Dear Diary... December 2010

Friday 31st December - New Year, New Phone

It's the end of a year, and when I look back it's been a year of change, but also where things have remained the same. I think collectively I needed to get myself into a position at work where I am a lot stronger, and certainly managed that in bucketloads with the PRINCE2 certification I got. I think also that I've followed my hobbies more, especially with treating myself to a digital SLR at long long last. I just need a long lens now to get some good shots at the footy and all will be well with the world, I think. And on top of that, it's been a year where The Love In My Heart and I have (hopefully!) got closer to each other, and that is something.

I headed out on my own into the city centre today, and all on the quest for a new mobile phone. My old trusty Sony Ericcson T630i finally is biting the dust, with the centre little joystick giving up frequently, and thought it best if I get something new. I had some ideas in mind but didn't want to spend too much (the T630i was £50 when I got it) and I wasn't bothered about having an iPhone or something equally as posy. For me it's about being able to take the odd call and send the odd text, and maybe have a little couple of extra features as well, and that's all I really need.

Anyway, I went into the O2 shop and nothing was of interest there. Similar story with Carphone Warehouse as well. Then into Phones 4U, and walked out of one branch after the staff deemed it fit to jump on me the moment I walked through the door. Don't you hate that? Anyway, the staff at the other branch in Market Street were much nicer, and so I felt more valued, and saw a phone that ticked all the boxes - the Sony Ericcson Spiro, which was just the thing that I needed. It was reduced from £60 to £30, it had Bluetooth, and a MP3 music player that also took MicroSD cards for expandability as well, so that was nifty. And crucially it felt comfortable, even as a slider phone, with the numeric keys being responsive.

I went to the counter, explained that I just wanted to upgrade as I was already with O2, and they dug out one phone in all black with no SIM in it, so all I had to do was swap the SIM over, and I'd be good to go. Easy peasy really, and at least it meant I'd have the same number too so that was good. I soon had it purchased and because it was an upgrade I didn't have to buy any call time credit on it either. Oh yes. I transferred the contacts to the SIM on the old T630i and put it on the new phone, worked well. I then remembered I had a Belkin bluetooth dongle for the PC, so I simply installed it again, copied all the ringtones etc from the old phone to the PC, and then transferred them to the new phone as well. Excellent.

I also got a MicroSD card which had a standard SD adapter with it, and so transferred some tunes over as well. With the phone in loudspeaker mode it did sound tinny and awful but when the headphones were attached (I used my Sennheisers that I have with my iPod) it sounded pretty decent, actually. I'll have to possibly see how viable it'd be to use it for my MP3 player on shorter trips by train, as I can always plug the charger in at relevant points too. Nifty.

I spent the evening in relaxed mode with The Love In My Heart, as we had tea, she made a gorgeous pavlova full of fresh fruit that was delicious, and we then snuggled up to watch Coronation Street (wonder if Tracy Barlow is dead and who might have done it?), and then put on the Paul Weller "Find The Torch, Burn The Plans" DVD extra to watch the documentary, and that was ace. I'll make "Wake Up The Nation" tune of the day as it seemed right somehow. After that, it was Toy Story 3 on DVD, which we both watched in full Dolby Digital EX surround and it was very nice indeed, before switching over to see Jools Holland's Hootenanny.

Jools was his usual brilliant self, and the people he had on were top drawer - especially Roger Daltrey (rock legend that he is), Alison Moyet (wow, she's lost weight and looks rather sexy for it, let me tell you, and her version of "Boom Boom" was spot on) as well as Plan B, Vampire Weekend and a very sultry Kylie Minogue in an all in one dress, and you could spot her grooving to other people's songs as well, so that was good to see. I'd love to be in the audience for that, I bet it's a right good blast and that it's all good fun to see it happening before you, and to rub shoulders with the celebrities too (Deborah Meaden from Dragon's Den, Gregg Wallace from Masterchef etc). A good way to end the new year.

Thursday 30th December - No One Gets Out Of Blackpool

It was a nice relaxing day of sorts for me today, and first off it was off to the Next near where The Love In My Heart lives in order to see what I could get there with my gift card that I'd got at Christmas. In fact I actually found two jumpers that I liked, but one of them was in the wrong size for me and the other fitted me perfectly and in my size in Next too, and even better, it was only a mere £7 as well, so that was pretty good all round really. I went and purchased it and then headed over to The Love's place, and we would soon be leaving hers and on the way to her parents' place.

From there we would be taking them to Blackpool, as they have a New Year stay organised every year and at the same hotel - they like it, it has good entertainment and it's by the sea (although some might say being there at this time of year you wouldn't see much even with a sea view). In any case it's what they like and we're more than happy to take them up there (well, The Love usually drives them anyway and so it's no different for her). We soon headed up the M61 and the M6 and on to the M55, and we came off at junction 3 and had a spot of lunch at the pub near the roundabout, and it proved to be quite nice, especially the gammon I had.

Heading into Blackpool, we noticed that there seemed to be all sorts of yellow diversion signs in place, and after having to navigate the crazy one way system, we then were able to get towards the seafront - where another surprise was in store. All the seafront is one way as well, so The Love had to turn off the seafront, go back along another road, and then head towards the seafront in a way that was South of the hotel that her Mum and Dad were staying in, so you could then go along the front and head there. It was crazy stuff, and we were glad to get there reasonably quickly and drop them off.

Leaving the seafront proved just as tricky as well, as most of the roads off the seafront weren't exitable, and those near the town centre meant that you were heading back to the traffic jam from hell, so we thought that heading towards Cleveleys and then out would be the way, apart from the fact that near Cleveleys centre, you can't actually turn right on to the road out of there, but instead head up almost all the way to Fleetwood before being able to get out down a main road and back to the motorway. It's truly crazy stuff and whoever decided to do so much engineering work on the tram line that'd affect everyone must have been mad.

We eventually got back homewards and then later on we headed out to Mum's as she was planning a bit of a New Year get together. It was nice to see everyone and The Love was chatting to all and sundry, so that was good too. Plenty of food was had and Mum even had some Hobgoblin in for me as well as Tribute, so I was well looked after in the beer department too. We ended up having a listen to Christmas songs of old as well as have the telly on in the background, and it was good to see lots of people.

Tune of the day is the rather good "Never Enough" by Dream Theater. It was on the album I got yesterday and I had a good blast of that before heading out this morning, and certainly no matter how much food you put on at a party, you feel like you've never had enough even though there's far too much food to consume as well. I'm still feeling bloated after the nice cooked meats and the rather delicious little mince pies as well - might have to seriously think about getting some weight off in the New Year..

Wednesday 29th December - Sales And Parties

It was off to the Winter sales for me today, but with good reason. I had some gift vouchers from some of my relatives and friends, and so wanted to see what I could get myself with them and treat myself to something nice after Christmas Day. I also needed to maybe get myself a new wallet as well as my old faithful one is starting to look a little worse for wear. I've had it for many years so it'll be hard to say goodbye to it and all, but I know too that it'll be the right thing to do eventually.

First stop was Fopp, where I had a nice time looking at all their sale CDs and also notice that several of the CDs that they'd had in downstairs were a little lacking in stock. However, what I did manage to get were two from my current wishlist of what I was after, namely Grinderman's "Grinderman 2" with more Nick Cave being rather good on it, and Dream Theater's 2005 album "Octavarium" with Mike Portnoy on top drum form and also it has "Panic Attack" which I've played effortlessly on Rock Band 2. Tune of the day for that one as I had to belt that out later when I got home, hehe.

I then went into Boots, as I'd got my brother a Subbuteo wallet for Christmas which looked pretty good and stylis and wanted to possibly get the same. However I saw an even better one which was leather and had enough pockets for all the cards and cash that I needed. And it was reduced in their sale, and so I used my Advantage Card points to buy it, so in essence it actually cost me a big fat zero. How good was that for me, I wondered? I was pretty pleased all round and so it was good to get that sorted out. I also then headed into HMV but nothing caught my eye, so the gift card I had stayed right where it was.

I then went into Debenhams as the last port of call before heading homewards - and was able to use the Love2Shop voucher that one of my relations had got me for Christmas. I saw this really nice Jasper Conran dark green y-neck jumper and it had been reduced from £45 to £22.50, and looking at the other colours in the same style, the medium seemed a little too small, so I plumped for the large, and I was glad that I did, as the large looked a spot on fit for me. I used the voucher I had and paid the rest in cash and one very nice jumper was mine - so it was good to get another quite useful bargain really.

I headed home and spent the afternoon relaxing and listening to some of the new CDs that I got over Christmas, and there was plenty to listen to as well. I did put on the Nouvelle Vague "Bande a Part" CD as I was really looking forward to listening to that one, and it sounded excellent, with Melanie Pain's vocal very recognisable on the tracks that she sings on - and the whole laid back bossa nova feel really comes across well. I'll have to try and get the live acoustic one and also the one that I got my friend which was two CDs and a a DVD of a live gig that they did in Portugal.

Later on I headed over to my uncle's place, as he was having a bit of a get together for quite a few of the family, which was very nice. Mum was there as were my brothers and sisters, along with the children as well. It was also good to see some of my auntie's relations and especially her brother and wife, and their little daughter who's cuteness personified. I wonder if that smile will remain cute once she gets a sister at the end of next month, I wondered. Nonetheless there was plenty of nice food and drink on and as is polite, I brought a bottle with me of pinot grigio for anyone who fancied some wine to drink too.

I had plenty of chatter with people generally and it was good to be out and about with everyone as well, and I was more than pleased to see how busy the house was, and at least everyone seemed to be getting along, so that's good. It was a pretty full house though as well, and so the time went very quickly talking to everyone and taking time out to chatter away. It was a tired but happy me who left for the short walk home later on, and it at least feels like Christmas is still in spirit there, and there's only a couple of days of the year left now...

Tuesday 28th December - City, City, Top of the League! (Albeit For Five Hours)

It was a nice relaxing morning with The Love In My Heart at her place, and I knew that today, for a few hours at least, City could be the top of the Premier League if we were able to beat Aston Villa at home. Our record against them at home is pretty good and I was hoping that we were able to do the same sort of performance that we'd had against Newcastle on Boxing Day. Also coming to the game were my brother in law and my niece, and it was to be her first ever City game as well. She was nicely excited and pleased to see me, The Love and my friend before four of us set off in the direction of Eastlands.

City started brightly and it wasn't too long before we took the lead, as a neat pass from David Silva found Mario Balotelli, and he was bundled over in the box for an instant penalty. Balotelli himself slotted it cheekily past Brad Friedel for 1-0 and everyone seemed very happy with that. And a few minutes later it was even better as Adam Johnson swung in a corner which Joleon Lescott headed towards goal, and despite the efforts of the Villa defender, the ball had already crossed the line before he made contact with it - the linesman making an excellent call indeed, and so 2-0 within a quarter of an hour.

More was to come from City as Villa were, in truth, pretty poor. A mix of passes from virtually the whole team, some thirty three passes in all I should note, found David Silva, who cut in impressively and unleashed a low rasping shot which Brad Friedel in the Villa goal could only palm out right to Balotelli, who had the simplest tap in to make it 3-0. All this without Carlos Tévez I should add, who had a slight hamstring strain and so was rested. So what were the pundits on Match of the Day saying about us not being able to win without him? My brother in law was enjoying himself too as was my niece, I think her pre-match prediction of 5-0 was in danger of coming true!

Half time was met and you had to wonder what would happen in the second half, and ten minutes in the game was over. Adam Johnson did one of his jinking runs and was cropped down in the box for a penalty. Balotelli took it with another cheeky finish and got his hat-trick to make it 4-0 and from then on in, City were in cruise control. Villa tried but they just seemed out of sorts whilst the Villa fans made it clear that they wanted Gerard Houllier out as soon as possible, and to be honest I don't blame them. City fans spotted a stray bird on the pitch and started to sing "Feed the bird and he will score" which was pretty funny, whilst Villa's response was "The Villa is ours, the Villa is ours, **** off Houllier, the Villa is ours" and I had to agree with them wholeheartedly.

