Dear Diary... December 2008

Wednesday 31st December - That Was The Year That Was

Well, it's the end of 2008, and what a year it's been. There's more in my review of the year, but suffice to say that for me it was definitely one that started pretty well and ended up even better and I just hope it continues in the same vein in 2009. While I know not everything can go according to plan (for example the current uncertainty in the workplace, which just about everyone's suffering from in the UK at the moment) all I can do is make sure that I carry on the hard work that I've been doing and make sure that everything is in place and ready to go if anything needs to be. I know that I want to try and enjoy the life that I do have and if that means going to more exciting places, so be it. I've already got three trips to London planned as well as one to Leamington Spa and Edinburgh for short breaks, and York on Friday 2nd - part of the reason for that, I admit, is that I really want the Rosina Wachtmeister cat calendar for 2009 as that'd be ace.

As for gigs, I took a look at the gig diary for 2008 and realised that I've actually done more gigs than last year, in total I did 35, which wasn't too bad at all was it? April was the busiest month of the lot and in fact I did two in the space of two days as well as see plenty of the snooker at the Crucible. For 2009, I want that to continue, not sure if I can top the 35 in total that I did but a look at the current diary says something like this:

January 28th - Baskery, Ruby Lounge, Manchester
January 30th - Half Man Half Biscuit, Academy 1, Manchester
February 17th - MJ Hibbett Totally Acoustic, The Lamb, London
March 1st - Vonda Shepard, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
April 9th - Terrorvision, Academy 1, Manchester
April 14th - Ultravox, Apollo, Manchester
May 23rd - Morrissey, Apollo, Manchester

Add to that I'm going to see Avenue Q in late January before it closes in London, and taking The Kisses Under The Mistletoe to see Dirty Dancing The Musical on her birthday (I know it's something she'll love to bits!) and it's pretty well mapped out for the next few months. Of course I want to try and go to the Crucible again and see the snooker like I've done in the last couple of years, because that was really good to see everything close up, and naturally if I can get to any other sporting events, then count me in. It's so much better being able to see everything like that and enjoy it from a more personal level rather than just watch things on the telly.

I guess as well 2008 was definitely the year I got more into photography as well, I even upgraded the camera I have to the current Panasonic TZ3 that I have now. I definitely took many more pictures than I've ever taken before, and that has to be a good thing. I think too that's also down to the fact that there's been so much encouragement from many different people: from the kind souls that I've got to know on the Manchester UK Flickr group, to those close to me who've really enjoyed what I do and give me some gentle praise as it's needed. It's all been a learning curve somewhat but it's something that I am enjoying immensely as well, which has to be a positive.

And on top of that, I also discovered a love of the theatre as well! I really enjoyed seeing Calendar Girls at the Lowry and that was great fun, and I definitely want to do more of that in 2009 - so already booking for two musicals during next year has to be a good thing. It would be nice if productions closer to home were those I wanted to be excited by and go and see too, as it's always a nice occasion to head out there if at all possible. So that's something I wish to pursue, too.

I think above all though, the year made me realise just how good a feeling that being in love with someone special is - not just through the good times, but when you feel down and you want someone to listen to you, and when you just need a cuddle. Of course, when I look back in places I've been, I did Cornwall twice and second time was with The Kisses Under The Mistletoe, which made it loveliver, and in fact I also went to many places with her showed just how much we both missed being out and having someone special to share it with. Long may that continue, I say!

I'm going to end the year in the diary by recommending highly my tune of the day which is also my favourite single of 2008, MJ Hibbett and the Validators' "Do The Indie Kid". You can buy it on vinyl direct from their website, or if you prefer, use one of the download sites to pay for it and acquire it that way, but do so, I can highly recommend it. When I remember the times I've heard this song, especially live, it's always made me feel a lot cheerier. So repeat after me: hands behind your back, and bounce your hips, move your feet around, and do the indie kid. Easy peasy. See you in 2009!

Tuesday 30th December - The Wonder Of Woolies, No More

It was a happy and sad day all in one really. This morning I headed out to visit one of my work colleagues, who needed me to set up their wireless network and indeed make it all secure. I had initial hiccups, but once they were sorted out, the Linksys router I recommended did the business really well and was soon up and running, and with a faster connection than the USB modem they used before had. When we then looked at a network to connect to for wireless, we spotted the one I'd set up, but also various others. You could tell that someone hadn't configured them securely as lots of them said either "Netgear" or "Linksys" (which is the default, kids) and they were unsecured, so that anyone could theoretically use them if they wanted to - bit of a risk to say the least, that.

During me sorting all this out I got a phone call from a friend having to cancel a few drinks out tonight - they were full of the cold that's been going round and I really didn't want to risk going out if not all of us were 100%, it can always be re-arranged for another time after all. So with job done and time on my hands, it was first off into Altrincham to have a quick mooch around before heading back on the tram to Piccadilly.

Now, I knew Woolworths were gradually closing down their stores (PDF with store closure dates) and previous stores that had closed had given you massive discounts on items in the store. I could always go and have a look, I suppose, and so from Piccadilly I took the bus to Hyde to see what the score was and indeed what discounts that I could actually get. The sign outside the store was pretty clear: 80% off everything, and I mean everything. Inside the store it was pretty busy with lots of people after snagging a last minute of the year bargain, and what surprised me was how many CDs were left compared to everything else, not at least because of the discounted prices you could get. In fact, I got six CDs for under ten pounds, and a couple of them were fairly recent releases too: Suzanne Vega - Retrospective: Best of (£1), The Feeling - Twelve Stops And Home (80p), Beth Rowley - Little Dreamer (£2.39), Paul Weller - 22 Dreams (£2.39), Paul Weller - Studio 150 (£2) and Noah and the Whale - Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down (£1).

Bargain or what, eh? I guess there were more bargains to be had if you liked more of the music that they had, but those were the ones I picked out and it was a pretty good price to be had. I then went on the bus to Stalybridge and from there on the bus to Glossop via Hadfield and went into the Woolworth's there. Here, it was 90% of all the stock, and so I managed to pick up Sam Sparro's self titled album (50p) and Marilyn Manson's "Eat Me Drink Me" for £1.10. Bargains or what, eh? Well, I like to think so. I should add that both the Weller CDs and the Sam Sparro CDs are for The Kisses Under The Mistletoe, as I thought it'd be nice to get her something as well whilst I was there, aren't I nice?

Flushed with success and with the staff reminding customers of packs of Christmas cards available for 20p for next Christmas (bargain) it was then time to head on the bus back to Ashton-under-Lyne and from there the bus back home. It worked out really well that I was able to get so many bargains and do really well for myself, was thoroughly pleased. In fact I played a few of them when I got back home later and reminded myself of the rather nice song that is The Feeling's "Sewn", just has the right amount of feel for me. Give that one tune of the day.

On the other hand, I did feel sad that something like Woolworth's is going under and what I've seen today is the end of an era. Most High Streets had one and they tried in the end to be a jack of all trades and master of none, which is the way that things go, sadly. It was a shame, as every holiday when I was a kid I used to get a little Lego set either in the one in Colwyn Bay or Rhyl as a reminder of my time away, and it was happy times for me back then. Now of course they'll be a distant memory that I'll only have as a child, but still..

Monday 29th December - Horses For Courses

Headed off with The Kisses Under The Mistletoe today, first to pick up her parents, and then to take them to Blackpool. Why head for the Fylde Coast in Winter, I hear you ask? Well, her folks usually go away there for New Year and stay at one of the nicer hotels there, where they have lovely food, a room complete with sea view overlooking the piers and sea etc, and a chance to be away from the general hubbub of life at home for the New Year period. It's a good idea, although not cheap whatsoever: when I heard the price I thought to myself "I could book a week in Cornwall for less if I wanted to!". Admittedly though having enterainment and four or five courses of food laid on each night does help proceedings, it has to be said.

As we sped along the M60, avoiding the queues for the Trafford Centre sales (like, why?) and then the M61, M6 and M55, I soon caught sight of the tower and realised that we were in the capital of tackiness again. In many ways, the town centre is in need of an overhaul and to be fair, the new shopping centre there does at least give the locals some city pride: it even has a Debenhams and everything, as well as plenty of other good shops - the only nightmare, as The Kisses and I found out later, was that getting into their car park is a pain, even though it's not that expensive, admittedly.

We headed through the centre of Blackpool and along to the North Shore of the town and to the hotel where The Kisses' parents were staying. They eventually checked in as there was a fair queue of people milling around, and we soon worked out why. Many of them had arrived way too early and it stated clearly to them that the rooms can only be entered at 2pm once the hotel was satisfied that the cleaning was up to scratch, and so when the manageress announced just before that time that the rooms were ready, it was a mad rush for the single lift to take people to their rooms. Thankfully, The Kisses' parents had got a sea view room with a good view, and all was well - there was even an LCD television in there with the exact same remote control as the one I have here - which was good to see. The room was pretty nice and spacious too, it has to be said.

After the four of us had a light lunch, we said our goodbyes and left them to enjoy their stay, whilst we headed for the centre of Blackpool and a quick look around the shops and sales, before heading to the promenade. It looked quite biting because of the wind and we noticed that most of the entrances to the beach were blocked off, as the council were spending a fair amount of money doing renevations to the sea wall and sea defences, which seemed to be a good idea to be honest. We then noticed the swarms of seagulls and birds that were hovering above both North and Central Pier - honestly it was like something out of that Alfred Hitchcock book that became a movie!

We soon headed back inland and into Coral Island for some amusement arcade fun (well why not, we were in Blackpool after all!). The Kentucky Derby was on in full pelt and so we both decided to have a go, and in the races we took part in, The Kisses won one and I won one. Now, due to the Coral Island's rules, if eight players or less are playing, a win is only worth half, so the two wins we got were equivalent to one win. That nonetheless got us a nice soft toy though, so we picked a fluffy pink cuddly rabbit for The Kisses, and all was well. She tried one of the grabber machines to win one of those Me To You bears, but the machine swallowed up money and didnt work, meh.

Undeterred though, we headed through more of Coral Island and I noted a grabber machine with soft toy versions of Po, the hero from the film Kung Fu Panda. I put my pound in for four goes, got pretty close on the first one and on the second one, it grabbed tbe Po, dropped it into the hole and I was a winner. Yaay us. I had another two goes left and got close to another one, but felt that it was time to walk away from the arcade and that machine as it'd paid out its one win per day or whatever it is, and I was well pleased. It was the Po for me and the rabbit for The Kisses, so everyone was a winner.

We headed to Costa Coffee to celebrate, and I had the cinnamon latte, she the blackcurrant tea as she was still feeling a little buggy with the cold. Inside though, the ambience was just nice and I couldn't believe the tune I could hear in the background, no less than Natalie Merchant's rather lovely "Life Is Sweet". I was in shock as a retail outlet was playing such a good tune that I love, so instantly had to make that tune of the day because of it. And you know what, it sums up how life is - I mean, two wins in the arcades, the company of The Kisses Under The Mistletoe, how good can that get?

As we headed back down the M55, M6, M61 and then the East Lancs back into Manchester, we both reflected on what was a good day and indeed knew that as 2008 is coming to a close, the chapter in our lives with us in it is only just beginning. And that does excite me. Terribly. Hugely. Wonderfully. And when I look at all the stuff I've got to look forward to in 2009, that makes me even more excited.

Sunday 28th December - Dinner For Five

I had a nice relaxing Sunday to be honest, and it was mainly sport-related, I had to admit. So whilst doing the washing and drying and ironing, I had on firstly the highlights of the cricket between South Africa and Australia, which proved to be pretty exciting seeing as South Africa put on a shedload of runs for the ninth wicket and overtook the Aussies' first innings haul comofrtably, which I certainly didn't expect. You could almost hear Shane Warne's complete desperation in the commentary box as he just urged the spin bowlers to deliver the goods properly and then fail miserably.

Then it was a footy double header, first off with Liverpool at Newcastle. And was it men against boys or what? It was a total hammering for Newcastle and had it not been for their goalkeeper Shay Given, it would have been a cricket score of some proportions to be honest. What made it for me was that the fact that Liverpool pressed and even a half time goal from Newcastle didn't seem to worry them - they went and got the job done. That sort of performance proves just why they're title contenders to be taken seriously this year.

Meanwhile, over at Ewood Park, I watched ominiously as City took on Blackburn away. City's record at Blackburn, the 4-1 win in 2000 apart, has been pretty poor and I didn't expect much here. That was proven first by them taking the lead right on half time and then getting a second one with six minutes to go. The fact that Hull seemed like a blip only reinforced my view that still Hughes was the wrong man for the job, and when Danny Sturridge scored a volley in the 88th minute, I thought it was going to be a consolation. But no. Sturridge had other ideas and his determination and drive picked out Robinho on the edge of the box who slotted home with a mere 20 seconds of stoppage time left on the clock to salvage an undeserved 2-2 draw, but it's a point and I'll take it right now to be honest.

