Dear Diary... August 2004

Tuesday 31st August - They think it's all over - it is now!

And on two fronts: First off, the Olympics finished, and with a flourish for the British as well, with Kelly Holmes completing a double by winning the 1500 metres in some style (and it looked easier than the 800, too) and then the British sprinters really pulling off a great shock, pipping the Americans in the 4x100 metre relay. Seems like some of the squad didn't like the slagging off they got from the BBC commentator and American sprint legend Michael Johnson, but they all pulled together as a team and really believed they could so something. Silver, I thought, would be good, but to beat the Americans really was special, especially as they've dominated that event in all major championships. What was the key was that unlike in the semi finals, the British got the baton changes spot on, meaning fluid, smooth running and also continuity. People might say "oh yeah but they only won cos the Americans mucked up their second baton change", but that's not the British team's fault. It was probably the pressure we put them under, and it made them crack. I was especially pleased for Darren Campbell, who fought off a mild hamstring tear to still be part of the squad and get some form of compensation for having their 4x100 metre World Championship silver medals taken off them because of Dwain Chambers' drug taking. Michael Johnson, can you hear me? Your boys took a hell of a beating! We are the best in the world (etc)

And all over as I write is the long drawn out saga that was the transfer of Wayne Rooney from Everton to Manchester United. In truth, it was only a matter of time during the summer, with Manchester United keeping their cards very close to their chest and saying that they weren't making a move. Maybe Newcastle's £20m plus bid forced them into action? In any case, the whole thing from the player's point of view was handled pretty poorly, no doubt by some clear steering off the rails from his agent, Paul Stretford (ironic name considering one of Man U's stands is known as the Stretford End, don't you think?) who since his appointment as Rooney's agent has definitely made an impact - and as far as an Everton fan is concerned, the wrong way. At Goodison, David Moyes, the Everton manager, was doing the right thing by carefully nurturing Rooney, not playing him every game, not burning him out, and getting a lot out of him - the same thing Alex Ferguson at United did with David Beckham - the rest is history. His performances at Euro 2004 though catapulted his status and it's possible that it was exploited by Stretford for maximum game. Those on the know in Merseyside knew months ago that he'd visited brothels a fair while back, yet the story only surfaced a week before the transfer. Deliberate ploy? Very likely. And the same agent who most likely advised Rooney to take a column writing for The Sun newspaper, a paper who is divinely hated by all of Merseyside for their appallingly distasteful coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy. It all adds up somewhere.

There's also the question of Rooney's part in the terms of loyalty to the club who gave him the opportunity in the first place to flourish. Does the days of agents and big money transfers mean that loyalty is all but gone? Looks like it, I'm afraid. I am happy and relieved that thankfully Shaun Wright-Phillips stayed at Manchester City and signed a new contract, but unlike Rooney, a big difference or three: he wanted to stay and never thought of leaving, the agents who advise him actually give a toss, and he knows how respected he has been by the fans: and he gave the same back. When SWP scored for England I could proudly say "he's one of us, he's a City man through and through" and the way the Rooney transfer went through it just seemed that by handing in a transfer request he played the wrong way. If he didn't want to leave and then United signed him anyway, he'd have been seen as the sacrificial lamb for Everton's money problems and had been treated sympathetically accordingly, but the way the request was handed in left a sore taste in the Everton mouth, hence the chanting against him on Saturday. He's young, he's naive and he has a lot to learn. And no doubt being at United might make him a better player, it'll also make him a more hated one in Merseyside. No doubt the Everton-Man U game at Goodison's going to be a bit tasty.

Thursday 26th August - Gold!

Well, surprisingly enough, Great Britain managed to win a few gold medals at the Olympics thus far. Even if some of them have been in sports such as sailing (where we've done very well) it's good to see that so far we've managed seven of them, and although I can't see us matching the 2000 Sydney total of eleven golds, nonetheless it's not been that bad. But for sheer excitement, passion and determination, three of those medals (two gold, one bronze) stand out in my mind for being examples of how to give 110% and really show that you want it more than anything else.