Still, the scoreboard put up the league table after the final whistle which showed City to be top of the tree. Oh how that made us all smile with joy as we left the stadium leaving one happy little five and a half year old niece full of joy and a hot dog. We just haven't got the heart to tell her it's not always like this, but as a first City game you'd take a 4-0 win at a canter wouldn't you? Tune of the day therefore has to be "The Boys In Blue" by Man City, as after all they never give in, and they didn't have to today - it was Villa giving in big time. Granted, it may only be for a few hours before Man U decided to take top spot at Birmingham, but nonetheless, City City top of the league! (for now :)

Monday 27th December - Bank Holiday Bonanza

It turned out to be a very busy day indeed for myself and The Love In My Heart, and one that certainly meant another late finish. We had a bit of a lie in before getting ourselves up and about, and it was off to see Mum for a spot of light lunch and coffee. It was good to see Mum anyway and she seemed to be fairly relaxed even though she had called Christmas a bit boring once most of the family had left on Christmas Day. It was a nice enough lunch though and she finally had the courage to open the new digital camera that she had been bought by my brothers, and we showed her how it all worked and how simple it was to use. She was even more impressed when we said that after she'd taken the pictures, she could delete one if she had to, and how you can re-use the memory card over and over again as well. So that was a relief.

We then headed to The Love's parents to sort out a bit of a problematic PC for her father. He had decided to have a change around in the office room but this meant moving the PC, and when it attempted to start up it wasn't responding. I managed to do a check disk on it and discovered that the hard drive had started to get bad sectors, and so thankfully the check disk fixed it for now, but I strongly suggested to him that he back up all the data needed in order to be sure of not losing anything, and there was around 50GB worth of data on the hard drive. Thankfully he had an external hard drive for this purpose and so we set about backing that up to be on the safe side.

It was then a dash back to The Love's place with all the bags and other stuff that we needed to take in, and we would then get ourselves ready to head out later on in the evening. We were meeting up with some friends for a get together and Christmas meal together, and it would be also good to swap presents and stuff too, so a bit of a do as well. We got ourselves all sorted out and it was then time to head out into the cold weather. It wasn't as cold as it has been lately which was good to be honest, and so it was a case of then heading through the snow and slush to the bus stop, then into the city centre and walk along to Oxford Street and to Felicini's.

Our friends all met us there, and soon we had a nice cosy booth table for the six of us to relax and have some food and drink. I had the feli bread tin for starters, and that was a nice selection of various Italian breads complete with olive oil to dip in, worked out rather nicely. Then I was going to have the fish pie for the main, but they had none left, so I went for the chicken and wild mushroom penne, which was spot on as per usual, and followed that up with some lovely carrot cake and coffee, so that did pretty well. I must admit I quite liked the look of the raspberry meringue mess my friend had, that seemed pretty light and spot on.

After dessert we exchanged presents, and that was a rather nice thing to do, and my friends got me some lovely presents, which was very nice of them indeed to do so. I got the Miranda Series 1 DVD (looking forward to seeing that, I quite like her!) along with the new Bill Bailey DVD "Dandelion Mind" as well as a gift voucher for Next as well. I also got the new Avenged Sevenfold album, the Attack! Attack! CD (the Welsh named band, not the American one), and best of all, Rock Band 3 for the Wii! I didn't expect my friend to fork out for that one, but it was really good of him. I'll have to arrange a bit of an online gaming session at some point.

Later on we headed home after a lovely evening and I returned back to The Love's place so we could watch Upstairs Downstairs that we'd recorded. It proved to be pretty good and even later on Google Maps' Street View I located the street in Leamington Spa where they'd filmed some of the exterior shots of the Georgian terraces that the house was based on. All worked out nicely before heading to bed, but tune of the day is one from the recent Paul Weller album "Wake Up The Nation", namely the title track. It seemed to be rather rousing and right up there with the Modfather's best output, and The Love certainly seemed to like it too.

Sunday 26th December - Boxing Clever

It was nice not to have to get up early today to be quite honest, and so taking it easy was the future. We spent some time pottering around the house and just relaxing before heading out in the direction of Stockport. I'd got a ltitle oil-filled radiator for the kitchen, but it wasn't doing the job, so it was a case of go to Currys, get the money refunded for that and head then to Comet where they had one left in the right size and power that I wanted. I was in and out of there within two minutes flat as I didn't want to faff around so much and also because I could see that there was a stampede in some of the shops due to the sales. And of course with VAT going up soon, a perfect time to get everything sorted out.

After that we headed back to The Love In My Heart's place for a while, where we saw the Jamie Oliver at Christmas programme where his relatives (especially the youngsters) were helping him out making all sorts, so that was nice to see. We then were heading up the motorway taking one of her family towards Preston to spend time with their girlfriend for a couple of days, and it wasn't too bad a journey, and in fact we were following a gritting lorry as we headed down the M61 as well, so at least we knew that the roads were going to be sorted out there.

On the way back, I had the radio on and eventually I could get BBC Radio Manchester, so we tuned in and from what I knew earlier, Man City were still 2-0 up at Newcastle. As we hit the approach to Salford, Newcastle scored through Andy Carroll and I was worried that they would equalise. But no such fear, as we headed out of Manchester and towards my place, they'd gone to a couple of other local games and when they got back, Carlos Tévez had scored his second of the game to make it 3-1 to City and a well deserved win today, which would put us back in second place in the league table (just a shame Man U won to stay top, but hey ho).

It was then a relaxing evening for us both, as I made us something lovely for tea. I'd got some free range corn fed chicken and did that with some roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing, pigs in blankets, carrots, peas and gravy, and I felt that it went okay really. Well two empty plates said it all, I guess! It was nice to make something lovely to cook and I know that The Love appreciated it lots. She had some wine and so was more than happy, and settled in for the evening with Top of the Pops 1985 Christmas Special on Channel 5, which was good fun to remember all the old tunes from way back when, and the appalling dance moves as well!

We had some time to kill too so on went the repeat of the 100 Greatest Toys on Channel 4. I'd seen some of it last Sunday but not all, and so was intrigued to see what was in there. I did note the Evel Knievel stunt cycle, I had one of those myself and so to see the lovely Suzi Perry enthuse about it was spot on. And yes, it did crash as often as Evel did with his stunts, that's for sure. I also spotted many other toys that either me or one of my brothers and sisters had, so that was all good too. And that was good to watch before turning it over to BBC1 for Upstairs Downstairs.

Even though the series was a remake of the old 1970s TV series on ITV as was, I think that they were clever enough to bow affectionate nods to the old series in that Jean Marsh reprised her role as Rose Buck, but this time as the senior housekeeper of the place as well, and that her original co-writer, Dame Eileen Atkins, would be the matriarchal mother of the household. Keeley Hawes did look good in her outfits but I did keep thinking of her in Ashes to Ashes, I have to admit. But it really did feel like it carried the element of history well, with nods to the Edward and Mrs Simpson affair amongs other things.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Somewhere Deep In The Night" by Swing Out Sister, the title track of the album that I got yesterday. It's a really jazz-led laid back piece, and somehow suits late night listening perfectly. Having seen the band play this live, it's suffice to say that it really does come into its own then. I kind of wish that I could see them live again sometime, as I know The Love and I really enjoy that lots. Yaay!

Saturday 25th December - It's Chriiiiiiiiistmas!

Well, as a certain lead singer from Slade would say, it's Christmas, and it turned out to be a rather lovely Christmas Day all round really. I got up and looked under the Christmas tree, where I already had some presents to open, so that was nice. My friend had got me The Social Network soundtrack CD and the F1 2010 Season review 2DVD set, very nice of him that was, and my cousin had got me the latest Mock The Week Too Hot for TV DVD, so again that was a good start all round. I made sure I had all my bags of presents (and there were plenty of them) and left the house heading off to see my uncle first.

It's only a short walk there, and once I was there, it was good to give them their presents and it was really nice that they'd got me and The Love In My Heart something too. I received the Blue Moon Rising and Man City Season Review 2009-10 box set DVD, a Phil Daniels football funnies DVD (nice one!), a Man City calendar and also a little gift set of real ales as well, which was rather nice of everyone to do. We soon tidied up a little and headed off in the direction of my auntie's, who was cooking breakfast for quite a few of us. It's become part of my Christmas Day now and it just adds to the feel of seeing everyone.

I got there and everyone was feeling all festive, and my sister came round with her husband and two children as well, so plenty of gifts for the little ones were exchanged so that was nice. My auntie was dead pleased that I managed to hunt down a Gilbert O'Sullivan CD - she used to listen to him when she was younger and still loves the songs now, so good to make people happy - and Michael Buble for afters, hehe. She'd got me a high street voucher to use in shops (yaay for the sales) and a City piggy bank with a £1 coin in it to start me off. My cousin and his girlfriend had got me a HMV voucher and a City mug as well, so that was good. Breakfast was lovely as ever and it was tempting to have even more bacon but I knew I needed to save myself a little for the Christmas dinner that Mum was cooking later on. My sister had got me this Wallace and Gromit cheese and crackers set (ace) as well as some Lynx and socks and other bits, always good.

We then headed to Mum's, and everyone was feeling festive, especially as my youngest sister was there with my nephew, who had some Lego out and was building things with it. I kept him occupied later with a Hungry Hippos lookalike game as well as more Lego and also working out how to get the Ben 10 jelly bean machine working. It was good to spend some quality time with the little ones too, as I'd done earlier with my sister's two little ones. Mum had headed around to see my sister and do all the pressie swapping etc, and before long she was back and the dinner was cooking rather nicely.

Mum was pleased with the new DVD player I got her, and showed her how it all worked. As it turned out the remote is the same as the one she has in another room in the house, so that was good, as she knew how to work it properly. We tested her Monkees box set DVDs (US region 1) and they worked, as I knew it would as I'd hacked the DVD player to be multi-region so she could play them. And unlike the old Pioneer one that she'd had for years, it didn't skip and miss stuff anymore, so that made her happy. My brothers got me the new Nick Hornby book, the Eels' "Tomorrow Morning" CD and the new Worms game for the Wii, so that was good of them. Mum was very nice too and got me this lovely long sleeved shirt, some pans and frying pans from Ikea that I was after (practical but what I wanted!) as well as a nice Kermit the frog t-shirt. Awwww.

We had the Christmas dinner, which was absolutely lovely - lots of turkey crown, roasties, vegetables, stuffing, gravy, bread sauce, the works. It was spot on and I know that we all enjoyed it. I simply had some posh raspberry ice cream for dessert as I couldn't have profiteroles and didn't fancy the strudel either, but it was a wise move as the ice cream was lovely. We spent some time later in the day seeing the Batman and Robin film that my nephew had got on DVD as part of the box set (he loves Batman apparently, hence he'd also got Lego Batman for his Wii he'd got) and that was pretty good to watch and spend the afternoon with.

I went home later laden with lovely presents from everyone (and many thanks to everyone for those) and as I got home The Love In My Heart called me to say she was on her way to me, so that worked out nicely. I was so pleased to see her and to be honest, if I could have just one present this Christmas, it would be her love. I know, I'm a softie and all. We had a nice relaxing glass of drink (in her case wine and in mine some rather nice Brewers Dark) and put on the Ally McBeal Christmas CD that I have to make it feel more romantic and festive. Macy Gray's version of "Winter Wonderland" is therefore tune of the day without doubt, it just feels rather nice and all that.

So we started to swap presents, but first we had to open the presents from our families' relatives. Both sides of our families had been really nice to us both, and several of my relations had got her something which was gorgeous to see. My mum had got her this lovely jewellery box, and my other relations had got her some Sanctuary smellies from Boots, pyjamas, an Accessorise perfume kit, some scarves and gloves, all sorts of lovely things. It was so nice of them all to get her something and it made me feel rather humble all round to be honest. And her folks had done lovely for me too - her mother and father had got me the remote trigger for my Nikon DSLR, which works well particularly when the camera is on a tripod, and her sisters got me some more real ale, the new Seth Lakeman and Kings of Leon CDs, and Swing Out Sister's "Somewhere Deep In The Night" CD as well. Hurrah!

However I saved the best till last of all the presents left to open today, and those were the ones from The Love In My Heart. She had put lots of careful thought into her presents to me, and I could tell she was ever so pleased with what I'd got her too. I got a lovely new Bench watch which I'll wear for going out and stuff, it looks really good and definitely suits me down to the ground, Toy Story 3 double pack Blu-ray and DVD (so I can watch it now and when I get Blu-Ray, I'm sorted), Nouvelle Vague's "Bande a Part" CD (yaay!!), Johnny Cash's "American Recordings VI" CD, a really nice check shirt from Marks and Spencer that just looks gorgeous on, and a Man City retro desk calendar, which is going to be perfect either for work or the office room, with lots of great shots of City legends on it. Well smart!

