Dear Diary... August 2003

Tuesday 26th August - If cloud ten exists, then I'm on it

Well, all of a sudden things have become even happy than usual in my life. First off, Manchester City won at Blackburn last night, 3-2, in a really exciting game. Sod's law I had to miss it as I was making my way back from London wasn't it - especially as it meant that City are now top of the Premiership. Yes, top. I know that it's partly because we played our third game early and all that, and that most likely Arsenal or Man U will retain top spot come Wednesday night, but do I care about that? No. I care about a forty yard free kick screamer from Michael Tarnat, a determined run and goal from Joey Barton and a wondergoal from such a narrow angle by Nicolas Anelka that gave us the win and made us top dogs. Words can hardly describe how mental I went when I got home on and thankully Sky Sports News showed the goals not long after I got back, so even more reason for me to go totally mental.

And second, I got a letter in the internal post marked private and confidential, and I knew what it was. I was so nervous as I opened the envelope, but when I opened it, the nervousness turned to joy. I had been successful in my upgrade application, which means that with effect from next week I am going to be Information Systems Officer. Yaay! Of course, it does mean a pay increase as well, but it's nice to be appreciated for what you do, and also that you know that if you do work hard enough, you can progress along nicely. I must admit I was quite surprised as I wasn't sure how I did in the interview and all that, but I guess something went right in there. The real work starts here though, so now I have to really push on and do lots of work with the student standard build. Which hit another hitch as we discovered that one of the programs on the standard build has an associated file that has a security certificate - that expired last Friday. Ouch!

Anyway, how was London? Not too bad, and travelling first class was rather good. I got on the 0847 from Piccadilly to London St Pancras, discovered that First Class coach J was right at the end of the platform (this did mean I would be at the front when the train got there) and sat down in a nice big comfy seat that I could also adjust to my liking. Not just that, but they gave me a little snack breakfast free which had a savoury Danish pastry with cheese and tomatoes on, and an apricot muesli yoghurt. Add to the fact all people get free tea and coffee on Midland Mainline, and that was good. In London itself I wanted to spend a few hours in the British Museum - not least to see the London 1753 exhibit. It was fascinating seeing all the old images, and the old map of London was something else. Not much along Tottenham Court Road, in fact, countryside! So by that reckoning, Euston et al would be in the middle of nowhere. There was also a lot of other nice things I saw again, including the Swedish 8 daler coin (more like a whacking great big slab of copper!) in the money section, and the Egyptian tombs and the mummified cats. It was pretty hammered though and so off to Oxford Street to snag some lunch at Deep Pan Pizza Co's all you can eat (which unlike Pizza Hut, they do on a Bank Holiday, and all day). Once done, took a good look around the shops, and searched for pinball machines in the Trocadero. To my delight there was four, but there was a queue to play them. Damn! Ah well, at least I know somewhere has them at any rate.

Got back on the train at 1900, a bit delayed leaving as it had been heavily delayed coming in (cue staff madly cleaning up quickly so as not to delay the departure so much). It was nice to lie back and relax in my seat, and virtually on time I was back in Manchester at just after 10-20pm. But the day didn't end there though. I got on the 192 bus back home, and near the Apollo, on came this rather drunk man. He was lechering a bit at some of the women on the bus who took exception (and rightly so), and when he was due to get off, he stumbled down the bus, and hurtled forward, fell over sharply, and into the stairs. Thankfully he was okay and regained consciousness, but an ambulance had to take him away to check him out. Part of me though also unsympathetically thinks that if he's going to be that paraletic he's falling over as the bus was slowly decelerating, then clearly either the pub that served him the beer didn't think sensibly, nor did he know when to stop. One of the passengers told me it was about the third time he'd seen this man completely drunk, so make up your own minds - I thought the latter. It all happens around here, you know..

Sunday 24th August - What a difference a week makes

Well, last week there I was celebrating a City win, and this week, a City draw. Well, a bloody unlikely draw actually but thanks to David Sommeil, we scrambled a 1-1 draw at home to Portsmouth. However what it does mean is that we're 4th in the league after two games, with only Man U and Chelsea having won both their opening two. Due to the way the fixtures are planned out, either ourselves or Blackburn have a chance to go top when we play each other tomorrow night - the game was brought forward due to our UEFA Cup qualifying involvement. Might be interesting to keep an ear on what happens..