Myself and The Kisses Under The Mistletoe headed over to my Mum's, where we and my brother and his girlfriend were over for dinner. It was really nice of Mum to do it, there was even three courses laid on, and whilst I had some delicious minestrone soup, the others had paté and salad. The main was roast beef, Yorkshire puds, potatoes, vegetables and so on, and that went down lovely, as did either the lemon tart or the chocolate cake with berries for dessert. Very nice indeed, and I have to say that I was really enjoying myself - I knew that getting a bottle of the Hardy's Chardonnay Pinot Noir was a good move somehow!

The five of us retired to the front room later and we relaxed and had plenty of conversation as drinks flowed. My brother even dug us out a bottle of Old Speckled Hen (he was getting one for himself too, wise move) and so it meant I could at least have some proper ale to boot as well. The telly had chef James Martin attempting the famous Mille Miglia car race and failing pretty badly at it due to knackering the car on the first day, whilst in the background the best of James Taylor was playing, and I think the song "You've Got A Friend" that he covers sums up the feelings really well sometimes about what friendship actually means, so that's tune of the day to be honest. The time sped by so quickly it was soon time to head home, but I know The Kisses and I both had a lovely night and it's so nice to be able to spend time together at the moment, yaay us!

Saturday 27th December - Sale Mania

Myself and The Presents In My Stocking decided today to head into town, as we both had gift cards which we could spend and also see if anything was worth looking for in the sales that we hadn't seen before. Mind you, we weren't getting up at 5am for the Next sale. No no no. I didn't want to see that total carnage and I certainly didn't want to be up at that time either. We leisurely had a nice breakfast and headed on the bus into town at a leisurely pace and then headed for the shops.

The first stop was HMV as I had a gift card for there, and knew exactly what I wanted to get with it, if they had it, and sure enough they did, Series 7 Part 2 of CSI on DVD, so that meant with the other two box sets I'd got that I was right up to date with all the CSI box sets (well, till Series 8 Part 2 comes out in February 2009) - so that felt good. It was also a barometer in tems of the fact it was quite busy - mind you most Saturdays in Manchester are anyway, sale or no sale to be honest.

Next was Fopp, where I spent a bit of time deciding what to get with my gift card. I had printed off my master Christmas list and crossed off the stuff I'd got from it, and so I could pick things from what's left and that would mean I'd have got those as well, nifty eh? I ended up getting four CDs: Jenny Lewis' "Acid Tongue", Hot Chip's "Made In The Dark", Tangerine Dream's "White Eagle" and "Meddle" by Pink Floyd. I'm sure you'll agree that's quite a varied selection and something which I can take time out listening to and enjoying, which is how it should be, isn't it? It also meant that I had a fair amount of stuff to listen to and get through over the next few weeks, always good, and varied too!

We then headed into Marks and Spencer, and it was pretty busy to say the least. The Presents was after this leather weekend bag that they do, but it wasn't a sale item and still full price. To make matters worse, they didn't have any of the colours she wanted either, and so with that and the queues being sizeable (plus nothing in the menswear section that I wanted either) we decided to head over to the Arndale and check out Next. My, Next was a mighty scrummage even at around 12.30pm. I dread to think what the scenes were like at 5am when it opened, that's for sure. The Presents did see a nice pair of trousers that she liked, but it was every size except hers - rather annoying that. I didn't see any nice jeans either and that was a shame, but hey ho.

We walked down Deansgate and I stopped off in Waterstone's to pick up the Rare Record Price Guide 2010, a little post-Christmas present to myself. I wasn't sure if anyone was going to get it me, so I decided to wait and then get it. At some point I'll have to check through my collection and see just what CDs and vinyl that I have are still rare or not. A quick flick through revealed though that the original Rough Trade CD release of The Smiths' album "Hatful Of Hollow" is worth a massive fifty quid! Bloody hell, wouldn't mind a shedload of those in a cupboard under the bed, let me tell you. Goes to show though, doesn't it?

We then headed to what used to be the Bridge Street Tavern which is now B Lounge for a light lunch. We both had thse nice hot sandwiches, with the big bloomer bread open so you had the topping on one half and any salad garnish (if any) on the other. I went for the chicken stuffing and gravy and The Presents had the beef with caramelised onions. Both looked and tasted lovely, and the little side portion of hand cut home made chips we got just made everything lovely and complete. It was also relatively quiet and away from the hubbub of the city centre as well, which just made the setting a whole lot more intimate too, just the thing.

We walked back to the bus back to The Presents' place, and we knew there was a Next near her place, so we thought "why not stop there on the way back?" so we did. And it proved to be a very wise move indeed, as she picked up two pairs of trousers for £15 each, reduced by at least that much from its original price. One was more for work, the other more for going out, but they were in her size and indeed when she tried them on later fitted absolutely lovely, so all was good with the world. I didn't find anything, but I'm sure that I will at some point in time if I really wanted to.

We had a relaxed afternoon, trying out some of the new CDs (she herself had bought this 4CD 90s dance compilation whilst in Fopp) and then the Take That special was on, which I thought would be good for her to watch - made us both giggle when Peter Kay as his alter ego Geraldine McQueen came on as a big Take That fan and had good banter with the boys, bless. She really enjoyed that and to be honest you could tell why so many women love that band to bits - all very personable and indeed not up their own backsides whatsoever, which is how it should be really. I think their new album's sold something like 1 million copies - already!

Got back home later to take some relaxing time out and indeed to catalogue all the CDs and DVDs I've got, plus also arrange some times out with friends and to see who's coming to watch the City game at mine tomorrow. I whacked on Jenny Lewis' "Acid Tongue" CD and it's most excellent - in fact, the stand out track (and thus tune of the day) is "Carpetbaggers" from that album. Not only does Jenny's voice sound fine on this Americana-sounding track, but the guest vocalist is Elvis Costello, and let's be brutally honest, it's the finest vocal performance he's done in years. It's bloody ace. Do check the album out: well worth it!

Friday 26th December - You Wait For One Goal, Then Five Come

Boxing Day started with a leisurely lie in, which I definitely needed. It was a long but rewarding day yesterday and I think that a good sleep and lie in was needed to recharge the energy a bit. Seeing the news with people running round the sales like total idiots almost fighting for any purchase made me wonder if a lot of people didn't realise that most of the stuff was reduced in price before Christmas anyway, and the big two sales (M&S and Next) didn't start till tomorrow. Mind you, it's a sign of the recession-hit times that anything that looks a bargain just has to be purchased and so it was a case of seeing the madcap shoppers do their thing.

For myself and The Presents In My Stocking, a much more leisurely day ahead. We relaxed late morning and early afternoon with some music and also with some of the music channels delivering some tunes as well - which helped a bundle to make us feel in the right frame of mind. As is tradition on Boxing Day, I wanted to watch the King George VI Chase at Kempton and as we were at mine anyway, we paused for a few minutes so I could watch that. Kauto Star of course won and won easily (including traditional last fence hiccup, incidentally!) and that was all sorted. We left mine just after City had kicked off and gone 1-0 up in their home game against Hull, and it meant that the traffic would die down to make it easier for us to get to The Presents' place.

In her car, between mine and hers, normally a 5-10 minute journey at worst, City had scored twice to go 3-0 up and by the time I'd got the kettle on and started setting up the little mini Sony system I'd got her, it was 4-0 with a second goal from Robinho. Blimey! What was happening? Was this the same rubbish City that I'd watched only the other day on the telly? Seemingly so, and even Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports News seemed rather impressed, wonder if he felt good, but probably not seeing as his beloved Hartlepool were losing yet again. I had now set up the Sony and tuned in the DAB stations, added her some favourites preset such as Galaxy, Radio 1, Key 103, Kiss, etc, and also played a few of the CDs to get the sound just right, and it was all good.

We both noticed at half time that Sky Sports News had gone to City's ground as the Hull manager Phil Brown had gone to their fans, apologised for the team playing rubbish and did his team talk with the team in the corner of the pitch by the Hull fans. Bonkers! I've not seen anything like that since Delia Smith's infamous half time ourburst when City were away at Norwich, I tell you. Anyway, the second half of the City game was much less dramatic: Hull pulled one back with ten minutes to go but a couple of minutes later parity was restored as Stephen Ireland made it 5-1, which as you can imagine made me pleased that the Mighty Blues had done such a good job.

The Presents made a lovely tea, we had this really nice steak cooked to perfection with a Loyd Grossman peppercorn sauce, along with some vegetables and potato wedges with olive oil, all very nice and tasty, and even had some crispy duck rolls with hoi sin sauce to start, too. We had some ice cream and these really nice little squares with chocolate and cream for dessert, and settled in to relax and watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. I'd not seen it before but it was good fun, and whilst I am sure she was swooning over Johnny Depp (fair enough) it was a pretty riproaring second film in the franchise, with lots of plot twists, and only CGI when it was absolutely necessary, which worked well. City were even on first on Match of the Day so it was watch that and then head off to bed.

Tune of the day just has to be Paul Weller's "You Do Something To Me" - it was on the Deluxe Edition of the "Stanley Road" CD that one of my friends had bought The Presents In My Stocking, and it sounded just as good as ever. And if ever there was a song that described my feelings right now (and probably hers too) that was it, and as she's a Weller fan as well, the choice was pretty easy wasn't it?

Thursday 25th December - It's Chriiiiiiiiistmas!

Well, Christmas isn't Christmas without Noddy Holder officially announcing it during the Slade classic, is it? My Christmas Day started fairly early - 7am to be precise, as I was going to get up and showered and ready, open some presents from my friends that were under the tree, and then head out and see everyone during the day. It's a tradition that I've tried to keep as much as possible and definitely something that makes me feel all the right feelings during the festive period. Of course the day was going to be a bit extended as well as I knew that The Presents In My Stocking was coming round later as well and that would be absolutely lovely.

I had a cuppa, opened the presents from some of my friends and relatives, which included Life On Mars Series 1, Suicidal Tendencies "Friends and Family" and the Big Fish soundtrack CDs, and a really nice expensive bottle of chardonnay (which was later consumed that evening, in fact, which was lovely). That all done, it was time to head over to see one of my relations first, as I was going with them to breakfast at one of my other relatives, and it meant I could deliver presents too, ace eh? It was good to see them and they were all pleased with the presents that I'd got them, which was good. They had got me the Manchester City Magic of the FA Cup 3 DVD set and the Ting Tings' "We Started Nothing" limited CD/DVD edition too, which was all rather smart.

We headed over to our relations' for breakfast, and as usual, it was a great breakfast, lots of bacon, egg, sausage, mushrooms, lots of other things, tea, coffee, juice, croissants, a feast fit for all of us really. I decided to give a hand in the kitchen either washing up or dishing out stuff so it all went to plan, and it was nice to be appreciated for doing that too. I had more presents to open, which included two very nice little cat figures (they're sat on my kitchen window sill now, in fact), the Pink Floyd "Wish You Were Here" CD and a Muppet Show mug, which is very me to say the least. It was really lovely to have breakfast and that set me up nicely for the day ahead, as I left around 11am to walk over to Mum's.

Mum was pleased to see me as ever, and we swapped presents. Of all the pages for her to open the Dawn French book to open, she opened it at the page which mentions Dawn's letter to the Monkees (and with Mum being a big fan and all, quite a lovely moment). The family there had got me the 2CD set of Deep Purple's "Machine Head, a gift card for HMV (yaay) and some Lynx, always useful. However, I was quite open mouthed when Mum gave me her present - it was the Rosina Wachtmeister "Prato di Fiori" clock! It's a very very lovely clock with two Rosina cats on it, and for a while I've wanted it for the kitchen. Now, I also know that it was on The Presents In My Stocking's Christmas list to begin with, so I reckon they've plotted this between them. I don't mind though, I know Mum really really wanted to get me something lovely, and I was just so happy. Thanks Mum!

It was nice to see the relatives and have Christmas dinner, which of course was rather lots of it. Not that I minded, the turkey was lovely, as was the potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, gravy etc. Of course the other tradition at Mum's is that there's some sparkly drink, normally Fastini as it was this year, to go with the dinner, which worked a treat. After a small while it was profiteroles for dessert, oh yes. That made me feel very full but very happy indeed and we relaxed later in the afternoon and just took things easy (no Cadbury's Caramel though) which was good. I left around 4ish to go home so I could have everything ready for The Presents In My Stocking to come round at around 5.30.

I was so happy to see her, and when I thought that Christmas was going nicely, what she got me and the thought that she put into everything made me feel so happy, so priveleged and so lucky. Of course, I politely insisted she go first with opening her presents, and suffice to say she was very happy - I had done well without a list to hand. I don't know what made her the happiest, maybe the signed framed picture of Tom Cruise, maybe the little Sony CD/DAB/tape system I got for her front room so she could listen to the radio and music CDs, the CDs and DVDs, the little top from Warehouse or the underwear, but I know that she loved them all and really appreciated it and the thought gone into them. Well it's only fair, when you're in love, you make the effort (or at least you should!) My Mum and brother had got her lovely presents too, which for me is a sign that they've taken to her (aww).