We snuggled up and watched the Corrie Christmas Day episode, which was full of the drama that you'd expect, and followed that up with The Royle Family special (the ashes in the Dyson had me giggling inanely, let me tell you, you had to watch it to understand just why) and then the Come Fly With Me mockumentary with David Walliams and Matt Lucas doing their thing. Actually this was much funnier than the last series of Little Britain, especially that awkward customer who wanted the assistant to do everything for her and then fool him into believing it was her first time flight, and the coffee assistant who bunked off early supposedly due to no coffee but had craftily binned it so she could go shopping! Be interesting to see how the rest of it turns out..

It was a long day but to spend the end part of it snuggled up on the sofa with The Love In My Heart was a special feeling. She'd got me lots of lovely presents (as had everyone!) and made my Christmas special with her love and most of all her thoughtfulness. I thought about it as we cuddled there just how lucky I was to have someone so special and I know that this Christmas Day will be right up there with the best that I've ever had, simply because everyone has been so lovely to me, and that feels good. To The Love In My Heart: I love you tons, and thanks for making my Christmas special.

Friday 24th December - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Well, I've finally finished work and I've been able to finally call it an end to the working year. I infact was working hard this morning, no rest for me, but in a way I'm glad to have done so. I had two PCs which needed a re-image as they had an old image from another site on, and to make life easier I re-imaged two hard disks and just did a hard drive swap, a bit easier to do that way. And I'd backed all the data to an external hard drive beforehand, so again didn't take me long. I even got the Scanjet 4500c scanner working on one of the PCs as well, so all was well with the world there.

It was dotting t's, crossing i's and making sure that the PCs and printers etc were all switched off and powered down at the mains so that it would be a bit more energy efficient over the Christmas period. The only things that have to be left on are the servers, for obvious reasons! I was also able to tidy the desk around too so that at least when I arrived in the new year, everything would be away and locked and all neat. I felt positive about what I'd achieved this week - finished off Outlook installs in two buildings and nailed almost all the staff PCs now so that everything is running well. And so off I went.

It was straight from work to the cemetery to visit loved ones no longer with us. I like to do this on Christmas Eve as it can often be really busy on Christmas Day and to be honest, I'd much rather have a moment to myself and just be able to see them in my own time. As it happens, there's a bus from work which drops me right outside the cemetery, so that works out well. After that it was then a walk to the nearest Costa for a welcome creme brulee latte and a well earned ham and cheese panini as well. It was well worth doing, and on the way back home I stopped off at Morrisons and even got some bottles of Brewers Dark real ale for a mere £1 each. Ah, that felt good.

I checked in with The Cream On My Cheesecake later as she was getting her things organised for her family, and she seemed relaxed and calm herself now work was all done with - and at least we're not back till 4th January, spare a thought for those who are working on Boxing Day or even Christmas Day. It was good then to get all the house well and truly cleaned up, bedding changed, bathroom completely gutted, the whole works. It just feels good to wake up on Christmas morning and have a lovely clean place, there's something right about that somehow.

I also watched a fascinating programme which mainly focussed on Christmas in Cornwall, and as I love it down there I was glued to the screen. What was nice was that they showed how the family who live on St Michael's Mount get their Christmas tree and have to wait for the low tide to head across the causeway with it, and the whole tradition of starry gazey pie on Tom Bawcock's Eve in Mousehole, as well of course as their Christmas lights and choirs. It was also good to visit Pendeen and see the tin miners and their choir and how they avoided the Oliver Cromwell supposed ban on Christmas. All good, methinks.

Tune of the day is "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas", and the version that I'll be selecting is the Perry Como one, as it was the first recorded version, and he performed it with The Fontaine Sisters. Hard to believe that it was actually recorded back in 1951 (so it'll be sixty years old next year, fact fans) as you always seem to hear it every single year without fail. Bing Crosby attempted it but it just was a case of trying too hard, if you know what I mean. A Merry Christmas to you all, and have a lovely one!

Thursday 23rd December - A Christmas Outlook

Had a very busy day today in one of the buildings as I spent most of the day sorting out Outlook installs for three floors (the top three, having already done the basement earlier in the week). It was good to get around and in a lot of cases I knew that as the workstation image was fairly recent, it'd already have the software on, so it was a case of then cross checking what kit was out there with what I had on my list and making sure that I didn't miss any PCs out. Thankfully it worked out really well and I was able to resolve the issues there and then, even if it meant finishing a bit later.

The last day tomorrow means I can sort of wind down a bit although I've got some work to do in the morning and that would be good to get out of the way before finishing for the festive period. Ideally if need be I'd like a full day of it all but I know that the closing time of work tomorrow is 2pm, and so be it. I know I can make the most of the time and do what's needed. Mind you, I need to fix my own PC in the office first - for some reason, despite all the Zenworks software etc being correctly installed, it refuses to show any Novell Application Launcher icons on the desktop or start menu. Bizarre, and I need some more time to look at it and see what's wrong with it.

Got home later and soon The Cream On My Cheesecake came over, as we both needed to head and do some food shopping for the forthcoming festive period. I'd done a fair chunk of mine but still ended up spending a bit as we headed to the larger Tesco in Burnage so I could get around with the trolley. The way she and I shop are completely different but we got there, and most importantly of all I managed to remember everything - including all the stuff needed for what I'm making the two of us on Boxing Day as well as plenty of soft drinks, coffee for the office (ran out today, not good!) and also lots of gorgeous ingredients. It wasn't as manically bad as I thought it would be to be honest, I think people have realised that you just need to treat it like a normal food shop!

We got back and I put on some gammon and chips for tea and indulged The Cream in the soaps with Emmerdale followed by Coronation Street as we snuggled up on the sofa. I quite like the snuggling up bit, it makes perfect sense to me to be quite honest. We then saw Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with the celebrities on, and we were both in shock as Chris Evans and James Martin used two lifelines on the part of the next line in the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's "Fairytale of New York". Of course the correct line ended in "Galway Bay" which was so easy to remember, I don't know how anyone would need one lifeline to be honest. Meh!

Tune of the day is by The Smiths, and no surprise seeing as how much my friend and I enjoyed The Smiths Indeed last night. I put on the "Louder Than Bombs" compilation CD (the original Rough Trade issue too, incidentally!) and of course there's plenty of singles and B-sides on that, and radio sessions too, and I quite liked "London" back then and still do now, and the band played it last night too. I even remember once Morrissey doing it solo on a live tour, so was good to see that he recognised his old stuff is still as good as ever. Well worth a track down for that CD if you can, but it might not be that easy to find the original release!

Wednesday 22nd December - Smiths Indeed of the World..

It was another productive day at work for me as I was able to resolve plenty of queries and also head over and see a couple of people to sort their issues out as well. Tomorrow I'll be heading out and over to another building to do some work there and to crack on with things there as well so it was also a case of planning what was needed to be done. The weather is still rather cold though, and it's not dropped above freezing all week, if that gives you any indication of how cold it was.

I got home, made myself some tea and had a quick blast of Rock Band 3 on the Wii before I'll be posting it back to Tesco DVD Rental tomorrow. It seems pretty good on vocals and all but for some reason doesn't seem to like the talky phrases too much - you'd think that they would be the easiest ones but they aren't. Hmmm. Maybe something's a little amiss there in the game engine? In any case I still managed to do pretty well on David Bowie's "Space Oddity" so that's at least something me. I quite like that song anyway and so I'd be thinking of that song during the evening.

My friend came over to collect me as we were heading over to the O2 Apollo to see The Smiths Indeed, who as the name might suggest are a tribute band who play the songs of one of our favourite bands of all time, The Smiths. I was too young to see the band live in their day and even though I've seen Morrissey on his own on numerous occasions, I know realistically that I would never be able to see The Smiths, and so when my friend suggested it, I thought "well why not?" and so off we headed down the A6 and to the Apollo car park, which was.. empty! There's normally people manning it and charging you £4, but not tonight, so that was a bonus.

We got into the Apollo itself and it did feel decidedly eerie. There was hardly anyone there, and one of the door staff who knows my friend said to us both that he reckoned they'd only sold some 200-300 tickets or so. This, incidentally, in a 3,500 capacity venue! It did feel weird being able to pretty much roam round the whole standing area without any issues and simply pick a spot we felt comfortable with. The mixing desk had plenty of classic Mancunian tracks playing to get the crowd warmed up, and gradually people started to come in, but even so, I'd say the absolute maximum was around 350 in there. More room for us though, but staggeringly underattended to say the least. Bit odd, that.

But that wasn't going to stop The Smiths Indeed (official site) who delivered an excellent two-part set. The first part was devoted to The Smiths' album "Meat Is Murder" as it's twenty five years since that album was released, and so they played the whole album - and in track order too! And they stuck with the original nine track release too, so no "How Soon Is Now?" at this point, but excellent versions of "The Headmaster Ritual", "What She Said", "Well I Wonder" and of course the title track at the end of that. They were very skilled musicians and the one who was Morrissey even looked and sounded like him too - what more could we want?

The band went off and then after a short break back on again for plenty of more classic Smiths songs as done by them, so we had the likes of "Hand In Glove" (make that tune of the day), "Panic" (complete wth swinging noose for the "hang the DJ" vocals), "Reel Around The Fountain", "Girlfriend in a Coma", and an excellent version of "What Difference Does It Make?" as well, which really had me belting the vocals out too. The Morrissey lookalike even threw flowers into the crowd to give it that authentic 1980s feel of being at a Smiths gig, fair play. The drummer really went for it and sounded completely spot on, and the two guitarists really complimented each other well.

But that wasn't all - plenty more came forth including "Cemetery Gates" (complete with backdrop from Manchester's Southern Cemetery!), "Bigmouth Strikes Again", and "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" as well as the encore which were excellent versions of "How Soon Is Now" and to finish, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" which was simply beautiful. Despite there being the small crowd those who were there loved it and it was a night of nostalgia and enjoyment of the classic songs, and many of them are still in my head as I write this. I'll have to dig out my old Smiths and Morrissey t-shirts methinks!

Tuesday 21st December - The Shortest Tai Pan Day

It was back to work for me and it was also another day of sorting plenty out before Christmas, as I had plenty of support calls to deal with from yesterday afternoon and this morning. I also was able to sort out an issue where a user couldn't run their "recover my desktop" icon to get their non-AD profile stuff back, because his workstation wasn't registered correctly. Once I was able to do this and get the workstation back where it should be in terms of registration, it meant that we were able to get everything all sorted out.

I worked till reasonably late for lunch as I was heading out with some of our administrative staff and one of our academics, who is leaving for Brighton for pastures new. He's been a great asset to us all and his humour and diehard love of Chelski (even commuting down for every home game!) is something to admire to be honest. And he was born in London so at least he is supporting a local team as well, so that is perfectly allowable in my book as well. He was heading up from London and so would meet us at Tai Pan, a Chinese restaurant on Upper Brook Street.

I'd never been before but I'll tell you this: I am going again! We all had the Christmas Menu which for a small extra fee included an extra course, which I'll get to shortly. First off, it was the soup starter so I had the sweetcorn soup which was lovely, and then the nibbly starter, so there were spring rolls, salt and pepper ribs and seaweed (which I passed on), and then the extra course, the crispy duck with pancakes with cucumber, spring onions and hoi sin sauce. I had the duck and pancakes and they tasted very very good indeed, especially as we had our waiter cut the duck for us.

We then had the main, and what we did was pick six different main dishes which we'd all share (thank heavens for the lazy susan on the table, made life tons easier) and we went for two pork, two beef and two chicken dishes with a variety of sauces as well, which were all spot on, especially with some delicious egg fried rice to boot as well, and that was good. It was hard to say goodbye to my colleague as I was heading back to work but I knew that he'd do well in Brighton and that our loss was their gain, and of course I'd still have to email him to wind him up about Chelski occasionally!

I headed home later and the cold frost really did start to head in, you could tell it was the shortest day of the year by the raw darkness and feel of it all. It made me glad to be home and in a nice warm comfortable room as well and I'm sure that seeing The Love In My Heart later will be a rather lovely thing all round. Tune of the day is "Winter" by Kristin Hersh as it seemed rather appropriate for the weather, not least as I found out today that she's going to be doing a little bit of a book tour for the new book. I want to go!

Monday 20th December - Jinxing It

I really didn't want to head out to work this morning in the cold, especially as it was a mere -9 centigrade outside and looking just a tad freezing. But head to work I must do, and it was good therefore to get out there and gauge the cold weather before I headed on the bus from The Love In My Heart's place into the city centre and then onwards to work. It was a day not to miss for me as it was our office Christmas meal out, and we were heading to Ra!n Bar, so no complaints from me either on that one.