.. an ear? Well, normally I'd have gone to that one, particularly as the tickets are on open sale, but I already planned a day out to London before the satanic fixture planners did their thing - and at a bargain price as well! You see, knowing months in advance about the planned train works (a bit of research means that unlike the overhyped media, I can relax about my transport because I made the sensible decision weeks ago to take the train on an alternative line that is open) meant that the best way to get to London was via Midland Mainline's service from Piccadilly to St Pancras. Even better, when I booked the ticket, they had some sort of promotion on for cheap summer returns. The standard class ones were sold out for £10 (no wonder!) but then I noted that first class return would be just £20! That's actually £2 less than I pay standard class with Virgin when I book 14 days plus in advance! So I thought "why the hell not" and booked first class for a change. Besides, it's cheaper than I normally pay anyway, and for about the only time ever I'll be able to lord it above everyone, hehe. I probably am going to check out the British Museum tomorrow, there's a few good new interesting exhibits I want to check out, along of course with the many record shops (provided my wallet can take it, which it probably can't) so it should be pretty good. Better than staying in, anyway.

I'm probably about the only person in the country who doesn't give a damn about Pop Idol either. I've avoided it every Saturday since it came on, and then avoided the ten million repeats on ITV2 thereafter. I'm glad in a way, because to be quite frank, reality TV has reached oversaturation point, it's almost becoming true to the Andy Warhol gospel that in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. Well, thanks but no thanks. With that and Shame Academy on the other side, it's a real case of there not being enough invention in television any more. Personally, I can't wait till BBC show Superstars soon, a return of one of the sporting shows, not least cos all the sports people work hard to get where they are, and in this, have to work even harder to win. People who succeed in sport and do well are much more heroes to me than some wannabe seventeen year old who can't sing and gets their five minutes talking to Ant and Dec post-audition about how it went. Boring!

Thankfully boring can't be a term assigned to the Young Ones Series 2. Play did the business and delivered me the DVD on time (in fact the Saturday before release, cool) and I've been watching an episode a day all week. It hasn't lost any of its humour nor its wit in the almost twenty years since the second series was first shown, and there's so many classic bits you could do a web page on its own devoted to them. I won't bore you with them, all I can say is order it or buy it now, and realise just what you might have missed out on as a kid if your parents didn't allow you to watch the programme (as a lot of them didn't back then due to the odd swear word). Superb stuff, it really is.

Sunday 17th August - Are you ready? Oh yes we are..

As the Sky Sports adverts song goes "are you ready?" implying readiness for the new Premiership season, and were City ready? Oh yes, I had the radio on and also Sky Sports News on to keep in touch with the games while flicking to Channel 4 now and then to see how England were doing in the cricket. And when City scored each of their three goals as they cruised to a 3-0 win over Charlton Athletic, with Nicolas Anelka doing most of the damage, scoring one and setting up the other two for Antoine Sibierski and Jihai Sun. Nice one Nico! Nice also to get an away win so early in the season, must be a good boost for the team's confidence I reckon. Roll on next Saturday when we play Portsmouth at home, I can't wait to see if we can turn them over in our first league game in the City of Manchester Stadium.