I was equally gobsmacked by just how wonderfully she'd done too, and I was so pleased. Not just that, some of her family had decided to get me presents too which was unbelievably nice, and got some gift cards for Fopp and CSI Series 8 Part 1 on DVD from them. And then it was what she got me: Swing Out Sister's "Beautiful Mess" CD, a McLaren Mercedes mouse mat, Jeff Stelling's "England's Worst Footballers" book, some lovely chocs from Hotel Chocolat, two lovely shirts (one from Next and one from M&S), John Mayer's "Any Given Thursday" 2CD set, Frankie Boyle's DVD, Muppets Christmas Carol on DVD, Kung Fu Panda (2 disc edition) on DVD, and to top the whole lot, Scrabble de Luxe!! Wow. I felt so spoilt and I had a feeling she might have gone over our agreed present spending budget, but at the same time I know that it meant a lot to her to get me nice stuff. I was amazed. Needless to say we did play Scrabble de Luxe later whilst playing the Swing Out Sister CD (I'm making "Something Every Day" tune of the day as it reminds us both of being at The Lowry and seeing such a lovely gig).

Scrabble de Luxe is dead posh, and I've been wanting that edition for absolutely ages. The board is on a turntable which revolves around, so you can rotate it between players so they always see the board face up, you get some lovely racks, a velvety tile bag and the tiles are all wooden as well. It's just unbelievably lovely, and I know that at least I have someone to play it with too, which is always good. I even in one of the games tonight came up with the seven letter play BOTTLES which as you can imagine scored me a fair few points (although I had to use my blank as a B or else I'd have scored six more points as the word straddled a double word score). We settled in for the evening and had the Jim Noir CD on as well, and we'd also played the Ally McBeal Christmas CD.

Oh, and to top it all off, wasn't the Wallace and Gromit animation "A Matter of Loaf and Death" absolutely ace? It was up to Aardman's excellent standards, and having them doing their own bakery, have Wallace fall in love with the seemingly charming Piella Bakewell (excellently voiced by Sally Lindsay of Corrie fame as was) and then for that to go pear-shaped was really well done. Of course as ever Gromit is the true hero, his facial expressions saying everything. Infact, Piella's dog later gets in cahoots with Gromit, and it's nice to see that for once someone appreciates the genius of Gromit's work. It's also so good to see that the plot and storyline worked wonders, and that the neat touches throughout (for example the pottery with "Unchained Melody" in the background, a nod to the film "Ghost", and the newspaper proclaiming Wigan's win - bearing in mind W&G supposedly live there) are all wonderful. It's repeated on New Year's Day on BBC1 and BBC HD, so if you missed it, watch it. And we had the pleasure of watching it in HD, which rocked!

I can't believe how lovely I feel right now. To have The Presents In My Stocking really be so lovely and kind, and to share the Christmas with her, well that's the best present I could have wished for. Honestly. It makes me feel so humble and so proud and yet so lucky all at the same time. I really feel so happy and I know that the rest of the break should continue in the same vein. Now, can City possibly win tomorrow?

Wednesday 24th December - The Christmas Eve Run

I wisely had taken today off work, and a good move all round I reckoned. This meant amongst other things that I could go to the cemeteries and visit the people in the family no longer with us. I usually try to do this close to Christmas so that everyone on Christmas Day can see the card there from me, and a little gift which I tend to leave (it's later collected and often donated to charities or children's hospitals, which is lovely). Realistically I knew Christmas Eve was the only day I could go.

After seeing off The Cherry On My Cake on the bus to work (an early shift as well, poor lass) it was straight to the local Tesco for me. They had opened a bit earlier today and so I could whizz round and get the last bits of food shopping I might need (bread, milk, the usual sort of stuff). I also got a nice bottle of cava at half price as The Cherry suggested it'd be nice when she comes to mine over Christmas for us to share that and have a nice night together, which I agreed with. That all done, I was through the tills and home in quick time, which meant I had plenty of time to head on the bus to the first cemetry and do what I needed to.

I had got one relation a Man City teddy bear with an old school scarf on (aww) and another a little soft toy dog, which was apt for them both. Of course, I do try and get a card which is blank without greetings so I can put my own words on there, plus of course you don't want anything saying "Happy Christmas" either, as that would be extremely patronising. In fact, card shops don't have enough of "thinking of you at Christmas type cards, which annoys me somewhat. We all have loved ones we'd much rather have here and you'd think that the needs would be catered for - obviously not.

Once I'd been to both cemeteries, it was off to Costa in Cheadle. It's part of the tradition that I have a few minutes to myself after feeling a little sad and having one of their special Winter coffees to at least get me back on track. I went for the gingerbread latte (no Tiramisu one this year, meh!) which was very very nice, especially the syrup that they put in as well, which did the job well. Feeling refreshed and also miffed that the Daily Mail didn't mention Droylsden's FA Cup win over Chesterfield the night before (although they may still get kicked out of the competition now for fielding an ineligible player who happened to score both goals) it was a much more calm and contented me that headed for home to start cleaning the house - with the Jim Noir CD in the background. I'd like to nominate "Same Place Holiday" as tune of the day as when I saw him live, he said it was cos he used to spend the holidays at the same place every year, and it was rubbish!

Well, that's me pretty much all sorted, just got to get a few things ready, relax and watch some late night television, and then head for an early night. I just want to wish the readers of the site a wonderful and Happy Christmas, and let's hope that you all receive good wishes and have a great time.

Tuesday 23rd December - Christmas Officially Has Begun For Me

The day dragged a bit at the office today. I had managed to finish off the two PC replacements by lunch time, so I was able to do some paperwork and general little jobs and have them all sorted by mid-afternoon, and it was just a case of time seemingly slowing down further and further before it was finally time for us to leave. I wished the team a Merry Christmas and it was at last the end of my working 2008. Who knows what 2009 is going to bring, but I know that I will be able to build on a few things this year and develop myself further, plus I have the small matter of a possible bigger project if that comes to fruition (and no, this is not me writing the novel, that's still on hold!)

I got home, dived into the shower (although not literally as hitting a wall head on might be painful) and then once I got changed and ready in a nice pair of trousers and smart shirt, and with bags of presents in tow, headed into town to meet The Cherry On My Cake at her workplace - she was on the late shift tonight and so was getting changed in her office. The reason? We were meeting up with a few of my lovely friends for a meal and we were also going to swap pressies, which was a good thing to do - I'd booked a table for the five of us in Felicini's, which we all adore (and they always look after us with love, which is so good.)

The Cherry and I left her work and headed to the nearest pub so she could have wine and me coffee - as I knew I needed to be up and about and not hung over tomorrow, I didn't want to drink. After that we walked down to Felicini's and waited just inside for my friends to arrive. We got ourselves one of the lovely round booth tables and this meant we could all chat without background noise or distractions and indeed be able to enjoy the food that we were going to have. I really like it in there, and The Cherry has been in there with some of her friends too. In fact on our very first date we went there for a meal together, so I know that will always have special memories for me. Hurrah!

The drinks and conversation flowed, and it was soon time to have lovely food. I went for the garlic dough balls to start, with The Cherry having the red pepper soup (which looked red and peppery!) - and then the main course was for me an easy decision: the salmon calzone. It's so delicious and they don't skimp on the salmon whatsoever, and it's really nicely folded too, whilst The Cherry went for some very nice looking lamb with garlic mash potato and some vegetables. The lamb looked delicious and very well done, just how she likes it. Of course, you have to save room for yourself for dessert, and we decided to do the sensible thing and share the tiramisu, because it's both delicious and massive. Two of my friends were going to go for the giant profiteroles, but I suggested it might be too much for them and to share it. This proved to be a wise move indeed as they were both full after that!

As we were all settling with a tea or a coffee later, it was time to exchange cards and presents. As we weren't going to see each other on Christmas Day, it was time to open them now. I feel very humble and flattered that my friends got The Cherry such lovely gifts: they don't have to do that, but it also shows me how much they like her and indeed have accepted her. She, like I, felt really chuffed to bits and it only reinforces my view in that I have some very very lovely friends (and you know who you are, so a massive massive thank you from me). Their generosity and care really made the night for me - it wasn't just about us being sociable but also for me showing that it's better to give than to receive, and how much they all can see how happy I am with The Cherry. Honestly, it was a humbling moment and I can only hope the presents that we had got them were lovely enough!

My friends had got me between them the Dara O'Briain live DVD (I got one of my friends the same thing!!), Jim Noir's self titled album, The Breeders' "Title TK" CD, Be Kind Rewind and CSI Series 7 Part 1 on DVD, and a little Man City piggy bank, which is adorably cute. The Cherry recieved a nice little keyring with little pink lipgloss and a lovely necklace from Next, Bryan Ferry's "Bete Noire" DVD, Paul Weller's deluxe 3 disc edition of "Stanley Road" and Will Young's first album plus the Mission Impossible 2 disc DVD! My friends are ace. I'll say that again. My friends are ace. I felt like Christmas had officially started and it was soon 11pm and time to head home, but I felt so happy and moved at the same time, I really did. In fact we both did, and that feeling inside isn't going to be lost on us both.

I should add that The Cherry looked absolutely gorgeous tonight: she had this black strapless dress with a nice bejewelled middle bit, and a silver cardigan which went over the top and completed the outfit so well. I really couldn't belive my eyes in that she looked so lovely and beautiful, and you know what? I felt so lucky and proud all at the same time. When I got home, I had to play Roxy Music's "Editions Of You", because her in her outfit was another fine edition of how lovely she looks - definitely tune of the day that one. I eventually got to sleep feeling so emotionally moved and happy by such a lovely night - why can't everything be like this, I wonder?

Monday 22nd December - All You Can Eat, If You Want!

It was the last couple of days at work for me (as I had decided to finish on the 23rd). Today was our scheduled Christmas Meal lunch out, which meant that just for once we could have a two hour lunch break in order to have a good meal before heading back to the office. We had plumped for the Mediterranean buffet place Efes on Princess Street, as the food is good and the price is pretty low, which of course is a good thing isn't it? There was in total around fifteen of us because there were people from two IT teams, and as we may be merged in the forthcoming months, it might work out well to all head out together now.

Mind you, the morning was busy anyway as I headed over to another department to start imaging their practice room with all ten laptops being multicasted. I knew it was going to take a while because of the slower connection over there, but the plan was to get that going, head off to lunch later on and then hopefully come back and see it all finished. I had allowed myself a couple of days to book the room just in case there were problems, and that also meant it was the priority job, so I could concentrate on getting that done before I finished.

The lunch was lovely, and had quite a bit (I didn't need to eat anything in the evening, let's put it like that!) - there were breaded prawns, meatballs, garlic mushrooms, some really nice chicken saffron rice, all sorts of other things too. The desserts were profiteroles and choc cake, oh yes, match made in heaven that one. It was a really nice time had by all and as a fair number of people had finished work on the 19th, it also meant that the place was a fair bit quieter which meant more food for us, and also it meant that we could sit on a long table and all be together too, so that was also quite a good thing.

Headed back to the practice room in the afternoon, and to my sheer amazement all ten laptops worked first go and didn't need a second attempt to multicast. I did all the usual post-imaging steps on them all and was done by the end of the day - which made me feel pretty happy. So much so that I even started work on replacing two more administrative PCs as well, which was excellent work all round there. Sometimes when things go your way it's an indicator that the calm, patient approach works wonders in terms of how you can solve any ongoing problems, oh yes.

In fact the night before after the City debacle, I had also met up with one of my female friends and her boyfriend for a coffee and a chat at the Cornerhouse - which also meant my friend could hand me a Christmas present (I had already posted hers!). It was very nice to meet her boyfriend and he seemed very easy to get on with to say the least. In a small world kind of moment, my friend knows one of The Cherry On The Cake's friends as they work at the same department, and her boyfriend knows one of my Flickr contacts and met him the other day! Indeed, small world and all. We did get talking about Half Man Half Biscuit which immediately had two of us enjoying a good old reminisce about their stuff - and the fact he knows all the words to "All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit" made me smile. I had to play said track tonight when I got home, so tune of the day it most certainly is!

Sunday 21st December - All I Want For Christmas Is Mark Hughes To Be Sacked

Yes, I hope I made that pretty clear. Today's shambolic useless performance against a team rooted firmly to the foot of the league table should have been the last straw not just for many Manchester City fans but also the City board as well. I had my uncle and his two sons round and the four of us were watching the game in absolute disbelief at how poor things were. Even the Pizza Hut delivery that we ordered with some very nice ham and mushroom and spicy beef and pepperoni pizzas just didn't soften the sour taste in the mouth. I can't begin to explain just how bad things were and how useless Hughes was tactically, but I'll try and dissect it.