Starting with Saturday, and that epic coxless fours rowing final. Epic because both Britain and Canada put on a tremendous effort of power and skill to get down the 2k route with almost military-like efficiency, and in the end roughly about 3-4cm only decided the winner, a mere 0.08 of a second. Britain just held it, but full marks to the Canadians for being sporting enough to find the British quartet once they'd got back on terra firma and congratulate them. That takes sportsmanship to do so and they certainly went up in a lot of people's estimation after that, and rightly so. It was a well-earned victory for the British team, and seeing Matthew Pinsent land his fourth gold in four successive games was a superb moment of triumph. One of the other oarsmen, Ed Coode, missed out on a bronze in the double sculls by such a narrow margin back in 2000 and so you can imagine getting the gold this time was especially sweet.

Also on the Saturday, the men's 1500 metre swimming final. We haven't done so well at the swimming, but David Davies was a shining example of how to give your all. He went out and pushed the long standing world champion and record holder Grant Hackett to the wire, as did an American in second. At the end, Davies was still within a body length of Hackett, had smashed his own British record by twelve seconds and the European record by five, and became the fourth fastest man ever at that distance. For him to achieve all that alone, and give that 110% made the bronze a deserved medal. His post-race interview put most of our disappointing swimmers to shame (who had given some utterly pathetic excuses to be honest) by saying that basically he wanted to carry on till he dropped dead, be fished out of the pool by his coach and then go again. That's the sort of attitude I want to see - giving it all and really wanting it.

And that attitude of really wanting it was exemplified on Monday by a superb effort from Kelly Holmes in the women's 800m athletics. It's not even her strongest event (the 1500m is) but nonetheless she got the race tactically spot on. They went too fast, and she held back near the back, and gradually her even pace was spot on, and down the finishing straight, she got past Maria Mutola and held off the fast finishes of Benhassie and Ceplak to claim the gold. You could tell the look of "You're not going to take it off me - I'm going to win!" and she got it absolutely perfect. People cynically were saying "oh yeah but another five metres and she'd have been caught". So? It's 800m. She ran the pace for exactly that distance and got it totally right on the night. Nice as well to see Steve Cram in the commentary box really cheer her on too - okay so that might seem a bit biased but when you consider how good he was and how much he knows what the atmosphere and the pressure is, only fair he gets behind her. And she delivered superbly. The British press should focus more on her than Paula Radcliffe, and that's all I'll say about Paula at the moment until the weekend..

Needless to say of course I've been watching it on the telly quite a bit, and with the interactive features it's also meant that I've really managed to see lots of different sports and see how they do. Must admit also that it's been especially good to watch stuff like the beach volleyball, the equestrian events, and others that maybe don't always get the coverage on TV, so broadening the horizons a bit. And that has to be good if nothing else.

Ah well, didn't make it to the final twelve for the Poem for Manchester thing. Having looked at the ones that did make it, it's actually pretty hard to select a winner, but also pretty easy to work out that the one I did just didn't hit the spot in the same way theirs probably did with the judging panel and, to be brutally honest, just wasn't good enough. However, I might actually write a couple about the city for next month's lot of poems anyway, might be a nice idea to get different angles and viewpoints - and also not to be restricted by forty words, which was hard work I can tell you!

Thursday 19th August - Shaunie Wright Wright Wright, Shaunie Wright Wright Wright! (etc)

Well, I have to say that last night made me a very proud man indeed. No, not because I'd beaten my best efforts at rowing (although I did do 1k in under eight minutes, and that did please me no end) but it finally happened. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Manchester City's best player of last season and one of my current favourites, finally made his England debut. And not before time. He came off the bench against Ukraine in the 53rd minute, and some nineteen minutes later he went on one of his mazy runs down the right (after intercepting a pass in his own half), cut loose and smashed home a shot to the bottom corner from eighteen yards out. Superb strike (and if John Motson, the voice of football, says so, then it is. Period.) Even Alan Hansen was praising him in the studio. What with that and the return to form of Beckham (just hope he can do that in the qualifiers though and not just a friendly) it was quite positive and a professional 3-0 win. Okay, so Ukraine didn't play so well once we'd scored, but you can only beat what's there and the job was done well. I can't even remember the last time a Manchester City player scored for England, but I do know it was a long time ago. Possibly Trevor Francis in the 1981-82 season when he played for us? But it made me so happy.