In the morning I managed to sort out another couple of PCs in relation to their Outlook installations - one was a straight install, another was a complete re-image of the PC to make sure it had everything up to date on it, which worked well. I then dashed over to another building to fix an issue with the way that their Active Directory profile decided to throw a strop with their desktop stuff, so I managed to get it back and get it all sorted, so that was a good thing to do. It also meant that the time spent was constructive as we headed to lunch time.

I joined up with the others from our team (there's 16 of us in all now) and down Oxford Road and Oxford Street we went and to Ra!n Bar, where we had two tables of eight for our meal, and a private bar upstairs too. Had I not had a few drinks yesterday I'd have been very tempted to have the Plum Pudding or the Brewers Dark, but I am sure that I can do that at some point between Christmas and New Year should I wish to. I stayed with a lime and soda which would keep me refreshed for the festive fun and games during the afternoon.

It was a fairly limiting menu with two choices of each course which we'd selected in advance, but then again for £10 we weren't arguing with the cost either. I started with the winter vegetable soup with bread rolls, which was lovely and hearty, and followed that with the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. It was okay I guess but wish I'd had more pigs in blankets to go with it, and ended up with the Christmas pudding as well which was spot on, and I ended up having someone else's as they didn't fancy it too much. It was decent enough and I knew that it'd keep me going till City's game against Everton later on.

We then swapped Secret Santa presents for those who were taking part, so it meant that everyone got someone something for a small amount, keeps the cost down and all that. I ended up with the Buzz Lightyear shower gel and Stig soap on a rope, which was good classic (and clean of course!) fun, and it was nice to see that people had put some thought into it too. I hope the recipient of my present to them liked what they got though! We had something else to drink before some of them headed into town for many more drinks whilst I headed back through the city centre and to The Love's place to prepare myself for the football.

My friend came over also and we were then set to face the even colder weather to see what City could do against Everton, who've been a bit of a jinx team for City - they've won at the City of Manchester Stadium the last three times and we needed to change that. Of course Christmas came early for me and my friend as we found out that Carlos Tévez is staying at City after all, and so whatever Roberto Mancini said to him during today was the right thing as it swayed him around. Clearly to me it's a case of his agent being a nonce and trying to negotiate more cash, only for City to refuse to budge, and rightly so as well.

So we got to the ground, the game kicked off, and before we knew it, it was 1-0 to Everton as Tim Cahill was left unmarked in the six yard area to head home a Seamus Coleman cross, and he looked promising for them. And before long it was 2-0, and Cahill once again was involved, this time laying on a ball for Leighton Baines to rifle past Joe Hart and that was that. It stayed the same till half time and I just felt gutted, especially as this was our chance to get to the top of the table at Christmas and all that.

Second half was much more City all the way, and the amount of chances we had, we should have put five or six in. As it was, Yaya Toure's shot which deflected in off Phil Jagielka was all we had to show, despite them having Victor Anhichebe sent off for two dirty tackles. And the referee was bobbins - he missed several deliberate handballs inside the box by various Everton defenders, and even a pull back on Tévez as well. Mario Balotelli hit the post with their keeper Tim Howard beaten, and no matter what we tried, we couldn't get an equaliser and so it was 2-1 to them and their fourth win on the bounce here. Aaaaaargh!

We warmed up with a brew at The Love's place before heading home, and really did wonder whether braving all the cold was actually worth it. That said though, City did play very well after going 2-0 down and if we can sort out the mistakes in defence, we should be alright really. Tune of the day is "Pounding" by The Doves as the instrumental version usually plays before City come out to play, and it gets the crowd going and ready for action. And I imagine it'll be a few heads doing the same after a night on the beer!

Sunday 19th December - Birthday Bash

It was a lovely day today as one of The Love In My Heart's closest relations was the big twenty one today. It's always interesting to see how other people's birthdays pan out, especially as I deliberately made mine so low-key years and years ago as I wasn't that meithered about the day to be honest. Of course with the meal being later in the day it did mean that we could have a bit of a relaxing lie-in, always a good thing that to be honest. We had some very nice bacon, eggs and sausage with some toast for breakfast which would stand us well until later, and it was just a really lovely morning even if the cold outside didn't look that inviting.

I had the camera with me as The Love wanted to capture some moments and asked if I minded doing so. Not at all, gives me practice with the Nikon beastie after all. We soon were to head out and pick up one of our friends on the way, who was also coming along, before we all headed to Zouk on Chester Street, just close to Oxford Road and the BBC and one of the buildings that is part of my workplace. We had been there before a few months ago and had loved the food there, and so it was good to head back. It was also pretty quiet too so it meant that our table of twelve would be able to relax and enjoy the food.

I was mulling over the starter and main choices and in the end went for the chicken imlee to start - really nice pieces of tandoori chicken with a plum and tamarind sauce - gorgeous really. The main was the same as I ended up having last time - it was the grilled sea bass, served on a charcoal skillet plate with a nice line in lemon rice which complimented it perfectly. The Love had her favourite of the dishes - the lamb and potatoes, whilst the birthday boy in question had the steak, and admired the nice big chunk of meat as he devoured, and rightly so, it was gorgeous and tasty looking. None of us felt rushed either, and it was a very calm and relaxed atmosphere which really did make the day go even better. And best of all, the food was spot on.

Afterwards we all headed back to The Love In My Heart's place for some champagne, wine, beer and birthday cake. The cake we picked up yesterday looked the part and it really did go down very well indeed - gorgeous sponge cake to boot! The champagne was toasted and drunk, and I'd remembered to have some real ale in stock for me so I had a Hobgoblin and some Doom Bar, so me very happy indeed. We had some music on in the background and plenty of chatter before people started to make their own way home through the snow, perfectly understandable really.

It was a nice relaxing end to the evening for The Love and I as everyone had left before the end of Sports Personality of the Year, so we could see AP McCoy's win, and then on with the final of the Apprentice. It was a close run thing but I think the fact that Chris' team changed the colour of the drink cost him ultimately in that he wasn't strong enough to say "actually, it has to be clear to go with the Prism theme!" and tell them that it needed to be a clear drink and get it right. That said he did give a good presentation and it was no shame to come second to Stella, who seemed to manage well in the end.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Brianstorm" by Arctic Monkeys, as it came up random on the iPod that was playing in the evening and of course is a song that most of the younger generation there immediately recognised and related to, so I guess that at least make me feel young even if I don't look it, hehe. It was a really good day all round and it was just good to be able to spend some quality time with The Love's family, and they're a great bunch of people. I feel lucky to have met such a wonderful woman with all that, let me tell you.

Saturday 18th December - Snow Everywhere!

As it got close to late evening last night, it was dry, and then for the next few hours a massive flurry of snow started to fall. It was really thick and the sheer amount of it meant that it stuck to the roads and pavements, meaning that it stayed there. And with the overnight temperatures being well below freezing as well, waking up this morning and seeing plenty of white stuff everywhere was a pretty sight, although it did mean that I'd have to be very careful when heading out to the local sorting office to collect a parcel - which I guessed correctly was from my cousin down in Bournemouth (so that was nice) and once that was done, I headed back home and had some warming porridge - it was freezing out there!

I spent some time in the morning on Rock Band 3 on the Wii which had arrived from Tesco DVD Rental. I thought it best to try it out and see what I think of it, and so with the mic in and ready to go it was vocals time for me. There's even a Smiths track on there so of course I had to try "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" and I did pretty well on it, and after a couple of goes nailed 100% on vocals as well, so tune of the day it simply has to be. I also tried out a few others too but it's a shame that the James Brown "(I Got You) I Feel Good" isn't the one where he screams at the start and then goes "I feel good... do do do do do do do" a la the infamous doll on Soccer Saturday.

I headed out at lunch time and into Chorlton to meet up with my friend frou-frou and her partner Delishus, as it was her birthday today. I'd got her a nice card and also a gift voucher for the craft shop Fibre and Clay in Knutsford, as I know she loves it and gets plenty of her materials from there too. We met up in a place called On The Corner on Beech Road, which was rather good to say the least - not only did it do nice coffee and home made cakes, but also had racks of vinyl and CDs for you to peruse through - a record shop that does coffee - ace, like Fopp was when it first opened and had the £1 coffee bar downstairs which was always a big hit for me.

It was lovely to see them both and we also swapped Christmas presents as well, so they could take them with them and either open them at home or up at their parents' place of they do desired to do. We had plenty of music-related chat (appropriate I thought) including the sad death of Captain Beefheart and how Trout Mask Replica is a difficult album to get into but it's worth the perseverance, the ruining of the Biffy Clyro song by the X Factor, and the nuances or not of seeing a gig at Manchester Cathedral of all places. Time soon whizzed by and I had to head home to meet up with The Love In My Heart later, but it was a good place to meet - have to again I think.

The Love and I had a busy rest of the day - went to Waitrose in Cheadle Hulme as she'd ordered a birthday cake for a very special 21st birthday in the family and they did a good line in custom cakes which you could order and collect from the branch, and that was the nearest one. Anyway, we got to the customer service desk and who should walk past us but Sue Cleaver, who plays Eileen Grimshaw in Coronation Street! Ironic seeing as we saw the actor who plays her son a few weeks ago but also shows how small a world it really is around Manchester really.

After that we headed back to The Love's place and had a very relaxing evening, with a game of Scrabble being played with some 80s music in the background, and also getting things prepared for tomorrow. We also had a very nice spaghetti bolognaise for tea, which was gorgeous, as well as head to Tesco Extra to get some food and drink bits in too. On the whole though it was nice just to curl up in front of the sofa and really cuddle up - I love doing that and it just feels special to me. I know, I'm a softie aren't I?

Friday 17th December - Mission Sort of Accomplished

It was a pretty manic day at work and everything seemed to be tied in with a massive student deadline and hand in which meant all hands on deck and also plenty to do for everyone. I did miss some of all that madness but was no less busy as I was putting the final touches to the last PC I needed to work on in a building that we look after. We needed to ensure either the PC was re-imaged if it was recent enough or just had Outlook 2007 installed on it if it was an older PC that wouldn't take the full Office 2007 suite. It's worked out well thus far and today at least I was able to re-image one final PC and that means that all of that building is done - and then it's just a case of starting on the other little bits here and now.

I was also working on some forthcoming project background work in the afternoon and then got a text from The Love In My Heart explaining that she was heading into the city centre to do some Christmas shopping, so I joined her after I finished work. She had already managed to get a few presents by the time I'd arrived and so was just sorting out one or two last minute things. She was after something for herself as well but we managed to find that eventually, and I also had a quick mooch in Fopp at the same time to see what CDs were out and what they had on offer, so I could maybe have a peekie in there after Christmas.

It was a good little trip out and at least I knew that The Love was all sorted out and happy, and thankfully she appeared much more calm after sorting out what she needed to get for herself too, so that was good to see. We made our own ways home and I headed to Tesco to get some food shopping - didn't need much, but felt it best to get it all sorted out now so that at least I'd be ready to have everything in. Good job I did too, because later on in the evening all I could see was the white stuff bucketing down in droves. It did look pretty and it was scheduled to be a snow shower of a couple of hours, but be interesting to see how well it sticks down for tomorrow.

Tune of the day in the meantime is an old but good classic from the 1990s, "Eject" by Senser. When I was younger and that track used to get played in indie clubs I used to go mental pogoing around to it. Now it's not lost any of its appeal even now, it still sounds like the whole thing's performed at around 100mph and if you happen to know all the words to all the rapped and spoken parts, then well done you - it really is difficult to work them all out because of the pure speed of delivery. But nonetheless, still classic. In fact I really need to go back and listen to the whole of the "Stacked Up" album to be honest...

Thursday 16th December - We Love You City We Do

It was off home pretty quickly after work and via Iceland to get some bits of food in, as Manchester City were away at Juventus in the Europa League, and on ESPN, which meant a 6pm kick off and so a bit of a dash to get everything well and truly sorted out. My uncle was coming around and hopefully my cousin and his girlfriend, so I'd got the tea and coffee in. My uncle did ring me to say that he would be delayed as he was stuck in traffic, but that was no problem - after all City are on telly, not exactly going anywhere was I?