First off, the defence. It's clear that currently Micah Richards has too much of an ego and believes he is world-class, when his performances this season have been anything but. Why hasn't Hughes got the bravery to drop him when Nedum Onouha is clearly fit and raring to go, and is prepared to battle for the cause for both club (and country when he's been in the Under-21s). Or, as an alternative, play Pablo Zabaleta at centre half instead, as he looks far more solid currently, and have Richards at right back where he can at least link up a bit with Shaun Wright-Phillips? Now that would be rather useful. Either way though, Richards clearly has no communication ideas and the way him and Joe Hart mucked up their winner good and proper was nothing short of laughable, it honestly was.

Second, the goalkeeping. It's clear to many City fans that Joe Hart does not command the box enough and doesn't communicate enough. At least last Thursday in the UEFA Cup debacle, Kasper Schmeichel did what his dad would have done and given his defenders an utter rollocking and told them to get stuck in. I'm sure that for at least one of the two goals conceded that Kasper would have actually shouted earlier and got the defence packed tight to do the job. Hughes should in training be telling Hart to communicate more and to dominate the defence and be the rock, which he clearly isn't.

Then there's the battle of egos. Hughes' fallout with Elano has been well documented, and I'm sure that this is also affecting Robinho and Jo as well to some extent as they see their friend unfairly treated. Now of course some of the other players are also thinking that Robinho is getting favouritism because of who he is (which I can see happening) and also that there doesn't seem to be a real management ethic going on. Compare this with almost all the same players last season under Sven and the place seemed much happier - his man management seemed to get the best out of most of them.

But ultimately, it's clear that Hughes doesn't seem to care enough about City. It's hard to take that an ex-Man U player is in charge at City, and I was prepared to give him time. But this result is the last straw - there was nothing to suggest anything other than the team are in for a long relegation fight for the rest of the season and will that really attract anyone in the January transfer window? The board who sacked Sven and appointed Hughes clearly made a massive mistake and now the City fans the current board are playing for their irresponsible legacy. Clearly though Hughes has no idea just how to get the best out of the players, doesn't seem to have a Plan B and to be honest should walk before he is sacked if he has any pride or dignity. Look at how Blackburn won yesterday under Allardyce and it showed that Paul Ince was out of his depth there - and how Hughes was okay there but out of his depth at City.

The rot needs to stop, and stop now. The only way to do that is change the ethics and change the manager, who will in turn change the players' attitudes and instill a work ethic into them. David Moyes at Everton has a team who work their socks off and the reward is there for all to see - a hard to beat team who get what they deserve. City have no fight, no passion, no bottle and until Hughes is sacked it'll be difficult to see just how that can continue. Let's hope for an early Christmas present before it's too late and we're in the Coca-Cola Championship.

In view of all that happening, Morrissey's "Diasppointed" has to be tune of the day - "there's nowhere to go but down" he sings so melancholy. And he's bloody right too. At least listening to that cheered me up a bit, well let's face it what could be worse right now?

Saturday 20th December - Strictly The Last Time

I settled in for the evening to watch Strictly Come Dancing, and I was half resigned to it being a bit of a foregone conclusion before the show started. In fact, the BBC broke one of its promises right at the start of the show when they revealed how the audience voting went - they only showed the number of points they would have gained from the audience vote and not the number of votes each couple got, so that immediately wasn't good. From that it was clear that had the vote stood from last week, Lisa/Brendan and Tom/Camilla would have been in the dance off, and I am sure that based on the performances the judges would have quite rightfully kept Lisa/Brendan in, and they deserved to be in my view.

So, with the scoring explained, it was such that the combined scores started with 5 for Rachel/Vincent and 4 each for the other two. Hence if Rachel/Vincent won the judges' vote, they should have been on 8 points, which therefore would mean that with one of the other two only having a maximum of 5 and therefore it'd be impossible for them to be voted off by the public. However, what the BBC decided was that the top scorers at that point would have a net 3 points, second 2 and last 1 instead. This meant that in theory anyone could have got knocked out in the first half of the show. Now to be fair, that was unfair to Rachel/Vincent, who have been consistently good.

In the end, it was a close call and based on the first half, the judges did call it about right, Lisa/Brendan got a maximum of 80 from their two dances (no mean feat) with Rachel/Vincent on 79 and Tom/Camilla on 73. So this meant had the scoring been correct as intended, both Rachel and Lisa would be 7 points net each, with Tom on 5 (so therefore 3/3/1 after the scores were altered). The audience vote counts in the event of a tie, so Tom could still be saved that way. However, in my view, with that standing as is, why didn't they have a dance off for the bottom two and retain fair play? In the end, Lisa/Brendan were the first couple to be eliminated as they got the lowest audience bote, which meant that they tied with Tom/Camilla, but the audience vote was grater so they stayed in.

To be honest, you have to wonder just how many of the public vote for the dancing at that point. To me and one of my friends whom I texted later, it was pretty clear Lisa/Brendan were the best of the three and along with Rachel/Vincent deserved to be in the final two. End of. Of course that didn't happen and in disgust I actually switched over. Sorry BBC, you've made a mockery of the whole show by twisting the voting in such a way that it was nigh on impossible for Tom/Camilla to be sent home. Everyone knows up to that point they were the worst of the three - why not freeze the vote when they did last week and have Lisa/Brendan versus Tom/Camilla in the dance-off anyway?

Admittedly in the show dance, Tom/Camilla's was very good, and Rachel/Vincent edged the other on the Vienese Waltz, so it was a tough call. In the end though, the audience voted over whom they fancied the most (it was so bloody obvious) and went for Tom/Camilla. I do feel pleased for Camilla because she has been to the semis twice and lost, but I feel disgusted with the BBC and the producers of the programme for basically making a muck up and a mockery of the whole thing. Sorry Beeb, I won't be watching it from next series, I'll find something else to amuse me on the Saturday evenings (I'm sure that the likes of The Passion In My Heart can ably assist there).

What proved interesting was that a few weeks ago when Cherie Lunghi was eliminated and John Sergeant was still in there before quitting, James Jordan said to the public "This is a dancing competition. Please vote for who you think danced the best!". Often the judges have been incredulous at having to choose between two couples who weren't in the dance off, and rightly so in my view. It's not a case about who people think "is the most fit" (or other words to that effect) but who has actually improved as a dancer and was able to wow the audience with their moves. The judges aren't that daft, and certainly Len has been critical but fair with Rachel/Vincent for example. It's just that it needs to stop degenerating into a public popularity contest - and quick. Meh.

Oh well. I turned that over and decided instead that some well earned Christmas songs were the order of the day to prevent me from feeling too grumpy and miserable, such is the way. Good to see the Bo Selecta Christmas video in full - it's absolutely hilarious and it's a case of "spot the celeb" in there as well - even the real Mel B makes an appearance. I'll give that one tune of the day as it cheered me up no end - got to love the banter between the Craig David character and David Gray the singer... "Craiiiiig David! You coming to the pub?" "Daviiiiiiiid Gray! No I'm not, not with you, wearing those antlerrrrrrrs!". Hehe.

Friday 19th December - Simply Having A Wonderful Snooker Time

It's the last day of the term for the students today, and my was it busy. It was for some their deadline and during the morning we had a few of them in a panic because they needed to hand work in by the end of the day and the plotters were very busy indeed. Indeed, some of them were a little bit on the abusive side as well which wasn't so nice, but they soon realised that leaving anything up to the final day of term was not the right thing to do at all. In essence though, it did slow down a little bit during the afternoon and so I was able to get a few other jobs done, such as sorting out one of the network points for the admin staff and what have you.

I finally sorted out the picture frame problem I had yesterday on the way home as well - I thought "well you could get a 10" x 8" one with a border around,and then what's missing off the width is behind the border and so won't be seen. I even found one I quite liked in the local Instore (of all places) so I picked that up and timed by walk to the bus stop well to get the bus back home. With that all sorted I admired the work in its frame and thought "that'll be a rather good present to hand out!" and so felt rather complete at doing that.

Watched a fair chunk of the snooker later and I have to say Marco Fu deserved to come back against Ali Carter and win it 9-7, he was the more disciplined and kept his head and just stuck to the task better. Even at 4-1 down earlier, the fact he won the last frame of the afternoon to make it 5-3 really helped, and before long it was 6-6, then 8-6 to Fu before Carter found some form for 8-7, but Fu was not to be denied and cleaned up with an impressive break. Whoever wins the other semi tomorrow just has to be on their game as I can see Fu doing the business to be honest.

Many of the music channels are still playing constant Christmas songs as selected by various celebrities. The one on Channel 4 Music was selected by no less than Paddy McGuiness, so you think he might have snuck his friend Peter Kay's Christmas single in there, but nothing to be seen. The usual suspects were there though, Wham, Wizzard, Slade, but surprisingly his number one was Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time". Actually it doesn't sound that bad even now, even with the 80s synth, and the Nick Berry lookalike in the video too - so it's tune of the day from me as I can't imagine any of this year's having that classic status that that one has.

Thursday 18th December - In The Frame

My colleague on our Help Desk was off poorly today, so I stepped in there and covered for the day. On the whole it was pretty busy and throughout the morning I had a queue of people for the desk asking me questions and indeed waiting to see what was happening with the plotters et al, especially as two of them had broken down and my colleague was manically working hard to fix them all. It was all hands on really but it was good that we got it all sorted out and were able to get back to full speed again. What was nice to see was that on the whole it was the classic foursome of us in the team and just cracking on with a few things as well. What was even nicer was that one student came in with a Christmas card for us as well - how lovely!

I ventured into the city centre later on as I needed to get a picture frame for one of my Christmas presents. The image that needs framing is 12" x 8", which is an awkward size. It's slightly different dimensions instead of A4, and the way it seems is that most picture frames are either 10" x 8", or 12" x 10", but not the other size. In fact it was a pretty fruitless search to be honest as I headed in House of Fraser, Paperchase, Marks and Spencer, Next, and even the Arndale Market as well as some other retailers. I even took a diversion home and went via B&M Home Bargains (I did find a very very nice large picture of Audrey Hepburn in iconic black and white) and the massive Tesco Extra, but no luck. It was A4 or 10" x 8" most of the time. I'll see if there's any places that do awkward sizes and if not, there may be a case that I'll have to see if I can have one made. Darn!

Makes you wonder actually when you see a picture you want that it's a case of if the place that sells it knows that the picture frames aren't so easy to get hold of! I mean, you'd think that such a size wouldn't be so hard to do (especially as in metric terms it's around 30 x 20cm. I suppose though that a lot of people print off their images on A4 photo paper now, and as a result it just makes more sense to do that size - and of course at the same time this also means certificate frames are that size too because of the fact they're also printed on A4 paper. Mind you, the trip to Tesco wasn't that fruitless as I got something else instead.

Ended up watching the snooker on BBC Interactive and there were some tense frames between Stephen Maguire and John Higgins. Maguire had clawed his way to 7-5 only for there to be two scrappy frames which Higgins won to make it seven a piece. That was together with the news that City had been beaten 3-1 by Racing Santander in the UEFA Cup so it was all happening - in fact Racing didn't qualify for the next phase despite the result as City's late stoppage time consolation goal coupled with PSG's 4-0 thashing of FC Twente meant that PSG claimed the last spot. In the end though, Maguire dug in and did two 70-odd breaks, one in each frame, to make it a hard fought 9-7 win. He battles now against Shaun Murphy, who had beaten Stephen Lee 9-3 earlier in the evening - a bit of an easier way through somehow!

At least there was some nice post when I got home earlier tonight - the train tickets for a forthcoming trip to London in February (going to the Totally Acoustic gig again, and this time taking The Strings On My Guitar withme too) and that was also with my monthly bus ticket, which I'd ordered earlier for next month to make sure it arrived and wasn't delayed in the Christmas post. At least by ordering that online I save a few pounds, so that makes a lot of sense to be honest. I'm all for saving money, especially in this current credit crunch climate and all that. I noticed too earlier in the city centre that Poundland was absolutely rammed - and I mean rammed - with people who were after a bargain or three, and I can't say that I blame them really!

With just a few days to go to Christmas, I found out that someone had attempted to pirate the new Wallace and Gromit short film and chuck it on Youtube. Shame on them! I mean, let's wait for the proper release of the thing come Christmas Day, and I'm sure on the evening of Christmas Day it'll be rather lovely to see it broadcast - and even in HD on BBC HD as well, yaay! I've always enjoyed those animations: Gromit is one of my favourites out there becuase his expressions says it all without saying anything. And somehow the theme tune just works wonders, Julian Nott's score sounding Northern but also full of Englishness at the same time - so that's my tune of the day. Hurrah!

Wednesday 17th December - I am The Scrabble Storm Trooper!

Another tough day at the office to be honest, and I'll be relieved to finish for Christmas and have a week and a half off work before I return back on the 5th. At least I'm finishing on the 23rd having decided to take Christmas Eve off, so that was good. It was a case of knuckling down today and finishing off the laptop I started earlier in the week, and then also setting about the upgrades of RAM for some of the PCs that I'd been waiting for, and was able to deploy the three administration PCs in Finance today as well. I've only got a few left now and it'll be the admin upgrade done and dusted which has to be something, I suppose. I know though I've got a busy few days ahead of me which should make the time go by nicely.