It also proves what a lot of football fans (not just us City fans) were saying before Euro 2004: Shaun should have gone. Beckham really seemed to enjoy playing central midfield a lot more, and I think at least now it gives him an option of staying there and putting Shaun on the right, and let him terrorise defenders with his pace and ability. You could even see the crowd were lifted when he came on. But certainly after a largely disappointing Olympics so far (thank heavens we're good at sailing eh?) I'm sure that his performance picked me up no end.

That said, I have been watching the Olympics of course. For a lot of people, it's only when the athletics starts that the Olympics really kick in. But I'm sure that the three silvers and four bronzes so far can be added to (although we have won sailing gold, we officially get that on Saturday) - not least as Matthew Pinsent is leading the coxless fours. He could win his fourth gold in four games, and maybe even match Sir Steve Redgrave? That would be good. Definitely that represents a good chance, but I don't know about the marathon. The weather could be iffy, and although on paper Paula Radcliffe is the fastest, I just do not know whether she'll be able to go as fast in the searing heat. We shall see. But at least I guess we have more people taking part in different events and at least giving it their all. The swimmers have largely been disappointing and our only bronze medallist at least beat his British record to get it - now that's how you do it - do your best at all costs. Just hope someone can add to the medals and give everyone a lift somewhere.

Been on a course all week - upgrading to Netware 6.5 and looking at all the many new features in it. Some of them sound really interesting but you can imagine how much planning time and also how much effort they'd take up - and that's assuming they would work too. It is not bad where you get sent for training though - right in the centre of Manchester, they provide free lunch and take you out on a Friday too. So at least that'll be good and I've not had to make up my lunch like I normally do. Most excellent eh? It also gave me the chance to take back a DVD I'd bought at the weekend - the Fun Lovin Criminals' "Love Ya Back" DVD of all their videos and stuff. Unfortunately the disc I'd got seemed to have a manufacturing fault which meant the videos to Scooby Snacks etc jumped like mad and froze the disc. The very nice people at Fopp changed it for me without any hassle, and the replacement's fine and dandy. Always nice when you feel you're being looked after.

Monday 16th August - Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very Very Frightening

Indeed. Luckily I was already home by the time the latest round of lightning and thunder storms decided to hit Manchester today. A combination of the heat but also some really bad humidity seems to have been partly to blame, but at least it isn't parts of Florida at the moment which are really suffering with the extreme weather conditions. Shame America's politicans can't wake up and see this is down to their polluting of the Earth's atmosphere contributing to global warming etc, but I won't rant otherwise I could be here all day. In any case it does mean that you're not sure what to wear when going off out, whether to play safe with a coat/jacket or not. I didn't today but was lucky to be home before it really hit bad (and it did!)

Question of the week has to be why it seems that clothes shops never have the sizes you want in stock when you want them. I went up to Matalan in Stockport on Saturday to try and get myself a couple of pairs of black cormfort fit jeans, which do the job spot on if I can find comfort fit. Anyway, they had them, but not in my size. Any other size including 42 inch waist, not a problem. But the size for me? Nope. Not a chance. I checked with the staff but all they have in stock is on display, so that defeated the object somewhat. I hatched a plan and today I nipped up to the Matalan branch in Openshaw, and picked up exactly what I wanted. Four quid a pair as well, so I couldn't argue with that whatsoever. Some of their stuff is getting a little Primark-esque though in that it's brands you haven't heard of unless you go to that particular store. Still, job done - at last!

Well of course the footy season started in earnest, and if only Manchester City could have won! Still, nice goal from Robbie Fowler and Shaun Wright-Phillips was on fire (as usual). No wonder he's been called up to the England squad, which is well deserved. Shame Eriksson didn't have the foresight to take him to Euro 2004 - I'm sure he'd have done the job for us there somehow. You don't know how tempting it would be for me to make the trip to Newcastle Wednesday night, but as I'm on a course all this week it makes things a little difficult. Nonetheless though, I'm really chuffed for SWP. He has always been a player who's done the business, and when he gets the ball and runs at defenders you can hear the crowd being lifted and really getting behind him. Ian Wright watched from the stands with some pride on Saturday - nice to see he supports his son and really means it!

