's known who is playing when you do get some tickets returned, so I'm keeping an eye on the official website to see what happens. It's notable that this year some of the tickets are being resold at vastly inflated (ie: rip off) prices via Viagogo. For me it's a bad move from World Snooker: the Crucible box office staff are lovely, and their resale scheme is pretty fair: if you have to offer it for resale, they'll sell it at face value, and if sold, you get money back minus booking fee. As I said, very fair indeed, and if everything operated that nicely, the world would be a happier place.

I think for me that there's something special about the Crucible - not just the snooker association, although from seeing it at a young age the Worlds are synonymous with the place, but I've seen theatre in there too, and in the round it really does evoke a rather special atmosphere. I remember going to see some Shakespeare there back in 2000, and after getting over "where's the snooker table?" it really did feel a most intimate place and really good to see proper theatre in. So there you go.

Of course tune of the day for that very reason simply has to be what the BBC should reinstate properly in its original form as the proper snooker theme: "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band. No rubbish remixes or anything like that but simply the proper theme tune with the guitars and everything, as it should be. Granted it does get played during intervals on the red button and all that, but it'd just be nice to actually have it with Hazel Irvine cutting in with "Welcome to the Crucible.." in the style of the late great David Vine. Here's hoping.

At least the week is short and I've got a couple of days off to look forward to, so that'll be rather nice. Not least because it's The Love In My Heart's birthday and so will be doing what I can to make it a rather special time for her, as I should do really. I think for me that she really has inspired me a lot over the last almost six years now, and it's been the one major change in my life that I've really been ever so thankful for. I can't wait for us to head off to somewhere lovely..

Tuesday 1st April - Sewing April Fools

I made the most of today and really got on top of numerous tasks that I'd been set to do over the course of the day. I think too that often it's easier to stop, think about what you need to do and then execute it the right way to make everyone happy. Mind you, I had to attend to an issue with regards to one of the printers we've got on test at the moment: and it seemed that the ink had smeared all over the main duplex and feed rollers. I cleaned that up and the printer was then able to work without errors - hurrah to that, I thought to myself.

I also was intrigued to ask the question of Sky Broadband that when The Love In My Heart and I was migrated over from O2 Broadband, why did she receive an offer and offer code for a free NowTV box and I didn't. Of course, granted that the box to buy is a mere £10 which is a bit of a bargain, but nonetheless if you can get it for free, you'd try and do so wouldn't you? Anyway, they replied and effectively were only targeting certain people, and I wasn't one of them. Maybe it's because they can see that I can access BBC iPlayer already via my PC, my Freeview HD box and if need be my Blu-Ray player which also has it. And indeed any new TV I look at in the future might also have those, but still.. you don't ask, you don't get!

The Love In My Heart came over later and we had some very nice chicken with bacon and cheese, together with some dauphinoise potatoes for tea. I also had a very nice Boondoggle ale as well to go with the tea: well why not I thought to myself. The Love had also worked late like me so it was good therefore that we were able to chat about our days and relax a bit before eating, and then onwards with The Great Sewing Bee on BBC2 aka my weekly fix of the rather lovely Claudia Winkleman (I do like the programme too, but hey, it's Claudia!!)

It was down to the final four and both The Love and I were hoping that Tamara would muck it up and exit the competition, and it looked like that on the first challenge. However, she improved massively whilst Lynda got herself into a right tizzy, not least when she was doing the final challenge and hadn't brought enough material with her to do the dress justice. That effectively was her downfall: she wasn't that accurate and it showed in what she had made with the last two challenges - as much as I wanted her to win, it was also the right decision for her to leave, leaving Chinelo, Heather and Tamara. Chinelo for the win I reckon!

We also saw on 4Seven one of the episodes of a programme to do with mass hoarding and how people were seeking help for it. One case rang very true in a number of ways: a man who had found solace in music and ended up with a sizeable collection. However, collecting everything else at the same time meant a very cluttered house and literally a narrow passageway through everywhere. Help was at hand, and the breakthrough moment was clearing enough space to get to his separates system and play Pink Floyd's seminal The Dark Side of the Moon, and on the original Harvest label too (record buffs like me notice these things!) - so a track from there, namely "Money" has to be tune of the day really.

Once that was on the way, you could see that also seeing someone else with a large record collection but having lots of nice racks for them and a very tidy organised house was inspiring, and eventually post-clutter seeing how the living room was really made a difference: whilst it might not be to everyone's taste, being able to have the music accessible and playable meant a much nicer feeling to be sat in there with some rock in the background, and all the better for it too it has to be said.