On the way home I decided to stop off in the local Asda to get a few bits and bobs and noticed a rather good deal on the Carte Noire coffee, and thus bought two 200g jars of the stuff for a mere fiver. Considering one jar woud normally cost around that much, it's a veritable bargain, and it's lovely coffee, perfect for the office and so it keeps the brain ticking over very nicely indeed, which is what it should be about really. I also though decided to get a couple of other things as well so that the supplies would be nicely stocked over the Christmas period, and then aimed at getting back home and sorting a few things out such as the washing.

I had The Olbas Oil On My Tissue come over later on, despite being a little bit full of a buggy cold and flu. I had made us some tea with some cracked pepper chicken, golden rice with red peppers and some garlic bread on the side, the idea being that some of that might at least try and get the flu out of the system as well as being warming as well. I don't know if it helped do the job but I know that we both enjoyed tea and then settled down. I whacked on Duke Special's "Songs From The Deep Forest" album and relaxed with a good game of Scrabble. In fact, I really did enjoy listening to that album again from start to finish and it shows just how good it is. For me, my personal favourite and therefore tune of the day is still "No Cover Up", which has some beautiful piano throughout with the Duke singing his heart out, his Belfast accent really does come through as well. I was tempted to go along to The Deaf Institute (aka Trof) to see him live at the end of January, but the tickets are already sold out. Darn, darn and blast eh?

Anyway, Scrabble worked wonders and the brain ticked over nicely - in fact I used all seven tiles in one go and thus amassed a decent score for it by playing TROOPER - hurrah. I drew out the J, Z and X tiles from the bag in one go though mind - what's the likelihood of doing that, eh? Mind you, helps when there's a triple letter both ways so you can play AX for around fifty points, then I played ZEALOT across the top for 45 on a triple word score. I ended up with the Q late on as well and that wasn't good, but the good old Chinese life force QI helped me out there (see, I'm passing on all these useful words to you too). In the end, I scored 469 points, possibly my highest single game score in a while!

Well there I was collating the old stats yesterday in the diary and what happens? Well, of course the whole of the Brookside Close set went on sale today and someone bought the whole job lot for £735,000 - basically most of the houses are empty shells and they need a fair bit of work doing on them and so do the gardens too, serious landscaping required there. It does look though like a property developer has bought it though which will mean turning them back into residential places. Would you like to live at the house with the body under the patio though, I wonder? Anyway, what this meant was that all the Brookside pics in my Brookside set got a fair number of views, so much so that a few of them moved up the view ranks. C'est la vie.

Tuesday 16th December - Laptop Goodness And Stat Attack

Spent a fair bit of today imaging one of the new Toshiba Satellite Pro P300 laptops. In fact I had spent a fair bit of time yesterday attempting to bring down an image to it, which is an image I did for the department in question which has all their software plus customised stuff, and that was based on a Toshiba Satellite Pro L40. The image itself was fine, but this being Zenworks imaging, I eventually needed the very latest imaging boot files on the server, which ended up having the driver for the Marvell Yukon network card that Toshiba had put inside this laptop. Once that was done on the server, the image came down fine - and indeed worked fine on reboot as well. The only thing I had to do was remove some of the drivers for the L40 etc, and then add on the drivers for the P300, which I conveniently had on my USB pen drive (hehe, not daft me you know!) already downloaded.

In fact being able to do that saved me lots of time in that I didn't have to build the image from scratch, much trickier if you have to do that sort of thing. It also meant that I could create an image for that laptop in quick time, just in case anyone else happens to get the same one, makes life a heck of a lot easier let me tell you. I also spent a fair bit of the day helping out the students as well with their plotting problems, and being able to keep things going nicely is just the right thing to do really. In fact I took a break from that during the afternoon and was able to connect up the network sockets for the staff move to be at the ready, which was something rather good all round I reckon.

We did go to a leaving do at lunch today as well, which was for one of my colleagues who was retiring. He'd been at the place for over 25 years and he was on the interview panel not only for when I got the first job at where I am now, but also for when I moved into my current job as well. He was a pleasure to work with (how often can you say that?) and if you were straight forward and honest with him, and explained things the right way, when the time comes, he would back your corner and know that everything is done the right way. The sort of person that it's handy to have as a good contact if you need things moving. Shame he's going, but I know whatever happens to him that he'll be well remembered - the very high turnout from everyone said a lot, as did the fact the collection for the leaving present got a full hi-fi separates rig of a Cambridge Audio amp, DAB/FM tuner, CD player and speakers to match. And believe me, that isn't cheap!

Anyway, stat attack time for you tonight. I was looking at the current stats on my Flickr! images, and there's some interesting reading to say the least, and an indicator of just how the times change in terms of what's happened! I did the last check some four months ago, so the update now looks like this. The top ten is as follows, in reverse order:

At number 10, it's 9 Brookside Close with 252 views
At number 9, it's 8 Brookside Close with 265 views
At equal 7th, it's also Brookside Close, this time number 5, with 271 views
Also equal 7th is a pic of Goodison Park viewed from Stanley Park Lake in Liverpool, with 271 views
At number 6, it's Brookie again - the infamous patio of Number 10 making it 276 views
At number 5, it's Robinho celebrating his first Man City goal, with 280 views
At number 4, it's love at the 192 bus stop (or is it?) with 302 views, good story behind that one
At number 3, it's the Archimedes in the bath pic outside what was UMIST, with 403 views
Second and previously top last time, is the Al-Waalis in Levenshulme with 470 views
Top of the tree is Michaela Tabb at the 2008 World Snooker championships with 496 views

Wow! The top one nearly has 500 now. In fact it jumped up over 100 views in one week as she was refereeing one of the tournaments the BBC show, and I reckon people were looking up images of her and found mine - which is quite nice when you think about it. Interestingly, only two of those were taken with my current Panasonic TZ3 (fourth and fifth place) and the rest were with the old Nikon Coolpix 2200, which to be fair I did get plenty of use out of back in the day. I'd love to go back to Brookside and get some wide angle shots of some of the houses and indeed the close, that would work out nicely methinks.

Quick nod for tune of the day goes to Baskery's "Out-Of-Towner". It's simplistic but it works, has plenty of country twang or banjo punk as they call it, and it's good fun. So there.

Monday 15th December - Pay Day Is The Best Day, Sometimes

As we at work are paid on the 15th of the month, it meant that it was at least pay day today. I don't know why more employers don't do that instead of paying at the end of the month and then bringing the Christmas pay date forward so that people who work there end up being completely skint towards the end of January. I am much happier with the way it is, it just makes more sense to be paid in the middle of the month because it's always a constant date to get the money in the bank account. It also means that if I did have to buy any last minute Christmas presents, at least I'd have the money to do so now before it gets really manic in the next few days or so.

This week with it being the last week of term is also the week of many student deadlines, and this inevitably also means that the A1 colour plotters that we have get an absolute hammering, and I mean, hammering. Normally they're on the go all day and all night for the next few days until it eventually dies down by the end of the week, but it's fairly intense stuff. All we can do is make sure where possible that everything is loaded ready to go at the end of the day and then go from there really - and normally this can work pretty okay considering. We even sent out an email and posted to all the student Intranets to make sure that students follow our guide for successfully printing to the plotters too, thus covering our backs if we can.

It can get quite manically busy but on the plus side of that it does make the day go by quicker, which has to be something. It was soon time to head home and I spent a bit of the time this evening watching the snooker, the UK Championships to be precise. It was a fascinating scrap between Ding Junhui and Steve Davis for sure, and Steve was even showing off some of his old safety play mastery that made him such a success in that department, and even fought back a bit before falling 9-5 to Ding. It was intriguing though and I'm sure that even for the new kids on the block like Ding, and despite the fact that Davis had to qualify to get here, it's still a major scalp for a lot of people to beat him. Well, they don't call him Steve for nothing, do they?

In fact, Steve Davis for many reasons is still one of my favourite snooker players of all time. He dominated the sport in the 1980s, and still up to a couple of years ago was in the world's top 16. He also has a really dry sense of humour and always finds the time to also summarise and commentate on the great sport, and be one of the players who'd really like the World Championships to say at the home of snooker, The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. The reason for his domination is that he worked harder than others, didn't go for the booze or cigarettes, and really concentrated on his game. He set the standards for today's modern greats to follow, and that's always important to remember. I even got to see him play at The Crucible early this year, and I couldn't believe I was so close to the legend!!

Nonetheless though, the battle for the Christmas Number One has commenced in earnest. I really don't want the Z Factor single to be number one, so I'll nominate my own choice of Christmas song this year: MJ Hibbett and the Validators' "The Advent Calendar of FACT". It's tune of the day by a mile because it is a great slice of indie pop goodness and it also mentions lots of things about Christmas that does actually happen, which is what it should be about. This is the Christmas that I know and like (cue Venn diagram in the video, classic moment) and why shouldn't something like this get the airplay instead?

Sunday 14th December - The Real McHoy

Had a bit of a relaxed and lazy day today. I just felt really tired and emotional when I went to bed last night, mainly for personal reasons. I woke up and just had a bit of a lie-in, and that actually felt pretty good. I think it's jsut a culmination of a few things happening that seemed to be all as one, and I'm sure they'll pan out over time. That's one massive fault I do have: I think about things too much, I over analyse them somewhat and end up worrying when sometimes I don't need to. Sometimes you need to admit those faults and actually realise that they can do more harm than good. Thank heavens most of my thinking occurs when I'm asleep then!

Spent a fair bit of the afternoon relaxing and watching the Race of Champions thing from Wembley. The much anticipated race between Chris Hoy on his bike and Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes SLR didn't happen - mainly for safety reasons. The track was already wet from incessant rain on the Saturday and early on the Sunday testing David Coulthard dropped a shedload of oil in the track, making it rather too skiddy for a cyclist to whizz round on his bike without causing serious injury. A real shame, but safety first and indeed at least that gave Hamilton a chance to thank all his fans in Wembley for supporting him.

Whilst playing Scrabble against The Pillows On My Bed (and coming up with a nice triple word move on both direction, simultaneously playing QUAYS and SHAFT (the QUAY was already there, the S was on the triple word square and went downards) and getting 96 for the privelege) I kept my eye on the Nations Cup race, and admittedly after the Brits were knocked out I was cheering on Germany against Scandinavia in the final. And they delivered - well Michael Schumacher did anyway, but that was nice payback for last year as Sebastian Vettel was the one to kick backside that time, and Schumi won the race-off at the end to get a 2-1 win for the Germans and lift the title. It shows he still has the competitive edge even now. Oh, and didn't the Sky presenter Georgie Thompson look rather luscious?

Moving swiftly on, it was a fairly relaxed two of us later on who settled down after a very nice tea cooked by The Pillow to watch BBC Sports Personality of the Year. It was great to hear such a nice rendition of the Vangelis classic theme tune "Chariots of Fire" (I'll give the original tune of the day) as the Olympic heroes all came to the stage and were duly congratulated. Indeed I was so pleased that the public on the night got their voting absolutely spot on. In an incredible year for British sport, there were for me three main contenders: Rebecca Adlington, who won the 400m and 800m freestyle swimming and broke the world record in the latter: Lewis Hamilton, whose dramatic second to last corner gaining of fifth to win the F1 world title had us all on a knife-edge and indeed a perfect end to ITV's coverage reign: and Chris Hoy, triple Olympic gold in the cycling and indeed in events where he's not his strongest, as the 1K event was removed from the Games.

Out of those, the top three were Adlington 3rd, Hamilton 2nd and Hoy first, and absolutely right in my view. The other contenders of the ten were all so well deserved and indeed full credit to them all, the likes of Ellie Symonds who won Young Personality of the Year for her Paralympic swimminh exploits, and the Lifetime Achievement to Sir Bobby Charlton - all so well deserved. There are times when the BBC gets it hopelessly wrong (such as Strictly Come Dancing yesterday) and times like this when they get it right:the show in Liverpool worked really well and the stage set for a great celebration of British Sport, and that's how it should be. Just wish I could have been in the audience for that one!

Saturday 13th December - Strictly Farcical

Well, on a day like the 13th of the month, I don't know what was more farcical of the events of the day. Allow me to explain and all shall become very clear indeed, and it was definitely one of those that you just think "were these things meant to happen or what?" It was for me at least, something odd happening in the air.

First off, my friend and I headed off to watch City against Everton at the City of Manchester Stadium. Everton had no fit strikers whatsoever and so were playing Tim Cahill up front with assistance from Leon Osman. On the other hand City were at least looking like a standard 4-4-2 with Benjani up front with Robinho. However, the more the game went on, the more it didn't look right somehow. Robinho didn't look 100% and what made it worse for me that was when the ball wasn't anywhere near, he didn't look bothered. I hate that sort of attitude and it smacks of both arrogance and disrespect for the others in the team.