I took life at an easy pace over the weekend and went up to New Mills on Saturday for a nice walk in the fresh air as well as take in the surroundings - it's a little town eight miles south of Stockport on the way to Buxton and is home of many an old cotton mill and some gorgeous landscape, punctuated by the rivers, bridges and railway tunnels etc. I thought one nice idea would be to do the Torrs Millennium Walkway walk - and that's really good, and carry on on the upriver trail. So once I arrived on the 358 from Stockport, I set to my task. I located the signposting to the walkway, and you go downhill a lot, and under the bridge that now carries the main traffic into the town. Then you carry on walking around the corner and you see the old disused mill (now in a bad state and should be pulled down now) as well as the bridge that carries the walkway. Apparently the bridge filled a missing link in some 200 mile country walking path called the Midshires Way, so there you go. I carried on upriver for a mile or so along the signposted paths of the Goyt Way, taking in the rivr Goyt on my left and keeping my eyes out for some of the wild horses in one of the fields above river. They looked okay but I didn't want to get too close in case they turned wild. After about a mile or two going upstream, I headed on the path away from the river and realised I was going back the way I'd come on the bus. Once I hit the road I knew I'd seen it before, so headed back into New Mills centre and took a look around the Heritage Centre to take in some of the history, and that was intriguing, not least the display that showed how they used massive copper reels with etchings done to print on cotton, nice little touch was the audio console so you could hear someone talk about how it was done. Neat. Also outside the Heritage Centre was a view of the Millennium Walkway far down below that really needed me to take a pic with a camera (must remember to do that one day) as it's some view!

Thursday 14th August - A Day of Two Halves

9-15am: I am awaiting my interview for my position upgrade from Information Systems Assistant to Information Systems Officer. The interview itself was pretty nerve-wracking, as I was up before a panel of four in a meeting room, and that was pretty daunting. Yes, I was nervous and I think it showed during the interview itself and to be honest I'm not entirely sure how I did. I usually fear the worst in these situations anyway as a) I'm crap at interviews and b) if you do that and you don't get anywhere, you've not raised your hopes for nothing. However, as I said, it's a day of two halves..

9-15pm: I'm in the City of Manchester Stadium and City are about to score. Words cannot fail me how happy seeing City do the business makes me feel. As this was my first visit to the stadium since the Commonwealth Games in 2002, I was intrigued to see how the stadium took shape inside after the re-development, which included excavation six metres down to form the pitch level and the bottom tier of the stand. And of course, as it's City's first competitive game of the season after beating Barcelona 2-1 in a friendly, it was a case of seeing how things would shape up.

I got into town expecting to wait ages for a 216, X36 or X37 to take me to the ground. But no! Thankfully Stagecoach realise that people do wish to use public transport to get there, so they laid on lots of football shuttle buses for not much money. I got there within ten minutes maximum which was impressive considering the traffic on its way to the ground and the car parking spaces etc. And getting off the 216, wow, what a view! The ground just takes up an awesome shape and presence and everything seems really well. Had a wander outside and thought I'd get a burger or something, then I saw the rip off prices by the caterers outside the ground and thought that that sucked. My judgement in waiting was soon to be a wise one, believe me.

I got to the turnstile and it was my first test of the swipe card system with the card ticket I had. I swept it against the sensor, and the turnstile moved and let me in. And they're nice and wide too so if you're a bit on the large side, like some fellow fans who sat near me were, then you wouldn't have any hassle. Got in, scoped out the food stall, and elected for a steak and kidney pie and Diet Coke deal for £3. Still not too cheap, but reasonable enough if you get the two together, so a good idea. You could also get a similar deal if you got a burger and a drink - well worth noting for next time. I walked into the entrance to locate the seat - and wow! How awesome does the stadium look? It just takes on another dimension as all around are the stands, decked in blue seating and lots of City fans in sky blue shirts. The pitch looked immaculate as both sides were warming up and everyone seemed to just be taking it all in - for many it was their first visit as the Barcelona friendly was for season ticket and Citycard holders only. I was one of 34,103 fans tonight roaring the team home. A bit sad it wasn't full, but this was probably down to City's ticket office insisting that open sale tickets went on sale to personal callers only. A bit daft, if you ask me.

Anyway, the game kicked off and soon I realised that I was in the singing section in the South Stand - YES! I do like to chant the songs during the game and being with all the main singers (so it seemed) was just so awesome. Soon enough City took the lead through Trevor Sinclair (I got s superb view of the goal, he's going to be class for us, I just sense it) and Shaun Wright-Phillips, despite his small frame, was running the show, his runs penetrating the TNS defence time and time again and if they didn't have ten men behind the ball at all times, I'm sure we'd have scored more the first half. However, we just needed a second goal to kill it off, and with it being only 1-0 at half time I was just thinking that the impetus needed to be with us second half.