I did manage to get some time to get to Affleck's Palace and check out the Theatre of Magic pinball machine. And it still rocks as much as ever. The right flipper on the machine maybe isn't as powerful as it could be, but nonetheless it's very playable, all the missions are doable, and immense fun. Even managed to lock all three balls and go for the jackpot, but I didn't get it. Still, well worth the dosh even at 50p a game - a far cry when it was four games for a quid. I did manage the replay score though so did at least get a free go out of it, still haven't lost the knack of playing it and there's definitely a good addiction factor still there. I rock!

Now back to the Olympics coverage - the interactive stuff is most excellent..

Wednesday 11th August - Migration Hell

It might be the middle of the week, but it feels like one of the longest weeks on record. We're currently upgrading our administration server at work, and all the other servers so far we've upgraded to Netware 6.5 have worked flawlessly. But not this one. Every single time Netware Migration Wizard tried to back up the trustee rights (very important this step) the source server would abend and crash. Every time. Without fail. In the end we've decided to move the data from the old to the new one manually and then do the necessary maintenance to ensure that everything is up and running. It's a pain. But I'm sure we'll get there. It's just so annoying when we'd spent the best part of a day and a bit to get everything set up ready for migration. Ah well. One of those things.

But moving swiftly on, it was interesting for me to note the 40 years of Match of the Day programme tribute thingy on Sunday night. Although a bit like back slaps all round etc, there were plenty of great moments that defined its history which were shown, and certainly the MOTD "anorak" they had on could well be the new Statto if the Beeb want him on every Saturday night. He knew all the winners of the Goal of the Season, in order of year. Now that takes some doing. Surprised that Dennis Bergkamp of Arsenal only won it once though, there was one year where almost every month he got nominated. Every time the Lightning Seeds' "The Life of Riley" would come on, me and a friend'd be like: "Goal number 1, Dennis Bergkamp! Goal number 2, Dennis Bergkamp!" (etc). Considering none of us support Arsenal, I guess it was just a passing comment of the time that was...

And talking of the time that was, years ago there used to be an arcade in Manchester, and a pub in Salford Quays that I'd frequent often. Why? Simple. They both had my number #3 favourite pinball machine of all time, Theatre of Magic! If you've ever played it, you'll know why. It's addictive fun, and when during one mission the voice says "you must concentrate" you almost always lose the ball (well I used to). According to the folks at the Pinformer website, there's supposedly a Theatre of Magic machine in Affleck's Palace, and if that's so I must check it out. Absolutely must. I really love the multiball on that, it's mad but fun chaos. And of course the mystical air it has. Oh, in case you wondered, here's a quick top 5 pinball machines of mine:

1 - Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm not even a Trekkie yet this machine is so unbelievably good, lots of missions, excellent use of speech with the proper voices, and a great cabinet explosion noise when you hit the jackpot. Fulfilling.

2 - Addams Family - A great film tie-in, it really is. Lots of good missions, excellent use of Thing's hand in the machine itself, and a neat touch when you lose the ball - sometimes the flippers click in synch a la the show's theme tune at the end of ball bonus. Great fun.

3 - Theatre of Magic - You must concentrate.. noooooo! ;) Seriously, immense fun, plenty to do and a box that rotates around to reveal missions or to shoot a narrow gap. Oh, and really mystical at the same time.

4 - Terminator 2 - Bit old now this one, but the use of the gun to shoot various targets along with some excellent speech from Arnie himself really makes you feel part of the experience. Spent many a peseta in Tenerife once on this.

5 - Getaway - Drive a car, do lots of missions, and there's plenty of ramps and targets to hit. Lots of time spent whilst I waited outside the hairdressers (it was on the other side) and it rocked.

Sunday 8th August - Summer in the City

And not kidding either, the last few days have been very hot, but also the humidity level has been insanely high, making it very difficult conditions for yours truly. I don't mind the heat, as long as I take precautions and cover up I won't burn (non-exposure is crucial here) but when it's excess humidity and you feel really tired and drained, that's what takes it out of you. Luckily some shops have seen sense and realised for their employees that they need air conditioning, and it's such a relief to walk into a shop that has one. Only downside of course is that when you go back out again you feel the heat probably more so, but I suppose it's just one of those things I have to live with. As I was heading homeward from the city centre today, there's a clock and temperature gauge on one of the tower blocks that clearly said 31 degrees centigrade - and that's pretty warm considering it's 4pm!