The game kicked off and within a couple of minutes City had a chance to make it 1-0 which Jo missed. The first half meandered a bit but what was noticable were how many fans didn't come. There were around 7,000 in total and of that I'd say 3,000 of those were City fans! They were in full voice and singing songs for Roberto Mancini and getting behind him, so that was good to see. Also during the half we noticed Adam Johnson doing rather well, and we had the odd chance but nothing special. However once my uncle arrived, Juventus decided to go on the attack and just before half time Allesandro Del Piero put in a lovely cross for one of the younger Juve players to slot home for 1-0 before half time.

City were to regroup as my cousin and girlfriend arrived and the four of us chatted about all sorts as City were making their attempts to come back. Jo had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, and we should have had a penalty for handball too. Juventus were trying to get a second too but the defence held firm apart from the odd bit of Del Piero magic, and eventually our pressure would tell. Adam Johnson laid a gorgeous through ball to Jo, who turned and shot low past the keeper to make it 1-1. And with Lech Poznan only winning 1-0 at Salzburg, it meant City would top the group and therefore get a better draw (plus a home second leg) in tomorrow's draw as well.

Tune of the day is "The Space In Between" by How To Destroy Angels, as it's rather mean and moody and dark, perfect for the long dark nights ahead, especially if there happens to be snow coming along. It's surreal at first thinking that it's Trent Reznor's wife singing but not Trent if you know what I mean, even if the track has all the hallmarks of NIN all over it. I'm sure that if the project goes to more than an EP in the future it'll be well worth a listen to as well. And it's good to be different.

Wednesday 15th December - Together in Academy 1 Electric Dreams

It was a hard day at work today and I was quite pleased to head home, get a few things done around the house and then make sure that I had my tickets with me, as tonight myself, The Love In My Heart and three of our friends were all going to Academy 1 to see The Human League. Knowing that several of us were brought up on 80s music, we simply had to be there and especially as they really do respect their roots of where they come from (Sheffield) and live there too. I respect them for that, and for the fact they don't even have an official website either, it's all people who actually like the band who make the effort.

The Love was meeting up with one of our friends and I would head to Kro on Oxford Road to join them, which was absolutely rammed. As it turned out there were graduation ceremonies at the University of Manchester and so of course everyone piled into the nearest bar so that they could have a celebratory drink. We'd managed to get a table though and decided to munch there for tea. I had the fish and chips and that was proper lovely, home made tartare sauce and mushy peas as well, and my friend's fish finger sandwich looked a) rather posh and b) rather lovely. Kind of wish I'd had that now!

We then wandered over to the Academy 1 and met up with our other friends, who were to be upstairs in the Academy 1 in the VIP bit, which meant they got a good view with no heads in the way and they also were then able to sit down on some chairs if they wanted to as well, so we had a good natter and then entered the Academy and went our own little ways as they went up and we stayed down. I got some drinks and we anticipated how good it might be. Would they be able to still revisit their 1980s glory without sounding dated, I wondered to myself, or would it be a great gig (in the proverbial sky and all that!) - we would see soon, but it was good to know that I was one of the youngest in there and that many of the fans had stayed with the band all this time - yaay.

On came the support band Performance (myspace) who were from Manchester, and they really felt good to be there. They were pretty good and a tight three piece with one guy on percussion, a female guitarist and occasional syndrum basher, and the lead vocalist who had a bit of a Morrissey twang about him. They were proud of their Mancunian roots, mentioning the city in several of their songs and even places like Oldham Road as well, so that was good. They had a projector showing stuff at odd angles to emphasise the performance part as well and their tunes were very solid, with good hooklines and lots of lyrical wordplay, and lots of synth and guitar. One to watch, I think.

After a short while on came The Human League (no website) and my, they were good. They started off with "Electric Shock" one of the tracks from their new album "Credo" and straight away that sounded tight and spot on. Of course it wasn't long before they rattled off hit after hit from their 1980s heyday with the likes of "The Sound of the Crowd", "Mirror Man" and "Heart Like A Wheel" getting an airing. Also rather nicely they played some really really early stuff like "Being Boiled" as well, which was a great surprise but very enjoyable. Whoever the sound mixer was, full credit to them, as the sound was absolutely spot on, no distortion whatsoever, all very clean and efficient sounding, and really did enhance things well.

We also got other classics such as "Love Action", "Open Your Heart" (which had everyone singing the chorus at full pelt, rather excellent) and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" it really was a joyous occasion as they rattled them all off. Susan Ann Sulley looked good in different costumes, especially the white really 1980s number that The Love thought was ace, and Joanne Catherall had all sorts of black numbers on, and even later had boots and stockings on and some rather more daring attire, but it suited her nicely (and yes, for the record, I had a bit of a thing for Joanne back in the 1980s, I preferred her out of the two anyway) and Phil Oakey was good old Phil, with plenty of costume changes too and he bounded around like mad.

It was great too to have another really early song such as "Empire State Human" which showed that they hadn't forgotten completely even their late 1970s starting point (make that one tune of the day as it sounded brilliant), and soon enough on came the one that several of us were hoping that they'd do, "Don't You Want Me?" and it was superb. Susan Ann did her part well and got the crowd to sing the "I still love you" line for her, which gave her a massive smile on her face. They went off, came back on for an encore of "Seconds" (the B-side of said single) and then "Together in Electric Dreams" to finish things off nicely, and we were all there in the dream with them. It was great.

It was so lovely to see The Love In My Heart enjoying herself so much. She looked stunning in her black top and all black outfit, and beautiful with it, and seeing her sing along to the words (this is from a woman who doesn't normally sing!!) and having a massive smile on her face at the same time made me feel happy. I love her tons you know, and I just wanted to give her a massive hug and kiss in the middle of it all because it made me feel special that she was happily bounding around singing and generally having a wonderful time. I know, I'm a big softie really but I don't care!

We all met up afterwards and said how good it was, and off we scootled down the road to The Oxford, where drinks were the order of the day. I even got myself a Wychwood Brewery Christmas ale, their Bah Humbug, which actually tasted gorgeous (well they do make Hobgoblin you know so that should say it all really). It was nice to wind and down and chat with everyone before we soon all made our ways home, safe in the knowledge that going back to the 1980s was actually a very good thing indeed, and the next time they tour, I think we're going to have to go!

Tuesday 14th December - To The Christmas Market

It was a busy day in the office for me today, especially as I'd been out and about sorting out various problems and checking that Microsoft Outlook was running on a ton of PCs and making sure that they were all playing ball correctly. It was good to note that the floor myself and my colleague were doing was pretty much sorted out - it just needed some tweaks here and there to make sure that everything was talking to itself and doing what it was supposed to do. I also then replaced a faulty PC and made sure that the data was backed up from the old to the new, so it was quite productive really.

After work I headed along via the Cornerhouse and 1 First Street (to see the well lit reindeer which look fab) and then on to Albert Square where I'd meet up with a few of my Flickr folk for an evening having a relaxing stroll around the markets. It's generally a nice thing to do especially as there's lots of stalls to have a look at and with it not being that busy it gave you the chance to move around and have a look at everything, which was good. We all met under Zippy (that's the Manchester Santa which looks like Zippy from Rainbow to you and me) and then headed around the square first before then making our way along on a bit of a tour of the markets in general.

We all headed down Brazennose Street and admired the sweet stall with the multi coloured sweets that were there in various guises before then heading to the stall where all the wooden ducks were - it had to be seen to be believed. It was then along Deansgate to King Street and past the French stalls before walking along to St Ann's Square, mooching around there and then seeing the stalls there too before stopping off close to Marks and Spencer for a nice sausage to munch and to pause and reflect on a nice evening's pictures so far. It was enjoyable especially with nice company as well of course and I know that it's always a good social element.

We then headed past the Manchester Wheel and on to the North Pole Bar, which this year had been moved from Spinningfields and on to ground next to Urbis. I had the Manchester Mulled Wine which included some hot Vimto as part of the concoction and later on after we'd chatted for a bit it was then time for another hot drink which had a mixture of apple, cinnamon and vodka all warmed up. It sounded gorgeous and was, and all the time we were waiting for someone to kneel down and face the polar bear (you had to be there to understand what it meant but it was hilarious at the time let me tell you!)

It was a good night out and as we headed home our separate ways it was good to see that even in some of the bars in town that some good Christmas songs were being played, and of course one of them was the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's "Fairytale of New York" as well, which is always good - tune of the day without question there methinks. I still think it's one of the best songs released at Christmas as it really does paint an alternative picture of the festive period without being too glum...

Monday 13th December - I Am The Broadband Medic

I went over to see one of my Mum's friends after work who had just signed up with O2 Home Broadband but got a bit stuck when her and her daughter put the setup CD in as directed and it didn't play ball. I knew that realistically you didn't need the CD at all and it was just a case of understanding that the wireless network name and password was actually on the underside of the router, and then a case of connecting all devices to it to make sure that they worked. Crucially of course it's also about putting the microfilters in the right place, so I did that first and hooked up the router and waited to see if all the lights would come on, and they did.

And with everything lit, being able to connect to it was a breeze - the daughter's laptop ran fine without a glitch and we soon configured the Wii to go online so that BBC iPlayer would work with it, and that went well too. It was then a case of seeing what we could do with her old Dell Latitude laptop which had a PCMCIA wireless card. The wireless card worked fine and connected to the broadband no problem, so I was then able to download and install the new AVG along with put on Mozilla Thunderbird for email and so on. It worked pretty well, although of course the laptop was rather slow so things took a lot longer than intended.

What was good to see though is that even with a slightly different router (Wireless Box IV as opposed to II) it still was pretty easy to sort out and plug in and everything, and hopefully it'll do the same with online gaming (mine works flawlessly with Wii online gaming, it's the future!) and other stuff as well, so we shall see what happens there. It just was good to be able to sort it all out and leave later on knowing that everything was up and running correctly. I bet Mum was surprised when she got an email from her friend tonight saying that she was finally online with her own email address!!!

I got home later and basically vegged out a bit in front of the telly to relax and wind down a little bit. And rightly so, after all as much as I enjoy problem solving PC stuff I sometimes need to escape that and do other things, and especially when I can listen to lots of music or indeed read the post with some Christmas cards in. It feels more festive now I have some cards off people and it's beginning even more to feel like the festive season is upon us now. With that in mind, tune of the day is "Ring Out Solstice Bells" by Jethro Tull, which is often well overlooked in favour of other songs despite the Tull song actually being bang on especially with the flutey parts.

Oh, and anything has to better than the X Factor winning single. I mean, why re-title a Biffy Clyro song simply because it has the word horror in it (the original is called "Made of Horror") and then why do such a bad job of it as well? It makes me despair a little to be honest because it'd actually be nice if the song to be sung was actually an original and not a cover of any sort, and that there'd actually be some songwriting going on in there other than the handiwork of the master puppeteer that is Simon Cowell. Maybe he needs to listen to Metallica's epic "Master of Puppets" to understand how people feel a bit more, but on second thoughts he'd then have next year's winner making a dog's dinner of that as well. Meh.

Sunday 12th December - Carrot Cake and Ice Cream

After a relaxing morning with breakfast and even some Something For The Weekend, with Louise Redknapp trying her hardest to do boho chic but sort of failing really, it was time for me and The Love In My Heart to head out for the afternoon. We needed to go back to Ramsbottom for a flying visit and then the plan was to head to the large Tesco near me before meeting up with a couple of our friends for a meal out in the afternoon, so the day was pretty well planned. The sun was starting to come out and melt the frost everywhere as we left mine and headed on the M60 and then the M66 up to Ramsbottom.

Surprisingly, the Christmas Markets weren't on Bridge Street this week but seemed to be moved to a square behind the main traffic lights in the centre, so it meant we could get pretty close to where we needed to be to pick up an item that we'd ordered last week. That done, it was then to the Chocolate Café to see if we could have a coffee in there but alas it was full, as it usually is of course. We made our way down Bridge Street instead to Di Buon Gusto, which has a deli and a café in there. This proved to be a good decision - I had a coffee and a gorgeous carrot cake and The Love had tea and a home made mince pie with brandy cream - which admittedly looked good also. It was good to do that and relax before we headed off.

Back down the M66 and M60 we headed and then off to Tesco, as I had Clubcard vouchers that I wanted to see what I could get with them. I did see a nice warm Winter jacket in the Gorton one, but they only had it in large and I am medium. Aaargh. Anyway I made a quick decision in that we had enough time to stop at the Burnage one on the way to meet friends for an afternoon lunch and so off we went there. I nipped in and I found a medium one - yaay. I tried it on and it fitted well and so off I went to the quick pay kiosk with all my vouchers and so it meant that instead of paying £39 for the jacket I paid £22 as I had shed loads off the cost with the vouchers, excellent eh?