And wasn't it just? First off, Shaun Wright-Phillips scores an absolute blinder as he blasts it from about twenty five yards. Okay, the TNS keeper should have stopped it, but we weren't complaining, excellent stuff. For the third, Robbie Fowler chipped in a cross which fooled the keeper and Jihai Sun was there to get the tap-in. By this time we in the South Stand were really up for it. We started chanting to our keeper David Seaman "Seaman, Seaman, what's the score?" and he wouldn't do the hand gestures for the score like most keepers do. So we started chanting "Seaman, cut your hair, Seaman, Seaman, cut your hair!" and that soon got him to do the score for us. He even applauded us when we went full blast info Blue Moon as well, which was good to see. We did wind TNS up a bit as their fans were quiet, singing "We only want one song" to them, and they thankfully responded. On came Paulo Wanchope and he was soon mixing it in the box and it led to David Sommeil scoring number four. And no City game as of late could be complete without a goal from Nicolas Anelka, and he duly obliged with a few minutes to go. 5-0, marvellous. Barring a total disaster in the second leg that's us in the first round proper of the UEFA Cup now. Bring it on!

If you ever get the chance to go to the City of Manchester Stadium, whether you be a City fan or away supporter, you must go. The stadium is superb, the atmosphere just like it was at Maine Road (thankfully) and the fans in full swing makes for a cauldron of noise (the bowl design of the stadium helps a lot). Also, one last point: if you're disabled, the access is nothing short of superb. For example, I was in the bottom tier but due to the stadium design, the entrance to this tier is ground level, so easy for the wheelchair. And there's reserved spaces with an excellent view for those users, with lots of space to manouvre, and a space if your helper needs one. In fact, all around the stadium access is good, the upper tiers have large round circular ramps to get up to them and are at a low degree, and those who used them at the Commonwealth Games to get to their spaces had nothing but praise. I'm so glad it's ours and I'm so proud to be blue!

Monday 11th August - If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (especially mine)

Well, with the weather being amazingly nice, I did take a few days off work to enjoy the most of the time when I could just relax and rest a fair bit. And that I definitely did. A friend of mine was over in England from Copenhagen for a few days (hi Jan!) and so it gave us a chance to do stuff while he was over here. This included a nice trip up to Ulverston to see me good old mate Dan, whom I'd not seen for a fair bit. The three of us (along with Jan's friend Neil, whom I also know and got on with well) went up to the Kirkstone Pass Inn, the second highest pub in the country. The views were absolutely spectacular with hills all around and Lake Windermere deep down below that you could just make it out in the gaps between the hills. The food in the Kirkstone Pass Inn is lovely too: if you ever go up there, have the steak and kidney pie, you won't regret it a bit (well, unless you are vegetarian, of course). As is the beer, with some nice proper ale flowing rather well. After this, we headed into Bowness-on-Windermere, and as if the hot weather wasn't enough (it was touching 31-32 degrees!) the battle to try and find a parking space for Dan's car was something else. Thankfully he got one in the end and we walked into the centre, and there was a game of crazy golf on the cards, well I couldn't resist. Once again I proved my crazy golf prowess was intact, whupping them (understatement) by 19 shots. I took 60, which wasn't my best I admit, but I got a fair few 2s, no holes in one though. Dan did get his own back later as him and Neil kicked mine and Jan's butt at snooker, mind you I'd not played on a full size table for absolutely ages (yeah yeah, rubbish excuse) but got back into the swing of things eventually. The day went by far too quickly although we could have done with the train being a bit quicker as it was delayed ages, arriving at Manchester an hour late. Although due to the slowing down of trains due to the hot tracks, I could appreciate a fair bit was down to that.

At least it wasn't as hot as Saturday which was just intense heat. I did a bit of shopping in town and decided quickly that without shade in some parts of the centre, it was really going to kill me with the intensity of the heat, so I headed home and whacked the ceiling fan on. Even with it on, it still was horrendously bad. And as for cooking anything, anything warm was a nightmare as my oven gives off lots of heat and if your house is already warm, you can just imagine the fun and games you can have (not). I think I got off lightly though, because some parts of the country topped 100 degrees farenheit (around 38 degrees centigrade) yesterday, and that was totally horrendous, I can imagine. Some people, however, are not smart at all. A bit of heat and out they come bare skinned with no top on, and even worse, no sun cream on. Hmmm, I wondered, someone will be screaming in agony from the fact they'll end up with lots of sunburn eventually. It always makes me wonder just how many warnings you have to give to people to ensure that they do adequately ensure that they're not going to contract skin cancer eventually.