However, as my friend and I sat down for the start of the second half, we couldn't believe it. Benjani had been taken off and Jo put on. Why? Jo, to put it bluntly, has been rather useless for us this season and pretty much a waste of the £15million or so we paid for him from CSKA Moscow - a big mistake in my eyes. And he did little to prove otherwise in a drab and dull second half where we lost all momentum gained from the first half. The play didn't flow, and throughout it seemed Everton wanted it more. As the time ticked down to the stoppage time at the end, a stupid header from Richard Dunne gave away a corner. I turned to my friend and said "You watch - they'll score here!" - and they did, with Tim Cahill powering home a header to the corner of the goal, doing what Joleon Lescott had done in stoppage time against Aston Villa last week. It was so obvious and City did nothing - and it was nothing short of disgraceful and farcical the way the team played.

And the sword has to fall on one man - City manager Mark Hughes. Unfortunately he's being found out here at club level. At Blackburn no one expected them to do so well and he nurtured a team there, but at City it's a different kettle of fish, and it just doesn't seem like tactically he knows necessarily how to win a game when it gets ugly. The City board at the time were very very short sighted in getting rid of Sven, and instances like yesterday's game only just prove the point even more so. I was being patient and understanding of the changes afoot and wanting to give Hughes time, but this shambolic performance was the last straw for me. I'm now clearly wanting him to be fired sooner rather than later, and so we can at least get someone decent in before the January transfer window.

And if that wasn't farcical enough, later on myself and The Pillows On My Bed watched Strictly Come Dancing, and I have to say I wasn't very happy. Lisa Snowdon did an excellent American Smooth, and her and Brendan Cole justifiably got 10s across the board. After Rachel Stevens and Vincent Simone had danced, it meant that on points her and Lisa had tied in the judges score and were both awarded 3 points towards the final score (the score from the judges and audience being combined with 3 for best and 1 for last). Now, regardless of the public vote, this meant that Tom Chambers with Camilla Dallerup would be in the dance-off no matter what happened. Simply explained it's this: Lisa/Brendan and Rachel/Vincent have 3 points, even if the public voted them 2nd and 3rd, one of them would have 5 points, the other 4. The most Tom/Camilla could get was 4 (3 from the public, 1 from the judges).

Therefore the public vote would make no difference apart from which of the top two would head straight to the final. However, what happened next was farcical. At the start of the results show the phone votes had been suspended, which immediately told me something was up. And then when it was announced who was in the dance-off, it was decided all three would go through to the final. What an almighty cock-up! No wonder the public were ranting and raving at the BBC and indeed complaining via various Internet forums about it.

Of course, the solution was easy: if the powers that be in the BBC wanted three couples in the final, why not just bring the final forward a week early thus competing with X-Factor's final on the same night (and due to the time allocations, no clashes either). Or, if they really did want to get rid of one dancer tonight, top place should have been decided on the highest score from the Argentine Tango, as it was the one dance everyone had to do and therefore could be measured on equal terms. In that case, Rachel/Vincent would get 3, Lisa/Brendan 2 with Tom/Camilla 1. And if the public voted so that Tom/Camilla got 3, Lisa/Brendan 2 and Rachel/Vincent 1, it would be 4 each, but as the most public votes decide a tie, it would mean that it would have still been possible for Tom/Camilla to avoid the dance-off. Easy really. But what happened was absolutely shambolic and it's certainly given me second thoughts about watching the final.

In the event of all that happened today, "The 13th" by The Cure seems somehow appropriate as it has the number of the day in the title and is also a very good little song. It reminds me of Robert Smith being on Top of the Pops with the band performing the number and feeling somewhat embarrassed! Tune of the day it is, much better than the X-Factor winner not really doing the Leonard Cohen classic "Hallelujah" any justice. The only good thing will be that if it does get number one, at least he'll get some royalties out of it.

Friday 12th December - No Plan B

Well, it was all agog in the office at around noon time as we all eagerly awaited the results of the Manchester Transport Innovation Fund vote (or for those amongst you, the congestion charging vote). Although the debate on both sides had raged for some time, and at the time of the referendum opening that it was pretty close to call, I had a feeling that the no vote would win, even judging by a straw poll in our office of five. My colleagues had for different reasons all decided to vote no, and I was the only one to have voted yes (so now you know!). The live feed from the BBC eventually realised that it was time for the vote to be announced and so hurriedly went to Manchester Central to hear the results of the vote.

As each of the ten Greater Manchester boroughs were counted, it was clear to me that all seemed like no. In fact when the first was announced (Bolton, as it's the first in alphabetical order) there was a resounding no vote for that. This, incidentally, was despite Bolton Council not having an official stance and allowing the public to speak for themselves. Bury was a no. Manchester was next, and that too was a resounding no. It then fell on Oldham next. If this was a no, the vote was doomed, as it required at least seven of the ten Council referendum votes to be yes. However, that, and in fact all ten were a massive resounding no to say the least. Indeed only Manchester looked anywhere near to 30% for a yes, others were massive margins for No. Overall, it was around 22% for yes and 78% for no, which is a pretty big decisive margin really.

Although as you can imagine I'm pretty disappointed with the outcome, at the same time at least we should be thankful that we all had a chance to have our say and cast our vote however we may have felt, and not have it brought in regardless. In fact the vote mirrored the 20%/80% split in our office pretty well, so I guess that we were a representative sample in part too. But the decision has been made, and made fairly. It's now time to see what else can be done, and despite the insistence of the Yes campaign that there was no Plan B, some of the investment in transport at least is already underway as Phase 3a of the Metrolink had already had its funding allocated, but it'll be interesting if infact Phase 3b now gets approval or not. The public have spoken pretty decisively no matter how you look at it: and it'll be interesting further down the line if there's knock on effects.

Away from that, it was also a chance to do some repairing of a recent build and invoke some changes that needed doing, which took the afternoon up nicely. As I headed home on the bus and peering outside the window to the pouring rain, it made me wonder about the year as a whole and how good it's been really - and that I could possibly say that it's been the best year of my life for me personally, even if there are some things which haven't gone so well in reality. With that in mind, I'm going to nominate "Get Happy" as covered by Jane Horrocks on the Little Voice soundtrack, because it's such an uplifting thing - and it's just what I need. Tune of the day- and easily.

Thursday 11th December - Up Goes The Tree

One of the things that I do try to stick to here at the Towers is to always put up the Christmas Tree exactly two weeks before Christmas Day, and indeed to take it down before 5th January (normally the 2nd or 3rd to be honest). So I knew that tonight was the night to put the tree up, and remembering that I'd put the tree and all the relevant decorations in the understairs cubbyhole, I got home from work and dug everything out. Now, unlike The Polar Bear On My Christmas Tree, I don't get a real tree. I have this white tree that I've had for the last six years and it's very me because it's a different colour and because it feels more Wintry that way. Also, I don't go completely mental with lights everywhere like some people: it's a bit more discreet and tasteful that way.

So once I'd worked out the spot for the tree, I dug out the little IKEA lack side table I stand it on, and then proceeded to unpack the tree, put that up, and add the baubles. It was at this time I realised I didn't have enough baubles really and so scooted off to the local pound shop to get some nice silvery ones, which really do look the part. Two packs of 10 of those later and it looked a lot nicer overall, and together with the existing ones I had, some lights and a little bit of tinsel on the tree itself, it looked the part, it really did. I have to say it didn't take me that long to put everything up, but just a case of taking my time till I was happy with it.

All the way throughout I had Led Zeppelin III on repeat play on the CD player to help me through the process. I just fancied a bit of old school classic rock, and they don't get much better than the opening track from said album, "Immigrant Song". I'm going to make that tune of the day not least because the band actually allowed it to be used in the film "School of Rock" and it fitted the film so well at the right part (hence Jack Black's plea to Led Zeppelin on the DVD extras, as they're known for not doing the permission thing normally). It also got me in the right frame of mind to be putting the tree up and indeed to start thinking more Christmassy thoughts. Just didn't end up getting some mince pies in the local Tesco later, but a whole lot more of other things besides.

Wednesday 10th December - Plan B

So I woke up this morning in the comfy surroundings of Etap and headed down for breakfast. It was a buffet breakfast that you get, and even better, it's all you can eat. The very nice woman on the ground floor told me that you needed a token for the coffee machine and handed me one, and so I ended up with some croissants, a piece of toast (which you put in the toaster yourself, all very nice), some Bran Flakes, some orange juice and a latte, so that definitely did the job very nicely and made me feel nicely fulfilled for the journey ahead.

I wasn't sure if the Piccadilly line would still be subject to delays and didn't want to find out when I got to the tube station, so I hatched upon Plan B: I'd take the bus from Hounslow to White City, and then get another bus or another tube from there back to Euston. Indeed the bus stop for the 237 service from Hounslow to White City was directly opposite the Etap, so it wasn't a very long way to walk either. The bus came fairly quick and although it did stop at almost every stop on the way, didn't seem too bad as it went through Isleworth, Brentford and then Kew Bridge towards Chiswick. It went through there and cut off left towards Shepherd's Bush. I noticed the time and realised that it wasn't that far from White City but I needed to make a good decision to be sure of not being too late for the train. The bus stopped at Goldhawk Road tube, not far from its eventual terminus, so I got off there and headed for the tube as it'd be the Hammersmith and City line to Euston Square.

Bah! The tube line was delayed here too, but not as badly as the Piccadilly Line was, I could see Hammersmith station in the distance where the line started and before not too long the train came and got us to Euston Square in pretty quick time. Also it turned out to be a good move, because from White City there's no direct bus to Euston anyway - I'd have had to change again. The one way I could have done was get off in Turnham Green and got the 27 bus up to Warren Street, close to Euston, and walked the rest of the way, which I found out at home later. Anyway, it worked out fine and I got to Euston with tons of time to spare - in fact it was almost as quick as just getting the Piccadilly Line tube from Hounslow Central anyway and I'd had a much nicer scenic view overall.

The train back was full of Aalborg fans making their way up for tonight's Champions League game (who could have seen them 2-1 up at half time at Old Trafford and managing a 2-2 draw then?) and they seemed in good spirits all round. And just proving that a fair number of Man U fans do come from London, there were a few of those on the train as well, and drinking heavily so it seemed. Ah well. But the train got to Piccadilly slightly early, which meant I could go home, relax, wrap up more Christmas presents, mail off a couple of presents and cards to people and then generally do all that and make some phone calls in the evening, all busy me you know!

As I'd been preparing a little something to put in with some of my Christmas cards, this meant I could listen to lots of music whilst writing the cards out (the fun you can have, eh?) With that in mind, I decided to have a listen to some of the tracks off Ladytron's new album online and I have to say that I gave "Runaway" a play or several, simply because it reminds me of how good they were back in April, which is the gig out of the two that I'll have fonder memories of. It just sounds really pulsating with the analogue deep evil bass line and remnates a feeling throughout - so tune of the day it is then!

Tuesday 9th December - Totally Mince Pie Acoustic

Off to London today for the Totally Acoustic gig down at The Lamb in London. This time though I'd done the sensible thing: booked a couple of days off work and organised myself an overnight stay into the bargain, the reason being that it was a 10pm train which got in at 1.10am last time, and I was tired out even with taking an expensive taxi home for work the next day. This way I could go to sleep at a reasonable hour and feel refreshed for the next day (see the logic I'm operating here). As Travelodge were all expensive, I plumped for the Etap hotel in Hounslow, a bit out of London maybe but nonetheless a fair bit cheaper, and indeed brekkie for only an extra three pounds - absolute bargain. So that meant it was £35 for the night including breakfast, and of course if two of you planned to stay over, you could both stay and have breakfast for £38. Can't argue with that.

I took the 1115 train from Piccadilly to London Euston, and as normal the Virgin Pendolino was nice and fast and reliable. I had the small mp3 player with me and I'd filled it with tunes, and that certainly kept me going nicely all the way. In fact, I had put lots of MJ Hibbett tracks on so that I could ready myself for tonight's show (including new single The Advent Calendar of Fact, which I downloaded from HMV this morning (so it'll count for the charts, woohoo!) so make that one tune of the day while we're at it. It was soon time to head off the train and walk to Kings Cross St Pancras tube. Why, you may ask? Well, Hounslow Central is on the Piccadilly tube line and I can therefore just do one straight journey westbound. Or so the plan goes.

Some plan though, meh. Due to signal failure earlier in the day, the Piccadilly Line service was running with severe delays as it got held up numerous times between Hammersmith and Acton Town. When the train got to the latter station, the announcer said that it'd only be going to Hounslow Central and not Heathrow, thankfully that was all I needed to go to. The supposed 45 minute tube journey did take 1 hour and 12 minutes though, which wasn't so great. Thankfully, it was a short walk to the Etap and I was pleasantly pleased at the room - nice big comfy bed, toilet, sink and a separate little shower cubicle, which looked like to have a good powerful shower in it. And an LCD telly on the wall with channels as well. Part of it also had light green decor, I guess becuase green is supposedly a peaceful colour you know.