That done it was then off to the Ashlea in Cheadle to meet up with our friends and we had a very nice afternoon catching up and hearing about all the re-arrangements in their flat that they were doing as well as what was going on too, and it was good to have food too. I had the stilton and garlic mushrooms to start and they were spot on, and then the roast beef Sunday lunch for main, with some clotted cream ice cream for dessert, which was rather heavenly. My friend was in good spirits and we were discussing the transfer request put in by one Carlos Tévez, which wasn't appreciated by us as City fans let me tell you!

The time went by far too quickly and we made arrangements for the midweek gig we're heading to and beyond as well, so was good to get that all sorted, and it was a very contented four of us that left later well fed and well relaxed too. It was sad to have to then say goodbye to The Love In My Heart later but knew that she was going to be watching X Factor later on and I'd leave her to that one of course. Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather nice "Christmas Is Really Fantastic" by Frank Sidebottom because it's such a nice Christmas song and I'd love that to be number one, if only...!

Saturday 11th December - Card Shopping And Steak Out

It was a fairly busy day for me today. First of all it was off to the local Post Office to sort out all the parcels that I was posting to people. Usually most of them are First Class large letter so if I'd have had stamps, I could have posted them myself, but I needed them first. And two of the packages were fairly large as one was for a member of the family and one for my friend, so needed to get them posted as well. What was good was that the postmaster was really friendly and helpful and was quite happy to go through everything with us without a problem. Mind you, I did spend around £13 all in for posting everything as well! It was quite a shock but I did know it'd be around that cost.

It was then off home to check any mail coming in and then on to the city centre, and first stop to the lovely ladies in the Northern Cutter, who did their usual wizardry with my hair and cut it just right. It looked good and short now and would be ready for the Christmas period, so that was nice to see. I had a bit of a giggle with one of them who is a staunch Red and a bit of banter's always good, but always in light hearted mode too. With that done it was time to head to the card shops to pick up some Christmas and some birthday cards.

I know three people who have birthdays in December and I wanted to get a normal proper birthday card instead of one of those "you've got a birthday in December" type cards which I found utterly pointless. Thankfully most card shops have finally realised that in fact birthdays do happen all year round, so even though there were plenty of Christmas cards everywhere it made sense to have birthday ones too. I found three that I really liked and that was pleasing to get sorted. As it was I needed two Christmas cards as well so got those at the same time and made my way towards the Christmas markets.

I had a good look mainly in St Ann's Square and later on the French themed market on King Street and to be honest I felt a little disappointed. A lot of the stalls have become a bit samey and seem to be stocking the same stuff year in and year out - not exactly what you want. And quite a few of them tend to be repeat stalls too - again, not that good. I think next year there needs to be some changes to pep it up a bit to be honest, or even duck the trend and have the markets at other times of the year and not just Christmas. I made my way homewards not long after as time was a ticking and I had stuff to sort out.

I spent most of the afternoon tidying the house and sorting out lots of paperwork as well, and even bought a new lever arch file to store some paperwork etc in, so that felt good to have it all sorted out. I also wrapped up the final few Christmas presents that had arrived too, and cleaned the bathroom and upstairs and downstairs from top to toe - I like having the house clean and a little maintenance now and then always makes the place look tons better in my view. I had a nice text from The Love In My Heart to tell me she was arriving a little earlier and so I made sure that I finished the domestic chores before she arrived.

We spent some time chattering once she arrived and then I got myself into the shower and ready for us going out later on, as we were heading to my Mum's - she was cooking us dinner for the evening and with my brother and his girlfriend too, so that'd be nice. As ever, Mum made a lovely meal - we had some nice paté with little toasted bread to start off and that hit the spot, and then for main, this lovely steak soaked in a red wine sauce along with potatoes and vegetables, rather nice all round really. Add to that this rather nice lemon and ginger cheesecake for dessert and that was me very much sorted out!

It was good to chat to Mum but also to my brother and his girlfriend who've been working pretty hard as their business in where they're based has been open every Sunday in the run up to Christmas, so it was nice for them to have some relaxing quality time and taking it easy really. And myself and my brother ended up seeing Match of the Day in the sitting room and seeing City's 3-1 win at West Ham leaving the ladies to Bridget Jones the Edge of Reason for a while, but we re-joined them once the footy was done. It was a good night all round and as ever Mum made a rather delicious meal as she always does.

Tune of the day was something that I heard in my travels around the city centre today, and even with everyone playing Christmas songs to get people in the mood, it was at least good that some were attempting to buck the trend a little, as after all you'll be sick of them before Christmas. So full kudos to whoever was blasting out Arctic Monkeys' "Brianstorm" from their shop window, that made me feel good - if only to avoid all the other Christmas songs, hurrah!

Friday 10th December - All I Want Is You

I had started on a bit of a major project yesterday with my colleague and we carried it on today, which at least meant that we were able to progress nicely, as quite a few of the staff had headed out on their Christmas lunch so leaving the offices pretty sparse, meaning we could do lots. As I headed back later we had an issue with one of the large format plotters, and I managed to sort it out by a little clever bit of roll feeding, so that at least meant it was all up and running at the weekend, so that felt good.

It was then time to head home and check on the post, and the good news was that the presents that I'd ordered arrived, so I could wrap them up ready for tomorrow's sending on to people. I made sure they were all okay and gathered my recyclable bags and headed in the direction of Tesco to do the food shopping. I needed some bits but it wasn't too bad on the whole, just stocking up for bits here and there now so that was painless, and soon headed home and bunged a stuffed crust pizza in the oven that I'd admittedly got from their reduced section - they had loads of them knocked down in price for some reason. Bit odd why as it was nice...

It was then time to settle in and watch Coronation Street at 7.30pm and 8.30pm tonight as the dramatic events of this week drew to a close. It's been really superbly acted throughout the whole week and certainly for someone who's not a massive fan of the soaps as I used to be, it still shows to me that it's always Corrie on top of its game. You didn't need any emotions at time becuase they were all there, on screen, really raw and pure. I can well imagine that it was really hard to be someone constantly crying, but the way it was acted was perfection itself, notably Sally Dynevor as Sally Webster. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say that it was rather touching.

And in a bit of an unusual move, they even had U2's "All I Want Is You" playing in the background as it panned to various scenes around the street and you could see the characters, the Rovers Return etc. It was beautifully shot and somehow the music was the right choice, so tune of the day there. It reminded me of how we used to listen to the whole Rattle and Hum album when being younger and wondering if I'd ever be able to see the band live in a small venue (answer: no) but also how the whole album of live cuts gave way to this closing track...

Thursday 9th December - Steak And Ale Pie Time

I headed over from work to see The Love In My Heart, as she and I were heading out later to see one of our friends, who was very kindly offering to make us tea and everything! How he spoils us, especially as we've eaten there before and it's always been spot on with the food. It was good to see her and have a nice chatter about all sorts and we made sure that her video recorder was set to record what was on the Freeview box later, which was the special live episode of Coronation Street for the 50th anniversary. Must admit even I've been getting into Corrie this week and it feels like old times where I admittedly did watch it quite regularly...

But enough of that, we settled in and watched the news with plenty of student demonstrations and anarchy going around central London, I was glad not to be around there at the moment with the violence going on - makes you wonder how many of those are actually students and who are just hijacking the protest for their own ends instead of allowing those who want to protest peacefully to do so. It does frustrate me at times because all it does is serve to actually divert people from the true cause of why people were taking to the streets in the first place. Aaargh.

Our friend very kindly came over to collect us from The Love's place, and we were soon chattering away as we usually do and I noticed that he'd bought the new Ministry of Sound Electronic 80s compilation set, as the track listing did sound pretty familiar to say the least (always eagle eared on the music you know). We got out of the rain (yes, rain, the snow was soon melting away) and we sat in the kitchen and chattered - talking about his recent trip to Egypt and how gorgeous parts of it were, including the temples and the pyramids but also some of the gorgeous views from the desert as well, all sounded rather good.

We had a nice starter of leek and potato soup but our friend outdid himself big time with the main - individual steak and ale pies (Old Peculiar was used for the ale too, good man!) and they were done in a bowl with the pastry on top, and they had tons of steak and carrots etc. I did have to fish out the silverskin onions as I hate onions, but that's me being fussy and I'm sure that if anyone had have had what he made, they would have thought the same as me in that it was absolutely gorgeous and well worth scoffing. I did so, as it did have a really nice gravy inside and it was flavoursome too. And as The Love had brought round her infamously good lemon cheesecake for dessert, win win all round really!

We also chatted about Christmas and other stuff and 80s music in general, whilst the Live Lounge Volume 4 CD was playing in the background. It didn't sound too bad either and The Gossip's "Heavy Cross" stood out for me and both me and my friend discussed the artistic merits of Beth Ditto at the same time, so definitely tune of the day for me there. It was good to just relax and also spend time in such lovely company, and of course we'll be there with two of my friends next Wednesday seeing The Human League at Academy 1 as well, so should all be good I hope!

Wednesday 8th December - Dinasour Planet, Ah Ooh, Ah Ooh, Ah Oooooooh

After a day at work it was nice to have some me time to be able to wind down a bit, and after making myself something nice to eat for tea it was off into the city centre on a bitterly cold night, but with good reason. MJ Hibbett was in Salford to do his "Dinasour Planet" show that he'd done at Edinburgh festival this year with his friend Steve Hewitt, and as this was the nearest that I'd get to see him do this show, well I simply had to be there didn't I? And knowing Mark's reputation for wanting to do shows in pubs with nice beer, I was fairly confident that there'd be some lovely real ale.

The pub in question was the Kings Arms in Bloom Street, Salford, next to Salford Central train station and admittedly that's not the shortest walk ever from Piccadilly bus station. I walked all the way down Market Street, right to the end where I noticed that the old American Express travel place has closed down now (boo!) and as I headed down Blackfriars Street towards Chapel Street, you soon leave the city centre behind alarmingly quickly. Before I knew it I'd got to the pub, and it was nice to go back to a proper old school pub where good beer and conversation was the order of the day - no annoying loudness and plenty of nice folk. I got a nice pint and relaxed at the bar before seeing what was going on upstairs and heading down later.

I spotted Mark and Steve and said hello to them and had a good chat with them over a beer - and I even had managed to get the Saltaire Triple Chocoholic on cask, which smells and has an aftertaste of dark chocolate and it's quite a nice acquired taste, but I liked it. Mark admitted there was plenty of choc in it and it was a beer to be really supped nice and slowly, which was what I'd attempt to do. We chatted about beer in general and how one of the small pillars in the entrance to Euston station is now a bar, and how people get really stuck if they end up needing the loo in there!

We all headed upstairs and I had my confirmation booking at the ready so I could have a little black cross drawn on the hand so they knew I'd already paid, and before we knew it, on came Liz Green who told the story of Fenist the Falcon, but with acoustic guitar songs as part of the story and also shadow puppetry which helped explain the story. It was a little ramshackle in parts but in way it added to the appeal - it was like telling a story for the first time in front of mutual friends and did feel quite twee because of it in a good way. Awww...

On came MJ Hibbett (official site) and Steve and they did a thoroughly entertaining Dinasour Planet show. It seemed pretty slick to me at any rate and they were rattling through the show, with plenty of giggles and smiles throughout, notably during some of the songs such as "Dinasours Talk Like Pirates" (cue Steve's "yaaaaaaargh!" throughout), "The Battle of Peterborough" which explains the first battle between the dinasours and humans in the story, and the likes of "Please Don't Eat Us" as well. It was all very light hearted but a good fun little story too, and that certainly had the crowd full of happiness.

Of course for me it was great to finally get to see the show, and it was also nice to see that it was a very polished performance and full of joy and smiles too. Isn't that what it should be about sometimes? Tune of the day has to be from the show, and the (theme from) Dinasour Planet is my choice, as it got everyone in the right frame of mind straight away. It was rather sad to say my goodbyes later and head home, especially as there was still plentiful of nice beer at last orders, but head home I did and it didn't take me that long to walk back to Piccadilly, but it was my third to last gig of the year too... aww. Thanks to Steve and Mark for an ace time as per usual!