My mission of sorts today was to do a bit of shopping for clothes and get myself a couple of pairs of jeans and maybe a new top. I managed to get a really nice burgundy shirt on the Saturday, and it was reduced by half price too, so that cheered me up. However, Sunday only reinstated the frustrations of clothes shopping if you're a bloke. I headed out to the Lowry Outlet Mall, as they have an M&S there with a few bargains. Well, correction: bargains if you're a woman. The stuff that was reduced in the men's section was either a) the wrong size for me or b) simply horrible and unwearable. Real shame that as last time I was in there, they did at least have a decent range of stuff. Went in a few other shops too, and all the men's reduced stuff was those really vile striped shirts that every man and his dog were wearing a couple of years back thinking they were hip and trendy. Still, I suppose at least now I've been there I won't have to venture out there for a while as I know what's in stock: it's just an occasional trip on the tram now and then just in case. You never know, sometimes.

As for the football season, it's here at last. Yaay! Well, the Community Shield was at least and a 3-1 Arsenal win was no more than they deserved on the day. However, an interesting statistic came up: for the last 7 years the winner of that hasn't won the Premiership title, I'm sure that Man U fans will take comfort from that in that it doesn't matter so much who wins the Shield. Still, both teams took the time to give some of their younger players a go and it was a good idea, as some of them really did look like they had a lot of potential. It also shows just why they've been the top two teams in England for so long (admittedly) as they're still bringing in youngsters who can do the job.

I watched also with interest today the top 50 Olympic moments as voted for by the British public. Predictably of course it featured a lot of British achievements above all else, but it was nice for a change to see the public nominate outstanding performances by other countries too, such as Jesse Owens' four golds for the USA at Berlin in 1936, Emil Zatopek's dominance of long distance running, and both Nadia Comaneci and Olga Korbut in the gymnastics, showing that although patriotic, we can be sporting and praise others who have done well. No prizes for the number one of course: Sir Steve Redgrave's five Olympic golds in five consecutive Games from 1984 to 2000. That's going to be hard to beat, and when you get fellow greats like Mark Spitz saying just how good Redgrave is, that's praise enough. If only this year we had the athletes to bring us the gold on the track and field: we'll be looking at sailing again I reckon!

Wednesday 4th August - The sun and the rain

Been a really nice week or so until yesterday, when in true Mancunian tradition, it chucked it down with rain. And just as I was about to leave the local Asda as well, but thankfully I stayed under their front entrance and then made a dash for the bus homeward when it just about stopped for a few minutes, as you do.

Anyway, had a few days off work, and timed it well. The weather was lovely, and I went to visit a friend for a while too, that was also a superb time. Not least because of the weather, and also it was great to catch up on lots of things, see lots of things, and also generally walk around a lot in searing heat and attempt (sort of!) to lose weight at the same time. Don't know if it worked, but I definitely felt really refreshed this morning after my bath if that says anything to you folks out there. And back on the rowing machine front, I'm steadily doing 10 minute runs every day, twice a day, and that's helping me out no end. If the weather also stays good, I'm definitely taking more long walks, especially down the cycle path that runs nearby and goes a fair distance in each direction, a good 3-4 miles each way which is perfect for a good power walk or something like that.

Been watching 55 Degrees North? That's been a most excellent series, and I think it has the right amount of tension, edge and gritty Northern reality to make it one of my favourite programmes of the year. Don Gilet is superb as the main character Dominic Cole, and surprisingly I've even found myself attracted to Dervla Kirwan as the feisty lawyer Claire. There's a bit of simmering passion under the surface between the two characters, and they both play it well and try to play it like the characters, cool, calm, and unflappable. This added to some other good performances from a supporting cast makes it worthwhile, and it definitely doesn't feel like it is an hour of my time watching it. The last of the series is on next Tuesday at 9pm so look out for that and be sure to watch it.

At work too, times are busy. Not least as it's time to upgrade all the servers to the latest version of Netware, and on top of that they're all big ugly hulking rack mount beasties. They're so heavy, but at least if they're all in a rack with a controllable single monitor and keyboard thing to work them all with in there, it's a bit less room taken up. However, the room is like a furnace at the best of time and to be perfectly honest, it's like a free sauna, just need to sweat it out for a while and that could be a very simple way of losing weight, definitely. Maybe I should find a really old ugly PC or five, plug them all into my office room, and create the same effect!