I unpacked as needed and had a walk down the main high street in Hounslow itself. It certainly was a long pedestrianised street with most of the big name shops having a residence here - and indeed one of the shopping centres even had a claim to having a branch of Debenhams in there. For during the week it was fairly lively, but then of course there are only two weeks to Christmas which did explain a fair bit. I did manage to get something whilst I was there though - some birthday cards for friends' birthdays coming up, and indeed a special Christmas card for the special one (well you have to do these things don't you?) - which meant she wouldn't have a clue what I've got, hehe!

I left a bit earlier than planned as I wanted to try and avoid the Hounslow commuter set getting on the tube at Hounslow Central and also with the delays I wanted not to have to rush around. I got to Hounslow Central at around 4.40pm and despite delays between Acton Town and Hammersmith, and then later on at Green Park because someone in the train ahead had pulled the passenger emergency alarm for no reason, it did take less this time - only just - one hour and four minutes. If it carried on like this, I'd have to leave a lot earlier or come up with Plan B tomorrow for getting me to Euston for the train back.

I walked from Russell Square tube and down past The Lamb and down to Holborn, where nice food awaited me in one of the local pubs there - nice mixed grill for a good price. With me suitably nourished it was back down Lamb's Conduit Street and to The Lamb itself which was fairly rammed to say the least. It was standing room only and then I noticed quite possibly one of the reasons why - the pub had Tribute on cask. Oh, absolute unadulterated joy from yours truly!! As you can well imagine, having the best Cornish ale here in London was a huge surprise (the price per pint of £3.05 wasn't though) so of course I simply had to get one and then make my way upstairs to the room where Totally Acoustic happens and said hello to Mark (MJ Hibbett), The Apple In His Eye (the girlfriend, hehe) and his parents were also up from Cornwall for the week and were there for the show too, which was all lovely.

First off was Jon from Ten Foot Nun (official site) (Myspace), who'd called himself Ten Foot Jon for the evening! He did some of the band's tunes but with just him and an acoustic guitar. He made everyone chuckle when he did the "this is where all the prog bit comes in" moments in parts of some of the tracks, and generally got things off to a good start, and definitely his humour was that you couldn't help but admire.

Next was the very lovely Jenny Lockyer (Myspace) who definitely had a smile and a song and a warm sense of humour. For one of the songs she wanted people to impersonate a soft blowing wind - she liked mine and even had a bit of banter with me - awww. That felt really nice. She also asked about famous elephants and I succesfully guessed she was on about Nellie, not Dumbo. Hurrah! Amongst the cute songs in her set were the likes of "Chocolate Cake" (yes, about cake!), "Washing Line", "Nelly's Knickers" - a sort of what happened next to Nellie the Elephant, and "Skinny Jim" which describes her as being skinny and tall and how some of her relatives wanted her to fatten up for all sorts of odd reasons. She was great fun, and if she ever comes up North, I'd have to go along!

It was time for a break - and some break! In a flash of genius, Mark had been to Sainsbury's in Holborn and cleared their shelves of mince pies (two packs for £2 offer) and one of the other regulars Pete had thought of the same thing - so there were around eight six packs of mince pies for the audience to consume along with their beer, which seemed a good idea. Indeed I had a couple of mince pies myself which felt all Christmassy and lovely, and even though the bar had ran out of Tribute (a sure sign that it was selling like the proverbial hotcakes) the Young's Winter Warmer was a very nice and dark beer instead, oh yes... all very lovely that.

So, back to MJ Hibbett (official site) (Myspace) who was of course as good as he usually is. What's really good about the whole Totally Acoustic thing is that it's just that, no PA, no nothing, just instrument and vocals. What's even better is that the audience are good enough not to natter like loons when someone is playing either. So, we did get the aforementioned Christmas single (hurrah!) as well as "Nobody Believed It" from "All Around My House" which was great fun as Mark scrambled for the lyric sheet after getting a little stuck half way through, but done like a true professional (hehe), but it was so heartwarming as so many of us sang along to the chorus of "It Only Works Because You're Here", and joined in the Music of the Future bit of "Do The Indie Kid" too. It ended with a triumvirate of Hibbett classics: "Easily Impressed" complete with audience particpation, his legendary version of "Boom Shake The Room" and for the encore, "The Lesson of the Smiths", complete with sweary bits. Well it was after 9pm, so he was allowed, hehe.

After staying for a small while I said my goodbyes and headed off to Russell Square tube to get the train back to Hounslow Central - it ran a bit smoother this time and seemed to be on time, but as half the journey even during the day is in total darkness, it just felt rather horrible and it proved to me why where possible I tend to avoid the tube when in London these days - I'll see if I can work out a Plan B tomorrow and go from there I reckon. I did get back in time for the Champions League highlights - even if I knew the Chelski score thanks to some people on the train in blue and white scarves, it was worth a watch, and then snuggled up into bed. What a lovely day.

Monday 8th December - Krypton Factor Hit By Kryptonite

Well, it was supposed to be a relaxing evening in Granada Studios for myself and The Needle On My Record, as we had audience tickets for the screening of The Krypton Factor, and seeing how it would be with the return of the programme to ITV1 scheduled for early next year. I met The Needle after work and we headed via the Christmas Market in Albert Square to get one of their pork and stuffing barmcakes, which definitely warmed us both up and tasted rather nice. As we walked down Quay Street and towards Granada, we were there in pretty good time as the gates were open from 6.10pm with no admittance after 7pm, and when we got to the Water Street gate entrance at around 6.35pm there was a considerable queue. I thought at first "oh they're just letting us in a few a time".

Then we heard a woman who must have been from the audience company make an announcement to say that those in the queue weren't getting in tonight. What? Thankfully one of the other blokes came down to explain to us exactly what had gone on: originally the studio was set out for 200 people for the audience, but for some reason tonight they cut the numbers down to 80, which meant it was a first come first served basis and that those people who were there could if they wanted get priority for the January recordings (semis and final I think) which might work out well.

There were still people walking towards the gates as we walked back all with their printed eticket emails in their hand. I thought it best to let them find out. As we walked back down Quay Street though I spotted someone and said to The Needle who it was and that two people were with her. As it transpired, they were just two members of the public who had also spotted her and wanted to get their picture taken with her. Needless to say they were buzzing as they walked up Quay Street afterwards. And who were they so excited about? The actress Vicky Entwistle, who plays Janice Battersby in Coronation Street no less! Fair dos, I suppose.

We headed back for a drink in town and relaxed before having a quiet evening in a bit later on, which meant some relaxing time for me before my trip down to London tomorrow. It was good to have a chat and generally do normal couple things (I know, so boring eh?) but also just to admire the tree now it had been fully decorated as well so that was good. I must admit that all day in anticpation I had in my head The Art of Noise's version of the theme tune from the Krypton Factor and hoping I was going to hear that tonight - but sadly no. Ah well. That version gets tune of the day and you can see it in its glory here. It also shows just why Gordon Burns should have been brought back as host!!

Sunday 7th December - Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree...

It was off out today in the Wintry weather for myself and The Polar Bear On My Christmas Tree, as we thought it would be nice to check out the markets in Ramsbottom and by all accounts there was a nativity on in one of the church grounds near the main streets, so it would be good to see how a local town does their Christmas preparations. Part of me for one reason or another hasn't felt so Christmassy this year and it was really difficult to be able to motivate myself, so I needed something to kick start me into action. This wasn't unnoticed by The Polar Bear either, who really wanted me to get into the spirit like I know I'd normally do, so maybe it'd work?

Anyway, we managed to get to Ramsbottom unscathed, although the snow up on the hills and indeed in the centre of the town in parts of the shade just showed that it had remained cold all week and that the snow had refused to lift or move away, so good to be able to know everything was still on. The market was pretty good and one stall had these really nice proper Christmas hamper packs and with boxes you could reuse for something else afterwards, a most excellent idea. We spent some time in one of the antiques shops thinking how I wished I'd managed to save enough in my old NatWest kids' account to collect all the pigs, they're worth a fair bit now you know! Indeed the atmosphere just seemed right, away from the hustle and bustle it just felt so.

Once we'd been round a fair number of the shops it was time to head back along Bridge Street to the church, and in the gardens outside was where the nativity was taking place. They had a choir there too, and infact two of my Flickr contacts were there, one singing as part of the choir and another playing guitar along as part of the musicial accompaniments, which sounded very festive and nice. Indeed, the nativity had plenty of the locals who attend various churches do their parts, such as the three Wise Men, King Herod, two narrators, and little local kids as the angels and the shepherds, which was nice to see. With the snow on most of the grass and paths by the church, it felt more Christmassy. I'm not religious at all, but I have to say it was nice to see something kept simple and true to the story and indeed with some good music and singing. I didn't envy them though, stood out there in the freezing cold singing and playing their hearts out!

The two of us headed inwards for a coffee later on and it was so nice to warm up before heading out to some more of the shops and seeing how much local resistance there is against a local Aldi being built - on the site of the former TNT parcels depot there. I think with traffic being pretty busy already in the town and because of the fact that both Tesco and Co-Op have kept their stores small and compact, the locals want their local businesses still to compete and operate and maintain the feel that they have, which I can completely see the point of. Nearly every shop in the place had something about it as well.

Later on, we headed back via Holcombe Brook and to Summerseat and to their garden centre. I heard it was a good place to get a real Christmas Tree, and as The Polar Bear was after one for her place, an ideal stop. The garden centre was very busy which immediately told me that it was a place to go, and what was lovely was when you picked your tree, you could have the base of it inserted into a wooden base, netted so it was wrapped tighter for easier carrying, or both. We decided to have it netted and then take it away, so that was good. We set it up later at The Polar Bear's place and she then went for it and adorned it with lights and baubles, and it all looked very festive indeed. Hurrah! It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas now, and I think the whole day made it just feel more so, not least as we left Summerseat and went under the bridge where the East Lancashire Railway station is that we saw the Santa Special steam train too.

I had got in the mood slightly this morning before we left anyway as I knew what the music was in the Marks and Spencer Christmas ad. If anyone else is wondering, it's Macy Gray's version of "Winter Wonderland". If you really want it, it's on the "A Very Ally Christmas" Ally McBeal soundtrack CD, which I admittedly have (mainly for the stuff by the gorgeous Vonda Shepard on it, so the Macy Gray track is tune of the day. It just feels more like the time of year now, I just hope that continues...

Saturday 6th December - Levelling The Academy 1

It was a really nice relaxed day all round actually. I had some time on my hands during the day so it was time to do some of the housework and get things done like ironing and washing up and also dusting (oh the joy of being domesticated let me tell you) and then kick back and enjoy the live game on Sky Sports HD1 as it was Fulham against Man City. As you can well imagine, my face was one of happiness six minutes in as Paolo Zabaleta crossed in and Benjani headed it goalwards to take an early lead, followed by sheer despair and also anger at Joe Hart's rubbish goalkeeping as Jimmy Bullard shot low and hard to make it 1-1, and in truth, a draw was a pretty fair result to be honest. I was quite pleased that we had at least scored and had chances to win, but something was missing from the performance, and that concerned me.

I then had the rest of the afternoon to keep an eye on the other scores with Sky Sports News as well, and of course as Jeff Stelling's beloved Hartlepool have their iconic player James Brown out for the season, it makes things a little less exciting for Jeff. Still, you wouldn't know it, and time soon ticked away until the final whistle, and not long after with perfect timing The Polar Bear On My Christmas Tree came over and we relaxed for a while, and my friend came over from deepest Derbyshire, as she was going with us to the Academy 1 later to see The Levellers (who incidentally is my friend's favourite band of all time, so of course when offered the chance to come along, she was there like a shot!! hehe) It was great catching up and having plenty of chat, and indeed her and The Polar Bear seemed to get on famously, which was rather good too.

The three of us then headed to the Academy 1 later on and, for The Polar Bear, the first time she'd been in there for ages since she saw Paul Weller there many moons back. Indeed it also meant I could show them how it's been done up and then get us a drink, well timed so we saw the last bits of Frank Turner. Then there was a hushed moment around the stage and on came a woman. We soon realised that it was the mother of Sophie Lancaster, who had been kicked to death defending her boyfriend and picked upon simply because Sophie was a Goth. Since then her mum has founded The Sophie Lancaster Foundation and pledged to campaign that people shouldn't be picked on because they're different. So she said her bit and mentioned about items people could buy to help, but was really passionate about what she was doing. Good on her! The crowd gave her a great applause and indeed many people went to get stuff: and typical of the Levellers that anything that they can help with causes like this, they'll do. Good for them!

So on came the support act Divokej Bill (official website - English) (official website - native Czech) (Myspace) who weren't too bad. Imagine if you will a Czech version of something between The Levellers and Senser, and you've pretty much got it. There were eight of them on stage including someone playing the banjo, and someone on the accordian who had a Czech Republic football shirt on with Pavel Nedved's number 11 shirt on the back. I should mention that all their songs were sung in their native Czech language, which of course made it difficult to work out what they were saying, but musically they were very good actually. In fact their last song at least had the world "Alcohol" as its title and they asked the public to sing the title after they did and sing along, which seemed fine.