Tuesday 7th December - An Encounter With A Famous Bear

I'd slept very soundly in the Easyhotel (cheers Stelios!) and so I woke up and had a shower and felt rather refreshed to face the day. Once I'd got changed and made sure everything was packed to pick up later, I headed out towards Paddington station, stopping off for a well earned breakfast and coffee along the way. I wanted to look in the station for the sculpture of a very famous children's character that was in the station somewhere, and could I find it initially? No. I couldn't.

And then in the middle of all the food and shop places close to the initial platforms, there it was - the bronze statue of Paddington Bear looking towards the platform, complete with the famous "please look after this bear" gift tag. Bless. I didn't have the camera with me but insisted on using the phone on taking a quick piccie and sent it to The Love In My Heart as a little hello from me and Paddington. And not far from there there was a stall selling all sorts of merchandise including tea towels and cotton shopping bags which were officially from the Paddington Bear stand. Awww. I was tempted but I resisted.

After checking out of the Easyhotel it was time to get the 205 bus back to Euston station where it seemed that quite a few of the trains were being cancelled: not good. Thankfully my scheduled 1100 departure was okay although a little busier than normal as plenty of people were heading on it to avoid the cancelled 1120 service. I had a nice view out of the window and it seemed mainly Warwickshire and Staffordshire that were still full of snow and the like - not so good to be honest. Still, the train was slightly delayed getting to Stoke-on-Trent but made up the time by Manchester Piccadilly so I was soon on the way home.

I got home and there were more deliveries of Christmas presents for me to wrap up, so that was good, as it meant a complete set of presents for quite a few people once these deliveries had arrived. I wrapped them up and reflected on a really good evening that I'd had the night before and the fact that the day was a nice one to relax with and take things easy(ish). I even managed to work out that I had one present left to get, the Secret Santa for work, so that was a pretty good move all round and I could therefore sit back and relax a little.

Tune of the day is not a surprise really, as I'd been humming the tune all morning after a walk around the area close to Paddington station and then as I had a quick mooch up Edgware Road, it was of course the theme tune from the TV series of Paddington Bear, as composed by Alfred Bradley, Herbert Chappell and Brenda Johnson. That's the proper TV series from 1975 of course with Michael Hordern doing all the voices. The song's actually called "Size Ten Shuffle" so there you go, another bit of information trivia for you!

Monday 6th December - Weird Al In London

It was a couple of days off work for me, and with good reason. I had planned to head down to London to see Weird Al Yankovic at Kentish Town HMV Forum, and had booked the ticket months ago - and then of course it transpired that he was playing Manchester Academy 1 instead, which would have been tons cheaper. Still, it did mean a day and night out in London as well and it's always nice to get some time off and spend it on some quality time for yourself, and why not? With everything checked and double checked I left for Piccadilly station to head on the 1215 departure to London Euston. The train was on a bit of a go-slow as it headed through the snow and mist in Staffordshire but amazingly made up the time to get to Euston bang on time - aren't they great?

As I was staying in the Easyhotel in Paddington, it was a simple case of heading on the 205 bus from Euston to Paddington with Oyster card in tow of course (the only way to travel around London with one of those, let me tell you). As it turned out the bus stop was right outside the Easyhotel which meant that I could escape the cold and get checked in, and as it had now gone past 3pm I could do so. Check in was painless, and my room was on the ground floor and really easy to find. Of course, it was the usual Easyhotel small room but the bed was comfortable and for a one night stay that and an ensuite shower room was pretty much all that I needed.

I dropped my stuff off and headed on the 27 bus to Notting Hill Gate, where I'd spend a bit of time in the Music and Video Exchange shop. I love it in there, it's like Vinyl Exchange in Manchester and with different stock all the time there's always something that I'd find. I actually went to the bottom floor and checked out plenty of the cheap CDs and vinyl - and there was tons of the stuff. Before I knew it I'd spent almost an hour in there and ended up spending around £2 on four CD singles, one of them being Marion's "Toys For Boys" EP that isn't that easy to get hold of, and another was REM's "Everybody Hurts" CD1. I already had CD2 so it was nice to finally complete the set there - job well and truly done!

I headed back to the Easyhotel and dropped the CDs off and also made sure that I was all prepared and ready for the evening out. I took the hat and gloves with me to keep warm and made sure that they'd fit inside my coat pockets, so I could de-robe it all in the cloakroom in one go and not be charged per item, and also then I knew all my other stuff would be in the pockets. And so with tickets in hand, off I went, first on the 27 to Warren Street Station and from there on the 134 up through Camden Town and then on to Kentish Town, where the traffic was positively crawling. I eventually got out and headed in one of the pubs close by for a pint, and texted my friend who was coming down from Ulverston for the gig to let him know where I was.

After a drink, I had a lovely phone call from The Love In My Heart, wishing me well and hoping that I was wrapped up warm as it was rather cold in Manchester, and it was so nice of her to call me - it reassured me that she was thinking about me and wanted to say hello. Awwww. As I got off the phone I spotted my friend walking across the road with a friend of his so we said hello and mooched on down to another pub, where beer was had and we caught up a bit, and thankfully he's back up and running now after a bad dose of gout had put him out of action. It was good to natter and as they were waiting for some more friends before munching, I said I'd see them in there and headed to the venue.

As it turned out this proved to be a good decision. There was a queue to get in and once I was all checked in there was a queue for me to drop my coat off in the cloakroom, but this did mean I'd be in the relative warm of the venue and of course it also meant that I'd be here in case of any support act or if Weird Al came on early. I'd keep my friend informed and so at around 8pm the lights dimmed, some music started and the fans were getting a little excited. Surely he wasn't coming on already, was he?

He sure was, and so for the next two and a quarter hours, we were in the company of Weird Al Yankovic (official site) and what a gig it was. In between songs and with the costume changes being plentiful, there were video clips of either the AlTV shorts that he'd done for MTV, or references in pop culture such as The Simpsons where he was mentioned, which did aid with the continuity. The costume changes were pretty obvious once he and the band got going: it was so to replicate the song that they were doing. So after doing a couple of Al's own compositions (including "Frank's 2000" TV" and "You Don't Love Me Anymore") it was change time.

And into.. "Smells Like Nirvana". YES! I loved the song when he first released it (and with Kurt Cobain's permission to record it too, fact fans) as a really clever word change of the original (basically stating you can't work the words out) and plenty of people including me were singing along to all the words. Al even dressed like he did in the video to the song, and even gurgled during the bit of the song where he does with the words. Absolute genius - it was worth going to the gig for that alone, so tune of the day it absolutely must be!

Not just that either - the band turned into Devo lookalikes for "Dare To Be Stupid", and my friend and friends had joined us by this time so we got "Fat", a medley which had several songs including the last part of "Trapped In The Drive Thru" and also "Eat It", and then we had "White and Nerdy" (excellent too) along with "Canadian Idiot", "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and best of all "Amish Paradise" where the whole band dressed as Amish people as well for the song. And even "Gump" too - it was like I'd picked the set list or something.

And as for the encore? Well lots of people came out in Star Wars costume including Stormtroopers and Darth Vader, and Al did "The Saga Begins" which was the whole version and had everyone singing along the chorus "singing soon I'm gonna be a Jedi" and then "Yoda" as well, which was great to hear. It was a great end to a great gig, my friend ended up buying the White and Nerdy hoody as well, and although they had to dash back up North for work the next day, it was good to see them and as I headed back on the 214 and then 205 bus to Paddington I could reflect on an excellent gig and well worth the trip down. Weird Al needs to come to Europe again, and soon!

Sunday 5th December - O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

It was a relaxing Sunday for myself and The Polar Bear on My Christmas Tree as we were going to head to Ramsbottom to check out the Christmas Markets and then on to Summerseat Garden Centre to hopefully get our real Christmas trees. The Polar Bear got one there two years ago as did I last year and they were both lovely trees, and so it would make sense to get them today. I was looking forward to putting the tree up as it always feels a bit more like Christmas then, I think.

First though this morning was to head to the local pound shop to get a few bits. I needed some bin bags as I'd run out of them and needed to empty the kitchen bin, and also The Polar Bear had got a Freeview box from one of the family, but there was no remote with it and no manual controls (her Sky box which she was using as a Freesat box decided to go awol this week with the weather and all) so I thought that a universal remote just might do the job. As it was there was one for £2 which could control a number of devices and crucially had all the codes in its manual. Hurrah!

After a quick nip to Tesco to get some washing powder as well, it was lovely to see The Polar Bear, and I'd got her some chocolate as well as the remote, so she was rather pleased. We decided that we'd go to Ramsbottom and head to hers to test the remote, put the tree up and then do my tree too, which was good. We then headed out via Denton to the M60 and then up towards the M66 where you could see that it was starting to get much more misty, and by the time we came off the motorway and headed down the A56 towards Ramsbottom, it really was closing in. Thankfully as Ramsbottom centre is in a bit of a valley it looked clearer and even some Winter sunshine came out to greet us.

We walked to the market and had a good look around and it was clear to see that many of them were locals who were taking the advantage of the weather to wrap up warm and have some warming items - notably the one that had the chocolate wine and were giving away little samplers for you to try out. The Polar Bear said that it was like a licqueur, and certainly was a case of keeping you warm. It was also lovely to see that the snow had been cleared from the main streets so that walking around the market wasn't too cold.

We wanted a coffee and so headed in the direction of the Chocolate Café, and for once we actually were able to get in and get a table at the same time, woohoo! As you can well imagine that pleased us both and The Polar Bear had a mulled wine, I had a latte and we both went for a slice of their cake - she went for the victoria sponge and after I couldn't have the lemon drizzle as it had run out, I had the blueberry gataeux which was more like a sponge cake with blueberries and icing but was still stunningly lovely, and far too moreish even for me it has to be said. Maybe at some point we'll have to try brunch or the nice sandwiches in there but it certainly was well worth the effort of going in. And those chocolate pizzas that they do - if I ate chocolate I'd be having one! If you want to know what I mean, take a look at their website and be tempted..

We had a bit more of a walk around the shops and for me at least it was reassuring to see that a lot of the shops were keeping their local feel and identity and not selling out, which was good, despite the fact that they do have a Morrisons, Aldi and Tesco Metro all in close proximity to each other. I think the main thing is that the local little shops do well as they're on the main streets and because they have something to offer the local instead of traipsing to Bury, Rawtenstall or beyond. And if it's good enough for (apparently) Will Young, well there you go..

We then headed along through to Holcombe Brook and then down the road to Summerseat from there, as we wanted to get our Christmas trees. Apparently the prices were supposed to be much more expensive than last year but we were both pleased to see that in fact this was not the case at the garden centre here - in fact they were £1 more expensive than last year's one I got, which was good. They had a good system where you chose your tree, the assistant gave you the ticket from the tree to pay at the till, and they chopped the bottom if needed so you could fit it into the stand, and also netted it for you so it took less space in the car. That worked well and with both of us wanting a tree each, we ordered it, got it all sorted and soon we had two in the back of her car.

We stopped along the lane in Summerseat as the mist had descended on the place and with the snow everywhere it did look very picturesque, so that really was pretty lovely, especially as I'd walked on a bridge over the River Irwell and the river was just about flowing with the snow and trees everywhere else. It made me feel even more Christmassy and as we headed out of the village and down the M66 the mist was coming down even more and that really did look like it was going to be rather Wintry. No mist or fog can ever be as bad as heading back from Halifax after seeing Paul Weller mind you..

Once we'd arrived at The Polar Bear's place, we took out her tree and put it up in the stand and worked out where best for it, and it did look lovely, even with some lights and baubles on there. She vowed to finish it later this evening and in the meantime I was testing out the remote. It had a neat function that instead of guessing the code from the many from one manufacturer, you could press the function you wanted it to look for (TV/SAT/AUX etc) and then hold the set and power buttons for three seconds. It'd then look to try and power off the device you wanted to control and when it did, you'd press any key to set the code. I did this, and sure enough we could control the volume, go up and down channels and do some of the basic stuff. We couldn't do the digital text but everything else played ball in some way, and as this was till the original remote was found it at least meant it could be used now, so The Polar Bear was very happy!

It was then back to mine with my tree and we started to put the tree up. I have a small LACK table from Ikea which the tree stand stands on and then we realised that one set of lights wasn't enough, so headed back to the pound shop for some more, and we then put all the silver baubles and little decorations on, and of course my little polar bear at the top of the tree. The reason for that is that I'm not that religious so no angels or anything like that for me, and also because it looks just that bit more cute. It feels good to have the tree up but I'm not going overboard on any other decorations, just the tree will do to look classy.