Anyway, as you can imagine, these are not the conditions to be shifting equipment around, but that's what we've had to do at work. It's that time when we get busy with rolling out new PCs and as you can imagine, wheeling three to four PCs and monitors back and forth, even on a trolley, is fairly intense work. Add to the fact one of the buildings have no lifts so you have to carry them up a flight of stairs (total nightmare) and you can imagine the hot and sweaty little me forming in that heat, slight understatement there methinks. On the whole it's going well though, not least due to the fact that we did a lot of preparatory work in advance to ensure that the staff would be generally happy with the new equipment. Aren't we nice, eh?

I was a bit gutted yesterday though as I had planned that if I could get a ticket, I'd be off to see Manchester City v Barcelona. However, they limited the capacity to 36000 for licencing reasons or something, and only went on sale to Citycard holders or season ticket holders. Bah. I had to make do with the goals on Sky Sports News, but we won 2-1, and that's the main thing isn't it? Great finishes from both Anelka and Sinclair, and it was nice that Shaun Goater could come along and so we could say goodbye to him as he starts his new career at Reading (thanks must go to the Reading manager Alan Pardew for allowing him to go up there). Feed The Goat, and he will score, Reading fans. You need to be patient...

Talking of City, the ticket office at the new stadium really needs to get their act together fast. The tickets for TNS went on open sale on Friday, and only to personal callers, so off I went to the ticket office at the new stadium. The queue at 4-30pm was pretty big, and as they were going to stop serving at 5pm, I was a bit worried. Not least thanks to some jobsworth blokey who kept saying "only those up to this point will definitely be served. Anything after this, you can wait if you want, but you might have to come back tomorrow". Cue anxious and angry City fans (most of whom who hadn't got their stuff delivered for the Barca game) getting annoyed. Not just that, but they had some big burly bloke at the front of the queue who clearly needed a lesson in charming people rather than just offending them with shouts of "I'd come back tomorrow if I were you" to the queue. I waited, as realistically unless I made a mad dash to the stadium Saturday morning, I wasn't going to be able to get a ticket for the game. Add to this the fact that not all the windows of the ticket office were opened and you could understand the frustration brewing. At 4-50pm, I got served. Yes! I thought. Unfortunately, the person who served me clearly was not doing their job. I don't know if she was just doing it as a holiday job, but talk about unprofessional attitude - no eye contact, no asking me where I'd like to sit for the game, no politeness (the odd "please" and "thank you" goes a long way, believe me), she was more interested in calling her mates on her mobile, and shouting across to others in the ticket office. I wondered where all the old ticket office staff from Maine Road had gone (most of whom were pretty friendly whenever I bought a ticket I should note) but the important thing was - I got a ticket! I can't wait till Thursday now as it's the first competitive game in the new stadium, and I am going. It might be the only time I get to go for a bit, so I may as well make the most of it.

I also recently won a competition on the Mastertronic.net website, correctly identifying thirty screenshots of old games. I now therefore have a stack full of three packed games (well, six of those) and some individual games that I had a voucher for at the UK Retro online games shop. Most of them in the three packs I have, but the final three pack was one I got specially - as I had one of my old Plus/4 favourites, Mr. Puniverse on it. Sure, it's just another platform game, but it is good fun and that's what matters. While on the Plus/4, I also managed for the first time in years to complete the first level of this really excellent puzzle game called Oblido - wow, that was class. I so still love that one. My sister never saw me clock a level ever, and she loved the game, so I just wished she was there to see it (and my reaction too! I still haven't lost the old gaming touch then). Talking of puzzle games, while your time away with this one if you have broadband: if you've ever played the classic Chu Chu Rocket on the Sega Dreamcast, you'll enjoy it. If you didn't, try it anyway.