The tension rose, I'd nipped to the loo, and the three of us were ready to see the mighty Levellers (official site) (Myspace) and my, did they not disappoint! The atmosphere was spot on and the fans really did get into it big time, and it was hard not to. With the set divided nicely between the old and the new stuff from "Letters From The Underground" it made the hour and a half seem to go by very quickly indeed. Plenty of "Letters.." got played including "The Cholera Well", "Death Loves Youth", my friend's favourite "Before The End" and my favourite, "Burn America Burn". In fact before it Mark Chadwick said to the audience "Do you fancy a bit of a new punk rock classic? Well you're going to get it anyway!" and then the band burst into it with energy and enthusiasm - so obviously, has to be tune of the day - it was just great.

Also off "Letters..." we got "Fight Or Flight", "A Life Less Ordinary", "Eyes Wide" (complete with digeridoo blokey in the extended introduction), and a great version of "Behold A Pale Rider". Mind you, their classic album "Levelling The Land" was also very well represented, with the classics "One Way" and "The Riverflow" getting an airing, as did "Liberty Song" during the second encore which sounded so passionate as well, excellent stuff that. My friend and I really dislike "Carry Me" (from "A Weapon Called The Word") but that got played anyway, but that was balanced out nicely by "Sell Out" (from "Levelling The Land") so all was good. The sound for the Academy 1 was also excellent as well! On the way back, we reflected on what was a great gig, and indeed agreed that it was just great all round to catch up as well, which is what counts really isn't it?

Friday 5th December - La Vina Loca

It was a fairly hectic day at the office, as I managed to get quite a few PCs sorted out and also continued with pace the admin image rollout. It was good to get a couple of PCs done that needed to be done and have them all playing ball, even if for some reason one of the optical mice decided not to like the wireless keyboard attached and refuse to work until I installed some updated drivers for it - what a pain that was! But it meant that I could leave work for home with a relatively clear conscience and look forward to the weekend. However, for some reason the bus took ages to come and when it was pretty cold, I wasn't pleased - a good job that I had done most of my shopping the day before.

I later went out with The Polar Bear On My Christmas Tree for a meal with her friend and partner, so it was a pretty nice evening all round. In fact, as we headed down Deansgate and towards the restaurant, I bumped into one of my work colleagues from another site as well (small world eh) and then met up with her friends inside La Vina, a Spanish Tapas place. Now, I'm not normally one for this sort of thing, so I was venturing into somewhat unchartered territory and wasn't too sure what to have, but thankfully I was guided through the menu a little. What I did have of the dishes that came out seemed nice enough: particularly the garlic prawns, the meatballs, the chicken in sauce and a few other things too. I just thought though that for what you paid there just wasn't enough on each little plate, hence me having three flavours of organic ice cream for dessert.

Mind you, we all went over to Ra!n Bar later, and the ale was on tip top form, not least the current seasonal one Winter Warmer, which if anything is even darker than their rather nice Brewers Dark that they do in there, and definitely tasted spot on and very warming considering it was after all rather cold out there. I certainly enjoyed that and with The Polar Bear enjoying her wine, and her friend and partner all relaxed and full of humour, it was good fun all round. As is always the case though, the time went by far too quick to say the least and it wasn't long before we were saying our goodbyes and heading homewards, but nonetheless I was pleased that I'd been able to head out and have a lovely time, which is what it's all about isn't it?

As the music in Ra!n was being played, I couldn't help but notice after the initial flurry of dance numbers, everything slowed down a bit and that after that it was more of a contempary pop edge to what was being put on. What was good was that when it did change to better tunes, the whole atmosphere felt a lot more relaxed and that seemed lovely. Mind you, in the morning I'd been listening to the radio as well and heard some indie classics, and not least Morrissey, because of the ticket sales for next year's gigs. So I simply have to nominate "Suedehead" as tune of the day because it's such a great tune. And even better, my friend emailed me to confirm he'd got us tickets for Morrissey at Manchester Apollo on Saturday 23rd May 2009 - okay we're not going to the gig on his 50th birthday, but it's as close as we can get and seeing Moz again will be bloody ace.

Thursday 4th December - Drawing In The Cold

Well it was a time to catch up on the domestic bliss of housework and ironing, and also to do the food shopping as well. With me out on Friday and Saturday evening, I wanted to be sure I had everything in with enough time to go round Tesco and get what I needed, time was tonight. It was pretty quiet actually, which was a good thing, and I couldn't help but notice that every single supermarket seems to put the price of food up before Christmas. Not down, but up. Seemed rather daft to be honest especially with the interest rate cut today, but there you go. Mind you, I did snap up a couple of little bargains along the way so I can't complain too much, but still.

I had had a busy day really: mainly sorting out printer jams but also a rather interesting quirk with regards to a web-based plugin. I'll have to do some more investigation tomorrow but I shall see what happens from there. I also managed to get a few things done in terms of the admin staff image, put a PC out in another office once I'd got the network points all sorted and plan ahead for some new things going in as well - so it's all getting there really. Ideally I'd like to have the admin rollout finished before Christmas, but we shall see how that goes and then work it from there: that'd be good.

I also spent some time uploading more images to my Cornwall November 2008 images set - I'm doing 10 per day at the moment. I actually ended up taking around 200 pictures over two days but I've selected around 85-90 of them to actually be uploaded - some were repeat shots and I've picked the best one and others were where it didn't turn out quite right. Admittedly I am getting more selective in what I've taken because I'd rather only the ones which I feel are good go up and that reflects slightly on the fact that I can be a perfectionist when I get into the right frame of mind - cos I can.

But still, the nights are drawing cold and the one thing to cheer me up was the announcement that Morrissey's going to play the Manchester Apollo on 22nd May 2009, which happens to be his 50th birthday. Just how good is that going to be if I can get tickets for that one I wonder? Not least as a friend and I went to his 45th birthday gig at the Manchester Evening News Arena in 2004 and that was some event, let me tell you. I still adore "Irish Blood English Heart" even now as it takes me back to that event and just how good that was - so that one's tune of the day. I too have been dreaming of a time when the English are sick to death of Labour and Tories, but that's not going to happen some time soon.

Wednesday 3rd December - The Big Zero Freeze

It was probably zero degrees centigrade outside and not much more inside the City of Manchester Stadium tonight as my friend and I headed over there to watch the beloved Blues try and do the business against Paris St Germain in the UEFA Cup group stage game. Our win at Schalke combined with a draw elsewhere meant that we had already qualified of course, but it was now a case of seeing if we could win tonight which meant a group win as top dog and so get an easier draw in the next round (that is the theory anyway). So with hat and gloves on complete with warm outfits, it was time to head to the stadium. It was pretty slippy all around the ground though and I was glad that I felt pretty secure in the footwear department as I didn't want to fall over!

Got in the ground in good time for kick off and without Robinho, Shaun Wright-Phillips and more, it was a case of seeing if the team could do the business on the night. To say no was the master of understatement and makes me wonder if Mark Hughes is the right man for the job. The group was there to be taken, but the game was dull and uninspiring on the whole. Only the invention and sheer grit of the excellent Vincent Kompany kept the game going, and he seemed to create all the best chances. Danny Sturridge was a little unlucky first half with his timed run and shot, but the longer the game went on, the more I felt some players just didn't feel in sorts, not least Darius Vassell and Elano.

The longer it went on also, the more I thought that PSG were going to nick one, and the number of chances that they had second half, they should have done to be honest. Their fans were rather boisterous and it almost kicked off in the corner of the South Stand had the security people not been there in droves to try and sort them out, but nonetheless I did feel relatively safe as we made our way out of the stadium. In essence having City and United play at home on the same night was a bad move in the case of traffic: my friend got delayed on the way to mine because of the sheer volume of cars. Or maybe a cunning plan to show everyone what congestion would be like unless the Manchester charge is brought in. Hmmm.. I pondered.

But still, the very bitter cold only made me more glad to get back and see the documentary on Ant and Dec on Channel 5. My, how I miss SMTV Live: the only show on kids' telly that adults could watch and get plenty of enjoyment out of, not least the likes of Challenge Ant and Wonkey Donkey, where of course every condition the soft toy animal was in had to rhyme with its name (such as Twee Bee) but of course that didn't stop the contestants from thinking otherwise, did it? Sort of like this:

Hehe. "It's gotta rhyme!" The documentary also mentioned about their pop career and of course their most infamous hit "Let's Get Ready To Rhumble" which had me in hysterics, it really did. Ah, the days of when my youngest sister would attempt to sing along to that (but she probably won't admit it, hehe!). But still, away from all that, I just thought a lot about how the last few months have been great and how City can still find time to let me down just like they had done on the Sunday. Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again" seems highly appropriate and if only City could do that, I'd be a happy man, so tune of the day it most certainly is.

Tuesday 2nd December - Back To The Grind

Well it was back at work for me today after the long holiday weekend, and to be honest, I kind of wish I'd taken the day off. Not because I didn't want to get into the groove and start to catch up on things that I'd missed over the weekend, but because I still felt that I was on a high from being away and I didn't want that to be taken down just yet. As it happened though, the day went by pretty quickly and I was being kept busy by several projects: making an image for one of the main teaching rooms, with all the relevant software present, correct and stable, and then also sorting out the continuing upgrade of the admin staff build. Fun and games there, let me tell you.

Anyway, had a rather nice relaxing evening on the whole and spent time over at my Mum's, so I could tell her all about the holiday and indeed show her the pictures as well. As I didn't have the lead to hand to connect the digital camera to the television, instead I did a DVD slideshow of all the pictures that play on a normal DVD player (you can do this pretty easily in Nero Vision Express) and so that meant just whacking the DVD player on and going through them that way. It worked pretty well too to be honest and meant that you were able to see them in a nice big widescreen sort of way. Mum did remark that it looked a little cold (which it was) but there was none of this freezing fog or snow malarkey.

Ah yes, the snow. Seems that a fair number of people around the Greater Manchester area got it, but not me. There was a little dusting of the stuff in the morning but it had soon thawed and then iced over which meant walking to the bus stop was pretty treacherous stuff this morning to say the least - a complete contrast from the Wintry sunshine that I had on Sunday which proved the point that sometimes, Cornwall just gets its own weather and doesn't care what the rest of the country seems to be doing, a good thing I reckon.

I must admit though it was nice later to sit back and relax and even watch the trashy music channels playing numerous Christmas songs - well it is December I guess - to get me into the spirit somewhat. I really still after all these years do like Jethro Tull's "Ring Out Solstice Bells" and although none of the channels seem to play that (it's always some dodgy 1980s video of Slade where the drummer tries his hardest to prove he's the only one playing live!) the Tull song stands the test of time well because it's not overly Christmassy. So that one's tune of the day - because I can.

Monday 1st December - The Road To Home

Well, it was two very happy but very sad people who were leaving the Travelodge this morning. After we'd had some breakfast nearby, we both knew with some sadness, The Card In My Camera and I, that it was time to leave. But not before we saw a rainbow engulf St Austell as we spotted the rain attempt to ease and the sun attempt to come out. In fact it was about the only rain we'd encountered all weekend and felt very lucky indeed to have only seen that. We chanced it and headed out with our cases and the walk up the road, all the way uphill, to the train station. It was pretty hard work really because of the fact that due to the work being done on the new shopping centre development, we had to walk across the same road around three times and it was pretty busy. We did however get there in good time and stocked up with anything we needed before Plymouth (as the catering on Crosscountry Trains doesn't start till then even for First Class!) we went across to the platform and to get the 1022 departure for Manchester.

The journey back meant at least we could see some sights that we couldn't do during the journey there as it had gone dark: the impressive Brunel Bridge over the river Tamar towards Plymouth, the race course at Newton Abbot and then how the train hugs the coastline through the likes of Teignmouth, Dawlish and Dawlish Warren on its way towards Starcross and Exeter. Indeed I had headed to the catering shop on board with my First Class ticket to get us both tea and coffee and indeed I also tried out their little bacon and mushroom flatbread, which proved an excellent move and very delicious to say the least. As I then played the iPod Nano on shuffle as we left Bristol Temple Meads at around 1.30pm, it played "The Road To Home" by Amy Macdonald, pretty apt I thought (best make that one tune of the day then) considering we'd walked uphill along the road earlier in the morning.

It was the at-seat First Class service as we sped from Bristol towards the North and we tried the hot spring rolls, very nice indeed and washed that down with a nice tea or coffee as well. Indeed the two games of Scrabble we'd played earlier had been pretty good: I even came up with the seven letter move of DITHERS to score lots of points and that contributed to a total score of over 400 for the game which I felt pretty pleased with. Anyway, it was well worth sitting in the comfy seats for such a long journey and definitely felt rewarded for doing that - and even had the ham bloomer (minus the salad, hehe) once we left Birmingham, and we got into Manchester a few minutes on time. It was a long journey but one we were glad that we had made comfortably and with less hassle. I felt so sad going home but happy because I knew I'd had such a wonderful time, and that has to be something to be treasured.