I made us some chicken in bacon and cheese with some potatoes and vegetables for tea whilst The Polar Bear was watching Fred Claus, a Christmas themed film from three years ago with Vince Vaughan - it was okay as films go I guess and there were appearances from Rachel Weisz and Kevin Spacey so not that bad either. I think Channel 4 are doing a few films like that in the run up to the festivities as it looks like Elf is on next week. Woohoo. In the meantime tune of the day simply has to be Vonda Shepard's version of "Let It Snow" from the Ally McBeal Christmas album. It's a lovely vocal and also considering the snow around Ramsbottom did seem pretty apt to be honest.

Saturday 4th December - Ten Men Win Against Twelve

It was a nice relaxing morning with The Polar Bear on My Christmas Tree - we had a very nice breakfast and pottered around her place a little. I nipped over to Asda to try and get her some pygmy bulbs for one of her lights and also got myself some steam fresh vegetables at the same time, so that was good. The rain was coming down quite heavily this morning which meant that at least some of the snow would hopefully go away in good time for the football later.

My friend and his wife headed over later in the afternoon and the plan was that the two ladies would head to Housing Units in Hollinwood and that we'd head over to see City hopefully do the business against Bolton, in what would be a pretty tough game - Bolton are in good form and sixth in the Premier League, which is good going all round. We also knew that after Wednesday's game we wanted to see more of the same play and make sure we kept in touch with those around us at the top of the table.

It was fairly cold as we headed over, but not as cold as it had been on Wednesday, so that was good. We got into the ground and took our positions ready for the kick off, knowing nothing less than a win would really do right now. And in four minutes we got a nice surprise as Yaya Toure fed Carlos Tévez and he absolutely slotted it low and hard past Jussi Jaskelainen for a 1-0 lead. Inside four minutes, that's not like City lately! As the half wore on we pressed and had more chances, with one of them being a low hard shot from Tévez going just wide.

At half time the big screen was showing its own little tribute to Alan, who played for Red Bull Salzburg on Wednesday night and had the City fans chanting for him, and it was good to see that someone in the crowd that had a placard proclaiming that they were Alan's mum! It certainly made the half time break seem a little less cold and we were then ready for the second half to see if City could finish the game off. And with Chelski and Arsenal both doing well we needed to get cracking.

We could have scored a bundle in the second half and were unlucky twice when David Silva hit the bar with a fierce snapshot and then Tévez released Mario Balotelli who shot against the post and looked like it was going in, and Pablo Zabaleta also forced an excellent save out of Jaskelainen. That said, Bolton did want to try too and even though they were hacking some City players down, the retaliation shown by Aleksandar Kolarov was enough to earn him two yellows and therefore a red card, reducing City to ten men for the last twenty minutes or so. It was tough going really and the referee was abysmal, it was like ten against twelve at the end.

City did hold them off though and we reflected back at The Polar Bear's place with a well earned cup of tea that warmed us all up nicely, that we'd done the business pretty well. In the meantime it was a case of seeing how the other teams had done and with Chelski drawing and Arsenal winning, it meant we were still fourth but now well in touch with the top three, and I figured that it was good. Tune of the day simply had to be the excellent "Invaders Must Die" by The Prodigy as it blasted out when showing the highlights of the game and really did show us kicking backside. Hurrah!

Friday 3rd December - Blackburn Blizzard

It was a long day at work but a good one, especially as I'd managed to complete a couple of major things I needed to do before I am off on leave for a couple of days. First off, I'd finally overcome the problem with getting an SQL Database and specialist software program working on a new machine, as I'd worked out the whole access issue with the database names and passwords and how to re-do them on a new instance of SQL Server, plus how to make the software talk to it via ODBC and connect correctly. It's all very technical and the documentation that I produced was a massive six pages long. Ouch indeed.

And then on top of that I finally got sorted the full list of actually used external alias accounts that are currently in GroupWise that we need to get moved to Outlook. It was a long task but thankfully I've had plenty of co-operation from staff concerned as well so it meant I could make an informed decision about what I need to keep and what I need to get rid of, and it was a worthwhile exercise doing it for that sake if nothing else. What also proved to be very useful was that I got all the consumables stuff sorted out as well as feel like I could leave the desk and have everything all ship shape for next week. It does worry me though that time is ticking, but I can't worry about that once I leave for home - I made a good decision years ago to keep the work and personal stuff separate and it works well let me tell you.

I walked over to see The Polar Bear on My Christmas Tree after work, as we were heading off in the direction of Blackburn straight after work. The Polar Bear's family tend to support a children's hospice whenever they can as that hospice did such a wonderful job for one of their relations, providing lots of tender love and support at a time when it was needed most. I've understood over time that the work that they do is really good, and as it's something that is close to them I feel the right thing is to do is to support it, especially as it doesn't have people constantly on the telly supporting it either. The event was a Christmas themed event in Blackburn Cathedral and so we were going to meet The Polar Bear's father and sister in Blackburn and head there.

We headed in The Polar Bear's car down to the M61 and then up towards the M65 where we'd head East to Blackburn. The snow was coming at us almost horizontally and did look rather blustery as well and even more so when we were on the M65 as well - the high winds and blizzard conditions were not that pleasant to be honest. Thankfully we made it off and on to the A666 down past Ewood Park (Blackburn Rovers' ground) and on to the centre, and we located the car park close to the train station where we'd walk underneath it and then on to the cathedral and to the Postal Order pub nearby where we'd all meet.

I got us all some drinks in and lo and behold they had Black Cat on cask. Well it'd have been rude not to have one and so I did that. The Polar Bear's sister and father arrived after being stuck in traffic around Darwen and we all ordered some food. I went for the steak pudding with chips and that was spot on, and everyone's seemed pretty good so that at least meant we were filled up and warmed up ready for the evening ahead. The snow was still falling as we made our way over to the cathedral and it was bitterly cold - I was glad that I had a hat and gloves on that's for sure.

The service itself was lovely, with lots of readings, some carols sung by a really spot on choir, and the chance for us to have a sing along too. I remembered quite a few of them from times gone past, and so didn't mind singing along as it kind of felt more Christmassy this way. The likes of "Ding Dong Merrily On High" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" certainly reminded me of how people really do get together at this time, and even good old "Away In A Manger" (going to make that tune of the day) made an appearance, although there wasn't a third verse printed in the programme and so I had no idea how it went (my memory on these things isn't that good you know!). It was lovely though and good to see so many others braving the cold so much.

We headed back towards the cars in rather sub-zero temperatures along with the snowy weather heading our way, and we decided for safety to head to the M65 and M61 and go back that way, and it proved to be the correct decision with the snow coming down even more. The Polar Bear's sister got home safely and we dropped her father off before heading back to her place and getting warmed up before heading to sleep after a long, but positively well worth it, day.

Thursday 2nd December - Christmas Wrapping

After a long day at work I ended up having to nip into the city centre to pick up a couple of Christmas presents that I ordered, and I was about to set off from work when I had a rather nice little call from The Polar Bear on My Christmas Tree, who asked if we could meet up first beforehand. I wasn't saying no to that and so I arranged to walk to her workplace and meet her there, and from there we walked over the canal bridge and onwards to Ra!n Bar for a well earned drink for us both. It had been a long and hard day at work and I think we both needed a little bit of rest and relaxation, and certainly the Coronation Street ale was on good form.

We walked towards the city centre together before she was going to make her way home, but it was a lovely surprise and always lovely to see her, as you can imagine. I then headed off in the direction of the stores to collect the items that I had ordered, and as well as that I also went into Boots as I needed to get some more wrapping paper and gift tags, as I reckoned I'd be running out of both sooner rather than later. Thankfully they had the ones I'd got previously in there, and also picked up a couple more presents at the same time too, and as it was 3 for 2 that worked out pretty well for me, so double yaay in fact.

I headed home later and there were quite a few deliveries that had arrived from one of the online retailers, so those packages had to be opened and checked to make sure that they were the right ones that I had ordered. This did mean though that I had several packages which required to be wrapped up, and so I decided that whilst watching the Steaua Bucharest v Liverpool Europa League game, that I'd make a start on it. I was glad I'd got the extra gift tags as I would have most definitely run out, and so spent the time getting the presents wrapped.

In fact I had that many to do that I spent some of the first half between Palermo and Sparta Prague doing more present wrapping too - and that turned out to be a good game to watch as well (2-2 it ended up which meant Sparta qualified) and that was a little bonus. I then worked out which bag each set of presents needed to go in - just so that when I organise myself to take which presents where I can be ready to go there in one go instead of having to faff around on the day - makes life much easier let me tell you. It did feel like I'd almost completed my shopping especially after one of my relations let me know what they'd like and I got that ordered at the same time, definitely on the last leg now thankfully.

Tune of the day, appropriately enough, is one of the Christmas songs that you normally hear at this time of year and it's "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses, which was most likely their only hit. It's pretty catchy though and it does have some nice little saxophone breaks in the middle part, so it does at least feel quite 1980s in its style even now. Hurrah for that I say to myself, especially as it's so often you hear lame songs that aren't quite in the festive spirit, except this one really is.

Wednesday 1st December - Stand Up If You Love Alan...

I was keeping an eye on the weather outside for most of the day as I was working, especially as it was lovely crunchy snow on the way in and I'd made it on the bus perfectly fine. Mum rung me in the afternoon in a small panic thinking that all buses were being pulled off the road at 4pm (they clearly weren't as the main road near work had been gritted and was perfectly driveable) but it looked like only some trains were having issues. I had spent most of the day sorting out all the external entities and deleting those which weren't needed, and then also sorting out a machine re-image as well, so all was well as I headed homewards.

The bus journey was quicker than yesterday so that was good, and I got home and made myself some tea, and then realised for some reason I couldn't locate my hat anywhere. I nipped out to one of the local shops and got a nice Thinsulate one for a mere quid, and I tell you what, it certainly did the job nicely even wearing it on the way homewards. With food scoffed, my friend rung to let me know he was on his way over as we were heading out to see Manchester City's Europa League group game against Red Bull Salzburg, and yes, the game was on despite the snow as the ground has undersoil heating plus the paths and roads round the ground were clear.

My friend picked us up and we headed carefully in his car over to see The Love In My Heart for a very well earned brew and chat before we would set off for the ground from there, and thankfully it was pretty clearish so we were able to get in no problem. The ground looked in excellent condition and certainly it was very playable with the undersoil heating working well. There were around 100 or so brave souls who had travelled from Austria, that's loyalty for you. The City fans seemed in good voice as the game was about to kick off even if the ground was half full for some reason.

City dominated the game to say the least and it was only a matter of time before we scored the first, with a Pablo Zabaleta cross being turned in on the volley by Mario Balotelli, an excellent finish to say the least. We could have scored a few more if Jo had actually done anything remotely useful, but the fans were getting behind the lads and the atmosphere was pretty good, and the half time cuppa certainly tasted good as we chatted during half time. I mentioned to my friend how I'd scored 90,000 plus on Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" on Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock, so that has to be tune of the day somehow.

During the second half, Salzburg brought on one of their substitutes, who was (to give his full name) Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, or simply Alan as the back of his shirt said. As some Brazilians give themslelves English names, the City fans' humour was in full effect and soon they were getting behind him for fun, so you had chants such as "Stand up if you love Alan, "Feed Alan and he will score", "There's only one Alan" and best of all "You should have passed to Alan" when his fellow striker fluffed a glorious chance after Mario Balotelli had scored from close range to put City 2-0 up.

The best goal of the night was to come though as Adam Johnson made his way in from the left wing, took on three of the Salzburg defence and slotted a low drive into the bottom corner. The City fans celebrated and then asked "Are you Alan in disguise?" as the game kicked off again, and at 3-0 it was comfortable, especially with Juventus equalising against Lech Poznan, meaning qualification for the next round was assured, so it was into Alan overdrive with more chants about him, such as "Alan, give us a wave", "Alan's house, Alan's house, we are coming", "Alan is Superman" (the old Stephen Ireland chant re-done), "Alan, you saw me standing alone..", "Alan for England" . You get the idea! It certainly was the City fans in their legendary humour which was good to see to be honest.

We made our way back via seeing The Love In My Heart for a quick cuppa and headed homewards. The main roads were clear and all the way back were remembering all the Alan chants and singing them in the car as well which was great fun - so if you heard two people belting out "We love you Alan we do, oh Alan we love you" that would gave probably been us. But as my friend said it was the best atmosphere at a City game for ages and I have to agree with that - more of the same on Saturday against Bolton would be good and I think even a former City player might get a few cheers too..